Monday, December 31, 2007

Submitted for your approval.

I figured there was still one more hastily written entry left in this crazy year so here's another post coming at you right under the deadline (and you thought Christmas ended last week!).

As everyone who knows me will attest to, for me there's only one meaningful New Year's Eve tradition in my book. It's not making empty, overly optimistic resolutions, watching some ball drop, binge drinking, or even the welcoming sight of the ageless Dick Clark. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day has always been about the Twilight Zone Marathon. From when it used to air on the old WPIX when I was little to its flashier, current SciFi channel home, I've always managed to ring in the new year with the classics. Some episodes are sad, some are hilarious, some are thought provoking, some are fairly awful, and some have premises so thin that they should just cut to the chase and make it ten minutes. For the most part however, the Twilight Zone really is some of the best writing that has ever been broadcast on TV. The imagination, the plotting, the dialog, is of such high quality compared to most of the hack writing you see on TV today that if writers of this caliber went on strike, you better believe people would have taken notice.

Unfortunately I'm coming to the party a little late so unless you've already been watching since this morning you and I have already missed a few classic episodes (Including my all time favorite "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up" at 7:30pm). However, there are still a good twenty plus hours of episodes on deck. So if after you're done with all the confetti and awkward kissing and find yourself in a post countdown state, rudderless on what to do in the New Year here are 5 choice cut episodes to ring in the New Year (note:these are all eastern standard time on SciFi channel):
  • 12:00am - "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street": One of the all time greatest Twilight Zone episodes, and one especially relevant in this post 9/11 world. A picturesque evening on a block in Anytown, USA is suddenly disrupted by a series of mysterious power outages and other bizarre events. Fear and paranoia begin to take hold and the shocking revelation at the end is one I envy anyone who hasn't seen it.
  • 12:30am - "The Invaders": A lonely old woman finds herself visited by a group of hostile aliens. This episode is basically a 22 minute set up for the big twist at the end, but it's a pretty good twist. You also have to give Agnes Moorehead credit for carrying the whole episode by herself.
  • 1:30am - "Valley of the Shadow": A young man accidentally stumbles across a town where its inhabitants possess scientific knowledge that is light years headed of our own time. This is one of the few hour long Twilight Zone episodes I like. This is not a real famous episode or anything and the main plot itself is fairly flat, but I just dug the soliloquies the town leaders give about how screwed up modern civilization is. The Twilight Zone was always good at waving its finger at modern times, in an entertaining way.
  • 3:30am - "Five Characters in Search of An Exit" This is literally what the title says, five random strangers a hobo, a ballerina, a major, a bagpipe player, and a clown find themselves in an empty room with no memory and no escape. One of the most bizarre and imaginative Twilight Zone episodes ever, it also has one of the most surprising endings as well.
  • 4:30am - "Printer's Devil" A struggling newspaper publisher makes a deal with the devil to make his newspaper more popular, of course these sort of agreements usually don't end very well. It's a pretty straightforward Faustian bargain message episode but basically any episode with Burgess Meredith is a treat to watch. Hitchcock had Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant; Rod Serling's leading man was Burgess Meredith.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hey Man That's Not A Prediction It's a Fact of Life

As many of have already known by now, those unstoppable New England Patriots completed stage one of their mission to cement themselves as the greatest team in NFL history by beating the New York Giants and completing the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins. It was an event that was pretty hard to avoid considering all the significance of the game, the hype, the media attention, and not to mention the three network simulcast. All in all it was I believe the most watched televised regular season game in NFL history.

As a testament to the inherent injustice of the universe I myself actually found myself with a free ticket to this historic game, courtesy of a friend with a season ticket holding father who just happened to away this weekend. In light of reports of Patriots fans paying ridiculous Super Bowl scalper prices and the Giants faithful coming out to support a Patriots beat down in the very same stadium that in Week 1 they were found to be disgraced, video taping cheaters, I was pretty low on the depth chart in terms of people who actually wanted to see this game. I would have been more content with just playing Madden at home and catching the scores afterward.

These were two teams that I really disliked. As a Buffalo Bills fan I could never forgive the Giants for their dumb luck Super Bowl XXV victory off of Scott Norwood's infamous wide right kick. Also living in North Jersey you get more than your fair share of jerk ass Giants fans all who also seem to synonymously love the Yankees (the most evil organization in all of professional sports). Of course my hatred of the Patriots is much in the vein of rest of the country outside of the New England area: their suspected cheating, their evil genius head coach, their arrogance, their relentless perfection, etc., etc. It'd be like rooting for Cobra Kai in Karate Kid, or the Hawks in the Mighty Ducks, or Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Adding to that default disdain was also the fact that they, being our division rivals, had beaten us twice this year to a combined score of 94-17.

So you could see I was torn as to who to root for. It was a decision I wrestled with all through the 6 plus hour tailgating festivities in the parking lot. No matter how many Miller High Life cans I knocked back or how many hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, I consumed it was a tough call. As we all finally finished up and made that long march across the parking lots into the stadium amidst the sea of jerseys and hooded sweatshirts I realized there was only one cutting the Goridan knot solution that would satisfy me: a tie. I know it's a fairly rare occurrence and something both teams would probably no everything to avoid, but it was the only logical way that both my goals of disappointing both teams and their obnoxious fan bases would be accomplished. A tie would technically be a blemish on the perfect season of the Pats while at the same time leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the Giants fans. As everyone knows by now, the Giants fell a field goal and a futile overtime short of achieving my ultimate goal, so here were some other personal observations from the easy to swallow bullet form!
  • Actually this was one the way to the game, but my friend and I saw on the exit to the stadium a large billboard for Citizen Watches featuring an especially intense looking Eli Manning and the words "Unstoppable" (it was basically this ad except without a picture of a watch). The notion of anyone calling Eli Manning "unstoppable" had us laughing until we got to the gate.
  • At the beginning of the game the video screens showed clips of the famous Dec 13, 1998 game between the Giants and the Denver Broncos where the Giants, led by career jobber QB Kent Graham, ruined the Broncos perfect season in week 15. This instance of past precedent in standing in the way of perfection gave me undue optimism that the Giants might pull off the upset. It also reminded me how old WR Amani Toomer was.
  • I counted at least three fights alone in the general area where I was sitting. The smattering of Drunken Masshole Pat fans and drunken Jersey Giants fans made for more tension than the Smiths.
  • During a lull in the game the video screens showed a top 5 countdown of Giants Season Finales. Former Giants star RB Tiki Barber (who abruptly retired in his prime at the end of last season and became a host on the Today Show) was featured on two of them. A healthy chorus of boos erupted every time. That's NY sports for ya.
  • I predicted before hand that if Patriots WR Wes Welker had at least 10 receptions in the game the Patriots were going to win (He had 11 for 122 yards). Of all the superstars on the Pats, I firmly believe he is the absolute key to beating them. I mean how many drives has he kept alive this season with his hella cheap first down catches?
  • When the Giants went up 28-16 in the 3rd quarter you could tell by the reaction what kind of fans were who. Most young Giants fans were overflowing with optimism, most Patriots fans were still fairly confident but starting to get a little nervous, and true long time Giants fans were glad to have the lead but were already expecting the worse.
  • The Dane Cook doppelganger with the backwards Giants hat that sat next to me kept expecting high fives and fist bumps from me every time the Giants scored, forced a punt, got a first down, drank Gatorade. At first it was just an annoying hassle but as the Giants started to flail towards the end of the game, I kinda missed it.
  • In an ocean of current stars (Manning, Brady, Burress, Moss, etc.) and former stars (Simms, Taylor, Carson, etc.) it was quite a sight to see the guy three rows ahead of me sporting a 18 Jeff Feagles jersey honoring the 41 year old Giants punter (and all time NFL punts leader).
  • If the Giants were going to lose, it really should have been in some sort of massive blow out loss so we could have beaten the traffic home. The worst possible scenario is a close loss which gives us the fans the lovely consolation prize of bumper to bumper immobile parking lot traffic.
For the G-Men I predict a standard fare first round exit by the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will most likely preserve coach Coughlin's job for another year and insure a future of perpetual adequateness with no actual breakout success. For that team of destiny from New England, I can only hope that somebody in the AFC (I'm thinking the Colts, or the dangerous Chargers) can must up enough perfection on their own to stop these magnificent bastards. Ayn Rand might be all for the objective success of this extraordinary team, but somebody needs to bring them down that notch and make them just another good team, before it's too late.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My heart healthy meaning of Christmas.

Well another Christmas is in the can. The trash is full of opened boxes and torn wrapping paper; you may be enjoying some of the gifts you've received (my copy of Billy Joel's 52nd Street is playing in the background right now); perhaps you're finishing the last tin of Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies. Now that I've gotten all that Christmas nonsense that's been going on since the end of Thanksgiving out of the way, I'm in my favorite holidays of the year, the oft overlooked five day period between Christmas and New Years Eve. I like to call it "the neutral period".

It's a great little stretched sandwiched between two monster holidays where there's no expectations or preparations for anything. You just sit there, bask in the past shadow of that leviathan known as "the holiday season" and wait for the New Year to show up. It's the shortest span of time between major holidays so you can't really get yourself out of that lazy, no responsibility mindset before the next one shows up. Also for me personally, as a life long academic (i.e. person who never held a real world job) "the neutral period" has always been the heart of my winter break so its even sweeter. I dread the day when I'll most likely be forced to cram in some work time in between, thus obliterating most of the peace and wonderfulness of "the neutral period."

Well, I could always just never get a real job.

As you may have inferred from the tone of my writing so far, I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas or the holiday season in general. I wouldn't say I'm anti-holidays but I think it's all just too much effort. As is the case with all holidays, I personally don't like holidays telling me what to do. Whether it be buying cards on Mother's Day or eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I'll do it if I feel like it, but I shouldn't get flak for not doing it. I can mail my mother an appreciative card all the while preparing a turkey dinner that I'd be thankful for on a Tuesday in March. I think fetishizing these things for certain days kinda lowers the bar on other days of the year. Shouldn't you appreciate your mother and be thankful as often as possible? So when the holidays (and "the holiday spirit") comes along and basically becomes the be all end all day for caring, generosity, and good will, it gets to me a little. I also don't like the fact that it hijacks most of pop culture, i.e. holiday movies, songs, commercials, TV specials, etc. You don't see the 4th of July doing that (unless you count Lee Greenwood).

That being said of all baggage that the holiday season brings there's one tradition that for some reason rises above all others as what this time means to me. Some people have their "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story" moments or the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or (the extremely underrated) "Garfield Christmas". For some the lasting image of the holidays is less secular like Midnight mass or nativity scenes. Some people might just find the lasting image and meaning of the holidays in the time spent with their families and giving, and good works, etc. etc. Those are all well and good but for me it just isn't Christmas until I see the bee.

I'm pretty sure anyone who has watched any significant amount of television around the holidays during the last decade and a half has seen that commercial. In fact, its yearly airing even today must mean that people other than me find this ad to be more than just a 30 second spot for cereal. Aside from being one of my oldest Christmas memories, there's just something special about this commercial. For me there's a hopefulness and message of good will that doesn't seem forced upon you. When Scrooge is given the bowl of cereal it's not like he's magically transformed into the living embodiment of the Christmas spirit., which I've always found unsettling about the ending to all the versions of a "Christmas Carol" whether it be stage, screen, or Muppet. On Christmas morning after the ghosts Scrooge becomes downright psychotic in his sudden love of Christmas running around like a fanatic, goose waiving, philanthropy machine. If I was Bob Cratchit I'd be happy for the promotion and family dinner but I'd drop a serious "WTF?" on the whole situation.

In contrast the cereal merely manages to bring up his eyebrows with a spark of optimism and it quickly ends there with him looking out the window, the possibility of hope. For all we know that after that delicious bowl of Cheerios he's back to being the miserable gruel eating tightwad he was in the beginning. At least however for that moment there might have been a slight change, an ever so slight victory. In this hard, difficult world with all its problems and inherent wrongs and the tiny, all too short lives we lead within them, it's these small personal victories, however fleeting they may be, that we find any reason to solider on. That's what I get from that brief advert and it's the lasting image that for me personally affirms every holiday season.

That and it's a pretty good cereal...way better than Apple Jacks!

Friday, December 21, 2007

So I might as well begin to put some action in my life.

On Monday afternoon I submitted my Contracts final and thus at last crossed the finish line on my two week law school finals odyssey. The sweetest feeling in the world is that first minute after you're done with finals and you know that at that time you are the farthest away time wise from the next final. As for how I actually did on these finals? Well...let me say that after every furious three hour race of information regurgitation all I could think about afterwards while signing out was that scene from "Billy Madison".

For now I'm just putting all that testing misery behind me and enjoying these oh so precious few weeks of blissful ignorance between the end of the semester and when the grades start to come back. I'm back at home which is two toll bridges and a perpetually gridlocked Cross Bronx Expressway away from silent horrors of the law school library. However, as I sit here delightfully letting my brain atrophy and forgeting everything I've learned this past semester I have to recognize those that helped me get through all that final two week hurdle.

Twelve hour days planted in a claustrophobic study cubical staring at your computer, trying to decipher what the hell you were writing about in your class notes; all the while surrounded by your peers who you're in cutthroat competition with, most of whom are in full hyper caffeinated Jessie Spano freak out mode is no way to spend a fortnight. During those depressing days spent trying to cram information in my brain in the off chance that something may stick and trying to keep procrastination to about half the day, I found that two things always without fail managed to cheer me up at least a little bit. One was the irresistible horns of Chuck Mangione's immortal hit "Feel So Good" which really in general can cheer up any person not named Morrissey. The second and far more idiosyncratic piece of personal comfort was the classic 1980 video for Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law".

The music alone is enough to get one pretty psyched up; that killer guitar riff, Rob Halford's powerful shrieking, the anthemic chorus, the police sirens towards the end! It's a pure metal classic. However, in addition to the song you get this completely ridiculous but still perfectly metal video that's probably the equivalent of Citizen Kane relative to most other metal videos released in 1980 (considering the fact that its not entirely made of up sweaty concert footage already puts it light years ahead of about 95% of the bands of the era).

The set up is simple: Judas Priest robs a bank (thus accomplishing the titular action of "breaking the law") using the power of their music and overall metalness but there's just so many scenes and questions packed into its short 2 and a half minute run time that infinitely amused me.
  • The rest of the band is waiting inconspicuously outside of the bank for Halford to arrive, but do they realize they're dressed quite conspicuously like pilgrims?
  • Why is Halford on the other hand dressed like he's a member of the Jam in his tight black suit and is driven in on a car with apparently no driver? (I would have totally gone as him on WSOPC if only the reference wasn't so needlessly esoteric)
  • Where did that drummer come from and how did he get that whole set in?
  • While it looks like their music is so loud and powerful to the point where it incapacitates everyone at the bank, it can also be construed as their music being so awful that it incapacitates everyone at the bank. Also, every rock video should have a scene where a guitars are used like weapons.
  • Apparently Rob Halford has the strength of ten men.
  • The second most baffling question aside from who's driving the car: Why are they stealing their own gold records?
  • Worst security guard ever. Not only is he absolutely inept at preventing the robbery, his air guitar skills are down right horrendous. I think if it weren't for that inexplicably placed cardboard guitar next to him the viewer would think he was just having a seizure.
  • Although the timing is off by about three years, doesn't that London cityscape look oddly similar to the one in Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark". Could you just imagine life in swinging London around the early 80s with Judas Priest robbing banks and Ronnie James Dio screaming at you from the rooftops?
You know I didn't even realize until right now the obvious, apt connection between the title and the fact that I was in law school. Yeah, I'm pretty confident in those law school grades.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Remember Kids...

I don't know about any of you out there but many times I've found myself wondering if something I remembered was real or a memory based on a dream. My view is that either I have really elaborate, well detailed dreams or my dreams are just so boring and mundane that they become nearly indistinguishable from reality itself. Once I could have sworn I mowed the lawn a week ago but when I went outside the grass was still uncut (I'm thinking dreams about lawn chores fall into the second mundane category). I find this happening more often with memories of my childhood. As I become more of an "adult", those childhood memories that were once so vivid and recent start to become confused and disorganized. Places, people, things you did all sort of get crossed; kind of Rashomon-like (or like that episode of Mama's Family where everyone tells different stories to Vint about how Mama got hit on the head with a pot). Thankfully for me nearly all my childhood memories involved watching TV so there is always a lasting record somewhere...most likely on the internet...on YouTube.

This leads me to the my most recent moment of self revelation courtesy of the 'Tube.

Anyone around my age who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons knows that during the halcyon days of Segamania in the early 90s there were not one but two completely distinct Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. There was the "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" with its goofy plots, bright colors, and wacky interpretations of the characters, all generally in the slapstick humor vein of cartoons like "Looney Tunes", "Animaniacs", and "Ren and Stimpy." On the complete opposite side of the map was "Sonic the Hedgehog" which took great liberties with the video game and set everything in a sort of bleak dystopian future where Sonic and a large cast of new characters fought a constant struggle for survival. Aside from the more serious tone of the show, it also had a high emphasis on a dramatic running plot, and character development. It was more like "Gargoyles" or "Batman: The Animated Series" or "Justice League Unlimited."

While the darker "Sonic the Hedgehog" was probably the superior show in terms of production, storytelling, and lasting appeal (I think they continued it as a comic), I personally still preferred the light hearted fare of "Adventures". Although I technically I prefer cartoons that take a more mature stance and consider "Batman: the Animated Series" probably the greatest Saturday morning cartoon ever, I have always considered the Sonic games to be more in the wacky, fun mold of "Adventures" and consider it just more faithful to that vision. Another more important reason for me, at the time, was that "Adventures" had the classic Sonic Says PSA statements!

As with many Saturday morning shows of the period, "Adventures" had 30 second vignettes where Sonic would tell you standard PSA things like not to smoke, drink, or tolerate sexual molestation. I used to love all these sort of PSA as a kid; not only were they bonus show content in my mind, but also gave me a piece of advice and daily affirmation (although the anti-drinking message has evidently not caught on with me).

Going back to the original reason for all this exposition, for years I had this memory of one particular Sonic Says that completely baffled me as to its existence. I recalled that there was one Sonic Says where Sonic and Tails were trapped in some sort of large dryer and they were complaining about the heat and then they would later go on to explain that kids shouldn't be going into dryers. To me this just couldn't have been real! Were other kids really that stupid? Was there enough of an epidemic of children jumping into the tumblers of their local laundromat that this issue had to be addressed? Were tumble parties springing up all over suburbia, a bunch of bored kids and a roll of quarters looking for a good time? It seemed unprecedented. I couldn't remember another show who's PSA mentioned this problem (GI Joe, Captain Planet, The More You Know, etc.). As I got older, the commercial seemed more and more unreasonable and that such a message could have only been created deep in recesses of my muddled subconscious. Then one bored Saturday afternoon a quick search on YouTube game me horrific vindication for my sanity. It was Charlton Heston on the beach at the end of Planet of the Apes ("Oh My God!...We finally really did it!...You maniacs!). There it was, the lamest PSA ever recorded. Don't do drugs, stay in school, drink your milk, don't talk to strangers...and don't go in the DAMN dryer!

Although I mock it now, who knows? Maybe my fuzzy memory of it in the back of my mind in the long run saved me from a tragic end, bloodied, broken, and burnt in the extra loads section. Maybe some kid today will run across the clip and it'll make him think twice about looking for a cheap thrill down at the local strip mall. One can only dream.