Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hollipops & Robbers... and a few thoughts

By the way, if you are reading this on Facebook, or get on Facebook on a regular basis... I just started a "Clouds" fan page on FB. I'd love for you to join up. Just search "Clouds In My Coffee" and you'll see it. Really, there is no other reason to join than just to say "Hey, I really like the blog", but it feeds my ego, and really, thats the point.

***Saw "Land of the Lost" the other night, part of "The Dave & Mikey Crappy Movie Series". My thoughts? Eh.

***There's a new movie coming out, one of those that no one I know even is aware of until the previews start showing up. Jeremy Piven is in a flick called "The Goods", high comedy and hijinx on a car dealership. Seriously, though, the first time I saw the preview, I thought it was another gawd-awful remake of a fairly decent 80s flick, this one being "Used Cars", starring Kurt Russell and Jack Warden. "The Goods" might be something I check out with Mikey at the $1 theater in a few weeks.

***Ever watch a show on DVR, and when it goes to commercial, you forget that its DVR, so the commercials just keep playing? I do that all the time. Hence, seeing crappy movie previews.

***So, I'm talking to a guest at The Happiest Place in the Mall, and letting her know that the Ariel dresses we have on our $5.99 rack are the only ones we have left, and that we don't have size 7/8. All we have left is 4 and 10/12. She's unhappy. She's holding a Bolt plush in her hand. She informs me that, with a sigh, she's ready to check out with the other stuff she has. What does she do? In front of me, she places Bolt on the table of t-shirts. Mind you, I'm standing so close to Plush Mountain that if I threw my leg back, I'd kick it. Which means all she had to do was toss the animal about four feet. But, perhaps it looked better on the shirt. Happy times.

***Working with Hollipop at The Happiest Place in the Mall, and poor girl--her home was broken into. The thieves swiped a bunch of stuff, like guns, tvs, electronics, jewelry and more. And you know what they figured out? Hollipop had announced their vacation on her Facebook page... and someone who is one of her "friends" did it. Similar to Hannah Pruitt Award Winners Jessica and James Hawbaker, who had their home (and later their car) broken into, though that was more of a result of the crappy apartment complex, not Facebook. Check out her brilliant thoughts on the subject.

I kinda wish "friends" could be broken into three catagories... "Friends", which are just that. "Acquaintances", which are those people you are friendly toward, but you never see or talk to them, for one reason or another. And then, finally, "Yeah, I Kinda Know You and Somehow Feel It Important To Keep You Around". Perhaps the maximum on the latter catagory should be like, 50 or something. Cause really, do you need more than 50 people you barely know? Yeah, yeah, pot kettle black.

Anyway, back to the story--Hollipop's thieves probably fell into that last catagory. So let that be a warning too you... be careful of your FB friends, and don't put stuff like "Hey, we'll be on vacation, so come rob us!" on your status.

***Late last night, I put in "The Pelican Brief", starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. Its a movie I bought at Wal-Mart for $5, a movie that I rather enjoy. Its re-watchability factor is high, and since I'm about a 1/3 of the way through re-reading the book, I figured I'd watch the adaptation.

It gets to the part around the middle of the movie, when Darby Shaw explains the actual brief, discussing the assassinations of Supreme Court Justices Rosenberg and Jensen, and as that scene ends, the movie just stops. Completely. It goes not to the menu, but to the opening "SONY BLU-RAY" screen that you see when you first turn the machine on.

Bewildered, I open the disc player and look at the disc. This is a movie that I've owned for over a year, but actually pulled the plastic off of about, I dunno, 30 seconds before I put it in. I mean, it was a $5 movie from Wal-Mart, but really, its brand spankin' new... could it be scratched?

I then figure it out. I have to flip the disc over. In the year 2009, I actually haveto flip over the DVD to watch the rest of the movie. I chuckle and remember the joys of laserdiscs. I flipped it over, watch three minutes of it, then went to bed. Much easier.

***I found this site online--and don't ask me to link to it, because I don't remember what it was. Anyway, it allowed you to import your blog and print it in book form. So, just for kicks and giggles, I imported Clouds In My Coffee. It was supposed to take about 30 seconds to import, but instead, it took about 10 minutes--I had opted to import the entire blog. And when it was done, I was previewing a softcover book entitled "Clouds in My Coffee", weighing in at about 1400 pages. The index alone was 24 pages... Mind you, this wasn't "each column starts a new page", this was one column after another. Pictures and all. And it could be mine for the low, low price of only $524.88. I elected to cancel. It did leave me feeling like I accomplished something.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Letter to Steve Kloves

Dear Mr. Kloves, and to others it may concern, including, but not limited to Mr. David Yates and of course, Ms. J.K. Rowling:

First, Mr. Kloves, I want to say thank you and tell you that you have taken on a remarkable task equal, and in some ways surpassing, those screenwriters who have taken on such behemoth projects like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. I can declare myself a fan of your literary adaptations leading all the way back to your writing, and directing, of "The Fabulous Baker Boys", one of my top 150 favorite films of all time.

The fact that you were given, and chose to accept, the task of adapting all seven of the Harry Potter novels for the screen is very much appreciated, and I for one do not take it for granted. I must, however, make a request of you in the upcoming and final two-part film project of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".

First, let me say a few things about this note. To anyone who might find this letter lying around on the desk of Mr. Kloves or Mr. Yates and who has not seen the latest Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince", please note that you continue to read at your own peril. I do give "spoilers", which is why I chose to wait a full 10 days after the movie's release, in order to give people who do want to see it enough time to do so. To anyone still awaiting a movie theater visit with a ticket that says "POTTER" as mine does, you may want to stop reading now, as the next several paragraphs get very, very specific.

Secondly, I am a fan who completely recognizes the difference in novel vs. film. I understand it is impossible to do certain things in movies that may be done, perhaps even crucial, in the book form. I think the book's scene set in the burrow over Christmas when Minister Scrimgeour confronts Harry concerning Dumbledore travels is a key piece of the story (not to mention the hilarity of the Weasley children all turning on Percy with mashed potatoes) but I understand why it was left out of the movie. Characters must be changed, certain lines must be altered, activities that are done by one character (say, Tonks finding Harry in a body bind curse on the train) are done by another character on film (where it was Luna Lovegood who found him). And despite the fact I might've liked the original text better, it worked just fine, accomplishing its goal. Though I would have liked to have seen Scrimgeour, the Dursleys, Fudge, the romance of Fleur and Bill (and the subsequent sour responses of the Weasley women and Hermione), and a few others, I know this is Hollywood.

I harken back to "Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire", where I watched the movie, realizing that by fifteen minutes into the movie, I felt as if we'd covered 200 pages. I do thank you, though, Mr. Kloves, for leaving out Hermione's efforts in SPEW, which is, in my opinion, by far the weakest subplot in all seven books.

Third, I am fully aware of the timeline of this film's production. The script was probably completed in 2007, before the final novel was even released. The film was finished for its November 2008 release, but was pushed back to July 2009, meaning that you had written a script with certain elements and scenes without knowledge of how those scenes and end-results might be affected in the final book, and to that end, the final movie. This was beyond your control, and I only mention it to let you know that yes, I am aware of this.

Finally, and I must stress this point... I enjoyed "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince". For all of its faults, and I will give those in due course, I liked the movie. The casting of Jim Broadbent as Prof. Slughorn, even though he didn't fit the mold described in the book, was brilliant. Daniel Radcliffe's comedic side came out strongly in the Felix Felicis/Aragog funeral scene, and even Rupert Grint shone in the love potion scene.

I won't waste your time nitpicking the movie... for everything I loved about it, there are fifteen things people didnt, and for everything I didn't like about it, there are a 100 more things that people will say they did--this isn't a perfect film by no means, but it did the job.

Well, almost.

There are three points I want to bring up. These three points are mentioned because I feel as if they could have completely been done in the film, thereby not being under the "you can't do everything in the book!" rule that people claim.

Point #1... The Burrow Scene
I heard about this scene leading up to the movie, and that it was written in with Ms. Rowling's permission. This was a scene intended to show the ferocity of the Death Eaters, and that their reign of terror knows no bounds, even attacking what is a beloved structure and home in the series. The Burrow is loved and admired, and represents love, security and safety and perhaps even a home that many of us wanted to grow up in to millions of Harry Potter fans. And you burned it down.

I was expecting more with this scene. Four Death Eaters--Bellatrix, Greyback and the Carrows show up, and challenge Harry, who runs after them. Ginny, who has already been established as Harry's love interest from the very beginning of this film (we'll get to that), runs after him, leaping through the barrier of fire, a leap that apparently Lupin, Tonks and all the Weasleys cannot make. Ron is not even in this scene, which bewildered me. There is a little fear, the Death Eaters appear and disappear, and the Burrow burns. And then the scene is over. I don't get it. I don't understand the point of this scene at all. This actually could have been completely left out and I would have been fine with this. I just... well, I just didn't get its point.

Point #2. The (non) Battle at Hogwarts
Anyone who is somewhat of a Harry Potter fan knows the end of this book. Among even those who have only seen the movies, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know about the death of Albus Dumbledore. The first problem with the way this was played out on screen is simply Harry's inaction when Malfoy has Dumbledore held at wandpoint. Malfoy disarms Dumbledore while Harry is hidden below, looking through a hole in the floor. While in the book, Dumbledore has thrown a silent bodybind curse on Harry to prevent him from acting, in the movie, Harry just stands there. You cannot get me to accept that with as much hatred of each other that Potter and Malfoy have, when Malfoy disarms Dumbledore at wandpoint, Harry wouldn't immediately have done the same to Malfoy. Its just not feasible.

In the book, while this is happening, the Death Eaters have stormed the castle. There are dozens of them in Hogwarts, and they are in battle with Ginny, Ron, Luna, Neville, the professors, and many of the other students, but for some reason, you chose to only have Snape, Malfoy, Dumbledore and Harry be mainly involved in this scene. The Carrow siblings are there, as is Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf, but only for a moment. My first reasoning was that perhaps budgetary concerns has kept this scene from being a full blown battle in the way that the ending of "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix" was done (which, by the way, was excellently shot and written. Kudos to your part in that, Mr. Kloves). But really, this could have been done without much more cost than the movie already had incurred. Even if you did some background shots of wand sparks and spells, perhaps some extras portraying Dolohov and Yaxley and Rookwood (though you wouldn't have had to name them). Really, anything to give the feel of Hogwarts being under attack.

The final confrontation between Snape and Potter is disappointing. There was already a miss during the movie when its never acknowledged that Snape knows, or at least suspects, that Harry is using the old potions book, even in the most opportune time to reveal this information when Harry uses the sectumsempra spell on Malfoy. Then, when Snape defeats Harry, he simply says, "I am the half-blood prince." And...? At no point do we even see Snape learning of the "who is the half-blood prince" mystery. Personally, I'm sure I am in the very distinct minority that thinks that Alan Rickman is wrong for the part of Snape--Rickman is not... well, greasy enough. He worked fine for the first few movies, before readers/viewers knew what importance Severus Snape would play in the film. I think if producers could go back, they would probably cast someone else as Snape. For the record, I think Alan Rickman is a brilliant actor--just wrong for this part.

To that end, the death of Dumbledore was also a big disappointment. One of the most gut-wretching parts of the book's finale is how Harry tells Hagrid about the death, and Hagrid doesn't believe it. When McGonagall finds out, she nearly faints. When Lupin hears the news, he collapses into a chair with his head in his hands. Madam Pomfrey goes into near hysterics upon learning the dreadful news... its this type of effect that such a death has. No one wants to hear it, or believe it, and everyone is in total shock and dismay. The script just calls for a glossing-over of the entire ordeal. Dumbledore falls, Harry goes to him, Ginny pulls him away and McGonagall leads a "wand raising" in salute with the students. A fine scene, but only if you have no knowledge of how powerful it could have been.

Point #3... Harry and Ginny
Despite all of the aforementioned issues I have with the film adaptation of this wondeful book, I think they would have all been forgiven, perhaps even justified or overlooked if this one piece of the story had been right. But Mr. Kloves, I have to say, you were very wrong in the way this was handled.

The book itself has Harry's ever growing affection for Ginny throughout its pages, starting first a small stomach turn when she's around, eventually turning in a "roaring monster" in his stomach when she is with Dean Thomas. This would have been hard to visualize on the screen, so I am not bothered at all that the first time we see Ginny Weasley, its through a window that Harry is looking up into, gazing with adoration and affection. In fact, a few times Harry is caught gazing at Ginny by Hermione, and the subsequent dialogue that follows was always funny in the film, so this was done effectively.

In my mind, though, one of the best scenes in the entire series is when Harry finally kisses Ginny. You've been waiting for it, you've been hoping for it, everything about his affections toward her have led to it, and it happens. Harry is in detention, for performing the sectumsempra spell on Malfoy, and misses the Quidditch final, forcing Ginny to play Seeker. While in detention, he is left unknowing about the match's results, not able to hear anything from the Quidditch pitch outside. When detention is over, the match is long over, so he knows nothing until the common room door is opened, upon which he finds everyone celebrating and cheering his arrival. They won! And, one of the best lines in any of the books, he grabs her and kisses her. He looks around, the common room is deathly quiet, Dean is holding a broken glass, Hermione is beaming and Ron has this look that says, "Well... if you must..."

This is how it SHOULD have happened...

This entire glorious moment was completely forgotten in the film adaptation. In your script, Mr. Kloves, Harry is trying to hide the potions book, and he and Ginny go to the Room of Requirement. She tells him to close his eyes and thenhides it for him, so he won't be tempted to get it--and then SHE kisses HIM. And its not even a long kiss, its only a second or two. There is also the issue of the tiara that is briefly mentioned in the sixth book (and unseen in the movie) that becomes a huge issue in the seventh book--but I chalk that up to the sixth movie script being finished before seventh book was released.

And this is how it DID happen... it doesn't help that Bonnie Wright looks as if she's perpetually 13 years old

Mr. Kloves, this is terrible. This is an unacceptable film portrayal of what was an irresistable literary moment, and I don't understand why it couldn't have followed the novel. One argument is that one Quidditch match is enough, if only for budgetary reasons, but you wouldn't have even had to show the match itself. After Malfoy is hit with the curse in the bathroom, Snape yells, "Potter! Detention every Saturday from now until end of term." Cut to Harry in detention, protesting about the Quidditch match, then going up to the common room and boom--he kisses Ginny and the scene unfolds beautifully.

The end of the movie doesn't even address what will happen with Harry and Ginny, something that is very painful in the book. What I liken to a "Spiderman ending", when the hero breaks it off with his ladyfriend for fear that she will be in danger, was crucial to their relationship, which you have spent the entire movie crafting.

Oh, and really, only the reader knows how Hermione feels about Ron during "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince" novel, a great insight that is lost in the film, and much of her character is spent pining and yearning for Ron's attention.

In closing, I would like to offer a solution to ensuring these type issues do not present themselves to what will be a long awaited finale to what has, overall, been a fine series of movies.

I am willing to submit myself to you as a consultant on the final scripts. I'm sure the script is finished, as filming for the two part movie has already begun, but there is nothing that says we cannot do re-writes. Send me the script, I will look it over and read it, then make my suggestions as to what can be done to best exemplify the text to the big screen. I won't need much credit, maybe just put my name in between Gaffer and Best Boy or something, just so I can prove to my friends that I helped. I will work for free, asking only for my part of the royalties, as my changes and assistance will more than guarantee a better film, resulting in what should be an additional $40 to $50 million at the box office. Perhaps even Oscar gold. And when you get that Academy Award, just mention my name. That will help my creditbility in the upcoming film adaptations of "Contend", starring Samuel L. Jackson, and "Strength in the Struggle", starring Amanda Bynes and Justin Long.

I will be awaiting your response and I thank you for your time,

PS... Dave Legano playing Fenrir Greybeck is fantastic. Already a brilliant bad guy in the books, he has the potential to be one of the great screen villians in the last several years if his part is written correctly. We'll go over this when I read what you've written.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Updating Sunday

Wow its been busy. Seriously.

I've been tossing around the Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince movie in my mind... I liked the movie. However, as much as I liked the movie, I can think of about 54 reasons why I think that JK Rowling, David Yates (the director) and Steve Kloves (the screenwriter for all the Potter flicks) should have called me to help write the script. I could have helped. Heck, you wouldn't even have to pay me, much. Just put my name in one of the credits between 2nd gaffer and 9th Best Boy and it would have been fine with me. Just let me help you get this right. Yeah, I know, I know, you can only do so much between novel and screen adaptations, but still...

...anyway, I'll get to that. I'll be out of pocket tomorrow through Friday, then working at The Happiest Place in the Mall on Saturday, and truly, Sunday will actually be a day of rest for me, and I have every intention of sitting in front of this here laptop and giving my full opinion on the aforementioned movie, and hopefully, you'll let me know yours too.

In the meantime, in between time, here's a link you might like... my buddy Hurrican Rhett and his wife Lily do a blog all about eating, mostly their takes on their favorite restaurants, and its quite good. Its called Where to Go Eat or Not Go Eat and Why, a rather ambigious title, if you ask me... my personal favorite thus far is the story of the Cheesecake Factory Mexican Dishwasher... My friend Shelby told me she reads my blog when I tell true life stuff, which she thinks is more entertaining than anything else, and I agree, which is why I liked this story so much.

Anyway, Sunday I plan on sitting down, doing some reviews, perhaps telling a story or two of the next few days travels, and changing the music for the first time in forever... if you have requests, let me know. Talk atcha.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Random Rebecca Mandolin Sighting

For those of you expecting a full on review of "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince", let me just tell you that I'm breaking my breaking of the self-imposed rule that says I will wait a few days before reviewing a movie... simply put, I loved the movie, and its my favorite of all the Potter flicks, but there's much more to it... but to properly assess and discuss, I have to discuss the movie and the book, so I figure I'll give a few days for people to see it, so I won't be giving spoilers.

Plus, I had a Rebecca Mandolin Sighting.

The Happiest Place in the Mall is a treasure trove of rekindling, by the way. I've seen dozens of faces that I've not seen in years, sometimes in the double digits. Micke Arant, Jaime Echols, Julie Echols, Jason Howell, Jeremy & Crystal Jones and so on, names that won't mean much to you, Coffee Drinker, but names that each carve out memories and instances, sometimes small, sometimes large, in my years of living.

Zipping around at The Happiest Place in the Mall, as I do on a daily basis, doling out magic for this person and that, providing the best 30 minutes of the day for some lucky guest. This is a special week as its Buy One Get One Free on the plush--come in and purchase a plush animal, be it off of the mountain, or one of the big ones, or the mini bean bag plush or even the soft Princess dolls and you get one free!! (if you think that was plug for our store then... you'd be right)

I'm straightening as I go, of course, and am already banking the little experiences--good and stupid--with guests that make the day so interesting (I'll probably end up writing a second volume to one of my most popular posts, "Happy Times") and I work my way to the backstage door, probably headed back to grab a couple of Mater die cast cars to go on the rack.

There's a young woman kneeling over some Hannah Montana water bottles, her face obscured by the mane of thick hair surrounding her head. I stop... well, I don't stop, I really just slow down long enough to say understandably as I move, "Don't forget, all the Hannah Montana, High School Musical and Camp Rock merchandise is an additional 40% off the red tagged price!" (yes, yes, another plug. what are you waiting for? go get you a Sharpay swimsuit for only $8.99 after discount!)

The young woman freezes for a second, slowly turns her head up to me and says, "d$". My eyes widen, my jaw drops and I utter out, "Mandy Stewart." She leaps up, I gasp and we hug for at least ten, maybe twenty seconds, with both of us sputtering out phrases like "Oh my gosh!" and "So good to see you!" and "I can't believe this!".

There are just some people in this world that just... well, they make you happy. Your hard pressed to find fault with them, you have nothing but thoughts and experiences with them that make you smile, and when you see them again after so long without, its as if for a few minutes, the world is just right. Things make sense. Your friend is here in front of you, and for the next little while, maybe a few sentences worth, maybe an hour over lunch, things are just good. My friend McQ is like this. My buddy Mikey is like this. And so is Rebecca Mandolin.

We met in the fall of 1993--forgive me if you've read this already, I might have told this story in one of the previous 489 posts--in English class. We were sitting close to the end of the long table in Honors Freshman English, being taught by a nice blond lady who had hairy armpits. No seriously. Like, she was married to this Brit, and I guess she felt as if she needed to play the role of Brit Wife (do they do that over there? I thought hairy pits was a French thing?) and she liked to wear sleeveless shirts, and when she lifted up her arms in discussions or animated conversations, whoop there it is. Rebecca Mandolin always had a faceful of it.

I personally thought that she was gorgeous, but I was never attracted to her. Funny how that worked, really, as there were lots of guys who were. Maybe that's why we were such fast friends, because I had no ulterior motive. It did make me look good, though, that I had good looking chick friends. Maybe it was also that we both had small town upbringings, being tossed onto this campus and were just looking for nice people to hang out with. Whatever the reason, d$ and Rebecca Mandolin were friends.

Actually, I was attracted to the blond girl who sat across from Rebecca Mandolin and I, Ginny Kochen from Wisconsin. That's a whole other story for another day, but Ginny and I didn't work out. Discovered that Rebecca Mandolin was roomies with another person I had just met, Miranda Bryant, and then we all got to know and hang out with some other people we met and so on.

d$ and Rebecca Mandolin then, having both just turned 21. This is 1996 at a FH/Alpha Gam. The Lovely Steph Leann made me sell that tie at the yard sale a few weeks ago.

Time goes by, as do friends who suddenly aren't around and become acquaintances instead, or people you barely know who come into your life to become pretty good people to be around and such. Miranda and I were pretty tight for a while, then I became good friends with Labett and Adrienne, then eventually I met my best mate Wookiee and... well, you get the drift. I friend hopped, no sense in denying it, at least until around 1995 or 96, when I got involved in our BCM and actually made some friends I could keep.

But even though we weren't talking every day, even though we weren't around each other all the time, Rebecca Mandolin and I never stopped being friends. She introduced me to this awesome redhead, Allison Hodnett (which also didn't work out, thanks to John Glasscock... again, another story), and encouraged it on while it almost started. We had lunch at Los Pericos in Troy from time to time. She would give me the truth that I didn't want to hear when I was, say, hitting on Greta Gaskin ("Seriously, d$, that was totally a line you gave her... and pretty lame too") or telling me about Indya Lawless ("She asked me about you, d$, and I managed to get her number for you") or letting me know I blew it with Rebecca Miller ("You know, you need a divine do-over, really") and sometimes, she would do her own confiding in me about her own set of romantic issues ("Yeah, so... here's what happened... and I feel pretty stupid about all of this. What do you think, d$?").

We both rushed about the same time, Rebecca Mandolin headed towards Alpha Gamma Delta, and I toward FarmHouse, and we would catch up with each other over Fraternity/Sorority gatherings, or pledge swaps or Greek Week, always with a big hug and a big smile.

Eventually, she found her boo, a big gruff guy named Peter who played baseball. Somehow, someway, that final year of Troy State for both of us, we moved different directions and missed each other somehow.

I found Rebecca Mandolin's email address, and contacted her around, I dunno, 2000 or so, and she responded, and again, we lost touch. Finally, she joined the rest of the free world and got on Facebook earlier this year, and I was excited about it, leaving her a wall post that simply said, "Its about time". She responded with, "I am technologically challenged. I had not checked my hotmail for 2 months. I had 500 messages. It is so good to hear from you (slightly less good to see those pictures, although the formal picture is priceless)."

And after that, didn't hear from her again. Not that I tried much, mind you, I'm not stalking out Rebecca Mandolin, but I never saw her online, so we never got around to chatting about anything.

And then today... here she was. She laughed, ruffled the side of my head with her fingers and said, "Oh goodness, look at all the grey you've collected." She introduced me to her son, who is like, 8, and her daughter is 5, and running all over the store. Her husband Peter shook my hand and nodded, then walked back to the front of the store in a typical, "Okay, I'm done, I'm ready to get out of here" fashion.

We stood for about five minutes and discussed the old days, with me bringing up a few names that made her laugh and shudder and she doing the same for me. I gushed about The Lovely Steph Leann, and we discussed kids and when we'll get our own. I gave her this web address and my email, and told her she had no excuse not to find me, and even that The Lovely Steph Leann and I would be in her neck of the woods in August, and a Sunday lunch before we head home is in the realm of possibilities.

To be truthful, I might live to be 84 years of age, and I may see Rebecca Mandolin once, maybe twice more ever... or we might become friends again, at least, virtually anyway. I always long for people from my old days to meet people from my current, notably The Lovely Steph Leann, if only to show to the old friends how far I've come and how wonderful I have it, and to show The Lovely Steph Leann a glimpse into what I used to be and a small glance of how I became what I did. And maybe they will meet, who knows.

Here's us in 2009, both on the cusp of 34. Personally, I could stand to be a little thinner, perhaps like the earlier pic, but I think she's never looked better.

Here's to you, Rebecca Mandolin, for making my day, and here's to hoping you make another.

Someone called Rebecca Mandolin once by mistake, thinking that was her full name. I think its actually "Reba Mandy" or something country like that... she is from Talladega... anyway, I took to calling her that, just like she called me "Young David" for the longest time, even though I'm a month older than she.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Little Tip For You

The Lovely Steph Leann and I love to eat. We have no aversion to cooking for ourselves, but frankly, we just don’t want to many times, which is why we ended up in a booth at Don Pepe’s Mexican Grill tonight. We had just finished watching “Public Enemies”

Quick review… “Public Enemies” is an excellent film. Starting out in 1933, it chronicles the bank robbery days of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp, in a great role) who was, of course, Public Enemy #1. He breaks out the penitentiary, meets a woman, travels with Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and a few others. Chasing down Dillinger is FBI agent Melvin Purvis and an assembled team of agents. The movie progresses, with the Feds getting everyone except Dillinger, leading to a final showdown. The movie is light on sexual scenes, light on language, but heavy on mobster violence, including a few close ups of dying criminals, bleeding from being riddled with bullets.
It does a great job of picturing Dillinger as the folk hero he was to the American public, and shows Purvis (an excellent performance by Christian Bale) being a masterful detective in his efforts to track Public Enemy #1 down.

It seems like Michael Mann, the director of this and many other excellent films like “Collateral”, had his casting director call up every B-movie actor who needs work and planted them in this film… it was like That Guy Junior Varsity Team with Leelee Sobieski (Aldys in "Never Been Kissed"), Giovanni Ribisi (Phoebe's little brother in "Friends"), Matt Craven (Zimmer in "Crimson Tide"), Lili Taylor (List in "Six Feet Under"), Emilie de Ravin (Claire in "LOST"), Billy Crudup (Blue Wang in "Watchmen"), Rory Cochran (Slater in "Dazed & Confused") and Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost in "Blade")… actors you may not know, but you’ve seen. Oh, and music from Diana Krall didn't hurt. Good stuff.

Anyway, back to my other story.

I love Mexican food, though really, I love only certain Mexican foods. Not being a fan of spice, I usually settle down with a big quesadilla, or an enchilada or even a taco or two… all heavy on meat and cheese, covered in sour cream. I nibble on chips (and sometimes, like tonight, I do a little dipping in the queso dip) and of course, suck down a few glasses of sweet tea. Mexicans make the best sweet tea, I tell ya.

Our server was a guy named Miguel, who took forever to get there. Strike one… though let’s face it, sometimes things happen, sometimes it does take a minute or two for a server to get to the table. Miguel finally came around, we ordered our drinks and food at the same time, then patiently waited to be fed. Lucky for me, the sour cream came out with the cheese dip. The majority of the time, I order sour cream to go along with my quesadilla, but when they bring my food out, the sour cream is nowhere to be found. I have to remind the server that I ordered it (and am going to be charged anywhere for 75 cents to $1.50 for it—which is a racket, by the way, cause after dinner, The Lovely Steph Leann and I went to Publix and among our groceries was a 16 ounce tub of Daisy Sour Cream that cost about $1.95… so when I pay $1.00 for three spoonfuls of ice cream that’s about a $15 profit on each tub… sorta like paying $2.50 for OJ at a Cracker Barrel or Waffle House when a half gallon of Nature’s Best would cost you $2.95 at Wal-Mart)… where was I?

Yeah, I am sitting there with my food in front of me, cooling, awaiting the one condiment that can make my dinner perfect. Tonight, though, he brings it out with the cheese dip… it does make me wonder that had I not ordered the cheese dip, if he would have brought it out, but hey, that cancels out taking forever to come to our table.

I dig into my quesadilla and half of the enchilada, The Lovely Steph Leann is chowing down on the other half of the enchilada, we’re both tossing back queso covered nacho chips, life is good.

That is, however, until I run begin to run out of tea. Miguel stops by, asks if we need anything, and I politely say I would love some more sweet tea. He says okay, and disappeared. Cut to at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, the insides of my mouth filled with cheese and salt residue, glass empty save for some ice cubes and me looking around, wondering where Miguel is with my tea.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the sweet tea pitcher is brought over. By this time, I’m nearly done with my food, so I only need a few swigs to finish it off. We get the bill, its around $15, and I tell The Lovely Steph Leann, who has our eat-out money in her billfold, to give me $17. She hands me $18. I say, “I think $17 would do it. The service has not been stellar.” She insists I leave the $18.

This opens up a brief discussion on the merits of rewarding a server on both great and not so great service. The Lovely Steph Leann holds the belief that, unless the service is just filled with racial epitaphs, coffee thrown in your face, a kick in the shins and a poorly told “Your Mama” joke, you should leave the 15%. Maybe a little more. They work hard for their money, don’t they?

I worked for about 7 years in a little home town restaurant called The Wright Place, back in Samson. The first year I washed dishes, the second year I bumped up to waiting tables, depending on tips for my wages. I knew that if I didn’t put the extra gravy on the steak, or have the onions left off the cheeseburger, or have the eggs served over hard (whatever the heck that means), it is not the cooks fault—its mine. If the tea glasses got empty, if the lemon didn’t make it to the table, if the 2 creamers weren’t at the table with the coffee, then not only did I not get a tip, I really didn’t expect one.

My job as a server is to bring food from the kitchen to the table, and to make sure that food is prepared and served just how the customer, who is paying for it, wants it. Sometimes I did a great job, and got little… there was a big lug named Robert Pritchard who was on the football team, and when he came in and got his hamburger steak, his tip, along with anyone else who is sitting with him, usually was written on a napkin, with words of wisdom like “Don’t play in traffic” and “Use an umbrella in the rain”.

Now, this is not to say that if you are given bad service, you should be a prick. Not in the least… any number of things can relate to bad service, from a bad supporting staff to the server just having a really bad day. As a customer, you should never be rude, for any reason. In my opinion, the tip left should be a reflection of the service. Your control, or zero point, is 15%. Do a great job, you get 18%. Maybe 20%. You do a poor job, you get 12%. Maybe 10%. If the service is horrific, you get nothing.

All in all, this is how the conversation ended…

Me: How else is Miguel going to know that not bringing tea in a timely manner to someone who clearly has an empty glass for a very long while is unacceptable? He gets a smaller tip, and perhaps he thinks, “Wow, I should have been a little better.”
The Lovely Steph Leann: Perhaps by leaving him a good tip, he’ll say, “Wow, even though I didn’t give great service, I still get a good reward.” Maybe that will make him do better next time.
Me: In my opinion, rewarding mediocrity is a problem. You’re telling them that its okay to just be so-so, you’ll still get a good reward.

Either way, Miguel got about 20% for mediocre service. And I’m guessing somewhere, at Don Pepe’s, someone else has an empty glass sitting on the edge of their table awaiting a refill.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Romgad At Wars

What does it stand for? Well, Robots, Old Man, Greeks, Angels, Demons And Travolta Wearing A Rocking 'Stache, of course... time for some movie reviews...

THE ROBOTS… “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
I’ll tread lightly. I wrote a slightly negative review about “Speed Racer” a while ago, and got blasted by two people I’ve never even met (though I’m thankful they read the blog), and admittedly, I’ve never been a huge “Speed Racer” fan… I have, however, been and am a big “Transformers” fan.

Here’s the deal. I liked the movie. What I liked about it is really what everyone wanted to see… big, bad robots beating the crap out of each other, and that’s just what happened. From the big single wheeled robot tearing up the streets at the beginning to the awesome appearance of the Constructicons at the end, the robots did not disappoint. Michael Bay is a genius when it comes to explosions, loud gunfire and crazy battle climaxes.

What I didn’t like was everything else. It was too long. It was full of cheesy dialogue. The characters, who I really liked in the first one, sometimes became too comical and stupid. Megan Fox is good looking, but really, if you look around and see that mouse sitting beside your computer, you are looking at an object that can act about as well as she can.

And for the record, anytime the phrase “If we don’t stop them, they’ll destroy the sun which will destroy our planet!” is uttered in a movie, in any variation, its ridiculous.

If there is any issue with Pixar movies, it is this… one day, they are going to make a bad movie. One day, they are going to release flick that is just… well, not good at all. So far, we’ve been entertained by a lovable robot, a friendship between a cowboy and a Space Ranger, a bunch of ants with four legs, some monsters in the closet, talking cars, cooking rats, a lost fish and ranking 49th on TheDave 100, a family of superheroes. So, could this be it? A movie about an old man and a Wilderness Scout who fly in a house to South America? Could this be the inevitable misstep?


“Up” is magnificent in every way possible. The story is fun and sweet, and somehow, the theater gets a little dusty after the first fifteen minutes. The music is fantastic, especially in that first fifteen minutes. The characters are likable, even lovable, from a dorky Scout who is deeper than a dork, to a goofy talking dog, who doesn’t talk by normal Disney standards, but through an inventive collar. Perhaps the least likable character is the actual bad guy, who is really only unlikable because you don’t see much of who he is, other than a jerkface. The main character though, is Carl, who seems cantankerous and miserly, but you’ll discover has his reasons.


The color is marvelous. The scene when the roof comes off and the balloons fill the sky is incredible, a feast of color and animation brilliance. My recommendation is see this movie in 2-D, not 3-D. The 3-D glasses tend to dim the color slightly, and you don’t want that diminished in any way.

Enjoy the splendor, enjoy the color, enjoy the story, grab a hanky for the first few minutes of exposition between Carl & Ellie, and start worrying that maybe the next Pixar movie—Toy Story 3 in 3-D—will be the misstep.

FYI, found this nugget on the interweb.... The villain Charles Muntz is named after Charles Mintz, the Universal Pictures executive who in 1928 stole Walt Disney's production rights to his highly-successful "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" cartoon series. This led Walt Disney to create Mickey Mouse, who soon eclipsed Oswald in popularity.

THE GREEKS… “My Life in Ruins”
I am loving me some Nia Vardalos, who just happens to be my very favorite Greek actress. Don’t know who that is? She’s the star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. She’s just pretty enough to be borderline beautiful, yet not so pretty that, if she lived around you, she would be unattainable.


I had a feeling this would be a movie I would enjoy, but I didn’t realize I would like it as much as I did. I loved it. It’s not perfect, its flawed, and let’s be honest, this is a blip on the radar screen of the summer movies. It spent about two weeks in the big theaters, and I saw it today on the dollar screen…

Nia plays Georgia, a tour guide for a small company that gives week long tours in Greece. She loves the history, she loves the architecture and she loves Greece, but she struggles with being entertaining to a group of tourists, some American, some British, some Australian and some just old and annoying. Her co-worker, Niko, does everything he can to appeal not only to his group, but Georgia’s group as well, being funny, buying them food, skipping the boring history to go shopping and so on.

The movie is about a week in Georgia’s life, and how she figures it out… through a number of sources, including an excellent Richard Dreyfuss playing the typically loudmouth funny old guy, “Irv” and a bus driver who takes a liking to her--a bus driver who's name is pronounced "Poopy Cacas"

The movie is a bit long, and towards the end I was hoping it would come to a conclusion… and finally, it does. “My Life in Ruins” is light, its breezy, its fun and Nia Vardalos is her beautiful, real self.

And even though its getting some pretty terrible reviews, I will probably go see her other film that's out, "I Hate Valentine's Day".

THE ANGELS & DEMONS… “Angels & Demons”
Sigh. I didn’t hate this movie as much as I hated the fact that I thought it was silly. It wasn’t smart. It wasn’t riveting. It wasn’t suspenseful. It was silly. When you use the words “Catholicism”, “Illuminati” and “anti-matter’s destructive power” to write your screenplay, I’m not sure it works. I’ve heard the book is awesome, and I have no doubt that is a fact, but the movie just didn’t work for me. Eh.

I miss fun Tom Hanks.

AT WARS… And Travolta Wearing A Rocking ‘Stache
"The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" has a formula has been done before, and I don’t mean in the original movie. I mean, someone (in this case, John Travolta) takes something (in this case, NYC subway car 123) hostage, and a very unlikely someone else (in this case, Denzel Washington) ends up being caught right in the middle.

But you know what? Despite the fact you’ve seen this plot a thousand times, despite the fact you have a good idea how this is going to end before the first ransom demand is made, this movie works. It works for two reasons… 1) Denzel. 2) Travolta as a bad guy.

Well, fine, 3) Travolta’s rocking ‘stache.

Tony Scott directed, and you can tell if you’ve seen the other Tony/Denzel collaborations like “Crimson Tide”, "Man on Fire" or "Deja Vu", or Tony's earlier works like "Enemy of the State" or “Top Gun” or any of the other frenzied action movies he’s led. After one particular crazy camera shot, I leaned over and whispered to The Lovely Steph Leann, "That's a very Tony Scott kind of shot." She agreed.

Its full of F-bombs and violence, a few over the top action scenes and the plot is actually pretty good, one of those back-and-forth cat & mouse games, and unlike "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen", John Turturro is actually respectable and believable.

And what's come up now? Well, "Public Enemies", which we'll probably go see this weekend... "Inglorious Basterds", which I'm sure I'll go see with Mikey... "GI Joe: Rise of Cobra", which is sure to be a ridiculously bad yet fantastic movie... "The Ugly Truth", which I'm sure The Lovely Steph Leann will make me take her to see... and of course...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Wrestling Midgets Killed By Fake Prostitutes (and other thoughts)

Just some randomocity while leaning back, enjoying the first hours of two days off. Just got home from Starbucks, making lattes and servin' up the caffeine magic. My friend MZ just took over the managerial position there, so I'm pretty excited for her and pretty excited to be good friends with someone in such a powerful position. Perhaps I can get the shifts I want...


Worked at The Happiest Place in the Mall, and of course, first thing this morning, had a little boy and a little girl weave a path of destruction and disaster through the store. The little boy just liked pulling things off of the shelf and racks, and tossing them onto the floor. It got so bad that I just stayed about ten feet behind him, and when he looked the other way, I put the stuff he had just thrown down back up again. The worst was when he grabbed the Cars baseball set, complete with a big foam bat in the plastic casing, and starting swinging it around. Hitting things. Knocking things off. I was truly coming up with ways, in my mind anyway, to kick the kid in the back. Actually, I take that back... I wanted to kick the mom in the back. As I stood there in front of her, picking up after her child, she just smiled and gave a "aw, he's so cute" face.

The little girl was another story. In The Happiest Place in the Mall we have two register areas. We call 'em Box Offices. The one in the front is the primary register area, but the one in the back is accessable and we use it daily around Christmas time. Currently, though, the entrance has a rope over it to keep people out (which only works sometimes) and behind it, are stacks of snowglobles, among other things. There are some shelves there as well, displaying open demos of the snowglobes, and when a guest wants to look at one, I will pull it down, maybe wind it up, or turn it on, or show off the features.

I looked up this morning, however, and there is a little girl holding an Ariel "mini" or small snowglobe, one thats only about four inches high, if that. She's walking out from behind the back box office. Its only $14.50, but its not the price I'm worried about. I walk over to her, hurridly, and kneel down and say, "Hey princess... can I see your snowglobe there? Let me hold it for you, because its very breakable." She hands it over to me, giggles and runs to her mom, WHO IS STANDING NEARBY. Let me say that again. The girl is in an area that she isn't supposed to be in, and her guardian and safekeeper is standing feet away either not caring, or not watching or both.

Oh, it gets worse. The little girl is maybe 3 or 4 years old. Certainly not tall enough to reach the snowglobes on her own tippy toes. So what did she do? She used the boxed, new snowglobes that were under the shelf to climb up and get the one she wanted. When I walk back behind the Box Office, I see that several of the snowglobe boxes were disheveled and moved around. I close my eyes, breath a sigh of relief and straighten up, because let me say this very clearly... had she knocked this shelf off onto her head, this shelf that contained about four mini-snowglobes, two or three medium sized and one really heavy one, plus the fact that the shelf itself is made of glass, that little girl is in the hospital right now. With serious injuries to her head and face. And guess who's fault it is? Yep. Ours. I was working with Snow White, and told her that I should call DHR on her mom for being a biscuit head. But I digress.


As I type, I sit back and watch WWE: Raw. Its exciting, because tonight's "guest host" is Ted DiBiase, the Million Dollar Man, who comes out with his familiar theme song (Money money money... ) and he's holding his diamond studded Million Dollar belt. Myself, Tommy Mac and Mikey met him once a few years ago, as DiBiase, a solid Christ Follower, was speaking at a Christian conference of some sort. He told me that he wasn't sure about Hulk Hogan's salvation (keep in mind, this was like, 2000, before "Hogan Knows Best") but he knew that Sting and Chris Jericho were Believers, and then he demostrated the Million Dollar Hold on me. Tommy Mac got a pic of it, but I think he lost it. Shame. I would still be flaunting that pic if I could.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but this looks like Ravishing Rick Rude that DiBiase is hoisting...


Speaking of WWE: Raw and 'rasslin... just found a Best Buy gift card I recieved for Christmas a few years ago... okay, The Lovely Steph Leann found it (formalities)... anyway, let me tell you, on August 25th, I'm taking it and heading to Best Buy to get this video right here. And I'm stoked, if only to hear The WolfPac theme song in its proper context. The Wolfpac is back causin' mass destruction, can't you see the bad boys o'wrestlin... don't turn your back on The Wolfpac, or you might end up in a bodybag....


Favorite song of the year thusfar, and will possibly rank in the top ten coolest things of the year as my favorite song of the year tends to do... "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson. Runner up, thusfar? "You Belong to Me" by Taylor Swift, which might have my favorite video of the year... truly, the song is precious and the video is super sweet.


Found this on Fox News...

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities say two professional wrestlers found dead in a low-rent hotel in the capital may have been drugged to death by female robbers.

Autopsies are being performed on the two midget wrestlers, one of whom went by the name "La Parkita" — or "Little Death" — and wore a skeleton costume in the ring. The other was known as "Espectrito Jr."

Authorities say two women were seen leaving the men's hotel room before the bodies were discovered.

Prosecutor Miguel Angel Mancera said Wednesday that gangs of female robbers are experienced at using drugs to knock men out and rob them, but they may have used too strong a dose.
That may have been because of the wrestlers' small stature, although larger men have also died in similar crimes.

The other story I almost posted was "Teacher Sends Feces Home in Student's Backpack, School Not Amused" but I figured I would cut through the crap and give you the real news. (what, you thought I was kidding? Oh nay nay)


Did this whole section on John Grisham, and how disappointed I've been in several of his books this year, but decided to delete it, figuring that could be its own post. For whatever reason, I've managed to read four of his books this year, and have got a bookmark in one (and will probably finish it later, though you'll read later why its not now), and am working on "The Innocent Man", which is completely fascinating. No, Wookiee, it's not the movie starring Tom Selleck and that guy from "Sledge Hammer!".


There are 3 books/series that have intimidated me for a long time. The first is The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and actually, you'd probably need to toss in "The Hobbit" as well. I'm sure they are fantastic, I've heard as much, but really, they are just so long and involved and it would take sooooo much concentration.

Secondly, Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. All seven books.

Finally, "The Stand" by Stephen King, another book that is just huge. Well, while at Barnes & Noble I decided it was time. So I picked it up... and I'm 32 pages in thusfar. Only about 1100 pages to go. So far, the 32 pages are great.


Its no secret that "Campbell Isaiah" and "Lorelei Addison" have been names that The Lovely Steph Leann and I have bandied about and discussed and high probabilities for our children's names... here's another that I like, with the first name being my choice and the middle being one that The Lovely Steph Leann has said she really has come to like... "Naomi McKenna". Sounds very preppy and BMW drivery... but it might work. I have really taken a liking to Naomi. I guess its at least 10 months down the road, though. If not much more.


And finally... here's a story from the interweb. Its about Kendra Wilkinson, her recent marriage and her pregnancy... for those of you under a rock, or named Emmy Turnbow, Kendra was on a show on E! called "The Girls Next Door" about three... well, birthday suit models that lived with Hugh Hefner, and appeared in this magazine that sounds like "Play" and "boy". No, I never watched the show. I only mention her at all because I thought the following story was a hoot... oh, and I don't recommend Googling her images unless you have the SafeSearch button on. Just sayin'.

Now that Kendra Wilkinson and Hank Baskett are officially husband and wife the reality show duo is focusing on the next important phase - parenthood.

While Hugh Hefner’s 23-year-old former flame has led a pretty wild life (besides being Hugh Hefner's girlfriend, the number of times she's revealed her assets in public is well into the double digits), and said earlier this year that Baskett was helping her find God for the first time, she is determined to be a strict religious mama.

"Our child will definitely be Christian," Wilkinson told Tarts last week, with Basket adding that they are going to be "very strict" yet still "spoil" their young ones at appropriate times.
"But they are going to have to earn it, we're not just going to hand it to them. Most importantly, they have to keep good grades because school comes first and then everything else after that," he explained. "Being a father is something I've always wanted and something Kendra and I have talked about from the time we met, we're just truly excited and truly blessed to be becoming parents very soon. We pretty much fell in love right away and when you ask someone to marry you that means you really want them to be the woman in charge of your family, the person to be your teammate in raising the child."

Although the expecting parents won’t find out until a few weeks what their first born’s gender is, they already have names prepared.

"If it’s a boy Hank the 4th and if it’s a girl Arianna, we love Arianna," Wilkinson enthused. "I’m feeling so good, I’m in my 2nd trimester now at 14 weeks and I’m feeling like a whole new person, I feel great."

And with that, I've got nothing more to add....

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Lovely Steph Leann's Shares Her Disney

So, several weeks ago, d$ and I were talking about me “guest blogging” on his blog, a la The Sports Guy and his wife. I was thinking how that would be fun, as sometimes I feel like some of d$'sblogs need more than just a “comment” from me (not to mention, who reads those but Dave anyway?). While we were in Disney a few weeks ago with our friends, The Rays, d$ and I thought it might be cool for me to blog about Disney for my first “guest appearance.” So, here I am! On your favorite blog. And there’s nothing you can do about it—HA! Except. . . “red X” me. Wait! Don’t do that! I was just kidding! Where was I? Oh yeah, Disney.

d$ decided he would do a “top 10,” but I wanted to share My Disney. First off, if you’re not “into Disney,” you may not understand. I can’t tell you exactly how, or when, I became such a huge Disney fan. All I know is that I love it there. No matter how close together my trips are, I still get “that feeling” when I walk through the gates of a Disney World Park. I sniff the air, hear the music, take in the insane amounts of architecture that creates each parks’ atmosphere, and I’m overwhelmed with a sense of belonging. I am here. This is the most Magical place on Earth. Dreams can come true here. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do. So, we head off. Walk what seems like 5 million miles. Eat what seems like 5 million calories (because no one gains weight at Disney). Hear what seems like 5 million babies crying (well, maybe not 5 million. . .). There’s never any doubt you are where you are. If you allow it, the outside world does not exist here. I do my best to enact the rule that we not watch “real TV” while we are here. It’s just us and The World. Who needs a tropical island?

One of my all time favorite things to do here is “attend” the Wishes fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom. Around 9 o’clock Disney time, the lights dim around the Kingdom and it’s just you and the castle. The Blue Fairy comes over the airwaves, “When stars are born, they possess a gift or two. One of those is they have the power to make a wish come true.” Then a little girl starts to sing, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish, I wish tonight. We'll make a wish, and do as dreamers do, and all of our wishes (all our wishes), will come true. I won’t type out the whole script here, and yes, I do have it, but you get the point. You hear various Disney Princesses and characters all wishing for something.

As I previewed this video from YouTube, it was playing aloud. Sez The Lovely Steph Leann... "I was working on getting that song out of my head, and you totally put it back." Right before she starts singing it -- d$

Fireworks are timed to their lines. Disney music plays in the background. “Go the Distance” rings in our ears at one point. The boom of the fireworks bounces off the buildings all around us, making us jump in delight. Near the end, Jiminy Cricket, our “host” for the evening, gives us this one last piece of advice, “You see it’s just like I told ya. Wishes can come true, if you believe in them with all your heart. And the best part is you'll never run out of wishes. They're shining deep down inside of you. 'Cause that my friends is where the magic lives.” Then, as the fireworks explode all around, lighting up the sky as if a million lights just snapped on, the boom nearly bursting out your ear drums, you hear the music again, “Make a wish, and do as dreamers do. . .and all of our wishes will come true!”

I can’t explain it. I sit there, looking at the fireworks through my camera lens and sing along and every time, I get tears in my eyes. As I sit here writing this today, my eyes are a little blurry. There’s just ‘something’ about that show that will always touch a place inside me. Making me want to be A Dreamer.


(if you would like to be a guest blogger on "Clouds in My Coffee", let me know, and tell me your topic. I'd love to have more guests on the site...)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Revisionist History on the King of Pop

It's no secret I dug Michael Jackson. For all his eccentricities, the guy was talented. His music was awesome, his beats were awesome, his dancing was not only incredible to watch but impossible to duplicate, and he was one of my favorite artists of all time... at least, from the era of about 1969 to about 1992.

American Idol did a Michael Jackson themed night, and here's what I wrote on March 11th, 2009, in a column entitled "When Michael Jackson Was Awesome"...

We get the Michael Jackson montage, the King of Pop. Whats sad is that kids today just don't get it. They don't understand how big he really is... or was. "Thriller" was for almost 20 years the best selling albums of all time, and still in the Top Four. He invented the modern moonwalk. He invented the dance moves that are now employed by Fergie, Justin Timberlake, most R&B artists and more.
He was The Junk back in the 80s and 90s. When NBC did a Motown 25th anniversary special in 1983, MJ reunited with his brothers for the first time in 8 years, first performing with them, them on his own... he did "Billie Jean" and did the moonwalk for the very first time... and its like, everything was different. He broke out as the superstar phenom. Mocked now as a silly foot move, he did moves no one had ever seen, no one could do. He was like poetry on stage, the limber way he danced, moved, went all over the stage... MJ was unstoppable.
My personal favorite MJ song is "Say Say Say", but I do have a love for "Remember the Time", and "Wanna Be Startin' Something" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" and even his ballad, "I Just Can't Stop Lovin' You" was awesome, because back then, it wasn't creepy.
Now? Its creepy.
He practically invented the long-form music video too... a new Michael Jackson video was not just a premiere, it was an event. Back when MTV played, you know, music, and actual videos, you would wait up to see the new Michael Jackson video... when he introduced "Thriller", holy crap, it was amaaaaay-zing. Later on, videos for songs like "Remember the Time" and "Bad" and "Black or White" became these epic stories... though "Black and White" was kinda in the beginning of MJ's creepiness era.
Now, all anyone remembers of MJ is the little boys at Neverland Ranch, and the fact that he went from dark to medium black to pasty white in ten years, and that he's bankrupt and he has this high pitched voice and that he might just be a pedophile and he has two kids by surrogate moms and remember that uncomfortable kiss with Lisa Marie Presley at the MTV Music Awards some odd years back? Wow.

Okay, now that I've praised him, and you understand that I have always been a fan, let's get to the reality of what bothers me about this whole thing... well, I mean, other than the fact that, you know, he's dead and all.

If you said "Michael Jackson" around most people in, say, their upper 20s, early 30s and beyond, you'd probably get a few responses... "Thriller"... "Jackson 5"... "Neverland"... "Pedophile"... "Little Boys"... "Pasty White".

If you said "Michael Jackson" around those younger, maybe up to their mid-20s, you'd hear just a few things... "Thriller"... "Little Boys"... "White Guy". This is who Michael Jackson had become... a punchline. From the mid to late 80s, to the early 90s, he was a punchline of sorts, doing weird stuff like his skin treatments, his plastic surgery, trying to buy the bones of the Elephant Man (!), building his Neverland Ranch and so on... but at least he has his music to fall back on. People would say, "Yeah, he's odd, but have you heard the latest single? 'Dirty Diana' is awesome!" or "I heard what he's up to, and he's kinda weird... but man, 'Smooth Criminal' is off the chain!" (not sure "off the chain" was a common phase in 1992, but anytime I can use "off the chain", I think I'll take that chance).

Then came "Black or White", off of the "Dangerous" album. The CD itself is great, featuring two of my favorite Michael Jackson tunes, "Remember the Time" and "Jam", but "Black or White" is the song that did two things... first, it featured Macauley Culkin in the video, and set up this weird friendship between them... when Culkin started visiting--and spending the night--at Neverland Ranch, it was the first time that people started paying attention to this entire situation. Little boys, being given full permission by their parents, mind you, hanging out and spending the night with Michael Jackson.

It wasn't as if a group of them was goofing off and sleeping in a rec room--they were IN HIS ROOM. By his own admission, the kids were sleeping in the same room with Michael Jackson, some of them in his bed. Culkin has gone on record in 2005 in saying that nothing ever happened between he and MJ, and its true that nothing may have gone on with him, or for that matter ANY of the kids... but some things just aren't right. Some things just aren't acceptable.

Secondly, at the end of the "Black or White" video, MJ did this weird... well, it was a... he... uh... okay, he jumped on this car, grabbed his package about 65 times and smashed the car with a crowbar, yells "HOOOOO!!!!" alot, all before turning into a panther. No, I'm not making this up. In my mind, it was then and there that MJ had gone from eccentric but gifted artist to just flaky. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, they were eccentric but gifted, towing that fine line and never became flaky and nuts. MJ spilled over that line and kept dancing toward pop culture absurdity.

Keep in mind, the video for "Black and White", a remarkable-for-its-time video that premiered in November of 1991 on MTV, BET, Vh1 and Fox simultaneously, is over. The video is done. Now, we just see MJ being... well, what would become MJ. This is a censored version of what the final four minutes were--there is a version on YouTube that shows racist graffiti in the background and MJ smashing up the car, but all the codes were unavailable to post. But in this clip, you get the idea.

(Sidebar... how about after I posted this, then came back to make a small, quick correction I noticed that the still shot of the video, before you press play, is a shot of The King of Pop with his hand on his crotch. I feel like I'm back at Neverland Ranch again)

Suddenly, the hits stopped coming. Unless you are a diehard fan (which I am not, at least of his later work) you could probably name the albums up to "Bad", and some can get "Dangerous", but many would be hard pressed to come up with "Invincible", or even "HIStory: Book I", the first of several greatest hits packages. But the oddities kept on truckin'...

He married Lisa Marie Presley, in an act that most people saw right through. Maybe there was love there, maybe not. He married one of staff chicks, and had a couple of kids, probably through artificial means. He dangled one of them over a fourth story balcony. He had more skin treatments done.

And then there was the child molestation trial. He was acquitted in the court, settling with the kid for something reported to be like $20, maybe $25 million dollars. But in the "court of public opinion", he was tried, convicted and hung. No, the verdict in the real court wasn't "guilty", but the verdict in the OJ trial was also "not guilty", and you see where that went.

And MJ's death didn't surprise me in the least. Not at all. Matter of fact, I've said before that I never saw him getting old, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was some sort of suicide. What did surprise me a little, though, was the acceptance of MJ's legacy in such a positive light.

Yes, yes, it was expected that people would praise his music (see first five or six paragraphs above) and his talents, but I've heard very little about the last 17 years. It seems that those times never happened... there is all sorts of revisionist history going on in the mainstream media, discussing how great he was, but not how strange he was. Don't forget, folks... whether it was all innocent fun or darkly perverse, this is a guy who had 7 and 8, through 11 and 12 year old males sleeping in his room, that when girls of the same age would sleep over, they would sleep in other rooms.

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was a co-founder of the Crips street gang, and was convicted in 1979 for four murders, being executed in 2005 for one of them. Later in his life, he renounced gang life, wrote children's books, and spoke out in anti-gang activism. All good things he did as he got older. Whether the good outweighs the bad I'm not going to discuss, that's another topic, but I myself have to be careful not to smirk scornfully about someone like Tookie, and think he could never make up for his crimes and wrong deeds, while at the same time, gloss over the wrong deeds that Michael Jackson did by looking at how good his "good" was. Make sense? Its late.

Don't get me wrong, in recent days I have seen and heard a few people in the media begin to raise the question of his true legacy, but not like I thought I would. Maybe its a good thing. Maybe its good to remember him in his greatness.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Michael Jackson. Personally, I don't know that anything really happened in Neverland. I think the kid was really just wanting money, and I don't say that lightly, as crimes against children are reprehensible. I think Michael Jackson grew up without a chance to "grow up", and spent much of the late 80s and early 90s listening to the wrong people, the wrong people who delighted in helping him spend his bajillions, being naive about the way the world works, and wondering why everyone though he was so weird. And I don't think his comeback would have lasted too long.

But... his music lasts forever. And its awesome.

By the way, the secret to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"s famous "ma ma se mama sa ma ma coo sa" line is revealed... its actually a term used by a guy named Manu Dibango, an artist in Cameroon who recorded a song in 1972 called "Soul Makossa", a funk driven hit. "Makossa" is a Cameroon native dance, and in the song, Dibango stretches out the word to "Ma-mako, ma-ma-ssa, mako mako-ssa", which ended up being sampled by Michael Jackson. The interesting story is right here...