Monday, July 31, 2017

"Michiana, 2017"

I am not a magician.

“You’re not?”

No.  I cannot make a giant motorcycle disappear and then amazingly bring it back lower down in the post.  I am unable to do that.

“We never expected you to do that.”

Good.  Because I can’t.

“Then why did you bring up that you’re not a magician?”

What I mean is that I am not a magician in the sense that I cannot take an uneventful vacation and make it scintillatingly exciting.  Let me quickly assure you, however, that an uneventful vacation is not necessarily a disappointing vacation. 

It’s all a question of expectations.  If you visit a presumed exciting destination and the experience turns out to be disappointing, that’s a disappointing vacation.  If, conversely, however, you visit an unexciting destination and it turns out to be unexciting, that could in fact be a wonderful vacation because you got exactly what you were counting on. 

The delicious exquisiteness of “nothing happening.”

Case In Point:  Michiana, 2017.  (Which made the uneventfulness of Michiana, 2106 feel comparatively like the Mardi Gras.)

Thinking back on the matter, it appears to me that, with sporadic exceptions such as our spectacular excursion to Turkey four of five years ago, my preferred traveling destinations – Hawaii, the fitness place that we go to in Mexico, and our annual excursion to Michiana – are unilaterally “nothing happens” destinations. 

So I guess I enjoy them.  Slow down.  Take it easy.  No infuriating “Robo-calls.”  No demanding duties and obligations.  That’s apparently my vacation regimen of choice. 

Or is it?

It only recently occurred to me that our current vacation configuration describes scheduled respites from the stress and intense pressure of a life I don’t live anymore, and that somehow, my vacation-planning-decision-making process has not caught up to my current predicament.

It’s like I’m following an outdated scenario.  “Take it easy because you work so terribly hard”?  I have not worked terribly hard since 1997.  Actually since 2001, but 1997 is a funnier number.  Going back to the previous setup…

What exactly am I relaxing from?

Anyway, here we are in Michiana, so named – are you bored with this? – because the vacation community lies at the border of Michigan and Indiana, and in fact – here we go again – directly across the street from our “Central Time” tiny (750 sq. ft.) log cabin in Indiana, it is “Eastern Time” Michigan.  (INSERT LAME TIME ZONE DISTINCTION JOKE HERE.)  Okay, I’ll try one. 

“When the people across the street get up at seven in the morning we’re still sleeping because it’s six.”

I know.  I’m a little rusty.  I just came back.

What do I do most of the time?

I plunk myself down, Kindle-in-hand, onto the futon resting on our panoramic, screened-in porch, glancing up from time to time to acknowledge the arrival of deer ambling across our property, which seem more numerous this year than ever.  Leading a family member to (facetiously) suggest the need for additional predators.  I was taken aback by the Draconian proposal.  And so were the deer. 

“Okay, what’s the exact number when we spill over from ‘Get the camera!  A deer!’ into ‘dangerous infestation’?  I mean, it’s not like we’re bunnies!”

Interrupting the lolling lassitude, we go out and buy food to prepare or frequent local restaurants so we won’t have to go out and buy food to prepare.  In the evenings, if we have the requisite energy – reading and noticing deer can take a lot out of a person – we go to the movies at the AMC Showcase Michigan City 14 known to us as, “14 movies and nothing to see so we’ll have to see Wonder Woman.”

It is on one of those twenty-minute or so drives to the AMC Showcase Michigan City 14, that we pass a fascinating store sign.  (As you read this, take note of the range and specificity of the emporium’s inventory.)

The sign read:





I have readers (I like to imagine) from around the globe.  Is anyone out there aware of a store in your vicinity specializing exclusively in furniture, candy and chrome? 

“Dad, I know this will sound crazy to you.  But I have this dream of opening a store that sells furniture, candy and chrome.  I have driven the length and breadth of Michigan City and I realize we don’t currently have one.  Will you bankroll me Dad, to help me get started?”

“Sure, son.  But are you sure you don’t want to add carpeting?

“No Dad!  Furniture.  Candy.  And chrome!”

Good luck to them.  Is what I say.  Perhaps someday, when there’s a “Captain Ed’s” in Santa Monica, I’ll be able tell people, “We drove by ‘the Original’.”  And watch their genuinely impressed reactions.

The thing about going someplace where there is nothing at all going on is that my mind takes a break from worrying about doctors’ appointments (and their undesirable revelations) and recent car registration fiascos and, because the heat is temporarily off, discovering clarifying illuminations invading my consciousness that I can ponder and then communicate to strangers. 

But that’s for another day.

I shall leave you today with an obligatory, admittedly cherry-picked selection from a small town newspaper’s “Police Call” report.


A lost cat was found in front of a residence in the 200 block of Edward Street.  The homeowners said the cat did not belong to them.  It was taken to a kennel where it was placed in a cage with food and water.

Don’t you wish you lived in a place where that was actual printable news?

Well we do.

At least for one week a year.

Friday, July 28, 2017

"To Look Sharp..."

I am not being ungrateful, and banish the inference that I am. 

Here’s the situation.

My last Father’s Day gift was at my – repeatedly – personal request.  So if there is anyone to blame here – and there may actually be no one to blame – which does not necessarily make this an uninteresting story; it may instead be a reasonably worthwhile story with no an identifiable villain – a liability in say, a murder mystery – “It was ‘natural causes.’  Thank you, and good night.” – but, it should be hoped, not here.  I was going to say “hopefully”, but I have recently learned that that is not an actual word.  Though I am not entirely sure why.  Hopefully, someone can explain that to me.  (Ain’t I a devil?)

I have no idea what impelled me make that Father’s Day request.  (A request to begin “Paragraph Two” when it should have probably been included in “Paragraph One”) of an electric shaver.  (Better late than never.)  As I had throughout my life previously only used blades.  With one shot-lived exception.  I had received an electric shaver for my Bar Mitzvah, which I used but don’t have anymore.  That was long time ago.  It might actually have been a gas electric shaver.  Or an electric shaver powered by wood.

“Pour it on, Scottie!  I’ve got half my face left to go!”

This decision was not like when, some time in my fifties, I converted from jockeys to boxers.  That was a deliberate determination.  As the boxers inevitably shrank over their extended duration, they got tight around where the inside top of the leg meets the part directly above it, becoming uncomfortably binding.  I therefore switched to the roomier boxers and I have never looked back.


(Note:  I am listening to an Eddie Izzard CD.  It’s effect may have rubbed off.)

I had few serious complaints about shaving with blades.  Occasionally, I would nick myself on a miniscule mole lurking beneath the shaving cream and bleed for an inordinately lengthy interval, despite applying that “chalky stick” thing used to ostensibly staunch razor cuts. 


Aside from the blood, there was the shaving cream and the mess and you ran out and had to order more of it.  And more razor blades, as well.  (Although they appear to last forever.)  But overall, I had no deal-breaking beefs with the blade.

I suppose I was just ready for a change.  (I bought a new suit recently.  I did not need a new I suit – I have a perfectly good other suit – but when it comes to clothing, you just need to shake things up every decade or two.  If only to patriotically help the economy.)

So I get this electric shaver for Father’s Day, for which I am genuinely appreciative, despite the tone and tenor of this post.  And I am determined to “Make the Move.”

The thing is – and you may well know where this is going –

It’s not as good.

The electric shave is demonstrably – ask your fingertips – inferior to the blade shave.

It’s been almost sixty years since my Bar Mitzvah and, from an essentially “clean shave” standpoint, electric shavers seem to have barely improved.  I mean, they work.  And there’s no shaving cream and no blood, and it’s a comfortable experience, and all.  But in the end, you run your fingers across your face… and you still have a beard.  It’s not a tall one – instead of a “fairway” beard, it’s more like the "green” – but it’s not even close to what it’s like after shaving with a blade. 

Talk about ultimate smoothness.

After a blade shave, you could play hockey on my face.  You’d have to be small, but you could do it.  After a blade shave, Indians come over to feel your face.  A “blade shave” makes babies’ behinds jealous.

A JEALOUS BABY:  “Goo goo.  (But with an envious intonation.)

And it’s not like electric shaves are even faster.  At least, not for me.

With a blade shave, I shave off the shaving cream, and I know that that part of my face has been “covered.”  With an electric razor, it’s like, “Did I do that part already?”  Unable to distinguish the “done” parts from the “undone” parts, I can easily leave the house with an embarrassing “checkerboard shave.”

Of course, I may be talking about “Pilot Error” error.  Quoting a Randy Newman song, in a naughtier context, “Maybe I’m doing it wrong.”  Who knows, maybe I am.  Without the “shaving cream guidepost” I’m like a blind person mowing the lawn.  I could be easily re-covering the same patch.

Maybe it’s simply an unjust comparison – apples and razor blades.  I mean, think about it.  “Best Company to Service Your Shaving Requirements – a company that makes swords (e.g., Wilkinson) or a company that makes blenders (Braun).

I’ll let you in on a secret.  After I have “covered” my face – as best I can – with my electric, I revisit the still stubbly areas with my blade.  It’s like,

SALVAGING BLADE:  “Step aside, Junior.  Watch and learn.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me; I could have a natural “blade beard.”  I hope it’s actually the head-to-head comparison.

Somewhere deep down, I take a subversive pleasure in seeing the “modern thing” shown up by the enduring perennial.  Not everything new is necessarily better.

Though I can think of no examples of that other than razors.  Can you?

Well at least there’s one.  And if there’s one…

I have to stop here. 

I am beginning to sound like an optimist.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Oka - The Disappointment"

Memo To The Curious Moviegoer:

Everything is subjective.  Except the previous statement, which is unshakably correct.  Absolute Truth in religion – for those who believe in it – that too. Everything else – totally up for grabs.

I “get” that movie reviews necessarily reflect the subjective opinion of the reviewer.  But when reviewers’ opinions depart dramatically from my own… you know, when they ran into my car at the Lexus dealership, despite conclusive videoed evidence to the contrary, the dealership’s manager adamantly denied his company’s responsibility for the accident.  When I continued pressing him about it, he asked, “Why do you need me to admit it was our fault?  To which I explanatorily replied,

“So I will not feel I am entirely crazy.”

It’s the same with reviews.  I see something; the reviewers see something.  It’s not we disagree somewhat, it’s like we saw two entirely different movies.  It is then I require a correcting “Reality Check.” 

Am I out my senses, or what?

Coast to coast, critics are raving about Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's new feature release, Okja.

New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott – “… wonderful new film.”  

L.A. Times Justin Chang – “…thrilling…”

E. Raymond Pomerantz?

“I don't like it.”

You see how we’re not close?

Yes, there’s this adorable CGI animal that’s supposed to be a giant pig but looks more like a soft hippopotamus.  Who says you mutate a pig and it turns suddenly gray and its traditional “pig-nose” becomes puppyish?  That’s not believable, is it?  Still, it is cute and you want one. 

The visual interplay between Okja, the genetically modified porker and the teenerish Mija – though I usually dislike CGI because it looks phonily stupid – is breathtaking, because this time, it doesn’t. 

The two physically roll around together – an actual person and a computerized drawing – and it looks like they’re both real.  (Assuming a real pig can be “supersized” and turn gray.)

I enjoyed the gamboling “girl-pig” part a lot.  But that’s all I enjoyed.

Here’s what you get, plot-wise.

An idyllic opening interlude between a serious-minded young girl and her unusual-looking pet pig in a setting as perfectly pastoral as a painting.  The mercenary mega-company who temporarily outsourced him – I think Okja’s a “him” – to Mija’s caretaking grandfather return to retrieve the pig with plans of submitting him to some nefarious undertakings – a genetically-modified pig beauty contest, some obligatory mating and then, inevitable slaughter. 

The resolute Mija bravely pursues the repossessed pig all the way to New York, bent on returning Okja to the perfectly pastoral painting; I mean, to what she and Okja collectively call “home.”  Which is inherently the same thing.  I just liked writing it that way.

The film begins naturalistically.  Then the diabolical pig-murderers arrive, and it’s “Crazy Town.”

What comprises the the rest of the movie is a “No Quarter” cell of “Animal Rights” activists battling genocidal pig slaughterers.  And nobody’s really that nice.  Even the “Animal Rights” activists kick people when they’re down.  (And not at all metaphorically.)

It’s like two movies in one – a sweetly sensitive “girl-and-her-pig” movie – reminiscent of a kid-and-their-dolphin movie or an Eskimo-kid-and-their-sled-dog movie – and a live-action “Splatter” cartoon.  Leaving you questioning whether the mutated pig is drawn and the people are real, or is it the other way around?  From a behavioral standpoint, the CGI pig is more inherently credible.  Do you see how unsatisfying that is?

The reviewers?  They loved it. 

“A miracle of imagination and technique.”  

“A marvel of contemporary technical wizardry and old-fashioned cuddliness.”

Me?  “No sale.”  And nowhere nearing “a close call.”  Good thing I’m not a film critic. 



“A Narrative Train Wreck!”

Not good for the posters.  

We walked up there (to the movie theater) because of the hyper-positive review, discovering to our leg-weary chagrin that our selected “show time” was sold out.  Who says newspaper film critics have no palpable effect?  How else would you explain the surprise sellout?  Barring some unheralded coterie of Bong Joon-ho devotees living in Santa Monica. 

We walk back the following evening – having ordered tickets on-line, in case the groundswell of Okja-mania had not entirely subsided.  We get in…

… and very quickly, we sincerely wish that we hadn’t.

My own personal opinion:

Do not see Okja.

Unless you’re a sucker for questionably conceived cyber-pigs.

Or unless the reviewers are right, and my concurring filmgoing companion and myself are totally bonkers.

You see how “subjective” works?

Personally truthful.  But, practically,

No help at all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Car Troubles - The Inexorable Slog"

After a false start following my recent DMV excursion, where I went to an utomotive service center close to my house, hoping to get an enabling leg-up on fulfilling my “Brakes and Lamps” certification requirement, and the automotive service center attendant lied about being an authorized “Brakes and Lamps” professional – he wasn’t – lied about my smog certificate being invalid – it wasn’t – and lied about the nearest authorized “Brakes and Lamps” being downtown, twenty miles away – it wasn’t – hitting the admirable “Trifecta” of “I really hate this guy”, I went home, sensing that completing the demanding DMV prerequisites for my “Registration” certificate were not going to be easy.

(Reminder:  Registering a “Salvage” car – a car the insurance company has “totaled out” after an accident – is considerably more onerous than for a regular car.  Secondary Reminder:  They hit me!) 

The next day, bright and afternoony – I do this writing in the morning – after completing the pages of forms I’d been sent home with, I decided to mitigate the situation by availing myself of modern technology, researching the nearest “Authorized ‘Brakes and Lamps’ centers in Santa Monica” on the internet. 

It turns out, contrary to what I had been mistold the evening before, there were plenty of them.  I wrote down some names, hoping to ace the authorized “Brakes and Lamps” certification hurdle and then hop over to the DMV with my completed documents, and “Spit-Spot!” as they say in England, I’d be finished, driving merrily on my way.

I drive into the automotive service center I’d selected, I get out of my car, walk over to the attendant and I say,

“I need an authorized ‘Brakes and Lamps’ certification.”

He says,

“We don’t do that.”

Did I mention it said on the internet they did?”

Fortunately, the man refers me to a reachable automotive service center that can actually help me.  I get back in my car and I immediately drive over there.  And indeed, the appropriately named Joy Automotive is exactly what I am looking for.  They can definitely help me.

Unfortunately, not right away.

There is an hour’s work ahead of me, and the “Brakes and Lamps” test will take another hour to complete.  My available options are three in number:  I can make an appointment for another day.  I can leave and come back an hour later, but since Joy Automotive is, without an appointment, a “First come, first serve” operation, I might then have to wait even longer.  Or I can stay there for two hours and get it done.  

I decide on “Option Number 3”.   I notice a cemetery across the street from Joy Automotive.  I immediately envy its inhabitants.

No paperwork.

Flash forward – if you can characterize a yawning expenditure of time a “Flash” – the Joy Automotive mechanic comes over to where I am waiting and says, “I want to show you something.”

Have you ever known “I want to show you something” to ever be good news?

It wasn’t.

With my car elevated on a hoist, the mechanic reveals that, although I had passed “Brakes” with flying colors, behind the left front turning signal under the fender, there is no wiring and no socket, making my left front turning signal functionally inoperative, which meant I had ignominiously flunked “Lamps.”

Apparently, when the dealership Body Shop put my car back together after the accident, through accidental oversight, breathtaking incompetence or deliberate neglect, they had left me with a “Potemkin” turning signal – all “show” in the front, and behind it, there was nothing.

Tic Tac Toe

Back to the Lexus dealership to get the forgotten underpinning for my turning signal, back to Joy Automotive to show it was fixed, procuring official “Brakes and Lamps” certification, then over to the DMV – a three-step process sucking more time out of the precious remainder of my life.

Unfortunately, “Tic” would take longer than expected. 

By now, it was Friday afternoon and the Lexus Body Shop was closed for the weekend.  Accepting a courtesy “Loaner Car” (having now received a replacement “Proof of Insurance” certificate), I leave my car at the dealership, promised that the repair work will be taken care of first thing Monday morning.

I call the dealership Monday afternoon.

“What’s goin’ on over there?”

“Let me check, and I’ll get back to you.” 

The guy never got back to me.

I call Tuesday afternoon,

“Why is this taking so long?”

“Well, we lost the car…”

“You lost the car?”

“It’s okay.  We found it.  Your work will be completed by four.”

I drive to the dealership at four, and my car is ready.  I drive to Joy Automotive, and I flash them my left front turning signal, receiving my authorized “Brakes and Lamps” certification.  I drive over to the DMV, where, I line up to get a number, “B-153”, so I can sit on a chair and wait for “B – 153” to be called.  When “B -153” is finally called, I am dispatched to “Window Number 10” where I utter a hopefully, sympathy-earning “How’re ya doin’?”  A woman with a distinctive Rosanne Barr whine processes my paperwork, and then issues me a “Registration” certificate, along with, to my surprise, a new set of license plates.

“Where are the ooooold license plates?” the Rosanna “sound-alike” inquires.

“They’re on the car.”

“You are supposed to bring them innnnnnnn.”

“They are on.  The car.”

It has been a week since this torturous ordeal began.  I am entirely out of politeness.

Seeing sparks flying out of my eyeballs, Ms. Rosannne “sound-alike” judiciously relents. 

“Make sure you destroyyyyy them.”

“I shall explode them with dynamite.” 

I did not actually say that, fearing arrest for destroying government property, even property struck from the Department of Motor Vehicle records because they are the plates of a car that seemingly no longer exists.  (I was required to also surrender my “Pink Slip.”  When someone later asked me who now owns the car, I assertively said, “Nobody.”)

Then, finally…

It was over.

If this were a kid, during a moment of weakness – my life a pointillist painting of moments of weakness – I’d have inevitably said,

“You have no idea the things I do for you.”

But it was a car.

I slipped my “Registration” certificate into my glove compartment, and I quietly drove home.