Saturday, September 26, 2009
Alrighty, so the story revolves around Francis, a hemp farmer and interpretive banjo avant-garde conceptualizer who travels three months of the year to Africa to help them run clown schools for the deaf and those susceptible to renal failure.
His partner and love of his life, Jessica, is a folk-singer who plays free shows for Sandinista Rebels and the Society of WW I Half-Track Repairmen. On her time off she crafts beautifully made stained-glass windows for neighbours, friends, and a homeless man who, while looking craggy and utterly without the benefit of modern psychiatric phramacology, is actually very kind and gentle at heart.
They lead a life of warmth and laughter and fill it with quirky friends and a non-traditional yet heartwarming interpretation of the extended family.
Then one day, Francis meets William, a high powered hedge fund manager, champion polo player, and second captain for a nationally ranked yacht team. William, through a series of very low-key and understated adventures, exposes Francis to the rat-race of broken dreams, high grade Columbian White, and 30-something Type-A personalities who are already working on their third angina. He's drawn into a lifestyle of power and six-martini lunches.
Before Francis knows it, he's sold his hemp farm, divorced Jessica, and used exotic financial tools to bilk the African clown schools out of every dime they ever had and then parlayed that money into seeding a venture capital firm which helps build companies that sell and distribute, piecemeal, former Soviet Russia's war machine.
Next is a time-lapse series of events, showing him going through his insanely structured life filled with high-priced Italian cars and higher-priced women. Cross-fades of him laughing hysterically and him sobbing in unhinged peals of deepest anguish, all, of course, in front of some sort of stock-trading computer. Several shots of him in a daze in luxurious rooms surrounded by various indescribable sex and/or drug paraphernalia.
The end of the movie will have him meet up with Jessica, by chance. They don't recognize each other. She has dropped her previous lifestyle and has become a high-powered music executive. The movie closes on them having empty, meaningless sex, each focused in the middle distance while Joe Cocker's version of With a Little Help from My Friend plays over Jessica's immaculate $178,000 custom-engineered Bose stereo system.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Now, I mean this in a slightly derogatory way, but only if you're one to take affront to being called brash, loud, and in possession of far more ego than is healthy. I mean, people wear cowboy hats, in public, and not just during Halloween.
There is a very respectable showing of that slightly irksome sticker "Support our Troops" on seemingly every car. Now here I am, getting political, which I try to avoid as I know little about either side and am generally disappointed whenever I get behind one or the other. But "Support our Troops" has that... that strange air of meaning something very important and then meaning nothing at all. Like 'All Natural', 'Neutral Viewpoint' or 'Mainly Bug-free'.
Who doesn't support the men and women who put themselves in harm's way? But how? By voting for officials who will keep putting them in harms way? By sending them gift baskets? By thinking good thoughts? I guess on one side it's a bit... it sounds like the whole bumper sticker thing is made by cynical neo-cons to create a wedge issue, on the other, it certainly makes one remember that there are troops somewhere, representing our interests (hopefully), and trying as best as they can to avoid injury or death. It's good that there are reminders about that.
Wow, I really typed myself onto the fence on that one.
Back to Calgary. Land of the oil barons and conservative politics. Rodeos! Steak! Things vaguely western! To me it's miles and miles of undulating (I think our friends who lived there said it was.. rolling foothills? They just looked like slightly less flat prairies, to me) hills filled with McMansions and hyper efficient highways.
American highways. Those beasts of concrete that take up twelve more lanes than they should and are spaced so far apart that you need a rest area half way through an on-ramp. Maybe you are American, Imaginary Blog Reader, so you know well of what I speak.
In Vancouver, our highway system is cramped, utterly tiny, and painfully congested. It's like the worst of Europe and the worst of LA in a small, rain soaked area of the Pacific Northwest. Whereas most roadway systems in North America have a super fast highway that circles the city and allows for ingress and egress. Vancouver has one tiny highway, which stops short of the city proper, so one has to go through normal roads to get into the city. It's just as hectic and as brain embolism inducing as it sounds. (A happy by product is that the entire Lower Mainland has really excellent population density).
Onto this constellation of asphalt and yellow lines we drove our rental car. We were happy with a subcompact, that's what we drive at home, a little Mazda, just as much as we need, we figure. The Calgarian at the rental company looked at us, our two brood, and upgraded us to a 'full-sized' car, free.
Full-sized certainly is, especially when you are talking domestic cars. We got a Dodge Charger. Which is part muscle car and part 'good lord why is there so much leg room in here do they think we are transporting giraffe-spider hybrids?'.
I grew up with Dukes of Hazzard so the idea of driving a muscle car was kinda thrilling. Massive eighty ton monsters of road. Chunky road slicks! WELDED DOORS! Mrs. Owl didn't take too kindly to the idea of "Daisy Dukes", however.
Those big cars aren't terribly responsive though. I'm used to small city streets and a top speed of, oh, say, 90 km/h (no, I'm not converting it, go look it up, ya dang Yankee). You hit 100, our Protege5 lets us know that things are 'not cool', we hit around 120, and there had better be a swarm of locusts and a monsoon of frogs on our tail because we are going a Certifiably Dangerous Speed. Things shudder. RPMs on the motor are certainly audible. Air keens through the less resilient windows. This is how I'm used to driving.
In the Charger, you move the steering wheel, and just about after you toasted your bagel and got through the trickier bits of the NY Times crossword, there might be in indication that the car has acknowledged your request and is on its way to possibly altering course. One gets the sense that you need a sergent-at-arms or a quartermaster or some other titled position in order to steer it. The use of sextant would not be surprising.
And then I got onto the highway. At some point, while gliding easily along, I glanced at the speedometer, that told me in no uncertain terms that we were going 110, and that, if it wasn't too much trouble, could we get to driving at some point? I punched it up to 120 just to see if I might hear the engine at some point. I think it may have purred. Of course, since I was on an American Style highway, it appeared I was going about 20km/h, in a school zone, through a bit of pudding, in low gravity, while running my car on good-thoughts and tightly wound rubber bands..
So, there are definitely some good things about a Charger. Suicidally fast speeds. Smooth ride. I think at some point I thought I might look pretty rad in a cowboy hat, and saying 'yahooo'.
I moved Grade 10 to some city school. The mullets weren't as rampant, and the 1972 Camaros and '82 corvettes were replaced with cars that were so riced up they made "The Fast & The Furious" vehicles look like your grandma's K-Car. With the beeping reverse. Supras, RX-7s, s2000s, cars that had wheels that were more expensive as my first car.
Oh, and the school was about 90% not-white (where not-white is Indian or Asian (where Asian is Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese (where Chinese is all the way from hard core Honger who comes to school in a Mercedes 500 SL to the CBC who doesn't know Dim Sum from KFC's boneless wings))).
It was a slight adjustment for me.
One of these adjustments was dealing with a school that was about 50 feet from an arcade. For some reason, the kids from Hong Kong were really really really really really good at Street Fighter II. There were two big screen games set up, and two more just plain cabinets. The reigning champ would sit, slumped, with the arrogant Triad gangster air that is hard to describe, and stay there until he was bested.
At some point a dot-matrix printed Street Fighter II Bible was circulated. I kid you not. there were moves and combos and ... just.... Think Game Faqs except more obsessive and crazy.
The moves these kids did were, I daresay, things that most nerds have not seen. Here are things I"ve seen them do:
-freeze Guile (during which you cannot hit him, he's in the middle of a high kick, i think)
-mute the game (yes, by some game combo hackery)
-reboot the game (no, not by reaching on the top of the cabinet)
-turn Dhalsim invisble (this was before the SF version where Dhalsim could go invisible. He couldnt' attack, he just disappeared)
-do the infamous Invisible Throw (Guile would do a Medium throw movement, and even though the opponent was far away, they'd just fall down and take throw damage).
It was a heady time. This was, as far as I can tell, the Asian equivalent of early 80's Breaking Dance Offs. There were strange rituals, like, if you won the first game, you 'gave' the second round to the other player; that is, you played the 2nd round hard, but when the other player was almost dead, you'd just took your hands off the controls. Breaking this ritual was... frowned upon.
Anyhow, that's my story of the Super Awesome Hardcore Street Fighter II I grew up with.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
We know this stuff is junk. Undeniably, objects that will never ever be used in any capacity. But somehow it seems too useful, or maybe too kitschy (this means ugly, but in a nostalgic way) to just throw in the garbage. This stuff just skirts outside the confines of real junk and earns its place on the Shelf Of Storing.
The Shelf of Storing is that little cubby hole or perfectly situated storage rack in the pantry that would just be great to hold something you'd really need if it wasn't carrying your complete collection of 1981 Hot Wheels and a replacement bulb for an Easy Bake oven. It's something you see every day until you find yourself asking yourself why is it that you have to reach over that box of Slinky's every time you want to get a can of tomatoes?
Garage sales are spurned by that desire to reclaim the Shelf of Storing. That most perfect and ideal spot of storage that, if reclaimed, would make your life as organized and well-run as an Ikea catalogue (Storage & Bin Solutions, p. 872). You'd also start throwing dinner parties, and making all your food from scratch too. Maybe buying a small plot of land just outside the city and doing all your own organic farming...
And yet, somehow, when we see a garage sale, we somehow think we'll discover treasure there, an unrealized wonderiffic find of unbearable value. A baseball card worth millions, a Mongoose BMX, a Van Gogh. We know, somewhere deep down, there's an Antiques Road Show expert just waiting for their moment to shine.
It's a symptom of our own blindness, or a retreading of the phrase "Another man's junk is another man's junk in about 2-3 months or whenever he gets around to having his own garage sale." . We can't be as dull and as stupid as the average Joe. Yet, you know, math never lies, the average Joe is as dumb as the average Joe. Odd how that works.
In other news, I got this totally rad 80's Battlestar Galactica Basestar! Damn, it's sweet. And all for 2 bucks at a garage sale! The guy didn't even know what he had. Hehehehehe.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Whereas the world often thinks of Vancouver as 'pretty' and 'quaint' (if the world ever thinks of the hamlet of Vancouver, at all), Vancouver is a pit of despair, grime, and abject villainy compared to the capital of British Columbia, Victoria. Named after a German who nevertheless epitomizes Britain, Victoria is a place for, as they say, "the newly wed and the nearly dead". Weddings and pensioners abound.
It's a city that looks like it was painstakingly crafted, brick by brick to be the quaintest, most flower basket festooned city in all of North America. There are little pubs that must've cost a fortune to look 'just right', where 'right' is whatever the prevailing opinion is about how an Irish/Scottish/Whatever pub looks like. There is history too. Of course, in BC, history is anything that's lasted more than 50 years.
It's remarkably safe. The homeless folks are more dread-locked hippy than 'scary and perhaps forgetting some meds' types. There are gardens and hanging baskets and well-painted architectural details. It's difficult, if not impossible to find the 'bad' part of town. I narrowed it down to 'any place that hasn't had a coat of paint in the last 3 months', or 'any street that my wife tells me is 'bad''. It's bewildering.
We went over there for a wedding. One of those stunning affairs peopled by the youthful and brash, those optimistic and idealistic beacons of joy and verve that make you wonder when you ever were that. Damn. Perky. We had become the staid, quiet, and somewhat tired thirty-somethings who watched the wedding with distant, half-remembering smiles. It's odd, going to these things. A bunch of strangers who all know two people very well, or are obligated to know them. It's an ultimate test of mingling, making pleasantries and acquaintance with clerks from Fred Meyer's or bankers from Wickitaw, everyone looking dapper everyone asking the same questions. Usually giving the same answers, come to think of it.
I can barely handle those things. It's an extroverts paradise, and only tolerable to this introvert by partaking in the open bar and by faking it. And there is always the Inner Circle, the groom and bride and all their best friends. The best you can do is try not to be too intrusive as they have their last party as wild kids, unfettered by tragedy and life's small injustices. I always feel a little odd. I feel like I'm taking up a space that maybe could have been taken up by someone closer and more important. Invariably, this is true. But I don't mind being part of the crowd. Why I can' t be part of the crowd while at home, safely away from small talk with strangers, I'll never know.
It wasn't all bad, of course. The Missus had a great time. Victoria is really a great place to visit if you like peace, quiet, and hundreds of years of iron-willed British World Domination reduced to High Tea at the Empress for $55/head. And, if you can believe it, they had their wedding at the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Which, in reality, is some coal magnates hunting lodge/man-castle that blah blah blah, family tragedy, blah blah blah, heirs to the fortune killed or offed or succumbed to dysentery, blah blah blah Canadian Military bought it for a song.
It was no Hearst Castle, mind you, but still, pretty damn awesome. Wood paneling and overprice light fixtures never fail to impress.
There were other niftily nerdy things about our trip.
Oddly enough, our hotel (which wasn't Xavier's School) was situated in some sort of nerd enclave. There were about 4 comic book shops and a Games Workshop, which looked to me to be a D&D... uh.. store? It was pleasant to wander through, and try and recognized old heroes I used to collect, and flinch at the bizarre representations to the female form, and physics defying homages to spandex. And gravity, actually.
There were nice little niches for indie comics that featured artists I had heard of, or thought I'd heard of, and which all made me feel less cool for not really being too interested in it all. The comic shops and whatnot are places where I should feel at home, where, nerd-man-child that I am, should be home at last. Oddly, not so much.
On the way home to the hotel, I stopped by this place, which had pretty much every single toy I had played with or (more likely) toy that my friends had that I coveted. Quite literally in every display were these amazing magic talismen of nostalgia. And they were all pretty reasonable, (like say, 15 bucks for Hocus Pocus). They also had these little art installations, like say, a steampunk AT-AT. Or the Alien from the same movie made out of nuts and bolts.
So there were things for the Missus,and things for me. And during one of our many walks, just wandering around the pretty stores and cobbled streets, I saw the highlight of the entire trip. I think this could be the highlight to any trip, actually, but I'm not sure if seeing him means we were I'm in the dodgy part of town or not.