Friday, June 30, 2006

The Everyday Worst Case Scenario Handbook

A project I recently completed here at work is a spoof of an actual book entitled The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht. Our client’s version of it was a 24-page, tongue-in-cheek pamphlet designed to help the company’s sales staff overcome presentation nightmares resulting from a host of possible technical glitches. Our client’s spin-off actually contains useful information to help the poor salesperson maintain his calm in the face of computer freezes, power failures, lost internet connections, projector malfunctions and so on.

Anyway, I was given the Piven and Borgenicht book to base my design on and have it here in my hand right now. With this guide, anyone can learn how to escape from quicksand, break into a car and hot-wire it, fend off a shark, wrestle an alligator, take a punch, jump from a building into a Dumpster, leap from a moving car, perform a tracheotomy, deliver a baby in a taxicab, land a plane, survive if your parachute fails to open, etc., etc.

To give you one example, here’s how the authors say you should execute a fast 180 degree turn in your car:

“1. While in drive, or a forward gear, accelerate to a moderate rate of speed (anything faster than forty-five miles per hour risks flipping the car).

“2. Slip the car into neutral to prevent the front wheels from spinning.

“3. Take your foot off the gas and turn the wheel ninety degrees (a quarter turn) while pulling hard on the emergency brake.

“4. As the rear swings around, return the wheel to its original position and put the car back into drive.

“5. Step on the gas to start moving in the direction from which you came.”

Easy, right?

This and the other skills listed in the book are valuable to be sure, but how often in our lives (if at all) will we ever need them? That’s why I think these same two authors should write another book called The Everyday Worst Case Scenario Handbook that covers situations you and I are more likely to run into. For instance, I think we all would welcome advice in cases where you, say, get caught: in a bathroom stall without toilet paper; picking your nose in public; accidentally farting in an elevator; cheating on your spouse; napping on the job; locked outside of your house or apartment naked; mistaking a regular party for a costume party; asking a woman when her baby is due when she isn’t even pregnant; sneezing a messy sneeze with no Kleenex in sight; using your boss’s tie as a napkin while in a drunken stupor; ogling a woman with her jealous husband/boyfriend standing right next to you; or waking up in a jail cell paired with an amorous cellmate nicknamed “Foot Long.”

I have heard that the best thing you can do when caught napping on the job is to straighten up with your eyes still closed and solemnly say, “amen.” For the nose-picking, I suppose the Seinfeld Defense, claiming it was a “rub,” not a “pick,” might be your best option. And for the fart in the elevator scenario, I have a quick story: one time I boarded an elevator just as the only occupant in it left. Upon entering, my sense of smell was immediately pummeled by the unmistakable odor of human-generated methane — obviously the last passenger experienced a profound and regrettable lapse in discretion. As luck would have it, I only traveled two floors up when the elevator stopped to pick up several more passengers. As I was the only one in the cab when they entered, what could I say? We all know the old “he who smelt it, dealt it” rule. A story of how, “yes, I acknowledge the poo poo smell, but it wasn’t me, honest,” would surely be damning. So I think, whether innocent or not, the only thing to be done in that situation is try not to blush.

How would you handle any of the predicaments listed above? Or do you have others you’d care to add?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

L'Oeuf Craqué

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for visiting my blog. Today’s post is truly groundbreaking, for this morning, here on stage at Boston’s famed Hatch Shell, I will perform my blog entry through the magic of interpretive dance. I will describe for you, without words, my breakfast. I entitle it, L'Oeuf Craqué, which is French for “The Cracked Egg.” I will tell my story from the point of view of the egg.

Before I begin, a few words of acknowledgment. I would like to thank Madame Tortue for her weeks of patient instruction — without her, this post would be impossible. I am indeed indebted to Leotard House for my costume and Mister Gigi for styling my hair. I am extremely grateful to James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra — all of them assembled behind me — and the inestimable John Williams for composing the score for L'Oeuf Craqué.

The ostriches for the egg dream sequence were furnished by Buck’s Wild Animal Farm of Nashua, New Hampshire. The trained elephants are on loan from Barnum and Bailey. The howitzers were supplied by the Massachusetts National Guard.

And now — L'Oeuf Craqué.

However, before I begin, I must point out that the use of any kind of recording device, video or audio, is not permitted. I especially object to flash photography for safety reasons. Certainly it would upset the mountain lions in Act III, La Danse des Secoueurs de Sel et Poivre, or “The Dance of the Salt and Pepper Shakers.”

Thank you very much for your kind cooperation.

And finally, ladies and gentlemen, L'Oeuf Craqué.

This dance will be in three acts, by the way. We will begin with Act I, Eau Bouillant, or “Boiling Water.”

Maestro, please.

It may interest the audience to know that I prepared for this by spending an entire day alone in my room with an egg.

I must beg from all of you your undivided attention as I begin L'Oeuf Craqué.

There will be an intermission between the second and third acts.

L'Oeuf Craqué.

Beginning now.

Performance Artist Wrenches Back

(BOSTON) A middle-aged man calling himself Mr. Schprock used the Hatch Shell amphitheater, without city permission, to perform an interpretive dance mystified onlookers believe was called “Loaf Crack.” The slender man, appearing in tight purple leotards and feathered headdress, introduced street musician Willie “Sterno” Williams as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and claimed two stray dogs sleeping on stage were really trained elephants.

Before police could arrive, Mr. Schprock wrenched his back shortly after beginning his dance and lay spread-eagle on the stage floor.

“He said, ‘my god . . . my god . . . the wretched pain . . . kill me now . . .’” one witness quoted him as saying.

In his rambling introduction, Mr. Schprock called his performance a “groundbreaking blog post,” causing most observers to scratch their heads.

The “artist” is resting comfortably at Massachusetts General Hospital. City officials will likely not press charges.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I rarely comment on international politics because I’m invariably ignorant of the details, but this morning I thought I’d say a few things that might be total nonsense or actually have some validity — you be the judge.

Nothing is more complicated than the Israeli-Palestinian situation. From afar, it appears both sides are intractable and drowning in bad blood. The Palestinian people elected a government led by a party whose sole reason for existence is to bring about the extermination of Israel. Now this latest incident involving the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of another threatens to destroy a shaky 16-month long peace. Both sides have had their points and justifications for this excess and that over the years and, yes, there have been injustices and raw deals each can point to.

But for crying out loud, can’t Hamas declare a jihad against corruption in their own government? Can’t aspiring suicide bombers instead sacrifice time and energy, rather than lives, promoting municipal projects? I’d love to see a group of Palestinian youths charge toward irrigation ditches with fanatical expressions on their faces and shovels held high shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” If they need to blow themselves up, why can’t they do it on a hillside to clear the way for a new road to be built?

But of course there’s always the possibility that the next time a poor, deluded, 19-year-old Palestinian lad — with his whole life ahead of him — is convinced into detonating himself in a Tel Aviv marketplace, it will prove the final straw to break the will of Israel. “That’s enough, you win!” the Knesset just might say. “Give us 30 days to move out of the country. We’ll leave the keys on the counter.”

Monday, June 26, 2006

Storytime 2

Hey everybody, Jason is sponsoring another short fiction contest. The rules are simple: write a story based on the photo above that doesn’t exceed 250 words. It’s loads of fun and everyone should try it. Here’s my entry:

Midnight Call

“You know, Dodson, I believe you,” Duffy was saying. “Me? I don’t think you ever crossed Eddie.” He shifted his bulk in the chair. The man was a mess: sweat-stained collar, fat gut spilling over his trouser tops, pasty complexion. Dodson watched him light another cigarette and inhale the smoke deeply. Duffy looked like a pig trained to walk on two legs. Dodson would have told him so too, but for the duct tape.

“You’re lucky he gave you this chance,” Duffy continued. Then he glanced at the clock, a wind-up Baby Ben. “Uh oh,” he said with a snorting laugh. “Tick, tock, tick, tock.”

Duffy took another long pull from his cigarette and regarded Dodson through squinted eyes. A minute passed. Finally he said, “See those telephone wires outside the window?” Dodson pulled at the chair’s leather restraints to spy a telephone pole pierced through by cables, rigid as a crucifix against a murky sky. “Sound travels very quickly through those things. Dial a number, make a connection, and . . . salvation!” whispering the last word with outspread hands, like a conjurer. “If your friend dials that number.” Pause. “And tells us what you say happened, happened.”

Suddenly the alarm clock shattered the air with its bell. Duffy reached over and cut it off.

Then he picked up the pistol.

“I am truly sorry, Dodson,” he said.

Duffy fired once, a loud, banging shot that momentarily impaired his hearing.

But he heard the telephone ring afterward all the same.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


John H., coworker and owner/proprietor of Random Squeegee, loaned me his DVDs of season one of Lost a couple of weeks back. I watched the first couple of episodes and thought, “Hmm, entertaining. Not bad.” — but the more I watched, the more hooked I became. Now I’m practically injecting the show into my veins. It often goes a bit over the top and sometimes you say to yourself, “No one would ever do that!” but the series has a way of taking hold of you. I might eventually have to go into rehab to get weaned off of Lost the way they use methadone to treat heroin addicts, only this clinic will expose me to old reruns of Gilligan’s Island to get me clean. However, right now I’m on the junk and I’m loving it.

For those unfamiliar with the show, a passenger jet breaks apart during mid-flight and the people seated in the midsection of the plane land on an uncharted tropical island. There are something like 47 survivors and, as the series continues, you find out that many of them have strange and interesting histories and some of their antecedents are even interconnected. The island itself is tres, tres mysterious. Compasses don’t act normally, you have to watch out for polar bears, there’s some creepy “force” that roams around scaring the bejesus out of people, and the main characters take turns falling into introspective reveries at the drop of a hat. Although I’m still not finished with the first season, I have already encountered The Hatch, The Frenchwoman, The Cable, The Others, and so on — all of them veiled in darkness and secrecy.

But here is something only hinted at: somewhere on the island there must be The Gym. It’s never mentioned, but just about every main character on the show is pretty buff, so it must exist. How did it get there? Why do the characters never speak of it? Why don’t we hear of The Treadmill, or The Nautilus, or The Inclined Sit-Up Bench, or The Chin-Up Bar? Why don’t we ever hear Kate say, “Shut up, Sawyer, I’m going to work out”? Somewhere deep in the bowels of The Gym there must exist The Trainer and The Nutritionist. When will the creators of Lost explain them to us?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Long Day’s Journey into a Long Day’s Journey

Previously on The Schprock Report:


SCHPROCK: A Father’s Day gift for me, Pumpkin? Will I like it?

DAUGHTER NUMBER 2: Well . . . Depends.


CLIENT 1: …and that’s the last of the edits. You can pack this catalog off to the printer now, Schprock.

SCHPROCK: Wow, it’s all done. It’s finally over. On to other things. What a relief!

(sinister music with the shaky violin bow-action in it)

CLIENT 1: Yes, Schprock. This job is completely put to rest. You won’t hear about it again. Absolutely.

(hangs up phone)

SHADOWY CLIENT 2: He doesn’t suspect the printer is incompetent and will ask him a million questions?

CLIENT 1: (gives Shadowy Client 2 a “knowing” look and starts laughing) Ha ha ha!




And now, The Schprock Report:

I belong to a cycling club that calls itself the Charles River Wheelmen — but don’t let the name fool you: there are Wheelwomen as well. An average tour usually lasts somewhere between 40 to 60 miles, and, on a nice day, as many as 100 hundred cyclists might show up at the starting point. The fitness levels among the participants vary, but generally everyone is in pretty good shape. For me, 45-50 miles is a pretty decent workout. When I go on those 60–65 mile jaunts, I feel like I’m pushing myself a bit. However, last Saturday, I did a very silly thing: I cycled the entire 130 miles from Boston to Provincetown, the town at the very tip of Cape Cod. Oy!

We met at the Gillette Company parking in South Boston at 4:45am. Besides myself there were probably only 20 other cyclists, an indication that this tour might not be for those only moderately in shape. I joined a group of six guys who decided to take the “scenic route” down, which added another 10 miles onto the 120 miles I was expecting. These guys seemed older than me, so I felt safe with them.

Well, it turned out that one of the semi-senior citizens I attached myself to was in reality a bike-pedaling robot. He never rode especially fast, but he never tired, he just kept going and going and going. The first 80 miles I thought were relatively easy, but after encountering a patch of hills some 15 or 20 miles past the Sagamore Bridge, Robocyclist and my usual riding buddy, Doc, kept going while I slowed way down. Way, way down. Waaaaay down.

Then began my grim battle with fatigue, unquenchable thirst, and leg cramps for 50 long miles. Every now and again I’d catch up with Doc and Robocyclist just as they were just finishing up a break and then the punishment began anew after a five minute respite. I carried two water bottles with me and typically drank both of them down within an hour. Our route took us through many residential streets and, as I passed houses with pickup trucks parked in front, I flirted with the idea of asking a truck owner how much he’d charge me for a ride into Provincetown. The worst were the leg cramps. I could feel them coming on and vainly tried to pedal my way through them, but inevitably my calves and thighs would seize up and pedaling became impossible. Have you ever had a major leg cramp? It feels like your whole leg is making a tight fist while being shocked with a thousand volts of electricity. Painful. My only answer was to get off and walk the bike for a while until I felt my muscles had settled down. And, of course, everybody passed me on their bikes while I did that. How humbling, especially when some 20-something young chick asks me if I’m all right as she shoots by on her bike.

I will say this for myself: I made all it the way down — and I know at least one person didn’t. Toward the end, I followed a strategy of coasting whenever possible. And I vowed to myself never, ever would I do this trip again. Never!

Of course, on the 4:00 ferry ride back to Boston (which I just barely made), I was already planning on training extra hard for next year’s Boston to Provincetown tour. They’ll call me the Schprocket Rocket then! Oh yeah!

Monday, June 19, 2006


Last Friday afternoon at precisely 12:30 I put the finishing touches on a big project at work. I stuffed it all into a box, I walked the box down to the local FedEx office, I placed the box on the counter and I said, “Here! You take it!” Then I strolled outside, flung my arms up to the sky, lifted my eyes to the heavens, and announced to the world, “I’m done! I’m done!” From across the street the bells began pealing from the Trinity Church tower, passersby stopped in wonder at the look of beatitude and calm on my radiant countenance, some four and twenty pigeons flew a circular formation above my head with martini olives on toothpicks clenched in their little beaks, the U.S. 35th Fighter Squadron passed overhead in an impressive display of aerobatics, and Queen Elizabeth rolled past me in a motorcade exclaiming, “Well done, Sir Schprock! Smashing!”

I snapped out of it right after Kermit the Frog told me to keep the hell away from Miss Piggy. I never even had a chance to come back with, “Yeah? You tell her to stay the hell away from me!”

Well, the part about my project being finished was real. I then went on to have a very eventful weekend — or eventful for my meek existence anyway. Daughter Number 2 gave me a nice card and a package of Depends for Father’s Day, which I thought was very sweet and will certainly remember when I make out my last will and testament, and Saturday I rode my bike 130 miles from Boston to Provincetown, which was just a trifle long and a wee bit tiring. And that ride will be the subject of the next episode of The Schprock Report, entitled “Chariots of Dire” or “I’ve Got a Schprocket in My Pocket!”

Or something equally as bad. Tune in, won’t you?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dude Looks Like a Lady

Hey folks, please pardon my absence from Blogdom, but I’ve been a bit busy lately racking up hours on the old time sheet. This big project I’ve been working on since God was in knee pants and the world was still flat is finally, mercifully, coming to an end. I think when it started my braces had just come off, and now here I am shopping around for dentures. When this project is over I swear I won’t know what to do with myself.

Last Saturday I had to work. Toward 5:00, I found myself sprinting to the local FedEx office to drop off a package before it closed — to my horror they had already turned off the lights, but one of them grudgingly accepted my package after I banged on the door with a tragic expression on my face. As I walked back to the office, I spied two tall, hot-looking girls with poofy blonde hair and miniskirts, towering over the retinue they were traveling with, coming my way. As the distance between us closed, I noticed they really seemed pretty big and rather muscular for women. Coming still nearer, I made this astounding discovery: they were guys! Of course! Then I spent an hour or so reexamining my feelings.

The Gay Pride Day parade had been held that afternoon and these two amazons were evidently either onlookers or participants of the event. When I got home, Daughter Number 2 (the one with the flaming pink mohawk) informed me that she and her friends has gone to watch the parade. “So what did you think of it?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “the lesbians seem to really like me. They hit on me all day.” “Oh really? What did you do?” “When I told one of them I was straight, she said, ‘I can be a man for you, honey.’”

Of course I teased DN2 quite a bit after that, but for crying out loud, she’s is only 15!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Getting Together with the Folks

How was everyone’s weekend? Mine was busy. I had to come into the office Saturday to work. There are two good things I can say about that: one, I had the whole, blissfully quiet place to myself and, two, it was raining anyway. That’s all it ever does around here is rain — I swear Boston is the new Seattle. The weather has since cleared up, but they’re predicting more rain for Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s the funny thing: you know the authorities will say, after this deluge, that the state reservoir levels are too low and we’ll have to conserve water. They always say that. Massachusetts could get whacked by a tsunami and we’ll still hear it.

Yesterday (Sunday) was nice and I got to ride my bicycle without a rain poncho, snorkel and flippers. I pedaled out to my brother’s house where I met with him, my sister and my father to play a card game called Rook. Have you heard of it? I read somewhere that Rook, in the first part of the last century, was the most popular family game in the U.S. It took Monopoly to finally shake it from its perch during the Depression. Rook is sort of a combination of Pitch and Bridge and is incredibly addictive. My brother set up a table in his backyard and we played Rook for four and a half solid hours. That is my idea of a good time.

My father, by the way, is 86 years old. He still walks very erect, drives himself everywhere, and his mind is more than sharp enough to be a good card player. He and I are always a team and yesterday we combined to destroy my brother and sister. I mean we annihilated them. The final score was something like 315 to minus 120. It took all day to do it and each team suffered great reverses, but Dad and I prevailed. The question always niggles at the back of my mind how many more card games we’ll have with the venerable paternal unit, but I find it’s best to act like he’ll always be around. It feels as if he will be. Hell, at 100 he’ll probably still be producing the fatal trump card at the crucial moment, making my brother and sister groan. Yep, dear old Dad. He just keeps on ticking.

Friday, June 09, 2006

An Immutable Law

Riding a bicycle in the city is a tricky thing — you need to grow eyes on the back of your head, as the saying goes. Alertness and good brakes are a must. Half the drivers think you have no right to be on the road and despise you as they would a poisonous, loathsome insect. The other half are simply unaware of your presence. It’s difficult to say which type of driver represents the greater threat, but it can be a war zone out there sometimes. Somedays I think wearing a helmet isn’t enough — full body armor might be the way to go.

Last night as I was riding home a carful of college-age kids pulled out from their metered parking place just as I approached them. I saw the car move, threw on the brakes, and yelled, “Hey! Hey!” very loudly, but to no effect. The driver, a girl, continued on her path. It wasn’t the closest call I’ve ever had, but if I hadn’t paid attention I definitely would have found myself break dancing on the hood of her car. Some fifteen seconds later I caught up to them at a light and shouted as I passed, “Awareness — it’s a beautiful thing!”

Later on they eventually they caught up to me. One of the guys leaned out of the window and yelled, “Watch out for that puddle!” followed by a female voice that chimed in with, “Awareness — it’s a beautiful thing!” Now look — if someone gets off a good comeback at my expense, I’d like to think I’m man enough to admit it was a good comeback and perhaps even admire the wittiness of it, but that was just lame. So lame, in fact, that I actually found it funny and smiled. Eventually they had to slow down for another light while I continued to wend my way through the three lanes of cars to the front of the queue.

Then I heard two of the guys shout in unison, “Fuck you!”

Obviously everyone in the car had gotten over the trauma of nearly maiming a cyclist. Good for them that their fragile psyches came out of it unscathed.

Here is Schprock’s Law Number 42: In verbal altercations resulting from traffic disputes, neither party will ever get satisfaction. Never ever ever. The aggrieved party will never hear the instigator say, “Oh, I’m so sorry! What a fool I’ve been! Please accept my humblest apologies!” Nor will the instigator ever hear the aggrieved come back with, “Well, I could have driven a bit more defensively. Had I been in your place, I might have made the same mistake. And, of course, I know you didn’t mean it. We all learned a lesson today, didn’t we, my good fellow?” No, no, usually many swear words are vigorously spoken and a certain hand gesture employed. It is always that way.

Oh well, maybe the driver will look out for cyclists next time. Who knows? Maybe I saved a life by opening myself up to a bit of their scorn. Yes, then it will have been worthwhile.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Boors Among Us

Everybody knows about air marshals, those cops who ride in airplanes, right? I think cinemas should have movie marshals to keep law and order in the theater so a few yokels can’t spoil it for the rest of us. And give them guns. Lots of guns.

Last night, Daughter Number 2 and I went to see The Omen (DN2 thought it would be cool to see it on 6.6.06). As far as I could tell the movie was good — or at least an improvement over the original — but I can’t know for sure because the audience absolutely sucked! Talking on cell phones, inappropriate laughter, wise comments, people sitting on the stairs, a mentally disabled kid a couple of aisles away who simply would not shut up — they all combined to severely detract from the movie-going experience. You could put any film up there — Casablanca, Schindler’s List, anything you want — and it wouldn’t stand a chance. It was that bad.

The crowd was pretty young — the auditorium had the feel of a high school assembly just barely under control. There were a lot of boyfriends showing off how witty they were to their girlfriends. You could hear jokes popping up everywhere — such a shame, really, wasting comedic talent like that on us instead of earning money off their snappy one-liners on the stage. And, toward the front of the theater, there was a large group of guys who laughed at everything they saw — I mean everything. Perhaps it was adolescent bravado, a sort of preemptive act to keep from getting scared, but there wasn’t a single scene they didn’t find hilarious: Julia Stiles crying, little Damien giving someone a spooky look, the look of anguish on the mad priest’s face, it didn’t matter — it all cracked them up. And this is how they laughed: huh! huh! huh! huh! Just like Beavis. Or is it Butthead? Whatever — you know which one I mean.

A friend of mine once told me his line to boorish people who act up at the movies: You can talk for free outside. It’s true, isn’t it? Why pay ten bucks a ticket to chatter and mock, when instead you can invite some friends over your house, toss in a DVD and wax brilliant at no cost to yourself? But perhaps these people want to share their cleverness with the world. Perhaps this is their way of enhancing the film experience for the rest of us. Don’t all movies need commentary? That’s the reason why we pay money to see a movie, isn’t it — to listen to them? It’s their way of both amusing us and setting us straight at the same. Sort of like a public service.



Getting back to my idea of movie marshals, let’s give them full discretion, really arm them to the teeth. Let’s turn our multiplexes into police states if that’s what it takes. If someone’s cell phone goes off, tackle the bastard, taze him, cuff him and hustle him out of there. In the new order, the slightest joke or inappropriate noise will send a squad of commandos down on your head. I want to see the stairs patrolled constantly by men in black wearing night vision goggles and doing the funky military signing to each other, alert to the faintest infraction. If the audience won’t understand reason, then the only answer left is fear. Movies, after all, are not a right, they’re a privilege.

Now a word to those who bring babies, young children, and kids with issues, such as autism, mental retardation, etc., into movie theaters: when you buy your tickets, I want you to view them as a gamble. I want you to feel unsure if you’ll actually make it all the way through the movie, because the moment your charge acts up and shows no signs of settling down, it is your responsibility to leave the auditorium out of consideration for everyone else. I’m sorry if you don’t get to see the rest of the movie — you took your chance and lost. Better luck next time. But don’t sit there and think it’s all right for your kid make to noise, because it is not all right. You are being selfish and you’re imposing your problem on others.

And for all you audiences out there who insist on acting the way I just described — you’ll be written up in my blog. Consider yourselves warned.

Monday, June 05, 2006

X-Men III: The Last Straw

Last Friday I finally saw X-Men III: The Last Stand. SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m going to tell you the whole plot of the movie.

There’s a new super-villain in town and his name is Banality. His costume says it all: beige leisure suit, brown penny loafers, a comb-over, and the biggest honking black plastic-framed eyeglasses you ever saw. Don’t expect a Banalmobile with this guy because he’s too pedestrian to drive one. He either walks or takes the bus. But look out — he’s cunning in his so-so way. And he has it in for the X-Men.

The movie opens with a shot of the 1970s made-for-TV-movie and miniseries mogul Byron Bland’s mansion. Banality strolls up to the front door dressed as a pizza delivery man. A servant answers and Banality quickly bores him to death. Then his two henchmen, the vaguely intimidating duo of Mee Dee Ochre and Subb Parr, materialize from behind the bushes and join him as he enters the mansion. They capture the so-called Maven of Mainstream and spirit him away to Banality’s secret underground lab, where Banality manages to extract from Bland the chemical essence of the writer/director/producer’s “television genius.” What does he plan to do with it?

Cut to the headquarters of MARVEL. A big meeting about the upcoming production of the third X-Men movie is in progress. Everyone is there: the grand old man, Stan Lee, director Brett Ratner, writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, and the entire cast and crew, including the gaffer, the best boy, the incessantly insistent assistant’s assistant to the persistent assistant director, and so on. It’s a rather large room. There’s quite a buzz. Everybody’s expecting great things.

Around noontime they take a break. The caterers are set up with lunch in the outer hall. The camera, as it travels about the milling crowd, reveals Mee Dee Ochre and Subb Parr dressed in immaculate white uniforms crowned by poofy chef’s hats. Slowly the camera continues to scan over to the bar. Halle Berry, who is chatting with Hugh Jackman, has just ordered a vanilla protein drink when she drops her napkin. The barman sees this and hustles around the bar. We get a glimpse of brown penny loafers sticking out from beneath his crisp white pants as he picks it up for her.

Cut back to the meeting. Lunch is over. Stan Lee gets up to speak.

“People, Brett and I were just going over the script and we decided, at this late hour, to make some changes.”

A murmur goes through the room, silenced by hushing noises.

“The problem is, the story has too much depth and character development. We fell into that trap with the first two movies. Brett and I both agree that this time we’ll avoid that altogether.”

“How?” Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn ask at once.

“Okay,” says Stan Lee, “first there’s this damn love triangle between Jean Grey, Cyclops and Wolverine. We decided to simplify things by killing off Cyclops right at the start. Just get the bastard out of the way.”

Simon Kinberg smacks his forehead. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Next, all these superpowers . . . there’s just too many of them. Brett and I thought of a plot device to get rid of half. We’ll call it a ‘cure’ for their mutations.”

“Of course!” exclaims Zak Penn.

“Now, to downgrade the acting just a bit — it was a little too good last time — we’ve decided to get Patrick Stewart out of the movie as soon as we can and showcase Halle Berry’s Storm character instead.”

“Wait a minute!” interjects Halle. “I won an academy award!”

“True, true,” returns Stan, “but don’t worry. Brett and I both agree you got your groove back with Catwoman.”

Everyone in the room nods in agreement.

“Another problem with the script,” Stan continues, “is that there is too much subtlety. We're relying too much on the intelligence of the viewer. I took a yellow highlighter and highlighted no less than 50 places where I found nuance, subtle humor and tasteful plot development. Simon, Zak, tomorrow morning I want you two to substitute every one of these with explosions or a spectacular special effect of some kind. Got that?”

“Yes sir!” they both say in unison.

“Blow ’em up real good, boys. We can’t have too many explosions.”

Cut to a caterer’s truck driving away. A sinister cackle can be heard from within.


I think that’s all I need to tell you. You can guess how the rest goes.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why My Kids Will Someday Need Counseling

Here are three things I used to do to my daughters when they were little. This will explain the strange facial tics they’ll surely develop as they get older:

Throwin’ her out the window! One time, Daughter Number 1 did something very naughty. When she was caught, a punishment of some kind was certainly expected, but it so happened that that day I was in a whimsical mood. So I said to her, “Do you know what I with little girls who do that? I throw them out the window!” Before DN1 could respond, I scooped her up, belly down with her head aimed toward the window, and started to swing her. “One…!” I said. “No!” she screamed. “Two…!” “No, Dad!” Then I swung her way up in a big arc and yelled, “Three! Throwin’ her out the window!”

That punishment was so harrowing she asked to have it done to her again. Then Daughter Number 2 demanded her turn. So until they got too heavy, I periodically had to throw both my girls out the window.

Tickle machine. This usually happened whenever I’d be sitting on the couch with, let’s say, Daughter Number 1 (any daughter will do of course). I would randomly turn to my right or left, look down and say, “Huh? What’s this?” DN1, eyes fastened on the TV screen, would abstractedly respond with, “What?” Then I’d say, “Uh oh, Princess . . . look!” Up would come my hand with the fingers all contorted, opening and closing in an ominous way. Then, in a low voice, I’d eerily intone, “tickle machine . . . tickle machine…” with the sinister hand continuing to grasp at the air. “Oh no!” DN1 would scream and start to scramble. I’d grab her ankle with my other hand and say, “Yes, get away! I can’t hold it off forever!” “No, Dad, don’t!” “Flee! Flee while you still have a chance!” I’d say, tightening my hold on her ankle. “Why don’t you run? Can’t you see it’s almost upon you?” I’d ask, until finally, after several excruciating, anticipatory seconds, the tickle machine attacked!

The heart attack. Here’s one I used to do if I walked into the TV room and saw, for example, Daughter Number 2 laying like a zombie on the coach, eyes glued to the TV in an opiate-like trance. I’d walk over near her and suddenly seize my chest. “Oh!” I’d exclaim. “My . . . my heart!” DN2, fully aware of what was coming next, would start to make her escape, but not before I could flop down on top of her and start writhing in pain. “It’s . . . it’s the big one! I’m comin’ to meet’cha, ’Lizabeth!” I’d yell, scrunching her way down into the sofa and pressing my upper arm into her face while she screamed, “Dad! Get off! Mom!” “Oh, the pain!” I’d continue. “Barely . . . maintaining . . . consciousness. Blacking out. Losing . . . control of . . . my body!” Then I’d start getting all twitchy while she fought to get me off. If she tried to slip under me in one direction, I’d be sure to block her by falling that way in my convulsions. Finally, after a good long while, I’d eventually “recover” and let her go. “Whew!” I’d remark. “I thought I was a goner for sure!”

Question du jour: What do you do to traumatize your kids? OR what did your parents do to traumatize you?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where I Work

I work at an exciting place. The homeless just love our building. We had a couple camp right outside the front door obstructing our access for several weeks. And then there’s another homeless guy who somehow manages to get inside every now and again. You can always tell he’s in the building by the overpowering stench that assaults your senses the moment you step through the door. It’s like having your head forcibly held down into a basketful of sweaty socks and putrefying meat. You turn the corner and there he is, standing by the elevator with a winter coat on (despite the mild temperature) doing nothing. He has kind of a defeated air about him. Maybe it’s because of the fetid air about him.

Last Friday night, thieves broke into the hair salon on the third floor by removing the air conditioner and squirming through the hole. They robbed that place and the next floor up as well, probably because those poor saps on the fourth floor forgot to lock their back stairway door. And yesterday we had a parked car burst into flames right out in front. Fire engines and black smoke everywhere! John H. took some pictures and hopefully we’ll get a post from him about it soon.

When the Yankees come to town, they stay at the Ritz Carlton across the street. A sure sign the Yankees are here is the small crowd of autograph seekers that forms up at 9:00 in the morning. Last time, Johnny Damon and his wife shopped at Burberry’s, which is just next door to us. As they crossed the street with Johnny’s arms laden with bagfuls of his wife’s goodies, an autograph hound asked Johnny for his signature. Johnny showed him the bags and moved along. Of course. Then, when the Yankees bus arrived to take them to the ballpark, the hotel staff roped off the section the Yankees have to walk through to get to the bus. A lot of the players are good sports and do a lot of signing — balls and bats have to be a pain to write on. I saw Robinson Cano wear his hand out last time.

How about where you work? Much going on there?