THE PUBLIC WHISTLER

Robin Hood the narrator

So there I was traipsing around a local department store a few weeks ago and as I was perusing the aisles of merchandise for those little boxes of sugar cereals (I know that’s childish…but I jones for sugar cereal every now and again plus what do I need with a big box of Cocoa Krispies or Lucky Charms?) I started to hear this musical sound emanating from my mouth. Puzzled at why I would be making this noise in a public place, I quickly realized then and there that I had become one of “those” people.

You know “those” people, the kind that whistle in public places. They’re usually male, sometimes give off a somewhat eerie vibe, and seem to have an upbeat attitude. Now I’m male, I don’t think I give off an eerie vibe, and I’m more often than not in a pretty even keel mood…not down, not doing somersaults or anything but just a “steady as it goes” attitude…in fact you could probably call me “Steady Eddie” even though my name is Mark.

So with these things (non-eerie vibe, “Steady Eddie”) going for me, why would I ever whistle in public? Well over the last few years…scratch that, all my life…I’ve been really cognizant of my surroundings. I hate to brag but I do notice things really quickly even though it may not look like I do. Like if I go into a store, work, a restaurant, someone’s house that I’ve been to before, and something was there and has been moved, I notice the difference right off the bat. The same goes if someone has recently gotten new glasses or has changed their hair…I just notice those things. So it goes without saying that whenever I’m in a location I immediately become aware of things like: the people, what they’re wearing, what the room smells like, the temperature of the place, if there’s music playing, etc.

The thing that I never really noticed too much is if I’ve always whistled whenever I go into a store. I’m almost sure I have, but for some reason I can’t remember. Maybe I whistle so much that I’m just not aware anymore! Yikes! Kind of sounds like a boring episode of “The Twilight Zone”.

On this particular day that I noticed my whistling, the song “Paradise” by Coldplay was playing. Now when I caught myself whistling it wasn’t a slight, airy whistle, it was a full blown whistle (like that rooster from “Walt Disney’s Robin Hood”) so I was pretty much whistling IN STEREO.

And listen, I know it’s technically not considered “cool” to like Coldplay unless you’re a sarcastic hipster or a mother bustling around her children in a mini-van or whatever, but gosh darn it…I don’t care! I love Coldplay! Just love them! In fact, I think you might have to be made out of stone or posh granite to not at least sway your head or arms to songs like “Charlie Brown”, “Shiver”, “Warning Sign”, “Everything’s Not Lost”, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” (I play a killer air guitar to this one!) and yes…”Paradise”.

Luckily no one else was in the aisle or I’m sure I would have gotten the dreaded “steely-eyed stare down” that I’ve given “those” people who check their phones for messages or calls while in a darkened movie theater. Folks…once the trailers are done, turn those phones off! If it’s THAT important you have no right to be going to the movies in the first place. Rather, give me your money and I’ll be happy to apply it to the next movie I see and since there are a TON of movies I can’t wait to see between now and the end of the year, your money will be really well spent.

Anyways, after I realized that I was whistling like that Robin Hood rooster to “Paradise”, the song was pretty much over. So guess what song comes on next? The song “Stranded” by Heart! Now I’m not sure if many people remember this song but gosh darn it…it’s my favorite song by Heart! This song is a bigger emotional roller coaster than Junior High School! It starts slow with those great lyrics, those drums, then that awesome electric guitar kicks in and the lyrics get more and more intense and before you know it the song is over and you’re left feeling like you just watched “The Sixth Sense” for the first time. All of this is coming from someone who loves the great power ballads of Heart, songs like: ”All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” (Not a song you want to be playing on the radio on a first date unless you know the person really well and all they want to do is make love to you…which would be pretty cool!), “These Dreams”, “Never”, “Who Will You Run To”, and “What About Love?” (Yeah…what about love Ann and Nancy Wilson? Please tell us!).

I have to say that once “Stranded” started playing I was not only whistling (this time by choice) but I was also mouthing the words. I actually had to make sure that I went down an aisle where there was no one else so I wouldn’t look like a total fool.

After the emotions of “Stranded” died down…do you know what song comes on next? The song “All For Love”. Yep…that song by Bryan Adams, Sting, and Rod Stewart. Gosh darn it…I love that song! Plus I always thought it was really clever that three guys sang the song together and it was from the soundtrack to the 1993 movie “The Three Musketeers” because you know…there are three people singing the song and it’s from the movie in which there are three musketeers. How brilliant! And they actually sing the lyrics, “’Cause when it’s all for one it’s one for all!” you know because that’s a play on the motto of the musketeers! Down right genius!

By this time my shopping excursion was over and I had made it to the checkout lane. I decided not to bother with those self check-out lanes because they never seem to work right for me so I figured I would wait in the regular checkout line. While waiting I pondered the music playing in the department store and I wondered who gets to make the actual playlists for it. I know it’s not a local radio station playing in most of those bigger chain stores or restaurants because there are no commercials or local advertisements between songs. More than likely the music is beamed down by satellite but I wondered if by some chance, unbeknownst to all of the employees and customers, that there was a secret door somewhere in the back labeled “PRIVATE” and only a select few people actually know what goes on in there. When one opens the door there’s a guy sitting there on a computer spinning tunes for the store the whole day.

If there was such a job, I’d love to have it! I think I’d start the day with “Walking on the Sunshine” and with a lot of agreeable late 1970s/early 1980s jams (in other words lite rock…Leo Sayer, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, that song from “Superman: The Movie” that Lois Lane says as a monologue, “Can You Read My Mind”). Then I think around noon I would have what I’d call “Mandatory Matthews” which would be about three or four songs from Dave Matthews Band back to back…but (like I’ve said before) none of that LIVE stuff because one song is likely to fill up a whole hour. I’d probably fill the 1 to 6 PM hour with stuff like Coldplay, Heart, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, just good agreeable stuff. From about 6 PM to 8PM I might play some new alternative music that wouldn’t offend anyone. From 8 PM to 10 PM I think I would bust out songs by Prince like “Let’s Get Crazy” or “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, or some songs by Expose’ like “Seasons Change” or “Point of No Return”.

By closing time (and no…I wouldn’t play “Closing Time” by Semisonic…that would be too much of a cliché) I would probably play the same three songs each and every night: First I would play the extended theme song from the TV Show “Moonlighting” sung by Al Jarreau (”Some walk by night, some fly by day…”). Then I would play “Take Me Home Tonight” by (Steady) Eddie Money. The final song I would play before I told everyone good night would be “Everytime I Close My Eyes” by Kenny G and Babyface (I like to call him “Face”). By the way, if for some reason you’re in a car with me and this song plays you better bring earplugs because I usually turn it up more and more as the song progresses.

So as you can tell, I’ve put a lot of meaningless thought in being aware of the kind of music that plays in department stores. I guess that’s what you get for whistling in public.

One last thing…if by some chance you’re in a department store and it’s near closing time and you hear “Everytime I Close My Eyes” by Kenny G. and Face, know that it’s probably me and I’ve finally gotten my dream job of being an in-house DJ for a department store. If you want to, and if you have time, it’d be cool if you stuck around the parking lot for a bit and maybe we could go out for a drink or two and I could whistle for you what will be on the next day’s playlist.

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LES ROCK OF AGES

ROCK-OF-AGES

As a fan of every type of theatrical and film genre, I’ve always found myself in a quandary as to which genre I prefer over another. Growing up, one of the genres that I always found the most invigorating is the musical and as movies like “Indiana Jones”, “Star Wars”, “Ghostbusters”, and “The Karate Kid” were on constant replay in my household, movie musicals like “Grease”, “Grease 2”, “Annie”, “The Sound of Music”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and “Popeye” received nearly equal attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen those musicals, plus years and years of music videos, more times than I care to admit, but I grew up believing (and still do believe) that the world would be a much better place if people would break into choreographed “song and dance” every now and again.

Last year a couple of major, movie musicals were released in theaters; one to ultra-wide, critical acclaim and one that left a resounding thud in the hearts and minds of movie critics and most film-going audiences. The film “Les Misérables”, based on the popular 1980s musical which was itself based on the Victor Hugo novel, was touted as Oscar bait and featured an unanimously praised cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried, and Eddie Redmayne in a story of love, hope, loss, and redemption centered around the French Revolution. Meanwhile, “Rock of Ages”, a mash-up musical of 1980s and 1990s power ballads concentrated on the happenings of a group of characters during the Los Angeles music scene of 1987 and also featured a lineup of award winners including Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Mary J. Blige while further establishing relative newcomers Julianne Hough, and Diego Boneta.

I admit that I’ve never seen either musical performed live, something that I would love to do, and I’m sure that any theatre fan who has seen either, or both, productions on stage will tell me that the movies simply don’t measure up. But being the movie musical fan that I am, I saw both films in the movie theater when they were originally released and recently watched one of them again. My verdict: I totally loved one (the one I just watched again) while I pretty much loathed the other.

I’m very familiar with the story of “Les Misérables”, as I’ve read the novel and have seen three of the film adaptations of the book. I feel that it is a very powerful and moving story but I felt that the film adaption of the musical was such a chore to sit through. While the movie was impeccably designed (art direction, costumes, etc…) the use of close-ups was just staggering to me and I felt suffocated throughout the entire film. I also thought that Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine was shrug inducing at best; when I was watching her emote, and everyone else for that matter, it reminded me of that episode of Seinfeld in which Judge Reinhold played Elaine’s boyfriend, “The Close Talker”…everything just seemed right in my face and as the movie droned on for 2 hours and 45 minutes I felt that I just needed my space from everyone in the film. Plus, did they have to use Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Thénardiers, the skuzzy innkeeper. Isn’t that like the 25th time she’s played that kind of role. She bored me. And while many people questioned the vocal skills of Russell Crowe, I actually didn’t mind his singing voice. I will say that a portion of the songs were a little rousing (especially at the end)but all I did was roll my eyes over and over hoping that there would be some breathing room in the flatly shot movie. When I think about movie experiences like “Les Misérables”, I like to quote late film critic Gene Siskel, “I was watching two things…the screen and my watch.” I’m hoping that one day I will get to see “Les Mis” on stage and that my opinion of it will change.

I know that not everyone likes power ballads from the 1980s and that it is frowned upon in the music community, but for my money and my time, I felt that “Rock of Ages” was a total blast! You see, what I think the genius (OK…maybe not genius) is of “Rock of Ages” is that the plot and overall cinematic approach are exactly reminiscent of the songs that the characters are singing…it’s cheesy, it’s contrived, and it’s about nothing more than following your heart. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching all those videos on MTV day in and day out and because, over the years, I’ve done my own share of emoting (a la Anne Hathaway in “Les Mis”) to most of the songs that are sung in “Rock of Ages”, but I couldn’t help but get more emotional to a duet of the young lovers singing Foreigner’s “Waitin’ For A Girl (Boy) Like You” then a close-up tracking shot of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean going on about poor, dear Cosette for twenty minutes. Plus it may or may not be a secret fantasy of mine to sing a duet of “Waitin’ For A Girl (Boy) Like You” with the woman of my dreams.

Perhaps the best performance in “Rock of Ages” is Tom Cruise’s portrayal of washed up and sold out rock star, Stacee Jaxx. Cruise steals the show (kind of like what Hathaway was supposed to do in “Les Mis”…Academy Award be damned!) His depiction of Jaxx is at once hilarious, sad, and kick ass…sure a lot of horrible stuff happened to Fantine and I felt sorry for her, but I wasn’t rolling my eyes when Stacee Jaxx belted out a song. Furthermore, call me immature but every time he or someone mentioned his monkey “Hey Man” I couldn’t help but crack up. The entire cast of “Rock of Ages” is uniformly excellent and everyone gets a chance to shine and they all just look like they’re having a great time doing it which in turn made me happy watching it.

There are also plenty of power ballad medleys in the musical too and, as I’ve always been one who enjoys a finely crafted medley, I was sitting there amazed at the creativity of the folks that fashioned the original musical. One of the medleys that struck me the most is when the two young lovers sing the mash up of “More Than Words” and “Heaven”! I’m not afraid to admit that I got chills! Or how about the angelic voice of Mary J. Blige belting out “Harden My Heart” and later “Shadows of the Night” in a duet with Julianne Hough. WOW!

Granted the entire plot is such a cliché as there is zero suspense because we already know what’s going to happen the minute the movie starts. Nevertheless, this is the kind of story that presents these questions: Will the two lovers break up over a misunderstanding, go their own ways, and reunite at the end? You bet your ass they do! And will the song that the young, eager singer/guitar player is writing become a big hit, be performed in front of a large crowd at the end, and somehow be the most overrated Journey song ever? You bet your ass that happens!

While I adore history and everything that has to do with the study, analysis, and portrayal of the past, as far as I’m concerned, history (and a reenactment of the French Revolution) can take a backseat when it comes to: a busload of people singing “Sister Christian”, Malin Akerman as THE sexiest reporter ever, and a montage of characters reflecting on their lives while jointly singing Whitesnake’s, “Here I Go Again”.

So in the end it comes down to personal preference as to which story, which type of music and which characters we like more. In all honesty, I can’t (and won’t) begrudge anyone for not liking “Rock of Ages” and loving “Les Misérables”. But for my money I’d tell the close-talking, snot inducing/Hathaway emoting, motion picture musical version of “Les Mis” to shove it! I’ll be cranking up the soundtrack to “Rock of Ages” and reveling in all its over-the-top, fist pumping, love-proclaiming cheesiness while holding on to my optimistic belief that the world would be a better place if we all broke out into “song and dance” every now and again. And how great would it be if one of those songs was off of the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack! Hmm…that’s got me thinking as to what song I’d pick for everyone to rock out to.

I GOT IT!!!!

Although it’s kind of a difficult song to dance to I might (just might) choose the song “Paradise City” because who doesn’t want to dance to the lyrics “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”?

ODE TO TWIN

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I used to hear this question a lot when I was growing up, “Since you’re a twin…do you and your twin sister have a telepathic connection or psychic powers? Like if you’re feeling sad does she feel sad or when she’s happy do you feel happy? Are you guys like wonder twins or something?”

The answer to that question was, and is, always no. I have never shared a psychic connection with my twin sister Margaret nor do I think that we’ve ever felt each other’s emotions except that I vaguely remember she could tell that I had been through an emotional rollercoaster after I saw, “Forrest Gump” for the first time.

While I can’t speak for Margaret, I myself have never had any extrasensory powers other than I was born with an inherent ability to sense when other people are bullshitting me. I’m also really good at pretending to let people think that I believe the load of crap they’re telling me. Listen, I might look dumb and I sure might act dumb…but trust me, just try and bullshit me…I can see through it.

As we grew up, Margaret and I were pretty inseparable as we were forced to share a lot of stuff together. Some of those things included being nearly glued to each other as we shared “our” end of the dinner table, sharing the Nintendo game console (and she beat “Super Mario Brothers” before I did…damn you Margaret!), and we had to share our friends too. Just ask our best friend forever and former neighbor Krista M. who I think, on more than one occasion, went crazy as we vied for her attention.

I would say growing up with a twin was, in many ways, no different than growing up with any other sibling. However, there were some pretty big distinctions because as soon as we started school, Margaret began to excel at things that I seemingly could never quite grasp. Thinking back, it actually worked out pretty well for me because you could probably say that as Margaret became known as “the brainy twin” I became labeled “the goofy twin”…a title I was always rather proud of.

As the years passed, Margaret continued to do really well in school which in turn took the pressure off me. The same trend continued through high school, as channeling the same focus and prowess she used when defeating “Super Mario Brothers” at the age of nine, Margaret persisted in her upward embrace of all things educational and was taking AP College Courses and Pre-Calculus while I had the tough duty of enrolling in stuff like Office Aide and Teacher’s Aide. My philosophy was always, “Let’s not strain ourselves with those tough classes Margaret, Office Aide is actually a lot of fun. You get to roam the hallways and pick up attendance sheets, use the mimeograph machine, and chat with people. Oh and maybe you get to skip out early if you schedule it right and have it as your last hour.”

However, I always secretly admired Margaret’s ability to focus when it came to school and extracurricular activities. She made it all look seamless and nonchalant but she also had a sense of humor about stuff that was infectious and like everyone else in our family she was always in on the joke.

Over the years, one thing that Margaret really had to endure were three annoying brothers who attempted to irritate her any chance they got. For example, one of our favorite past times was when she was talking on the phone with someone, we’d pick up one of the other receivers in the house and listen to their conversations while making comments to the other person she was talking to.

In addition to her intellect and her three annoying (but funny) brothers, Margaret was also a music trendsetter as she was the first in our family to start to listen to the Gin Blossoms and Dave Matthews Band. We’d all bug her and say that she was turning “alt” but I eventually got used to hearing those sweet Gin Blossoms jams blaring through the walls of her room. To this day I can sing “Found Out About You”, “Hey Jealously”, “Follow You Down” as well as underrated Blossoms songs like “29” and “My Car” verbatim and on the spot.

In all honesty when she went away to college it was a shock to my system. Not just because she took those Gin Blossom CDs with her and I would have to buy them for myself, but because for the first time in 18 years I didn’t have my twin sister and fellow companion around and frankly that really sucked because as much as I disliked sharing things with her at a younger age, it eventually became second nature to me and I knew that things just wouldn’t be the same again.

So with that in mind, I embarked on my solo journey of long distance twinhood and when I finally accepted the challenge to take those supposed “hard” classes in college, I thought of Margaret and realized it was time to quit taking the easy way out. Plus they didn’t offer college credit for stuff like Office Aide and if you start hanging around the offices of a college campus day in and day out, they call security. I eventually did really well in all of those “hard” classes and passed all of them with flying colors.

Today, I’d say that I have gained more intellect and maturity since the days of our youth but maybe the jury is still out on that. I do know for certain that Margaret has gained a lot more goofiness and she laughs at herself a lot more than she used to in our younger days. So I suppose you might say that perhaps we’ve taught each other a few things over the years.

As a final thought, I don’t know whether it’s because we were in the womb together or that Margaret is a half hour older than me, but one of the foremost things I love about her is that she’s completely honest with me and not afraid to call me out on my bullshit when I’m in need of it. Sample lines from one of our recent heart to hearts:

MARGARET: “You know Mark, that’s just straight up bullshit!”
ME: (pause) (thinking): “You’re right.”

On second thought, that is a power we both share, we can both sense people’s bullshit and when we want to; we can call them out on it. Come to think about it that is a pretty special superpower…maybe we are wonder twins after all!

Happy 33rd on the 30th Mags…love ya!

FOOLISH LEAPING

steve and al

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the concept of time travel. This fact can probably be traced back to the steady diet of movies, music, and TV shows that I was raised on during my early formative years.

As a child, time travel seemed so adventurous to me and many of the movies (either purposely time travel-esque or frozen-in-time stories) I liked always reinforced in me the core ideas of what it might be like to move back or forward in time. There’s a big list of those types of movies that I dearly loved (and still do love) that includes titles such as: “The Time Machine”, “Sleeper”, “Time After Time”, “Late for Dinner”, “Forever Young”, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “Time Bandits”, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, “The Final Countdown”, “Peggy Sue Got Married”, “The Terminator”, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, and the “Back to the Future” trilogy.

Most of these movies didn’t influence me too much outside the realm of fantasy and make believe, however, I do recall getting into trouble because I called my brother a “bastard” after hearing Marty McFly yell it to the Libyans in “Back to the Future.”

Some of the music of the mid-1980s didn’t help me much either as I listened (by default) to whatever my older siblings listened to which included repeatedly hearing the same songs on the American Top 40 Countdown with Casey Kasem. So songs such as “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, “Back in Time” (from “Back to the Future”) by Huey Lewis, and “Time (Clock of the Heart)” by the Culture Club, also fueled my obsession with time.

But perhaps, the one thing that influenced me the most, in regards to time travel, was the TV Show, “Quantum Leap” which starred Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell and aired on NBC for five seasons. I would do my best to explain the plot and intricacies of the show but I feel it would be better to use the explanation that was narrated before every episode of the series:

“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top secret project, known as QUANTUM LEAP. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Doctor Beckett, prematurely stepped into the Project Accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was made through brainwave transmissions, with Al (Dean Stockwell), the Project Observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Doctor Beckett could see and hear. Trapped in the past, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right, that once went wrong and hoping each time, that his next leap will be the leap home.”

Most of the episodes of the show always ended with Sam being able to “right the wrongs” of the past and leaping into another person’s body. Once he realized that he had leapt again, and briefly discovered the circumstances he was in, he would always mutter under his breath the words, “Oh…boy!” and if you weren’t looking at the clock, you would know that the episode was done.

I think what always thrilled me about the show was that I liked the concept of traveling into the past to help people change the mistakes of yesterday so they could live a better future. It was endlessly fascinating to me.

One of the things that I always wondered though was if Sam ever looked at himself naked when he was a different person. I mean if I leapt into the body of a different person (whether a woman or a man) I’d probably take a look! C’mon admit it…so would you! When you think about it…it’d be difficult not to…so you might as well just take a peek and get it over with.

Another think that always bothered me, even at a young age, was there was always that scene in every episode where Sam (as a particular person) would be talking to Al (who was invisible) and someone would see Sam talking to no one and think he was crazy. I was surprised that the person Sam was trying to help didn’t end up in a mental institution more.

I think if I had the chance to pick and choose my own “quantum leaping”, the first thing on my list would be to change the tragedies that the United States and other countries have had to endure over the years. Then I would try to change as many other accidents and tragedies for as many people as I possibly could.

However, I would probably like to mix it up a little because it would be mentally and emotionally draining to take on all of that potential disaster all the time so I think I’d like to change some inconsequential things too. Things like:

• 1984/1985 – I’d like to leap into someone at the Board of Directors meeting at the Coca Cola Company when the ultimate decision was made to change the flavor of Coke to New Coke. I’d leap into the body of the Coca Cola Company’s President and say, “Folks…let’s not do this!”
• 1998 – Leap into Madonna and decide not to release the song, “Ray of Light”.
• 2003-2004 – I think it would also be a pretty good idea to leap into the writer’s room when the tenth season of “Friends” was being mapped out. This would primarily be so Joey doesn’t end up falling in love with Rachel. Those episodes were pretty lame and we all knew that the writers were just killing time before Ross and Rachel would get back together again.

As the seasons of “Quantum Leap” wore on, some different and wacky plotlines were introduced and some episodes were off putting, like the episode where Sam leaps into a chimpanzee or when the evil leaper was brought in to wreak havoc on Sam’s mission.

I’m sure that if I were “leaping” there would be a few hours of off putting episodes too. Like I think there would be one where I somehow leap into former Journey frontman, Steve Perry, as he attempts to convince the director of the music video “Foolish Heart” (from the song off of his solo album, “Street Talk”) to come up with a more exciting way to interpret the song rather than just him sitting there emoting and singing into a microphone. That episode would be pretty obscure and most viewers would probably change the channel just like that chimp episode of the original “Quantum Leap” series. I’d watch it though just for the fact that the song “Foolish Heart” would probably be played at least a dozen times and I love that song!

Over the years, my enjoyment of “Quantum Leap” has dwindled as have some of the other TV shows I enjoyed in my youth. But every now and again I’ll catch an episode of it and sometimes I’ll remember why I loved it so much. I do still enjoy a good time travel yarn though and recent time travel films such as, “Primer”, “Source Code”, “Hot Tub Time Machine”, and “Looper” have been officially added to my list of classic time travel movies.

Hold on! I can’t wrap this up yet! I just had another idea of a possible episode of my own “Quantum Leap” series. It would involve someone who leaps into this guy who writes senseless blog entries about hypothetical situations and old TV shows. That would make for a fascinating hour of television don’t you think? On second thought that would probably be classified as one of those off-putting episodes….oh boy!

My Hypothetical Hallmark Movie

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It’s pretty easy to get sucked into watching crappy things on TV. How much time have we collectively spent watching stupid reality shows, over the top game shows, supposedly “factual” documentaries on the end of the world, or bad made-for-TV movies?

I have a confession to make when it comes to watching those bad made-for-TV movies…I always end up flipping to them just to see how bad they actually are. While I’m a big fan of all genres of film, when it comes to made-for-TV movies the ones that somehow pull me in are the movies that air on the Hallmark Channel or the ABC Family Channel. Traditionally I end up watching at least the first half hour of those damn things and after I shake my head I switch to something else. But even though I know all of the clichés in the book, after about 15 minutes, I have to occasionally flip back to see whether or not my predictions come to pass and if the two mismatched lovers will end up together. HINT…they always do.

While I guess I would mostly consider myself an idealist when it comes to romantic stories, when I start watching those movies, I suddenly become a realist. For example the characters always have a beautiful house with a perfectly manicured lawn or a glorious high rise apartment even though they’re employed as a waitress. In the ones that take place out in the country, the characters seem to live in a wondrous cottage or in a modern, rustic farmhouse.

When I see these beautiful places and these characters living in their fantasy worlds, I suddenly have thoughts like, “I wonder what the mortgage payments are on that house?” or “I wonder what the property taxes are on that cottage?” or “They’re down on their luck farmers, the bank is itching to close down their farm…why are they driving those brand new vehicles?”

A few weeks ago, I started thinking that if I were a character in one of those Hallmark Channel movies; I wondered what kind of plot I would be stuck in? So in my spare time (as you can probably tell…some days I have lots of it) I decided to carve out a half an hour to type out the contrivances of my own bad, made-for-TV, Hallmark Channel movie.

Urging for some change, my character (let’s call him Mark) always thought it would be fun to travel out west for an extended period of time and since he currently doesn’t have too many obligations I suppose he could do just that.

Like in some of those movies, I assume I would hop on a train that would eventually lead me to a nice, close-knit, small town filled with eccentric locals. There would probably be a sheriff, the local mayor, the barber, the beautician, the local gossip hounds, etc…that would all meet for meals at the local diner which is owned by a 60-ish woman named Millie or Tillie. They would at first recognize me as that handsome stranger (work with me here…this is all hypothetical) from out east who is just passing through and after a few days mixing it up with the locals, they’d eventually embrace me as one of their own. When I ask if there’s any part-time work available anywhere they point me in the direction of the beautiful (yep…they always just happen to be beautiful) and single, widow (yep…they always just happen to be single and sometimes a widow) who could use help on the family ranch. It might be a possibility that the beautiful, single widow also has a precocious child or sly, wisecracking granny too.

Anyways, I’d find work on this ranch and immediately fall for the beautiful, single widow. She wouldn’t take a liking to me at first and we’d argue about the proper way to brush a horse or something like that but we’d eventually bond over our life experiences. She might also eventually be won over by my boyish charms and find my receding hairline sexy. Sooner or later I’m guessing she would notice how handy I am around the ranch and at some point in the movie would exclaim to her wisecracking granny, “Wow…he fixed the leaky faucet in the bathroom…how did he do that?” or “He made the perfect carrot cake?”

In all truthfulness though, when it comes to some of that repair work around the farmhouse, I’d probably have to get my dad’s opinion on the best way to do a few of them. My dad would probably be played by Tom Bosley…(Oh wait, I think he’s dead!) so let’s say Judd Hirsch would make a wonderful paternal figure (I always liked Judd Hirsch…but wait…he’s Jewish and my family is Catholic) so let’s say my dad could be played by Wilford Brimley (I still don’t know…he just looks too old…my dad wouldn’t appreciate that) So OK, let’s just go with Judd Hirsch!

Anyway, my dad has always tried to instill in us his skill of repair work so if I were to install a new sink or toilet in the farmhouse I’d have to call him. Also, since I’m on an extended leave for the time being, my dad would probably want to know how to work the cable box or have a question as to how to get email on his Ipad so it would be mutually beneficial for the both of us. Thus, Judd Hirsch would then only appear in scenes in which it looks like we’re having a real telephone conversation but it’s actually just some assistant on the set reading lines to him.

While going through the bad made-for-TV checklist, I’d say that it would be a safe bet that there would be a funny and loving montage between me and the beautiful, single widow that shows us walking horses through the ranch in the evening sunlight, the two of us going shopping together, me attempting to milk a cow, her showing me how to slaughter a chicken, and me pulling a weed out of the ground and putting it in my mouth with her pointing out that its actually poison ivy.

Sooner or later I would express my true feelings for the beautiful, single widow but she would not be able to let go of her late husband’s memory (and I would understand that…because I’m a pretty understandable guy). However, I’d probably feel that my time at the ranch was done and that I ought to be going back home. But her quirky gal pals, and her granny, would tell her, “Hey…not every guy can install a new toilet, is extremely knowledgeable about the films of Woody Allen, and can make the perfect carrot cake…you better go after him.” So all of a sudden the beautiful, single widow would come to the realization that this guy (me) is the one for her.

However, as soon as she comes to this realization I’ll already have purchased my train ticket and be sitting down to a last supper at Millie’s diner where I tell her to get me my “usual” (grilled cheese, French Fries, and a Coke) and even though that meal would already be high in calories I’d probably order a milkshake too because I’d need some comfort food after the beautiful, single widow broke my heart.

Anyway, the diner would be empty except for myself and all of a sudden the door opens and unbeknownst to me the beautiful, single widow saunters in and drops two quarters in the jukebox and the song “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers would start playing. I would turn around to see her standing there and she would tell me not to go. On second thought that whole scenario is pretty close to the ending of “Top Gun” (I’ve been on a “Top Gun” kick lately). But since all of those crappy TV movies borrow from tons of other movies, let’s just say that all of the above happens but instead of the song, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, the 1986 song, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” by Jermaine Stewart starts playing. You see… I’ll know it’s her because I will have mentioned somewhere earlier in the movie about that song and how I think it’s complete and utter bullshit! Then I’ll stand up, embrace her, we’ll kiss, and walk out of the diner hand in hand just as Millie turns the open sign to close. The taking off of the clothes happens later…this is a Hallmark movie for goodness sake!

In all honesty, the thing about those movies is that they are bad, they are cheesy, and frankly I feel regretful after watching them because I’ve just wasted time I’ll never get back. But, that said, they are fun, and enjoyable, and a guilty pleasure to watch because I truly think that no matter who we are, we all just want to believe in “love” whether it’s fantastical, hypothetical, or realistic.

I think portions of that last line would be something my dad (as played by Judd Hirsch) would tell me in the movie and I would know it to be true because whether he’s helping me with plumbing or providing me advice on the mysteries of the heart , my dad always imparts some pretty good wisdom.

Sovereign Assumptions

Raspberry Beret

Lately I’ve been attempting to keep a mental note of all the various assumptions I make throughout the course of a given day. This can be rather difficult to do at times because I usually end up assuming quite a bit within a 24 hour span. However, over the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that assumption is nothing more than a quick way of thinking and not an exact science or the gospel truth. In fact, I’d probably classify the process of assuming as “freestyle thought” which is why 9.5 times out of 10; my questionable hypotheses are way off from what the future reality ends up being.

While the old adage says to never assume because you end up making an ass out of u and me, I’d say that in my case it’s pretty safe to leave out the u or (you) when dealing with any of my own personal assumptions because I’m not particularly making an ass out of (you), I’m just making an ass out of me. Nevertheless, if u were to be taken out of the word “assume”, then all I’d be left with is the word “assme” and that doesn’t sound good. Anyway, even though I’m making a concentrated effort not to speculate as much as I have in the past, the following are just a few of the assumptions that I have made during the past week:

1) I use Yahoo! as my homepage and they have that “Trending Now” box in the upper right hand corner of the page that shows a list of 10 stories that are supposedly popular on the internet at a certain time of the day. Last week I happened to glance up at it and saw Teri Hatcher’s name in the number one spot. Right away I thought, “Oh my gosh did something happen to Teri Hatcher?!” Granted I wouldn’t call myself a big Teri Hatcher fan but I don’t want anything bad to happen to her and god knows I don’t wish any ill will toward her. I always enjoyed her performance as Lois Lane in “The Adventures of Lois and Clark” and felt that she and Dean Cain had some good chemistry together. I also thought that she was in one of the best “Seinfeld” episodes ever. She played the woman who Elaine and Jerry suspected of having fake breasts. “They’re real and they’re spectacular!” Hilarious episode! Anyway, I saw her name and quickly clicked on it to see what had happened to her. This is the news item that appeared once I clicked on her name: “Teri Hatcher, Dane Cook star in ‘Planes’ click to see trailer”. Needless to say I didn’t click to see the trailer…I’ve been to the movies way too much this summer and that trailer is insufferable (my eyes have glazed over everytime I’ve seen it) but I am glad that Teri Hatcher is doing just fine and that Dane Cook is getting some steady work.

2) I wrongfully assumed that the off brand Corn Chex wouldn’t leave as bad of an aftertaste in my mouth as General Mills Corn Chex does. However, after I purchased a box (on sale) of the off brand and poured a bowl the following morning…it mainly tasted like “regular” Corn Chex but the aftertaste was even more horrid. After brushing my teeth more than normal and after several rinses of mouthwash, the awful off-brand Corn Chex (or Corn Squares) flavor still remained and didn’t go away until around 4:00 P.M. that afternoon. But guess what? The next morning (even with my assumptions in check) I poured myself another bowl because I guess I just really love Corn Chex or Corn Squares…bad breath be damned!

3) I wrongly assumed that the movie “Three Men and a Little Lady” was going to be every bit as delightful as it was the last time I saw it over 20 years ago. For the curious out there who have pondered the same the thing, here’s the reality of the situation…it sucks! The only two redeeming things about it are 1) SPOILER ALERT!: That scene towards the end in which Ted Danson’s character pretends to be that old pastor. 2) The very end in which the song, “Waiting for a Star to Fall” by Boy Meets Girl plays over the credits. Gosh I love that song! I think every other movie should have that song play at the end credits whether it’s, “The Expendables 3” or “Saw VIII”.

4) Often times when I’m nearing a four way stop and I notice that the other three vehicles are approaching their respective stop signs at the same time I am, I usually attempt to slow down on purpose so that I can be the last one to go and know for certain my place when it comes to turning, going straight, etc. Last week, all of the drivers at the four-way stop (including yours truly) halted at the same time and it was like a game of Russian Roulette as we tried to figure out who was going to go first. All four of us drivers did one of those “No…you go!” wavy things. Let’s just say that I assumed I was the first one to go but apparently the three other drivers thought they were first because we all came pretty close to colliding.

5) I wrongly assumed that a shirt that I’ve had in my closet since Manistee High School’s Honors Night in 1998, “didn’t look too bad” and “actually fit better than it did back then.” Well, it did for about 10 minutes or until I couldn’t breathe.

6) I looked on Yahoo! “Trending Now” again and saw that Tiffani Thiessen was on the list at number three. Even though I was burned by the whole Teri Hatcher debacle, I once again immediately thought that something bad happened to Kelly Kapowski herself. “Oh no!” I thought. So with a quick mind I clicked on her name only to reveal that Tiffani and her daughter were at a birthday party and her daughter dressed like Spiderman. Never again Yahoo! “Trending Now”…never again!

7) I rightfully assumed that the song “Raspberry Beret” by Prince is as enjoyable as it was the day it was released in 1985 and had absolutely lost none of its luster. However, I wrongfully assumed that I wouldn’t be laughed at when I decided to roll the windows down and blast the song from the speakers in my car while at a stoplight. Yeah I was laughed at by a couple of punk teenagers but I don’t care…that song rocks and always will!

After “After the Rain”

so long nelson bros

I’ll never forget the first music album I purchased when I finally got my license. It was the Nelson brother’s debut album, “After the Rain”. Sure…it was about six years old at the time and my brother already had it in his possession, but the cover of the cassette was labeled with one of those “Best Price” stickers so how could I say no. Thinking back, I had the three things that a newly branded 16 year old needed for a music impulse buy: a few dollars, a license, and the keys to my dad’s 1984 Celebrity. So that evening, in the former cassette tape section of Kmart, I threw caution to the wind and blissfully procured for myself the reasonably priced album.

I will also always remember that preceding autumn of 1996. Life was great! I was finally a junior in high school and my two years of required math and science were done with so I got to start taking a lot of the fun classes. Plus, even though I had already been working at the Vogue Theatre for a few years, by that fall, I officially became a manager and learned the tools of the trade needed to be a projectionist.

During those waning months of 1996, I took that Nelson tape everywhere I went. I even hooked up a portable cassette player to the sound system in the downstairs auditorium of the Vogue just so I could listen to the sweet sounds of Matthew and Gunnar while cleaning the theater. (SIDENOTE: If anyone recalls the theater being particularly unclean during the fall of 1996, it was probably due to me using the broom or mop as a guitar/microphone stand.)

A few weeks ago I got the inkling to go through some boxes of old CDs in the hopes to either finally discard them or perhaps give the purchased ones away to Goodwill.

Digging through those boxes I found a lot of mixed CDs that I had long forgotten about…CDs with pretty much every kind of music known to man on them, except new age, celtic, and elevator jazz. I was a really big Dave Matthews Band fan in my formative years so I found a lot of that in there. I also found a ton of burned CDs from what I’ll refer to as my meditative phase, some of them poetically titled (by yours truly), “Searching for Something to Search For” and “The Fall of Fall”. I was also happy to finally solve the decade old mystery of what ever happened to the motion picture soundtracks to the films, “Beautiful Girls” and “Reality Bites”…thank God for small (very small) favors!

After about a half hour of sorting and digging I finally came across that aforementioned Nelson album which I had since purchased on CD through Columbia House in about 1998. (SIDENOTE: After I purchased it on CD it lost its luster and I was on to more innovative things). It’s been a long time since the brothers Nelson and I had a heart to heart so I decided to go for a ride and see if I could remember those songs and what I was feeling those many years ago.

Once the opening cords to “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” kicked in I felt like that goofy 16 year old again (as opposed to that goofy nearly 33 year old). As I drove through town and listened to that CD, most of the lyrics to those songs came flooding back, heck I even remembered the lines to the song “Bits and Pieces”. For a little while there I was so lost in nostalgia that I even missed that yield sign on the corner of Greenbush and Filer Street just like I did the day I first got my license.

Once those nostalgic feelings were beginning to wane, it got me thinking about how much junk a lot of us actually hold on to. Not just possessions, but what we hold onto internally…our good memories, the bad ones, the various forms of hurt, bitterness, and resentment as well as the disappointments, the shouldas/couldas/wouldas, and…sloth, greed, anger, wrath (Oh wait!…that’s Morgan Freeman listing off the seven deadly sins in the movie “Seven”). Anyway, it got me thinking about how we cling to a lot of our own (good and bad) emotional baggage and how the feelings of the past can sometimes continue to staple us down in the present day.

While it’s a lot more fun to recall the good times, sometimes it hurts just as much to remember those enjoyable days of yesteryear because we can’t ever go back and relive them. Believe me I wouldn’t want to be 16 again but after nearly 20 years I would like to go back and tell my younger self a thing or two about the future. Things like: don’t do that particular thing, don’t worry about such and such it’ll work out, spend more time with “that” person, (when in college) make sure you drop Principles of Environmental Economics before the official drop deadline, and don’t spend money (even the cost of a matinee ticket) on “Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo”.

Even though our entire life experiences make us who we are today, maybe the trick (when we have time) is just to dwell on some of them during the entire length of a CD or album and move on because since I turned 16, the last 17 years have gone by in the blink of an eye and I’ve got a feeling that the next 17 will go by even quicker.

Just make sure that if you attempt my version of music therapy, that you don’t use one of those Live albums that the Dave Matthews Band has released. Those things are way too long and the last thing I’d want anyone to do is dwell on the past during a 14 minute version of “Satellite” or “Jimi Thing”.

As for Nelson, when I was finished with my trip down memory lane (and my quasi-introspective but not exceptionally profound thoughts), I figured it was finally time to say goodbye to their “classic” album and live in the now. I briefly considered standing on the North Pier and chucking the CD into the water like Tom Cruise in Top Gun but I don’t like to litter so I gave the CD away. Maybe someday a young, 16 year old with a fondness for early 90s ballad rock will pick it up and have as much fun with it as I did…more than likely not, but hey, you never know!

A few days later, once the CD was no longer in my possession (and with both the good and bad memories of the past behind me for the time being) I temporarily felt refreshed and thought that it was finally time for something different and new. “Hmm…,” I thought. “Maybe someday I’ll have to purchase the Nelson brothers’ second album, ‘Because They Can’ and go for a ride around town.” I just hope, if and when I do, I won’t miss that yield sign on the corner of Greenbush and Filer Street again.