Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

Watching too many TV commercials

November 17, 2011

Open with exterior shot of long white limo driving down a country road. Graphic points to car’s “blacked-out windows”.

Announcer overdub: “A lot of people don’t think food companies are honest about the source of their ingredients.”

Cut to interior shot of focus group sitting around a conference room table. Facilitator asks: “Do you think Domino’s wants you to know where their ingredients come from?”

Hispanic woman: “You should be able to know.”

Anglo woman: “Yeah. With Domino’s you assume the worst, so it would be reassuring to at least believe the ingredients are carbon-based.”

Black man: “I don’t know about that crust, man. Kinda reminds me of chipboard.”

Walls of conference room fall away.

Asian man: “Oh, my god. It’s an earthquake! The building is collapsing! Hand me that pizza so its rock-hard shell can protect my head from falling debris!”

Collapsing walls reveal exterior shot of expansive paper mill. Focus group surprised to find it’s now inside a large warehouse. Safety-helmeted plant worker approaches group and speaks:

“No, it’s not chipboard. Domino’s crust is made of only the finest corrugated cardboard, formed right here in this mill from virgin stands of California hardwood.”

Hispanic woman: “What’s that horrible smell?”

Worker: “That’s the smell of raw wood pulp being boiled and processed to make the grade-A cardboard that forms the base of our famous pizza.”

Black man: “So that’s how I can now order two medium-sized two-topping pizzas for only $5.99 each. You save on production costs by cooking the packaging right into the pie.”

Worker: “That’s right. By eliminating the box and building the pizza out of triple-laminated paper products, we save you money while also offering you the best quality possible.”

Announcer overdub: “Be sure to visit to see what else we’re baking into our product that you wish you didn’t know.”

Anglo woman: “I had a friend who worked at a Domino’s once. She said it’s not what’s behind the pizza you should worry about, it’s what’s behind the ovens, behind the counter, in the bathroom, under the fingernails of the workers. But seeing this paper mill somehow makes me feel better. Or at least light-headed. What are those chemicals I’m smelling, anyway?”

Asian man: “I always thought Domino’s was only slightly better than the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the subsequent world war that killed over 60 million people. My opinion of them is now much higher, considering the paycheck I’ll be getting for this commercial.”

Announced overdub: “Order your all-natural Domino’s pizza today.”

Small disclaimer type at bottom of screen: “Not responsible if delivery man slays your family. Our drivers carry less than $20 in change and make less than $15 per day. Must purchase at least 50 pizzas to receive advertised price. Must specifically ask for ‘limited time offer’ and use a cartoonish high-pitched squeak to place your order. Prices, participation, delivery area and charges may vary. We reserve the right to substitute a picture of a pizza for a real pizza.”

Possible alternate ending for release later in current advertising campaign: Focus group questions quality of meat toppings, and conference room walls fall away to reveal a slaughterhouse. Panicked cows cry out as they’re stunned before butchering. Focus group participants comment favorably on freshness of meat. “You can almost taste the blood,” one says. “Or is that the tomato sauce?”


Fed up with partisan bickering among the nation’s three branches of government, Americans appear ready to install a new regime headed by the three most prominent insurance pitchmen currently on commercial television.

An all-powerful triumverate consisting of Progressive’s “Flo,” Nationwide’s “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World,” and State Farm’s “Vaguely Mexican-Looking Guy Outside a Coffee Shop” has agreed to rule the land with a sympathetic but iron fist.

“I’m ready for any change at all that will get the Republicans and Democrats out of Washington,” said Alyce Jones of Chicago. “Those insurance folks offer a goofy sincerity that seems right for these troubling times.”

“The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World has really come into his own since being lured out of his backwoods cabin and back into insurance sales,” said Rob Fallon of Las Vegas. “He’s convinced me that Nationwide wants to know everything about me so they can tailor a product that meets my needs. Have you seen the one where he’s dealing with a lady named ‘Pam,’ and he offers to change the name of the company to ‘Nationpam’? That’s the type of can-do spirit we need if we’re ever to convince the Chinese to allow their currency to float on the open market.”

“Like a good neighbor, that Mexican-looking guy is there, always hanging outside of cafes and introducing people to State Farm agents,” said Ronald Henderson of Atlanta. “He puts a real friendly face on the problem of illegal immigration. I’d rather see him outside a Starbucks than offering to do day labor outside a Home Depot.”

The trio would govern by fiat, announcing a new round of federal laws several times an hour on all the major networks. Viewers who don’t follow their every command will be banished to a world where modern insurance products don’t exist, and yet people somehow survive by simply being careful about how they live their lives.

Tentative plans call for Flo to head up the nation’s judiciary as a one-person replacement for the Supreme Court. The World’s Greatest Spokesperson will replace both houses of Congress, and the Mexican guy will become the nation’s first Hispanic president.

“Flo’s perky haircut and headband will look just darling accented by judicial robes,” said Jones. “And the Nationwide Guy, with that signature blue rotary phone hanging from his hip, should be able to reach across the aisle in both the House and Senate to compromise with himself. I’m finally excited about the direction our nation is headed.”

“I think the new president is hunky,” said Phyllis Lee of Oklahoma City. “That could carry some real weight in the START Treaty negotiations with the Russians.”

A zombie states his case

October 31, 2011

To honor the celebration of Halloween, I will assume the identity of a zombie for today’s post.

Greetings to the un-Undead!

I am a zombie. Woooo. (Or is that what ghosts say?)

Wait, I got it: “I want to eat your brains.” Or should I say “I vant to eat your brains.” (No, that’s Dracula’s accent.)

Since I’m too old at age 57 to dress up in costume and peer in through my neighbors’ front doors — and don’t want to end up spending all future Halloweens playing a registered sex offender — I’ll confine my disguise to the digital realm.

I am a zombie, and I’m writing a blog.

We zombies have really seen our star rising lately in popular culture. We seem to be everywhere. Horror movies featuring our lumbering attacks come out every other week. Video games like “Dead Island” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead” are extremely popular. Herman Cain leads all Republican presidential candidates in most national polls.

But one media we’ve yet to conquer is writing. Maybe it’s because we’re poor typists. A lot of my zombie friends have wanted to take to the keyboard to discuss their lot, but most complain they suffer from joint inflammation in their shoulders and that it’s too painful to lower their arms from the outstretched position they use to attack their victims.

I’ve found a way to overcome this obstacle. I kneel down on the floor in front of my computer, and can type just fine once my shoulders align with the desktop. (I look a little like straight-armed “Keyboard Cat”). It’s not the most comfortable technique, but at least it’s better than trying to type on an iPad.

I can’t claim to be a spokesperson for the entire Zombo-American community. We are a diverse group. Some of us are black and some are white. Some of us are gay and some are straight. We come in all shapes and sizes, except fat. (You never see any obese zombies because human brain is low in fat yet high in essential nutrients. Plus, we do all that walking.)

However, I can say with some certainty that we don’t appreciate the stereotypes being perpetrated among non-zombies. In the movies, we’re always portrayed as chasing down innocents and feasting on their flesh. Sure, sometimes that’s what motivates us. However, other times we’re just looking for a friend. Have you ever considered that maybe we’re extending our arms simply because we want a hug?

Now, see if you can spot the subtle discrimination in this entry on Wikipedia:

“Zombies are fictional undead creatures … typically depicted as mindless, reanimated corpses with a hunger for human flesh. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli. By 2011, the influence of zombies in popular consciousness had reached far enough that government agencies were using them to garner greater attention in public service messages.”

I hardly know where to begin. First of all, we don’t care for the term “undead” because it portrays us in negative terms. We prefer the more positive “post-alive.”

Yes, we do have a “hunger for human flesh,” but that doesn’t mean we always act on that hunger. Sometimes a conventional snack — a Triscuit, a handful of sesame sticks, a WeightWatchers power bar — will get us past that peckish mid-afternoon feeling and save potential victims from a gruesome fate.

Phrases like “mindless reanimated corpses” and “a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness” are just so judgmental. We don’t need hate speech like this if we’re to reach a better understanding between zombies and non-zombies. We need inclusive language, so it’s not always us who feel like the outsiders.

And as for that last sentence from Wikipedia, I’d say we have enough image problems already without being associated with “government agencies.” (What kind of public service messages feature zombies anyway? Do we really need a PR campaign by the feds to tell people to keep their brains under wraps? Sounds like the “nanny state” to me.)

While I make the argument that we have an image problem, I don’t dispute that there’s much we can do within our own zombie families to improve our standing. I’m not one to sit, er, kneel here and say all our problems are caused by others. Many of us need to reach deep down and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and just hope that our decaying arms don’t fall off as we try.

I also think it’s time for zombies to join their scary brethren in the ghost, vampire and witch communities so we can unite the forces necessary to bring equality and justice to our peoples. All of us are facing much the same discrimination, and we need to stop working at cross-purposes. I can say that ghosts are stuck-up and that vampires have hygiene issues and that witches are bitches, but that does nothing to advance our common cause. We are all brothers and sisters under the skin that hangs from our torsos.

In closing, I’d like to wish all my fellow zombies a happy and safe Halloween, despite the barriers we still have to overcome. Be kind and courteous to all the non-zombies you’ll encounter tonight, and don’t take it personally when they flee in terror at your approach. If you find yourself offered Snickers and Three Musketeers instead of the hippocampus and cerebella you’d prefer, just smile and say “thanks,” then shamble over to the next house and hope for a better future.

Zombie unite! (Either that, or it's another Occupy Wall Street march)

Lindsay Lohan confused by new developments

October 26, 2011

She seems even more troubled and confused than when she cut a stolen diamond necklace off her calf, then attended a movie premiere wearing an alcohol-monitoring shackle around her neck.

Actress Lindsay Lohan, facing multiple criminal charges and hoping to restart a sagging career, began a new phase of recovery yesterday with a bit of a hiccup. She showed up for community service at the Los Angeles county morgue ready to pose for nude photographs, then went to a Playboy photo studio to scrub toilets and wash floors.

“At least she was on time,” said county spokesman Ed Winter. “And, admittedly, she was kind of hot. But lounging on a corpse with her shirt off was not the kind of community service we had in mind.”

Lohan apparently is struggling with two big developments in her life: her sentence to spend 120 hours working at the morgue, and a reported $1 million offer to pose in Hugh Hefner’s men’s magazine. When the two events were scheduled to start the same day, Lohan reportedly became disoriented.

“I don’t think it was really that big a deal,” said Lohan’s publicist Steve Honig. “Those bathrooms at the photo shoot had gotten pretty scuzzy.”

Lohan arrived promptly at 6 a.m. at the coroner’s office as paparazzi’s helicopters buzzed overhead. She checked in with the community service coordinator, and was scheduled to start her day washing soiled linens. Instead, she doffed her clothes, wrapped herself in the blood-encrusted sheets, and began striking a series of provocative poses.

“You’d think she would’ve noticed that the only cameras around were the video security system,” said Winter. “But that didn’t stop her. She spent the better part of the morning romping among the corpses, teasing them with her discarded outfit and pretending to act surprised she was caught naked.”

Lohan spoke briefly with reporters after the morning-long session.

“They already had dozens of unclothed people in there, though I’ll admit they weren’t as animated as I was. And I was pert where they were sagging,” Lohan said. “The session was fun. I thought I’d be nervous exposing myself like that, but the crew was totally professional. They said nothing at all to make me uncomfortable. In fact, they were deathly quiet.”

After leaving the morgue, Lohan drove across town to the photo studio. There, she spent the afternoon wiping down equipment, cleaning bathrooms and taking out the trash.

“I have to admit, it was a difficult session,” said one Playboy photog who refused to be identified. “It was hard to get her to sit still. We had to follow her around the office and watch for opportunities where she would bend over, then quickly snap the shot.”

“I’m not sure how provocative our readers are going to find pictures of her dumping the garbage,” he added. “She had a real good technique, and always managed to empty every last scrap of paper. But I’m not certain that’s what our readership is looking for.”

By the time Lohan had finished her busy day, the court official supervising her probation had been notified of the mix-up. Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner, a veteran of Lohan’s excuses for why she acts like a crazy person, sounded frustrated with the latest outrage.

“Didn’t she notice the smell, the cold lockers, the toe tags?” Sautner asked. “And the Playboy thing doesn’t sit well with me either. Next time, she gets more than a monitoring cuff on her leg. I’m putting her in a whole-body jumpsuit. If she tries to take that off, it’s back to prison for Miss Lohan.”

"Oooh, that smell," Lohan noted. "Can't you smell that smell?"

Asking the rhetorical questions

October 21, 2011

Have you noticed how many television commercials these days start with a question?

(And blogs too, for that matter.)

Maybe it’s an attempt to open your subconscious to the possibilities of life, including the possibility you might be interested in buying not one but two new sport utility vehicles during a single commercial break. Maybe it’s a subtle way of drawing you into the unfolding scenario, making you care about the hundreds of characters holding arrow signs over their heads while dodging midtown traffic and riding unicycles. Maybe it reflects marketing experts’ puzzlement at why anybody would buy their product, a roundabout way of asking “you don’t seriously want to buy this stuff, do you?”

Whatever the reason, I think the idea of opening with a question originated with the short teaser ads that local news operations inject into prime-time programming. They want to lure you into staying up late with the promise of some sensational breaking story, when all they really have for a lead is the new garbage pickup schedule.

“Is that someone I hear trying to jimmy the lock to your front door?” asks the inevitably blond anchoress. “Details at 11.”

“Did you know that poisonous fumes could be suffocating your children at this very moment, while you think they’re peacefully sleeping?” counters her competitor’s recently promoted sports reporter. “Don’t miss our eyewitness report later tonight. Unless you’re the type of parent who likes poisonous fumes. You’re not that kind of parent. Are you?”

Then, Fox News recognized that its viewers might wander off into the woods during even the briefest commercial message. So they started tantalizing their audience with an upcoming whiff of scandal to make sure they hang around during the break.

“Is Obama space alien, Hitler and LeBron all in one?” reads the bumper graphic leading into the ads. Then, when the news returns, it’s a story about a gerbil who paints landscapes while drumming out in Morse Code with his tiny gerbil claws that no, Obama is not these things. “At least,” taps the gerbil, “not that we know for sure.”

Now, I know these commercial queries are rhetorical questions, not designed to be answered. Playful copywriters have discovered a new way to grab your attention, and they’re just having fun with it. If you’re not smart enough to figure how to use a digital video recorder to zap through the ads, you’re certainly not smart enough to answer a rhetorical question.

Are you?

This past weekend, I kept track of this latest advertising trend, and present below a sampling of these questions. And, foolishly perhaps, I try to answer them.

The financial headlines can be unsettling, but what if there were a different story, of one financial company who grew stronger?
It would make the fact that I lost my job and that my house is in foreclosure so much more bearable to know that a giant bank is feeling better now.

Can a smart phone be its own guardian angel? Can it keep an eye out for itself? And tell you where it is, when you don’t even know yourself?
I think my mind is officially blown. Are they saying that if you lose your phone you can use your phone to find it?

What if a moment standing still could be just as beautiful when it breathes? What if photography moved us, and we moved photography?
Well, then you’d have that commercial with the little girl with the hair being blown all over the place as she looks at a flower. I don’t know why her father doesn’t roll up that window for her, considering how taken she is with the begonia. Isn’t this a form of child abuse? Admittedly, not as bad as where that insurance guy offers one kid a pony and tells the other kid he can’t have one because he doesn’t have the special “equine rider” in his homeowner’s policy. But it’s certainly right up there with the ad where a skinny boy angers the local bullies, then runs and jumps in the back of his mom’s minivan, and she backs over the bullies.

What makes a Hershey bar pure?
This is only a guess but I’m hoping — fervently — it’s because it’s never had sex.

Smooth skin?
Heh, heh — no. No thanks, but I appreciate the offer. I can smooth it myself.

The best thing about the Arby’s value menu?
That there’s not an Arby’s located in my home town.

Who says all birth control pills have to be the same?
I do. My name is Rick Lawrence, and I’m head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Task Force on Birth Control Sameness.

What’s the difference between Tylenol and Advil?
With Tylenol you take two, while with Advil you take one and wait for a while to see if it works and it usually doesn’t so you take another one. That’s why they have the “1-2″ imprinted on the pill. Or does that mean you’re supposed to take only one-half? Oh, God, I think I just OD’d on Advil.

Are you trying to sleep with someone who sounds like a chain saw?
That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think? I’ll only say that it’s not the sound of a chain saw I like as much as it is the vibration.

Hey Troy — have you been using my shampoo? Because it’s for guys who want thicker-looking hair
Yes, I’ve been using your shampoo, and everybody is noticing. This stringy mullet part that comes out the back of my helmet and obscures my name to make it look like “POL[hair]ALU” would be so unmanageable without it. If I didn’t have that built-in moisturizer and those seven essential botanicals, I’d frizz up so much there’d be no domed stadium that could hold me.

What’s in your wallet?
Well, I used to have a Capital One credit card. Now I leave it at home because, after seeing the newest contract terms you’ve sent me, I’m afraid to use it. I tried for a while carrying around the contract in my shirt pocket but it weighed down my upper body so much that I developed scoliosis. After that, I dragged it in a red wagon behind me in case I needed to consult the fine print while purchasing a bagel. Eventually, I just gave up and decided to pay for everything with cash. That piece of plastic still in my wallet that I use when I want to get screwed? That’s a condom, not a credit card.

Editorial: Time for a Little River ban

September 30, 2011

I was working in the yard, working not too hard, mostly leaf-blowing. The song came to me from out of nowhere. First the chorus, then the first stanza, then the endless loop that I still can’t get out of my head.

Hurry, don’t be late
I can hardly wait
I said to myself when we’re old
We’ll go dancing in the dark
Walking through the park
And reminiscing

The song, as you may be able to tell, is called “Reminiscing.” In 1978, it was released by an Australian soft rock group called the Little River Band. It shot to Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, representing the peak of LRB’s popularity in America. In 1996 it was covered by Barry Manilow, and again released in 2001 by a band called Madison Avenue. It was used prominently in the recent Will Ferrell film “The Other Guys.”

Now, it must be expunged from all recorded history.

“Reminiscing” was hardly the most vile, mind-numbing affront to Western Civilization produced by the band. They had other hits in the late seventies and early eighties that were every bit as cloying. There was “Lady,” “Lonesome Loser” and ”Cool Change.” There was “Happy Anniversary” (“Happy anniversary, baby/Got you on my mind“), probably the most egregious abomination of the lot. There was “Help Is On Its Way” which, to this day, I kind of like.

But for some reason, it’s “Reminiscing” that’s stuck in my head, an earworm that has wrapped itself around my cerebral cortex and will not let go. Action must be taken to remove this sonic tumor from my brain, before it metastasizes to drumming fingertips, tapping toes and dancing feet.

I am proposing a four-pronged approach to dispatching this cancer.

First, we round up all surviving members of the band and confine them to an internment camp somewhere in the desert Southwest. This could be a bit of a challenge, not just because it smacks of Stalinism, but because the original five were subsequently joined and/or replaced by dozens of other musicians in the 30-plus years of the band’s existence. Original members like Beeb Birtles, Glenn Shorrock and Graeham Goble can easily be located; they still perform, though they do it under the name Birtles Shorrock Goble since the official “Little River Band” name is owned by former member Stephen Housden, who rents it out to transients. But obscure one-time players like Kip Raines (drummer, 2004-2005) and Hal Tupea (bassist, 1996-1997) are bound to be harder to find, unless we can subpoena the employment records of fast-food giants like Taco Bell and McDonald’s.

Second, we institute a worldwide buyback program. I’ve already lined up the philanthropic might of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a fund of $4 billion, so that every vinyl record, every cassette, every eight-track cartridge can be purchased from the public and destroyed. Preferably by fire, though a giant crusher will do.

Third, I propose we begin a Manhattan-Project-style effort in the scientific community to learn time travel, so we can send a team back to 1975 to abort the band’s formation. Most physicists acknowledge that one-way travel into the future is arguably possible, given the phenomenon of time dilation based on the theory of special relativity. Going backwards in time is more problematic, given constraints of the so-called “grandfather paradox”. This concept raises the question of what would happen if the traveler killed his grandfather before he met his grandmother, and then his father would never have been born, and neither would he. This could easily be addressed, however, if the execution team could terminate both band members and their grandparents.

Finally, I am offering to perform a lobotomy on myself, boring a hole in my forehead with a common household power drill to allow the demons of “Reminiscing” to escape from my mind. If there’s any money left over from the buyback fund, I could use it to help defray my medical bills. However, I am willing to take on the entire risk and expense on my own IF I COULD JUST GET THIS AWFUL SONG OUT OF MY HEAD!

The world can’t afford to ignore this issue. We must pull together and act now. As LRB would themselves say: Hurry don’t be late/We can hardly wait.

If you encounter these guys, report them IMMEDIATELY to the authorities

Dancing with the Stars: Breaking it down

September 21, 2011

I finally broke down and watched “Dancing With the Stars” on television last night.

Most of the contestants joined me, either “breaking it down” with surprisingly adept dance moves (especially for a former federal prosecutor, a former woman, and a former Courtney Cox husband), or “broken down” in humiliation after their gyrations failed to impress judges and a TV audience of millions.

I came away from the viewing with several observations:

  • Dancing automatically looks better when you do it in front of fiery explosions
  • Ron Artest will now forever be called “The Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest”
  • Between hosting this show and “America’s Funniest Videos,” I don’t know how Tom Bergeron lives with himself
  • When we’re finally able to fully map the inky depths of the world’s oceans, I bet we come across several previously undiscovered Kardashians, living off the heat of volcanic fumaroles
  • It would be helpful if the “stars” could be outfitted in special garb that distinguishes them from the staff dancers they’ve been assigned as partners, because I can’t recognize either one as a celebrity (I suggest the “stars” either be painted entirely in gold, or be required to wear a crown)
  • Hostess Brooke Burke Charvet is no less palatable just because she added a third name
  • I have a headache

Oh, and one other thing: I’m glad I’ve never claimed to be a dancer.

Thus far, I’ve managed to make it through almost 58 years without significantly shaking a leg (unless you count my continuing bout with the neurological disorder Restless Leg Syndrome.) I have absolutely no grace and even less poise. My aptitude for rhythm is about what you’d expect from someone who’s last name is “whiteman.”

And yet I can still cite several examples from my personal history when I’ve attempted to “cut the rug” and somehow managed to avoid lacerating myself as well.

When I was about ten years old, I tried out for a local production of “The Sound of Music.” At the time, my actually-talented sister was involved in the South Florida entertainment scene, having made several local commercials, and taking voice, tap and acting lessons. Not wanting to leave me out, my parents arranged for me to join in the fun of show business.

The tryouts were held at a local college. I don’t remember much more than that. I assume I was up for the part of one of the von Trapp children who, in the story, learn about the glories of Bavarian music from their nanny nun in the run-up to World War II. I guess I’d be playing the fat, pimpled, sociopathic preteen, a part for which I had trained extensively.

I didn’t get the role, however, I did get my picture in the local newspaper, which was doing a feature on preparations for the musical. Somewhere deep in the photo archives of The Miami Herald, there’s a shot of young Davis leaping into the air, his arms extended high above his head. I’m not sure how else you’d describe the move, except to say it was strongly reminiscent of how fleeing Polish troops retreated before the onslaught of the German blitzkrieg.

My next opportunity to stomp about the room while music played in the background came during a junior high sock hop. A fear of dance combined with a fear of girls compounded this into a major trauma of my teen years. Somehow, I managed to convince one of the young ladies to stand across from me while I spasmodically seized to the tune of “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five.

These were the early days of rock dancing, when steps like the Frug and the Watusi and the Monkey encouraged creativity. I had watched “American Bandstand” in preparation for the hop, but the moves shown by those kids were nothing I could imitate. Finally, I became comfortable with a dance called “The Hammer,” in which you raised and lowered alternating arms in a motion not unlike the milking of a cow. I lost my partner some time after the third song, when she suddenly left with an irresistible urge to consume dairy products.

By the time I got to college, dancing to music was considered passé, even bourgeois. Martha Vandella, only a few years before, had called for “Dancing in the Street,” despite the obvious dangers of mixing vehicular traffic with choreography.

“It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there,” Martha claimed. “So come on every guy, grab a girl, everywhere around the world they’ll be dancing in the streets.”

In my circle of politically aware friends, dancing was a mindless way to waste energy that otherwise could be spent on the coming socialist revolution. We preferred to gather in darkened rooms, drifting in and out of a drug-fueled unconsciousness while listening to music. In a strict sense, it was still a form of artistic movement — we had to roll over periodically so we could vomit without choking.

My last exposure to dance as a means of personal expression came shortly before I was married. Beth and I were aiming to get back in touch with our German heritage by attending an Oktoberfest celebration and becoming ill from drinking too much beer.

While still only slightly inebriated, we were introduced to “The Chicken Dance.” We immediately fell in love with the quirky-but-simple steps: first you open and close your hands, like a squawking chicken; then you flap your elbows as if they were wings; then you shake your butt; then you clap your hands. It was so corny, so hokey, so trite, as to round the far bend and become ironically cool.

When we planned our own wedding and reception a few months later, we adopted a German theme for the celebration. My parents and my new in-laws opted for the more standard polka while our contemporaries absolutely adored the Chicken Dance. It was a great way to celebrate the beginning of our new life together, though our traditional first dance as Man and Wife — squawking and flapping and shaking our rumps — was not the charming memory my older relatives had hoped for.

Now, I’m closing in on 60 and can happily assume that my dancing days are finally over. I may someday face a forced “dance” at the retirement home, do-si-do-ing my wheelchair at the insistence of some sadistic physical therapist. After I die, I imagine my corpse might contort and shrivel in the flames of the crematorium. Then, of course, there’s the dancing on the head of a pin with my fellow angels in the afterlife.

Until then, the closest I plan on coming to the delight of dance is during my daily jog around the neighborhood. I swing my arms, I shuffle my feet, I barely avoid cars and I flee from dogs. The gestures are less than expressive, but I do work up a good sweat.

Which is more than you can say for the ever-delicate Nancy Grace.

The Chicken Dance (complete with chicken)

Acting like a cheapskate at the grocery store

June 15, 2011

I think I’m ready for a career in Hollywood based on my performance during this morning’s trip to the grocery store.

I only needed a few things: Hot Pockets for lunch, a box of cookies, and a pack of those marvelous dark chocolate raspberry ice cream bars made by Weight Watchers (note that I now accept PayPal for payment of product placement fees).

While I was in the Food Lion down the street from my office, I figured I’d also pick up a couple two-liter bottles of Pepsi Free. Despite its deceptive name, Pepsi Free is not free. It may be devoid of caffeine, nutrition and any redeeming value whatsoever except for the bubbles, but it still comes at a hefty price.

I can’t think of any product on store shelves these days whose cost varies more than carbonated soft drinks. If you watch for sales, you can get these 67-ounce brand-name bottles for as little as 79 cents a piece (limit ten with a $20 purchase through Tuesday only, and you have to pay with your left hand while standing on your right foot and singing the second verse of the National Anthem). Otherwise, you can pay upwards of $1.89 each.

Price swings like that on the world oil market would plunge the global economy into unprecedented turmoil. But Pepsi can get away with it because most of their products taste better than West Texas Light Sweet Crude.

The posted price for Pepsi on this particular morning was $1.79. However, if you were the proud owner of Food Lion’s “MVP” customer loyalty card, the product could be had for only $1.25.

I had one of these cards at one time. I swear I did. It was stashed in the deepest reaches of my wallet, right between an out-of-date dental insurance card from 1997 and a Circuit City credit card. But the last time I visited Food Lion, I couldn’t find it.

So now, as I approached the checkout, I faced a moral dilemma. I could acknowledge that I was not technically a “Most Valuable Pepsi-Buyer” and pay the full, absolutely outrageous price. Or, I could fumble through my belongings in front of the cashier, pretending that the card “must be in here somewhere,” and eventually getting the discount when their patience wore thin.

As you might guess, I opted to lie or, as we call it in the dramatic arts, inhabit the role of a properly carded customer with all the intensity I learned in years of workshopping the part with some of the finest acting teachers the world has ever known.

As I stepped into line, I noticed there seemed to be some type of commotion ahead of me. A man buying a half-dozen twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee was insisting he pay the lower price posted on the shelf, rather than the higher price indicated by the barcode scanner.

“Ah yain’t gettin’ it if I gotta pay that,” he was protesting.

The cashier stood by with a helpless look on her face. A manager had apparently been summoned to resolve the dispute though, at the pace the line was moving, he was going to have to be flown in from Food Lion’s corporate headquarters in Belgium.

This was going to allow me some time to practice my lines. Since I didn’t have a written script, I’d have the freedom to improvise. I knew my character’s motivation: to save $1.08. I knew the stage direction that would accompany the lines: dropping several coins to the floor to lend an aura of authenticity. And I knew my audience: an already-flustered cashier more interested in how many minutes till her shift ended than in having to challenge yet another surly client.

“My MVP card must be in my other pants,” I could say. Or, “My wife must have it — she’s buying thousands of dollars of groceries at one of your other stores this very minute.” Or perhaps, “Olvidé mi tarjeta.” The teenage checker would probably think I was speaking Arabic, that “tarjeta” was the word for “target,” and be willing to cut me some slack to avoid a terrorist attack.

The dispute over the cheap beer appeared resolved, and I stepped onto center stage to deliver what I hoped to be the performance of a lifetime.

“Sounds like you’re having a bad day,” I said with a smile. “Mine’s not so great either. Just finished doing a heart transplant over at the hospital, and I don’t think my mother’s going to make it.”

On the fly, I had decided to commiserate with the young woman using charm and a fantastic story I had prepared about how difficult it was to conduct major surgery on a loved one.

She wasn’t especially impressed.

“Do you have your MVP card?” she asked.

“Yes, you see, I do have one,” I fudged. “But I think it’s probably in the pocket of my surgical scrubs. I got stuck at one point in the procedure, and had to use it to scrape away some of the plaque in her primary arterial vein. You know, like you use a credit card to scrape frost off your windshield?’

“I don’t have a car,” she replied in a monotone, then reached below the counter. She produced a badge of some sort and waved it in front of the scanner. The total displayed on the readout dropped from $16.68 to $15.60, precisely the $1.08 differential I was hoping for.

She scooped up some paperwork and dropped it in with my bagged Pepsi’s.

“Here’s an MVP application form,” she said. “For next time.”

I thought I detected a momentary twinkle spread across her visage and the slightest of smiles. Then, no — I think she just had a glass eye.

“Thank you so much,” I said, collecting myself and my groceries. I bowed slightly, then added, “Have a great day.”

“Mmmph,” she grunted. It wasn’t the fervent ovation I might’ve hoped for but, after all, this was at least one full step below community theatre.

As I left the store and headed for my car, I felt like I had passed a test on the first step toward a new career. I could now be pursuing a vocation far more rewarding than catching any typo while proofreading a financial document. It was a craft that could entertain and educate and illuminate and heal all at the same time.

No, not surgery. Acting!

"Encore!" I imagined the cashier shouting. "Encore!"

He’s the scandal-plagued rep from New York’s 9th District

June 10, 2011

I was listening to the “Sixties on Six” radio station on Sirius XM this morning, and an old favorite from Jan and Dean came on. “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” was originally performed by The Beach Boys before becoming a Top Ten radio hit in 1964 for the surf music duo. Among their other hits were “Surf City” and “Dead Man’s Curve.”

For whatever reason, the tune became stuck in my head. Later, while scanning The New York Times website, it occurred to me how well a parody of this song might work to describe the current scandal of a certain congressman from Queens.

While I’m not enough of a singer to do such a song justice, I do consider myself a magnificent libretist. Those of you old enough to remember the tune might appreciate my effort.

There’s this guy in Congress named Anthony Weiner
(Go Tony, go Tony, go Tony, go)
Has a girlfriend online but he hasn’t seen her
(Go Tony, go Tony, go Tony, go)
But she’s seen him and his engorged member
They’ve been texting and tweeting since last December
Now everybody’s sayin’ that it’s smaller and leaner
Than they’d expect from a guy named Anthony Weiner
He types real fast and he types real dirty
He’s a terror on Twitter when he’s feelin’ flirty
He’s the guy from Congress named Anthony Weiner
If you see him on Facebook you might un-friend him
(No Tony, no Tony, no Tony, no)
Not even fellow Democrats will try to defend him
(No Tony, no Tony, no Tony, no)
You knew he’d get found out sooner or later
Now he can’t keep his hands off his wife’s vibrator
Now everybody’s sayin’ that it’s smaller and leaner
Than they’d expect from a guy named Anthony Weiner
He types real fast and he types real dirty
He’s a terror on Twitter when he’s feelin’ flirty
He’s the guy from Congress named Anthony Weiner
You see him all the time on the cable news shows
(Whoa Tony, whoa Tony, whoa Tony, whoa)
He says he’s sorry and yet still his nose grows
(Whoa Tony, whoa Tony, whoa Tony, whoa)
The lies keep comin’ as he swigs on his drink
A little smell turned into a great big stink
Now everybody’s sayin’ that it’s smaller and leaner
Than they’d expect from a guy named Anthony Weiner
He types real fast and he types real dirty
He’s a terror on Twitter when he’s feelin’ flirty
He’s the guy from Congress named Anthony Weiner

That’s racin’, though not necessarily entertainment

May 31, 2011

On Sunday, the biggest day in auto racing, Dan Wheldon passed what was left of rookie J.R. Hildebrand to win the Indianapolis 500, while in Charlotte, Kevin Harvick sped past an out-of-gas Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the Coca-Cola 600.

I could give a shit, but it’d be about as hard as staying awake watching droning cars drive in circles for hours at a stretch.

Despite my sad existence as a white middle-aged Southerner, I’ve never been a fan of auto racing. I look at the car as merely a vehicle to get from one place to another, not as a high-powered machine with the ability to burn more petroleum in one afternoon than exists in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Turning the workaday routine of driving into a “sport” makes about as much sense to me as forming a league for those who are fastest at using an ATM or at tying their shoes.

But summer is here, and quality television has started its four-month hiatus. Flipping the dial on Monday afternoon for something to watch, it came down to cats from hell, Kardashians from hell, and swamp people. So I tuned in to the so-called “greatest spectacle in racing,” the Indy 500.

This was the 100th running of the Brickyard classic, and befitting such a long-standing institution, the race was filled with tradition. The racers gathered to kneel and kiss the hallowed road surface in one of the most unhygienic traditions in all of sport (second only to hockey champions’ ritual group-pee into the Stanley Cup). An honored guest was designated to announce the classic line “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,” as if the drivers wouldn’t think of it unless reminded. The winner gets to drink a half-gallon of milk, exactly the kind of refreshment I’d be looking for after four hours in the stifling heat.

Amidst all this, they also held a car race, and it was one of the most exciting contests in history, or so I was told. For a while, someone I had actually heard of, GoDaddy spokeswoman Danica Patrick, was in the lead. She gradually fell behind a hard-charging Belgian named Baguette, who was then passed by Hildebrand, a driver making his first start at Indy.

Hildebrand had the race all but won when he rocketed into the final turn and crashed into a wall. His battered vehicle skidded toward the finish line only to be passed by the largely intact Wheldon. If any part of Hildebrand’s disintegrating ride had managed to be flung ahead of the wreckage, or any amputated piece of Hildebrand himself had skidded past the checkered flag, the rookie would’ve been the lucky winner pouring dairy products into his maw. Instead, it was the lactose-tolerant Wheldon who hoisted the Hallowed Half-Gallon to his lips in victory.

A few hours later, it was time for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, held just up the road from my home near Charlotte. This is where the good ol’ boys race real cars, not those road-hugging open-wheel homo-mobiles they run at Indy.

Long a favorite of those whose necks tend toward the red persuasion, NASCAR has its traditions too. Some — like running large parts of the race under a caution flag because beer cans constantly roll onto the track — are as quirky as anything Indy might offer. Others — like adding a hundred miles to the 500-mile length of most races in a piteous attempt to make the contest 20% better — are just dumb.

Much of NASCAR’s tradition comes in the form of nepotism. Most drivers are related to other drivers in an attempt to appeal to the sport’s largely inbred fan base.

Two of the biggest stars were near the lead when I tuned in near the end of Monday’s race. Kyle Busch is the brother of Kurt Busch and made his most recent splash in the news by being ticketed for going 120 m.p.h. on a 45-m.p.h. road that fronted a nearby church and daycare center. He’s also well-known for looking like a pinhead.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a 2001 crash at Daytona. “Junior,” as he’s called, has been the most popular driver on the circuit since his father’s death. Unfortunately, being related to someone with a particular skill doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll inherit that ability, as Junior’s career-long losing streak has shown. (See also the presidency of George W. Bush, the singing career of Frank Sinatra Jr., and the bankrupt barber shop run by Abraham Lincoln Jr.)

Earnhardt Jr. too looks like a bumpkin.

But approaching the end of the 600-mile race, he was a bumpkin who appeared ready to shatter his losing streak in spectacular fashion. Then he ran out of gas. On his previous pit stop, he had been careful to make sure the windshield washer fluid was topped off, that the cup holders were cleaned of pretzel crumbs and that the eight-track tape deck still worked. But while he was in Gomer’s store buying a Mountain Dew and a chaw, he had forgotten to ask his crew chief to “fill ‘er up.” Eventually, with the help of Triple-A, he coasted across the finish line in seventh place.

Earnhardt Nation, many of whom had been camping in the speedway’s infield for a week in anticipation of a breakthrough for young Dale, sat stunned that the same result that had happened in his 103 previous races had occurred yet another, 104th time.

I was not particularly impressed with the “drama” of such an exciting finish. I’d have preferred to see something different. Maybe having the Target race team’s pit crew, each wearing a large target on the back of their jumpsuits, run for their lives as other drivers aim oncoming cars at them. Maybe having a second race run simultaneously with the first one, but in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, I was able to switch channels and enjoy the rest of my Memorial Day weekend watching the Hub Channel’s “Batman” marathon. That Batmobile could win any race.

New GOP candidates on horizon

May 26, 2011

Fresh off last night’s victory on “American Idol,” country crooner Scotty McCreery has emerged from a dwindling field of potential candidates as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Garnering a majority of over 120 million ballots cast on last night’s season finale, the 17-year-old grocery bagger from North Carolina demonstrated his ability to get out the vote among the critical younger demographic.

GOP party officials had been concerned about announcements from high-profile Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels that they would not run in 2012. The declared field so far includes lackluster names like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich that have not generated a lot of excitement among the independent voters that will be needed for victory.

“I definitely have ‘Scotty Fever’,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Such a fresh face on the national scene is bound to get us over the hump and into a competitive position to defeat President Obama.”

Priebus addressed concerns that McCreery, a full 18 years short of being constitutionally old enough to run for president, is not fit for the nation’s highest office.

“He’s taking both a civics class and a government class as part of his high school studies,” Priebus said. “I know he’s just a junior this year, but in the fall he’ll be a senior and by the time November of 2012 rolls around, he’ll be attending Suffolk County Community College. He’s said he plans to major in heating and air conditioning repair there, which will be helpful in the critical Sunbelt states.”

The GOP chairman dismissed concerns about the legality of electing a teenager to be commander-in-chief when the Constitution clearly states candidates must be at least 35 years old.

“Constitution, Schmonstitution,” Priebus said. “We only follow that when we feel it suits our needs.”

When asked about the rumors swirling around him, McCreery appeared to leave the door open to a possible candidacy.

“I’m right honored to be considered,” said the polite Southerner, who could help Republicans win in his home state, which went Democratic in 2008. “I think my bagging experience could be a big plus. Just like you need to put canned goods on the bottom and baked goods on the top, so too does our country need to make a responsible fiscal policy our bedrock while spending for social programs can get crammed in the top, if there’s room.”

“And I’m not carrying your bags out to your car for you, either,” McCreery said. “Those kinds of entitlements must end.”

McCreery’s possible entry into the race comes on the heels of reports that several other unconventional candidates may toss their hats into the ring. Among those mulling a run include vintage cartoon characters Quick-Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound, a box of glazed donuts, 1960s pop group The Turtles, the geological formation known as the Athabasca Oil Sands, last Friday’s horoscope, an iPad, and 19th-century president Franklin Pierce.

Our 45th president?