Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's Not Unusual

Tom Jones is the Man.

One of my earliest memories is repeated listenings of my Mom's scratchy LP of "Tom Jones' Greatest Hits" when I was 4 years old. Dad was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, so my family was living among the mountains and pines of the north. It's a beautiful place, but it is so close to the North Pole that for several weeks during the winter, it gets dark at 2 in the afternoon. And I mean dark. For a 4 year old, that's a tad confusing. Seasame Street is not even half over and all of a sudden it's nighttime. Combine that with snow, ice, and -40 degree cold, going outside to play is not an option. And some days the weather was so bad there would be no TV reception. Nothing but snow and snow. So, in order to entertain her very hyper toddler (and keep her sanity intact), my Mom would play albums for me on the monstrous record player that took up an entire wall of our house. I would sit next to the enormous cabinet, my ear close to one of the enclosed speakers, and I would sing along with whatever it was Mom pulled from the record collection. And my Mom liked to listen to Tom Jones more than any of the other albums in her collection. A lot more. To put it another way, I knew all the words to "She's a Lady," "Delilah," and "What's New, Pussycat?" before I could tie my shoes. But, as much as I enjoyed singing along with Tom's Greatest Hits, I didn't understand why my Mom liked listening to him so much. That is, until last Saturday night.

Imagine if you will, hundreds of women, of every age, race, and height you can imagine, all transfixed by a hairy, sweaty welcoming singing on stage. They scream, they swoon, they sing along. And with every song comes another pair of panties sailing through the air, like Victoria decided to give away every last one of her secrets, hurling each of them at the stage with the sexual frenzy of a giddy teenager. This is the power of Tom Jones, my friends, power I witnessed first hand at the Greek Theater last Saturday night. Thanks to my friend Staci, and the tickets she bought me for my birthday, I had a 16th row view of this unbelievable spectacle. Tom had every woman in the audience eating out of his hand. A wink, a smile, an extra-long final note; Tom charmed and excited the lot, flashing his million dollar grin to the crowd, hypnotizing each and every lady with his smooth voice, his tight pants, and his profuse sweating (two words: Niagara Falls). But Tom's persistent perspiration didn't matter to the ladies. They were his, and no amount of moisture could sway them. I'm sure some of them would have given up their firstborn child for one night alone with Mr. Jones. And the man is 65 years old. 65! One wrong move, one wrongly-timed gyration, he could fall and break a hip. Don't get me wrong, he puts on a hell of a show, but the man isn't as spry as he used to be. But despite the risk of bodily injury, Tom keeps going; one song after another, one dance after another, one sexual innuendo after another, all to the delight of his legion of screaming female fans.

Now I get why my Mom listened to him so much on those dark and stormy winter afternoons. It wasn't to entertain me, it was to entertain her!

I have new respect for the man, the myth, and the legend that is Tom Jones. If only I could harness a tenth of this man's mojo. I'm not asking for the power to make women throw their panties at me at will, just enough to make them at least consider the idea. Too much of Tom's mojo might be too powerful for everyday life. Strange women screaming at me and ripping my clothes off while I'm standing in line at the bank might be a bit awkward.

Fun, but awkward.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Room With A View

The skies in L.A. are usually clear, but this year saw more rain fall on the city since, well, ever. But despite the flooding, the sinkholes, and the mudslides that made life miserable at the beginning of the year, there were a few days where the sky would clear up just enough to produce sunsets like the one above. So, for a couple days at least, the view from my kitchen window was almost worth the weather.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

I turned 33 today. I survived another year, and after the year I just had, that's no small feat. But that's another story for another time. Instead, I am reminded of another birthday, a birthday filed with wonder, excitement, and sheer terror. It was June 20, 1978. I was turning 6, a birthday that remains the most terrifying day of my life. For it was on that day, in a magical kingdom known as Disney World, that I experienced true horror, the likes of which I had never seen before.

A horror known only as MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE.

On the surface, it seemed harmless enough. Deep in the heart of Fantasyland, flashing lights, loud music, and animatronic animals beckon to all who wander near, like some candy coated sirens' call. Step right up! Don't miss! The amazing magical joyride through the loveable world of Mr. Toad! See Mr. Toad sing! See Mr. Toad dance! See Mr. Toad having all sorts of Mr. Toad adventures! It's great for the kids! How can you go wrong with a pitch like that? And so there I was, dragging my uncle through the line, hopped up on my seventh $3 coke in the collectable Mickey Mouse squeeze bottle. After what seemed an eternity, we found ourselves at the head of the line, ready to board our Mr. Toad jalopy to set out on our Mr. Toad Wild Ride! The jalopy was a faithful recreation of the open-top, 1920's car that was so popular with talking woodland creatures circa 1978. My uncle picked me up and set my right behind the jalopy's enormous steering wheel and said, "You know what, it's your birthday, you get to drive." Then he gave me a wink and moved to the back of the jalopy. And before I could say anything, the jalopy took off without warning.

I was off on my wild ride with Mr. Toad.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is nothing more than a brisk journey through a funhouse full of singing animatronic animals dancing to cheesy music and cheap smoke effects. The jalopy winds its way along a track on the floor, all while avoiding the Mr. Toad characters that jump out at you, then deposits you on the other side of the funhouse, dropping you off at a conveniently located gift shop selling Mr. Toad shirts, dolls, and $3 cokes in collectable Mr. Toad squeeze bottles.

So you're probably asking yourself, "What's so scary about that?" Well, when my uncle lifted me up and stuck me behind the wheel of the car, I thought I was REALLY DRIVING. In my 6 year old mind, I was suddenly responsible for every move our jalopy made. If I steered left, the jalopy would go left. If I steered right, the jalopy would go right. And if I didn't do a good job and steer clear of Mr. Toad and his friends, not only could I crash into them, but I could also crash into the back wall of the funhouse, possibly killing me, my uncle, and any other poor soul unlucky enough to cross my path!

In other words, I was now responsible for the safety and well-being of myself and everyone else having a Wild Ride!

The jalopy rode along the track just like it always did, hundreds of times a day, thousands of times a year, each time narrowly avoiding hitting Mr. Toad, the wall of the funhouse, or anything else. But to the 6 year old boy behind the wheel of the jalopy, the boy with no concept of tracks, automated systems, or animatronics, this was a ride straight into hell. My small fingers gripped the oversized wheel in front of me with every once of strength I had. I frantically steered left, narrowly avoiding a head on collision with a hedgehog. But there was a giant mole coming at me! I steered right, speeding past the over-eager underground dweller. No time to catch my breath as another creature sprang up in our path! Sweat poured down my face as I turned the wheel. My uncle just smiled and waved at me, laughing at the Wild Ride we were on. What was he laughing for? Didn't he realize he put a 6 year old boy behind the wheel of a speeding car? Faster and faster we went through the funhouse, zipping past every kind of talking critter you can imagine, each one more determined than the last to leap out in the path of our speeing jalopy. And the jalopy had no foot pedals! I was behind the wheel of a speeding car with NO BRAKES! There was no way to slow us down! We were out of control!


The jalopy finally slowed down and stopped. Everyone got out. And while the other kids were laughing and clamoring for their parents to buy them something, I was shaking and trembling. I gripped the stair rail with white knuckles as I walked up to my parents waiting at the end of the line. They kept saying, "That looked like fun! Do you want to ride it again?" Hell, no, I don't want to ride it again! What are you people, nuts? You almost killed me! On my birthday! With a hedgehog!

It was right then and there I swore I would never take a wild ride with Mr. Toad ever again.

At least not until I was 7 and could handle the pressure better.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Losing The Light

One of the best pictures I've ever taken. Standing at the far end of an abandonded sea park on the edge of California's coast in Rancho Palos Verdes, November 2003, during the filming of "The Aviator." Directly behind me, Hollywood geniuses were recereating the spectacular crash of Howard Hughes and his XF-11 spyplane smashing into Beverly Hills. Take after take, fire, smoke, and exploding debris were set off, creating a magnificent pyrotechnic display for the whole crew to see. And just on the other side of the set, out of view from the camera, there was an entirely different light show going on. And this one only needed one take to get right.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Couch Is Moving

TiVo rocks. The greatest invention in the history of man. Better than fire, the wheel, and aerosol cheese combined. I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want. Brilliant. My love and adoration for this miracle of technology knows no bounds. For example, shows I missed months ago can be recorded and saved, called up at a moment's notice, played back again and again, rewound, paused, and... well, you get the idea. But it's great! You can relive every moment of your favorite show over and over again. Like I said, brilliant!

So thanks to the TiVo, I found myself planted on the couch on a lazy Thursday afternoon watching an episode of "Lost" from 3 months ago. I sat there, mesmerized by the adventures of these 21st century castaways stuck on some new uncharted desert isle (whose predicament could easily be remedied if they would only do what the old bunch should have done, which is to ask the Professor to build a friggin' BOAT), but I digress. To make a long story short, that's when the couch started moving. Then the walls rumbled, the windows rattled, and the TV shook. I realized what it was. It wasn't the cat under the table. It wasn't someone running down the hall. It wasn't a big truck driving by.

It was an earthquake.

It lasted about 2 seconds.

It felt like 2 minutes.

My heart stopped, then began racing. I sat there, not moving, not breathing, waiting to see if more was coming. Nothing happened. I sighed, then laughed. There it was, my first earthquake. I knew when I moved to L.A. I would experience one at some point. Out of the blue, just like that. For a split second, everything in your world stops. Life takes a tremendous, ominous pause while the planet has a stretch and rearranges the scenery a bit. Then it's over. The moment hits like a thunderbolt, then is gone just as fast. And, as far as earthquakes go, this one was tiny. Geologically speaking, anyway. But it didn't matter. It was an EARTHQUAKE. I calmed down. I switched from "Lost" to the local news, knowing I could return to the folks stranded on the island at a more convenient time. And that's when it hit me. All the important moments, the ones you remember for the rest of your life, you get to see them one time and that's it. You can't rewind, go back, and watch it all over again. They just happen, then are gone. The moments that remain with us the longest are the ones we only get to see once.

Life has no TiVo.

Dream Awake

My grandfather made a living jumping out of perectly good airplanes. Coolest. Job. Ever.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"I'd buy that for a dollar!"

RoboCop. Great movie. Forget the sequels, or the lame tv show, the orginal Paul Verhoeven-Peter Weller epic is a masterpiece of high concept and highly stylized violence. But there is one thing about the film that has stuck with me, something that I ponder from time to time. During the movie, the people of the future are shown watching television; news, commercials, tv shows. One of the programs they watch is a sitcom starring a short, bald man with a thick moustache and thicker glasses. He bumbles through several escapades on this sitcom, usually involving large breasted women in bikinis. All throughout RoboCop, people are shown watching this sitcom, laughing out loud at what they see. And more than once in the film, the bald guy on the sitcom says, "I'd buy that for a dollar." He says this line and everybody laughs. The people in the studio audience, the people watching the sitcom at home; everyone thinks "I'd buy that for a dollar" is the funniest thing they've ever heard. One of the characters in the film even uses the phrase in day-to-day conversation. It's so popular, it's become a catchphrase. It's the sitcom's signature line. For the people in RoboCop's future society, "I'd buy that for a dollar" is part of the pop culture. So what I wonder is this. At some point in the history of this sitcom, the line "I'd buy that for a dollar" was used for the first time. It gets a huge response and it becomes a running joke. So, what happened that first time? What was the first situation for which "I'd buy that for a dollar" was the punchline? What was it that happened that first time to make the line "I'd buy that for a dollar" so damn funny?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

Free Katie

So, with all this talk of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in the "news" lately, I began to wonder just what all the fuss is over Scientology. I mean, Tom sings the praises of this so-called religion in more and more interviews lately, as do John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and so many other celebs. Even Katie "digs it" and has signed up to take L. Ron Hubbard's path to the stars. Not knowing much about Scientology besides the name, and that you have to pay a lot of money to join, I did some digging around the internet to uncover what it's all about. And after several hours of reading, I came to one inescapable conclusion:

Scientology is a cult. A very real, dangerous, and evil cult.

Someone needs to resuce Katie Holmes before it is too late. Tom is too far gone. But Katie can be saved. A hero needs to rise up and snatch her away from the disciples of Xenu. I suggest you check out www.xenu.net to discover for yourself the truth behind L. Ron Hubbard and his flock of certified nut jobs. Seriously, folks. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

"No matter where you go, there you are."

So, here it is. My first blog post. My contribution to the already overcrowded information superhighway. A quiet little corner of cyberspace to talk about whatever it is that crosses my mind. All the kids are doing it, why not me? I feel all George Jetson-y now. And speaking of the Jetsons, the last time I checked my calendar we were living in the 21st century. Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars. The creation of the internet has made it possible to communicate with anyone anywhere instantly, but they have yet to figure out how make a Saturn that can turn into a suitcase. Think of the parking problems that could be elminated! Come on, General Motors, get on this! I can see the 2006 model year already! The new Dodge Wallet! The Ford Knapsack! The Honda Handbag! The possibilities are endless!

Anyway, enjoy the blog. I'll try to keep it interesting.