So the soft launch on Friday went okay, and we’re good for another soft roll-out before a fortnight hiatus prior to the HARD LAUNCH. A launch SO HARD that it will make teeth crack. I’ll tweet the exact URL tomorrow, but it’s just a blog, a noon thing, a work thing. Links and videos and random hits and peeves and pluses, with a daily ration of old stuff from the paper’s archives. Lileks@Lunch. My fourth!
Buzz.mn was the first, and that’s a tale I’ll tell some day. The second was the Blog That Came After That, and then the PopCrush thing, which is another tale to tell some day. (Bottom line: scouring the wires for celebrity news all day made my brains shoot out of my ears in thundering gouts of self-hatred.) This is what I wanted all along, I suppose - just a multipurpose Whatever Goes blog whose only unifying theme is the time it appears: noon.
So all the stuff that accumulates in my head in the morning has a place now. Nice! Just go to startribune.com after noon and scroll down to the blogs.
Weekend? I had one. I’ll bet you did to. Once again, I failed to conjure grass out of the bald spots on the lawn, but I put down some cedar chips elsewhere, which counts as yard work. I took my daughter out to eat on Saturday night - we went to Famous Dave’s, where the waitress - no doubt having read last week’s entry on political T-shirts, and decided to double-down - had a sticker on her shirt supporting a local polarizing political cause. Which means the manager had no problem with it. Which means the manager thought “hey, who could possibly disagree?” Which means the manager just isn’t thinking these things through.
We sat at a table in the corner. The speakers were playing blues. The singer had got up that morning. The singer’s woman had done him wrong.
“These songs all sound the same,” Gnat said after three songs. “I don’t get it.”
“There’s differences in the vocals and the guitars. Besides you’re a fine one to speak. Dubstep.”
“Well I can tell the difference.”
“Your uncle could tell the difference with this stuff.” Her French uncle is a diehard American blues lover.
“Yeah but still.”
We ate our ribs while Delbert McClinton pointed out a salient fact of interpersonal relations: when you make a man into a monkey, the monkey will, in turn, monkey around.
Then we went to the gas station for a movie. There’s a Redbox outside. There was a line. Everyone was busy hating the person who was taking forever to choose a movie, and we were united in frustration, or would be until she left and the next person took forever, and then we would turn on her. As we walked up to the end of the line, clearly heading towards the terminus of the queue, a car pulled up and let out a kid who walked fast and got in front of us, and I could tell by his expression that he was well aware it was a 50-50 thing, and he didn’t know whether to let us go, or get in line and PRETEND there wasn’t any question who was first.
Ethically, we were entitled, since we were on foot and heading towards the end of the line. We were already en route when the car pulled up, that’s the thing. If we’d been heading towards the store, we would have had a different angle of approach. These things matter.
Ah, well. These things don’t.
A minute later, a guy sidles up, says “I guess my kid was faster.” I turn: hey, I know him. It’s Jerry, the Alcohol Distributor. Haven’t seen him since whenever. Always has the inside dope on the tricks and turns of the trade, and when I ask him what’s new, he thinks:
Moonshine. Moonshine with a NASCAR pedigree, to boot. We talk for a while. The line never moves. The lady is still bleep bleep bleeping through her options. I realize: I don’t need a movie. So I say g’night to Jer and we leave. Ask daughter: it’s our big night on the town! Mom’s out, the day’s our oyster, what now?
“Let’s go to Walgreens for gum.”
So we went to Walgreens for gum. She found a pack of Juicy Fruit and asked what’s this?
“In my day it known for an unusual distinctive flavor that faded almost immediately, but no one held it against it, because it was such a distinctive flavor.” That was gum lore. Purists knew the difference between Bazooka Joe - usually hard and predictable - and Fleer, which was sugar-dusted and soft and possessed an ineffable quality that set it apart, just like Juicy Fruit. Ah, we still spoke of Fruit Stripe in those days - rare as Fleer, for some reason. Gum was so ordinary, with so few options. Now she has Rain Splash Mango Fruit Bouquet packaged like cigarettes, with a flip-top box.
She got the Juicy Fruit. Asked her later:
“What does it taste like?”
“I’m not sure. But it’s good!”
“Did the flavor last?”
Some things are eternal.
It’s almost uncanny how well Toppers Pizza lived down to my expectation. When the menu has a Hangover Helper pizza, you know you’re dealing with a company that values marketing to a specific demographic - men under 20 without women - over the finer points of pizza production. But I had to try.
I expected a pillowy crust whose most salient attribute would be WONDER BREAD, and so it was; even Domino’s sprinkles the edge of the crust with a zesty array of herbs and spices. Yea, you heard me right: The leastest part of the pizza, the perimeter, is worth your attention. The cheese played its role as well as expected. The pepperonis were interesting - smaller, singed on top, crusty. The sausage was chunky and excellent.
But if you know me, you know there’s one question remaining.
How was the sauce?
I wish I could tell you. Wasn’t any. And I asked for extra sauce. If what I got was extra I can only assume that the standard pizza has perhaps a teaspoon of sauce smeared over the crust before they back up the dumptruck and let loose the cheese. The overall impression was “Papa John’s on a good day,” except that the box didn’t have those piquant wet green peppers Papa John’s adds. But then I looked at the box, and saw that they’d included three green peppers.
Hah! Papa John’s only gives you two! Competitive advantage!
The pizza was called an “Old School Pepperoni and Sausage,” because they’re aimed at people who still say things like “Old School.” Remember, this is the company whose CEO planked on the pitch to franchisees:
The box copy is sub-Dominos, attempting the same tone - “we’re mocking the sounds and phonemes adults make when they’re being serious except we’re being serious too but we can’t say so because you’d mock us, so we’re cool, right?” The box had a code to use should I care to hit topperscares.com and tell them what I thought. I would get free TOPPERSTIX, which I’m sure means a log-shaped carb-wad glazed with various flavors. Hey great! Congealed beer.
So I went to the site - which also scans as Topper Scares dot com - and told them that the person who took the order was very good, the pizza was ready on time - these are questions they ask before they ask whether you actually enjoyed the damned thing - and gave the entire experience a 3 out of 5, with fives for the people with whom I dealt, and a 2 for the pizza itself. They wanted to know if there was anything they could do to improve the pizza for my next visit. I wrote:
I'm not likely to try again - perhaps because I don't think I'm in your preferred demographic. When you sent out a mailer advertising your delivery service with the slogan "We come fast. No apologies" your target market probably thought "oh, hah, sex! I will identify with a pizza chain that makes funny semen references," but there are others who might think "say, I think I'll go back to that pizza chain that doesn't make me think the delivery man might ejaculate."
I get the sense that the company is about marketing first, pizza second. It shows.
After that I watched two old obscure forgotten movies - yes, I know, there’s a switch. There’s a spanner thrown in the old machinery. The first was “Movie Movie,” a movie movie time has utterly forgotten. 1978 attempt to satirize the films of the 30s, a late entry into the nostalgia gambit - which had played out by ’78, since we’d moved on to sharks and pew-pew-pew space combat. The idea: a double feature, two 50-minute films, the first being a boxing picture, the second a Warner Brothers musical. Cast: George C. Scott. Whoa! Yes. Red Buttons, a little Art Carney, all the usual suspects. George Burns, too. I was irritated right away by the font choices.
And if you wish, you may now push back from your laptop or monitor and set down your coffee and have a good, hearty laugh, because I was irritated right away by their font choices.
What sort of person is irritated by font choices? Well, let me give you this:
No. Hobo dates to the 20s, but I've never seen it in movie titles. "THE PLAYERS" is a 20s typeface as well. "BETSHY MCGUIRE" - I don't know where they got that.
Wrong. So I thought: this is lazy and rote. But it’s not. It’s a satire of the genres in the same sense as Johnny Dangerously, but A) it doesn’t try to score points by saying “we’re so smart in 1978 that we can make fun of this crap with a script written by chimps blowing inch-thick spleefs of primo Columbian, and B) it doesn’t lard the script with ananchronisms to make it appeal and connect with a 1978 audience. It’s not so much a satire of the genres as a final grand apotheosis of meta-satire: nothing people say is related at all to what people actually said in the movies they satirize. But it’s a comic exaggeration of a literal interpretation of the dialogue - everyone speaks in broad tropes. In a way, it’s a satire of something that didn’t exist. No one made those preposterous death-scene speeches; no one spoke in long extended metaphorical passages. But they would have said something like this in the ultimate bad genre picture:
"Bare heart." It's got that Barton Fink feeling, doesn't it?
Between the boxing picture and the musical, a trailer for a nonexistent war flick.
It’s charming. About an hour and a half into it, someone reads a note left by a heroine, and says “Dear Dick. By the time you read this note, I will have written it,” and I laughed out loud. It wears you down until you just let yourself enjoy it.
I followed that with this:
Yes, them. That. Laugh-In. They made a movie.
Perhaps it was their attempt to built a platform that would survive beyond Laugh-In; maybe just a fast cash-in between seasons.
I loved Laugh-In as a kid. As an adult I see what a witless thing it is now, but the movie is an interesting artifact: Rowan and Martin had an easy comfy camaraderie, a hippie-era Martin-and-Lewis vibe. They stand on an empty stage during the credits, offering commentary - something the producers no doubt demanded, since it welded this peculiar monster-mystery plot to the stand-up sequences that framed the “Laugh-In” TV show.
It’s hard not to like them, and equally difficult not to feel sorry for them. Dick Martin isn’t Jerry Lewis and Dan Rowan isn’t Dean Martin. The movie lets them shake off the quick-cut style of the TV show, lets them stretch, and reveals both to be perfectly adequate. They have Something, but they don’t have It. They’re B-League boys who lucked into an A-league gig, and you just can’t hold anything against them. You also realize how they needed each other to make the act work - Martin and Lewis were great together, and blossomed when they were set apart. Rowan and Martin worked only when they were together, and only then in short small doses. There’s a reason “Bippy” was the last movie they did.
If you feel sorry for anyone, it’s Dan Rowen; sometimes you watch an actor who had a brief vogue, and you sense a talent who was underappreciated and underused, a comic genius whose true brilliance shows through in rare moments. But that’s not the case. He was probably no worse than what you see in the movie, but probably no better.
That said, the end of the movie is quite post-modern, and involves Mike Brady in an exercise in demolishing the conventions of the medium. So, there’s that. And then they walk into the sunset, hand in hand.