JUNE 1999 Part 2
Finally saw Star Wars, and I’m wondering: am I just too old, or is George Lucas overrated? All the things that made the movie wonderful were the creation of other talents, specifically the armies of code-slaves who crafted all the digital effects. All the things that made the movie stink were the direct result of Lucas’ lead pen and inability to direct human beings. Maybe I’m too old and have lost my Childlike Wonder. But I don’t think so. Here comes some heresy:

I liked Jar-Jar.

I’m not kidding. Liam Neeson is a great actor, but he played the role as if he was trying to remember if he’d left the iron on at home. Ewan McGregor is a fine actor, and he shone at the end when he actually had something to do, but most of the time, he didn’t have anything to do. The kid who played Darth Mikey was bad. His mom was acting through a fistful of quaaludes. Natalie Portman - good-looking woman, but a sock puppet without a hand has a wider dramatic range. Samuel Jackson was good for the 2.7 seconds he was on screen; it was nice Yoda again to see, although apparently he had lumbago even then.

The only actual acting that took place was inside a computer, and I’ve yet to read a review that points this out. It was two movies: one made of skin & sinew, one made of bits & bytes, and the latter outacted the former in every single instance. I had come prepared to hate Jar-Jar, and at first I tried. But then I noticed that whatever scene he was in, I was watching him; I was never bored when he was in the action, because he moved, he shouted, mugged - everything the other characters weren’t doing. His face had expression and his vocal tonalities spanned more than three notes. For God’s sake, the Hutt had more star quality than Liam Neeson did. The purple-winged junk dealer, who looked a lot like a Muppet I can’t remember, had more presence. The evil hand-walking pod-racer guy was an ACTUAL CHARACTER. If I had to pick which creatures were the products of a computer, it would have been the human actors.

And that’s Lucas’ fault. He can’t write dialogue; he can’t shape a scene; he can’t direct actors. He can dream the great dream, and for that we thank him. But he fails in the particulars, over and over again. The scene where he’s talking to Darth Damien’s mother, and she lets it slip that the lad didn’t have a father - for God’s sake, this is a portentous moment; at the least, Lucas is making a bid that his myth is on an equal footing with Christianity. But the mother might as well have noted that her son had a big Pez collection. The first meeting between R2D2 and C3P0 should have brought grins & wet eyes to the audience, but it had all the emotional impact of two boxcars coupling.

Of course, the acting’s always been bad. Let us never forget Luke’s great fever-dream oration: Dagobah. Dagobah system. Or the miserably unconvincing byplay between Solo and Leia in the opening bars of Episode 5; were it not for the I love you / I know exchange (which, I believe, Lucas didn’t write) the entire relationship would seem even more contrived than it was.

Great battle sequences. Pod racer scene: wonderful. (I swear I saw Manny Calavera from “Grim Fandango” in the stands.) Best use of computer animation I’ve ever seen. Coruscant was great, even if Lucas stole that idea from Asimov. (It’s Trantor.) But: Why did big-head frog boss get the last scene? This is a gaffe right up there with the Wookie being cheated out of a medal at the end of Ep IV. It was all summed up for me in the opening moments. Those blue letters on the black screen, that font - I was instantly pitched back to 1977, feeling the same electric trill of expectation. Then the logo crashed on the screen, and I grinned, stupidly. Okay! Here we go! And I grinned again at the very words “The Phantom Menace” - it’s such a perfectly stupid name, and it either stirs your inner 12 year old, or it does. It did. I started to read the text as it marched into the starfield . . . and I had to read it twice. What’s this about? A dispute over taxation and trade routes?

Thrill! as import duties come down. Gasp! as currency futures are battered by robot arbitragers. Swoon! as Darth N’Sidious slaps ruinous tariffs on nerf pelts.

Best sound: the engines of the bad guy’s pod racer.

I’ll stop now.

I’ll also buy it on DVD, because, well, because I want to see it again. And another time after that.

Why did big-head frog boss get the last scene? This is a gaffe right up there with the Wookie being cheated out of a medal at the end of Ep IV.

Okay, that’s enough.

Yes, it’s week two of Rejected Interface Month, where I trot out all the ideas that seemed good at the time. I’ve always wanted to do something with a 20s-30s feel, even though it doesn’t fit the 50s-60s feel of the Institute and other sites. Well, what the hell. Here it is. I like the rollevers on this one. I may actually keep this one around for the rest of the month.

On Friday night I went home, skipping and singing, ready for the geek weekend to end all geek weekends: I had a copy of “Aliens vs. Predator” to review, I was going to see Star Wars on Saturday, and watch the DS9 season finale Sunday night. It was going to be sunny and humid. I had a frosty bottle of Citron in the freezer, a great dog and best of all a beautiful wife. And pizza!

Friday night I loaded AvP, and it bombed. Over and over again. Incompatibility issues. Spent two and a half hours fixing the problem, and failing; I wrote my review anyway. It’s all about how companies rush crap out the door knowing it doesn’t work.

Around 1:30 AM I said to hell with it, and went for a walk in the woods with Jasper on the way back it seemed like a good idea to drop in the grass and look up at the stars, so we did. Then Jasper stood and barked alarm - a shaggy figure was stumbling over the bridge, frizzy hair backlit by the pathway lamp. I jumped to my feet - and since creatures springing unseen from the deep grass might well surprise anyone, I said “good evening.” He said nothing. Limped his way south. Very strange. Followed him for a few blocks, wondering where it was going; he had that Igor-back-from-the-cemetary-with-fresh-parts aspect to him.

That was Friday.

Saturday was incredibly hot, just they way I like it. Sat outside and drank gallons of water and finished the Po Bronson book, which ended up making me wonder why he wrote it. Contractual obligation, I’m guessing. The point seemed to be that there are a lot of people in Silicon Valley with interesting curious lives doing interesting curious things, and we love them all except for George Gilder, who is - gasp! - conservative on some social issues. (Bronson drops this news as if we’re supposed to reel back in horror upon viewing the Gorgon, whereas the news that another character is a Communist - and probably an apologist for any number of mass murderers as well as an advocate of the elimination of private property - is viewed as a charming quirk: oh, look at the Marxist making money, isn’t that cute?) Sara wanted to stain the deck, so I took out all the chairs and pots - and damn, they were heavy. Could feel my back give small peeps of distress. Then the clouds came, and a storm rolled in - so I put the pots back in the porch. Same bright pangs from the lumbar region.

Ahh, it was nothing. As I was setting up the VCR to record Deep Space Nine, I realized that I was unutterably screwed, that the muthafarkin’ bastiches would no doubt splatter thunderstorm warnings all over the screen for half the show. Grrr. Well, we’ll see.

The Giant Swedes came along to get me for the movie; Sara was going to this little cabaret she attends with a friend once a month. As we left the rain was pounding down at full strength, your average summer storm, but I knew the TV would be full of dire warnings. Grrr. The movie theater was sparsely populated and frigid, and the movie was overpopulated and frigid. Full review tomorrow. I liked Jar-Jar, though.

Went to supper with the Swedes and the Ukes, argued over Kosovo. Went home, checked the tape: sure enough, it’s all weather warnings. Sunzabitches.

Walked Jasper in the woods, everything wet and fresh; a new platoon of storm clouds trooped in and sent commands zigging across the sky. One bolt took out all the lights along the pathway, dropping us into instant absolute darkness. I loved it. We explored for a while, then headed home when a few hungry mosquitoes started to feast.

Sara returned, and we sat on the deck enjoying the rain, having summer libations. Perfect. Later that night as I was heading downstairs to get something my sock hit a tuft of dog hair, or some patch of silicone, or something smooth and slippery; I fell tailbone first on a step, and yes, it hurt a great deal.

Sunday: woke, moved, screamed. Most of my back was sore from moving the pots, and that which had survived pot duty was bruised from the fall. I couldn’t move. But, well, I had to, lest I soil myself, so Up! I walked the kinks out, which took a while. Spent most of the afternoon grimacing and grunting, actually. Especially when Sara asked me to move all the pots out again. Giant Swede calls, asks if I want to run errands, and of course I did; we went first to Taco Bell, where we both declined to buy Ani Skywalker Drink-Cup Toppers.

And of course we talked about the movie. The following may contain spoilers, but since there wasn’t a single thing in the movie that could be described as a plot twist or a surprise, I don’t know what I could possibly give away. Given what we know now, the first movie has some huge coincidences. At some point someone had to report to Darth Vader:

My Lord, two droids, C3P0 and R2D2, have escaped to Tattoine, where they were purchased by a Mr. and Mrs. Skywalker. These two moisture farmers were subsequently killed by Imperial Stormtroopers.

Vader’s first thought may have been: stormtroopers actually hit something? Boy, medals all around.

Then it might have struck him: the ship he was chasing was carrying the droid he’d built as a child. The droid left in an escape pod that landed on the planet where he, Vader, was born. The droid was bought by his brother (or brother-in-law; that part’s cloudy) who’s taking care of his son. Great Sith, what are the odds of that? And wait a minute - what, you incinerated my brother? Bring me the bright boy with the itchy flame-thrower finger, NOW.

It just doesn’t hold up.

Went to Dayton’s Daisy Sale, dropped a roll on shirts and ties. Home. Cut the lawn, swearing all the way, cursing like Felix Unger: my back! ohhh, my back! Vacuumed the house, washed the floors, did three loads of laundry. The radio said a bad storm was coming, so the pots had to go back inside - but since the deck was still wet with the stain, I had to schlep them all to the garage. My God, it hurt. It never rained.

At 7:10 the clouds passed and the sun came out. Wonderful.

And then it began to rain.

So, to recap: no computer game, no Trek finale, so-so movie, back pain.

Or, to put it another way: romance, friends, activity, humidity, adventure, fun. Nothing as I’d expected, but one of the better ones nevertheless.

I was watching a movie the other night - morning, really - and the actress seemed familiar. She was a perfect Grace Kelly clone; same cottony petulant steely-soft attitude. Her character was the improbable wife of Bing Crosby, who played a washed-up boozer crooner given One Last Chance by William Holden. I knew I’d seen that actress somewhere before, but whenever I tried to place her in a movie, Grace Kelly came to mind. Poor dear - her entire career was probably overshadowed by the resemblance.

So I looked in the TV section to see the name of the actress. It was Grace Kelly.

Well, settles that. And poor Grace Kelly’s career was overshadowed

by Grace Kelly, eventually.
It suddenly smells like curry in the house. It smells like a New York cabbie exploded downstairs. I must go investigate -

Ah. My wife is making curried couscous, or cousied currcurr. No: Cousie CurrCurr is a Star Wars character.

Long day. Looonng day. Fought a battle with my keyboard at the office, which decided not to respond when the T, Z, comma, period or G keys were used. Then it crashed and ate a column. Not the optimal circumstances for writing merry diversions. I called tech support, and they asked what my problem was.

“My fist is stuck in the monitor,” I said.

“It is.”

“Yes. Buried up to the elbow.”

I imagine they get that complaint a lot.

But I salvaged a column out of it all, and drove home. Traffic moved like spackle through a drinking straw, and after thirty blocks I saw why: The city had put a lane-closed / merge sign around a pile of sand that was heaped near the curb. I imagine the city also dropped off the sand to justify the deployment of a spare merge sign. Otherwise, you know, they just sit in the warehouse and rust. Use ‘em or lose ‘em! Once past the sandpile I opened ‘er up and pushed the Defiant to a nice brisk 50 MPH, which always feels fun on a city street. Went home, supped, napped, walked the dog on his terms. In the evening he gets to set the route, both of us just slaves to his snout.

Last night we had a mouse in the house. I’d seen him in the afternoon - a furry blur across the living room floor. Later that night my wife trapped him behind the stove, and with her help I trapped him in a cardboard box. Dropped him off outside into the alley undergrowth. Must have been his worst day: two giants on his case, with their hairy bark-sniff demon familiar causing a hellacious racket. I can’t bring myself to kill the little vermin. Of course, it would be different if there were hundreds of them in the basement, rippling in the dark, an undulating squeaking sea of mice, mice, mice. And if he’d been five times the size and scaly, coming at me with fangs bared, I’d have no trouble putting a round in him. But a mouse here and there - eh.

I wonder if Disney could rehabilitate silverfish if they made a cute animated cartoon about big-eyed orphaned slithery-limbed insects. Probably.

Well, back to work: I have to finish reviewing “Aliens vs. Predator,” a computer game that truly, honestly bites. This thing was rushed out the door so quickly that the first words that scroll on the screen are “executing batchfile.exe BUILD 90 5/5/99.” Yes, that certainly sets the mood.

Hot today: sun, then clouds, then after the nap full glorious blue skies and a wonderfully lurid overdone sunset. Still warm - tanktops and shorts at midnight, which is part of my definition of heaven. This is what I live for, this time, right now. Everything’s green and warm at night, you can throw yourself in the grass and not get a concussion from the hard dead earth. The air has a distant fishy scent from the lakes - not overwhelming, but reminiscent of summers past when you . . . well, when you smelled that distant fishy scent.

It’s also the time of stinky dogs and mosquitos, but that’s part of it too. I only complain when it’s cold on the days when it should be warm. That’s my rule. Hot? So take off some clothes. Skeeters? So slap, already. right now it’s a quarter to eleven and the sun’s been gone for only an hour and 15 minutes. No complaints are possible; no complaints will be entertained. Yes, the keyboard stuck and the column got eaten and the game stinks, but: the windows are open and the breeze is warm.

End of story.

Saw a freeway accident today. Or, more accurately: caused a freeway accident today. I was driving down 35W at 30 MPH - traffic was unaccountably bunched up, and I’d sidled over to the right-hand lane, intending to exit at the next opportunity. When I came to the next ramp, it was choked solid, and there were a dozen cars queued up to merge. While I usually let people merge - it’s good karma, and more importantly gives me the right to swear blue smoke at people who don’t let me merge - it wasn’t a good time now. To my right I saw a car bolt out of the line waiting to merge - a beater driven by a guy hunched over the wheel with that sweaty-maniac look. He was going to force the issue, and I could either slam on my brakes or keep going. I made the decision to keep going exactly .5 seconds before he decided to force the issue. He slammed on his brakes and plowed into the car in front of him. Engage the cliches: I saw it all in slow motion, including the unbelievably pissed expression of the fellow he hit; heard the sounds - BASH and CRANK expressed simultaneously with a coda of tinkling debris.

The cause of the bunch-up was a truck parked on the shoulder a half a mile down. This is the way the universe operates: one truck throws a rod; half an hour later, a guy gets his bumper creased, and neither of them will ever know the cause and effect that ruined each one’s day.

Had a nice steaming plate of bile for supper. Sara was at a going-away party for a co-worker, so I took my meal with the Wall Street Journal. Had an article on Violent Anarchists in Eugene, Oregon - the usual Chomsky-slurping bent mentals who channel their personal miseries into a hatred of organized society. They’d trashed a Nike store to protest consumerism. Yawn. The reporter attended a few meetings, where they wondered whether they should detonate a computer-parts factory, or just blow up cars to make people wonder what it was they wanted. They didn’t want jobs - no, work is a symptom of society’s illnesses. The leader proposes the destruction of industrial society, and wants everyone to be a wandering hunter-gatherer living a happy peaceable life of flower-sniffing, staring at the sky and contemplating the great yellow navel of the sun. You could write them off as idiots, but that’s too kind. At best, they are hypocrites: let one of them feel the hot stab of a bursting appendix, and they’ll head off to the nearest hospital to avail themselves of the boon of industrial society. And they’re naive: they say they want to destroy industrial society to save the earth, but after two winters without industrially-supplied heat, North America would have about seven trees standing.

But most of all, they are evil. When one of their number expressed the desire to blow up cars to get people’s attention, you can see the level of mindless fury at work here: she didn’t care if someone needed the car to take a sick baby to the doctor - one dead baby is insignificant compared to the symbolic advancement of her cause. Wouldn’t care if someone used the car to bring meals to the handicapped: the sick should starve to advance her cause. She’s let a beloved family dog die in yowling pain from a bowel obstruction because she wanted to torch vet offices to protest industrial society. And if half the country starved or froze when the heat went out? Fine: too many people anyway.

Fascism, communism, anarchism - they all meet at the point where the totalitarian desire swamps humanism, and turns your fellow man into an object.

All to save the earth and shake off the shackles of oppressive government - a government so heavy-handed that the main spokesman for the group, who prints cartoons celebrating the assassination of police and businessmen and supports the brilliant work of the Unabomber, is not only free to print, free to hold his meetings, free to speak his mind in the paper without fear of arrest, but free to keep his job . . . as a day-care provider.

I was so incensed after reading the article I wanted to call them all up and argue, but instead I just glowered at the dog. When his ears went back I reassured him it wasn’t his fault.

“I’ll protect you from anarchists,” I said, and he liked that.

We sat on the porch and watched the storm roll in. Yes, the storm.

The day began with rain, ended with rain, with hot wet sunny hours in between - all of which were spent in the office. It was like a newspaper rolled up and left on the steps in a storm; everything was soaked except for the business section. This morning’s storm was impressive - an authoritative clap of thunder was one of the best audio productions of the season thus far. Rotund, modulated, loud, percussive. This evening’s production was dispirited, like a summer-stock play performed on a cool Tuesday. Oh, the role of Wind was done well, but nothing extraordinary; the part of Rain was performed in a timid and rote fashion, without the angry enthusiasm the role required.

During intermission we walked in the woods, sheltered by the ragged parasol of the braches above, chastened by the rushing stream: hushhhh said the water, listen. And so I did: in the distance, a great crash, like two gargantuan cars colliding. Perhaps after every storm the troposphere’s premiums go up. But probably not.

What happens when you push your hours deeper into the night, wake later, nap heavily, and do 150 pushups right before bed? Correct: you don’t sleep when you want to. Last night was the worst: I had a million things spinning in my head prior to bed, and naturally I laid there thinking of this and that, staring at the wall with headlight eyes. The chainpull from the ceiling fan clinked against the light globe - tink tink tink like someone tapping my eardrum with a long cold fingernail. Eventually I drifted off . . . BEEP! BEEP! I woke, realized it was the CO detector downstairs. Good. Carbon Monoxide? Good. Now I can really get some sleep. Then I saw that the fan blades were spinning down . . . hmm, wife must have pulled the chain because it was making too much noise . . . got up, pulled the chain to start up the fan, because it was hot . . . noticed all the clock lights were dark. The power had gone out.
Went back to bed, thinking: did I pull the fan chain, or the light chain? When the power returns, will the light come on? Ahhhh, who cares . . . slept.

BEEP BEEP! from the studio - the PC turning itself on as the power was restored. I was awake again. Tried to sleep. Turned. Thrashed. The dog left the bed, plopped on the ground, and after a long heavy sigh made a series of gagging noises. Get up, check dog; dog is okay . . . back to sleep, close eyes, please: sleep . . . CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP. The loudest bird in the world had awakened, and was peeping some idiot story outside the window. Get up, close windows . . .

I got more sleep than I thought I did; when it’s constantly interrupted, you think the night has been sleepless. I had plenty of pep today, and none of the ham-headed drowsiness you feel when you don’t get enough REM. Go figure.

I’d stayed up late watching, of all things, the last episode of the Prisoner. VH-1 ran it as part of an Austin Powers 60s spy marathon. In my second year of college I was devoted to the Prisoner, and watched it with religious rapture on Sunday nights, convinced that McGoohan had crafted a perfect show - a paranoid spy drama with Large Looming Themes about the individual and society. But even then in my hemp-addled state I saw the last episode for what it was: an inedible stew of sophmoric allegory that ruined everything that had gone before. So last night I watched it again to see if it was truly as bad as I remembered, and yes, it was. Interesting concepts, but tritely executed. Even so, I’ll give him credit for one thing: having spent 13 episodes defending the rights of the individual to be an individual, he turned the idea on its head at the end, and suggested that absolute individuality corrupts absolutely, that it corrupts society. I didn’t understand that in 1977; I didn’t see that point.

Interesting point, but when it’s being made by 30 robed guys in black-and-white masks pounding a table, you have to roll your eyes and say wow, man, heavy.

That said, the Prisoner was still a good show. What was American TV doing at the time? I Dream of Jeanie.

Went to work today and found that my wishes had been answered: my hideous ATEX keyboard had been replaced by a soft-touch PC keyboard. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to unlearn two years of ATEX keystrokes, since everything on the keyboard was differently mapped. This was a nightmare of no small dimensions. I could go back to ATEX tomorrow, admit defeat - or I can try it for another day, or two, or three . . . at some point my ATEX keyboard skills will atrophy, and there’ll be no turning back. It’s like learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the right, in the backseat. And you use your buttock cheeks to accelerate, brake and clutch.

Came home, ate leftovers, walked Jasper to Dog Heaven, where we met no dogs. We saw a few - rowdy dogs, flicker-legged toys, rangy dangerous Shepherds, but no one who would or could play. At the end of the walk the rain came, but that was no surprise; before the walk Sara had called from the road, a 120 miles away, stopped at a Country Kitchen by a thick sopping storm. We hastened our pace and made it home before the rain came in earnest. The BBC called, and I did the weekly schtick, then settled down to an evening of this, that, and this and that. Five columns down, one to go; no Bleat tomorrow; weather says it will be clear by Saturday. I anticipate a lazy day reading in the backyard, grilling salmon, feeding ice cubes to the dog. Life is fine, rain or dry.