I watched the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown on DVD tonight. It’s a great shambling mess of a film… and not one of Cameron Crowe’s best. I also think it was something I needed to see right here, right now.

Sometimes films just catch you right in the exact moment you need to see them. I remember it was that way with Fight Club too. I was in the throes of dissertation hell in 1999 when the film came out and the idea that an IKEA-addicted auto reliability expert would dream up a “single serving friend” named Tyler Durdon appealed to me. Well, perhaps appealed isn’t the right word, but it was one of thoses “yeah, I can see that” kind of moments.

What attracts me to Elizabethtown right now? Part of the film is about a guy from Oregon going to his father’s home town in Kentucky. His Dad was visiting relatives and he died. The poor fellow now must go visit a large mob of relations who he has rarely seen and somehow plan the the funeral.

The similarities become clear once you know a few basic facts:

  • My Dad grew up deep in the Land Of The Confederacy.
  • My Dad is one of five siblings. His mother was one of NINE siblings. My Dad occasionally throws out these names of people who are my relations and I have to wonder “WHO????” with about that many question marks.
  • I am married to the daughter of a mortician, and her family’s take on humor about death and dying is rather interesting.
  • My parents mortality has been on my mind in the last few years, most recently because the cancer that threatened to take away one of my Mom’s kidneys about three years ago has returned in the form of tumors of the bladder. These are manageable with monitoring… but I find myself thinking thoughts like “I hope Mrs. Geek and I have children soon enough that my parents can know their grandchildren.”

I can only imagine what it would be like if my Dad were to die somewhere in the Land Of The Confederacy and I had to go to assist with the arrangements. I hope it would be like the movie; a great mess of relatives that Lyle Lovett poetically describes as “the last of the Family Reserve”.

The other thing that takes me immediately about Elizabethtown is the soundtrack. The movie puts the music front and center. This is natural when you consider that Cameron Crowe cut his teeth writing for Rolling Stone and married Nancy Wilson, the guitarist from Heart. While I can’t say that the film succeeds on a deep musical level, it did make me think.

There was once a time when listening to an album seemed like an event. You listened to a record like Dark Side Of The Moon or Led Zepplin II or Thick As A Brick or Back In Black and it was a whole experience. It was not about just a single, or a couple good tracks that made it to Top 40 radio. The music of the last few years seems to have lost it for me in that respect… and I felt the need to put on Music From Big Pink, a record made about the time I was born, in response.

Of course, I saw that Tom Cruise was one of the executive producers of Elizabethtown and it nearly ruined the experience for me. I know that all things must end… but do they have to finish with thoughts of a space alien Emperor named Xinu and a sweet girl from Dawson’s Creek that he may or may not be marrying this weekend? I hope not.

what about the #%@&in’ working man?

I happened across this video by this crusty old geezer in a sleeveless t-shirt and leather cap called The Kid From Brooklyn the other day in which he ruminates about a visit to Starbucks(see it here.) Evidently, the “Big Man” got up one morning in a mood for a cup of coffee and a piece of pound cake. Having fled from his native Brooklyn to New Jersey, he ended up at your friendly neighborhood Starbucks where he was appalled to find that his coffee and pound cake was going to be $7.75. Incensed, he went around the corner to the local pancake house and got a full breakfast for about $8.25 that kept him from being hungry for the rest of the day. After dropping the F-bomb about 30 times in about 4 minutes, The Kid From Brooklyn asks “what about the #%@&in’ working man?” when it comes to that Starbucks coffee and pound cake.

Well, there’s part of me who wants to tell him that a decent part of that $7.75 goes to working people. Say what you will about Starbucks, but they do try to do something take care of their employees. Anyone working more than something like 20 hours a week at Starbucks is entitled to full health benefits. The CEO’s parents nearly went bankrupt due to health problems when he was growing up, and he doesn’t want that to happen to any of his baristas. Starbucks also tries to make sure to buy from responsible coffee farmers in the tropics, encouraging coops of small growers to give people a living, and ensuring that larger growers pay field hands a living wage. I don’t know how much of this talk is really just good public relations, but, I have to give them credit for even trying. When was the last time you heard of McDonald’s doing anything like that?

We live in the Walmart age. A working man doesn’t get paid a living wage anymore when corporate America can get away with it. If corporate America can get away with it, companies like Walmart encourage their suppliers to move operations overseas to places like southern China… where the cost of labor is much less and the environmental impact standards are much lower. Between that and destroying local businesses with chain superstores, the Walmarts of this country make it cheaper and more affordable for Americans to live except when it comes to paying taxes to local governments, giving people jobs, and making sure they are well paid.

I see what you’re saying Kid From Brooklyn… but as usual, there’s more to the story than that.

a dream with classic elements

I awoke this morning from a dream that had some really classic elements. I dreamt that I had to take two college level classes as a makeup for something I missed somewhere along the way, one in Math and the other in… something less serious. I showed up at a building very much like the the Middle School I attended 20+ years ago for what I thought was the first class in my pajamas carrying something that looked like a wok. Once there, I discovered that today was actually the day of the finals for both classes, for which I was naturally late. Figuring that I’d had more than enough calculus in college and grad school to fake my way through any kind of college makeup math final, I set off in search of the exam. After wandering through some M.C. Escher-like corridors that my Middle School never possessed, I found a group of people getting ready to take a test. The teacher looked vaguely familiar, and he told me to take his test when he saw me.He handed me a blue and green multi-colored glossy booklet, that seemed to have more to with web sites than math. I awoke just as I was trying to figure out what to do it.

it’s Post-Feminist Stripper Pole Barbie!

I was reading something the other day about Anna Nicole Smith or Jenna Jameson where someone was talking about the cliche of strippers trying to marry ultra-wealthy men who are old enough to be their grandfathers. That got me thinking (yet again) about the mixed messages constructed around appearance and beauty that we see in the media today. How do we properly explain these things to young girls? How do we begin some kind of dialogue?

Then it hit me: we need some kind of doll or toy that is able to spout some post-feminist theory at young girls while they are playing together. That, of course, made me speculate on the ideal delivery vehicle. What could be used to seed young minds with post-feminist ideas?

Then I had another revelation: who better to do this than Barbie? She’s perfect. She’s blonde, leggy, and proportioned in a totally unrealistic way already!She’s a career girl who’s been a doctor, an astronaut, and hell, even a Baywatch babe! She can speak with authority to young girls about the importance of clothes, cleavage, and power of the utterly superficial. Yes, the image formed clearly in my mind: Talking Stripper Pole Barbie!

As I see it, Mattel would sell Barbie in a glittery sequined thong, a set of high heels, and some day glow spandex with a shiny stirpper pole and base that would act as the stage. The stage would double as a CD player, that play that special Stripper Pole Barbie dancing music. This particular Barbie would possess ultra-flexible legs capable of suspending her in numerous positions from the pole. And just think of it: Barbie could talk while hanging upside down in the air! She could explain to girls why this is really empowering!

She could say things like:

  • I think it is really ok to attempt to personify an unrealistic male fantasy in order use sex as a method to control and influence men!
  • Stripping really is a high paying profession that allows me to work my way through college without accumulating large amounts of debt! I really want to be a pediatrician!
  • I am not marginalizing all women by demeaning myself in the eyes of men! I am joining a free and powerful sisterhood operating outside the repressive limitations imposed by a male dominated hierarchy!

Nah… Mattel probably wouldn’t go for it. Look what happened when they tried to sell “Lingerie Barbie”. Oh well.

lawnmower beer

I had the opportunity today to throw out some nine month old beer left over from a visit by my parents last Fall. They stopped in for two short visits, one on the way to the natural parks of Western Canada, and the other on the way back. They bought a medium-sized cooler into which my Dad put what he hoped would be a good “lawnmower beer” — a light, crisp, refreshing brew useful for cooling a hot fellow down as he cut his lawn on a summer afternoon. My father is not one to leave good beer unopened, but this beer, Kokanee Glacier Beer in 335ml cans, was so uninspiring he had three or four cans left by the time of their second visit. Various concerns related to itinerary prevented them from taking the cooler all the way home, and it and its contents were left with us. That cooler remained unused (and pretty much unopened) until yesterday, when I had to remove the contents.

I sampled a bit of the “lawnmower beer” as I emptied the cans down the drain. Kokanee is an American-style pilsner beer made somewhere in British Columbia. As such, it caters to the lowest common denominator of beer drinker; it is bland, fizzy, and (because it is in a can) metallic. Club soda with a suitable amount of alcohol would probably taste as good. No offense to my Canadian readers… but you can keep your Kokanee beer. I’ve enjoyed a couple different Canadian beers over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

To my parents, I also have a message: thanks for the cooler, but next time leave out the lawnmower beer.

hangin’ with the goslings

In counterpoint to yesterday’s message about the mortality of matrimony, I offer something simple and affirming. I’ve probably mentioned once or twice over the years that Company O. has a flock of Canadian Geese that live on the campus most of the year. As it is early summer, this year’s goslings have hatched and they are following their elders around to learn the business of being a goose. They’re still small and fuzzy, though some of them are showing signs of growing their adult flight feathers.

The geese are hardly tame, but are used to having people walk around them all the time. They won’t let themselves be petted but they will let humans get within about a yard of them without trouble. I was able to snap some pictures of a couple goslings and geese (see above) while I was on my way back from a computer lab last night using the camera on my cell phone.

I like seeing the goslings. It reminds me that life is going on, aside from all my personal petty troubles. They also look oh-so-cute. I need a little of that every once in a while.

unsettling news

I had the opportunity to hang out with an old high school friend the other night who was in town for a convention. After a very pleasant evening of dinner and a few pleasant whiskies, he drops a bomb: after just passing two years of marriage, he’s getting a divorce. The tensions leading to the break involve disagreements about how to spend money, the day-to-day domestic arrangements of how the household should be run, the directions of their respective carreers, how they each look at their lives, and where and when to have children. In short, they appear to be hitting all the major issues that couples face.

If you look back in this diary and do a little math, you will see that Mrs. Geek and I got married two years ago Monday. This friend got married two weeks before we did. The only reason why we were unable to attend that wedding was that we were in the throes of major wedding preparations ourselves. I’m told it was a hell of a party. It is a sobering realization almost on the eve of a second wedding anniversary that your two year old marriage is already outlasting the marriages of other people you know. Mrs. Geek and I feel like we’re just getting started… there is so much that we still want and want to do. Some people are not meant to be together. Mrs. Geek and I firmly believe that we belong with each other… but hearing about this divorce provides a sense of marital mortality.

Other than that, it’s been a costly week. Mrs. Geek is away for a few days to attend a scrapbooking event. (I’ll bet that most of you didn’t know that there are scrapbooking conventions, did you?) Aside from the expenses from that event, she wanted to take her car in for a 90K mile service before she left. That turned into a $650 bill… for a new valve cover gasket, coolant system flush, transmission service, a new oil pan (because some nimrod at another garage stripped threads holding the oil pan plug while changing the oil) and tire repair (there was a nail in one of the tires.) The guys at this particular garage seem to be honest and I trust them, but sometimes their thoroughness can be a little… expensive.