Monthly Archives: June 2012

SURVIVING THE CINEMA (PART ONE)

Wacko children’s behavior is in the news again. And not only the four students on the bus who bullied a woman bus driver. In Kent, Washington a group of boys at a movie theater were talking and throwing popcorn during the film “Titanic.”  A 21-year-old man jumped over his seat in front of them and slapped the nearest boy—age 10—bloodying his nose and knocking out a tooth.

The online comments about that event could be grouped into 15 common reactions:

-It’s the mother’s fault.
-It’s the kids’ fault.
-The kid deserves it.
-The kid should be slapped.
-It’s society’s fault because of lack of f—ing civility.
-Slap the mother.
-Management should have been notified.
-Management won’t do anything.
-Slap the manager.
-It was dark so the kids might have looked older.
-The popcorn wasn’t good.
-Neither were the M&Ms.
-The ushers are too overworked to police the kids.
-The ushers missed the sticky spot on the floor the last time we went to the movies.
-Slap the ushers.

Movie violence—by which I mean violence from the movie audience—is one more headache for theater-goers these days. It’s hard enough to find a movie everyone can agree on. (“Do you guys wanna see ‘Machete Man’ or that new chick flick ‘Fifty Shades of Grey Poupon?’”) Then there’s the non-existent parking, sold-out performances, high altitude stadium seating, and the high cost of concessions like a drink and popcorn.

Everyone knows, for example, that theaters make their real money on the snacks. What is less known is how the theaters have devised methods consistent with the laws of physics to ensure return trips to the concession stand —-beyond serving salty popcorn to encourage beverage sales.

The theaters provide a cardboard tray to carry your goodies. When manufactured, the cardboard tray had a planned obsolesce of five minutes. With its two large holes and an adjacent flat-bottomed rectangular holder, the tray is designed to carry one or two drinks that must be hammered into the cardboard holes. No matter: The drinks will, as planned, immediately fall over, requiring another trip to the concession stand for new drinks. Savvy movie-goers know the drinks can stay upright, but only if the adjoining flat-bottomed side of the tray is counterbalanced with 10 boxes of Milk Duds or 12 boxes of Junior Mints or 48 bags of M&M Peanuts.  [Editor’s note: The latter is considered by the latest American nutrition Food Pyramid to be equal to the recommended two servings from the “Nuts, Etc.” group.]

The theater industry also knows a bag of popcorn, whatever its size, can’t remain upright in the cardboard tray. The tray is designed to make a fool of you for putting the popcorn bag on it, and waiting for you to take five steps back toward your movie auditorium before the popcorn falls over, a colorful light yellow cascade pouring down onto the carpeted floor and necessitating another trip to the concession stand.

Nor will the popcorn stand up on the floor below your seat: Management counts on you or another theater-goer to kick it over. Hence, a return trip to the concession stand. For similar reasons, the theater concession people heap the popcorn well beyond the top of your bag. Under the Legos Law of Physics, the uppermost popcorn, already slippery from butter and moving around nervously, must yield to the mass of popcorn beneath. The upper popcorn will always fall out of the bag ignoring the flailing human hands, and spill onto the carpet, leaving a quarter of the original popcorn. This requires, especially if it’s date night, an investment in more time at the concession stand.

Customers should take heart if they forego the theater popcorn since it averages 1500 mg sodium per serving and 60 grams of fat. Theater popcorn is, in fact, frequently used at San Quentin as an alternative to lethal injection.

With all that expense and inconvenience, at least theater restrooms are not hard to find. In any cineplex, they are always located on the exact opposite side of the building from your auditorium. If you’re under time constraints during or before a movie, you must add 20 minutes to the restroom trip, the length of time the modern automatic tap fixtures take to approve your hands and turn on the water.  I have observed restrooms with five sinks, one woman at each sink, holding their hands below the motion sensor automatic tap and simultaneously waving, shaking or fluttering their hands, even pantomiming hand-washing where there’s no water flow — deranged behavior now common enough to be recognized as a psychiatric condition in the DSM 5.

When you finally get settled in your seat, you must lower the bars on each side of your chair so you can put a surviving beverage in the drink hole of one bar and rest your arm on the other bar, unless the viewer next to you has already claimed it, which is a certainty.

Finally the previews begin—generally around 15—-and then the Feature Presentation, which opens with a familiar studio icon (the MGM lion, the Universal world globe, the Columbia torch woman, etc), followed by approximately 10 scenes that appear to be the beginning of the feature film. Oddly, none of these scenes relate to each other or make sense. That’s because these “scenes” are really the flashy icons of the film’s production partners (like DreamWorks, Village Roadshow, Spyglass, etc.)

By the time you’ve sat patiently through all the previews and film production company icons, you’ll need to go out to the lobby again for another bag of popcorn, and to use the restroom with the automatic taps.

Plan to miss the opening 45 minutes of the film.

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CHEESY GOATS

I was astounded to learn recently that Yale University was named for the Hebrew word “Yael” meaning “mountain goat.” Yale has tried to deny the derivation of its name, claiming “Yale” is Welsh for “fertile,” but that’s even worse. I wonder if years ago high school graduates like Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Anthony Scalia, who later attended Yale, would’ve applied to a college named “Fertile Mountain Goat University.”

Goats serve an extremely important function in the animal kingdom, but I don’t remember what it is. They were one of the first animals domesticated, which is why early man corrected that mistake by inventing the cow. Goats’ eyes are notable because their pupils are shaped like tiny dark Posturepedic mattresses, which in zoological terms is called “weird.” They have scraggly beards reminiscent of cowboys in western movies who wore bandanas over their mouths to conceal their identity and avoid spreading germs. As to their mating habits (the goats, not the cowboys) it’s fair to say that rabbits breed like goats.

Goats are on my mind because they’re in the news once again and no one seems the wiser about their deviltry. In Simsbury, Connecticut, four pygmy goats were found on the roof of a high school and graduating seniors were blamed for the “prank.” The principal of this high school downplayed the appearance of roof goats, but in other cities where students are blamed for goats found wandering school hallways, administrators have demanded they be castrated. It’s unclear whether this means the goats or the students or both. 

We have only to look at the U.S., Canada and Britain to realize goats have craftily legitimized Goat-Roofing for grass-covered buildings like Lars Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Wisconsin, the Tiger Mountain Market in Georgia, The Old Country Market in Coombs, B.C. and Goats on the Roof, in Northumberland, United Kingdom.  Goats would have us believe that, because they’re high spirited, intelligent and curious animals who can climb and hold their balance in the most precarious places (including trees), they are extremely effective biological control agents who clear unwanted vegetation. The unvarnished truth is that roof goats are an environmental hazard that occurs whenever they fall off the roof onto a customer.

If I sound annoyed with goats, it’s because their smiley faces conceal the cagey, conniving, conspiratorial, cunning, clandesti [editor’s note: thesaurus missing a page here] animals they are. The first time I met a goat I was five years old in Vancouver, B.C. in Stanley Park, visiting the petting zoo. A friendly goat wagged his tail, a trait they have in common with dogs, and lowered his head to be petted or to butt me the hell out of the park, I wasn’t sure. After years of studying goat motivation, I know now that the Stanley Park goat was trying to infect me with Petting Zoo E-Coli.

Goats have even been involved in doping schemes: this year two tested positive at the Colorado State Fair because of an additive in their feed that promotes muscle growth. (The two teenagers showing the goats were cleared.) But the most calculating goat I’ve known—Willy— belongs to my friends Tula and Terry McAvoy who live with their goats near the Sierras in Northern California. Willy is a Boer goat which is a humungous goat even for a goat, or as a neighbor boy said, “Never seen one as big as Willy. But that’s ‘cause we eat ours before they’re a year old.”

The McAvoys acquired Willy and his sister Ellie at the same time. Willy and Ellie appeared to get along with each other and two other goats named Pickles and Mrs. Chlamydia*  (*Spelled like the STD. Tula: “I thought that was such a pretty name.”)

One day Terry discovered the corpse of a goat at the bottom of the steep grassy hill that slopes behind their house. The goat had been dinner for a mountain lion or coyote. Over the next few weeks, Terry discovered other goat corpses in the same place which he dubbed the “Chute of Death” and the “Killing Fields.” Willy’s sister Ellie, in fact, was consumed by a predator in the Chute of Death.

 Willy appeared to mourn his sister’s loss by bleating pathetically and following Terry and Tula around. One day when Terry and Nancy were away, he stood in the middle of the road that fronts their home. Fortunately, a neighbor found him and returned him and the suicide note of a cloven hoof print.

          The McAvoys earnestly spent more time with Willy and let him listen to talk radio, including programs on investing in the stock market, politics, and menopause. However, they soon found Willy once again deciding to end it all—this time by chewing the siding of their house. Concerned, the McAvoys acquired another goat—Georgie—as a companion for Willy, but within a few weeks Georgie met his demise in the Chute of Death. The determined McAvoys next bought two sheep for Willy’s diversion. The sheep ended up in the Chute of Death not long after settling in.

          The McAvoys began to notice Willy never went down the hill through the Killing Fields. At first they thought Willy sensed danger down the hill, but they wondered why other livestock blithely pranced their way down the Chute of Death. Their suspicions were further aroused when, after returning from a business trip, they found Willy missing. They learned a neighborhood girl had discovered Willy out in the middle of the road pretending to eat a partially empty tin can of spoiled tuna. She walked him to her house a couple of blocks away where after two weeks, the returning McAvoys found him.

          Willie was in “sort of a trance,” Tula said later, but in a momentous epiphany, she realized how clueless she’d been to the scheming goat and his nefarious plans: The neighbors where Willy had stayed for two weeks grew and sold marijuana plants. Momentarily conceding Willy had outwitted them and possibly was an accessory to the murder of a dozen sheep, the McAvoys left Willy at the growers’ for two more weeks, where he stayed mellow, wooing the barbed wire fence. When they brought him back —they’d ruled out heaving him down the Chute of Death—-Willy discovered six new goats instructed to keep their slitted weird eyes on him. Since that time, no McAvoy livestock have been harmed or lured down the Chute of Death.

This story reminds me that it’s no accident Christian folk tradition in Europe associated goats with Satan. In medieval times the Catholic Church had the good sense and PR advice not to designate a specific “patron saint of goats,” although supposedly goats have St. Isadore as the patron saint of farmers and livestock. I did check an alphabetical online list to make certain there was no “patron saints of goats.”

Fortunately, the only “g” listing identified St. Blaise as the “patron saint of goiters.”