Diary of the Dead (2007)

Posted in Halloween Endurance Tests with tags , , on October 27, 2014 by shenanitim

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Apologies for the lack of movie reviews. I’ve been prepping to move to Korea, and that’s a bit more important than talking about how much I hate witches. Which is a lot.

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But I have tried to watch some horror films this season, so here I’m going to rattle off reviews from the top of my head like I used to do back in the day. Before I felt the need to imdv every actor’s name and make sure I understood stuff. Kind of drains the fun out of a silly pastime.

I’ve watched Geogre Romero’s Diary of the Dead before; I think it was the year I reviewed the two Troll films. I don’t remember thinking too highly of it then, so maybe the seven intervening years have either a.) softened me up, or b.) improved the film. I’m not ashamed to say, I rather like the movie now.

Diary of the Dead has Romero abandoning his tired plot device of scaling the zombie action. In Night of the Living Dead it was individual families fighting the zombies. In Dawn of the Dead it was sects: the survivors versus the zombies versus the outlaws. Day of the Dead broadened the scope further: the military versus the dead. And Land of the Dead reached the zenith with a war between the upper class, the lower class, and the dead.

Let’s face it, Night… and Dawn of the Dead are stone cold classics, Day of the Dead is beloved now, but back in the day no one cared much for it, and no one ever mentions Land. The well had gone dry, and Romero’s social commentary was becoming both predictable and heavy-handed.

So Diary thankfully jettisons it, and returns us to Night’s micro- scale. Individual college students out making a movie (thus explaining the use of DV) who are trying to cope with a crazy situation. While I’m not usually a fan of movies shot in DV, Romero gets a pass because he’s a legit director who knows how to frame a shot so that he’s not just relying on the gimmick of “this was shot on direct video!” There’s few zombies, but when your cast is five or six people, you don’t really need many zombies to be threatening.

It would be interesting to now go back and watch Survival of the Dead, one where I believe Romero returned to Dawn’s level of societal preoccupation, to see if that one has grown on me also. Unfortunately I only have another week or two in FL, and searching through my storage shed isn’t on top of my to-do list.

Ringu (1998)

Posted in 2014, Halloween Endurance Tests with tags , , , on October 1, 2014 by shenanitim

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Ringu is the Japanese horror movie that birthed what many _imdb_ commentators consider one of the scariest US horror movies ever – the Ring. I watched the Ring years ago, and wasn’t too terribly impressed (the only thing that stood out was the bleak Seattle landscape), as it’s more chiller/thriller than Texas Chainsaw Massacre gore-fest. I know what works for me with horror movies: silliness with copious amounts of blood. Seriousness is, of course, anathema to that.

So Ringu starts off with one serious setback already notched against it: I disliked/wasn’t impressed by its localized variant. Watching the source material and some of the issues I had with the remake are (predictably) resolved. One issue with the Ring is why are the denizens of the greater Seattle area using VCRs in the digital age? Ringu sidesteps this concern because it was made before the big leap to digital was complete. (According to the dates provided in the movie; sometime in 1996 or ’97. [Actually 1998]) So the people you see here would conceivably still use VCRs. Hell, the news office heroine Reiko [Nanako Matsushima] works in has actual newspapers lying around! Her cameraman even uses an old school videocassette recorder!

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While I certainly don’t agree with the verdict that this film, or any of its decendants, are terrifying, I do enjoy aspects of it. First and foremost, it’s like a video scrapbook to earlier times. ’96/’97 was prime-time for buying/collecting/hoarding VHS copies of B-movies for me. Blackest Heart Media, Unknown Video, VideoSearch of Miami, all homes of videocassette weirdness for the pre-internet days. Back when you had to mail your order in, and wait for it to arrive in the mail, all sight unseen. You bought movies from word-of-mouth and the lurid descriptions kept in the catalogs.

Ringu and the Ring bring this all back for me. The VHS (obviously), I visited Seattle in ’06 (not too far off from the Rings’ production), and stayed in wayward motels where waking up chained to the bottom of a well wouldn’t be too out of place. (I once spent the night in a scary hotel where the owner appeared to have wooden, George Washington-teeth, and a bizarre obsession with knowing whether I had family in the area. I slept with a chair lodged under the doorknob; bad in case of a fire, but great for establishing a sense of security. The trip ended with a night in a Motel 6 with discolored carpet from what I assume was bloodstains leading from the bed to the sink (or vice versa).) Given my memories of Seattle circa the Ring-era, Ringu feels at home too. A simpler time even, back when Hollywood’s remake machine was restricted to overseas properties.

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Not to mention Reiko makes a much more believable heroine then Naomi Watts ever did. One third of the way through the film, and Reiko hasn’t even been cursed yet. She’s playing a real journalist, investigating an urban legend about high school kids dying of fright. At this point in the American version and Watts is running around Puget Sound trying to save herself and her son from certain doom. We’ve met Reiko’s son Yoichi [Rikiya Otaka] maybe once in the Japanese version, and he’s way in the background as far as developed characters go. This is mom’s show.

While there’s a decent amount of supernaturalism in the film (I don’t remember Naomi Watt’s ex being a psychic in the American release), and the pacing and acting is superior, Ringu’s story is still a garden-variety Scooby-Doo mystery. A exiled, tortured psychic being pimped out by her mentor/lover, who gives birth to a stronger psychic hell raising child who brings an end to the whole charade. Rather than read minds, she can kill with her mind; yet for some reason in the afterlife she crawls out of the television to murder her victims.

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Reiko and her psychic ex Ryuchi [Hiroyuki Sanada] find the tortured girls unmarked graves, give them a decent burial, and still end up being haunted. Which leads us to the original’s biggest diversion from the remake, the ending. Finding no solution in burying the accursed dead in hallowed ground, as Ryuchi dies from the curse shortly after avenging (Sadako) the girl’s death, Reiko takes the only option left to her to save her son, by passing the curse onto her father. It’s a brutal ending underlined by the utterly majestic sunset she’s driving towards as the voiceover let’s us into her plan.

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Posted in 2013, Halloween Endurance Tests with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2014 by shenanitim

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[I originally typed this review during 2013's Halloween Endurance Test. It has been sitting unpublished/-polished ever since. Enjoy.]

One of the first things you learn in college, besides where to score free condoms (the health clinic), and how to score free drugs (the white dude with dreadlocks down at the end of the hall), is that folktales are living, breathing stories. With each tale coming complete with variants as plentiful as there are overweight anthropology professors to collect them. You’ll also learn that the fabled Brothers Grimm didn’t so much create these tales as codify them; giving restrictive shapes to tales that often encompassed both wanton violence and coprophilia. The Brothers Grimm becoming almost as famous for who they were and what they did than the tales they worked so hard collecting.

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As such, it should shock no one that Hollywood would eventually become bored with toying with these tales, and instead focus on their collectors. What was surprising, however, is how amusing and satisfying the Brothers Grimm ended up. The film perfectly mimicking the amorphous qualities the folktales had before the Brothers Grimm recorded them.

The film starts with younger brother Jake (Heath Ledger) being sent to buy his sick sister medicine. Jake is, and remains throughout, a believer, however, so he trades the family cow for some beans that he was assured were magic. Older brother Will (Matt Damon) throttles him for believing in fairy tales.

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In the movie’s reality, the brothers don’t record the tales, but avenge them. Playacting hauntings and pretend fighting witches to fool villages out of their money. Until they’re one day caught by Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), and forced to make good on their fraudulent claims. So really it’s Ghostbusters with half the cast, more modern special effects, and baby tears replacing proton packs.

Reality’s edges become even more blurred when you consider that many of the castles in the Brothers Grimm are the real deal. Thus making it nearly impossible to distinguish between German architecture and Hollywood artifice. To make no mention of how traditional fairy tales get chopped up and spliced back together.

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The Brothers Grimm main quest stretching from Hansel and Gretal, waylaid by Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf, having through an enchanted forest, ending up at Repunsal’s tower. The Brothers charged with saving the missing daughters of Marbaden in exchange for their own heads.

All in all, not a bad premise. Except that, in the movie world, all the fantastic elements are fake; as we learn via Jake’s magic beans. The elements remain fake until midway through, at which point we learn all the things the Brothers were pretending to fight actually do exist. While it is rather amusing to see Jake and Will decked out in their special mirror armor, when the fantasies become real is also when the film becomes tiresome.

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Strange as it sounds, but when a film about fairy tales will lose its momentum once the fairy tales become fact. Not even the addition of a genuinely likable character, Angelika (Lena Headey), who plays the Brothers’ belligerent guide, can undo the damage.

Here’s how it works. Once you establish the laws within a fictional world, it’s vitally important that you don’t then violate said laws midway through. I mentioned Ghostbusters earlier, and it’s a great example, because in that film the ghosts always existed. People didn’t believe them, but we, as the audience, knew the truth.

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In the Brothers Grimm the opposite occurs. We’re told the stories are all a big con job, then, moments later, surprise, everything actually was true! It’s just that no one knew except for Angelika and the townspeople of Marbaden.

Which is a shame, as the con artist Brothers Grimm are more likable than the Brothers Grimm undergoing redemption. Also, watching a cursed horse swallow a young boy whole is just silly; no matter how great you think your CGI is. Shame on you Terry Gilliam.

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It’s amazing that with a running time of just under two hours, the Brothers Grimm still couldn’t find a way to provide the entire plot. First we find out that the Marbaden curse is true, then we randomly learn that Jake has a crush on Angelika. No build-up, no implications, just instant fact; similar to how the you learn about the adultery in the Descent.

The script just blindsides you as you watch. Hell, we also learn that Jake had already heard about the Marbaden Rapunzel witch (Monica Bellucci). he just didn’t feel like talking about it; as he does with every other fairy tale. Almost as if director Terry Gilliam couldn’t decide whether he wanted a realistic or a fantastic film, so scripted both to be true in order to hedge his bets.

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Some decent editing would help here too. First the Brothers find the forest is enchanted. Cut to a scene where they’re tortured and are re-assigned to their mission of saving the village. So they return to the forest, and this time meet the Rapunzel witch. Cut back to the village where they’re given the assignment of saving the village a third time.

If you thought reading that paragraph was laborious, imagine watching it play out on-screen.

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Honestly, all pretend reviewing aside, this movie sucks. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no movie needs to be two hours long. Maybe documentaries that tell bona fide stories, but Hollywood crap? It’s one of those vicious cycles: movie attendance is down, so Hollywood mandates that all films must to two hours to “add value.” Which bore the masses, making them more likely to download said crap that way they can drink/smoke pot/shoot heroine while it plays.

I stopped watching an hour and twenty minutes in. I’ll assume it ends at some point, or the cameramen just got bored and stopped feeding film into the cameras.

Sanding Ovations (2013)

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Hobo-licious with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2014 by shenanitim

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A few weeks ago Treasure Island hosted Sanding Ovations – a giant sand castle competition. Apparently the giant sand castle competition because it seems like every significant FL beach was hosting one over the weekend. Needless to say, I had to go.

When was the last time you went to the beach and saw art made by people older than three years?

—The Horseman—
Chris Guinto (Key West, FL)

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Chris Guinto’s “the Horseman” was both one of the first sand sculptures I saw, and one of my favorites. What can I say? I like my sculptures like I like my music, busy with too many ideas that don’t always pay off.

Such as the second skull visage behind the first. While I guess the front of the jack-o-lantern doesn’t create the truest skull, you can still see the obvious components. It inspires a skull interpretation, if not showing the viewer one.

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I mean, look at it from the right and you see the (mounted) Headless Horseman.

Shift to the left and you see:

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A clearer shot of the skull components. So that there’s really no reason to place another skull in the back of the jack-o-lantern.

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Especially when the sculpting there is inferior to the detailing shown on the front.

—Wild Card—
Dan Belcher (St. Louis, MO)

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Dan Belcher’s “Wild Card” was another sculpture that was right off from the Sanding Ovation’s entry point. While certainly eye-catching (who’d believe you could make sand do that?), it wasn’t a favorite as its subject, the Joker playing card, is too “11th grade, chubby, metal-head” for my tastes.

Give me abstractness and obtuseness any day of the week.

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—Scattered-Balance—
Elianne in Het Veld (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

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Elianne in het Veld was the first Dutch contestant of the day. And she brought the heat with a design that intergrated two diametrically opposed ideals: the unforgiving structure of blocks with the innate softness of human physiology.

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The lines here are what impressed me the most. How a giant block of sand could be made to look as if it’s a bunch of thin sand blocks propping each other up.

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—Where Now?—
Jan Salen (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

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Jan Salen’s “Where Now?” might’ve been the nicest in taking a theme and then breaking said theme down into a million tiny pieces. (Or, in this case, tiny sand people.)

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It also had the competition’s best use of scale; creating a clever illusion of distance so nicely done that you almost forget that you’re looking at sand.

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As such, “Where Now?” won 2nd place; losing out to (1st place winner) “3EY0ND” from a detailing standpoint more-so than a scope standpoint. Both were large-scale productions; I’m guessing “3EY0ND” was just more abstract and thus more arty which edged it toward the win.

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—Chalk Talk—
Marianne van den Broek (Key West, FL)

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“Chalk Talk” shows you just how deceptive these sand sculpture games can be. On any given day, you’d be blessed to find something of this magnitude while wandering a beach. It’d be the topic of water cooler discussion for weeks!

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But here, today, it was clearly second string. Wooly mammoths might amaze down in Key West, but compared to Jan Salen’s “Where Now?” it’s way too little.

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—Ascension—
Rusty Croft (Carmel, CA)

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“Ascension” is another sculpture who’s impact was certainly muted by its neighbors’ grandeur. I mean, here’s a sand castle made to look as if it’s a fish leaping from the water on one of America’s prime beaches.

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Look at the detailing! Look at the empty spaces sculpted within. And it doesn’t even rank!

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—Beached—
Sue McGrew (Tacoma, WA)

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After perusing Sue McGrew’s body of work (at least the work available on her website), one can’t help but feel that “Beached” is an outlier in her otherwise outstanding portfolio.

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—The Key to a Woman’s Heart—
Dan Doubleday (Treasure Island, FL)

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How Dan Doubleday didn’t win a localized award for “Sand Sculpture Most Likely to Win Over the Ghost of Salvador Dali” is beyond me. Though actually being from Treasure Island might’ve lessened the effect of sculpting in a heavy dose of the hometown’s favorite artist.

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Easily the most surreal sculpture of the day, and also the winner of ShenaniTims’ own “Sculpture Most Likely to Remind a Lonely Blogger of a Bizzaro Japanese Art-House Film” award.

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—On Communication—
Benjamin Probanza (Acapulco, Mexico)

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Scanning his website, one quickly realizes that Benjamin Probanza doesn’t just sculpt sand; he’s also a true artiste. With work ranging from sand sculpting (obviously) to animation.

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He also doesn’t seem to hold much faith “in communication,” judging from the disconnect Probanza put between one’s lips and one’s ears.

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Perhaps it’s just a happy accident, but said disconnect forces one to appreciate “On Communication’s” highpoint: its texture.

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Anyone (or, any of the artists gracing Sanding Ovation with their presence) could have thrown up two monoliths; one bearing a pair of lips, the other an ear, and, with the help of a specific title card, made a grand statement.

It’s the interior swirls representing the mind that really grab the attention though. Especially considering how, on first view, I assumed that Probanza had just etched whatever pattern floated into his head while sculpting.

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No, the placement is deliberate, and the sculpture is better for it. Even the crazy delirious cubist take on the ear and lips mirror how hideous the intricacies of faces look when viewed close up. The pores on the outside of the ear to let the sound in.

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There really should’ve been an award for “Most Deliberate” sculpture.

—3EY0ND—
Nathan Bouchard (Jobi) (Montreal, Canada)

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And then the winner. I really don’t know what to say about this one except that, after viewing it, I really enjoyed Benjamin Probanza’s concise vision.

Here we have a mess of ideas. At first glance it’s pure Cthulu horror shot through Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” lens. A giant, insectoid structure with two human hands blindly trying to dig their way out.

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Then, on the backside? Earth. Does Bouchard believe us to be the Brood? I mean, we are redesigning the world to suit our own image, but humanity’s mindset is far different from the hivemind insects have.

Bees, termites, ants, all have certain roles to which they’re bound. Sure, there are many faceless office workers amongst the seven billion humans on the Earth, but there’s (usually) always a chance of breaking the mold. No matter how far off, it’s there. A self-determination so strong that not even one of the world’s most potent brainwashing device, Catholicism, could extinguish it. Instead they adopted it, making free will part of their canon.

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Learning How Not to Sink

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Live from the C.O., Oldies But Baddies with tags , , on January 26, 2014 by shenanitim

[I'm so glad I've left retail behind me...]

“Sir, do you carry baby coffins?”

“I’m sorry, we do not.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve worked here a long time and have never seen baby coffins here.”

[Indignant] “Well, do you know where I could get one?”

Guests always get angry when you don’t have whatever they’re trying to buy. They become even angrier when they find out that you’re not, in fact, a walking retail encyclopedia.

No ma’am, I don’t know where you could buy what you’re looking for. Last time I checked, that part of our marketplace was your area. Having cash isn’t enough anymore, we expect you to know what you want to buy and where to buy it too!

Sometimes it’s fun to play along with them awhile, so as to make their eventual disappointment that much more poignant.

“Excuse me, where do you keep the baby coffins?”

“Oh those? Let me think… Yeah, I think we have a few left. What size did you need? I believe I have a couple newborn ones in back, plus a few 2-3 months… Are you looking for any in particular? I know the newborn ones are honey oak, and we might have one of the 2-3’s in expresso.”

“What about black?”

“Please ma’am, let’s keep this civil!”

ShenaniTims, Master Negotiator

Posted in Free-Range Tampa with tags , , on January 12, 2014 by shenanitim

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Truant and I were recently asked by the Venture Compound to help provide programming for their upcoming Venture TV. Obviously we were super stoked, so did what came naturally: raided our local flea market to buy crap to abuse. This is just one of the resultant adventures.

“How much for the case?,” I ask, motioning towards a decrepit hunk of plastic that probably housed baby tools a decade of decay ago.

“$5,” answer the gangly scrap metal dealer.

“$5?,” incredulously, “How much for just the case, without the freshwater testing kit inside?”

[The tool case contained some kind of fresh water treatment kit; of no interest to anyone but hardened outdoorsman/survivalist nuts.]

“Alone? $4.”

Truant: “So he’s saying that the case is worth more than the chemicals?”

“I’ll give you $3 for it,” I offer; feeling comfortable after watching hours of Hardcore Pawn that this is how haggling is done.

BEAT IT!,” shouts the man, now enraged, slamming the chemicals in question back into the now unattainable case.

Not all deals end with a handshake. We found a real tool case, one made from metal!, an hour later. We also found a robot. Click on either of the photos, over or under, to watch the promo and commercial we made from both.

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[Feel free to click either of the images to be taken to their respective commercials. Hilarity ensues!]

You Might Be Abandoned

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Hobo-licious on December 17, 2013 by shenanitim

One frequently overlooked bonus from break ups; all those parts of your mind previously preoccupied with “being kind to your significant other” quickly changes back to “raining hell on strangers.”

Definitely a Lot Worse than Mashed Potatoes

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Hobo-licious with tags , , on November 28, 2013 by shenanitim

One thing I’m most thankful for, and something my ever so humble self rarely talks about, is my forethought. Tonight, after feasting at both my sister’s Thanksgiving extravaganza and then my aunt’s, I washed up and prepared for bed. What I hope will become the post-Thanksgiving tradition in the post-retail years to come.

One small problem though, I forgot my glasses. As I’ve talked about earlier, my unaided eyesight is horrible. I think I (accurately) described it once as “seeing in watercolors.” I believe my amazing optometrist graded it as 20/200 (“legally blind”) when I went for glasses before 8th grade started.

I’m so aware of how bad my eyesight is that I even carried my glasses with me everywhere even after I had switched to contacts. I was subbing at the time, and was painfully aware that I was one mere eye rub away from trying to supervise a classroom full of budding miscreants totally blind.

“Hey you, who’s name I probably know but who’s face I cannot see, put that down!”

So for years I carried my glasses in my bag as back-up. Even though I’ve only ever had to use them once.

Tonight would be the second time. I took my contacts out and looked through my booty bag. Nothing. No glasses. Oh shit. The night I had dreamed of, lounging on my aunt’s couch; reading Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” editing sandcastle pictures, and watching the Food Network’s Chopped reruns came crashing down.

Until I realized that I still had these original back-up glasses stored in my car! As it happened, after I updated my glasses (which were nearly 15 years old at that point) I put my original pair in my car’s glove box as another needless failsafe. Just in case, I don’t know, I foolishly took out my contacts while driving to work after a freak “bug in the eye after my windshield shatters” accident.

Sometimes being super-meticulous pays off, even if it’s only once every 10 years or so.

Possibly Better than Mashed Potatoes

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Live from the C.O. with tags , , on November 26, 2013 by shenanitim

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It’s weird, this will be the first time I’ve been truly excited about thanksgiving in nearly seven years. (Except maybe here.) I realized this last week when I was driving to work. For the first time in forever, a national holiday will actually mean real time off from work.

Granted, this freedom comes at the cost of no holiday pay our insurance, but thinking about it now, overall this seems like s small price to pay.

Before, back when I worked retail, the three major holidays were: Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas. (Now it’s shrunk down to just Easter and Christmas.) What this meant was less than 24 hours off of work – once you factor in the work details. Such as always seeming to be the one chosen to close the night before, despite having the farthest to travel home. So I’d usually work really late, hop home and sleep for a few hours, wake up and drive for another hour to see the family, and “enjoy” the holiday for 3-4 hours before driving back.

Not to mention the not inconsiderable fact that before heading home I would be thinking of the considerable (work) day ahead: Black Friday or the day after Christmas.

Such thoughts usually take you right out of the holiday spirit. You can’t really appreciate all the stories being made around you because you’re too preoccupied with your boss’ vision of how things should be.

Which is probably the exact reason why I’m so stoked now. I’m looking at four days with nothing to do but bask in the glory of homemade sugar free cream cheese pie. And nothing else.

All My Closest “Friends” are Associates

Posted in Free-Range Tampa, Hobo-licious with tags , , , on November 24, 2013 by shenanitim

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“I might as well just shut the store down now.”

“What do you mean? The day ain’t over yet, someone might top this.”

“You’re buying Pac-Man Fever, the Last Poets, and Pharoah Sanders. No one’s going to top that. That’s it folks, it’s over!

(Apparently Ruben Blades isn’t cool enough to land in this upper echelon. Record store guy needs to read up on his music history!)

“I can’t understand how anyone would pass up Pac-Man Fever for a dollar. Have you looked at it? Every song is about a classic videogame! ‘The Defender’ is what sold it for me.”

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