Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Raeliens Among Us

“Gooooood evening, Los Angeles, and a special shout out to any celebrities tuning in.” A blindingly white smile juxtaposes Tawny’s spiraling tone as she leads off the nightly news. The remaining organic pieces of her face make an effort to frown as she squints at the teleprompter. “This evening’s hard-hitting lead stories, ‘Violence in the Mid West, I mean Middle East – will it affect the Oscars?’ and ‘Fatal Shooting on Highway 101 – will it affect your commute?’ will be preempted by a special report, ‘Raeliens Among Us.’ Earl, what’s a Raelien?”

Tawny and the camera turn to the decrepit corpse of an anchor propped at the desk beside her. At the mention of his name, Earl grunts and adjusts the shock of white hair perched atop his head. The sudden lifelike action sets off his hearing aid, a high pitched squeal that continues throughout the broadcast, undefeated by Earl’s persistent pounding the side of his head. The camera cuts to Tawny, who stares intently at one of the studio lights, waiting for it to turn off, signaling her time to go home.

After a moment of silence, the audience reels from an abrupt cut to Doreen McDonald, the legitimacy of her journalistic skill directly proportional to her lack of makeup and any trace of a comb. She leans in close, nodding at the gravity with which the young man across from her delivers his story of an alien race, which clone and inhabit our world. Proximity to a Raelien, he explains “has been shown to cause death and accidental dismember…” A flashing light and siren drowns out the sound of his voice, and as he holds his ears and shrieks in pain, Doreen turns in excitement to her camera, “What time is it? It’s time for our ‘man on the street’ interviews! Dusty Drainpipe, what do local Angelenos think? Have you spotted any stars?”

“The only stars are in my eyes at seeing so many people out around Los Angeles, enjoying this artic cold snap. It must be near 50 degrees, but I reckon there are approximately 41,542 people just sitting on the sidewalks around the city.” Dusty, chattering teeth framed by an enormous faux fur parka hood, prances gleefully amidst cardboard boxes and ragged pup tents.

“Whoever said downtown shuts down after five pm never got a load of this crowd! It appears we may see some stars yet, as the locals seem to have camped out here, possibly for a premiere or opening night of the next big blockbuster! What dedication! It seems as though they’ve been here for weeks, maybe months! Some have gone without shower, shave, and it seems, even food!” Dusty chuckles at those zany citizens.

“If our viewing public at home will follow me, our team has set up its own tent of sorts, in which to edit a short teaser of my time interviewing these fine folks about Raeliens living among us.” Dusty beckons, and pulls back the flap of a brightly lit, gadget-filled circus tent. He sits in a lazy boy, accepts a steaming latte from the P.A. behind the espresso bar, and watches as a large flat-screen television raises from behind the caterer’s station. “Let’s take a moment and listen to the people.”

“In a world where a young lad from Westlake Village beats the odds, moves to the west side, and navigates treacherous freeway offramps…” a booming voiceover narrates Dusty’s arrival in downtown Los Angeles. Dusty is shown picking his way through boxes, holding his microphone before silent men, women and children. As one young girl holds up her sign and starts to talk, Dusty sees a man muttering to himself and smells a good story. When the man sees him coming and runs into a tunnel, Dusty, no longer breathing, signals to Scotty, the camera guy, who drops the camera on its side to give chase. The rolling camera chronicles, sideways, Scotty’s tackle and struggle to pin down the man. Dusty arrives, gives a thumbs up for ratings, and leans into frame to ask, “Sir, as a man on the street, what is your opinion of Raeliens among us?” The man laughs maniacally, then whispers, “Read the signs, man.”

“Hmm. Cryptic.” Dusty stands and pulls his parka tightly about his hefty frame, then drapes his arm about the shoulders of a man who stands at a streetlight, bearing a styrofoam cup and cardboard sign. Dusty signs off, “Stay tuned next week for our undercover investigative report on Vampire Love.” The credits roll over a two-shot of Dusty and the homeless man; the latter stares directly into the camera as cars whiz by. He stands quietly, a sentry with his sign, magic marker on wet cardboard detailing the Raelien plan to seize world power.

Fade to Black.

Seventeen Times a Bridesmaid

Peering deep into the dark recesses of my closet, I spy taffeta, stripes of spring colors in sharp contrast with my wardrobe of black and khaki. The acrid smell of dried flowers lingers toward the back of the closet, recalling numerous weddings where I stood strategically positioned behind the bride, playing hide and seek with the omniscient eye of the videographer, so as to adjust yet another misapplied adhesive bra. As the magical words of the vows are spoken, my mind plays that elusive dream shared by all bridesmaids – the mystical occasion where I and thousands of my ilk will one day congregate to showcase our dresses, pearls, and shoes that we were promised we could wear again, and often.

How does one find the happy medium, simply to attend the ceremony, cry at will and not on cue, arrive unannounced to the reception, and slip away unnoticed? It is difficult to say no to a friend who asks you to be a part of her wedding, but for the sake of your wardrobe and wallet, it is imperative that you learn how to decline the honor with grace. The best way is to avoid the situation altogether, using the following preemptive techniques. As soon as the engagement is announced, immediately remove all contact with the bride-to-be. Wait not even to congratulate, but change your email address, as well as your phone number. Exercise the screening feature of caller identification. If she tracks you down, hang up quickly, citing your connection with the witness protection program and your new identity (you must call me “Wally” from now on). The friendship will appear to nose-dive into oblivion, but this is a sacrifice that may benefit you in the long run, depending upon your feelings for the groom.

If you are already committed, and only now stumbled upon this article, stop beating yourself with those $150.00 dyed-to-match pumps. There are still ways to get ousted before the wedding day. When the bride asks you to accompany her to find the perfect wedding dress, and she stands before the mirror in what appears to be the exact dress that is modeled on the cover of every bridal magazine and every rack in the store, she will turn to you for your opinion. The following reply is simple, and when delivered correctly at the precise moment that the tear of anticipation has welled up in her eye, has proven itself with a 92% success rate. Look her knowingly in the eye and ask, “Are you sure you should wear white?”

If, while reading this, at your feet lie hundreds of tiny gifts to be delicately wrapped as prizes for the bridal shower that is your responsibility to host (i.e. pay for), consider throwing a “Painful Memories” themed party. Based upon the ever-popular “Creative Memories” scrapbooks, which for those uninitiated in the sport, involves hours of fun with glue, wallpaper clippings, and the occasional fits of hysteria, the Painful Memories book can be made into a twisted, lively parlor game. Invite family, friends, and ex-boyfriends who have unresolved issues with the bride-to-be and play a darkly entertaining version of “This is Your Life.” Ask them to bring a story and/or pictures of the agonizing memory with the bride, hide them behind a curtain, and one by one, each will tell the group of a time the bride humiliated or hurt them, recalling years of repressed memories and therapy. The bridesmaids should take the pictures and written stories to create a scrapbook of painful memories. One might want to include documentation of the bridal shower for the final page.

Most importantly, do not ask for forgiveness of the bride until after the wedding, as there is a chance that if you show any sign of weakness, you may find yourself donning a corsage, manning the guest book or gift table, and dancing with Uncle Earl, the ring-bearer. Your very own “Painful Memory” scrapbook in the making.

United We Stand

“United We Stand – Without Proper Warning, We Sue”

Tired of the anonymity of his secret government job, Johnny Dunlap wants to tell the world the good he has done for society. He wants to shout it from the rooftops – but last Saturday, after donning a newly manufactured Batman cape, Johnny fell from said rooftop, and now only speaks through his mother, who understands his grunts and minute pinkie movements.

Johnny was discovered at the young age of thirteen by the incompetent yet ridiculously overpaid covert government agency, “Idiot Warning Labels R Us.” Upon tracking Johnny outside the junior high after the Bunsen burner incident, they observed the teen’s attempt to swing from the monkey bars with his hands tightly tied behind his back, and knew instinctively they had found their man.

Years later, confined by plaster cast on 99% of his body, Johnny lies in his softly shaded, lightly padded childhood bedroom, entertaining the press. He snorts painfully and chokes. The journalists surrounding his bed flinch; his mother translates, “Johnny loved his job. He loved the bright, sterile room they gave him. He was happy there. He says he never got the chance to thank me for letting them take him there.” She sprays a stream of Original Scent Lysol toward his bandaged face, “the smell calms his nerves,” she giggles.

Mrs. Dunlap flips through her son’s scrapbooks, proudly pointing out pictures of Johnny in a cavernous retina-burning white room, where the walls blend into the floor, indistinguishable. She sighs over scenes of Johnny in captivity: attempting to balance on one foot on a scissor, one small hand sticking out between a Murphy bed and the wall it is enclosed within, blissfully dreaming while wisps of smoke drift upward from the hot curling iron rolled into his now charred locks. Posted beside each photo is a hospital admittance form and a corresponding neatly trimmed “Warning” label, alerting consumers regarding the obvious hazards of average household items.

Johnny grunts again, and Mrs. Dunlap quiets him with a gentle pat on his stub of a leg. Although the doctors have said the young man will not live to see Wednesday, his team of lawyers speak in unison and reassure everyone that Johnny’s hopes are high; just now he was reminding them about the pop-up book that he plans to make, full of fun and potentially dangerous products and the things you never thought they could do.

Johnny takes a shaky breath, and is oddly still. Mrs. Dunlap nods. “He’d like to say a special thanks to Stella Liebeck. Who knew you could do that with McDonald’s coffee? Without people like her, Johnny’d still be an unemployed little boy, running around waving that television antennae at lightning storms.” She nods towards an encased collection of burnt metallic objects. A quiet moment passes, and she stands, smoothes her Hermes scarf and checks her Cartier watch. On cue, a shrill whistle interrupts the silence. “Time for a steaming cup of tea!” she sings, and leads the escape from Johnny’s room. She waves airily toward the release forms her lawyers distribute. “Simply a formality, one can never be too careful! Please take notice of the paper cut warning.”

The Magic of Baseball

Capture the Magic – a Baseball Lesson in American Values

Having recently attended my first professional baseball game, I hereby offer the life lessons gleaned from the spectacle known as America’s pastime. Although the experience had little to do with the actual teams, for the sake of reference, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the San Francisco Giants. For those of you who, like myself, thought the Dodgers played in some eastern seaboard state in the 1930s, let this be a lesson in baseball history. They most likely at one point played on the East Coast, but were sent to Los Angeles, as the term “Dodgers” better describes a people who live in a city known for drive by shootings, narrow misses on the freeway, and the lifesaving action you must take as an unassuming fan sitting in the cheap seats, narrowly escaping free-flying projectiles tossed by drunk angry fans.

Armed only with such historical knowledge, I begin my educational exploration into the magical world of baseball. Shifting between neutral and first gear for the hour drive from the entrance to an unassigned parking space, I pass topless men painted a bright, Dodger blue, jumping and screaming into a television camera. It dawns on me that baseball may have morphed from my movie-enhanced memories of the crack of a wooden bat and the smell of a freshly mown field into this concrete jungle, replete with natives speaking an unknown language. And that perhaps clogging ones pores with blue paint number 64 has negative, lasting effects.

Magnanimous soul that I am, I refuse to pass judgment until I have fully experienced my first professional baseball game, and join the throng of fans to mistakenly spend another hour in line for an ATM which spews obscene amounts of money so that said fans then stand in an even longer line to purchase the celebrated Dodger Dog. As those around me engage in a game of who can scream the loudest at their errant children, I ponder how a sport defines a nation, a people. England = Rugby. A fierce people who require no protective gear, prepared to take on the world whilst sporting color coordinated shirts with a dignified white collar. Brazil = Futbol (also known as soccer, for rebellious Americans who hold a blatant disregard for the metric system or any structure the rest of the world may agree upon.) A group of well-organized athletic people with amazing agility and no feeling in their foreheads, they have found the real meaning behind sports and life: win or lose, there’s reason to party. Scotland = Curling. A jolly and innovative folk who, after fifteen pints of laager, realize the brilliance and simplicity found in using a broom to push a hunk of metal across a mostly frozen body of water, and that old Collin McMurtry, he’s a handsome devil.

Having made it to my seat by the 5th of approximately 127 innings, I observe what defines America’s national pastime: sporadic action highlighted by consumerism, scratching and screaming. And that’s just the fans.

As the opposing team takes the outfield, the inebriated folk closest to left field start cheering, and for a brief moment I am swept up in the crowd mentality, ready to belt out my own off key “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The shining stage spotlight dims; they are jeering a creative chant, “Barry Sucks!” Looking toward the field, I notice the object of their attention stands rather unperturbed, perhaps confident in his .370 average, 46 homeruns, and 110 RBI.* The fans are distracted only when a bright shiny beach ball bounces into their laps, or as the vendors step on their screaming children to better hawk their wares. Calorie-laden treats fly through the air; the only effort necessary is to field the airborne ice cream sandwich and cherry coke. This extremely difficult aspect of the sport of spectatorship demands respect for the years of training involved; the amazing dexterity required to catch the flying food without taking your eyes from the riveting action…Hey! Did that woman miss her cue in the wave? Let’s chant! “You suck!”

And, never to be underestimated, the stench of capitalism that permeates the stadium, the players, and the fan still trying to find his seat after an overly boisterous wave.
Twelve dollars for seats near left field.
Forty-five dollars for a Dodger Dog.
Seeing grown men paint their bodies blue and bat at beach balls…

*Numbers and initials located on ESPN.com, writer not responsible for misrepresentation of figures she knows not the meanings or definitions.

Santa Ashcroft

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

Meet the latest in securing your homeland: Special Agent Santa Clause. In light of waning popularity for the Patriot Act, General John Ashcroft recently shocked the nation when he announced the appointment of Father Christmas as a key figure in undercover intelligence. The general defended his choice in the face of his detractors, whose harsh criticism denounced the move as a warm, fuzzy public relations strategy, while others claimed Ashcroft’s only goal was to pay off a few years debt of “naughty.” “Kringle’s inherent gifts far exceed our special agent training,” Ashcroft claims. “Note his centuries of cross-cultural experience and such special talents as seeing people when they are sleeping, and knowing when they wake. He crosses time zones and border patrols with nary a fake passport nor jet lag. Consider his natural ability to enter homes unnoticed – these people trust him, leaving him assortments of snack foods, practically begging us to install a hidden wiretap and video feed.”

Ashcroft’s inspired decision was made early in the morning, he tells the local and international press gathered in his kitchen, when he heard a radio show “call-in” Santa admonish little Billy to brush his teeth well, after describing exactly what he had eaten for breakfast. “It was incredible!” Ashcroft exclaimed, caught by camera crews as he donned a frilled apron and baked hundreds of cookies, feverishly pouring glasses of milk to prepare for his visit with Mr. Kringle. “I’m a believer.”

Although Santa’s induction into the government surveillance game was intended to be a secret operation, Ashcroft fell victim to his own patriotic information gathering. The following transcript was recovered from an impromptu and unscripted Instant Message conversation with Winifred Holkum, proud founder and sole member of a Montana-based Santa think tank into which Washington has recently poured millions of dollars of tax dollars.
“ ‘Father’ Christmas, Old ‘Saint’ Nick – all these are positive connotations to a good and loving patriarchal figure that can be manipulated to benefit the security of our homeland,” Ashcroft typed rapidly, using caps, quotations, and emoticons with abandon.

Christmas Morning.
Ashcroft rubs his eyes and sits before a file download, pulling on a child-size Santa hat, he forces it over his pinched forehead, his eyes cross with the effort, a confused gnome. At the North Pole, Santa and his company of elves lie passed out over a teeny-tiny computer. Children awake to empty stockings and naked fir trees standing sadly in empty, cold living rooms, where untouched glasses of milk symbolize soured hopes.
Back at his compound, drunk on eggnog and the prospect of illicit information, Ashcroft glows in the reflected blue light of the monitor and sings merrily, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”