Saturday, June 25, 2016

Excerpt from "Hot Stuff", My Current Work In Progress

I haven't edited my work in a long time.  I was digging around and I found this story originally titled "Now We're Cooking" and now called "Hot Stuff."  I suck at titles even though I know they're important.  I forgot this story even existed.  I started it in 2008 and it ended up being the basis for a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2010 called The Beast and Chernobyl.  The living room scenes in this story ended up being the first chapter in that novel and Jaime was the template I used for Sandy as both are very scattered and smart mouthed.  I even realized this story is tangentially related to a series of stories started by my friend Christine we called The Jenn and Traci Saga as Traci appears as the manager of the lingerie store at the mall.  I like Sandy better as she seems capable of growth, but that might also be because I spent an entire novel fleshing her out.  That novel needs some polish before it's fit for mass consumption.

I like editing this short story so far.  It's kinetic and fast and very visual.  Jaime is a trainwreck of a person but I think we've all felt that way during certain periods of our lives.  The character of Dan was also a surprise.  I don't often put children in my work so I have no idea why he's there except for comedic effect.

I left out the last scene where Jaime and her boyfriend Justin are sitting down to dinner.  I say last in the sense that it was the last scene written in the story, not that it's the ending.  I left it out because it seemed to be going no where and I need to find a somewhere for it to go to.  The rest of the story is a fun read though.

"Hot Stuff"
by Mike Imprixis

Jaime sat on her red leather recliner naked.  The TV was on and she was watching Rachael Ray cooking.  The air was humid and her skin clung to the chair but she didn’t turn on the air conditioner.  Her electric bill was always running high because she liked sleeping in a room as cold as Elsa’s Palace at night.  She draped one leg over the arm of the recliner.  The other was straight out, pushing up and down on the footrest a little, kind of hopping the chair in place.  Jaime began working on her second beer of the day and it was only 10 am.
            Today, Rachael was interviewing Mariska Hargitay on her show.  She was also going to show a shortcut to baking lasagna.  If Jaime had time to cook, she’d actually be interested in learning to make a 30 minute lasagna dish.  It was one of her favorites and her boyfriend actually thought it was sexy when she cooked for him.  Jaime worked most days and by the time she got home, she hated having to drag out all her cooking crap.  Easier to go over to Justin’s house or, better still, just go on the Wendy’s diet. 
            Right now, the boyfriend was at work and would be until later.  She’d thought about showing up at his house, naked, stoned off her ass, and fucking his brains out.  Considering how hard he worked as a supervising manager or managing supervisor or whatever it was, she thought he might appreciate it. 
            They showed a clip of Mariska Hargitay on Law and Order as a tough, no-nonsense cop.  Girls with guns were hot.  Jaime absently traced between her legs with a finger, wet from holding her beer.  It wasn’t like hot in the conventional sense, just different.  It would be so nice to kiss someone right now, Jaime thought.
            The phone rang and Jaime jumped.  She had the portable handset on the armrest of her chair.  She hit the pause button on her DVR and freezed the frame right when Rachael was asking her guest about her role as a mother.  Rachael looked like The Joker with her huge, red mouth open and smiling.  “Yeah?” Jaime said when she answered the phone.  “Okay. . . Okay, yeah.  When’s he comin’ home? . . . Great.  Okay, sure.  Just let me get dressed.” She hung up the phone and put it on the coffee table. 
            Jaime stretched and made a grunting sound.  Sometimes wishes do come true.
* * *
“But why do you have to leave?” Ann said as she was putting on her tank top.
“You told me that Al would be home soon,” Jaime said.  “Didn’t you say he was coming home for lunch?”  As Jaime was slipping on her shorts, she realized that sometimes sleeping with women was more trouble than it’s worth.  Guys rolled over and snored after sex.  Women were wide awake and seemed to ask questions on every-goddamned-thing they could think of.
Ann put her hands on Jaime’s tits and slowly massaged her nipples with her purple manicured nails.  Jaime’s focus was momentarily distracted from getting dressed and beating feet before Ann’s 6-foot-3, 250-pound bull of a husband returned from his fence installation job.
 Jaime didn’t like Al.  He had rough hands and a rough mouth.  During the neighborhood Fourth of July party about three years ago, before Jaime started dating Justin, Al tried to make a pass at her behind his shed in the backyard.  Jaime knew she could take care of herself.  At 6’1” herself, she was built like a blonde version of Wonder Woman, only with more hips and ass and less tits.  Al pinned her against the aluminum siding of his tool shed and grinded up against her, smelling of cheap Coors Light and Drakkar Noir.  Jaime said no and then rumors started in the neighborhood that she was a dyke.  Two weeks later, Jaime seduced Ann. 
It was good at first because Ann was a wildcat, but Ann was also a housewife who felt guilty about what she did.  Ann ran hot or cold depending on where in the guilt cycle she found herself.  Sunday afternoons after church, Jaime knew better than to call Ann for a booty call.  Catholic guilt and suburban conditioning made Ann a crazy fuck in every sense of the word.
“I’ll leave him,” Ann said as her hands squeezed Jaime’s tits.
“I have to go,” Jaime said.  “Could you get my—yeah, thanks.”  She took her t-shirt from the floor and slid it on. 
“I’m serious.  I’ll leave the bastard.”
“I know.  You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”
“You don’t have to.  I don’t want you to.  It’s okay.”
“But we can be together,” Ann mewed.
Jaime put on her watch and saw the time.  “Whoa, baby.  Um, look, Al will be home soon—“
“You love me, right?”
“Yeah, okay.  But you’re married.”
“Let’s just leave—“
“Ann, honey, baby, sweetie—“ Jaime kissed her mouth deep, “I gotta go, seriously.  Text me later.”
Jaime slid on her sneakers and walked out of the house without really looking back at Ann, who promised wholeheartedly to call her when Al wasn’t around and that she was totally in love and something else that got muffled when Jaime slammed the house door shut and walked down the pathway to her beat up old Maxima parked on the street.
As she started the car, Jaime remembered the stories the old dudes used to tell her during the summer nights when she would fish with them off the bridge.  She would let them smoke from her joint and they would tell her about tentacled sea monsters grabbing and pulling her under the water.  Now she wondered if krakens really existed and they were crazy fucks. 
The car had one of those old automated electronic voice systems.  After dinging a few times when she started the car, it said, “Fuel level low.”
“Bitch, I know,” Jaime said.  She hit the gas and drove off.
As she drove, her cell phone rang and vibrated in its holder clipped to the driver’s side visor.  She knew by the ring it was Kenny.
“Hey,” Jaime said.
“Hey.  Are you out right now?”
“Sure.  Why?”
“Nothing.  Just thought you’d be sleeping in later on your day off.  I’m cooking at my house later.  Want anything?”
“Whatever you’ve got is fine,” Jaime said.
“Love you.”
“Love you, too.”  She closed the phone shut and put it back in the visor.
* * *
            Jaime drove around for a while before going to the beach.  It was a weekday and there weren’t many people there.  She parked and walked to the boardwalk.  As she leaned on the railing overlooking the beachgoers below, she heard a voice behind her.  “What’s happening, Hot Stuff?”
            Great.  Fucking great.  At least whoever this douche was didn’t ask about the weather up there.  She was so sick of guys flirting with her and saying inane things about her height, thinking she hadn’t heard that crap a million times before.  She turned around slowly and saw no one.  “Down here,” she heard the voice say.  She looked down.
            And there he was, a kid about 12 years old.  “Shouldn’t you be in school?” Jaime asked.
            “It’s August,” he said.
            “Shouldn’t you be. . . not here?”
            “Where should I be?”
            “I dunno.  Fine, whatever.  My name is Jaime, not Hot Stuff.”
            “I’m Dan.  You’re freakin’ fine though.”
            “Yeah, okay.  You always flirt with women. . . ,” she paused and then said, “Almost 10 years older than you?”
            “The girls my age can’t appreciate a guy like me.  They don’t understand that I can’t be tied down, know what I mean?”
            “Ain’t that the truth,” Jaime mumbled.  She smirked and shrugged her shoulders.  “Want a Coke or something?”
            Dan said, “That’s how you know you’ve made it with the ladies.  They buy the drinks.”
* * *
Jaime got back home at around three.  Her place was still a mess.  The TV was still frozen on the image of Rachael Ray talking to her guest on her show.  She checked her phone.  The voicemail notification was blinking.  Two new messages.  She pushed the button on her phone.  Probably came when she was hanging out with the kid.
“*BEEP*--Jaime, it’s Heather at the office.  Bob needs that list for King Washer.  I know you’re on vacation this week but if you could please email it to us, that would be great.  Thanks, bye.”
“*BEEP*--Bitch, where are you?  I’ve been calling for like three weeks.  I’m running out of cigs and I need you to get some from the Rez.  Call me.”
Jaime fell backwards over the armrest of her recliner and collapsed.  She didn’t so much sit back into the chair as much as she just fell into it and hoped it caught her.  Fucking bastards, can’t anyone just leave me alone? she thought.  For two years, she’d been working at the office and for two years, her boss could never seem to find a list on his own.  Sure, she made a notebook with all the lists.  She filed them on the computer in three different spots.  She set up all sorts of places where Bob could find his lists but even on her day off, he couldn’t find it.  She felt like she was being spread further and further apart.  Last week, she had a nightmare that she was drawn and quartered by four emo kids riding Vespas.  It didn’t hurt but goddamn was it annoying.  The other message was from Traci.  Jaime had to go buy cigarettes.  Good excuse to leave the house again.
Twelve year olds have it made, Jaime thought as she closed her eyes and listened to herself breathe as she sat in her chair.  They just go to the beach and play in the sand all day.  Dan turned out to be a cool kid.  His mom was at the pavilion and when she saw Jaime, and she apologized for her kid’s fresh mouth.  But Jaime didn’t care and she was happy to talk to them.  Jaime didn’t even remember what the conversation was about but she just sat there and made believe she was normal like these people and not a complete and total mess.
She picked up the remote and unpaused the show.  Then she paused it again.  Jaime stared.
She loved Rachael’s figure.  Good round ass, curvy in the right places.
Jaime let out a long sigh and unpaused it again.  Then she paused it when she saw Mariska’s face.  Full lips, nice cheeks, short dykey haircut.  Jaime imagined being a perp on an episode of Law and Order and being locked up in the interrogation room with Det. Benson and her new partner, Det. Racheal.  All handcuffed and nowhere to go.  Jaime threw her head back slightly.  She didn’t even realize what she was doing until she was halfway in.  Thank God for DVRs.
* * *
Jaime saw Traci smoking in front of her store at the mall.  Jaime had taken a chance on the fact that Traci would be working today and there she was on one of her twenty 3-minute smoke breaks.  This part of the mall had an outdoor courtyard so even though smoking was frowned upon, Traci could get away with it without having to be outside of earshot or eyeshot of the store she managed.  Since Jaime had quit buying cigarettes (but had not quit actually smoking them), the only time she could get any was when she was making a delivery to Traci from The Rez.
Traci looked over in Jaime’s direction, took the cigarette out of her mouth and said, “You goony bitch, where the hell have you been?”  They hugged.
“Working.”  Jaime handed two cartons of Marlboro Menthols to Traci. 
“Thank fucking God for small miracles.  I was running so low on cigarettes, you have no idea.  I called like—“
“I know,” Jaime said.  “Trust me, I know.”
“What’s been going on?”
“It’s complicated.”
“Fuckin’ stop with the ‘it’s complicated’ crap.”  Traci inhaled the last bit from the butt she had lit and tossed it into one of the potted plants in the courtyard.  “By the way, we’re having a sale inside.  All of last season’s bras are on sale.  You could use some new panties, too, I’ll bet.”
“I wish I could.  Kenny likes seeing me in that frilly crap—“
“When am I gonna meet this guy?  I’ve been up here from Florida almost, what?  Five months?”
“Six, and I’ve been dating him a year.  I told you—“
“Whatever.  Look, come inside and I’ll hook you up.”
“Nothing over twenty-five dollars, okay?” Jaime said.
“I promise, you won’t spend more than twenty-five dollars.  Besides, it’s always fun fitting you.  It’s like working on a high-rise.”
“Bitch.”  Jaime laughed.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Round 1 Entry For The NYC Midnight 2016 Short Story Challenge: "#TheCat In The Snow"

For once, I have an actual short story to share. 

A bit of an introduction first.  I have a poor track record when it comes to keeping up with my writing lately.  So I decided I needed something to force me into action.  I was on Facebook and came across a contest from NYC Midnight, The Short Story Challenge for 2016.  In Round 1, I had a week to write a 2500 word short story on an assigned topic in an assigned genre with an assigned character.  I had to write a fairy tale in which a rumor was spread and an aspiring singer was a major character.

I was none too thrilled with this assignment.  In fact, this was so far out of my comfort zone that I felt like I was getting screened for colon cancer.  I gave the assignment to my girlfriend and she wrote a great traditional fairy tale with princesses and troubadours.  I ended up writing something very modern and cynical.  I wrote about a cat I saw on the Internet. 

I think it turned out better than expected, once I got over my initial misgivings.  So I hope you enjoy!

#TheCat In The Snow
by Mike Imprixis
Once upon a time in a place called New York, there was a young man named Kevin.  He lived in an apartment in the second story of his landlord’s house.  Kevin worked as a teacher’s aide at the local elementary school and Angie was a cashier at the Seven-Eleven.  They had met at a local coffee shop two summers ago at an open mic night.  Kevin read poetry about the gap between The Rich and The Poor, and Angie sang an Adele song.  Three months later, they moved in together.

Kevin always had his mind in the past, thinking about a time of peace and prosperity called The Clinton Years.  The shuttered, abandoned homes in his neighborhood wistfully reminded him of times when things were happier.  He would jot these things down in a small notebook and wrote in his blog he called #recessiondepression about the shrinking middle class and the injustices of the Top 1%.  People told him, “That’s great, bro,” when they read his blog.

Angie would constantly keep busy trying to learn to sing the most popular song by the most popular artist, whether she heard Taylor Swift on her iHeartRadio app on her iPhone, Adele from her Twitter feed, or saw a Nicki Minaj video as she was checking her Instagram.  She would invite her girlfriends over to watch American Idol whenever it was on.  Angie’s singing, like Kevin’s blogging, would elicit the same tepid response from her friends: “Girl, that’s great.”

Kevin and Angie loved each other as deeply as two young, pretty people could love one another.  They both knew they were special.  They both knew they were cut out for more.  But most importantly, they both loved the amazing sex they had.  That’s why they so looked forward to the blizzard that was being promised that weekend in January.  The landlords were in Florida and they could be as noisy as they wanted. 

So, after having amazing sex with his girl that morning and writing up a Facebook status about it to show how in love they were, Kevin put on his green, brown, and yellow Bob Marley beanie, his blue Scott Pilgrim retro parka (the movie had come out almost ten years ago so it was almost retro at the least), his best boots and gloves, and went out to take pictures of his neighborhood so people could see how the other 98% lived.  Angie stayed in bed as it was her day off anyway. 

As Kevin walked through the snow covered streets, he came across a house his friend Jamie had lived in back when Kevin was in 5th grade.  The house was boarded up and the snow had piled high and deep, making it impossible to walk up to the front porch without effort.  However, Kevin saw something sitting there.  He squinted as the snow got in his eyes and saw an orange marmalade colored cat.

From afar he seemed to be orange, anyway.  Kevin looked at the poor thing and he looked too frightened to move.  He put his iPhone 5s in his pocket and started walking up through the drifts in the front yard of the abandoned property.  He said, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!”  He made psst noises.  “Poor thing’s probably lost.”  Kevin saw that the cat had darker fur on one side of his body than the other.  In fact, as he got closer, Kevin noticed that half the cat’s face was orange and the other black.  The cat seemed a little thin so Kevin thought he’d take him home, give him some milk, and maybe keep him warm.


Angie hugged the cat as she sat at the table in the kitchen.  Kevin was getting a bowl to put milk in.  “He’s a cutie.  I mean, he’s a little weird looking, what with the half-black face and all, but still.  Aw, listen!  He’s purring.  Yes, you are.  Yes, you are,” she said as she rubbed her nose to the cat’s.  “The ‘lords will never let us keep him.”

Kevin put the milk bowl down and Angie watched as the cat jumped out of her arms and onto the floor.  “I know.  But honey, it’s snowing.  I couldn’t just leave him out there.”

The cat wagged his tail.  He sniffed the milk bowl.  He looked up and meowed before going to work licking the milk. 

Angie took out her iPhone and said, “I have to take a picture.  He’s just so precious—“

“Honey,” Kevin said.  “You can’t!  I mean, what if someone sees him on your Wall?  We’ll be out on our ass.”

“Yeah.  I guess you’re right.  But gosh, wouldn’t it be nice?”

“To keep him?  Yeah,” Kevin said, “I wish we could, too.”

The cat looked up at Kevin with its two different colored eyes, one blue, the other yellow, tilted his half-orange, half-black head, meowed once and wagged his tail in a large swoop.  Then Kevin felt his phone vibrate.  He took it out of his pocket, touched the screen, and then his eyes widened.  “Oh, wow.”

“What is it, honey?” Angie asked.

“It’s a text from the ‘lords.  It says . . . they’re staying in Florida until June instead of March.  Hearing about the blizzard made them think about staying.  They also say. . . if we find any stray cats. . . we can keep them?  WTF?”

Angie shook her head.  “You think they know?”

The cat meowed.  He then hopped onto Kevin’s laptop that was plugged in and charging on the kitchen counter.  Kevin said, “Hey, cat!  Get off!”  The cat did get off and hopped back down onto the floor, lapping at his milk bowl.  Then Kevin looked at his laptop screen.  “Holy shit,” he said.

“What now?”

“Come here and look.” 

Angie got up and looked at the screen with Kevin. 
The cat had apparently somehow walked on the keyboard, opened up Word and typed out the following: “Hey, bros.  Thanks for saving me.  That was, no joke, an awesome thing to do, but wishing to keep me?  That was even more dope.  #truestory.  Anyway, I’m a magic cat that grants wishes.  I usually grant wishes for selfish douchebags but that?  No joke, that was a great wish.  So I’ll grant it.”

Kevin and Angie looked down at the cat.

The cat looked up and meowed.

Kevin said, “He can talk?”

The cat hopped up again and walked on the keyboard.  He then hopped down again.  Kevin and Angie saw the words on the screen: “Bro, seriously?  Did you hear me talk?  No, I just type.  BTW, got anything besides the milk?  I mean, I’m a little old for the stuff.  No Fancy Feast?  That shit’s the bomb.”

They looked down at the cat.  The cat just meowed back.


So Kevin and Angie debated what they should do with this wondrous cat they had found.  They puzzled and puzzled over it.  The cat just sat in his new home and enjoyed the warmth.  He was in no hurry to go anywhere, but the humans acted like they were being chased by the po-po, they were so anxious.  Humans were forever a mystery to him.

Then one morning, after Angie had her friends over to watch American Idol, Kevin had an idea.  As he drove Angie to work the next day, he said, “I saw how much you were enjoying Idol last night.  It gave me an idea.”

“What?” she asked.

“How about I use the wish to get you exposure?  You know, for your singing career?”

Angie smiled and let out the biggest, “Awwwww,” that she could.  “You mean you’d do that for me?” she asked.  “Why don’t we just straight-out wish we were famous, though?”

Kevin just smiled.  “We probably have to word the wish just right.  The cat didn’t say anything, but maybe this is our only wish.  I think I’ll wish to get you on Idol somehow.  Maybe get my blog noticed, too.”

“Well, okay.  But they already did the preliminary auditions for the season.”

“I know, but honey, we have a freakin’ magic cat that grants wishes.  I think we can make this happen.”

When they pulled up to the Seven-Eleven, Angie said, “Yeah, yeah.  You’re right.  I’ll see you after work.”  She kissed him quickly on the lips.  “Love you,” she said as she got out of the car.

“Love you, too.”


So after work that night, Kevin and Angie looked at the cat.  They had bought a bed for him to lie in and he was curled up and purring away.  Kevin petted him and said, “Hey, buddy.  We have something to ask.”

The cat looked up at them and meowed.

Kevin took out a piece of paper and read from his well-crafted wish.  He’d taken all day to word this correctly.  He said, “I wish that whatever rumor I write on my blog takes off and spreads so it gets maximum exposure and that the rumor is believed by a lot of people, to the point it comes true.”  Kevin then put the paper away in his pocket and said, “Please?”

The cat wagged his tail back and forth in a lazy arch and meowed.  He then looked at the fridge.  Angie said, “You think it worked?”

“I hope so.  I think he’s hungry, though.  He needs some Fancy Feast.”


So sure enough, Kevin wrote a story on his blog that Angie was being considered for Idol.  They even took a video of her singing Adele’s “Hello” at a karaoke bar.  The page views and the comments people left blew up the blog.  In fact, some of the pictures and articles that Kevin wrote about The Great Recession were also getting views and people demanded more Angie videos. 

A few days later, Kevin got a call from a number he didn’t recognize.  He was at work watching the kids during lunch in the cafeteria.  “Hello?” he said, yelling into the receiver over the noise.

“Hey, is this Kevin Durant?”

“Speaking,” Kevin said loudly.

“Hey, my name is James and I work over at TMZ.  You’re the guy who runs the blog, right?  The one with the story about Angie Kapowski, the amateur karaoke singer that wants to get on Idol?”

“Yeah,” Kevin said.

“We want to know why Idol is specifically looking to audition your girlfriend and how you found out about it.”

“What?  I don’t think I heard you right,” Kevin said.  He heard James repeat himself.  Then Kevin went silent.

James just kept talking.  “Hello?  Yeah, as part of the final season, they want to do a special episode where they have bonus auditions for up and coming singers across the country that they heard about.  Somehow, your girl ended up on this list and you reported as much on your blog that up until now, no one knew about.  How did you get that info?”

Kevin was speechless.  “Can I call you back after work?”  He heard James say yes and he took James’s number.

Back at home, the cat continued to sleep on his mat in the kitchen. 

Life was good.


Good, but not great.
You see, the rumor on the blog opened doors for Kevin and Angie.  It led to a spot on TMZ Live for them.  After that, Angie ended up headlining the Idol special with her audition.  Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. said she had talent but needed more experience, more training.  J Lo was just her usual bitchy self.

Kevin ended up being a regular contributor to TMZ after showing good face on his initial appearance.  Harvey Levin even said his work was good, that he’d love to expand out to do a hard news segment, but he just wasn’t sure if Kevin was the guy to lead it. 

But the money and offers for Kevin and Angie came rolling in.  They got a nicer apartment with deep pile carpet and a couple of paintings from a Sears that was going out of business in Bay Shore.  The cat came with them.  He ate his Fancy Feast.  Kevin and Angie hugged him and loved him, but they still felt unfulfilled.  They got some small gigs here and there on reality shows; their last major gig was on the VH-1 revival of The Surreal Life in which they were considered the “up and comers” learning from veteran celebrities like Christopher Knight and Dave Coulier. 

One day, after they’d finished taping in California and had returned to New York, Kevin and Angie considered what to do next with their lives.  They sat at the kitchen table, just as they did during that blizzard in which they found the cat.  Kevin asked, “We’re gonna be okay for a while with the money we made, but why aren’t we famous?  I mean, like Kim and Kanye famous?”

The cat looked up with his one eye blue and one eye yellow, turned his half-orange and half-black head, meowed, and leapt up on the keyboard of Kevin’s laptop again, walked back and forth, then leapt back down and curled up into a half orange, half black ball of fur.  Kevin and Angie got up and read what the cat had written: “Bros, I totes get it.  You thought your wish would lead to #fame and now you feel like bigger has-beens than Paris Hilton.  I hate being the bad guy here but you two made the wrong wish.  Don’t worry.  Most people do that.  It’s just that I know you guys are talented, but maybe before asking for fame, you should have worked to perfect your talent.  Just sayin’.”

Kevin and Angie looked at each other.  Angie asked, “Did we waste our wish?”  Then she read further down the page.

“BTW, no you didn’t waste your wish.  I’m staying as long as you guys are cool.  I’m down for granting whatevs for your guys.  Y’all are tight.  We’re bros, right?”

So using their fame, they sought out people to help them.  Kevin trained to become a real journalist and Angie got a real voice coach and learned about the music business.  They kept feeding the cat Fancy Feast, but they really didn’t make a wish as big as the rumor one ever again.  Small ones for bus fare and the numbers on the Take Five every once in a while, but never anything as big as their original wish.  They didn’t have to, because they worked hard.  Kevin got a news segment that was spun off into a serious news offshoot of TMZ, and Angie ended up as a back-up singer for Adele before becoming a record producer in her own right. 

The cat was always fed Fancy Feast, but then one day, he got up and left to go find another human to train.  Gotta spread the love, amirite? 

And they all lived happily ever after. 



Monday, December 7, 2015

Gifts from the DVR: A Series on Christmas TV (Episode 1- The Obligatory Introduction)

If you ask me, Shelley Long made her living
playing the same character over and over.
Image found here.
This is the first in a series of articles on the gifts that our TVs offer us for the Christmas season.  The idea for this series came to me last year when I was at my local Pathmark and looked in the DVD bin.  I found a movie called “A Different Kind of Christmas” starring Shelley Long and Barry Botswick from the early 90s.  I guess someone was clamoring for a Christmas movie with Diane from Cheers playing the romantic interest to Brad Majors from “Rocky Horror.”  There’s also a guy pretending to be Santa Claus and Barry Botswick playing Donkey Kong Country on an SNES.  It really doesn’t matter.  The point is that for every Charlie Brown Christmas, there are a multitude of movies with titles like “A Prince for Christmas,” “Dear Santa,” and “The Christmas Shoes.”  And eventually, they all end up in the discount bin at your local supermarket.

Here is ION's Holiday Movie List!
You're welcome.
The most egregious perpetrators of this crime against the eyes and minds of people are The Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and ION Television.  It seems like these movies are being churned out and distributed like Old Navy clothes coming from Indonesia: cheaply and without much thought to the consequences.  I don’t mean to single out these three channels as if they are the only ones feeding us this cotton candy cornucopia of schmaltz.  It just so happens they are the most prominent.  They exude in their ability to make these movies, in fact.  You might be binge watching a 12 hour marathon of SVU in early November (yeah, kicking the habit isn’t that easy), and you’ll easily catch seven or eight promos for their holiday spate of movies.  They just stick in your head like candy canes melting to the side of your hot cocoa mug.  

Christmas Movies for Women?Right here.

The disturbing thing is that, like porn or an episode of Jersey Shore, these movies all have similar tropes.  They have elements that can be switched out, reordered, and remixed.  You know that you’ll get a bar fight, a few dumb lines, and Snooki making a dumb comment on any episode of Jersey Shore.  The Walking Dead is another show that has a similar aesthetic (remember that episode when the humans did something so vile, we question whether they’re any better than the walkers?  Yeah, I went there).  In a modern Christmas movie, we’re told Big City People Don’t Celebrate Christmas like Small Town Folk do.  Someone is always engaged to the wrong person in the beginning of the movie, but by the end, the engagement is broken for the One True Love.  We get a life story in an exposition dump that takes place 10 seconds after the opening credits are over.  And all throughout, we get this white-washed, air-brushed, very bland form of Christianity that is subtle.  It’s not like a sledgehammer.  It’s more like a blackjack to the back of the head in delivering its message of family values and the reason for the season.

When you care enough to watch the very bland.
Hallmark Christmas Movies.

These are some of the issues I’ll be exploring in this series.  And while it’s fun to kick these types of movies like the cynical fiend that I am, I am not trying to be cynical nor fiendish.  I think the public gets the entertainment it asks for.  After all, TV programs and movies are as much a product of our capitalist system as Coke and McDonald’s.  I also think that writing, the basis for all these media, is a reflection of our innermost selves.  Christmas is a time of reflection.  It comes at the end of the year.  We’re reminded of Christmases past often, listening to the same songs, watching the same specials.  This time of year puts our ideal selves face to face with what we actually are, so our entertainment is probably some kind of reflection of that.  These movies are fun to laugh at, but we might learn from them as well. 
Let’s face it.  We’re all suckers at this time of year.  Laughing at these movies is like laughing at ourselves.  I think now more than ever, we need that kind of comedy in our lives.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Writing May Be A Special Victim If I Keep These Habits Up

“You are what you eat,” the old saying goes.  You are also what you take in, not just in terms of food, but in terms of information as well.  Nutrition, after all, builds up the body, but information builds up the mind.  If that is the case, my mind is built up of murder mysteries and rape trauma as seen on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU).  I am scared to think what this means for my mental state.

The term “binge watching” is relatively new, but the act of binge watching has been around for the last ten years or so.  Releasing TV episodes on DVD or Netflix makes this easy, but what makes it even easier still are syndication packages sold to basic cable and broadcast TV stations.  Without even using Google, I can tell you from memory that Law and Order’s parent show currently can be seen on WE as well as TNT, and SVU can be seen on USA, sometimes run several times a day back to back, and My9 (WOR in New York) and TV 10/55 (WLNY also in New York), usually once a day.  And of course don’t forget new episodes of SVU on NBC once a week.

They make a cute couple.
Image found here.
Time it right and you can catch an episode from any season of L&O or L&O:SVU that you want.  Don’t like Chris Meloni’s Elliot Stabler’s character?  Newer episodes are usually on weeknights on USA.  If you pay attention to the current schedule, you can time it right and watch Mike Logan and Lenny Briscoe take down murderers.  The real challenge is catching the one season that had Paul Sorvino.  Depending on the channel, those episodes probably run in one afternoon.

Except to look up the spelling of Paul Sorvino’s name, I did not use Google once to look up any of the information in the previous two paragraphs, and I’m pretty sure I’m right about most of what I just wrote.  And when I say I’m sure, I mean I’m more sure of these facts than I am of who was President at the time of the dropping of the first atomic bomb (Harry S. Truman, right?).  I find that disturbing, and a little sad.

I've had the time of my life. . . watching these two.
Image found here.

A few nights ago, my girlfriend and I were talking about The Love Boat, a show that ran for nine years and was basically an anthology show with a cruise ship as its framing device, with some elements of a variety show mixed in.  After all, if Robert Goulet was on, there was a distinct possibility that he’d sing a song.  I wondered why a show like that had a viewership.  It’s not a bad idea for a show, mind you.  But nine years?

My girlfriend then said something that I found interesting.  She said, “If you ask my mom, she’d tell you that nothing else was on.  In fact, if you asked her about any TV show back then, she’d say they watched because nothing else was on.”  This opened my eyes as I realized that here, in the 21st century, there’s plenty on.  I can look at the night stand by my bed and see a stack of DVDs with movies I love and movies I haven’t seen, but have picked up from either the library or from the bargain bin at Pathmark.  These are the more low tech options as I don’t have Netflix or any other streaming services, I don’t use On Demand, and there are usually a lot of options on other channels.  The furthest afield I’d go from Law and Order would be to Criminal Minds or CSI.

So why?  What is going on with me?  And why am I worried about something that seems pretty trivial?  Well, again, we go back to the premise that you are what you take in.   It’s not so much the murder or rape or violence that bothers me.  After all, some of my favorite movies are blood feasts for the eyes, like Pulp Fiction.  It’s the fact that I’m watching the same stuff, over and over and over again.  A similar thing happened in my early 30s when I realized that my taste in popular music pretty much stops at 1994.  It bothered me, but these viewing habits are setting off alarm bells in my head.

Why am I on a loop?  Well, the first reason is obvious.  It’s comforting.  The franchise of SVU, for instance, is pretty predictable.  You know there will be at least one red herring.  You can set your watch to it as it usually comes into play a few minutes before the first commercial break.  Just as you were guaranteed at least two car chases on CHiPs, you know that Elliot Stabler would lose his shit some time around the 30 minute mark (I’m going by the assumption that commercial breaks add to the running time of the show).  I can watch about five minutes of many of the episodes and could summarize the plot.  It’s good background noise when I’m folding laundry.  I guess I could watch an episode on autopilot.

That is one of the alarm bells right there.  How much of our daily existence runs on autopilot already?  I’d be ashamed to talk to Thoreau if he were alive today, because he might say I’m sleeping my way through life.  I doubt I could argue with the guy since I’m barely writing or posting due to my need to watch something “ripped from the headlines.”  God, even that tagline is so dated.

I can also connect different episodes to different moments of the past 15 years or so.  Olivia and Stabler are wearing black bands around their badges?  Must be an episode from some time around 2001.  This is especially true if somehow a rape case they’re working somehow leads to a terror plot.  Hell, I remember an episode when a child kidnapper somehow got his hands on stolen anthrax because he escaped from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in a van from a lab that housed the stuff.  That’s as Bush era of a plot as you can get.

Even on a personal level, if I watch an episode, I can tell what time in my life it aired.  If Captain Cragen is helping a kid deal with his abusive stepmother by bonding with him over a video game, I know that was when my parents still owned their restaurant and I watched that episode on a Friday night after work.  And Richard Belzer is one of my favorite actors playing one of my favorite TV characters, Detective John Munch, who came from Homicide: Life On The Street, which takes place in Baltimore; I spent my early college years in College Park, Maryland and still miss the place to this day.  So apparently, Dick Wolf has discovered the secret, comforting recipe from McDonald’s fries and translated it into TV format.

As a writer who uses his mind as the building blocks to my work, what does this mean?  I could make a career of writing the same thing over and over again.  Mickey Spillane and Erle Stanley Gardner did that.  I do enjoy writing crime fiction, but I’m not very good at building mysteries.  I take the approach of writing interesting characters dealing with crimes, the way Monk and Shawn Spencer had to solve crimes that were secondary to the shenanigans of the week.  I just feel like I’m in a rut.  I mean, it’s March and I’m just now posting a second blog post this year.  Stephen King once warned against sucking on the glass teat, and unfortunately, my lips are regularly wrapped around Stephanie March’s or Diane Neal’s, again depending on the season.

We wrap ourselves into these cocoons of comfort and warmth, and we pay the price.  Dick Wolf has built a Warren of Intellectual Snares that Cowslip from Watership Down would be at home in.  No thinking, no questioning, and even though the intellectual nourishment from shows in the Law and Order franchise are probably not the flayrah spoken of in the book, it’s easy to feel your brain grow corpulent and lackadaisical under that kind of input.  Just like McDonald’s fries.

Blast from Dick Wolf's past or SVU of the Future?
Image found here.
The one bit of good news in all this is that I recently joined a gym so my lazy ass could get some exercise and so I could get away from the perniciousness of Dick Wolf’s police stories (as a side note, I wonder what Mann and Machine would have looked like if it had ran for 20-plus years).  My mind probably needs the same stimulation.  I am reading poetry now from some old literary magazines I held on to from the 90s.  I’m also reading How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, a very good book but hard to sit down and read when there are so many distractions around.  This year, I want to live a writer’s life.  I just have to stop my diet of Wolf fries and Ice-T.