Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Old School Ode #4 - The Ice Cream Truck

I don't mean to sound all Andy-Rooney with the Did you ever notice grumpster rant, but, seriously, has anyone noticed that all of the ice cream trucks are now 1970's conversion vans plasters with stickers? Perhaps I am only speaking of my neighborhood, but seriously, there is something disconcerning about the image of children running out to buy ice cream from the same place their uncle Gary used to get high...

Anyway. It got me thinking about ice cream weather, or, more specifically Bomp Pop weather. I know it's getting close to being consistently warm when I impulsively buy a box of Bomb Pops at the grocery. Nothing says summer than the taste of red, white, and blue (or cherry, rasberry, and...what flavor is white? kind of like "palette cleanser.")

As a kid I wasn't a big ice cream truck freak. To be honest, it can be a stressful exercise for a kid - hearing the distant refrain of Farmer in the Dell, running inside to find the closest parent, pleading an urgent case, running to get the agreeing parent's closest wallet, running back outside, trying to determine the actual location of the truck, all to find yourself too late, the bumper almost out of eye range, and no energy left to run. It was just easier to get on your bike and ride up to Haney's for a Pepsi and tube of Pringles.

But, I do have one glorious ice cream truck memory.

In third grade there was this brother and sister who were new to our school. David and Dina. I don't know where they came from or whatever happened to them (my mom would know this, she remembers all of my former classmates) but I only remember that my brother and I hung around them the summer between 3rd and 4th. Dina had an end-of-the-year slumber party. They lived in the only apartment complex at the edge of our neighborhood. They had no front or backyard and this was before video games, cable and VHS. We were bored, it was hot, and there was an hour and a half before Donny and Marie came on.

We were sitting on the front steps when we heard it, the lovely tinkling beacon of hope. Dina's mom was right inside. She handed Dina a five dollar bill and we waited. The truck pulled up into the parking lot of the apartment complex. For a minute there was no sound except that of the repitive strains of Pop Goes the Weasel. Then everything changed. Doors flew open and kids we never knew existed came from everywhere and swarmed the truck.

We were first in line but stuck around and watched everyone. We told people it was our friends birthday. People made a big deal. We held up traffic. It is what I think every experience at the ice cream truck should be. Which is why I just buy the Bomb Pops at the start of each spring and have one at the end of a hot day.

Oh, and last summer I saw the ice cream "van" parked in front of the Silver Fox Lounge. Twice.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Thinking Gal's Chick Flick List - A Sampling

So my plan was to set out to create a top ten list of the "quintessential" smart-girl chick flicks. What I mean is films that have a woman (or women) as their main character and are critically acclaimed. So I made this list and sorted and re-sorted, trying to determine the perfect numbering based on staying power, personal appeal, and overall popularity.

Couldn't do it.

Ultimately I knew that as soon as I uploaded the thing there'd be a glaring omission and I'd have to back pedal and honestly, I really could be using the time to find a proper job...

So I've decided, instead, to just start out with some films I like, and let you know why I feel they deserves some attention.

My Personal Favorites
Coal Miner's Daughter - While I own this DVD, I only tend to see it when I'm in a hotel, flipping through the channels right before I go to sleep. There is something so timeless about the film's elements - the dialogue, the acting, the sets, the shots - it could have been made today. I also love that despite the rags-to-riches story, it never wallows in cliche. Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones together are a marvel. There is no part of this movie I can't watch again and again.

Postcards from the Edge - Another bio-pic (although this one is "loosely" based on Carrie Fisher's experiences as a washed-up actress coming out of rehab), this one was largely ignored when it came out in 1991. But come on, it's Meryl Streep and Shirley Maclaine. Together in the same movie. I had bought the book when I was a Junior in college and found it hysterical. When it came out on video I tried to loan it out to everyone I knew because I figured it didn't do well because of lack of marketing. But the lackluster, fake-polite response I got when people returned it made me realize it was probably never going to be a classic cult hit. There a million funny lines, but for a touching rendition of Ray Charles' "You Don't Know Me", look it up on You Tube.

Sense and Sensibility - In general, I'm not a huge fan of costume dramas. I have a hard time shifting gears into another time period and honestly I just end up getting distracted by all the decadence of the sets and costumes. But on this one, I was in right away. It's little more than women waiting around all day for people to visit, but there is the universal smart-girl/pretty-girl paradigm going on that makes it completely relatable. What gives it extra points is the dry humor and razor-sharp wit of Emma Thompson's DVD commentary. She talks about being humiliated during a screening of ninth graders in London; when it becomes obvious that she and Hugh Grant are love interests, someone shouted out, "Ew, she's old enough to be his mother." She is, in fact, only one year older than Hugh Grant. But don't get me started on age difference in Hollywood films...

Charlie's Angels (and Charlie's Angels Full Throttle) - Thinking, Lia. Really? Well, all I've got to say is I usually have to work myself up to see such and obvious, over-the-top action summer blockbuster. I have to go in saying, "It's summer, it's just for fun, get over it." But on both of these, the switch flipped and I was right there. Just the right blend of genuine girlishness and ass-kicking ridiculousness. I highly recommend it on a hot summer night after an uncalled for stressful week at work.

Thelma and Louise - Now, some people confuse this movie with an ass-kicking shoot-em up movie. Not so. Sure, one of them shoots a guy (but he was a real creep and there is a whole backstory dedicated to why), and the other's husband is a one-dimensional boffoun (but nothing happens to him), and they blow up that guy's truck (perhaps a bit harsh punishment for highway harassment...) but it's the overall filmaking that makes this one stand out. The script is nuanced and well-paced, the characters deep and developed, and, well, Ridley Scott directs. The New Mexico sky is a marvel and the slide guitar-infused score will just break your heart every time. And it's not true that all the guys are made out to be creeps. Michael Madsen is totally sympathetic as Louise's musician boyfriend and I believe it is Harvey Keitel's only "nice guy" role he's ever played.

Next Up
Terms of Endearment
The Piano
Remains of the Day
The Sweetest Thing
Never Been Kissed...

Monday, April 20, 2009

California Day Dreamin

A childhood friend of mine who I don't see all that often, was coming to Huntington Beach for a conference. Knowing I am intermittenly employed, she asked if I would like to come along. As luck (or really just circumstance) would have it, I had a break between my placement "gigs." So I've come along. And here I am on a Monday afternoon, in from having roamed around my temporary "neighborhood."

One thing became very clear right away - this place is all about surfing. Now, this is not exactly a ground-breaking observation. I'm in California. Still. I'm used to seeing the trendy, rip-off California culture sprinkled all over - Jams from the 80s, the Billabong stickers on skateboards, The Beach Boys touring every state fair from Jersey to New Mexico.

Here, it's been interesting to see the vast variety of people changing into wet suits in the parking lot. And just in case you're curious, the VW bus is still king out here, and isn't necessarily a symbol of aging hippie burn out.

One thing they're not big on is WiFi internet access. Not even at Starbucks (well, they did, but you had to pay for it. You don't pay for WiFi in the Midwest...) But my search did lead me to a cool little neighborhood coffee shop (a tourist from Utah overheard me asking around and found me a place by accessing his iPod 3G.) It's a little further from the hotel than I'd like, but the walk will do me good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Shortly after I bought my Jeep new in 2000 (after my Saturn was totalled), a co-worker informed me that I would now be obligated to particpate in what she referred to as "The Jeep Wave." The Jeep Wave is rather self-explanatory: it involves two drivers of Jeeps (Wranglers only, as far as I can ascertain) giving a salutation of acknowledgment as they pass one another on the street.

I listened politely and nodded at my co-worker, not wanting to hurt her feelings, but my first thought was, I'm not doing that. I'd imagined the roads populated with this very select kooky band of overly-enthusiastic oddballs flailing at one other. Then I forgot about it.

But almost immediately after I started driving the Jeep, I discovered she was right. The first "wave" I got was by a young guy: an unsmiling, baseball-hat-and-shades wearing, wouldn't-be-caught-dead-doing-something-uncool-looking fella. His hands were at 10 and 2, and when he passed, he brought two fingers up into a sort of modified fingers-together peace sign.

There are other variations. There is the four-fingers-up-palm-still-on-the-steering-wheel, there is the flat-out wave. Sometimes there is a nod, but it is hard to distinguish a nod at 40 mph.

And it's not just the boys, I've gotten waves from everyone - middle-aged moms, silver-haired gentleman, teenage girls on their cell phones. No one is too pre-occupied to give a wave. Usually. At first, I would only give the wave if waved to. If I gave a little wave and got no reply it made me feel oddly rejected, and I really didn't need that in my life. Then the wave just became instinctual. If I didn't get a wave back, I assumed the person wasn't paying attention, or was in the middle of a big fight, or was over the whole Jeep-waving thing, for which I simply felt sorry for them for being so cynical.

I've had my Jeep for nine years now. The Wave is strong as ever. Sometimes I'll be going to the grocery and get acknowledged half a dozen times before I even get there. It's nice.

Friday, April 10, 2009

And the Joy We Share As We Tarry There...

Yesterday was Good Friday. While I have attended my childhood church regularly for the past five years (after a twenty year hiatis...) I sometimes consider myself a reluctant Christian. But I won't go into all of that now. My point is only that, when I'm outside of church my mind tends to wander into to the logical recesses of organized religion that have little to do with Faith. I am fully aware that often my commitment seems more linked to the community of people I am surrounded by and the activities planned than a true spiritual quest.

But I do believe in the music.

Perhaps that is condecending, but I believe it to be true in my heart. There is no where else on earth that I can hear music that stirs me quite like the music I hear cumulatively in church. Occassionally I am asked to give the opening Welcome and Announcements. On those Sundays, during the Prelude, I sit on a two-seater pew directly in front of the organ, the pipes directly above my head, enveloping me fully in the sound. Other Sundays, I sit next to my mother and we pick out the harmony during the hymns. Neither of us has ever bragged the best voice, but we are on pitch, loud, and, we can sing harmony.

Sometimes I play the piano, usually when the Music Director goes on vacation. We have a terrific orchestra - two keyboardists, a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and flutist - but they get a break when he is off. Then it's just me and the grand piano. I try to pull out the old faithfuls, those hymns everyone knows and I love playing - Blessed Assurance, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, and, of course, In the Garden.

Which brings me to this past Thursday. I attended my first Maundy Thursday service because I'd been asked to be involved in the program. I will admit that before the service I was feeling a little put out, as though I already go to church more regularly than I ever thought I would and I was working with the kids on the Easter Sunrise service program. So I was stewing a little, wondering what sort of thing I could have been doing that night instead. And then the orchestra started playing In the Garden. And I noticed that everyone who was coming in was singing to themself. And the more people noticed others singing to themselves, the louder everone became. My mood changed a little and I was patient to sit and listen and reflect.

If that's what church is, I've decided I'm okay with that for right now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Criticizing the Criticism

I started reading film reviews in the Columbus Dispatch when I was around thirteen. One summer I had a week-long babysitting gig for kids old enough to be able to play with their peers in the neighborhood and I started getting bored watching soap operas. So I started a scrapbook of movie reviews clipped from The Columbus Dispatch and People magazine and taped them to loose-leaf notebook paper. I can remember being genuinely upset when the movies I'd seen and loved uniformly received two stars. Who didn't love Sixteen Candles? The same middle-aged newspaper columnists who dismiss the mediocre audience-pleasers of today.

I'm not here to defend middle-brow blockbusters that go on to become beloved nostalgia films. I bring up the scrapbook to say that I have a significant history with reading criticism. The problem is that no one seems to criticize the criticism. Of course we delight in a rave review of something we love or blow off a stellar approval of something that bored us to no end. But I would love to see a small column, once a month even, examining what has been examined.

Sunday night I went to see Sunshine Cleaning. It was one of those right-films-at-the-right-time kind of personal films that is well-written, nuanced, and infused with passionate and gifted actors. The next morning, I was searching for the Suduko puzzle on break at work and saw a review. So I read it. The reviewer did not share my enthusiasm for the film. That's fine, I honestly have no problem with a differing opinion. What did bother me was that they got major points of the plot wrong (and then, of course, gave away the incorrect plot points.)

This has been on my mind on and off ever since. I think it is because I have toyed with the idea of writing criticism on and off for years. But I ultimately think I am not suited to it, all evidence to the contrary. I think it is because I cannot imagine the idea of one's "art" being entirely dependent upon judging someone else's art.