One out of every ten weekends I have an astonishingly productive Friday night – sites are designed, things are scanned, copy is written, all the updates are done. One out of ten. So naturally I judge every weekend by that standard. This one failed. It began with fear and terror: people were invited over to the house, and I forgot to do things like, oh, buy food and drinks. They were coming in the door one after the other, and I had nothing. Of course this meant a run to the store. I ran to the garage, found my car blocked by someone else’s vehicle, but since the keys were in the ignition I figured it was safe to take it. The car was familiar; I’d known it as a child, in Hot Wheels form, the Dodge Deora.
Except it was backwards. The cab was in the back and the bed was in the front. This made it unwieldy, if you hadn’t driven one before. But I turned the key and swore to do my best because there were guests, and I had nothing.
Then I woke. Whew. And realized: I have no food and drink.
Well, we can do something about that. I made a Trader Joe’s run, stocked up on all sorts of fine things to eat, bought some enormous flagons of spirits but did not go with the plastic bottles, always a sign that the guests wake the next day feeling poisoned. If you can imagine the same bottle containing windshield wiper fluid, don’t buy it. Cleaned the house, set up the music, set out the chairs, and waited for everyone. People came, ate, drank, made merry. Now and then I would remember the dream, and the clammy dread, and think: did I buy twice as many crackers as I needed because of the dream? Did I overdo the chips? Because now I’ve got bushels of processed corn product. I forgot to set out some of the things, too. I’m the worst host. At some point I enjoy the party instead of manage it, and then you’re talking and laughing and THE WHITE WINE HAS RUN OUT.
The Deora. What a peculiar vehicle. As I said, I had a Hot Wheels version, painted with sparkly metal. I loved those things, even though the tracks invariably broke and became difficult to connect. See, you had these long strips of track connected by flat pieces of plastic that fit into grooves on the bottom. The grooves split. The tracks were not seamless. You sent a car down the track, it hit a groove, flipped. Which was cool because you make explosion sounds and pretend everyone was on fire and screaming – you know, innocent boyhood play. But eventually all the tracks were ruined. This may have happened for everyone who ever had Hot Wheels.
Thought of the Hot Wheels again Sunday afternoon – went to see “Super 8” with my daughter for Father’s Day. She wanted to see it. She knew it was scary. Since I knew it wasn’t gory – no one got ripped apart, no exploding heads – and since I understood it was a throwback to the late-70s / early – 80s style of sci-fi movies, I figured it would be safe. Scary, but safe. Scary is good, if it’s the right kind. To my dismay she said she could handle it because she’d seen Shutter Island. You what? When? At someone’s house. She didn’t see the last portion, which was a relief, but still. Urg. That’s the wrong kind of scary – dank and hopeless and gothic and fraught with inexplicable menace, at least at her age. Good scary is monster-movie stuff where you’re waiting for the reveal, hoping this isn’t it, hoping it is, hoping you can handle it.
When I was her age I got scared at “2001” and had to leave. Really. I lost it about the time they found the monolith on the moon. It seems odd now, since I was a sci-fi geek kid, and was looking forward to the movie like nothing else: I’d read a Popular Mechanics story about it, and was PSYCHED, or whatever word we used then as kids, to see this incredibly cool movie about space!!!! And then it starts with monkeys. Then the monolith. The voices. Those voices. The docking sequence reassured me somewhat, but then there was talk of a plague on the moon, and then that monolith again, and I was too freaked out to continue. Nowadays my daughter would find it rather tedious, I think. But it was so inexplicable. Thee was something so enormous and inexplicable in the room, and when you’re small and it’s the ultra-widescreen Cinema 70 theater and it’s all so damned overwhelming, well, I had to go.
Also had to leave the theater during “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” which was a comedy, but had those shears in the neck of the painting. Blood. The organ playing by itself. All hail Vic Mizzy:
It’s all stills, but at 1:39, there it is.
So how did it go? The fingernail marks are out of my arm. She didn’t flinch during the train wreck, but was pasted back in her seat – as were we all: Holy. Crow. The movie paces the Monster Appearances brilliantly; you never see enough. But it’s not just a scary movie, as you’ve probably heard, it’s a throwback to Speilbergian movies that had actual characters you liked and were interested in, as opposed to Shia LaBoeuf running around with enormous jive-talking robots that turn into cars. It had something that made “ET” and “Close Encounters” feel real – domestic disorder. Houses that feel lived in, with too much going on and too many kids and too much life to pick up after everyone. There was only one thing that clanged, and that was a townslady saying she thought all the peculiar goings-on were part of a Russian invasion – really, please – and she said she suspected the “Sovients,” as if anyone, I mean anyone, ever mispronounced that work. Who wasn’t three. Seemed like a cheap shot, but it got a biiiig guffaw from the kid sitting next to me, who had told his dad during the Captain America preview that he wasn’t really interested in seeing the movie because it was like all, rah-rah America. Yeah, can’t have that, especially in a World War Two movie.
Captain America looks good, by the way. I didn’t know the forties were so underlit and monochromatic, but it looks good.
Anyway: people who obsess over every detail in J. J. Abrams’ work have had great sport finding references to previous films; some things stuck out for me, such as the Kelvin gas station. (Name of a grandfather who got him interested in movies.) It just blared out: THIS NAME MEANS SOMETHING. That was all I got, and I’m not inclined to buy the DVD and go over every detail and play spot-the-anachronism, but there was something that gave me a smile: at the used car lot, there were signs on the building. It’s here at 1:04:
They’re dingbats from the House Industries Sign Painter typeface. Trust me.
Wonder if the person who designed them saw that, and smiled.
Then we went to Target together, which was the best Father’s Day present of all, not that she’d know that. She wanted to buy a Pokemon plushie with her own money. Yes, Pokemon again; the periodic, cyclical reappearance of the beasties has occurred again. I confronted the wall of uni-flavored Cheez-Its again, and this time it can’t be blamed on a supplier. If they’ve eliminated all but one flavor, it’s a decision. Talked to a clerk, who seemed to suggest that they’ve winnowed it down.
Do you know what this means?
It means the end of the weekly Target trip.
I’m serious. Better food at Trader Joe’s. They don’t have the ice cream I want. I go for the sausage for pasta and low-price tomato sauce, but I can stock up on the latter and find the former in other incarnations. For paper goods and other sundries, yes, but once you remove the grocery component the need for a weekly visit evaporates. Odd thing is, I went there weekly before they started selling groceries. But now I feel as if they’ve made a high-handed decision, and a tipping-point was reached: my family wants those two-flavored Cheez-Its, dammit, and if you’re not going to make room for them, I’m not going to make an extra trip to another store. Sorry.
“Uh . . . Trader Joe’s doesn’t have Cheez-Its,” daughter says.
“True. But -” well, there’s no answer to that, except that I am not going to go to four grocery stores on the errands – Target for this and that, Joe’s for the good stuff, Cub for the ice cream, and Kowalski’s for Cheez-It’s. NO.
Weekly Target: over. Ah, but it’s liberating! It’s like being fired! Suddenly new vistas open up! No more the Saturday afternoon drive to the same – damned – place down the same – damned – streets -
Although today for some reason I hooked left and took a street I usually don’t, and went through the suburban neighborhood tucked right behind the Southdale post-war sprawl. All 50s ramblers. Immense trees. It’s a solid quiet place, even if one side of the street consists of an enormous noise barrier that looks like something very stylish totalitarians would erect to keep the citizens inside. Remnant: little has been done to change the look of the houses. If it weren’t for the trees to date the place you would think it was 1961, and moms were all inside watching “Search for Tomorrow” with a Lark and a Metrecal, and the kids were biking around – they left at 9 AM, they’ll wander back for lunch with a banged screen door and a HI MOM and Mom will ask them please, I asked you, not to bang the door, and sometimes she thinks it will be fine when school starts again and the door doesn’t bang, but rarely – very rarely – does she think about the time ahead when the door won’t bang at all.
Mom probably shopped over at the Red Owl in Southdale. In the morning. A nice break. Mom may have preferred Endust to Pledge but when that happened, she couldn’t say. Mom sometimes felt alone and somewhat sad around two o’clock in the afternoon, but why that was, she never said.
Anyway. That was no golden age; there are no golden ages. Everything’s a trial and different set of fears. The pleasures and hopes are the same, but the species of termite gnawing away in the back of your head changes from era to era. I hate to think “Super 8” will make the Youth of Today regard 1979 as some lost Camelot, because aside from some music and some elements of burgeoning Cool, it was a mile-high pile of suck. But the kids were 14, 15; it was summer and they were on their own, and life was about them, their friendships, their nerdy little hobbies that meant something you couldn’t really get if you were a grownup. That was the other element of the film I didn’t note until I thought about it: the grownups were grown up. They weren’t sarcastic and ironic and desperately hip, or dorky man-boys, but dads who went to work with a tie, moms who ran things with brisk confidence. They were flawed, but they were adults.
As for the kids, I usually can’t stand child actors, but these were remarkably natural, and the dialogue never had that false clever sound that makes you want to reach through the screen and slap ‘em. The humor came from their characters, not their lines. And Elle Fanning was remarkable. Yes, it slips a bit in the last act. So what.
We left the theater exhilarated. I’ll tell you this: I snuck a look sideways during the final scene, and there was exactly the expression I wanted to see on her face: absolute wonder and astonishment.
Matchbook and Joe Ohio. Have a fine Monday!
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