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3/28/2007

Recently some friends and I took in a showing of the film 300.

Yes, I am Greek. No, I do not have Spartan blood.

No, we were not yelling at the screen. C’mon. We Greeks are a civilized people, haven’t you heard?

All joking and ethnocentric undertones aside, I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t too surprised to hear that it got mixed reviews, however. Something inside me figured that critics wouldn’t “get it,” so to speak.

I’ll be the first to admit that Braveheart is one of my favorite films ever, but it did kickstart an ugly trend in Hollywood. That of the sweeping, inspirational, violent, historic epic. After that flick, we were inundated with stuff, weren’t we, folks? Gladiator, The Patriot, Joan Of Arc, Troy, and so on.

But to me, 300 is in a slightly different vein. Not just because of it’s phenomenal writer (one Frank Miller), or it’s impressive CGI landscapes. See, there’s an ever-present thematic element regarding belief in that film.

Operative term in that last sentence is “ever-present,” mind you.

Let me put it to you this way: I have only seen a handful of the Braveheart-esque films listed above. With that said, I tend to notice a pattern in a few of them. Nation at war, main character finds no reason to fight until the loss of a loved one. Main character finds something worth fighting for following that untimely loss. Main character happens to find a new love in the process. Typically dies by film’s end, representative of his/her passion for what they believe in.

To the extent that 300 is similar to those films in the elements of struggle and war, that I’ll grant you. Where the line is drawn happens somewhere in the sands of belief.

See, the Spartans were a proud people from birth. They never had a doubt in what they held to be true. To them, theirs was the most glorious city/state in all of the known world, and they were more than willing to fight and die for it.

I realize that these flicks are rarely 100 percent historically accurate. I think you have to really accept them as artistic treatments, otherwise you’re gonna be pushing up daisies when next you duel with a history professor. However, Hollywood has this bad habit of throwing in a sappy catalyst that drives the main character to his/her willingness to fight. Naturally, that would cause anyone to go over the edge and fight in the name of vengeance and passion.

The Spartans have always been portrayed as naturally passionate. Therein lies the grand divide.

I’m not gonna hit you with anything that will spoil the movie now, but here’s how the conflict comes about in 300: the Persian emperor and self-professed God-King Xerxes tries to convince King Leonidas to yield in the way of the massive Persian army, thereby surrendering Sparta and making the conquest of Greece that much easier.

That’s it. No one has to die, no loved ones are threatened, no massive deus ex machina occurs that drives him to lead his warriors.

You want our turf? Come get some.

That’s the difference. Inherent belief. I feel that’s the point that many people are losing under the stylized battle scenes and sweeping landscapes. I can see how that is.

Of course, this is just my interpretation of the film. Yours may be vastly different and you’re wholly entitled to it.

What I’m getting at, though, is that this film serves as a powerful metaphor for the importance of beliefs in our lives.

I don’t really care what that belief is with the next person… be it within the realm of religion, politics, society or pizza toppings. I may not agree with Individual X’s beliefs, but by God, as long as he/she believes in something, I have a massive amount of respect for that person.

I think the thrust of many of my posts over the years have had to do with apathy. I feel as though our society is more apathetic these days, and people act without a core basis for their words and deeds. Now whatever that cornerstone may be, so long as it provides them with a path they feel to be right for them, one that doesn’t carelessly damage other human beings… hey, more power to ‘em.

It’s easy to just do A, B and C. It’s more significant, however, if you do A, B and C predicated on the beliefs of X, Y, and Z. OK?

I hate using the word “automaton” to describe my fellow humans, but really, lots of people fit that description. Get up in the morning, punch the clock, time to make the doughnuts, go home, prime time network TV, beddy-bye, wake up again, lather, rinse, rewind. I don’t get the impression that folks really take a step back, look at the big picture and ask themselves why they do what they do.

To me, if you have an essential foundation of beliefs, a rough framework, even just an unrefined idea to work off of, you’re that much better off in life as a whole. Channeling your decisions and actions back to those beliefs gives you so much more internal feedback, you’d be surprised at what’s doable.

That’s why to me, 300 is a phenomenally brutal, testosterone-infused metaphor for the simple notion of fighting for your beliefs. And I respect anyone who is willing to go to the lengths the Spartans did for what they believe in. It’s a tremendous commitment to your convictions, one that few nowadays would be willing to do.

As for me, I’m willing to see this movie again. On that note, I’m off to bed, for tonight I sleep in Hell. Or Hoboken. I always mix those two up.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3/13/2007

My parents definitely went the distance to teach me the value of a dollar as a kid. It should come as no surprise, then, that my folks are avid Costco shoppers. They’re also occasional patrons of BJ’s. Prior to that, during the days of the oldskool, it was Price Club. We never had a Sam’s Club in Waterbury. I guess Sammy Boy wasn’t down with the Dirty Water. Maybe he’s smarter than he sounds.

But yeah, back when I was living at home and studying for my MBA, I’d take pretty much every Friday afternoon with Grandpa Frank, go to lunch at Spartan’s (shameless plug for my friend’s family’s place and 300 all in one shot!), then hit up Costco for some bulk shopping hysterics.

After adhering to that routine for almost two years, you can imagine I got pretty familiar with the joint. I could still navigate the Waterbury Costco in my sleep. I also noticed certain behavioral trends of the customers that I must now vent about.

People, please heed my warning… if you go to Costco, you will encounter more blathering idiots than at a Carrot Top show. For serious.

I’m not sure what it is about the place… but when I shop at Costco feels like I’m going to war. I have to very meticulously lay out my plan of action for the day. I must leave room for all variables or alternate navigational routes in and outside the building. I have to put on a game face that would make Chuck Lidell cringe.

It’s a jungle out there, baby.

I realize there’s little I can do to influence the owners of Costco in hopes of improving the shopping experience. But maybe, just maybe, I can knock some sense into the peons that frequent the store.

And if not, bitching about them will make me feel better anyway. Get your gloves on, keep all punches above the belt, now let’s get it on…

- Please be mindful of the directional arrows in a parking lot. This is atop the list of pet peeves, because if you’re doing your shopping on a Saturday, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll encounter three near-collisions with your fellow motorists. I’m sorry, but an arrow pointing towards you does not mean “this is the direction you’re coming from.” It’s the direction you’re going in, monkeyboy. On my most recent trip, I literally had two people clogging the lanes because they either failed to notice the necessary direction or just plain disregarded it. On a regular road, you’ll get your license revoked for that shit. Me, I’m ready to have your knees revoked, ya dig?

- Once inside the store, always keep to the right with your carriage. Let’s do our best to govern the lanes as we would our roads. This is not your run of the mill Stop & Shop, this is war, and the trenches are loaded with vermin aching to nibble at deals. It gets congested quick, and it’s not uncommon to be stuck in the same spot for two minutes or more because of traffic jams. Costco’s aisles are by far the I-95 of grocery shopping.

- If you need to abandon your carriage to grab something, please keep your sojourn to 30 seconds or less. Again, with back-ups as intense as they are in this place, we need to be respectful of our fellow shoppers even if they’re ugly. Going hand in hand with this, please go to the store knowing what you need in advance. This isn’t Macy’s, let’s try to cut down on the window shopping as much as possible. If you’re reviewing an item for more than two minutes at a clip, you don’t need it. Move along, those eggs are calling your name.

- For the love of God, do not bring children or senior citizens with you. I adore kids and value the elderly, but in Costco, they prove burdensome and detrimental to the process. A day of shopping at Costco should not be family day. Just imagine going to the grocery store with your 5-year-old. You know how they always make a dash for the candy at the checkout and then ask you if you can buy it for them? What do you think they’re gonna do when they see a five pound bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups or a tub of Twizzlers? It’s especially ugly if you have two or more kids that can walk, because then you find yourself chasing them around to try and keep them from getting squashed by intensely focused shoppers (which are plentiful in this franchise). A kid in a candy store has got nothing on a kid in Costco. As for seniors… it’s just agonizing to watch them have to keep up with the carriage, especially if they have a cane. And wheelchairs? For-frickin’-get it. You’ll accumulate more dirty looks than Michael Richards in Harlem, although only half as many death threats. Trust me, this comes from someone who spent nearly two years walking in front of the carriage and pulling it gently so his grandfather would be able to steer properly in lieu of his waning strength and eyesight. Do your family a favor and leave them home. The world will thank you for it. Keep your parties to two adults or less between the ages of 18 and 65, thanks.

- The sample tables are not campgrounds, so don’t pitch your tent there, literally or figuratively. Trust me, I’m as curious as you are to try new kinds of quiche and quesadillas, perhaps even get a quick fix on an old favorite like mac and cheese. But if you’re planning on waiting right in front of the microwave while Esther waits for those pizza bagels to finish, I’m likely to shank you with a shiv. Samples are wonderful, free is wonderful. Free samples make mouths happy, but your insistence on waiting 10 minutes for those raviolis to finish while staying stationary in a busy aisle is likely to make you and the lemmings in back of you immensely disliked and potentially in harm’s way. Remember, once you step through those doors, courtesy to your fellow man is right behind great deals.

- Please watch where you’re going. This is more intense than driving on the freeway… if you narrowly averted a collision in the parking lot, you won’t in the cosmetics section, I assure you. Two carriages are going to collide, and your frustration will mount rapidly. It’s easy to want to browse and casually look around, but when there are 700 people with an average IQ one tenth their numbers, it’s key to be aware of your surroundings. I’ve actually taken to checking shadows on the ground when nearing corners, and if I’m at the right angle (and the person is abiding by the second recommendation I posted above), I can normally stop short before brushing up against some twisted Bluth family reject.

- Once you get out to the parking lot, make haste in loading your trunk and getting out of there. It’s helpful to use the corrugated packaging they leave at the front of the store for easy handling of your loot, but if there is nothing readily available, try to load your take in clusters. Not the cereal, the quantity. If I see you depositing a gallon of whole milk followed by a gallon of 1% milk, I will reach for my sharpest key when you’re not looking. If it doesn’t require two hands to lift, you can maximize your time by inserting multiple items. Once inside the car, buckle up, make sure any other riders are secure, and leave promptly. Don’t dilly-dally on your Motorola, for that is even less courteous than talking on the road without a headset. Ideally, you should be able to pull out no more than 30 seconds after closing your door provided there’s no car trouble. Because there will be car trouble if it’s any longer, as I will be funneling that two pound bag of Domino sugar I just bought down your gas tank. Thank God there’s so much of that stuff, because I feel it really drives my point home when I teach people like that a lesson.

Obviously I doubt anyone will take my advice to up the level of consideration for their fellow shoppers, but if nothing else I feel that many will be able to commiserate with me on the experience. And if you’re one of the latter, you now know the acceptable criteria for slugging someone in the head with that Yamaha beginner’s guitar they carry. That’s why those things are on the shelves, people.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3/11/2007

The FCC has thrown down the gauntlet. This is me picking it up, slapping them in the face with it, and saying, “I challenge you to a duel, tools.”

Y’know, I’ve gone on and on about censorship on LSS for many years now, and you would think that I would be given a moment of peace where I don’t have to complain about the utter idiocy of the FCC and their ongoing need to restrict content.

Folks, what happened to practicality in this country? Did we just toss that one out the window some years ago without a care in the world? When did people stop using their brains and start using their attorneys? There are just days I want to slug my monitor reading some of this rot.

Perhaps it’s just baffling to me that a federal entity is so ready and willing to expectorate on the First Amendment, which, in case you may have forgotten, is perhaps the most important benchmark in our nation’s history. It is something that makes us wholly distinct from most other countries, and the principle behind it is as pure as our government is impure.

But I digress. The notion of “exceedingly violent programming that is harmful to children” is absurd. Seriously, you show me a pre-schooler who’s staying up to watch 24, and I’ll show you an eight-year-old who smokes a pack and a half of Lucky Strikes a day.

The burden of censorship ultimately lies on the parents’ shoulders in my opinion, and I’d like to think most of us would agree. Folks, my mom and pop were very careful about what I watched growing up, and I have little doubt I’ll be the same way. Granted you can’t monitor your children all the time. Eventually they’ll get one past the goalie and catch a late night showing of Gladiator on Showtime. That said, it’s inevitable such stealthy forays into more mature television will be made.

I can think of all my friends growing up, and how we’d do our best to keep the tape player volume down while listening to Andrew Dice Clay’s forum in filth on cassette, all the while repressing peels of gut-busting laughter with our hands over our mouths. I remember having friends over when I was about 11 or 12 years old and renting Predator, even though it had been released several years prior. It seemed like we quoted that movie ad nauseum for about two years. I have similar memories of watching Terminator 2 on VHS shortly after its release.

It’s the little memories such as this that really make being a kid glorious. The sort of stupid little moments when we’re trying to bypass our parents’ parameters and throw our young minds into more “adult” territory. You can’t beat that.

And y’know what? My parents never protested when my tastes in media started maturing. They realized that my “heroes” were bound to transition from He-Man and the Ultimate Warrior to Arnold and Dice. That’s part of growing up, and in retrospect, it’s probably a lot tamer than the antics my own folks engaged in during their heyday.

Besides, I say if the government wants to regulate the amount of torture exhibited on a show like 24, they should first teach their own troops the virtues of not stripping down hostages to their birthday suits and applying leashes to their necks. Just a thought.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.