If you’re coming here for my top 10 movies of the year or my 50 favorite disco singles, I’m afraid I’m aiming to disappoint. Those lists are fun and everything, but I really can’t find it in myself to declare Furry Vengence the 9th finest cinematic experience of 2010, even though after doing all the calculations and checking the denominators and all that jazz, it appears to be true. Instead, I leave you with a miscellany of highlights from this “year we made contact.”
MY FAVORITE QUOTE: While sharing a cab one morning with a woman she didn’t know (you’d have to live in Hoboken, NJ to understand that’s just how things usually work out), my wife heard the quote of the year. It doesn’t really stand on its own like some Oscar Wilde quip, but there’s a certain magic to it. Looking out of the window of the cab, the woman sighed, motioned to a city worker who was emptying a trash can, and said, “That guy must have such an easy life.” Now there’s a chance that this woman had some insider information about the fellow, like she knew he’d recently hit the Powerball or scored the role of the villain in the The Dark Knight Rises or some such, but my wife didn’t catch that vibe. No, this woman had more of a “poor me, sitting in a cab, trying not to be late for a morning webinar with Tony from PR to discuss the importance of Twitter in the pet insurance industry, while this simpleton empties trash cans and whistles his day away before returning to his filthy hovel for a can of Spam and a hearty round of laughs compliments of America’s Funniest Home Videos,” sort of stink about her. Grass is always greener, indeed. I don’t know who this woman was, but my hat goes off to her and her wholly insular view of the world. My second favorite quote comes from a stranger who randomly asked me and friend the following: “Hey, you guys happen to be T-shirt enthusiasts?” Our response: “We wear T-shirts.” His follow-up: “Well, I’m a T-shirt enthusiast.” End of conversation.
THE HARSHEST CELEBRITY BRUSH-OFF: Celebrities don’t care much for me. I present, as proof, my following dust-ups with some high wattage stars. The comedian Dave Attell once blew me off when I approached him in a falafel restaurant and politely gave him unsolicited advice on how to make his TV show infinitely better. Bobcat Goldthwait, the MVP of many a Police Academy film, gave me the stink-eye when I nearly ran my shopping cart into his one snowy Christmas Eve in an empty suburban grocery store. And now, just a few days ago, I was rebuffed by a certain actor who was standing at a bar after a concert, patiently waiting for the barkeep to tender him a drink. He plays an iconic television character, so I tried to be smooth in my attempt to chat him up. “Let us get you a drink ____” I told him, using his actual first name, rather than his character’s name, which I’m sure he hears more often than not. He glanced at me and my wife, pivoted around on his heel, and walked away without saying a word. I keep his identity a secret for the purposes of guessing games and anonymity, because I assume he was just shy and it wasn’t because I reeked of, I don’t know, seaweed and cheese or anything.
THE FINEST STRETCH OF ROADKILL When traveling through New Zealand a few years back, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I played a game of our own creation called Stoat/Possum. The country is just lousy with stoats (a relative of the weasel) and possums (not this kind, but this kind) and they make up the majority of the roadkill (aside from the hobbits). So when you’re driving along and see a lump of fur on the pavement, the fun thing to do is to yell out either “STOAT!” or “POSSUM!” in a booming Orson Welles voice. No need to keep score. It’s simply good times for the whole family. Driving to see relatives this year, I came across a fair bit of roadkill. The standard raccoons and deer, the occasional skunk or groundhog. A mattress. But on one trip, I scored an amazing quadrella. I’ll break it down for you in order of impressiveness. #1. A coyote, which isn’t all that rare. #2. A fox. That’s right, the proverbial sly fox. Sure, you don’t write home about a fox being roadkill, but then, what sicko writes home about any roadkill? Take it from me. It’s a bit rare. #3. A porcupine. Now you’re getting interested. You’re imagining what it might be like to roll into a Firestone Auto Center with a porcupine sticking out of your rear tire. This is becoming quite an impressive checklist. Add to that: #4. A bear. That’s right. A big old black bear. I don’t believe I’d ever seen a bear as roadkill before that day, and certainly not on the same stretch of road as a coyote, a fox, and a porcupine. I was lucky indeed. It was like some A.A. Milne novel had gotten way out of hand, and I was there for the glorious and gory catharsis.
THE MOST POPULAR PAGE ON MY WEBSITE: By far, it’s a little blog entry I did titled “Five Animals that are Uglier than Zac Efron.” It probably accounts for 90% of this site’s search engine traffic and I’m sure it leaves plenty of girls shaking their fists in anger. Even a few have left comments, including my favorite: “he is hotter than everyone who posted this website.” Everyone who posted this website is just me, Lauren, and I resent what you’ve said. After all, have you even seen me in a pink bunny suit? I’m not sure what Efron has done in the last year other than comb his hair a lot, but his fanbase is going strong, and according to my site stats, they’re entering things like, “animals, not zac efron,” “zac efron is pregnet” and “zac efron clever?” into Google, then stopping in here for a visit. Jeff Kay, who runs the fantastic West Virginia Surf Report linked to the Efron piece and brought in boatloads of traffic as well. In the spirit of the season, I feel I should return the favor. His site is a daily read for me, and should be for you. My favorite of his writings might not be his most celebrated, but heck, it gets me every time, and it’s about something as universal as Scandinavian healthcare. It’s an old gem titled “Sleep is Creepy.” Read it, and rest easy tonight, folks.
Bubble Girl is famous on the internet for getting herself into some dodgy situations. But, bless her, she always manages to turn the motor on and hightail it away from danger. Here’s a recent photo from her trip to Yellowstone. Grizzly bears don’t take kindly to folks stealing their honey. Mark that down as another lesson learned, Bubble Girl.
A lot of people come to this blog with the same question.
“Aaron,” they ask, “what should I do if I get attacked by a shark?”
Now I’ve seen most of the TV edit of Deep Blue Sea on TBS, and while I’ve only caught the beginning of Jaws: The Revenge, I’m generally a fan of Mario Van Peebles, so I think I know how that one turns out (Peebles: 1, Shark: 0). In short, I’m just as qualified as anyone in teaching the art of shark survival. Yes, I am aware that National Geographic claims they’ve got a corner on this market, but these are also the bums who haven’t sent you a wicked cool holographic skull cover in more than 20 years. With cinema like Saw 3-D out there, a National Geographic might as well be an issue of Highlights, without all those gnarly hidden picture games. It’s certainly not the periodical to pull out when a hammerhead is getting all gory on your metatarsal. For that, you come to me. But first we have to establish a couple things.
Is the shark biting you right now? If you answered yes, then my suggestion is that you move your smart phone or laptop to your weak hand, freeing the dominant one up for some Three Stooge moves. While doing this, you might be able to distract the shark by asking it if it would like to check its email. Chances are the shark doesn’t have an email account, and even if it does, it’s probably a compuserve one that it hasn’t checked in forever, but you’ll catch the old gill-breather off guard for a second while it considers the fact that banking online really does free up more minutes in your day.
How long have you known the shark? I ask you this because they often pose a similar question on Cops and it’s a good way to determine the nature of domestic relationships. If you answered “my whole life,” then I know there are gonna be a few emotional issues here, especially if things get to the point where I have to suggest that you stab the shark in its reproductive organs. Then again, if you answer “we just met at a coral reef a few minutes ago,” then I’m going be wondering if I’m getting the whole story. I mean, what type of coral reef are we talking about? Are there any jelly fish at this reef I should be aware of? Do I have to tip the guy that drives the boat for the snorkeling trip? What about the kid that hands out the masks? I mean, he’s just a kid and he’s not really doing anything. Questions can be like dominoes.
Now that we’ve assessed the situation, I’m going to run through the steps of surviving a shark attack:
Don’t play dead. Besides drowning, you’ll run the risk of having some hillbilly shark putting you on stick and then chasing his friends around and saying stupid things like, “I’ma smear some Roger on ya!” This is especially true for people named Roger.
If you usually tell neighborhood bullies that you know martial arts, now would be a good time to admit that you don’t. Bruce Lee yowls and board chopping will only serve to embolden a shark. And sharks have devised an effective strategy to combat roundhouse kicks. It’s called biting your leg off.
However, fans of roundhouse kicks shouldn’t be shy about working Road House into the conversation. Sharks loooove Road House and while they’re amusing themselves with lines like “Pain don’t hurt!” and “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice,” you can focus on your escape.
Well planned, poetic escapes are unquestionably awesome, but you probably don’t have the time to work some Shawshank or Count of Monte Crisco-style revenge into yours. Just start swimming. Years down the line you can toss some plastic soda rings and motor oil into the ocean if that makes you feel any better.
Don’t swim the butterfly. It’s too hard. And it’s pretentious.
During the initial scuffle, you might have lost your bathing suit. Now this goes against traditional wisdom, but I recommend that you go back for it. Assuming you’ve got a shot with one of the cute lifeguards ashore, you definitely don’t want to walk out of the water giving a full body advertisement of the goods. There’s desperation and then there’s desperation. Emily Post would agree with me on this one.
Swimsuit back on, now is the time to start making a bunch of noise. Yes, this will pull the shark out of its Swayze-induced hypnosis, but you’ll want all the camcorders on the beach pointing your way. Youtube was made for stuff like this, and who doesn’t aspire to become the next “keyboard cat.”
A one liner would help at this point. Especially if you want this video to be auto-tuned. Try: “It’s eating all my limbs up in here.”
If Danny Boyle happens to be on the beach now might be the ideal moment to throw him your business card. That limey loves to direct human interest stories filled with blood and guts and he might even convince Ewan McGregor to play you and Cillian Murphy to play the shark. Speaking of guts, it’s bad form to give anyone a business card with guts on it. So dip that bad boy in the surf before flicking it Danny’s way.
Live. That’s the final step. Just live. When they cart you to the local hospital, don’t go dying on us. Cause you know who lives? Heroes. And you know who dies? Cowards. Well, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a coward, but he’s the exception to the rule. And, besides, Abraham Lincoln was never stupid enough to go swimming off the coast of South Africa. Smooth move Ex-Lax.
That’s it. Hope you were taking notes, or at least staving off the bleeding long enough to get this far. Next week, I’ll teach you how to survive being shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. Until then…
I’ve written before on this blog that I don’t have many pet peeves. It’s true. I really don’t. Perhaps I should qualify what I mean though. For there are some things that I hate with the passion of a lambada dancer. But that’s different than having peeves. Peeves are annoyances. Hate is at once emotional and, in my case, completely rational. It’s about seeing something that’s throwing the world off its axis and knowing you must condemn it for the travesty that it is. I will list some things that I hate here:
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg: Look at this smug son-of-a-farmer. He lands a plane in the Hudson River and they book him on Oprah and 60 Minutes. Next thing you know, they’ll be knighting Toonces the Driving Cat for swerving off a friggin cliff. That’s right. Sully ain’t no better than Toonces. I mean, from where I stand, any pilot who can’t land his plane on a runway is a fascist, socialist, French food-eating, soccer-loving kamikaze! You can, and you should, quote me on that. Want a hero? Try John Travolta. Not only was he the yin to Kirstie Alley’s yang in all those Look Who’s Talking movies, but he also never lands his planes on rivers. Case in point.
Sustainable Agriculture: Cucumbers are like albino rhinos. When I buy a one, I’d like to know that there ain’t any others like it. It’s the last of its line. So, I would hope that after my cucumber has been plucked from its cucumber bush, the entire plant is drenched in kerosene, and some overalls-clad hillbilly is tossing his corncob pipe down and banjo plucking the inferno into the night. An extreme view? Not if you’ve ever suffered the humiliation of showing up at The International Cucumber Festival in Suzdal only to find that some woman also has a kirby shaped like a duck.
Orphans: I’m not talking the Dickens variety or those Slumdog Millionaire tots, though I’m certainly not big fans of their pickpocketing, gameshow-winning ways. What I’m talking about are the ones who are always hanging out at the hotspots with Sandra Bullock and Madonna and Angelina Jolie. Clearly all they want to do is wink and shoot finger-guns at the paparazzi, then parlay the TMZ coverage into a book deal and a perfume line. I’ve had a hard enough time getting department stores to even sniff Dusky, A Fragrance by Aaron Starmer, now I got some 4-year-old Javanese celebutante to compete with for shelf space! It’s enough to make a man cancel his subscription to OK! Magazine.
Bushbabies: I don’t have many occasions in my life when I actually have to deal with bushbabies, but every once in a while I like to pop into the nocturnal primate room at the local zoo and check out an aye-aye or a slow loris or two. Without fail, I always end up coming across one of these bug-eyed nightmare merchants of a bushbaby and my day is shot. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I certainly can’t take in some jungle-themed animated film, for fear that it might feature a John Ratzenberger-voiced silver greater galago singing Randy Newman ditties.
Huns: Attila was alright, but the rest of these jokers? According to Wikipedia, “Huns practiced scarification, slashing the faces of their male infants with swords to discourage beard growth.” Jeeze, what a pathetic band of 5th-century metrosexuals. Remind me that next time I take my time-machine back to the pre-Magna Carta days I shouldn’t worry about bringing toenail clippers and Amstel Light. The Huns should be fully stocked. Sissies.
It’s true. I took some time off from the blogging and I hid in the Grand Canyon for a spell. Seven days rafting on the Colorado with the fine folks at Wilderness River Adventures. If you don’t believe me, check out this video of what it looks like to hit a rapid from the perspective of a life-jacket. Absolutely stirring stuff:
It was a fantastic time, and I consider myself blessed to have seen 100 miles of stunning wilderness that the majority of the world will never lay eyes upon. The National Park service only allows 150 people on the river each day, and for good reason. We don’t want to turn the place into Pigeon Forge after all. I have but one misgiving about the trip. I only wish it didn’t make me feel like less of a man.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. I’m a hairy-backed burly fellow who can throw a football and pound a beer and sing along with the chorus to not only one, but two, RATT songs. How on Earth could my masculinity be in question? Well, it’s all a matter of survival.
I’m no Les Stroud, but my fire building skills are more than adequate, I can purify water, and I know not to rub poison ivy on my special bits and roll around in a pile of fire ants. I could make do in the wilderness for a couple days if things got all Cormac McCarthy out there. What I can’t do is pilot a boat through Class V rapids. This never bothered me when I went on rafting day trips in West Virginia. Yet, in the Grand Canyon, as I faded off to sleep with the woosh of the mighty Colorado as my lullaby, I couldn’t help but amend my nightly prayers.
“God Bless Mama, and Dadda, and all the people who have never eaten a banh mi sandwich, because damn those are some really good sandwiches and everyone should try one, and God, especially bless these river guides, without whom I’d probably end up looking like Ronny Cox in Deliverance, which is to say nothing bad of Deliverance, because for all the hillbilly jokes it’s spawned, it’s still a great American movie, adapted from perhaps one of the greatest books of the last fifty years, but in it Ronny Cox gets his bicep all wrapped around his neck and his body gets crushed up against some rocks and that sure would be a crappy way to go, so God bless these river guides who haven’t let that happen to me, and God, make sure they don’t let that happen tomorrow either.”
That’s what it all comes down to. For seven days and six nights some fit young men and women took turns rowing me and my floral swimming trunks down 100 miles of river while I bounced on my rubber seat and got splashed with freezing water and giggled like the Snuggle Bear. Sure, I hiked down to the river on an exceedingly hot day (in the 110 F range), and I know I could have hiked back out (on a trail, of course) in an emergency, but if called upon to guide a boat to Lake Mead, well, I might as well have dispatched a homing pigeon to the Daily Sun with the four word message: “There were no survivors.” Heck, for the short moment during the trip when I was handed the oars on a piece of flat-water, I was all wonky and out of rhythm, hardly ready for a Class I, let alone the fabled Lava Falls.
I realize that rafting the Grand Canyon isn’t akin to climbing K2 or running the Badwater Ultramarathon or some such insanity, but it takes a good bit of skill, a fair amount of endurance and a healthy set of…(what’s the English word for cojones?). It also takes tolerance and good spirits. You have to deal with folks like me, who ask a lot of strange questions, who eat more than their share of pickles and potato chips at lunch, and who act all Louisa May Alcott when danger lurks: “Please ma’am, would you see to it that I am not volleyed from this vessel resulting in spinal fracture, as my spine is what I use for bipedalism. And bipedalism is ever so nice.”
So hats off to those river guides, who effortlessly jump from boat to shore in flip-flops and buttoned poplin shirts, while the rest of us stumble around all Teva’ed and dry-wicked. You’re a good combination of smart and talented and friendly ski-bums and adrenhelin junkies and nature lovers and slightly grizzled hermits, and you have accomplished something that my ex-girlfriends have not. You have made me feel needy and weak. It’s about time.