skot AT izzlepfaff DOT com
Tuesday, 29 April
White Whale! Holy Grail!
It was my father's birthday today, so I gave the cantankerous old bastard a phone call. I asked how his day was going. "I went to Ernie's and had a hamburger," he said. "Now I'm playing with my guns." Golden years! Actually, he does have his fun, of a sort--he spent a few minutes explaining that even though the economy is falling into the septic tank, he's still making money. I didn't bother to tell him that I couldn't tell a money market from a cheese market, and anyway, he lost no time making it clear that I will never have to: he enjoys, in every conversation, explaining to me the various ways he is burning through any meager inheritance I might think of looking forward to. This time, it's a fishing trip that he's taking in July. He and a buddy are taking a seaplane flight somewhere into B.C. to stay in a lodge and fish the inlets. "It's going to set me back four thousand bucks!" he crowed. "So you're not getting that."
His birthday is the opposite of my birthday! I thought. It really makes me laugh, because I hate myself. And really, it is kind of funny. Anyway, we chatted about the trip a bit; he's very excited. "So you're not ocean fishing, then?" I asked. "Oh, fuck no. I'd rather fish than puke." Eminently sensible. Words of wisdom! In fact, that's what I'm putting on the grasping bastard's tombstone: "DISPLAYED INDIFFERENCE TO ESTATE PLANNING; OPPOSED TO VOMITING."
Then he mock-threatened that if the economy really tanked that he and Mom would move in with us. This was so comically inconceivable that we both shared a laugh. This is how you grow closer together with your parents: you gracefully accept the fact that as the years continue, it becomes clearer and clearer that you find each other alien and weird. It's funny!
I'm with him on the ocean fishing thing, though. Not that I've ever been ocean fishing. But I did once go whale-watching.
It was back in '94 or so that a bunch of us computer buddies--oh, all right, if you must know, there was a period in my life that I was an AOL user, and I frequented the trivia games--decided to "meet up," as we youngsters liked to call it, in "real life." And so the lot of us found ourselves all together at a hotel in San Jose.
I was working retail at the time, and it took my last cent to even get there in the first place, so when the whale-watching expedition got put together, I demurred. But a bunch of us had already gotten drunk together the night before, and, inexplicably, the others decided against all reason that they liked me, and so they paid my way--generous friends! I will never forgive you--and so I was suddenly in too.
No matter how much I might want to, I will never forget this trip. The boat was about 30 feet long or so, and the sky was slate-gray as we TOOK TO THE WAVES! And it was fun! For about fifteen minutes. P. was the first to fall as we met the swells. You all know the common theme of stories like these: Uuuuup, dooooowwwn, uuuuup, dooowwn. P. went down almost instantly; he retired to the meager little cabin and lay on a bench like a discarded valise. He was about the same color, too; he moaned like an old door.
I assumed I was made of sterner stuff than that, and jauntily strode the pitching deck, occasionally jauntily falling down to relieve the growing mood of unease. M., a vivacious blonde, was the next to succumb, and she daintily donated her lunch over the side of the boat. "I feel a lot better!" she exclaimed, which earned her some glares from other passengers. I was still doing okay, but I must say I was feeling . . . off.
M.'s yarking had, of course, moved others to similar reactions, and the dominoes were now starting to fall; temporary friendships were formed among the side-by-side vomiters, with much earnest back-clapping and shoulder-massaging amongst former strangers who found sudden solidarity with the people emptying their stomachs right next to them. The passengers were also beginning to unite in the feeling that this sucked.
We hadn't seen any whales at all. The crew clearly didn't give a shit; this was par for the course.
By now, I couldn't ignore that I was being affected. It wasn't nausea, really--I'll go ahead and let you know now that I did not throw up on this trip. It was more like an all-consuming awfulness of the entire body. My head felt swollen and ached, my skin felt taut and uncomfortable, and I had an uncomfortable feeling of dissociation from my legs, as if they existed independently of my upper body. I had no idea what to do about this. I quickly realized what not to do, which was to look at anybody else. By this point, fully four-fifths of the passengers were the color of dingy underwear; many were creeping around the deck on hands and knees, supplicants to a God that either wasn't listening or, alternatively, was hugely entertained. One woman, who herself seemed to be immune to the pitching seas, was shouting at any crew member who would listen (zero) to turn the boat around, this on behalf of her stricken husband, who was red-facedly vomiting nearly continually, because of his "bad heart."
Can you puke to death? I wondered. I figured we were going to find out. Some middle-aged fellow pitched forward with such force that his eyeglasses leapt off his face and joined his last meal into the waves; he waved at them weakly and forlornly. He helplessly and touchingly rubbed his unhappy face for a moment, feeling the unfamiliar nakedness briefly, before once again leaning over to unmaw. Closest to me was another guy who wore a khaki-green rain slicker, and it wasn't until that moment that I fully realized the meaning of the phrase "turning green." He was almost literally the same color as his jacket. He looked like the villain from I Know What You Did Last Summer if here were the Gorton Fisherman and also a face-painting fan of Army football.
For my part, I had my own strategy. I couldn't stare at the waves; they just made me vertiginous. I couldn't look at anyone else; that just made me invent strained, ridiculous comparisons. Plus, they looked worse than I felt, at least the sufferers. Worse were the smug fuckers who were feeling no effects at all. They strode proudly around the deck, and we were all too weak and miserable to do the right thing, which would have been to throw them screaming overboard. So I did this: I stared.
I found a distant set of hills on the horizon from which we had set from (I told you it didn't take long for us all to go wobbly). I fixed on that set of hills. And I stared at it, and stared at it, and stared at it. I could probably draw the precise shape of that set of hills from memory to this day. Those hills were my referent for sanity. I didn't feel better for doing this; the point was, I didn't feel worse.
Eventually--we never saw any fucking whales, of course, unless someone barfed up just the right undigested Animal Cracker--the crew relented in the face of our wretched faces, and they turned back. It took us six days to return to the shore. By which I mean probably forty-five minutes. I maintained my bug-eyed watch on the hills the entire time, clutching a post on the deck like a strangler. The next day, my nerveless fingers could barely pick up a pen, not even to stab the people who had kindly paid for my whale-watching ticket.
It's helped me out a lot writing this. It really has. For one thing, I now know what I'll be putting on my father's headstone. And even better, I know what I'm putting on mine.
NEVER ONCE SAW ONE FUCKING WHALE
Tuesday, 22 April
Airborne Toxic Events
Eventually, every "comedy" writer finds himself here. It's embarrassing, but it happens to all of us. And here I am, like it or not. It's when, inevitably, you discover that you are writing about farts.
You all remember the Sedaris piece "Sassy Ass Blasts," right? Or Augusten Burroughs' "I Had Gas And Then I Drank Everything"? Even Woody Allen couldn't resist the siren call of flatulence, and that's why he made "Curse of the Jade Scorpion." (I assume that's what the movie is about, given that everyone immediately ran out of the theaters when it began to play.)
The other night, the wife and I were out at the Bar That Shall Not Be Named. Hang in here with me for a little bit while I set the scene.
We were there with some other regulars with whom we have become friendly. Friendly enough to get invited to parties to, you know, but not friendly enough to, say, swap partners. (Although one of them did relate an eye-popping story about taking two barflies home to have a fumbling threesome. Yay!) Anyway. We were all just hanging out shooting the shit, when . . . she came in.
Our bar, our precious bar, has been invaded. Her name is M., and she apparently hails from Baltimore. From what I understand, she comes from serious money. From what is also painfully clear, M. has not used this money to buy a personality, or interesting anecdotes, or a non-torturous mode of social interaction, or an ability to pick up on public cues that signal one's unwelcomeness into a personal conversation.
M. of course takes every chance she gets to intrude into our otherwise wonderfully sense-free bar talk. She also seems to have a crush on poor B., an affectless fellow who likes to drink whiskey with beer chasers and who otherwise resembles nothing so much as Droopy Dawg. On this evening, B. found himself next to M. at the bar, and then spent the next hour or so facing 180 degrees away from M. in a futile attempt to avoid her relentlessly inept advances. "I love olives," went one gambit. Nobody said anything for a while. B. tried valiantly to fold himself into his jacket, but only managed to tweak his sacrum.
M. is fireproof, you see. She is one of those people that you can actually be openly rude to, and she will blithely ignore your every futile attempt to signal your impatience with her inane prattle. More than once, she has interrupted a conversation to say something awesome such as "Say, I have feet!" or "How about magazines, you know?" and I have simply and wordlessly gotten up to go out and have a cigarette. And when I come back, she's still saying something like "And that's how I sucked off Morley Safer!" to a bar full of haunted souls helplessly staring into their drinks, mentally trying to force their way into an alternate M.-free universe.
She's so terrible that even the bartenders have commented on the M. phenomenon. In fact--I'm not making this up--W., tonight's bartender texted me just a few hours ago to tell me that she was there and that her chatter "would make your head explode." E. is another bartender at this place. Recently, he was heard to suggest to W. that he "fall on the grenade" and take her home, drunkenly fuck her, and then prodigiously shit the bed. It's this sort of hard-headed pragmatism that makes America great.
HOW DID WE GET HERE? Wasn't I writing about farts?
Back to the other night. We were all sitting around chatting, occasionally with loud, sense-free verbal blares from M., when all of a sudden . . . the odor. It crept into my nose like a clumsy thief coshing in a front door. I looked around the people surrounding me, studying their faces in that stupid way you do whenever you detect a fart, as if somebody would wear their shining fart-face proudly, or give you a gleeful thumbs-up, or could be found busily putting on a pin saying "I Totally Just Farted."
Ugh, I thought. Well, whatever. Nobody else gave any hint that they had noticed, as you do in polite company. I let it go by, and then found myself drawn into a lengthy dissertation about how M. enjoys having Scotch eggs shoved up her ass.
Time passed. And then it happened again. Another ghastly miasma enveloped our small group, and this time it was so woe-filled and dreadful that it was impossible to ignore; a few of us leaned in to one another and hissed, "Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck is that?" E., for reasons still unclear to me, thrust his face at me and whispered, "Dude, was that you?"
HEY! First of all, are you kidding? I'm a smoker, for Christ's sake. I take all of my horrible smells outside. (Short story on my recent attempt to quit: I failed spectacularly.) Second of all . . . what? I don't have a history of gastrointestinal misbehavior, sir! "You fuck wild pigs," I informed him.
So what did this have to do with M.? Nothing, probably. It occurred to me later that she was as likely a suspect as anyone, but it wasn't as if I had proof.
And that's when I formed a diabolical plan. I don't want to reveal all the details, but I'm going to be eating a lot of sausage and drinking quantities of pickle brine. And I will visit our lovely bar as usual, and let things take their course.
Someone is about to become the bulldog.
Wednesday, 16 April
Let's Just Stay In The Lobby, Let's Just Stay In The Lobby
Summer's coming! And so too are summer movies, all of which are based on comic books. You know you're going to see Iron Man, right? Even though it is clearly going to be terrible? And there's another Hulk movie for some reason! Apparently, we all did something wrong, and this is our punishment. All we can do is hang our hopes on possibly awesome things such as the next installments in the Hellboy and Batman series, and happily, they both look like they might be cinemagasmic.
And if they're not, it'll all be okay. Uwe Boll is hard at work on Bughead Jughead: Riverdale Insect Blood Massacre Tit Bomb.
(Just kidding. He's actually working on Alone in the Dark II. Seriously. It's got Lance Henriksen, Michael Pare and PJ Soles! Wow.)
Let's see what's coming to the theaters in the meantime. Late April means never having to say "I'm sorry I watched these terrible movies."
It's nice of the producers to let us know ahead of time exactly how long we're going to have to tolerate Al Pacino's peculiarly canine take on diction and inflection. This movie also features Leelee Sobieski, who is rapidly emerging as my Favorite Actress That Indicates Total Disaster: she was last seen (if we stretch the literal definition of that word) in In The Name of the King (Uwe! Never die) and also the indelibly deranged remake of The Wicker Man, which might have been 2006's finest comedy. I never particularly admired nor even enjoyed the work of Nic Cage, but you can say this for him: he got to punch Leelee Sobieski in the face, which in these dire times in America, is really something to aspire to.
As usual, IMDB's plot keywords tell the whole story here: Exploding Car / Female Nudity / Seaplane
Fuck it, I'll rent that.
I love horror movies! Hey, and it has Milo Ventimiglia, who was nice and inoffensive in Heroes, even if that second season was ridiculously bad! This might be fun! I wonder why they're dumping this off in the shoulder season?
Oh. Never mind.
Well. Okay, so it's not going to be any good. But, I mean, it's not like these guys are stupid, right? It's not like they'd make any other bizarre, campy casting choices that would torpedo this film, you know?
John de Lancie
The producers are smart in a diabolical way. They know the movie will make ten dollars in the theaters. But when it hits DVD, it will make millions from the GenCon crowd, who will breathlessly wait for the scene when Samantha Micelli gives Q the old juicy squat.
Buzz is all around this film mainly due to rumors that Ewan MacGregor failed to wave his enormous penis around due to complaints from the notoriously nubby co-star Hugh Jackman.
HA HA! I made a dick joke.
No, seriously, I'm kind of excited about any movie that features the phrase "sex club" in its synopsis and also has Maggie Q listed in the cast. Unless it turns out that she has a giant Scottish penis, which would be just my fucking luck.
Plot Keywords: Nun / Mother Superior / Nun's Habit
Remember when Bound came out and everyone sort of gasped at these audacious fellows who dared to weld pretentious, showy cinematography with incredibly hot women fucking each other? Remember when The Matrix came out and redefined sci-fi forever by introducing turgidity and incoherence to a genre that had previously never known such concepts?
They are breaking new ground AGAIN. This existential take on the inexplicably beloved cartoon features Speed pointlessly driving in circles forever while dodging guided missiles, evil ninja motorcyclists and Chim-Chim's occasional semen blasts. It's like life.
Except this time, Spritle suffocates in the trunk. SPOILER ALERT!
Tuesday, 08 April
Theater Of Cruelty
Sometime last year, the wife and I got sucked into something horrible; wriggling fish trapped inside the hideous trawl nets of reality programming. (Note how I just absolved myself of any personal responsibility by adopting a passive pose in this scenario. It is of course complete bullshit, but it makes me feel better to think it so.)
Now, we are not strangers to reality programming, a term that as we all know by now is a laughably hollow euphemism anyway. We have always enjoyed The Amazing Race, for instance, a show whose genius is largely twofold. For one thing, instead of the usual "individuals against each other" format, that show memorably traps teams of two together for hellishly unfun worldwide shriek-treks that combine the best of travel porn with the best of schadenfreude: we the viewers get to enjoy footage of exotic locales combined with the enjoyment of watching exhausted, squabbling dyads routinely fail to have time to enjoy them.
And there's the typical Bravo formula that started with Project: Runway and continued on nearly unchanged with Top Chef: assemble a team of assorted talents and then assail them and berate them and mercilessly whittle them down until, Highlander-like, there remains ONLY ONE! And then everyone goes home and hopes they were somehow memorable enough to merit some small allocation of the public's collective memory so that someday, maybe they can sell some t-shirts on HSN. Or, increasingly, simply make future appearances on these same shows. Our cultural statesman are, more and more, turning out to be grotesquely feckless entities such as Ted Allen and Rocco DiSpirito.
And you know whose fault all this is? Mine. Me and the wife. We're responsible. Because you know: I can live with Project: Runway and Top Chef. Heavily mediated by the producers as these shows are, they do seem to make skeletal, gnomic gestures at seeming to care about the (often ridiculous and mindbending) tasks assigned to the contestants. They've got a nearly charming old-school strain of Americana in them, in that by gosh, these contestants are scrappy and faceless, but if they persevere and just do their darnedest, they could, against the odds, come out on top, just like your fucking grandfather and his stories about his goddamn hat store and how for ten years he ate nothing but felt just to get by! Only, you know, compressed into twelve weeks or so. Imagine the Great Depression divided into heavily edited half-hour chunks and you have the essence of reality TV.
Or so I thought. But there's something else out there. That thing is called Hell's Kitchen, and God fucking help me, but we've been watching. It is difficult to get a handle on or make meaningful comparisons to it without traveling out into the blasted hinterlands of MTV or VH1, where awful, I-thought-they-died rock stars are holding rimjob auditions or shows like "You Can Stick Things In My Eye For $50" are happening, and I'm not prepared for that, so I just have to muddle through. This desperate, awful thing is on network TV, albeit FOX, so . . . yeah, of course it is.
Hell's Kitchen features the usual assortment of goons, trauma junkies, harridans and hairheads and their inevitable debasement at the hands of the Scottish celeb chef Gordon Ramsay, a monstrous shockheaded coprolaliac with a penchant for throwing improperly prepared food at people while also blaring hilariously accented catchphrases such as "YOU FUCKING DUNN-KEY!" and, our favorite, after tasting some ill-executed dish, "IT'S IN-ED-I-BOW!"
Hell's Kitchen is fascinating as pure theater, in some ways. It's a nearly immiscible concoction that tries to mix Grand Guignol together with Commedia dell'Arte and instead winds up being something that Artaud would have tried out had he 1. had access to editing equipment and 2. been even crazier. Like Guignol or Commedia, the show bears virtually no resemblance to reality except in the most caricatured way possible; in fact the show takes great pains to divorce itself from anything remotely reminiscent of reality at all, from the comically profane Ramsay figure to the trudging and catastrophically hopeless contestants to the pitiful put-upon Belgian maitre'd who cannot act at all to the bizarre editorial insistence that the show is actually taking place in a real restaurant. (It is, of course, shot on a soundstage.)
In tonight's episode, Ramsay decides to edumacate his luckless charges about the horrors of wasting food, and so makes them crawl through the trash from the previous episode's dinner and pick out all the rotten food. This is how perverted this show is: it's a restaurant show ostensibly about what good cooking should be, and he's got them scrounging around in spoiled meat. Anyway, after this pointless bit of ritual humiliation is over, Ramsay then continues this demented lesson by demonstrating how to filet a halibut. Then they all have a chance to desecrate a poor fish themselves, and Ramsay evaluates their skills at carving out perfect 6-ounce filets. As he judges each team's effort, and (of course) finds certain specimens wanting, what does he do with the offending filets? He throws them over his shoulder onto the floor.
This is, to me, America. It's another thing we ripped off from the Brits and then hauled over here so we didn't have to listen to them complain about it. It doesn't make any sense, either internally or outwardly. It has stock characters so we don't have to think about it too hard. Plenty of profanity. There are always, of course, a couple of chicks with big tits. It's witless and loud and wasteful and, I guess, it's exactly what we deserve.
Especially me. But I like to think Artaud would have approved.
Tuesday, 01 April
Rise, Apes, RISE!
April is upon us once more, and you know what that means: baseball! Or, more importantly: fantasy baseball! In Seattle, fantasy baseball is all we have, of course--ha ha! You see what I did there? Oh, the Mariners are going to be fine, where "fine" means "slightly less terrible than last year," which is also to say "still kind of terrible." But! We do have the advantage of being in the AL West, so even if we come in first--which we assuredly will not--it's kind of like being the smartest guy in a Dean Koontz Appreciation chat room.
But it's fantasy baseball I'm concerned with! Why bother to follow the Mariners when I personally can do horribly all on my own? And I do, every year: I'm astoundingly inept at fantasy baseball. Most of it is because I'm terrifically lazy. I don't do any player research, and so I do things like draft beet salads to play in the outfield. Then our commissioner says to me, "Skot, beet salads aren't eligible outfielders." And I'll retort, "But they are fucking delicious with some parsley and a nice vinaigrette!" And the commissioner will get that hunted look on his face and reply, "Also, all of your beet salads got lupus and went on the DL and died."
With all this in mind--my dismal laziness and ignorance; my dead, talentless beet salad outfielders; this gibbon gnawing on my neck--it is once again time to MEET MY 2008 FANTASY BASEBALL TEAM, the unlauded, unheralded and largely unknown bunch of rag-tag fuckstacks, THE TEARFUL APES!
[Lights up on a comfortable sitting room, empty. Through a handsome oaken door enters twitchy Brewers outfielder COREY HART.]
Corey Hart: Hi, everybody. It's my great honor to--
[Music cue: "Sunglasses At Night" begins playing at extremely loud volume.]
Hart: . . . I said I wasn't going to do this, you assholes.
Hart: Anyway, I thought I'd introduce you all to some of my teammates for this fantasy season. I think it's safe to say that we're all pretty darned excited. [He strikes an exaggerated MTV pose and points at the camera.] YOU ALL READY FOR THIS?
[Music cue: "People Get Ready." Hart closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose for a few seconds.]
Hart: That's not the cue . . . it's . . . Christ, where are my pills?
[Enter respected actor Alfred Molina and largely ignored Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.]
Molina: Hello, hello! I am here to be a catcher for the fantasy monkeys! Hello! And this is my teammate, the--[he squints at a cue card]--shorts top, Yuni . . . Yun . . . Yuniky . . . John Betancourt!
Molina: I AM ALFRED MOLINA!
Betancourt: You're not even supposed to be here. Where's Yadier Molina?
Hart: Actually, Yuni, we'll take Alfred.
Molina: I'VE GOT EIGHT ARMS TO CATCH FOR YOU! (Pause.) I still have my Doctor Octopus costume.
Hart: That's enough, Alfred. Hey, is that someone I hear at the door? Why, it sounds like it might be . . . Ken Griffey, Jr.!
[Enter Florida Marlins 2B Dan Uggla and Minnesota LF Jason Kubel.]
Uggla: Sorry, Junior couldn't make it. His face mysteriously caught on fire while he was eating some unbuttered rice, and then on the way to the hospital, a meteorite hit his ambulance.
Kubel: Hey, what's up? I'm a Jewish dessert.
Uggla: Uh, you're thinking of a kugel.
Kubel: My bad! I'm an exercise for the pubococcygeus muscles!
Betancourt: That's Kegels.
Kubel: I'm from Belle Fourche, South Dakota!
[Enter New York Mets 3B David Wright.]
Wright: Make way for talent, bitches. Let's see what we've got he--oh my God. Who the fuck are you people?
Uggla: You can call me "Uggs." Or "Uggsly." Or you could say, "He likes to win uggsley!" It's cool with me, Mr. Wright. Some guys like to call me "Uggsey Malone," too.
Wright: Is this--is this a real team?
[Enter Carlos Quentin, faceless White Sox outfielder.]
Quentin: Hey, what's up? That hobo over there told me where to go.
Kubel: I think that's actually Brad Penny.
Quentin: Huh. Well, I gave him a dollar and he seemed pretty happy. Anyway, Frank Thomas wanted me to tell you guys that his pelvis collapsed, and thanks for the money.
Kubel: He should have done his Kubel exercises! Ha ha! Am I right, you guys?
Wright: Maybe I'm in a coma.
[Closers Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan and Jason Isringhausen poke their heads through the door, Three Stooges-style.]
Closers: Hey, anyone need some saves?
Uggla: You might as well go home. You're all going to be traded away in horrible desperation deals when the rest of us all go on to the DL with idiopathic ischemic attacks.
Hart: Well, there's lots more Apes to meet, but we're out of time today! Join us next time when we meet Adrian "Belt" Beltre, who I understand owns belts, and Felix Hernandez, AKA "King Felix"! King Felix got his nickname thanks to his daunting commands while playing checkers: "WHO WANTS TO KING FELIX?!" he screams. In the meantime, this is Corey Hart, signing off and reminding you of the Tearful Apes' motto this 2008 fantasy season: NEVER SURRENDER!
[He strikes another MTV pose and points dramatically at the camera. Music cue: "Sunglasses At Night."]
Hart: You fucking assholes.
[Slow fade to black as music plays.]