Benefits of Living in a Small Town

Last night, around 9:15, our neighbors started plodding into the night from the relative safety of their homes.  One jumped into his car and raced off.  He was in pursuit of a large, white, American sedan of Malaise vintage that had, just moments before, slammed into the back of my wife’s silver Toyota Matrix parked on the street in front of our house.  No glancing blow, the wagon had been shoved approximately a foot forward due to the large car’s impact into the rear driver’s side quarter panel which disfigured the sheet metal, pounded the plastics and tore the rear wheel from its suspension bits. The car then swerved around my little Miata and completely side swiped the Crown Vic parked at the head of our automotive conga line.

The police were called and arrived quickly.  Having been involved with the Indiana Highway Patrol, State Troopers and the Long Beach Police Department, I didn’t expect much to come from the report.  Usually, they take the information and say that the perpetrator is long-gone, but they’ll do what they can.  This was exactly what a State Trooper told the driver of another hit-and-run I was involved in just a couple of months earlier.  My hopes were low.

Based only on the description of “a white 80’s Caprice”, the officer asked a follow-up of, “Did it sound like it had a cowbell attached?”

I thought this was a curious question, but the officer went on to explain that there was a car in a nearby neighborhood that had a problem with the brakes that the owner never got around to fixing.  This owner was also well-known in the badge-wearing community as a bit of an imbiber.

I would imagine that cops with a large jurisdiction don’t have this kind of granularity.  The police picked up the guy and got a confession within two hours.

There are benefits of living in a small town.

Lego Blocks are Killing Our Future

I haven’t purchased a video game system newer than the Super Nintendo, so I’m not what you might call an avid gamer.  Recently, on a trip to visit family in Texas, I ended up playing a good deal of Wii with my 8-year-old nephew.  It took a little while to get used to the controls, but I think that I got a basic grasp of it by the last day that I was there.  While I was l learning however, there was a lot of instruction from my nephew that included phrases like, “No! Do that thing again!”  “What did you kill me for?!” and “Remember when we played this and you figured it out?”

The last one garnered the rather frustrated response of, “Keep in mind that I’ve never been to this town, I’ve never been in this house and I’ve never played this game before.  So, no, I don’t remember.”

Good times.

The game we were playing was Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga.  The violence is toned down since when you kill someone, they explode into coins and Legos just like in Mexico.  I guess this makes it better, but I would inevitably start fights in the portal cantina with everyone around and quickly learned that Darth Vader’s choking action makes quick work of just about anyone.  Man, did I ever love killing Jar Jar Binks…

Anyway.

Toned down violence is probably one of the reasons that his parents got it for him.  The other reasons are that he loves both Star Wars and Legos.  He’s got several Lego kits in his room, so, with his birthday approaching, Ms. Kitty and I were going to go and buy him a big case of Legos.  We quickly discovered that our idea of Legos differs greatly from Lego’s idea of Legos. 

When I was a kid, my mom would buy me Legos at yard sales because Legos were expensive and we weren’t rich.  I had a big bucket of all different colors and sizes with those nearly flat ones, the standard blocks, the long red ones, some wheel and axles and a couple of those big green boards where you could stage things.  What I didn’t have was a bunch of specialty pieces that made specific things.  Unfortunately, these kits that build specific things are all you can buy at most stores.

This is bullsh!t.

Lego is killing kids’ imaginations while pretending to enrich them.  Sure, they sell space kits and ninja kits and pirate kits and cannibal kits, but none of them work together.  Looking over the pieces, they all have to fit a certain way or else they simply don’t build anything.  I don’t really care that the characters that come with the kits are specialized with tiny mustaches and little painted on chain mail, but when you’ve got an alien ship that only goes together one way, what’s the point?  Now you’ve just got a toy that makes one thing and falls apart in a strong breeze.  Know what would happen if the helicopter I built for my yellow-faced bank robbers fell apart?  I could use those same blocks to build a getaway car, or a safe house, or a tank or whatever my mind conceived because those pieces all worked together.  I was the limit of what they could do, not someone who designed decals to match whatever movie tie-in was hot that month.

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Legos 20 years ago. Endless, square possibilities.

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Legos Today. You can build... Um... Harry Potter and a pegasus, but they're already put together, so you can't really "build" much.

 

I understand that Lego is in this to make money (at $9.99 for the most basic kit, they can’t be losing money) and toys that encourage the purchase of the same brand makes a lot of business sense.  But wasn’t the point of Legos that you could build a variety of things with them?  Isn’t that why they showcase professional builders?  Isn’t using your imagination the 54cking point of Legos? 

We couldn’t find a single package of Lego blocks that didn’t have a theme.  Everything was Ninjago or Star Wars or Citizen Kane (not a great seller, by the way).  Brand alliances and loyalty are awesome and all, but can’t they just sell regular f-ing Legos as well?!  It seems like Lego is just another name for “toys that fall apart easier” rather than being a gateway drug to imagination and inquiry.  I’ve heard a lot of architects and engineers talk about how they got interested in structures and building through Legos, but I doubt that they’d be quite so inspired if all they could build was a Millennium Falcon.  Weeeeeee!!

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me that there are Lego video games since that is essentially all that is available from the company these days anyhow.  You have one path to travel, little latitude to deviate from the prescribed options and it is all branded.  Bring back the tub of generic pieces and allow the minds of tomorrow to stretch out and set their own limits rather than telling them exactly what to do.  They have enough people to do that already.  

Ginger of the Month: Christina Hendricks

The recent return of Mad Men from its 17-month hiatus has left many talking about the impact that the show has had.  With regards to television programming that has tried to harness the nostalgia as well as the tumult and turmoil that this era encompassed, many have made note of other shows that have come and gone that focused on the same time period; particularly the recent failures of Pan Am and The Playboy Club.  

These latter shows were more dramatic, flashier and really jumped at the opportunity to put the issues of the day right into your face and scream, “See!  This is what women and minorities had to deal with!”  Mad Men takes a far more nuanced approach, focusing instead on characters and how their lives roll through the landscape of one of the most important and chaotic decades in the nation’s history.  The writers understand that a person’s life is not a series of adventures, but one continuous story that just keeps going.  It isn’t always as exciting, but it can be far more relatable and involving for the viewer.

One of my favorite characters on the show is Joan Harris, played to perfection by this month’s celebrated ginger, Christina Hendricks.  Joan is caught in a strange purgatory between the rise of young women in the workplace pushing boundaries and questioning their assigned roles as secretaries-until-they-find-a-husband and the older set that sees business as an old boy’s club where they neither belong nor desire to be.  The older women accept that sometimes the boss will smack their ass and ask for a scotch while the younger group would not stand for it and demand to be treated as equals.  Joan is caught in the middle having been trained that the men are in charge, but desiring to move up as indicated when she worked briefly in the Television department of Sterling Cooper, only to have her work be taken over by a man when budget freed up. 

Unlike the women of Pan Am or The Playboy Club who brashly display their sexuality as a commodity with which to trade, the curvaceous Joan utilizes her sexuality to move men’s emotions enough to achieve her goals without flaunting herself.  She is not ignorant of her actions and understands when she is being watched.  She is an object of desire, not attainment and she is very clear about that with her soft, but teacher-like voice and quick wit which will immediately put her co-workers in their place which can be out the door if an undersecretary does not fall in line.

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Assertiveness

 The introduction of her baby this season adds another layer to the cultural commentary as her husband is sure to be shipped off to Vietnam.  Will she be the show’s face of single-motherhood that began to arise at the time?  How will this affect the climate at SCDP when she returns to the office headed by those firmly ensconced in a post-war mentality? 

Some of you might have done 10 minutes of research and found out that Ms. Hendricks dyes her hair red, that she is not a true red head.  But I ask you, do we really want to start kicking players off our team that look like this?  Don’t we have enough problems in the looks department without getting rid of beautiful people?

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She dyes her hair? We'll take you, I guess...

 Congratulations, Christina Hendricks, you are our Mrs. Reynolds and our Ginger of the Month.

The Corner That Scares My Father

“How about you drive us the rest of the way home?” My dad asked as we pulled to the side of the road. 

We were on our way home from church on a beautiful Sunday morning in the most pleasant stretch of an Indiana spring.  Roughly a half mile from home, the remaining journey consisted of two long straights, four left turns, one right turn and one stop sign.  Simple enough for a 15-year-old who’s only experience driving involved video games and rental go-karts.

I hopped out of the passenger’s seat of my dad’s 1989 crystal blue Ford Thunderbird LX and ran around the front end of that long hood.  Getting behind the wheel, I felt the automatic seatbelt glide its way behind me and secured my lap belt.  Very little in the way of instruction was given to me.  I had the general knowledge about the car which consisted of the wheel steered the car, the right pedal sped up the car, my dad loves this car and it is illegal for me to drive this car.  Let’s go.

 The first long, smooth strip of black top was fine.  I watched as the speedometer digitally indicated 40 miles per hour, just as its fixed cousin on the sign told me.  “Now, this car has power brakes, so you don’t need to press very hard,” my dad told me from the passenger’s seat.  I watched as the road was quickly coming to a T and I gently applied pressure to the brakes. 

 Perhaps too gently.

 The next thing I knew was that I completely blew through the stop sign, swerved to avoid the cornfield straight ahead, overcorrected left and put the car directly into a telephone pole.  Then, to add insult to injury, I misjudged which pedal I was pressing and, with the front wheels lifted off the ground but the driven wheels still on terra firma, continued to push the car into the tarred timber. 

 I was told to walk home while my dad would talk to the cops since we’d (well, I had, but we couldn’t really say that) destroyed municipal property. 

Seventeen years later, on a slightly grayer late winter day, I brought my Miata up to show my parents.  Being that it is a two-seater, I could really only take one of them for a ride at a time.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but while my dad was in the passenger’s seat, I headed back to that same corner going the opposite way.    

 I like to think that my skill level has increased after gaining my license, racing competitively for 5 years and fending off hordes of LA traffic.  That doesn’t mean that my dad trusts me to drive though. 

There is no stop sign facing the turn on to that strip of road, but there is a whole lot of gravel.  Maybe I should have eased into it, but I instead dropped a gear, took that corner at speed, mashed the gas and kicked the back end out.  Now, I’m sure that this had nothing to do with the immediate statement that we needed to go back because he forgot to go to the bathroom, but he never did ask to go back out once he’d visited the facilities.

Search Terms

As I do every quarter or so, I was looking through the analytics for this blog and what search terms are used to find it.  Good SEO would have me utilize these terms and incorporate them into columns, use them as tags and generally build upon the way people are already finding the site in order to drive traffic and interest advertisers.  I just kind of ignore them.

Yesterday, someone found my rantings and misspellings with Google using the term “stephanie redhead masturbate.”  I can’t imagine how disappointed that person was.