Saturday, June 16, 2007

Surf’s Up

Twice in my life I have laughed out loud at a movie trailer that wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Exhibit A: “The Postman.” In a post-apocalyptic world, Kevin Costner’s troop-rallying cry (think Mel “Braveheart” Gibson in blue face paint) goes something like this: “We will deliver the mail!” At first I thought perhaps Costner had signed on for an “Airplane”-type spoof of his infamous flop, “Waterworld.” But no, “The Postman” was, in all seriousness, using mail as a metaphor for social order. I’m pretty sure that by the preview’s end, the entire theater was suffering a collective hysteric fit. (Now that I’ve moved to the 60625 ZIP code, where mail delivery is a daily crapshoot, I bow to the visionary genius of Kevin Costner.)

Exhibit B: “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Where to begin. Oh yeah: Silver. Surfer.

I know nothing about this movie except that I have no intention of seeing it. Admittedly I am not into comic books, but even if fan boys argue that the Silver Surfer has a back story to rival that of Batman, or even The Joker, I don’t care. The concept, to the uninitiated, and that would be a huge percentage of potential moviegoers, sounds—and looks—stupid. Surfers say things like, “Dude, that wave was gnarly.” (At least I imagine that’s what they say. Living in the Midwest, I don’t run into a lot of boarders.) Surfers have shaggy hair and wear baggy shorts. Surfers are slackers and stoners and if they’re not riding waves, they’re thinking about riding waves. Surfers are not villains. Surfers are not diabolical. Surfers, even silver ones that appear to be molded out of special effects left over from “Terminator 2,” are not scary.

I don’t expect much from summer’s crop of movies. ‘Tis the season for mindless fun. But ‘tis also the season when George Lucas introduced us to the fiercely evil Darth Vader. (And I mean the original James Earl Jones version. I do not acknowledge the existence of the Star Wars “prequels.”) Or when Steven Spielberg had us cowering in our seats at the sight of a shaking glass of water—the T-Rex is coming! The T-Rex is coming! In this illustrious company, the Silver Surfer plays like a joke.

Now, if Hollywood is looking for the sort of bad guy to truly inspire fear and loathing, my husband and I would be willing to part with the following idea--for a price: As inspired by my recent head cold, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…The Green Snot.

Laugh if you will, but think about it first. A lean, mean mucous-spewing machine. One of the biggest clichés in all of moviedom features one character defiantly spitting in the face of another. In the right context, it can be more disgusting and shocking than a gunshot. Now imagine the exponential horror if that bodily fluid weren’t spit, but snot. If I saw this guy—or gal—coming, I’d definitely run in the opposite direction of his—or her—nasal cavities. And don’t think you can kill it with a shot of Nyquil. The Green Snot is a virus—completely impervious to anti-biotics and anti-histamines. He has no kryptonite.

Call me crazy, but some movie studio executive bought the Silver Surfer.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sugar Smackdown

I am giddy as I write this, having narrowly escaped the jaws of death. By all rights, I shouldn’t be here. Neither should my husband, or any of my siblings or childhood friends. It’s a miracle we all made it out of the ‘70s alive.

I speak, of course, of the terrible dangers posed by sugared cereals.

According to the Associated Press: “Kellogg Co., the world's largest cereal maker, has agreed to raise the nutritional value of cereals and snacks it markets to children.

The Battle Creek, Mich., company avoided a lawsuit threatened by parents and nutrition advocacy groups worried about increasing child obesity.” (Italics are mine.)

Oh. My. God.

I grew up on a steady advertising diet of Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam. Apparently they manipulated me to eat vast quantities of Frosted Flakes, Cap’n Crunch, Honeycombs, Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks. To say nothing of Pop-Tarts, Oreos, Fritos and Ho-Hos. Good lord, I consumed trans and saturated fats by the kilogram. Good lord, they tasted good.

Amazingly I’m still alive. My blood pressure is fine, my cholesterol level is low. I am not diabetic. I’m nowhere near obese. Or even overweight (which will come as a shock to my husband, who bears the brunt of my body image issues).

Because after I scarfed down a half dozen cookies, I used to go outside and play. Sometimes organized sports like softball, volleyball, basketball and tennis. Sometimes just a game of catch. Or Tag. Remember Tag, and the more excellent version, Freeze Tag? The upshot: my caloric output matched if not exceeded my caloric intake. Simple arithmetic.

Is it a shock to today’s parents that their kids are sitting on their asses playing video games, surfing the Internet or listening to their i-Pods? So why all the junk food in the house? Did Snap, Crackle and Pop hold a gun to their heads and force them to buy a truckload of Sugar Smacks?

The makers and marketers of sugared cereals are not responsible for this country’s apparently raging epidemic of childhood obesity. The people who coddle these moppets are. The people who purchase these products are.

If little Johnny’s Body Mass Index is off the charts (and I don’t mean in a good, six-pack abs kind of way), it’s time to stop blaming the Keebler Elves. And take a look in the mirror.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Brown Can Do For You

Perhaps you’ve heard that parts of the Midwest are being overrun by cicadas. Or maybe this is only a hot topic in Chicago, where you think there’d be enough murders, fires, sports and traffic to fill a 20-minute newscast but apparently there isn’t.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Cicadas are edible! (High in protein, low in calories and taste.) Cicadas are noisy! (Giving leaf blowers a run for their money.) Cicadas are horny! (All they want to do is mate and reproduce.)

According to my suburban sources, cicadas also hiss when you swat them away from your head or try to keep them from crawling down your shirt. But none of our esteemed anchormen or women cares to report this little factoid. I guess the truth—that the insects are a disgusting nuisance—is not what we’re after here.

The latest bit of breaking news: A blue-eyed cicada has been found! This is a very big deal! In case you weren’t aware, most cicadas sport red eyes; the genetically mutant blue version is truly one in a million.

As a brown-eyed girl, here’s what I have to say about this recent discovery—who gives a flying f---? Or, to borrow a quote from Isaiah Washington, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Why, why, why do we all go ga ga for blue eyes?

Yes they’re rare in humans, too. Only 8% of the entire world population has blue eyes. But being born with six fingers is a similar oddity and you don’t see people walking up to new mothers and saying, “Such a lovely little girl, what with that extra digit and all.”

I’m tired of Blue getting all the good press and Brown getting all the disparaging labels. Brown is boring. Brown is ordinary. Brown is dirt.

I say it’s time to put an end to this anti-brownite movement, which also encompasses hair color. (If there’s a blue-eyed, blonde-winged cicada out there, I do not want to hear about it.) Lest we forget, my fellow Brownies, we’re in the majority. It’s time to act like it.

First we demand quotas in the movies and on television. For every Cameron Diaz, we want to see three Julia Roberts. (Not literally, of course, because one is already too many.) Next, we start running attack ads. Enough with “blue as the sky” or “blue as the ocean.” How about “blue as the color of toilet bowl cleaner”? Finally, we attach a rider to the Immigration Bill: Finns, Lithuanians and Icelanders—predominantly blue-eyed peoples—move to the front of the line. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but as blue becomes more common, brown becomes more exotic.

I realize it may be a couple of generations before my plan bears fruit, but some day in the not too distant future, our great- great- grandchildren will hear, “My, what beautiful brown eyes you have.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Carl Bernstein, the Watergate journalist who most people these days likely remember as Dustin Hoffman or not-Bob Woodward, is making the talk show rounds promoting his new biography of Hillary Clinton. His big bombshell: Hillary flunked the bar exam and kept the failure a secret from her closest friend for 30 years! This, in Bernstein’s words, makes her “inauthentic.”

It makes her my hero. Some 20 years ago, I flunked my driver’s exam. I made a rolling stop, just like Dad, and it cost me enough points to guarantee a second attempt. Like Hillary, I tried to keep the results under wraps. Not because I’m inauthentic but because I’m a perfectionist. And as much as perfectionists fear failure, we fear other people taking those failures and throwing them back in our faces. It’s like dying a thousand deaths.

Unlike Hillary, word of my debacle somehow leaked and I was subjected to a fair amount of teasing that some people like to think of as good-natured and others such as myself tend to think of as mortifying. “Ha, ha. Straight-A student can’t pass a driver’s test. Ha, ha.” So funny I could cry.

Bernstein, who’s led a big, fat mess of a life—his screw-ups immortalized on film by ex-wife Nora Ephron—doesn’t get this. He thinks he’s unlocked the mystery that is the senator from New York—by jove, she’s inauthentic—when he’s utterly failed to understand her at all.

What kind of person refuses to admit they flunked the bar, he wonders. I’ll answer that for you, Carl. Someone like me.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Cage Match

My pal Tim and I used to compete to see whose life sucked more, the winner being the bigger loser. In that spirit, I offer:

Gazillions of cicadas, hideously ugly and deafeningly loud, have emerged from a 17-year sleep to plague the lawns and ear drums of Chicago’s suburban dwellers. Carcasses litter the sidewalks and driveways. I have this on good authority from a former neighbor who now lives in Elmhurst, Ill. On a recent visit to the old ‘hood, he lifted his foot and examined the bottom of his sandal, thinking to show us the remains of a few unlucky insects stuck to his sole. Alas no body parts to be found.


Not a single cicada, in my many wanderings, to be seen in the city of Chicago. Sweet. Take away their admittedly interesting back story—dormant underground for nearly two decades, a brief burst forth from the earth in which they live solely to mate—and cicadas are just another bug. If you saw one scampering, cockroach-like, across your bathtub or kitchen counter, you would smash it to smithereens. I read about one guy who, preparing for the cicada onslaught, wrapped a beloved maple tree in duct tape, sticky side out. He awoke the next morning to a scene of epic slaughter (that’s what I’m talkin’ about!) and somewhere Tom Ridge is having the last laugh, “Duct tape. Who you calling crazy now?!”

Just when I was feeling smug vis a vis my Elmhurst acquaintance, a drug deal went down in front of my building. Granted, it was just one stupid-looking youth selling pot to another stupid-looking youth. But still, the stuff is illegal and the boys’ brazenness was shocking—it was, if not broad daylight, not yet sunset. More disturbing, money and marijuana having exchanged hands, the pair of dimestore hoodlums continued to loiter, despite the presence on the sidewalk of current and former building residents. That is, until the undercover cops showed up. I know some girls go ga-ga for men in uniform; me, I love me a guy in a bullet proof vest.

The winner: Let’s see—gross yet harmless pest vs. the potential for a drive-by shooting. I’m going to award this one to the City. Yea! I’m the bigger loser.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Spreading the Mucous

Remember when we used to think that in the year 2000, we’d all be flying around Jetson-like in our own personal spaceships? Well, that’s sort of how I view the health care system. By the time I get to be really old, I figure scientists will have found a cure for just about everything. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Bunions. Maybe even the common cold.

Seriously, is anyone even working on that last one? We need an antidote, and we need one soon—a one-shot-only deal, although I’d prefer a single chocolate-flavored liquid dose. Because by the time I’m 80, or even 60, I am not going to be able to open those foil packets of Sudafed tablets. I can barely spring the capsules now, even with all my manual dexterity still pretty much intact.

The common cold has been on my mind lately because I happen to have one and it sucks. I can’t breathe, ergo I can’t sleep. I have a sore throat—from coughing so hard. And I know it’s not tuberculosis or anything, but I still feel really crappy.

I started to do the math. Figuring that each cold lasts about a week and that I come down with maybe a half a dozen every year, and that I will probably live to be about 90, this minor nuisance suddenly adds up to years of misery and enough boxes of Puffs With Lotion to circle the globe. Or something like that.

So I’m a little miffed that Tuberculosis Guy got all the ink this week. Yes, I appreciate that TB Guy flew not one, but two, trans-Atlantic flights while carrying a killer germ. But hey, he had a wedding to get to, and fellas, correct me if I’m wrong, but your sole job as a groom is pretty much to show up where and when your bride tells you.

Now, after much hand-wringing from the CDC, the creation of an international incident, and a public scolding by Matt Lauer, it turns out that TB Guy isn’t particularly infectious after all. Probably even less of a threat to the public health than the person who gave me my cold.

And where, exactly, did I catch my cold? The most likely culprits: 1) the CTA, while on my way to work or 2) a public restroom along the Indiana Turnpike, while traveling Memorial weekend. Somebody carelessly, recklessly, rudely and wantonly spread their bacteria in one of these massively public places. And the ensuing CDC manhunt? Well, of course, there wasn’t one.

That’s because Americans (especially the percent without health insurance) are trained to ignore illness, particularly something as seemingly harmless as a cold—or a fever, or bronchitis or walking pneumonia. We show up to work come hell or high temperature. And if we can drag our asses into the office while feeling like we’ve got an ax lodged in our forehead, we’re damned well not going to let inflamed sinuses keep us from having fun, either. And the next thing you know, this mentality has us coughing up a lung on our fellow passengers en route to Greece.

I’m not excusing TB Guy’s behavior—he is, after all, the kind of person who plans a “destination wedding,” which ranks, on my list of annoying trends, right up there with the sudden explosion in peanut allergies. I’m just saying that in the past week, I’ve spread my own mucous far and wide: I’ve been to the movie theater and the movie theater’s ladies’ room, gone to work, ridden the El at least six times, tried on pants at American Eagle and returned them to the rack, and, perhaps most egregiously, blown my nose at Costco, which had more patrons on a Sunday afternoon than an airline could dream of cramming onto a 747.

Just returning the favor.