What’s Poor?

A BlogSnax© post

I had an interesting experience recently. I use the term “interesting” against my better judgment because, as Ben points out in “Captain Fantastic”, it’s a non-word. I’m simply at a loss regarding how else to describe it. I’ll tell you and you can come up with your own assessment.

I was reading a picture book I’d written to a class of kindergartners. The book, “The Little Red Boat Came Back”, is about a little girl living in Haiti. Her mother leaves to seek out a new home for them. Introducing the book and its topic, I gave a short spiel about Haiti, a topic about which I’m passionate. I told the kids that the inhabitants of Haiti, which is on an island not far from the US, are very poor.

At that point, one child hesitantly raised his hand. Delighted that this child was sufficiently engaged to ask a question, I stopped my presentation to hear his query. To my amazement, he asked,

“What’s poor?”

I was dumbfounded. Maybe my expectations were too high but I assumed, even at that tender age, the concept of poverty would be understood. I gave as good an answer to his sincere and reasonable question as I could muster at the time but, in retrospect, I think I could have done better.

I’m not sure what the child’s puzzlement says about him, his upbringing, his community (an affluent one), his school, or our society but I was troubled at the time and I remain so.

I can’t even tell you why.

Finding the Good in the Bad

There are a lot of movies out there. I think I’ve seen most of them. Sad. More often than not, they’re bad movies. For reasons that aren’t obvious but which are probably related to my low-level OCD, once I begin watching a movie, I usually watch the whole thing. To paraphrase the inimitable Chaka Khan, once I get started, oh, it’s hard to stop. I continue viewing long after a flick has proven itself a total waste of my time. That’s when I bemoan the loss of two hours of my life (or in the case of Christopher Nolan’s interminable epics-in-his-own-mind, three) and wonder why I didn’t just turn it off.

Occasionally, though, I’m rewarded for my long-suffering tolerance of mediocrity and outright garbage. Amidst all the dreck that constitute so many films, there might be a nugget of gold that makes the whole effort worthwhile. Here are some examples of memorable moments from forgettable flicks.

  • Remember a movie called “Hot Pursuit”? I didn’t think so. I saw it and I still don’t remember it. It was a poor cop/buddy/crime comedy that did none of those things well. However, it had what I think was a priceless bit of banter. Some thugs kidnap two women and “take them for a ride”. When one of the two women claims she has to stop at a bathroom to deal with some “women’s issues”, one of the IQ-of-Donald-Trump kidnappers asks, “Can’t she hold it?” Well worth the 90 minutes of terrible cinema.
  • Mel Brooks is no slouch. His movies are generally filled with plenty of laughs, albeit often crude and/or cringeworthy. It could be that “Robin hood: Men in Tights” was one of them but I’ve never seen it. Somehow I did catch one line that was a classic Brooksian single entendre. It makes me laugh and cringe to this day. A character is described as “cocksure and headstrong”, but the person making that claim rethinks it and immediately adds, “Or maybe it’s the other way around.” Don’t try this at home.
  • Another terrible movie I never saw was the raunchy “Exit to Eden”. Dan Akroyd, one of its stars, listed it as a movie he wishes he’d never made. I’m not sure exactly what the plot was for this poor excuse for soft porn. It allegedly involved police going undercover at some kind of sexual fantasy camp. Some kinky guy approaches bemused leather-clad cop Rosie O’Donnell and asks, “How can I fulfill your fantasy?” Without missing a beat, Ms. O’Donnell retorts with the only message in this whole fiasco that rings true to any normal human being, “Go paint my house.”
  • I don’t even remember the name of the movie that was the source of this entry. A guy confused by the whole concept of ballet wants to know why they all dance on their toes. He asks, “Why don’t they get taller dancers?” I’m not alone in thinking this is a good line. I’ve since come to learn that the quip was originally uttered by none other than Henny Youngman. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.
  • Not every one of my favorite lines is from a bad movie. The lines are just so good, they transcend the mediocrity of the rest of the work. Such is the case with my favorite line from the “Fantastic Four” movie of 2005 (to distinguish it from the several other FF reboots and preboots), which I liked. Just before he is about embark on some foolhardy adventure, Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm (portrayed by Chris Evans) is warned by his sister Sue (“Invisible Woman”, Jessica Alba), “Don’t even think about it!” His response is one I’ve used many times since in similar, though non-superhero, contexts. Johnny calls back, “I never do!” as he flies off into who knows what shenanigans.
  • I admit I’ve never seen this next offering, although I’m a big fan of the creator. Nick Parks and his animated films are invariably terrific. Reviews of “Early Man” indicate that it was no exception. I’m not sure why I’ve never checked it out. Honestly, all I know of it is the commercial, which includes this priceless line spoken by a caveman in a prehistoric marketplace where he discovers an innovation: a loaf of sliced bread. He’s so overwhelmed by the idea, he utters, “Sliced bread?!? Why this is the best thing since… ever!”
  • The final item on my list is not a line. However, I feel confident in nominating it as offering the highest ratio between the hilarity of the gag (hysterical) and the quality of the overall film (miserable). In “Meteor Man”, Robert Townsend’s character is somehow endowed with superpowers, including the ability to fly. There’s a problem, though. He has a deathly fear of heights. To solve the problem, he never flies more than 3 feet off ground. Horrible movie but I wouldn’t have missed the image of him skimming along at kneecap level for the world. I laugh today just thinking about it.

There are surely many more candidates out there. One person’s list will be radically different than mine due to the subjective nature of movie and humor tastes. It’s nice to know that, even in the worst cinematic effort, maybe the creators didn’t phone the whole thing in.

Life by Subscription

It started with TV. It used to be free. Before we knew what hit us, we were paying a monthly subscription for cable. We got all those channels and, as the old joke went, nothing was on worth watching. Then along came streaming. Now we’re paying for TV… one channel at a time… one month at a time. Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Paramount+, Hulu, YouTube, … The list goes on and on. And on and on, etc.

There’s subscription radio (Sirius), subscription software (Quicken, Adobe, and about a million others), even subscription cars. Yup, subscription cars.

And all this is in addition to your monthly (or weekly or annual) fees for luxuries like water, sewer, heat, electricity, internet, phones, AAA, rent, mortgage, insurance (all sorts of insurance), taxes (all sorts of taxes), loans, newspapers and magazines (online or old school hard copy), gyms, clubs… They just keep adding up, don’t they? And we forget we even signed up for half of them in the first place. The folks we’re paying count on it. It’s their business model.

Now add one more subscription to the list:

Your life.

Look at the pharmaceutical ads on TV. Nearly every single one of them is for a maintenance drug, one you’ll have to take every day and pay for every month for the rest of your life for the privilege of healthy living.* Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of those conditions to be cured. There’s no money in that.** Not when they have you on their subscription plan.

Don’t forget to renew those subscriptions.

* That is, if you survive the 750 side effects listed in the ads, most of which are more serious than the condition they’re treating.

** No, sir. As one Wall Street analyst warned, curing patients is not a sustainable business model. Read it for yourself here.

Shameless Promotion Department: Cycling to Crush MS

This is my annual plea for support of my bike ride to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The ride is on Martha’s Vineyard on April 29.

Read about the ride here.

Read about our team here.

Read my page and support me here.

That’s all for today. You may now return to your regularly scheduled life.

Some of the Vineyard Square Wheelers ready for action.

Inertia kills

A BlogSnax© post

The sentence that constitutes the title of this post casually left my mouth a couple of weeks ago. When I made this statement, I and the person I was speaking with paused for a moment. Although I hadn’t given the idea much thought beforehand, we both gave it a lot of thought and discussion after the fact. We decided there’s more to it than meets the eye… or ear. I believe with all my heart that it’s true in most, if not all, areas.

In business.

In the arts.

In government.

In faith.

In multiple sclerosis.

In life.

Inertia kills.

We must keep moving and learning and growing.

Obsolete stuff, obsolete language

A BlogSnax© post

In this era of increasingly rapid acceleration of technological innovation, stuff becomes obsolete all the time. I expound on the phenomenon in this post. However, it’s important to note that these changes have a ripple effect on our language. I’ve been thinking about all the expressions I use that are as out-of-date and meaningless as the items they reference.

Here are a few. Let me know if you think of others.

  • Bankers hours – Banks used to be open from 9-3. Now they’re online 24×7. I sure hope you don’t keep them hours!
  • Carter’s pills – This is a real oldie-moldie, before my time, even. The saying went, “I’ve got more of <whatever> than Carter has pills.”
  • Bigger than a breadbox – The breadbox is a useless object today and perhaps always was. Is something “bigger than a breadbox”? It’s hard to say, given that they come in different sizes. When playing 10 questions, what question should we ask now? “Is it bigger than an iPhone?”
  • Through the wringer – Again, this predates me. People haven’t used clothes dryers with wringers for many decades. Yet, you can still buy them.
  • Hang up – We don’t “hang up” anymore but the phrase persists because the cell phone has no corresponding function that also gets the message across. “Click the little red button” doesn’t have the same finality.
  • Ring off the hook – Much to our loss, phones don’t ring, nor do they have hooks.
  • Clockwise – I claim this phrase is in its death throes. It will be meaningless to future generations as analog clocks go the way of all flesh… and technology.

The list goes on and on. They won’t completely die until we do. I’ll still be “taping” shows just as my father never stopped exhorting us to “turn off the gas” long after my family switched to an electric stove.

William Goldman was an optimist

One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite screenwriters. William Goldman, who wrote such brilliant scripts as “The Princess Bride”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and “All the President’s Men”, among others, once summed up his opinion about the state of affairs in the film business by saying:

Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess—and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

He was talking about Hollywood’s ability (or inability) to predict which movies would be hits and which bombs. His wisdom has proven accurate over the years.* Supposedly sure things with well known commodities as subject matter and bankable stars have soiled the proverbial bed. (Think “Jungle Cruise”, for just one instance.) There are several every year, just as there are several surprise hits. All this in spite of the focus groups, market research, and billions spent on advertising.

Let me suggest that Mr. Goldman, as much as I respect him and his acerbic opinions, was an optimist by limiting his comments to the film industry. Here are a few more fields where his insight applies just as well:

  • Medicine
  • Sports
  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Publishing
  • Weather forecasting
  • Religion
  • The list goes on and on…

Go ahead. Check “predictions” about what college quarterback will be a star. (Tom Brady? No way! That’s why he was drafted in the sixth round.) Ask ten economists how to solve some financial crisis and you’ll get a dozen plans. You can’t even get doctors to agree on whether a patient has multiple sclerosis, never mind how it will progress. (They don’t even know what it is.)

Even a field such as technology where there a lot of smart people (although I spent my professional career in high-tech, I wasn’t one of them) has had its share of gaffes. Check out this curiously entertaining list. The folks making those predictions were no slouches but they still got it wrong.

This is why as a child of the 60’s (okay, Boomer) I still abide by the motto, “Question Authority”. Especially in medicine. Especially in neurology. Especially in multiple sclerosis.

Your mileage may vary.

But probably not.

*With the possible exception of the pre-Disney Pixar, which produced hit after hit after hit… etc.

[Goldman photo by Bernard Gotfryd, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Ultimate Christmas time-saver!

Like many of you out there, I’m addicted to Hallmark-style Christmas romance movies. They’re awfully acted, wretchedly written, dreadfully directed Christmas-cookie-cutter calamities. Yet, for reasons I can’t identify, I watch them anyway. (Admit it, you watch them, too.) I already wrote about my addiction in a post from a few years ago.

Other than “A Christmas Kiss”, the “Citizen Kane” of Christmas romance movies (from a non-Hallmark source, more recently and inexplicably renamed “A Kiss for Christmas”) they are a complete and total waste of time during a season when time is at a premium. We’re fortunate they’re all almost exactly only 90 minutes long or some people might never leave the house for the whole month of December.

This year, however, I’ve come up with the perfect time saver for addicts like me. As a public service, I’m passing along my findings to you, no charge. (I know, that kind of selfless anti-capitalist behavior isn’t in the modern Christmas spirit.) First, I found the following video at my local library: a collection of nine of these dogs on three DVDs in a single package.

Now here’s the tricky part. Hook up your DVD player(s) so they can read and play all nine movies at the same time! (How? You’ll have to work it out. Hey, I gave you the idea; I can’t do everything for you!) Once that’s all set, sit down and watch all nine movies in parallel. You just watched 810 minutes of miserable movies in 90 minutes, a time savings of 12 hours!

When I did this, other than a few scenes where characters seemed to have multiple shadows and the colors were a little funky, you can’t tell you’re watching multiple movies. That’s because, in reality, you aren’t! They really are all the same movie!*

There. My Christmas gift to you. You’re welcome.

*Seriously, two of the movies had the same actor as the male protagonist with the same irritating personality in the same job: a workaholic advertising executive. I’ll admit to giving up after that revelation. That’s another approach to the problem: go cold (Christmas) turkey.

Thanx Redux

Back in my old Limping in the Light days, I had a series of posts named “Thanx#<insert installment number here>”. The series lasted 5 years. The first entry, Thanx#1, explained the motivation and meaning behind the series. The final entry was posted 7 years ago this Friday. Like this one, that was the day before Thanksgiving, appropriately enough.

Each post consisted of a list of people, events, objects, and concepts for which I was grateful at the time. For those that remain extant, I’m probably still grateful. For those that have passed the way of all flesh, I’m grateful for the memories. In the first few posts, I listed at least 10 things I was thankful for. After that, I had 20 or more items in my lists. Estimating, that makes for well over 300 objects of gratitude. (I confess there were repeats in there. My wife, children, and grandchildren deserved and received multiple mentions.)

I’d barely scratched the surface.

I won’t necessarily repeat the series, but there is always room for gratitude, especially in this season. Science is finally catching on to what the Bible has been telling us for eons, gratitude is a path to peace and joy and away from anxiety and depression. For those of us with MS, it can be a more difficult exercise, but it is also more important. It’s therapy.

Here’s a new list for this year, in no particular order… except the first two:

  1. Jesus. (A given.)
  2. My wife, children, and grandchildren. (You had to know that was coming.)
  3. 30,000 miles of cycling.
  4. My bikes.
  5. Two new books this year, this and this.
  6. Five repaired doors.
  7. King’s Cribbage.
  8. The Vineyard Square Wheelers.
  9. Biking NYC.
  10. Bark Thins.
  11. Healing and successful surgeries.
  12. MSSG, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days.
  13. Cafe 12 and the Java Room.
  14. The late Paul Farmer and his legacy at PIH.
  15. Reunions.
  16. Baby laughter.
  17. The lives and work of Frederick Buechner and Fran McKendree; I miss them so.
  18. Freshly baked bread.
  19. Generous friends and family.
  20. Eggroll Cafe.
  21. Martha’s Vineyard.
  22. “Who Is MS?”
  23. Acadia National Park.
  24. Crossing guards.
  25. You… for reading.

Look, I could go on and on (…and on (…and on and…)) but you get the idea. This Thanksgiving, for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, I suggest you make a list for yourself. If you can’t quickly come up with at least 20, you’re not trying hard enough!