Put Your Socks On Mama, Now

It was another warm night in the valley, and the Internet was down. Cut off from the world, unable to forage among the endless supply of worthless news articles and sports scores or however else people waste their time online, my roommate and I were forced to spend several hours with our first love: Cable TV.
It’s not as if we don’t normally watch TV. The TV’s on pretty much all the time. I turn it on every morning even if it’s just background noise as I prepare for work; I find its mindless chatter soothing, the white-noise coo of a mother over a crib. But last night was different: We cruised through tiers of premium pay channels as if on a mission, determined to find something to take our minds off the fact that we were sweating bullets, our balls stuck to our thighs, trying to maintain a minimum of movement, wondering just how hot it has to be for your ankle to sweat this much. We needed to find something good.
And find it we did.
We’ve got a ton of cable channels we just never watch, mainly because no one in their right mind would watch GAC when you’ve got HBO. But it turns out that we get quite a variety of esoterically programmed music networks, among them Fuse TV. And last night we discovered a sparkling freak show, a glimmering beacon of absurdity amid the wasteland of weekend programming, a discover akin to finding an original Picasso in an Oklahoma garage sale tagged at $2.50 with a complimentary set of McDonald’s souvenir glasses. My friends, I’m speaking of Pants-Off Dance-Off.
It literally is as simple as its title: Contestants strip on camera to a music video playing behind them. The production costs have to be extremely low: Green screen, video, camera. Put it on the air. The show’s obviously got a fleshly appeal, and I’m sure I don’t need to sell you on the transfixing merits of watching some pretty toned women who teach aerobics or tend bar shake it onscreen to some generic dance rap/R&B. There were chunks of time during which my roommate and I simply sat, staring silently.
But the show’s much more than that. This thing is like freak central. The skull-shattering humor started to hit home when Ron, an old man, began to simply bounce back and forth, arms extended akwardly, while The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” played behind him. Even 20 years ago, Ron would have been way too old for that music. Does he like The Cure? Was he given the song by whoever told him to do the show? The mind reels. And it’s not as if Fuse is mocking these people; there’s an air of genuine openness about some of the dancers, many of whom dance like retarded goats but don’t care. It’s like all the cool kids in high school took the day off, and the theater students decided to put on a show.
The unicorn girl was frightening. She just stood there in her underwear and a boa with A GIANT UNICORN MASK* on her head and shook quite unerotically. It was like watching my nightmares come to life. It was as if Cronenberg and Lynch had a really poseur-ish hipster love child that just got really into exploitive irony. And I couldn’t look away.
There was also the dwarf dressed like Elvis, cape and all, and he was pretty ripped for a little guy. There was the woman with clown makeup, who so thoroughly unnerved me that I will not speak of it further. There was the really, really gay guy, like so gay he was back to straight and then gay again, who danced to Prince. Man. The whole thing was amazing.
If you watch any of the clips on their site, be warned: There’s partial nudity, and it’s not pretty. But more than that, you might not be able to stop yourself. There’s something oddly affecting about watching a clearly unbalanced man named Glenn dance sadly in an undershirt to obscure pop. It’s a fascinating cross-section of America like you’d find at an airport. Only topless.
*I know that the tools out there will try and call me on using caps, though careful readers will remember I didn’t ban the practice outright. Now can it.

I Saw Prince Mongo: A Bizarre True Story That, Believe It Or Not, Relates To The X-Men

So, I’m in Memphis one weekend my senior year of college, because when you attend a private religious university in the middle of the Texas desert, driving 650 miles one-way to spend less than 3 days walking Beale Street and eating pork barbecue makes sense. I went with a friend and his fiancee, which was a whole other barrel of awkward that will not here be addressed, but the point is that I was with Friend and Fiancee at the grocery store one night procuring some drinks, and as we wandered the refrigerated aisle looking for the happy medium between price and quality, we were approached and engaged in coversation by a pretty hyperactive little guy.
He was about 28, black, maybe 5′ 7″, glasses, a short-sleeved yellow-plaid-based button shirt. Maybe cargo pants. It was a while ago, and you should be impressed I remember that much. I’ll be honest, at the time we assigned him a hypothetical nickname that we found hilarious and was used in running jokes for at least a year, but I’ve forgotten it, and will make no attempt to re-create one. So what the hell, call him Willy.
So Willy comes up to me and Friend and Fiancee, and asks us if we’re partying that night. Then he guides me over to the Schlitz and says, “This is it, son, this is panty-dropping stuff. You drink this and their drawers be off.” Something to file away. Thanks, Willy.
Then he looks at me through the fog of semi-drunkenness, since he was obviously voted most sober at his party and tasked with making the beer run, and he notices that I’m sporting some pretty substantial sideburns (college), and gives a little jump back and says, “You look like my boy, you know …” and here he holds up his fists and makes a couple of “shink-shink” noises, “from X-Men…” and he just kind of stands there.
“Wolverine?” I ask.
“Yeah, yeah!” Man, that made his night. “Wolverine!” Then he drops his voice into what could only be considered a conspiratorial tone and says, “You be poking Storm, right?” Then he spins around a couple times (he’s still got his fists up, by the way), apparently as happens when Wolverine and Storm get freaky.
My friends and I slowly sidle away. Willy checks out at the cashier next to us, and walks out behind us to the parking lot and asks for a ride. We politely decline as we book it over to our car, though we can still hear him calling after us, relentless as Michael Myers. In our haste to leave Willy in the parking lot, we ran right over the curb.
1) If you’re drunk, I look like Wolverine.
2) Memphis is well worth visiting.

Brett Ratner Is A Bad Director. And A Bad Person On The Grand Scale Of Human Existence. But Mainly A Bad Director.

Let it be known at the start that these trifling thoughts in no way constitute a full review of X-Men: The Last Stand, henceforth referred to as X3 for the sake of brevity and because it’s just less pretentious. I did the same thing after I saw Mission: Impossible III, mainly because I know enough about J.J. Abrams and I just wanted to throw some stuff out there. So if you want a big, regular review, look elsewhere.
• The film was visually pleasing, so that’s something. But the effects were perfunctory, not once jaw-dropping or engaging or arresting or anything you’d expect from a superhero film of this magnitude.
• X3 was so poorly structured as to be laughable. There was absolutely no drama, no tension, no build, no arc, no character dynamic. Not a thing. The film ended with a supposedly climactic battle at Alcatraz, but there was no sense that things had been building to this point, merely that the scenes had stumbled along with a minimum of grace and skill to get us to the final fight.
• Kitty Pryde is a great character, and Ellen Page is a talented actress who certainly looks the part. But it’s a shame she never had much to do with the film series up to this point. Page is the third actress to play Kitty, after Sumela Kay in X-Men and Katie Stuart in X2. In Ratner’s film, Kitty at least gets a few lines, though she doesn’t do a lot besides flirt with Iceman, which is annoying for several reasons, mainly (1) Ice Guy has been hung up on the slutty but untouchable Rogue for two movies now, and (2) Kitty is supposed to be with Colossus. Which is a good segue:
• In what could be the weirdest change from the first two films, the character of Colossus is now an American dude named Pete, not a Russian guy named Peter. Why this change was made escapes me. And also, seriously, Kitty should stop flirting with Iceman.
• No spoilers here, so don’t worry. But I will express my disgust that more than one major character was killed with the kind of cavalier manner that suggests both Ratner’s inability to tell a story with the remotest semblance of competence and his lack of understanding of how to effectively utilize characters. George Lucas once callously said that anyone could manipulate the audience just by showing a kitten onscreen and then having someone break its neck. But Ratner doesn’t understand that having a canonical, integral character mutter five lines before getting utterly disintegrated by a villain is just a boneheaded thing to do. Trust me, it’s possible to kill a briefly used character and make it an emotionally resonant moment for the audience. Not to mention that having one of the X-Men — not just a random mutant, or even a student at Xavier’s academy, but a full-on member of the team — choose to give up their powers by taking the scientifically developed “cure” for mutancy is stupid and weak and pathetic and pick your own adjective.
• Ratner seems to be pandering to the fanboys by introducing more and more classic characters. After all, who doesn’t want to see Beast onscreen? And I will concede that the casting of Kelsey Grammer for that role is beyond inspired; therefore, I’m obviously curious how much a role Ratner played in that decision. But more characters means less overall development, which is one of the main reasons there’s no tension or story. It’s all but impossible to do anything with a main cast of 13 mutants, surrounded by a host of others, in 1 hour and 45 minutes. And to the naysayers who would complain that I’m an idiot for asking for some kind of character development in a superhero movie, (1) shut up, and (2) it’s possible. Very possible.
• The real hell of it, the real kick in the nuts, is how great X3 could have been. The story line about a cure for mutancy has its roots in the surprisingly good cartoon from my childhood and Joss Whedon’s run of recent “Astonishing X-Men” stories. There’s a great possibility here to talk about rights, and prejudice, and government’s control over citizens it might deem different. There could have been a real nuance to the story, too: It’s not just mutants vs. humans, or good guys vs. bad. All the mutants want freedom, to be able to live without fear of discriminationor extermination, and it’s how far each one is willing to go to achieve that freedom that determines whether they’re “good” or “bad.” There’s not really a clear line between the two; they exist at either end of a continuum, a sliding scale ruled by your willingness to compromise yourself for the pursuit of your goals. But, well, Ratner doesn’t have the faintest glint of any of this. He has no idea just how close he came to telling a truly epic story. And that’s the biggest disappointment.

I’ll See You In Another Life, Brother

That pic’s mainly for my dad, who’s developed a near pathological crush on Evangeline Lilly, despite her early work. Anyway, there you go, Dad. It’s gonna be a long summer of reruns, so let the photo tide you over.
As for the rest of you, I know you probably weren’t even able to sleep or urinate or eat or do anything out of sheer anticipation of my knee-jerk, off-the-cuff reactions to last night’s second-season finale of “Lost.” Well, ask and it shall be given unto you.
• When Desmond, in a fit of drunken rage (the best kind), told Locke that there’s nothing left but the island, he referred to it as a “snowglobe,” which I couldn’t help think was a thinly veiled reference/jab to “St. Elsewhere,” the events of which were all inside some autistic kid’s head while he played with a snowglobe. I’d say it’s the writers telling us that such theories are bunk, and that the whole show isn’t happening inside Hurley’s head or something, which would be beyond stupid.
• Last night’s episode was merely the last one of the season, whereas the first year’s climax was a full-blown finale: The stakes were higher, they packed a lot more action and plot into two hours, and the parallelism of the cuts between the castaways boarding the plane before takeoff and watching them blow open the hatch were heartbreaking.
• The Dharma Initiative is shaping up to be this show’s version of Milo Rambaldi. For those who didn’t watch “Alias,” Rambaldi was a 15th-century inventor whose prophecies unfolded on the show and whose writings influenced the show’s overall direction, writing, story lines, etc. Depending on how the “Lost” showrunners handle it, Dharma could be very cool, like Rambaldi, or very bad, like Jenna Elfman.
• How depressed am I that I actually made that Elfman joke.
• Speaking of “Alias”: The shift “Lost” seemed to make last night, away from the castaways as subjects and toward the story of Dharma and the island, could in time be seen as the moment the show decided to reboot its main focus, and its future success will be judged on whether viewers are willing to accept that. In the middle of the second season of “Alias,” the good guys won, and I’m not talking a minor victory; I mean they beat the huge syndicate of villains, the Alliance, they’d been fighting all along. They took down SD-6, the local cell run by Arvin Sloane, as well as every SD outpost around the world. Halfway through the second year, the show abruptly changed from Sydney’s efforts to take down SD-6 while living a double life to her attempts as a CIA agent to pursue the now independently evil Sloane, and the rest of the series hinged upon whether this switch was pulled off efficiently (it was) and whether it was a good idea (not completely). By abandoning the show’s original conceit of double agents, double lives, and the pursuit of justice via vengeance, “Alias” lost most of the energy that had kept it going, so that by the end of its third season, it had run out of emotional and creative steam. Case in point: The fourth-season finale involved Russian zombies. So while it’s possible that “Lost” could survive such a creative realignment, if indeed that’s what happened last night, whether such a move would be wise won’t be made clear until next season. Offhand, though, I’d say it’s a bad idea.
• Eko was pretty stupid to think that dynamite would open the blast doors. They’re called blast doors for a reason, man. Crazy priest.
• First Locke, then Rousseau. Now Desmond Hume. I get it, okay, guys? I get it. You took Intro to Philosophy. I get it. But knock it off. There hasn’t been a forced mishmash of supposedly relevant philosophy this bad since the Matrix films, and we all know how those turned out.
• So the plane crashed because it was sucked down by the electromagnet? What’s the point of having all the characters know each other from before the crash if the accident was Dharma-related, i.e., didn’t involve them at all?
• There are now two shows trying to co-exist within the same space: The first involves Dharma and the hatches and Desmond and the electromagnetic clusterf**k that wrecked the plane, not to mention the multi-layered sociological experiments that were performed there. The second show wants to make use of the fact that the castaways all had tangential relationships before the crash, and that something pretty spooky and otherworldly is going on with the island, see for example the island’s ability to restore Locke’s ability to walk, Walt’s natural psychokinetic abilities launching off the charts, the fact that everyone seems to have pretty relevant dreams about ghosts and/or the future, the whispering voices in the woods, the duplicitous Others, the black sentient cloud of whatever that flies around and at one point had a stare-down with Eko, etc. I like the second show.
And just like last year, I’ll have a solid four months for my questions to be answered. ABC is supposed to air the first seven or so episodes this fall, then break, then air the rest. Here’s hoping they stick to that, since the uneven repeat schedule this year was annoying. And here’s hoping that J.J. Abrams gets back in the saddle to do some writing and directing. He should bring back David Fury, too. “Lost” promised to be a great show, and it was, and it could be great again. Just not the way things are going.

Captain Jinglepants

I walked down the hall to get a soda from the machine, which is right next to the men’s room, which I always thought was weird, since the last thing you want to smell as you stand there waiting on your Dr Pepper to drop is the foggy remnants of all those anonymous office dumps.
So I put in my 75 cents to get a DP (drinks are 65 cents, which is unholy, but whatever), and I reach down to the hepatitis-infected slot to grab my dime when my finger finds a whole little treasure trove of silver down there. I pulled out almost a dollar in change. Either (1) somebody/-bodies used a dollar each time to purchase two drinks and didn’t collect their change or (2) somebody stuck in a dollar, which the machine ate, and they walked away mad, at which point the machine, sensing victory, returned the dollar in coin form.
Either way, it was a windfall for me. Winning the vending machine lottery like this has been in the back of everyone’s mind since middle school, when we’d put in money and push two buttons at once and, on rare occasions, actually get two drinks for the price of one.
I don’t know who used the soda machine before I did, but I’ve got your change now, sucker. Good luck getting it back.

Reading Is Fundamental

Two quick points, and, well, you know:
• It’s time once again for The Pajiba trade round-up. We spent all week putting that together for you people, so enjoy it.
• Maybe Desmond’s in that boat that started cruising toward the island right as Hurley was getting all weepy over the still-warm corpse of Libby (who would never sleep with you, dude, so this kind of separation was probably inevitable). At any rate, it’s kind of a relief to see the slope-eyed and definitely testicularly enhanced Michelle Rodriguez gone from the show. And I’m glad Sayid is still smart. But man oh man, tonight’s finale has nowhere near the interest going in as last year’s, which had the hatch and pirate ships and kidnapped babies and dynamite and all manner of goodness. I’ll still watch tonight, though. I must obey the inscutable exhortations of my soul, for those who know what I mean. I just have to watch.

Office Conversation Held While Watching The End Of Game 7 (Spurs-Mavs)

Coworker #1: Sports-related question?
Me: Sufficiently sports-related answer using detail cribbed from Bill Simmons.
Coworker #1: General approval of response.
Coworker #2: Arcane and rapid-fire question about baseball?
Coworker #1: Equally obscure statement of agreement, displaying casual use of facts I do not know.
Me: Joking attempt to steer conversation back toward basketball game currently being televised!
Coworker #1: [Blank stare.] Grudging acceptance of same.
Coworker #2: Another baseball question?
Me: [Silent wish for Coworker #2 to trip and fall and break something and die.] Extremely vague baseball statement, demonstrating a solid grasp of the basic rules but nothing more. Attempt at casual mention of DH. Woeful misstep.
Coworker #2: [Glance at Coworker #1.] Coworker #1: Derisive comment about my sexual orientation and/or ability to physically satisfy a woman.
Me: Laughing acceptance of same.
[Game ends.]

A List Of Classic Cowboy Sayings From Western Films And TV Shows That Have Taken On New Meaning In The Aftermath Of Brokeback Mountain

“Ride me, cowboy.”
“Let’s go do it in the tent.”
“My backside’s all sore from the constant gay sex.”
“We should use our jobs as ranch hands as a cover to fool our wives and escape to the mountains for illicit gay sexual escapades every few months.”
“Blowdown at the OK Corral.”
“Let’s go to the rodeo … the ass rodeo.”
“I wonder if the boss will fire us if he finds out we’re doing it.”
“That’s one gay mustache.”