A Departure from Normalcy

Pardon my absence, dear readers. Things here at “Enter Joe Smiley” have been quiet for the past three weeks, but yours truly is now officially a college graduate. So, as the reverent hum of “Pomp and Circumstance” gently fades into the background and my time as a student becomes a thing of days-gone-by, I turn to a world of public radio, tucked-in shirts, and receding hairlines. Yes, it’s time to grow up, I suppose. But hey, at least I got in one more trip to the real greatest city in the world, the Jewel of Central Florida – Orlando. It only seemed fitting to celebrate my impending foray into the hustle n’ bustle of the workforce with a week-long romp through Universal and, of course, Disney World. Why not visit the place where dreams come true before ultimately succumbing to the one where they’re shattered, right?

At any rate, I think Bob Dylan put it best when he sang, “The times are different from how they used to be.” Indeed, my cushy lifestyle is soon to be replaced with one of big boy obligations.

Until then, enjoy this snapshot from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the newest addition to Islands of Adventure in Universal Studios. Not even a horde of dementors could suck the life out of this Muggle-mullet. Respect?

Advertisements

We Gringos Like to Say “Salsa”

Our world has produced some great mysteries, has it not? Who was Jack the Ripper? How were the Egyptian pyramids built? Did or did not George W. Bush have prior knowledge of the sinking of the Titanic? And why, exactly, do ‘mericans give a shit about a Mexican holiday?

I’m generalizing here, but let’s face it — we are not a cultured people. We don’t go out of our way to study the world around us. In fact, we tend to struggle with comprehending and understanding our own. According to a survey last year, two-thirds of us can’t name a single US Supreme Court Justice. Not a one. Sorry, Clarence, but your little pub(e)licity stunt seems to have lost some of its luster since ’91.

So, why are Joe and Jane Six-pack so eager to trade in said six-pack for a bucket of cerveza every fifth of May? Well, it certainly has nothing to do with the date’s historical context. Rivers of salsa aren’t flowing today in recognition of the brave hombres at Puebla who battled the croissant-lovin’ frogs, that’s for sure. And considering the enmity toward the steady stream of illegal immigrants over the border, I highly doubt it’s in honor of Mexican culture. Hey, let’s take it a step further: I’m willing to wager a pretty peso that a large and spicy chunk of today’s party-goers have no idea what “Cinco de Mayo” means in Spanish. Sound unreasonable? Oh, I wish it were.

Ultimately, this holiday is just another excuse for white Americans to head down to the local Mexican restaurant, throw back cheap tequila shots, and annoy the staff with slurred, 101-level Spanish between bowlfuls of tortilla chips. If that’s America’s idea of honoring Cinco de Mayo, then she keeps it all the year.

Solo-Snacking in Lunch Lady Land, and I’m Doin’ Just Fine

My college graduation date draws near, and this fact has caused me to reevaluate the past four years of my life — how I’ve grown, changed, matured, and possibly disappointed my parents. Certainly, book-learnin’ had its benefits. Eight semesters wiser, I anxiously wait for any opportunity to offer my limited understanding of the Upanishads, prisoner’s dilemma, and triglycerides under the guise of the ever-confident post-grad. That’s worth the money, right?

Perhaps. But as I sat alone in my campus’s bustling student union, eagerly picking chunks of oozing tomatoes from my ready-made BLT wrap, the context of my surroundings dawned on me and arguably the greatest lesson college has to offer finally registered: It is socially acceptable to eat by oneself.

It seems so obvious, but four years ago such a scene would’ve been unacceptable. The high school lunchroom is the epicenter of social activity Monday through Friday, 8AM-3PM.  Focus is not on the plates of steaming FDA violations served half-heartedly by burly lunch ladies, but rather who is sitting with whom and where. I never strove to be the coolest kid of the public school system, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be the lamebrain coddling an undersized carton of orange juice all by his lonesome in the corner.

Yet, for some reason, this fallacy of lunchroom politics dissipates within the hallowed halls of a beer-soaked university. Seemingly, something happens after one has been handed a high school diploma and forced to sit through yet another valedictorian quote Robert Frost yet again. Seemingly, people stop caring.

Perhaps the food has something to do with it, acting as a diversion of sorts. Once reserved for those aforementioned steaming FDA violations, plates now bear, by golly, pretty decent food, and multiple helpings of clumpy mashed potatoes quickly absorb what little concern its devourer has for the on-goings of his or her cafeteria cohorts.

Or maybe the undergrad is just too busy.  Indeed, the college life is a demanding one. Here the lunch break is a pit stop — not the high school exhibition of slack-jawed alpha male antics and overindulgent Bratz doll glamor (or lack thereof). And with just about every friend running on a different schedule, the average Blue Book consumer inevitably faces the situation of eating alone.

(I would say maturation plays a role, but after witnessing a gaggle of goons tear urinals from the wall of my freshman dorm’s bathroom in a Coors-induced rampage, I just can’t bring myself to do so. At least not during the freshman year.)

Regardless of the cause, this invaluable lesson is learned in college. I’ll certainly keep that in mind as I walk across the stage to receive my diploma next week amidst the backdrop of polite, forced applause from scores of other parents. I’ll remember that as I lug my belongings northward in a sputtering U-Haul, all the while pondering the direction of my post-grad journey as I search for each and every passing-town’s classic rock station. And on the first day of my real world, big boy job, when coworkers invite me to sit with them during lunch in the break room, I’ll accept the offer — but only after thinking, “Hey, asshole, I went to college. I can eat by myself, thank you very much.”

The Day “America, Fuck Yeah” Soared in Popularity

A flaming bald eagle, donning aviator shades and soaring through clouds of apple pie, baseball bat clenched in one foot, a twelve-inch chili cheese dog in the other…

Certainly, that was the image brought to the minds of millions across this nation Sunday evening as Osama bin Laden was scratched off the international “Wanted: Dead or Alive” list. Turns out a few battle-hardened military men preferred the former.

His death is sure to be one for scores of bulky, overpriced history books. News of bin Laden’s demise washed over the globe almost as quickly as the revelation that the moon-walkin’, groin-grabbin’ King of Pop was no longer with us — and that’s really saying something. But as the reality of the situation begins to set in, so will the partisan divide.

President Obama had barely finished his speech, silently turning from his podium to walk away, when a barrage of condemnations flooded my feed on Facebook: “He made it seem like they just started hunting him because Obama told them to.” “Osama Bin Laden has been killed, but let’s remember to not give Obama the credit for this.”

Now, had bin Laden been taken out under Bush’s watch, that Texan would’ve been promoted to demigod status, bathed in a shower of jelly beans from Reagan on high. But since Barry was sitting in the Oval Office when it happened, well, he’s just being a dick.

Indeed, these feelings and assertions are certain to run rampant by the time the 24-hour news cycle has run its first lap. Just as sure as a Burger King advertisement will work its way into Michael Bay’s next flick, there will always be a fistful of self-interested politicians and hot-headed pundits chomping at the bit to exploit any national triumph or tragedy for agenda-driven gain, no matter the facts. And what a sad, unavoidable truth that is.

But in the end — and as Obama made clear — bin Laden’s death was the result of anything but a one-man job. He never took nor attempted to take responsibility. Bush certainly played a major role in initiating and guiding the manhunt for a number of years. Though seemingly fruitless during his presidency, his efforts, I’m sure, were key. If one can acknowledge the role of W., then certainly one can acknowledge the role of his successor…

… but maybe that’s just asking too much.

Thoughts on Thunder Throat

Last week, I happened upon the video “5 Guys in a Limo,” something I hadn’t seen in years. It’s a terrific short starring five superstars of an unsung art form – the movie trailer voice over. Among them is the incomparable, highly prolific and, sadly, late Don LaFontaine. With a career spanning decades, he seemed to be the John Wayne of his craft – iconic and instantly recognizable, setting the standard for his own brand of machismo.  The dusty west, fraught with rollicking tumbleweed, was swapped for a recording booth and became a place where one trades the tethered cowboy hat for a set of bulky headphones.

His likeness was ever-present, though, oddly enough, I wasn’t always cognizant of it. The grizzly timbre of his voice spent years rampaged in and out of my ears, earnestly selling me on the coming summer’s high-budget shoot ’em up. Like orchestral tuning before a symphony, his vocal presence prepped me for the on-coming action. It was only years later that I finally realized the same guy spoke to me every time my eight-year-old self turned on the VCR and sat Indian-style in front of the living room TV, patiently waiting through the previews to watch Arnold travel back in time (now as a good guy) and don leather and shades. A quick perusal of his Wikipedia page states he lent his instantly recognizable pipes to over 5,000 films. With such a mighty oeuvre, it’s understandable that his parting left a void in the voice over community.

Since that untimely departure in 2008, however, it seems the industry hasn’t truly recovered. In fact, it seems any attempt at recovery has, at best, been minimal and spiritless. The movie voice over doesn’t hold the prominence and vitality it once did. I just watched ten trailers to blockbusters slated to arrive in theaters within the coming months – only one had a voice over. Compare that to, say, 2001, when seven of the top ten grossing movies of that summer  had voice overs in their trailers. It’s not exactly scientific – just figures at a glance – but it helps confirm the notion that husky vocal chords aren’t put to work like they were in days of yore.

In fact, the craft could be sputtering toward its cinematic grave. Conan the Barbarian was the only trailer with a voice over, but what a shoddy attempt at recapturing the essence of LaFontaine’s doom-laden rasp it was. Beginning with the overbearing thud of tribal drums, unconvincing images of monsters and cheesy CGI sparks and smoke, the first few seconds set the stage for one of those misleading trailers, the kind that sets the mood for something dark and melodramatic, only to yank the soda-soaked rug out from under the audience’s feet and – ha! – reveal it was a comedy the whole time.  “THIS SUMMER,” cries the objectively silly and hackneyed voice of the narrator, and the audience prepares for the imminent humorous turn.

“This is a joke,” whispered my compatriot assuredly between buttery mouthfuls of criminally overpriced popcorn.

I nodded in agreement, sincerely expecting the inevitable appearance of another nameless comic of the fledgling goofball caliber. But that moment never came. Instead, I was confronted with the cold, hard truth that (A. the Conan franchise is being jump-started sans my favorite musclebound kindergarten disciplinarian; (B. the odious gob of 3D titles is one flick stronger; and (C. the summer trailer voice over just ain’t what is used to be.

There’s no denying that aforementioned void. It exists, certainly, because of Mr. LaFontaine’s passing, and it’s liable to stay there, partly because the voice over just isn’t as fashionable as it once was, and, of course, because nobody can do it like Don. And perhaps nobody would want to. It may sound silly and trite, but, when one really thinks about it, his contribution to the movie-going experience was indispensable and truly unique.  Take any crowd at any multiplex on any given Friday night over the past few decades, and Don, at some point, spoke to every couple, senior citizen and googly-eyed kid in the room. Almost overbearing in his delivery, he accomplished such a feat in a subtle manner. To recapture the magic of “Thunder Throat” would be an exercise in, well, futility.

My eulogy is long, long overdue, but I miss the guy, so every now and then, when in need of a quick jolt of nostalgia, I’ll slide an old VHS from its withered cardboard case and make my way to my TV’s built-in VCR. Sitting Indian-style, with mouth agape, I’m transported back a decade and a half, to the days of Channel 3 and tracking-induced frustration. But it’s not until the bey0nd-familiar green “PREVIEW” screen fades to black that the nostalgia really kicks in, when Don’s booming orations describe 1997’s surefire white-knuckle thriller. I saw it years ago, but just because he says it, I can’t help but get excited.

Diction(w)ary

How about another re-hashed post? This, too, was part of my old blog – now a ghost blog, undoubtedly spooking the scores of forgotten and defunct “semester abroad” journals idly hovering in cyberspace – and was written, as you’ll certainly notice, shortly after New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it was the gloom and doom of the January landscape that nourished my ill-humor, but it’s certainly apparent in this entry. Nevertheless, it was fun to punch out, and I hate to let a hairsplitting effort go to waste.

So, take a gander, enjoy, and please, for the love of God, stop saying “interesting.”

——————————————————————————————–

The ball dropped, the Black Cats soared, and yet another year was left smoldering in the rear-view mirror as the human race barreled toward a fresh 365-day time period. Now, while loads of multicolored confetti and party streamers used to herald 2010’s departure are trucked to the dumps on the outskirts of town, so continues the year-in-review process. One of my past entries concerned the yearly appraisal of the entertainment industry’s oftentimes mealy labor-fruits. This entry, on the other hand, concerns a more all-inclusive topic: The words we used.

Time recently composed a list of the top buzzwords of 2010, words that mercilessly peppered flashy headlines and sessions of shooting-the-bull and/or breeze with awkward run-ins at Barnes and Noble. “Vuvuzela” (see: World Cup), “Austerity” (see: European economic blunder), and “Mama Grizzlies” (see: pseudo-folksy Alaskan dolt) all made the tally of tired terms that talking heads, pundits, and writers just couldn’t stop molesting for our sensationalism-starved eyes and ears. Not long afterward, the same publication reported on a recent Marist poll and its assertion that “whatever” is the most irritating word in the English lexicon (not surprisingly, “like” was a close second).

So much talk concerning vexing verbiage got me thinking about which words I’d forever blot out from Noah Webster’s claim to fame if given the chance. Being the budding curmudgeon that I am, I’ve often daydreamed of wielding despotic control over a citizenry, forbidding even the merest utterances of words that, for whatever reason, burrow their way under my skin with rusty, raucous drills. And there’s no shortage of offenders. “Honest” (and any variation thereof) certainly and unnecessarily pollutes the imaginary word bubbles I see regularly. “To be honest, I don’t know.” “Honestly, I think you should.” “If you want my honest opinion, I think Facebook’s “Like” button is a gangrenous lesion on the backside of Generation Y.” Either our lives abound with such ungodly amounts of balderdash that it’s necessary to alert cohorts when there’s some honest-to-goodness, real-deal sincerity headed their direction, or it’s just another stock word thoughtlessly tossed into repartee as a nonessential predecessor to our impending truth. Whatever the case, it’s become a speed bump in our speech, like a scuzzy opening act from a nameless Midwestern town. Nobody cares. Just get to the Mountain Dew-sponsored preteen headliner.

Others, such as “awesome,” are irksome because they’ve reemerged slimy and ironically goofy from the womb of my peerfolk. I’ve seen “being awesome” filed under job descriptions on Facebook profiles, “Awesomeness” under areas of study, etc. A recent Rhapsody ad (found below) displays a smart phone, with the on-screen narrator proclaiming, “Yep, we know it’s awesome. And here’s how you make it even awesomer.” Between the smugly hip stab at humor and the grammatical Chernobyl, I shake, rattle and roll with an old fashioned, rage-induced seizure (the Black Eyed Peas track sewn into the background certainly doesn’t help matters). I wouldn’t even know how to make my phone more awesome if I wanted to, for the paramedic doing his darnedest to keep me from swallowing my foamy tongue proves a bit of a distraction.

See what I mean?

Then there’s “ASAP.” Once a favorite of secretaries and high school gym teachers, this one doesn’t have the luster it did in the past. And good riddance. But its slow fade into obscurity has made it a devious little transgressor, one unsuspectingly hurled at me every once in a while like a haggard Viet Cong peasant from the napalm-scorched underbrush. The difference between listing off each letter of this insufferable acronym and actually saying “As soon as possible” is a mere two syllables. That’s hardly worth the cost of sounding like an officious ninny, because what runs through my mind when I hear that is, “Listen, dick, don’t expect me to waste time telling you in words how quickly I want this done, okay? We only have time for letters now, mamma’s boy.” And when it’s really, really important? Don’t spell “ASAP,” just say it. The daunting four-syllable behemoth is dashed to two, saving both time and the speaker’s image as a n0-nonsense, rock-’em-sock-’em go-getter.

But “interesting” is quite possibly the most stagnant of the lot, a word that (much like “awesome”) is churned out mindlessly on the day-to-day. As a result, I’ve become numb to it. If I’m told something is “interesting,” it means nothing to me. The word moves with the force and tenacity of a floating dandelion, gently ripped to pieces by even the gentlest puff of air, unable to make any impact. It’s non-committal, and sometimes I think its usage surges because it’s a safe bet and inoffensive, similar to when somebody tells me The Beatles is his or her favorite band. Any synonym to “interesting” is acceptable, because any other choice shows that laziness and veiled apathy played no role in its selection. Ultimately, if something is truly “interesting,” then it deserves a more “interesting” description, yes? Otherwise it’s being sold short with such a milk-and-water adjective and I, well, I’m just left uninterested.

Now I am become Twitter, the destroyer of verbosity

In a stunning turn of events, I created a Twitter account. Once proud of my aversion to the little blue bird, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take the social media juggernaut for a test tweet.

It’s been a week, and my performance is, well, underwhelming. With a mere fourteen followers, my musings don’t exactly circle the globe. Such a lackluster performance, however, may have something to do with what’s left of my uncertainty toward the ethos of the site itself. While I enjoy the idea of following every thought that pops into the cocaine-addled brains of the Hollywood glitterati, I’ve yet to warm up to the rigid character limit imposed on every tweet.

But I’m making progress. Until quite recently, I had a borderline moral objection to anyone willingly saying less in an age of unprecedented access to just about every speck and smidge of information known to man. It all seemed so counterintuitive. Why limit speech with a leash 140 characters-long when technology allows it to roam free and nude in society’s endless backyard? In my mind,  punching out a tweet was akin to stripping the flesh of conversations, opinions and observations, and Generation-Y, it appeared, was buying into immediacy and convenience at the cost of details and description.

Dramatic, I know, but such were my convictions before my recent social media experiment. My initial response was lukewarm, perhaps even reactionary, but each day brings a newfound sense of acceptance, appreciation and, what the hell, enthusiasm for the dot com. Ultimately, brevity doesn’t equal dullness, and as an individual prone to long-windedness, it pains me to say that.

I wanted to believe that stimulating conversation couldn’t exist in Twitter’s terse terrain. Perhaps that’s true. But perhaps I was also threatened by its draconian character limit. Indeed, I’m still wrestling with the task of condensing my musings, but, as mentioned earlier, I’m making progress. And it is, I must add, fun. After all, where else do New York Times-delivered political updates walk hand-in-hand with the deep introspections of Shaq?

If this blog doesn’t satisfy your unyielding appetite for all things alliteration, then this will surely do the trick: http://twitter.com/#!/JoeDoolittle My current fan base is small – and lacking in devotion – so I’m always looking for new members of my flock.

So follow me, children,  and watch as I help drive a splintery stake into the dying heart of verbosity, 140 characters at a time!