Seattle nostalgia

I think I’m already stuck on this book. Maybe I just don’t feel up to it this weekend, but I can’t even think about it without thinking it isn’t that good. I don’t know, I never had this problem with Summer Rain because the whole plot was there and it was just a matter of doing the work and coming up with the details, and Rumored had its problems and there were many second thoughts, but it eventually pulled through. The problem now is that a lot of the notes I’ve taken in the last few months don’t really fit this book, and it makes me wonder if I should just finish this and start something else with those notes, or just start the something else, or do both, or do neither, or who knows what. So tonight I’m just dicking around, maybe editing the web site, and playing video games.

I was thinking about Seattle today, which is always bad news. I was playing around with traffic cameras on the web, because part of an underpass collapsed here, and I wanted to see if there was a picture of it or anything, and while googling around, I found the WSDOT web page and started checking out their cameras, and it made me miss Seattle so much, it was pathetic. It’s hard to explain, but back when I was there, I always spent my Saturdays driving around. When I first moved there, I was always broke, but I still had the almost-new car and it got great mileage, and I’d spent all of my time driving up I-5 to Northgate mall, or down I-5 to Southcenter, our out on I-90 to Bellevue or across the 520 to Kirkland, or wheverever I needed to go. I drove a lot, because everything had a parking lot, and even though traffic pissed me off, I had a tape player and an air conditioner and the new car smell and I didn’t care.

And looking at the pictures… I mean, check them out sometime. Every road in Puget Sound is perfectly carved into the hills, with grassy meadows and evergreen trees wrapping around every terrace. You can’t drive five miles in Seattle without crossing over a lake or passing by a large body of water. Maybe it’s just something familiar to me about looking at these cameras, all of them positioned right at places I remember, that makes me reminisce. But when I look at that and then I look at what I do on most Saturdays here, it’s depressing. I know I took the scorched earth approach when I burned my bridges leaving Seattle, and I think assistant managing a McDonald’s here probably pays more than doing my current job back there, so I’m not in any rush to leave New York, but I just wish I could hop in my car that I don’t have and drive when I’m sick of staring at the same four walls and I want to get out.



The Day After

I went to buy movies yesterday after a haircut, and found out that The Day After just got released on DVD. It wasn’t ever on DVD, and I never thought I’d get to see it again, unless I bought a tenth-generated pirated VCD copy from some guy in Brazil off of eBay, so I was very happy to see a real version of it for only ten bucks, and I grabbed it immediately. I managed to watch it last night, and had a lot of thoughts about it, so here I am.

The Day After was a two-hour disaster movie about nuclear war shot for TV and aired on ABC, and it was a really big deal when it was aired in November of 1983. This was at the height of Reaganism and when the Soviet Union and the US were standing toe to toe on the brink of atomic war, and the idea of a movie that showed all of this in great detail created a groundswell of controversy and interest. This was around the time of movies like Red Dawn and Wargames, when movies about nuclear apocalypse were in vogue. Also, at a time when few people had cable or satellite dishes and all of the minor TV networks and cable outlets hadn’t bled away the focus of the big three networks, it was much easier to get people to crowd a TV premiere and make an event into an Event.

I remember watching the first half of The Day After as a twelve-year-old kid. They divided the movie into hour-long pieces, with the nuclear blast happening after the first hour. They also went commercial-free for the last hour. Since they publicized many warnings about how traumatizing the post-apocalypse scenes might be, my parents would not let me watch the last hour, and I was pretty pissed. I mean, at this point, I’d already seen Freddy and Jason slice open a million people, and I think Salem’s Lot was more scary than watching a bunch of people with bad rubber makeup of flash burns on their faces. What was even stupider was that my bedroom was right next to the family room where my parents continued to watch the show, so I HEARD the whole thing. Well, looks like all of that cautious parenting turned me into a well-adjusted normal person, right?

Anyway, I watched the DVD last night, and it’s always amazing to see something you haven’t seen for twenty years and add a fresh layer of detail to the distant memories you have in the back of your head about it. The movie takes place in Lawrence, Kansas, a place I saw a few years ago. Lawrence and the nearby Kansas City are about as Midwestern as any part of Indiana was back in 1983. The movie opens with panning aerial shots of farmers working in fields, kids playing football, the stadiums for the Kansas City Royals, the college campus at Kansas University, and the people walking through town. It all had that late 70s/early 80s feel to it, like Breaking Away did – the signs are all different, less corporate; the stores look friendlier, more like that old IGA instead of the big mega-grocery; the people wore earth-tone colors and big collars and dorky hairstyles like those old grade-school photos you try to hide in the rest of your picture collection. Despite what MTV might tell you, the 80s weren’t all like Miami Vice and Joan Jet and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. To a lot of us who did not live on a coast, the 80s were a gradual extension of everything bad about the 70s, except we got personal computers with 64K of memory.

The movie starts out by building up a troop of characters and families. Jason Robards plays a doctor working at the college medical center; John Lithgow is a scientist also at the school; a whole family, including a daughter about to be married, is headed up by John Cullum (who most recently played Mark Greene’s dying father on the TV show ER); Steve Guttenberg is a wandering college student; there’s also an Air Force airman and his family, and a few other people. It’s a nice little cross-slice of America, and makes you think you’re about to step into some sort of sappy situation-comedy as you get to know each group.

Just as you see these people introduced into their daily routines, the shit hits the fan. There’s a lot of vague pieces of news thrown at you about the fall of Berlin, different countries being taken over by tanks, and Russians moving ground against Europe. This is all in the form of TV bulletins and stuff on the radio, shown in snippets. You never get a clear idea of all of the politics behind it, but that’s the intention; they aren’t going to sit back and explain World War III at a later point, like they did in Red Dawn. You just get the shots of people freaking out, hording food at the grocery store, boarding up windows, or standing there paralyzed with fear. This is mixed with stock footage of Strategic Air Command putting people in missile silos and communicating with their airborne command center, which holds all of the codes needed for an all-out nuclear war.

Finally, it all falls apart. Lawrence used to be home to SAC and had tons of missile silos scattered around farmland. So people are sitting on their back porch of their farm house, and all of a sudden, giant columns of white smoke erupt from the ground as Minuteman missiles leap out of their silos and head off to Russia. Then the everyone-running-down-the-street footage starts, mixed with the all-out military footage of guys running to B-52s, pulling the safeties out of ALCMs, getting on the horn with Looking Glass for confirmation codes, and all of the cool stuff that you never ever see except for about 18 minutes before the end of the entire world. There’s also a great quote in which Lithgow and a few other science students are standing outside watching the missiles launch and this girl says “What is it? Is it some kind of test?” To which he replies, “no you bitch, there’s an alien on the wing of the plane!” (Oh wait, wrong movie.)

When the nukes hit, it’s an eerie and paralyzing feeling, even though the special effects look like something my 7-year-old nephew could do in Microsoft Paint. They do a lot of the thing where the bodies get zapped and you can see the skeletons inside for a second, which is pretty spooky. However, the whole thing is marred by the fact that if Lawrence, Kansas got hit by a Soviet attack in 1983, not one god damned person would live to tell about it. And they’re showing people that are like ten miles away from the air blast of a 500 Megaton bomb ducking down in their car and putting an arm over their eyes, and then getting up a second later and saying “what was that?”

A lot of people do die, but many of our main characters are around. Cullum (who, by the way, would be my first choice if I was casting a movie about Richard Speck in his later years. He doesn’t wear a shirt in one scene where he’s digging with a shovel, and THAT was more traumatizing than seeing two billion people die.) and his family are boarded up in a basement that is sealed with a radiation-stopping inch of dirt over the windows, and they all live. His son looked right at the blast, and has bandages over his eyes for the rest of the movie, although he has some hope that he will regain his vision, despite the fact that his retinas were deep-fried and there is absolutely no medical technology on the planet anymore. Also, his mom and daughter are going increasingly nutso, and Steve Guttenberg’s character drops in and becomes sort of an adopted son to them. It’s strange to see Guttenberg so early in his career, because you expect him to break into some kind of Police Academy shtick at any moment. The airman spends his whole time wandering around the countryside, which is pretty stupid, but there you go. The doctor played by Robards basically spends 24 hours a day dealing with severe radiation burn victims with no power, lights, fresh water, sterile conditions, or medical equipment. Lithgow spends his whole time fucking around with a shortwave radio and a Geiger counter.

A lot of the movie plays like a bad filmstrip teaching facts about nuclear annihilation, in a way that makes the actors look like they are reading straight off of cue cards. A girl runs outside and Guttenberg runs after her and the exchange is like this:

Him: “Come back inside. There’s, um, radiation out here.”

Her: “What’s, um, that?”

Him: “Radiation is all around. us. It’s, going through. us. now. Like. An x-ray.”

Most of the post-war world is nowhere near as bad as it really would be. In fact, at the end of the movie, they ran a disclaimer, that basically said “Know how bad it looked in this movie? Well, it’s going to be a hundred times worse in real life, so kiss your ass goodbye.” They did a reasonable job of trying to show radiation sickness, given 1983 makeup technology and the masses of people that had to be shown. There were ruins everywhere, and everyone was losing hair in weird, funky patches, and had fake burns on their faces and all kinds of dermatological nightmares on their skin. But in reality, that entire area would be a crater. And while some nuclear winter effects were shown, they neglected to mention that the ash thrown skyward from the bombs would create a cloud of darkness that would last decades. I guess that darkness interfered with their film cameras, so they had to work around it.

The movie has no real ending, no “we’ll get through this together” or “we will persevere” or anything else, and I think that’s good. If they made this into a miniseries, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of what happened around the world, or what became of the rest of the country. But I think the idea was to show that Lawrence, pretty much in the middle of the country, would have taken the least of the damage, so New York or LA would have been completely fucked compared to Kansas.

Despite the goofy special effects and the fact that you had to ignore reality a bit, I actually enjoyed seeing this movie again. The first half of the movie, like I mentioned, was a time capsule to that period right before I started Junior High, the wood-paneled living rooms and giant console TVs and portable radios as big as ten iPods. The second half was a time capsule into the fears and politics of the era. I remember around the time of this movie thinking about what would happen if there was a nuclear war, how we’d probably be fucked because we lived just east of Chicago and just north of Grissom AFB. I can’t say that I missed a lot of sleep over it, but the thought was there in my head for my whole childhood. I wonder if kids now worry about terrorists the way we used to worry about Soviet nukes. Probably not. It’s not like it was a great thing, but it was part of my culture as a kid, and now that’s gone, so it’s always interesting to take a peek back at it and see how much the world has changed.

Okay, time to go get some work done.


war zone

I finally finished my trip report from Florida. Go here to read it. [deleted, sorry…]Warning: it’s not terribly exciting, but at least it’s done.

I just got back from the movies and returned to a war zone. Greece won the world cup or whatever big soccer tournament is going on right now, and my predominantly Greek neighborhood currently looks like the Tet Offensive or something. Pretty much everyone with a last name ending in -opalus is driving around drunk with their car horn welded permanently on and 17 Greek flags hanging off of every side, along with a half-dozen screaming people, yelling phrases I don’t quite understand. The main drag on 30th Avenue looked pretty much like New Year’s, with people throwing paper and bottles and cops in riot gear and a median BAC of about .27 for the entire crowd. Call me a hick, but I really don’t understand the allure of soccer at all. Aside from my complete hatred of all sporting events, the game is about as exciting as watching someone repair the drain to a sink. Hopefully everyone will lapse into alcohol poisoning in the next few hours and I’ll be able to sleep in peace.

I’ve watched lots of movies this weekend. Last night, I went to see Dodgeball, and found it to be very funny, considering the fact that it has Ben Stiller in it, and I consider him to be the kiss of death as far as comedy is concerned. (You know how everyone said that if Adam Sandler didn’t do the potty humor and dumb voices, he wouldn’t be funny at all? Well, Ben Stiller is Adam Sandler minus the poo jokes and characters.) I’ve come to the conclusion that with Rip Torn, you can’t go wrong. Vince Vaughn’s also pretty good, especially when playing a jerk. And even Stiller’s stuff wasn’t bad. The film was mostly a remake of the slightly funnier Basketball, but it’s still worth seeing.

And then Spiderman 2 was tonight. I actually liked the film a lot. It didn’t have the comic book geek baggage that the first one did, in which you have to basically pause everything and take a bunch of time to explain all of the superpowers and storyline and the entire universe of the comic before you start in with the action. They did pretty good with the script, the action is very immense, and the special effects are so complex and detailed, you can’t even imagine how they did any of these shots except to totally immerse yourself into the film and imagine it is a giant comic come to life. It’s great and I hope it does well this weekend.

I added another shelf yesterday, a duplicate of the one I got a few weeks ago that has pegs and holes so it stacks on top. Now I really have extra shelf space, although I expect it to be filled in no time. I moved some of the DVDs over there for the time being. The next goal is to redo some of the CD and DVD storage, and maybe get some new floor-to-ceiling unit to eke a bit more space out of it.

That’s about it. I think I’m going to flip in a DVD (maybe part of the Simpsons season 4 set that arrived this week) and get a late snack. Happy 4th to everyone.