Studies in Stereotypes: Trekkies

Common practice in today’s world takes great joy in reproofing stereotypes.  Artists in particular relish breaking down the barriers that all too often pigeonhole groups of individuals with various – and often untrue – adjectives: stupid, violent, awkward, materialistic.  One could hardly dispute the honesty and justice of such protests, expounding the potential of each individual regardless of race, creed, sex, or homeland, stimulating understanding and erasing bigotry en masse.  Yet most reformers stop there, forgetting to seek the honesty and justice among the stereotypes as well.  After all, stereotypes – unlike rumors – possess some and popular foundation in truth.  Often outward beauty reflects inward beauty, power corrupts government, crime-ridden cities, bucolic paradise, the French chef, the Irish drunk, the girl cooking and sewing, and the boy grunting, spitting and scratching – all in the same fluid motion no less.  We cannot hope to surmount our prison walls if we ignore their existence.

Over the past week or so I’ve had the opportunity to encounter several of these proven stereotypes, instances where despite my best efforts at iconoclasm, some habits are just too deeply ingrained for escape.

#1: Trekkies look like Trekkies

Last Sunday Dasad treated me to an IMAX showing of Star Trek.  He has been a long time fan of the movies and the Next Generation series, thus like Virgil he was to be my guide for the day.  As expected the line began early and the theater despite its large size was sold out the day before; thus we made sure we arrived a good forty-five minutes beforehand.  A group of ten or twelve people clustered near the entrance and so until the crowd became more substantial, we wandered over to the arcade.

arcadeOne of the travesties of the modern world is the death of the arcade.  With the omnipresence of the home theater and game systems, most surviving arcades are the digital descendant of the ghost town: empty corridors, blank flicking screens, broken controls, lilting broken tunes emanating from crane games sparsely piled with stuffed representations of decade old cartoon series.  The change machine worked though.  Changing my dollar to some tokens we took our chance on the crane game, which true to form slipped down and up Shrek’s bulbous head as if made of soap.  Two dollars lost and no (working) game in sight, we scuttled over to the line which had doubled in size within a few minutes.

Normally at the house and in public, I attempt to diminish the weirdness of my more geeky hobbies through a combined use of sleight of hand, explanatory argument, and large words:

  • “Weird?  He’s an addict, Mom.  A physical representation of addiction and evil’s ability to erode good.  Gollum is one of the most unique and important characters in literature;”
  • “So what you’re saying is that heroes don’t matter, huh?  That heroism and the ideals of these heroes don’t play a role in our daily lives.  So what if they wear tights.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it;”
  • “It’s just the art style, guys.  If you look beyond the semi-naked nubile eye-candy, the stories are quite good, entertaining yet poignant.”

Yeah so, it doesn’t always work.  Nonetheless I continue to plug away, a never-ending (and possible futile) crusade to convince others (and possibly myself) that what I do has value beyond escapism.  The irony is that while Dasad and I try claw our way from the muck and mire of stereotype, others seem to revel in it.

No one donned any costume.  Apart from one bearded shaggy guy with oddly pointed but otherwise natural ears, no one looked like a Volcan. Or a Klingon. Nevertheless everybody in line looked like Trekkies.  It’s hard to communicate in words how my fellow movie-goers struck me, no general pattern or scent – although Dasad argued that his neighbors exuded a rather unpleasant funk.  I will say that if you consider an average shape or size for the human body, these people were the outliers, individuals much too tall, short, hairy, or obese, whose collective differences were not so much uniform as much as uniform in their collective differences.  If that seems a little confusing, just imagine fifty or so characters from the Where’s Waldo books decked out in sandals, cargo shorts, and a black T-shirts that read “There are 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those that don’t.”

One lady, her frizzy grey hair tied off in a bun, wore cut off jeans, a tucked in T-shirt like the ones they wear at summer camp and a Transformers backpack, adorned with Muppet pins.  She talked freely and happily with a giant, a seven-foot man with a face that reminded me of my old physics professor: his eyes, nose, and mouth hidden behind a bushy mangled mop of black hair.  If the man had a beard or if the mange stemmed entirely from his head, I could not tell.  The woman snorted every now and then at something the bushman said when the line suddenly began moving.  Dasad and I entered the theater and found our seats.  A pod of Asian kids sat behind us, discussing the mechanics of something they saw on MythBusters.  A phone rang a few aisles up, playing a few measures of Final Fantasy’s ‘Vamo’alla Flamenco’ before cutting off (yes, it bespeaks my own level of depravity that I recognized the tune).  Below us several kids practiced holding the gap between their third and fourth fingers – I still need masking tape and/or rubber bands.

We sat next to a rather obese couple, a man and his wife, their bodies overflowing atop and around the arms of their chairs. While the pre-movie ads rolled, the lady squeezed through the row and left the theater.  Dasad leaned over to me.

“Now there’s a never-ending cycle,” he whispered.  “Fat people get married, reproduce, and have kids who cannot help but become fat as well, right?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Think about it,” he continued.  “It’s in the genes, right?  No way to escape that.”

“Not necessarily,” I say in a low whisper, a little embarrassed.  “Obesity is not necessarily genetic.  Even if it were two people with the same phenotype, the same characteristic, may yield different children.  Mom and Dad both have dark hair, but Pat and Sean are blonde. And you also have to take into account lifestyle too.”

“Right, so a child living in such an environment will do nothing but eat.  It’s doomed to follow its parents’ footsteps.”

“Again,” I said after a minute, “lifestyle isn’t like computer programming.  Kids react differently depending on their parents.  They might rebel or seeing the health issues their parents have or might have, they might become fitness gurus or baggers at Trader Joes.”

“Still it’s more than likely . . .” Dasad said.  “It’s just rather sad and disgusting.”

pizza“Dude, I wouldn’t say that.  Stereotypes can be quite misleading.  They might be a nice couple: kind, courteous, generous, loyal, hardworking.  The kind of people who do anything for their friends, family or even their co-workers.  They might even . . .”

Just then the woman returned carrying a mega-sized drink, a tub of popcorn and a pizza.  She bit into a slice of pizza navigating through the seats and shoes, balancing the rest of the food on a cardboard tray.  Still walking she twisted to take a sip from her cup; a glob of tomato sauce fell onto my pants leg.  Pepperoni splattered my shoes.

“. . . be rather disgusting, yeah.”

EPILOGUE

Before closing up shop here I should note — stains notwithstanding — that the movie was awesome.  I’ve seen it twice, and frankly if you’re able IMAX is the way to go.  As I said to Dasad, if the original series had only a smidgeon of the humor and charm of the flick, I might have joined his Trekkie club long ago.  He only nodded.

“Yeah, it was pretty good.  Even after the second time,” he said.  “When I got back home last Friday, I even dreamed about it some.”  Now I believe in karma, that all things balance themselves out, that those that mock and deride others will eventually get their comeuppance.  Thus I felt fairly certain that the following conversation will come back to haunt me one day.

“Dreams, eh?”  I mutter, feigning boredom. “So you dreamt of space hotties, huh?  That semi-clothed green-skinned alien girl was pretty hot, right?  Was she on the spaceship with you?”

“Huh?  Wait . . .”

“Were Kirk and Spock there too?  What were they doing?  Wait . . . I probably don’t want to know that.”

“Hold on . . .”

“And that bald guy from X-men.  Capt. Piccadilly, right?  Did you dream of him too?”

“Picard.  His name is Picard.”

“So you did dream about him . . .” I laugh.  “He’s buff.”

“Look, dude, I’m not that much of a geek.  It was just this one time.  I do not dream about the Enterprise every night.”

“Uh huh . . .”

“Seriously.”

“Ok then, but seriously you had to think the whole space/time thing was kinda lame, right?  That aspect was a little cliché,” I said matter-of-factly.

Khan“No, well, it was their way of staying true to the canon of the original films while totally changing everything,” Dasad sighed.  “Frankly I thought it a little weak too.  Also while the characters were great, the villain was horrible.  No pathos.  Nothing like the Borg or Khan.  Now there was a villain.  He had the intellect, power, and every reason to hate Kirk and the Enterprise.  I remember when I first saw him . . .”

“You got really turned on, didn’t you?” I laugh.

“Okay look, you suck.”

“Did you see Ricardo Montalban in the Naked Gun too?  Or was he only sexy in that Alladin vest and long flowing Bon Jovi locks?”

“I hate you.”

The Fool’s Guide to Wine-Tasting

wine_bottle_glassThe first skill of any successful wine connoisseur necessitates the ability to speak the lingo or at least French. I reason that people are more likely to tell you what you’re suppose to taste if can correctly pronounce the label. This in turn allows the fake connoisseur to easily impress his or her friends while still having little to no idea about which you are talking. Take for instance Saturday’s wine tasting party at one of the local colleges, a lavish affair full of wine merchants and connoisseurs alike, the perfect setting to test my use of the vernacular:

“Yes, this particular white possesses a good finish with an oaky flavor, cultured for years by the French who as you well know, know wine,” the attendant laughed, after I had correctly pronounced Viognier. Vee-oh-nay.

“Oh yes, that is oaky,” I tell Mom and Tiff with a sip.  “I can taste the oak.”

“Can you?” Mom asks.  “Is that the sharp bitter taste?  Is that the oak?”

“Uh . . . sure,” I shrug.

“I don’t know about trees,” Tiff scowls, “but this definitely tastes like unwashed Frenchmen. Next table!”

Tiffany’s aim for the evening – apart from making goo-goo eyes at the chocolate fountain – which I had seen first and thus claim dibs – was to locate a brand of white wine as sweet and drinkable as Linganorre’s Mountain White.  In her efforts to locate said brand the countless sampling had induced a fit of intense giggling, which Mom echoed, much like a mother loon cooing over her child’s first manic dive into the water.

Station 5 featured two white wines and a Merlot, which Mom sampled.  Tiff chose the cabernet, while I sought the subtlety of the Pinot Grigio.

“And you sir?”

“Yes, can I have a bit of the Grigio, please?”  I said this nonchalantly, well-practiced in my wine-merchant slang, certain that the attending seller would immediately sense that cultured air – or at least the reek of wino.  Possibly he would proffer a full glass instead of the usual sampling to reward me.

“Excuse me?”

“The Grigio.  The Pinot Grigio,” My use of the vernacular was perfect.  I ordered my wine with suave charm, a Yankee-born Sean Connery introducing himself as the world’s foremost secret agent.  In true Bond style, I tried to straighten my tie but, upon finding none, feigned a neck rash.

“Uh . . . we don’t have any Pinot Grigio here.  Only a Pinot Noir . . . Um, sir, do you need some ointment?”

“Oh no, no, I’m.fine.  Just a bug bite.  You say pinot noir?”

“Yes, would you like a sample?”

“Um, sure,” I fumble.  My eyes glazed a little, refocusing on a spot just to the right of the man’s ear. “Musta’ve read the label . . . wrong.  That’s red, right?”

“Yes, sir,” the server smiled.  “Dry but an excellent wine.  This particular winery has been growing grapes for nearly fifty years in Napa Valley.”  He poured me a hearty glass – perhaps out of pity – and turned his attention to another taster.

Humbled, my feet shuffle me over to the girls, who naively – and effectively – decided their next selection solely on the color.

“What is that you’re have, Murph?” Mom asked while Tiff finished off her sample, coughing.

wine_basket“Oh some pinot noir,” I shrugged sipping slowly, rinsing away the unpleasant taste of humble pie.  “It’s not bad.  Dry though, not a lot of taste.”  That guy in the movie Sideways waxed poetry about pinot noir; therefore, until inspired or drunk, I would uncover its secrets.

“Ugh . . .” Tiff moaned.  “Like sandpaper in the throat.  I think I need a chocolate fountain to wash this down.  If only we had one near . . . oh, there she blows!*”  [NOTE: This last phrase was in truth not uttered at all but is merely the product of interpreting the speaker’s squeals (Kyaaa!) and the author’s latest literary excursion through the works of Herman Melville.]

My sister-in-law scampered off to cavort among the strawberries and pound cake, piled near the fountain.  Pat had joined us again when she returned, her cheeks full with chocolate-dunked fruit, her chin adorned with a chocolate-goatee.

“They turned the fountain off.  It’s just a chocolate pool now.  I had trouble dipping the pound cake without causing any to crumble,” Tiff said, stabbing a piece of chocolate-coated cake with her skewer.  “But if you pierce it lengthwise, directly in the center, all is good . . .”

Pat and I discovered the entrance to the kitchen and positioned ourselves appropriately in front, like roadside bandits lying in ambush.  Quickly we relieved our servers of their dainties: barbequed pineapple-chicken, steamed shrimp and peppers, spinach pasties, and warm asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.  Using complimentary glass clips, we attached our wine glasses to our plates as we walked around, giving Dad the opportunity to talk to some clients.  Mom sampled some cheeses that supposedly enhanced the taste of her merlot.

clip“Hey hon,” Pat said turning to Tiff.  “Do you want some che . . . uh, what are you doing?”  My sister-in-law was sucking on her glass clip.

“Awhaaa,” she laughed, re-attaching her clip.  “Some chocolate fell on it.  I was just cleaning it off.  Hey, Ms. Patty, we should try the other room again.”

Mom walked home with nearly twelve-hundred dollars worth of wine, procured with the wine god’s blessing in raffle.  The prize proved a double-edged sword though as upon discovering the one-hundred dollar per bottle price tag, she vowed to never open any of it.

Humbled I walked out, my head full of wine and empty of all pretension . . . or my precious jargon.

On the way to the car, lumbering under the weight of six bottles of wine and one faux copper-green fiberglass bowls each, Pat and I pleaded with our claustrophobic mother to take the elevator in lieu of walking down the required four flights of stairs.  Under the influence and fearing the safety of her swag she relented, confident that if the machine should fail ample rations – of the liquid variety – would be available until help arrive.

wine_grabAs the doors swung shut, sealing her inside, Mom’s eyes bulged with terror.  Wildly scanning our cell, she screamed: “Oh no!  Does anyone have a corkscrew?!”

We of course did not, but Tiff eased Mom’s panic with a little MacGuyver-ism.  “Don’t worry Ms. Patty, if we need to, we can just break off the neck and drink it that way.  You know, like pirates.”

Somehow this seemed to work, though honestly how she intended to break off the neck without breaking the bottle or worse spilling the wine is beyond me.  Still Mom calmly stood (or wobbled) while the elevator continued its ride down, choosing to breathe again only when the doors opened.  Laughing the girls met the cool night air, and discussed their favorite brands as we walked to the car.  Half-way home I managed to glance back at Mom, as she fallen fast asleep her arms gently embracing the two large tubs of wine, cuddled beside her.

Pest Propaganda

Ehrlich Pest Control just posted a new series of commericials that had the boys and me cackling on the drive to school this morning.  Taking a cue perhaps from the Grimm fairy tales or the more bloody inspirations behind many nursery rhymes, the folks at Ehrlich (or their skilled ad agency) have devised the following songs, which I reprint from memory.

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey
When along came a spider
who was dead right beside her . . .

The pest control company is mentioned then as the voice of storyteller fades away here, menacingly as if barely able to restrain her giggles.  Frankly the thought of a dead spider lying beside me as I sit down is actually much more frightening than a live one.  Does Miss Muffet continue to eat her curds and whey, shrugging off the dead arachnid?  She should at least consider the presence of toxic fumes.  Moreover, are not spiders more like Nature’s own pest control?  Is this the way Ehrlich deals with the competition  — like Al Capone in The Untouchables?

Hickory Dickory Dock
The mouse never ran up the clock
That’s because the Ehrlich-man killed him . . .

Again the frankness of that last line, perfectly executed by the storyteller — think Mr. Rogers, calm and soothing — brought us to tears, laughing and nearly rolling the SUV into the median.

The final ad was sung by a chorus of young giggling girls (perhaps daughters of the first Miss Muffet’s storyteller), which would sound creepy and unnerving regardless, but the ad compliments the tone by including their faux-innocent laughter as the song closes:

Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran away from the Erlich-man
Who left them dead in the back of his van
Three blind mice . . . (music ends; girlish giggles fade into the company identification)

Shudder.  We nearly swerved into oncoming traffic on that one.  Doing away with all pretense of Disney’s happy singing mice, the ad really nails the head on what the company seeks to accomplish.  Honestly if I were any rodent I’d welcome the Erlich-man scythe as long as he kept those girls muzzled on a short leash. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the recordings on the web to humor (or unsettle) you for the rest of the day, yet I did manage to uncover this interesting gem:

Tea-ed Off

dd_teaDunkin’ Donuts’ iced tea is the worst, foulest muck that I have ever tasted.  Granted having never actually tasted authentic outdoorsy muck, grime, or slime before, I suppose my digust is a bit of an exaggeration.  Nonetheless even the dysentery-drenched swill that circulates through the wells of many a Mexican pueblo refreshes the body more than the rust-tinted (-flavored) pint sitting atop my desk.  Ugh . . .

Most iced tea in truth is an acquired taste, particularly when you choose to abscond on the sweeteners.  Sugar (much like salt on anything else) can overpower the taste of tea, much in the same way that the letters N-E-S-T-E-A does.   To DD’s credit though, I’m told that their coffee greatly surpasses even Starbucks in terms of taste.  Ryan and Sean stand by their Coolata’s, especially as their exams roll around.

Sincerely, I wonder how our students and professors would manage without their caffeine-fix.  Most of the academic community — not to ignore the rest of the world — runs on coffee, alcohol, and late-night adrenaline bursts.   Learning necessitates chemical stimulation, like soldiers tripping-out on LSD in Vietnam.  An unjust comparison perhaps, but I like to consider our addictions now and then, that which drives us forward (or backwards) each and every day.  After all each of us has our own personal demons with which to contend, addictions and obsessions of every shape, size, and political party.  Some, like the swill melting before me,  are worse than others . . .

And in my case sugar-coating only makes it taste much much worse.

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. — Carl Jung