Are you smarter than a crab fisherman?

I was recently watching my favorite TV show of the moment, Deadliest Catch, on the Discovery Channel. For those not familiar with the show, the Discovery Channel has film crews embedded (damn you CNN) on about a half-dozen crab fishing boats during the mid-winter King crab season in Alaska. It’s called “Deadliest Catch” because crab fishing in the Bering Sea is supposedly the most dangerous job on the planet. I say supposedly because I really have no way of knowing if this is true. Personally, I think being a fire fighter, or a Mediterranean sponge diver, or an alter boy would be riskier. But I enjoy the show because of all the angst  and suffering on the boats. Call me a schadenfreudist.

Although I swear that I don’t watch any “reality” television, I guess Deadliest Catch qualifies. It has all the necessary ingredients; crabby people, tight quarters, danger, emotional instability, questionable IQs, and unusual smells (I’m just guessing about the smells.) Ordinarily, these crab fisherman are an entirely predictable lot. The boat captains are sleep-deprived task-masters, the deck bosses are seething usurpers just waiting for the captain to tip over, the deckhands are monosyllabic meat sacks who get paid more than I do, and the green horns are usually brooding and always pitiful targets for the rest of the crew to abuse. All things are as they should be on the Bering Sea. I don’t mean to imply that everyone on these boats is a sadistic moron; there are some marginally normal people who do this job. The boats captains, for example, must be able to read. But most of the guys on the boats are there because, like every Alaskan, they’re hiding from the law.

Every once in a while, though…

On the most recent episode there were two occasions that had me asking my kids, who were watching with me, “Are you smarter than a crab fisherman?” The first was innocuous enough. One of the deck hands, after not-so-nearly being cut in half and dragged overboard, said that the accident almost happened because of “complacency.” I turned to my kids and said, “Oooh, bonus points for excellent word usage.” They both looked at me as if I was drinking…again, so I asked them if they knew what complacency was. Nope. This surprised me not only because they’re smart kids and it’s not really a big word, but more because my kids are complacency masters. I probably shouldn’t be so hard on them. I was the one who bought them the Wii Sit game after all. I defined the word, using both their names in the definition, and there endethed that lesson.

Back on the crab boats one of the boat captains turned over the helm to the deck boss so he could sleep for the first time in three years, or something like that–you know how they hyperbolize everything on these shows. Mid-way through the deck boss’s shift in the wheelhouse he spotted a flock of walrus swimming in the open ocean. Even though these guys have been fishing the Bering Sea for many years, none of the crew had ever seen a walrus so they all “oohed” and “aahhed.” The captain slept through it. When he awoke and was informed of what he’d missed, he was livid. He went off on the deck boss, telling him that walrus sightings always meant good crab fishing and that the captain should be notified immediately of three things, regardless of circumstances; icebergs, mermaids, and walrus. (Okay, I made up the icebergs and mermaids, but those are things I would want hear about.) Apparently no one, not even a Major League baseball player, is more superstitious, and infatuated with walrus, than a crab fisherman. So the captain turned the boat around through perpetually stormy seas and headed back to drop his crap pots where the walrus had been.  I was still belittling the puny-brained captain and his silly omens when they raised their first pot from Wally World, (their term, not mine.) It was plum full of 50 dollar-a-piece King crabs. Apparently no one in my family is smarter than a crab fisherman.

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Steve Martin to Star in…

I was watching Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, something I blessedly haven’t done in about ten years, and surprise, surprise, Steve Martin is hosting. I guess it’s his 115th time hosting the show. Apparently Lorne Michaels has a bright red Steve Phone for those unexpected hosting emergencies, and Martin obviously has nothing else going on Saturday nights. It shouldn’t bother me because the show really sucks and I don’t watch it, but Lorne needs to stop giving Steve a reach-around every time Martin comes out with a new movie. I will point out right away that I like Steve Martin, always have. I liked the arrow-through-the-head, “excuuuuse me!”, 1970s Steve; I liked the slightly spastic, bemused, regular guy in Parenthood and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, 1980s Steve; I liked the go-to-Iraq-to-entertain-the-troops-but-not-tell-anyone, philanthropic 1990s Steve; Hell, I even like his banjo playing–and I hate banjo music (except for my cousin Keegan’s banjo playing, which is freaking awesome!)

But something struck me as I watched Steve’s monologue that Saturday; he’s one gin blossom and maybe 50 pounds away from turning into W.C. Fields. That’s not such a bad thing either. I like Fields as much as I like Martin, maybe more so, since Fields hated puppies and children. To confirm my suspicions that Martin is, in fact, becoming Fields, I googled photos of both. Sure enough, to my eye, there are more similarities than differences these days. The squinty eyes, the pasty complection, the ever-present chapeau, but what really struck me was a headline that appeared with one of the Martin photos:

Steve Martin to Star in All of Me Remake

What the…!?! Is Steve Martin really considering a remake of a fair movie he himself starred in 25 years ago? Can’t be. Steve, the man who made one of my favorite movies that no one else likes, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, the man who demonstrated such contempt for Hollywood in the acerbic L.A. Story, this man is going to remake one of his own movies from decades ago? That has to be unprecedented in Hollywood history right? The same actor, playing the same role a quarter century later? I know, you can make a case that John Wayne played the same part in every film for a half-century, and in the case of Rio Bravo and El Dorado, it was almost a complete do-over, but as I recall, Wayne wanted to do the drunk sheriff part in El D., and Howard Hawks had to beg him to play the good guy again. (By the way, if anyone is planning yet another RioBravo/El Dorado remake, I got dibs on the Stumpy part.)

I don’t think anyone has ever tried what Martin is apparently considering–that is, playing the exact same part in a line-for-line remake. There’s a reason movie stars don’t do that. The people who go to see this tripe will naturally compare your original performance with your current one. That’s a no-win situation in the remaking. Imagine an overweight, 1980, Godfather-vintage Marlon Brando in a remake of On the Waterfront. Or, how ’bout the suddenly creepy, Bill Murray of Lost in Translation redoing Carl Spackler, in Caddyshack. It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.  Even a dusty, tipsy Harrison Ford knew enough to stay away the latest batch of Star Wars movies, and those weren’t remakes. They weren’t good either, but they weren’t remakes. So, Steve, you think you can pull  this off? I’m telling you it’s cinematic suicide. Don’t do it. You’re no John Wayne.

As I said, All of Me was just an OK movie in my book, he’s done better, but it made Steve Martin an honest-to-goodness movie star. And on the strength of that performance he went on to make numerous original movies.  Three Amigos!, Roxanne, (OK, that’s kind of a remake,) L.A. Story; Planes, Trains, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; I’m sure I’m forgetting some, or trying to in the case of Bowfinger. The point is, while they weren’t all box office sensations, Steve is not exactly living in a cardboard box out there in Brentwood. I’m quite sure that a big part of the reason for All of Me‘s success was casting Lily Tomlin to play opposite Steve in the original. Tomlin, as much as Martin, made the movie work. She had star appeal well before Steve hit the scene. And she’s damn funny. So what comedic legend is playing the critical female lead in the new All of Me? You ready? Wait for it…

Dana Elaine Owens.

Never heard of her? Yes, you have. She is that icon of the silver screen, Queen Latifah. This has box office gold written all over it…absolute dynamite…the trades are screamin’ SMASH!  Didn’t Martin learn anything from his other film costarring Owens, Bringing Down the House? Well, of course he did. Bringing Down the House made him piles of money. So did his 2006 attempt at remaking a comedy classic, The Pink Panther. So will his latest effort, The Pink Panther 2. So did two earlier Martin remakes; Father of the Bride, and Father of the Bride II, The Curse of the Black Pearl.  And let’s not forget the forgettable Sgt. Bilko. I don’t know why Martin suddenly likes remakes so much. Wait a tick…yes I do…remakes are easy and cheap to make. For one thing, the plot and characters are already there for you. You poorly imitate Peter Sellers in the real Pink Panther movies, you hire some schlep screenwriter to fill in a few punctuation marks and you’re golden. And remakes have name recognition, so there’s a built-in audience, even if they stink (the remakes, not the audience). Remakes with Queen Latifah? Fuggedaboudit. Yeah, I know, the Queen has garnered some praise as an actress. Hell, she was even nominated for an, ahem, Academy Award. That’s more a reflection on the “academy” than on her, though.  Apparently, Martin and Owens are trying to become the new Burns and Allen, or maybe Stiller and Meara? I suppose I can take some solace in the fact that they’re not trying to be Fred and Ginger.

Note to Steve: Stop remaking classic comedies. Peter Sellers, Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, and even funny, original Steve Martin, are rolling over in their graves. And for God’s sake, don’t remake movies you’ve already done. If you must continue with this travesty, consider remaking My Little Chickadee. You’ll save a ton on make-up.

aaasm

Go away, kid! Ya bother me.

aaawc

I was born a poor, black child.

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Giving it up for Lent

As a recovering Catholic I don’t usually give things up for Lent, but this year I decided some sort of sacrifice was in order. Since it’s been a long, guilt-ridden winter, I signed up for my local diocese’s new aerobic contritioning program–Pontius Pilates. It’s only been a few weeks, but so far, so good. For the first time in years I’m down to a 1.84 cubit waist, and the enhanced inflexibility is really nice. According to Father M, my glutes are coming along fine too, but I need a lot more work on my peccatus. I’ll get there–the instructor is a genuflection beast.  The hardest part for me is the supplication–bad knees. Oh, and I look like crap in the workout cilice. I’m going to keep going until we’re done with flagellation, but I’ll probably quit before they get to the ascetics unit.  By then it will be Easter and I’ll be in absolutely fine shape, body and soul.

Sincerely,

The Pilates Reformer.

P.S. Yes, I know where I’m going, so you needn’t remind me.

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Here we go again…

Just kidding!

Sorry, London. We didn't know it was loaded!

Quick, off the top of your head, when did WWII begin?

If you are the producers of The History Channel’s Voyages, evidently it began December 7, 1941. And I quote, “…with the onset of World War II in December, 1941…” Come again? Did the freaking History Channel just say WWII began in 1941? That will no doubt surprise a few million people from Poland, France, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, China, and many other similarly insignificant little countries who had already been bleeding on each other for more than two years.  I imagine the hundreds of thousands of casualties–if they weren’t dead–would be especially shocked to learn that those first couple of years were just practice.

Battle of Britain? A simple misunderstanding. Dunkirk? A beach holiday. Operation Barbarossa? You Russians didn’t take that seriously, did you? That time when the British sank the Bismarck because the Bismarck had just sunk the Hood? Just kidding…hope no one was hurt. Rommel and Montgomery? Two boys arguing over toy trucks in a big sandbox. And just what the hell was Anne Frank hiding from?

Apparently, September 1, 1939 was just another day in world history. I’m so embarrassed.

Another gem from The History Channel. Sheesh. Really, you guys should stick to monsters, UFOs, and killer asteroids. And change your damn name.  “The Hysteria Channel” sounds about right.

Well known agoraphobe, Anne Frank

Well known agoraphobe, Anne Frank

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Where Have You Gone, Jane Goodall?

When I was a kid in the 1960s we had four local television channels. There were the three commercial networks, of course, where I could get my fix of Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, and The Brady Bunch. Then there was PBS. If I wanted to really learn something about anything, especially nature, history, or science, then chances are PBS would have a show to cover it.  National Geographic, Connections, Scientific American, et al., were great shows with integrity and I watched them, or shows like them, religiously all through the 60s and 70s.

What I liked most about the PBS shows was that you could pretty much believe what they told you. They featured respectable scientists like Jane Goodall and Louis Leakey, two of the giants in the study of human evolution. And two of the most British people on the planet. You could almost smell the gin and tonic on Leakey’s breath as he revealed some brilliant new anthropological discovery. And Goodall practically had those Gombe chimps using the Queens English by the time she was through with them. More to the point, as I remember it, those two never used phrases like, “the largest Australopithecus robustus ever to live in the Olduvai Gorge”, or “the most intelligent such and such…”, or “the hairiest…”, or even “the most fabulous…” You get the idea. What they knew, and what modern documentary producers obviously never learned, is that science has precious few absolutes. Old School scientists like Louie and Janie, as I like to call them, didn’t use hyperbolic, definitive phrases because, and this is the crux of the matter, there is just no way to know if these “facts” are really facts. Besides, once you’ve reached a definitive conclusion you can stop looking, right. That hardly encourages future discoveries, or credible documentaries.

Fast forward to last night; Kingdom of the Blue Whale airs on the National Geographic Channel. This show had potential. First, it was produced by the National Geographic Society, hardly a fly-by-night operation. And then there’s that great theme music…Dun, dun, dun, daahhh, dunt…  The topic, Blue Whales, is also ripe with possibilities. I can’t remember ever seeing an entire documentary, two hours of it no less, dedicated to these amazing creatures. There was a show a couple years back about Sperm whales, which was interesting, but I don’t remember much about it other than sperm whales do regular battle with giant squid, so I’m calling it forgettable. Except that now I’m craving calamari.

Back to the blues. I think Blue whales have a certain magic because they are the largest creatures currently living on this planet. You get points for being really big, even if you have no particular talent. Look at Oprah. So, they’re really big and they grow really old, again, like Oprah. I think we can all agree, Blue whales are cooler than Oprah. Yet, in the past we’ve heard little about them. The reason for this is simple; they’re so damn difficult to study. They roam huge swaths of the open ocean, they’re relatively solitary critters, they speak with a heavy accent, and they don’t do well in laboratory aquariums. But I wanted to know more, so I watched with great anticipation. Hell, Tom Selleck even narrated. Tom Selleck is one of the last truly nice guys on the planet. He must be, he has a rifle and a caliber named after his characters. This is gonna be good. I mean, you have the mighty triumvirate of good documentaries: Great topic, heavyweight producer, and killer voice talent. This isn’t gonna be some lame History Channel, Bigfoot: Abducted by Aliens show. This is the real deal. You just can’t lose, right?

Wrong! Mr. Selleck, through no fault of his own mind you, he’s just reading a damn script, gave us the ubiquitous example of how to be a lousy documentarian. “Blue Whales,” he reads, “are the largest creatures ever to inhabit the planet earth!” Hold on there, Magnum. How the hell do you know that? Did someone at National Geographic tell you to say that? Or are you making it up as you go? How can any scientist, historian, celebrity spokesmodel, or PhD. in Bigthingology, possibly know what creatures existed in the ocean, say, 100,000,000 years ago? Do these people actually think they have discovered a fossil record of every animal that has ever existed!?! How many new living species were discovered in the last decade? Or just the last year? Yet you, Mister, excuse me, Doctor National Geographic, give Quigley the unenviable task of spouting such nonsense. Or are you so full of hubris now that you can state such things with absolute certainty? The answer, of course, is yes, he, and we, are that full of hubris; despite the fact that pretty much everything we think we know with 100% certainty right now will be definitively disproved eventually.

Didn’t these NatGeo people see Men in Black? Take off the lab coat, find a date, and log on to Netflix, Poindexter.   Agent Tommy Lee Jones put the whole issue into perfect perspective when he told an incredulous Agent Will Smith, “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” Way to spell it out Agent Tommy Lee. All except that aliens on this planet part…you auditioning for the History Channel or something? Oh, and National Geographic guys, please stop calling yourselves NatGeo. It’s pathetic. You guys gave us the Titanic and Jacques Cousteau for crying out loud. You’re not hip cats. You’re hip replacement cats.

This trend in documentarianism isn’t going away. We don’t ask for credibility, so we don’t get it. We just want to be entertained, so we get throwaway facts dumped on us, like “a blue whale’s tongue is heavier than an elephant.” What the hell kind of “fact” is that? Is it an African or Asian elephant? A baby pygmy elephant…a huge bull African elephant…? It’s like a Monty Python bit, except the Pythons were funny. I guess what it comes down to is that these days I’m more likely to get useful information from The Professor on Gilligan’s Island than I am from National Geographic. At least The Professor will show me how to make a radio out of two coconuts and a bamboo exercise bike…and if nothing else, there’s always Marianne.

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It’s a Start

So a friend of mine says to me, “You’re a writer, why don’t you have a blog?”

“Um, because…because… Fine, I’ll get a blog. What’s in it for me?”

“Fortune, fame, and glory.”

“I’ll take the first. But, why would anyone want to read my stuff?”

“Because you’re witty, handsome, and charming so far as you know.”

“I am?”

“Hell, yeah. So start a blog you stupid bastard.”

Done.

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