The NFL Halftime Show

The Mox 110% American Sports Report, brought to you by:

Blast Off Beer – “The Countdown Starts Here!”

Wreckless Insurance – “Don’t Worry. You’re Covered.”

Jakarta Motorworks, makers of the Jitney Super-Mini Truck – “As Cheap As It Gets!”

“Live from Coach Kartemoff Stadium: the Tucson Gila Monsters take on the Lake Placid Kayaks!”

(On the set, five men sit at a semi-circular table dressed in identical blazers with identical shirts and ties. Each wears a rhinestone Stars and Stripes pin in his left lapel and a red, white, and blue ribbon in his right lapel. The backdrop display is the cherry, frost, and azure Mox logo superimposed over twenty smaller iterations of the NFL logo in scarlet, eggshell, and cerulean.)

“It’s the Mox Halftime Report and I’m Delmartin Quilk, here with our analysts, Wilyard ‘Dirt’ Workman, Bernie Brainy, McKinley ‘Spit’ McNitsky, and Rachmed Medrock.”

Delmartin: “Dirt. What do the Kayaks have to do to get back into this football game?”

Dirt: “They’re gonna have to run the football. That’s how you loosen up a defense. Pound the football into the holes between the tackles and just keep pounding.”

Bernie: “The Kayaks have to throw the football. They have to run deep routes and quick outs. That will leave the middle wide open so they can hit the receivers with the football and put the safeties and corners back on their heels.”

Spit: “The Gila Monsters have the best defensive line in football. That’s why the Kayaks will have to make them cough up the football with their special teams. If they get turnovers, they can get the football back and start their drives with good field position.”

Rachmed: “The Kayaks have to be more cognizant of their percentage plays. Last football season, they had a 46.2% conversion rate on 3rd and 17. This year, they average 2.6 yards when they run the football on 1st down. That’s less than 1.5 yards more than their 1st down efficiency with the football in road games and more than 1.8 yards less than their success percentage at home. They have to be smarter with the football.”

Dirt: “In the football season when we almost made it to the Super Bowl, we learned that the most important thing is to secure the football. Coach made us practice it every week. If you’re gonna run, you have to secure the football.”

Delmartin: “As I recall, the most important thing you secured in that football season was your commercial for Blast Off Beer!”

(Boisterous laughter from everyone at the table.)

Spit: “And you fumbled your line.”

(Louder boisterous laughter.)

Bernie: “If the Kayaks want to cut into the Monsters’ lead, they have to put the football into the hands of their wide outs, tight ends, and split backs. They have to throw the football underneath the coverage into open lanes and crossing routes.”

Rachmed: “Last year, the Kayaks were 12 for 48 on field goal attempts outside the 35-yard line. They can get back into this football game if they opportunize their possessions inside the Red Zone and put the the football through the uprights every time they get inside the 20. Their winning percentage increases by 14.8% when they score points with the football.”

Spit: “That’s right, Rachmed. The Kayaks have to play this football game one down at a time.”

Dirt: “The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Delmartin: “The football teams are coming back on the field. Let’s go to our sideline reporter, Dabetta Plumpton. Dabetta?”

Dabetta: “Thank you, Delmartin! I’m here with Coach Blocklin. Coach, how do you plan to slow down the Gila Monsters’ running game in this half?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We have to slow down the Monsters’ running game.”

Dabetta: “Do you plan to throw the ball more or use more trick plays?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We need to score more points with the football. The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Dabetta: “Thanks, Coach! Back to you, Delmartin!”

Delmartin: “Thank you, Dabetta! We’ll be back with the second half kickoff right after these words from our sponsors.”

The 110% American Sports Report. “Just watch. It’s American!”

Wired World

In When Gravity Fails (1987), George Alec Effinger transports us to the year 2172 and drops us gently into the Budayeen, a walled quarter within a city located near the forbidding Sahara Desert. The world has long since become politically Balkanized; the old mega-countries are now fractured into republics, kingdoms, principalities, and emirates. It is an otherwise quite recognizable place. People travel in traditional conveyances, cars, ships, and planes. Communication technologies are no more advanced than the ones we use today. Economics are not necessarily manipulated by vast corporations controlled by unseen hands, but are still very much a matter of personal dealings in small markets, souks, and shops. Business is business.

Religion too is still with us. The Budayeen, its surrounding city, and all of North Africa is permeated by Islamic civilization. The Word of the Prophet is revered, the surahs of his Qu’ran are respectfully observed, and, inshallah, peace prevails.

Nevertheless, the Budayeen is a dangerous place. It is a rough-and-tumble tourist trap, featuring bars, clubs, street thieves, con artists, flagrant prostitutes, and murderous predators, all rather casually policed, with a well-populated cemetery.

The distinguishing difference in this world of tomorrow is the development of medical procedures and pharmacology with particular regard to and much encouragement of physical re-engineering and sexual transformation. Men can readily become women and vice versa, producing an indeterminate sexual gestalt and a general climate of experimentation and tolerance. Direct modifications of the human brain are now commonplace through surgical implants that permit those suitably “wired” to become anyone or anything commercially available in “moddies” – or, more menacingly, black market personality modifiers. By the simple expedient of “chipping in” a small circuit board package, one can become any fictional character from literature or any actual character from history from James Bond to Genghis Khan. Under the stimulation of a “moddie”, one vividly experiences that person in thought, word, and deed for as long as one wishes, with true identity submerged. “Daddies” are also on hand – temporary data transfer chips that lend instant knowledge of any language, skill, or corpus of facts, however esoteric, for as long as the chip is in place.

To navigate this world safely, unaltered by surgery, with integrity intact, one must be “the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” Our narrator, Marid Audran, is such a man.

Marid is an easy-going hustler from the Maghreb, an arid, desolate region of Algeria, where the common denominator is poverty. He has found a home in the Budayeen, pulling himself up by his bootstraps from nothing to next-to-nothing by virtue of his reliability and brass. He has an uneasy relationship with the police, welcome acceptance by nightclub proprietors, camaraderie with his trio of friends, and the love of Yasmin, born a boy, now a voluptuous club dancer with the knockout looks that only surgery could provide. Muslim by birth, Marid is well-versed in his creed, but knows how to take it or leave it. He refuses to have his brain wired, preferring to find pleasure and solace in pharmaceutical products. As he puts it:

“Drugs are your friends, treat them with respect. You wouldn’t throw your friends in the garbage. You wouldn’t throw your friends down the toilet. If that’s the way you treat your friends or your drugs, you don’t deserve to have either. Give them to me.”

Politics is politics, so even the Budayeen is not impervious to influences agitating the world outside its walls. Marid accepts an assignment from a foreign diplomat to locate a missing person. His client is murdered before his eyes. Soon others in his social circle fall victim to grisly homicides. A monster is on the loose. He is recruited by Friedlander Bey, the Budayeen’s wealthy godfather, whose interests are threatened by the murders, to track down the killer. To prepare Marid for his dangerous mission, Friedlander Bey cajoles and intimidates Marid into the brain wiring he has always avoided, adding an extra implant and a rack of special “daddies” that sharpen Marid’s senses and suppress fear, anger, hunger, thirst, and lust. His investigation confronts mystery and mayhem with street smarts and hard-boiled banter.

In the book’s prefatory page, Effinger (1947 – 2002) acknowledges his debt to Raymond Chandler and his source for the title in a quote from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. He wrote two sequels to When Gravity Fails. A Fire in the Sun (1989) and The Exile Kiss (1991) return Marid Audran, Friedlander Bey, the Budayeen, and many of the original characters, including Bill, the transplanted American taxi driver, who has had one of his lungs removed and replaced with a sac that drips a continuous psychotropic fluid into his bloodstream – a deliciously sardonic invention considering that the author suffered from childhood ailments that rendered him unable to pilot an automobile.

George Alec Effinger was born in Cleveland, Ohio and lived much of his life in New Orleans. His employment of courteous Arabic verbal genuflections and Muslim pieties add spice, and flavor his trilogy with cultural insight. If you relish science-fiction whodunits, inshallah, you may enjoy all three.

Dumb Things Done In Movies – Scene 2

It’s dark in the cellar. We move cautiously down the narrow hallway between the dank wall with peeling plaster and a tall, shapeless stack of dusty cartons, poking the beam of our flashlight at a rat scuttling along the baseboard. We are edging toward a door, never opened before because we have just found the key clutched in the fist of a partially decomposed corpse in a casket disinterred by accident in the back yard. Behind the door there is something creepy, something awful and ineffable, a horrific secret never meant to be revealed. Our mounting dread wrestles with rising panic. The flashlight illuminates a lock flecked with rust.

“REEOWW!” The cat leaps from her hiding place among the mouldering boxes, nearly brushing our face with stiff whiskers in a blur of gray fur.

Cut! Wait a minute. Couple of points to be made here.

First: Apart from the sudden, unexpected hand on the shoulder or the shrill ring of the telephone ripping the dead silence, is there a more shopworn gimmick in the horror flick than the startled cat? Did they really do that again for the billionth time?

Second: When was the last time you personally witnessed a domestic feline behave this way? You never have, have you? Because cats don’t do this! A startled cat does one of two things – cower or run for cover. No cat would ever screech and leap from a secure perch into an empty space or rush toward a threat. Cats save their screeching for other cats. They are not dumb.

It’s the movie makers that are dumb. They are so dumb that, rather than exercise a speck of imagination, they exhume a cinematic cliche so long exhausted that the only suspense it enhances is the viewer’s curiosity: how long will it take these harlequins to spring the startled cat?

Give it a rest, film crafters. After 120 years of movie images rushing past our weary eyes, we are ready to retire the startled cat.

Dumb Things Done in Movies – Scene 1

We are cruising in a Russian submarine, 150 fathoms deep beneath the Sea of Okhotsk.

This is an American movie, with American actors speaking in English. There are no subtitles. The captain gives an order to the mate. The mate passes it on to the other seamen. They speak in English. With Russian accents.

Why? We know they are speaking Russian. What other language would they be using? Why do they have accents?

When you call your brother in Dubuque from your home in Indianapolis, do you hear each other speak with American accents? When you bump into your neighbor in the produce section at the local supermarket, will your chatty cadences sound strikingly American to you?

The Russian scene we invoke is merely an example. It might equivalently be a pair of sous chefs arguing about the sauce in a Paris kitchen, a coven of witches snarling curses over a bubbling cauldron in Budapest, or a knot of snow blind Norwegian explorers sledding  over the Ross Ice Shelf.

The use of accents in dialogue only makes sense when the characters are speaking in an adopted language. It is a pointless contrivance when all the conversationalists are muttering in their mother tongue. Why do filmmakers do this? Do they imagine the scene is more realistic if the characters sound foreign? Do they feel the viewers will be confused if the Captain, in his Russian submarine commander’s uniform, sounds like he took his elocution lessons in Burbank? Are the actors just showing off, because they’re actors and we are meant to admire their vocal versatility?

Stop doing this, movie makers! It’s dumb.