Witless Platitudes

I.   Bad luck doesn’t happen to dead people.

II.  If you don’t know where you are going, you are lost.

III. When life hands you lemons, throw them at annoying children.

IV. Birds poop on cars for a reason.

V. The watermelon never falls far from the tree.

VI. It is better to lend someone your hand than your wallet.

VII. Love is Nature’s way of reminding you that you are not that good at sex.

VIII. When you fart in church, light a candle, and blame your neighbor.

IX. Wisdom is best when it is remembered.

X.  Always tip the hangman.

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Rick and Morty Forever

Rick Sanchez, a flask swigging, morally relativistic, quantum party animal and super-genius inventor, has returned after a lengthy absence to live with his daughter Beth, an equine surgeon, her insecure, unemployed husband Jerry Smith, their impressionable teenage daughter Summer, and their nervous, fretful son Morty. Rick has enlisted Morty to be his wing man and fellow adventurer in a series of inter-dimensional, trans-temporal, and routinely hair-raising capers.

Belching, stammering, chin perpetually slathered with drool, Rick occupies himself crafting marvels in the family garage for his own amusement from household odds and ends and exotic minerals from other worlds, exposing himself and Morty to a googolplex of dangers, with warning advisories typically issued just after the nick of time.

“I know that new situations can be intimidating,” Rick assures his grandson. “You’re lookin’ around and it’s all scary and different. But, you know, meeting them head on, charging right into them like a bull, that’s how we grow as people. I’m no stranger to scary situations. I deal with them all the time. Now, if you stick with me, Morty, you’re gonna be… Holy crap, Morty! Run! I’ve never seen that thing before in my life. I don’t know what the hell it is. We gotta get out of here, Morty! It’s gonna kill us. We’re gonna die!”

Dispatching him on an emergency mission into the internal organs of a dying man, Rick slams a helmet on Morty, positions him on a miniaturization platform, and punches a control button, mentioning at the last moment, “Hold your breath until the process is over or your lungs will collapse.”

Rick is not merely the smartest man on earth. He is the smartest man in the universe. He has fashioned a handheld device to twist open portals to an infinity of parallel universes. In the infinity of timelines every possible Rick or Morty does or does not exist. Regardless where his portals lead him, Rick’s wave function rarely collapses from uncertainty.

He is impatient and unsparing. “There is no God, Summer.” Rick coaches his granddaughter. “You gotta rip that bandaid off now. You’ll thank me later.”

Rick invents a miniature robot with artificial intelligence to pass him the table butter. “What is my purpose?” the robot asks. “You pass butter,” Rick says. “Oh, my God,” the robot slumps in despair.

Arriving at the Blips and Chitz arcade for a holiday of electronic abandon, Rick raises cash by peddling a weapon to an assassin. “You sold a gun to a murderer so you could play video games?” a scandalized Morty cries. “Yeah, sure. I mean, if you spend all day shuffling words around you can make anything sound bad, Morty.”

Rick has built himself a car equally well equipped for road trips or space jaunts. “The first rule of space travel, kids, is always check out distress beacons. Nine out of ten times it’s a ship full of dead aliens and a bunch of free shit! One out of ten times it’s a deadly trap, but I’m willing to roll those dice.”

When alien parasites attempt to populate the earth by assuming affable characters and implanting bogus fond memories of themselves in their human hosts, Rick must lock down the Smith house to stymie the confusing proliferation of invaders.

“Dad, why does our house have blast shields?” his daughter inquires in surprise.

“Trust me, Beth. You don’t want to know how many answers that question has.”

Landing on a planet to refill his wind shield wipers, Rick informs Morty, “It’s a purge planet. They’re peaceful. And then, you know, they just purge.”

Morty: “Tha… that’s horrible!”

Rick: “Yeah. You wanna check it out?”

To power the battery in his car, Rick siphons energy from a micro-verse of intelligent beings he has created, endlessly churning treadmills that they think supply the juice for their own world. They have evolved a genius of their own called Zeep who replaces the treadmills with energy captured from a mini-verse he has invented that in turn has evolved beings who have created a teeny-verse they can sap for power. A battery failure pulls Rick and Morty through levels of micro-travel to solve the energy crisis. Rick and Zeep face off in the teeny-verse, trading jibes.

Zeep objects, “That’s what you use my universe for, to run your car?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Rick sneers. “There’s always Triple A… Someone has to bring a little culture. And it certainly can’t be someone whose entire culture powers my brake lights!”

Meanwhile, Summer has been left behind in the car, shivering in fright as the car executes its vague order from Rick to “keep Summer safe” with heartless efficiency and horrific consequences.

Some of Rick’s inventions run off the rails with catastrophic results. A love potion he gives Morty to help him seal a romance triggers a storm of rabid suitors for Morty’s attention and Rick’s concoction to offset the love potion “Cronenberg’s” the entire human species into mantid monsters that decapitate their mates. Rick and Morty escape to a parallel reality where everything is identical except that they are dead and must bury their own bodies in the Smith’s yard in order to effect their seamless substitution  of themselves.

In a subsequent episode, Morty implores his sister not to run away from home. He points to the back yard from Summer’s bedroom. “That out there? That’s my grave. On one of our adventures, Rick and I basically destroyed the whole world. So we bailed on that reality and we came to this one because it wasn’t destroyed. And in this one we were dead. So we came here an… an… and we buried ourselves. And we took their place. And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast twenty yards away from my own rotting corpse!”

“So you’re not my brother?”

“I’m better than your brother. I’m a version of your brother you can trust when he says ‘don’t run’. Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone is gonna die. Come watch TV.”

The animated Rick and Morty series (2013), created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, was introduced on the Adult Swim network (a prodigious cradle of invention for humorists working in video media). Roiland provides the voices of the title characters. The featured voice actors are Sarah Chalke, Chris Parnell, Kari Wahlgren, and Spencer Grammer, supported by a multiverse of regular voices and an impressive roster of guest appearances, including David Cross, Stephen Colbert, Tom Kenny, Alfred Molina, Keith David, Alan Tudyk, Ice-T, Dana Carvey, and others. Ryan Elder composed all the music, kicking off with a pulsating Rick and Morty theme reminiscent of Doctor Who that throbs like an accelerating heartbeat.

Writers and story board artists drive the concepts and dialogue: Ryan Ridley, Tom Kauffman, Wade Randolph, Eric Acosta, and others too numerous to list.

Rick and Morty is a teeming comic thicket that bristles with sharp stabs at family values, formal education, sexual mores, species chauvinism, conventional science fiction tropes, and Panglossian optimism. Is this the best of all possible worlds? Let’s hope not. Let’s party. Wubba-lubba-dub-dub!

The pilot episode concludes with Rick’s fervid lubricated rant: “It’s just Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty and their adventures, Morty. Rick and Morty forever and forever a hundred years Rick and Morty. Some… things… Me and Rick and Morty runnin’ around and… Rick and Morty time… a- all day long forever… All a- a hundred days Rick and Morty! Forever a hundred times… over and over Rick and Morty… adventures dot.com. W W W dot at Rick and Morty dot com W W W… Rick and Morty adventures… Ah- hundred years… every minute Rick and Morty dot com… W W W a hundred times… Rick and Morty dot com…”

The Customer Survey

I was wrong. I admit it. Here I’ve been thinking all this time that the corporations – the big ones that run the retail chains and discount outlets where I take my custom for groceries, sundries, apparel, and sometimes even a telephone, a computer, or a car – were just heartless, even swinish, multi-national leviathans, bottom liners whose executives only answer to their stockholders, their boards of directors, and the litigants who file the liability lawsuits. I thought our relationship was entirely feudal: they are the ruling class, the lords that own the castles, the land, and the tillage with the protective support of the State, and the benevolent blessings of the Church, and I am the helpless serf who plows their fields, dependent on the meager portion of the harvest they let me keep for myself. I thought they didn’t care about small fry like me.

But I was wrong. It seems that they really do care about me personally. They want to know what I think and how I feel and where I live and how to send me information about the marvelous things I can buy from them. Why else would they always ask me to fill out a Customer Survey?

At first, I was only annoyed. How could Lindaniel, the clerk in the orange and purple smock at the discount department store, insist that my participation in the survey was crucial to his next salary bump? When Kutricia rang up my purchases at the supermarket, why did she always draw a circle with a pink Magic Marker on my receipt and beseech me to complete an online form the moment I have packed away the fat free pretzels and instant porridge into my pantry?

How callous I have been! It was never the fault of the people who swipe my credit card that they must implore me to spend 20 minutes on a survey every time I shop for anything. I was just being selfish. I was irked because I thought I was done with homework when I dropped out of school.

I feel better about the surveys now. It’s gratifying that my opinion matters. I’m flattered. In fact, I want to help.

Here is my suggestion: make the survey questions more interesting.

I accept that there are excellent reasons why the surveyors want to canvass my shopping choices with queries about which creams are most efficient in masking my unsightly blemishes, what cleansers I prefer to banish the coffee stains I’ve dripped on my sofa, which remedies I reach for when my bowels disagree with me about my dinner selections, or which lubricants I like to have on hand when I look at naughty pictures on the internet. But, to be truthful about it, these questions are boring the first time they are posed, never mind the nine hundredth time.

I believe I would rush home and remember to charge my laptop if I were asked to weigh in on questions like these:

“If you met an extraterrestrial in the shoe department at Target, what question would you like to ask?”

A. Which actress do you think is hottest?

B. Do you get to ride in the Popemobile?

C. Do you think these moccasins make me look fat?

“If you purchased a table light at Lamps Plus and a genie popped out when you rubbed it, what would you wish for?”

A. That McDonald’s would serve breakfast all day?

B. A lower rate on your auto insurance?

C. A hotter genie?

“If you met the hottest actress while browsing in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, would you ask her…”

A. To buy you a new waffle iron?

B. To recommend a good wetness shield for your mattress?

C. Does this bath towel make me look fat?

“Which of these products would you like to see on the shelves of your local Kroger Market?”

A. Reusable tissues that are good for sneezes, floors, and kitchen counters?

B. A diet pill that reduces fat and builds muscle without exercise or unpleasant side effects?

C. A microwavable soup that would let you see five minutes into the future?

“When you visit Home Depot, what are you most likely to do?”

A. Shop for a bathroom medicine cabinet that refills itself?

B. Admire the area rugs and be amazed at how long it takes to have one delivered?

C. Find a toilet wand that you could wave at barking dogs and egotistical bloggers to make them shut up?

See what I’m saying? Just jolly up the surveys for me and I will cheerfully surrender my time, energy, and the fractional increment in my electric bill to oblige. It’s not as if I have anything better to do. While I’m in between surveys, I think I’ll run over to the discount department store and follow Lindaniel around for a while to see whether he really deserves that raise.

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!”

Alas, Poor Yorick

According to the French periodical Cahiers du Cinema, in their appreciation of the film at hand… but our request to reprint their opinion has not as yet been answered so we are not at liberty to share it. Suffice it to say, there are “motion pictures” and there is “cinema.” Our subject, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) is something else.

As Shakespeare wrote – was it Shakespeare? – wait, we have the quote here somewhere. If we can find it, we will come back to it later.

Confronted by such a screen spectacle, we tremble merely to contemplate its depths of profundity, its expanse of scope, its pierce of insight, its brilliance of illumination, its reverberation of consequence… Hold on a moment. We shall have to take our medication to stop this trembling before we can continue.

Science! Is there anything more dazzling, more exhilarating, more utile, more swollen with promise? Yes, there is. Power! Could there be a topic more topical, a surge more surgical, an import more important? Certainly there could be. Sex! What could be thrilling, more beckoning, more forbidden? Well, there’s one thing. Death! Is anything more entrancing to the mind, more hypnotic to the senses, more elusive to the soul? Okay, there is. Wealth! Dreams of untrammeled desire sated, of acquisitive urges empowered, of insecurities forever banished! But isn’t that the same thing as Power and Sex? Damn! Those trembles are back again.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra has it all and much, much more. Science. Power. Sex. Death. Mysterious meteors. Aliens from outer space. Ray guns. Mutant monsters. Resurrected tyrants. Mesmerized slaves. Did I mention Science? And the seductive, alluring “Animala Dance”! Your hips will sway; your legs will twitch. You will be unable to remain in your seat. You will probably go to the kitchen for a snack.

The film’s trailer warns us, “You’ll be sterilized with fear!” It must be so because we find ourselves impotent to summarize in words a work that wrestles so far outside its weight class, in which each part is greater than the sum of its whole. Yet somehow it all goes together like skeletons and xylophone music. It’s very complicated. It’s scientific. Or, as Doctor Armstrong edifies his helpmate Betty, “You know what this meteor could mean to science. It could mean actual advances in the field of science.”

Who should rightfully possess the priceless atmospherium? Doctor Armstrong, the Earth scientist from Earth, Kro-Bar and Lattis, the stranded aliens who need it to power their space ship home to the planet Marva, or the imperious Lost Skeleton, arising like the noble dust of Alexander to assert his designs of world dominance and matrimony? The issues cudgel the brain.

The roles of the characters are played by actors. Larry Blamire does all the science as Doctor Paul Armstrong. His meals are prepared by faithful Fay Masterson as his wife and spouse Betty. Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell are brave, resourceful, and confused as Kro-Bar and Lattis. Brian Howe is evil as Doctor Roger Fleming. Jennifer Blaire fuses forest creatures together to become Animala. The Skeleton plays the Skeleton.

Oh, before you go, here’s that quote we promised: “Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?” We have no idea what it means. Do you? We just dug it up because you can’t bury a good quotation. Or a skeleton.

(Review posted on Amazon.com, June 2010)