Friday-free-for-all #56: Travel, dark movies, clumsy, genres

Friday Free for All

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the clumsiest thing you’ve done?

Well, I’ll nominate this one, since it had witnesses. October 13, 2020. This was when I was still working for a Medicare Insurance Broker, out of his house. Generally, there would only be the broker in his office (a converted bedroom), the Office Manager in her office (another converted bedroom), and me in my office (basically, the living room).

The broker’s wife was often there as well, but that kept it generally to four people, all of us masked and constantly sanitizing and washing our hands.

This particular October 13 was a Tuesday — and it’s Tuesday the 13th that’s bad luck in Hispanic culture, not Friday the 13th — it was about an hour and a half into the work day when I got up from my desk to go grab some printouts from another, empty office (the converted den).

Only, when I turned and stepped away from my desk, my left ankle was snarled by the cord that led from my phone to the wall. As I moved forward, it pulled my foot back. I overcompensated and then proceeded to pitch forward.

I stopped my fall with my hands on the floor. Unfortunately, there was a heavy wooden screen, painted with Chinese dragons, close to my desk, and I happened to head-butt it. Hard.

Everyone — as in the boss and office manager — heard it and came running out. I told them, “It’s okay, I’m fine,” but the boss looked like he was going to pass out and the office manager casually said, “You’re bleeding.”

I went into the bathroom and, sure enough, I’d managed to split the skin above my left eyebrow in about a two centimeter gash that was, in fact, bleeding a lot — but I happen to know that any cuts near the scalp do that because there are so many capillaries. Or, in other words, if you’re not William Holden, wounds like that are generally not as serious as they look.

I didn’t think I needed more than a few ice cubes wrapped in a paper towel, but my boss thought otherwise, and so it turned into a Workers Comp claim. And, to his credit, he’s the one who insisted on doing it by the book because he was just like that.

So… the Office Manager drove me off to Kaiser, who was already my provider, but also on the official list of companies the Workers Comp company worked with. It took nearly the whole work day, but I eventually got my wound sealed up — they glued it instead of stitched it mainly because I did not want anyone sewing my face up. I also managed to score a flu shot for free while I was there, but no COVID vax yet, because they weren’t really available.

And that should have really been it. I got treated, I made no claims regarding lost work time and the boss insisted that the entire day I spent at the hospital go on the time card as actual hours worked. As far as I was concerned, I was done with it.

Apparently, workers comp doesn’t, um, work like that, and over the next couple of months he and I were bombarded by paperwork. It was a seriously ridiculous stack, and when it became clear that a lot of it was predicated on me saying, “Oh yeah, this injury put me out of work and I need to be compensated,” I contacted the adjuster directly and said, “Hey, um, no. I’m fine. I’ve got no further claims, so I really don’t feel inclined to fill all this out.”

I did a couple of TelMed follow-up appointments with the doctors at Kaiser to assess the healing, and while it was hard to make out from my cell phone since reception at my boss’s office wasn’t the greatest, they wanted me to come in in person, but that was right before another surge, so I flatly told them, “No. Not now.”

Eventually, the hounding and the mailing stopped, and it might have helped that I left that job at the end of February and started the new one on March 1st. But still… one clumsy moment because I happen to have really big feet led to Much Ado about Nothing and the biggest load of paperwork dumped on me at once since the last time I bought a car from a dealer.

What’s your favorite genre of book or movie?

Well, this is an easy one, especially for people who know me. Science fiction — particularly hard science fiction.

And no, “hard” science fiction does not refer to some sort of erotic element. Rather, it refers to that type of science fiction that doesn’t pull Star Trek physics or other made-up bullshit out of its ass to explain how certain things are done.

Rather, it will actually apply the limits of science and physics to the world in which the story is told, then work around the problems from there.

Probably the finest example of this in movies is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which demonstrates the hardest of science fiction. Maybe the only point where it gets iffy is during the “Stargate” sequence at the end, when Dave Bowman’s pod falls into the monolith (“It’s full of stars!”) and goes on a psychedelic trip to the Marriot at the End of the World.

But… as Clarke’s Third Law states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that’s probably exactly what the unseen aliens had.

So the film gets a pass for not following known physics at that point, but certainly for setting it up that “Yeah, this really is a thing that could happen. We just haven’t figured it out yet.”

What was the darkest movie you’ve ever seen?

I can think of a lot of dark movies, but I’m going to immediately eliminate horror, slasher, or torture-porn flicks from the list.

Why? Because while they’re definitely dark, the situations are generally so far removed from reality that it’s hard to feel any connection to any of the characters, heroes or villains. For example, in the entire Saw series, I don’t give a shit about what happens to anyone, and the various traps and the fact that they work at all are so over the top that it becomes meaningless.

The Human Centipede series is another one that, while it is clearly meant to shock, only manages disgust and, again, no sympathy. The premise itself is completely idiotic. Sure, it does rely on some of Salvador Dali’s core concepts of surrealism involving putrefaction, defecation, and decay, but so what?

So when it comes to darkest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s got to be planted square in the middle of human experience and, oddly enough, I have two films that tie as winners. And guess what? They were both adapted from source material by the same author, who may or may not have bene a farmhand in Texas who boffed both William S. Burroughs and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer.

That man was Hubert Selby, Jr., and the films were Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream.

The first, Last Exit, came out in 1989, and interestingly, the screenplay was adapted by a third-generation Japanese American while the film was directed by a German.

I bring this up because while the film is set in the America of the 1950s, it definitely looks at things from an outsider’s perspective, so the result is a dark and nasty working class America that is probably truer to what really was than any Leave It to Beaver middle class white bullshit.

The film is full of junkies and whores, cross-dressers and rough-trade, teen-age pregnancy and union busting. It’s also notable as one of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s early breakout roles as Tralala, a prostitute who ultimately sacrifices herself, really becoming the Mary Magdalene to the Stephen Lang’s Harry Black, who is pretty much lynched/crucified after he tries to sexually assault a teenage boy.

Nobody comes out well on the other end here, and it’s a bleak portrait of people abandoned by the American Dream.

But it’s only an aperitif to the entrée of despair that is 2000’s Requiem for a Dream. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and with an all-star cast, it is a dark and hopeless depiction of people with various addictions — speed, heroin, and sex.

A nice touch here is that three of the characters are hooked on “nasty” street drugs — i.e. heroin — whilc the fourth is a respectable Brighton Beach retired grandmother who gets her increasing doses of amphetamines from he doctor. So that’s okay, right?

But all four of them hit a downward spiral, and the conclusion of this film is one of the bleakest and most hopeless things I’ve ever seen. There is no redemption in this story. Only loss and despair.

And, so, it is very dark, indeed.

What’s the best thing about traveling? How about the worst thing?

It’s funny that this question came up at random now, because I just got a save-the-date reminder in the mail for a really good friend’s wedding, The catch is that it’s taking place at a destination that is about 315 miles from L.A.

This means a six-hour drive. Alternatively, it’s an hour and a half flight to Reno (not including travel time to and check-in at the airport, of course) and then a three hour drive west to the venue.

It’s going to involve an overnight stay, and possibly two — drive up on Friday night, stay in a motel, go to the wedding at 4:30 Saturday, back to the motel, then drive back home on Sunday. Yes, the wedding party has booked rooms at the resort where the wedding takes place, but those are all geared toward families and groups, and I’m going to be going it alone.

I bring this all up because this is one of those things I would not miss for the world, and it’s a perfect way to frame the question. Now, I have no idea why the wedding is there. It could be anything from it’s some location equidistant between his people in L.A. and her family elsewhere, or just a location with sentimental meaning, or there’s some other logical reason.

I’m ruling out flying entirely because it’s actually not the best way to get there — not when it involves crossing state borders twice and will take almost as much time — plus I’d have no control over delays, I also have no idea if I’ll have Real ID by that time (“Your papers, please!”) and since I’d have to rent a car anyway once I was up there, why not take my own?

The wedding is also “Black Tie Optional,” but c’mon. Never give me that option, because I’ll take it. Of course, that risks being better dressed than the groom, but at least that isn’t looked down upon as much as anyone but the bridge wearing white.

But what was the question? Right. The best and worst parts of traveling.

The absolute worst parts are the planning and preparing for it — finding lodging and the like, as well as plane or train fare if that’s your thing, making hotel or motel reservations, and arranging for a rental car if necessary, then figuring out the timing of when you need to leave from here and when you need to return from there.

Then there’s all that deciding what you need to take, and packing it, and making sure five times over that you didn’t forget everything — but you always will. And if you have pets you can’t take, you have to figure out how to get them looked after. Hint — in-home sitter is always the best option. I made the mistake one time of boarding my dog at her vet’s for a weekend, and she did not take it well.

Now top this off with budgeting, because all of these steps cost money, and you’re going to need to spend the time finding the best deals and prices and discounts. Don’t forget that you’re also going to have to feed yourself three meals a day on the trip — well, not including the dinner you get with the wedding, if that’s what you’re going to — and then decide how much you’re willing to spend on souvenir crap, attraction admissions, and the like while you’re there.

Got all that? Good. Other than the packing (but make a list of shit to bring) you should have it all locked down at least a month before the trip begins — although it might be longer, depending on the various cancellation and refund policies.

Oh yeah — this one is slightly more complicated by the requirement for all in-person guests to be fully vaccinated for COVID (working on it) and then to test negative three days before. But I really appreciate that part.

So, yeah. Those are the worst parts of traveling, and it really does make it sound like it sucks, whether it’s a weekend trip to a wedding, a weeklong family trip to a tourist spot, or a two week summer vacation with family cross country. It takes a lot of work.

But that leads to the best part of travel: Once you get there. Reaching the destination and doing the thing and having all the fun makes all of the pain in the ass stuff beforehand 100% worth it.

Trust me. Any time I’ve had to travel, even if it’s been something as trivial as a weekend drive to Palm Springs, which is only about two or three hours out,  the days leading up to it have sucked. All that went away the second I parked my car at my destination.

I know it’s going to be totally the same for this wedding. I’m still going to hate every second of putting the trip together — but I’m going to love it once I’m there.

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