Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 07: The Book

     "Hey, Anita!" Mary entered through the back door into the kitchen.
     "Yeah," came the reply from somewhere in the front of the house. "What's up, Mary?"
     Mary dropped her over-sized purse on the kitchen island and went to pull the book out. Unable to find it, she grabbed her bag and went into the living room where Nita and Lewis were sitting on the couch. Nita was sitting upright, with her feet on the coffee table, supporting her laptop on her knees. How she maintained this awkward position and still managed to function well enough to use her laptop Mary didn't understand, especially as Lewis's head was resting in her lap—he lay on his back, filling the rest of the couch, his knees propping up his own laptop.
     Mary sighed. "Well, I lost your stupid book." She dropped the purse on the coffee table with a loud thump. Lewis, startled, sat up, bumping his temple on Nita's computer.
     "Ow!" He exclaimed, "What the hell?" Mary stifled a laugh behind her hand and quickly turned her best glare on Nita.
     "That was seriously some of the goofiest New Age bullshit I've ever read, and I only read a dozen pages of it."
     Nita glanced up at Mary briefly, but immediately focused her attention back on her computer screen.
     "Lewis! You're losing aggro!"
     Lewis quickly turned and sat upright, likewise returning his attention to his laptop. 
     "Yeah, I got it, I got it ..."  He rubbed his right temple gingerly as he went back to his game.
     Nita replied, "You can call it goofy or whatever you want—and I'm not saying I agree with all of it.—but, you know, it does make you think."
     "Funny," said Mary. "I thought it had the exact opposite effect.  Although, to be honest, I'm not sure what was worse: the book, or the idiots at the DMV who kept trying to talk to me about it. That thing must be some kind of retard magnet."
     Lewis chuckled quietly. "So, you … what? Decided to pitch it out the window on your way home?"
     "No," Mary replied. "I just lost it. I … I guess I must have left it at the DMV."
    "You're in Ohio, dear," said Nita vaguely. Most of her attention was focused on keeping Lewis's game character healthy. "We call it a Bureau here, not a Department or Division."
     "So … are you gonna go back and get it?" Nita smiled slyly. "I mean, I'm an upright citizen these days. I don't need a lost library book on my record."
     "Yeah, I suppose I will, but I want to wait a while."
     "Whatever for?"
     "I just want to wait for the queue to clear out. There were people in it I'd rather not see again."
     "OK, what's his name?"
     "What? Who's name? What are you talking about?"
     "It's fairly obvious," continued Nita. "Some guy in line at the BMV—despite your best efforts at avoiding male attention—noticed you, and you want to avoid him."
     "You're crazy, Nita."
     "Am I?" Nita smiled more broadly. She turned to Lewis and said, "Rogue's down. How long you think you can hold on? Should I res him, or are we doomed to wipe again?"
     "We can get this!" Lewis tapped away furiously at his keyboard. "Go ahead and res him, then spam heals on me, quick!"
     "I'm on it." She made a few quick taps on her own keyboard, and spoke to Mary again, but her eyes remained fixed on her screen, "You know exactly what I'm talking about. Every time a guy pays any attention to you, you run away and for the next few weeks you give yourself a reverse make-over."
     "Revers— what does that even …"
     "You know what I mean. You wear the frumpiest clothes you can find and halve the number of times you wash your hair."
     "What? How?" Mary blushed. "Why would you even notice something like that?"
     "I'm an observer. I observe. We have lived together for nearly three years now, after all. It would be hard not to notice."
     Mary let out an exasperated sigh and went back to the kitchen.
    She yelled through the doorway. "How abut I just pay for the damn book?" 
     Mary opened the refrigerator and scanned the contents. She grabbed a pizza box and a can of Mountain Dew and closed the door. She dropped the box on the table, opened it, grabbed a couple of rectangular pieces of pizza and threw herself into a kitchen chair, cracking open the soda can with her other hand and taking a drink.
     "I'm not actually done with that book," yelled Nita from the other room. She followed up with, "There's still some pizza left from last night, if you want it. It's in the fridge."
     "Found it, already." Mary took a couple bites of cold pizza. "And why the hell do you still need it?"
     "It's for my research paper."
     "Wait, what? So, you're doing a research paper that requires the use of that stupid thing? What's the paper about, failed prophecies? Or just made-up bullshit in general?"
     "Well, sort of. It's about the social phenomenon of conspiracy theories. I need that book for my section on apocalypticism."
     "Did anyone ever tell you that you've made some odd academic choices?"
     "Says the woman who majored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies."
     "Touché." Mary sat with her eyes closed, chewing on her cold day-old pizza. There was another thing she never understood: square-cut pizza. Ohio was a weird place.

     After getting a shower—reverse makeover, indeed—Mary dressed and grabbed her cell. She looked up the number for the BMV.
     "No, ma'am, there's no book here by that or any other description," the woman on the line said. "You say you left it here today?"
     "Yes," said Mary. "I was there around noon. My name's Dagfridchen. Mary Dagfridchen. There was a guy there with two little girls just ahead of me, and an annoying man that had to mind them while their father had his picture taken. Any of that ring a bell?"
     "You know …" the woman paused, annoyingly. "Come to think of it, I do remember you. Did you know there was a man asking about you after you left?"
     "What? What man? Why was he asking about me? There wasn't anything wrong with my forms, was there?"
     "No, it was nothing like that. It was the guy behind you in line, actually. The one we had to watch the kids."
     "Wait, he … he … he was … asking about me?" Marry stammered. "What do you mean? What did you tell him? What did he ask?"
     "He wanted to know where you lived," the woman replied. "Name and address—that sort of thing."
     "Jesus! You didn't tell him any of that, did you?" Mary was starting to feel a little panicked.
     "Of course not! BMV data is private," the woman said. "Well, except when the state decides to sell it to marketers, I guess."
     "Well, thanks for that, at least." A terrible thought occurred to Mary as she continued, "You didn't happen to notice if this man had a book with him, did you?"
     "I think maybe he did."
     "Oh great," said Mary. He didn't have one while we were waiting in the queue, so he must have picked up mine."
     "Sorry to hear that. Important book, was it?"
     "Not really, except that it wasn't mine. My roommate had it checked out of the library. So … maybe this guy was just wanting to return the book to me. I guess I should call the library and see if he returned it."
     "Yeah, you could try that, except, I don't think it was the book he was worried about."
     "What do you mean?"
     "Well, this guy seemed on-edge. He came up to the counter after you, like I said. But he never said anything about a book."
     "What did he say?"
     "He came right up and told me that he needed to find the woman who was in line before him and started going on about destiny and how you were meant to be together."
     "Seriously?" Mary shuddered. "He actually said that?"
     "Sure did," came the response. "I told him this wasn't some kind of movie and if he wanted to go running after you, he'd have to wait in line again. So he renewed his license and went on his way. It was a big line."
     "And you're sure he had a book with him?"
     "Pretty sure, yeah."
     "I have a feeling I'm going to regret this, but … I don't suppose you can give me his name? Even though he probably has my book?"
     "Nope. His information is just as private as yours was."
     "All right, well, thanks, I guess." She touched her phone screen to disconnect the call.

     "Columbus Metropolitan Library—how may I help you?"
     "Hi. I lost a library book that I think someone else picked up and may have returned it for me," said Mary. "Can I check on that?"
     "Sure," said the man on the other end. "What's the account name and number?"
     "I don't have my library card with me, but the name's Anita Herrera."
     "Oh my God! Was the book Twilight of the Gods, by any chance?"
     "Yes. Yes, it was. How did you know? Did someone return it?"
     "Well, someone came in with it," said the librarian. "He was trying to use it to track you down … well, your friend, anyway."
     "My friend? Wait … what did he look like? What did you tell him?"
     "Calm down, Miss." The librarian started to chuckle. "I didn't tell him anything. You should have heard him, though!"
     "Why? What did he say? Who was he?"
     "He was about average height, maybe a bit overweight. He wouldn't stand out in a crowd or anything … light brown hair, or dark blond, maybe, with one of those little beardy things under his lip. He was wearing blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt. Anyway, he said he needed to find out who had checked out the book. I told him I couldn't give him that information. Then he started going on about how your friend was probably the love of his life, and he was desperate to find her. Did you loan the book to a friend, or something?"
     "Um … yes. I, uh … I loaned it to my roommate." Mary felt a chill crawling up her spine. "So … you have the book now?"
     "No. He took it with him." The man started giggling again.
      "What? You let him leave with it? What's so damn funny?
     "You see, I tried to tell him he had to leave it, but then he flew out of here like a bat out of hell." The librarian was just outright laughing now. "What's funny is that he kept stumbling and dropping things the whole time. It's not like we were chasing him, or anything, but I watched him out the window. Once he got to his car, he nearly hit a couple of people on his way out. Thankfully no one was hurt!"
     "So, you saw him get in his car?"
     "Yeah. That was part of what was funny. He was driving some old beater—like a Camaro or something—with a terrible half-done paint job and stickers all over the back of it."
     "What color?"
     "Oh. You know, I probably shouldn't have told you that."
     "Please … he has my book. And I think he's stalking me. My friend, I mean. I think he's stalking my roommate."
     "Well, OK, I wouldn't want something bad to happen to you, and it's not like I have any personal data on this guy. It was like a light blue … kind of metallic-looking. Big parts of it were covered in grey, though … like primer, I guess."
     "What about the stickers?"
     "Oh, there was a Metallica one and … let's see … Slayer, Iron Maiden … AC/DC, I think. Just, you know … rock bands. Oh! And there was a Labelle Research sticker. I think he must work there, because of the plates?"
     "You got a plate number?"
     "Oh my. Yes, I did, but I feel like maybe I shouldn't … Oh, what the hell? It was 'SECRETS' … but, with, like, numbers for some of the letters."
     "So, 'SECRETS' plus the Labelle sticker …"
     "Yeah. You've probably heard the rumors about that place. They're always working on some top-secret government projects and stuff. So, I figure this guy must work there. Although … as weird as he came across, I sure hope he's not working on something important!
     "Yeah," replied Mary. "You and me both."

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Defense of Your Annoying Friend: Firefly, Arrested Development and Community

Last week-end there was a 10th anniversary Firefly Reunion panel at San Diego Comic-Con.  The week before that Ron Howard tweeted a picture from the Arrested Development writer's room where they are beginning work on a new Netflix series to be followed up by a movie.

It got me thinking about all the great but obscure shows that we've lost over the years. Ultimately, these shows get the axe due to low ratings which result in low ad revenues for their networks.

Now, beyond that, there seem to be other reasons—most of us know the story of how Firefly was mistreated by FOX before it ever even hit TV screens. We also all probably have a particular favorite show that was full of promise but was cancelled before it ever had a chance to find an audience and even begin to reach its full potential. (The awesome Threshold springs to my mind.)

It seems the networks no longer have the patience to let a show develop or for word-of-mouth about it to get around. If a new series doesn't hit certain targets in the first 3 or 4 weeks, it's gone. A show like The X-Files—were it to premiere today— would never get nine seasons. Hell, it probably wouldn't get halfway to nine episodes! 

Now, the networks would claim they're a business, and as such, they must make money. They're right. The trouble is they're costing themselves money with this short-sighted behavior. You see, whenever a new and interesting show comes up—say, something trying to be the next LOST-like show (creating long-term plot-lines and mysteries to be solved over time*)—most people I know now take a "wait and see" approach. No one wants to get hooked on a new show—to get pulled into its world and learn to like its characters—only to have the rug yanked out from under them after a few short weeks. People have become leery of even starting to watch what may appear to be a great new show for fear that the network will pull it before they can get any resolution.

This fault lies not with the wary audience, but with the short-sighted network programmers. So many shows have been pulled too soon that no one wants to invest their time in a new show any more, and so new shows fail. If a network would just let a show run (commit to a full season or two), and do this on a regular basis, they would probably start gaining the trust of their audiences again. But somehow I doubt that's going to happen, given the current mindset of TV executives and the splintering of TV audiences over broadcast TV, basic cable and premium channels.

Of course, the big broadcast networks see what's going on over at HBO and AMC and assume that they need to make their shows more racy or violent. They're completely missing the point that what's really going on over there is that good stories are being told, and that these stories and the characters within them are being given the chance to develop. These shows are being given the the time to find the right audience!

Of course, competing with the likes of Mad Men or Breaking Bad takes effort and commitment. It also takes work … and patience. The networks find it far easier to pull a show that doesn't hit its numbers in the first few weeks and just replace it with another cheap, mindless reality show.

The real shame is that many shows later find an audience after it's too late. And this brings me back to Firefly. More people have watched Firefly since it was cancelled than ever saw it when it was on the air. I suspect that if the number of people who love the show now had been watching when it originally aired, we'd have had at least four or five seasons.

Think about that. All of you people who've bought or borrowed the DVDs, or watched it on SyFy or NetFlix and were disappointed that there are only 13 episodes, and don't understand how such a fantastic show got cancelled so quickly—you all wish there was more Firefly to watch. Same goes for Arrested Development. Sure, at least it managed to get a couple of seasons** but it, too, has become more popular since the release of DVDs and NetFlix Streaming.

So now we come to our Annoying Friend.

We all have at least one of those Annoying Friends who is always telling us about how great something is and how we should be paying attention to it. I both have them and have been one—notably in the cases of the two shows mentioned above. 

The problem is that our Annoying Friend is Annoying. So we often don't listen to her or him.

But—how often, in hindsight, has that Annoying Friend turned out to be right? How many of us had an Annoying Friend tell us to watch Arrested Development, but for whatever reason, we never got around to it until after it was off the air?

My point is that the next time your Annoying Friend tells you that you really should pay attention to something … maybe do it? Before it's too late?

Oh, and one final thought: WATCH COMMUNITY, DAMMIT!

*The disappointing ending of LOST notwithstanding.
** OK, so it's officially 3 seasons, but there were only a total of 53 episodes. (Anyone else remember when a "season" of television meant 26 or more episodes?)