Ingrid Goes West

This is a very compelling movie about how I really need to stay off of social media.

But, seriously, it’s a film that follows you around afterwards, haunts your thoughts, and leaves you with an ending that isn’t exactly satisfying, but at least is more comforting than the ending it could have.

Spoiler alert! O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (A.K.A. Ice Cube, Jr.) plays a giant Batman nerd. OMG, he is such a Batman nerd. I mean, everyone has their favorite Batman, and that’s okay. But O’Shea Jackson, Jr.’s Dan Pinto is devoted specifically to the Val Kilmer iteration from the Joel Schumacher film Batman Forever. That is a rare breed of Batman nerd. As this actor’s second foray onto the big screen clearly shows, his range far exceeds playing his own dad in a biopic.

This might sound like I’m downplaying this character, but I am seriously captivated. I want to know more about him. I want to know why Batman Forever? Should I revisit this film. Also, how does an orphan get to be a lamdlord in Venice Beach and have a sweet, sweet truck with a BATM8N vanity license plate?

And that sex scene.

This is how I’m selling the movie if I haven’t sold it on you yet. Spoiler alert. There’s an Aubrey Plaza as Catwoman sex scene. It is the epitome of human vulnerability and exploitation between consenting adults. But you should definitely watch the whole movie for the context. Because the movie is about so much more than that.

It’s about how amazing your life is when you have 1000s of Instagram followers, and why that’s horribly wrong. Plus a handful of Batman references.

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Coyote v. Acme

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads, but I feel like three and a half stars is the more accurate reflection of my rating. However, I did laugh a lot while reading this slim volume. Also, I picked it up from a thrift store in Tahoe city for less than a dollar. So, for my entertainment value, it was well worth it. Also, I laughed several times. And, also, wished that I could write random 1500 word humor pieces for major American magazines. I would like that job. How do I get that job? What do you mean “what’s a magazine?”

Okay. Fine. Millennials rule the world. But, seriously. Pick up an issue of the New Yorker sometime. It’s magic to feel the pages in your fingers. To touch the stories. To smear the ink with your greasy, aiolli tarnished fingers. To relish in the sting of the occassional paper cut.

Or follow the links to articles that your more erudite friends post on Facebook. Or watch that video of the cats wearing pumpkin hats. It’s nice. And it doesn’t ask you to think critically to be able to appreciate it. Then go to brunch. Because it’s nice to be able to pay too much for breakfast.

Okay, go on. Get out of here, you scamps. Brunch is calling. And mimosas. Go on.

What? Are you still reading this review? Then maybe you’ll enjoy the book. Or maybe you’re hoping to get to the link to the video of a seal asking a scuba diver for a belly scratch. The choice is yours.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I reread this classic of American Literature while I was on a road trip across many Western American States. I have several thoughts, most of which are easily summed up by the fact that, the last time I read this book I was twelve or thirteen. Upon reflection, I realized that the N-bomb was not a word I should be dropping, but I didn’t quite realize why. It’s a catchy word. It rolls easy off the tongue. It’s problematic. I didn’t realize when I was in middle school that the real problem with the word was it’s history. It was a word that was used to label a great many individuals as chattel rather than people. Now, Mr. Twain, for all his white privilege seems to have figured a way to cut to the heart of this problematic term and it’s common use in a piece of fiction firmly couched within that historical moment between the Missouri Compromise and the Civil War. He wrote the story as a first person narrative from the point of view of a largely uneducated boy who himself has had to escape his drunken, abusive father by faking his own death.

I don’t want to be an apologist for Huck Finn’s choice of words, but here I am, trying to excuse it by saying he didn’t really have any more appropriate words in his vocabulary. So I guess I’m being an apologist. Mark Twain, makes a creative decision that, as much as anything else, adds verisimilitude to this wild account of two people pooling their resources to escape the forces that would carelessly exploit them.

I’m not going to go on and on, because this is, after all, the internet. No one really wants to stare at any page that long. They just want to scroll on to the cat gif. So I’ll keep it short. Over the course of this book, Huck Finn becomes more than a little bit woke. Tom Sawyer, on the other hand, is pretty much a jerk.

Worst. Person. Ever.


Douglas Coupland’s Worst. Person. Ever. is not a socially redeeming book. Raymond Gunt really is the worst person ever. That being said, it is a funny book. Especially if you like crude humor, physical comedy, biological excretion jokes, and a protagonist who is a complete and total asshole of the type the comic actor Matt Berry is quite adept at portraying. In fact, read the book with Matt Berry’s voice in mind. He makes a perfect Raymond Gunt. If you don’t know who Matt Berry is, you may not like this book. If you do know who Matt Berry is, and his work really isn’t your taste, you will hate this book. Also, there are a lot of swear words.

It’s hilarious. I’m ashamed of how much I laughed at some of the horrible situations in this book. But I did. It’s a horrible world and sometimes all you can do as laugh at the inappropriateness of all of it.

I’d like to add that I found this little gem at the Dollar Tree in the newly disincorporated city of Damascus, Oregon. So, for my entertainment dollar, I literally got $16.00 (MSRP) worth. Can’t beat that without stealing. Or borrowing it from the library.

I don’t blog enough

Facebook has gotten difficult. It used to be my psychic safety valve. It used to be that everyone who had privileged access to that rocky mess of the outward expression of my inscape knew what they were in for.

Now, the damned thing is a burden. It’s every bit the morass of interpersonal and social anxiety that I took to Facebook to avoid in the first place.

I suppose it started when they let moms on. I began to second guess my posts lest my mom become worried. She has enough to worry about. Then came friend requests from casual acquaintances. And then potential in-laws. And now actual in-laws. Not to mention all the aunts and cousins I’ve accumulated on my friends list. (Not so many uncles, though.)

Of course, I could set up intricate privacy filters or a make a second account just for the people who really understand me. But that’s a lot of work when I’m just looking for a quick fix to blow off steam that would, unvented, create an explosive outburst in a real life setting.

But now I can’t. And twitter doesn’t do it for me anymore, either.

I know the socially acceptable thing is to just keep those feelings bottled up until, I don’t know, until you die, I guess.

I wish I could just put out a caveat on my Facebook profile that says, “understand that I have a social and communication disorder. The written word is my sacred refuge. It’s the easiest place for me to have my thoughts make sense sometimes. And sometimes my thoughts are doozies. Also, I may feel literal correctness is more important than social kindnesses when I’m posting or commenting. I know. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s what’s going to happen. If what you comment on my posts does not logically follow (or read as a well crafted joke) I might make a response that seems down right rude. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that I can’t not respond that way.

My Facebook, when it really worked for me, was the secret whispers of a confused mind searching for order. I’m not on Facebook to post nicey-nicey fakey-fake happy-haps on how baller I want you to think my life is. It’s what I really think. Do you really want to know what I really think?

Then read my post.

And research your response.

And if you’re posting a joke, it had better be good.

Colossal

If I were to ask you if you’d be interested in a Spanish-Canadian production starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudekis, involving the secret personal politics of abuse that underlie kaiju vs. mecha battles halfway around the world, I hope you’ll say yes. Especially when I tell you it’s written and directed by a guy named Nacho. If that doesn’t get your butt into a movie theater seat, I’m worried we maybe shouldn’t be movie buddies anymore.

Oh. One more thing. It has the guy who played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey in it. So, in a way, it’s kind of a chick flick. But one of those chick flicks that really only has one woman in it. And a giant monster and a giant robot breaking stuff in Seoul. But it’s really more of an indie movie, because, you know, they drink a lot of PBR and Stroh’s, the soundtrack is super cool, and the story doesn’t get tied up in a tight little bow at the end.

If you liked Safety Not Guaranteed, you’ll probably like Colossal. If not, we probably shouldn’t be movie buddies.

Bring Me the Head of Abed Nadir…

Bring Me the Head of Abed Nadir…

The following is an essay I wrote a few years ago about how much I relate to a character on a TV show. That TV show is called Community. The character is named Abed. I love that TV show.

Bring Me the Head of Abed Nadir…

Just make sure it’s still attached to the rest of him because I think we could totally hang out.

My buddy Luke is my best friend in the world. I met him when I was a junior in high school and he was a freshman. Over the last couple decades we’ve been classmates, housemates, and co-workers at three different jobs. We co-created a short-lived micro-press comic book series (three issues of Captain 9-Ball, circulation: 30). He has tolerated my pedantry on all subjects nerdy and academic, even those about which I know less than he does. He sadly shook his head and kept his mouth shut when I got back together with my first girlfriend (the girlfriend I couldn’t quite break up with because I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to convince anyone else I was boyfriend material). He put up with a few full-blown tantrums over his tendencies to leave the living room looking as though guys in their early twenties lived in our house (we were, in fact, in our early twenties). He got internet ordained to perform the ceremony for my first marriage, nursed me through the divorce, encouraged me when it was time to try dating again, and gave me the best damn Best Man’s toast when it counted.

He’s also the guy who introduced me to Abed.

I was about a month or two into my first serious binge into research on Asperger’s and autism. What brought the research on was a panic attack relating to the facts that, 1) I was having a lot of trouble communicating with the instructor of an online class I was taking, and, 2) I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be doing as I was meeting with potential cooperating teachers for my student teaching internship. In the throes of confusion, I happened to catch a radio interview of writer Tim Page, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in adulthood. What I heard Page describing was just too similar to what I had been going through my entire life. I took a break from my classes and plunged into the available reading material.

I started soft with Wikipedia and a Facebook meme of a widely used autism diagnostic tool. Then I moved on to a couple titles I picked up at a local used bookstore, titles I had known about for years, but was afraid to look into. With good reason, it turned out.

My reading binge confirmed that Asperger’s was me. No doubt about it. I am a person who has these issues: a tendency to monologue without regard for my audience’s lost interest; a fascination with minutiae; motor clumsiness; difficulty reading the intentions of others; and, yeah, a lousy track record for romantic relationships.

Luke was my best friend from forever. My best friend even though sometimes months would pass without us actually speaking. He’s the first person I talked to outside of my family about my Asperger’s suspicions. He knew a bit about the topic, and enough about me, to accept what I was saying as truth. He also knew that I was still the same person I always was, just with a handy new set of nouns adjectives at my disposal. Nouns and adjectives that described the stuff I’d been doing for as long as he’d known me.

A couple weeks after I’d shared with him my self-diagnosis, he said to me “You should watch Community. There’s this character, who, well, they only say the word once, but, yeah, he’s got Asperger’s. You’d like him.”

He was talking about Abed Nadir. Now, at this point, I could monologue at length about the NBC sitcom Community, giving you airdates, character and actor bios, and my own take about why former show-runner Dan Harmon was fired and what that means for the show. But, I know enough about myself now to know that this isn’t necessary. If you’re reading these words, you have internet access. You can open your own tabs for Wikipedia, YouTube, and IMDB. Go ahead and do some background research if you want. I’ll be right here, silently scrolling my monologue through my head, till you get back.

(Time passes… or not)

Right, so now we all know that Abed is a quirky member of a quirky community college study group who makes meaning out of the world by filtering real life experiences through his encyclopedic film and television knowledge. One of his main motivations for joining the group, besides a universal desire for friendship, is that the setup reminds him of the John Hughes movie Breakfast Club. It’s quickly revealed, however, that study group instigator Jeff Winger is neither a certified Spanish tutor, nor actually interested in being part of a study group. He just wants to get into the blonde girl’s (Britta Perry’s) pants.

Abed expresses his disappointment at this revelation by telling Winger, “I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films, but you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.”

To which Winger replies, “Yeah? Well you have Asperger’s.”

Rather than leading into a stilted and forced explanation of a trendy new movie of the week subject, the study group descends into the lowest form of comedy: underwear area jokes. (And thank god for that, because we already have Parenthood being preachy on the subject, and that’s enough.)

The pilot episode of Community is the only time the syndrome is mentioned in the series. And it’s the only time it needs to be mentioned. This is not a television show about how everyone copes with their friend who’s kind of autistic. It’s a television show about seven disparate individuals, each with their own strengths and flaws. And everybody’s flaws get equal time. Kind of like Mtv’s the Real World, only better.

Abed shows early on, that he knows his own strengths and flaws all too well. We see this in the first season episode, “Physical Education,” when the group tries to help Abed get a girlfriend. It’s help he hasn’t asked for. It’s intrusive, disrespectful, and, as Winger reminds the group, doomed because any plan to superficially change someone to fit your own idealized version of what a person should be is doomed.

But Abed is game He goes to his strength and accepts this complicated social ploy by framing it as a movie set-up. “You’re going to Can’t Buy Me Love me,” he says, referencing the one 1980s high school movie not set in McHenry, Illinois. (In fact, it was set in Tucson, Arizona at the same high school I attended. Not when I was there, but when one of my older cousins was. However, my enrollment did overlap with that of Joe Torres, a cast-member of the very first Nickelodeon produced sit-com, Hey Dude. But, that’s all beside the point. Note the parentheses.)

The point is Abed knows who he is. When the group tells him the best way to approach a girl is to just ‘be yourself,’ Abed does so without missing a beat. He stares off into the middle distance and remains in his seat at the group’s table. Group member Troy Barnes, who will go on to become Abed’s best friend, roommate, and blanket fort rival, realizes a clarifying prompt is necessary.

“Go be yourself by Jenny,” Troy says.

“But I wouldn’t go over there.”

“How do you know that?”

“A lifetime of observation, mostly.”

Abed knows who he is and he knows that approaching girls is not something that he does. The group feels like they need to push him to help him grow socially. They ask if he can imagine a version of himself that would be near Jenny. Very quickly he decides that the version of himself that would do this would also be a vampire. He apes the posture and facial expressions, not of dreamy Edward Cullen, but of the pestilential titular character from Nosferatu.

(This entire exchange echoes scenes from my own life when friends would learn that I was still a virgin at 24. They kind of marveled that it wasn’t for religious reasons, gave me some tips, and took me out to clubs with them. Mostly, I learned how to drink gin and tonics. I might have been able to make the vampire thing work, though. This was the late 90s and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was picking up steam.)

Abed plays along with the group’s efforts to get him a girlfriend, even though he knows it’s more important to them than it is to him. He’s following the arc of what he recognizes as a typical sit-com plot development and is happy to do so. It’s comfortable for him (just how, in the late 90s it was comfortable for me to soothe my own uncertainty in social situations by repeating the mantra ‘It’s just a TV show’). The inevitable sit-com plot reversal comes, revealing the dramatic irony that Jenny already has a boyfriend who happens to look like a white version of Abed.

Abed takes it in stride. The rest of the group, however, is worried they may have destroyed Abed’s self-esteem.

Abed reassures them that he has “self-esteem falling out of (his)butt.” He also reveals some things he knows about himself and how other people relate to him.

“Everybody wants to help me,” he says. “But, usually, when they find out they can’t, they get frustrated and stop talking to me.”

Although Abed knows he is socially impaired, he is, like all humans, a social creature. He wants to be part of the study group. He does not want this group to get fed up with him and shove him in a metaphorical locker (as seen in season three episode “Virtual Systems Analysis”). He tells them directly, and unashamedly, “when you know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn’t such a big deal.” This causes the group to reevaluate their own motives and gain a new admiration for who Abed is.

But, despite what Abed says, changing for other people is a big deal.

In between my first girlfriend and my second, there was someone who almost was. I was using my mantra hourly, and sometimes every minute.

(

It’s just a TV show, I’d tell myself. Keep following the arc until the commercial break. Collect yourself, and get back in there for the big reversal and the resolution. Thirty minutes. It’s just a TV show. You can do it.)

I told this almost-girlfriend about my mantra, because I didn’t really have any kind of filter on my thoughts then. No real conscious grasp on which of my thoughts would be good to share and which would just be off-putting. She thought my mantra, my social crutch, was absolutely ridiculous. “But life isn’t a TV show,” she said.

And no, it isn’t. It’s this terrifying thing where you never really know what’s going to happen next and people don’t make asides or soliloquies and you can’t hear their pre-recorded inner monologues, so you never know what they’re thinking. TV shows are much more comfortable. Reliable. You know that, no matter what happens, at the end of thirty minutes things will return to a sort of stasis in which the characters and their relationships come to the same equilibrium that existed before the beginning of the episode. Unless it’s a two-parter. Then you have to wait a week.

With the almost-girlfriend things started to get romantic one night until the point where I asked, “what do we do next?” and she started laughing. It wasn’t a mean-spirited laugh, but it was pretty much the end of it. Reversal. Equilibrium. Role end credits. And that ending was actually very comfortable. That evening’s episode had arrived at a proper sit-com ending. It was good. It worked. The at-home audience was satisfied with their entertainment (and, in those days, I often truly did determine an interpersonal exchange’s success by what I judged would be its entertainment value for the invisible at-home audience). I was left feeling that, just maybe, I could handle something more. Maybe a mid-season cliffhanger or a three episode story arc with a new recurring character. I was growing, just oddly.

Soon after this, through improbable circumstances, I met the official second girlfriend, the one I ended up marrying. This time I dared not tip my hand or share my mantra with her. I did my best to follow the role of awkward, quirky boyfriend according to the rules of sit-com plot development. And then, one thing led to another, and a child was conceived.

Life really wasn’t just a TV show.

At this point, my mantra had run its course. I couldn’t take it seriously anymore, and I had to look for strength elsewhere. Luckily, I found strength in my stubborn determination to be a version of me that would also be a really great dad. And, it turns out, that version’s really not a version at all. I can do that. Other things I’m not so good at. Like shopping for groceries without looping through every aisle several times before remembering three of the five things I absolutely need to get while I’m there. Or making a good impression at job interviews.

Years passed, I learned some stuff, figured out some interesting and sometimes absolutely terrifying things about myself (facing that you have Asperger’s can be absolutely terrifying), and, in 2009 my best friend, Luke, insisted I meet Abed. I’m glad he did.

I like to follow the exploits of Abed Nadir, because, of all television characters, he’s the one I know I could hang out with. He loves TV and movies with a depth and passion I can appreciate. He says the kind of things that I might say. He reacts to the people around him in ways I might react. He does things that I would do, if only I had self-esteem falling out my butt (and sometimes I do).
I also have a new appreciation of my buddy Luke. He’s known who I am for years. He’s seen all my autistic quirks and all the different versions of me I’ve attempted to be. And he knows that all of them do have a genuine piece of me in them. He’s even seen the worst of the wannabe bar trash asshole version that neither one of us really liked. But he’s been my friend through all of it, long past the point where he should have gotten fed up and shoved me in a locker. I watch how Abed’s friends both value him, and are frustrated by him. How, even after he’s been his most obnoxious, they still love him. I get a better idea of how Luke sees me, and why he’s always been my friend.

I guess that makes Luke kind of like my Troy, only better, because we can hang out in real life and not just on a TV show. Also, he helps me remember that this is not the darkest timeline, which is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

 

This piece originally appered on my old Blogger blog, which is still there, Shoals of Neurodiversity

The Martian

  
I’m reading Andy Weir’s book, “The Martian.” If you’re a nerd, you should drop whatever you’re doing and read it right now. If you’re the kind of nerd who already read it, read it again. If you’re not so nerdy, you can wait a couple months until the Ridley Scott movie starring Matt Damon comes out.

Language warning: this book drops the f-bomb in the first sentence.