Tuesday, August 30, 2011

FML

I'm standing on the roof of an eight story parking garage in downtown Cleveland. 

My sunburnt neck starts to tighten and I know that I'm going to feel a tad bit uncomfortable tonight after that evening shower to cleanse me of  both the dried sweat and the abject humiliation of my day.

I point my camera down, across the street perhaps a hundred yards away.  There, before me, are two superheroes standing down an unseen enemy.  Well, unseen until the special effects department artificially inserts them into the finished movie sometime later this year.  Thor's cape is billowing in the gentle breeze blowing through the giant wind machine, his hammer held aloft in his right hand.  Captain America stands erect, his shield clasped tight to his body.  The assistant director yells cut and the two actors break into laughter.

I wonder if they laugh because they both realize how silly this whole affair is: grown-ass men standing in capes wielding hammers and winged helmets or because they've been doing this for about four months now and the huge paycheck they're receiving is a down payment on the rest of their lives.




As I step back and look around the roof I glance at crushed pop cans, cigarette butts and a few small weeds that have taken root in the moss-covered asphalt roof of the catwalk one story below me.  I feel like Lee Harvey Oswald; I hear someone yell "Rolling!" and I prepare to attain the position:  right hand on the shutter release button and left precariously holding the camera close to my eye.  The muscles in my left hand are on fire as the lactic acid tears through my stiff arm.  I point the barrel of my long lens some three hundred feet away from me, much like Oswald but for a far different reason.

This is my second day on the Cleveland location shooting of "The Avengers," the superhero movie featuring a handful of Marvel Comics' most popular characters.  I shot for eight hours on Wednesday, getting one or two shots that I'm proud to add to my portfolio.  I've shot a lot of national parks, naked women, and kids over the years but never glammed-up action heroes, ready to conquer alien evildoers and multi-plex theaters next May.

My coterie has since left me to this roof.  They've moved on to the film's "base camp" a few streets away.  We've developed a little following of people in the two days we've moved down East Ninth Street between Euclid and Prospect Avenues.  We know where the catering area is; that's the best place to run into the film's director, Joss Whedon.  A few dozen extras, all dusted up and resembling 9/11 WTC survivors, mingle here waiting to be called to the set to run and dodge explosions and alien laser blasts.

Two blocks East is an alley leading to the alley. This is the drop-off point for the principal actors.  A parade of Lincoln Navigators and black Suburbans sit idle, wasting gas as the air conditioner keeps Thor's ride back to the hotel nice and cool.

They attempt to call me on my cell phone whose battery died an hour ago.  From my vantage point I can see they just left the costume department and are heading towards the alley.

I stay placid in my rooftop perch.  I scan the rest of the set through the viewfinder of my trusty Canon.  Not much to see.  Various grips, production assistants, and other people stand around drinking coffee.  The scene looks like an AA meeting; people are everywhere, white styrofoam coffee cups held in one hand while the other hand gestures some motion to accompany their marathon conversation. 

I remember my "Jurassic Park" experience.  Yep.  It's the same.  A lot of people standing around and waiting.  They shoot the same scene six times.  Seven.  Ten.  Then they move the lights around and cover the same shot from a different angle.  I'm getting bored.  I stand there, arching my back to relieve the spasm that I've been ignoring for the better part of an hour.  I just want that one shot. 

Click.

Got it.

It only took close to eighty tries.

It may be a little grainy but I applaud myself for finding this location and getting a shot that no one else did.  Most journalists were chased from their perches in the Medical Mutual Building hours ago.  MMO employees were told they couldn't even look out the windows.

I think of what value a shot of two actors in their costumes could be to my fledgling business?  I guess I can use them as proof-positive that I go above and beyond to guarantee the client I'll get what they're looking for.  For the next several months as I sit with a potential bride and groom I can pull out a glossy 8x10 of Cap and Thor and assure them that if I sit on a roof all JFK assassin-style, their bouquet and garter toss will be no problem.

I smile at that proposition and tell myself that it was a day well spent and not an afternoon getting mildly sunburned and lowering myself to the same level as a common paparazzi.  Trust me, visions of those ghouls that chased Princess Diana into that tunnel have been going through my head about, oh, seventy-eight times since that Panini sandwich and pickle slice started burping itself back up right after lunch.

It's getting late.  Almost five o'clock.  Real life beckons and I realize that I must pick up my son in half an hour.  I snicker at the absurdity of my situation.  What do I tell my sixteen year-old son when he climbs into my car?

Hi dad, he might say.  How was your day?

Oh, pretty good.  I've been stalking superheroes all afternoon. 

His response could go one of two ways; one of which isn't flattering to my person.

I make my way down the eight flights of stairs, eschewing the elevator to help work off the sandwich that is now loudly protesting its way through the better part of my lower intestine.

I reach the street as a loud ka-boom echoes off the cavernous area between four tall buildings.  I'm startled and then realize it's the film's special effects team testing another squib for a later explosion.

I find my party.  I show them the shots that I got.  All told, I have seventy-seven pictures of Thor and the Avengers' leader; Cap's shield is tack sharp.  I can't wait to get them onto my lap top to share them with the rest of the world.

I bid farewell to my newfound friends, get in my car and start making my way South through the remnants of Cleveland's Friday rush hour.  I change the station to WNCX, Cleveland's classic rock channel; the last strains of Springsteen's weekly greeting to the weekend are just trailing away.  I smile.  My Friday afternoon Born to Run ritual helps me say goodbye to the work week.

It was a good day.  I shot my first Stalkerazzi pix.  I met Joss Whedon.  My sunburn wasn't too bad.

And Alex didn't snicker when I told him what I'd been doing for the better part of the day.

At least to my reddened face.



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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's My Party

Well, the Tea Party has rapidly shown that they're nothing new and nothing to get excited about.  As little more than a Caucasian-only portion of the Republican Party, although not quite as well-funded or as intelligent as the GOP, they're kind of passe.

Very 2010.

I'll admit, when I first saw them break onto the scene a few years ago I admired their spirit.  They seemed to want to provide an alternative to the two-party system that has ruled our political landscape since, well, the last two-party system.  Can anyone say Whigs or Federalists?  Woot-woot.

But since their narrow-minded, horse blinders dogma has reared its myopic head I've lost respect for them, kind of like that oh-so-hot flashing drunk sorority girl the morning after the big kegger.

So in the spirit of the zeal and righteous anger that the Tea Party engendered, I've decided to offer a few more political parties that may lead us into the 2012 election cycle.

How about these?  They can't be any worse than the TP, eh?

The Donner Party

This nascent movement, cribbing from Swift's A Modest Proposal, will attempt to curb the effects of our New Economy by offering up the officers and boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies as a means of feeding the homeless.  If your company received ANY government subsidies from calendar years 2000 to 2010, a lottery will be held and one of your, preferably, fat cat execs will be filleted, marinated, broiled in their own excesses and then served up at a local homeless shelter.

The newly-departed executive's egregious salary will then be divided up into a designated congressional district to help cover the cost of public education and infrastructure repairs. Since there is a long list of companies and greedy executives, this practice will continue once a month until all the roads and bridges in the country are repaired and every school can replace their outdated metal detectors and each teacher is paid what they deserve and not what a high school dropout, crack-addicted McDonald's janitor makes.

Their version of Sarah Palin?  Hannibal Lecter

The Bachelor Party

This movement, comprised of unmarried men and women, will march on Washington until their demands are met.  Or at least until football season starts and the weekly tailgating and Thursday-morning hangovers replace whatever fire is extinguished in their carefree souls.  But the ideology is as follows:  Why should they be unfairly penalized on their income tax returns just because they don't have four kids, three SUVs, a large mortgage and a lifestyle that is crippling the environment?  They'll demand a BIGGER income tax return because they're more responsible, well kinda.  If you don't count the beer goggles hookups or the weekend when this one guy barfed on a little kid walking past his hotel balcony on the way to the pool because last night's grape vodka shots were fucking awesome and the techno music was way off the hook.

Their Palin?  The Kardashians, Paris Hilton, and Robert Mecklenborg

The Pool Party

Touting fiscal responsibility as a core tenet, the philosophy of this movement is that nothing is so wrong in this country that a little backyard barbecue can't fix.  A family-values dogma with close ties to Christian-based ministries, this party wants to take back America one backyard at a time.  On their website, they claim to  know how to take a little amount of money and stretch it fairly far, citing how many Wal-Mart hot dog buns and bags of generic potato chips that twenty bucks can buy.  Of the nascent movements sprouting up around the popularity of the Tea Party, this group actually has the capability of becoming a legitimate force in 2012 and beyond.

Their Palin?  Ozzie and Harriet

The Toga Party

Perhaps the most formidable movement that, if it were to gain any real traction, would strike fear into the two mainstream parties.  This group, comprised of millions of recently-graduated college students, have entered the workforce after spending tens of thousands of dollars on their higher education.  And, in many cases, don't have the funds to repay the student loans they took out to get the education necessary to find a so-called "good job" in the first place. 

They've attempted to rally in several major cities over the past few months but most of the leadership couldn't get the time off from their Applebee's serving gig or switch shifts at the local telemarketing company that they work for.  However, a large rally is being planned in Des Moines next week, contingent upon the local organizer's parents being gone for the weekend so he can use their basement without being interrupted.

Their Palin?  Uh, they've been too busy trying to get a job that they haven't had time to vet anyone yet.

The Pity Party

This is a very small party. But kind of like Yoda, don't let their size fool you.  This is the true political force in this country; the one that has both the Dems and GOP begging to be let in as a member.  The main requirements are that you have to make a minimum of $250,000 a year and have a serious disdain for any governmental regulations that impede the so-called "American Way."  They're afraid of the Donner Party and the ramifications of roasting human flesh.  Oh, they don't mind if it's your flesh.  They just don't think they need to give up any flesh to anyone.  Not even a single pound.

Their Palin? Uh, Sarah Palin.


There are a few more parties that are trying to form; one of them, The Tupperware Party, wants to clamp shut any government spending. They are a true grass roots movement, meeting in homes all across the country.  Members are asked to bring a friend, some new ideas, and a dessert or hors d'oeuvres platter.  But at this point they are too small to be considered a full-blown threat to either of the two major political parties in this country.  However, Rubbermaid is a little concerned over their formation.



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Hot Air

I shake my head so much lately I must look like a Parkinson's patient.

I'm befuddled, no, stupefied at how ridiculously ignorant our culture is becoming.  Every morning I hop on line and attempt to read what's happening in our little patch of real estate and walk away from my laptop with my head shaking from left to right in a slow syncopation of utter disbelief.

I've come to one heartfelt, bona fide conclusion though, so it can't be all bad.

Ya ready for it?  Well, here it is anyway:

Republicans and Tea Party members live in a different world than I do.

Yep.  They breathe different air, drink different water and eat food that must be grown elsewhere.

Their newest Awesome Idea?

Gut the entire EPA.  Ya know what I'm talking about?

The Environmental Protection Agency?

Of those three words, what is the defining word of that title?

How about "Protection?"

A right-wing "grass roots" group called Americans for Prosperity wants to gut the EPA and get rid of their Machiavellian oversight that helps to protect Americans from the toxic output of factories, industry and corporations that would pollute the environment if they could save a few bucks in doing so.

But the EPA's pesky little regulations somehow get in the way of the polluters from doing, um, exactly that.

So, a little history here:  Pollutants from about 150 years of unchecked, unregulated industry had polluted our waterways and choked our air so bad that a Republican president, Nixon, thought it was a good idea to, maybe, hold corporations accountable.

I write this little blog in the relative safety of my man cave, which sits about eight miles away from the spot where the Cuyahoga River famously caught on fire in the late 1960s.  When water burns you know there's a small problem with industrial pollution.  That fire, the seventh or so time the Cuyahoga was set ablaze in a hundred year span, was the catalyst for the formation of the EPA.

So many good things have spawned from that Act from the early 1970s.  Our waterways have rebounded from near anoxic death.  Our air is cleaner, easier to breathe and less likely to kill someone.  The tumors and lesions that used to grow on game fish are virtually unseen these days.

In a press release a few days ago, the AFP sent out a memo to call its members to action.  Some of the language that was used in the release are as follows:

"The Environmental Protection Agency is an out-of-control bureaucracy attempting an unprecedented power-grab, seeking to regulate every aspect of our lives and take control of the U.S. economy by shoehorning greenhouse gas regulation into the 1970 Clean Air Act. There is no imaginable worse tool than the Clean Air Act, whose old fashioned, command-and-control regulations would devastate the United States economy."


Wow.  The EPA is an "out-of-control bureaucracy attempting at an unprecedented power grab."


Shoehorn?


There's no "imaginable worse tool" than the Clean Air Act?


It would "devastate" the U.S. economy?


And I guess they use "old-fashioned" regulations to keep us all from breathing toxins and drinking foul water.


I don't really know what to say anymore, except maybe this:


The AFP is a right-wing nutjob core of people whose ideology represent a very small portion of our population.  They don't care about the Tea Partiers; they've latched on to them like a virus and are letting their righteous anger spread the message for the AFP and the corporate puppet masters.


Their goal seems to be the rollback and outright abolition of any regulations that stand in the way of making obscene profits.  And who pays for it all?


Why, you of course.  These fear mongers will tell us that we will pay more in taxes or, if a corporation has to invest in clean air and clean water technology, that the cost of such technology will be passed on to the consumer.  


Scare tactics.  Plain and simple.


AFP, a conservative think-tank, is using the anti-government fervor that the TP has become know for to help further their goals.


And the Tea Partiers bought it lock, stock and barrel.


So unless they do breathe different air than we do, or eat fish from some river or lake that we don't know about, any deregulation of the EPA will affect them as well.


Their children would wheeze uncontrollably as they sucked down unbreathable air.  Their water would be tainted by carcinogenic spores.  And their fish dinners would be ripe with tumors.


But hey, Joe Polluter would be able to save a few bucks while dumping his toxic waste into Lake Erie without even a slap on the wrist.


What do you think?  Is that a good trade-off? 


Americans for Prosperity sure thinks so.


But how prosperous, truly, is America when we can't breathe the air or drink the water?




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Monday, August 1, 2011

Entitlements

So after giving this entry some thought and attempt to dazzle everyone with my rapier wit and biting electronic pen I've realized that this particular subject doesn't need to be hyperbolized.  I want to lay this out fairly flat so even the jaded Fox News viewers can see my point.

Over the past few weeks a new word has entered the political lexicon.  It started, obviously, by a conservative trying to paint the "handouts" being given to people as something evil; a system that's base, abused and in need of reform.

The term?

"Entitlements."

It seems that all the money that's been paid into our retirement and tax system hasn't been used properly these past several decades.  It seems that some pesky retirees feel that they deserve some stinking payback for all those years they paid into it.

Let me give you two scenarios and see which one properly fits the term "entitlement" better, okay?

Scenario #1:

An oil company, making hundreds of billions of dollars per year in profits has, effectively, no federal tax burden.  The loopholes in the tax code not only allow this company to pay zero federal income tax but also receive a generous yearly federal tax return. When I say generous, I'm talking in the big money category, enough to pay off the back child support, send the big wigs on a nice little cruise and have some left over to buy an NFL team or two.

The feds also heavily subsidize the entire oil industry.

Scenario #2:

A blue collar employee, approaching retirement age, has paid into the system for upwards of forty-five years.  Every two weeks his paycheck has recieved the typical deductions to cover federal, state and local income taxes responsibility.  He has also religiously paid into the social security system.  Workers like this man have kept the system solvent; his contributions have been a normal, business-as-usual approach to our country's infrastructure for decades.

So who's the mooch?

The Republicans would have you believe that the blue collar employee, the person, is the entity that's somehow screwing the system.  The corporation, the non-living entity, is somehow seen as the rightful heir to all this money.  Dammit, after all, they're entitled to it.

Does that make any sense?

If you answered "yes" to that question then you're beyond help.

And a pawn being used by the GOP to pass such legislation.

Or you're just really fucking stupid.

You tell me.



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