Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wall Street Ground Zero (Photos)

Yesterday, I dropped by Wall Street to see what the fuss was all about. (Turns out, it was the day of the biggest Dow Jones point drop in history.) There I happened upon a protest against the government bailout plan. A complete photo album of the event is here....


The Reverend Jesse Jackson was present, but mostly this was a union event. Most of the speakers were union leaders, and most of the protesters were identifiable union members. There were two messages: (1) No bailouts for "rich" bankers as long as the working man was suffering, and (2) Vote for Obama.

New York is used to demonstrations like this, and this one went off without a hitch. The police corralled the protesters with metal barriers, which the protesters politely respected. Because they were all concentrated in one small area, it appeared to the TV cameras (and my camera), that there were many more people than there actually were. (If you were a tourist visiting Wall Street, you might not have even noticed that a protest was taking place.) The speakers were very emotional, and there wasn't a lot of economic theory expounded.

On the periphery of the main demonstration were a few independent protesters, like one advocating socialism (above) and another suggesting we vote for Paris Hilton as a write-in candidate (below).

Some samples from the album...
An album of Wall Street tourist photos is coming later. All of my albums are found at RoamingPhotos.com

Sarah Palin Videos


It is not usually the place of this blog to comment on contemporary politics, which is more than adequately covered elsewhere, but this "Sarah Palin" person is a national treasure. Any relationship to Michael Palin of Monty Python?

Above is the "Sarah Palin meets Hillary Clinton" video that half the U.S. population has already seen (in case you are among the other half). Obviously, Palin is God's gift to comedians.

Here is another widely-distributed item: A letter about Palin by a Wasilla resident (referred to me by an L.A. Times article).

I'll even stoop to embedding another YouTube video (below) -- a hip-hop tribute to Palin provided by a reader (although I'm still not budging from my position that YouTube is useless).

Clearly, the comic possibilities are endless!


Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Photos: Touring the Hudson with the Minister

I've spent the past two days touring Westchester County and the lower Hudson River with the Minister of Words. Here is the album:

Samples...

All of my albums are found at RoamingPhotos.com

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Screen Story #21: "The Dangers of Modeling"

FADE IN:

In a mock public health documentary, high school students are warned about the dangers of modeling. The film's message is that modeling is an addiction little different from drug abuse and that its damage to young women is just as severe.

A series of clinical and academic experts explain the potential life-long damage to a young woman's self-esteem, her body and her future career prospects if she follows the modeling path. They point out, using charts and graphs, that for every woman who finds success at modeling, a thousand others are seduced by the field and fail, leaving them broken and penniless. In another alarming graphic, a woman's brain is seen visibly shrinking if she pursues modeling for an extended period of time. This is due both to lack of brain engagement and inadequate caloric intake.

Former models themselves are interviewed, and they talk about how modeling took over their lives. They say they were seduced by the "high" of people appreciating them for their looks, but their need for such approval soon became insatiable. Like drugs, they could never get enough, and their lives soon began to revolve around getting their next fix.

One expert says that due to the permanent damage of anorexia and bizarre diets, some models lose decades from their life expectancy. Others are permanently unable to bear children.

One ex-model refers to the industry as a "cult" and explains how it brainwashed her into thinking that her value was only skin deep. Modeling forced her to perform like a circus animal. "I was willing to jump through virtually any hoop for them," she confesses.

We see stock footage of fashion models in video shoots, dressed in absurd outfits and doing ridiculous things at the direction of cruel and capricious male supervisors, obviously all gay. ("No, no, no, not THAT way!" screams one.) When on the runway, the models are smiling and composed, but off-stage we see them crying and distressed, personally humiliated by what they have been forced to do.

The experts point out that for even the one-in-a-thousand who manages to support herself through modeling, the success is short-lived. The average productive career of a fashion model is only 2.37 years, one expert notes, at which point she has been sucked dry by the industry. She is then discarded on the street, with a shriveled brain and no further career options.

We see a former model working in a fast food restaurant. In an interview in the back of the restaurant, she tearfully describes how she was used and discarded. Her mascara runs down her cheek as she cries.

As the film comes to an end, the experts conclude that modeling is just a stepping stone to even worse forms of debasement: pornography, prostitution… even acting.

CUT TO BLACK



Posted from Irvington, New York. © Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories at Love, Strangely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Screen Story #20: "Refuge"

FADE IN:

In the rural hills of West Virginia, a hillbilly couple is being interviewed in their home. They are Darnell and Dolly Wilkins. They are surrounded by filth and by a number of unwashed children of various ages. Dolly is pregnant—again.

An off-screen interviewer asks the couple how many children they have. They both reply simultaneously:

"Twelve," says Dolly.

"Sixteen," says Darnell, at the same time.

Dolly clarifies: "Well, that's twelve that came out of me, not including the one on the way."

Darnell adds that the rest are "iblagitiment."

Then Darnell thinks about it some more and corrects himself. "No, eighteen," he says.

The interviewer tries to ask a sensitive question very carefully. He begins: "It appears that both of you are somewhat intellectually challenged…"

Dolly is indignant! No, she insists, they are not intellectually challenged!

"We're retarded," she says. "I got the mental age of 10 and Darnell's got a mental age of six and a half."

The interviewer continues: "Aren't you worried that your children will be retarded as well?"

Dolly says: "Well, most of them's retarded, for sure, but it's not a problem. The government pays us for 'em. That's nine hundred dollars a month when they're retarded…"

"But only three hundred when they're not," adds Darnell.

She says: "And it's not like we're takin' care of all of 'em at once. There's always some that's run away and some that's in Juvi."

Darnell adds: "When they're in Juvi they don't cost us nothin'."

CUT TO: The county sheriff being interviewed in his office. He calls the Wilkins household a "one-family crime wave."

Sheriff: "I'd say well over half the crime in this county is caused by Wilkins kids or at least has some Wilkins kids involved. It's got to the point where my deputies and I can take one look at a crime scene and know exactly which Wilkins did it."

CUT TO: Documentary footage of two sheriff's deputies investigating the scene of a domestic burglary. The deputies get into a heated argument about which Wilkins is responsible: Dixie Wilkins or Danny Wilkins. Then one deputy points to a stain on the carpet. "Look, urine," he says.

Both deputies look at each other and say simultaneously: "Danny Wilkins."

CUT TO: Sheriff being interviewed in his office.

Sheriff: "It's a revolving door. As soon as we release one Wilkins from custody, it's time to arrest another."

CUT TO: Sheriff's deputies arriving at the Wilkins homestead with one Wilkins boy in custody in the back seat of the squad car. They take that boy out of the car, remove his handcuffs, then place the same handcuffs on another Wilkins boy and put him in the car.

CUT TO: Darnell and Dolly being interviewed.

Dolly: "Even though we get more money for the retarded ones, it all works out fine in the end, 'cause them's that's not retarded takes care of them's that's not."

CUT TO: The kitchen. We see a 14-year-old non-retarded girl, Molly, trying her best to take care of several young children. She is harried, but very attentive. She looks after the kids like they were her own.

CUT TO: Molly in an interview setting at the kitchen table. She is playing with a baby in her lap. The off-screen interviewer asks: "What is it like being the only Wilkins child who isn't retarded, who hasn't run away and who has never been arrested?"

Molly is tongue-tied for a moment and doesn't know what to say. For a moment, we wonder if she might be retarded, too.

Then Molly composes herself and answers thoughtfully. "It's challenging," she says.

The interviewer asks Molly if she has ever considered running away.

Molly: "I've thought about it, but I don't know what the babies would do without me. Mom tries her best, but she doesn't understand what they need."

The interviewer asks Molly if she has any hobbies. Does she have any way to escape from the pressures of the family?

Molly is tongue-tied again. She can't seem to think of anything. Then she shrugs. "I go to the library," she says.

CUT TO: Outside a small community library. Molly is leading us on a tour. Molly instructs us to be very quiet in the library, then we follow her inside.

Inside, she proudly shows us the library like she was showing us her own home. She shows us the children's section, the reference section, the periodicals, the book stacks. She also introduces the staff: the head librarian, the reference lady, the desk clerks. She obviously has a warm relationship with each of them, and she hugs the head librarian.

CUT TO: Head librarian being interviewed in her office.

Librarian: "Molly is a joy. Most kids just come here when they have assignments, but Molly really wants to learn. She comes here almost every day after school, and she's curious about everything. It's got to the point where she's read almost all the books we have, and we have to order more for her from another county."

CUT TO: We continue on Molly's tour of the library. She takes us now to a very special place. It is a hidden nook in the book stacks where she can be totally alone.

"It's sort of like my fortress," she says.

CUT TO: Head librarian being interviewed.

Librarian: "I know her circumstances at home are difficult, and I think we play an important role in her life. To me, Molly is who the library is here for. It's what we're all about. We're giving kids like her a chance. If they want to learn, if they want to better themselves, this is a place they can do it. It's free. It's open to everyone. The library isn't just about books. It's a community. It is an entryway into the rest of the world. For kids like Molly, it's a place to escape to, a place of refuge."

While the librarian is still talking, the screen fades to black. After she is finished, a title then fades up in the middle of the screen…

"SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY"

CUT TO BLACK.



©Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Website: Love, Strangely

I have created a new website for my screen stories: Love, Strangely

You can find it at....

Photos from Bar Harbor, Maine

Here's a new album from my visit to Maine a few days ago...

Screen Story #19: "Chicken Man"

FADE IN:

A woman is being interviewed in her living room. We see only her, sitting at one end of a couch. She is awkwardly telling a joke, which goes something like this:
"A man goes to the doctor for his annual check-up. The doctor asks, as doctors are now required to, whether the man is suffering any kind of abuse at home. Any unusual life circumstances? The man replies that, yes, there is something unusual at home: His wife thinks she's a chicken. The doctor replies that the man should bring his wife in for treatment right away. There may be ways that modern psychiatry can help.

"The man say, 'I'd like to, Doc, but I need the eggs.'"
The woman being interviewed then laughs self-consciously at her own joke and says, "That pretty much sums up my situation."

We then cut to a view of the whole couch. Sitting at the other end is a man dressed in a chicken suit — the woman's husband.

In a series of documentary scenes and interviews, a full picture emerges. The man first put on the chicken suit when he got a job promoting a fried chicken restaurant, but he never took it off. He now goes everywhere in the chicken suit, even sleeps in it. He calls himself "Chicken Man."

Chicken Man is a political activist. He goes around to public protests and media events and holds up signs to draw attention to worthy causes. He doesn't get paid for this; it's just his calling. (He calls it his "superpower.")

When interviewed in the living room, Chicken Man can talk rationally about his goals. However, when he is out in the field protesting, he talks only in chicken clucks. He also does a chicken dance, intended to draw attention to himself and whatever cause he is advertizing.

Chicken Man obviously lives for the television cameras, and when one is pointed at him, he goes furiously into his chicken routine. When no camera is pointed at him and no one is noticing him, Chicken Man looks very lonely and forlorn, obviously an absurd and tragic figure.

Chicken Man's wife, who he calls "Mrs. Chicken," seems embarrassed by her husband's behavior, but in the living room interview she tries to present it in a positive light. How many wives get to see their husbands regularly on television? (Albeit as a chicken.) Another advantage is that since her husband became a chicken, they have both become vegetarians.

The latter is due to the fact that Chicken Man TOTALLY FREAKS OUT whenever they drive past a fried chicken restaurant. He clucks furiously and flaps his wings. He is also upset when they pass any kind of restaurant that serves chicken products: chicken nuggets, chicken strips, etc. He certainly won't tolerate chicken in the house, even chicken broth. He can verbalize this in the living room, explaining that he can't stand to see chickens suffer, but on the road he just does his crazy chicken act whenever they pass, say, a KFC franchise. Much of Chicken Man's work is in support of vegetarian causes, such as protesting at meat packing plants.

Although Mrs. Chicken claims to support her husband, we can see the strain this is placing on their marriage. Chicken Man refuses to work but instead devotes himself full-time to his protests. He also spends a lot of time sitting at home watching himself on TV.

We see Mrs. Chicken come home from work, and Chicken Man is passed out on the couch, surrounded by beer and popcorn, with a news clip of himself repeating over and over on the TV.

Mrs. Chicken then confesses quietly to the camera that he wasn't always like this. When they got married, he was a normal man. We see snapshots of their wedding day, and they seem a happy couple like any other. Then he lost his job at the meat packing plant and had to start looking for work. He got the job being an advertising chicken outside Bayou Bob's Fried Chicken, and everything started sliding from there.

Chicken Man doesn't even drive, because his chicken suit prevents it. Instead, his wife has to chauffeur him to his protest gigs, in a car he has dressed up as a "Chickenmobile." Chicken Man always sits in the back seat like a dignitary, never in the front.

Too much of Mrs. Chicken's life is spent either driving Chicken Man around or waiting for him in the Chickenmobile while he protests. During one of these long waits, Mrs. Chicken reveals her real frustrations. She gets into a private girl-to-girl conversation with the off-screen filmmaker and seems to forget that the camera is rolling. This interview is intercut with distant views of Chicken Man protesting and making a fool of himself.

Mrs. Chicken reveals that she believes her husband has a mental illness, but she doesn't know what it is. She has read all sorts of psychology books and can't find anything about people who think they are chickens, so she doesn't know what to do. When her own doctor asked if she was abused at home, she was too embarrassed to even mention it. She has tried to suggest to Chicken Man that he see a psychiatrist or counselor, but he'll have nothing of it, because he believes there is nothing wrong.

The interviewer asks Mrs. Chicken whether she thinks she might be enabling her husband's disease by continuing to support him when he doesn't work and by driving him to his protests.

Mrs. Chicken thinks about it and agrees she probably is enabling him, but she feels she has no choice. If she doesn't do what he wants, then he does his crazy chicken routine and becomes impossible to live with.

The interviewer then asks why she doesn't leave the man altogether, even get a divorce. The interviewer repeats Mrs. Chicken's own punch line: "I'd like to, Doc, but I need the eggs."

"It seems to me," says the interviewer, "that he isn't even producing any eggs."

Mrs. Chicken says she can't even consider it. When she got married, she promised to stick with her husband through thick and thin for the rest of their lives. Their wedding vows said, "in sickness and in health." Her husband is obviously sick, but that doesn't give her the right to leave him. It's just like if her husband got cancer: She wouldn't leave him then, and she won't leave him now just because the illness is mental and he has turned into a chicken.

The interviewer says: "Well, then you really are trapped."

We can see on Mrs. Chicken's face that the full implications are beginning to dawn on her.

"Yes," she confesses, "I am trapped."

Just then, Chicken Man gets into the back seat of the car. He is very exuberant over what has apparently been a very successful protest.

"Drive!" he orders.

CUT TO BLACK.



© Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories at LoveStrangely.com.
Photo of Chicken Man comes from my photo album: O.J. Media Circus

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Bad Feeling

An article in today's New York Times (Proposed Bailout Could Set a Record) defines the immensity of the proposed bailout of financial institutions.
The ambitious effort to transfer the bad debts of Wall Street, at least temporarily, into the obligations of American taxpayers was first put forward by the administration late last week after a series of bold interventions on behalf of ailing private firms seemed unlikely to prevent a crash of world financial markets.

A $700 billion expenditure on distressed mortgage-related assets would roughly be what the country has spent so far in direct costs on the Iraq war and more than the Pentagon’s total yearly budget appropriation. Divided across the population, it would amount to more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
I have a terrible, sinking feeling about this. Is this the beginning of the end of the relative prosperity we have know for most of our lives? Is this the beginning of a vast worldwide crash?

I don't pretend to know all the implications of the bailout or the potential costs of not acting, but I am deeply worried about the fragility of the economy -- and about those big numbers showing the U.S. Government going deeper and deeper into debt. How is this any different from a homeowner taking on unsupportable debt based on the speculative value of his home? Don't you have to pay the piper at some point?

Are we slipping toward economic Armageddon where the "full faith and credit of the U.S. Government" isn't worth the paper it's printed on?

Have bailouts really worked in the past, or is this a costly political band-aid that just makes things worse? Both parties seem to be in support of the bailout, which is another bad sign. The last time that happened, we got into the war in Iraq.

I am worried for myself, the people I care about and the world at large, as our personal economic options dry up.

I've got the sickening feeling of being on the Titanic, knowing the ship is sinking but also knowing there's little I can do.



Posted from Las Vegas

Friday, September 19, 2008

BHB – Bar Harbor Airport, Maine (Airports I Have Known)

This is an experimental entry. It could be the first of what could be a series of information sheets on airports I've passed through --“Airports I Have Known” -- or it might not be. The series is intended for impoverished travelers like myself who want to know some of the practical details about an airport before arriving. I am publishing it on the blog, rather than on a dedicated website, because I want to make it clear that this is a snapshot in time, reflecting information at the time of my visit, and that I don’t intend to actively maintain it. I don't know yet whether I will follow it up with other airport entries. (It seems a bit too representative of the Male Data Collection Syndrome - MDCS.)

Hancock County - Bar Harbor Airport, Maine.

Airport Code: BHB. Official Website

This is a small municipal airfield with a one-room terminal, just over the bridge from Mount Desert Island. For budget travelers, the most notable feature of the airport is that is served by a free community shuttle bus in the summer, providing easy access to Bar Harbor and all the attractions of Acadia National Park.

Location: In a rural setting on the mainland in Trenton, Maine, about 13 road miles from Bar Harbor.

Served By: a single commuter airline, Colgan Air (operating as US Airways Express), running 3-4 flights a day to Boston on 19-seat Beechcraft planes.

Services: Hertz and Enterprise car rental, in terminal. Vending machines; otherwise no food in terminal. Free coffee in the morning. About a 20 minute walk away are a small IGA supermarket, a lobster restaurant and a campground (“Narrows Too”).

Departure Advice: Arrive an hour before departure time (but there is no reason to arrive earlier than that). Check-in desk closes 30 minutes before departure time.

Wifi: No wifi at the terminal, but there is free community wifi (and some free power) in downtown Bar Harbor (on the Village Green and at the park near the dock).

Ground Transportation: Free bus system in the summer (Only mid-June to mid-October) called the Island Explorer. Buses to Bar Harbor stop at the terminal several times a day. From there you can connect to free buses to everywhere on Mount Desert Island. (Note: if you want to take one of the first or last buses of the day from the airport, you should call the bus company to make sure the bus stops at the terminal. I was waiting a long time for a bus that didn't come.)

Camping: The local terrain is heavily wooded, so you can get away with camping just about anywhere, but beware of potentially miserable Maine weather any time of year. Via the bus system, backpackers can access trailheads all over the island. Camping is probably prohibited in the National Park without a permit.

I camped in a hidden hollow in a field just a few hundred yards from the airport terminal. (Go straight out the terminal until you reach the fence, then follow the fence to a pond. Go right along the shore of the pond and you’ll find my spot. It’s completely invisible, at least in the summer.)

Area Attractions: The main local attraction is Acadia National Park, which heavily touristed in the summer. (The free bus system is an attempt to relieve traffic, but the buses themselves can be packed.) Admission to the park is $5 per person for pedestrians but appears to laxly enforced. Activities including hiking, biking, sea kayaking and gawking at cruise ship visitors in Bar Harbor. Bike and kayak rentals in Bar Harbor. Combining gypsy camping with the free bus system, backpackers can be entertained for days for virtually nothing. For a nice two-hour hike, take the bus to Echo Lake, then take the Beech Cliffs trail (involves climbing some steel ladders up the cliff) to the top of an adjoining cliff.

Bar Harbor itself is a standard quaint tourist town where the primary focus is lobsters and ice cream. For a tourist trap, it’s not outrageously priced. A ferry runs from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia.

Airport Attractions: If you have time to kill, you can walk from the airport terminal to the ocean in about 10 minutes. Follow the main access road to the first road on your right (Ramp Road). Follow that road to the seaplane ramp.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Tube: What's It Good For?

Young folks these days seem to be addicted to something called "YouTube." I can't say I understand it. It seems to be like "America's Funniest Home Videos," except that instead of getting a half hour of stupid videos you get HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF HOURS of stupid videos.

Why when I was a kid we read books, and when we wanted to see something, we went there and saw it. (We also walked five miles to school in the snow and didn't complain about it.) Kids these days don't need to go anywhere or do anything; they just call it up on YouTube and get a low quality rip-off of the experience.

When I typed "Area 51" in the YouTube search box, I was amazed! Does anyone on the North American continent have a life? They all seem to have made the same repetitive video of driving down Groom Lake Road to see the restricted area signs.

Now I'll admit that YouTube might have the potential for some sort of productive use. I just haven't figured out what it is. The image quality is very low, hardly comparing to even pre-HD television. For conveying visual data, a still photograph seems far better. If you want to show how visual elements relate to each other, you take several photographs, or you draw a map.

The only personal use I have ever found for YouTube is playing purely audio information. For example, if there's a song I want to hear, there's a good chance YouTube has it, perhaps as a music video. In no case, however, have I ever cared about what was happening on the screen as I listen to the audio. The video portion is just a distraction. A lot of videos, in fact, just show a static picture while the audio is playing. They appear on YouTube only because that's the universal place where people exchange media files.

I challenge my readers to show me ANYTHING meaningful or useful on YouTube apart from audio information. I'm open-minded. I'm willing to embrace newfangled conveniences like washing machines and pop-up toasters as long as you can show me that their value exceeds their cost.

So where is it? Show me that one useful YouTube video -- something truly meaningful that can't be accomplished with words, a photograph or an audio file -- and I'll shut up.


Originally posted on my Area 51 blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Art and the Sensory Sphere

As a prolific photographer, I have had plenty of time to contemplate what makes a good photo. It isn't the subject matter but your selection of the subject matter.

If you put me in the middle of, say, a kindergarten classroom and give me permission to take photos, I guarantee that I will come up with 100s of great shots in an hour or less -- provided I have a zoom lens and an opportunity to crop and edit those photos later. Furthermore, I don't have to move from my location in the center of the room to find these compelling images. They are all around me; I just have to select them.

I call the input all around me the "sensory sphere". It is a little like lying on the ground at night looking up at the stars. In theory, there are a million stories up there; you just have to have a powerful enough telescope to see them. If you are in a crowded room, there are also a million stories. You just have to focus on the right places.

To be a great artist, you don't have to go out and seek stories. They are already all around you; you just have to select them from the environment. The real challenge isn't usually in the material available but in your own skills in recognizing and editing it. That's essentially what a photographer does: He edits the sensory environment around him. It's also what a writer or filmmaker does. If they are skilled enough, they can find a story anywhere. Only the unskilled need to travel the world or have huge production budgets.

Some environments are richer than other, but there is always good material in front of you. You can say, "I live in a boring town. There are no stories here," but that's not true. There are always stories right under your nose; you just have to have the wisdom to see them.

The Best Existential Films

An "Existential" film is one in which the protagonist's basic assumptions about life are challenged. Here is my own list of the best (or at least the most influential) of these movies.

1) The Matrix (#1) -- A programmer discovers that life as we know it is a virtual reality simulation and that life outside the Matrix isn't pretty at all. This is a metaphor I return to again and again.

2) The Truman Show. A man discovers that his whole life has been a reality TV show. This movie, in fact, gave birth to the whole ugly reality TV phenomenon.
3) Groundhog Day. A TV weatherman is forced to relive the same day over and over -- until he gets it right.
4) 2001: A Space Odyssey. A lone astronaut is millions of miles from earth, with no hope of return, facing forces he doesn't understand.
5) Citizen Kane. The life of an ambitious press tycoon is traced back to its origins -- and that famous keyword: “Rosebud.” I'm not sure this one belongs on this list, since the main character is already dead so can't learn anything, but there are lots of existential character details.
6) Barton Fink. A writer in Hollywood faces his own writer's block. Facing a typewriter not knowing what to write is certainly an existential crisis. Isn't it the main problem of life?
7) Paris, Texas. A man running away from something has to learn to face his own past. A man alone in the desert is very existential.
8) Inner Light (an episode of Star Trek Next Generation). Captain Picard finds himself on a dying planet and is forced to live out the entire life of one of its inhabitants. A great metaphor for the ordinary, unheralded life we all must eventually lead.
9) Slaughterhouse Five. A former soldier becomes detached in time and has to relive his life out of order. The first existential film I was exposed to. As a kid, I first watched it in fuzzy black-and-white from a distant television station.

Screen Story #18: "X-Ray Vision"


In this screenplay (conceived yesterday and completed today), a teenager with less-than-pure motivations orders a pair of x-ray glasses -- and they work! However, an unexpected intruder interferes in his plans.

X-Ray Vision (pdf, 10 pages)
SVENGALI’S AMAZING X-RAY GLASSES! Due to a remarkable scientific breakthrough, these amazing “sunglasses” allow you to see through wood, paper, foliage, window drapes and cloth -- or so the ad claims. Their main purpose, however, is made clear in the not-so-subtle illustration, where a man wearing the glasses is shown ogling a shapely young woman. “SEE THROUGH CLOTHING!” the ad asserts.
Posted from Las Vegas. Also see my other screen stories at Love, Strangely.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Girl Talk

An article in yesterday's New York Times discusses the propensity of teenage girls to talk, talk, talk, and that it may not be entirely good for them.

But recently female friendship and girl talk, particularly among adolescents, has drawn growing interest from psychologists and researchers examining the question of how much talking is too much talking. Some studies have found that excessive talking about problems can contribute to emotional difficulties, including anxiety and depression.

The term researchers use is “co-rumination” to describe frequently or obsessively discussing the same problem. The behavior is typical among teens — Why didn’t he call? Should I break up with him? And, psychologists say, it has intensified significantly with e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and Facebook. And in certain cases it can spin into a potentially contagious and unhealthy emotional angst, experts say.

The research distinguishes between sharing or “self-disclosure,” which is associated with positive friendships and positive feelings, and dwelling on problems, concerns and frustrations. Dwelling and rehashing issues can keep girls, who are more prone to depression and anxiety than boys, stuck in negative thinking patterns, psychologists say. But they also say it is a mixed picture: friends who co-ruminate tend to be close, and those intimate relationships can build self-esteem.

For boys, such intense emotional conversations, which tend to occur less often, did not contribute to heightened anxiety or depressive moods, according to research by Amanda J. Rose, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

“When girls are talking about these problems, it probably feels good to get that level of support and validation,” said Dr. Rose, whose latest study on co-rumination was published in the journal Developmental Psychology last year. “But they are not putting two and two together, that actually this excessive talking can make them feel worse.”

As a male, habitually addicted to "doing," I often find the female propensity for talk to be annoying. Yes, there is merit in discussing a problem before acting, but in many cases the discussion seems to go on forever, with no action taking place. Being able to "share" with friends may only give the female the illusion of action when none has taken place.

“It’s a fine line,” said Joanne Davila, associate professor of psychology at the State University at Stony Brook, whose paper on co-rumination is being published by the Journal of Adolescence. “We want to encourage young girls to have friends and to use their friends for support, but we may want to help them learn how to use more active techniques. So if there is a problem, how do you solve it?”...

“There are quite a few adolescent girls who have high levels of obsessive thinking to begin with,” Dr. Sitnick said. “They often do this with their mothers as well. It certainly does seem to be a female behavior, and grown women do it, too, ruminating about certain issues and experiences. It can become a mutual complaint society.”

Glenn Campbell Blows the Whistle on Shiesty Mechanics

A friend (P.K.) sent me this photo from New Mexico. Is it me? (You might have to remove the hat to find out.)

Clean Rage

There was a cool posting yesterday at Miss Model Behavior on how she was victimized in her apartment building's laundry room. Thanks to the company's clever "laundry cards," she was required to pay $24 for a $2.75 wash.

Today I’d like to quickly discuss an American travesty. An issue more directly influential in our daily lives than Palin or Obama or NYC’s theoretically fabulous ‘fashion week:’

Laundry cards.
I posted a comment in response...
You hit the nail on the head! This is the model of the typical consumer ripoff, which isn't limited to laundry rooms by any means. It's everywhere, and it exists as long as there is a captive market or where gullible consumers are willing to pay the price. (Name something in the consumer world that ISN'T a ripoff.) It's snake oil sales in a modern guise, and the only remedy is "Buyer Beware!" If you suffer enough pain in the process, you'll go to another laundry.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Red-Eye Survival Guide

This entry has been replaced by revised one: How to Sleep on an Airplane (Homeless by Choice, 5/9/09). The entry below is retained only for archive purposes.

For most people, one of the most difficult things about visiting a different continent (or just crossing one continent) is the grueling flight there. Crossing an ocean typically involves sleeping, or attempting to sleep, while sitting upright in cramped quarters. As a very frequent flyer, I do this often, and through experience I have learned how to make it relatively painless.

The ultimate goal of overnight travel is to sleep from the moment you hit the seat to the moment the aircraft pulls into the destination gate. This would make the flight an exercise in instantaneous travel: Go to sleep in New York, wake up in Paris. This goal may not be achievable in the real world, but I have gotten pretty close. Doing it requires both preparation and acclimation. The more you fly, the better you will get at it.

Here are my suggestions:
  1. Dress warmly. This is probably the most important rule. When you sleep, your metabolism slows down and needs more insulation. If you’re cold, you’re not going to sleep and you’ll be miserable. Even when you’re flying in the summer or between tropical destinations, the temperature in the plane is going to be the same as the rest of the year. For any but the shortest flights, always wear long pants and a long-sleeve shirt, and you must bring a sweater or sweatshirt if you plan to sleep. You should also bring a warm cap or a hooded sweatshirt, especially if your hair is thin. Go for loose, comfortable clothing. (If you are traveling on business, try to avoid wearing those clothes on the plane.)

  2. Do whatever you can to get a window seat. When flying at night, you may not care about the window itself, but the wall of the plane gives you something to lean your head against. You also know that no one will be climbing over you or asking you to move so they can get out. With a wall to yourself, you get a little more privacy and freedom, and you don't need to worry about falling on your fellow passengers when you nod off.

  3. Grab an airline blanket as soon as you get on the plane. Airline blankets can be valuable for keeping warm, but you can’t always count on getting one. Snag one early, because there’s sometimes not enough to go around.

  4. Bring some foam earplugs. The will help drown out in-flight announcements and nearby conversations. You don’t need the announcements! You already know what they say, so deaf is better. The airline is required to play the safety instructions, but you aren’t required to listen. The only announcement you need to take action on is the one to “return your seat back to its full upright position” a few minutes before landing, but if you don’t hear it, a flight attendant will tap you on the shoulder.

  5. Be sure to get a seat that reclines. Some seats, typically in the last row of each section, don’t recline. The recline on any seat is usually only about six inches or less, but this can make a big difference when you are trying to sleep upright.

  6. Fasten your seatbelt loosely. Ignore the instructions to fasten the belt “low and tight around your waist.” Instead, loosen the belt as far as it will go. Flight attendants will check that your belt is fastened but they won’t check how tight it is. Compared to a car, the safety value of an airline seat belt is trivial, so you want to make it as comfortable as possible. When you use a blanket, the belt should be outside the blanket so the flight attendants don’t have to wake you to verify that it is fastened.

  7. Use the restroom before getting on the plane. You don’t want to have to get up from your seat unless necessary.

  8. Experiment with a wrap-around neck pillow. I am generally skeptical of these, but there have been a couple of times when they have been helpful to me, especially on long night flights in a packed plane. Unlike the airline-issued pillows, they stay in position. You can buy these pillows at the airport, but they are much cheaper from a department store. Only the beanbag or blow-up types work. (It should be relatively thin, just to keep your head upright.) The thick, batting-filled types are too bulky and don't work.

  9. Bring a bottle of water with you. The air in planes is very dry and you need to be able to drink when you are thirsty, but you also don’t want to stay awake to wait for the airline’s beverage service. Full bottles of water aren’t allowed through security, but empty bottles are, and you can fill them up from a water fountain inside the terminal. In a pinch, you can also fill your water bottle from the faucet water in the airline lavatory. (It is technically "potable" and comes from the same municipal supply as the water fountains in the airport. You have to have some sort of cup, however, to move the water from the faucet to your bottle.)

  10. Buy a sleep mask. This is a cheap eye mask to block out light. It may be available at the airport but also at most pharmacies and department stores (about $3 at Wal-Mart). This blocks out both the light and the in-flight movie. (Without it, you may have trouble keeping your eyes closed, and the drivel on the screen may draw your attention.)

  11. Take two aspirin at the start of the flight. Aspirin is a wonder drug that prevents blood clots and helps reduce muscular pains before they happen. Sleeping in a contorted position can be hard on your back and neck (or at least it’s hard on mine), and I find that aspirin heads off serious problems later. Sleeping with your legs so far below your heart is probably not healthy in the long run, and studies have linked it to blood clots in the legs. If nothing else, you may notice swelling in your legs and feet. I assume that aspirin mitigates some of this.

  12. Take your shoes off. Sleep just goes better that way. You’ll need socks to keep your feet warm.

  13. Before the flight, try to check how full it is. You can guess at the load factors of the flight by looking at the seat maps on the airline’s website or at Travelocity.com. (To view the seat maps, go through the preliminary steps of buying a ticket.) You can also ask if the flight is full when you check in. The number of empty seats on the flight may alter your behavior when boarding it. If the flight is completely full, you know you’re not going to get a better seat than what you have, so you can board in your assigned order. However, if the flight is relatively light then you should try to be the last person boarding. Then you know that any empty seats are probably unassigned. (You are supposed to ask a flight attendant before you change your seat, but I just do it and wait for someone to complain.) Having three or more seats to yourself is the ideal condition, in which case you can stretch out in comfort and sleep all the way there (more comfortable than First Class!). On widebody aircraft, having the two seats beside window is the next best thing. (I find that I can lie down in a fetal position and sleep soundly on two seats, but not everyone can.) If you find yourself assigned to middle seat ("B" or "E" on most aircraft), if is often worth the effort to delay boarding and try to negotiate for a better seat before gettin on the plane.
In practice, if I decide I’m going to sleep on a flight, I start working on it from the moment I hit the seat. I take off my shoes, close the window shade, install my earplugs, hat, mask, optional neck pillow and blanket, fasten the seatbelt loosely where the flight attendants can see it, then I try to tune out everything. As soon as I feel the plane leave the runway, I recline my seat. I ignore all announcements and in-flight services, including food and beverages. My sole objective is to sleep, and if I am successful, I won’t have any contact with the outside world until the flight attendant taps me on my shoulder before landing and tells me to return the seat to upright.

Sleeping upright is just something you have to get used to. It can never be as easy or restful as sleeping lying down, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. The main problem is that your legs swell up and can become uncomfortable, sometimes for days after the flight.

Sleeping in airports is a lot like sleeping in airplanes. See my separate entry, How to Sleep in an Airport.

Posted from Bedford, Massachusetts. ©Glenn Campbell.
Photo source

Screen Story #17: "Dream Home"

In this screenplay (with some dialog missing), a man in the Pacific Northwest builds a dream home, with the help of a woodland creature.

Dream Home (pdf, 10 pages)
In the lush green rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, a wedding is taking place. The setting is almost primordial, with huge, towering trees overhead, green undergrowth below and a small waterfall in the background. The theme of the wedding is "The Faery Kingdom." The faint sound of flute music drifts in the air, perfectly matching the setting. The bridesmaids and attendants are dressed as fairies and sprites, while the bride and groom, MARION and ROBERT, are playing the role of their princess and prince. ROBERT is middle-aged but MARION is much younger, looking like a woodland nymph. They are both wearing flowing white garments and flowers in their hair. Their feet are bare. Before a fairy king, they take their wedding vows. When it is done, all the fairies sing.


Posted from Bedford, Massachusetts. Also see my other screen stories at Love, Strangely.
photo source

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Screen Story #16: "Hoodlums"

FADE IN:

We are inside an enclosed van with no windows that is carrying a motley crew of a half-dozen men in street clothes. Their relaxed banter suggests they are heading to work, and their accents indicate they are from the English working class. A couple of them are drinking coffee -- or are trying to, since the jarring motion of the vehicle is making it difficult.

A VOICE comes over an intercom: "Okay, Gentlemen, radio check."

The VOICE calls out the last name of each of the men in the van -- REILLY, PERCY, WALLACE, ADAMS, WHITTAKER, FRANKLIN -- and each of them responds "here" or something similar. It's very casual. Some of them adjust the hidden earpiece in their ear. It appears now that these are policemen on some kind of undercover mission, but a routine one.

The VOICE says: "Okay, we want good coverage today. A clean sweep. Let's not make any mistakes like last time. Reilly?"

REILLY replies: "Sir."

VOICE: "You're going to be the runner today, got it?"

REILLY (pretending to whine): "But, Mother, I did it last time?"

VOICE: "Got it?"

REILLY: "Affirmative."

VOICE: "Percy and Wallace, you got the perimeter."

PERCY: "Roger."

WALLACE: "Right-o!"

The van stops moving and the men start to get up, although the van doors are still closed. They each pick up some heavy tools: crowbars, sledgehammers, shovels.

VOICE: "Okay, on my count: three, two, one… go!"

The doors in the back of the van burst open and the men rush out. We are in a peaceful London residential neighborhood, and the men start trashing it! WHITTAKER smashes the windshield of a car with a crowbar, and the car alarm goes off. REILLY smashes the window of a house with a shovel. PERCY picks up a sidewalk trash bin and dumps it out on the road. FRANKLIN sprays graffiti on a wall, while ADAMS and WALLACE push over a telephone booth.

Passers-by are stunned, and some of them run away. A woman and her young daughter freeze on the sidewalk, not knowing what to do. PERCY runs up to them in a threatening manner, stops just short of them and says, "Boo!" The young girl starts crying and the woman quickly runs away with her. Now there are just the men in the street, smashing things.

WHITTAKER is continuing to work on the same car, breaking every window with his crowbar.

The VOICE comes over the radio: "Headlamps?"

WHITTAKER looks up the neighborhood security camera on a light pole. "Yessir!" he says, and he smashes the headlamps of the car as well. "How 'bout I take out that camera, too!"

"Very funny," says the VOICE.

Meanwhile, FRANKLIN is using two different cans of spray paint to make a creative artwork on a shop window. ADAMS comes over and admires the work - then smashes the window.

"Time out," says the VOICE, and the men stop what they are doing. "Okay, good work. Looks like the response is delayed today, so everyone break for five. Smoke if you have them."

The men now mill about in the street. Some of them light up cigarettes. They talk lightly about what they have just done, as though they were park workers who had trimmed some trees.

VOICE: "Okay, got the news overhead. Back to work!"

The men continue their spree of mayhem.

CUT TO: A television news program. The presenter says that a gang of hoodlums have just struck on Paddy Lane. From a helicopter's perspective, we see the men smashing windows and threatening passers-by.

Then, still from the helicopter's perspective, we see the police arrive in force, in a whole armada of vehicles with flashing lights. We see policemen engage the hoodlums in what appears to be violent hand-to-hand combat.

But when we cut back to ground level, we see that the police and hoodlums know each other quite well and are just play-acting for the camera. When a policeman appears to be beating a hoodlum with his baton, he is actually missing by inches, while the hoodlum only pretends to be hit. Both parties are laughing about it and making silly remarks, even though it looks quite serious from the air.

From the helicopter, we see REILLY take off on foot, with several policemen in close pursuit. All of them pass into a covered parking garage where the camera in the helicopter can't see.

Inside the parking garage, we see both REILLY and his pursuers milling about together, catching their breath. "Too many cigarettes," says one, and the others laugh. The policemen urge REILLY to slow down.

The VOICE tells them all to continue the chase, so they do.

From the air, we see the hoodlum and his pursuers emerge from the garage. The hoodlum makes a daring attempt to escape by vaulting some backyard walls, but the police remain close behind. Finally they take him down, and a struggle on the ground ensues. Shadow punches are thrown on both sides until the suspect is subdued, handcuffed and lead away.

The television news report says that that the police have the matter under control and that all suspects have been arrested. From the air, we see the police gather the six suspects together, all handcuffed. They herd them back into the same van they came out of! We see now that it is a police van with the "Special Tactics" unit.

Inside the van, the six men remove their own handcuffs, which just slip off their hands.

They all acknowledge that this was a good day.

CUT TO: A police substation. The policemen and hoodlums are sharing the same locker room. They compare notes on the events of the date and joke about each other's mistakes. Then they each punch the same time clock and say goodnight.

CUT TO: A documentary interview with three of the hoodlums in a garden setting. They talk extemporaneously about their work, sometimes interrupting each other or embellishing what another has said.

They see themselves as performing a vital service for society. Police are necessary to maintain law and order, but police can't be justified in a neighborhood unless there is enough crime there. Their job is to "even out" the crime statistics so that each neighborhood is equally protected. Their logic doesn't make much sense to us but seems perfectly rational to them.

They point out proudly that no one ever gets hurt on their raids, only property damage, which is reimbursed out of the general fund. Yes, some people will be frightened, but this is necessary, because only frightened people are appropriately vigilant against crime.

Besides, the job pays well. One hoodlum confesses almost tearfully that the job helped him turn a corner in his own life. He used to be a drug addict who turned to real crime to support his habit. Now that he works for the other side, he receives a regular paycheck and is off the drugs. "The important thing is, I got my self-esteem back," he says.

All of them say they feel fortunate to have found a job that suits their personalities.

"It's a win-win situation," says one.

CUT TO BLACK


Posted from Bedford, Massachusetts. © 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories
photo source

Monday, September 8, 2008

Screen Story #15: "Department Store Santa"

FADE IN:

In a suburban shopping mall, a department store SANTA is just doing his job. A tacky Holiday Village has been set up near the food court, and SANTA is sitting on a throne in the center, taking children on his knee for photos and listening to their Christmas wishes. He is a very convincing Santa, with a round and jolly face, and his beard is real. Photos with SANTA are $20 each, and it appears that you need to buy one to get any quality time with him. A couple of phony ELVES are taking the photos and collecting the money.

SANTA goes “Ho, Ho, Ho!” and asks each child what he or she wants. A series of selfish children take SANTA’s lap and tell him their commercial product needs. Some of them bring Christmas lists, which SANTA slips into his pocket and promises to read later. Each kid is accompanied by one or two parents, who dutifully pay the $20 and gush about how cute their kid looks.

It is getting late in the day, and SANTA is dragging. The main crowd has cleared out, and only one child is left in line. SANTA looks down and sees that it is a LITTLE GIRL, no more than 7 years old, in slightly ragged winter clothes. Her appearance is startling, especially because there are no parents with her. SANTA exchanges glances with his ELVES.

“Hello little girl,” he says in his best theatrical voice. “Have you come to see Santa?”

The little girl nods, a bit intimidated by the great man.

“Then come up here and sit on my lap,” says SANTA. He then starts into his usual warm-up routine, trying to get the girl to smile for the camera. She won’t smile, however, and the PHOTOGRAPHER ELF shakes his head and doesn’t take a picture. SANTA seems a little uncomfortable, but he remains in character.

“And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” he booms.

“I want my mom to get better,” says the LITTLE GIRL.

A distressed look comes over SANTA’s face. “Oh, is she sick?” he asks.

The GIRL replies that her mom is so sick that she can’t get out of bed.

“Oh dear,” says SANTA. “I hope your dad is there to help.”

“I don’t know who my dad is,” says the LITTLE GIRL.

“Is there anyone else living with you?” asks SANTA.

“No, just me and my mom,” says the LITTLE GIRL.

SANTA is looking more and more uncomfortable, while the PHOTOGRAPHER ELF, who doesn’t hear the conversation, is trying to get the girl to smile by making faces at her.

“Do you know what’s wrong with your mom?” asks SANTA.

“She has AIDS,” says the LITTLE GIRL.

Just then, the flash goes off, and the scene is frozen in time. In the photo, the girl is smiling, but the expression on SANTA’s face is one of shock and distress.

The ELVES are eager to leave, and they motion the LITTLE GIRL off SANTA’s lap.

“I wrote you a letter about it,” says the LITTLE GIRL. She hands it to SANTA, and he weakly thanks her. He sticks the letter in his pocket with the Christmas lists.

The LITTLE GIRL goes to the CASHIER ELF. She pulls out a purse and proceeds to pay for the photo – in very small denominations. There are pennies, nickels, dimes and a lot of rolled up dollar bills, and it takes a while for the CASHIER ELF to count the money. SANTA looks very pained. After an awkward period of counting, the LITTLE GIRL receives her photo with SANTA.

She looks back at SANTA, smiles warmly and waves. SANTA puts on his best smile, and waves back. The LITTLE GIRL then disappears into the crowds in the mall.

Belatedly, SANTA remembers something.

“Ho, Ho, Ho! MERRY Christmas,” he booms, but he still looks distressed.

CUT TO: Santa’ makeshift dressing room in the back of the mall.

In front of a mirror, SANTA removes his red hat to reveal his balding hairline. Then he takes off his red jacket, and starts to remove his rosy-red make-up.

While looking at himself in the mirror, he thinks of something. He then reaches into the pocket of his jacket and pulls out a pile of Christmas lists. He looks through them to find the LITTLE GIRL’s letter. He then starts reading it.

As he reads the letter silently to himself, we see great sadness come over him. Eventually, there are tears streaming down his face and into his white beard.

“Hello, Santa,” says a little voice.

SANTA looks up at the mirror and sees the LITTLE GIRL standing in the doorway behind him. He spins around to face her.

“Well, Hello!” he says, not trying to play Santa this time.

“Did you read my letter?” says the girl.

“Yes I did,” says SANTA. “You’re a very brave little girl.”

“Can you make my mom better? You don’t have to get me anything else.”

Poor SANTA is in distress. He is done with playing a role and needs to come clean. Patiently, he explains to the girl that he isn’t really Santa. He’s just a lonely old man who plays Santa to make money.

“I wish I could help your mom, but I just don’t have the power,” he confesses.

He then takes a $20 bill out of his wallet and gives it to the LITTLE GIRL. He says that she shouldn’t have to pay for her picture.

The LITTLE GIRL takes the money and thinks about things for a minute. Meanwhile, the tears come back to SANTA’s eyes.

“Well, can you pretend to be Santa?” says the LITTLE GIRL. “I think it would make my mom happy.”

SANTA wipes the tears from his face. “Where do you live?” he asks.

“Old Town,” says the girl.

“Wow, that’s a long way! How did you get here?”

“Walked.”

“Well, I can certainly give you a ride back. What’s your name?”

“Jasmine.”

“My name is Dave.” He reaches out his beefy hand to shake hers. “I’m very pleased to meet you. What is your mom’s name?”

“Michelle.”

“Let’s go meet your mom, shall we?”

They both leave the room, and we…

CUT TO BLACK.


Posted from Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories
Photo source

Trouble in Paradise

On the first day of my furlough from the airline biz, I figured I’d do the responsible thing and stick around Las Vegas to clean up loose ends. By the end of the day, however, I was aching to travel. I considered Athens, Greece, but it was too expensive. (I calculated that a two-night visit, including airfare and hostel, would set me back $150.) I settled instead on my usual paradise, the U.S. Virgin Islands, which I knew would cost me next to nothing.

This was my third visit to the Virgins. The first two times I slept on a beach on St. John, which is mostly a National Park, but this was dicey, since camping on the beach is illegal. This time, I decided to stay on St. Thomas, where the airport is and the park rangers aren’t. As my plane was landing, I caught a glimpse of a tiny isolated beach on Brewer’s Bay that might serve my needs. After a 3-mile hike from the airport, I was there, arriving just around nightfall.

The beach was a crescent of soft white coral sand no more than 100 yards long. I set up my one-man tent in the sandy plateau just above the surf line, where the waves were no more than six inches high. I travel to this part of the world with a tent but no sleeping bag or mattress. The tent is necessary for protection from insects and rain, but bedding isn’t needed because the temperature is usually perfect -- not too cold, not too hot as long as you sleep nearly naked. The sand under the tent floor provides a mattress of sorts – at least better than rocks or hard ground.

The beach was inaccessible by road, only by trail, so there was little chance of my being discovered or visited at night. I had the place to myself, so I bathed naked in the ocean. I could actually “bathe” because the ocean here is bathwater temperature and perfectly clear. With liquid camping soap, which works in salt water, I could wash up almost as well as in a shower.

I then tried to get some sleep, but it didn’t go as well as I had hoped. First of all, even “soft” sand can be pretty hard, and it can be difficult getting comfortable enough to sleep. Secondly, I had a visitation by a tropical creature.

I first felt it scampering across my legs, then across my bare chest. This can be disconcerting in the darkness when you’re in a tent that you believe is sealed and you don’t know what the creature is. I got my flashlight, shined it upon the intruder and found him to be a huge cockroach, almost two inches long and an inch wide. I am not freaked out by such things, and he was not afraid of me, so I picked him up with a t-shirt and ejected him from my residence.

What was disturbing is that I didn’t know how he got in. My tent appeared to be bug-proof, and it would take a big hole to admit such a beast. I examined all the seams and could find no such hole, so I figured he must have climbed in my pack when I was setting up the tent and moved into the tent when the pack did.

Unfortunately, the scampering resumed about fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t sure whether it was the same cockroach or his identical twin who had also hid in my pack. (I am very poor at cockroach identification.) I again ejected him from the tent but didn’t have the fortitude to squish him when I had the chance. A few minutes later, he returned again! At this point, I realized that it was probably the same roach returning again and again through some unknown orifice. My fortress was not secure! I really wanted to kill him this time, but I was only successful in removing him from the tent again.

Not knowing when he would return, sleep was now impossible. I suppose that if I was a real man I could have peacefully co-habitated with the roach. I know millions of people do in the tropics. The roach wanted only my food, which was everywhere loose in my tent. He would probably eat his fill and then leave, but I couldn’t quite tolerate this. It was 2am, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any more sleep. What was I going to do now?

Most of us are familiar with tropical beaches only from the photographs on calendars. I have visited and photographed some of those beaches and can report that they truly exist as they are pictured: perfect white sand, perfect blue water and often a palm tree hanging out prosaically from the shore. But there are many things the calendars don’t tell you. You can’t sleep directly on the beach, because the bugs and maybe the crabs will eat you alive. You’ll also get soaked by the rain that comes almost every night. The sand itself is a pain, as it gets into everything. So does the humidity. On a tropical island, humidity near 100% is the norm, which means nothing ever dries out. Sand, humidity and computers don’t mix, and I am constantly worried about my electronics.

In the tropics, there is little in the way of dusk or dawn, and you can count on nearly 12 hours of darkness any time of year. In general, the sun drops like a rock at about 6pm and pops above the horizon at about 6am. If you are camping and you sleep for 7 hours, this means you still have 5 hours of darkness to kill.

At 2am, I still had four hours before the dawn, and it was feeling like a four-hour airplane flight. I worked on my computer for about an hour until the battery died, but then what? I bathed naked in the ocean – again! – but it seemed pointless by now. How many hours of a warm bath can you take?

Finally, at about 4am, I felt that I had no choice but to break camp. All this perfection can be grating. The thing they never tell you about Paradise – of any kind – is that THERE’S NOTHING TO DO. Sure, it may be prestigious to sit at the right hand of God, but what are you going to do once you are there? Play chess? I find that I have to relearn this lesson every time I visit a Magic Kingdom: No matter how big the anticipation may be, within a few hours, it’s time to get out!

I took my time pulling down the tent and assembling my pack, but it was still full darkness when I was ready to go. Around dawn I was at the University of the Virgin Islands, about a mile from the beach. I found a covered veranda there where I could plug in my computer. That’s when the torrential rains began, and they pinned my in that location for four hours. Had I not broken camp when I did, the rains would have overcome my simple tent; my computer would have been at risk, and I would have been miserable. Thank you, Mr. Roach!

Twenty-four hours after arriving in the Virgins, I was back on a plane heading back to the real world. There’s only so much of this Paradise shit you can handle.

Also see my camping experience on St. John (7/19/08)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Screen Story #14: "The Man on the Television"

FADE IN:

We are in the living room of an urban apartment sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. A black-and-white television is playing as a WOMAN dresses for work in another room. THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION is reading the news.

From the other room, the WOMAN asks aloud whether she should wear the green dress or the blue dress.

THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION stops reading the news for a moment and replies. He says he thinks she should wear the blue dress. He then goes back to reading the news.

The WOMAN is unfazed by this. She comes into the living room and speaks directly to the television, saying that she was thinking of the green dress, but now that he mentions it, the blue is probably better.

The WOMAN and THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION are speaking to each other like they are husband and wife, or at least lovers.

THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION says that the weather doesn't look good. He points to a weather map to indicate that showers are likely. "I really don't want you going out there in that," he says.

The woman says she will bring her umbrella.

THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION then starts reading some horrifying crime statistics and points out that the streets aren't safe anymore. There's also a dangerous strain of flu going around. People have died from it.

It becomes clear that THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION is trying his best to convince the woman not to go, and his arguments are becoming more and more desperate.

The WOMAN doesn't reply. She comes back into the living room in the blue dress. "How do I look?"

"You look good, really good." says THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION, "but I still don't want you to go."

"I have to go to work," she says, "I'll be back this evening."

She starts to leave.

"Karen, don't go!" says THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION shouts, almost in a panic.

"You'll be okay," says the WOMAN. "I'll be back."

She opens the door of the apartment and begins to step out.

Suddenly, she realizes there is nothing outside the door - just an empty abyss! It's like her whole apartment has been ripped out of its place on earth and is now suspended in space.

She begins to fall into the void, but she catches herself on the door frame. Frantically, she pulls herself back inside. She struggles back into the apartment and closes the door. She is hyperventilating and stunned. She collapses on the couch.

The MAN ON THE TELEVISION is still there, but the program has changed to an exercise show. He is now wearing a workout outfit and is demonstrating relaxation techniques. He tells the audience to breathe deeply… then relax… breathe deeply… then relax. The corny sound of an off-stage organ mirrors the breathing.

"I told you not to go," the MAN says. "It's a jungle out there. Why don't you just stay with me today? We'll exercise, and then it's time for 'General Hospital,' sponsored by Tide. You like that show don't you?"

"I guess so," says the WOMAN.

"Good, then everything's fine."

THE MAN ON THE TELEVISION displays some absurd stretching move, and we…

Cut to black.



Posted from Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories
Photo source: Walter Chronkite, Jack LaLanne