Sunday, April 30, 2006

Having a Wild Weekend

For the first time since I can remember, I had two days in a row off from work. 48 hours. Saturday and Sunday. A whole weekend. And going by Baltimore's social calendar standards, in which it's always feast or famine, this was a feast weekend. Literally, in some cases. I'm talking great weather, celebrities in town, the Baltimore Waterfront Festival (including the Volvo Ocean Race) at the Inner Harbor, a IFOCE Competitive Eating contest, the Pow Wow Art & Music Festival, the always-fun Johns Hopkins Film Festival, great films opening at The Charles Theater, and young girls flirting with me. This weekend had it all. Even the unthinkable, like spotting not just one but two Segways in one day (some would consider it a miracle to spot two in a lifetime!).


It started Friday night. As I was driving home, I noticed a late-model sports car pulling out of a side street covered in gaudy spray paint, like a newlyweds "Just Married" mobile, only this one's owner was clearly not of age yet for matrimony. The bright neon screams out the text "Guess Who's Seventeen?" Subtle, I thought, then passed it by. At the traffic light, however, I looked over to my left to see that the car had pulled up right next to me. And the driver was motioning to me. Oh God, I thought, some smart-aleck teens are gonna hassle the unhip old guy in the uncool Honda. But as the window rolled down and the driver leaned over her friend in the passenger seat, it was only to announce excitedly "It's my birthday!!!"

"I gathered that," I replied. "Are you 17?" I added, with my flair for the obvious.

"Yes!!!" came the reply. "I'm 17!!!"

"Well, I envy you," I said, suddenly channeling Paul McCartney singing I Saw Her Standing There. "That's a great age - that's a true rock & roll age."

"Yes!!!" came the enthusiastic response. And the girl simultaneously cranked the volume on the car radio while shaking her head vigorously to the music, like a she was having an epilectic seizure. This continued for several seconds until the light changed , but, having nothing to add to her gyrations, I lost the thread and merely intoned like a parent, " responsibly!" and zoomed off.

Ah yes, 17 holds a storied place in pop music lore, rivaled in desirability only by Sweet 16. 18-year-old girls are passe in rock music because they're legal, and 16 is too sacrosanct (after all, you can't be over 16 in Menudo and still retain your boyish innocence!), but 17...that's playing with fire, right on the cusp of almost legal. No wonder Beatle Paul hollered Well she was just 17/You know what I mean/And the way she looked was way beyond compare...No wonder Benjamin Orr Teutonically intoned She's a frozen fire/She's my one desire...and she won't give up, 'cause she's seventeen...No wonder in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Malcolm McDowell's droogie picked up two teenyboppers looking at a record by their peer group Heaven 17 (later the name of an 80s British synth band) and promptly took them home to boff silly...


For more info on rock songs dealing with young girls' ages or numbers in general, see Wikepedia's List of Songs with Numbers in the Title. It's all here, from "Less Than Zero" to "A Million Miles Away."


Saturday morning, as I was getting my coffee at Panera Bread, my girlfriend excitedly shouted, "Look! A Segway!" Cleverly replying, "Huh?" I gazed over to see a young guy scooting across the parking lot toward the Wachovia Bank. I had never heard of a Segway (officially called a Segway Human Transport vehicle) until about a month earlier, and when I finally saw one - looking like a high-tech manual lawn mower that moves around like a unicycle - it made me think of Devo (I could certainly see the Spuds embracing this goofball device - especially when people wear bicycle helmets while riding them!), as well as of those annoying unicyclists that are always juggling at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

My girlfriend, who works for the county Police department, said Segways had been around for years in law enforcement and at airports. But seeing one driven by a young person - a young person not wearing a clown costume and juggling balls - struck me as odd. The Segway just looks like something for Seniors, like those clunky wraparound sunglasses for old folks with cataracts. And at 5K a pop new, 3K used, I was amazed that any non-law enforcement personnel would invest in such a costly transportation mode, one that apparently travels no faster than 7 miles an hour (an average humanoid can walk 4 miles an hour!). I mean, why not buy a scooter, like a cool Vespa? Sure, with the impending gas crunch coming, it is a low-cost alternative to driving cars, but then so is a bike, and a bike is a whole lot faster and cheaper!
Segway Transportation Trivia: In November 2004 Josh Caldwell became the first individual to complete a trans-continental trip from Seattle to Boston via a Segway Human Transport vehicle. The trip took 101 days leaving from Seattle on August 8, 2004 and finishing in Boston on November 18, 2004.

Anyway, later that day we saw another Segway at the Inner Harbor. An old man was "driving" it. That seemed much more appropriate. My world had returned to status quo, my zeitgeist was restored.


Saturday night I saw a great film at the Charles Theatre, Brick. Brick is a modern film noir set at a high school with throwback Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler dialogue, a talented cast of young actors, and a style that effectively mixed David Lynch post-modern quirkiness with traditional John Huston noir. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the protagonist Brendan so strikingly, it makes me want to check out his other films, like Greg Araki's Mysterious Skin. Brick is an incredible movie-going experience, but don't take my word for it. The New Yorker had a nice review last month (April 3, 2006) by David Denby that sums it up best:

Brick, a low-budget movie shot in twenty days and edited on a home computer, has a rapturous sheen to it. Part of the movie’s aura will come from the people likely to watch it—an audience happily stoned on the sweetish, camphorated redolence of old movie gestures, loyalties, and modes of behavior. The first-time director, Rian Johnson, spent six years raising money from family and friends to pull off his dream project, a Dashiell Hammett-style whodunnit. But in Johnson’s version of film noir the inexorable Sam Spade-type detective is a mop-headed high-school student wearing a sweatshirt and wire-framed glasses, and the setting is not the nighttime big city of Hollywood imagination—the usual claustrophobic noir precinct—but the preposterously sunny skies and wide-open spaces of San Clemente, California. The hero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), receives a desperate phone call from an old girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin), who then disappears. Brendan finds her dead body at the mouth of a sewage tunnel, and, realizing that she had fallen into the hands of a student drug gang (led by an off-campus crime boss named the Pin), insinuates himself into the gang and turns the members of it against one another. At the same time, he tells off the school’s assistant vice-principal, just the way Bogart used to sass the cops who cramped his style. The convolutions of the story are hard to follow in the manner of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, and the characters, lounging against the blank outside wall of the school, speak in cryptic jive patter (“Bulls would only gum it”; i.e., “Cops are dumb”). They say their words quickly, casually, and, if you don’t get half the burble, it doesn’t matter. The situations and the talk may be a joke, but the emotions are real—we’re in high school, where friendships and loyalty, and who’s tough and who’s cool, count for everything.

Brick is often quite funny, and not in a campy or condescending way—that is, not because the distance from the original models is laughable. If anything, you are likely to think, This kind of story still works because it has an unshakable internal logic. Yes, the knight in shining armor must walk down those mean streets; he must act like a criminal, enter the underworld (in this case, a suburban basement with prefab panelling), get himself beaten up, outsmart everyone, and, in the end, give us the pleasures of sin and of justice at the same time. Part of the enjoyment is our knowledge that Brick was concocted by Hollywood kids on a serious lark, making use of a glorious strand of their inheritance. All in all, this twerpy little movie is one of the most entertaining pictures to be released so far this year.

Also check out the reviews below:

Brick Links:

Brick official site
Baltimore Sun review (Michael Sragow)
New Yorker review (David Denby)
Metacritic reviews


For more about my celebrity-spotting, two-days-off-in-a-row ("They said it couldn't happen!") weekend, see my "American Idols" posting.

Related Links:

The Weekend (Wikepedia)
List of Songs with Numbers in the Title. (Wikepedia)
Segway HT (Wikepedia)


Blogger Scott "Unpainted" Huffines said...

"I mean, why not buy a scooter, like a cool Vespa?"

If I bought a scooter it would be a Rascal:

10:46 PM  

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