Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dinner And A Movie.

Lena Dunham was on The Tonight Show and she and Jimmy Fallon talked about how they both used to work in video stores. I loved this because I too, once worked in a video store. 
It's a shame that future generations of kids won't have the chance to work in video stores. 
It's good for you. 

My Aunt and Uncle used to own a video store on this little island on Florida's Gulf Coast. There was actually another video store on the island as well, but that one was run by a guy who left the store locked with a sign on the door that said, "I'm at the bar. If you want to rent something, come get me." 
So my family's store was pretty busy all the time.

When my uncle had a heart attack, I went down to help out for a few months. I probably learned more about movies working there than I did in film school. I watched a LOT of movies. I watched three a shift on the big screen at the front of the store, and then brought home a stack of foreign and independent films at night. I watched so many movies I started to want to rearrange the store by different categories, like:
"Movies with good soundtracks" 
"Movies about food"

I really wanted to categorize movies by what kind of food you might be eating before, after, or during the film. When I'd watch movies at night by myself I'd point to the screen and say, "Now, see?! This would be perfect for Sauce/Italian/Pizza!" "Remember this for "Holiday/Celebratory Meals." (Horror movies were under "Halloween Candy." Most films with violence filed under "Fasting.")

My Aunt is super organized, so that idea never flew, but we did have an employee recommendation shelf that became ridiculously important to me. I picked my selections so carefully and wrote what I thought were the most compelling reasons to watch, and then waited while no one rented my picks. Sometimes I would switch them out mid-week, or add other ones. 
I worked with one kid who just put Bad Santa on the shelf every week with the explanation, "It's good."-Robbie

Being a tiny island on Florida's Gulf Coast, most of the customers were old people and beach bums. I worked there when Lost in Translation was released and I cannot tell you how many times people screamed at me for recommending it to them. A lot of refunds. A lot of exchanges for Bad Santa.

But every so often, someone would come in and ask about an obscure movie, or mention a scene they'd once seen, and we'd start to talk. Talking about a good movie with a stranger is like meeting someone and realizing you share a mutual friend. That same nodding, smiling, familiarity. It's nice and it makes you appreciate the movies more. 
And every so often after one of those talks, a person would ask for a recommendation. 
And I'd ask them what they were having for dinner. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


My mom's side of the family loves casinos. When my great-grandmother was alive, you could mention the word casino and literally watch three generations of women turn to face you, their heightened interest showing in their eyes with a look that said, "Go on..."

I strongly dislike casinos. The noises bother me and as a people-watcher, it's pretty much the saddest kind of place to observe humanity. But collectively, my mom and grandma ask for almost nothing, so the very least I can do is listen when they talk about slot machines.

Is it possible to overstate how little I care about slot machines?
Not really.
I truly do not care about slot machines.
I don't think there's a technique to using them, or a strategy for winning, or that a "good one" is something that exists within the universe. My mom and grandma talk about some slot machines like they're people I should know. 
"Have you ever seen the Hoot Loot machine? That's a good one. A really good one. It's funny and kind of cute. You'd like it. Green Machine's a good one too. You'd like it."

And then I feel myself getting sucked into this slowed down version of life where I'm not allowed to roll my eyes, but where the only thing I want to do is roll my eyes. 

If you know someone who likes slots, you've probably heard them tell you how to play. Look, we all get it. Put some money in, press a button, lose the money. It's like paying to take an elevator. Or not even because you don't actually get anywhere. It's like paying to ring a doorbell. Anyway, the point is, I understand how they work. But my grandma and my mom both think I don't, and explain in painfully specific detail the combinations I should be trying to get despite the fact that I will never ever be playing these games. 

I once wrote a stand-up act about a conversation I had with my grandma concerning a Chinese food slot machine. I've only performed it for my mom but it killed. The real-life conversation was 20 minutes. A TWENTY MINUTE lecture about the best combinations to get on the Chinese food slot machine. It was my grandmother's TED Talk. Yelling out menu items, how to bet the max, 5 rows, diagonal on the bonus, absolutely none of it making sense to me. "You just press the button, right?"

"If you get 2 moo shu porks with an egg roll and a chopstick, that's good if you have a star. But if you you have THREE moo shu porks, you want two egg rolls. Or noodles are always good. With or without a star, get noodles on the max bet with chopsticks and chicken..." 

20 minutes this went on. 
You learn after five minutes that there is no possible way to respond.

Anyway, Nessa and I were recently listening to my mom talk about casinos, and I sat in the slowed down version of my life as she discussed various prize nights. 

Mom: Monday night is Ladies Night and Men's Night.
Ness: Both?
Mom: Yes.
Ness: So it's just night. Monday nights are just "Night."
Mom: Well, technically no. Because of the prizes.

I felt my head tilt a little, wondering if I should weigh in at all. Time stood completely still as I heard Vanessa laughing at my mother's explanation. 
Finally I asked, "Have you been to Ladies Night and Men's Night, mom?"
"Yeah," she replied. "It's a good one."