Thursday, April 30, 1998

A Guy And His Beard

My wife and I went to Toys R Us (sorry, I don't have the correct font for the backwards R) to get some new sand for our daughter's sandbox. They don't keep the sand on the shelves; it's in a stack of 50-pound bags near the exit door. You pay for them at the register and then pick them up. After we did the cash transaction, the woman at the checkout said, "These are kind of heavy. Would you like me to get a guy to help you?" To which my wife replied, "Yes, please." BOOM! Ego shot, broadside.

Honey, what do you mean, "Yes, please"?? We don't need "a guy" to help with this! I'M A GUY! I'm standing right here! What do you think I'm doing here? Besides, what guy in his right mind is going to let another guy pick up that bag of sand and put it in his trunk for him? I picked those suckers up and plopped 'em in the trunk, no problem. Just for the record, "the guy" looked like Izzy Mandelbaum, the octogenarian that Lloyd Bridges played on Seinfeld. No thanks, Izzy, I've got this one. Why don't you have another Viagra, on me? Oh, it's Go Time, all right.

Maybe my wife's just cranky because the Gillette people haven't developed a Lady version of the Mach 3 yet. The Mach 3 is the latest innovation in the race for the perfect shave (c'mon, we're kicking the Russians asses on this one; they're still shaving with Sputnik!), and for the moment it's only for men's beards. It's quite a breakthrough, the Gillette folks would have you believe, because they've been trying to work out the kinks in a three-blade razor for almost three decades. Any minute now I expect them to announce that Tom Hanks is executive-producing a 12-hour miniseries, "From The Chin To The Ear."

What's amazing to me is that they're still trying to improve shaving technology. This is like the people at Nabisco trying to make a better Oreo. Just stop it, you have the perfect cookie. There's no reason to dunk it in fudge and wrap it in white chocolate. Just put them on sale and give me a glass of milk.

Full disclosure: I've had a full beard for more than 20 years, so I can't speak first-hand about getting a close shave, but I didn't realize that the old two-blade system was so primitive. Someone will have to explain to me what the problem was, and how the Mach 3 solves it. Wherever I go, I see and talk to regular guys with clean-shaven faces, and never once has the topic of a closer shave come up in conversation, ever. And yet, Gillette had over 500 engineers working on this project for 27 years. Were there that many complaints about the shortcomings of razors? Was there that much demand for a third blade? Why is this such a technological revolution? Could it be that sales of the Sensor razor were down?

More importantly, when it came time to test the Mach 3 on an actual man's face, did Mrs. Gillette tell the guys in the lab to wait -- while she went to get "a guy"?

Tuesday, April 28, 1998

The Beacon Of Shame

My friend Leigh, who lives in Manhattan, went to see a movie the other night. I wasn't surprised to hear that the movie ("Sour Grapes," from Seinfeld co-creator Larry David) was terrible. I was surprised to hear about the new reserved-seat system they've started using in that theater and some others.

Here's what she had to go through. After coughing up the $8.50 (eight fifty???) for the ticket, she then had to choose where she wanted to sit. The woman behind the bulletproof glass -- who I'm sure insists she's not the Cashier, but rather the Admittance Coordinator -- showed Leigh a seating chart and made her pick a spot. Naturally, she chose a good seat in the middle of the theater. Just as naturally, so did everyone else.

Now, this movie ain't exactly drawing Titanic audiences. So, here you have about three dozen people all scrunched together in a few rows in the center of a mostly-empty theater. They're all in their assigned seats, having been shown where to sit by an usher who no doubt doubles as the kid who replaces the urinal cakes in the men's room. What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that someone ruined a system that worked just fine and needed no improvement. Everyone understood the concept of showing up, paying for your ticket, and then finding a seat on your own; one which fit your own personal seat preferences. You wanted to make sure that you weren't sitting directly next to the guy who was gonna hog the armrest. You didn't want to be behind the woman from the B-52s with the beehive hairdo. You didn't want to be next to the family that brought their soon-to-be-screaming infant to an R-rated Bruce Willis explosion-fest. You may or may not have wanted to sit next to the gaggle of tattooed, nose-ringed, teen arcade chicks.

You wanna sit where you wanna sit, dammit. If you come early, you get the prime seats. If you come late, and the theater's full, you do the "Is that seat taken?" shuffle. And if you find yourself too close to someone, or if the floor at that spot is covered by too much cine-muck, or if you just want to have a place to put your coat down, you can get up and move.

Not anymore. With these reserved seats, once you pick your spot, that's where you have to sit, like it or not. Never mind the 200 empty seats around you. Just sit there, and don't dare eat that popcorn you brought from home.

There is one part of the new system that I find heartening, though, and that's the return of the Usher. If only it was accompanied by the return of The Beacon Of Shame.

There was a time when movie theaters actually employed people to keep order in their theaters. If you were talking too loudly during the movie, or making out with your intern in the balcony, or -- god forbid -- putting your feet up on the chair in front of you, the Usher would appear from nowhere and point a flashlight at you. Mind you, this wasn't just any flashlight. It had approximately the same candlepower as the Bat Signal. When the Usher lit you up, you were bathed in the Beacon Of Shame. Nothing more needed to be said. You were shamed into stopping whatever illicit activity you were involved in. You also missed the next 10 minutes of the movie because you were blinder than Mr. Magoo (which actually would have been helpful if you had found yourself in a theater showing the big screen version of Mr. Magoo, starring Leslie Nielsen...what were they thinking?).

Of course, wielding the Beacon Of Shame is a little more difficult these days. There's more than a small chance that after the Usher whips out the Beacon Of Shame, the offending 70mm-filmgoer is going to whip out a 9mm-usher-stopper. And soon thereafter, that sleeping infant in the reserved seat in front of you is awakened by the sound of gunplay, and then your whole moviegoing experience is ruined.

If only you could have chosen your own seat.

Friday, April 17, 1998

TV Turnoff Week

You've got to feel a little sorry for Stephanie Miller. She's a very talented lady; quick-witted, funny, smart. Sure, her attempt at late night TV had its problems, but none of them were her fault. Besides, she's done dynamite radio for years, and now has stepped up as the latest co-host of CNBC's "Equal Time."

So, why feel sorry for her? Partly because Steph has to suffer the indignity of sitting opposite Bay Buchanan and fight the urge to just plain slap her. Partly because when Bay's not there, they bring in CNBC's designated co-host, Marcia Clark (is there anyone among us who even cares?). But mostly because Steph's gonna get hurt by National TV Turnoff Week, April 22-28.

Face it, nobody's turning off Jerry Springer just because some group wants Americans to boycott TV for a week. I don't care how proud, brilliant, or sophisticated you think you are, or how you claim you only expose yourself to TV when Jim Lehrer is talking to you from behind his desk. If you're down at the Circuit City and the wall of Trinitrons is showing a Springer show with some quadriplegic woman hopping down from her chair, doing a Jackie Chan flip-kick to stump-swat her trailer-park husband for cheating on her with the local manicurist-in-training, you are gonna stop and watch. At least until you hear the crowd chanting, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" and you realize it's your fellow citizens of Circuit City who are leading the cheer.

But give up "Equal Time?" Easy. Not watch Chris Matthews? That's a softball "Hardball" question. Skip another all-star panel of newspaper editors listening to Larry King pining for the old days in Brooklyn? No problem. Believe me, the topic -- and the banter -- will be exactly the same when you come back seven days later.

What's that old question? If William Ginsburg talks to Tim Russert but nobody's watching, can he still limo over to 2020 M Street in time for a one-on-one with Bob Schieffer?

Okay, so you may miss Deepak Chopra explaining the complexities of the federal subpoena process to Bill Maher. Or Bob Novak accidentally agree with Bill Press. But skip a round of the completely interchangeable "McLaughlin Gang" and "Capitol Group?" Sure! It's easier than figuring out which one's Hannity and which one's Colmes.

So, I'm sorry, Stephanie. I hope America sticks with you. I hate seeing those words "Coast To Coast" in the title of your show, because I remember NBC doing that to Tom Snyder when they added Rona Barrett and a studio audience to "Tomorrow," right before it came crashing down harder than a steel beam in Yankee Stadium. I'm rooting for you, Steph. In the same way I'm hoping to be able to turn on a WB sitcom and not hear the word "booty" in the first thirty seconds.

During TV Turnoff Week, if America does hit the off button on its national remote, it won't be Jerry Springer's steel cage match that will suffer, but "Equal Time" and the rest of these shows that will see their ratings fall to minuscule levels. Of course, then they'll just know what it's like to be Tony Snow.