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Thursday, May 31, 2001

Wedding Bell Rhythm & Blues

Two stories about marriage have been in the news in the past week.

One was the new study that shows that 48% of American households are now made up of unmarried people, compared to only 22% in 1950. This was immediately seized as proof that the institution of marriage should be considered an endangered species.

They failed to take into account the fact that we’re all living a lot longer now than we did fifty years ago, and many senior citizens who are widows and widowers would now fall into that unmarried category. Also, more people are realizing that "until death do you part" isn’t nearly as long if you get married in your thirties as opposed to right out of high school, which was the norm half a century ago.

The other marriage story involved the tragedy in Israel, when the dance floor at a large wedding gave way on the third floor of a Jerusalem catering company. About 300 people were injured and 23 died. It was an amazing story, and there was amazing video aired on newscasts everywhere.

Aside from the horror of the carnage, what astonished me was the fact that those 323 people only made up half of the total number of people who were there. The reports said there were 650 attendees at the wedding reception.

Six hundred and fifty!

No wonder the dance floor gave way. That’s a lot of people doing the Bunny Hop all at once. Or, more likely in this case, the Hebrew dance known as the hora.

I’ve never been to a wedding that large. Most of the ones I’ve been invited to included somewhere between 150 and 200 people. But after this incident, I asked several friends who told me that, yes, they’ve been to and even had huge wedding receptions themselves – four or five hundred was not an uncommon number.

That’s a lot of "chicken or beef?" decisions. And a helluva large catering bill.

I don’t even know that many people. At some point, you must be inviting in-laws of friends of roommates of relatives whom you have never even met in the first place.

That’s where the crazy dancing comes in. People who would be scared to death to get up and dance in front of close friends have no such trepidation getting up (and down) in front of distant cousins they’ll never see again, especially when the wedding band breaks into Kool & The Gang’s "Celebrate." Come on!

Pretty soon the dance floor is filled with middle-aged folks moving more awkwardly than Trent Lott at a Jim Jeffords hug-a-thon. This is endlessly amusing to everyone under 30, who turn their backs so that the bride doesn’t see them guffawing at the way her father thinks he’s Tony Manero but looks more like Tony Soprano.

Now gather round – so that the waiters can clear away that salad you didn’t eat because it looked like it was made up of yard rakings and assorted oak leaves – and watch the bride’s father and the groom’s mother fight back tears to the sounds of "Sunrise Sunset."

One wedding tradition that always makes me cringe is when the band is playing a fast song that has attracted everyone to the dance floor (the music will either be "Shout" or "Hava Nagila" depending on ethnicity), and someone brings out The Chairs Of Death. Suddenly, the bride and groom are being hoisted overhead by several burly men.

These are almost always the same guys who were taking advantage of the open bar earlier, so the concept of balance is no longer a physical priority. More than once I’ve seen either the bride or groom spilled or dropped to the floor.

This doesn’t dissuade the crowd, who then force the parents of the betrothed into The Chairs. You haven’t seen horror until you’ve seen the groom’s mother clinging to her chair for dear life, knowing that she’s just moments away from a gravitational encounter she’ll remember for weeks.

As the evening wears on, the band weaves its way through all the wedding band classics. Although "Close To You" and "Color My World" have long since been dropped from their repertoire, you can count on valiant attempts to imitate Louis Armstrong on "What A Wonderful World" and Whitney Houston on "Greatest Love of All." And every husband in the room will be dragged into a slow dance against his will to "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Time Of My Life."

For some reason, this is usually followed by "YMCA," and everyone hits the dance floor to twist their body into alphabetical contortions. I seem to be the only one who sees the irony in everyone celebrating the pairing of two heterosexual people by loudly singing a song that is essentially a gay anthem.

And now that you’re on your feet, let’s boogie down cliche street with "We Are Family," "Old Time Rock and Roll," and, if we’re lucky, "The Duck Dance!"

Perhaps those marriage researchers overlooked something.

Maybe some of the unmarrieds among the invitees see the spectacle of all those suits and dresses doing "The Electric Slide" -- plus the sight of 70 year old Aunt Matilda trying to keep up with her 13 year old grandson while the band plays "Gettin’ Jiggy With It" – and decide right then and there to stay single just one more year.

Now, while we serve dessert, won’t you please join the happy couple back on the dance floor as we play the song they told us was their song: "Love Theme From Pearl Harbor."

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Being Sick Sucks

When I got back to work this morning after being sidelined for a week with an allergy-related throat infection, one of the women in the office said to me, "Wow, I sure wish I could call in sick and just lie around the house for a couple of days."

I replied that I would have happily traded her all those hours I had spent leisurely lying in bed enjoying my scratchy throat, blinding headaches, and inability to draw a complete breath. I also explained that, at least for me, doing absolutely nothing is boring as hell.

Remember when you were a kid and got to stay home -- most likely after faking a raspy complaint of "Mom, my stomach is upset, my throat is sore, and my head hurts" -- because it meant you could hang out, have Mom bake you some chocolate chip cookies (universally accepted as therapeutically sound therapy for anyone suffering from any illness), and watch TV all day?

I’m here to tell you that, these days, staying home and watching TV as an adult means enduring hour after hour of pablum. Not so much in the morning, right up through Regis and Kelly Lee, or in the evening and late at night. But between morning and primetime, there is nothing worth viewing.

You know you’re bored -- and running a fever -- when a 15-year-old rerun of "LA Law" prompts you to think, "Isn’t that Judy Landers? Whatever happened to her? And didn’t she have a sister, Audrey?" There was a time in the 1980s when you could hardly go a week without seeing one of the Landers sisters guest starring on one show or another. So why haven’t we even heard their names for at least a half-dozen years?

I’m guessing the answer is: Gravity.

Even with the 100+ channels on digital cable, the variety of afternoon programming runs the gamut from squat to nada to zippo (yes, I'm including Oprah). Once you’ve seen the day’s headlines repeated for the umpteenth time on four different news networks -- okay, we know that Jim Jeffords is making the big switch, and is now dating Ellen DeGeneres -- it’s time to browse the premium channels. These are the ones which exist purely to prove that there are far too many horrible movies produced in Hollywood.

Here’s where you’ll find a huge selection of movies no one has ever heard of -- and their sequels! Giving my channel-flicking thumb a momentary break, I wonder which studio genius was it that green-lighted production of "Alligator II: The Mutation"? How many people could possibly have gone to see the first "Alligator" movie (raise your hand if you even knew that such a movie existed) to justify making a sequel? They couldn’t even drag Steve Irwin to see this reptilian waste of celluloid.

After noting the complete absence of quality cinematic offerings, it’s around to the skip-over channels, which in my house include the garden channel, the shopping channels, and the food network. I knew I was too hopped up on antibiotics when I considered sending Emeril the new recipe I’ve come up with for a delicious new carbonated beverage with medicinal powers. It involves a glass of Pepsi and one cherry-flavored Hall’s Mentholyptus Cough Drop. Mmm, soothing.

Now it’s over to CNBC, where I’m not surprised to see that the price of Kimberly-Clark stock has shot up, since I have personally used over 200,000 of their Kleenex tissues today alone.

Which leads to my next question: how much mucus can one human body possibly produce? Is there a limit? After all, women stop producing eggs after menopause, and some men -- count me in -- can’t grow hair on their head after a certain age. And certainly my brain knows that continuing to fabricate this stuff will only clog up my nasal passages to the point where I can’t inhale -- which most medical experts agree is not good for you.

So why keep it flowing? Turns out the answer is deceptively simple. The body is not creating new mucus. It’s making a sequel.

Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Mr. Perspective

Pardon me while I slip into my alter ego as Mr. Perspective. In that guise, I have no super powers other than the ability to apply rational thought to news stories that are otherwise swallowed whole by the media at large, and then blown way out of proportion.

Let’s start with this headline in today’s paper: "Study Ranks Area Among Worst For Road Congestion."

It’s based on a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute about how much time we’re spending in our cars going to and from work everyday. According to this report, St. Louis is the 9th-worst metropolitan area for road congestion. You know it’s an important report because it’s not written in real, everyday English -- they call us "motorists" instead of "drivers," as in "motorists, use caution" rather than "drivers, be careful!"

The report says that St. Louis drivers lose an average of 44 hours a year to traffic delays -- or "more than one workweek." That sounds like a lot. Here’s where Mr. Perspective comes alive, applying simple math to the claim.

If you lose 44 hours a year on the road, that’s less than an hour a week. It actually works out to about 10 minutes a day. That’s five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the evening. Not so much anymore, is it?

But no one would print a headline based on the real story: "You Spend Less Time In Traffic Than You Do in Line Waiting For A Mocha Latte At Starbucks!"

Story number two for analysis by Mr. Perspective starts with this headline: "Space Tourists Are Lining Up To Follow Dennis Tito."

They make it sound as if we’re just months away from you being able to book your very own trip to the International Space Station. All you have to do is get on the waiting list. Oh, and one other small thing -- get ready to cough up $20,000,000!

In other words, your spot in line is somewhere behind Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Paul McCartney. Sure, Julia Roberts could buy herself a couple of orbits just off the paycheck from a single movie, but then who would buy dinner for Ben Bratt? Maybe he could use the frequent flyer miles Julia racks up.

Face it, by the time they’re ready to send the average person into space, they’ll also have the technology to accidentally send your luggage to Jupiter.

Next, Mr. Perspective goes to the movies.

Roger Moore was asked recently who he thinks should play James Bond when Pierce Brosnan gives it up. Moore, who was 007 for a dozen years, suggested Cuba Gooding, Jr.


Yes, Cuba’s a good actor. If you only know him from "Jerry Maguire," you should rent "Men Of Honor," where he holds his own very nicely opposite Robert DeNiro – not a small achievement.

Gooding is certainly talented. He’s also young enough to take over the role and run with it for several years. There’s only one problem: Cuba Gooding, Jr. is black. James Bond is not.

Does that mean that Gooding couldn’t play an international spy playboy? Of course not. In fact, that might make a pretty good movie, perhaps the first in a new series. But he can’t be Bond.

Bond can’t be an African-American. Bond can’t be a woman. Bond can’t be a midget. Bond can’t be bald, he can’t be fat, he can’t be blond. If he is, he’s not James Bond. You might as well make him a bad shot, a poor driver, and shy with the ladies. Would you cast Drew Carey as Bond? Of course not. No more than you’d cast Kevin Costner as Shaft.

Is Mr. Perspective being unreasonable? Hey, I’m not suggesting that we assign O.J. Simpson to find the real killer of Robert Blake’s wife. I’m just trying to bring some rationality into an otherwise irrational media world.

One final story. Sad to report that Cliff Hillegas died over the weekend. That name may not mean much to you until I tell you that he’s the guy who invented Cliff’s Notes -- every literature student’s best friend. Cliff was buried earlier this week in a casket with yellow and black stripes on one side.

In his honor, the eulogy was just three sentences long.