Wednesday, November 21, 2018 15:45

Welcome to Pixar

February 24th, 2011

I am on a field trip with a group of my colleagues to visit Pixar Animation Studios’ new facility, which is housed near the Pacific coast in a large aircraft hangar at a now-defunct aerospace facility. We’re standing in a mostly-empty parking lot and the breeze off the Pacific ocean feels great. Before we can go into the building, as a security measure, we are all asked to take out our cell phones and change our service provider to AT&T if we haven’t already. This takes some fumbling on everyone’s part, but we all do it anyway, because we’re so excited to see what’s inside.

When we enter the building, the interior is bright and sunny, with high ceilings but only a few people are working because it’s Saturday. On the right as we enter is a small snack cafeteria / cafe where we can purchase drinks or sandwiches, and it reminds me of a bar in an airport terminal. It is empty except for a single employee at the register who looks at us anxiously, hoping we’ll buy something to justify his working on a Saturday. I am very thirsty and hope to get a Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, but when I look in the refrigerated case I’m disappointed to learn that Pixar doesn’t have any diet sodas. The closest they have to what I want is Brisk ice tea, and I can’t remember if it’s sweetened or not.

Alien Bartender

February 23rd, 2011

The aliens have arrived, and they come in two varieties: Grays and human-like. Using their superior force, they’ve already taken over our cities and have begun to round everyone up. It’s unclear what they want from our world, except they’ve announced that they’re only going to keep “the top 10%” of the human population. Everyone assumes their criteria is based on intelligence, but no one knows for sure. Appearance, charisma or celebrity status may come into play as well. What we do know is that the aliens all have the innate ability to tell who will live and who will die. I figure that with my luck I’ll probably culled for extermination, a fact that greatly depresses me, and I’m surprised that no one else seems to be particularly bothered by this announcement. Maybe everyone assumes they’re in the upper tier, so they’re not  worried. It’s also possible the aliens have released a gas that suppresses humankind’s will for self-preservation.

The aliens are a highly beurocratic society, and quite organized. Hundreds of humans have been gathered in a large high school auditorium for sorting. There’s a lot of waiting involved, and most people are sitting around reading magazines or playing cards. Periodically, groups of twenty are called by group number, and the whole thing reminds me a lot of selection for jury duty in Los Angeles. These groups are led away out a door at the left side of the front stage, and nobody ever comes back. Finally my group is called. As I march along the front, past the stage, I run up the stairs and stand at a podium, with a microphone. I grab the mike and try to rally people to revolt, but they just boo at me, irritated for slowing down the process and I give up after only a few half-hearted words.

As I leave the stage I realize my entire group has already left, and so I race out the door to catch up to them. Running along a hallway, it occurs to me that perhaps it’s in my best interest to try to “slip off the grid.” The big glass windows and shiny metal reminds me of an international airport terminal, and at a junction where five or six corridors come together, there’s a circular bar, accessible from all sides. The bartender is one of the human-appearing aliens. He’s bent over what appears to be a set of blueprints. There’s only one other customer at the bar, on the other side, and they’ve been chatting. I ask the alien what the blueprints are for, and he says they’re part of a secret invasion plan, all top secret. In fact, if I were one of the upper 10% and I saw the plans I’d have to be silenced. He looks me up and down and says “In your case, it doesn’t matter. You won’t understand them anyway,” and he shows me the plans. He’s right, I have no idea what they mean, though they look a little like they may be plans for a ride at Disneyland. Wanting to change the subject, I ask for a Diet Coke, and he pours me one from a futuristic beverage dispenser I’ve never seen before. I ask him how he likes bar-tending and he says: “I actually enjoy it quite a bit. Too bad it’s only temporary until the invasion begins.”

The Traveling Bear Woman

February 11th, 2011

My wife and I are traveling, and we find ourselves in a small seaside town. We have some time to kill before our train, so we go into a small cafe. The interior is very light, with a lot of woodwork that’s been painted white. Small paintings of still lives of bowls of fruit hang on the walls. My wife and I sit at a table and have cups of coffee and light snacks. A large (both big and tall) woman wearing a black fur coat (which I suspect was once worn by a bear) sits down next to us. She has two large dark-colored bags on rollers, which she parks, occupying the space. She seems to be aware of the space she’s taking up. She begins to smoke, which immediately irritates my wife further. The woman at least tries to keep her cigarette away and blows her smoke away from us. She sees my camera and soon we’re talking about the process of taking vacation photos. She says it’s discouraging, because she often feels she’s taking the same photos millions of other people have already taken. I tell her (with great husbandly pride) about a novel approach my wife has to travel photos: When she visits a place, she takes small “found” or purchased items and arranges them, creating her own still life compositions, which she then photographs from a variety of angles. The bear coat woman says this is a delightful idea, one she plans to use for her own photos in the future. My wife smiles politely enough, but when the bear woman turns away to eat her lunch, my wife whispers in my ear: “Copycat.”

The Marx Brothers‘ Manager

February 8th, 2011

It is 1931 Germany and I’m at a beer hall for an evening performance by the Marx Brothers. The artificial lights in the hall are very yellow. After the show is over (I don’t really remember the performance at all, just the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to it), the Marx Brothers’ manager goes through the crowd selling books. It’s their life story. He offers me a books at $10, but I refuse. When he lowers the price to $9, I accept and buy the book. Examining it, there’s no dust cover. The cover is a light red fabric, with the title on the spine. When I open the book, inside the back cover is a large yellow sticker. It’s a poor cartoon drawing of a beer maiden, holding pitchers of beer in each hand. Underneath is a ribbon with the words: “Logo? Not Hardly!”

I ask the man what his name is. He says it’s Gustav, and he’s been the Marx Brothers’ European manager since earlier in their career, when he entered the Brothers’ circle after winning a late-night poker game with Chico. He goes on to explain that they also have a manager in the states, but Gustav can’t stand him. I show Gustav the yellow sticker in the book and ask him what the words mean and why the cartoon looks so odd. He says that the words mean something important and very specific, and that the Marx Brothers know what it means, but they’ve kept it a secret. He explains that the cartoon was drawn by Harpo one night when he was quite drunk. Afterwards, he proclaimed that it was just ugly enough to be beautiful, on par with Picasso. I then ask Gustav if it’s possible to get my book autographed by all the Brothers, and he says, “I can even get you Zeppo.

The Angelina Jolie Channel

February 2nd, 2011

I am in Omaha going to see a movie with my female work colleague, M. It’s in a new multiplex theater in a mall. We are there prior to the start of the movie and the pre-show video is playing. M goes off to the concession stand. I see a remote control sitting on a ledge near my seat. I pick it up and began to flip through optional video channels on the screen. Other people in the theater don’t know I’m controlling the signal, so they freak out a little. I want to change it to a movie playing in one of the other theaters; I know there’s a particularly spicy movie playing starring Angelina Jolie. But the remote only yields about five choices, none of them better than the original “pre-show” channel. Worried about annoying the other filmgoers, I turn the screen back to the first channel and set the remote back down where I found it. Then I look back behind my seat and see a computer several rows back. I go up and have a look and see the computer is running a program that looks like a spreadsheet, with different channels listed and boxes with check marks next to them. I see that the other channels I wanted to access are “blocked.” I realize I could sit down at the keyboard and easily unblock the Angelina Jolie channel, but it’s now nearly time for the movie to begin. Still, it’s nice knowing I have the power if I want it.

After the movie, M and I set out to drive to my grandmother’s old house. It is winter in Omaha and though it’s a bright and sunny afternoon, the streets are slushy and slick. Being from a country without much of a winter, M isn’t used to driving in these kinds of conditions. We drive along Blondo street, past The Dragon’s Lair (comic book store) and Mary’s Book Exchange, places I used to frequent when I was younger. Outside in the front parking lot are boxes of comics set up for sale cheap. I tell M about going there as a kid and she says it must be nice that I have positive memories like that. I figure that after we get to my grandmother’s house I’ll visit awhile, then borrow the car and return to check out the comics for sale.

M needs to get some money, so we drive to a bank with a drive-through ATM. As M turns into the sloped lot, the car begins to slide. I tell her to pull around the side, near a walk-up ATM. The car slides diagonally into a parking space and M gets out to do her banking. I figure it will be nice to have the car angled better to pull out, so I climb over into the driver’s seat (it’s an old Mustang) and pull out onto the main road. I drive along looking for a good place to turn around, but the snowplows have blocked a lot of driveways. This means I have to drive a couple of miles until I am nearly outside the city limits before I can turn around. I worry that by the time I get back M will be gone or mad or probably both. But when I finally get back she’s standing in front of the bank waiting. When I pull up beside her, she isn’t mad at all. It turns out she figured I had a good reason for driving away and then taking my time getting back. Before I get out to let her into the driver’s seat, she asks me if I would mind taking over driving duties.

More Fun Than an Apartment Full of Monkees

May 18th, 2010

I am in an apartment in New York and I’m the distant cousin of its owner, an aging gay talent agent. Two of his former clients, Michael Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees are visiting, and they sit in the living room on adjacent white couches, bickering about days gone by, while I stand nearby listening in. Nesmith says he’s done everything he can to put his days as “Wool Hat