What Doesn’t Bore You To Death Makes You Stronger

I just recently watched a movie. I know, I know – big freaking deal, right? Well, I haven’t actually watched a real movie in a while, but that’s not why I’m telling everyone this. The reason I bring it up is because of what the movie was – Bikini Spring Break. Yeah, yeah, snicker away. There’s one body part that makes me put such a movie on my instant queue in Netflix, and it isn’t my brain. The movie lived up to its mindless T&A fun – mostly. However, part of the way through it I realized something. As awful as the thin plot was, and as unsatisfying as the climax (no laughing) was, it actually came close to breaking through the mindless titillation (seriously, stop laughing) and providing some amount of depth. That’s what she said.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the childish jokes out of the way, let’s get to the meat (oh God, I can’t stop!) of the matter. Now I’m sure I’ve just consigned myself to the “perv” label, and perhaps rightly so, but my motivation for going after this movie was twofold. It wasn’t the boob factor. I can get much better smut than that off the Internet. It was first of all morbid curiosity. The point of movies like these is getting one’s jollies off of gratuitous nudity, so I don’t expect the writers to take the craft of writing too seriously when doing these projects. But long ago I realized the value of experiencing not only good literature and cinema, but bad as well. I typically don’t walk out on even the worst of movies because I can always take something from it, even if it’s simply what not to do. I can analyze what works and what doesn’t as far as scene presentation goes, etc. Sometimes I’m even surprised at glimmers of good writing in these flicks. This one in particular came fairly close to providing a wry commentary on overly-zealous reactions to nudity and other “debauchery” by society at large. Of course, it never quite got there, but I think I have a little more insight as to how it could have gotten there.

The second motivation I had for watching it was that the rest of my Netflix queue was filled with horror movies, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching them. I’m not a horror fan. One of two things happens when I watch horror. Either I’m completely underwhelmed by the horror elements (The Blair Witch Project, A Nightmare on Elm Street) or it’s so insanely terrifying or gory that I’m uneasy for a very long time. To paraphrase the movie Crazy People, those types of movies don’t just scare me, they f*** me up for life. Suspense is one thing, but sitting through simulated torture and gruesome murder is entirely different, and not something I tend to enjoy, frankly.

I compare it to my experience with “thrill rides” at amusement parks. I remember the first time I went on a roller-coaster I was nervous before it began and was certain it would scare the Hell out of me. When it was over I was thinking, “That’s it?” Rides like that tend to be anticlimactic to me. At best they use gravity or centrifugal force to put me in unusual positions, but those end up just being uncomfortable and making me miserable. And I’ve never even bothered going on those stupid chairs that get jacked up two or three stories just to fall suddenly. I take great pains to avoid falling in my daily life, and not just to avoid injury. I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of falling. Why, the last time I can remember going to an amusement park my friend and I had more fun sinking quarters into the machines that sprayed water on the passengers of a raft ride than we did actually riding the rides.

So I’m guessing most of you are asking the obvious question right now – “If you hate horror movies so much, why was your Netflix queue filled with them?” The simplest answer to that is research. Those who have read the excerpts I have released on this blog may realize that I’ve been writing a short story based on a dream posted by fellow blogger Mike Smith. The story that came to me was a horror story, and since I don’t have much experience with horror films I asked around and got some suggestions for movies that could help me get enough of a feel for the genre to do Mike’s dream justice. If you read the third chapter of those excerpts you might see how clumsy my initial introduction of horror into the story was. Granted, it’s a first draft, but I really want to knock this out of the park. I don’t necessarily want to become a horror fan per se, but I would at least like to satisfy the lovers of horror with my story.

This brings me to what I hope is the point of all this rambling: I think I might learn more from the things I don’t particularly like than those I do. My exposure to Mike and his daughter Meg has introduced me to some entertainment that I would have never ventured into on my own, including an odd flick called Nude Nuns with Big Guns. Much like Bikini Spring Break, its story was complete trash, but as I groaned through the contrived plot and overwrought acting I was able to analyze what pieces worked and what did not and why. Not being invested in the story made me a better analyst.

Likewise, A Tale of Two Sisters came within my radar due to Meg, although that one was well written. The horror elements were a bit superfluous, though, and clichéd enough that they didn’t scare me at all. Thus I was able to analyze the film in ways I might not otherwise have done, examining each scene’s presentation and focusing more on the subtle things like its underlying incestuous homoeroticism, things that I could emulate in my own writing.

It seems to me that the more poorly written a story is, or the less interested in a genre I am, the more I can glean from whatever I’m watching or reading. Perhaps instead of asking for suggestions as to what are the best movies and books out there, I should be asking what things dwell at the bottom of the barrel. I’m probably exaggerating, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what I have gotten from the stinkers out there. They allow me to stay detached, and that can be good for a writer, I think. As long as I don’t get bored to tears, like with The Remains of the Day, I can probably learn a great deal from even the worst offenders.

Hook Ups – Chapter 3

Copyright 2012, B.K. Price

This is the third chapter in the short story entitled “Hook Ups.” Unfortunately, it may also be the last excerpt I can publish on this blog if I try to get it published. I would like to thank Mike Smith for the story idea taken from his blog. You may find the first two chapters in the Fictional Follies section of my blog.

 

3

This is my prison. I’m not incarcerated by walls or bars or electric fences. There are no guards with vicious dogs keeping me at bay. No shackles bind my wrists nor hobble my ankles. My prison is not one of brick and mortar, but of morons.

So went my thoughts as I wandered the lovely gardens fronting la Maison de Recontres – the Dating House. This charming French mansion had been co-opted as the temporary home of the vapid contestants of Hook Ups. For one whole television season we would live side by side and try to make a romantic connection or risk being unceremoniously voted out of the House by the viewing public. There was currently an uneven ratio of men to women, so not everyone gathered in the yard of the Dating House would actually make it inside. This cast party was the final push, the last hurrah for many who wanted to go far on the show. They would have to work the crowd, making connections with people so that the viewing public would vote for them as a starting couple.

A cool breeze swept through the garden, relieving the day’s heat. I briefly closed my eyes as it slid across my face. I wasn’t stressing over making connections. The mass of fools huddled together like pigs slurping from a trough. Speed dates, alcohol-induced antics, and general wandering from one potential partner to another were among the tactics being employed tonight. I wanted none of it.

At least the beer was good. I sipped from my red plastic cup as I leaned against the cast-iron fence, watching the young contestants test their mettle in this game of romance. There was probably some psychological insight to be gained from those observations. The herd mentality in regards to romance. Groupthink. It was probably a very fascinating social experiment for someone interested in that sort of thing. I was not interested. I just wanted to be alone.

Getting out of the camera’s eye would have been nice as well, but I knew there were cameras everywhere, recording every move of every contestant with the aim of broadcasting the most interesting behaviors on live television so that the viewers could call, text, or tweet their votes for whomever they thought should be paired up. Even my sulking in the shadows would be viewed – and hopefully it would cause the viewers to eliminate me.

Would the winner be the brash muscle-bound meathead from New Jersey who didn’t seem to own a shirt and thought it was funny to spit beer all over the adulating crowd surrounding him? Maybe it would be the designer-label airhead with the tiny pink purse who had all the lads around her in a lather. There were so many choices; I couldn’t imagine how the viewing public would decide the winner from among them. All I knew was that after tonight I would be nothing more than an also-ran, and I could go back to my normal life with a nice little paycheck and most of my pride still intact.

“I think Simmy might go all the way,” said a familiar voice beside me. I looked down at my side and saw Kimberly mimicking my fence lean. “He’s not a big stupid jerk or a stuck-up bitch like everyone else.”

I looked back at the crowd. “I haven’t met this Simmy yet,” I said. Of course, I wasn’t planning on meeting him either.

Kimberly perked up. “Oh, he’s the best!” she effused. “His real name is Maksim Vladovsky, and he’s in a hurry.”

I looked at her, puzzled. “What do you mean, ‘hurry?’”

“He says he’s rushin’,” she explained. I laughed. “What’s so funny?” Kimberly asked.

I almost started to explain to her that he was actually telling her he was Russian, but I thought better of it. Re-explaining the explanation would just be a headache, and I was already well on my way to one whopper of a migraine. Instead I said, “That arse holding the nozzle of the keg. I just can’t help but laugh at how stupid he is.” It was true enough, and Kimberly bought it.

“I talked to him. His name is Mike Tripp. I don’t like him at all. I’d only hook up with him if everyone else rejected me.”

I looked at Kimberly sternly. “Don’t ever settle for anyone like Mike. You’re better than that.”

Kimberly sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t seem to get anywhere with anyone here. They all have their little social groups and I can’t get in. I’m afraid, Steven. What if I can’t find anyone? I don’t want to be voted off right off the bat.”

I grabbed Kimberly’s shoulder and pulled her close. I had grown fond of her. She was a good girl, ditz though she was. She just needed some guidance. “Look, Kimberly, this is just a television program. You’re a beautiful, sweet girl. You’re more than the empty cameras around us, or this made-up fantasy of youthful romance. If you get voted off you walk away with your head held high, okay? You show the world that Kimberly Czerwinsky…”

“Simmons,” she corrected.

“…Simmons, is nobody’s doormat. You are in control of you, not anybody else. Don’t let what they think of you determine what you think of yourself.” I stopped there, a bit giddy with the fervor of my inspirational speech.

Kimberly smiled. Then she did something she had never done before. She reached up, pulled me closer to her, and kissed me on the lips. Fully on the lips – like nobody but Corinne had done recently. She lingered, too, and when she pulled back her eyes were soft and adoring. I was too startled to say anything or even move. I imagined Corinne watching this on the screen and nearly bursting with jealousy. But then again, she was the one who put me there in the first place. She had to expect this might happen.

For a moment Kimberly clasped my fingertips in hers, saying nothing but just looking up at me. The look had something underneath it that made me uncomfortable – whether it was because I didn’t share the sentiment or because I did, I couldn’t tell. Whatever the case, she released her hold and returned to the crowd of her peers.

That night we were housed in a hotel across from the Eiffel Tower. I was restless all night, but I couldn’t tell why. Any sleep I got was sporadic and fitful. In the morning, exhausted, I presented a lethargic counterpoint to the excitable idiots around me.

The gimmick of the day was the distribution of keys. Everyone who got a key had been voted into a pairing. Everyone who didn’t was immediately ejected from the program. I watched the ubiquitous Korean twins hand out keys, wondering if there were just two of them. They always seemed to emerge from the Dating House with different outfits. Perhaps there was an assembly line of Korean twins constantly being churned out from behind the scenes.

In the end, six men left the program keyless and vastly dejected. Unfortunately, I wasn’t among them. Even after the Korean woman pressed a key into my hand I stared at it, dumbfounded. Surely Corinne was pulling some serious strings to keep me on the program.

However, we weren’t all in the clear yet. While all of the keys opened the front gate leading to the Dating House, only ten couples would participate in the season’s episodes. By my count twelve couples had received keys, meaning another four people would discover that their keys didn’t open any of the doors inside the mansion. The keys had no identifying marks. It was up to the contestants to try them in the various door locks to discover which room was theirs.

I meandered sullenly through the Dating House, halfheartedly checking my key in the locks and desperately hoping it would not open any of the doors. I wasn’t entirely sure what doors were to bedrooms and what doors led to other areas. That confusion brought me to a nondescript door at the end of a hallway. I tried my key in the lock, but the door was already unlocked. It swung open as I turned the knob.

The first thing that I noticed was the smell – a moist and acrid scent that smelt of decay. It was strong as a drunkard’s breath, and just as foul. The light from the hallway seemed to stop at the door, unable or unwilling to go inside the strange room. My chest became tight with a sense of dread, but at the same time I felt compelled to move into the room, despite its pitch blackness. I threw my arms out to feel my way in the darkness. Fortunately, the room (or corridor) was narrow enough to locate a wall quickly. Unfortunately, the wall, and the floor, gave way as I put my weight on them.

They didn’t break, and I didn’t fall, but they were squishy – spongy, perhaps. I commenced a tense struggle to shift the weight on my arm, resting against the spongy wall, to the weight on my feet pressing against the floor. It was not too different from trying to walk across a mattress that is suspended in the air without the firmness of a box-spring beneath it. As I struggled with the logistics of maneuvering through the strange room my eyes had acclimatized to the darkness enough to make out shapes on the floor. It was too dim for me to see what exactly they were. The scent of decay was overpowering by now. I turned toward the doorway, the light of the hall strangely dim and fuzzy. I dropped onto my hands and knees, it being the only way I could make my way back out with the precarious footing and the strong waves of nausea that had just come over me. My hand felt something on the floor. It was long and thin. I held it up. It was hard to see, but it looked like a bone, possibly human, with a fair bit of gore still clinging to it. Startled, I cried out and flung it away from me, and then scrambled across the spongy floor until I was back in the hallway again, heaving on the brink of vomiting.

I was startled to see one of the Korean twins standing there, her face smooth and expressionless. She looked at me for a moment, then into the dark room. “That room is not ready yet,” she stated emotionlessly. Her words were heavily accented, but not like a Korean. The accent was unlike any I had ever heard before.

I looked down at the gore-covered bone on the floor. “What the Hell was that?” I asked, gradually rising as the waves in my stomach subsided.

“A haunted corridor, for the Halloween party,” she explained, grabbing the bone and tossing it back inside the dark room. Sniffing the air, she added, “It looks like we will need to tone down the smell, though.” She cracked an awkward and creepy smile, completely devoid of humor. She shut the door, locking it this time to avoid anyone else wandering in and spoiling the surprise. “Tell nobody about this,” she warned. Something in the tone of her voice sent a shiver of dread down my spine. Then she examined my key and graciously guided me to the door that it was supposed to open. It worked, and I was hurriedly ushered inside, greeted by a very excited Kimberly.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “They must have voted us together as a couple.”

My mind was numb. I looked towards the door. It had shut, and Kimberly and I were alone. But then again we weren’t. The cameras were everywhere – except the bathroom. I grasped Kimberly’s arm and shoved her into the bathroom along with me, shutting the door.

“Something’s wrong here,” I warned her.

Kimberly shrugged. “They probably just saw that kiss and thought we were making a romantic connection.” She paused, then said, “Maybe we were.”

“Not with the vote, with this place,” I said. I heard a knock on the bedroom door, followed by a voice calling my name. “Something isn’t right. You need to be careful.”

The bedroom door opened, and I could hear footsteps approach the bathroom door. It had no lock. I pulled back against the far wall, clutching Kimberly closely. I had no weapon, but I would claw and scratch if anyone tried to harm either of us. The doorknob turned slowly, then the door creaked.

One of the Korean twins poked her head into the room. “Mister Jones?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

“Get away!” I said.

The woman pushed further inside. Her outfit was different than the twin I had encountered earlier, but her appearance and voice were exactly the same. “I was told you were not feeling well.” A hand appeared through the doorway, clutching something. I pushed Kimberly behind me to shield her.

The woman shook the thing in her hand. It rattled. “I thought you might like some pills to help settle your stomach,” she said. “I’ll set them on the tub.” She put the bottle of pills on one edge of the porcelain bathtub and retreated through the door, shutting it firmly before she went across the bedroom and out into the hallway.

I dropped into a sitting position on the floor, the adrenaline subsiding in my system. Kimberly moved forward, grabbing the bottle of pills. “I’ve been feeling a little sick myself,” she said, twisting the lid open. “I could use some of these.”

It took me a moment to realize what she was doing, but when I did I leaped up. “Don’t!” I shouted, striking the bottle out of her hand. She looked at me with surprise, but she had already popped two of the pills into her mouth.

Kimberly chewed the pills, then swallowed. Her brows furrowed, and her face crinkled. Then a smile overtook her face. “Cherry,” she happily reported.

 

You Like Me, You Really Like Me!

Not the real Gopher.

I started watching YouTube on a regular basis about a year ago. The thing that got me hooked was the content of a fellow named Gopher, who reviewed custom content for a game that I enjoyed playing. His treatments are always well-organized and thorough, which is probably why I enjoy his videos so much.

Gopher also runs a few series called Let’s Plays, where the video maker records himself playing a certain game and comments about what is going on while he plays. Recently, one of Gopher’s most popular Let’s Play series suffered a huge setback that required him to retire the character he had been playing due to a corrupted save file. He put out a video explaining the situation. In honor of that character I made a humorous haiku and posted it in the comments. Then I headed off to work.

When I got to work I fired up my laptop and lo and behold my little haiku had gotten a whole bunch of likes. When all was said and done it ended up with 54 likes before something else took over the top comments section – more likes than any comment I’ve ever made. I was surprised at the attention and flattered by the accolades, especially since I’m not a poet. But something else crept into the scene, something ugly.

I noticed that I was constantly refreshing the page to see whether the likes had gone up. I was fixated on the reaction to my silly haiku. Granted, my job is boring so I often do whatever I can to pass the time, but my fascination with the likes just felt dirty.

You see, I despise vanity. I hate it in others and I especially hate it in myself. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like rap music. All they seem capable of doing is bragging about how much money they have, how many hoes they’ve banged, or how many caps they’ve put in other people’s asses. I really don’t care for bragging. It doesn’t impress me. I get it; you’re a badass. Now kindly shut up.

I try to avoid vanity, often to a fault. I could probably benefit from some of the swagger of the rap artist, but I sure don’t want to flash my bling around in everyone’s face. It’s distasteful to me, and anything that even remotely resembles bragging or seeking attention repulses me. This is especially true of my writing. I write what I write because it means something to me, not to show off. If I publish what I write it is simply on the off chance that others might be interested in it as well. If they aren’t, I don’t mind. I got what I needed out of it.

So my fascination with Internet adulation worries me just a little bit. I fear the corrupting influence it could have on me and my writing. I don’t want to write to become popular. I want to write to express my thoughts and feelings. It’s a need, something that is ingrained in me like a rung in the ladder of my DNA. If that becomes corrupted my very being will become corrupted along with it.

I am not decrying likes and comments. I welcome all positive gestures, and I sincerely thank everyone who has praised my writing. I also welcome criticism, assuming it is honest and not out of spite. Praise for my writing makes me feel good, and it increases my confidence as a writer. That’s a good thing. This recent fascination with the likes my haiku received is undoubtedly no big deal, but it still makes me worry about crossing that fine line between confidence-building praise and attention whoring.

One of my favorite bloggers, Mike Smith, just recently posted an article about the rude behavior exhibited by some celebrities due to their arrogance and sense of entitlement. That article made me think about how those celebrities were before they became famous. I would imagine that they treated people better than they do now, and probably would never have imagined themselves behaving as they presently do.

I myself have sometimes thought that if I were to gain a significant amount of fame it wouldn’t go to my head. I know better, right? Well, judging by my giddy reaction to accolades over my haiku, I’m not so sure. Vanity and self importance may be things that can creep up on a person without them realizing it. Sure, they always possessed the potential for that behavior, but before they gained the fame or riches they probably wouldn’t have dreamed of doing the awful things they now do, and probably would have looked down on those who did such things.

I am not perfect, and any ideals I have cannot protect me from the onslaught of vanity without a certain amount of vigilance, I think. Where I most worry about it is in my writing. I want it to remain honest. I want it to quietly bare my soul, not shout “Look at me! I have something important to say.” If my perspective gets skewed – if my writing gets inflated by any desires I might have for attention – I will fail as a writer. I may get a lot of fame and fortune, but it won’t be me. I can’t live with that.

So to anybody who reads this and likes it, go ahead and click on that Like button. I may be vulnerable to occasional bouts of vanity, but I promise I won’t let it go to my head.