Saturday, September 21, 2013

Airplane! Still Funny After All These Years

When the movie Airplane! came out in the summer of 1980, I was just shy of eleven years old. My whole family went to see it in the theater and by the end I was certain it was the funniest movie I had ever seen, despite the fact that I laughed at some of the jokes for the wrong reason. (For example, when the little boy asks the little girl if she wants cream in her coffee and she says, “No thank you; I take it black, like my men,” I laughed heartily, because I thought it was hysterical that a little girl would like black coffee.)

About two years after the release of Airplane! my family became the first on our block to get a VCR. The $900 machine, that was only slightly smaller than a Volkswagen, quickly became the focal point of my existence. To get our video library started we purchased two movies—The Graduate and Airplane! While I cited The Graduate as my favorite movie, it was Airplane! that I kept on watching over and over again. Airplane! to me was what Star Wars was to most kids of my generation. I was obsessed.

Before I knew what a spreadsheet was, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of how many times I watched each of the VHS tapes that we owned. Within a year I would see Airplane! 23 times, according to the penciled hash marks on my loose-leaf paper. I knew the movie by heart and quoted it ad nauseum. While I struggled in my junior high school Spanish class, I was fluent in jive.

As my teen years progressed, the frequency of my Airplane! viewings gradually declined. I moved on to other obsessions like classic rock bands, reruns of Taxi, and the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I would guess that sometime in my early-20s was the last time I watched the film…until yesterday.

My wife got me the DVD of Airplane! as one of my birthday gifts. (I had never bothered replacing the VHS tape when I switched to DVDs long ago.) So last night, after our kids went down to bed, we watched it—my first time in over 20 years. It was almost a surreal experience watching a film I know by heart after such a long hiatus.

One interesting phenomenon was that I kept on laughing ahead of the punch lines, since I knew exactly what was coming. (This behavior must have seemed strange to my wife who had only seen the film two times previously.) For instance, when Julie Haggerty is walking around in the plane asking if anyone is a doctor and one woman says, “Stewardess, I think the man sitting next to me is a doctor,” I already burst out laughing before they panned over to Leslie Nielsen sitting there wearing a stethoscope in his ears.

Another interesting phenomenon was that it took about 5 or 10 minutes for the movie to grow on me again. I wasn’t laughing that much in the beginning and for a brief time I was very nervous that maybe the movie wasn’t as funny as I remembered. But soon the laughter took hold and I couldn’t stop. I think the slow start wasn’t the movie’s fault, though. I think it was more akin to meeting up with an old friend after 20 years. There might be an initial period of awkwardness, but eventually you feel like everything is just like it was when you last talked.

And so I laughed. I laughed every time Robert Hays missed his mouth because of his drinking problem, and when Peter Graves asks the boy visiting the cockpit if he likes gladiator movies, and when Leslie Nielsen assures the passengers that everything is going to be fine and his nose keeps on growing a-la Pinocchio. And pretty much at everything in between.

At this point I have no idea how many times I’ve seen Airplane! I lost my loose-leaf spreadsheet decades ago. But the movie is still hysterical and now that I’ve got it on DVD I can watch it as many times as I want. And this time I can keep track in Excel.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Labor-Intensive Labor Day Weekend

Did you know that Labor Day was established as an official holiday in 1887? I just found that out today from Wikipedia. Other facts I learned today from Wikipedia are that “Marmotinto” is the art of creating pictures using colored sand or marble dust; the Hammerheads were the champions of the Qatar International Ice Hockey League in 2008; and the motto of Yuhan College in South Korea is “Be a freeman who dedicates himself to the peace of mankind. “ But none of those last three facts are relevant to this essay.

The point of Labor Day, of course, is to celebrate the American worker, and the main mode of celebration is to not work. There may be Labor Day parades or celebrations, but they certainly don’t get the same level of attention as the festivities of other holidays. And this is at should be. The best way to say “thank you” to the American workforce is by letting them take a rest from their backbreaking work.

My work is not backbreaking; far from it. I sit and write and look stuff up and sometimes I go to meetings. The most strenuous part of my day is when I go into the office break room and have to reach up really high to get a plastic cup for my water. Sometimes I have to really stretch because the only cups left are in the very back of the cabinet. I think I once tweaked a muscle in my side doing this.

So, while I’m happy to get a three day weekend out of Labor Day, the truth is that what I do could hardly be called “labor” in the traditional sense of the word. This is why I always feel a little bit guilty on Labor Day. To compensate for this guilt I always try to do a little bit of hard labor during Labor Day weekend.

Of course, everything is relative. What I consider hard labor is likely somewhat different than what someone who works in a mineshaft would consider hard labor. Nonetheless I made sure to do some “hard” labor on each day of my three day weekend.

On Saturday we got our raw materials. Our first stop was Home Depot to buy gardening gloves for myself and my two sons. Perhaps it’s a sign that we don’t do a lot of hard labor at the Schwartzberg house when my six-year-old asked, “What is this place?” as we pulled up to the store with the distinctive orange sign. Then we went to Staples (unrelated to the hard labor) and then to Target where we purchased two shelving units—assembly required.

The identical shelving units were for my sons’ rooms. The instructions said all I needed was a Phillips-head screwdriver and a hammer. Easy! We actually own those things! I took them out and got started.

It was a slow start. I’m the kind of guy who likes to know the entire project plan before I begin my work and the instructions were not particularly detailed. There were only eight steps and it was clear that whoever wrote the instructions was from the “less is more” school of writing. A couple of words here and a lot of ambiguous diagrams with random arrows there resulted in a lot of head scratching on my part. My kids watched with bated breath as I flipped back and forth throughout the instruction manual waiting for inspiration to grab hold of me. Finally, after about ten minutes of hemming and hawing, I took the plunge and began to connect side panel “A” to top panel “B” with screw “AA”. To my utter joy they connected relatively easily.

The rest of the process was much of the same. Long periods of time spent staring at the instructions punctuated by brief periods of time screwing together various sized panels. The highlight for me was the dowels. For some reason I really like dowels and I got to use six of them. There was also some hammering of nails involved, but I let my wife pinch hit on that part, so she wouldn’t feel left out. (Okay, the real reason was that I was exhausted at that point, since the project that should have taken 30 minutes was now pushing up on two hours.)

That was Saturday. On Sunday I put together my other son’s shelving unit. That went a lot smoother, having put together the first unit the night before. The one hiccup on Sunday was that the screwdriver stopped working two screws into the process. I looked at the head of the screwdriver and it looked like mush—the head was stripped. So I scoured the house for another Phillips-head screwdriver. In my garage I found a small toolkit that contained a screwdriver that you assemble yourself. You put the correct head into a hollow socket to make the type of screwdriver you need. I did it, but the head kept on falling out. I’m sure there was a way to get it to stay in the socket, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. My wife offered to run to the hardware store to get me a real screwdriver, which she did, and about 30 minutes later the shelving unit was up and running.

That brings us to Monday and the gardening gloves. We had an unusually wet two-week stretch here in Arizona—it rained on three or maybe even four days during that stretch!—so the front yard was filled with weeds. At 7:45 A.M, before it got too brutally hot, me and my boys donned our gloves and went out to pull the weeds. We spent a good 15 to 20 minutes pulling weeds and then we saw a bee, so we stopped and went back inside the house to watch cartoons.

And that was my laborious Labor Day weekend. It was backbreaking, it was grueling, and it made me feel alive. It also gave me the confidence to reach even the highest cup at my office tomorrow…well, maybe with a stepstool.