If you're not angry, then you're not caring hard enough.
My nine-year-old son plays basketball. It’s one of those popular church leagues where somebody delivers a sermon at halftime. Last week, or the week before maybe, the man doing the sermonizing told a moving tale about his good-for-nothing son who wasted his entire college fund getting krunk in Las Vegas. Except, it wasn’t true! Psyche! He didn’t even have a son! He was just modernizing a dusty piece of scripture.
I’m no theologian, but I recall “lying” being frowned upon in most Biblical circles. Maybe it’s okay if your audience isn’t really listening.
For a kid who’s not quite ten, my son isn’t a bad basketball player. He hasn’t much shooting range, but he can bring the rock down the court fairly quickly, and he occasionally jukes out opponents with a nifty between-the-legs dribble. He can also knock down his free throws, which is why I was so troubled the morning he bricked seven of eight attempts.
BANG! CLANG! KLUNK!
It was like watching Steven Tyler forget the lyrics of “Walk This Way.” What the hell was going on?
“What the hell is going on?” whispered Mrs. Angry, but I had no answers. The referee might as well have handed my son a piano and asked him to bank it in.
BONG! KITCK! TING! PONK!
That my son was even receiving so many free throw opportunities was an aberration. Nine-year-old basketball is very similar to squirrel basketball. How do you whistle a foul on squirrels?
Finally, my son nailed a free throw. One out of eight! That’s a 12.5 FT% only Shaquille O’Neil would envy. Micheal J. Fox in Teen Wolf looked more convincing at the charity stripe.
“He made one!” said Mrs. Angry happily, but I continued to stew moodily in my dismay. One out of eight! I blamed my genetics, a notoriously inferior strain of basketball DNA. I recalled my one-year of organized hoops and shivered. The terrible family curse had been passed down to my son! My poor son! A victim of cruel fate.
The game ended, but the score that mattered to me was one-out-of eight. As I weaved my way through the scrum of listless parents and hyperactive children, I formed a plot against destiny. My son would practice his shooting every day! We’d study the very best players in the world and emulate their mechanics! I’d sign him up to a basketball camp, and he’d go, damnit, whether he wanted to or not! I would purge the Curse from my son’s otherwise impeccable genes!
Energized with raw determination, I caught up to my son, who was cheerfully sucking down a cup of Gatorade.
“Great game, son!” I said between clenched teeth.
“Thanks!” said my son. I waited for him to mention the seven missed free throws. One-out-of-eight! But with no mention forthcoming, I took it upon myself to broach the topic.
“Soooo…what happened with your free throws, man?”
Furrowed brow. “What do you mean?”
I just couldn’t take it any more. “ONE OUT OF EIGHT! You only made one free throw!”
“Yeah,” said my son, smiling widely, “but it was a swish!”
And that’s when I learned a lesson that not even a billion half-time sermons could teach me.
The Academy Awards is about honoring movies that a bunch of pretentious gas bags find worthy of interest. I know this to be kind-of-true because of all the films nominated this year, I’ve seen one. One!
Which is too bad, because I know a lot about movies. Lots. I quote my favorite lines. I cast myself in my favorite scenes and reenact them in my brain. I like movies. I love hating movies, too. I’m more than willing to explain to you why Tombstone is a load of shit.
Normally, this would be a boring list of my favorite movies featuring a pompous explanation for why they’re so damn awesome. Screw that. This is 2013. We ain’t got no time for entire movies. The Angry Czeck’s Academy breaks shit down by scene. And these scenes are the boss, y’all.
The Angry Czeck’s Most Boss Movie Scenes of All Time
Alex Tries to Make His Stupid Horse Stop Running (The Black Stallion)
It’s the “Race of the Century” and all Alex cares about is if his damn horse is okay. Watching him plead with The Black to stop running probably chokes me up way more than it should, but you can just go to hell, you insensitive bastard.
Chaz Tells His Dad “I’ve had a rough year.” (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Not only am I a sucker for long, uninterrupted dolly-moves, I’m a real douche-bag for sappy moments between estranged fathers and sons. You might say, “That makes you weak, Angry Czeck. WEEEEEAK!” but you can just go to hell, you insensitive bastard.
Rocky Groans for His Girlfriend (Rocky)
I like training sequences as much as the next hairy-chested man, but the best moment in Rocky is Stallone ignoring a mob of fans and boxing officials to summon his main squeeze into the ring. Bonus points to Pauly for lifting the rope for her. That was just nice, you know? Go to hell!
Beeeee Goooood (E.T. The Extraterrestrial)
Go to hell, you insensitive bastards.
“O Captain, My Captain” (Dead Poets Society)
Listen, I’m not a pussy. I just like Robin Williams in roles where he isn’t wearing a dress. And I like seeing privileged white kids rebelliously standing on wooden desks. Okay, maybe I am a pussy, but you can go to hell, you insensitive bastard.
Bedford Falls Buries George in a Big Pile of Cash (It’s a Wonderful Life)
God, everybody shows up. The drunk pharmacist. Mr. Martini. The oppressed maid. That bastard who wanted to withdraw all his savings from the Bailey Building and Loan. All while George is practically sticking his tongue in Donna Reed’s ear. My throat is getting sore just thinking about it. (Go to hell.)
Subotai Cries for Conan (Conan the Barbarian)
“He is Conan, Cimmerian, he won’t cry, so I cry for him.” And then I cried, too! Huge barbarian tears! Go to hell!
Instead of watching some lame, boring award show, just commit this penetrating list of scenes to memory and enjoy the cinema magic. In fact, you don’t even have to watch movies any more.
Hollywood hates you.
It doesn’t care about you or your family. To Hollywood, you’re just a chump. A rube. A mark. And The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Exhibit A of its shameless guilt.
I proclaim this without having even seen The Hobbit, yet I feel Hollywood’s hate oozing from it like puss from an infected eyeball. It bloomed in festering maturation the moment some studio executive took Peter Jackson aside and whispered in his best Gollum voice, “We want three Hobbit movies.”
Three! The magic number created by George Lucas a long, long time ago with three Star Wars movies. (Later, of course, George punished us all with three more.) Why enjoy the spoils of one good movie when you can force your audience to fork over admission three times for the same damn story? It’s brilliant.
And it made artistic sense, at least, when the material warranted the extra film. After all, The Lord of the Rings is an encyclopedic work later trumped by the seven volume Harry Potter, which revealed to studios that three is just a starting point. And even then, seven wasn’t enough for Hollywood! Oh, no! Split the last book in two for a final pay day! Wheeee!
The film industry isn’t the only one squeezing us for every dime. Did we really need three Hunger Games books? Or more than one 50 Shades of Grey? Honestly, add thirty additional pages to the first Hunger Games, and you could have wrapped up the tale in one tight volume. Instead, publishers saw an opportunity for two additional cash grabs.
Can you even publish a novel anymore without promising your agent that “two more” are to come?
From what I can gather, The Hobbit is around 200 pages of wee-people getting into wacky adventures, and yet Peter Jackson is somehow going to stretch the thin material, like butter across too much bread, for two more fucking movies. Why not make The Catcher in the Rye a 10-week mini-series?
Hollywood – and the publishing industry that feeds it – hates you. It can’t stand you. To it, you’re just a wallet with legs. In ten years, you’ll be forced to buy an anniversary BluRay edition of The Hobbit, followed five years later with another anniversary edition with “bonus” material you don’t want and won’t watch.
It doesn’t stop there. Recently, Hollywood re-released The Phantom Menace and Titanic – two movies already leveraged for every penny – and converted them to headache-inducing 3D. Now we’re paying for Hollywood’s old crap! Which is even worse than Hollywood remaking a movie we already liked ten years ago – which they gladly did with The Amazing Spider-Man. We’re paying for the year 2002 movies at 2012 prices!
Of course, as long as we keep forking over the $12 per ticket, Hollywood is just going to keep on treating us like a rented Ford Contour. They beat us down, and we come back for more. Well forget it, Peter Jackson. I’m not watching a single frame the movie you made as unnecessarily long as the second “R” in JRR Tolkien. I’m prying myself free of this abusive relationship.
At least until the next Spider-Man comes out.
If you have the time and the stomach to play the “campaign” portion of Call of Duty: Black Ops, you’re invited to take part in the torture of a bound and helpless captive.
This isn’t a “cut-away” scene where you watch digitally created characters in the game’s story arch perform feats that the play-action simply can’t accommodate. Call of Duty makes you an active participant.
Press “X” to break glass.
Press “O” to jam glass into suspect’s mouth.
Press “X” to punch suspect in the jaw.
I can’t say the process paralyzed me with horror because my thumbs were pressing the buttons as commanded. For all intents and purposes, I had just tortured my first man. The game’s stunning graphic engine made the experience as vivid as real life.
As a youth, the most powerful graphic engine in video games was the user imagination. You had to accept that Dig Dug was human, that there truly was something energizing in Pac-Man’s power pellets, or that Bowser really had the intellect for kidnapping royalty. Filling in the blanks was part of the game play.
But graphics evolved. I remember the first time I witnessed Sub Zero freeze an opponent and break him into bloody pieces. The monsters that burst from the shadows of Doom used to make me jolt from my chair. Imagination was replaced bit by bit. I looked at my old shoe box of games – Missile Command, Castlevania, Legend of Zelda – with a smirk of amusement on my face. How was I ever entertained by such low-tech antiquities?
During the late-night-hours of the first couple weeks that followed the birth of my first son, I spent the time between feedings playing Grand Theft Auto. I was enchanted by becoming a citizen of an entirely computer-generated community which required nothing from me but violence. I participated in all manner of crimes, from simple theft to cold-blooded murder. Good times.
But I began to note alarming changes in my real-world thought processes. I found myself scanning rooftops for suitable sniping positions. A fire engine raced by, and I fondly recalled driving one in Grand Theft Auto – as if the digital experience was equitable to real life. I wondered what it would be like to stroll the sidewalk and attack a man with a baseball bat and relieve him of his wallet.
And I was an adult, supposedly capable of separating real life from the fantastic storyline of a video game. How do pre-teen minds – still under construction – cope with the too-real imagery of bursting craniums and sucking chest wounds?
After I tortured the suspect and received the information I was looking for, I switched off Call of Duty: Black Ops never to continue the campaign again. I didn’t have the stomach for torture. My son, who’s life began with my foray into Grand Theft Auto, is now a fourth grader who reacts with dismay whenever I deny him the opportunity to play a first-person shooter on the Playstation.
“My friends play them!” he indignantly exclaims.
But that’s what I’m afraid of.
On December 21, 2012, the NRA went on record to blame everything but their sponsorship of firearms as the perpetrator for gun violence in our schools. Video games was a culprit the stubborn spokesperson singled out. I’m not sure what role video games play in the shootings at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Columbine and Newton. But I do know that violence is more entertaining than ever – perhaps even more so than in the days of the gladiator.
The massacre of 26 people in real life is a calamity. In video games, it’s just a low score.
I’m not good at having neighbors.
I’m not implying that I’m a bad neighbor. Nor am I confessing a dislike for my neighbors. They’re great people! They’re fun to be around. I’m saying I’m not good at adjusting to people living in close proximity.
I grew up in a house completely isolated from neighbors. We didn’t have a house less than half a mile from us in any direction. We never had a neighbor over for dinner. Never had a neighbor’s dog drop shits on the driveway. Never had to toss the neighbor’s Frisbee out of the backyard. It was a life devoid of neighborly interaction.
Some might call that a sad developmental deprivation, but quite frankly I enjoyed the lack of interruptions. I never worried about my playtime disturbing Old Man Scratchington or losing my Wiffle ball to the neighbor’s rottweiler. My home became my Fortress of Solitude where I could count on events occurring in an orderly, predictable fashion. No impromptu barbecues. No neighbor kids popping by uninvited. No late night parties from the high school drop outs down the street. Ahhh.
Living in a college dormitory proved to be a kind of hell for me. Suddenly, my cherished peace was regulated by unchecked pre-adults living on their own for the very first time – basically escaped zoo animals. I soon gained a reputation for snobbery and seclusion. But I never had to live with strangers before! In a dormitory, you make a social pact that delicately balances basic courtesy with a significant degree of inconsideration. I was unpracticed in living this way.
But I lived in a dormitory for four years, and eventually I gained a basic menu of neighbor skills. Still, living in a host of inexpensive apartments in Memphis after graduation didn’t exactly nurture my new abilities. In fact,I pretty much regressed immediately because cheap apartment neighbors aren’t exactly looking to foster lasting relationships. Mostly, they come by for a free can of beer and to case out your joint for electronics.
Later, I learned that home ownership changes the neighborly game. The stakes are higher. One bad neighbor can create a seismic shift in property values. There is more pressure to maintain your lawn and keep your Trans Am off the cinder blocks. If you see a neighbor raking his leaves, you’re almost 100% obligated to shout, “When you’re finished over there, you can do my lawn next!”
My favorite neighbor, by the strict definition of “good neighbor,” was the very worst.
Buddy Fong was a mix of both neighborhood legend and Memphis myth. He was known by those who lived near him as “The Oriental,” an antiquated slice of political incorrectness that I neglected to adopt. His dilapidated house sat right next to mine, and it was completely concealed by a thick nest of bamboo. It was difficult to tell if there was even a house on the lot.
Except, you knew somebody lived behind the bamboo curtain because of the screaming. Buddy Fong (as legend had it) lived with his mentally ill sister, an apparition that (according to myth) sometimes escaped the bamboo and shambled down the street yodeling a sorrowful cry. Many of my less interesting neighbors claimed to have seen her, but I never did. However, Mrs. Angry and I often heard her screeches emitting from within the sagging walls of the house next door, followed by the guttural retorts from Buddy Fong himself.
At first, I worried that Mr. Fong and his weird reputation would damage the resale value of my house. But few homes in Memphis are without an eccentric neighbor, so that fear eventually dissipated. In its place came an growing curiosity. Who was Buddy Fong? How did he make his living? Was it murder? Opiates? Was there really an insane sister? Or (as I eventually came to believe) was Buddy Fong also The Sister?
Despite his jungle-like yard and the savage screams, Mr. Fong proved an excellent neighbor, at least in my book. He never dropped by to borrow a power tool. Never parked on my grass. Never invited me inside to watch basketball. On the rare occasion he and I would cross paths, we’d exchange a knowing nod that said, “You mind your business, and I’ll mind mine.” Bliss.
I thought that nirvana was shattered the day a branch from one of Mr. Fong’s dead trees came hurtling from the sky and crushed a section of my boundary fence. That morning, before I left for work, I observed the damage with dim reproach. I envisioned an afternoon of sawing and repair, two activities for which my body was ill-suited. Sullenly, I entered my car and left for work.
When I arrived home, the fence was repaired and the branch had been chopped and neatly stacked between our properties. There was a note attached to the wood. “Sorry about the mess – BF”
“BF!” A communique from my new best friend, the mysterious Buddy Fong! It was like receiving a telegram from Amelia Earhart.
The next morning, my surprise deepened as I found myself met by the legend himself. For the first time, I was afforded a truly lasting look at my neighbor – short, mid-50s, almond colored skin, clean shaven. He opened his mouth, and I prepared myself for some kind of terrible Kung-Fu challenge.
“Hi,” he said in a bland, almost Californian accent. “My name is Buddy Fong. Sorry about the tree.”
I extended my hand and we embraced fingers. Here I was, face to face with The Oriental, a man whose mad sister was supposedly chained up somewhere inside his house of horrors. I shook the hand that stubbornly refused to trim his gnarly bamboo. My name and greeting croaked from my lips, and we parted ways. It was the first and last time we ever spoke to one another.
What a great neighbor.