Saturday, August 25, 2007

In Quarantine

All of It
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I guess I went slightly out of my mind at the Hollywood Farmers' Market this morning. Here's a close-up of the insanity.

But why shouldn't I have gone insane? They were selling all of my favorite fruit and veg, and there's only that narrow window of time in which you can get some of these things, namely, peaches and nectarines. Oh, how I love them.

In other news, B has strep throat! He'd been battling fatigue and a sore throat since about last Sunday. Each morning this week he would announce that he felt better, only to crash later on in the day. B is all about self-medicating and all about never going to the doctor. So he slugged back mug after mug of Airborne, gargled with saltwater, popped Tylenol and Chloroseptic, and kept assuring me that he was pretty sure he'd be fine "tomorrow."

Well, yesterday he woke up and walked into the kitchen looking like he had the mumps, or as he put it, "a mump." The left side of his face was all swollen and misshapen, and he felt like shit. Not good. Not good at all.

I told him he was going to the doctor, like it or not. He did agree that he needed to go to a doctor, although he was a bit grumbly about it. Of course, he has no doctor, i.e., primary care physician, so he wasn't sure exactly how to proceed. He dragged himself over to his computer and started searching for the Web site of his "bullshit insurance company."

I could see that that wasn't going to accomplish a thing, so I had him give me his insurance card and told him to go back to bed, which he was happy to do and which was exactly what he needed to do. It really is better if I deal with things like this. B has this irksome habit of trying to use the Internet when it would be much better to use the phone. Plus, I just don't see B, never the most patient of men, being able to endure punching through through all the various voice prompts and levels of customer service only to be put on hold and forced to listen to Johann Strauss for 20 minutes at a crack. He wouldn't have made it.

Anyway, I got on the horn to my doctor's office, only to find that she was on vacation as were most of the other doctors in her group. Helpfully, the office suggested this thing halfway between a regular doctor's office and an emergency room called "urgent care." I feel kind of like a dunce for not knowing about urgent care. Anyway, I'm glad to know it exists and to now know where the nearest facility (that takes our insurance) is located.

So, I drove B over there. We sat around for about an hour before being ushered into the inner sanctum. I'm sure the wait could have been much worse. B was given a strep test and then the doctor came in to tell us it was positive. He declared the mump to be "impressive" and prescribed antibiotics and a few prednisone. He also suggested that B get to a dentist within the next few days, because swelling like that can be related to a tooth infection. Great.

Anyway, 36 hours later B is feeling a lot better and the mump is receding into oblivion (I hope). But B is still going to go to the dentist on Monday and lay low for the next few days. I'm glad he's taking this seriously. I was actually pretty freaked out by the sudden development of that kind of swelling.

As for me, I'm knocking around by myself this weekend. All social plans have been canceled just in case I'm some kind of streptococcal version of Typhoid Mary.

I've found ways to console myself for missing out on dinner plans, the adult soapbox derby, Festa Italiana, a symphony concert, and a hike. Yesterday evening, I took a lovely solo walk through Mount Tabor Park and the lovely surrounding Mount Tabor neighborhood. On my way back, I stopped at a video store and picked up Diary of a Mad Housewife, the next installment in Richard Benjamin Fest. That guy is great! And, I'm realizing, he looks and acts (at times) almost exactly like Mr. Bean. An entertaining bonus.

Today, of course, I went nuts at the Farmers' Market, even indulging in flowers! I spent much of the afternoon involved in the eating or preparation of my (edible) purchases. For example, I had what I consider to be a very chic and European lunch of sliced tomatoes, artisan cheese, and peaches. I nibbled on it for a good hour and a half while sitting on the patio and reading. I'd spend my whole life doing this if I could. Later, I whipped this up. I even made the dough from scratch. It turned out great, though I say it myself. B, even in his sickened state, eagerly partook of a slice.

And tomorrow? Not sure. Maybe I'll take a hike or maybe I'll just sit around on my bum eating peaches.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Restaurants You Should Eat At But Probably Never Will

I’m still not done talking about our trip. It’s time now to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. The trip, short as it was, was actually really relaxing. I think part of that had to do with the fact that we were staying in a small town that, though it’s not far from the grandiose gateway to one of the entrances of Mt. Rainier National Park, is decidedly untouristy. It was, and I believe still is, a logging town. It's about midway between Rainier and Mount St. Helens. But you can get espresso, ice cream, beer, and burgers there, and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

As far as dining choices, there was a pizza joint called Cruisers, a place called the Blue Spruce Tavern, and the Wild Earth Café, which was really just an ice-cream shop. No Burger Kings, no Mickey Doo-Doos, no Safeways, no Starbucks. In short, none of the things that stress out my soul when I but catch a glimpse of them.

Naturally, my first choice was the Blue Spruce. It had a couple of TVs and two lonely pool tables. Lots of locals were already there. The air conditioning was not on. But they had four or five decent microbrews on tap and smoking was not allowed, and that was good enough for me. A waitress sauntered on over to us as soon we sat down and asked us if we wanted menus or if we had just come for the tacos. For a fleet moment, I felt sort of flattered—she hadn’t immediately pegged us as out-of-towners! She’d assumed that we knew all about the Blue Spruce’s vaunted Taco Wednesdays—three tacos for two bucks!

We blew our cover by asking for menus. She had to return to the bar to get them, so few people (at least on Wednesdays) ever need them. The menu listed pretty standard stuff: cheeseburgers, fried chicken, steak, and, unexpectedly, gizzards. None of it was nearly as tempting as the thought of two-dollar tacos. Such a deal!

We ordered the tacos. “Do you want sour cream?” the waitress asked. “Yes, please.” (I always want sour cream.) After ordering we realized to our delight that out back was a beer garden (so-called) and abandoned our muggy post by the pool tables. The beer garden was really just a fenced-in backyard with picnic tables and a lone blue spruce (the blue spruce, I assume), but I liked it very much. Not far away someone was mowing his or her lawn. It was like being at a barbecue at a friend’s house. See what I mean about relaxing? And by that time, I had my beer (a Widmer hefeweizen, if you must know).

The tacos arrived in a patriotic boat-like carton with a stars and stripes motif to it. The trio of tacos was taking up all available space in the carton and shredded lettuce was overflowing the sides. We were given one plastic fork apiece, two plastic squeeze bottles of taco sauce (one described as "hot" and one as "not so hot").

We had an ample supply of napkins, but I could see that eating was going to be messy. I didn’t really care that I was going to look like a hog at a trough while eating, but I sort of didn’t want to gunk up their picnic tables. You know? I ended up fashioning a makeshift mini-tablecloth out of napkins, which shielded the table from the copious spillage. How ingenious of me. (Not really. I saw that someone at another table had done the same thing and I just copied her.)

The tacos totally hit the spot. I should at this point mention, if I haven’t before, that I don’t mind it when Mexican food is somewhat inauthentic. That is, I’d rather have a crispy taco shell than a flabby tortilla. I like crunch, what can I say? Anyway, these tacos did not disappoint. And the sauce? As my brother would say--better than it needed to be. Both the hot (not really) and the not-so-hot were homemade and very flavorful. I made liberal use of them.

At some point, the waitress came out to the beer garden and made a general announcement asking if anyone wanted more tacos or beer. She just sort of shouted it out. How’s that for informal?

The next night we ate in a neighboring town that promised (according to B's research) not one, but two places with intriguing names: the Huff ‘n’ Puff Drive-In and the Big Bottom Bar and Grill. We never did find the Huff ‘n’ Puff, but the Big Bottom was (as one might expect) clearly visible from the road.

The Big Bottom doesn’t appear to have changed over the past six or seven decades. Since I wish that time would stand still and always love it when I find places that have failed to keep up with the times, naturally, this automatically earned the Big Bottom major points from me. The menu had a bunch of local history printed on it, but, sadly, I have retained almost none of it because I can’t retain information anymore. And I was starving.

I did note that there was an immense elk mounted on the wall. Not just its head either. It was about half an elk. It looked like the thing had crashed through the paneling and then gotten stuck there midcrash. Weird, but kind of cool. (No, I’m not a vegetarian.)

Big Bottom had a much more extensive menu than the Blue Spruce (but no taco special, or anything remotely like it). I was so hungry that most of what was on the menu did not register with me, but I do remember that they, too, featured fried gizzards. What’s up with that? Is it a south-central Washington specialty? I’ve never seen it on a menu anywhere else in the northern half of the United States.

Unadventurously but gluttonously, I ordered a half-pound burger. I ate every scrap of it, plus chips. I was hungry, what can I say? And it was darn tasty. I'd like to think that the beef came from a nearby farm that advertised its beef and hay for sale, but that’s probably wishful thinking. Then again, maybe not.

Yes. I am, in fact, going to write about every restaurant we went to on our vacation. Rejoice that it was a short vacation and that we took advantage of our hotel’s euphemistically named continental breakfast (English muffins and coffee) and that we packed ourselves lunches for the trail. Otherwise this post could truly go on forever.

Anyway, we took a final hike in Rainier on Friday and then headed home from there. We figured we’d stop in an actual real town before we hit I-5, where we’d find nothing but franchise crap. I thought it might be fun to eat in a place we saw along the way that was actually an old-timey railway car, but B thought it would be overpriced and gimmicky. I was irked, but in the end I was glad we kept going.

B had his his heart set on eating in the town of Morton for no other reason than that he happened to know that there was a community theater production of Deathtrap being performed there. In his mind, that meant that we would find good food there. OK.

He was right. Morton is another logging town that has not attracted the attention of Starbucks et al. We parked at the end of the four-block-long (or so) strip of downtown and got out of the car to see what we could see. Right on Main Street there are two places where you could get a massage and two places where you could get your deer or elk processed. There’s a data processing center, where women were hammering furiously away at computer keyboards at 7:00 PM on a Friday night. They have no lives! To add to the depressing, sweatshop-like quality of the tableau, the doors were propped open to let in some cool air, but I woudn't have been surprised to find that they were strapped to their chairs so that they couldn't leave. It was a bit surrreal.

There's also the Deathtrap theater and a restaurant called the Wheel Café and Jubilee Room (“Bikers Welcome”) with a fabulous old-skool neon sign. And then there's Shotgun Freddie’s with a hand-drawn illustration of a rifle-toting Fred Flintstone gracing the window. It claims to have the best food in Morton. And it has karaoke and video poker. I'll pass.

I liked the look of the Alaskan Grill, though, which was not a grill but a pizza place. The woody exterior clinched it for me. Once inside, the solitary waitress (who was frantically trying to handle all order taking, food serving, and table bussing) told us to sit anywhere we liked. We found a table, sat back, and looked around. The place had bunches of fake grapes festooned here and there. A good sign. I like colorful plastic grapes as an item of decor. They remind me of the Italian restaurants of my childhood. As a bonus, these grapes were not cocooned in decades-worth of dust. I always feel a slight urge to "taste" fake grapes when I encounter them. I resisted, but I did squeeze a few of them. They're more realistic than you might think.

“We’re out of pasta!” the waitress announced when she finally got a moment to get over to our table. They were out of quite a few other things, too, but luckily two of their four beers were still flowing, so no problem there.

We kept it simple and ordered a pepperoni pizza. It was very good--again, better than it needed to be. Nice crisp crust and good-quality pepperoni.

I always get curious when I drop into a small town like Morton for a few hours. What on Earth would it be like to live there? I’ve never lived in a small town, and it's hard for me to imagine how I’d manage to survive with such limited choices and without the conveniences I take for granted. But I wanted to stay longer. I would have loved to stay for the performance of Deathtrap (but that would have meant we’d have gotten home at 2 AM).

I wanted to ask the waitress, whom I suspected was also one of the owners, why the place was called the Alaskan Grill. There’s nothing Alaskan about pizza. She looked like she might be a native Alaskan (maybe an Inuit or a Tlingit?). But maybe not. Washington has plenty of Native Americans or maybe she wasn’t Native American at all, but some other ethnicity. I’m not good at judging that sort of thing. But I wanted to know her story and I wanted to know the story of the restaurant.

But she was run off her feet the entire time we were there, so I didn’t ask, not wanting to give her anything more to deal with. While B was in the restroom, I did snoop about a bit, though. All I ran across of interest was a photograph of the cook (and owner and husband to the waitress?) perched on a riding lawnmower. The photo commemorated his winning first place in the lawnmower races at a local logging festival. Lawnmower races! Logging festivals! Quite a find, but it only whetted my appetite for details.

B returned from the restroom, and, sadly, we left. Out on Main Street people were lining up outside the little theater. I’m sure tickets were still available. We should have stuck around.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Partial Explanation (Maybe)

Remember how I nearly ralphed all over the resplendent Skyline Trail on Mount Rainier (if not, read the previous entry and then come back to this one)? Well, I just now took a look at the ingredients list on the packet of Oh Boy! Oberto Smok-A-Roni sausage sticks* I sampled moments before hitting the trail. The very first ingredient is—PORK HEART!!! I might have a tiny quibble with the grammar, preferring to refer to such an ingredient as a swine heart (or a hog ticker or pig pump), but I get their drift! I do not [heart] hearts!

Now, I know full well that all tubed meats are likely to contain “variety meats,” but I have been known to eat (and enjoy) a Slim Jim from time to time.** Still, why, oh why, didn’t I read the fine print? Why was I in such a gosh-darn hurry to buy that packet of seven Smok-A-Roni sausage sticks, which, at $2.69 plus tax, was vastly overpriced?

The second and third ingredients, I now know, are beef fat and pork fat. Nice. Of course, it’s my own fault. The ingredient list was right there in ALL CAPS. The print was not microscopic nor obscurely placed. Let that be a lesson to me!

*Recall that I ate only one of these sticks, approximate measurements: 6 inches in length with a diameter of 0.5 inch. I did not find it tasty. In fact, I thought it was pretty bad. It crossed my mind that it could even be rancid. Is that possible? The package proudly trumpets the fact that B.H.A. is “Added To Protect Flavor.” And just to be on the safe side, there’s also potassium nitrate, lactic acid starter culture, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate (yes, why not go overboard with the preservatives and carcinogens?), and potassium sorbate. There, now you know practically every ingredient in the Smok-A-Ronis—an exquisite blend of chemicals, fats, and hearts.

**Note to Self: Check ingredient list on Slim Jims. Better yet, don’t bother. Just never eat one again.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Into Thin Air

Mt. Rainier From the Skyline Trail

Mountains continue to kick my ass! The latest one to shellac me was Mount Rainier. It kicked my ass approximately 10 times harder than Mount Hood has ever kicked it.

It was a picture-postcard perfect day and Rainier was fully in view (which I understand is actually quite rare--more often all you can see is the bottom fringe of the glaciers; a curtain of cloud hides the rest, like this. You'd never even know a mountain was there, let alone the one that locks up half the glacial ice in the coterminous United States).

With hordes of other hikers we set off on famous and popular Skyline Trail behind the Paradise Inn, launching ourselves toward the Nisqually Glacier. I don't think I've ever been in a more magnificent place. The slopes were ablaze with luridly intense magenta paintbrush and bluer-than-blue lupines. Plus asters, hippie on a stick, and other wildflowers. And green? The slopes were so green. And the sky was super-saturated blue. Duh, I've posted a photo--no need to try to describe it.

Ten minutes later, I collapsed onto a trailside rock gasping for air and feeling as if I might vomit at any moment. B--who is asthmatic, allergic to nearly everything, and three years older than me--was some way up the trail, totally fine. Little kids, old men, chubby middle-aged women, and Germans* passed me by. Fuck! I could not friggin' believe it. Here I was in a place that is actually called Paradise and that truly lives up to its name, and I was going to have to turn around--AFTER TEN MINUTES--and bag the hike. FUCK! Could I possibly be any more pathetic and lame? The hiking book rated the hike as "Moderate." What has happened to me?

As I sat there berating myself, the nausea ebbed away and I started to feel that it was possible to carry on. I plodded up to where B was waiting and continued, perhaps another five minutes (or two minutes), before I had to sit down again. I went on this way, inching slowly up the path struggling against nausea and the sensation that the Sun was turning my brain into a hard-boiled egg, stopping to rest (and prevent myself from puking all over the trail) every five or (at the most) ten minutes.

B was having no such difficulties, nor were all the Germans and little kids, etc., who were breezing right past me, laughing and talking rather than panting and gasping.

It was painfully slow going and B was concerned that it might take us (me) about six hours to finish the five-mile hike. We needed to be at our hotel at 6 PM in order to not lose our reservation. And so after hiking a mere mile of the Skyline Trail we (I) gave up and turned back. I'm happy to report that I did not have to stop and rest on the way down. Now that would be unutterably sad.

I've spent some time scrambling around for excuses reasons that would lead to some conclusion other than this: I am old and unfit and can no longer take temperatures of more than 75 degrees.

And guess what? I found some!

Another hiking book I had with me rated the Skyline Trail as "Moderately Difficult" and emphasized its steepness and the fact that the hike starts at the rarefied elevation of about 6,000 ft. It also mentioned that, since the trail is mostly above the treeline, the Sun can, in fact, be brutal. Yes! Also, did I not ill-advisedly eat a foul-tasting Oh Boy! Oberto-brand Smok-A-roni sausage stick like two minutes before starting the hike? Why, yes, I did. Could not that (along with the Sun and the elevation) explain the nausea and my lackluster performance? And if further proof were needed, did I not the next day do a seven-mile hike under cloudy skies at a lower elevation with energy to spare at the end of it? Why, yes, I did.

So all that is true, but I don't feel that I can let myself that easily off the hook. The fact is that I'm not as fit as I have been in the past, ironically enough, when I was living in hill-less Chicago. Back then, I went to the gym a couple of times a week and did pretty intense cardio workouts (step aerobics [don 't mock] and Spin). Ironic, isn't it, that I was more physically fit then when I rarely got the chance to go hiking? And that on my first day on a hiking trip to Colorado, I could jump right in and do a hike that started at 11,000 feet and not feel in the least bit winded? I was younger, too, of course.

Once I moved out here I figured there was no need to join a gym--I'd get plenty of great exercise because I'd be hiking all the time. Well, I do take a hike about once a week in the summer. And I take walks (at least an hour long) several times a week the rest of the year. And I do yoga and Pilates regularly, but when I really think about it, none of it (apart from strenuous hikes) really gets my heart rate up the same way freakin' dorky-ass aerobics did. Plus, I eat too much fat and not enough leafy green vegetables. Lately, I've have been drinking far too much caffeine. I probably drink too much beer as well.

I have to say that my immediate reaction to doing something positive like eating better is a childish "Ugh!" But I have to do something to arrest the decline! It can be arrested, can't it? How else to explain all the hikers age 70+ I'm always seeing on the trails? Of course, I'd like to think that because I'm reasonably active (and I do think I am reasonably active) that that would be enough and that I could go on my way, merrily eating pizza and guzzling beer with no ill effects. Apparently not. What a bummer!

Anyway, enough of this tedious wallowing and self-pitying introspection! In fact, what I should be focusing on is that B and I had a wonderful time on our very short vacation, despite the sobering realization brought on by my failure to complete the Skyline Trail. Even though I came nowhere near completing the trail, every second of it was glorious, and I enjoyed it in between the waves of nausea. How could one not?

*I don't think I've ever gone hiking anywhere where I didn't encounter Germans on the trail. When I was hiking in some of the national parks in Utah, the only other people we ever ran into on the trails were Germans. (All the Americans apparently just drove through the parks in their air-conditioned vehicles.) Anyway, Germans seem to be ubiquitous on hiking trails, and they are always in tip-top shape and speak English perfectly. I am most daunted by them!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bait and Switch Hit

Terrific Sunset
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
There was a terrific sunset this evening, even though to the best of my knowledge, the Sun didn't come out at all today. How does that work?

Gosh, there are a lot of powerlines near my house. Super ugly. R. Crumb would not approve.

Today was a weird day. Normally, on a Sunday in August B and I would have gone hiking, but as mentioned above, it was unsunny. In fact, it was downright bleak and chilly. Add to that the fact that I've just endured what seemed to be the most low-energy, ass-dragging week of my life, and I guess those are the factors that combined to land us at the Alpenrose Dairy this afternoon watching part of the Little League Softball World Series.

The World Series. And it was free, and it's held in Portland. And they aren't kidding about the "world" part. There were teams there from Germany and the Philippines. And Canada. And, oh yeah, the players were all girls age 12 and under.

Little League Softball World Series

I've never enjoyed playing any kind of team sport involving balls. I'm afraid of all types of balls. In fifth grade this creepy, psychopathic boy named Joe Knaack smashed a volleyball toward me on purpose. It hit me in the face and practically knocked my block off. After that, I kept myself as far away from all balls as possible. But I'm glad there are opportunities for girls who like sports to play them. Yay for Title 9! Anyway, it was fun even though my sorry ass started to get a bit bleachered out after a while.

I also learned that Alpenrose Dairy supplies the ice cream to Baskin Robbins ice cream shops all over the country. I haven't had Baskin Robbins ice cream in ages, because the last time I tried it, it was gross and ice crystally. But I'm going to guess that that was before they started using Alpenrose as a supplier. There's just no way ice cream that is a product of Oregon could be bad, is there? I'm not biased or anything. I must try some Baskin Robbins ice cream soon and evaluate it. Watch this space.

Anyway, this may rank as my most incoherent and sloppy blog entry ever. My ass is still dragging, and, frankly, I'm a little worried and stressed, too. B and I are heading out for a little mini vacation mid-week. It's supposed to involve hiking, and I just don't know if I'm up to anything very ambitious. Plus, the trip starts out with a bang (or more likely a whimper) with us driving up to Seattle--a city that always seems to cause us problems. It just so happens that there's major road construction, too, so that does not bode well. Mr. Hyde tendencies tend to surface in B when he's stuck in traffic. Not looking forward to that!

We'll be in Seattle less than a day and then we're heading down to an area sort of in between Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, a region where there was a lots and lots of road washouts and trail damage at the end of last year. Much of the damage hasn't been assessed or repaired yet and will probably affect which trails we can get to and how long it will take to get to them.

I anticipate spending a lot of time in the car, trying to get to trailheads. I hate that. I've tried to figure out in advance which places to avoid, but you never can really tell until you get to a place.

Do we know how to plan a vacation or what? Recall last year's vacation fiasco.

Anyway, for reasons that I feel too exhausted to go into here, changing our plans is not feasible. So I'm sort of trying to talk myself into adopting a go-with-the-flow-attitude--not an attitude that comes naturally to me. Also, I've been putting in a ton of extra work time to get ahead of schedule so that I can take three days off, and I really, really hope that it's not going to be more stressful and unsatisfying than just staying home and working would have been, but right now that's kind of what it feels like.

One last complaint, because I'm really feeling crabby tonight. I hate that I always have to do a semi-major house-clean before we leave (at the same time I'm trying to scramble to finish up work assignments--always), basically, because of the cat. We have a friend come in and feed him, so the house can't be a sty. Bleh.

Bait and switch? How do you like the way this post started out all nice with talk of sunsets, softball, and ice cream and then veered off course into a petty rant? I believe that's known as bait and switch. I think I'm super good at it, too.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

This Mountain Kicked My Ass

Mount Hood in Cloud

Looks like some kind of Alp, doesn't it? Must be at least 20,000 feet high if it was able to kick my purportedly rock-hard ass, right?

Well, it's not an Alp. It's Mount Hood and all I did was take a 6.8 mile hike on it well below the tree line and even more well below anything really tricky and daunting like snowfields and glaciers. Elevation gain: Only 1,650 feet. My hiking book rates the level of difficulty as moderate. In recent years, this hike has been no problem for me. Last Sunday, though, I found myself stopping frequently to rest! And it wasn't even hot out. What the frick? And when I got to this pond I collapsed in front of it and lay on my back for quite some time staring at the clouds.


I never lie down on hikes. NEVER!

I'm a loser that's all there is to it. I don't really know why I'm so out of shape this year, but there's no disputing it. Crap.

I did enjoy the hike, though, especially the ramble back "down." By that time, the clouds had closed in and blotted out Hood completely.

Clouds Envelope the Mountain

Fortunately, we weren't ambushed by any hobbits.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mash Note to Richard Benjamin

I’m sitting here trying to marshal the energy to get on my bike and ride to a far-off video store* so that I can continue with Richard Benjamin Fest 2007. Here’s a rundown of what’s stopping me and why I’m writing instead of doing.
  • I need to put air in the tires of my bike.
  • I haven’t ridden my bike at all yet this year.
  • Getting to the video store is all downhill; getting back is all uphill.
  • It’s windy.
  • I worked 14 hours yesterday and 6 hours today.
  • I’m kinda pooped!
But what could be a better way to spend the evening given such circumstances than sitting down on the couch, slice of pepperoni pizza in one hand, bottle of Lagunitas IPA in the other and viewing a beat-up VHS copy of, say, Diary of a Mad Housewife, starring my very favorite actor of the late ‘60s/early 70s, Richard Benjamin?

Richard Benjamin got a decent amount of acting work back then. He seemed to specialize in Noun of an Adjective Noun movies (Diary of a Mad Housewife, Marriage of a Young Stockbroker) and anything based on a Philip Roth novel (Portnoy’s Complaint, Good-bye, Columbus), but, by about 1980, his acting career had fizzled except for the occasional role as a rabbi. I have a feeling this TV series was the kiss of death for him. Sure, he went on to direct a bunch of (one assumes) crappy movies (e.g., The Money Pit) but there were no more starring roles for Mr. Richard Benjamin. He’s fallen so far off the radar that he doesn’t even warrant a full Wikipedia article, only a stub. Poor Richard Benjamin!

Anyway, after going to an outdoor screening of Westworld (1973) a few weeks ago, I was reminded of how much I love him and his whiny nasal voice and button-down Ivy League persona. By the way, if you have never seen Westworld, rent it immediately.

Here’s the premise. Rich people pay $1,000 a day to go to resort that re-creates life in the Old West, Ancient Rome, and Medieval Europe. You can do whatever you want there! Kill cowboys in shoot-outs, engage in orgies with nubile Roman lasses, or compete in a jousting match. And the resort guarantees that there’s absolutely no way you can get hurt or that you can hurt anyone because all the inhabitants are exceedingly life-like robots. If they get “killed,” they are simply scooped up (while guests are sleeping) and repaired as if they were vacuum cleaners. Richard Benjamin and his pal (played by James Brolin with totally insane feathered hair) are super excited about the possibilities of Westworld.

Richard Benjamin immediately makes a major gaffe when he strides into the saloon and orders a “vodka martini, very dry, with a twist of lemon.” What a candy-ass! The barkeep gives him a whiskey that nearly makes him keel over. Later, though, he totally redeems himself. One morning he’s sitting in the iron bathtub in his room singing “Home on the Range” (what else?) and minding his own business when he hears suspicious noises coming out of James Brolin’s room. Richard Benjamin wraps a towel around his waist, grabs his gun, and saunters over to JB’s room. The door is locked. Richard Benjamin then proceeds to hilariously kick in the door (remember he’s wearing only a towel) to find James Brolin on the brink of being killed by an evil black-clad desperado (played to perfection by Yul Brynner!). In exquisite Sam Peckinpah-style slow-mo Richard Benjamin (don’t forget to picture the towel) pumps about 3 dozen bullets into Yul Brynner. Totally incongruous, over the top, and great.

The movie is off-the-charts campy and thoroughly entertaining. I give it 4 stars. Part of it is that it’s dated, but mostly it’s great satire of a lot of things, including genre movies (both sci-fi and westerns) and the overacting and hackneyed dialogue that are part and parcel of such films (no overacting from Richard Benjamin, though, he’s spot on). There’s an extremely funny scene in which a hysterical resort worker tells Richard Benjamin that he’s doomed. (I've italicized my favorite lines.)

Worker: The machines have gone crazy.
RB:You know about the machines?
Worker: Yeah, I repair'em.
RB: There's one chasing me now. A gunslinger.
Worker: Gunslinger. Must be a model 404, maybe a 406.
If he is a 406, he's got all the sensory equipment.
It's beautiful machine!
RB: He's after me.
Worker: I don't doubt it.
RB: What can I do?
Worker: There's nothing you can do. He'll get you.
You haven't got a chance.
RB: There must be something.
Worker: Fella, don't kid yourself. There are things you could try.
Acid for his visual system, noise for his hearing.
No matter what, he'll always be one jump ahead of you!
You haven't got a chance.
RB: Yes, I do.

Anyway, time to get on my bike and resume RBF2007. I’m thinking tonight’s feature is going to be Portnoy’s Complaint, since B has never seen it. Is he in for a treat! Plenty of gratuitous nudity and even a wank scene--I love how filmmakers in the late '60s/early '70s went hog-wild with sex and nudity once they were finally allowed to. Midnight Cowboy is an excellent example of that, but that's a post for another day.

*Only one video store in town stocks a decent selection of Richard Benjamin vehicles. Pity.

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