Friday, February 5, 2010

Improper Fractions

In fourth grade our math teacher had a very specific way of teaching. She used a goofy, self deprecating humor that was probably over our heads, but thinking back to it 18 years after the fact, I found myself chuckling.

Mrs. Rollo wrote two fractions on the blackboard. This was back when teachers still used chalk and there were no dry erase markers unless it was to be used with an overhead projector.

On the right, she pointed out, that there were two kinds of fractions. She went on to explain the difference between the two. On the left, there was what she called a Dolly Parton fraction, because the top is bigger than the bottom, just like Dolly Parton. On the right, there was a Mrs. Rollo fraction, because no matter what, there was always going to be a bigger bottom half.

It is a pretty amusing analogy. I can’t remember if Mrs. Rollo had a large bottom half and it’s probably also unlikely that many of the kids in the class knew who Dolly Parton was. In the end she told us the correct terminology, but I wonder how many of us went home and explained to our parents that we learned about Dolly Parton’s big upper half.

Friday, January 15, 2010

That's an Elephant Joke...

"Teamwork" or "What has four legs and is always ready to travel?"
Summer 2009, Acrylic

Die Hard with a Vengeance, the third in the series, is one of the most viewed movies among my sister Amy and I. I would never sell short the first Die Hard, with its classic unwilling and unlikely hero story that develops in that a perfect blend of action, humor and tension. It’s got tremendous rewatchability, with a wide variety of lines that can be repeated – almost everyone I know has a different favorite. I am always torn between Hans Gruber’s reading of the special message on Tony’s sweat shirt (Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho) and Ellis’ horrible attempt to negotiate with the terrorists. (Sprechen ze talk? Hans, bubie, I’m your white knight).

I don’t know why we gravitated so heavily to the third movie. Maybe it was Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement or the great cat and mouse game that keeps the movies middle section moving at such a rapid pace. It’s been rerun on various networks more and more over the years, and every time it is on, Amy and I are on the phone reciting our favorite lines before they happen.

This brings me to the scene in question – the riddle involving a three gallon jug, a five gallon jug and trying to fit exactly four gallons into one of them. It’s a great riddle and every time this scene comes on I like to remind myself how to solve it before it occurs. This happened one time in college where we documented the step by step details by drawing the steps on a piece of poster board. After years of going back and forth with my sister about this movie, it seemed like an obvious painting choice for her birthday present.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Anecdotal Sophomore Year

That year went by very fast.

Last January I changed my blog format with the goal of putting up a new story every week. Now that it’s 2010, I can look back and say that this experiment was a success, aside from one entry that was forced to be removed by an attorney and one missed due to Thanksgiving travel and work schedule.

So, what’s on tap for this year?

I guess I want to broaden the style of the site so it’s not confined to the same format every week. Sometimes I like writing what’s on my mind that specific moment. I’m getting married in eight months, so I think that will prove to be a big theme this year. I want to get back into writing some movie or television reviews as well. Maybe I’ll even write some actual articles where I push myself to do some research.

Don’t get me wrong, there will still be stories. I certainly have enough anecdotes to continue on this format that I’ve started. Once the brainstorming sessions started the stories just came to me – from the well talked about to the ones that were so obscure that even immediate family members did not know what I was talking about.

We’ll see what happens. The main goal is the same - to put something out every week.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

Growing up, my family had a tradition every Christmas Eve – like most of the Jewish community, we’d go to the movies. No matter what time of year we went to the movies, Mom and Dad always warned us that it would be very cold in the theater. We would usually be the only family seeing a movie on a July afternoon wearing sweatshirts and long pants.

My mom had gone to high school with the theatre manager, so if there was a movie we wanted to see (provided it wasn’t opening weekend) all she had to do was put in a call to him and we were set for tickets. We often ended up seeing the biggest family movie of the season, which would have come out around Thanksgiving. By the time a month had passed and there was little to no public interest anymore, then we’d go with our passes.

The most influential Christmas Eve movie of my childhood was not so much for the content, but for my reaction, was My Girl. On our usual movie night in 1991, we headed towards the theater with some friends to take in the new Macaulay Culkin comedic romp. He had earned our trust the year before with Home Alone, so we figured this was another sure fire hit. I was at the same age of the characters in the movie and in the same awkward “friends who are girls” mode in school, so I wanted to sit a few rows in front of the rest of the group. What nobody could have seen coming was the way this movie ended. Culkin’s character, Thomas, was in the woods and he ran into an angry hive full of bees, which he happened to be allergic to. While trying to run, he lost his glasses, tripped and that was it. I was shocked – how could this happen? To pile it on, when they found his body, the mood ring he had received from his girl-friend, it had changed color for the first time. That was the final straw – I started bawling uncontrollably through the end of the movie and into the credits. My mom came to get me because everyone was leaving and she found me with my Starter winter jacket pulled over my head, hiding my tear soaked nine year old face. It was the first time I had ever cried at a movie and I would be relentlessly teased about it for years to come.

The Christmas Eve tradition took a huge hit the following year when the entire family went out and proceeded to dislike the Robin Williams movie Toys. It became a long standing joke in the family that any time the movie’s name would be mentioned, we would react like someone was talking about Voldemort. It was because of that experience that we were almost hesitant to see Toy Story in 1995 because of the shared name. When high school rolled around, my sister and I were usually away for Christmas at a USY convention. Then came college, when I was usually staffing those same conventions. Another problem seemed to be Hollywood releasing all of the really good movies on Christmas Day, meaning that our annual tradition would occur one day early.

When I moved to California I attempted this tradition with my roommate one year and ended up seeing a double feature of Spanglish and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, effectively putting the bad memory of Toys out of my mind forever.

These days we usually hang out at home and watch Christmas movies or play video games. The past two years we've made our own pizza dough with friends and just stayed in. The one common theme every Christmas Eve, no matter what I'm doing or where I'm going - I'll always put on a sweatshirt just in case.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mario and Me

This week I got a Nintendo Wii and I’m every bit as excited as my fiancé is nervous that we’ll never have another conversation. It’s the fourth video game system I’ve owned, the first one I've had when it was first out and brand spanking new. In the past when I've gotten a system, the newer upgrade had already come out - always one step behind. But it’s the system I was never allowed to have that will always carry the fondest memories to me.

My parents never got me a Nintendo when I was a kid – I guess I would have been angrier about not having one if it weren’t for the fact that nearly every one of my friends from school and all of the kids in my neighborhood had them. If I was really jonesing for some Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Ducktales (my favorite game at the time), my fix was never so far away. Not having the system myself was never a back and forth struggle with the parents, nor did it become a large argument, it just was what it was. It might have had something to do with us owning two pinball machines. We also had an old Atari and my Dad often had new computer games for us to play. A four-colored computer version of The Price is Right could really incite the Lurie children’s competitive nature.

At my 8th birthday party, my secret love of Nintendo came to the forefront when I had friends come over to watch the Fred Savage movie The Wizard. A very odd choice for someone who didn’t even own the video game system the movie was shamelessly promoting. The movie was a glorified 100 minute commercial for Super Mario Bros. 3 – a new game that single handedly increased my number of play dates during the early 1990’s.

A few years later, something big happened. At an afternoon screening of Batman Returns at the North Haven Showcase Cinemas, I noticed a bunch of teenagers crowded around one of the arcade machines. As I inched closer, I saw the most violent fighting game I had ever laid eyes on - Mortal Kombat. In the days before the Internet, you heard about things from your friends at school. By this time, most of my friends had upgraded to the newest video game console, Super Nintendo (SNES). Not only had they already heard about this fighting game, but according to their subscriptions to Nintendo Power Magazine Mortal Kombat would be available on the SNES in the not too distant future. That settled it – I was shut out of the original Nintendo, but I would not be denied this time around.

Through some miraculous arrangement between my parents, Grandmother and Caldor’s Senior Citizen discounted Wednesdays, I got the Super Nintendo. I got it on a random day in the summer, not on a birthday or even Hanukkah. It came with a game called Mario All-Stars, which contained all three of the original Nintendo Mario games. As far as I was concerned, I was even with all of my friends. The following birthday I received Mortal Kombat II, the highly anticipated sequel to the arcade game I saw. This was a video game that was responsible for creating the video game rating system due to excess gore and violence. Unlike its precursor, Nintendo did not censor the blood in this game. My game collection began to pile up, I got a subscription to Nintendo Power and some extra controllers – I had arrived.

Though I always considered myself a Nintendo kid, when my uncle took a job at a video game company and offered me a free Playstation, I wasn’t going to turn it down. The console had been out for a few years, but it still seemed pretty revolutionary. It came with a bunch of games his company designed – most of them were fun, but a few of them were heavy role playing games that were too clunky for my liking. While I did appreciate the detail, especially with the wrestling games, I always had my SNES plugged in for the sheer fun of its game play.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I took Super Nintendo, not my Playstation, and continued to add to my collection through used game stores and e-bay. Later on, during the height of the Guitar Hero craze I did upgrade to a used Playstation 2 via craigslist and bought the guitar at a charity auction. Now, after about a year of feeling strange that my parents had a Wii and I didn’t, I’ve caught to the in crowd once again.

The first thing I’m going to do is download the original Nintendo version of Ducktales.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Did You Bring Me?

Sometime in the early 1990’s, my parents took a trip to Orlando which happened to be a couple of weeks before Hanukkah. It was a short trip for my Dad’s work and we had school – so this was a parent’s only trip. Before leaving, my parents asked if there was anything specific we wanted them to bring back. My sister, for whatever reason, absolutely wanted a black Hard Rock Café shirt and I asked for a Ren and Stimpy shirt.

We were excited for their return a few days later, partially because they always brought something for us, but mostly because they were back. Amy and I went into their room and watched them unpack. Regretfully, Mom informed us that she couldn’t find a Ren and Stimpy shirt and the Hard Rock Café did not have the style of shirt Amy wanted. It was disappointing, but the moment passed.

Amy wasn’t so willing to take no for an answer and she began digging into one of the suitcases until she pulled out a receipt from Hard Rock. She called them out on it, asking “Why is there a receipt for a Hard Rock shirt if you said they were out?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise for Hanukkah!” my mom yelled back.

At this moment, you’d think I’d be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe if they were hiding Amy’s shirt, mine was in there somewhere as well. Nope. I was happy believing that Mom and Dad couldn’t find my shirt and went on with my life. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when Hanukkah arrived and I received the exact shirt I hoped for, that I figured it out.

My mom asked “Did you have any idea?” and I was too embarrassed to say that I didn’t know it was coming. I told her once Amy found her receipt, that I thought my shirt might be hidden away somewhere also. The truth was that I hadn’t even thought about the shirt since the day they came back and it was a really good surprise.

The side note to this story is that back in those days, when I was in 6th grade, I was wearing big t-shirts. A lot of the shirts I had back then would still fit me today. Case in point: I still own (and wear) the Ren and Stimpy shirt at least fifteen years later. I’m also convinced that this entry will be a good indicator if my fiancé actually reads my blog – if she does, the shirt is probably going to be a topic of conversation this evening.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

I didn’t post last week – things became chaotic with the Thanksgiving holiday and working the day after. I never really got the chance to develop the story I wanted into a full fledged entry. Devoted readers might recognize that I tend to use story themes based on the time of year. For last week I was leaning in two different directions as far as Thanksgiving related stories go – one story about the actual Thanksgiving meal and a more recent story about the insanity that occurs during the day after shopping. Neither of these were really main event stories, both constituted more of a side dish feeling.

Story 1: Turkey Day sans Turkey

When I was a kid, I was a picky eater. I realize now that I might still be considered in the picky range, but thanks to some new found food bravery and constant encouragement (and the occasional forcing) by my fiancé, I’ve tried many new things of late. If you invented a time machine for the sole purpose of going back to tell the child version of me that in the future I would be eating tomatoes, mushrooms and eggplant, I probably would have vomited uncontrollably just from hearing about it.

One of the things I didn’t eat was turkey. I love it now, but back when I was a kid, I could not fathom eating it. My mom would be in the kitchen all day, preparing this amazing meal, and I would stand next to her in the early stages of a tantrum just thinking about what was going to be served. Mom did what any person who was too busy to deal with my annoyance – she gave me what I wanted for dinner that night so I would shut up.

Hot Dogs.

That’s right – for about three years in my elementary school days I would sit down to a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner of Hot Dogs. I liked the side dishes, but it was easier to have me not occupying valuable kitchen space pulling on her sweater to complain about the food she was making. Eventually I got over whatever unknown problem I had with turkey and began to love it, but not a year goes by that my mom doesn’t remind me about being thankful for Hot Dogs.

Story 2: Fishing with my Father

My father counted down to the morning after Thanksgiving every year. Not having celebrated Christmas, this was easily the closest he would ever come. The advertisements for the various stores touted their best deals and he would circle his favorite ones. The shopping list would grow as larger as the times the stores opened crept earlier each year. I would awaken from my post tryptophan coma and find the living room and kitchen covered in shopping bags from the local stores (aside from the hidden ones that would be arriving to us later on).

After watching this from the sidelines my whole like, I finally got into the game last year. My father, the experienced veteran, made sure I was in it for real and not going to balk at the early hours. I assured him I wouldn’t let him down and we called it an early night to wake up long before sunrise.

The alarm hit just before 5:00 in the morning and we quickly dressed and headed to the car. Some fathers and sons rise early to go fishing, but that was never our style - unless of course, we were fishing for the best bargain in town.

The first stop was Wal-mart where I reeled in a Marlin (a new desktop computer) for our new apartment. Dad hit got a hooked a Red Snapper (a digital camera) for my still sleeping sister. We then crossed the street to arrive at Staples for some much discounted Bluefish, (bluetooth headsets). After exhausting my hometown’s resources, we traveled to North Haven and ran into the soon to be extinct Circuit City to catch some Minnows (DVD’s). Best Buy was next up where my Dad stocked up his Trout collection (Wii games). Next door to Best Buy was Target where I lost track of what we got. On the way home was a quick stop in at Kohl’s.

If you’ve never been to Kohl’s, it’s similar to a smaller JC Penny’s or Caldor’s, to those who actually remember it. It’s an “everything” store and all of their merchandise is usually between 60 and 70 percent off. On top of that, anyone with a Kohl’s card got an extra 15% off, and there were always coupons. The big deal was an electric griddle for $9.99, and I had to have one. I darted to the kitchenware section and saw the depleted pile of griddles. I made it and picked up the last one on the stack. No sooner than I read the front of the box, a woman pointed right in my face and asked “Are you buying that?” I wasn’t about to throw it back, so I huddled it under my arm and left that section of the store.

Our cooler was full and it was time to head back to the shore. We arrived home at 7:00 am and the house was still quiet. There would be a second trip out to scrounge the stores for left over deals when the rest of the family woke up. In the mean time, my father and I sat at the breakfast table and admired our haul, already thinking about our next fishing trip.