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© 2010 Tommy Salami


What was the deal with putting A*S*T*E*R*I*S*K*S in movie titles? M*A*S*H may have started it in the movies. It was short for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and is Robert Altman’s most well-known film. The movie was just called MASH and they stuck asterisks in between the letters of the poster so you didn’t think it was about potatoes.

A few years later came the espionage spoof S*P*Y*S starring Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland, which bombed. Probably because of the stupid name. Why not just Spies? I haven’t seen it, but I imagine it’s a goofy acronym, like Secret Person Yankee Surveillance. Both of these movies star Elliot Gould, so maybe he is a secret asterisk supporter, or S*A*P.

The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N was a Broadway play based on the stories of Leo Rosten, and was written that way because it’s about a Yiddish speaking immigrant learning English in a night class, and he signs his name like that, in crayon. It came first in 1968, so perhaps this was the start? I’ve read Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, and he’s a fantastic writer. Thanks to @mercurie80 and his blog A Shroud of Thoughts for mentioning that one, and inspiring this post.

W*A*L*T*E*R was a failed M*A*S*H spinoff in 1984, and we didn’t see stars again until the ’90s, when  B*A*P*S came around- standing for Black American Princesses. Should’ve been B*A*Ps, but that just looks silly, doesn’t it? I’ve never seen it, despite it starring Martin Landau. It got awful reviews, but much of its humor has been internalized in how white boys imitate black women. It’s rather a shame that comedian Robert Townsend was involved, as his movies are usually pretty funny.

In the ’80s we got *batteries not included which mocks those print ads for toys that we drooled over, bought the thing for $5.95 and found out it required 12 D cell batteries that cost $20. But that wasn’t the same. I still didn’t see it, because the title felt so gimmicky. 

The father of all asterisks movies is **** by Andy Warhol, which is probably meant to mean “fuck.” But that’s not a commercial project, so it really shouldn’t count. There is a power in the use of punctuation, or lack thereof. Look at e.e cummings, who we still won’t capitalize, and the archy & mehitabel stories, which aren’t capitalized or punctuated because they are supposed to be written by a New York city cockroach jumping on the keys of a typewriter. 

I took punctuation very seriously as a child, and when I was in the shower, I would think up movie ideas. They usually involved me as a cross between James Bond and the Terminator, tasked with saving the world, with Sheena Easton and Nastassia Kinski hanging from each bicep. But some were spoofs, and my masterpiece of spy spoofs, dedicated to Mel Brooks, was entitled:

Yes, a question mark. Probably due to seeing the Get Smart movie THE NUDE BOMB (full review), my genius project was to have a global super-villain threaten the population by putting chemicals in the drinking water that made our farts lethal. Years before The Spleen from MYSTERY MEN, I’d come up with the concept of deadly flatulence. Our hero finds the antidote, which saves you by making your farts safe and super-powerful, and he’d use it to propel himself on a little broken-down moped. This is before Howard Stern’s “Fartman,” mind you. And because I thought this was just so damn weird, I was gonna name it “?” IMDb tells me that no one else did this until 2005. The problem being, how do you pronounce the damn title? My solution was to use the wonky question sound that “The Electric Company” played whenever Spiderman was puzzled. Of course, now that I look back, I should have just called it SILENT BUT DEADLY. I’d be a millionaire, if I’d only followed through with that script.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Hank Hill and the Number of the Beast

I promised if I got 666 followers, I’d record Hank Hill singing Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.” I do a passable impression of the King of the Hill, so here he is finding Bobby’s Satanic record collection.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

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© 2010 Tommy Salami

Freecycling, or Garbage Picking for Suburbanites

When I moved recently, I decided to get rid of a lot of furniture. After ditching my ancient, dilapidated computer desk near the dumpster of my old apartment in the hopes that some indigent nerd would scavenge it, only to see it sledgehammered apart by the maintenance crew, I thought I should engage in “free-cycling,” the hip new way to recycle, or to get crap for free. I had used it before to get some free weights for weightlifting, and give away spare workout equipment. People looking for this kind of stuff tend to be prompt and courteous, because weights are expensive- over a dollar a pound- and they get snatched up very quickly.

Furniture, on the other hand, seems to be a bunch of soccer moms looking for bargains. My first giveaway, a leather sofa and loveseat, went great. A black couple picked them up with a U-Haul, brought a friend to help lug them out, and I still had a furniture dolly, it went swimmingly. They were delighted to get my 12 year old couches that were still clean and in good shape, despite having absorbed more gas than a fleet of Hummers over the years. Then I was giving away a microwave, and after two no-shows that wasted my time, another black gal showed up promptly, with her car right outside, a blanket on the back seat, ready to go. In minutes, I’d gotten rid of clutter! It was great. Then I decided to freecycle a steel book shelf, a drafting table, a coffee table, and some old vinyl LPs. The nightmare began.

The guy looking for free records called on a rainy day and said he was outside, so I ran out there, and went up to the only cars parked out front, getting soaked. About five minutes later he rolls up, and opens his door like I’m a servant, talks on his phone the whole time, and doesn’t even say thanks. Next time I’ll just drop them off at the Salvation Army, hipster doofus. He’s probably got my records all covered in hipster pubes already. The stories get progressively worse. A mom with a kid in art school wants a drafting table; I give her photos, she wants to know if the table has a light. Look gift horses in the mouth, much? Come see the damn thing. How much time do you want me to spend giving away things to you? She said she’d come at four, didn’t show up until eight, when we were out at dinner. I gave her my phone number, but she didn’t call first, so she complained that no one was there. Then she says “she knows my building and has picked up things before, just leave it with the door man.”

It disappeared, so I assume she got it. It makes me wonder if people selling stuff don’t cruise Freecycle sites and then turn around and sell things. It doesn’t bother me, actually. I’ve sold things on eBay and Craigslist, and it’s a gigantic pain in the ass. One guy showed up with a two twenties and a hundred dollar bill for a $60 item, I wonder if he thought I’d give it to him for $40 if I didn’t have change. I made him drive to a gas station and get change. Nice try. But anyway, my personal favorite was the woman who showed up for the solid metal bookshelf. I gave her the dimensions and told her it was very heavy, so bring friends and possibly a hand truck or furniture dolly. She showed up alone, with a broken cart. She also had a quad cane, so I would be doing all the furniture moving this day. I lugged it down to her car, which turned out to be a Dodge Intrepid with a trunk full of broken down power tools. She kept saying I could get it in the back seat. This is a two door car. The shelf was the size of a freezer chest. Maybe if I took a hacksaw to her car and made it a convertible, it would fit. No joke, I moved more furniture in my Mustang convertible than you can in a Ford Escape. So she pulls out two power drills from her trunk, saying I could disassemble it. Because she really needs this book shelf. If you need it so badly, bring some of the family you were talking about to help lift the damn thing.

Of course, the batteries are dead in the drill. I told her I’d leave the bookshelf in the hallway, if she could find friends with a truck. She looked very disappointed, and I did feel bad. I know how it is to need a bookshelf, and have to stack your hundreds of books against the wall instead. I wish she had rope, and wanted me to strap it to the roof of her car, because I would have loved to tell you the tale of my steel shelf getting dragged all the way down Bloomfield Avenue in a shower of sparks. But she finally gave up, and an upstairs neighbor eyeballed it, and took it for her own. So there’s a happy ending, it didn’t end up in a landfill.

When I was a kid, “garbage picker” was a derogatory term, but we all did it. People still throw out perfectly good things, like white boys, as in Better Off Dead (obligatory movie reference). So, Freecycling has a purpose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s an archaic reference to when someone might give you a horse, and you’d check its teeth. When you are given something, check it out later in the privacy of your own ingratitude. Then you can throw it out, or re-freecycle it, if you’re a picky garbage picker.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

boobies burgers movies crispy fries

boobies boobies boobies. fighting fighting fighting. burgers burgers burgers.

I had a burger at this place and it was okay. Not worth going out of your way for. But they had crispy fries.

Burgers boobies boobies.

I started a new job and need some time off. Hope that will hold you for a while until I go try some new burgers and watch some horrible ’80s movies I haven’t seen before!

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Dialer Turden

Sorry I’ve been scarce lately. Something to remember from a great, often misunderstood film.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Like Starship Troopers, I see this movie largely as a satire meant to string along many of its fans and mock them. Do I think Chuck Palahniuk was suggesting bare-knuckle brawling and domestic consumer terrorism as the solution to the fatherless young male malaise that grips the navel-gazing, whiny office culture? No, it’s just as amusing as making soap out of liposucted fat and selling it back to the women it came from at $20 a bar. I certainly agree that our materialistic culture has made us identify with pre-fab furniture and posh vehicles as our spirit totems, but I don’t think that revelation is some sort of enlightenment.

This comes from someone who pays to get punched in the face twice a week at a mixed martial arts gym. Is that what makes a man? To paraphrase The Dude, that and a pair of testicles. Emptiness is as banal as evil; trying to be a modern caveman, the latest Fight Club-esque trend, is as ridiculous as donning medieval armor and championing knighthood as the natural state of man. There’s nothing noble or pure about hunter-gatherers, if you study anthropology. Belief in evolution doesn’t require that we adhere to its ruthless creed. Compassion for the weak is not weakness. We were all weak once.

Tyler isn’t an unattainable ideal, he’s a childhood daydream of the hard man the Walter Mitty in us wants to be, the lone killer Eastwood cowboy who solves our problems with a cold utterance and a gun. Or a clever quip and a few hundred pounds of explosive. We forget that in the end, “Jack” wins, sort of. Maybe Tyler’s plan wasn’t to blow up those buildings, but to get his other side to stop whining and stand up for himself. That’s what I like to think the movie’s final message is. Project Mayhem internalized. As much as I hate Starbucks, the wrecking ball should be aimed at the impatience that makes me a customer of theirs, ever again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.