Prepare to Die

I didn’t want to write about coronavirus. It feels like a lazy topic at this point, given the entire internet is already a giant suck-hole of cabin fever, depression, and posts about a tiger-owning gay polygamist.

But with schools shut down and my life reduced to the borders of my property line, I can either write about coronavirus or what it’s like to watch my grass grow, which, depending on how long I’m stuck in this house, might be coming soon.

It’s interesting what isolation will do to people. Over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve watched my Facebook friends’ morale deteriorate from snow-day style celebrations to a state of despondent nihilism. Those memes from The Shining you shared last week aren’t so funny now, are they Karen?

I’m enjoying watching the people who are using this time to self-reflect.

“In retrospect,” my friend Aaron wrote on Facebook, “I should have developed a hobby beyond going out to eat.”

My friend James summed things up in a darker way, describing how lockdowns have revealed how tenuous our grasp is on life once our structures and routines are removed.

“I feel so untethered that if I woke up floating six feet above my bed, I’d probably just think ‘well, I guess we do this now’” he wrote.

I’m happy to report though I haven’t gone to work in almost 20 days, I’m getting along just fine. I’m fortunate the majority of my hobbies include staying home: reading, writing, doing improvement projects, and drinking beer.

Melinda, on the other hand, isn’t faring as well. Unlike me, who’s perfectly content sitting on the couch and disappearing into a good book for nine hours, she can’t sit still. Yesterday she was up at 7:30, putting in laundry, doing a load of dishes, and vacuuming. After that, she went outside and vacuumed her car, and then my car, and for good measure, rearranged a garage storage shelf full of yard toys.

Normally this would be fine, but Melinda is less than 10 days away from giving birth, and by noon, her feet are swollen to the size of life rafts.

“Why don’t you relax?” I said.

“I can’t relax,” she replied. Cleaning is the way I relax.”

“Why don’t you read a book? Or watch another season of that show where the British lady goes back in time to fuck dudes?”

We’re lucky to have gotten in one more date before things shut down. We spent it at the restaurant I always take Melinda to when we’re feeling a little fancy and want to splurge: Olive Garden.

“Baby,” I said to her, our hands touching in the basket of garlic breadsticks, “I want you to order anything you’d like. Go wild. Don’t even THINK about looking at those prices.”

Last Sunday, with all restaurants closed for the foreseeable future, we decided to open up The Backyard Grille, a restaurant specializing in home cooking.

The whole family got dressed up for the occasion, except for 11-year-old D, who said dressing up to eat dinner on the patio was stupid.

I told him the Backyard Grille bouncer wouldn’t let him in unless he met the dress code.

“What should I wear then?” he asked.

“Something nicer,” I said. “Like something you’d wear to church.”

“I’ve never been to church,” D said.

“Oh, right. Well, then wear something like you’d wear to a fancy restaurant.”

“Like Olive Garden?” he said.

“Right.”

As we sat around the patio table in our nicest clothes, I read everyone the menu, which consisted of all the leftovers we had in the fridge.

“I love the Backyard Grille,” J said in her frilly dress, digging into a bowl of week-old beef and broccoli. “It’s so fancy.”

“Well, it’s no Olive Garden,” I said, “but we’ll have to make do.”

The other thing we’ve been doing to keep ourselves entertained is watching a movie every night before bed.

Movie night is something I’ve done since I was a kid, where my parents would take my brother and me to the Video Monster on Route 45 every Saturday, and we’d pick out a VHS to watch after dinner.

While Ben and I would provide some input, it was ultimately up to my mom to select a movie everyone would enjoy. This was no easy task; Ben and I preferred slapstick comedies and animated features, while my dad was only interested in action and war movies. 

Most of the time her selections were on the money, but occasionally she picked a clunker. Even 20 years later, we still give her shit about the time she chose the 1997 film Marvin’s Room, a drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Robert DeNiro. With a cast like that, you’d think it would be a killer flick, but it was so dry we abandoned it after 45 minutes, and we haven’t let her forget it since.

Nowadays, I’m more self-serving with my picks, which mostly consist of movies I loved as a kid.

For our Quarantine Movie Marathon, we started with the Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman movie Hook on night one, and then moved onto the Warren Beatty/Madonna classic Dick Tracy the second night.    

These are two movies I’ve seen dozens, maybe hundreds of times in my lifetime because they were a part of my family’s bootleg VHS collection. At some point, my dad figured out how to wire two VCRs together and dub rented movies to blank tapes so we could own them for free. Looking back, I’m really impressed with his ingenuity given there were no video piracy tutorials available on YouTube.

I love watching these throwbacks for a couple of reasons.

One –  I’m constantly excited by how many lines I remember, and I love reciting them concurrently with the actor…or slightly before. Melinda is less impressed by this skill.

Me: Why Peter, you’ve become a pirate.
Granny Wendy: Why Peter, you’ve become a pirate.
Melinda: Are you going to do this the entire movie?
Me: Probably.

Two – It’s so fun to watch a movie I’ve only seen as a kid through my adult eyes. Not only do I understand nuances of the plot I’d previously missed, but I also get some of the lines that at the time went WAAAAY over my head.

My favorite example of this is from Dick Tracy, when Madonna surprises Warren Beatty at his house when he’s expecting his girlfriend.

“That you, Tess?” Beatty says through the door. “What flavor ice cream did you bring?”

He opens the door, revealing Madonna during her Marilyn Monroe phase. “It’s peach,” she says. “But you’d better eat it quickly. It’s starting to run.”

I was equally excited about my choice on night three, which was the 1992 kung-fu caper 3 Ninjas.

If you’ve never seen this movie, let me give you a quick plot summary: three suburban white kids named Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum spend the summer with their Japanese grandfather, a knockoff version of Mr. Miyagi, who trains them to become ninjas. Then, they help their FBI agent father take down an evil arms dealer, a knockoff version of Steven Segal, who was also a former student of knockoff Mr. Miyagi’s and amassed his own ninja army.

I remember loving it as a kid, that it was funny and engaging, that it inspired Ben and I to begin our own ninja training in the backyard.

But less than 20 minutes in, I got a sinking feeling. This movie is so. Fucking. Bad.

There’s no defending it. The plot is flimsy, the characters murky and cliched, the acting subpar. The grandfather’s stunt double is so obviously not him you could tell the difference if your glasses were spackled over with Vaseline.

Melinda was equally as horrified. “If all the bad guys have guns,” she said, “why are they trying to stop the kids with karate chops? And if this arms dealer has an entire ninja army at his disposal, why would he hire three random stoners to kidnap them?”

 These were questions I could not answer, and it was upsetting. How could I have spent so much of my life thinking this train wreck constituted good cinema? Were there other movies from my childhood that were secretly trash? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Batman? 

The next night, I was still smarting from my 3 Ninjas revelation, and not wanting to further damage my movie memory banks, I relinquished my selection privileges to Melinda. She told me she had the perfect title to restore my faith in childhood magic.

“This is one of my favorite movies from when I was a little girl,” she told the kids. “It’s called The Princess Bride.”

I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve never seen The Princess Bride. I know that’s a blow to my condescending pop-culture nerd persona. I know it’s a classic, I can quote several lines from it that I’ve picked up over the years, but for whatever reason, I missed that one. So when Melinda suggested it, I was intrigued.

“It’s so amazing,” she said. “You’re going to be crying by the end.”

I was definitely surprised by the cast. “That’s Fred Savage!” I yelled. “That’s Andre the Giant! Is that the doctor from House?”

But when the end credits rolled and Melinda asked me what I thought, I just kind of shrugged.

“It was okay,” I said. “I’m confused as to why people love it so much.”

“Are you kidding me?” Melinda said, incredulous. “It’s so funny.”

I failed to see the humor. I told her the funniest line was when the Prince marries Buttercup and tells his servants to “prepare the hymen suite.”

“Uh…” Melinda said. “He said ‘prepare the honeymoon suite.’”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s less funny.”

The truth is, I had a hard time hearing a lot of the dialogue in the movie. Melinda blamed it on the fact I spent the majority of my teens and twenties in bands, standing in front of amplifiers and snare drums night after night. But I defy you to tell me with a straight face you can understand every line from Andre the Giant. That fucker should’ve had subtitles and you know it.

I spent the rest of the night sulking, because I wanted to love The Princess Bride. I wanted to sit there enraptured, thinking every five minutes my god, I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on this all these years.

If I had to guess, I didn’t like the movie partly because I fell prey to its hype, and partly for the same reason my world crumbled after re-watching 3 Ninjas. The Princess Bride has the same place in her heart for the same reason 3 Ninjas did in mine. 

The window of my life where I would’ve enjoyed the movie closed long ago, and it only carries on in the mind of adults as this great film because of nostalgia. I doubt very much the movie would receive so much praise if it was released today. Which calls to the real question: do we love a movie because it’s good? Or do we love a movie because we watched it during a seminal moment in our lives?

Then again, D and J seemed to like it just fine. J loved the princess story, while D loved Wallace Shawn’s bit part. He spent the next two days responding to everything through his character. “Do the dishes? Brush my teeth? INCONCEIVABLE!”

We haven’t had much contact with the outside world lately, but my friend Brandon did come over to help with the bathroom the other day. You don’t realize how much you take face-to-face interaction for granted until you’re excited to do construction projects with your buddy.

 I told Brandon about how we’d been passing the time watching old movies and how fun it had been to see them after so many years.

“Let me ask you something,” I said as we cut pieces of shelving in the garage. “Have you ever seen 3 Ninjas?”

What kind of a question is that?” he said. “Why do you think I named my son Colt?”

“No way,” I said. “That’s why his name is Colt?”

“Of course,” he said. “That movie is incredible.”

I called Melinda in the garage and made Brandon repeat what he just told me.

“Get out of here,” Melinda said. “That movie is so terrible.”

“Oh, it’s terrible,” Brandon said. “But I loved it when I was a kid. Colt was such a badass in that movie.”

“So weird you didn’t name him Inigo Montoya,” I said.

“Who the fuck is Inigo Montoya?”

“Exactly.”

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