Monday, January 25, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Sorry it's been a while since we posted. The holiday season, the new year, and the return to college has been crazy. Expect a blog by the end of the week. If no blog appears by the designated time, feel free to march up to our house with pitchforks and torches, screaming for justice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spreading the gift of guilt: my experience as a Salvation Army bellringer [Connor]

Joy filled my heart as I decided to sign up to ring a bell for the Salvation Army at Christmastime. What a wonderful way to display my love for my fellow man.

You can imagine the joy that filled my heart when I learned that you can get PAID to ring the bell.

What's more, I learned, it was decent pay; nothing you could support a family with, but it certainly tops the minimum wage I work for in the summer. Needless to say, I was on board. The next day, my friend Sam and I showed up at the Employment Solutions office in charge of hiring bellringers.

At this point I should clarify the job to which I refer: I'm talking about the people dressed as Santa* standing outside of Walmart, shouting "Merry Christmas" to random passersby and, of course, ringing a bell, all in the hopes that the random passersby drop money in a little pot next to the Santa. As far as I'm aware, no Santa has ever stolen the pot of money.

So there we were, me and Sam, men on a mission, applying for the position of bellringer. There are two kinds of bellringers: the volunteers and the paid workers. Signing up to be a paid worker takes slightly more paperwork, the helpful registration lady informed us. You'd think, of course, that we'd sign our names somewhere, maybe show them our driver's licenses and, if they were really thorough, be given a five-minute orientation ("Bell goes this way. . . Bell goes that way. . . You're doing good so far!")


The registration packet was approximately as long as the Old Testament and contained sections for previous job experience, detailed character references, and waivers out the wazoo. In addition, we had to provide three forms of ID, including our social security cards. Finally, we had to watch a 30-minute orientation video. (Really.)

Midway through the paperwork, Sam and I looked at each other, nodded, and threw our papers in the trash.

"We'd like to volunteer instead," we told the helpful registration lady.

"Ok, sign your names on this paper. What shift do you want?" was her response.

Two days later, we stood outside Walmart wearing Santa hats.** It's quite a fun job, actually. The object is to get people to make eye contact with you, leaving them with no other choice but to dredge up a few coins out of their pockets to drop in the pot. People would go to amazing lengths to look anywhere but at the guy in the Santa hat waving and calling cheerily to them. They'd do a kind of hurried shuffle past me, staring transfixed at a stained ceiling tile. "Merry Christmas!" I'd shout to them with true Christmas spirit, joyfully spreading the gift of guilt. One of those people later drove past me in a shiny new Mercedes. I hope somebody scratches it with their keys.

In society's defense, not everybody tried to dodge us Santa had-clad volunteers. In particular, my thanks goes out to the guy who donated the $100 bill. In case he should ever happen to read this blog, I'd like to thank him on behalf of myself and Santa hat-wearing people in general: Thank you for your generosity. We tip our Santa hats to you.

And to the rest of you: [A late] Merry Christmas.

Ha! You made eye contact.

*In the sense of wearing a Santa hat and being human. All similarities tend to end there. You don't want your kids to get their impression of Santa from the bellringer Santas outside Walmart; they could grow up in the belief that Santa is a large black woman.

**In addition to other clothes. Don't want to give kids the wrong impression of Santa.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Twilight, a resurrected blog post

I published an older version of this article over a year ago in the BYU–Idaho Scroll, but the threat I addressed then has yet to be vanquished. In fact, with the release of the New Moon movie, the inexplicable appeal of Twilight has only grown stronger. Like orcs from Mordor, the screaming legions of Twilight fans bearing their arsenal of officially licensed merchandise issue forth, spreading darkness over the land.

Plus, I’ve seen enough of freaking Taylor Lautner. Maybe we should wait until he’s old enough to vote before we slap his grinning, lycanthropic mug across the tabloids.

Thus, here is the expanded version of the article, with more quips, quibbles, and references to better franchises.

Let's pretend that instead of being the thrilling space opera it is, Star Wars had been written by a woman with only the faintest grasp of what makes a good plot. Let's say that Han Solo spent all three original movies telling Princess Leia how much he wanted to kill and eat her. Let's speculate how things would be if the excitement built up to the point where Luke flew off to destroy the Death Star, only to have him pass out en route and wake up a few hours later with everyone celebrating, all the action having happened while he was frolicking in dreamland.

Sounds like a formula for failure, right? At least, that’s what you’d think.

When I finished Twilight, I honestly wasn't too impressed. Maybe it's because I'm a guy and my literary needs involve a few more explosions and fewer declarations of undying (no pun intended) love.

First, I could have gone without Bella's incessant reaffirmations of Edward's utter perfection. I understand that his skin is flawless, his eyes are rapturous, he has superhuman strength, his kisses have the power to instantly put a woman into a state of extra-bodily bliss, and even the results of his most basic bodily functions probably smell like Bath & Body Works lotion. I just don't need those facts repeated ad nauseum every chapter.

Next, I feel there is something unhealthy and possibly unrealistic in Bella's attraction to a vampire who wants to drink her blood. If I followed Edward’s example, I will tell my date (repeatedly; perhaps every ten minutes) that I hunger for her in more ways than one. If I believed Twilight, nothing would turn her on more. Girls love Edward because he can control his urges; what about us normal human beings? I've been on dates with girls I've been strongly attracted to, and to my knowledge, I've been pretty good at controlling my hormones. Would it be better, if you're a hot girl, if I told you at regular intervals how much I lusted after you but was able to contain my infatuation? Seems to work pretty well for Edward.

I had a girl explain to me once that Edward represents the guy every girl dreams of: a guy who’s protective, chaste, handsome … and utterly perfect. Let’s switch it around and take a look at Edward as though he were a girl, the embodiment of all the best qualities of male fantasy.

If Edward were a girl, she would be beautiful. She — Edwarda? Edda? Edwina? — wouldn’t just be gorgeous, though. She’d be an angel fallen from heaven, a genetically engineered Victoria’s Secret model. Her hair would float behind her by the gust of an invisible breeze when she walked. Her measurements would be within the “flawless” range, and she would not need to exercise, eat, or undergo any sort of physiological maintenance in order to keep her figure. Her eyes would be almond-shaped, glittering, and maybe (for good measure) able to shoot laser beams. She would also, apparently, sparkle in the sunlight.

She could quote the entire extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, could name every Heisman Trophy winner* from the award’s introduction to the present day, and would not only know the recipe for Pizza Hut’s deep-dish pepperoni pizza but could make it from scratch using only a can opener and a block of cheese.

Of course, she would also be a vampire that would thirsted for her lover’s blood with every makeout session.

Now comes the biggest quibble I have, the one that, if fixed, could have almost redeemed the book. WHERE THE CRAP DID ALL THE ACTION GO? It's not that the author got too busy to put action in; there's plenty of it. It just happens behind the scenes: There's a part where you're in a hotel room with Bella as she frets like a six-year-old girl and you're wishing intensely to be out there with Edward, tracking the bad guy vampire, but do you ever get to see the exciting stuff? Nope. Wouldn't it be more effective, as far as the story goes, just to SHOW the danger Edward's in, instead consigning the reader to hear Miss Whiner's jumbled thoughts about her lover's peril?

Then comes the clincher. The plot builds, and so does the reader's anticipation, as Bella finds herself face-to-face with an evil vampire James. Edward is on the way, tensions are rising, your heart is thumping — and then she blacks out, only to awaken having missed the whole fight between the bad guy and Edward. What's the use of having the action take place offstage? It's like spending hours preparing food, only to fall asleep and hear others describe it later.

There you have it. Twilight: the perfect escape from reality for thirteen-year-old girls who have yet to realize that men are human, not undead incarnations of Jane Austen love interests (Yes, Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy is not human, but a robot from the future sent to destroy women's perceptions of men). Twilight: the perfect blubberfest for people whose literary tastes are flawed and whose emotions run unchecked.

*My criteria for a perfect mate does not include this, but I figured other guys might appreciate it.