No Outlet in Suburbia


My wife and I rolled out to the Midwest for a high school graduation party for my accomplished and college bound nephew at my sister’s in a suburb of a big city that I’ll call C. to pay tribute to Franz Kafka.  Kurt Vonnegut would have called it a middle western suburb.  Incidentally, we rolled passed the signs to his home town of Schenectady, NY in route.  Now I grew up in a quiet suburb in Arkansas, so I know a thing or two about suburban living, (there should be a magazine by the same name), but nothing prepared me for certain aspects of middle western suburban culture.  In fairness, I haven’t lived in what one could call “the suburbs” in 30 years; we live in an urban suburb where the neighbors are friendly, but guarded.  The streets are loud and busy with tricked out cars dressed in sports mufflers, mean looking bikers straddling snarling Harley Davidsons and aggressive drivers flooring their gas chugging SUV’s and illegally passing all smaller vehicles in their path.  Sirens drown out the jaybirds, crows and black-capped chickadees – sirens which produce a white noise that is somehow urban comfortable.

In middle western suburbia, the most common summer sounds are that produced by the gas powered mowers and weed eaters courtesy of landscaping services.  All the lawns are Monsanto green; all hedges meticulously groomed.  Because all the lawns looked the same, I got lost walking around the neighborhood of treeless yards the size of football fields dotted with linear rows of flower beds full of marigolds and daffodils from Home Depot.

The most disorienting thing of all (like losing the horizon when flying) are all the No Outlet signs.  I think this is a suburban euphemism for Dead End, but I can’t be sure.  It might mean that there are no outside electrical outlets to discourage rogue teens from usurping power for their arsenal of gadgets.  Or it may just be to keep outsiders away.  As my wife and I walked down the streets with no outlets, I could feel the neighborhood watch staring at us.  Admittedly, as strangers armed with a flip case iPhone and a long lensed Nikkon DSLR, we looked suspicious.  I felt afraid and near panic stricken as our devices ran low on power.  We barely had juice enough to GPS our way back to the safety of my sister’s house.

Another curious suburban phenomenon are the speed limits there.  Most streets, even the “major” thoroughfares, have a maximum speed limit of 20 mph.  My car won’t even go that slow.  I literally had to coast to go 20 mph.  The police have zero tolerance for speeders.  And because of the alarming crime wave in the area, a suburb over, where several men were convicted of lawn neglect, teens have a 9:00 pm curfew; just as well, as there are no outdoor outlets for suburban youth.


NCAA Tournament Teams Mascot Upgrades

So I was thinking that some of the NCAA teams in the tourney have the wrong nickname or mascot.  I mean Memphis Tigers.  There are no tigers in Memphis – maybe some stray cats and a few cool cats, and some fat cats, but no big cats.  I think they should  be the Memphis Ribs.  I have some other suggestions too for Mascot upgrades.  Here’s a sampling:

  • Arizona Wildcats.  No, that’s wrong.  Arizona is a wild place, so let’s call them Gunslingers or Tumbleweeds.  Arizona Tumbleweeds, yes, that’s better.
  • Gonzaga Bulldogs.  That’s just lame.  Gonzaga is in Washington, right.  What comes to mind? Certainly not dogs.  When I think of Washington, I think wine.  So let’s call ’em Vintners, no Winers.  Gonzaga Winers.
  • Wichita State Shockers.  What is a shocker anyway?  Well, it’s a stalk of wheat. A stalk of wheat for a mascot?  That’s ridiculous.  How about Wichita State Linemen, in honor of the men who brought modern communication to the state and the man who performed the great song, Wichita Lineman, who was an Arkansan, not a Kansan…but close enough.
  • I don’t associate Duke with the Blue Devil.  For me, it calls to mind the classic album Duke, by Genesis.  And when I think of North Carolina, a place I’ve never been, I think of Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Otis the town drunk, who was fond of moonshine.  So that’s it, Duke Moonshiners.  And you know, Winers and the Moonshiners could meet in the Final Four; they could.
  • The Michigan teams are totally misrepresented by their mascots. Michigan of Great Lakes fame should be associated with fishing, so why not the Anglers? No, better still, the mighty Sturgeon.  It’s settled, Michigan Sturgeon.  So to continue with the fishing theme, I pronounce Michigan State the Muskies.
  • Indiana Hoosiers.  Well, it’s good, but Granfalloons would be much better.  Indiana Granfalloons, and Kurt Vonnegut  fans, you know exactly what I am talking about.
  • Others – Harvard Elitists, Illinois Carp, (or Crappie – when they play badly), Butler Stewards or Majordomos, Miami Vice (I couldn’t resist), California Dreamers, Creigton Barrels, Oregon Vegans and Colorado State Stoners.

Argo Review

You couldn’t make up this stuff.  Well, maybe Kurt Vonnegut could, but seriously folks, a low budget science fiction movie as cover for a CIA rescue plan in revolutionary Iran? No way.  Way!  It happened and Ben Affleck tells the story as actor and director brilliantly in his latest film, Argo!  And what a story.

Just to set it up, and don’t worry, I won’t tell you everything, Islamic militants storm the U.S. embassy (sound familiar) in Tehran in 1979.   Many Americans are held hostage, while 6 American staff workers manage to escape to the Canadian ambassador’s residence. Argo is the story of their rescue attempt.

So just how does one rescue 6 Americans who are in hiding from revolutionaries in Iran whose capture would mean certain torture and possible execution? Easy.  Send in a CIA agent posing as a Canadian filmmaker to smuggle them out as his production crew.  But does it work?  You’ll have to see the flick to find out.

Ben Affleck assembled an excellent cast for the film.  Alan Arkin deserves serious Oscar attention for his portrayal of a cranky, semi-retired movie producer. John Goodman plays the role of a likeable, and obscure B film make up artist.  Ben Affleck cast himself in the starring role as Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who cooked up the improbably ridiculous and brilliant rescue plan.  Bryan Cranston (Hal, from Malcolm in the Middle) plays Affleck’s CIA colleague.  The 6 embassy staff workers are all played by lesser known actors who certainly looked the part, and you’ll know what I mean at the end of the movie.  And do stay for all the credits; you will be rewarded for doing so.

For a suspenseful action thriller that had me holding my breath with a cupped hand over my mouth, the characters were surprisingly well-developed.  Each actor played his or her part as if playing the main character, as Affleck believes they should, adding depth and personality to their roles, something much easier to do in print than on film.

On the random observation front:

  • The extra large size of the eyeglasses the embassy workers wore annoyed me.  What was with that late 70’s to early 80’s style where the rims practically covered the entire face? I felt Affleck mocked the style just a little, or at least I hope he did.
  • Folks sure smoked up a storm in 1979, in offices and even on airliners.   How did any of us survive?
  • Argo was a science fiction script that was never actually made into a movie.  We get bits and pieces of the plot and it is so outrageously fantastical that it might have actually worked better as a comedy.  And you know what it reminded me of?  This:  Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout.  And if you know Kurt Vonnegut, you know Kilgore Trout.

Go see Argo.  It might not win an Oscar, but it should.  And I’ll say this – it may the best film I see all year; maybe the best you see too.  Cheers!