The New Asshole
Going through security at SeaTac, and grabbing one of those gray plastic bins for my shoes, which were off, and my watch, which was off, and my computer bag, which still had the computer in it, I saw an ad on the bottom of the plastic bin:
The NEW BUSY would have their BELTS OFF by NOW
First thought: Is it a good ad when the response of almost everyone who reads your ad is: “Fuck you”?
Quote of the Day
“Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny.
"Public institutions have many side benefits. For one thing they may purposely run at a loss. They're not out for profit. They may purposely run at a loss because of the side benefits. So, for example, if a public steel industry runs at a loss it's providing cheap steel to other industries. Maybe that's a good thing. Public institutions can have a counter-cyclic property. That means they can maintain employment in periods of recession, which increases demand, which helps you to get out of recession. A private company can't do that. In a recession, you throw out the work force. That's the way you make money.”
“The Corporation” (2002)
Review: “The Girl Who Played with Fire” (2010)
WARNING: SPÖILERS II
After everything she went through in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” from subway attacks to rape, it’s a shame to see Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) get worse in “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” I don’t mean being shot and buried alive by her own father. I mean having to wear a New York Yankees sweatshirt and cap. Ick.
“Fire” starts out where “Tattoo” left off. Lisbeth is abroad, living in comfort by the peaceful sea, with the money she nicked from the bad guys. But she finds no peace. She has nightmares about her father, who abused her and her mother until she set him on fire when she was 12. That act resulted in incarceration in mental institutions, and a legal-guardian arrangement (specific to Sweden?) administered, first, by the sharp, sympathetic Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson), and then, when Holger suffered a stroke, by the horrific and misogynistic Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), who rapes Lisbeth in “Tattoo” but gets his: she sodomizes him with a dildo and tattoos on his fat white stomach: “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist.” It’s even longer in Swedish.
From her seaside villa, Lisbeth uses her computer hacking skills to track Bjurman and realizes: 1) he’s not submitting the necessary monthly reports on her that will keep the authorities off her dragon-tattooed back, and 2) he’s looking into tattoo removal. So she returns to Stockholm and confronts him at midnight with his own gun. Submit the reports, she tells him. And keep the tattoo.
What she doesn’t know is that someone has already contacted him about her.
In the meantime, at Millennium magazine... Hey, what’s with Millennium anyway? It’s supposed to be one of the last bastions of a relevant print publication in an online world, yet the oldsters leading it, from our man Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to his lover, Erika Berger (Lena Endre), are super cautious about everything. They meet a kid, Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin), who’s doing an investigative piece on human trafficking and prostitution in Sweden, and he has evidence that links many of these women to public officials, and he’s already done interviews with some of these public officials. Yet the Millennium staff only cautiously welcome him aboard for a two-month assignment? Grow a pair already.
At the same time, one wonders how much of an exclusive Dag actually has, since his girlfriend, Mia, has just published a treatise on the topic. We see the two planning to celebrate its publication by going on vacation. From my notes: “They look young and happy. They’re dead.”
Indeed. Two minutes later, Blomkvist finds them shot in their apartment. The weapon belongs to a lawyer, Nils Bjurman, and the only fingerprints belong to one Lisbeth Salander. When Bjurman is found dead, too, an APB goes out for Lisbeth’s arrest. Quaintly, and oddly for a computer hacker, Lisbeth first discovers this through a kind of “Wanted” poster stapled to a lightpost, then through print newspapers, and only lastly via something called the World Wide Web. It’s like we’re back in 1995.
By this point we’ve already been introduced to some of the bad guys, particularly a stoic, blonde brute named Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), who recalls the Russian villain in “From Russia With Love.” We see him fight Lisbeth’s sometime-lover, kickboxer Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), as well as middleweight boxer Paulo Roberto (a real figure in Sweden, who plays himself), and Neidermann takes care of both handily. Despite their skills, their blows have no effect on him. Watching, I recalled a documentary about kids who suffer from the genetic defect analgesia, who literally feel no pain, (the doc is called “A Life without Pain,” and it is, no pun intended, painful and heartbreaking), and I wondered if that wasn’t Niedermann’s secret. It is. It's just not heartbreaking.
Meanwhile, Blomquvist has taken up where Dag left off, tracking down johns, but he’s doing it less for the article than to help clear Lisbeth. From one john he gets a name, Zala, and a story. Zala is a merciless, former top agent with the U.S.S.R. who defected to Sweden in the mid-1970s, and was thus protected by the Swedish national police and its intermediaries, including Nils Bjurman. Good start.
So what is our heroine, Lisbeth, doing while her friends are investigating for her and risking their lives for her? Not much. She's all third act, when she confronts Zala and his henchman, Niedermann, in a remote cabin. Zala, the man running the East European prostitution ring, turns out to be Alexander Zalachenko, who turns out to be, a la “Star Wars,” her father, who got played with fire, while Niedermann turns out to be her half-brother. In the end it's all about her.
Lisbeth is a stoic figure who keeps the world at a distance—one of the lessons she learns in “Fire,” in fact, is about letting people in (Blomqvist literally)—so Rapace doesn’t always have a lot to do acting-wise. But I love how alive her eyes become when she confronts her father. Does she enjoy seeing him? Or does she enjoy seeing him diminished? There’s a fierce intelligence in her. “I know you,” she seems to be thinking. “And you don’t scare me any more.”
He should. That night, father and half-brother lead her to a shallow grave. Blomqvist, we know, is making his way toward her and the remote cabin, and, used to the tropes of movies, we wonder when he’s going to arrive to rescue her. I’d clearly forgotten my heroines. Trying to escape, Lisbeth is shot twice by her father, dragged back by her half-brother, and buried alive. I’m on the edge of my seat. Where’s Blomqvist?
Cut to: Blomqvist, at dawn, looking at a map, his automobile pulled off to the side of the road. I nearly laughed out loud. Poor bastard.
Lisbeth isn’t just the girl with the dragon tattoo, or the one who played with fire, or the one who will kick the hornet’s nest in the next movie; she’s the girl who doesn’t need rescuing. She rescues. The movie conventions of 100 years are upended in her.
Thus, after being shot twice and buried alive, Lisbeth digs her way out using the cigarette case Miriam gave her at the beginning of the film, then takes an axe to her father’s head, then scares off Niedermann with her father’s gun. Which is when Blomqvist, the caring man, forever inconsequential in a fight, finally shows up.
Most of “Fire” disappointed me. The plot about the East European sex-slave trade is more-or-less forgotten, as are Lisbeth’s computer hacking skills, while there’s nothing nearly so engrossing as the mystery of the first film: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger and all of those girls. Here, we get no mystery. There’s a bad guy. His name is Zala. Hey, there he is! Worse, for most of the film we’re ahead of both Blomqvist (since we know about Nils Bjurman) and Lisbeth (since we find out about Niedermann’s analgesia). It’s not much fun waiting for your protagonists to catch up with you.
But my girlfriend loved the movie. When I asked why, she talked about how tough Lisbeth was, how calm she remained in battle, and how she wished she could be like her. Lisbeth is wish-fulfillment for women the way Bruce Willis is for men. I like that. I like having a female wish-fulfillment who doesn’t depend on a man, or a dress, or a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Just lose the Yankees cap, Lisbeth. The Yankees are corporate and imperialist. You’re much more of a Pittsburgh Pirates girl.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1999)
Read the reason why I'm writing this—plus Jay Buhner's cycle here.
Read about collapsed domes and collapsed seasons here.
Read about the Refuse to Lose season here.
Read about the greatest lineup ever here.
Read about forever blowing ballgames in '97 here.
Read about the worst law firm ever (Timlin, Spoljaric, Fossas and Slocumb) here.
1999: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
April 5: White Sox 8, M's 2: Junior goes deep in the bottom of the 3rd to put the M's up, 2-0. It's the seventh straight Opening Night I've gone to and Junior has homered in FIVE of them. He always started the season right. What's my hope for '99? I don't remember. Did I have one? Though starter Jeff Fassero gets shelled, reliever Brett Hinchliffe gives up only 1 run in 3 innings, and, for a brief moment, becomes our great bullpen hope. It's probably the best game of his career. Hinchliffe appears in only 11 games for the M's in 1999 and only 3 more in the Majors: 2 with the Angels in 2000 and 1 with the Mets in 2001. He retires with an 0-5 record and a 10.22 ERA.
- April 14: Rangers 9, M's 6: Starter Butch Henry gives up 4 runs in 5+ innings, set-up man Jose Paniagua gives up 1 run in 2 2/3, and new closer Jose Mesa gives up 4 runs in 2/3 of an inning. Of course it's Paniagua who gets the loss. That's baseball.
- May 15: Royals 11, M's 10: Junior goes deep in the 1st. M's take a 9-7 lead into the 8th but Jose Paniagua, our first legitimate bullpen hope after the debaccles of '97 and '98, is trotted out for a third inning and gives up a 3-run homer to Carlos Beltran and a solo homer to Johnny Damon. Paniagua lasts with the M's until 2001 and in Major League Baseball until 2003, when the White Sox give him a shot. His career ERA with the M's is 3.77.
- May 17: M's 15, Twins 5: My first win of the season! The M's 17th. (They're 17-21.) Johnny Halama, part of the Randy trade, relieves Mac Suzuki in the 3rd inning for the win. Edgar hits 2 homers. Butch Huskey hits 2 homers. Is this Huskey's greatest game ever? He goes 4-5, scores 3 times, drives in 7. By mid-season he'll be with the Red Sox. By 2001 he'll be out of Major League Baseball. But for one day he was golden.
- May 29: M's 11, Devil Rays 5: Another win! Hey, the M's are over .500 (25-23)! Joey Cora's gone by now so Lou has Brian Hunter leading off for us. For the season he'll have 527 plate appearances, hit .231 with an OBP of .277. Possibly the worst lead-off hitter in baseball history. His last year in baseball is 2003. He'll play in exactly 1,000 games.
- June 1: O's 14, M's 11: Freddy Garcia, another of the Randy acquisitions, pitches poorly, but 4 of the Orioles' 11 runs come from Jordan Zimmerman (0 IP) and 4 come from Mac Suzuki (2 2/3 IP). Valiant, humorous effort in the bottom of the 9th off O's set-up man... Mike Timlin, who comes in with a 8-run lead. The M's know him well. They feast. Double, lineout, double, home run, walk, home run. Now we're down by 3 so they bring in Arthur Rhodes, who gets Brian Hunter and A-Rod. A year later, Rhodes will be with us. He'll be part of that great bullpen squad of 2000-2001. The irony, the irony.
- June 11: M's 7, Giants 4: At this point in the season, the M's have four players with OPSs over 1.000: A-Rod, Junior, Edgar and...Butch Huskey? Brian Hunter is still leading off for us. Jose Mesa saves his 12th game. He's got an ERA of 7.20.
- June 26: M's 5, Rangers 4: It's the second-to-last MLB game ever at the Kingdome, and my last. Junior goes 0-3, Alex 0-5. Edgar hits 2 doubles. The last homer I see hit at the Kingdome, where I saw so many homers hit, is by Tommy Lampkin in the bottom of the 6th. The Rangers have a shot in the 9th against Mesa and his 7.76 ERA. They get men on first and second with only one out; but Rafael Palmeiro grounds into a double play: David Bell to A-Rod to David Segui. Bye-bye, Kingdome. You gave me the best baseball I ever saw. Also the worst. When the Kingdome is imploded in March 2000, I watch from a distant ridge and am appalled when a cheer from the crowd goes up. It was an ugly stadium but it didn't want to be. We made it that way.
- July 16: Padres 2, M's 1: It's the second game at Safeco Field and my first. It's a beauiful evening, we're outdoors, the sun is shining, but the final score is a sign of things to come. We would go from near-football scores to near-futbol scores. No one hit a homer in the first game so anticipation was great every time Griffey stepped up. Babe Ruth hit the first homer at Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, and Junior was our Ruth, and this was his house, but we didn't exactly build it to his dimensions. The porch in right wasn't short, the way it was at Yankee Stadium, and in this game, after going 1 -3 with a double in the first game at Safeco, Junior grounded out, grounded out, struck out, and singled in the 8th. Winning pitcher for the Padres? Our old pal, Sterling Hitchcock. He would play until 2004 and retire with a 74-76 record and a 4.80 ERA.
- July 18: Mariners 8, D-Backs 7 (10 innings): Junior didn't hit the first homerun at Safeco Field. Russ Davis did, the night before, in the bottom of the 5th, followed, a batter later, by A-Rod. Two innings later, Raul Ibanez hit the first grand slam at Safeco. So all the Safeco milestones were taken by this game. But at least I was there for Junior's first homer at Safeco, in the bottom of the 4th, off Omar Daal, when the M's are down 6-0. He makes it 6-1. He's also part of the rally in the 6th that brings us within one: 5 runs on six singles and a walk. Then he ties it in the 7th without a hit: walk, stolen base, scamper to 3rd on E2 on the throw, home on Edgar's sac fly. Russ Davis wins it in the 10th on a single driving in pinch-runner John Mabry. Russ Davis again! This is his last year with the M's. He retires after the 2001 season: .257/.310.444. Not worth Tino but you gave us more game-winning hits than I remember, Russ.
- July 20: D-Backs 6, Mariners 0: Randy goes 9, strikes out 10, allows no runs. Just like old times. Except he's doing it for the Diamondbacks against the M's. I'm at the game for The Grand Salami, an alternative M's program, reporting on the proceedings, gauging fan reaction. Most missed the Unit. I wrote: “It was a schizophrenic evening at Safeco. In the bullpen before the game, RJ heard it from the vocal minority. 'Quitter!' they shouted. 'You tanked it!' Yet when he walked in from the bullpen, the cheering began, and swelled, and almost everyone in the stands got to their feet; Randy, in response, adjusted the brim of his cap.” And then he pitches the 25th shutout of his career. He retires in 2009: 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4,875 strikeouts. He'll go into the Hall of Fame as an Arizona Diamondback.
- August 7: Yankees 1, M's 0: Ugliness. Junior is walked three times, Edgar hits two doubles, and we can't score. Maybe because we have Alex batting clean-up now instead of Edgar. Maybe because we still have Brian Hunter and his .652 OPS leading off. Yankees win on a walk/double/sac fly combo in the 5th. It's Tino who scores. Tino will play until 2005 and retire .271/.344/.471. He'll have 339 career homers and four World Series rings.
- August 8: Yankees 9, M's 3: Uglier. Yankees sweep the four-game series. Not the way to break in a ball park.
- August 20: Indians 7, M's 4: I need to stop going when John Halama is pitching. Halama, seen as the new Jamie Moyer, lasts with the M's until 2002 and in the Majors until 2006. He retires, having pitched for seven teams, with a career 56-48, 4.65 ERA.
- August 24: M's 5, Tigers 0: Spur-of-the-moment thing. My friends Dave and Terri are in town so I take them to a game and we sit in the cheap, center field bleachers, a new experience for me—I'm a 300-level, behind-homeplate guy. Freddy Garcia pitches a complete-game shutout, striking out 12, and Junior does the out-of-towners right, hitting two 2-run homeruns. Yep, that's the guy.
- September 5: Red Sox 9, Mariners 7: My final game of the year. M's leading 6-4 until the 8th when Jose Paniagua, who pitches a good 7th, gives up: single, flyout, single, homerun, single, and is relieved by Robert Ramsay, whom I don't even remember (he lasts just two seasons in the bigs, both with the M's), who adds a double and a single before the bleeding stops. The M's are now down by 3. We still have Brian Hunter and his .597 OPS leading off for us. We still have David Bell, the lugubrious second baseman, batting second (To Lou: 2B=batting second). It's a wonder we score 7. Junior homers in the 1st inning, a 2-run job, and, though I don't know it, it's the last time I'll see him round the bases in person until the twlight of his career in 2009. As for the last time I see him bat as a 1990s Mariner? In the bottom of the 9th, with the M's down by 3, and 2 outs, and Ryan Jackson, our “get somebody--quick” replacement for David Segui on second base, Junior lines a double to left to plate Jackson and bring the tying run to the plate. But against former Mariner Derek Lowe, A-Rod strikes out swinging. M's get 1 run on 2 hits and no errors. One man is left on base.
SEASON RECORD: 6-10. And that's when I stopped collecting ticket stubs. I started when it seemed Junior might be one of the greatest players ever to play the game, and I stopped when he left Seattle, suddenly, during the 1999/2000 off-season. The next two seasons, under new GM Pat Gillick, would be good ones for the Mariners. They would go to the ALCS both years, but both years they would lose to the Yankees, the most hated Yankees, the Yankees more hated than David Cone could ever hate. In the mid-90s the Yankees and Mariners were fairly evenly matched, but the M's would always find a away to win: a walk-off homerun off John Wetteland here; a walk-off double down the left-field line off Jack McDowell there.
But the Yankees' front office wanted to win more, and they had more money to do it, while the Mariners' front office, penurious even as the taxpayers were building a $500 million stadium, merely wanted to remain “competitive within the divison.” That wasn't enough. You've got to grab your moments and the M's front office didn't grab theirs. They gave up Omar in '93, Tino and JNels in '95, and they didn't try to fix the bullpen in '96 when it became apparent to everyone that the bullpen needed fixing. They gave up the future in July '97 (Cruz, Jr., Veritek, Lowe), the present in July '98 (Randy), the franchise in February 2000 (Junior). Poof. The team that should've been a dynasty became an afterthought. The dynasty went elsewhere.
In the end, after all of his injuries in the 2000s, not many are going to say Ken Griffey, Jr. was the best baseball player ever to play the game, but he was the best baseball player I ever saw. And in the end I was there for 45 of his 630 career homers. Here are my totals:
It looks like I got pretty lucky with the M's, particularly in '96, going 18-6 when the Mariners only went 85-76. But when you crunch the M's home-game numbers the difference isn't so severe. Then, during this 7-year run, it's .561 vs. .550. I thought I had a good record in '95, for example, but the M's overall home record was better than their record when I was there: .586 vs. .630.
That's baseball. Everything evens out. Except when it doesn't.
NEXT: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
- Stan James on why Facebook is the new TV. Basically it's the disconnect between the pristine lives on display and the unspoken torment within. But it's mostly about envy...of those pristine lives on display. It's Winesburg, Ohio, 2010. “I used to be on Facebook a lot,” a friend of James tells him, “but found that it left me feeling bad about my life.” Amen. I experienced that this morning—less about the lives, I guess, than the careers of people I don't really know. On the other hand, is this bad? It's me telling myself to get out there again instead of staying in here.
- Last month British actor Andrew Garfield, 27, was picked as the new teenaged Spider-Man. Do we care? Not yet. Nothing against Garfield but I thought Tobey Maguire was perfect casting for Steve Ditko's Peter Parker. Plus the first “Spider-Man” was released only eight years ago, while the most recent “Spider-Man” (3) only three years ago. We're in the age of the perpetual reboot now, which devalues everything. Don't know where to go with your story? Start over. Apparently even Marvel, which invented the idea of continuity for costumed superheroes, and which is attempting same in the movie realm with their “Avengers” project, is getting rid of the most recent Bruce Banner, Ed Norton, who is the second Bruce Banner of the decade, for a third Bruce Banner as yet unnamed. Mark Ruffalo? John Cusack? Hey, how about Andrew Garfield?
- Argentina joins the 21st century. The U.S.? Stuck in 1968.
- Andrew Sullivan keeps doing it. This post is exactly my feeling on what is right about Pres. Obama and the Obama administration and what is wrong with the do-nothing, bitch-about-everything opposition. Money quote:
The public may be frustrated by the lack of progress in the economy, and who can blame them? But they are still looking for solutions more than someone to blame. And most are fair enough to understand that Obama has no magic wand, that these problems are bone-deep, and that he has passed actual, substantive legislation that fulfilled clear campaign pledges in an election he won handily.
- Since I don't watch cable news I missed most of the Shirley Sherrod debaccle: how she gave a speech in which she brought up a negative (hers) in order to accentuate a positive (ours, hopefully); how Andrew Breitbart used only the negative portion of that speech to condemn her, the NAACP and the Obama administration, and to drum up fears of a black planet; how FOX-News kept beating that drum (“What racism looks like” they said); how she was fired as a result from her position at the Dept. of Agriculture; and how, finally, everyone went “Oops” and went looking for scapegoats. But it wasn't until I read Frank Rich on the debaccle that I realized she was married to civil rights veteran, and legend, Charles Sherrod. That fact doesn't make the whole experience worse, necessarily. It just makes it more...poignant.
- Finally, two years ago, just before the 2008 election, we did a cover story on David Boies for New York Super Lawyers magazine, called “Boies v. Bush v. Gore.” Written by Tim Harper. It's a good piece, check it out. Then check out Boies recounting his cross-examination of witnesses during the Prop. 8 trial in California. He actually got an anti-gay-marriage advocate to admit, on the stand, that allowing same sex marriage is more in line with the American ideal than not. Wish we could profile him again.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1998)
1998: CHARLTON, TIMLIN, SPOLJARIC, AYALA, FOSSAS AND SLOCUMB: THE WORST LAW FIRM EVER
- March 31: Indians 10, M's 9: Remember how Opening Night '96 felt like an extension of '95? Well, Opening Night '98 feels like an extension of '97. It's 3-3 in the 5th when Junior hits a solo shot, Buhner hits a 2-run homer, and Russ Davis follows with a 3-run homer. 9-3! But Randy gives back 3 in the 6th and is relieved by Bobby Ayala, who actually pitches well for an inning. But in the 8th it goes: walk, flyout, triple, walk. So in comes left-handed relief specialist Tony Fossas. Who walks David Justice. So in comes Mike Timlin. Who gives up a double to Manny Ramirez. Now it's 9-9 with men on second and third and one out. Brian Giles is intentionally walked to load the bases. And what does Travis Fryman do? He walks. 10-9. M's batters go down in order in the 8th and 9th. They've seen this movie, too.
- April 4: M's 12, Red Sox 6: Junior goes deep. In their first four games the M's have scored 39 runs, and their record is 2-2.
- April 6: M's 8, Yankees O: After the game, the M's are 3-3. After the game, the Yankees are 1-4. But this is the game that leads to the team meeting that leads to David Cone rallying the troops around hatred for...Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer? I'm not joking. See pp. 43-44 of “The Yankee Years.” Tom Veducci writes: “Like Torre, Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the eighth inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Jamie Moyer had dusted Paul O'Neill with a pitch.” Moyer? “Dusted”? And had Torre and Cone SEEN the M's bullpen? 4-0 was a nothing lead for them. But the Yankees wanted to hate so they did. Cone told his teammates, “You have to find something to hate about your opponent. Look across the way. These guys are real comfortable against us. Edgar is swinging from his heels on 3-0 when they're up by about 10 [sic] runs!... I fucking hate those guys. I hate this place. If you want to find some motivation here, [1995 is] part of it. It's also Edgar swinging 3-0 trying to take us deep. They're sticking it in our face! And there's only one way to react to that.” To which Verducci writes, “It was classic Cone: emotional, honest and inspirational.” Emotional, yes. Honest, no. Inspirational, maybe to assholes. But it worked. The rest of the season, the Yankees would go 8-2 against the M's, win 114 games and the World Series, and begin to establish their dynasty. The M's wouldn't even make the playoffs.
- April 8: Yankees 4, M's 3: This is the game after Cone's speech. M's up 2-1 in the 7th inning and Tony Fossas allows an inherited runner to score. In the 8th, the game now tied, Bobby Ayala allows a leadoff walk to Tim Raines and a homerun to Chad Curtis. 4-2, Yankees. Comback in the 9th? Russ Davis leads off with a homerun, his second of the game, to make it 4-3. Then Joey and Alex get singles. With nobody out. And Griffey up. And he flies out. And Edgar up. And he grounds into a game-ending double play. Against Mariano? Nope. Against Mike Stanton. It's games like these that make you realize you should play, at the park, softball, rather than watch Major League Baseball at the downtown stadium. There's no more helpless feeling than watching.
- April 10: Red Sox 9, M's 7: This isn't a game I went to. It wasn't even a game in Seattle. It was at Fenway Park in Boston, but I remember listening to it on the radio in my apartment in the Fremont neighborhood. It is, in fact, my most memorable game of the year. Randy is blowing away the Sox, he's struck out 15 in 8 innings. The M's tack on 2 in the top of the 9th, but the half-inning is long, and I'm sure he's thrown enough pitches, and anyway we have a 5-run lead, 7-2. What could happen? This. Heathcliff Slocumb comes in. Single, walk, double. Tony Fossas comes in. Walk on four pitches. Mike Timlin comes in. Single and hit-by-pitch. Bases juiced, tying run on second, so Paul Spoljaric comes in. And Mo Vaughn hits a walk-off grand slam. Game over. The line on the M's bullpen: 4 pitchers, 7 runs, 0 outs. I lay back on my couch and just laughed and laughed and laughed. Cone's speech might have inspired the Yankees, but this game must've dis-inspired everyone associated with the '98 Mariners. I knew the season was over on this day. Seattle Times story here.
- April 20: M's 8, Royals 7: Last gasp of “Refuse to Lose”? M's come back from 6-1 deficit and win. HRs: Junior, A-Rod, Rich Amaral. The bullpen gives up nothing. Slocumb lowers his ERA to 23.82. Ayala lowers his to 6.75. We're golden, baby!
- April 21: Royals 5, M's 3: Except we're not. M's strand 14. Bullpen gives up 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th. Slocumb's line: Single, flyout, wild pitch, walk, groundout, walk to load the bases. Walk to bring in a run. He lowers his ERA to 21.60. Tony Fossas, who gave up the 8th inning runs, is slightly better: 20.25.
- May 6: M's 10, White Sox 9: Heathcliff Slocumb is the winning pitcher! Bobby Ayala with the save! Because...? Well, in the 7th, with the M's up 6-4, Spoljaric, Timlin, Fossas and Slocumb (consider it the worst law firm ever) combine on this: single, single, double, double, strikeout, lineout, home run, single, strikeout. It's Slocumb who gives up the homerun. So he gets the win when Dan Wilson hits a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to put the M's back on top. Junior makes a great catch in center, too. We win but it's hardly fun anymore. Trying to enjoy the '98 M's is like trying to enjoy school when you know there's a bully who's going to beat you up in sixth period. It's like trying to enjoy the play when you know Pres. Lincoln is going to get shot at the end of it.
- May 23: Devil Rays 6, M's 3: Ken Cloude pitches a shutout for 7 innings and the M's take a 3-0 lead into the 8th. Then Paul Spoljaric and Tony Fossas give up 2 runs on no hits: walk, walk, walk, groundout, groundout, flyout. In the 9th it's all Ayala. He gives up four singles, a stolen base and a wild pitch and the Rays go up by 3. It's the M's fifth loss in a row. They're 21-27, and 10 1/2 back in the A.L. West.
- May 24: M's 3, Devil Rays 1: No bullpen blowouts on this one because no bullpen. Randy Johnson pitches 9 innings and strikes out 15. Junior clobbers an upper-deck homerun. Seems like...old times. Cue Diane Keaton.
- June 3: Angels 8, M's 1: We used to beat these guys.
- June 6: Dodgers 10, M's 6: Junior goes deep and cuts a runner down at home, but Joey Cora commits three errors and Ayala gives up three runs in the 9th.
- June 19: M's 9, A's 1: Randy with 12 Ks, Junior and A-Rod homer. It's their 4th victory in 18 games.
- June 23: M's 5, Padres 3: Moyer with 8 scoreless innings, Junior with 1st-inning HR. But even this game causes handwringing. Healthcliff Slocumb gives up 3 runs in the 9th and lets the go-ahead run get to the plate, before recording the final out.
- July 1: M's 9, Rockies 5: Junior with a HR and 3 doubles. Edgar goes deep. The bullpen is perfect. The M's are 35-49, 15 GB.
- July 10: Angels 5, M's 3 (11 innings): Junior ties the game in the bottom of the 7th with an upper-deck HR, and Moyer pitches well for 8 innings. Then we play Russian Roulette with the bullpen. Spin with Greg McCarthy in the top of the 9th: click. Spin with Mike Timlin in the top of the 10th: click. Spin with Bobby Ayala in the top of the 11th: BLAM!
- July 28: Indians 4, M's 3: Last time I'll see Randy as a Mariner. He goes the distance and loses. The Indians closer is Mike Jackson, who used to be with us during better days. He seems to be doing well. We miss him.
- August 1: Yankees 5, M's 2: The day after Randy Johnson is traded to the Houston Astros. Dark day. David Wells goes the distance for the Yankees, who are dominating baseball. The shot the M's had (from '95 to '97) feels over.
- August 3: M's 3, Red Sox 1: Shane Monahan hits first career HR. A new era begins.
- August 20: Blue Jays 7, M's 0: Roger Clemens pitches a 2-hitter and my friend Tim and I leave early. That's never happened before.
- August 21: M's 5, White Sox 4: Edgar and Buhner homer. Russ Davis hits a go-ahead double in the bottom of the 8th. Timlin closes it out with the tying run on third.
- September 4: O's 9, M's 1: New experiment: Paul Spoljaric as starting pitcher! He gives up 6 runs with two outs in the top of the 4th. Junior makes a great over-the-shoulder catch. Poor bastard.
SEASON RECORD: 10-11. It's my first losing record since '94 but percentage-wise it beats the Mariners losing record of 76-85. I see Junior hit 8 homeruns. But I'm elsewhere, focusing on other things, because this thing is lost now. What could've been is gone forever.
TOMORROW: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
Hollywood B.O.: Inception Fans Ne Regrette Rien
"Inception" was the no. 1 movie for the second week in a row, grossing an estimated $43.5 million. The initial interest in Christopher Nolan's dream thriller is apparently carrying over into either repeat viewings (to doublecheck one's own theories, or the theories of others) or new viewers (because they heard).
Its second weekend drop is, in fact, the lowest drop of the year for any no. 1 movie not named "Avatar":
Either way, it's a triumph for originality and creativity in the heat of summer. Now watch studio execs attempt to duplicate that originality.
Overall, movies may have been down from the previous week, but a lot of the returning movies still did well. "Despicable Me," at no. 3, fell off only 26%, and made another $24 million to raise its gross to $161 million. "Toy Story 3" lost 411 theaters but fell off only 24% for another $9 million. It's at $379 million and has a real shot to become the 11th film to break the $400 million barrier. "Grown Ups" fell off only 23%; it's at $142 million.
My favorite stat: No. 10, "Predators," in 1,846 theaters, barely beat no. 11, "The Kids Are All Right," in 201 theaters: $2.8 million to $2.6 million.
Of the new films, Angelina Jolie's "Salt" finished close to "Inception" with $36 million, while Fox's "Ramona and Beezus," which I've barely heard about, finished no. 6: $8 million in 2,719 theaters. Not good.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1997)
1997: FOREVER HITTING HOMERUNS; FOREVER BLOWING BALLGAMES
April 1: M's 4, Yankees 2: World Champions, my ass! In his first two at-bats of the season, Junior goes deep against David Cone, who hates the Mariners for a reason (see pg. 44 of “The Yankee Years”), and the Yankees don't score after the 2nd inning. Including the '95 post-season, it's the 8th game in a row I've been at the park when the M's have beat the Yankees. If these guys can win the World Series, who can't? At the same time, our closers are still Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton.
- April 8: M's 14, Indians 8: The Indians score 4 in the top of the 1st and the M's answer with 4 in the bottom of the 1st. And the game goes like that. HRs: Junior, Jay and Edgar. Junior's goes 430 feet. Good victory. At the same time, we're still 3-4.
- April 18: Twins 10, M's 3: After a good roadtrip, they're 10-6, but this one is an ugly loss.
- April 21: M's 6, Royals 5: Bobby Ayala with the win! Background: He relieves Randy in the 7th with the game tied 3-3 and promptly gives up a walk and a homerun. In the bottom of the inning, we get two walks, Junior slaps a two-run triple, and then he scores on a sac fly. Three runs on one hit. And Bobby A with the “W.”
- May 14: M's 9, White Sox 7: Norm Charlton with the save! Background: Bobby Ayala relieves Jamie Moyer in the 7th with a 6-run lead and gets the ChiSox 1-2-3. In the 8th? Solo home run to Harold Baines. In the 9th? Walk, double, home run. Talk about diminishing returns. A 6-run lead down to 2. Thus Norm, who comes in and gets them 1-2-3. Junior hits a solo homer in the 6th.
- May 16: O's 6, M's 3: Battle of the first-place teams. Five of our nine starters are hitting over .300 (Cora, A-Rod, Junior, Edgar, Dan Wilson), but they can only scratch together six hits. Four of them are singles. Effin' O's.
- May 17: O's 4, M's 3: Sigh. Why do I even GO when the Orioles were in town?
- May 28: M's 5, Rangers 0: Here's what Randy does to the first 10 batters he faces: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; groundout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout. Then Ivan Rodriguez slaps a ground single between first and second with one out in the top of the 4th. It's the first ball to leave the infield. He winds up striking out 15. These were fun games to go to. It's the end of May and Joey Cora has a 1.002 OPS.
- June 12: M's 12, Rockies 11: Here's what I wrote on the ticket stub: “An ugly, sloppy ballgame.” Not sure why. Junior with 3 RBIs. He now has 70 on the year. On June 12th!
- June 13: M's 6, Rockies 1: Decidedly less sloppy. Randy strikes out 12 in 8 innings. Our motto back then: “Go when Randy pitches.”
- June 14: M's 9, Dodgers 8: Leading 8-4 in the 7th, Bob Wells gives up two homers to make it 8-7. He's relieved by Norm Charlton who gives up a leadoff walk in the 8th to Greg Gagne, who goes to third on a botched pick-off attempt and scores on a bunt. Tie game. M's win on a Russ Davis walk-off homer. Why don't I remember that? Other HRs: Junior, Edgar, Sorrento.
- June 24: A's 4, M's 1: This is one of the greatest losses a pitcher has ever thrown. Do we have a category for that? We should. The second guy up gets a hit, so no chance for a no-hitter, and in fact they get 11 hits off of him, which isn't good for most pitchers and abyssmal for Randy. But he strikes out 19 and walks none. He had 18 Ks after 8 innings and boy were we cheering for a couple of Ks in that final innings. (The record, then and now, is 20.) One of the A's four runs was also memorable. A 538-foot homerun by Mark McGwire, which almost hits the Diamond Vision screen in the upper deck in left field. Of course now it feels tainted but back then it was fun. Dave Niehaus had fun with the call, too: “A high fly ball, belted, and I mean belted, deep to left field, into the upper deck! My, oh my, what a shot by Mark McGwire! That is probably the longest home run ever hit here.” Meanwhile the M's lack of run production wasn't Junior's fault. He came within his signature hit of the cycle: single, double, triple... and walk.
- June 27: M's 8, Angels 1: HRs: A-Rod and Buhner. Jay's goes 459 feet. Not McGwire but not chopped liver.
- June 28: Angels 6, M's 1: Angels gotta win sometime.
- June 30: Giants 8, M's 6: In the bottom of the first, with Alex up, I notice the time is 7:14. Those three numbers, in that order, and in any context, always make me think of Babe Ruth, which makes me think of home runs, so I say aloud, “7:14, good time for a homerun.” Next pitch, Alex goes deep. The guy sitting in front of me looks around like I'm Nostradamus. I shrug. Edgar and Sorrento also go yard, but we're down 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th when Edgar ties it up with a single, scoring Alex. Top of 10? Norm Charlton and his 7.17 ERA, who relieved Scott Sanders and his 6.56 ERA in the 9th, is still on the mound. Groundout, walk, single. Now there are men on first and second. Lou to the mound. And in comes...Bobby Ayala and his 4.21 ERA. He does't give up a run. He just gives up Norm's runs: Single, sac fly, single, groundout. 8-6, SF. How bad is our bullpen? Bad.
- July 1: M's 15, Giants 4: Even the M's bullpen can't blow this one. HRs: A-Rod, Russ Davis, and two by new phenom Jose Cruz, Jr.!
- July 10: M's 12, Rangers 9: Joey Cora hits his 9th HR. Joey Cora! He's got a .926 OPS. Lou tries Bobby Ayala again, up by 4 in the 9th, and it goes groundout, walk, walk, force out, double. Tying run comes to the plate. Out comes Norm for the save. Did we really have no one else in the bullpen? It's like we need to do something simple, like comb our hair, and the only instruments we have are a staple gun and a blowtorch. Staple gun? Ow! Blow torch? Ow! The next day we try them in the reverse order. The rational mind woud say “These are not the right implements for this situation,” but we don't have a rational mind.
- July 11: M's 8, Rangers 7: M's up 7-3 in the 9th but starter Jeff Fassero runs out of gas, giving up two singles. So we go to the blowtorch (Norm). He gives up a single and a walk. So we go to the staple gun (Ayala). He goes walk, strikeout, single to tie it. Go-ahead run is on third with one out. Double play ball. M's win it in the bottom of the 9th on a Russ Davis single but it doesn't feel like a victory. HRs: Dan Wilson, Russ Davis, Jose Cruz, Jr. I don't know it, but this is the last time I'll see Cruz, Jr. as a Mariner.
- July 19: Royals 9, M's 6: The M's are up 6-0 in the 8th against the lowly Royals, and I figure, “What a good time to show my friend Sharon around the Kingdome.” Except one batter later I miss an inside-the-park homerun by Tom Goodwin. Crap! That would've been fun. Then starter Bob Wolcott gives up another homer, the over-the-fence kind, and Lou goes to Omar Olivares, who promptly walks the next two batters. So Lou goes to Norm, the blowtorch, who promptly gives up a double to Craig Paquette that plates two batters. He stikes out Shane Halter but Mike Sweeney singles to score Paquette. But we still have a 6-5 lead, yes? Then in the 9th it's the staple gun's turn: groundout, single (ow!), single (ow!), walk (ow!), sac fly to tie (ow!), single (ow!), double (OUCH!), groundout. 9-6, Royals. Bottom of the inning, Griffey, Edgar and Buhner go in order. One wonders how much these losses took out of these guys. I know they took a lot out of me.
- July 31: And they took a lot out of the M's: some part of their future, in fact. I don't go to any game this day—the M's are in Milwaukee—but it's a dark day in M's history, a day in which the incomptence of our bullpen is matched by the incompetence of our front office. Needing a good closer since last summer, Woody Woodward waits until the last minute to pull the trigger on this move: The other Junior, Jose Cruz, Jr., who has an .856 OPS and 12 homers in 183 at-bats, for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljarec. And that was his smart trade that day. In the other, we give up rookie Derek Lowe and prospect Jason Veritek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb, a closer with a 5.79 ERA. More wrong implements for our medicine chest. Full Seattle Times story here.
- August 5: M's 4, O's 3: M's finally beat the O's while I'm at the park! Russ Davis hits a walk-off homerun on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th. It's the second walk-off homerun I've seen him hit this year. Why isn't he my favorite player on the team? (Answer: Because the team has Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Jamie Moyer.)
- August 7: M's 3, White Sox 2: Junior, Blowers homer. New M's bullpen gives up only one run in the 9th. Relief!
- August 11: M's 11, Brewers 1.
- August 20: M's 1, Indians 0: Edgar homers in the 4th. Randy strikes out 8 in 6 innings. Maybe this bullpen thing will work out after all.
- August 23: Yankees 10, M's 8 (in 11 innings): Nope. M's should've won it in the bottom of the 9th when Roberto Kelly homered off Mariano Rivera to tie it, and then the M's loaded the bases with nobody out. But a wild pitch nails Junior at the plate, Russ Davis goes down swinging and Rob Ducey grounds out. In the 10th, also against Rivera, the M's load the bases with two outs, but A-Rod goes down swinging. So, in our game of bullpen roulette, we spin the chamber and put the gun to our head for one more inning and this time it goes off. Slocumb, in for his second inning, gives up: single, strikeout, single, strikeout, and then a double to plate two. Worst part? It's to Paul O'Neill. Ouch! It's the first time I've seen the Yankees beat the M's at the Kingdome since Jimmy Key did it on July 16, 1994.
- August 27: Red Sox 9, M's 5: Fassero gets the loss, but the M's bullpen doesn't help. Bob Wells gives up a run (in 1/3 inning), Paul Spoljaric gives up a run (in 1 1/3), Heathcliff Slocumb gives up 2 (in 1 inning). Only Bobby Ayala is clean for the day.
- September 10: M's 10, Tigers 0: A-Rod goes deep. Dan Wilson with an inside-the-park homerun.
- September 13: Blue Jays 6, M's 3: RJ returns from a minor injury and leaves after six innings with the M's up 3-1. In the 8th, the team of Charlton, Timlin and Ayala give up 2 to tie it. In the 9th, Ayala gives up 3 to lose it. Somewhere the Blue Jays front office is laughing. We came alive in '95 with the late-inning comeback and in '97 we died from it.
- September 15: M's 7, Blue Jays 3: Junior goes deep twice. No.s 51 and 52. RBI no.s 137-139. That should be the story of the year. Not the bullpen. BTW: Remember Joey's 9th homer on July 10? This evening he hits no. 10. But he still has an .808 OPS.
- September 23: M's 4, Angels 3: RJ with 11 Ks, and Buhner hits 3-run HR, and the season is almost over. Slocumb does get the save (single, flyout, strikeout, wild pitch, strike out), his 27th. His ERA is 5.30.
- September 26: A's 8, M's 4: Fan Appreciation Night is also scrub night. The line-up: Cora, Ducey, Davis, Sorrento, Ibanez, Wilkins, Tinsley, Marzano, Sheets. Ibanez, a Sept. call-up, hits a 3-run HR. The bullpen, with no lead to protect, allow no runs and lower their ERAs: Charlton's goes down to 6.85. Next stop: playoffs!
- October 1: Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: I have a goofy piece in The Seattle Times before the playoffs (which I'd completely forgotten about until I began doing this thing), but, more, I have a bad feeling. Randy could beat almost anyone but the Orioles. The M's could beat almost any team but the O's. Game starts out well enough: 1-2-3. Then mid-season acquisiton Roberto Kelly hits a one-out double in the bottom of the first. Griffey up! Foul out. Edgar up! Ground out. Oh well. Lots more of those. O's take 1-0 lead in the 3rd, Edgar ties it 1-1 on a home run in the bottom of the 4th. Then Randy loses it in the 5th: walk, steal, walk, sac bunt, single, caught stealing, homerun. Now we're down 5-1. In the 6th, Timlin comes in. Ball 1, ball 2, home run to Chris Hoiles. 6-1. Then Palmeiro hits a double to center. Is this the one I thought Junior would get? There was a play in center and I thought for sure Junior would have it, but in my memory the game was still within reach. Obviously not. The 6th ends with the M's down 9-1. The M's add two more solo homers, the empty gesture of impotent sluggers, and I leave the Kingdome feeling worse than when I entered.
- October 2: Game 2 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: It's up to Jamie Moyer to save us! And the M's go up, 2-0, in the first! Yay! At the same time it feels like we should've gotten more. Joey singles, Roberto Kelly doubles (again), but (again) the big bats don't come through: we get three straight groundouts from Griffey, Edgar and A-Rod. O's go up in the 5th when Spoljaric relieves Moyer with 2 on and 2 out and let's both runners score on a double by Alomar. In the 7th, Bobby Ayala gives up a 2-run homer to Brady Anderson. In the 8th, still Ayala, it goes: single, strikeout, double, intentional walk, real walk (for a run), single to plate 2. Lou goes to Norm. Who promptly gives up a double. It's all our nightmares from the season remembered. The M's will win one at Camden, behind the pitching of Jeff Fassero and timely hitting from Rich Amaral, but they go down and out in Game 4. It'll be the last time Ken Griffey, Jr. plays in the post-season until he's an old man in 2008, when he goes 2-10 in the White Sox's losing effort in the ALDS.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 19-11. POST-SEASON RECORD: 0-2. Mostly I remember the M's forever hitting homeruns and the bullpen forever blowing ballgames. Trading Jose Cruz, Jr. felt like trading the future but the real future we traded that day was Veritek and Lowe. Worse, I knew that as long as Woody Woodward was the GM, the M's would never make the right moves. The M's finally got rid of Woody after the '99 season but by then it was too late.
TOMORROW: IT GETS WORSE...
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1996)
1996: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER
- March 31: M's 3, White Sox 2 (12 innings): Opening Night and the M's start out where they left off: with a come-from-behind victory before a sell-out crowd of nouveau fans at the Kingdome. Amusing moment: In the 1st inning, Randy gets two strikes on a batter and half the Kingdome rise out of their seats to cheer for that third strike. I look around and laugh. “It's March 31st, kids. Save something for the season!” M's win it on a sharp single to right by a young Alex Rodriguez that plates Doug Strange. And it just continues.
- April 6: M's 8, Brewers 5: Or does it? We win again but by this point, a week later, we're 1 1/2 GB. Tino's replacement Paul Sorrento hits 2 homeruns, including a grand slam, and Junior adds a late-inning solo shot.
- April 16: M's 11, Angels 10: Or DOES it? This game plays like a microcosm of the previous season. In the first match-up between the Angels and M's since the one-game playoff last October, the Angels take a commanding 9-1 lead in the fourth. Then Sorrento homers. Then A-Rod homers. Then A-Rod singles in a run. Then Cora singles in a run. Down by 4 in the 7th, the M's string together a walk, single, HBP, HBP to set up a 3-run double by Russ Davis to tie the game. A Buhner single in the 8th puts the M's on top. It's the the biggest comeback in Mariners history. Refuse to lose, indeed.
- May 3, Indians 5, M's 2. It's the game after the day an earthquake shook Seattle, and the M's still can't shake the Indians.
- May 11: M's 11, Royals 1: The year before, the Royals worried me. No longer. HRs: A-Rod, Sorrento, Buhner (2). M's are over .500 but 5 GB.
- May 24: M's 10, Yankees 4: These guys don't worry me, either. They start Game 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki, we start Sterling Hitchcock. We jump to a 4-1 lead. Then Junior takes over. In the 4th he hits a 2-run homer off Kamieniecki. In the 6th he hits a 3-run homer off Jeff Nelson. In the 8th he adds a solo shot off Steve Howe. THREE HRs!!!! Suck it, NY!
- May 26: M's 4, Yankees 3: We even beat them when we start Paul Menhart. HRs: Edgar and A-Rod. Edgar's hitting .350 on the season. A-Rod's hitting .369.
- May 31: M's 9 Red Sox 6: More Refuse to Lose. Down 5-1 in the 5th, M's string together: walk, walk, walk, groundout, strikeout, and then a 3-run homer by Junior to tie the game. A-Rod puts us ahead with a 3-run homer in the 7th. It's our take on the Earl Weaver strategy: Lousy pitcing but a couple of three-run homers.
- June 15: M's 8, White Sox 6: Lose? Refuse! Junior ties it with a 2-run homer in the 7th but Norm Charlton, walking everybody, gives back 2 in the 9th. We tie it in the bottom of the 9th (with 2 outs) and win it in the bottom of the 12th on a walk-off, 2-run homer by Brian Hunter. I don't even remember it. Shouldn't one remember one's walk-off homers?
- June 19: Blue Jays 9, M's 2: Am I a jinx? I was at the game last year when Junior shattered his wrist, and I'm at the game, this game, when Junior (fouling back a pitch?) in the bottom of the third, breaks his hamate bone. At first I think it's his wrist again—you see him opening and closing his hand, trying to shake it off—but it's the hamate and he's out for 4-6 weeks. Randy went down in May, now Junior in June. The M's are six GB with no pitching and no Junior. Doesn't look good.
- June 28: M's 19, Rangers 8: Who needs pitching? HRs: Edgar, Brian Hunter and Dan Wilson. Luis Sojo with five singles.
- July 2: A's 11, M's 6: WE need pitching. The M's blow a 4-0 lead. Then in the top of the 9th, in a 6-6 game, with one out, Norm Charlton gives up a single, walk, walk, single, home run. Five runs. Poof! His ERA is now 4.30. Charlton, so strong the year before, is blowing ballgames big. This one is reminiscent of the May 17th game in Baltimore when he gives up a walk-off grand slam to Chris Hoiles in the bottom of the 9th and the M's lose 14-13. That one hurt.
- July 11: M's 5, Angels 4 (12 innings): Poor Angels. They go up 3-0. We come back, 4-3. Our bullpen allows them to tie it in the 9th. We win in the 12th. Paul Sorrento singles, the pitcher balks him to second, Dan Wilson grounds him over to third, and he scores on a wild pitch. I'm getting spoiled. I turn up my nose at the aesthetics of this extra-inning victory. A lousy single? Meanwhile A-Rod hits 2 doubles and a homerun. Kid might go places.
- July 12: M's 6: Angels 5 (10 innings): Maybe it's Refuse to Lose to the Angels? We go up 4-0, they go up 5-4, we tie it in the bottom of the 8th and win it in the bottom of the 10th in a slower replay of Game 5: Edgar scores from first on a double by Jay Buhner.
- July 24: M's 8, Brewers 7: How do I not remember this? M's are down 7-5 in the ninth when Joey doubles and Alex singles him in. Griffey, back in the lineup, singles Alex over to third and then steals second. Buhner strikes out. One down. Sorrento gets a pass to load the bases. Darren Bragg hits a sac fly to tie the game. Two outs. Dan Wilson doubles to score Griffey and end it. Memorable! Yet not. Spoiled.
- August 7: Indians 5, M's 4: Again with the Indians. On the ticket stub I wrote “Bonehead Piniella moves!” Leading late, set-up man Mike Jackson relieves new acquisition Jamie Moyer in the 8th and gives up a walk. Then he strikes out the next two batters. At which point Lou brings in Norm. In the 9th, ahead by 2, with two outs and nobody on, he gives up a homer to Omar, a single to Lofton, a double to Vizcaino to tie the game, and another single to put the Indians ahead. His ERA is now 5.17. We lived by “Refuse to Lose” and now we're dying by it. “Can't Begin to Win.” Against the Indians anyway.
- August 28: M's 10, Yankees 2: Now THIS I remember. We're killing the Yankees again, 8-1 when, in the top of 8th, Tim Davis replaces Terry Mulholland and pitches to Paul O'Neill. First pitch is high and tight. O'Neill bitches. That's what O'Neill does. M's back-up catcher John Marzano stands up and confronts him. That's what Marzano does. Soon we're getting shoves, a would-be haymaker from Marzano, then a headlock from Marzano, and benches clear. Seattle Times story here. Next inning Jeff Nelson hits Joey Cora, but A-Rod makes him pay by going deep in the next at-bat. Unfortunately, the next time I'll see these guys, in 1997, they'll be World Champions. BTW, I didn't know, or didn't remember, this. R.I.P., John Marzano. May you be up in Heaven forever punching Paul O'Neill in the face.
- August 30: O's 5, M's 2: Can we beat these guys already???
- September 4: Red Sox 7, M's 5: M's lose, never leading. Junior hits 3-run homer, his 43rd. Buhner hits a solo shot, his 39th.
- September 16: M's 6, Rangers 0: First of a four-game series with Texas. M's begin it 6 games back of the Rangers and really need a sweep to stand a chance. The first game's hardly a contest. Rangers can't hit Jamie Moyer, Edgar smacks his 50th double. Alex is hitting .368 with a 1.080 OPS. 78-70, GB: 5.
- September 18: M's 5, Rangers 2: M's win on the 17th as well as this night. Buhner hits his 41st. 80-70, GB: 3.
Mr. B lets the world (or Tim) know the M's are only 3 games back.
- September 19: M's 7, Rangers 6: Sweep! It's the September to Remember all over again! Just 2 GB! Our line-up is as good as any lineup I can remember: Cora, A-Rod, Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, Sorrento, Whitten, Hollins, Wilson. Our no. 9 guy hits his 17th homer of the year. It just continues.
- September 20: M's 12, A's 2: And continues. HRs: Junior, Jay and Joey. GB: 1.
- September 21: M's 9, A's 2: And continues. M's win their 10th in a row! HRs by Junior, Jay, Edgar, A-Rod, and Sorrento. GB: 1.
SEASON RECORD: 18-6. And then, suddenly, it didn't continue. M's lose their last home game of the year to the A's, then go 2-5 on their final roadtrip and finish 4 1/2 back of Texas. Afterwards Lou bucks up the squad by telling them that this is the best team he's ever managed. He tells them next year they're going all the way. But in the meantime, the New York Yankees, who couldn't touch the M's this season, beat Texas in the ALDS, beat the O's in the ALCS (with help from Jeffrey Maier), and win the World Series, with help from '95 M's Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson. The dynasty that should've been the M's is beginning to be someone else's.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1995)
1995: REFUSE TO LOSE
- April 27: M's 5, Tigers 0. We were wondering if we would ever see this again. Thank you, Justice Sotomayor! Remember all that talk about unforgiving fans? That wasn't me. As usual, I'm there Opening Night. And the M's deliver. RJ strikes out 8, Junior hits a 3-run HR in the 5th to account for all the scoring in the game. Just where we left off.
- May 12: M's 6, White Sox 4: M's score 3 in the bottom of the first, Randy strikes out 11 in 7 innings and gives up only 1 run. (Bobby Ayala gives up 3 in the 8th.) Edgar and Tino homer. Games back: 1/2.
- May 23: Red Sox 5, M's 4: M's are leading 4-0 after four innings but Boston comes back with 1 in the 5th, 3 in the 7th and 1 in the 10th on a bases-loaded walk from reliever Steve Frey. As we used to say back then: Out of the fire and into the Frey. OK, so it wasn't as funny as we thought.
- May 26: M's 8, O's 3: Maybe the worst game—certainly the worst victory—I've ever gone to. I'm sitting, not in my usual seats, 300-level behind homeplate, but among the idiotic WHUP-WHOOOO crowd along the right-field foul line when, in the 7th inning, off of Kevin Bass (heretofore known as Kevin Basstard), Ken Griffey, Jr. makes a spectacular running catch against the right-centerfield fence. People are cheering like crazy but I'm thinking he went too fast, too awkwardly into that fence to be OK. I'm assuming knee. I'm wrong. It's his wrist. Later we hear the bad news: out for three months. M's win it, RJ strikes out 13, and before the injury Junior hits a solo shot in the 5th, but after the injury our outfield changes from Bragg-Griffey-Diaz to Amaral-Diaz-Bragg and nothing feels quite the same. My Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed here. Video of the catch here. Seattle Times article here. One thing the Internet doesn't do well is give a sense of historical scale. That Times article? It's just a small article. But it was front-page news in Seattle. At this point, M's are 15-12, 2 1/2 GB. Doesn't look good.
I saw this. Then I saw the M's go 2-8.
- May 27: O's 11, M's 4: In the first Griffey-less game, M's get clobbered. Doesn't look good.
- May 30: M's 7, Yankees 3: Down 3-2 in the 8th, with 2 outs and a man on third, the M's string together a walk, single, walk, single, hit-by-pitch and a single, and score five times to win it. Derek Jeter, playing in only his second game in the Majors, bats ninth for the Yankees and goes 2-3 with a walk. They're the first two hits of his Major League career. They're the first two runs scored of his Major League career. I still have that ticket if some Yankees fan wants to buy it. Bidding starts at $10,000. M's: 18-13, 1 1/2 GB
- June 12: Royals 10, M's 9: Down 7-0 after a half-inning, the M's battle back and tie the score in the bottom of the 8th. In the top of the 9th, though, Ron Villone walks the leadoff hitter, who eventually scores on a two-out single by Tom Goodwin. 23-20, 3 1/2 GB
- June 14: Royals 2, M's 1: In an afternoon getaway game, I CATCH MY FIRST FOUL BALL! I write about it years later for Seattle Weekly: “In the fourth inning Tino Martinez lined a fastball straight back. My thought processes went something like, 'Hey, that might--' Whumpf! Right into my glove. I didn't have time to think. The crowd around me scattered, and, later, thanked me, for they feared the ball would hit a railing and bounce back. As often happens, we passed it around reverentially. It was rubbed a light brown with the special mud the umps use before gametime; the imprinted blue slogan '*Official Ball* American League' had been smudged by the force of Tino's blow and was now almost unreadable.” The bad news? The M's lose and get swept by the Royals, who, at this time, seem like a powershouse to me. 23-22, 3 1/2 GB.
- June 16: Twins 10, M's 1: I'm on long-distance with my father in Minneapolis two days beforehand when I realize it'll be Randy pitching against the lowly Twins. I begin to laugh. “If you have any money to bet,” I say, “bet on the M's.” Instead, RJ gives up 8 earned runs in six innings, including a grand slam to Kirby Puckett. Since the Griffey injury I've seen the M's lose 4 of 5—beating only the lowly Yankees. 23-23, 4 1/2 GB.
- June 23: Angels 14, M's 4: Five of six. 27-26, 5 GB
- June 26: M's 7, Angels 2: Tino and Edgar go deep. 29-27, 4 GB
- June 28: A's 7, M's 5: Bobby Ayala Goatee Night: surely one of the worst promotional ideas ever. I forget what you get if you show up with a goatee, but I show up without one and get to see a loss. Randy leaves the game in the 7th with a 5-2 lead but with the bases loaded and one out. Bill Risley promptly gives up two singles to tie the game. In the next inning, Jeff Nelson gives up two HRs, including Mark McGwire's second of the game, and the M's lose. Ayala and his goatee never enter the game. 29-29, 5 GB
- June 30: Rangers 10, M's 2. No fun. 30-30, 5 GB
- July 14: Blue Jays 5, M's 1: Wow: 2-8 since the injury. Come back, Junior! 34-37, 7 GB
- July 18: M's 10, Tigers 6: I take some out-of-town guests, Dick and Anne Saunders, to a weekday afternoon game, and, despite that 2-8, I talk up the team. “Too bad you can't see Griffey,” I say, “but this team's still got something.” They don't disappoint. Tino hits a homer and drives in four. Most memorably, Jeff Nelson relieves Tim Belcher in the 6th and for three innings it goes like this: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; ground out, strikeout, walk, strikeout. We have good seats for it, too, right behind home plate, and I can see his curve breaking and dancing. From this day forward, I'll be a Jeff Nelson fan. 37-38, 7 GB.
- July 28: Indians 6, M's 5: The M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th to tie it, but the Indians small-ball it to go ahead in the 8th. In the 9th, the M's load the bases against Jose Mesa but he gets Luis Sojo to strike out on a pitch near his ears. 42-43, 10 GB.
- August 7: M's 6, White Sox 4: HRs from Buhner, Blowers and Tino. 47-47, 11 GB.
- August 18: M's 9, Red Sox 2: It's Junior's first home game back—he's got a metal plate and screws holding together his valuable wrist—and it's Bob Wolcott's Major League debut, but it's Mike Blowers' game. He hits 2 HRs, including a 1st-inning grand slam off Tim Wakefield. 53-51, 10 1/2 GB.
- August 21: M's 6, O's 0: It's 0-0 until the 7th when the M's score 5 times on four two-out singles. Junior hits a homer in the 8th. Welcome back! RJ strikes out 10 in 6 innings, Jeff Nelson 4 in 3 innings. Fun! 54-53, 11 1/2 GB.
- August 23: O's 7, M's 1: I don't know it, but this is the last loss I'll see in person for over a month. 54-55, 11 1/2 GB.
- September 8: M's 4, Royals 1: First home game after a long road trip. M's are now 2 games over .500 instead of 1 game under, but amazingly they're only 6 GB of the Angels now. The math seems impossible. Angels are tanking. 63-61, 6 GB
- September 9: M's 6, Royals 2: On “Salute to the Negro Leagues” Night, Tino and Buhner go deep. 64-61, 6 GB.
- September 12: M's 14, Twins 3: The M's hit four homers; Buhner hits two of them. Were the M's feeling loose? We were in the stands. In the bottom of the 7th, after a solo homer (by Buhner) and a 3-run homer (by Dan Wilson) put the M's ahead 14-3, Lou sends up pinch-hitters Alex Diaz (for Vince Coleman) and Arquimedez Pozo (for Joey Cora). It's the latter's Major League debut. When they announce him I tell Mike and Tim, “That may be the greatest baseball name ever.” It isn't just the grand, Greekish first name. Any two- or three-syllable name ending in “o” is a great baseball name, because they're so easy to chant. When I was a kid in Minnesota we used to chant “Let's go, Tony-O,” for Tony Oliva all the time. And in the late 1970s, a player named Jesus Manuel Rivera became a fan favorite because his nickname was “Bombo,” and every time he was at the plate Twins fans would chant, “Bom-bo, Bom-bo.” At the Kingdome I demonstrate. I begin chanting, “Po-zo, Po-zo, Po-zo,” and Mike and Tim join in, and people around us join in, and then our section joins in, and suddenly the entire stadium, 12,000 strong, is chanting for this kid and his Major League debut. I wouldn't be surprised if others began their own chants in their own sections, and we all met somewhere in the middle, but the overall effect is still magical. Pozo pops out to second but we cheer him anyway as he returns to the dugout. We're loose. It's his only at-bat of the season. M's: 66-62, still 6 GB.
- September 13: M's 7, Twins 4: A day later and I'm a lot less loose. Biking to the game, I get into an accident and crash head-first into the bumper of a car near the Fremont Bridge. Shaken, my bike unrideable, I call my girlfriend (from a pay phone, kids), and she picks me up, takes me and my bike back home, then drives me to the game. I arrive in the fourth inning with the M's down 4-0. Randy is doing well, he strikes out 13 in 7 innings, but the game seems lost. Then the M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th. In the bottom of the 8th, with two outs and two on, Tino singles to tie the game and Buhner hits a 3-run bomb to put the M's ahead. Norm Charlton strikes out the side in the 9th for the victory. When I get home, my girlfriend tells me she's glad I went. She'd been listening on the radio and M's broadcaster Dave Niehaus had chastised M's fans for not showing up to witness this exciting team make its run. That, too, wasn't me. 67-62, 5 GB.
- September 18: M's 8, Rangers 1: After a 3-game road trip to Chicago, the M's return (how I missed them!), and pick up where they left off: RJ strikes out 10; Blowers and Edgar homer. Apparently people are listening to Dave Niehaus. Attendance goes from 16,000 to 29,000, and suddenly the Angels are within spitting distance. 70-63, 2 GB.
- September 20: M's 11, Rangers 3: I miss the Doug Strange game from the day before, but I'm there for this: Sojo drives in 6, Junior homers, and suddenly the M's are, would you believe it, TIED FOR FIRST! 72-63, T-1st. Attendance: 26,000.
- September 22: M's 10, A's 7. Fan Appreciation Night, and the fans, 51,000 strong, suddenly fill the joint. (From this moment on, I won't be at a game with fewer than 30,000 fans for YEARS.) But after 3 innings the M's are down 6-0. Bel-CHER! In the bottom of the 4th, though, Junior leads off with a homer. 6-1. With two outs and a man on, Mike Blowers doubles. 6-2. Luis Sojo walks. A miracle. Dan Wilson singles to load the bases. Just when I'm thinking, “Hey, tying run at the plate,” Vince Coleman hits a ball that squeaks over the right-field wall. “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It's Grand Salami time!” Bedlam. 6-6. Oakland retakes the lead in the 7th, but in the bottom of the 8th Edgar leads off with a HR to tie it, followed by single, sacrifice bunt (by Buhner?), and walk. Two on and Sojo up. But no! Piniella pinch-hits with Alex Diaz. Is he CRAZY? Sojo's been hot. I'm still cursing Lou when Diaz smokes one into the left field bleachers. 10-7. Fan Appreciation Night, indeed. The M's, at 73-63, are in sole possession of first place.
- September 23: M's 7, A's 0: Not even a contest. RJ on the mound and he gives up four hits and strikes out 15; Buhner hits 2 HRs. 74-63. GA: 2.
- September 27: Angels 2, M's 0: I miss the Tino walkoff homer Sunday, and blowing out the Angels on Tuesday, but I'm here early for this getaway game. Win it, and the M's will clinch a tie: four games ahead with four to play. It's a weekday afternoon game but 50,000 show up. I'm sitting in our 20-gameplan seats, 300 level behind the third-base side of homeplate, second row, no one around me, when I catch my second foul ball of the season—this one off Chili Davis. From the Seattle Weekly article: “For some reason, the first two rows of section 313 were empty, leaving me feeling a little like the sprinkle-a-day guy. Even my friend Mike hadn't arrived yet. Thus when Chile Davis fouled off a pitch from Tim Belcher in the top of the first, there was no one close, as the ball, with some wicked spin on it, arced my way. A guy two rows back--my nearest competitor--shouted, 'It's coming this way. I got it! I got it!' Think people don't emulate their heroes? I WAVED HIM OFF. It was as if, rather than competitors for a souvenir, we were teammates in the same outfield. 'I got it!' I yelled back. And I did. The ball, caught with some English to compensate for the spinning, was mine.” I'm happy with the foul ball but disappointed that Belcher has already given up a run, and even more disapointed when, a few pitches later, Davis promptly doubles to score another. Worse, Chuck Finley shuts down the M's. In the 7th, he walks two batters and Marcel Lachemann goes to the 'pen. Good! Then I see the reliever smokin' it in. High 90s. Strikeout, strikeout. Inning over. My introduction to Troy Percival. Angels win. 76-64, GA 2, with 4 to play.
- That's my last regular season game of the season. The M's go on and win the first two in Texas to clinch a tie, but lose the next two, while the Angels suddenly wake up and win their last four against the A's, and we have our tie. I'm so pissed at Lou's pitching moves—starting Benes on three days' rest with an eye toward the playoffs—that I don't even bother with the tickets to the one-game playoff. Which the M's, behind the pitching of RJ, win, 9-1.
- October 6: Game 3 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 7, Yankees 4: In the first game in NY, Junior hits 2 HRs but the M's lose, 9-6. In the second game, Junior hits another, off perpetual Junior foil John Wetteland in the 12th, but the Yankees tie it in the bottom of the 12th and win it in the bottom of the 15th on a homerun in the rain by Jim Effin' Leyritz. The Yankees just need to win one more in Seattle. But it's not this one. RJ strikes out 10, Tino hits a 2-run HR, M's fans chant “Donnie Strike-out!” for Don Mattingly. Series: 2-1, Yankees.
- October 7, Game 4 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 11, Yankees 8: Down 5-0 in the 3rd inning, the season seems over. Then in the bottom of the 3rd, Scott Kamieniecki gives up a single to Joey Cora, a single to Griffey, and a HR that Edgar Martinez, with his gator arms, somehow keeps fair down the left-field line. Same inning, Sojo hits a sac fly. A groundout in the fifth ties it, and a homerun by Junior in the sixth puts the M's ahead, 6-5. But the Yanks tie it in the 8th on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the 8th it's John Wetteland again. A walk, a single, a HBP. Bases juiced for Edgar, who hits a long fly to center field. “That's a run,” I think. “Now we're ahead,” I think. But Bernie Williams keeps going back and suddenly the ball goes *poof* into the blue baggie in center and the Kingdome erupts. Grand slam! Buhners tacks on another homer for a 5-run lead. At the time it seems like the cherry on top, but it turns out the M's need it. Norm Charlton gives up a single in the top of the 9th and Lou goes to...AYALA?? Serously? And Ayala goes: groundout, single, single, walk. Then Lou goes to Bill Risley, with Wade Boggs representing the tying run at the plate. Fielder's choice. Two outs. Now it's Bernie Williams, who ran back on Edgar's grand slam, and who represents the tying run. He hits a fly ball to center...but Junior doesn't keep going back. See you tomorrow. Series: 2-2.
- October 8, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings): The pitching match-up, David Cone vs. Andy Benes, favors the Yankees, but the M's score first on a Joey Cora homerun. Yankees go up 2-1 on a 2-run, Paul O'Neill homer in the 4th. M's tie it, 2-2, but in the 6th, after Benes walks the bases loaded, Donnie Strike-out finally breaks through with a 2-run double. Bases loaded again with one out but Benes escapes, and, in the bottom of the 8th, Junior hits a one-out homer—his fifth of the series—to make it 4-3. Then with two outs, Tino walks, Buhner singles, Alex Diaz walks. Bases loaded for pinch hitter Doug Strange. Cone is going on fumes. He's thrown nearly 150 pitches, and, rather than go the bullpen, to Johnny Wetteland who can't seem to get the M's out, Yankees manager Buck Showalter keeps Cone in. And Cone walks Strange to tie the game. That's when Showalter finally goes to the 'pen and the hack reliver he'd been avoiding: a kid named Mariano Rivera. Who promptly strikes out Mike Blowers to end the inning. Tied again. But in the 9th, Charlton gives up a lead-off double to Tony Fernandez and a walk to Randy Velarde and Lou goes to the mound and signals for the big left-hander: Randy Johnson, on one day's rest, coming in from the 'pen, to the sound of Guns N' Roses “Welcome to the Jungle.” Place goes NUTS. RJ faces Boggs, Bernie, O'Neill: strikeout, pop out, foul out. Then it's the M's turn to blow their chance: a single, a sac bunt, an intentional walk to Griffey, and the Yankees have had enough of this Rivera kid and bring in Black Jack McDowell. Who strikes out Edgar and gets Alex Rodriguez, who pinch-ran for Tino in the 8th, to ground out. Both Game 3 starters are now relieving in Game 5. No one scores in the 10th, but in the 11th the Yankees go: walk, sac bunt, single. Suddenly they're up, 5-4, 3 outs away from the American League Championship. They don't get any of those outs. Joey bunts his way on, Junior lines a single up the middle, sending Joey to third. Then it's Edgar. Cue Dave Niehaus. I am hoarse for days afterwards. It's the greatest game I've been to, the greatest series I've seen, the greatest month of baseball any fan could ask for. And it just continues, my oh my. Series 3-2, Mariners.
- October 10, Game 1 of the 1995 ALCS: M's 3, Indians 2: Then it starts all over again. The Wolcott kid is on the mound for Game 1 so we expect nothing, and in the first inning he delivers on this expectation: First three batters: walk, walk, walk. For Albert Belle, who hit 50+ and 50+ doubles during a strike-shortened season. “Oh well, so much for this game.” Instead he strikes out. Then it's Eddie Murray, who fouls out. Then it's Jim Thome, who grounds out. End of inning. M's go up 2-0 on a Mike Blowers homer. Indians eventually tie it on an Albert Belle homerun in the 7th but in the bottom of that inning Luis Sojo's double plates Jay Buhner. And that's all the scoring. Really? That's it? Compared to recent games, it's almost boring. Series: 1-0, M's.
- October 11, Game 2 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 5, M's 2: Orel Hershiser kills us in this one. Or maybe, finally, everyone's just tired. Junior and Buhner go deep, but we never seem in the game. Series 1-1. Now it's off to Cleveland...
- October 17, Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 4, M's 0: ...where the M's win the first game (Jay's goat-to-hero game) but lose the next two. Once again, the M's face an elimination game. And once again, Lou goes to Randy on short rest. It turns out to be one short rest too many. The Indians get to him in the 5th on an error (by Cora) and a single. 1-0. But my chief memory is Kenny Lofton in the 8th inning. Tony Pena leads off with a double and Lofton, attempting to advance him, bunts his way on, then steals second. Pitching to Omar Vizquel, my Omar, the ball gets away from Dan Wilson. Pena scores. And when Randy's not paying attention, Lofton scores ALL THE WAY FROM SECOND. Carlos Baerga's homerun is the swing that finally chases Randy, but it's Lofton's baserunning that really did us in. In the last three innings, only one Mariner reaches base: Tino, with a walk, in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. Brings up Jay Buhner. His grounder to third ends the game, the series, the magic season. But the fans, including me, don't want it to end. Half an hour after the game ends, we're all still there, cheering for the M's...who return onto the field and acknowledge the crowd with tears in their eyes. Series: 2-4, Cleveland.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 17-12. POST-SEASON RECORD: 4-2. OVERALL RECORD: 21-14. The lowlight was Junior's injury in May. The highlights? Where to begin? Two foul balls, two post-season series, two comeback victories against the Yankees after a month of comeback victories against other teams. The M's have the game's most overpowering pitcher (RJ), its best pure hitter (Edgar), its best overall player (Junior). The sky's the limit. Then in the off-season we trade Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson (AND Jim Mecir) for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. It's s salary move—Tino, the argument goes, played above his head in '95, and will thus be too expensive after arbitration—but we're basically giving to the Yankees two of the guys who beat the Yankees in the '95 ALDS. It feels wrong. I don't know yet how wrong.
How could it get any better than this? Answer? It couldn't.
TOMORROW: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1994)
Read introduction and 1993 season here.
1994: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON
- April 11: M's 9, Twins 8 (10 innings): It may be Opening Night at the Kingdome but the M's are already 0-5 after a mini-disastrous road trip. The Twins take a 4-0 lead, the M's counter 8-4, and by the 8th it's 8-8. M's win it on a two-out single by Mike Blowers that plates New Mariner Dan Wilson, who hit a 1-out double. New Mariner Bobby Ayala gets a blown save by allowing 1 of 2 inherited baserunners to score, but otherwise pitches 3 innings of scoreless baseball for the win. Junior: 2-4 with a walk.
- April 12: M's 12, Twins 0: This one ain't close. Ken Griffey, Jr. hits 3-run homerun in the second inning, and Dave Fleming pitches 7 innings of shut-out ball.
- April 16: Brewers 1, M's 0: Chris Bosio goes the distance, gives up only 4 hits, but gives up a lead-off, 7th-inning homer to Turner Ward and loses.
- April 25: M's 4, Red Sox 2: Hall-of-Fame match-up! Randy Johnson vs. Roger Clemens. RJ strikes out 9, goes the distance. Clemens strikes out 6 and punks out after 7 innings. He's replaced by Tony Fossas, whose line reads: strikeout, double, strikeout, double, walk. M's front office thinks, “Hey, that's a guy we could use!” Junior goes 3-4, including a 430-foot HR. Junior, in case anyone's forgot, OWNED Clemens.
- May 13: Angels 11, M's 1: I guess the M's didn't own the Angels yet. M's stinking it up, 13-20, but only 1 1/2 back in the weak AL West.
- May 21: M's 13, Rangers 2: Luis Sojo hits a grand slam in a 7-run 5th inning. It's his first HR of the year. Junior follows with #19 for the year. He's hitting .342. M's are 1/2 game back.
- June 6: M's 5, Indians 4: Junior with a solo HR in the fourth. They've gone 4-9 since I last saw them.
- June 10: A's 4, M's 3 (10 innings): Randy Johnson gives up only 2 runs in 9 innings, but the bullpen team of Bill Risley, Tim Davis, Goose Goosage and Bobby Ayala give up 2 more in the 10th to lose it. In the 4th, Junior makes a great catch in center. From The Seattle Times article: “Then Griffey ended the inning with a marvelous leaping catch of a Terry Steinbach blast at 389-foot mark. Griffey timed his jump perfectly, digging his cleat on the wall and catching it about 11 feet up the 11 1/2-foot barrier. His cleat tore away a small hole in the padding. Piniella called it 'one of the greatest plays I've ever seen.'”
- June 24: White Sox 6, M's 2: Junior's 32nd HR of the year (9th inning, solo). M's are 10 games below .500 and 2 1/2 games back, but Junior's getting national attention:
Esquire story from the summer of '94.
- June 27: Tigers 11, M's 1: 10-0 after 4 innings but we stick around. We rarely left early in those days.
- July 16: Yankees 9, M's 3: Jimmy Key beats RJ. Enjoy it, Yankees fan. I won't see the Yankees beat the M's in Seattle again until August 1997.
- July 19: Walking from my Belltown apartment to the Kingdome, I decide to get on the bus in the Ride-Free Zone, but the driver, seeing my glove and cap, asks, “You going to the game? It's postponed.” I'm thinking, “Bummer,” and then say out loud: “Wait a minute. Why is a game t a domed stadium postponed?” “Dome collapsed,” driver says. I imagine a fallen soufflé and go down anyway to check it out. The dome hasn't collapsed so much as huge tiles have fallen from the roof and crashed into several seats. After assessing the situation, and finding the Kingdome unplayable, the M's finish the season as the nomads of MLB, playing their final 20 games on the road. Does it bring them together? Make them more of a team? They win 9 of their last 10, at any rate, and are only two games back before the 1994 players' strike ends the season.
SEASON RECORD: 5-6 (after starting out 5-2). Same pattern as the previous year. When I'm at the park, they start out hot and then fade. Everything evens out in baseball. Junior dominates. He finishes the season .323/.402/.674. He leads the league with 40 home runs. But it's the first of three straight years, which should be his glory years, when his season is truncated.
Junior: the positive face of baseball during its darkest days.
TOMORROW: REFUSE TO LOSE
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1993)
A few weeks back I finally got around to writing my farewell to Ken Griffey, Jr. It's hardly the first time I've written about the man. When he left Seattle in early 2000 I wrote an ironic piece on the history of our relationship. During his heyday I wrote a long piece on his career that focused on his Make-a-Wish work. And in 1995 I wrote an Op-Ed for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, also now retired, about that awful game when he shattered his wrist against the right-center wall. It included the following graph:
A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred during the game. Randy Johnson strikes out 15 Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this reportage--I can now admit--was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen. And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
I still have those ticket stubs and recently fished them out of the shoe box beneath the window seat in my First Hill office. They stop in 1999, when Junior stopped for us (for the first time), but I realized they provide a kind of ticket-stub synopsis of the rise and fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners, the best team to never go to the World Series. Please forgive this massive self-indulgence. At the same time, read on. This is the saddest story I've ever told.
1993: 14-INNING VICTORIES AND 8 STRAIGHT HOMERUNS
- April 6: M's 8, Blue Jays 1: It's Opening Night against the World Champions. The Blue Jays get 1 in the top of the 1st on a triple by Joe Carter and then it's all Seattle. Junior goes deep in his first at-bat of the season with two men on. Randy Johnson lasts 8 innings and strikes out 14. Gonna be a good year.
- April 10: O's 5, M's 3: Except we can't beat these guys. The O's owned the M's during this period. (By which I mean until 2000.)
- April 20: Red Sox 5, M's 2: Clemens!
- April 21: M's 5, Red Sox 0: RJ with a 4-hit shutout; Junior hits two homeruns. The next game, the only game in the Boston series I miss, Chris Bosio pitches a no-hitter. Such is life.
- May 8: M's 7, Twins 2: Buhner with two HRs. Erik Hanson goes the distance. He's 5-0.
- May 24: M's 4, Angels 3 (14 innings): The M's owned the Angels during this period. (By which I mean until 2002.) Angels go up 3-0 but the M's come back on a Mike Blowers double, a sac fly and a bases-loaded walk to tie it. From the 9th inning on, the M's get the leadoff man on four times; but twice, laying down a sac bunt, they force the lead runner. In the 12th, they load the bases with one out, but Griffey pops to short. It's not until the 14th that they break through: single, sac, single. Whew.
- June 14: M's 6, Royals 3: RJ strikes out 15. I write my own headline: JOHNSON'S K'S KO KC. No one uses it.
- June 23: M's 8, A's 7 (14 innings): Jay Buhner starts the game off with a grand slam in the bottom of the 1st. In the third, he hits a double to right. Two innings later, a single. My friends Mike, Tim and I take odds on the triple for the cycle. It's just a joke. Buhner can't hit a triple. He's too slow and the Kingdome's too small. We weren't counting on another 14-inning game, though. In the 7th he strikes out, in the ninth, grounds out, and he ends the 11th with a strikeout. Then he leads off the 14th with a shot to right. I'm hoping homer, but it bounces off the wall and away from both outfielders, and Jay digs for third. And I mean DIGS. I thought he was going to bury himself to make it. He does! Cycle! Never seen one of those before! Game ain't over yet, though. Tino is intentionally walked, Greg Litton forces him at second. Buhner doesn't score. He scores on a wild pitch instead. Buhner's is the first cycle in Mariners history. The game is also memorable for me because of a Junior at-bat in the 5th. I'm about to get a hot dog, realize Junior's up, then wait it out. Count goes 3-0. I yell up at Mike. “You greenlight him?” Mike shakes his head. I nod mine. Next pitch? Upper deck. Seattle Times story on the cycle here.
- July 2: Red Sox 9, M's 8: The Red Sox score in every one of the first 5 innings. This was when Mike Greenwell was our bete noire. Junior goes 3-4, Buhner goes 4-5 with a homer. Edgar's on the DL. Dave Magadan is our DH.
- July 5: Yankees 6, M's 3: Randy isn't quite Randy yet, and he loses to the Yankees, who aren't quite the Yankees yet. They're just a team that hasn't been to the World Series in 12 years. Scott Kamieniecki gets the victory. He'll get his two years later in Game 4.
- July 10, M's 7, Indians 6: M's go up 4-0 in the 1st, the Indians tie it in the 7th, and Buhner, who may be as sick of 14-inning games as I am, hits a walk-off HR with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th. He's having a helluva year when I'm at the Dome. He should pay for my tickets.
- July 28: Twins 4, M's 1. Junior ties a Major League record by hitting his 8th homerun in as many games. Dale Long, Pirates, did it in 1956; Don Mattingly, Yankees, did it in 1987. To be completely honest, I missed it. I was flirting with some girl or other, wasn't looking at home plate, and before I even knew what was happening everyone stood up and roared. Does that even count as “being at the game”? Should it? Four years later, “Good Will Hunting” popularizes the notion that girls matter more than baseball (“I've got to see about a girl”), but I'm still on the fence on that one.
“There it goes! See ya later!”
- July 31: White Sox 13, M's 10: M's go up 4-0 in the 2nd, but over the next 3 innings the Sox score 11 runs off Erik Hanson, Mike Hampton and Brad Holman. Hanson, who started out like an All-Star, is now 8-8.
- September 20: Rangers 2, M's 1 (10 innings): M's are 9 1/2 back at this point with 12 to play, but it's still a heartbreaking loss. Rafael Palmeiro puts the Rangers ahead with what I assume is a pre-juice 10th-inning homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, with 1 out, Junior laces a double. He goes to third on a wild pitch. Jay Buhner walks. And then Dave Magadan lines the ball...right at the shortstop, who doubles off Jay.
- September 25: A's 7, M's 2: Rueben Sierra's grand slam in the 8th inning sinks the M's, but the memorable moment occurs during a Fan Appreciation Night giveaway, when the prize is...Omar Vizquel's glove! We're not talking a Pete O'Brien jersey here. This is something worth having. So I'm already on the edge of my seat when they begin the announcement. They call my section and my seat...but the row in front of me. I stare down in horror, and then, with more horror, hear a little girl say, “Grandma! You won!” I look up and see Grandma go “Huh?” I should've offered Grandma $50 for her ticket. I should've offered her $100. Anything. Omar's GLOVE? Man, I loved Omar.
SEASON RECORD: 7-8 (after starting out 6-2), including two 14-inning victories, the first cycle in Mariners history, a walk-off homerun, a 15-strikeout performance, and the 8th homer in 8 games for Junior. In the off-season, GM Woody Woodward will trade shortstop Omar Vizquel to the Cleveland Indians for Felix Fermin and $500,000, and during the 1995 ALCS an Indians fan will hold up a sign reading: “SEATTLE: Thanks for JIMI HENDRIX and OMAR!” Woodward will later call it, in an interview with me in Seattle Magazine, the trade he regrets most.
TOMORROW: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON.
What Did You Dream About The Night After You Saw “Inception”?
I'm curious if people's dreams were more vivid after seeing “Inception,” the movie about dreams. I don't know if mine were but here's the one I remember. Apologies in advance for doing something so dull as recounting a dream.
I go downstairs with a friend and her child. It's like a hospital cafeteria with lots of light and windowed walls—like at the Seattle Opera—and we sit at a lunch table across from another woman. I'm wondering if she's thinking the child is mine, that we're a couple and this is our kid, when she begins to talk. She actually begins to pitch. She has these movie reviews that she wants us to read. Does she know I used to review movies for The Seattle Times and MSNBC? No. But when she hears my name she recognizes it from my MSNBC days and strengthens her pitch—her need to get me to read these reviews. I look at them. There are about four, each about three pages long, each individually stapled. The top page is slightly mottled, and there are coffee stains and crumbs, and I'm thinking, “God, what a waste of time.”
I read somewhere that we're pretty lousy at figuring out our own dreams but here I go. I'm that woman. Those mottled reviews? They're mine, posted here, once a week. The thought I have in the dream is the doubt I have every day.
Give me a dream about Marion Cotillard any day.
Hollywood B.O.: Parasites and Predators
The big news is that Christopher Nolan's "Inception," despite requiring work from moviegoers, did well at the box office: $60 million. Not sure what the word-of-mouth is from others but the word from my mouth is: "Go."
Meanwhile, "Sorcerer's Apprentice," the Disney/Bruckheimer thing starring Nicholas Cage, fared poorly with only $17 million. Yes, it opened on a Wednesday, but its total domestic take is still just $24 mil. Another faulty tentpole. Its 31% rating from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes isn't horrible, but it only got there because reviews such as this one from Owen Gleiberman were labeled positive: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice is too long, and it's ersatz magic, but at least it casts an ersatz spell." The most important review, meanwhile, isn't even on RT. It comes from my 9-year-old, movie-reviewing nephew, Jordy, who told me over the weekend that "SA" sucked. The words from his mouth: Don't go.
So quality wins out again. One wonders when the studios will get it.
The biggest drops? "The A-Team" shed 808 theaters, down to 428, and lost 73.2% of its business. "Predators" shed no theaters, staying at 2,669, and lost 72.5% of its business. Not good for either film but particularly the latter. In fact it's the biggest second-week drop of the year. Both films, by the way, are from Fox. No surprise.
The full weekend chart can be read here.
It'll be interesting to see how "Inception" does during its second weekend. Anecdotally, I've heard from adults wanting to go back for a second viewing and teenage girls at slumber parties dissecting the intracacies of its plot. Good signs. Also bad signs. Ideas may be the most resilient parasites, as Cobb (Leo) tells us in "Inception," but Hollywood is full of its own brand of resilient parasites, who love to latch onto original ideas and turn them into crap. Expect dull, derivative movies about dreams in the near future. Fox is already probably working on one.
UPDATE: The actuals are in and "Predators" only dropped 71.7%, so its was only the second-worst second-weekend drop this year. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010)—you are still champ!
Meanwhile, "Inception" grossed $62 million, not $60 million. A good word-of-mouth sign.
Review: “Inception” (2010)
WARNING: SPOILERS (OR ARE THEY?)
“Dreams feel real while we’re in them,” says Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), early in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” “It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”
In this regard, nothing feels like a dream so much as a movie. In the dark we suspend disbelief. Then the lights go up, the analytic part of the brain starts working again, and we go, “Wait a minute.” Sometimes we don’t have to wait for the lights to go up.
That’s one of the things I loved about “Inception”: the parallels between its form (movies) and its content (dreams). At one point Cobb is attempting to recruit Adriadne (Ellen Page), his latest architect of dreamscapes, to become the final member of his team, his subconscious “Mission: Impossible” force, and they’re drinking coffee at an outdoor cafe in Paris when he tells her that dreams always begin in medias res; we don’t know how we got to a place, we’re just there. Then he asks her: “How did you get here?” She thinks, can’t remember, realizes they’re in a dream, but in the audience I’m thinking, “I know how she got there: the quick cut.” That is: They’re in one spot talking about a topic; then they’re in another spot a bit further in the same conversation. It’s a common storytelling device. We accept it in movies. Hell, we demand it of movies because we don’t want to watch characters walking downstairs, going outside, hailing a cab, being driven to the cafe, getting out, paying the cabbie, getting a table, ordering, drinking, and then continuing their conversation. Just give us the quick cut already. That’s part of why movies are the perfect medium for a story about dreams. Form lends itself to content.
My favorite of these parallels may be the moment Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s dead wife, who haunts his dreamscapes, and is in fact the most uncontrollable and malignant element within these dreamscapes (hence her name), tries to convince him to stay with her in his dream world. She tries to convince him that what he considers the real world? That’s the dream. Think about it, she says. Some faceless international corporation is out to get you—you think that’s real? As a movie audience, we accept that trope because we’ve seen it before: the subplot that continues to dog the protagonist throughout the plot, adding an extra frisson of tension. But once she mentions how absurd it is, well, it does seem absurd. Because it’s a movie, a Hollywood movie, and most Hollywood movies are absurd. She’s basically the movie critic in his subconscious, saying, “C’mon, man, this is bullshit.”
So is this movie bullshit? When the lights come up, do we go, “Wait a minute”?
In “Inception,” Cobb is an on-the-lam extractor, a man who can navigate other people’s dreams and extract useful information for, say, international corporate rivals. That’s basically where we first see him. Like in a dream, we’re plopped in medias res into a complicated storyline and have to suss it out. Cobb, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Nash (Lukas Haas), are trying to extract business secrets from international CEO Saito (Ken Watanabe). But their real selves are in a dingy room in a Latin American country in the midst of revolution, with IVs strapped to their arms putting them under. In the dream, an elegant party at Saito’s place in Japan, Cobb is betrayed by Mal, his dead wife, whom his unconscious keeps dragging along to gum up the works, but at last he has the information in hand when, no!, he’s forced to wake up because things are getting dangerous for their real selves. Except why the quick-cut to the Japanese kid on the train? We get the answer to that when Cobb and Saito fight in their dingy room and Cobb forces Saito’s face into an ugly shag carpeting. The room, it turns out, is the room where Saito often met his mistress, and he says he always hated that carpet, and the smell of it, and he can’t smell that smell now. So he knows he’s still in a dream. A dream within a dream. That revolution outside? That’s Saito’s subconscious, rebelling, like antibodies, and trying to attack the foreign substance, which is the dream’s architect, Nash. Their real selves are actually on the train, being administered to by the Japanese kid, who wakes the three team members with Edith Piaf’s song “Non, je ne regrette rien.” At first I thought this homage to Ms. Cotillard, who won an Oscar playing Piaf in “La vie en rose.” But it has a deeper meaning. This film is all about regret.
Saito quickly tracks them down. Not to hurt them but to hire them. And he wants something more dangerous that extraction. He wants inception: an idea planted into the mind of a rival, Robert Fisher, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), that will cause him to break up his international corporation, which currently controls one-half of the world’s energy. “Choose your team wisely,” he says to Cobb, in reference to Nash, who couldn’t make carpets smell right, who didn’t get the details right. He’s like the lackadaisical production designer on the Michael Mann set. Fired.
(At the same time, if you extend the metaphor, the real screw-up is the director, Cobb, whose guilt over the death of his wife is so strong he keeps dragging her along into other people’s dreamscapes. Is this a directorly admission that you’ll eff up the production when you bring your personal baggage onto the set?)
For his team, Cobb already has Arthur, his point man, and he quickly gathers the rest: Ariadne, who will design the dream, Yusef (Dileep Rao), who will administer the drugs, and Eames (Tom Hardy), the forger, who can impersonate important people from Fisher’s world in the dreamscape. It’s both a good team Cobb has assembled and a good team writer-director Christopher Nolan has assembled. Ellen Page is whip-smart. Cotillard is both dreamy-looking lost love and dangerous femme fatale. But I may have been most impressed with Hardy. He steals every scene. The scam is Cobb’s, the whole story is Cobb’s, and everyone seems to channel their energy into these, and his, obsessions; but Hardy suggests for Eames a life outside of this story. We don’t have much to wonder about with Cobb but we have everything to wonder about with Eames.
To plant their idea into Fisher Jr.’s mind, they plan on three levels of dreams, each one more dangerous, each one requiring a heavier level of sedation. They need time, too. On the plus side, each level you go down, time speeds up. Cobb and his wife once spent 50 years in a dreamscape together, growing old, creating their world, while in the real world, what, a month passed? Less? But they still need access to Fisher Jr. for an extended period of time without his knowledge. They get it when he books a 10-hour transatlantic flight to Los Angeles. So they book the rest of the seats. Everyone on board is with them. (Question: Has he no security, though? Does one control half the world’s energy and not travel with bodyguards?)
To reiterate, for myself as much as you: They enter his dream, his subconscious, but the dreamscape has been designed by Ariadne, and they, the team, are conscious actors, as opposed to figments of his subconscious like everyone else. But he can’t tell they’re conscious actors.
On the first level it’s raining hard, and they complain about the water Fisher drank on the plane. Nice touch. Then they kidnap him in a taxicab but things quickly go awry. A train, not designed by Ariadne, slams through the middle of a street, and suited toughs, projections, placed in Fisher’s subconscious to protect him from just this kind of attack, engage the team in a gunfight. Saito, along for the ride (for some reason), is shot in the chest, and the team holes up in a warehouse, where they are continually assaulted, and where Cobb tells them that dying in here won’t wake them up up there. They’re too heavily sedated to allow for such a wake-up jolt. So what happens? They will remain here, in Fisher’s subconscious, forever. Scary.
To get down to the next level, they get into a van with their IVs, and Yusef drugs them to sleep. Then he drives furiously through the dreamscape, chased by projections. That’s level 1.
At level 2, they’re at a 1940s-style hotel. At level 3, they’re at a wintry fortress that looks like something out of a James Bond movie or the ice planet Hoth. But every level affects the lower level. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. So if the van at level 1 careens wildly, the world of the 1940s-style hotel tilts correspondingly. This leads to some of the movie’s best visuals, particularly a fight in the hotel hallway that’s turning over and over, as the van, at level 1, rolls down a hill.
At level 3, both Fisher and Saito die, so Cobb decides to go into his own subconscious to retrieve them. Not quite sure how this works, to be honest. But Ariadne, who’s spent the movie sussing out the pieces of Cobb’s tragedy, goes along with him. To level 4.
Cobb is on the lam because he’s accused of murdering his wife. Apparently the two went deep into their 50-year-old dreamscape, grew old together, and she refused to come out. She refused to believe that their dreamworld was in fact a dream. So, for the first time ever, Cobb messed about with inception. He planted an idea directly into his wife’s mind that this world wasn’t real; that they needed to die, under train tracks, to get back to the real world. Which they did. All good. Except that idea followed Mal into the real world, and she became convinced that the real world wasn’t real, and that the two of them needed to kill themselves to “wake up.” And that’s what she does. She leaves evidence behind implicating him. That’s his tragedy. That’s why he’s on the lam and that’s why he can’t see his kids. Non, je regrette tout.
The dreamscape Cobb and Ariadne encounter at level 4 is the world, now crumbling majestically, that he and Mal created so long ago. There, with Ariadne helping guide him toward rationality, he finally faces his past, his regret, and the two retrieve Fisher and jolt him awake at level 3. Cobb then remains behind to retrieve Saito.
Thus, more or less concurrently, you have: Cobb confronting an ancient Saito at level 4; a gun battle at the ice fortress at level 3, where Fisher also confronts his father, and where the idea of breaking up his father’s empire is ingeniously implanted in Fisher’s mind; Arthur figuring out how to jolt the principles awake in what is now a gravity-less hotel at level 2; and it’s gravity-less because, at level 1, the van has been driven off a bridge and is falling in slow-motion into a river. Four cliff-hangers for the price of one. Four Steven Spielberg movies all at once. It’s like a Pixie-Stix IV straight into the veins of the summer moviegoer.
Eventually, at all levels, everyone is jolted awake, and everyone, including Cobb and Saito, wake up on the plane. Secret smiles are shared. Fisher looks like an idea, that most resilient parasite, has gotten hold of him.
Cobb is still wanted for murder in the U.S., of course, but Saito promised that if the mission succeeded he would make it all go away. And he does. At Customs, Cobb is allowed in. “Welcome back, Mr. Cobb.” His father-in-law (Michael Caine) is there to greet him, and he takes him back to their home, where his kids, who, throughout, have remained playful but distant, forever turning their faces away from him, finally turn, smile, and rush into his arms. It’s like a dream.
Is it? If you’re someone who enters dreamworlds all the time, one of the things you bring along, Cobb advises, is a totem: some small object that only you know about. Cobb’s totem is a small metal top, which, he suggests, never stops spinning in the dreamworld. That’s how he tests his reality, his sanity. If it stops spinning, he knows he’s in the real world. And just before his kids turn to him, he spins his totem on the dining room table, then forgets all about it as his kids rush into his arms. The camera doesn’t forget, though. It pans back. The top is still spinning. Still spinning. And just as it maybe begins to wobble, the screen goes dark. The End.
There’s going to be a lot of discussion on this lady-or-the-tiger ending, but the question I’d ask isn’t “Is the ending a dream?” but “Is this ending more effective?” I’d argue that it is. “Inception” is about questioning reality, and an ambiguous end lends itself to this theme, and we carry that feeling out of the theater. At least I did. As I walked in downtown Seattle at twilight on a Friday night, everything seemed slightly off. People seemed odder, buildings less substantial. And why were all these Japanese walking around speaking Japanese? Where was I anyway?
There are parallels, certainly, between “Inception” and “Shutter Island,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s previous movie that included a crazy wife who kills herself and the protagonist’s subsequent retreat from reality. But I felt “Inception” more. With “Shutter,” the craziness is isolated in one character. With “Inception,” it spreads. Like an idea. The sanest person in the movie, in fact, may be Mal, just before she kills herself. Once you navigate to the lower dream levels, who is to say that our level, the non-dream level, is the final level? Aren’t we told, all of our lives, that there is another, higher level? Or levels? Who’s to say that reality isn’t the dream from which we need to wake up? The greatest philosophers have said just that. Most of us have felt just that. Nolan is actually tapping into the sense of unreality that reality has.
Not bad for a summer blockbuster.
Review: “Micmacs” (2010)
WARNING: SPOILERS AFFECTEE
If you felt Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” (or, in the original French, “Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain”) was too pleased with its own quirkiness, then Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs” (or, in the original French, “Micmacs à tire-larigot”) is probably not the film for you.
Jeunet is a master visual storyteller. No argument there. In the first two minutes we see a mine-sweeper in the Sahara get blown up, his wife and son receiving the bad news, the wife catatonic at the funeral, the son taken away to Catholic school, the son punished at Catholic school, the son escaping from Catholic school—all with hardly a word spoken.
Then it’s 30 years later. The son, Bazil, is now Dany Boon, late of “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis” (2008), the most popular film in French history. He’s working late at Matador Video, watching “The Big Sleep” dubbed in French, and repeating the dialogue along with Bogart and Bacall, or Bogart and Bacall’s French dubbers (who, by the way, are fantastique), when he hears gunfire, real gunfire, outside. He goes to the door and sees men in a car chasing a man on a motorcycle—or vice versa. There’s a crash, a gun goes off accidentally, and the bullet goes, pow!, straight into Bazil’s forehead. Down he goes. Out come the opening credits.
Is he dead? Nope. But the bullet is so close to his brain it’s a coin toss whether it’s riskier to operate (and possibly turn him into a vegetable), or leave the bullet where it is (where a sneeze or knock on the head might kill him). And that’s what the surgeon does. He flips a coin and leaves the bullet in.
Thus Bazil is given a new, precarious lease on life, but life does not exactly open its arms to welcome him back. His apartment has already been rented out from under him, his effects have been stolen, and his job at the video store has been given to another. In Jeunet’s world, this no reason to get all gloomy. Au contraire! Instead we get a series of short, Chaplinesque scenes from our new little tramp. Bazil stands behind a subway pillar and mouths along as a girl on the other side of the pillar sings for the coins of passing commuters. He performs a robot dance for the tourists at some brasserie de musee. He cleans his feet via street-cleaner. He eyes a breadline, but, from pride, refuses to get in it, implying to the pretty volunteer that he’s simply waiting for a taxi. Which, of course, is when the taxi arrives, requiring further subterfuge. No bitterness is associated with any of these circumstances. Even as he strains to sleep beneath a cardboard box by the Seine, he merely smiles and waves when a boat, filled with lights and gaiety (and rich bastards), floats by.
But he’s getting a rep, and one day, a man named Placard (Jean-Pierre Marielle), who has spent three-quarters of his life behind bars, brings him to a junkyard, a rather magical junkyard, where, under a “tire-larigot” sign, he’s led through amazingly clean tunnels and introduced to a group of misfits, each with their own talent. La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier) is a contortionist who can fit her body into the bottoms of refrigerators, while Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup, who has an Amelie thing going) can calculate weight, height, distance, on sight. Petit Pierre (Michel Crémadès) is a genial puppet/robot-maker who is shockingly strong, while Fracasse (Dominique Pinon of “Delicatessen”) is a human cannonball who claims, vehemently, to have once held the Guiness record for human cannonball flight. Mothered over by Tambouille (Yolande Moreau of “Seraphine”), they’re a kind of French version of the X-Men.
They spend their lives taking the useless and making it useful, and, in a way, that’s what they do with Bazil. More than they know. He’s off on his first junk run, when he stumbles upon the headquarters of the weapons merchants that manufactured the mine that killed his father, run by François Marconi (Nicolas Marié), right across the street from the headquarters of the weapons merchants that manufactured the bullet that nearly ended his life, run by Nicolas Thibault de Fenouillet (Andre Dussollier).
Both men are pieces of work. Marconi (who could’ve been played by Daniel Auteuil) imagines himself a poet while perpetually quizzing his son on the trivia of historical munitions. Fenouillet (who suggests a French James Caan) collects bits of the famous dead under glass: the heart of Louis XVI, the molar of Marilyn Monroe, the vertebrae of Tino Rossi. In a way these bits suggest what’s left of humanity after an explosion. They also suggest a way of life opposite of our heroes. Fenouillet is taking the useful and keeping it useless.
Bazil’s revelation leads to an immediate frontal assault on both headquarters that goes nowhere. But soon he and his French X-Men concoct over-elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque schemes to bring down the bad guys.
Example. They distract drug dealers in order to fill a mailbox full of water, allowing the drug-filled envelope inside to float within finger reach; then, at the airport, they plant said envelope into the pocket of a deposed African dictator, who is doing business with Fenouillet (illegal arms for Mussolini’s eye, I believe); then, with Fracasse luring drug-sniffing dogs forward with meat, La Môme Caoutchouc, tucked inside a suitcase, cuts the dog’s leash from his unobservant, Robert De Niro-imitating police master, and the dog bolts for the meat—until he smells the drugs in the dictator’s pocket and starts barking. The bad guys are led away. Could this have been accomplished more easily? Yes, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
The goal is to keep pricking both men to see if they bleed, and, of course, being men of power and prestige, they react badly to the pricking and suspect each other. The movie might have made more sense if our heroes had merely pushed each industrialist into the other and then gotten out of the way, but it’s our heroes who keep doing the pricking. The contortionist enters Fenouillet’s place via special-delivery box and vacuums up all his prized celebrity parts—leaving behind one hand with middle finger extended. A cache of Marconi’s arms are stolen and dumped into the Seine via coffee pot of bees and the services of the human cannonball (or Bazil). Fenouillet’s place is blown up. By accident? On the news, we’re told, “There were no fatalities.” Of course not. Otherwise our protagonists would be as bad as our antagonists.
The final scheme involves kidnapping both weapons merchants and transporting them to an Arab desert, where Fenouillet, with one of his explosives clenched in his mouth, is put on the shoulders of Marconi, standing on one of his own land mines, and the two men totter, and plead shamelessly, before a silent tribunal of Arab women in burkhas who hold photos of their own mutilated or murdered children before them. The men admit their crimes, offer, in a sense, arms for hostages (“I’m all for terrorism!” Marconi shouts), but it’s our heroes under the burkhas, and the desert is a building site in France. And it’s all being recorded.
How old am I? After that moment I thought: “Oh, they can get this footage to some news outlet.” Instead they upload it on YouTube under the title “Arms dealers fooled,” and it becomes a hit. We see people around the world watching it...and then presumably going back to their 9-to-5. Or watching some other YouTube clip? “California Gurls”? “Nekkid Mom”? “Crazy Snake Attack!”? The arms dealers get more than humiliated—Marconi gets 15 years for illegal arms sales—but YouTube still feels like a small ending to such an elaborate scheme.
Is the set-up too easy? Band of misfits vs. weapons merchants—with the latter vacuous and bitter and the former a little too pleased with its own quirks. Besides, take down Marconi and another CEO rises in his place. Take down his company and another rises in its place. The problem is less the supply than the demand. And there will always be demand, world without end.
At the same time...why not? Sure, weapons merchants are easy targets, but so are terrorists, which is why Hollywood keeps sending one lone man to fight them. Again and again and again. When was the last time Hollywood made villains of weapons merchants? Why, they’re just capitalists. Like the rest of us.
That may be my favorite thing about “Micmacs.” By its French example, it lays bare the claim that Hollywood’s product is anything close to liberal. Merci, M. Jeunet.
George Steinbrenner III (1930-2010)
There was an unfortunate (but humorous) juxtaposition between photo and headline on The New York Times site today:
I'm obviously not a fan of Steinbrenner but I admire him in this way: He didn't live a life of quiet desperation. Sometimes it was noisy desperation but at least he knew what he wanted and went out and tried to get it. Sometimes, oftentimes, his very grasping attempt got in the way of his goal, but there was an object lesson in that, too. One learned this, watching him screw up with his Yankees throughout the 1980s. Did he learn it himself by the 1990s? Or was his grasping irascibility merely tempered by Joe Torre's calm? That's certainly implied by Tom Verducci in Joe Torre's biography, “The Yankee Years.”
I also admired this: He may have represented a corporation, his corporation, in a very public way, but there was nothing blandly corporate about him. You never wondered with Steinbrenner, “Well, what does he really mean? What is he trying to say?” The very thought is laughable. In comparison, what smooth, dull presences represent most baseball teams today. Steinbrenner was genuine. Often a genuine asshole, often a genuine bully, but genuine.
Will he be missed? Certainly. By me? I'm like Holden Caulfied. I wind up missing everybody.
Rest in peace, you old S.O.B.
Hollywood B.O.: Kids' Movies and Grown Ups
“Despicable Me” opened at $60 million!
What does this mean? Not much, really. It's a better opening than some thought, but it's only the sixth best opening this year, behind the obvious (“Iron Man 2”; “Toy Story 3”), and the not-so-obvious (“Clash of the Titans”). Unadjusted, it's the 69th best opening weekend ever, behind such films as “Planet of the Apes” (the 2001 version), “Hulk” (the 2003 version), and “2012” (the 2009 version).
Of those 68 movies that opened better, however, 52 opened in more theaters than “Despicable”'s 3,476. So of the 3,500-and-under crowd, its opening is 18th best. Remove sequels and it's 10th best.
But, again, that's unadjusted. Adjust, and it goes from 69th to 133th, behind such long-lasting films as “Van Helsing,” “Big Daddy,” “The Village,” and “101 Dalmatians” (the 1996 live-action version).
Robert Rodriguez's “Predators,” from Fox, the fifth in the off-again, on-again series, grossed $25 million, good enough for third place. Didn't boom, didn't bomb. Nothing to write a blog post home about.
The big news came from returning films.
The worst percentage change for any wide release was, big surprise, M. Night Shyamalan's “The Last Airbender,” dropping 57% despite adding 34 theaters. Given its lousy reviews, though (7% from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes), and lousier word-of-mouth, one assumed, one hoped, it would drop more. It wound up in fifth place with $17 million. The percentage drop would've been worse, of course, but the film opened on a Thursday, its biggest day, and so had that much less to fall off from.
Meanwhile, “Toy Story 3” (99%), despite direct competition from a popular new kids' movie, fell off by only 27%, pulling in $22 million. That's fourth place. It's now the highest-grossing film of the year domestically.
Before we celebrate the long legs of quality films like “Toy Story,” however, this news: the smallest percentage drop came from the Adam Sandler comedy, “Grown Ups,” which didn't exactly kill with the critics (13%), but which, in its third week, still fell off by only 13%. It's now grossed $111 million domestically. That's 10th for the year and our most successful comedy. Grown ups, indeed.
Review: “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010)
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” could be an ironic twist on the documentary form, in which the subject is forced to become the documentarian because the original documentarian turns out to be incompetent, and in which the celebration of art (in its street form) becomes a condemnation of the art world (in its gallery form).
Or it could be a hoax. In which case... what? The laugh, rather than being on the art world, is on us? We are the suckers we thought we were watching.
And if the latter, does this make the doc more meaningful or ultimately meaningless?
Let me begin by saying I don’t know from art, let alone street art. I knew of Shepard Fairey through the Obama “Hope” poster and its subsequent AP lawsuit, (and from articles that mentioned his original famous work: the Andre the Giant “OBEY” graffito), but I’d never heard of the others: Monsieur Andre, with his flowing, friendly stick figure drawings; Space Invader, who tucks his Atari-inspired glyphs in out-of-the-way places around Paris; Zeus, painting shadows on the streets. Most of this stuff is fun. I laughed out loud at the chicken-or-egg humor to this graffito: “SORRY ABOUT YOUR WALL —Borf.”
Then there’s Banksy, whose name flashed by during the opening credits. Isn’t the whole thing called “A Banksy Film”? He’s interviewed early, his voice altered, his entire hooded form in silhouette, and lays it all out: “The film is the story of what happened when this guy tried to make a documentary about me... [but] the film is now kinda about him.”
This guy is Thierry Guetta, a French, vintage-clothing store owner living in Los Angeles, who has the habit, possibly from childhood trauma, of filming most of the interactions in his life. In 1999, he was visiting family in Paris, including his cousin, Space Invader, and Thierry and his video camera went on his night rounds with him. The impermanence of street art was thus recorded for posterity. This was Thierry’s entrée into the street-art world.
Soon Thierry lands one of the biggees, Shepard Fairey, and follows him around for 10 months. Then he lands the other biggee, Britain’s super-secretive Banksy, “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the street art scene,” according to Cablestreet, who is famous, or infamous, for his stenciled rats, for putting up his own framed artwork in prestigious galleries, for painting a crack in Jerusalem’s wailing wall through which one can view a Caribbean paradise. When Banksy heads to L.A. and needs a tour guide, Fairey hooks him up with Thierry and his camera.
Thierry’s there, filming, when Banksy stages an intervention into Bush-era America. He blows up an orange-suited Gitmo doll and places it in full view of a roller-coaster ride at Disneyland. Banksy is able to make his getaway but Thierry is grabbed by Disney security and interrogated for four hours. The absurdity of that situation—the heavy hand of the Happiest Place on Earth, along with the obvious Disney/Gitmo connection—is both creepy and hilarious. It’s as if Banksy (and Thierry) get their antagonists to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of the very point they’re making.
All the while, though, there’s something off about the narration from British actor Rhys Ifans. It’s telling us a story, this story, but Ifans, sounding a bit like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,” reads it like he doesn’t believe it. There’s an ironic, sarcastic layer to everything he says. There's something off, too, about Thierry, who, in recent talking-head interviews, wears Civil War-era muttonchops and never seems particularly bright. Halfway through, the bomb is dropped. The doc he's making? He's not making it. He simply puts the videotapes in shoe boxes and never reviews it. It’s not until Banksy asks him to create the doc he’s been talking about that he tries to create the doc he’s been talking about.
And it’s shite: like a caffeinated man flipping through 900 TV channels for 90 minutes. (Or so we’re told: we only get a snippet.)
So Banksy, like some latter-day David O. Selznik, takes over. He’ll put together the doc, based on Thierry’s footage. And what should Thierry do? “Make some art,” Banksy tells him.
He does. “I didn’t want to disappoint Banksy,” he says.
Earlier, Banksy had put together a successful show in L.A.—which included a spray-painted elephant, the so-called elephant in the room of modern society, which led to PETA protests—and it was a hit. Thierry wanted to do something similar. He decided that all street art, from Shepard Fairey's OBEY to Ron English's creepy Ronald McDonald, was really a reaction to the brainwashing of modern society, so he renames himself Mr. Brain Wash, and creates a show, “Life is Beautiful.” It keeps growing and growing. He hires people to help. He sinks more and more of his own money into it. He’s the street artist without the street, and possibly without the art, and one watches horrified that he’s going to bankrupt himself and his family on this whim. Then he gets positive blurbs from Shepard Fairey and Banksy, and his show winds up on the cover of LA Weekly, and one becomes more horrified that his show may actually succeed. And it does. Thierry, now Mr. Brain Wash, and a celebrity in his own right, makes over $1 million selling his not-very-good artwork to not-very-discriminating patrons. He winds up creating the cover art for Madonna’s 2009 CD “Celebration.” We cut to Banksy, apparently interviewing himself, saying, “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore.”
So tables were turned and lessons were learned. The fake had supplanted the real and no one could tell the difference. We are revealed as a society without taste. Gore Vidal once called Tennessee Williams “someone to laugh at the squares with,” and that’s what these patrons are, squares, as is, ha!, Madonna, as is our whole culture. But you and I and the other theatergoers? We know. We’re with Banksy.
Except is the story true?
When the doc screened at Sundance in January, a letter from Banksy was read, which included the line, “Everything you are about to see is true, especially the bit where we all lie.”
So what’s the lie? That Mr. Brain Wash (as opposed to, say, Banksy) created his crap art? That gallery patrons bought it? That a guy named Thierry had a predilection for filming? That a guy named Thierry exists?
And if it is a lie, what’s the point of it? Most of Banksy’s art has a point. Think of that stencil of Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, skipping hand-in-hand with the naked, napalmed Vietnamese girl from 1972—an image both hilarious and sickening. The best of Banksy’s art puts the blunt reality in the midst of the corporate or government fantasy. But if most of the doc is a lie? It's blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in a way that feels like a giggle rather than a point.
Or is the point of Banksy's art to subvert comfortable norms—from Queen Victoria to art galleries—and the movie theater is one more comfortable norm he’s subverting? His art is designed to wake people up from believing everything they hear, and that includes, in the end, what they hear from him. He's now the man he's warning us about.
When the doc screened at the Berlin Festival in February, Banksy seemed to backtrack on the “lies” issue:
Essentially, I thought it was important to start recording the global phenomenon of street art, because I felt if we didn’t get it on tape a lot of people wouldn’t believe some of the things that were going on. As it turns out, some of the people don’t believe it anyway and they think the film is some kind of spoof. This is ironic because ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ is one of the most honest films you’ll ever see. There was no plan, there was no script and we didn’t even realize we were making a film until about halfway through.”
But even this backtrack raises questions. He started recording the global phenomenon of street art? Wasn’t it Thierry?
For me, it’s a little sad if the story is a lie. We already have enough lies in our lives.
The Catch - Quote 3
“Wertz hits it. A solid sound. I learn a lot from the sound of the ball on the bat. Always did. I could tell from the sound whether to come in or go back. This time I'm going back, a long way back, but there is never any doubt in my mind. I am going to catch this ball. I turn and run for the bleachers. But I got it. Maybe you didn't know that but I knew it. Soon as it got hit, I knew I'd catch this ball.
”But that wasn't the problem. The probelm wsa Larry Doby on second base. On a deep fly to center field at the Polo Grounds, a runner could score all the way from second. I've done that myself and more than once. So if I make the catch, which I will, and Larry scores from second, they still get the run that puts them ahead.
“All the time I'm running back, I'm thinking, 'Willie, you've got to get this ball back to the infield.'
”I run 50 or 75 yards—right to the warning track—and I take the ball a little over my left shoulder. Suppose I stop and turn and throw. I will get nothing on the ball. No momentum going into my thow. What I have to do is this: after I make the catch, turn. Put all my momentum into that turn. To keep my momentum, to get it working for me, I have to turn very hard and short and throw the ball from exactly the point that I caught it. The momentum goes into my turn and up through my legs and into my throw.
“That's what I did. I got my momentum and my legs into that throw. Larry Doby ran to third but couldn't score. Al Rosen didn't even advance from first.
All the while I'm runnin' back, I was planning how to get off that throw.
”Then some of them wrote, 'He made that throw by instinct.'"
—Willie Mays, on his famous catch off Vic Wertz in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. From James S. Hirsch's Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, pages 200 and 201.
The Catch - Quote 2
“What the fuck are you talking about? Willie makes fucking catches like that every day. Do you keep your fucking eyes closed in the press box?”
—Giants' Manager Leo Durocher, when asked by a reporter, after the game, if Willie Mays's catch off Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series was the greatest catch he'd ever seen. From James S. Hirsch's Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, page. 199.
The Catch - Quote 1
“I've been playing ball since I was a kid. I've been around the major leagues for 30 years. That was the greatest catch I've ever seen. Just the catch, mind you. Now put it all together. The catch. The throw. The pressure on the kid. I'd say that was the best play anybody ever made in baseball.”
—Manager Al Lopez, Cleveland Indians, on Willie Mays's catch off Vic Wertz in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. From James S. Hirsch's Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, page. 199.
Scene of the Day: "Quai des Orfèvres" (1947)
Inspector Antoine (the incomparable Louis Jouvet) is investigating the murder of a lecherous old man and is closer than he may realize as he talks with Dora (Simone Renant), a photographer, who is covering up something for the woman she loves. The conversation is effortless, deep, and sounds better in the original French. Written and directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.
Antoine: Say. A 2.8
Dora: You a connoisseur?
Antoine: I do some Sunday photography. Nothing exciting. I shoot houses, old shops, small streets. Barnivel got me hooked.
Antoine: Don’t remember him? A terrific old guy. (Blows nose) But he had a thing about poison. He wiped out his whole family. Wife, two daughters, brother-in-law. He photographed them on their deathbed. A real artist. I missed him after he was booked. We’d become friends.
Dora: That happen often?
Antoine: Befriending the clientele? Sure. We keep company. It’s good for our education. We don’t have much schooling. We move in all kinds of circles, meet all sorts of people. I learned engraving from a counterfeiter, accounting from a swindler. A taxi dancer tried to teach me the tango. But nothing doing. It wasn’t up my alley.
Antoine: (Offers his hand.) Shake my left, it’s nearer the heart. A pleasure.
Oui. Un plaisir.
Hollywood B.O.: The Short, Sad Life of Jonah Hex
Once again, two movies opened wide this weekend, and once again they were no.s 1 and 2 at the box office—even though no. 1, "Twilight: Eclipse," actually opened on Wednesday (but to the best reviews of the series, 63% from top critics at RT, although indicative was Joe Morgenstern's thumbs up: "It didn't leave me cold"), while no. 2, "The Last Airbender," opened on Thursday (to horrible reviews and 7% from top critics on RT).
The other five films in 2,000+ theaters fell off in typical fashion: between 47.9% ("Karate Kid") and 52.8% ("Grown Ups").
Of the seven films playing wide this weekend, the only one out of place was "Toy Story 3." It's now in its third week but it remained ahead of the two second-week films. Like so:
A few questions from looking at the final column above. Since most major releases get a partner with whom they dance during subsequent weekends, which film partnered with "Toy Story 3" three weekends ago? And who was "Get Him to the Greek"'s partner? And what two films opened six weekends ago but has since fallen off the charts?
Answers in reverse order.
Six weekends ago, "Prince of Perisa" and "Sex and the City 2" opened together. "PP" is now 12th, in 600 theaters, and probably won't gross $90 million domestically. "SATC" is now chartless, although still playing in several local Seattle theaters, and is stuck at $93 million.
"Get Him to the Greek" opened with "Killers," that Ashton Kutcher thing, which is still playing in 700+ theaters and made about a half mil. Total gross: $45 million ($56m worldwide).
And "Toy Story 3"'s partner? That would be "Jonah Hex," which has all but vamoosed. It's still playing in a handful of theaters but for whatever reason they're not counting its numbers. It hasn't topped $10 million domestically. It's already been tossed and forgotten.
Remember the difficulty Andy had in throwing away his toys in "Toy Story 3"? That's not Hollywood with its toys. But then they make a shittier product. And they know new ones arrive every week.
Lancelot Links Celebrates the 4th (A Day Late and $10 Trillion Short)
- My friend Jim Walsh writes a short July 4th letter to the President and says it all. I particularly like this reminder about what candidate Obama actually said, as opposed to what a lot of people think he said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
- Hollywood.com created this fun interactive feature, “The United States of Movies,” for the 4th, with their editors' choices for each state's best movie embedded within the map. Just click on the state to get an image from the movie. Double-click to get title and synopsis. Nifty. You expect arguments—“Twister” for Oklahoma? What about “Oklahoma!”?—but the majority of arguments in the comments below aren't the smartest arguments. E.g., the feature is an “epic fail” because “Fargo” was chosen for Minnesota when everyone knows, duh!, Fargo is in North Dakota. Yes, kids, Fargo is, but “Fargo” isn't. In this way Hollywood.com's interactive feature is like a micro-version of the U.S. itself. It begins as a great idea but pretty soon you're just surrounded by idiots.
- The New York Times interviews author Sebastian Junger on his documentary “Restrepo,” about a platoon in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Again, see the movie if you have the chance. It's brilliant.
- What does it take to get elected these days? Clint Webb for Senate!
- A reminder from a few weeks back: Joe Barton Would Like to Apologize...
- A real senator, Sen. Al Franken talks seriously (with the usual biting humor) about the sorry state of the current U.S. Supreme Court. Excerpt:
I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to recognize that the Roberts Court has, consistently and intentionally, protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans. And you certainly don’t need to be a lawyer to understand what that means for the working people who are losing their rights, one 5-4 decision at a time.
- To be American do you have to hate everything the rest of the world loves? Hendrik Hertzberg takes down (but not sharply enough) the insane right's reaction to the World Cup.
- If you know one thing about me you know I hate the Yankees. But this video, from the New York Times, on Mariano River's cutter, is way, way cool.
- Finally, I'm reading James S. Hirch's biography, Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, and enjoying myself immensely. Some takeaways. Mays was a legend (in the media) before he was a legend on the field. Baseball was his third-best sport in high school but the others (football, basketball) provided no avenue to a successful career. And most important: Never underestimate the ability of the enthusiasm of one man (albeit one extremely talented man) to transform a team.
Review: “The Karate Kid” (2010)
“The Karate Kid” practices what it preaches.
Not the karate, since it’s set in China and that’s kung fu. Nor, really, the idea of using kung fu to avoid fights, since we didn’t buy our tickets to watch someone not fight, thank you. We’re moviegoers and we want our wish fulfillment. We’re Old Testament and we want our just desserts.
No, here’s what it preaches. At one point, Mei Ying (Han Wenwen), a young Chinese violinist who wants to get into the prestigious Beijing Academy of Music, and who is the love interest/crush of our main character, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), is told by her teacher that she’s playing the music too fast. She needs to slow down and appreciate the pauses.
That’s what the film does. Most summer movies rush to get us onto the roller coaster, then zips us around for two hours. “Kid” takes its time.
It begins in Detroit with a not-bad visual shorthand. Dre is in an empty room staring at the pencil hash marks on the wall indicating how he’s grown over the years. In this way his life is tracked: “Started kindergarten”; “Lost tooth” “First homerun”; “9th birthday”; “Daddy died.” Then his mother (Taraji P. Henson) calls to him and he pencils in the final one: “Moved to China.”
(Caveat: Of course this shorthand only works if you don’t think about it for more than two seconds. “Daddy died, honey. Let’s see how tall you are!”)
On their first day in Beijing, fighting the jetlag, Dre wanders the neighborhood and meets 1) a blonde-haired American kid, Harry (Luke Carberry), who speaks pretty good Mandarin, and who (intentionally?) reminds us of the gang of blonde-haired bullies from the first “Karate Kid”; 2) Mei Ying, who sits on a park bench and smiles at Dre’s various shenanigans, which include sucking at basketball, sucking at ping pong, but busting some good dance moves; and 3) the new gang of bullies, Chinese now, and led by Cheng (a stunning Wang Zhenwei), who may like Mei Ying, may dislike foreigners, or may just be a jerk. But he picks a fight with Dre, who, good for him, stands his ground. Then Dre gets his ass kicked. Harry tries to intervene, saying, “Ta gang li de. Ta bu jrdao ni shr shei,” or, in English, “He just got here; he doesn’t know who you are.” That’s a pretty scary sentiment. One wonders how long the 12-year-old Cheng has been bullying this neighborhood.
How much does “Karate Kid” appreciate the pauses? It makes us wait an hour before we see these bullies get their first comeuppance—when the maintenance man in Dre’s apartment building, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), prevents Cheng and his buddies from putting Dre into the hospital. He does it in the usual Jackie Chan manner: by using his opponents as props; by using his opponents’ need to fight to defeat them. “When fighting angry blind men,” he says later, “best to just stay out of the way.”
Before that moment, we’re mostly getting to know Dre as he gets to know Beijing. He visits the Forbidden City. His mother thinks the hot water in their apartment doesn’t work, but Mr. Han informs him hot water in China works with a switch: turn it on, wait a half hour, take your shower, turn it off. When Dre tells him the U.S. doesn’t have such a switch, he stares at him, then says, “Get switch. Save planet.”
(Caveat: Cute advice coming from, you know, China, where public health, let alone environmental issues, has never been a great concern.)
We’re also getting to know Jaden Smith. It takes a lot for a possibly nepotistic 12-year-old to star in his own film, but he pulls it off. Often he has looks, unconscious looks, that remind us of his father: that slight head shake, for example, while growing increasingly fed-up and angry. What he can’t pull off, and what his father could pull off effortlessly, is that empty bragging thing: that feigning front that lets the audience know the braggart’s got nothing—and yet somehow makes us like the braggart. Jaden tries it that first day at the park, with the basketball and the ping pong, and the humor falls flat.
Jaden is at his best, I believe, when he reminds me, not of his father, but of my nephew, now 9 years old: that almost trapped, desperate look of being unable to explain to grown-ups the injustice of the world. That naked vulnerability. “I hate it here!” he tells his mom. “I want to go home!” When tears well up in his eyes and slide down his cheeks, it’s heartbreaking stuff. Some critics have complained that Jaden, 11 going on 12 now, 10 going on 11 when the movie was filmed, is too young to play the role Ralph Macchio originated at 22 or 23, but the advantage to youth is vulnerability. Dre isn’t on the verge of manhood. He is just a kid.
Despite that, and despite the switch to China and kung fu, this remake mostly follows the path of the original. Bullies gather. Mentor emerges. Mentor says “No such thing as bad students, only bad teacher.” Then he meets the bad teacher, Mr. Li, (Yu Rongguang), who decorates his school with huge, framed photos of himself in aviator glasses, and who physically beats students who dare show mercy to other students. Mr. Han looks both startled and, yes, scared that there are such teachers in the world, so he agrees to teach Dre what he calls “real kung fu.” In the 1980s version, it was wax on/wax off. Here it’s jacket on/jacket on. Same idea. Repetitive task leads to the unconscious physical movements that act as the doorway to the martial art.
Jackie Chan fans, or at least this Jackie Chan fan, has been waiting for years to see him in this kind of role. He became a star in Asia in the 1970s playing the ne’er-do-well student to a crazy or stern taskmaster, often played by Siu Tien Yuen, and now he gets to play that stern taskmaster. He does it well. He’s both stern and concerned. He is stern because he is concerned. He’s teaching not just a one-time thing but a way of life. “Everything is kung fu,” he says. On the window of a train to the Chinese countryside, during a pilgrimage to a Chinese temple, he draws the Chinese character for “chi,” and explains that it means: the eternal essence that flows through life. Dre translates this into pop cultural terms. Chi equals the Force. “You’re Yoda,” he says, “and I’m like a Jedi.” Great line.
This temple is ridiculously beautiful, and a martial arts master mesmerizes a cobra while balancing atop one of the temple’s ornate wings, and later Mr. Han and Dre practice on the Great Wall of China with no tourists or officials in sight (nice gig if you can get it), but despite all of this fanciful stuff the movie works to stay grounded. Most of the training is done in Mr. Han’s cluttered yard, or on a rooftop between drying laundry, and the emphasis keeps returning to the basics: focus, concentration, practice—all of the things you need to succeed in any discipline. The emphasis of the movie, meanwhile, keeps returning to the basics of storytelling: the humanity of its two main characters. When Dre is finally able to punch Mr. Han with force, he looks scared. When Mr. Han’s tragic past is revealed, the movie, rather than being derailed, deepens because of the honesty of Dre’s response. When Dre is injured in the tournament and wants to go back out for the final round, and Mr. Han asks him why, Dre says, “Because I’m still scared.” Another great line. Another great lesson.
The final point of the final round of the tournament is over the top, literally over the top, but the comeuppance of the bad teacher is quiet and dignified and devastating. I walked in hoping “Karate Kid” would be an OK movie; I walked out thinking it was much, much better. It’s wish fulfillment, obviously, but it’s inner-directed wish fulfillment. The point isn’t to decimate your enemies but to better yourself and hope some part of the world follows.
Q&A with Gerry Spence
For my day job I had the privilege of interviewing Gerry Spence, the celebrated Wyoming trial attorney, a few months back. He's one of those guys who, in explaining his job, explains life. Here's an excerpt:
What are some of the biggest changes to the law during your career?
The Patriot Act is a huge change in the law. And there’s been an enormous change on the idea of terrorism. We are afraid of everything. Ultimately we are so afraid that we quietly give up our rights. We are unable to understand that our greatest danger is the loss of our few remaining rights.
Fear is a common theme in your books, isn’t it? From the childhood fears you write about in The Making of a Country Lawyer to your fear in the courtroom in How to Argue and Win Every Time.
I think we’ve been taught not to admit our fear, even to ourselves. We’re all supposed to be brave. We’re supposed to view our lives and those of our opponents without fear. But that isn’t who we really are. We’re all really very afraid. I think we have to recognize our fear and deal with it in an appropriate way. Once we face it and own up to it, it will energize us and, magically, it will retreat like a cowering dog.
There's also this:
What makes a good storyteller?
The listener can’t hear anything that doesn’t have the ring of truth to it. We happen to be one of the few species on the face of the earth that will lie and hurt members of our own species. But we’ve also got the biological advantage of all of these little psychic feelers that are out there feeling whether or not this person is being truthful.
And here's a big part of his story:
You were a prosecutor for two terms before becoming a lawyer for insurance companies …
I’ve committed a lot of sins in my life.
… Then you switched to the other side. Why?
When I first went into the law, if you were an important lawyer you represented an insurance company. That was proof that you had made it. I can remember how proud I was when I went rushing home to tell my wife that I’d been hired by an insurance company.
Then, as I matured, I began to see what was really going on in the legal system. I saw the power of money, and the power of insurance companies, and poor people that couldn’t get representation; and poor people who, if they could get representation, were represented by lawyers who couldn’t afford to take the case and deal with it in a correct fashion. And if you are sensitive to and become educated from your experience, there comes a time when either you respond to that or you become calloused against it. And it just so happens that I grew up with poor people so I recognized the helplessness of ordinary people against the power structure. And there came a time when I couldn’t represent the power structure anymore. Came in a specific case.
I was defending a woman for an insurance company. And of course when you defend for an insurance company the court lies to the jury—never tells the jury that the little old lady sitting there, in her floppy hat, and looking very poor herself and very upset, has $5 million worth of insurance.
She had run into a man with her car. He had worked all of his life in a refinery in Casper, and was about to retire. He hoped to spend his retirement with his grandchildren, do some fishing and enjoy the retirement that he’d earned. And he was hurt by this woman with her floppy hat with all of the insurance. She was totally at fault. And I walked in there on behalf of the insurance company and did things to that poor man on the stand that undercut his credibility. They were the skills of a defense attorney, and the plaintiff’s attorney couldn’t combat it. And the jury returned a verdict against him. He got nothing.
That evening I was at the Safeway store, gathering up food for a celebration, and in the checkout line here was this old man, the plaintiff, ahead of me. And he turned around. That was as close as I’d ever been to him. I could see his painful eyes—pain was on his face—and I said to him, “I’m sorry that this all turned out this way for you.” And he said, “Oh, that’s all right, Mr. Spence. You were just doing your job.”
And I thought, “Just doing my job?”
I helped him out with his groceries to his car. That evening I’m in bed with my wife, telling her this story, and I said, “Is that my job? To cheat old men out of justice?” She didn’t answer. Didn’t say a word. The next morning I got up and contacted my partner, Robert R. Rose Jr., who became chief judge of the Wyoming Supreme Court. And I said, “You know, we’re not going to do this anymore,” and he said, “No, we’re not.” I wrote nearly a score of letters to as many insurance companies that said you’re going to have to get somebody else to do this. And we’ve never, never represented an insurance company or large corporation or the government to this day.
Read the whole thing here.
"Waiting for Lee, Maybe Until the Winter"—Special YANKEES SUCK Report
Waiting for Lee, Maybe Until the Winter—Special YANKEES SUCK Report
By TYLER KEPNER—and ERIK LUNDEGAARD
Published: June 29, 2010—and July 1, 2010
Cliff Lee had a free night in New York on Monday, and he spent it having dinner with C. C. Sabathia. They are former teammates, and probably future teammates, too. !@#$%^&*!!!! (Trying to swear less; nephew reads this blog sometimes.)
“We didn’t really talk about what’s coming up or anything like that,” Sabathia said before Lee stifled the Yankees, 7-4, on Tuesday. “He’s just trying to focus on his season. But I would love to see him over here.” So I can eat him.
For the moment, Lee still pitches for the Seattle Mariners, who arrived at Yankee Stadium 15 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West....and promptly beat the first-place Yankees in their first two games by a combined 14-4 score. Hopeful of contending this season, the Mariners quickly fizzled, and they have let Lee know they will shop him before the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline. ...
Last season, Lee won the first regular-season game and the first World Series game at the new Yankee Stadium, then beat the Yankees again in Game 5 in Philadelphia. Good times. The Phillies thought he wanted to be a free agent, and traded him to Seattle in December when they acquired another ace, Roy Halladay, from Toronto.
Trading for Lee was a no-lose proposition for the Mariners. They wanted to win with him, but barring a miraculous turnaround, they instead will trade him for a package of prospects that promises to be better than the one they gave the Phillies. One hopes. One never knows with the Mariners' front office.
The Yankees probably have the prospects to satisfy the Mariners, who need a catcher. ...and a first baseman, and a third baseman, and a left fielder, and a DH, and a closer, and a no. 3 hitter, and a clean-up hitter, and...
But the Yankees’ rotation is strong, and they are much more likely to wait until the winter to sign Lee, without losing any talent... I don't know if I've read a sentence with a greater sense of entitlement and privilege than this one.
There is no reason to believe Lee will forgo free agency, and when he hits the market, other teams might as well back off. Unless it's this sentence. Wow. I hope Theo Epstein reads this. I hope every MLB GM reads this and gets their collective backs up. Every factor points to Lee’s joining the Yankees. Every factor, Tyler?
Two of their starters — Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez — are unsigned past this season, so the Yankees have a need. Me wants. They are always flush with cash. Me has money. They have seen Lee dominate on the brightest stage. He purty. And Lee is friends with Sabathia and A. J. Burnett, a fellow Arkansan who shares an agent and affectionately calls him Cliffy. Friend good.
“I’d tell him he would love it here,” Sabathia said. “I know he would, just knowing his personality and the spotlight of playing in big games. That’s what he wants. This would be the perfect place for him.” Except his greatest games have involved beating the Yankees. Destroying them. People cheer for him because he's David but they would hate him if he joined Goliath. That's the question that Tyler "Every factor" Kepner doesn't ask. Why would he want to join Goliath? Is he so scared of Goliath that he needs join them? Is that he that much of a coward? Like all of those other Goliath-joining traitors?
After the game, Lee stressed that he was comfortable with the Mariners and focused solely on pitching well for them. He did acknowledge that he liked to pitch at Yankee Stadium, as Sabathia suggested....and beating them.
“You’re going to have a sellout pretty much all the time,” Lee said. “I’ve always enjoyed pitching here. They’re knowledgeable fans that understand the game and get into it. As a player, that’s what you like and respect.” They get into winning. They get into treating the rest of the league like it's their own farm system. Give the Yankees a $50 million payroll and see how much Yankees fans "get into the game."
But where will Lee make his stopover before free agency? Contenders like the Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers need an ace, but many people in baseball doubt they can add payroll. Really? Half of $9 million?
The Mets would love to have Lee, but the Mariners have not yet asked for specific players. That's true of every team. Why just bring this up with the Mets? If they demand Ike Davis or Jon Niese, the Mets will probably decline. Ah. To shoot down the Mets. They would also be hesitant to deal Angel Pagan because of the uncertainty surrounding the still-recovering center fielder Carlos Beltran. And Pagan is 29 tomorrow. Hardly a prospect. The Mariners need future, not present.
The most likely landing spot could be the Minnesota Twins I've been arguing this for months..., who have insurance on the contract of the injured closer Joe Nathan that gives them financial flexibility. The Twins are in a tight race in the American League Central, and because their franchise player is a catcher — Joe Mauer — they could easily part with their top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos... Months, Tyler.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik was guarded on Tuesday, saying the Mariners were concentrating only on winning right now. Soon enough, the focus will change, and Lee will be one step closer to calling Yankee Stadium home... God, you're insufferable. God, Major League Baseball is screwed. The lack of a level playing field in this sport is ruining this sport. Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for Goldman Sachs.