Smash And Grab – Flash Fiction For 8/30/13

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Photo Copyright Dawn M. Miller

Photo Copyright Dawn M. Miller

Smash and Grab

“In all my days, Butch, I’ve never seen a jewelery counter left unattended.”
“This’ll be the easiest smash and grab ever, Skip.”
We’d cased the place. The take in precious metal and gems was in the tens of thousands.
We hung out in the Thunder Grill until the clerk went to lunch. As soon as he was out the door, we ran over, pulled out our hammers and started breaking glass. We rapidly bagged up the loot and made our escape into the parking lot.
We waited nervously out front, hoping the bus to the senior apartments wouldn’t be late.

Smoke Screen

Sean Connery was a smoking James Bond

Sean Connery was a smoking James Bond

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It’s becoming very difficult to find a place to fire up a cigarette and tobacco use is being demonized just about everywhere. A recent Gallup survey found only 20 percent of Americans now smoke, the lowest rate in 69 years. Cigarette sales also are down. In California sales have dropped from a peak of 2.8 billion packs in 1982 to 972 million packs, a dramatic decline in sales.

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But there is one place where cigarettes are gaining, in movies. No, I don’t mean in movie theatres. Firing up there will still get you tossed out.

Maybe you’ve noticed this scene in recent movies you’ve watched. Early in the film one of the main characters, usually a big movie star, lights up a cig and puffs away. Just last night I was watching a movie and the female lead, playing a doctor, was sucking on a cig a few minutes into the movie.

It’s happened so many times, I’ve become convinced the tobacco companies must be involved inseanpennsmoking all this on-screen smoking. It didn’t take much digging to find  out that movies have become a not very subtle, insidious form of advertising for the cigarette business.

This isn’t exactly new news. Marlboro paid $42,000 to have their brand appear in Superman II. Another brand paid $350,000 to have James Bond smoke their brand.

And even though since 1998, the tobacco industry has been banned from paying marilyn-monroe-smoking-in-a-movie1to have cigarettes shown in movies, smoking in movies has increased. Just two years after the ban, smoking in films intended for a young audience increased by 50 percent.

In 2002, 68.5 percent of youth-rated movies (G, PG, PG-13) had smoking, and 83 percent of R-rated movies showed smoking. A study published in 2003 by Dartmouth Medical School found that over 52 percent of teens who start smoking attribute it to seeing smoking in movies.

“Film is better than any commercial that has been run on television or in any magazine, becauseactor-and-cigarette the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement.” -Hollywood Public Relations Firm

It seems that tobacco companies responded to being banned from all print and broadcast advertising by creating tacit endorsements on film by adored movie stars in a culture that is obsessed with celebrities.

Scarlett-Johansson-5481189-300x205And even though tobacco companies are technically barred from spending money to promote smoking in movies, it’s obvious from the number of famous actors firing up cigs on camera that their influence, however they are doing it, is still there.

Perhaps most disturbing is their targeting of teens, the age at which most smokers get hooked on tobacco.

Just last year the Surgeon General determined that there is a causal relationship between tarantino3miawalla_1460841cviewing smoking on screen and initiating of smoking among young people.

Between 2002 and 2012, almost half the movies were rated PG-13, making them easy for teens to watch.

Recent content analysis of PG-13 movies showed a decline in depiction of smoking between 2005 and 2010. However, in 2011, the incidents increased, and there was a further increase in 2012.

JohnTravolta-GreaseAs of January, 2013, five movie studios had policies in place discouraging smoking in youth-related movies, but all five studios allowed exceptions to the policy.

In 2012 the Surgeon General said that a policy of giving an R rating to youth-related movies with smoking would be effective in reducing the number of young smokers.

It’s highly unlikely that will happen given the influence of the tobacco lobby. Even if that policy were in place, the tobacco industry would probably just ferret out an even more nefarious way to promote its product.

All of which should make us step back and ask ourselves a big-picture question. If a product issmoking_movies1 legal to manufacture and sell, why should the advertising of that product be banned? The way the tobacco industry has exploited movies shows that successfully keeping a large industry from promoting its product is virtually impossible.

But the next time you see a big star light up, know this, it’s really the tobacco companies that are blowing smoke.

Downer Abbey – Flash Fiction For 8/23/13

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Photo Copyright Claire Fuller

Photo Copyright Claire Fuller

Three sisters are gathered in the great hall.

Lady Mary:  Can you believe you have to have a penis to inherit this drafty old barn?

Lady Edith: Grow bollocks or commit incest with a cousin. Hobson’s bloody choice.

Lady Sybil:  Don’t forget birth order. Both of you are ahead of me.

Lady Mary:  It’s all knackered. Why should a wormy piece of flesh mean so much?

Lady Edith:  Nothing is more disgusting and smelly. Blimey.

Lady Sybil:  You’ve seen one?

Lady Edith:  No, but mother says father’s . . .

Lady Mary:  Oh, Edith, she’s only seen it three times.

Attack Of The Killer Trees – Flash Fiction For 8/16/13

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Photo copyright Roger Bultot

Photo copyright Roger Bultot

It was late summer when the tree rebellion began, their huge trunks pitched onto cars, houses and joggers.

“It appears our leafy friends have finally had enough of clear cutting, burning firewood, using them for everything from our houses to picking our teeth,” a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy raved.

“Trees are living beings. We shouldn’t be exploiting them.”

Humans reacted with anger, going on rampages with chain saws. The remaining trees were unable to escape their herbicidal frenzy. When the last chain saw was shut down, the country was bare as Easter Island.

Then the kudzu war began.

“Mud” – film review

Excellent movie review by Rich Voza of Brainsnorts!

brainsnorts inc.

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When the person you look up to the most is a homeless murderer pursued by both the police and bounty hunters, there probably won’t be a whole lot of good in your life.  And when your best friend’s name is Neckbone, you have to start to wonder.  Ellis, 14, is quietly waiting for something.  His parents, on the verge of divorce, won’t talk.  Their home, on a dock that floats on the Arkansas side of a Mississippi River branch, will soon be taken by the river authority.  Can it get any worse?

Like most teen boys in the summer, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) like to explore.  Rumor has it that a recent storm left a boat in a tree on a small, river island.  Up early one morning, they take a skiff to find out.  Not only do they find the boat exactly according to the rumor, but…

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My Jug Is Not Even Half Full

CulliganWater_Machine

I’m not sure why, but I seem to have quite a few snarls at Walmart. The most recent one happened just the other day over a few gallons of water. I’d discovered that we were totally out of drinking water. We’re on a rural water system and the water out of our pipes is fine for  washing or watering plants, but we don’t trust it for drinking.

We live in a hilly area rich in springs, and not that many years ago, the water coming out of the ground was pure and safe to  drink. Not any more. The spring water, creeks and rivers are now polluted from animal waste, especially the runoff from giant chicken houses. But I guess that’s the price you pay when the world’s largest meat company is just down the road not very far.

So now we refill gallon plastic bottles at the Culligan water machine at Walmart for 37 cents a gallon. It’s good water and you don’t have to worry about chicken poop.

So I was there at the Walmart market filling my four bottles. The first one filled rapidly, but the second bottle was only about one-third full when the water flow stopped. I’d had this problem before. Sometimes the water machine can’t keep up with the demand and needs a little time to generate more water. So I waited a couple of minutes and tried again. Still no water.

The water machine is just  a few steps from the self-check area, which has a Walmart employee overseeing it. So I sought help there, explaining to her that I was having trouble with the water machine. She left her post at the self-check and came over to try to help me, or so I thought.

But instead of going  to the water machine, she went over to the ice machine. She looked up at a little window on the machine and there was a message that said, “Level merchandise.” She opened the door and began to re-stack the bags of ice.

“I didn’t  know the ice machine and the water machine were connected,” I said.

She glanced up at the little message window on the machine and said, “It’s producing again” and went back to her post at the self-check.

I went back to the water machine, which still refused to work. Big surprise. I reached the conclusion that the woman I had asked for help was a doofus.

So I went and stood in line at the service desk and waited and when I finally got to the front of the line, lodged my complaint against the water machine.

The service desk guy said he’d come try to get the machine working again, and as we walked together, I told him about my experience with the woman clerk and how she had serviced the ice machine.

“The ice machine doesn’t have anything to do with the water machine,” he said, giving me a look that indicated there was a lot of inbreeding in my family.

He tried to get the water machine going, pulling it away from the wall, checking the connections. No luck, the well was dry.

“I’ll put a sign on it saying it’s out of order,” he said. I already knew that, I felt like saying, but didn’t.

I decided to settle for the one and one-third gallons of water I’d drawn before the machine tapped out. But I had a moral dilemma. Should I have to pay for the partial gallon?

I was already a little irritated by my encounters with the two employees. I decided there was no way I was going to pay 37 cents for one-third of a gallon of water. Walmart was going to give me that water in return for my inconvenience.

I went to self-check to check out. I prefer to check myself out, avoiding any contact with Walmart personnel. Can you really blame me? The same woman who had so expertly gotten the ice machine going was monitoring the self-check. I scanned my items, punched in the code for the water and told the computer I had only one gallon. I paid, loaded my cart, and started to leave.

The self-check woman rushed over.

“Sir, I noticed you only paid for one gallon of water, but you have four gallons in your basket.”

“Actually, I only have one,” I said holding up the two empty bottles. “I had trouble with the water machine,” I said, emphasizing the word water. “I do have this third of a gallon I didn’t  pay for. I’ll be happy to go pour it out.”

On your head, I added mentally.

“No, no, sir, that’s all right. Go ahead,” she said, maybe reaching some realizations. Maybe not.

On the  drive home, after I’d calmed down a little, I felt petty. I’d been a jerk over about 12 cents worth of water. I may have damaged the fragile ego of a Walmart associate. I’d been impatient and curmudgeonly.

But at least the ice machine was fixed.

Hell On Wheels Season Premiere Disappoints

Anson Mount  heads  the cast of Hell On Wheels.

Anson Mount heads the cast of Hell On Wheels.

If you’re a fan of that classic American form, the western, you were probably tuned in Saturday night, August 10, for the long-awaited season premier of AMC’s Hell On Wheels. And why wouldn’t you be? The TV landscape for western drama is a sparse as the wasteland the railroad is being built through in the series which is entering its third season.

The first two seasons offered viewers a show which, though not as authentic as the network’s Mad Men, or as brilliantly written as Breaking Bad, still was solid entertainment with memorable characters and the iconic larger than life setting of the Old West.

The third season was delayed because of a change in the series’ principal writer, and when the long wait was finally over, and fans had watched the two-hour premiere, they must have thought the wait was just not worth it.

The new writing team has taken a good show and turned it into a mediocre, plodding, dismal bore. Two major characters have left, and the lead character has lost much of his appeal. The plot line, always the weakest part of the show, has slipped to soap opera idiocy.

The series was built around a strong lead character, Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount as an embittered survivor of the Civil War, a hard man willing to use violence to solve problems, a man of few words, tough, weathered and smart. The new Bohannon in Sunday night’s premiere is a wordy, slick businessman in a three-piece suit, a far cry from the charismatic hero of the first two seasons.

Also sorely missed is the female lead, Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), killed off at the end of season two. She has been replaced with a pale woman newspaper reporter whose voiced-over sentimental crap excruciatingly capped off the two dreary hours.

Also mysteriously missing is the fine villain who dueled with Bohannon with palpable evil intent for two seasons. Thor Gunderson, known as “The Swede” (Christopher Heyerdahl) was a worthy opponent, and every drama needs a dark villain to balance out the lead character. It appears the new writers are going to try to transform the former head of the railroad, Thomas Durant (Colm Meany), into the bad guy, but it will be difficult for him to match the evil genius of “The Swede.”

Right from the start, the new season disappointed. In the opening scene, the writers chose to perpetuate the myth that wolves attack people, having Bohannon tussle with a wolf on the snowbound prairie. That was just the start of the downward slide.

The first hour of the premiere was wasted with an assembling-the-cast plot line, an old formula used many times in stories as wide ranging as The Dirty Dozen to The Avengers. To make it worse, the setting was shifted from the wide open spaces of the west, to the grimy streets of New York City, so that our newly loquacious main character could talk his way into a job as the chief railroad engineer.

It hardly seems necessary to get back together a crew of characters that ended last season together. The writers made a mistake by not plunging right into the kind of action that should be at the heart of the series, the challenge and difficulty of building a railroad across the great American wilderness.

The second hour was equally disappointing, with a story so contrived, it begged for a huge rewrite. You know a series is in trouble when the characters are not as smart as the people watching.

In the contorted story, the railroad is forcing a Mormon family off their farm so the railroad can pass through their land. Why? Are they going to run the tracks right through the family’s living room? Couldn’t the railroad pass through their land without their being evicted? It makes no sense.

But, playing for melodrama and a big finish, there’s a murder, committed by the defiant Mormons, setting up a revenge scenario and the lynching of a young Mormon man, all totally unnecessary, a story line that strains reality beyond all bounds.

Disappointing is the one-word summary of the new season and it probably won’t get any better. Writers can either write or they can’t. The premiere showcased the lack of writer talent brought to the series.

It’s all too bad, because Hell On Wheels was just about the only western drama left. While Hollywood and the TV networks churn out tons of cookie-cutter cop shows, lots of zombie and vampire horror, loads of mindless reality shows, and way too many superhero stories, the classic American western languishes, waiting for some visionary to revive it. Unfortunately, it won’t be the folks involved in creating Hell On Wheels.