Dance Festival Memories

Once upon a time, all of the Mormon teens in Southern California gathered every so often in large sports venues for a Dance Festival. These involved thousands of dancers but very little actual dancing – it was really the thrill of seeing herds of people moving in colorful patterns. The most analogous event I can think of is the massive pageants that the North Koreans put on every year to impress foreigners. I’ll leave it to you to mark the irony of comparing an LDS Church event to one sponsored by a brutal Communist dictatorship. All in all, I think the two organizations are radically different, with the exception of their mutual fetish for big, impressive spectacles that require lots of warm bodies.

My singular Dance Festival experience came when I was about fifteen years old. It was held in the Rose Bowl, and I found the whole experience somewhat tedious. I was in two dances – one at the beginning, which included all participants, and then another one where I think I had to wear a red vest. I remember my dance partner was very pretty, and she didn’t like me. That’s about it.

There was one rehearsal before the stadium was filled with 100,000 Mormons listening to a recording of WKRP’s Gordon Jump narrating a retrospective on dancing through the ages. I found the whole thing to be a waste of time, and I shared my surly attitude with two other very pretty girls – Amy and Heather, who were way out of my league, attractiveness-wise. Unlike my dance partner, though, they found me vaguely amusing, because they could get me to do really stupid things just by asking me, because I was so desperate to impress them.

So when the actual event started, they gave me the ultimate dare. And I dared to do it.

All the dancers, at the appointed time, were supposed to pour out of the grandstands from all sides of the arena out onto the football field to form a single, united mass and begin the opening number. This was the only dance in which every dancer participated, and there were several thousand of us. But Amy and Heather thought it would be a good idea if I jumped the gun and ran out on to the field before anyone else. There were ushers and gatekeepers who were supposed to prevent that from happening, but in this instance, they were effectively asleep at their posts. They didn’t anticipate that a goofy, gangly Ichabod Crane lookalike would burst out of the pack and jump out on to the field about thirty seconds before anyone else. After all, we were all Mormons, who did what we were told, right?

Not me, baby.

There I was, in the center of the field, jumping and frolicking and somersaulting in front of 100,000 people who knew I had no business being there. (I may have gamboled, too, but I can’t be sure.) I still remember the rush of being alone on the field in the Rose Bowl, the center of attention with 200,000 eyes fixed on me – assuming everyone there had the use of both eyes. Waves of laughter poured down out of the stands as I made a complete fool out of myself in front of the Mormon horde. Someone in my family – I think it was my mother – was trying to get the people around her to reassure her that that couldn’t possibly be Stallion, could it? She had half a minute or so to go through the five stages of grief before finally accepting the fact that, yes, indeed, her son really was that stupid.

Nobody came out on to the field to get me, because the dance began too quickly thereafter, and I was lost in a sea of dancers, prancers and the occasional mincer.

I told that story for many years thereafter, and in the mid 90s I met a guy who said “My primary teacher told us about you!”

Flattered that my moment of infamy had survived a decade, I asked for more detail.

“She was using you as an example,” he said. “She talked about how you ran out in the center and jumped around because you were like Satan, who wanted to keep all the glory for himself.”

Yes. Yes, I was.

How Do You Argue with Loons?

In retooling the innards of this blog, I activated an option that sends me an email every time I receive a comment. Prior to that feature being activated, people would leave comments on long-obscure posts and I would only stumble upon them by accident, if at all.

I recently received a response to my “Mormon Communist” post from what looks to be a Christian communist, and I can’t make heads or tails of it. It talks about the Hitterites, who are apparently successful communists, and it slams the Mormons for being “top down” and “bottom up,” much like, I suppose, the early church, which had Peter and Paul constantly telling congregations everything they were doing wrong. When we each are one with Christ and are following His will perfectly, then I think communitarian living will work just great. Until then, it won’t.

This guy then goes on to deny my claim that this free exchange of ideas demonstrates the superiority of the US system to Soviet-style communism, where all dissent is suppressed.

Here’s his response:

Obviously you’ve never been clubbed or otherwise abused by the government for speaking out against it, peaceably speaking or not, advocating no violence or not. Obviously you are ignoring those in the United States who are calling for more and more curtailment of freedom of political speech, Newt Gingrich for instance being a prime example.

No, I haven’t been clubbed or otherwise abused by the government for speaking out against it. You know what? Neither have you.  Why? Because our government doesn’t club and abuse its citizens for speaking out against it. If it did, don’t you think George W. Bush would have a big baseball bat embedded in Michael Moore’s skull by now?

And Newt Gingrich is the prime example? Say what?

Then we get to the summation:

The U.S. has a long history of suppressing free political speech. It revs up fear and then uses the fabricated boogeyman as an excuse to clamp down on those who would speak out against capitalism for instance when those who speak out begin to convince others with sound reasoning, tight logic, and historically demonstrable and verifiable facts rather than just echoing false propaganda from think tanks funded by the plutocrats (corporatists, world bankers, usurers; the very moneychangers Jesus cleans from the worshipful house of God).

I’m sorry, but this is just loony bin stuff. The US is clamping down on anti-capitalists? Really? Then why don’t they start with Congress, which refuses to let capitalists drill in ANWR and the Outer Continental Shelf? Why don’t they throw this global warming malarkey to the four winds in the name of the almighty dollar? Why do they still let Paul Krugman write for the New York Times?

One of the reasons that politics is so depressing is that we don’t seem to be living in the same world anymore. I don’t know where Mr. Hitterite is living, but it sure isn’t the same planet I’m on. How can we “come together” when we’re not even on the same planet?

You can’t argue with people who refuse to share a common set of facts. You can only defeat them. Or, if you’re John McCain, you can concede that maybe two plus two equals five if it will make you feel better. 

“Vacation is over. Get to work, blogboy.”

Okay, okay, fine.

We pulled into Sandy somewhere around 5:00 PM today, and after having cleaned out the car, unpacked the clothes, and taken the kids out for dinner, we’re officially home.

The vacation was plenty of fun, although I think I broke my toe playing “No Bears Are Out Tonight,” and it made life a little more difficult as I schlepped my son Stalliondo around on my shoulders everywhere. I also ran four and a half miles along the beach between Sequim and Port Angeles and had to stop as my foot was throbbing, only to discover it hurt more to walk than to run.

We spent two nights at the Kalaloch Lodge up by Forks, which is a town that is now singularly devoted to aggrandizing a series of bad romance novels. Trust me, Forks doesn’t have much else to recommend it. We visited with family – all but two of Mrs. Cornell’s six siblings and their respective clans showed up for the Kalaloch reunion – and spent a lot of time hanging out on the very cold beaches of the Pacific Northwest. We even lit bonfires, despite the fact that nearby Seattle has banned all bonfires in order to combat global warming. Yeah, that’ll do the trick! Similarly, all the fixtures in our Kalaloch cabins had those stupid twirly flourescent bulbs except the vanities above the bathroom mirrors. We ended up removing the bulb on the nightstand lamps and replacing them with the big vanitiy bulbs, because those awful flourescents emit a distinct, high-pitched whine. So, thankfully, we did our small part to warm the globe.

It’s a very nice thing to be completely incommunicado with the outside world for a week or so, because you’re not subjected to the constant drumbeat of media sludge that’s so unavoidable in real life. Political discusssions were few and far between, which is probably a good thing, since my father-in-law wants to eat Dick Cheney’s heart on a big, sharp stick.

My wife is now looking over my shoulder, because she wants me to get the kids in the bath. That’s for the best, really, as this post is little more than a boring travelogue, so I’ll wrap it up now.

Tomorrow: excitement!

An Unauthorized Vacation Blog

Scandal! I’m blogging on vacation! What in the world is wrong with me?

I’m sitting in the Port Angeles Super Eight Motel lobby, and it’s their own dang fault, because ethey have a sign outside that says “Free Wi-Fi.” So here I am, scabbing off their Wi-Fi and hoping nobody kicks me out. I’ve been here for over two hours now, and nobody has. Which is good, because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

I left my current headquarters, which is my in-law’s home a mile or so down the road, because all the men in the family are golfing and the women and children are sitting/screaming/videogaming. I did some actual work, sent off some emails and invoices, and am now blogging because I don’t really want to go back until I absolutely have to.

It’s been a fun vacation thus far. On the Fourth of July, we went to Safeco Field and watched a Mariners game in the center field bleachers, and it’s probably the first professional baseball game I’ve seen in over twenty years. I used to go to Dodgers Stadium with relative frequency, but those days are done. If you were at Safeco Field on the Fourth, it’s a good bet that you actually saw me, because the camera caught me shaking my booty to the song “Shake Your Booty,” and a massive laugh went up from the crowd as they broadcast my Mick Jagger-esque performance on the big screen. My eleven-year-old daughter Cleta was morbidly embarrassed, and rightfully so. As for me, I’m still basking in the glory. This is the closest I will ever get to performing in a major sports arena, and I want to savor the moment.

We spent an afternoon at the Olympic Game Farm, which involves driving your car through a herd of buffalo and letting their big, black, nasty tongues into the window of your car as you attempt to feed them stale bread without touching their tongues. It’s not easy to do, and you absolutely have to wash your car afterwards. You also feed zebras, yaks, llamas, and bears – who are behind a fence. You can also see a rhino with a severely mutated horn and a bunch of caged lions and tigers who don’t look happy to be there. It’s a family tradition to go there, but the place seems a little bit sadder with every visit.

(Close shave! As I was writing, a hotel clerk came up to me, and I was nervous that I was going to be booted out. Instead, she asked if I minded if she vacuumed in here, and I said no. Ha ha! I’m still blogging! Suckers!)

We’ve been to the Dungeness Spit and to Olympic National Park, where the deer are so accustomed to eating off people’s picnic tables that they’ve lost all fear of humanity and need to be chased away. We went to a U-Fish Pond and caught several rainbow trout, which tasted just fine after they died at our hands. There’s been much attention paid to the ancient Nintendo system that has dodge ball and Super Mario Brothers 3 cartridges – apparently, our Wii isn’t quite as cool as the systems they had back in the late 80s.

Summing up: Life is good. I’m still alive, and I’ll return writing in full forced next week. Until then, read something else.

Happy Fourth of July!

Or “Happy Holidays,” for those of you who can’t stand patriotism.

This will be a short enrty and the last entry for a week or so, as I’m travelling north to visit the in-laws, and Mrs. Cornell has no patience for vacation blogging. I return to real life a week from Monday, and I’ll likely return to regular blogging then, too. I may be able to sneak in an entry or two when she’s not looking over the next week, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Enjoy your Independence Day, and please don’t abandon me altogether whilst I’m away.

Wall-E: Avoiding the Lorax

I went and saw Wall-E yesterday with the kids, and the proof that Pixar has made another winner was that the flick held Stalliondo’s undivided attention for almost the entire movie. (He got fidgety near the end.) I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would, probably because I was bracing myself for a high-tech version of The Lorax, a story that makes me wretch just thinking about it.

Who could forget the colorful piece of bile that is The Lorax? It’s Dr. Seuss’ environmental screed about a fluffy busybody that wants to shut down the Thneed industry. Thneeds, which everyone needs, are made out of Truffula trees, and the Lorax speaks for the Truffula trees, doncha know, but the Onceler is chopping all of them down and choking the rivers and leaving a desolate wasteland, forcing the Lorax to lift himself by his buttocks into the sky, leaving behind a platform that says, pretentiously, “Unless…”

It’s preachy, didactic crap that makes no sense. I mean, come on! Ol’ Onceler would be replanting Truffulas all along the way so as to keep the Thneed industry in business and make sure his product line never stopped moving. People fail to understand that those who make their living off the land have a vested interest in ensuring that the land remains profitable – which means keeping it in good, fertile condition. The government and the tree huggers want us to abandon the land to its own devices, but the results aren’t great. Believe me, I’ve tried that technique in my own backyard, and it doesn’t work well.

(As a tangent, I should note that My Esteemed Colleague once protested the removal of a grass island in the middle of his street by sitting in front of a bulldozer and reading The Lorax. Now that would have been a sight to see.)

Anyway, The Lorax is, I think, the gold standard for maudlin environmental claptrap, and by expecting a similar dose of green guilt, I was relieved to discover that wasn’t really what Wall-E was trying to do. It’s there if you look for it, though, especially in the idea that it’s unfettered capitalism that will do us in. The world has been co-opted by a massive corporation called “BuyNLarge,” run by a president played, in live action, by the brilliant Fred Willard, and the corporation also runs the government, too.

As if the problem we face is that capitalism is running wild! We’re hobbling capitalism every chance we get, all around the globe.

And capitalism is far better for the environment than Obama-style centralized command-and-control government. Anyone remember Eastern Europe in the Iron Curtain days? The egalitarian communists were far greater polluters than we decadent Westerners. So it’s silly to fear a metastasized Wal-Mart taking over the world.

There. Moaning over. Because Wall-E uses that as a backdrop to tell a very simple story about one lonely soul who finds true love. And that’s really what interests the screenwriters, so it doesn’t really matter what the backstory is. The character of Wall-E is remarkably expressive, and the movie is at its most powerful in the first act, when he and his lady love, Eve, are essentially the only “living” souls onscreen. Can a movie with only two characters and no real dialogue really hold the attention of a three-year-old? Yes. That’s a colossal accomplishment.

The movie falters somewhat as we leave what remains of Earth and rejoin the human race in outer space – I’ll wander into mild spoiler territory from here on out, so skip to the end if you want to avoid any and all plot info – because suddenly it’s not just about Wall-E and Eve, it’s about the fate of humanity. I found that distracting. I didn’t really care if humankind found its way again – I just wanted to know what was going on with Wall-E and Eve. In this sense, the movie almost fell prey to what I call The American President Syndrome, which I will explain quickly.

You remember The American President, don’t you? It was a movie where Michael Douglas was a widower version of Bill Clinton who falls for a lovely lobbyist in the form of Annette Bening. The whole thing was billed as a romance, but it’s a bait-and-switch. Because to win his lady love, he has to appear before the press corps and give a ten-minute speech featuring highlights from Michael Dukakis’ Greatest Hits, including praise of the ACLU, a defense of flag burning, gun control, and, of course, reducing carbon emissions. You realize by then, if you didn’t before, that this was the filmmaker’s agenda all along. Oh, sure, they’ll throw in a sappy romance because that will get you into the theater, but it’s just a spoonful of sugar to make the bitter leftist medicine go down.

(It’s interesting to note that Aaron Sorkin, writer of The American President, brought the same concept to TV with The West Wing, promoting movie Chief of Staff Martin Sheen to TV President and abandoning the romance in favor of dramatized DNC talking points. Is there really any question as to what story he wants to tell?)

Wall-E almost goes down that road as humanity is forced to come to terms with its failures, but, thankfully, it never fully succumbs. Even amid the commentary, there’s a beautiful extended sequence in outer space featuring two robots, a fire extinguisher, and static electricity that’s as magnificent a silent love scene as has ever been put to film. And even after the fate of humanity has been settled, there’s a final scene between Eve and Wall-E that resolves the story that matters, the story that never gets fully subordinated to Lorax-style greenhouse gaseousness.

Yes, Wall-E has some dumb ideas, but its heart is always in the right place. It’s Pixar’s second-best film – after The Incredibles, of course. Needless to say, it’s a movie worth watching.

________

I’m done reviewing the movie. I’m now going to talk about something tangential, something in which my wife had absolutely no interest when I tried discussing it with her last night.

I want to say how cool it was to have them use those excerpts from Hello, Dolly throughout the film. That’s Michael Crawford, he of Phantom of the Opera fame, trying unsuccessfully to mask his English accent and sing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” a delightfully sappy old tune that I once sang as a solo for the Kids of the Century long, long ago. I know all the words and was singing along – it’s hard to sing the line about “A lovely lilt that makes you tilt your nose,” though, because the L’s get all cluttered together.

Lest you get any mistaken ideas about renting the whole Hello, Dolly movie, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. The movie version stinks. They ditched Carol Channing – the quintessential Dolly Levi who, if she’s not dead, is probably still touring with the show – in favor of – *shudder* – Barbara Streisand, who sucks. I saw Carol Channing play Dolly live back in the early Eighties, and she was magnificent. Babs blows.

The end.

Stallion Cornell: Automotive Bonehead

So remember how Mrs. Cornell said she was happy about being married to me 364 days out of the year?

Yesterday may very well have been day 365.

It began with our Suburban stalling in the garage. The battery was dead, so I needed to jumpstart the thing with our Camry. The problem is that the garage is filled with bicycles, so I thought it would be easier to roll the Suburban out of the garage than it would be to move 150 bikes. It was a simple enough thing to get the car rolling, and my plan was to jump in the driver’s side and hit the brakes when it reached the right point.

The problem was that I left the door open too long and it caught the side of the garage door on the way out, wedging the Suburban up against the wall. It was an unpleasant thing, but I didn’t realize the enormity of the damage until later. (That’s called foreshadowing. It’s a literary device. See, even in my hour of despair, I always write good.)

I was able to jump the car where it was and drive it forward back into the garage, and the door closed without incident, although it seemed to catch a little as it did. I unwisely decided to keep my mouth closed about the whole thing, as I didn’t want to call attention to my own boneheadedness. It turned out to be a wasted effort, anyway, because the battery died again and the whole car had to be towed to the dealership. The battery was under warranty, so Mrs. Cornell got a rental, they fixed it all up, and all was well.

It was when Mrs. Cornell went to pick up the car that the trouble really started.

“Someone has tried to break into our car,” she said. Apparently, the door was out of alignment and it was unbearable to drive the thing on the freeway, because the wind whistled past you, and you can actually see the sky through the crack in the door. The mechanic who fixed the battery had noticed the point of impact on the top of the door and assumed the thing was jarred out of whack by a botched break-in.

I’m not proud of what I did next, which was nothing. I let Mrs. Cornell tell me the story and then hung up, unsure of how to approach the problem. Surely the door would have to be fixed, but we’re driving the thing up to Washington on Thursday, so I thought we’d have to wait until our return to take care of it. That would buy me enough time to muster up the courage to tell her about my little maneuver in the garage.

It was about a half hour later that I called her back. I began the conversation by saying “Nobody tried to break into our car.” And then I clumsily related the rolling door episode. Mrs. Cornell was rightfully upset, and she told me that she’d already filed a claim with our insurance company based on the idea that the car had been vandalized. So I had to call Progressive back and tell them, no, it wasn’t a vandal; it was a bonehead. Thankfully, no one seems interested in prosecuting me for attempted insurance fraud, although Mrs. Cornell was none too pleased.

Paradoxically, she’s less upset now, because she got in a fender bender this morning in a parking lot, which demonstrates that I don’t have the monopoly on vehicular flubs. This is surely going to do very interesting things to our insurance rates, but, thankfully, I think our marriage will survive.

I’m a bonehead. Did I mention that earlier?