Flux capacitor fluxing

So yesterday I’m on Facebook and I see a status update from my friend Amy from elementary school, who moved to Hollywood and was an actress for a while. Attached to her status update is a comment from one Claudia Wells, a name I recognize. Another elementary school classmate of mine and Amy’s? I send her a “friend” request with the note, “Are you the Claudia Wells from P.S. 196 in Forest Hills, NY?”

She writes back promptly to say she isn’t — she’s a classmate of Amy’s from high school. That’s when I Google her and discover she’s the actress who played Marty McFly’s girlfriend in Back to the Future, the film in which a short-circuit sends Michael J. Fox thirty years into the past. And then I remember that the Claudia who went to school with me and Amy had a different last name entirely. How did I get it wrong? I guess seeing the name “Claudia” juxtaposed with Amy’s caused a mental short-circuit — one that sent me into the past — by exactly thirty years! (To 1978, my last year of elementary school and the last time I saw Amy or Claudia.) I write back and tell her so.

I slay me. I’m quite sure Claudia Wells doesn’t get nearly enough Back to the Future references in her life.


[This post is participating in Lazy Eye Theatre’s James Bond Blog-a-thon.]

1973. Live and Let Die. I was seven years old. My folks gave me five bucks and let me go to the movies on my own, just me and my friend Matt. Afterward we rehashed and debated everything that was cool about the film: the speedboat jump, walking on crocodiles, and that amazing LED watch showing tiny red numerals when Bond pressed a button on its side. (Years later I would see the film again and be appalled at its racism. Everyone white is a good guy. Everyone black is a bad guy.)

1975. The Man With the Golden Gun. Matt saw it without me, and then described how the bad guy had this amazing gun that he assembled from innocent-looking items like a gold lighter and a gold fountain pen that he could take anywhere and no one would ever know! It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. Also: second Bond movie in a row with a bad guy’s name ending in -anga.

1977. The Spy Who Loved Me. I had forgotten about going to see Live and Let Die, and when my summer day camp organized an outing to see the film, I resisted, claiming haughtily that I only enjoyed the original and best Bond, Sean Connery. (In fact I’m not sure whether, at that point, I’d ever seen a Connery Bond film; but I’d heard this opinion expressed elsewhere and decided to adopt it.) But I tagged along, had a terrific time, and afterward readily admitted my error. Years later I would adopt a strong preference for Sean Connery, and a dislike for Roger Moore, for real.

1979. Moonraker. I easily spotted this as a pathetic Star Wars rip-off, and the Close Encounters joke it contained made me roll my eyes, but I still liked it well enough to go out and buy the novelization. Also the first time I can remember quoting a Bond film. (“I believe he’s attempting re-entry.” [Haw!])

1981. For Your Eyes Only. What the hell was that?

1983. Octopussy. You guys aren’t even trying anymore, are you?

1985. A View to a Kill. To this day, I haven’t even bothered to see it. By this time I am evangelizing to everyone that the only really good Bond film was From Russia With Love.

1987. The Living Daylights. A welcome return to a Bond who’s dangerous and sexy, whose flirtations with an equally sexy Moneypenny don’t make me bury my face in my hands. But what’s this? The PC police have caught up with the Bond series and conspicuously scrubbed it of smoking and (as the AIDS epidemic builds up a head of steam) womanizing. Phooey! That’s not what I go to the movies for. Any time I want to see someone not womanize I can just watch myself.

1989. Licence to Kill. The promise of the previous film not fulfilled. Wayne Newton, seriously?

2002. I’d skipped all the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, but I tagged along with my co-workers to the premiere of Die Another Day. It was a revelation. Mental note: go back and watch his other movies.

2006. Casino Royale. The Bond I’d been waiting my whole life to see.

Update [14 Nov 2008]: Matt wrote to question my recall about Live and Let Die. I agree with him it’s unlikely we went alone to the movies at age seven, especially if it meant crossing Queens Blvd. Maybe we saw a re-release a couple of years later.

Eat your vegetables

[This post is participating in The Cooler’s Politics and Movies blog-a-thon.]

I don’t know how my mom ever got me to watch the film 1776 in the first place. Probably it was by turning it on to watch it herself and relying on the hypnotic spell of the TV to pull me in. Ever since she did, I have spent a large part of my life trying — and failing, mostly — to persuade others to see it too. You see, the movie is almost impossible to describe without making it sound like “eat your vegetables” or “floss your teeth” or “do your homework” — something boring but essential because it’s good for you (shudder), even though it’s actually as entertaining a two hours as you’re ever likely to spend. Its educational value is just a nice little plus.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

1776 is the true story of how the Second Continental Congress, which at first opposed the idea of separating from Great Britain, eventually came to adopt the Declaration of Independence. And it’s a musical!

See? You couldn’t possibly want less to watch it now, could you? The fact that it’s a musical only seems to confirm that it’s a subject so dreary that it needs some added flavor, like oatmeal. Let me try again:

In 1776, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin persuade a reluctant Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, and a reluctant Congress to adopt it.

Ugh, that’s worse. Try this on for size:

They’re not just names in history books. They’re not just stodgy portraits, marble statues, or dry-as-dust lists of accomplishments. They were ordinary people like you and me. 1776 makes them accessible and shows how they achieved the impossible.

Oy. Clearly I’m trying too hard. Maybe if I concoct a modern high-impact movie trailer using scenes from the film and some dramatic narration…

      You know how it ends.

Close up on the new Declaration of
Independence as John Hancock adds his
distinctive signature.

      That's a pretty large signature,

      So Fat George in London can read
      it without his glasses!

      But it almost didn't happen.

Congress in session.

      South Carolina will bury now and
      forever your dream of

Congress in session.

      They stopped our trade, seized our
      ships, blockaded our ports, burned
      our towns, and spilled our blood!

      In a world that doesn't know

Congress in session.

      I have no objections at all to
      being part of the greatest empire
      on earth!

Congress in session.

      Black slavery is our peculiar
      institution and a cherished way of

      ...a secret cabal...

Franklin indicates Jefferson, Adams, and

      A farmer, a lawyer, and a sage!

      ...defies the mightiest army on

Congress in session.

          (reading a dispatch)
      "There can be no doubt that their
      destination is New York for to
      take and hold this city and the
      Hudson Valley beyond would serve
      to separate New England from the
      other colonies permitting both
      sections to be crushed in turn."

      ...and an even greater enemy:

Congress in session.

      General Washington will continue
      wording his dispatches as he sees
      fit, and I'm sure we all pray that
      he finds happier thoughts to
      convey in the near --
          (swats a fly)
      -- future.

Outside Congress.

          (singing to the heavens)
      A second Flood, a simple famine,
      Plagues of locusts everywhere
      Or a cataclysmic earthquake
      I'd accept with some despair
      But no, you've sent us Congress!
      Good God, sir, was that fair?

      ...to attempt the impossible.

Franklin and Adams scheming outdoors.

      No colony has ever broken from the
      parent stem in the history of the

      One man with a vision...

Congressional chamber, empty.

      I see fireworks!
      I see the pageant and pomp and parade!
      I hear the bells ringing out!
      I hear the cannons roar!
      I see Americans, all Americans
      Free forevermore!

      ...one man with a quill...

Jefferson appears at his window and lets
a paper flutter down to Adams and
Franklin in the street below.

      Franklin, look!  He's written
      something -- he's done it!
      "Dear Mr. Adams: I am taking my
      wife back to bed.  Kindly go away.
      Your obedient, T. Jefferson."

      What, again?!

      ...and one man with the savvy to
      see it through...

Congress in session.

      We've spawned a new race here --
      rougher, simpler, more violent,
      more enterprising, and less
      refined.  We're a new nationality,
      Mr. Dickinson.  We require a new

      ...must overcome incredible

Congress in session.

      But it'll never be unanimous,

      If you say so, Mr. Adams.

      ...their personal prejudices...

Franklin and Adams scheming outdoors.

      Nobody listens to you.  You're
      obnoxious and disliked.

Hopkins and Franklin milling about in
the Congressional chamber.

      You are without a doubt a rogue, a
      rascal, a villain, a thief, a
      scoundrel, and a mean, dirty,
      stinking, sniveling, sneaking,
      pimping, pocket-picking, thrice
      double-damned, no good son of a

Outside Congress.

      Oh, Mr. Adams, you are driving me
      to homicide!

      ...and their own weaknesses...

Adams and Jefferson in Jefferson's

      Do you mean to say it's not

      No, sir.  I mean to say it's not

Adams and his wife.

      I've always been dissatisfied, I
      know that.  But lately I find that
      I reek of discontentment.  It
      fills my throat and floods my

Franklin and Adams in Congress.

      What will posterity think we
      were -- demigods?

      ...to prove to the world...

Congress in session.

      Certainly we require the aid of a
      powerful nation like France or

Congress in session.

      Mr. Jefferson, are you seriously
      suggesting that we publish a paper
      declaring to all the world that an
      illegal rebellion is, in reality,
      a legal one?

      ...that all men...

Adams and Franklin in the Congressional

      Whether you like it or not, they
      and the people they represent will
      be a part of the new country you'd
      hope to create!  Either start
      learning how to live with them or
      pack up and go home!

      ...are created equal.

Congress in session.

      There's no backing out now.  If we
      don't hang together, we shall most
      assuredly hang separately!


      Gentlemen, forgive me if I don't
      join in the merriment, but if
      we're arrested now, my name is
      still the only one on the damn

Brush with t3h h4wtness

Several days ago, my sister Suzanne was “friended” on Facebook by Dina Meyer, the actress, whom you may best remember as the other woman in the love triangle in Starship Troopers.

Don’t let the alien-ichor-spattered battle armor fool you. It’s a romance.

The friend request included no explanation beyond the message, “OMG!” So Suzanne started sleuthing and enlisted my help and our dad’s.

Thanks to ye vasty Internet we learned that Dina Meyer grew up in Forest Hills, New York — just like us. She was born in 1968 — right between me and Suzanne in age. She has an older brother named Gregory — just like an early-childhood playmate of mine (who had a younger sister named Dina). The clincher came when our dad recognized Dina’s mom in a picture of the two women.

Gregory and Dina were neighbors in our apartment building, just the right ages for me and Suzanne to play with. They had a different last name then. Our playdates (though in those days they weren’t called playdates) also included Jackie and David, two other neighbor kids who were just the right ages for us.

Eventually, Dina and Gregory moved away. As I learned just recently, their parents split and their mom remarried, which must account for the new name. Later our own parents split, and a few years after that our dad remarried — and weirdly, Jackie and David became our stepsiblings!

And now, because you know I’d never leave you hanging, here’s a picture of Dina literally using my sister (bottom left) as a stepping stone to stardom. (Those Hollywood types are all the same.)

Wait for it…

[This post is participating in Mystery Man’s Tension blog-a-thon.]

In preparation for this blog-a-thon I have been thinking for days about suspense in the movies and I now know exactly what makes it work.

Take the scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing in which Kurt Russell has tied up everyone, taken blood samples, and then poked each blood sample with a hot wire. He has reasoned that if one of them is really the Thing in human form, then every part of it can live on its own, be capable of shape-shifting, and so on. Even a blood sample from the Thing will have a survival instinct and should try to evade a hot wire. One by one he pokes the wire into a petri dish of blood. Poke… sizzle. Just plain blood. Poke… sizzle. Just plain blood. If he finds one that’s not just plain blood, what will it do? What will the tied-up “person” do when revealed to be the Thing? The scene is enormously tense because we don’t know whether something is going to happen, or what it will be when it does. That’s suspense.

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that’s not suspense. I’m remembering now that when I saw Batman Begins, my heart was pounding like a triphammer in the scene where young Bruce Wayne exits the opera with his parents into a dark alley. I knew exactly what was about to happen, and I desperately didn’t want it to. Maybe that’s what suspense in film is all about: letting the audience see the bad thing coming before the characters see it. This was Hitchcock’s usual approach, so there must be something to it. It’s the same dread I felt as Matt Damon’s son was winding up to jump into the swimming pool in Syriana.

But then how to explain the even greater tension in similar scenes in Schindler’s List and Pan’s Labyrinth — scenes in which a sympathetic character is at the mercy of a psychotic military commander pretending at kindness that you know can explode at any second into depraved cruelty? We don’t know what horrible whim is about to be indulged, we just know that it’s gonna be bad, real bad; and there will be no escape for the victim, and no repercussions for the psycho. In these cases the evil is all too credible — the psychopath is recognizably human, not a cartoon; and the victim is someone in whom we’re invested, and with whom we identify. Maybe the secret of movie suspense is simply to depict fully realized, three-dimensional characters in bad situations.

This would certainly explain why the suspense in parts of Maria Full of Grace was so unbearable. People say “the suspense was unbearable” and they don’t mean it literally; but I do. I literally had to stop the movie because I was so keyed up and fearful of what would happen next. More than once. Why? The peril in which Maria places herself in that film is no greater than that endured by hundreds of other heroines in hundreds of other movies; in fact you could argue it’s much less. But the vérité style of the film, the simple and sympathetic depiction of an ordinary person in desperate circumstances, and the unflinching portrayal of a nerve-wracking ordeal combine to make an excellent film almost unwatchable.

Then again, maybe you can have suspense without such close identification with the characters. Consider the scene in Aliens where Ripley and Burke and a few surviving Marines have barricaded themselves in a room, rifles at the ready, while a motion sensor shows a veritable army of aliens closing in on them. Nothing against the writing or the performances in that film, but I don’t think it’s character that makes that scene suspenseful. You just know shit’s coming, which brings us back to the first point I was trying to make. (The scene ingeniously ratchets it up a notch when the motion sensor paradoxically shows the aliens already inside the room, even though the door is still barricaded. When the characters realize the aliens must be in the suspended ceiling, there are a few moments of even more suspense as one of them climbs up to poke a tile out of the way and have a look.)

So there you have it. Movies create suspense when you know something bad is about to happen, but you don’t know what. Except when they don’t, in which case they create suspense by letting you know exactly what’s coming. And if they don’t let you know exactly what’s coming, or even whether anything is, they can still create suspense by building real characters and suggesting that something might.

The third time it’s enemy action

I’m getting pretty tired of ideas from my blog showing up in Hollywood movies. First it was the references to Roswell and ancient Etruscan artifacts in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which you read here first. Now I see that the trailer for Tropic Thunder features a scene in which the theme song from The Jeffersons is used in a failed attempt to bridge the racial divide — which you read here first.

Hey Hollywood, those are just the crumbs you’ve been stealing. There’s more and better where they came from. Have your people call my people.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste on obscure pop-culture trivia

My kids’ latest favorite thing is Indiana Jones. Thanks to the release of the newest movie, the attendant schoolyard chatter, and the impossible-to-avoid merchandising, Jonah’s and Archer’s zeal to see the original Raiders of the Lost Ark was stoked to a fever pitch, and ultimately we just couldn’t resist, especially considering that Raiders is awesome. After filling in the kids with a little history (about the Nazis), a little Bible lore (about the ark), and a little science (about archaeology) — and after stern warnings about fighting being lots of fun in the movies but not OK in real life — we sat down for a family viewing, and we all had a great time.

Inevitably Andrea raised the question, “Did that guy ever do anything else?” referring to Paul Freeman, the actor who turned in a memorable performance as Belloq, Indy’s Nazi-collaborating rival.

Opening a mental filing cabinet I said, “I only remember seeing him one other time, in a British TV series on PBS of all things, a year or two after Raiders. I think it had something to do with solving mysteries with science. It might have been called Q.E.D. Come to think of it, Sam Waterston might have been in it!”

When I went online to confirm this, I found that my recollection was faulty in one way: I had seen Paul Freeman two other times, including in the very funny Sherlock Holmes parody, Without a Clue, in which he played Professor Moriarty. But I was exactly right about Q.E.D. — it was a British TV series about solving mysteries with science, its few episodes aired on PBS between one and two years after Raiders, the star was Sam Waterston, and Paul Freeman was indeed in one episode. I remember being disappointed that he was nowhere near as suave as he’d been in Raiders. (But that was OK, because Sam Waterston was the main attraction. In my house growing up, we were all big fans of Waterston thanks to his droll performance in the movie Hopscotch.)

Incidentally, despite my having seen Freeman in a total of only three roles, his filmography lists nearly a hundred film and TV appearances I managed to have missed.

Now here’s a Lucky Strike extra: co-starring with Freeman in Q.E.D. was Julian Glover, who a few years later would play Indy’s other Nazi-collaborating rival, Walter Donovan, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Film clips

[This post is participating in Culture Snob’s Self-Involvement blog-a-thon.]

Culture Snob has asked for blog posts about movies that elicited very personal reactions, a subject on which I’ve written at great length here at gee bobg. I don’t have anything new to write on that subject right now (except to publicly recite my mantra for upcoming movies that look cool: “Dark Knight, please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck”), so instead here’s a short retrospective of things I’ve said about how movies have affected my life.

To begin with, there’s Star Wars, which enveloped me in a miasma of intense fandom from age 10 to about age 20, at which point the mist began to clear and I finally started being able to think critically about it.

I had already developed the odd habit of recording, memorizing, and reciting the dialogue of miscellaneous TV shows when Star Wars came along and spurred me to perfect that strange hobby. Thanks to that (and to obsessive audio-recording of movies on HBO) I became something of an expert in verbatim, memorable movie dialogue, which contributed to the initial courting of my wife — I presented her with a transcript of The Princess Bride, written from memory, which amazed and delighted her (and which she still keeps handy) — and led me to a unique and lucrative entrepreneurial adventure.

(It was not my first movie-based entrepreneurial effort.)

Then there’s Koyaanisqatsi, the movie that was the first one I ever watched with my later-to-be-wife, and the strange way that came full circle when the aforementioned lucre ultimately got us invited to the gala premiere of the final film of the “Qatsi” trilogy.

More recently I’ve been better able to appreciate the message that some films have for parents and those facing middle age. Which is not to say I don’t sometimes return to those few films that transport me back to childhood by evoking New York the way I remember it.


[This post is participating in 12 Grand In Checking’s New York In the Movies Blog-a-thon.]

There are endless numbers of movies in which New York City is the star: New York as we’ve always imagined it; New York as we wish it really was; New York as we fear it actually is or might become. This is not about any of those movies.

I grew up in New York City, and by the time I left it to go to college I had an ample collection of authentic New York experiences under my belt. I explored every nook and cranny of the subway system. I told a cab driver to “step on it” and then hung on for dear life. I ate at Horn & Hardart’s. I outwitted muggers. I hung out at Greenwich Village coffee shops past midnight. I rode my bicycle hell-for-leather through midday traffic. I took my prom date on a horse-and-buggy ride up Sixth Avenue and through Central Park. In the middle of a discussion with my friends of the parallels between The Warriors (a New-York-as-we-fear-it-actually-is movie) and Homer’s Odyssey, a complete stranger joined in and explained that the more apt classical comparison was with a work called Xenophon’s Anabasis.

So when I got to college in Pittsburgh I felt smugly cosmopolitan. Pittsburgh was a podunk backwater by comparison, and the people I met there — the first people I ever knew who weren’t from New York — were country bumpkins sorely in need of being edified by me about the marvels they’d been missing by lacking a big-city upbringing. Honestly, it’s a wonder I made as many friends there as I did. For a time I was insufferably superior about having come from New York.

One day, I made a remark along these lines to my friend Mike, something about how he, being only from Rochester, NY, should take my word about something or other since I was from New York City. It wasn’t the first such remark I’d made, but it finally crossed the line for Mike, and he called me out. I wish I had a transcript of exactly what he said. I remember it both as very perfunctorily putting me in my place and also as encompassing all of the following points:

  • Though New York City may contain many things to see and do, they are still only a small fraction of all the things there are in the world to see and do;
  • Though growing up in New York City may provide a broader perspective on the world than growing up elsewhere, it is still only a single perspective;
  • Though very many people live and work in New York City, it is still only a small fraction of all the people in the world; and
  • Most of the other people in the world don’t go around saying that they know better than everyone else just because of where they’re from.

I don’t know if this was the first time my arrogant attitude was directly challenged, or just the first time that it got through to me. Either way, it had the desired effect, and then some. I recognized the validity of Mike’s criticism and took it to heart. No one ever heard that sort of elitism from me again — an improvement in my personality for which I will be forever grateful to Mike. Moreover, I began to open up to the charms of Pittsburgh. Before long I felt completely at home there, where previously I had only ever measured it against my memories of New York and found it wanting.

All of which is just preamble to the point I want to make about New York. When Mike gave me that much-needed dressing down he made me feel distinctly provincial, which at first struck me as an odd way for someone from The Big Apple to feel. The City That Never Sleeps! Gotham! But I had to admit that my worldview, and that of most of the other New Yorkers I’d left behind, was as insular, as parochial, as uncultured in its way as that from any one-horse hick town.

And that’s when my idea of New York began to change. It wasn’t really the teeming, glitzy metropolis that everyone always claimed, any more than Norma Jean was really Marilyn Monroe. At heart New York City was actually the world’s biggest small town — or rather, the biggest collection of small towns, jammed close together.

It’s hard to nail down just what I mean by that, but that’s where movies come in. Offhand I can think of a few films that capture the Norma Jean face of New York City, so you can see what I mean without my having to strain my writing muscles.

A movie like Woody Allen’s Manhattan does not capture it, because it makes the city bigger than the people in the story. It’s a New-York-as-we’ve-always-imagined-it movie. A movie like the little-seen Rich Kids, on the other hand, does. It can be set in no place other than New York, but not because New York makes the characters be who they are — the characters make New York what it is.

Neil Simon was good at this kind of New York story, and ironically the main characters in his best one, The Goodbye Girl, aren’t even New Yorkers! Marsha Mason’s character is from Cincinatti; Richard Dreyfus’s is from Chicago. But their banter is a big part of what makes New York the city it is. Quinn Cummings, even more so.

Martin Scorsese’s movies almost qualify for inclusion but rely too heavily on the violent (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver) and the bizarre (Taxi Driver, After Hours) to really capture my New York — the real, personal, cozy New York of my youth, the New York made primarily of neighborhood people and not of melodrama. On the other hand, Eyewitness and Dog Day Afternoon do qualify. Even though each contains some melodramatic crime and violence elements, they are both populated by actual New Yorkers: outspoken, ethnic, irritable, big-hearted in spite of everything; people who thoroughly inhabit their own small communities that form the patchwork quilt of the city.

It’s strange: Hero At Large captures my idea of small-town New York, but Turk 182! does not. Both are lighthearted comedies about anonymous heroes whose exploits capture the imagination of the entire city, but it’s instructive to see how Timothy Hutton and Robert Urich, the brothers in Turk 182!, fail to embody the things about New York that I’ve been talking about despite their obvious efforts at characterization, while John Ritter and Anne Archer, whose acting skills are blander, nevertheless succeed in Hero At Large on pure heart.

I’m sure I’ve failed to convey my point very well, but if you watch some of the movies I’ve named, maybe you’ll understand what I mean. Or maybe it’s only possible to understand that feeling about New York if you grew up there in the 1970’s, when giant retail chains did not yet dominate the landscape and perhaps it really was more of a small town than it is today.

There is no end zone

[This post is participating in Strange Culture’s Dads In Media blog-a-thon.]

Some time ago I wrote,

The movie […] teaches that worry is an inextricable part of parenthood, which is a comfort in a way. Thanks to Finding Nemo, when I encounter a worrying situation in my role as a father, I cope a little better. I know that it goes with the territory, that it’s universal, and that there’s a right way to deal with it.

An even more potent touchstone for teaching us to accept the worries of parenthood is Parenthood, the 1989 film by Ron Howard, and its central point is nicely summed up in a scene between Frank Buckman (Jason Robards) and his son Gil (Steve Martin). Frank has learned that his black-sheep son, Larry, is in deep trouble with the mob. While ostensibly asking Gil’s advice about whether to help Larry pay off his gambling debt, Frank’s really coming to terms with the hardest truth about having children: no matter how long you and your children live, if you love them, you never stop worrying about them.

Just earlier in the film, Gil had a fantasy in which his troubled young son Kevin grows up to be confident, successful, and happy, praising his dad in his valedictory address at college. Fantasy-Gil reveled in a job well done. Now here is Gil’s father with the dismal news that:

There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Never.

And yet for all the worrying about children (of all ages) that occupies the film’s many parents, the message of the movie is a positive one: that lifelong worry is a small price to pay for the profound joys of parenthood. This too is summed up neatly in a scene where Grandma interrupts Gil’s obsessive fretting with a seemingly irrelevant story.