Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday Tuneage
Electric Light Orchestra - “Livin’ Thing”

In late 1997 I had a stretch between temporary accounting jobs. My days involved sleeping in, listening to music, reading, heading to the coffee shop to write, and waiting for the temp agency to call with possible job assignments. One day I received a call from someone at the temp agency saying that they had lost the results of the Excel test I had taken when I first signed on. I would have to come in and re-take the test if I wanted to be assigned any jobs that required Excel. Are you sure, I said. I was pretty good at Excel and had used it on prior assignments. (Samuel L. Jackson voice: “Don’t be telling me about Excel, I’m the Excelfuckin’ master!”) Yes, he said, it was strongly advised that I come in and take the test. I had no recourse — no way of avoiding going to the agency’s office and re-taking the test, and I couldn’t think of anybody who would vouch for my Excel skills. The staffing manager who had taken a liking to my work ethic and smarts and would guide me to better assignments had left to start his own company. I hadn’t yet been adopted by another staffing manager who made sure to look out for me. I made an appointment to take the test the next day. I got up, slapped on some nice shoes, slacks, buttons-down shirt, and a tie (ugh) and took the bus downtown to the agency’s office. I dealt with two guys I was unfamiliar with who guided me to a cubicle to take my test. They were smarmy youths (okay, they were about my age, but I was used to dealing with people older than me) that seemed to have the attitude that I was trying to get away with something, like maybe I had been taking jobs where I used Excel under false pretenses. They gave me thirty minutes to complete the test, I finished it in about ten, and my score was 98%. The boys were visibly stunned, I tried not to smirk. They thanked me for coming in. As I gathered my coat and headed for the door, one guy came up to me and handed me a card. He said it contained a $25 gift certificate to a local movie chain. For accommodating us and taking the time, he said.

It was a nice gesture, though I was still a little miffed that I had to take time away from my down time, put on a monkey suit, and go do something I had already done the prior year. I knew this absurd situation called for just one flick to be comped. I called up a good friend: “My temp agency gave me $25 in free movie money ... wanna go to Boogie Nights? Tickets, snacks, and drinks on them?”

The movie was a blast. An incredible ensemble of talent — Cheadle, Hoffman, Reilly, etc. — and a stylistic presentation from director Paul Thomas Anderson. When Thomas Jane as Todd Parker said: "Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a dual plane manifold, full fuckin' race cams...", my friend and nodded over this later — we had heard plenty of that talk in the Midwestern towns where we had grown up. Throw in a smoking hot Nina Hartley (yessir ... older woman in my first viewing, younger woman when I watch it now) and Philip Baker Hall’s (known only to me at the time as the library detective from Seinfeld!) entrance on New Year’s Eve 1979 to Sniff ‘n’ the Tears’ “Driver’s Seat”, and I was floored. Also I was still in the midst of feeling the effects of the post-Pulp Fiction revolution where there were so many movies in the last half of the nineties that were just a joy to watch because of the bravado that burst from them. Swingers, Out of Sight, Face/Off, Fight Club ... going to the movies was fun in that last decade before my bad back prevented me from sitting in theaters and I gave in to Netflix and a pause button and closed captioning and not having anybody seated near me talking loudly.

Postscript: I wrote the rough draft of this Labor Day weekend. Later that week, shortly after I made plans to watch Boogie Nights in case I needed further notes, I saw the news that Burt Reynolds had died. His understated performance as the steady patriarch in Boogie Nights was a revelation. I was too young to see The Longest Yard when it was released back in 1974, but over time heard some of its legendary bits and scenes through the grapevine . Years later I still eagerly awaited that night when I was finally able to see the unedited version on HBO. A friend gave me a The Longest Yard poster about fifteen years ago, it continues to hang proudly in my apartment. RIP, Burt Reynolds.