The Hateful Eight

Years ago when video stores were a thing, my “casual movie fan” friend had stopped going to her nearby store in Manhattan Beach, CA.  The tall, gawky kid at the counter always went into long diatribes about the movies she was renting. “He just goes on and on, rapidly sputtering out facts and opinions,” she complained. “I just wanted to rent Pretty Woman and go.”
If you haven’t guessed yet, that young gawky man was (and still is) Quentin Tarantino, and he continues to gratuitously share his passion for film, not from the counter of a dingy video store, but through his award-winning, critically acclaimed films. His eighth, The Hateful Eight, is my pick for best film of 2015.
Without giving up too much, here’s an overview of the film. Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are forced by a blizzard into a one-room house with six others. Eight hateful souls seeking to advance their agendas through manipulation and coercion — just like in the real world. Everyone is going all-in, thinking they each have the best hand in a dark, violent card game.
What I love most about the movie is that I get to witness a few new hours of Tarantino’s  storytelling and character development genius. It’s about time. My Tarantino DVDs are nearly worn through from repeated weekend binge watching. In each one I still hear the gawky film nerd abusing unsuspecting video store customers with film talk.  I just wish I could have been one of them. 

A Visit to the Dentist

“You have a lot of saliva,” she says. I look into the small, intense headlight the hygienist is wearing on her forehead. She’s a dental spelunker exploring a new cave. I’m surprised she’s not wearing a helmet. “What happens is this,” she continues, her unseen lips moving from behind a thin paper surgical mask, “the plaque builds up on your teeth and then the saliva hardens it into tarter.” As she speaks, she probes and scrapes my teeth with a pencil-thin metal instrument. Its sharp hook at the end dances just above my gum line. ” Since you have a lot of saliva, you’re more at risk.” She has my full attention. My jaw muscles strain to keep my mouth open as wide as possible.

She finishes up and puts the hook down on a little stainless steel table. She pulls out a long measure of dental floss, and then doubles up the already thick, white cord. I fear she’s about to get “Medieval on my ass.” I open quickly, and she deftly lassos my right lower canine.

Industrial-strength flossing begins, and soon my flabby, weak  gums have given way. I taste my own blood, tinny and salty, as it flows in thin vertical rivulets. Remembering an article about how iron originally came from a far-off galaxy, I wonder if I’m tasting a distant star. I look up at the light and squint. She tells me she’s almost done as the string bites into my flesh again. It sends my brain a flash bang of pain. As a defense mechanism, my consciousness recalls that scientists are attempting to turn chickens back into dinosaurs through gene therapy. I wonder who  funds these things. “Mr. Davis,” the hygienist’s voice shocks me back into the dentist’s chair. “Why don’t you go ahead and rinse now?.” It’s not really a question. I lean over a porcelain spittoon and,  like a trained circus animal, catch some of the water that streams from the faucet. I swirl and spit, sending a bloody discharge spiraling down the drain. With a strange sense of accomplishment, I readjust myself in the chair and resign myself to more bloodletting.

She continues the flossing. With time, her movements fall into an easy, natural rhythm. Together, we enter dental-floss nirvana. A few more teeth and she’s done. She steps back and throws the string away. “Floss regularly and come back in three weeks. If there’s no improvement, we’ll need to do a deep cleaning.” She doesn’t comment on our moment of galactic synchronization. Our perfect lock step with the universe.

I pay my bill, walk out of the building and get into my car. Like a dog let out into a new yard, my tongue explores its new surroundings in a frenzy. My post-tarter teeth feel smooth and healthy. I am happy.

Let’s get Shanghaied!

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Shanghai is a beautiful, exciting place to visit. Here are a few tips to help make your trip there more enjoyable.

The first experience of many who visit Shanghai is the colorful discourse of the Chinese taxi drivers picking them up at the airport. First-time visitors listening to the driver banter with his dispatcher in Chinese might think he is a bit angry. But more experienced visitors will tell you he is in a blind rage. After all, he must take a passenger who can’t speak his language to a place he’s probably never heard of.  Welcome to Shanghai where the people have two emotions: none and anger.  The only person in Shanghai I’ve seen laugh was an old woman. And that was after she hit me with her little scooter.

Getting around

Hoofing it

The best way to learn about a city is by walking around it. Remember: You can cross the street and be safe, but not at the same time. You must make a choice: cross the street or be safe. Pedestrians are the lowest rung on the Shanghai transportation ladder. Just like in California, drivers can turn right on red lights. But unlike California, they don’t have to stop. In fact, taxis and very large tour buses are apt to speed up. Those wishing to completely cross the street tend to wait until a large group forms. At some point, critical mass is achieved and they all walk across the street together. Apparently a large number of people is a deterrent. It would do more damage to the vehicle than just one or two people. But don’t feel too safe on the sidewalks either. I’ve seen large, black sedans jump onto sidewalks and cut across the corners, sending pedestrians fleeing like penguins from a killer whale that has shot onto the shore for a quick meal.

Taking the subway

The subway is both convenient and clean. Visit the customer service booth and act out where you want to go. They will circle something on a map that’s all in Chinese, and then hand it to you. Hopefully, they correctly guessed what your performance was about. Your best bet is to count the stations on the map to the circled one. That will save you the hassle of learning Chinese. Also, when the train arrives, be sure to rush the door with the others and participate in a kind of subway football scrimmage. You’ll know you’ve won when you find yourself onboard.

Food

Shanghai has excellent food. Many of the bigger restaurants will have photos, which makes ordering easier. If they don’t, just think of yourself as being in a greasy actors’ studio. Before your trip, you might want to practice your chicken, beef and vegetable impersonations. Also, if the restaurant has snake or frog on the menu, don’t order it. It tastes like snake and frog.

Things to see in Shanghai

  • Oriental Pearl Tower
  • Skyscrapers from the planet Zartron
  • Small shops selling used, rusty gears and other machine parts next to mom-and-pop restaurants (my favorite was called “Let’s Eat Tar”)
  • Women spitting
  • Pet store/food market
  • Food market/ pet store

Valley Scene Magazine: LAX International Arrival Chaos: Where’s Mama?

If you’ve ever had trouble finding out where to meet a friend or loved one arriving on an international flight at Los Angeles International Airport, you’re not alone. In addition to little, no or wrong signage, you must also often contend with dull-normal employees misguiding you and having your passengers land at one terminal, only to be taken to another. To help make your next “find mama” adventure a little easier, read on.

Although meeting your international passenger may seem nearly impossible, a little pre-planning wil increases your chances of being there when he or she emerges from the international inspection area.

First of all, make sure the flight is flying in to LAX directly from a foreign airport. If it stops in New York or any other U.S. airport before landing at LAX, it becomes a domestic flight and your job just got a lot easier. Also, if it is coming in from Canada, he or she won’t need to go through federal inspection here in the U.S. (unless it was the Canadian city, Kelowa).

So, If you know your passenger has to go through federal inspection at LAX, you’ll need to know which airline they are flying and their arrival time (duh, huh). Now, let’s go terminal by terminal.  So, let’s do some detective work. LAX has eight terminals. However, Terminal 7 handles arrivals for Terminal 8 and Terminal 1, the Southwest Airlines Terminal, and Terminal 3 have no international arrivals so there’s three you don’t have to worry about. Let’s now go terminal by terminal.

Terminal 7 (United)

Great big United airlines’ international passengers will actually exit through the glass doors next door in Terminal 6. They will do this until 6:30 p.m., which is when the last of the international flights arrive. if the flight is late, and you’re unaware of this little nugget of information, you’ll be waiting at T6 while your non-English speaking grandma or pre-teen niece will be bused over to the Tom Bradly Terminal, which is between Terminal 4 and 3.

Terminal 6 (Alaska and Copa)

Alaska airline’s international  passengers actually exit through T6 as well, But Copa airlines’ passengers need to be met at the international terminal (a.k.a. Tom Bradly International Terminal, a.k.a TBIT, a.k.a. B, a.k.a. 3 and 1/2 since it’s the only terminal without a number) Why can’t Copa use the terminal 6 inspection area? Because airlines hate each other, that’s why.

Terminal 5 (Delta)

Delta is probably the only airline with its own inspection area. Watch out, though, flights arriving after 8 p.m. will again bus the passengers over to TBIT for processing.

Terminal 4 (American)

Ah, American Airlines. Outside you will see International Arrivals proudly displayed. But inside, there is none. And no matter how many times American is asked, they refuse to take the sign down. No one knows why, but it is suspected that they are jealous of Delta having its own inspection area and like to pretend they have one, too. Unfortunately, people coming in to pick up loved ones don’t know that little secret and wait for hours at the wrong location while their loved ones fear the worst as they wait at the next terminal over.

Tom Bradley International Terminal

TBIT houses most of the well known foreign airlines such as Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Having guests land here is the least nerve-wreaking as they have only one exit at the center of the terminal.

Terminal 2

Terminal 2 has an inspection area and it’s open late. It handles all international arrivals for that terminal. In fact, T2 was LAX’s original international terminal.

After all that, the times can change with the seasons and LAX is always changing so your best bet is to arrive early and confirm where your passenger will be arriving with one of the volunteers in the information booth. They have the latest information.

For more information about LAX, visit http://www.lawa.org/welcomeLAX.aspx

The Strippers’ Tao

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Tall and lean, she approached. Her prey, a frumpy gentlemen who seemed lost as he blankly stared into the bar wall’s mirror. Looking back,  sullen, time-melted features and thinning hair. He was a lot of middles: middle heavy, middle aged, middle manager (at best), perhaps even middle America.

They were in Lennox, CA, a lost and smoggy few blocks of L.A.’s South Bay. The city was architecturally a 1970s ghost town, and had been bleeding out since the 1960s aerospace boom busted.

 A strip club is not usually so welcome in a suburb. But the city of Lennox, so desperate for funds (or so corrupt), quietly renewed the club, Jet Strip’s, license each year. Cramped between a dry cleaners and a liquor store, it was just another storefront — even with the blacked out windows adorned with pink neon tubes twisted and curled into silhouettes of busty sweeties. Cheaper and less gaudy than the flashy mega clubs downtown or the ones closer to the airport, Jet Strip’s ladies ranged from a substance-abused grandmother named Mel to Cindy, the slim, well-endowed 19 year-old, who was now seducing her mark, a man more than twice her age. She was a lioness who, with any luck, would soon be carrying back to her warren his cash and maybe even a ring or two. Quite a feat for a wide-eyed 19-year-old recently from the baked, hardscrabble flatlands halfway between Las Vegas and L.A. The others


liked her. She caught on early to the strip-club hierarchy, and she was funny, sometimes in spite of herself.  

Cindy padded up to the man quietly and stood so close that he felt the heat of her young,  bare flesh. It radiated into his tired suit coat and caressed his chalky, thin arms. His dull stare into the mirror was now interspersed with stealthy glances at her skimpy, sparkly bikini and the  healthy flesh it enveloped. She finally caught him looking at her in the mirror and grinned. In return, he smiled a smile of coffee-stained, half Chiclets. He turned to her, and the scent of her expensive flowery perfume caught his underused imagination. “Can I buy you a drink?”  he asked, with forced confidence. She smiled, feigned an excited “thank-you” and ordered a $5 energy drink. The bartender, a former stripper herself, took a small, chilled can from the refrigerator and placed it on the bar. Cindy, while reaching for it with her right hand, placed her left hand flat against the small of the man’s back as if to balance herself. Electric jolts sprinted upwards and downwards from his toes to head, short-circuiting his advanced grey matter and bringing online his small, waxy, reptilian walnut. “I’m Cindy,” she said.

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Mel, another dancer, olive-skinned and older than Cindy, leaned against the far end of the nearly empty bar and took in the little scene between Cindy and her nervously excited client. The site of Cindy, now with one slender arm draped across the man’s small shoulders, like a San Quentin bull marking his bitch, filled Mel with the rage of the damned. And why shouldn’t it? Mel, now 30, was certainly damned here in the stripper business.

Mel saw the road signs everyday. Deepening and darkening crows’ feet, errant hairs, facial adipose that gave her a double chin when she looked down were saying it: her stripper life-cycle was nearing its completion. She was like a butterfly in reverse.

Mel felt time was personally victimizing her. And what made her feel most victimized was how cruelly age and gravity were dragging her once magnificent breasts down towards the center of the earth. “My tits are literally going to hell,” she thought as she saw Cindy masterfully accidentally brush hers across the man’s arm.

But Mel wasn’t going softly into the night. To fight her mammary droop, she was strapped into a reinforced gold-sequined stripper’s bra so tightly that it made comfortable breathing impossible. And when  it was time to show the goods during her performance, Mel, with Herculean finger-and-thumb strength, unclasped her bra, thus unleashing so much stored energy that the garment popped off explosively and flew out over the audience like a rare, glittery tropical bird. The release left her sun-spotted orbs dangling like two hanged men.

Needless to say, Mel hadn’t been a headliner for quite a while. Something she constantly rolled around in her hair-dyed, chemical-burned head.