Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Petri Dish 101: No, really...

The compact T-shirt-clad figure stood toe-to-toe with me, spitting sentences out with a sincerity that took me utterly by surprise. His intensity burned so bright that he'd have been boring holes in my eyes were he actually eye level with me: as was, his gaze was boring holes somewhere around my sternum.

"You think you know about my career, you schlubby jackass?! You don't. I know my career. And you know why, Tony? Because I've read about it. I've researched it." He wiped a small slash of bright white foam collecting on his lower lip with his right wrist before he continued. "You make fun of me in your pathetic little Blog, while I'm up there being a hero to millions. MILLIONS!"

Finally, he breathed. I tried to insert my two modest pennies-worth while he gulped air.

"But you have to admit," I began, "that there are cases in which Blogging has served a vital therapeutic function for millions of frustrated, aspiring, or professional writers. It's one of the most democratic forms of expression around--"

He cut my sentence off with a single-syllable burst of laughter, a "HA!" delivered on his tip-toes. Now his eyes were level with my chin.

"You know what your problem is, Tony? You're GLIB. Blogging is a farce. A joke. Psychiatrists are forcefeeding Blogging down the throats of untold scores of people when all they really need are vitamins and exercise! Just look at your pathetic list of endorsements for proof!" He pulled a small Blackberry out of one of the pockets of his too-tight jeans with an effortful tug. "I've got this little dunghole of a Blog bookmarked, y'know..." His eyes sparkled as he pressed keys on the palm-sized device. Why the hell wasn't he off someplace gladhanding some deluded A-list director, or--God forbid--working? "Do you really think that a seventies Japanese boob-and-blood-soaked trash movie is a more worthy view than my important thinking-man's epic The Last Samurai?!" He howled.

"Um, yeah."

"HA!" He was jumping up and down now, which sporadically put his eyes even with my lower lip. "Next, you're gonna say that some ugly skinny ex-junkie embodies the spirit of rock and roll better than me sliding around hardwood floors in my underwear lip-synching Bob Seger songs!"

"Um, yeah," I concurred.

He stopped jumping, but started spitting again. "And you'd rather celebrate the careers of a bunch of old actors who haven't had a gig in eons instead of my A-list grandeur and glory?!"

"Well, actually, yeah."

"And you'd rather write an impassioned obituary for the director of Teenage Frankenstein than for my former co-star in the underrated teen drama All the Right Moves, Ms. Lea Thompson?!" He shouted, the veins in his neck portruding like raw rhubarb stalks.

"Well, Lea Thompson's actually not dead. Only her career is..."

"Don't get technical with ME! I want the TRUTH!!"

I wasn't gonna go there.

At this point impatience began enveloping me. A few sentences (OK, two pretty big Blogs, but who was counting?) about his limitations as an actor and his ickiness as a living entity, and he was preparing to completely lose control. "Can we just sort of forget about this and just go on about our separate lives here?" I asked. "I was gonna head home and watch Blood Freak. Hey, why don't you bankroll a remake? You'd be great as Herschell the pompadoured dope-smoking Turkey Man."

My last statement, offered in complete earnest sincerity, nonetheless caused his hackles to raise like porcupine quills as he bellowed, "Show me the HEMOGLOBIN!"

A sudden stab of pain ridged my left knee, and I looked down in horror as Tom Cruise locked his teeth on my kneecap. A scream emerged from my lips, and my mind swam with visions of my viscera hanging from Cruise's freshly-manicured choppers like the entrails of some hapless victim in a crappy Italian zombie movie.

"I spent three whole months learning kneecap-biting for my work in Days of Thunder!" He snarled, his phrasing muffled by a blood-soaked denim fragment as he began to name-drop out of nowhere. "Martin Scorsese likes me better than he'll EVER like you!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!"

"I don't care, Grinning Boy!" I shouted. Kneecap on fire, I jackhammered my left fist into his upper lip. "Raging Bull was massively overrated anywaaayy!!!" I shot back. He staggered briefly, then popped back up, spitting a tooth out and grinning mad as a hatter. If only he'd been this scary in his movies.
The pain in my knee built so much that I felt myself getting dizzy. As my battle to stay conscious become more and more futile, Cruise's face stared back at me and kept multiplying on itself, laughing that insincere-yet-malevolent chortle until everything went black.

It could've been hours, or days. Hell if I knew. All I did know is that when I opened my eyes, the antiseptic comfort of four white hospital walls greeted me. I felt like I'd awakened from a twenty-year slumber. Almost on cue, a shiny, finely-carved cane pushed the door open. The old friend that entered--slender and nattily-dressed as usual--put me at ease, concern bubbling just beneath his angular but laid-back features. "You're looking like a Corvette that's been left overnight in an East LA parking lot, my brother," Huggy Bear intoned sagely. He pulled a small mirror out of the breast pocket of his loud plaid jacket and pointed the looking glass at my face. "Good thing Hutch got to you before that religious freak midget dude actually took off your kneecap, Starsky."
My reflection stared heavy-lidded back at me. The bushy manly brows that held up my forehead shadowed my eyes more than usual, and my white-man's afro was bereft of its customary zing and bounce. There I was, Dave Starsky, one-half of the best crime-fighting duo in the LAPD, looking like a beaten-down junkie.

I could count on my partner Hutch being on the prowl, hunting down the nut who nearly took a giant piece out of my leg until he was able to hurl the psycho against a car hood and beat the crap out of him at the end of the episode. How I ached--literally--to be able to level the micro-freak with a good right hook of my own.

But I had an important duty of my own to fulfill while I convalesced. It was Sweeps Month, and this season I was the bed-ridden one. I had to have all of the stock-footage flashbacks. I was the mental Greatest-Hits collection of our adventures for the season.

The crazy thing was, all of my memories weren't of car chases, shoot-outs, or guest stars. They were of a journal written on a computer by me. Only I wasn't Dave Starsky, diminutive yet studly cop. I was some guy named Tony who wrote about movies, television shows, music, the odd stage play, and scary dwarves who worshipped aliens. Huggy laughed so hard he nearly lost his cool when I confessed this. "A COMPUTER?!" He spat out. "This is 1978, Starsky! You're losin' your mind. This is supposed to be a Very Special Episode of Starsky and Hutch!"

"I know, Hug," I replied sadly. Our style was being seriously cramped by my hallucinations.

"C'mon, my man! Try flashin' back on some adventure. Think about, I don't know, chasing down some seedy dope pusher..."

I nodded and closed my eyes. Everything began to dissolve: Hot damn! A flashback at last. But the fade-in wasn't on a chase scene. It was on three Japanese guys in leather jackets beating the hell out of some musical instruments and screaming like they were being electrocuted.

"No, Starsky! Give me some cop show action!" Huggy coached.

Again, I closed my eyes. I tried to focus on that time I affected a Spanish accent and wore a wacky moustache to infiltrate a dance studio. But all I could see was Bela Lugosi. What the...? Again I tried to induce a lap dissolve, this time into a make-out session with a blond California beach bunny. Instead, I got a herd of giant killer rabbits being chased by some guy from Star Trek. Again I closed my eyes. Lap dissolve...a white man with dark feathered hair, running like hell after a crook on the lam! Now we're getting somewhere, I thought...Wait. It was that bastard Al Pacino. I couldn't win.

Huggy shook his head. "I give up, Starsky," he muttered. "Guess we're gonna have to settle for a Very Special Episode of this Crazy-Ass Computer Diary Jive--"

"It's called Pop Culture Petri Dish," I chimed in reflexively, mystified at where the hell that came from.

My buddy chuckled. "Then I guess this is The Very Special Episode of Pop Culture Petri Dish with clips, highlights, flashbacks, the whole ball of wax. What you gonna name it?"

"Petri Dish 101," I replied without missing a beat. "Because it's the 101st Entry in the Pop Culture Petri Dish."

Huggy Bear, that wise and witty voice of the streets, chuckled softly. "Whatever turns you on, my brother."

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