Y Marks the Spot: The December Experiment, Part Two: The Fortress of Solitude

I’ve referred to my stretch of travels around the country last month as The December Experiment because I tried something to change my routine, in order to see if I could develop better habits in my day to day life.  Six months of ungainful employment and the resulting cabin fever led me to some rather pathetic behaviors.  There were a few video game marathons during that time, but worse still were the days, even weeks, in which I did nothing but channel surf the internet, not looking at anything important or even specific, yet not knowing what else to do.  I developed this junkie habit while surviving a period of incredible abandonment and loneliness, which makes it all the more dumb that it persists in a house full of people, years later.

So the main element of The December Experiment was this: I’d get all my writing work done, turned in, and posted before heading out, and then I’d leave my computer at home.  Which I accomplished.  I wrote up one month’s worth of journalism in a week’s time, and each time I left Washington I was largely technology-free, save my electronic book, iPod, and camera – all of which had little potential for sloth.  I felt pretty good about myself.

After suffering the holiday scorch of Phoenix, I was excited to return to Wisconsin: for my friends, for the snow, and for the ability to drink like a free citizen of the world.  There are a few things I don’t miss about the Midwest, but the nigh-Irish drinking culture isn’t one of those things.  Living in Washington is pretty goddamn wonderful, but to its discredit, this state HATES its liquor.  Getting a vodka screwdriver out here feels like undertaking the Odyssey.  Any intoxicant not beer or wine can only be sold in state-run liquor stores with Jesusy hours of operation and prices double those of equivalent products sold in Wisconsin.  Perhaps I’ve had it too good for too long, but it feels blasphemous to drop twenty bucks for a tub of cheap vodka.

Worse still is the abomination I’ve discovered here known as the Beer Bar, in which liquor is shunned outright.  For those like me who can’t so much as sip a beer without gagging, this institution makes bar hopping an exercise in proper planning that honestly isn’t worth the trouble.

There was a voting initiative in Washington this year which would have cut out all this hateful bullshit, but it was defeated on the strength of baby crusaders – terrorized parents who seem oblivious that the legal drinking age is 21 and not 5 – as well as, appropriately enough, the beer industry.  Maybe I could get vodka easier if I could get a medical clearance for it.

Thus, after flying into Milwaukee and spending a few days lurking in my mom’s east Wisconsin Fortress of Solitude, I rode into La Crosse on Christmas Weekend, ready to flail, to make a fool of myself, and to suffer Valhalla-grade hangovers.

On the Thursday afternoon of my arrival, I found the town exactly as I left it, which felt both reassuring and depressing.  Being too early to immediately dash to the bars, I met up with one of my friends, and we accompanied his kid to Chuck E. Cheese.

Having recently been reacquainted with Arizona’s weapon fetishist gun laws, I picked up on a strange sign at the exit of the kid’s restaurant, one which expressly forbade bringing guns into Chuck E. Cheese.  No shit, says I.  Dumber still, however, was the advertised punishment for violating this law – a stiff charge of trespassing.  So what happens if a person actually fires a gun in this Chuck E. Cheese?  Disorderly conduct?  Jaywalking?  First-degree Boys Will Be Boys?

But this night was not the time for philosophy; this was the time for action.  And soon I found myself in my ancestral downtown, slithering down from Sobriety Summit.  I had a good time – and an even better one during my traditional drunken Christmas Night festivities, in which my friends and I watch the original Star Wars Trilogy and get sloppy – but boozing in Wisconsin hadn’t been the legendary adventure I had hoped it to be.  There weren’t any stories to come from Christmas weekend that were any better than the ones I already have.  Instead, there was a lot of calm, and low-key reunions, hanging around a small group of friends, and me wandering around town by myself, killing time without agenda or that awkward onslaught of catching up that invariably accompanies homecomings.  Which was perfectly fine.

I was returned to the Fortress of Solitude a week later, where I spent another week in comfortable limbo before going back to my already structureless existence.  And it was there where The December Experiment, well, it didn’t fail, but it wasn’t a wild success.

The other side of the Experiment, once the mindless slog of the internet was cut out, was to fill that void with something more productive.  I had brought notebooks and journals, ready to fill page upon page with new ideas for all the writing projects I plan to do.  Yet for most of my vacation, those pages went blank.  Mostly, this was because I’m very easily distracted, and wherever I was, I was rarely in a place where I could block everyone out and get to serious work.  My mom’s place, for instance, was a bit cluttered at the time, and there weren’t many places untouched by a running television.  It left me with an unhealthy knowledge of both Frasier and The Nanny, two TV shows whose theme songs will now never escape my brain.  It was easier to play video games and ignore the constant static than actually work.

But things didn’t end badly.  On the last day before leaving Wisconsin, I developed a code of conduct which I’ve been attempting to turn into the new habit ever since.  It’s coming together, not with the unrealistic and easily frustrated flashes of epiphany and revelation, but with a slow assembly that, given time, could become the new routine.  December Experiment, meet the January Plan.

And the Sea-Tac Airport's lovely Vomit Station

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Bundy: Legacy of Evil

Film: Bundy: Legacy of Evil (2008)

Director: Michael Feifer

Starring: Corin Nemec, Kane Hodder

Written by: Michael Feifer

This isn’t the first time I’ve tangled with Ted Bundy in film, though this is likely the first time I’ve seen a Bundy flick in which the serial killer wasn’t a lovable slapstick goofball and was played as, you know, a serial killer.  Whereas Matthew Bright’s 2002 take on the Tedster was a laugh riot that occasionally paid lip service to the fact that its hero was a real life monster, Michael Feifer’s take on Bundy reverses the ratio.  Sure, there are a few absurdist moments in the film (more, if you consider the omnipresence of Ted’s tight pants, faux cowboy boots, and sweet 70s do), but there’s no ambiguity to the film.  Unlike Bright’s Bizarro treasure, I didn’t wonder whether I should be laughing or recoiling in horror.  The Ted Bundy presented here is at best a twitchy yet likeable prick; at worst he’s, well, Ted Bundy.

The entire strength of this film rests upon good casting.  Corin Nemec of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose fame is absolutely spot-on as the lanky, baby-faced psycho killer.  Nemec excellently portrays both ends of Bundy’s psycho personality, playing up the man’s overbearing charisma and the rage beneath the veneer.

And when Nemec lets loose with the crazy, he is legitimately frightening.  The best example of this comes when Ted goes on a nighttime rampage through a sorority house, smashing girls’ brains out with a baseball bat and explosive ritualism.  Throughout, Nemec plays Bundy straight out of Nosferatu, creeping around the dark hallways, more predator – indeed, more vampire – than man.  The outbursts of violence that follow feel as though they end not because Bundy runs out of hate, but because the human body can only absorb so much damage.

Yeah, there are a few great moments of goofiness.  The scene where a drunk Ted rambles his red VW Beetle of Death along a highway before getting busted for owning a rapekit is pretty happy-go-lucky.  Better yet, Bundy pulls one of history’s great dick moves when he reunites with his ex-girlfriend in California.  After a swell day out on the town they hit a classy restaurant, where Bundy proposes to the girl.  Overjoyed, she accepts, after which Ted hits the bathroom and just leaves her.  Perhaps all the murder got desensitizing, but that move was just cold.

I’ll always have a warm spot for Matthew Bright’s screwball slaughterer, but Michael Feifer’s Bundy is the superior film.  Corin Nemec’s magnificent portrayal of Bundy hits all the right notes, most of all a sense of reality which makes this horror film all the worse.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy (2002)

Director: Matthew Bright

Cast: Michael Reilly Burke, Boti Ann Bliss

Director Matthew Bright has done the impossible – he has turned Ted Bundy into a comedic genius. After watching this movie, I can’t even look at pictures of the most notorious serial murderer in American history without Bright’s bumbling caricature popping up and making me snicker. Ted’s not scary anymore; he’s a slaughterhouse rodeo clown, traipsing the country in his yellow VW Beetle of Death, raping and killing to an upbeat disco score. Ted Bundy is the mass murderer’s equivalent of Springtime for Hitler, so stunning in audacity that it must become a cult classic.

The film doesn’t screw around in belaboring its statement of purpose. Our first glimpse of Ted comes in his morning routine, looking into his mirror and performing what appears to be a Tourette’s-fueled rubberface. From there, Ted embarks on a pleasant day out, frantically stealing televisions from storefronts and gigantic potted plants from hotel parking lots. The evening draws Ted to a swinging club, where he boogies down with a co-ed before following her back to her place and angrily masturbating outside of her bedroom window. After a second-floor neighbor cockblocks Ted with a pitcher of ice water, the creep scurries away, clubbing a random woman in the head and stealing her purse for no good reason. Yeah, the rest of the movie pretty much follows this formula, and (seriously) ends with Ted getting a fistful of cotton balls up shitter, followed by credit music that would be more appropriate as background for winning a new car on The Price is Right. Jesus.

Though there are a few scenes which induce genuine squirm, it’s clear that Bright – no stranger to crap filmmaking – set out to make a comedic slasher flick, and slapped the Bundy swerve on for the illusion of weight. Michael Reilly Burke plays a passable Ted, though any depth he hoped to bring to the role was surely squashed after clubbing the fifth or so oblivious girl to death. Boti Bliss plays Ted’s girlfriend with such dithering stupidity that they ought to have put a helmet on her. The victims may as well be crash test dummies. This is both a glorious skewering of a dreadful affair, and a spit in the face to all those affected. It’s hard to determine which is greater.

Oh, Ted, you rascal. You got us again.