The Secret Origin of Johnny Castle and Other Dirty Dancing Observations

Yeah, so I watched Dirty Dancing with Shawna last Saturday.  Sue me.  Despite the fact this is what my weekends have been reduced to, I had a good time.  There were a few things I figured out about the story this time around, however, that I think require further discussion…

Item the First: Johnny Castle’s Origin.

During what I’ll call “That Scene on the Log,” Baby asks Johnny how he became a dancer.  Johnny’s answer (paraphrased a little) goes like this…

“A bunch of us were just sitting in this luncheonette one day, doing nuthin’, and this guy walks in and says they’re auditioning for dance instructors.”

Now, forgetting for just a second that’s exactly how I became a writer (true story!  Michael McBride and Kelli Dunlap were in that same luncheonette, and we were all just sitting around doing nuthin’), this is the all time lamest origin ever!  That, my friends, is not how you start a career.  What if the dance guy had been ten minutes later and didn’t show up until after a different man walked in and said, “We’re auditioning for government assassins.  Who wants in?”

I ask you, is Johnny Castle really a shiftless moron (probable), or is it part of a cover story?

A cover story for what, you ask?  Why for…

Item the Second: The Big Kellerman’s Lie.

Our second item today occurred to me (and was quickly supported by Shawna) during the big Dirty Dancing climax, right before Baby nails the lift.  Something didn’t seem right.  Suddenly, it all fell into place.

The entire ending is staged by Max Kellerman and his staff!

Let’s think about it a bit, examining the evidence from the film’s beginning:

– As soon as the Houseman family arrives at Kellerman’s, Max sends them to a dance lesson.  During this lesson, Baby fumbles through everything, and then Penny steals her father away, making her dance with Mrs. Schumacher (the wallet-thieving whore).
– When Johnny trains Baby for the mambo number (once they’ve sorted out she’s not a great dancer) he waits until the last minute to teach lifts to her.
– Penny and Baby bump into the Schumacher’s, getting a good glimpse of the wallets they’ve stolen.
– The Schumacher’s show up at the Sheldrake! It’s all very mystery weekend, no?
– Johnny gets fired, getting him out of the picture to prepare for the final act.
– And, of course, there’s the final act.  Nobody tries to stop Johnny when he takes the stage and starts talking.  They don’t pull the plug or send security out to stop him.  They just let the guy talk and then dance.  The staff even clears the stage as if to say, “Here it comes.  Johnny’s gonna do that thing again.”
– The dancing starts, and suddenly the entertainment staff is choreographed.  These guys and gals have done nothing but dry hump for the last hour and twenty minutes, but now they’re a goddamn chorus line.  Suspicious?  You bet your ass!
– And now the staff is dancing!  And Max doesn’t go ballistic and take a swing at anybody!

Now tell me this isn’t a set-up from beginning to end.  I contend that Kellerman’s sets up one unsuspecting family per season, one with a daughter who is coming of age, and orchestrates this whole mystery/blossoming young girl storyline throughout the summer, culminating in the “spontaneous” dance number at summer’s end.  It’s entirely possible that Baby’s father is in on the whole thing, helping Penny fake her pregnancy/abortion woes while setting up tension.  That whole scene where he stares at nothing while Baby screams and cries at him could just be him trying like hell to keep the charade going, even as he realizes it’s hurting his daughter.

So there you go, friends and neighbors.  That’s the secret truth behind Dirty Dancing. Enjoy!

Read This!: The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1

The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Every story has a beginning, and this is Spider-Man’s.  Collecting the first twenty issues worth of Spider-Man stories from the sixties, this black and white phonebook of a collection is a vital part of comics lore.

Back before Peter Parker drove a motorcycle, dated a supermodel, or was portrayed on screen as Batman in red and blue tights, he was a dorky-yet-optimistic kid with glasses the size of saucers who lucked into some really cool super powers.  Lee’s sharp writing and Ditko’s dynamic artwork bring these early Spidey stories to life, spending just as much time on Parker’s civilian life as Spider-Man’s adventures.  You get a great feel for how this geeky kid really managed to turn himself into a hero.

All the groundwork for the Spider-Man mythos is layed out here: Spidey’s web-shooters, J. Jonah Jameson’s hatred of the “masked menace,” “With great power must also come great responsibility (the actual quote),” and Aunt May’s distrust of the costumed hero.  You’ll also see the introduction of just about every important Spider-Man villain, and considering Spidey has, quite possibly, the best rogues gallery in comics, that’s saying a lot.

There are some things in the book I don’t care for, but they were all tropes of the era.  You’ve got your thought balloons on every page and your villains who talk out loud about their plans when they’re all alone.  The dialogue is largely of the “Gee whiz!” variety, but it lends itself to the book’s feel.

Probably the best thing about reading these early Spidey stories is the almost complete lack of continuity.  Everything you need to know about our hero is spelled out in each story, making sure you’re caught up on the world.  Today, even I can’t keep up with all the continuity going on in Spider-Man.  Did you know Spidey’s parents were secret agents?  Or that he had a clone?  Or that he was granted cosmic powers on at least one occassion?  Hell, I don’t even know if any of that’s true!  I just heard about it.  You don’t get any of that in these early stories.  You just get… story, and it’s damn refreshing.

Recommendation: Must read.

Construction Myths and a True Story

Set foot on any college campus in America, and you should be able to find a library.  Ask any student on that campus about the library, and they’ll tell you the architect forgot to account for the weight of the books during the building’s original construction.

It’s true.  My college years saw me on three seperate campuses, and each one sported a library designed by some forgetful idiot.  Every friend I have who attended college dealt with the same thing.  I’ve often wondered if this ever happened to some library somewhere, anywhere.  I doubt it.

But just down the hall from my desk at work is something very close.

My place of employment recently remodeled the employee bathrooms.  It was a job meant to take two weeks, but instead took nearly three months.  The new bathrooms, which opened on Friday, do look nice.  They’re soothing and peaceful, full of soft tones and modest light.  I’m thinking about moving my desk in there.  There’s just one problem, though.  The sinks are always running.

The new bathrooms are equipped with those new-fangled electric eye automatic sinks.  You just stick your hands under the faucet, the water kicks on, and you wash away your cares.  But the sinks keep going off for no reason.  It’s like a smaller version of the Bellagio fountains or something.

Needless to say, management looked for a soultion.  The sensitivity levels for the faucets were lowered, reset, raised, and probably smashed with a hammer.  Lots of solutions were tried, and nothing seemed to work.  Finally, late Friday, word came down.  To the best of their knowledge, they had found the cause…

Nice, shiny, stainless steel sinks directly under that soft, muted light.  It appears the sinks keep reflecting light into the faucet sensors, setting them off every few seconds or so.  Smart design at work!

Then again, it could all be a myth.  Hell, that’s probably the case.

Read This!: Under My Roof

Under My Roof
By Nick Mamatas

Twelve-year-old Herbert can read minds.  Because of this, he knows his father is building a nuclear device in the garden gnome.  Then his father proclaims their house and yard its own country.  They use the internet and fax machine to set up trade agreements with rival nations.  The military surrounds their home, and soon micro-nations are popping up across the United States.  WHat a way to spend your summer vacation.

Under My Roof is a great novel: funny, thoughtful, and exciting all at once.  Nick Mamatas has created a satircal work that doesn’t feel like it’s preaching to you.  It’s a short, fast read, as well, one that could probably be engulfed in a single day at the beach.

Recommendation: Very High.

Updates and A Musical

I’ve got some more Read This entries on the way.  I haven’t been reading as much because the new house is sapping a lot of energy.  I have three waiting in the wings, though, and I’ll try to get them all out by Monday.  ‘Kay?

I’m two stops into the hamburger tour, and it’s been great so far.  I’ll probably be doing an end of the month round-up instead of a weekly feature.  Do you really come here to read about food?  Damn, I hope not.

Okay, here’s something fun.  Last night I had a dream in musical form.  From beginning to end, the sucker was filmed with catchy tunes.  I don’t think it’s a marketable musical, because nobody wants to hear a song called “There’s Rats in the Strip Club,” but it was both the most fun and the most bizarre dream I’ve had in a long time.

The scene was Aurora, Indiana, just before the open of Club Paradise (a strip club owned by my friends Greg and Buckner, and worked by all of my ex-girlfriends), and everybody’s singing about the virtues of being early.

I decide to quit my job at Argosy Casino because I remember I’m rich and don’t need to work.  Instead, I head to Club Paradise to supervise their last minute health inspection (this is where “Rat’s in the Strip Club” appeared).  I walk home afterward, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and triggering a turf war between them and Arby’s (“Meat is Murder, and Murder is Fun!”).

Reaching home, an old woman lifts up her skirt to pee on my dog, Boris.  At this point, I grab a broom handle and ask her which of her grandchildren she wants me to beat to death.

And here comes the big show-stopping number.  It’s a little hazy, but I remember it was sung by Old Dirty Bastard and a team of lacrosse players, one of which was wrapped up in linked sausages like a mummy.

And I remember the last two lines of the song…

“So let’s show up muthafuckin’ early.
I’ll teach you shit that ain’t legal heeeeeere!”

Black Out.

So, what did you dream about?

Sink or Swim

Strange days, friends, though not entirely unexpected ones.

It was announced last night that Shocklines will be closing shop.  Shocklines was “Your one stop shop for all things horror.”  It was also the biggest of the online stores.  Many smaller publishers depended on Matt Schwartz and his shop to move their print runs.  Not the most sound business move, but they were moving books.

Well, that’s changed.  Those publishers who didn’t have their shit together–who depended on Matt to move their stock for them–they’re toast.  It’s sink or swim time, and their life preserver just said “Sorry, got my own life to live.”

Well, good.  The horror small press–that breeding ground of talent–is probably going to contract.  We’ll all have to earn our stripes now, and we all have to show what we’re made of.  Exciting times, ladies and gents.

Pedal to the metal.  Let’s see how much gas is left in the tank.


Last night, Shawna and I went to Uchi for our seventh anniversary.  If you live in, around, or over Austin, TX, you’ve probably heard of the restaurant that sounds like an exclamation.  After opening in 2003, this Japanese restaurant quickly shot to the top of just about every local food poll and put Executive Chef Tyson Cole on the national map.

It seemes a shame that I’ve never been to Uchi, but as much as I pretend to be a foodie, I really can’t afford to go fine dining all the time.  Luckily, Shawna and I have an anniversary once a year, so we can always use that as an excuse.

So, Uchi–that small restaurant with its shifting menu–became our destination this year, and we couldn’t be happier with the experience.

First, the interior of the restaurant is beautiful, full of red and gold and dark wood.  A tiny bar gives way to a larger sushi bar, where the fresh fish is on full display.

The waitstaff was incredibly helpful, which is a godsend to folks like us, who were having mild anxiety attacks trying to figure out which items were appetizers and not wanting to look like idiots.

This brings us to the most important part… The food.  Truth is, there are no appetizers at Uchi.  Every dish is small and made to order.  Out waiter recommended three dishes per person, but we did two each and barely had room for dessert.  The menu features a variety of permanent options that range from five dollars to twenty or more, and the daily menu features those items that are a bit more expensive.  We went for a good mix, and I’ll go ahead and run it down with some comments for each.

Takara Nigori
(A cold, sweet saki that was a little too sweet for might taste, but very refreshing)

Crunchy Tuna Roll
Bigeye tuna, avocado, balsamic, tempura flakes, japanese cucumber
(A great dish to start with.  Good with soy sauce and wasabi or the spicy mustard they served it with)

Tomato Katsu
Panko-fried green tomatoes
(Cruncy, delicious, and hot!  Pretty good size, too)

Hotate Shoga
Maine diver scallops, fairy ring mushrooms, oven dried cherubs, hydroponic peashoots, miso emulsion
(Damn! Both the scallops and mushrooms were in top form, and Shawna and I cleaned this plate in just over a minute)

Kamo Zuke
Seared moulard duck breast, shitake mushrooms, broiled Japanese eggplant, tamari
(Incredible! Still cool in the center, and oh so tasty. Trimming the fat on one side to look like teeth in a jawbone was a strange touch, but I still ate this right up.  The mushrooms and eggplant might have been the best part of the night)

Peanut butter semi freddo with apple-miso sorbet and ringo crisps
(Normally, I despise the idea of any peanut butter ice cream product, but this was subtle and tasty and matched the apple flavor wonderfully.  A great way to end the night)

So, yeah.  Uchi caught me off guard with just how wonderful it is.  Anybody in Austin looking for a night out (and not too afraid to spend some cash), should look into Uchi.  We spent about $160 after tip, but we also bought a bottle of wine and splurged on some of the more expensive items.  There’s no reason a couple couldn’t get in and out for $50-$60.

New Story: “Johnny Hall’s Amazing Vanishing Act”

What do you get when you mix rednecks who love Carmen Electra with a heist gone bad?  You get “Johnny Hall’s Amazing Vanishing Act,” the new featured story at The Late Late Show.

The fine folks at The Late Late Show have even recorded an MP3 of the story being read, so you can enjoy the power of my words out loud (try not to laugh too hard at that last sentence).