Today, we have two completely unrelated stories. My segue kung-fu is not powerful enough to link them together, though I tried mightily with the Sword of Smooth Transitions and the Hammer of Non-Non Sequiturs. There's just no common ground, I'm afraid. Except for the casual David film references.
One of my favorite scenes in "Return of the King" (besides Oil-Soaked Faramir) is the beacon lighting sequence. In the theater, it was such a thrill to see those gorgeous, swooping helicopter shots, those sparks of light leaping up out of the blue dusk one by one to carry the message to Rohan. Gondor Beacon Guard must have been a fairly boring job, the sort of low-level duty assigned to cadets who flunked out of White Guard of the Citadel School. Years and years of inaction, punctuated by a sudden panicked scramble to find the Middle Earth Safe-T-Strike matches and get the pile lit. What are the odds of being caught napping on the job, staring off in the wrong direction, off in the woods taking a whizz, or staring at a termite-riddled pile of wet firewood when the Big Moment comes?
In the early days of Prohibition my maternal great-great-grandfather, Charles Neeley, was in the habit of riding horseback fifty miles up into the Arkansas Hills for mineral hunting and recreation. It was a rough area, notorious for moonshiners. One weekend he was visiting a friend, and they were on the back porch testing a box of cigars. As darkness fell, Great-Great-Grandfather Neeley noticed little lights springing up on the tall mountain peaks all around. Everywhere he looked, another light appeared. Within half an hour there wasn't a single peak that wasn't dotted with light.
It creeped him out to see all those fires twinkling in the darkness. He asked his friend what the lights meant. His friend said "I'll tell you in a little bit." The friend then went into the yard and proceeded to build and ignite two enormous bonfires, about 100 yards apart.
Back on the porch, his friend said "You see all those different lights on those different points? They can be seen by every citizen for miles around. They are a signal that a stranger is in the neighborhood, and for everyone to be on guard until it is known why he is here, and who he is. My two fires are a return signal to notify the neighbors that the stranger (that is, you) is known to me and under my protection. The Revenue officers have been giving them a lot of trouble. Several people have been arrested and had their stills destroyed. The lights show that, although you may not have seen anyone when you entered this locality, someone saw you."
The next day they went for a hike in the hills, and came to a large stump. The friend said "See that stump? Leave half a dollar on it and see what happens". Sure enough, when they came back, the half dollar was gone and in its place was a pint bottle filled with "mountain dew", or "H___fire" as Great Great Grandfather Neeley decorously referred to it. To be polite, he tried a sip, but decided it wasn't worth going blind and risking jake leg, so he left the bottle with the friend and rode back home.
After that trip, he never saw the bonfires again. News travels fast in the mountains. But it does make me wonder - did they all keep huge woodpiles on their lawn, and keep vigil like the Gondor beacon guards? Weird. And what was Gondor's obsession with big piles of wood, anyway? Bunch of pyros, if you ask me.
Last week I was notified that a former classmate, Jill Sellers (not her real name) had emailed me on classmates.com. You have to sign up for a $15 membership to read anything anyone sends you, so I don't know what the email says. At first I was stumped as to why she would be contacting me, considering that one of her high school hobbies was making fun of my sweaters. If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, the Jill I knew in high school was made of jalapenos, napalm, scorpions, PMS, and Portuguese man o' wars (men-o-war?), all baked into a permanent orange cheerleader glare. Picture the meanest mean girl from your high school. Now picture someone even meaner making fun of her behind her back. Now picture someone even meaner making fun of her behind her back, and so on all the way to the edge of the universe, where the laws of physics bend, and nerds attract and jocks repel. The person at the very end of the line would be Jill. She could make Chuck Norris cry ("OMG, you wore that to battle The Claw and Super Ninja?")
Why she would be emailing me, I have no idea, unless it has to do with our upcoming high school reunion. Apparently, when the number of earth orbits around the sun since graduation is evenly divisible by five, you're supposed to gather with your former classmates and get weepy drunk to Joy Division (or Culture Club, or Elvis, or Mozart, whatever was in style that year). Eighties music, with its skinny ties and synthesizers, is not well suited to maudlin sentiment. "Safety Dance" does mist me up a little, even though that dance really wasn't all that safe.
But back to our story. In seventh grade, at the annual middle school track meet, Jill Sellers tried to get me to throw the 440-yard dash and let her friend Kristin Lahti win (a snooty cheerleader who smirked when I broke my ankle playing basketball). "She deserves it so much more than you," Jill told me. My response: "Hell no".
Jill's eyes narrowed. She glared at me with the white hot hatred of a thousand suns, hissed "You have food in your braces," and stormed off.
I was seethingly furious. So angry I could barely see the track. When the starter's gun went off, I did what every track coach tells you not to do: I took off like a bat out of hell (a bat who had just dined in it), fueled by pure adrenaline and hatred. By the time we reached the halfway mark, I had a lead of about a dozen yards on the rest of the pack, and there were scorch marks on the track.
When we hit the three-quarter turn, my lungs began to burn, there was a maroon mist swarming in front of my eyes, and I could feel my legs running out of gas. I prayed that the lead would hold. If only...I didn't... have food.... in my braces.... less...wind...resistance....
Footsteps pounded behind me. I wasn't sure whose they were. I hoped it wasn't Kristin. Gasping for air, I willed my legs to keep moving forward, to stay in front.
At the last minute some girl I'd never seen before, a recent transfer from another town, streaked past and nipped me at the tape.
I didn't even care, because I'd beaten Kristin Lahti.
You know, I'm really tempted to show up to the reunion with food in my teeth.
* If you watch 300 in 2x slo-mo, does that make it 600?
* Proposed ending for Lost: Father Damien suddenly shows up on horseback. Turns out they were on Molokai all along!
Proposed Lost ending #2: We find out the whole thing took place inside a snowglobe in the Cosi mental institution. The last thing we hear is a nurse's voice saying "Time for your medication, Doug," and Hurley saying "Dude, are you gonna finish those Cheetos?"
By the way, the lovely Emilie de Ravin, who plays Claire on Lost, is voicing a character in Legend of the Guardians alongside David (possibly Eglantine?).
And for those of you who watched Lost last Thursday...without giving too much away, did anyone else wish Fake Locke/Smokey had yelled "This...Is...Spartaaaaaaaaaa!" during the scene with the well?
* I keep having to google "Legend of the Guardian" because I'm never quite sure if it's "Guardian of the Legend" or "Legends of the Guardians"or "Garden of the Legs" or "End of Ian the Laggard". All will become clear in time, no doubt.