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Jodie Foster and the microwave oven

DAVID SILVA

I’m standing in line at the video store. To the left of me is a wall

covered with video displays. To my right is a point-of-sale candy bin

filled with what looks to be a half-ton of chocolate-covered raisins

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and varieties of microwaveable popcorn.

Jodie Foster assumes at least 20 comic poses in the display titled

“Stuart recommends: Jodie Foster Week.” I don’t know Stuart, but I

find his display anemic and lacking in imagination. None of Foster’s

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better performances are represented; instead, Stuart seems to focus

on some of the actor’s more unfortunate attempts at slapstick comedy.

I’ve seen almost all the movies in the Jodie Foster display, and

I’m bored and mildly annoyed at the candy bin, its presence making

any number of disturbing assumptions about my dietary and

socioeconomic demographic.

Among them: 1) I can’t sit on a couch for two hours without

consuming hundreds of times my recommended daily allowance of fat,

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sodium and carbohydrates; 2) My blood sugar is on such shaky ground

that the sight of this plentitude can push me into paying 50% above

retail rather than just waiting to drive to the market; 3) I’m on

board with this whole idea of chocolate-covered raisins and

microwaveable popcorn being the traditional food of home video and

DVD entertainment; and 4) I own a microwave oven.

Assumptions like the last one really get to me, because they lead

to a fifth assumption, which is that it is in my nature to own a

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microwave oven -- that I’m exactly the kind of indoctrinated consumer

to feel the need for a microwave. And this assumption wouldn’t bother

me so much in itself were I not so sure that somewhere in the world

are happy people living rich and sustaining lives that don’t involve

microwave ovens.

I own a microwave oven, so I’m standing in line holding DVDs in my

left hand and a cellophane-wrapped three-pack of microwaveable

popcorn in my right.

I check my watch, and realize with a shock that I’m less than an

hour away from violating my quid pro quo arrangement with Meg, which

is that I show up to dates on time and she doesn’t feel I take her

for granted. It occurs to me that I’d get out of this place a lot

faster if the kid in the leather jacket in front of me would quit

arguing with the clerk over whether “The Matrix” was a pretentious

mishmash of Eastern philosophy or a brilliant allusion to the

Catharist Heresy of the 11th century and the papal reaction to it,

which in a nutshell was “Kill all Cathars.”

I glance at my watch again, the motions of doing so reflexive,

like the motions of a yawn, because whenever I feel I’m running

behind I know exactly what time it is. But I go through the motions

of lifting and turning my arm and looking into the face of my watch

anyway, because I picked up years ago that doing so communicates to

others a sense of urgency.

I am also mildly aware that this gesture tends to rub people the

wrong way, that it can sometimes communicate a sense of being put

upon, and since I’m aware of this, the gesture is less a request for

expedience as it is an act of hostility.

The clerk sees me raise my watch and he furrows his brow, an act

that seems to involve every third muscle in his head, and I see that

he’s received the latter communication. He looks up at me with put-up

indignation, and in response I go through the motions of checking my

watch a third time.

The watch tells me seven seconds have passed since the last time I

looked at it. I feel annoyed at the watch, the stupid thing. Then I

realize that my hostility is misdirected, that my watch is a good

watch and just doing its job, and in realizing this I start to wonder

who or what I’m really annoyed at.

Am I annoyed at 1) the store clerk for holding up the line when

you know he had to be told at some point not to get into trivia

debates with customers? 2) the leather-jacketed customer, for being

an inconsiderate bobble-head in preventing me from meeting my

contractual obligations with Meg? Or, 3) a bunch of ill-fated

11th-century heretics who didn’t have the sense to spot a truly

harebrained interpretation of the Scriptures when they saw one?

Of course I can’t help but be also aware of a fourth option, which

is that I have only myself to blame for being in a position of

tardiness, as I am much more in control of my scheduling than the

clerk, the customer or the heretics. It wasn’t their fault I couldn’t

get myself to the video store earlier. In fact, if it were put to one

of the heretics, he’d probably argue that the whole issue was in

keeping with Catharist doctrine, which holds that any calamity that

befalls us in this veil of tears is of our own making.

But that’s a lot more personal responsibility than I’m willing to

assume at this time, so I find myself rejecting all of the above and

going back to being mad at the watch. The stupid thing.

I’m starting to wonder if I should just set the DVDs and popcorn

down and leave when the customer in front of me resolves everything

by shouting, “For God’s sake, it’s just a movie! Move it along, why

don’t ya?” In seconds, the leather-jacketed bobble-head has left the

store, the line has moved briskly forward and I’m standing in front

of the clerk, whose blue name tag indicates his name is Stuart.

Apparently still smarting over our nonverbal encounter regarding

the watch, Stuart mutters, “Patience is a virtue.” I know I should

just ignore this and leave, but suddenly all my low-grade irritation

over the presumptuous candy bin, the watch and the waiting rise to

the surface, and I tell Stuart his Jodie Foster display is devoid of

all poetry and cohesion.

I instantly regret my rudeness, as Stuart chooses to further widen

this breach of social etiquette by replying that he could say the

same about the outfit I’m wearing. The laughter of the customer

behind me clearly indicates that in our battle of tempers, Stuart has

prevailed, but I lamely seek to make his a Pyrrhic victory by

announcing I will take all my future DVD business to Blockbuster.

Stuart grunts his utter lack of dismay, and I decide to cut my

losses and leave in a huff. As I get in my car, I check my watch yet

again, and realize with great sadness that no matter how many rules

of the road I choose to ignore, I will still be late for my date with

Meg.

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,

is a Times Community News editor. Reach him at (909) 484-7019, or by

e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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