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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Spend That Dough
Well, I'm a step closer to buying a car. Not a Nissan, not a Ford. A 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Classic. Automatic, four doors, V4 2.2L, A/C, CD player, power everything, cup holders, tripometer, blah blah blah. 24,000 miles on it. Still covered under the factory warranty, plus the dealer offers a free 3-year, 75,000-mile warranty to go with it. They had me take it home to "test" over the weekend. It's got a few little flaws, but at $199 per month for 60 months, I have to admit it seems like a nice deal.

The rough part was withstanding the barrage of pressure from the saleswoman and the finance manager at the dealer, who use a little basic psychology to pressure you without it seeming like they're pressuring you. Basically, they act as though you're obviously buying the car and just go about setting up the paperwork and handing you things to sign without even asking if you really want to buy the thing. I was trying to convince them that I needed a day or two to think about the purchase, and they were all, "Oh, gee, I was under the impression that you were all ready to sign the papers and drive it home tonight." Were they really? I doubt it. Keep in mind that, at that point, I didn't even know for sure if my loan had been approved or even what the price and monthly payments were going to be! I sure wasn't signing anything without that information!

The other thing slowing me down is that the settlement check from the insurance company, which I'm using as my down payment, hasn't arrived yet. I told them I felt skittish buying a car and promising a down payment that wasn't yet in my hand. They were willing to let me bring it in next week, but I have this fear that the check might be lost in the mail or that maybe USAA General is still spinning its wheels, and I don't want to have a deadline to deliver a down payment if I don't know the money is going to be in my hand by that date.

I took it over to Chicken's this afternoon so he could give it a good glance. We wondered why it was smelling like burning oil--that's a bad sign--and when we opened the hood, we got our answer. Whoever the last mechanic was to look at it apparently forgot to put the cap back on the oil tank! So oil had spurt out all over the engine and under the hood. Oops. On the bright side, the oil was clean, so I guess it's been changed recently.

I've got to drop the car back off at the dealer tomorrow night after work. I'll call the insurance company tomorrow and see if they've sent that settlement check yet. But the car feels good to me, and I hope it will be mine by the end of the week.

I've been very happy with my recent cable switch from HBO to Showtime, which shows a lot of crappy movies, and often letterboxes them to boot. Today I caught ROLLING VENGEANCE, which isn't really very special, but does have a kickass monster truck.

Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul, who wrote HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN!) is a young trucker who works with his dad (Lawrence Dane from RITUALS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). Ned Beatty plays Tiny, a sleazy used car dealer and strip club owner with five drunken redneck sons. When the sons cause a car accident that kills Joey's mom, little brother, and little sister, you'd think that would be enough to quench their animalistic lust, but they later kill Dane by dropping cement blocks off an overhead onto his semi, and then they rape Joey's virginal girlfriend (Lisa Howard from BOUNTY HUNTERS). Man, is Joey pissed. He builds an enormous monster truck with fire blazing from the top and a huge corkscrew built in to the front, and drives around the "Ohio" (filmed in Ontario) countryside squashing Tiny's family and his dealership and his bar and his warehouse and anything else that needs crushing. The script and performances are paint-by-numbers, and there isn't really enough trashy stuff to warrant the R rating, but the monster truck is very cool and kicks major redneck ass.

Posted by Marty at 4:39 PM CST
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Friday, November 18, 2005
What A Week
It's been a pretty busy one, which is why I haven't posted a lot lately. It worked out well for you if you have a crush, man- or otherwise, on Chuck Norris.

I test-drove a 2001 Nissan Altima last night. On a whim, I went out to a different dealer to check out a 2002 Sentra I saw online, but when I actually sat in it, I realized that Sentras were not made for drivers 6 feet 1 inch tall. I also saw a Ford Taurus out there that might be in my price range.

The Nissan dealership is clear over on the other side of town, so I wasn't planning to go there last night. I rambled around a bit, stopped into Border's and Meijer and Wendy's for a triple. Drove through a couple of low-rent used-car lots just to see what they had. Then, even though it was after 7pm and I had not yet gone home from work, I decided to head out to the Nissan dealer. They only had a couple of cars that might fall into my price range, one being this Altima that stickers at about $12,000, which I think is more than my budget can handle, but the salesman, of course, claims that it can. If there's decent weather on Saturday, I'll hit some other places. There's a big lot up in Rantoul that has plenty in my price range.

Yeah, I also got a new couch. I found one while browsing through Homeworks downtown, which is a resale store associated with Habitats for Humanity. It cost only $75, and I gave them an extra $20 to have them deliver it and remove my old couch (it's downstairs now, and I don't know yet what to do with it). It was well worth that $20, since those two poor bastards who did the moving had a bitch of a time. I don't remember how we got my old couch in here, because it doesn't fit through the door. It's about 1/4 or 1/2 inch too wide. Those guys were sweating and panting like madmen. I still need to get used to the new one, but it is soft to lie on. I think it belonged to some smokers before, so I need to try to get that smell out.

And happy birthday to Cheeseburger, who's partying this weekend with her sister and Shark Hunter, pounding Diet Pepsis, eating Italian ice cream, and catching up on all the SUPERNATURAL episodes on her new DVR.

Posted by Marty at 8:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, November 18, 2005 8:02 AM CST
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Gay Chuck
Too busy to blog, so I'll just post the gayest image of Chuck Norris I can find.

Is that an 8-Time Karate World Champion or is that David Soul?

Lots going on. I started writing this week's review of FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY for The Hub. I spent some time on the phone last night chatting with friends. And I'm waiting for my new couch to arrive. I thought it might be delivered last night, but probably tonight. Also, the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) guest appearance by Dean Cain on LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT was a real letdown, through no fault of the performers. What started out as an intriguing tale of a control-freak surgeon (Cain) who rapes women he meets through speed dating took a dull turn into a completely different plot, one about Cain's plain-Jane girlfriend that echoed the Terri Schiavo story. Which is a valid concept for a plot, but this episode already had one and didn't need another one shoehorned in.

Posted by Marty at 10:50 AM CST
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Sunday, November 13, 2005
Working For The Weekend
Working on the weekend, actually. I love that I occasionally get paid to watch Crappy Movies. Not a lot of dough, but some. Tonight I watched MGM's double feature DVD of FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY to review for The Hub. In case you're just tuning in, I write a weekly column for a local alternative weekly newspaper called The Hub, which you can find free of charge at businesses all over Champaign-Urbana. The column is called "Marty's Cult Movie Classic"--a little dry, but I didn't come up with it--and runs in just about every issue. The current issue is running my piece on the SABATA trilogy--three Italian westerns starring Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner as a gunfighter named Sabata. Next week will be my piece on TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, a fun 1966 Japanese monster movie starring a young Sonny Chiba.

I won't write much now on FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY, but I'll let you know when my review runs. Both films were produced by American International Pictures, the most successful independent Hollywood studio of the 1960's, and revolve around the world of stock car racing. Annette Funicello, at the end of her AIP contract, and Fabian star in both, with Frankie Avalon taking top billing in the former. They were shot in widescreen 2.35:1 and look fantastic on the MGM DVD.

Those of you who don't live in the area can read my weekly column online at The Hub's Web site.

Friday night we said goodbye to Stiner, who's leaving Horizon for a new gig in Chi-town, with happy hour at Jupiter's. Saturday I went out to dinner with her, Grady and Chicken, and then we all came back to my apartment for Crappy Movie Night: CREATURE, a gory '80s ALIEN ripoff with exploding heads and torn-off faces; THE BEASTMASTER, the oft-broadcast sword-and-sorcery adventure with Marc Singer and his merry band of animals; and, since Chicken said, "How about something with a car chase?", LAST MAN STANDING, a direct-to-video action movie from PM Entertainment, masters at wild chases with cars jumping and flipping in the air through exploding fireballs. Plus, all three movies have boob shots, so how could we go wrong?

Today I took a little trip around town idly looking at used cars. I'm leaning towards taking my insurance settlement and plopping all of it down on a purchase, so I won't have to deal with any monthly payments. That would give me around $3000-$3500 to spend. I actually saw a 1992 Mercury today with only 54,000 miles on it for about $3500. I don't know--it's such a huge decision for me. I'm not used to buying cars, and I resent being forced into buying one now. I have avoided making monthly car payments for most of my life, and I would really like to avoid the hassle of making any now. On the other hand, what's most important to me in making this purchase is that the car last me a long time. I don't want to be buying another car 2 or 3 (or more) years down the road, so I want something that is going to be dependable and resiliant. I don't know that a $3000 car is going to be that.

I've thought about leasing a vehicle. Of course, that means I'd be making payments, but I could probably get something decent to drive that way. What happens if it breaks down? Do I have to pay for repairs if it isn't really my car? Or I could get an $8-9000 vehicle to own and make payments. Or I could just pay cash for a cheaper one. Anyone have any advice?

Posted by Marty at 10:47 PM CST
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It's Hot In The Hot Tub
Now Playing: PINK LADY
I've written way more on the blog than I ever intended about Fred Silverman's incompetent reign as the head of NBC in the late 1970's. Really, it's been just a coincidence that I have in recent months been catching up with or reacquainting myself with some of the worst shows in television history...that just happen to have been broadcast on NBC during Silverman's reign. PINK LADY may not be the worst series in the history of the medium, but it's one of the most notorious and usually pops up on anyone's list of Worst Ever.

Usually referred to as PINK LADY AND JEFF or PINK LADY...AND JEFF, the series was officially known as PINK LADY, thanks to Pink Lady's shrewd management that contractually shut Jeff out of the title. Jeff was Jeff Altman, a relatively obscure standup comic with a few pilots and guest-starring TV gigs under his belt, as well as a good reputation among comedians at L.A.'s Comedy Store. Pink Lady was Mie and Kei, two cute women in their 20's who were then among the biggest pop stars in Japan. Even though they were filling stadiums with their concerts and selling millions of records in Japan, they were nothing in the United States. Hell, even Jeff Altman was more famous than they were. Oh, and they also didn't speak a word of English.

Well, NBC didn't let that considerably important fact stand in the way of giving Pink Lady their own prime-time variety show. When PINK LADY debuted on March 1, 1980 with the girls performing "Boogie Wonderland" while clad in shimmering evening gowns, a new benchmark for Bad TV was set. The show began with an uncomfortably lame Altman monologue, followed by Mie and Kei coming out to banter with him. Since they actually had no idea what they were saying, as the scripts were taught to them phonetically, the whole experience is given an otherworldly feeling, like Altman is carrying on a conversation with spacemen.

For six episodes, the ladies sang, bounced, giggled and jiggled in tight pants, evening wear and bikinis, as Altman attempted to explain to the audience--and to Pink Lady--what was going on. Guest stars, which were reportedly often booked at the last minute, since few performers wanted to be seen anywhere near this turkey (one of them, B.J. AND THE BEAR star Greg Evigan, played his sax on an episode), floundered in ill-conceived sketches that rarely featured the girls in any meaningful manner. And every episode ended with the sexy women enticing a strangely reluctant Altman into a hot tub, where the trio said their goodbyes.

It's difficult to blame the creative team too much for PINK LADY's dismal quality, as the very concept seems an unlikely one for continued success. Not only were Mie and Kei very frustrated at the show's production, which, among other indignities, forced them to wear clothes with their names stitched on them, so stupid Americans would be able to tell them apart, but they were also maintaining their touring and recording schedule in Japan, resulting in several exhausting around-the-world flights.

If you're curious to see more of PINK LADY, a TV series often spoken of in the exalted company of other Worst Shows Ever like MY MOTHER, THE CAR, HELLO, LARRY, THE CHEVY CHASE SHOW and COP ROCK, it's available from Rhino in a 3-DVD box set. It's been out for four years, and I'd love to see Rhino's sales figures.

Posted by Marty at 6:05 PM CST
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Friday, November 11, 2005
No One Ever Escaped From Prison Camp #4
Since REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER went on hiatus last week, I had no reason to keep my HBO package, and, on a whim, I replaced it with Insight Cable's Showtime package, which includes several Showtime channels, two The Movie Channels, and Flix. All of them do a nice job of showing older exploitation movies and newer DTV stuff, but what I did not know is that they also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, often letterbox their programming. HBO and Cinemax never show widescreen prints. Also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, these channels are not copy-protected, which means I can record them on DVD-R.

Last week, I recorded a nice LBX print of X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, which I'm sure is the same print used on MGM's DVD. But today I was stunned--stunned, I say--to realize that MEAN DOG BLUES, an AIP action movie released in 1978, was a really beautiful, clear letterboxed print. It opens with the Orion logo, then the AIP logo, and ends with the MGM logo. I don't know if this is coming out on DVD or not, but I could not have been more shocked to see that this relatively obscure and unimportant drive-in movie was receiving better treatment on cable TV than most major contemporary studio movies do.

I'd only seen the good trailer for this movie, buoyed by Ernie Anderson's typically energetic voiceover. Gregg Henry, a blond leading man still extremely busy in films and TV guest shots (GILMORE GIRLS, 24), plays Jack Ramsey, a wannabe songwriter driving cross-country to Nashville to audition for a music producer. His car breaks down, and he's picked up by an obnoxious alcoholic politician (William Windom, usually dependable, but overacting in this one) and his horny wife (Tina Louise). A drunken Windom runs down a 10-year-old girl with his car, but he and his sympathetic wife frame Jack on manslaughter charges and convince him that he'll receive a suspended sentence if he goes along quietly. Windom crosses Jack up, however, and the young man ends up on a Southern chain gang run by the hardnosed Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy), who wanders about sleeveless and loves his killer Doberman more than he does any one person, including his horny jailbait daughter (the delicious Christina Hart, who performs her obligatory topless scene as well as she did in the earlier JOHNNY FIRECLOUD).

After running into trouble with a big tough con (John Daniels of BLACK SHAMPOO), Jack volunteers to be Kinsman's new "dog nigger" after the Doberman chomps on the current job holder, Mudcat (Scatman Crothers). What the gig entails is running your ass off six hours a day through the swamp while Kinsman's #1 guard (James Wainwright) and his trustees chase you with the tracking dogs...and the Doberman, which Kinsman may decide to run without its muzzle if you give him enough trouble...or get caught in a compromising position with his daughter.

Meanwhile, as Jack designs a plan to exercise the dogs for real by making an actual break for freedom, his wife (Kay Lenz) appeals to Windom and Louise to make things right and admit who the real driver of the car was.

Also in the film: Gregory Sierra (BARNEY MILLER), Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE), Ian Wolfe, Marc Alaimo and Edith Atwater. Mel Stuart (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) directed it, probably in Southern California. As you can see, MEAN DOG BLUES is worth watching for its cast, if for nothing else. It's not often you see a group of actors like this hanging out together. Henry hadn't done much film at this time, besides appearing as Nick Nolte's son in RICH MAN, POOR MAN: BOOK II. Despite a choice role in Brian DePalma's BODY DOUBLE, he never really broke out, although he has been a dependable performer in films and television ever since. A year later, he reunited with Kennedy in Jeff Lieberman's DELIVERANCE takeoff JUST BEFORE DAWN.

The uncredited executive producer was Bing Crosby (!), whose company appears in the titles only as BCP (Bing Crosby Productions). Der Bingle died on a golf course before MEAN DOG BLUES ever hit theaters, and a year or so later, so did his production company.

Posted by Marty at 11:42 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Sonny And Cheeseburger
I just finished watching Dark Sky's new DVD of the 1966 Japanese film TERROR BENEATH THE SEA. I was planning to review it for The Hub, but the paper suddenly decided to change its production schedule, so my weekly deadline is now Thursday at noon, rather than Sunday at noon. It's a bit of an inconvenience, since Saturday and Sunday mornings are a perfect time for me to write. Now I'll have to fit the time into my weeknight schedule, unless I can manage to work a bit ahead and write on the weekend before. We'll see. I'll post more on the movie after the review runs, but I'll tell you that it's a colorful science fiction movie starring Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo!) as a reporter who is kidnapped by a crazy scientist who takes him to his underwater lair where he's turning human beings into "water cyborgs", actually zombie fishmen with silver scales. Pretty kickass. The week after that, I'm planning to review MGM's Annette Funicello/stock car racing double feature disc of FIREBALL 500 (with Frankie Avalon) and THUNDER ALLEY (with Fabian)!

Thanks to Cheeseburger for coming down last weekend and delivering my new hat that she knitted for me. Hopefully I won't have to listen to any more bitching about how I lost the last one (I left it at Texas Roadhouse, I think). She made it in time to hit the Silver Bullet Friday night, a local establishment that features, um, live dancers. It was a more sedate Bullet night for me; I only said the word "boobs" out loud maybe 43 times, and I didn't even spend a single dollar. After that, it was off to Merry Ann's Diner for one of the worst steaks I have ever eaten, even though the eggs and hash browns that came with it were good. It reminded me of those late nights in Carbondale when we would roadtrip to this awful place in Herrin called Hungry's. To call the eggs "runny" makes them sound too solid, and I swear the steak was green.

Saturday I got a call at 2pm asking if I wanted to go to lunch with Cheeseburger and Chicken. Um, no, it's 2:00! I ate two hours ago. But I hung out and watch them eat Thai food. I'm too smart for that. It made Cheeseburger sick, and she watched crappy movies at my house with a wastebasket next to the couch. Thankfully she didn't use it.

Crappy movies on Saturday included I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, where crazy doc Whit Bissell keeps an alligator pit conveniently located behind a secret panel in his lab, just in case he has to ditch some body parts in a hurry, and the Shaw Brothers' CRIPPLED AVENGERS, where a blind guy, a deaf guy, a guy with iron legs, and an "idiot" learn kung fu so they can get revenge on the asshole who crippled them, a real spiteful bastard with iron arms that shoot darts from the fingers.

It looks like I'm finally getting a settlement from USAA General. After not hearing anything from them since Thursday, I called them tonight. Got another voice mail, so I dialed 0 and got a live voice, who put out the word that I wanted to talk to the new person handling my claim, Crystal. She got right back to me. Funny how no one could call me for five days, but when I call them, they aren't the least bit busy. I still have to mail in the title and do a bit of paperwork, but it looks like I'm going to get about $2800 for my wrecked car. Add the $1100 I received today for medical expenses and lost wages, and I come out with close to $4000. I'd rather still be driving the Altima. Now I have to see what I can buy with $4000, although I might piss away a grand and use the rest for a down payment. I can go back to driving my POS 1992 Cavalier for awhile, so I have the luxury of not having to buy something right away. I have no idea what I can get, but I don't think I can pay more than $150 a month. That ain't gonna get me much.

Posted by Marty at 11:19 PM CST
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Sunday, November 6, 2005
Don't Be Discouraged
Rather than bother with full-season sets, Warner Brothers has recently released "sampler" DVDs of episodes from TV series in its vaults, including F TROOP, MAVERICK and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (which has already been released in box sets, so what's the point?). I picked up CHICO AND THE MAN for just $5.99--a bargain at a buck an episode--at Best Buy recently.

CHICO AND THE MAN was enormously popular during its original NBC run in the mid-1970's, finishing #3 in the ratings its first season, right behind the show it followed in the Friday-night lineup, SANFORD AND SON. I watched it then, but I really became familiar with CHICO in the summer of 1977, when reruns were temporarily part of NBC's daytime schedule. It hasn't been seen a lot since, as far as I know, although it has popped up on TV Land and the American Life network.

CHICO comes from a brief period of American television when sitcoms were allowed to be about someting; in this case, the relationship between a charismatic, good-natured Chicano, Chico Rodriguez, played by overnight sensation Freddie Prinze, and cantankerous, elderly Ed Brown, played by Tony-, Emmy- and Oscar-winner Jack Albertson. Ed was a cranky widower who owned and operated a garage in East Los Angeles who was approached for a job by Chico, who disbelieved the neighborhood gossip that Ed was a mean old bastard and decided he was going to become "The Man"'s partner, whether Ed liked it or not. Over the course of their three seasons together, Chico and Ed established a father/son bonding that involved much bickering, a little bit of racial baiting, and a lot of love.

The six episodes represented on the WB disc provide a pretty good example of what the series was like. For me, personally, watching the shows was a very melancholy experience. It was impossible for me to reconcile the talented, happy-go-lucky Prinze we see on the screen and the miserable, depressed, confused young man who committed suicide with a gun just a few hours after taping one of the episodes shown on this DVD.

Prinze was still a teenager when James Komack, the successful producer of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER and LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE, spotted him doing his standup routine on THE TONIGHT SHOW and decided to cast him in CHICO & THE MAN. He and Albertson had wonderful chemistry together, which is evident right away in "Pilot", which really lays the racial material on thick, even in depicting a pair of white cops as bigots who call Chico a "beaner". I'd be interested to know how the two men got along off-screen; it is known that Albertson attended Prinze's funeral.

The other five episodes take it easy on the ethnic gags, for the most part. In "If I Were A Rich Man", a young woman rejects Chico's wedding proposal because she's looking for someone whom she perceives to have more of a future than a garage mechanic, although one wonders whether writer Jerry Ross didn't originally have the white character hesitant to marry a Chicano, but the story point was rewritten.

Chico considers moving out of Ed's garage and into his own place in "Chico and the Van". Jose Feliciano, who composed and performed the delightfully sunny theme song, plays Chico's cousin (and performs the song live) in "Chico's Cousin Pepe". Cesar Romero portrays Chico's long-lost father in "Chico's Padre".

A real heartbreaker is "Ed Talks to God", where Chico prevails upon an old war buddy of Ed's to pretend to be the voice of the Almighty over the garage loudspeaker and convince Ed to attend his own birthday party. What's rough is that "Ed Talks to God" was the final episode Prinze taped. That night or the following morning, he shot himself in the head in front of his manager. He was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. His family made the decision to pull the plug on January 29, 1977, and Freddie Prinze was dead at age 22.

It sounds like a textbook case of "too much, too soon." He was a barely known but rising standup comic at 19, but the next three years saw him working a lot. In addition to CHICO AND THE MAN, Prinze did a made-for-TV movie, a record album, tons of nightclub dates, several TV appearances on talk shows and variety series. He dated a lot of women, including Lenny Bruce's daughter, and married one, with whom he had a son named Freddie Prinze, Jr. There was also an arrest for driving under the influence of Quaaludes, bouts of depression, an obsession with guns, paranoia, cocaine, an unhealthy physical appearance. I don't know whether he ever appeared stoned on CHICO AND THE MAN, but there's a detectable difference in his appearance and energy level in later episodes.

After Prinze's death, NBC continued to air his remaining episodes of CHICO AND THE MAN. "Chico's Padre" was scheduled to air the night he died, but it was reportedly pulled and replaced with a less emotional episode.

When CHICO returned for its fourth season, Albertson had a new costar. Of course, NBC should have cancelled the show, but the smell of money led them to give Ed Brown a new "Chico", 12-year-old Gabriel Melgar as Raul, an orphan "adopted" by Ed. Prinze's character was written out of the show as having gone to work with his father in Mexico. The audience knew better, though, and found it too difficult to go along with the charade. Also, there was no point to doing CHICO AND THE MAN without Chico. Remember when LAVERNE & SHIRLEY continued without Shirley in its final season?

I don't know whether full-season box sets of CHICO AND THE MAN would be profitable for Warners, but I'm grateful it has at least provided us with these six episodes. A personality as shortlived as Prinze's can be easily forgotten, but the talent and joy he exhibited on CHICO AND THE MAN should be remembered. And by owning this DVD, I always will remember.

Posted by Marty at 5:29 PM CST
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Friday, November 4, 2005
Here Comes The Weekend
I took the day off from work, but haven't been able to watch a single crappy movie so far. Originally, Tolemite was slated to visit this weekend, and part of it was to be spent watching Turner Classic Movies' broadcast of the U.S./Japanese production THE GREEN SLIME, a 1968 sci-fi picture from the director of BATTLE ROYALE. Toler couldn't make it after all, but I had to take this day off sometime before Christmas or lose it, so I stayed home. In Toler's absence, I've been busy though. I had two more conversations with USAA General, who still aren't making it easy for me to get paid. I had to drive out to work this afternoon so I could fax them a copy of the title to my Altima. They apparently need this to either prove or disprove that it's a "salvage title", which shows whether the car has been totalled before. Apparently they are showing that the car is a "salvage", although to the best of my knowledge it's never been wrecked, and there's nothing on the title that indicates a salvage job.

I also had to run out to the auto body shop where the Altima is to clean out my personal stuff from it. I don't keep it too messy or cluttered, so I only had to retrieve some tools, an ice scraper and a few other things. The hardest was getting back the tape that was lodged in the cassette player. Normally I wouldn't bother getting a tape back, but at the time of the accident, I was listening to one of my old radio shows, the last night I was on the air at WCIL-FM in Carbondale, a night that found me hosting a number of "surprise" guests. It's obviously a tape with special meaning to me and one that can't be replaced, so I had to dig it out of the player. The mechanics must have removed or disconnected the battery, so I couldn't turn the tape player on to eject the tape. All I had were two car keys that I used like tweezers or pliers to reach in and pull the tape out. It wasn't easy and took me about 20 minutes to get it. Surely there must have been an easier way.

I also went to the grocery store today and stocked up on some snacks. Tolemite isn't here, but Cheeseburger is coming this weekend, so I suspect there will be some crappy movies happening sometime. I could certainly use the rest after my "day off".

Posted by Marty at 5:17 PM CST
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Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Finally, Action
Now Playing: ALONE IN THE DARK commentary
After 13 days, I finally made some progress with USAA General. Thanks for all the good luck wishes and advice I've received from you. Today showed me that being proactive can both work in your favor and kick you in the ass. The latter story will get short shrift today so I can tell you a more optimistic tale.

I attempted to contact Heather again this morning, since my new strategy was to keep calling her until I got some satisfaction. After getting her voice mail several times, I decided before leaving for lunch that I was going to speak to an actual human. I bounced around the USAA phone menu options until I got a real live person. I explained my situation and she transferred me to Heather's department and one of her co-workers. In a polite but firm and calm manner, I explained to her that I was not getting any satisfaction, that I felt the investigation was moving too slowly, that I had certain financial, medical and practical inconveniences I was suffering, and that I needed something to be done today. Turns out Heather, despite what her voice mail message said, was not in the office yet, but this co-worker offered to pass along the news that I had called and needed to speak with her.

That wasn't enough, so I asked to talk to the manager. She offered to tell the manager that I called, but I wanted to make sure the manager knew my frustration. Again, I explained to the manager what my situation was and that I felt I was a victim and just wanted them to do something for me immediately. I suggested that, if they were having trouble getting in touch with Jackie by phone, by golly they could just send somebody right to her house, and, hey, I have her address right here. I said I realized they needed to complete their investigation, but I needed them to do it in a more timely fashion. What if they never completed it? What if they never spoke to Jackie, what if she moved away and never answered her phone and no one could ever find her? An exaggeration, sure, but a valid point to make. Eventually, the manager assured me that somebody would call me later in the day.

Not 20 minutes later, I'm home for lunch and the phone rings. Hey, it's Heather, and she has finally spoken to Jackie (who allegedly couldn't be reached before 5pm, even though she has a cell phone) and USAA has agreed to accept 100% liability. She immediately offered me a substantial settlement for my medical expenses (a trip to the ER and a prescription for muscle relaxants) and one day of missing work. She jumped on the computer and transferred my rental car expenses from my credit card to their account (I want to confirm this with Enterprise tomorrow). And she informed me that somebody from their Total Loss department would call me the next day and offer to settle the claim for my destroyed vehicle. She even told me the name and extension of who would be calling me, and said that if I didn't hear from anyone tomorrow to give either of them a call.

Maybe this all would have happened anyway if I hadn't been a squeaky wheel today, but it sure is a heck of a coincidence. One of my co-workers overheard the first conversation this morning, where I asked to speak to the manager, and complimented me on my effective communication skills. The irony is that I was denied a promotion at work a few hours later, principally because of my perceived ineffective communication skills. And that's all I'll say on that subject.

Posted by Marty at 10:43 PM CST
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