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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

Pee-Wee's Big Walgreens

The rediscovery of someone is usually accompanied by the over-estimation, especially if you're a Big Important Publication. If you're doing a story about Person X's brave comeback or difficult journey, you can't go the People route and dwell on the dirt. Elevate your subject! Winch high the reputation! NYT:

Reubens’s smash children’s show, which ran on Saturday mornings for five seasons in the ’80s and ranks as a work of auteurist genius to rival ‘‘The Sopranos’’ and ‘‘Mad Men’’ and other commonly feted — not to mention more dour — landmarks of scripted television.

I've never heard anyone mention "Pee Wee's Playhouse" in the same breath as "The Sopranos."

(W)e entered a section marked Wound Care. ‘‘Where is it, where is it?’’ Reubens asked, growing suddenly agitated as he scanned the shelves. ‘‘Where’s, um, like, stop-bleeding stuff?’’ he asked a clerk, who led him to the right place. He snatched up a product called WoundSeal. ‘‘This is stuff that my mom showed me, and as soon as she did, she cut herself, and I got to use it: You tear open this little packet, pour it on the cut and it stops immediately. So instead of going to the emergency room, or dying, you put this on.’’ He flipped the box over to show me that, like Reubens himself, WoundSeal came from Sarasota.

Coincidences like that just don't happen, pal.

If you like Pee-Wee, it's a good read. Towards the end, a revelation: turns out you can't look like the same character from the 80s when you're now past 63.

In the end, software intervened. Reubens called digital retouching ‘‘a huge secret in Hollywood. People aren’t really aware that stars have secret riders in their contracts’’ stipulating that money will be devoted to preserving their youthful appearances with computers. ‘‘I’m going to be forced to talk about it’’ in television appearances promoting the film, Reubens said, because ‘‘Pee-wee’s not older in the movie, but I am.’’ Lee agreed: ‘‘I think it would be weird to ignore it. It’s the elephant in the room.’’

But a very young-looking elephant. None of that baggy skin you associate with pachyderms. Anyway: if you're wondering why Pee-Wee and the interviewer were looking at Wound Care, it's because they were at Walgreens. Pee-Wee wanted to go to the Walgreen's on Sunset and Vine, which the author tried hard to make sound like some sort of kitsch palace. The World HQ of Walgreens. The Google Street View makes it look like any other recent development, and the past views show it was a Borders; doesn't seem to be remarkable in any way.  But there had to be something there before, a piece of old LA that was razed for an interchangeable California project. This was it.


Because the web is the greatest library ever devised by humankind, here's a late-60s radio commercial for the store.

When your cruise ship hits a storm

You might have heard of another nightmare cruise in the news - not for an outbreak of heave-ho norovirus or an engine breakdown, but for calamitous seas. The Anthem of the Seas, a spectacular Quantum-class vessel in the Royal Caribbean Line, hit a bad patch and endured a day of lurching, creaking, crashing, pitching, and overall misery. On the other hand, free movies! And complimentary wifi so people could send their last will and testament home to loved ones.

An example of the fun. If the embed is fubar'd, go here.

As you can clearly see, the ship was hit by an absolute barrage of hashtags. 

This New York Times account said the writer knew something was amiss when the water was sloshing over the tops of the hot tubs. WaPo: "The passenger said that at the height of the storm, waves were breaking over the tops of the life boats and the whole ship was listing to almost 45 degrees." That I doubt. Listing is when the ship leans over and stays like that. The web is full of pictures of broken stuff, but that doesn't mean the ship was necessarily in peril - yes, windows will pop out when the frame is stressed, but that type of twisting doesn't mean the ship will pull a Titanic and snap in half.  

Speaking as someone who obviously wasn't there and hence has no basis for saying this: it sounds rather thrilling. And terrifying, of course - if you had to make your way to your muster station when the ship's bucking and rising and dropping, there's a good chance you'll get a handrail in the forehead or stumble down the stairs, and God help you when they load the lifeboat and swing it out in 150 MPH winds. God help you some more when you're in that little peapod when the waves are 25 feet tall. But the chance of that happening is slim. It's turbulence. They're built for this.

In 2010 I was in a small cruise ship bound for Honduras, and we got hit by a nasty storm a few hours before dinnertime. The water was sloshing out of the hot tubs and pools, just like the Anthem. The dining room was empty, since most people had taken to their beds to stare at a fixed point or throw up in the wastepaper basket. The few who showed up got green halfway through the meal, and those who weren't feeling ill but were disconcerted by the ship's evident difficulties were not heartened when an extraordinary crash came from the gallery: hundreds of plates and a third of the ship's wine bottles broke free and smashed to the floor in calamitous crash that made the whole room fall silent with shock. After dinner I went to the piano bar, where I found the hardy folk unaffected by seasickness (I am not susceptible, and enjoy the feel of the sea when sailing) - we toasted our peril, made endless requests of the pianist, and spent the night in good spirits.

Unbeknownst to our reveling band, the storm was getting worse; by the time I went back to my stateroom it was impossible to walk without being knocked against one wall and then the other, and the ship had begun to sing the laments of the damned, shrieking and cracking and keening. I had to remind myself that this may be a beautifully appointed cruise ship of the finest quality, but it had begun life as a Soviet icebreaker. (Really.) It could take it. It would take it, and it did.

What I can't figure out is how the Anthem went right into the storm. I've been on the bridge of a massive cruise ship - shot a video on the NCL Eurodam a few years ago, and the general impression you get is HERE ARE MANY THINGS THAT ARE ALL ABOUT WEATHER. (The actual mast for steering the vessel is the size of a dinner plate; there are also short stubby joysticks. It seems like you're riding an elephant and controlling it entirely by pinching an area of skin an inch in diameter.) The ships bristle with tech designed to interrogate the horizon, and of course there are birds in the sky beaming info down to the bridge. I guess they thought they could go through it.

And that's exactly what they did. No fun, and a hell of a rock-and-roll ride, but they did it.

Ps You know that one word might have entered the minds of the crew, just for a second, if only to be batted away. One stupid word that had no basis in reality. But still.

Not Titanic. Poseidon.

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