Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lobster's Look at Relationships

"If this had been our first date, it would have also been our last," said my friend Johanna. 
Fair enough. You'd think that starting Memorial Day weekend with the lobster would have been a good idea, but it turned into a simply bizarre experience that felt considerably longer than its actual two hours. All either of us could say afterward was "What the hell?" There might have been a "WTF" thrown in there, too. Interestingly, however, as the days have passed, I've spent more time thinking about the lobster and trying to get to the root of its message.

If you haven't heard of The Lobster, allow me to provide a quick summary before diving in for a closer look (diving for lobster, get it?).

In The Lobster, the surprisingly versatile Colin Farrell, best known for so-so action adventure flicks before hitting a home run in In Bruges, plays David, a guy whose wife has fallen in love with someone else. Within moments of having his heart broken, we see him being escorted away by two guys dressed like waiters at a fine restaurant. They're there to take him to a Catskills-like hotel where he'll have 45 days to fall in love with one of the other guests. If it doesn't work out, he'll be turned into the animal of his choice. His brother, a dog, accompanies him. David decides he'd like to be a lobster because they live 100-years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and are extremely fertile.

Varying wildly between laugh-out loud absurdity and grim, disturbing and painful implications, The Lobster makes a harsh statement about the sins of being alone in our society. On his first night at the hotel, for example, David has one hand handcuffed behind his back. A reminder that we are not complete without another. Throughout his stay, scenes are performed for the guests that drive home the inherent dangers of being alone. Eating without a partner leads to choking to death. A woman walking without a man is raped.

The Lobster also comments on the differentiators that draw us to one another.
The ability to fall in love and get married may hinge on nothing more than a similar proclivity for nosebleeds, or the same physical defects, such as a limp or shortsightedness. Then there's the "survival of the fittest" aspect that comes into play with regular hunts in which the single guests are given a stun gun with which to take out the competition. For each fellow guest you put down, you're given an extra day in which to find love.

In another slap to society's face, we're rudely reminded how many of us will pretend to be someone we're not just to avoid being alone. Choosing to take up with a cruel woman, David plays the part of someone equally heartless until the illusion is shattered in one of the movie's most disturbing scenes (I won't spoil it for you in case you plan on seeing the film).

Meeting someone who's only a day away from becoming her animal of choice, we learn that, on that last day, guests are permitted to do anything they want. It is strongly suggested, however, that they don't choose a walk in the fields or having sex since those are things you can do as an animal. Yes, The Lobster is about as subtle as dropping an anvil on the head.

And did I mention that if one of the hotel's lucky new couples begins to fight or have issues they throw a child into the mix since that usually takes some of the attention away from the problem? No commentary being made there.

Now, lest the audience think that all of society believes in the necessity of love and partnerships, The Lobster introduces the loners. When David decides to flee from this dystopian nightmare, he takes off into the woods where he meets a counterculture group of individuals who refuse to play by society's rules. But rather than offering a humane, enlightened view of human relationships, the loners have equally morbid and disturbing rules of their own. Conversations with other loners are permitted, but anyone caught flirting or falling in love may have their lips slashed or tongues cut out. Seriously, this movie is not for the faint of heart.

Without giving away the ending, which frankly, I'm not entirely sure I understand, I will say that David meets someone. And that shortsightedness plays a role, both literally and figuratively.

The Lobster is one of those rare movies that I can neither recommend nor tell you to avoid at all costs. While I wasn't particularly happy to have spent the first couple hours of my Memorial Day weekend watching this absurd/painful commentary, I must say it's certainly stuck with me and that it continues to offer revelations and insights that are worth pondering. If nothing else, I would encourage you to see it so I have someone else to ponder it with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Monetary Maneuverings Lead to Savvy Savings!

My dad and I have a lot in common. The good (strong work ethic) and the bad (serious funkapotomus issues). Recently I have channeled my inner Walt in the frugality department, and while some of you might think being cheap thrifty is a bad trait, I’m feeling pretty damn proud of myself for my monetary maneuverings. After you read of my recent conquests you too might see my frugality as a strength.

I’ve always shown tendencies toward tightfistedness conservative spending. For example, I’m one of those people who takes the gardener’s catalog 100% guaranteed plants promise seriously. I received more than a dozen free new goodies to start my garden with this spring. I’m a big fan of Groupon and Living Social for airport parking, park admission, and movie theaters, and I search coupon websites for every new online retailer I consider doing business with. There’s almost always a discount or free shipping offer to be had. Finally, I only buy clothes on sale and I’m flummoxed (a word I’ve always wanted to use) as to why anyone would pay full price. While those are all general examples, I have been on a particularly hot streak of late.

It all started with a Midas coupon for a free oil change that led to four new tires. I knew I needed tires, but I certainly didn’t want to pay Midas prices. So when my guy told me the price, I just happened to be sitting at the computer and was able to tell him how much they really cost. He said he’d call me back. He did, and he met the lower price. Rather than immediately moving forward with the work, I pressed my luck and told him, “Throw in a pair of windshield wipers, installed, and you’ve got a deal.” He said he’d ask his manager. Deal done.

Then there was the Sear's charge for $58.27 for a replacement filter for a refrigerator we don’t own. To be fair we did own it for the day or two it took to be delivered, at which point we found we couldn’t get it through the kitchen doorway. Anyway, when we bought the fridge we signed up for automatic filter replacements and never thought to cancel that service. When the filter arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago, I wrote on it “Return to sender” and stuck it back in the mailbox. Then the credit card bill arrived.

I called Sear's and was told that the part had been shipped to me FedEx, and without a tracking number, I had no proof that I had actually returned it. I explained that I assumed it was sent by U.S. Mail (given its arrival in the mailbox) and so that’s how I returned it. “Well we haven’t received it ma’am. Maybe give it more time?" I called again a week later. Still no part, but they’d look for it. And I was to trust that they would really look for it, just like I was asking them to trust that I’d really returned it. We were playing the trust game.

I wrote a letter. It was a very good letter. I referenced my loyalty as a Sear's customer. A day after I mailed the letter (hence, before they could have received it), I had an email from Sear's letting me know the $58.27 was coming off my bill. Nice.

Just today I enjoyed a $50 savings on an American Airlines flight I’m taking to California in early July. Why? Because several months ago I found a cheaper price on one of those travel websites when a booking flight for Ian. Despite the rigmarole involved with proving the difference, I persevered and not only secured the cheaper price directly from the airline, but was also given a code for $50 off my next flight. Sweet, right?

And then there was my dad’s Rusty Wallace 8-lap race car driving experience scheduled for this Saturday. I had found the offer on Groupon and given it to him for Christmas. Unfortunately, just last week my dad was diagnosed with degenerative back disease and he's in serious pain. This is not the time one wants to speed around a race track at 200 miles an hour. A phone call to Rusty’s people, a phone call to dad’s doctor, and a live chat with Groupon and I have my money back. Well sorta. I have Groupon bucks waiting for me.

I’m telling you all this for three reasons:

  1. Because I haven't had anything else to write about in a long time,
  2. So you’ll think I’m really awesome, and 
  3. To show you that it takes fairly little effort to save some serious dough. 
When I summarized my savings savvy for Rob, I suggested he reward me with a shore house. Unfortunately, it looks like I haven't saved quite enough for a down payment YET. Just give me a little more time…