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Where did summer go? Labor Day has come and gone and to welcome the approaching fall season, we thought we'd regale you with two excerpts from Mike Straka's "Grrr!" book.



Remember "The Arsenio Hall Show?"

I know it seems like a lifetime since Hall even had a career in front of the camera, but it wasn’t too long ago that millions of television viewers tuned in every night to the comedian’s fledgling late night show, which quickly became a major player in the genre.

As with most success stories, Arsenio’s ego got the better of him, and pretty soon the words "Arsenioooooooooooooo Hall" became a distant memory.

But one of Arsenio’s segments will stand the test of time, even if its creator did not.

It was the "Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm" segment. In it, Hall posed rhetorical questions and put his finger on his chin while saying "Hmmmmm."

"You ever wonder why express checkout lanes always take the longest to ring up your groceries? Hmmmmm."

The audience always got a kick out of that, and so did I, watching TV in my college dorm room in New Brunswick, N.J.

When I started writing a column online, I concentrated on entertainment commentary. Having worked as an actor and being an entertainment reporter, I figured my interest and exposure to the entertainment industry, its stars, power players and better-than-average understanding of how that business works made me qualified to pontificate on Hollywood, TV news and pop culture.

But I always wanted to pay homage to Arsenio and do a list of things that make me go hmmm. However, while constantly thinking about clever "hmmmisms," I discovered that more things make me go Grrr! so I switched gears and made up my own list.

The list struck a chord with readers and even spawned the Grrr! Lexicon, a list of made-up terms that are really nothing more than family-friendly insults to our fellow, ahem, man, and terms like Oblivion and Left Lane Vigilantes have made it into some folks' daily vocabularies.

Celebrities have been frequent targets of the Grrr, but I never set out to be a celebrity-basher, and even though several are named in the following pages, I don’t enter into Grrring celebrities with malice.

The simple, often sad truth is celebrities are bigger Oblivions than even the most Grrring everyday morons we encounter, and that’s mostly because they are always surrounded by people willing to cater to their every whim. After a while they begin to expect special treatment and favors wherever they go.

The definition of Oblivion is a person who is rude without even knowing he’s being rude because he’s simply too oblivious to his surroundings. He’s got tunnel vision, and only cares about his own needs.

In other words, celebrities.

Not every Oblivion is a celebrity, but every celebrity is an Oblivion.

Did you know that a lot of celebrities have several children out of wedlock? Of course, you do, but why don't we ever hear too much grumbling about it? Because celebrities, including athletes, usually have enough money to support multiple "families." However, does that make it right? Is that enough?

Fast forward 18 years later and you may wonder how so-and-so's daughter, whom you've never heard of before, is posing in Playboy and crying about how she was neglected by her famous parent for so many years.

Yet in the world of celebrity worship we live in, nobody really cares about how Joe Football Player or Jane Actress is destroying his or her own flesh and blood. All we care about is that they stay beautiful and keep us entertained.

So what if they're contributing to the general malaise of society. That's more forgivable than growing old or getting fat.

Of course, the unconditional love received by celebs is never enough, so they need more, constant attention. Put a camera in front of them and they know whom you should vote for and what issues should be important to you.

I'll never forget watching an entertainment reporter tell viewers during the 2004 presidential election how Leonardo DiCaprio (of whom I am a big fan), "wrote his own speech" when he was stumping for John Kerry.

Well, I hadn't planned on voting for Kerry, but since DiCaprio went to the trouble of writing his own speech, well then, by all means, count me in. I mean, the guy wrote his own speech!

Chapter 2: Grrring at the Movies and Other Theater Annoyances

Movie theaters are breeding grounds for Oblivions, and therein lies the Grrr!, because most people love going to the movies. There’s nothing better than sitting in a theater when the lights go down and that first preview fills the screen. Our stomachs get butterflies in the hope that we’re about to see a cinematic masterpiece.

But notice I said I get butterflies watching previews. Commercials make me go Grrr!
When the practice of showing commercials at the movie theater became acceptable is beyond me. It all comes down to consumers having no guts to tell theater owners where to shove their commercials.

Six dollars for a bucket of 50-cent popcorn and $3.50 for a pack of Twizzlers is one thing. But paying $10.50 for a movie ticket and then being forced to watch a Pepsi or a Fandango commercial should be beyond reason.

Yet we watch in silence.

We Grrrind our teeth, but we keep going back, week after week, lining the pockets of studio bigwigs, theater owners and morally bankrupt, spoiled, self-centered celebrities.

It’s time we all collectively say, "I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore," with thanks, of course, to Paddy Chayefsky, the writer of "Network."

Start demanding refunds when the theater owners shove commercials down your throat, because in two more months the movie will be out on DVD anyway, and then you can watch in the privacy of your own home, sans commercials.

But wait. No, that would be too good, wouldn’t it?

Thanks to the greedy movie moguls, you’ll get the commercials at home, too, and to add insult to injury, the movie distributors love to send out those DVDs with the fast-forward and skip functions disabled, so that when it comes to their precious commercials and promotions, you’re a captive audience.

Hmm. Didn’t I just pay $19.99 for this?

You know, the whole commercial thing wouldn’t be so bad if Madison Avenue gave two hoots about the quality of the commercials we see at the movies. And since we’re in the movie theater, you’d think that maybe you’d see a movie star or two starring in a movie theater commercial.

Better yet, they should start showing commercials based on the rating of the film you’re about to see.

Imagine a condom ad starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton before a rated-R flick? They can re-enact a scene from "Monster’s Ball," maybe? How about an ad for Johnny Walker Black featuring home video from Nick Nolte’s private collection?

Joaquin Phoenix can sing his way through a commercial for the complete Johnny Cash CD collection.

John Woo can direct an ad for a sports car featuring "The Transporter" Jason Statham doing his own stunt driving. Ducati sport motorcycles can hire Gary Busey to demonstrate why wearing a helmet while doing 125 mph on a motorcycle is a good idea.

Keanu Reeves can reprise his "Matrix" role as Neo in ads for iPod, downloading music into his brain, while his "Speed" co-star Sandra Bullock would be a perfect pitch woman for Harley Davidson, which she could co-star in with her husband, Jesse James, of West Coast Choppers fame.

At least those commercials would be interesting, right?

Instead, we get some fat guy licking an automobile clean with his tongue in an ad for online movie tickets. I don’t even get the correlation.

What do you think the actor’s agent told the guy?

"Hey, remember in acting class when they told you to be the tree? Well, just be the sponge. Be the sponge. That’s your motivation."

Come on, all you high-paid creative geniuses who make up the advertising community. Give us something we can really sink our teeth into at the movie theater. What do you have to lose? With the advent of TiVo and other DVR technologies becoming ubiquitous in the home, you’re going to have to start looking elsewhere to hawk your wares.

Since commercials in movie theaters don’t seem to be going anywhere, at least make them watchable.

But let’s get back to the Oblivions in the theaters.

Ever notice that movie theaters are perfect for little Oblivions in training?

Oblivion parents love to drop their brats off for two-and-a-half unsupervised hours of sugar-induced dementia, don’t they? These Oblivion Kids talk through movies, give away endings and dump their nacho cheese all over the seat for the next patron, usually you, to sit in.

But listen, these days, at least one can reasonably expect that the kids are going to be rambunctious and/or disrespectful.

Sadly, in the new millennium, that’s just the way it is. Parents are too busy playing video games or complaining about how they’re not getting ahead at the office, so parenting is the furthest thing from their minds.

So what do you do?

God knows you can’t say anything, because then some Oblivion parent will start a fight with you or the Oblivion child will tell you you’re "not the boss of me."

So, you figure to go to the movies on a weekday or several weeks after a film opens, so that you can avoid the crowds and said Oblivions. That should be a safe play, don’t you think?

But Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water…

So you and your date or your buddies walk into the movie theater and wouldn’t you know it, the whole place is empty. You can’t believe your luck.

Now, even though every seat is yours for the taking, you know better than to sit in the middle two seats at the most centered part of the theater, because that’s a desirable location, and if anyone does comes in, they’re bound to sit in front of you. You know that. So you find a perfect spot just to the right or left of center.

There, perfect. Perfect seat. Perfect view. Perfect access to the aisle. Perfect.

Why then, does the only other couple to arrive in the theater decide they want to sit directly in front of you?

It never fails. No matter where you sit, no matter how empty the theater is, they’ll pick those two seats right in front of you! Or worse, right behind you, so they can eat and drink and shake the ice in their cups right at ear level.

I don’t know about you, but the sound of people munching on food or shaking ice is music to my ears!

These Oblivions munch on their popcorn as if they were dying of some rare disease, and the only cure lies at the bottom of the bucket in the form of one of those hard, un-popped kernels.
It’s relentless.

Shoomp — the hand goes into the bucket. Shoomp Shoomp — it pulls out a handful of popcorn. Munch Munch Munch — breathe — Munch Munch Munch — breathe — and then Shoomp, in for round two, until there is no more popcorn to scarf.

I once applauded a man in a Manhattan theater when he finished his bag of popcorn. Not only was he munching like a horse, but when he couldn’t dive his greasy fingers (loudly I should add) into the bag for any more buttery treasure, he tipped his head back and emptied the crumbs into his mouth. As if that wasn’t enough, he then crumpled up the bag and dropped it on the floor.


Of course, being an Oblivion, this jerk has no idea how loud, how rude or how disgusting he is. No idea whatsoever. All he knows is that he was hungry for popcorn.

"I’m at the movie theater and damn it, I’m going to eat popcorn."

Look, there are millions of popcorn lovers out there and the majority of them at least know how to eat. But it only takes one Oblivion to spoil it for the rest of them. The next time you’re at the movies, close your eyes and imagine an army of rats rummaging around in the dark.

The collective sound is so bad that if movie theaters had headphone jacks at every seat and rented noise cancellation headphones at ridiculous prices, I’d pay the extra money just so that my movie experience wasn’t rudely brought back to the reality of Oblivionism minutes into the film.

Of course, Oblivion Kids, seat stalkers and obnoxious chewers aren’t the only dangers at the movie theater. Just as bad are the people who — despite 30 minutes of annoying commercials and previews and petitions for donations to various charities — still manage to show up after the movie starts.

After the movie starts!

Not only do these morons disrupt the crucial beginning moments of the film by standing in the middle of the aisle pointing out empty seats throughout the theater, they usually spot two in a row that are not together, so they’ll have the audacity to ask other paying patrons:

"Can everybody move over one seat so that we can sit together?"

Um, no! No way. I’m sorry, but I refuse to move when people impose their id on me. If you think I’m a jerk, then so be it.

Choosing my seats at the theater is a very delicate and exacting process. It’s not my problem if grown-ups don’t have the wherewithal or the common sense to arrive on time, especially these days.

I know that sounds contradictory — me Grrring the selfish behavior of Oblivions who mean to minimize my own selfishness, but at least the only person I inconvenienced to satisfy my desires was me.

I planned for traffic. I got my Twizzlers and my Coke long before the movie started, and I arrived long enough before the crowds did so that I can sit exactly where I want to sit. And, yes, I even went to the bathroom before the movie started.

Imagine that!

So don’t ask me to move. I will fight you if I have to. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.
One man sent his wife in for round two after I told him to forget about it. She said, "Sir, you’re being unreasonable. Don’t make me get the manager." I said, "Good, while you’re at it, tell him you’re going to reimburse me for my ticket too, because you’re ruining the movie for me." Other people chimed in "Count me in too, sweetheart."

Needless to say, they found two seats together in the front row.

Look, folks, nobody knows better than you your own desires.

Get to the theater on time, and if you want to sit together, get there early. It’s opening night at one of the most hyped movies of the year, and you think you’re going to sit together if you’re late? Come on, people!

And don’t forget, you’ll still be a couple after the movie starts, so I don’t really see the problem with being separated for two hours that you’ll be sitting in silence anyway.

But the Oblivions aren’t only Oblivions at the movies. Any old theater will do.

I was on Broadway watching Hugh Jackman in "The Boy From Oz." In what was one of the musical’s more poignant moments (and there were few), someone’s cell phone went off.
Now, at this point in our technically driven lives, too many people carry cell phones to find this too surprising. As long as there are cell phones, people will forget to turn them off. This is an unfortunate fact that I think we can all live with occasionally.

But this person, in what could only be an attempt to avoid outing him or herself as the cell phone Oblivion, let it ring 12 times before it finally went to voice mail. Twelve rings in the middle of a Broadway musical!

Dude or Dudette — just reach down and shut it off. Sure, you’ll get a few tsk-tsks and dirty looks in your direction, but it’s not like you’re going to get arrested. Just shut it off.

And while I’m on the subject of Broadway theaters, it’s about time for the Shuberts, Nederlanders, Jujamcyns and whoever else owns theaters, like Disney, to update those old buildings.

After paying $100 to see some washed-up movie star sing her way through "Fiddler on the Roof" there should at least be more than two stalls and two urinals in the only two bathrooms in the whole theater.

What, did theatergoers in the old days not need to use the restrooms at the same time? There is only ONE intermission.

And what is with those seats on top of one another? It’s time for some stadium seating on Broadway, because sitting behind some Oblivion with her theater hat on isn’t going to cut it, and sitting in my neighbor’s lap isn’t what I bargained for, either.

Let’s go. You producers aren’t giving tickets away.

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