The Trigger Effect

I missed the memo about The Trigger Effect.

Yesterday, there was a widespread power outage that affected a big chunk of the southwest.  Mercifully, it seems like the lights are now back on, but whenever I hear about a blackout, I get a little shiver thinking about The Trigger Effect.  Like Scorchers, The Trigger Effect is a really good movie that you’ve probably never seen.  (And you probably never will…it’s not on Netflix, WTF?)

The Trigger Effect tells the story of the fairly quick descent into chaos that ensues once the lights go out and stay out.  While there are some sensational plot twists that ramp up the tension, there are also banal crises which lead to all sorts of desperate times and desperate measures.  Like when one of our protagonists, as played by Kyle MacLachlan, is just trying to get the pediatric panacea which is liquid amoxicillin (aka, “the pink stuff”) for his baby daughter, who is miserable with an ear ache.  But because the power’s out, the pharmacist can’t access the prescription in the computer or conduct any transactions.  But our protagonist can see that the pink stuff is right there, it’s on the shelf!  Why can’t the pharmacist just give it to him for Pete’s sake?  For the love of God, his baby is sick!

And it just gets crazier from there.  No phones.  No computers.  No ATMs.  No functional gas pumps.  Looting, violence and mayhem.  And a very frazzled but MILF-y Elisabeth Shue….

Of course, the The Trigger Effect represents a crazy worst case scenario of what might happen during an extended power outage.  For fun, it throws in some wacky coincidences of strangers whose lives intersect in ways that initially seem unpleasant, but insignificant, but later turn out to be a big deal.  As movies go, it really is entertaining.  If you come across it in a bargain bin somewhere, snatch it up.

Interestingly, the term “the trigger effect” seems to have roots in geology, where it has this definition:

When rock is subjected to increasing stresses there comes a time when it is on the point of failure. In some circumstances it may remain at that point for a considerable time. Any small external influence, such as a seismic wave, may then be sufficient to precipitate the failure. This is known as the trigger effect.

I’m not sure if the filmmaker had this definition in mind when choosing the title, but it’s interesting to ponder whether we, as crazy modern people, might be walking around at “the point of failure” all the time.  What are the “seismic waves” that might turn a little crack into a chasm? 

Happily, my friends in San Diego report that after recovering from the initial irritation of being without power, they were totally OK.  Forced to unplug, they enjoyed candle light and star light.  Instead of watching TV or fooling around on a computer, they talked to the precious people they happen to live with.  They still wanted the power to come on before all the food in the fridge spoiled, but as evenings go, it apparently wasn’t too bad. 

Maybe it’s a weird sort of irony that having the convenience of electricity is the very thing that whips us into a frenzy of busy-ness that sometimes has us at our breaking points.  Taking it a way, just for a little while, might bring us back from the brink just a bit.  In any event, everything looks better by candle light, don’t you think? 

Memo received.


I missed the memo about style.

I live in L.A., but in a rustic suburb where clothing choices tend to be more function and less form. In my neck of the woods,  I see a lot of boots–hiking boots, cowboy boots (worn by unironic people who actually ride horses), etc.  When I venture into the tonier corners of La La Land, I do see people who are fabulously dressed, but there’s usually something very deliberate and vaguely plastic about these folks.  As style icons, they leave me cold.

But when I go to San Francisco, I always notice that the people of the Bay Area have style.  Dressing with style seems like it’s simultaneously purposeful and effortless, bold yet casual.  If I were stylish enough to be wearing a hat, I’d tip it to these people who just go about their lives looking…interesting (and I mean that in a good way). 

During my most recent visit to San Francisco, I observed some pretty outstanding ensembles.  Most notably:

  • Unapologetically acid-washed skin-tight jeans, worn with over-the-knee, high-heeled boots.  By pairing this with a simple black top, the young woman in this outfit managed to not look like a hooker.  It was amazing.
  • A gauzy floral mini-dress, worn with both flip-flops and several cozy scarves. It was spring time on her torso, the dead of winter from the neck up, and the dog days of summer from the knees down.  Somehow, this outfit looked adorable.
  • Black dress pants, worn ironically short with gym socks, a gray T-shirt (pajamas? me thinks yes) and an impeccably tailored silver sport coat.  The jacket was what really pulled this outfit together–it was like this guy just rolled out of bed, but he just rolled out of bed with style.

From these and many other people I ogled on BART, I observed a few key principles of personal style:

  1. Matching is for amateurs.  Mixing patterns, colors, and textures adds a lot of visual interest.  You might end up looking like a hobo, but you’ll look like an interesting hobo.
  2. Accessories, accessories, accessories.  Hats, scarves, and necklaces, especially.  More is more.  Bonus points for unusual shoes. 
  3. Attitude is everything.   Remember how the woman in the tight jeans and the boots didn’t look like a hooker? That’s ’cause she wasn’t acting like a hooker.  She was young, and had a cute figure, so she was showing off a little, but she wasn’t for sale, that was obvious. 

People who have style aren’t afraid to be noticed, and I really admire that.  They put on something that teeters on the border between funky and freaky and just go out into the world. Perhaps red fishnets are less remarkable in San Francisco than they are in other parts of the world, but I still think it takes balls to wear them (and I’m pretty sure the person I saw wearing them had both the literal and figurative kind of balls…)

Being noticed can be kind of scary.  If people notice you, they might…notice you.  Taking notice of another human being can be pretty fraught…when I notice someone, I’m making a million superficial calculations about who they are, I’m sizing them up, and trying to figure them out.  Why would I want to invite this kind of  attention?  Aren’t I better off in my anonymous black trousers and tasteful twinset?  I’m not sure I’ve got this figured out yet, but maybe I’ll wear the funky shoes next time…and a scarf.  Memo received.

Luck, Skill & Porn Star Lip Gloss

I missed the memo about luck, skill, and porn star lip gloss.

If there was ever a day I should have played the lottery, it was back in November of 2004.  On one crazy afternoon, I scored a spot as a contestant on Jeopardy! and then a couple of hours later, I learned that I had passed the California Bar Exam.  Winning the lottery would have been a nice little hat trick. 

My first stroke of luck was being chosen at random invited to audition for the show.  I got dressed up in my best suit and headed on down to Sony Studios where about 100 of us were ushered onto the actual Jeopardy! set, which was Nerd Nirvana.  The producers gave us a little pep talk and quickly disabused us of any notion that we’d actually be meeting Alex Trebek that day. 

Next, came the pencil and paper test which featured Jeopardy! style answers and questions.  There ain’t no two ways about, folks, this test was hard.  Luck was not enough, but I had paid my dues as a quiz bowl geek in high school and college, so I did actually think the test was kind of fun.  Then the tests were collected and we hopefuls sat and fidgeted with our souvenir Jeopardy! pens and waited to hear who had made the cut.  Mine was one of two names called  (I told you the test was hard!) and when I heard my name, it was like I had been coronated Queen of the Geeks.  I was, how you say…stoked.

My fellow test-passer and I were then asked to do a quick screen test which consisted of overly enthusiastic small talk and wrangling of signaling devices.  The producers thanked us both for coming and congratulated us for making it  into the contestant pool, but that didn’t mean I was assured a spot on the show.  As we were sent on our way, the producers asked if we had any questions, and luckily, I had to pee, so I asked,”Where’s the bathroom?”  (Classy, n’est ce pas?)

When I emerged from the facilities, one of the producers intercepted me and told me that they’d had a last-minute opening in the taping schedule and asked if I could come back in a few weeks to tape my appearance on the show.  I skipped off the lot, thanking my nervous bladder for affording me the chance to win a gazillion dollars. 

I came back a few weeks later and it was as glamorous as I’d hoped.  A Green Room full of bagels, Alex Trebek in the flesh, and best of all, gobs and gobs of make-up skillfully applied by a professional make-up artist. 

When the make-up artist was done with me, I think I was wearing all the hot pink lip gloss then available in the state of California.  I like wearing make-up, but usually try to use a light hand, so I was a little taken aback by this look.  But under the bright studio lights, it looked fantastic.  Later, in the regular light of day, it looked like I had been eating a pork chop without a knife and fork.

Despite my fabulous lip gloss, I’m sad to report that I got my clock cleaned by a 23-year-old graduate student.  I was around for Final Jeopardy and even bet it all, like a boss, but alas, my dreams of extinguishing my student loan debt with a few clicks of a buzzer came to an uncermonious end.  It was an absolute blast, though, and I wouldn’t mind a rematch…

Sometimes it’s about luck.  Sometimes it’s about skill.  And sometimes it’s about having to a take a fortuitous pee.  Memo received.

The Hollywood Bowl

I missed the memo about The Hollywood Bowl.

(Ahh…low res cell phone pictures…It’s 21st century Impressionism…)

I’ve missed so many memos about Los Angeles…Since moving here a decade ago, I have been delighted, dismayed, dazzled, discouraged, and lots of verbs that start with “d”.  But let’s talk about the Hollywood Bowl.  It’s that iconic amphitheatre nestled in the Hollywood Hills.  My first memorable glimpse of it was in “Some Kind of Wonderful“:

(Poor Watts…she stares forlornly down at the stage, where Keith and Amanda enjoy their “perfect” date…)

Despite living in the L.A. area since 2001, I didn’t get to the Hollywood Bowl until 2010.  It was The Flight of the Conchords which finally induced me to go.  We got a babysitter, packed a picnic dinner and hopped on a shuttle bus which dropped us right at the venue.  It was a beautiful night and as the sun began to set, we enjoyed the most gorgeous view as the Hollywood Hills went from green, to gold, to pink, to blue, to black. 

We were surrounded by a glorious assortment of hipsters and bon vivants, so the people watching was nearly as fun as the concert itself.  There is something about sitting in the open air with thousands of drunken strangers that just puts you in a good mood.  We had an absolute blast. 

The obvious lesson from this lovely evening is this:  When you live in a big city full of cool stuff, get out there and enjoy some it, for Pete’s sake.  This stuff ain’t just for tourists.  I think this applies no matter where you live…just about everywhere, there are wonderful places to explore and experiences to have…you just have to overcome your inertia and go.

Another obvious and important lesson is that sometimes fun is spontaneous, but sometimes it takes a little effort.  In this instance, we had to:

1.  Buy tickets
2.  Arrange for a babysitter
3.  Tidy up the house
4.  Plan and prepare a picnic dinner for us
5.  Plan and prepare a  dinner for our little guy and his date
6.  Get ourselves dressed and out the door on time

Doesn’t sound like much, but somehow it is.  But here’s the thing…all that planning and preparation can be part of the fun.   As I scrubbed the toilet to ensure that the babysitter had reasonably sanitary facilities at her disposal, I was happily looking forward to the enjoyable evening ahead.  That bit  of anticipation can actually transform drudgery into foreplay to fun. 

So this weekend, get out there and do something cool, and be undaunted by the effort.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball