My Old Kentucky Homesite

Read the Book While You See the Movie

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/10/2010

Every now and then I get tired of being curmudgeonly, so I  try to take a few hours off from grumbling. This is tougher to do than you’d think, because sometimes the only way I know I’m really alive here in Lexington is to feel cranky.

But on these mellow occasions, I do make an attempt to relax my mind, not burdening it with any cantankerous details whatsoever. That may be easy for some of my butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-heads fellow Kentuckians, but it’s no easy task for me. Still, tomorrow is my birthday, and I’m gettin’ old.  So, just for tonight, I didn’t want to have to rev myself up to my usual level of orneriness.

Instead, my wife and I spent some time reminiscing about the good old days. The good old days — which, really, weren’t that great unless you liked French-cut canned stringbeans — were back when only birds tweeted, back before anyone who wasn’t a pie-maker ever thought about a blackberry, back before “iPod therefore iAm.” We certainly had no such thing as Google, where every factual error in the world can be summoned within seconds. In those days, people found information by reading books. I’m not kidding. We turned pages with our — yuck! — fingers.

Of course, that’s an outmoded procedure nowadays, but my wife and I are kind of outmoded ourselves. So, even though each of us can do esearch with the best of them, we still often find ourselves racing to our bookshelves whenever we’re hungry for tidbits of information. You can’t teach an old dog new nitpicks. That’s why it takes us about a week and a half to get through a 90-minute DVD.

To be more precise about the reason it takes us so long: It’s because we’re Lookies.

The original Lookies were a couple of friendly question-mark-shaped children in the 1950s who urged kids to nag their parents for the World Book Encyclopedia. Their motto, as I remember it, was: “We never guess; we look it up. ‘Cause we’re the Lookies!”

I’ve been a Lookie all my life, and so has my ladylove. Years ago, when we first combined living quarters, we sat our two reference collections down and promised that we’d show no favoritism. But now, ages later, we still don’t trust each other’s books.

“What does ‘heuristic’ mean?” she might ask, peering at me above the top of her magazine article.

“I’m not sure. Let’s look it up.”

“Use my dictionary.”

“Mine’s better.”

“Well, it’s my word.”

Our Lookitude really flourishes, though, when we’re watching a film. As we were earlier today.

“What city is that?” asks my wife, while the camera pans down on the opening shot.

“I’m not sure it matters to the story,” I answer, scanning Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, an edition of which I always grab before pressing Play. You never know what kind of film-knowledge emergencies might come up.

“Of course it matters,” she says. “It’s not just some vague place. We’re supposed to recognize those buildings. What does the book say? I see palm trees. It’s probably Miami or L.A., don’t you think?”

“There’s a street sign,” I point out.

“I missed it. Stop and hit reverse. Let’s see it again.”

Meanwhile, the film’s narrator is telling us, “The sun rose that morning over …”

“Stop that damn thing for a minute!”

“C’mon,” I complain. “He just said it was Minneapolis.”

“I don’t care what he said, but I think you’re hearing things. There aren’t any palm trees in Minneapolis. Even you know that, right? Go look up ‘palm’ in my botany encyclopedia.”

“Maybe it was an unusually warm summer,” I suggest. “Let’s just watch the movie.”

My wife leans over and grabs the remote from my hand, frantically hitting pause. “Wait a second. Wait a second. What else took place in Minneapolis? I’m thinking of something but I can’t zero in on it.”

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'” I say.

“Oh, yeah, right.” We both sing “Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take …”

“You know when Mary Tyler Moore really made me smile?” My wife tosses her imaginary hat into the air as she gets up to walk over to one of our 3,000 bookcases. “I wanna find something in Total TV. Just bear with me a second. Go pee or something”

“I don’t have to. Can’t it wait till after the movie?” I ask.

“This is gonna drive me crazy through the whole thing. When we were singing about Mary Tyler Moore, it reminded me of when she was married to Dick Van Dyke. And I suddenly can’t remember their last name. Aha! Here it is! Petrie!”

“Yeah,” I say, “like the dish we used to make gunk in during high school biology. Now you’ve got me curious. Who’s that dish named for? You think it’ll be in one of the desk encyclopedias?”

“I bet it’s in mine.”

“Mine’s better. Hold on, while I check in my office.”

“I’ll go look in mine.” Both of us call out, almost simultaneously, “J.R. Petri, German bacteriologist.” Then, as she heads back to the living-room, she hollers, “OK, I’m ready to watch the movie now.”

“No, no. Not yet,” I holler back. “I wanna see something. I’m checking Nobel Prizes for Medicine in The World Almanac.”

“What year?”

“I don’t know. I graduated from high school in ’65, so it had to be before that. Just shut up and let me do some serious research here.”

About fifteen minutes later, I march into the living-room, triumphantly.

“Did you find out if he won a Nobel Prize?” my wife asks.,

“No, I got sidetracked. But y’wanna hear something weird! We were just talking about Dick Van Dyke, and I was looking up awards given out in 1965, right?” She nods. “Well, guess who won the Miss America Contest in 1965!”

“No clue,” she says.


“I can’t. Now you’re holding the movie up.”

“Vonda Kay Van Dyke!” I say. “Isn’t that a strange coincidence?”

“What the hell kind of name is Vonda?”

“It’s a variant of ‘Wanda’ and it means ‘wanderer.’ I knew you’d want to know, so I looked it up.”


“In What to Name Your Baby.”

“What are you doing with that?”

I shrug. “It was on sale at Barnes and Noble. I couldn’t resist. You never know what kind of information …”

“That reminds me,” she says. “Remember ‘The Wanderer’?”

“Yeah, yeah. I figured you’d ask so I looked in The Encyclopedia of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Dion sang it in 1962.”

“Not that wanderer,” she says. “A different wanderer. I was thinking of some opera character. Where’s my opera handbook?”

“I’ll go look in mine, too,” I suggest.

Five minutes go by.

Siegfried,” she calls. “By Wagner,” I respond. “The Wanderer is Wotan,” she calls. “Leader of the Norse gods,” I answer.

“Yeah. By the way, my stylebook right here says not to confuse ‘Norse’ with ‘Norwegian.”

“You know who I picture when I think about Norwegians?”

“Garrison Keillor,” she answers.

“Hey, that’s amazing,” I shout. “Minnesota.”

“Minneapolis!” we both cheer.

Finally, having come full circle — at least for the time being — we head back to the couch to unpause the movie. And to breathe a sigh of relief after a job well done.

Nobody ever claimed that being a Lookie was gonna be easy.


7 Responses to “Read the Book While You See the Movie”

  1. I think my single favorite line from GK are his references to “the tomb of the unknown Norwegian.”

  2. Percy:
    I’m not a big Keillor fan, myself. He’s a little too homespun for me. But I always crack up when he talks about lutefisk, mainly because a Norwegian-American friend of mine can’t stand to be in the same room where it’s even mentioned.

    If you’d like the recipe for lutefisk, my wife and I would be happy to look it up for you.

  3. Oh now you are just showing off. At our house it would have gone:
    1. What city is that?
    2. Looks up: Minneapolis
    3. That reminds me of soup.
    4. While you’re up get me a beer.
    5. Milwaukee!

    Back to the movie.

  4. Evie said

    The advantage to using the Internet to do these searches is that you don’t have to pause the movie. You really can read the movie while you watch it.

  5. Going:
    That’s definitely not my house you’re talking about. Our regulation response to “While you’re up, get me a beer” is to hand the sitter a map to the refrigerator.

    Yeah, I know all about multi-tasking. But I find that if I read while watching a movie, I do neither of them well.

  6. I pause movies for glitches, like last week we saw Public Enemies and Depp opened a pocket watch and then there’s a closeup of the watch. Well I immediately paused and rewinded as the wife shouted, “what? what?!” “Hang on… there, see it?” I say as I rewind again and play again. “6:00, then it’s 5:30!” Then of course the look from the wife melts the smug satisfaction off my face and I relinquish the remote and slink back into the sofa.

    So consider yourself lucky that you both share the same neurosis.

  7. Philly:
    If my wife and I notice a goof like that, it drives us nuts. You’re lucky you don’t have to sit with us while we scream at the TV during news broadcasts, which are rarely 100% accurate.

    I don’t really mind the errors in and of themselves. What makes me furious is the knowledge that most viewers don’t give a crap.

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