Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Detour: My Review of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"

To no one's surprise, my Fast & Furious campaign has repeatedly crashed into Capitalist barriers, much like the concrete ones that continually confound Lucas Black's attempts to learn the Tokyo-based technique of "drifting." But before we get to the movie, I'd like to address the sorry state of our commercial video market yet again. I only managed to watch the first two movies before catching Furious 7 at the local cineplex on Thursday. As you can imagine, I was well and truly lost in the plot, although I might've been just as lost with the whole backstory fresh in my memory. (Following plots is not my strong suit.)

Thanks to what I have called (and many other people too, I think) Late Capitalism, my quest to rent or buy every DVD in The Fast and the Furious franchise (for a reasonable price) took on a character decidedly contrary to the series' overarching ethic. It was more "Slow & Stupefying" than "Fast & Furious," although there's something apropos in having to drive all over Creation to find a bunch of car-worshipping movies.

My journey took me to 2 pawn shops, 3 Half Priced Books, 2 Cheapo's, 2 Savers, 2 Salvation Army's, 3 libraries and several Redboxes (mostly online). I criss-crossed the North Metro and Minneapolis several times and flipped through thousands of DVD's. By Friday, I was exhausted, fed-up and desperate to hand over my money to a big-box retailer in order to relieve me of this task. I thought to myself, "You win, Capitalism. I'm yours, now and forever."

Thankfully, I only had one DVD left to purchase: Fast Five. (I'd given up on the fool's errand of finding a rental.)  Un-thankfully, my resignation to getting fisted by the Invisible Hand of the Free Market did nothing to ease my burden. I started in Uptown, crossing the lakes to check the Barnes & Noble and Walgreen's at one of the strip malls by the fork of Excelsior and Lake Street. Thence I continued west to a Target in St. Louis Park. It was here I first encountered a pack of all 6 films for $40. If I had known how long and torturous my expedition would be, I might've just gotten that. But I've learned a lot about my society and even a little about myself on this Magical Mystery Tour, so I don't regret my decision. After all, it's the journey, not the destination, right? (Right?)

I ventured farther out into the southwestern 'burbs, to a Best Buy and even into the belly of the beast: Wal-Mart. The alternately dread and dreary appearance of the patrons made me wonder if James Howard Kunstler's take on our culture isn't as pessimistic as I'd thought. Wal-Mart also had the 6-pack, but no stand-alone Fast Five. Best Buy had Fast Five, but only on Blu-Ray. As if by fate, my odyssey ended at Eden Prairie Center, the shooting location for Mallrats. The Barnes & Noble had a regular DVD copy of Fast Five for $15. A bit giddy from the rush of triumph filling the void created by my recently-fled despair, I gratefully swiped my debit card and took the DVD back to the car in a see-through plastic bag.

After all that drama and pathos, how could any movie possibly live up to the hype? I'd like to say that Tokyo Drift doesn't disappoint, but it really doesn't come close to the standard of entertainment excellence set by the previous paragraphs. The third installment looks like the series' tipping point, when the studio started investing serious money and talent, thereby making it more difficult to mock. But, somehow, I'll find a way.

Lucas Black is the star of this film, better known to me as Hollywood's go-to Southern White Kid in the 90's. He played SWK in Sling Blade and the criminally short-lived CBS show American Gothic, which IMDB calls a "horror/drama/thriller series set in South Carolina." From what I remember, that sounds about right. That show is also the reason (rather than Office Space) I get excited whenever I see Gary Cole pop up randomly in shit, like Talladega Nights or Pineapple Express. (Shout-out to my old pal Dan Warpeha for tipping me off to American Gothic when we were in high school.)

Lucas races a rich jock at his high school played by Zachary Ty Bryan, whom everyone in my generation should remember as the middle son on Home Improvement. Zachary's girlfriend has offered herself up as the prize for the winner, as third-wave feminists are wont to do. Unfortunately, both cars wreck and, with juvie the only other option, Lucas's mom ships him off to live with his dad, who's stationed in Tokyo. Things get off to a rocky start when Lucas shows up earlier than expected (due to confusion over the International Dateline), and someone who appears to be a "woman of the night" exits his father's hovel. But we all know things can only get better from there.

Against all odds, things quickly go from bad to worse as Lucas struggles to negotiate Tokyo's mass-transit system on his way to school and shows up late to class only to have his only-Japanese-speaking teacher frantically point at his shoes and eventually impress upon him the importance of putting on sandals before entering the classroom. Things start to look up at lunch though, when Lucas meets a fellow American, the unfortunately-dubbed Twinkie, played by Shad Moss, formerly known as Bow Wow, and before that known as Lil' Bow Wow.

Shad is one of many "raptors" (rapper-actors) in The Fast and the Furious saga, and he acquits himself well here. Lucas is also good, but they're often overshadowed by Sung Kang, who plays the cleverly-named Han Seoul-oh. Han dies in the course of things, but, thanks to the topsy-turvy chronology of the series, we'll see plenty more of him in later movies. In this genre, there's always a "Running Afoul of the Wrong Person" moment. For Lucas, it comes when he talks to Neela, the girlfriend of Takashi, aka DK ("Drift King"). In addition to being the acknowledged king of "drifting," he's also in the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia.

Takashi easily defeats Lucas in a drifting race in a parking garage. Lucas destroys the car Han lent him to race in, even though Han is Takashi's business partner. Fortunately, Han is fabulously wealthy and has many cars for Lucas to practice in as he learns the art of drifting. (For those who've forgotten this movie, i.e. the general populace, "drifting" is skidding around curves, surely a useful technique in a country as densely populated as Japan.) I don't know why Han is so nice to Lucas, but it kinda made sense at the time.

Suffice it to say, Lucas eventually defeats Takashi in a drifting race down a mountain and also manages to spring Neela free of the mafioso's violent, coercive clutches. I forget how Han dies, but I don't remember getting too bent-out-of-shape about it. By the end, Lucas is the Drift King and he's challenged to a race at the ol' parking garage by a guy who knew Han: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel)! Where is this heading?!

Straight to Furious 7, as it turns out. The Dom scene is recycled early in the seventh installment to establish continuity. Otherwise, though, Tokyo Drift is the mostly-ignored, quickly-aborted detour in the series, like that season of The Dukes of Hazzard when Bo and Luke's cousins, Coy and Vance, took over. (I definitely had to look up the cousins' names.) Apparently, the studio thought Paul Walker was getting too old for the part, but they were desperate to shoehorn Vin Diesel in after poor test screenings of the movie.

Ironically, it's the first film in the franchise not to feature any gut-bustingly hilarious movie-making mediocrity. I was understandably disappointed by this, but I applaud the professionalism of the production. I even enjoyed seeing the seamy, Yakuza-run, pachinko-splashed underbelly of Tokyo. However, if the franchise continues in a competent direction, my enthusiasm for this project may waste away to nothing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Double Your Pleasure: My Review of "2 Fast 2 Furious"

Modern commerce is threatening to derail my enterprise. I've been scouring the Cities in search of (reasonably priced) DVD's of The Fast and the Furious series with no success. My quest has taken me to two Half Priced Books locations, the Family Video in New Brighton, the online catalogs of the Hennepin, Anoka and Ramsey County libraries (the three systems for which I have library cards), Savers at Hi-Lake and, for the first time ever, a pawn shop.

Granted, there are still plenty more options for me to exhaust, but I've nearly exhausted myself. The point is: This is not what I would call Progress. Why, I remember when you could find a DVD of almost any mainstream movie at one of your neighborhood video stores! Sure, towards the end of the Blockbuster Era, it might cost you $5 to rent a new release for two nights, but still. How things have changed, just in the last 5 years. It's a sad commentary on the ministrations of the Invisible Hand of the Free Market.

Well, anyway, my blogging schedule is already shot. I took way too long recapitulating the original film yesterday and was unable to find the aforementioned discount DVD's, so I didn't watch the third and fourth films in the franchise, as was the plan. At this point, dear reader, I can no longer promise reviews of every movie in the series this week. But I'd still like to watch them all before going to Furious 7 tomorrow. It remains a tall order and one that is perhaps beyond my grasp of the contemporary DVD market.

However, there's still a movie to review, so let's get to it! 2 Fast 2 Furious was actually more to my liking than the original. Maybe the first movie wore down my resistance, although I think it had more to do with the preponderance of "bangin'" honeys, the vibrant palette of cars and clothes and the sun and surf of South Florida. The original has a duller, copper-y cast to it that aligns with its more serious interest in plot and character development. The sequel is all about fun in the sun, which is part of what brought me to this project in the first place.

For me, the primary upgrade was from Jordana Brewster to Eva Mendes. Now, it should be said that Ms. Mendes is horrible in this movie. And I mean HORRIBLE. She's lucky she didn't have her SAG card revoked. But, every time I was about to give up on her, she'd come out in another jaw-dropping outfit, lookin' all good and stuff, and all would be forgiven. After a while, I just wanted her to be scenery, because her attempts at acting, though hilarious, were really just getting in the way.

Early on, I found it difficult to follow her briefing of P-Dub (Paul Walker) and Tyrese, because her cleavage is so incredibly distracting. It doesn't matter, of course, because this movie is concerned with splurging on the eye candy and soft-pedaling the story. In addition to Eva, Tyrese, Ludacris and Suki represent upgrades over, respectively, Vin Diesel, Ja Rule and that one East Asian chick in the naughty schoolgirl outfit. Even though the anonymous booty is bountiful, Suki is a hot lady racer and a valued, if still objectified, member of the team.

Cole Hauser plays the inevitable Latin American crime boss, Carter Veron, with the help of makeup left over from Miami Vice. If you're like me, you'll remember him as one of the ass-paddling upperclassmen in Dazed and Confused. He actually doesn't embarrass himself in a role that's begging for Jodie-Foster-in-Nell heights of hilarity. Of course, Eva is usually standing next to him, and any actor would've looked competent by comparison.

Another person who keeps their dignity intact throughout the film is Tyrese. His enthusiasm and joy are truly infectious, and he even brings some humor to what would otherwise be lame one-liners. He and P-Dub have to deal with two meatheads, one of whom he calls "Fonzi." The guy looks more like Bowzer from Sha Na Na, but Tyrese makes it work. He also gets to take off his shirt and reveal his ridiculously chiseled torso, and, if the ladies didn't appreciate that, then I know nothing about women. (Rather than address the mockery that the previous sentence surely invited, I'll just move on.)

P-Dub doesn't really break new ground with his character, but he does look good and fun-loving in this setting, and that's all he needs to do. The only breakthrough in this film is in the various permutations of the word "bro." Tyrese and P-Dub expand the possibilities of its pronunciation, rolling out "bruh," "brae" (short "e" vowel sound) and the heretofore-merely-theoretical "bra," with a short "a." It's indicative of their easy chemistry that the whole experiment doesn't seem completely absurd.

In their effort to blow out the franchise, credulity is stretched beyond the breaking point by a few of the special effects. P-Dub wins the film's initial race by flying off a raised bridge and leapfrogging the equally airborne front-runner. Tyrese and P-Dub nab the kingpin by jumping their new Challenger off a pier onto a yacht in a laughably CGI'd maneuver. The psychedelic effects of "noz" (nitrous oxide) on the driver's perception of time and space, which was established in the original, is expanded here to 2001: A Space Odyssey proportions.

In lieu of any analysis of the afterthought of a plot, here are a few of my takeaways from the film:
  • Mexican standoffs don't work when only one participant knows Spanish.
  • Vintage muscle cars will always be cool.
  • East Asian girls like pink, Black guys like gold and Latinos like red.
  • The police may or may not have in their possession a shoulder-mounted weapon that fires a device capable of latching onto your car and disabling its electrical system.
  • If I ever make a car movie, it'll be called Carmada, which was inspired by the fleet of cars employed in the climax to enable Tyrese and P-Dub's escape from a warehouse where the police think they have them cornered.
For me, the movie is summed up in a brief shot of two hot chicks taking their seats on the back end of a pickup. They're not doing anything significant or amusing. They have no narrative role. They're just two hot chicks bein' hot. And, sometimes, that's enough.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Race Wars: My Review of "The Fast and the Furious"

It's a good thing I had two "car guys" to shepherd me through the first two films in the franchise, because, soon after starting the first movie, I had serious doubts about my ability to complete this project. My interest in car-centric entertainment ended in elementary school, around the time two of my favorite TV shows of childhood, The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, finished their original runs. Since then, I've associated the genre with juvenile, mindless fun, and those shows certainly did nothing to discourage that link.

I had some Knight Rider flashbacks during the opening scene as a team of black cars (If you came here for gearhead talk, you came to the wrong place.) gang up on a semi to steal its precious, unknown (to me, still) cargo. From the car in front of the semi, a guy shoots something like a harpoon gun through the semi's windshield and pulls the glass out. I forget why that was necessary, but, in hindsight, it was pretty cool, as was the car that slid under the semi trailer, and stayed there, as they sped down the highway.

At this point, I should probably let you know that my grasp of the plot was never more than tenuous. This is primarily a cultural study and frivolous diversion for me. I also think it's worth noting that those "cool" things from the opening scene seem much more entertaining now than they did at the time. The stunts sound better than they looked on a TV. Without the help of the big screen, the spectacle was severely diminished.

Our introduction to Paul Walker's character comes next when we see him practicing his racing in the early-morning parking lot of Dodger Stadium. Henceforth, I shall refer to him as "P-Dub." Surely, I'm not the first to think of that nickname. It seems like an affectionate, respectful nod to his memory. Having seen the first 2 Fast and Furious films, I could totally see him using that handle.

So P-Dub rolls up on the auto repair shop/diner that Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) runs with his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). He sits down at the lunch counter and asks her how the tuna is, as he's done many times before. She assures him that the tuna is sub-par, per usual, but he orders it anyway. None of the characters seems aware of the rather distasteful sexual subtext of this conversation, which is disappointing.

With the help of some nifty time-lapse photography, we flash forward to the car club meeting that night. But this isn't the sort of car club the Beach Boys used to sing about. No, this is an illegal drag-racing syndicate that takes over whole commercial districts in the middle of the night to ply their nefarious trade. Of course, this was pre-9/11, the summer of 2001, to be exact. I doubt the authorities still allow these scofflaws to operate, even under the cover of night.

[Author's Note: It has occurred to me that an exhaustive (and exhausting) recap of the plot may not be the best way to review these films. I'll try to stick to the highlights from here on out.]

Ja Rule is one of the racers, and one of his songs is playing during the scene, although I had to check the credits to make sure the song wasn't DMX's. (In my defense, they sounded a LOT alike.) His (Latina?) girlfriend take his hands and uses it to massage her left breast, saying that she'll be his win or lose, but if he wins he'll get "Monica" too. (Trust me: That was a highlight.)

Sadly, Ja Rule loses and still "hollas at" Monica, who angrily rebuffs his advances, pointing out that "You didn't win, (n-word)!" Like Ja Rule's steady girlfriend, Monica appears to be Latina, which makes me wonder: Is it okay for a fellow person of color to call a black person the n-word, and, if so, what other conditions must obtain? I'm sure it helped that Monica was pretty hot. What standard of hotness must a Latina (or any non-black woman) meet to earn this dispensation?

The Fast and the Furious is awash in race and ethnicity. The car club is populated by cholo-ish Latinos, thuggish blacks and slick East Asians, including a girl in the stereotypically Japanese naughty schoolgirl outfit. P-Dub and Vin run afoul of some East Asians on motorcycles who herd them into a very small Chinatown that looks like where Chinese children might go to tell the Great Dragon what they want for Chinese New Year's. The East Asians also torture and humiliate the middle-aged white guy P-Dub works for at the auto parts store (undercover, of course). That struck me as the most racially loaded scene.

The climactic race is even called "Race Wars," for God's sake! It's a surprisingly organized event in the desert with actual security guards wearing actual shirts that actually say "Security." I was surprised they didn't ask the attendees to declare their race before letting them in. Honestly, I was mystified by the racial stuff, unsure of whether to laugh at the stereotypes or applaud the honest (?) depictions of those communities. This may be our first post-racial film franchise. Or it could be a stunningly offensive cash-in. As a middle-class suburban white guy approaching middle age, I truly have no idea.

Returning to the plot, such as it is, P-Dub is an undercover cop trying to infiltrate Vin's illicit business hijacking semis full of electronics. (I can't 100% promise that that's accurate.) But he's falling for Vin's sister and in danger of "going native," sucked in by the subculture's familial atmosphere. I could certainly see the appeal of the tight-knit community, exemplified by Vin making his ADD-addled, whiz-kid mechanic, Jesse, say grace before they tuck into a barbeque dinner in the Torettos' backyard.

But I failed to see the appeal of Jordana Brewster. She's certainly an attractive woman; she's just not my cup of tea. Nor is she much of an actor, although she is convincing as a drag racer when she briefly takes the wheel from P-Dub for a bracing U-turn in traffic. Michelle Rodriguez generally puts her to shame as Vin's main squeeze, dishing out heaping spoonfuls of 'tude with a withering, sunglass-shaded glance and a menacing, snarling sneer.

Vin Diesel does a lot of Vin Diesel stuff, but we do get a glimpse behind that tough-guy exterior when he recounts the tragic death of his father in a stock-car race. Of course, that scene is so thick with cliche that no honest emotion can penetrate the garage's slanting, filtered sunlight or the momentous dollying of the camera. In the end, though, it's still enough to convince P-Dub that his future lies with the car club/family instead of law enforcement.

I wasn't expecting much going in, based on the film's 53% Rotten Tomatoes rating and multiple personal testimonials, but I think seeing it in a theater would've been a far superior experience. It doesn't strike me as the foundation for a myth-making, generation-defying film franchise on the order of Star Wars. However, there were many attractive women in revealing outfits and a lot of fast cars, which other people seem to like. Speaking for myself, though, there isn't enough "noz" in the world to get me excited about this movie.

The Prologue to My "Fast and Furious" Journey

No longer able to ignore what an unstoppable cultural force it has become, I've decided to devote this week to watching every movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise and blogging about it. This is no small feat for me, given my preference for indie films, period pieces, musicals and other traditionally "gay" genres. I also have little to no interest in cars, car racing or car "souping-up." But I'm very interested in irresistible pop culture phenomena, and so I feel a duty to investigate this phenomenon to see what makes it tick.

The first step was merely procuring the videos. I assumed this would be the easiest part of my journey, but I was soon disabused of that notion. Netflix was a dead end, offering only a black-and-white movie called The Fast and the Furious that appeared to date from the 1950's and also seemed to revolve around a car subculture.

Taking for granted the widespread availability of DVD's for rent or bargain-basement purchase, I left little time yesterday to find a copy of 2 Fast 2 Furious, since my friend Tim already had the original. The Uptown Cheapo had one copy for $15. I flipped through all the discounted and recent arrival DVD's in the hope that I wouldn't have to shell out $15 for a movie that even fans of the series consider rather poor.

Unfortunately, my search came up empty, and I dropped the $15 so I could make it to Tim's by 7. It's a testament to the decay of our video techno-structure that I had to pay that much just to, in effect, rent a mediocre, mainstream film. I don't want to turn this into an expose on the creeping decrepitude of our society, but, considering my beliefs and perspective, it's bound to keep leaking into the narrative.

I got to Tim's by 7, and we exchanged some pleasantries before starting the first movie. I should mention that Tim is far from a completist in his adoption of cutting-edge technologies. He accused me of being a Luddite (a label I should've cheerfully embraced), but his consumerist habits betray his own flouting of the civil religion of Progress. Among these are his inscrutable penchant for boxy Volvo station wagons from at least 20 years ago and his refusal to subscribe to cable TV or any video-streaming service, instead relying on over-the-air channels, a second-hand VCR, DVD player, VHS tapes and DVD's.

In this sense, we don't seem to be in The Fast and the Furious's target demographic, but, on second thought, maybe we are. There's certainly a DIY ethic and anti-authoritarianism to the franchise. Perhaps the central theme of the series is "hacking" the mainstream to find fun and meaning in a society that is increasingly resistant to upward mobility. (I told you my pessimism would keep leaking in.) We shall see.

(I'll be posting my reviews of the first 2 movies later today. Stay tuned!)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Lonely Tower

It's no wonder my last post, Spring Awakening, was dominated by an ode to a smokestack. I clearly envy its ability to tower above the mundane, keeping its "hands" clean now that it no longer spouts smoke. It doesn't have to worry about being stained by its own pollution or that of its fallen comrades.

For the past decade, I've been obsessed with achieving a kind of consumerist moral purity. I've tried to buy products that are not tainted by "sin." (I didn't want to put "sin" in quotes, but not doing so seemed unbelievably arrogant and self-righteous.) The sins I've focused on are those arising from the producers' inhumane labor practices and/or environmental degradation.

I've also sought occupational moral purity, looking for jobs with businesses (non-profits) that appear to be engaged in missions I believe in. But I've had very little success with that, always returning to the corporate world to work for a financial company whose guiding principles (making money, fucking everybody else over) I abhor.

A year after quitting my last corporate job, I'm still looking for work that will meet my moral standards and still allow me to afford a decent apartment in a decent neighborhood in the city (preferably, Minneapolis). I've come to realize that living with my parents affords me a certain moral leeway. For now, I needn't worry about "getting my hands dirty" by working at another big, evil financial company.

Of course, even when I was in the belly of the financial beast, I looked down my nose at a lot of people: my bosses, my bosses' bosses, my co-workers (I didn't say this was logical.), new parents (for adding to the world population of 7 billion), showbiz folks (for living my dream without showing constant concern for the state of the world) and non-profit workers (for dedicating themselves to projects that didn't meet my standards of importance).

But I finally reached the point when I couldn't stay on the sidelines anymore and critique everyone else's life like a holier-than-thou armchair quarterback. I had to get down off my high horse (not to mention my soapbox) and actually try to practice what I'd been preaching. Hopefully, this would give me more empathy and understanding for other people's choices.

Approximately one year into this Grand Experiment, I think it's safe to say that I've succeeded on those counts, although I admit to remaining deeply disturbed by many of my peers' occupational choices. But, considering the Dantean tour of hell I've been on for most of the past year, I can't really fault people who stay in the corporate world.

It's been incredibly difficult to escape that matrix, primarily because my parents are so committed to the idea that corporate work is the only viable path to long-term financial security. (In the previous sentence, "corporate work" includes non-profit or public sector office jobs.) The friends I most relied on emotionally have disappeared from my life, leaving me incredibly dependent on my parents for approval.

I have two friends now who are very dependable and supportive, but I don't feel the same emotional connection with them that I felt with my old friends. I'm learning to appreciate them more, though, and, as I strengthen my relationship with my parents, I'm becoming more confident and less reliant on external validation.

The view from my ivory tower is impressive, but, if I stay up there too long, I get lonely and stir-crazy. It's long past time that I came down and mixed with the "rabble." I think I'll find their company quite edifying and entertaining, and, hopefully, they can give my life the meaning it's been missing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring Awakening

This past Saturday I was having dinner alone outside in Uptown. It was one of the first nice days of the year, so everyone was out & about. Suddenly, there were beautiful women everywhere, as if they'd just emerged from hibernation. Such is the spell of Spring.

Luckily, I was in a good place (emotionally) to appreciate it. The weather had a salutary effect on my mood, as the impartial observer might expect. But my history with Spring has been rather tortured.

It all started when we moved from a small town to the 'burbs after I finished first grade. I had no real friends for the first three years. My summers became very lonely, and I came to crave the (limited) socialization and structure of school.

This left an emotional legacy that invests each Spring with background anxiety that comes to the fore when I'm alone. As someone who finds himself alone most of the time, the Fall and Winter provide some cover for my solitary lifestyle. But the Spring and Summer lay bare my isolation, reminding me of my loneliness.

Last year, my anxiety peaked in May, leading me to take the unprecedented step of going on medication. Therefore, I'm worried about how this season will affect my psychology this year. So far, however, I've had a more conventional reaction to Spring, feeling happier, energized and more willing to socialize.

As a result, I was seeing with new eyes. My gaze settled on the towering brick smokestack of Jefferson Elementary across the street. For the first time, I was struck by its magnificence.

It's a fine monument to the Industrial Era, almost regal in its bearing, rising above the fray of everyday concerns. It seemed a relic of a more civilized age, a time when people were dedicated to more noble ideals than making money and paying the bills.

I saw it through the grainy, awe-inspiring filter of distance. The rarefied air surrounding it hung heavy with gravitas. It carried the mantle of incorruptible tradition on its lofty crown.

I wished for binoculars to see what appeared to be fine detail on the stone ornamentation around the tall, blocked-up windows near the top. Think about it: This is a 6-story, free-standing industrial chimney for an elementary school, and they bothered decorating the top story. What building today would receive that kind of treatment?

It's worth remembering that our society didn't always treat its buildings (or people) as carelessly as it does today. If we really wanted to, we could resurrect that sense of civic duty. Are we willing to look up from our own lives long enough to give others the consideration that we'd like from them?