Lost in America  
(Comedy) (1985)
© 1999 by Raymond Weschler
Major Characters David Howard...............................Albert Brooks An advertising company executive in his late 30 who becomes so upset after he is not given the promotion he wants, that he decides to quit his job and return to his "hippie roots." Linda Howard................................Julie Hagerty David's wife, a personnel director at a major store, who joins David in their search for a better life outside of corporate America. Plot Summary The story of a couple living in Los Angeles in the mid 1980s who are typical "Yuppies." Yuppies were young and urban professionals who grew up in the idealistic 1960s, but by the 1980s had begun to focus on their careers and making as much money as possible. David and Linda decide to give up their Yuppie lifestyle and "drop out of society" after David fails to get the job promotion he was convinced that he deserved. "Dropping out" was a 1960s expression for rejecting the money-obsessed "rat race" of mainstream society, in order to concentrate on more spiritual values, such as sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. David convinces Linda to quit her job, sell their house, and go off to "discover themselves." By taking the money they had saved over the years, as well as the money from the sale of their house, they had $190,000 that they would be able to live on for many years. After buying a $40,000 motor home to travel and live in, they say good-bye to their friends in Los Angeles and head off for their new lives. Before heading toward the East Coast, they decide to make a quick stop in Las Vegas in order to remarry, as a symbol of this new beginning. Unfortunately, it is in Las Vegas that David discovers that Linda has a small "gambling problem." By the time they leave Las Vegas, David and Linda must decide whether its truly possible to drop out of a money obsessed society....if you don't have any money. Words and Expressions that You may not Know David and Linda discuss their lives and the future, and the imminent promotion at work that David is going to receive. KMPC 710 in Los Angeles. Radio Stations in the States are identified by 3 or 4 letters, and by numbers that locate the radio signal. Peabody Award winning. The Peabody is a prestigious Journalism award (Note the grammatical construction of "an award winning person"). What is the modus operandi of Rex Reed? A commonly used Latin term for the general way a person normally does a job or carries out his life. Red Reed is a well known film critic. I like to be fresh. "Fresh" here means to be clean and/or to have lots of energy (although it usually refers to food that is good to eat). A screening room. A room where movies are shown (often before it is released to the public). They're like backers. In this case, "backers" are those who are paid by the movie studio to support, or "back" the movie, by clapping for it in front of other audience members (This is rarely used). Your dry wit. "Wit" is the ability to be funny. A "dry wit" is subtle. It cracks me up. A very common way to say "it makes me laugh." I'll let myself see a G, or PG. These letters refer to the movie rating system in the U.S. which identify the level of violence and sex in a movie: G: General audience (kids welcome) PG: Parental Guidance Suggested (some sex/violence) R: Restricted to those over 17 years old (more sex/violence) X: Adult movies (usually pornography). So you know where I'm coming from. A very colloquial way of saying "what I'm really thinking." You saw lust written all over her face. "Lust" is sexual desire. This is a poetic way of saying that you notice that somebody is "in lust." Locker. A container where you can put things (found in schools and bus stations). Moving company. The people who move your possessions when you move to another house. We're too controlled. As used here, it means too predictable or conservative in the way they lead their lives. Insane. A good little word that means crazy. Responsible. If you're responsible, you take care of your obligations. (If you’re irresponsible, you often don't). Here, however, David seems to think being called responsible is an insult! Don't call me names. To "call somebody names" is to insult someone, as in saying "you're such an idiot." Old, stodgy, and stuffed up. They both mean "snobby," which is when a person thinks they are naturally better than other people. "Stuffed up" can also mean that you have a stuffy nose. Personnel director. In big companies, the person who handles the job-related needs of other employees. Promotion. A key word for this movie: An advancement in the company, usually with a bigger title ("Vice President"), and more money. I'll have stock in the agency. "I’ll have a financial interest in the health of the company." I can fool around now. A very common way to say "do things in a not very serious way." ("Fool around" can also have a sexual connotation). Flattered. To be "flattered" is to feel good because you have been told how nice you look or how good or well you have done something. Barbecue. A meal where food is cooked on an outdoor fire (often it is a party that takes place in somebody's back yard). David arrives at work, nervous, but ready for his promotion. "I have got to go." Note that in rapid speech, "I have got to go"---->"gotta go...." Get me the Mercedes. Here, used to mean "Put the Mercedes dealer on the phone." The tile is burnt orange. "Tiles" are wall coverings for kitchens, bathrooms, etc. Burnt orange is a color, though I've never heard this before. What's the matter? The most common way to say "What is bothering you?" A contractor. A builder of houses or other buildings. Life's just going by. Another way of saying "time is passing fast." "Hanz." The name of the Mercedes dealer on the phone. Beige interior, dark brown. Referring to the colors of the car. Out the door, just $44,000. A common expression referring to the final price of a car after everything from tax to air conditioning is included. Get a Nova. A Nova was a very cheap American made car of the 1980s (the emotional and financial opposite of a Mercedes Benz). Mercedes leather. Thick vinyl. How Hanz describes the seat of the car. "Vinyl" is a type of plastic covering. I can't commit. "To commit" is to make a final decision (to buy a car, or often, used when deciding to be with a partner forever). I'm being buzzed. A colloquial way to say "telephoned." Note the passive tense. He is coming in for the kill. The point where a salesman is about to make a sale (Also used in other contexts where someone is about to accomplish something important). "Toyle-Dave." Name of another advertising agency. Brad was blown away by your stuff. "To blow away" someone is to greatly impress them In other contexts, it can also mean to murder with a gun! The Knudsen campaign. An ad campaign is a promotional program, probably on TV and radio. "Knudsen" is a well-known food company. We're going to get Ford! "We will receive the Ford Auto company ad campaign." The top of the heap. A "heap" is a pile. Here, this an expression meaning "the best." Senior Vice President. A very high position in a company, just below President. "Phil Schebaneau." Name of the person who got to be Senior Vice President instead of David. Shifted to another account. "To be shifted" is to be transferred. An "account" in a business context is a professional relationship with a particular client. Keep your promises. A common way to say "do what you say you will do." You were grooming me for Senior Vice President. Here, "to groom" someone is to prepare them for a particular job (It usually means to make someone look physically attractive). Clever. A good word for "smart," though more common in British English. We have the rights to "New York, New York!" "To have the rights" to something is a legal term meaning to have permission to use a song, or other work of art. It's killer stuff! A very colloquial way to say "It's very good." Make me Senior Vice President! Note the grammatical construction: You make someone something (In this case, a top executive in the company). Your song stunk. Noted here because it is the past tense of "to stink." Thrilled. A nice little word for very happy, or delighted. Let's bring him out! "To bring out" someone is have them enter into view" (from behind a door or curtain). The position is filled. If a job has been "filled," it has already been given to someone else. Fuck you! The quintessential English insult. Very crude, and usually reflective of a lot of anger on the part of the speaker. I was the best man. Usually, the most important friend of the groom at a wedding. Phil Scebaneau is the groom. The groom is the man who gets married at a wedding. I'm sure you don't want to blow eight years with this company. "To blow something" is a very common way to say to do something badly, or in this case, to waste it. Keep your ears open, and you'll hear "I blew it" everywhere. You're fired! "To fire someone" is to terminate a person's job. I'm wasted and over. David's way of saying his life is ruined. If something is "over," it is finished. He's calling the cops. A widely used way to refer to the police. Call security! "Security" refers to people who guard the peace at a company. You bald-headed fart! A funny but very crude insult: "A fart" is the act of passing gas. David doesn't get his promotion, but he rushes to tell Linda that it's still OK. Its time to change their lives.... I used to make fun of my friends who wanted to find themselves. "To make fun" of someone is to tease them, and to "find yourself" is a very 1960's way of saying "to discover yourself emotionally." A transfer. A move to another part of the company (It is also a ticket for the second part of a bus or subway ride). Hairpiece. A wig. I've seen the future and its a bald-headed man from New York! ---This was just a funny thing to say. Quit your job! "To quit" is to voluntarily leave a job (the opposite of being fired). They were jacking me off! "To jack someone off" is a very colloquial and crude way to say manipulate them, but note that "to jack off" is to masturbate! I was on the road to nowhere! A clever and funny way to say "I was getting nothing accomplished." The carrot on the stick and the watch when you're 70! What companies do to keep their employees working for year after year. "The carrot" is the salary, and then "the watch" is the little "thank you" that a company will give you at retirement. The under-qualified son-of-a-bitch! "Son of a bitch," which is often simply said "S-O-B," is crude and common. A "bitch" is a pregnant dog, but usually is a very strong word that refers to an unpleasant, mean woman (as opposed to a "bastard," which is the male equivalent). Seals will eat him. Seals are cute little animals in the ocean. He'll never get to the mainland. The "mainland" is the principal land of a continent (as opposed to an island). Prairie. Open fields of raw land (as in the middle states, like Kansas). Indians. Native Americans who lived in America before the Europeans arrived: Since the late 1980s, it more "politically correct" to say "Native Americans. " Spontaneity. The act of doing something without forethought or planning. The adjective, which is a good one to know, is "spontaneous." We'll find people you can fuck in front of! The verb "to fuck" is the classic obscenity meaning to have sex. In this case, a reference to Native Americans, hippies and others who would (in theory) not be embarrassed by having sex in public. I'm hyper! A common adjective to refer to someone who is very excited and/or energetic (as in hyperactive). A little quickie! Cute slang for sex which is done very fast. Hearth. A somewhat rare word for fireplace. Acre. A unit to measure a piece of land. In the city, most houses have way less than an acre of land for their yard. Barn. A place where animals live on a farm. A usable attic. A room or storage area directly below the roof of a house. A lighthouse. A building to help ships find their way to the coast. It makes sense to me. A very common way to say it seems logical. We got a ride on the inflation train you wouldn't believe! A poetic way to express how much more valuable their house is worth than when they bought it. A behemoth. A funny word for something that is huge in size. Pull out of the new house. "To pull out of" something is to get out, or leave. In this case, it means to get out of the contract they just signed to buy a new house. $15,000 lost in escrow. "Escrow" is a legal term referring to the period of time when some money is given by the buyer in order to reserve the purchase of a house. I'm being conservative. A common way of saying "cautious" (Of course, it's also used politically). A motor home. A house that is also a very big car. $45,000 complete. Here, "complete" means the total price, with everything included. A microwave that browns. "A microwave oven that can turn food golden brown" (yummy). It has wheels. "Wheels" are tires (for a car). $145,000 in cash. In cash, as opposed to stocks, or real estate or other investments. Let's find ourselves! Again, a very colloquial (and almost ridiculous) way to say "Let's discover who we really are, in an emotional or philosophical sense." This is like "Easy Rider!" A key reference in the film: Dave's favorite movie, made in 1969, about hippies who "drop out of society, " in order to travel, experiment with drugs, and generally make fun of "middle America." Cape Cod. A famous vacation resort in the state of Massachusetts. We'll have money left over. Something "left over" is the part remaining after the rest is used. To make a toast. The act of raising a glass of champagne in honor of something or someone. You folks. Colloquial way of referring to the people in front of you. We'll be roaming everywhere. "To roam" is basically to travel without any specific destination. Nest egg. The most critical words in this movie! An amount of money set aside for future needs (a "nest" is a home for birds). I couldn't tell what she was pointing to. In this case, "to tell" is to see, and "to point" is to identify by using your finger. I want to top Ray's toast. "To top a toast" is to try to do it better than it has been done (as in the phrase "try and top this"). "Born to be Wild." The song playing as Dave and Linda leave Los Angeles: It was featured in the movie "Easy Rider," and captures the feel of what Dave is seeking---a wild life, in which he can "roam free. " David and Linda head off to discover America and themselves. Unfortunately, they first stop in Las Vegas. Sweet. A cute term of endearment for a loved one (often "sweetie"). Okie dokie. A very old-fashioned and silly way of saying "OK." (Incidentally, did you know that OK is used in more languages than any other word in human language?!) Melted cheese. A type of great American sandwich. Browning time element. A ridiculous way of referring to how the microwave browns the toast. The Silver Bell Chapel in Las Vegas. A small church where weddings are performed. Las Vegas, Nevada Gambling capital of the United States: An incredibly bizarre place, and worth visiting for a day or two if you don't have a gambling problem. Let's get married at the crack of dawn. The moment that the sun comes up. Camp out. A phrasal verb meaning to sleep outside, usually in tents. A honeymoon suite. A special room in a hotel for those who just got married This is the worst money grubbing place in the world! Referring to Las Vegas: "Money grubbing" people are obsessed with making money, no matter how immorally it is done. Porno movies. A common abbreviated way to refer to pornographic x rated movies. We dropped out of society. As in "Easy Rider:" To reject the traditional values of society. I live moment to moment. "I live spontaneously, without a lot of planning." Junior bridal suite. As opposed to "Senior." A small version of the bridal suite. 100 bucks. A very common and colloquial way to refer to dollars. It's occupied. If a room is "occupied," someone else is already using it. If Liberace had children, this would be their room. Liberace was a Las Vegas entertainer known for his extremely rich and tacky style (like Las Vegas itself). He died of AIDS in the 1980s. There's no tub. Short for "bathtub." I saw "Electric Horseman!" An animal rode through here with lights! A movie in which a horse walked through the casino (and this is why Dave thinks he can walk through the casino in his bathrobe). Go away! A very cool and common way to say "leave!" She's not on a lucky streak. A "streak" is an unbroken series, as in 10 victories in a row. In this case, she is having a lot of bad luck! I was down earlier. Now I'm up. "To be up" (or down) in a gambling context refers to how much money you have compared to when you started (If you're up, you have more, and if you're down, you have less). The core of the nest egg!!! The "core" is the heart, or biggest part. Give or take $1,000 dollars. A common expression meaning "approximately." This is like "The Twilight Zone." Refers to an old 1960s TV show where surreal and bizarre things always happened to people. A gambling diseased person! An ungrammatical (but funny) way of referring to a person who has a problem with gambling. It's like a venereal disease. An old-fashioned way to refer to a sexually transmitted disease (now called STDs, not VD). I'm tracing my life. "To trace" is to literally follow the course of a trail. Here, David is saying that he's reflecting back on his life. A keno card. Keno is a game for betting on numbers which is popular in Las Vegas. My credentials. "Credentials are qualifications, or perhaps job skills. "Ross and McMahon." The name of the ad agency Dave worked at I'm not a jerk. It's my business to have ideas. A jerk is a cool alternative word for idiot, moron, or ass. We were roaming across the country trying to find ourselves. Previously explained: All of this is a truly ridiculous and irrelevant thing to say to a person who lives and works in a Las Vegas casino. We're "just being." Very 1960s slang (a variation of "discovering ourselves"), which once again, is a ridiculous thing to say to person in a casino. Your food and board is comped, free. "Comped" is hotel slang for included at no cost. As a bold experiment, give us our money back! "Bold" means courageous, or in this case, very different from normal. Slot machine. A gambling machine that uses coins, popular in Las Vegas casinos. Jackpot. The top money prize accumulated over time. Hilton A famous hotel chain. I'm talking off the top of my head. "To talk off the top of your head" is to talk without thinking what you are going to say beforehand. Vegas is not associated with feeling. In this case, "feeling" means warm or nice feelings. The Desert Inn. A famous Las Vegas hotel The bold. David's description of "the courageous and brave." We're not like the schmucks who see Wayne Newton. "Schmuck" is a great colloquial term for idiot, jerk, or perhaps loser. Wayne Newton is a very famous, tacky Las Vegas performer. We're carefree. A funny way to say casual and spontaneous. A jingle, a TV campaign. A memorable song for an ad. We can't change our policy. A "policy" is the way things are done (In politics, there is both domestic and foreign policy). Ducks, raccoons, beavers. Cute little animals. "Miracle on 34th Street." A classic 1940s movie. They wound up benefiting. "To wind up" is to finish or end up (note the past tense). Santa Claus. The famous Father Christmas. Macys, Gimbals. Big well known department stores. I have the chills. Here, meaning "I am so emotional." In other contexts, it means to be cold, and when you get the chills, you usually shake. David and Linda leave Las Vegas, poorer than when they arrived. Yell, scream! Other good ways to say "shout!" Let it out! A common way to say "Express what you are feeling inside." Hoover Dam. A famous dam in Arizona. Knick knacks. An interesting term for little inexpensive things such as tiny toys, souvenirs and other small items. You filled up the casino with yolk. A reference to the nest egg (The "yolk" is the yellow part of the egg). Get used to the cement! Note that "get used to" can be used as an imperative verb. In this case, the cement refers to the sidewalk, since they don't have enough money for a house. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. A common expression for anyplace where there are few or no people. Note that here, "we found ourselves" is simply in the physical-geographic sense, not the psychological one I apologize from the bottom of my heart. An old-fashioned way to say "very sincerely." I held in things so long. Here, meaning "I didn't express my emotions." An all night shrink service. "Shrink" is an excellent slang word for a psychologist. The Goodyear Blimp. The blimp that advertises Goodyear Tire Co. above sporting events (A blimp is a huge balloon). Unfortunately, I'm still screwed up. A very common way to say not doing well (in this case, emotionally). In other contexts, "to screw up" something is to do it badly. The nest egg is a sacred thing! Something that is "sacred" is considered holy or Godly. You can point to "things over easy" with toast! Here, David's way of telling Linda to not say "eggs over easy." That's not how you drop out! You do it with nothing! "To drop out" is short for "dropping out of society." I'll stay in Vegas six weeks and then we'll be through. In this case, "to be through" means officially divorced. Hitchhike. The act of holding out your arm and sticking your thumb up in the air, while cars pass by, in hopes of getting a free ride. Bullshit. A great obscenity that generally means nonsense or lies. I rarely recommend using curse words; this is the exception. Holy shit! Another truly great (and curious) obscenity to express surprise, fear or other strong emotion. Thanks for the ride. A ride is the act of being transported in a car, as in the sentence "Can you give me a ride?" A family squabble. A small fight involving lots of screaming. If I wasn't wanted, I'd kick your ass, pal! In this case, "wanted" means wanted by the police! "To kick a person's ass" is common and crude way to say physically attack. Finally, "pal" means friend, but as in the case here, it is often used sarcastically. You're history. A threatening way of saying "you are in deep trouble." Kicked out of the army. "To be kicked out" of an organization is to be ejected from it. (It is also common is say "thrown out"). I showed them! A sarcastic way to say that "I taught them a lesson" (In rapid speech, "showed them"-----> "showed'em.") Pity the man who meets up with me. "To pity someone" is to feel sorry for them. This is a poetic and sarcastic way of saying he is strong and dangerous. Don't make fun of me! "To make fun" of someone is to tease them. Arizona. New Mexico Two States in the Southwest United States A blessing in disguise. A good expression that means that something which looks bad is actually good in the long run. I'm driving a whale. Whales are the biggest animals that live in the ocean. I hate the walk-up. The act of walking up to a place, though this is never used (Here, the police officer "walks up" to the driver). License and registration. References to driver's license and automobile registration, both of which are required whenever you drive in the States. Speedometer. Instrument on the car which tells you how fast you're going. Radar Gun. A little tool that tells a policeman how fast a car he is driving. We get cable and we don't even want it! "Cable" often refers to cable TV. That will screw it up! "To screw something up" is a very common way to say do something badly, or in this case, effect something badly. Hey, buddy. Another slang term for friend, often used sarcastically. This isn't a swap meet. This is an outdoor market where people negotiate prices for goods. Remember the ending when they got blown away? "To be blown away" is to be killed violently, often by a gun (Sometimes, it just means to be totally impressed or amazed). It made my day! "It made me very happy that particular day." He lucked into it. "To luck into" something is to get lucky, or fall into something good, just by chance. Dennis Hopper wouldn't have given Peter Fonda a ticket! Reference to the two actors in "Easy Rider:" A ticket is not only what you need for a concert, but what a police officer gives you for driving too fast! "The Terminator." A very violent movie starring Arnold Scwarzenegger. David and Linda begin a new life in small town Arizona A sweet little creek. A "creek" is a tiny stream or river. For real, a great job. A useful expression meaning "truly." We have no plan of attack to get a job. A common term for "strategy." A delivery job. A job that usually involves carrying things by car. A Winnebego. The most famous type of motor home, and what David and Linda are driving. A high school kid with a Rabbit. "Kid" is slang for a young person. In this case, the Rabbit is a VW car, popular in the 1980s. It wouldn't work out. An important phrasal verb meaning to go well. However, it can be neutral if used in the question "How did things work out?" Down on your luck, are you? If someone is "down on their luck," they are probably going through very difficult times. Employment office. Where one goes to get a job. What can we do for you? Another way of saying "Can I help you?" A catering truck in Pittsburgh. A "catering truck" is a truck from which food is sold. Pittsburgh is a big city in the state of Pennsylvania. A crisis center. A place where people in crisis call to talk and get help. A base salary of $80,000 plus a bonus situation. Many executives get a "base salary plus a bonus," which is their usual salary plus bonus money at end of the year, depending on how well they and their company are doing. What brings you out to these parts? A very "small town" way of asking why you would come to such a tiny place in the middle of nowhere. Crossing guard. A person who helps school children cross the street safely. Plus benefits. In a job context, "benefits" can be things like paid vacations and health insurance. Can you wrack your brain? "To wrack one's brain" is to think really hard. A white collar job. "White collar" jobs are office jobs, including executive positions. "Blue collar" jobs are factory jobs, or involve other physical labor. I made a statement. Here, a "symbolic statement" by quitting his job (i.e. "I'm dropping out of society in order to touch Indians"). Rodney Dangerfield. A comedian famous for his claim that he "can't get no respect." Give me a hint. A "hint" is a great word which means a clue, or perhaps a little bit of knowledge to help the person find what they’re looking for. He's going to sleep on it tonight. "To sleep on something" is to think about something while sleeping, in order to decide the following morning. I'm superstitious. I don't want to jinx it. Two great words to know: "Superstitious" people believe in ghosts and the supernatural. A "jinx" is a curse, or a period of bad luck. Come on! The greatest and most versatile phrasal verb in colloquial English: It can mean "come over here, lets go, be serious, try harder," and as in this case, "tell me!" You're not paid to sit on your ass. A crude way of telling someone to not be so lazy (Your ass is your butt, although "an ass" is a jerk!). Retardo, sucker, brillo-pad-fat-head. Silly insults used by kids: "Retardo" is short and crude for a retarded (or intellectually slow) person. A "sucker" is actually a fairly common term for a loser, or a person who is easily fooled. A "brillo pad" is used to clean dishes, but that last insult is ridiculous and never used. L.A. The only way to refer to America's favorite city: Los Angeles (Also known as the "City of Angels"). When you hit the 70. Highways are often referred to by their number (The 70 goes from Phoenix to LA). What are you sniffing? "To sniff" is to smell, in much the same way a dog does. What's not to like? Poetic way of asking how anyone could not love it (In this case, "it" is the Mercedes). Assistant manager at Der Wenersnitzel. A fairly well-known fast food chain that serves hot dogs. "Skip." The name of the manager at Der Wenersnitzel. That drop-out thing. A very poor way of expressing an abstract concept! (As when President Bush once admitted he didn't understand "the vision thing"). Blah blah blah. A clever and common way of saying "and this and that, and this and that," when it's not worth your time to discuss every individual detail. Fries. Short for "French fries." The point is... A very important way to say "What I'm trying to say is..." Don't get me wrong. "Do not misunderstand me." Were not going to split up. "To split up" is to break up, or separate (Often referring to couples). I thought of a plan and I want to sound it out with you. "To sound out" something is to see what people will think of it. Emergency back-up plan. A plan to use in case the other plan doesn't work. We'll go to New York and I'll eat shit?! A crude and interesting way to say "accept being humiliated." Get way from me! "Leave, go away, etc." Utah. Nevada. Two Western States. Nevada is associated with gambling and decadence. Utah is associated with Mormons and moral living.
___________________ Lost in America Possible Topics for ESL Class Discussion
1) Are their Yuppies in your culture? Hippies? 2) Have you ever wanted to drop out of society? 3) Is gambling a disease? 4) Would you want to live in Las Vegas? 5) Would you want to travel in a motor home forever? 6) What are the advantages and disadvantages of dropping out? 7) Are there any contradictions? If you drop out, do you need money? 8) When you drop out of US society, what values are you rejecting?