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Stephen King's gotta have it!

Our columnist on ”pop dope” — the movies, books, and TV he’s really high on right now

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Stephen King’s gotta have it!

Columnist’s note: Unlike most of my columns, the following was written without the aid of search engines. A person should not need Google to keep track of his obsessions.

Definition of pop dope: It’s what you gotta have. You can lay off for a while — the way I can lay off McDonald’s for a while — but eventually the craving kicks back in and you gotta gobble. You find yourself in front of the TV with the clicker in your hand, or at the local cineplex, cold sweat on your forehead. Take Transformers. It’s a forthcoming Michael Bay movie — but my fellow addicts already know that. Most of Bay’s body of work has had the cinematic nutritive value of a Cheez Doodle pizza, but still I’m nuts to see that movie. Gonna be first in line. More: Gonna get a box of Junior Mints and a big popcorn with a double dose of that monkey sweat the theater chains do not quite dare call butter, then salt the frak out of that beauty. Gonna sit dead center in the third row, where the Dolby intersects. Got my time and treats all marked out, y’see. Because it’s pop dope.

This season’s biggest pop dope: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. No doubt. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. Ordinarily I can get any book early by promising to review it, but when it comes to Harry, nobody gets it early. So I’ll be in line with everyone else, but I can push little kids out of my way, because I’m bigger. Size and age, that’s my edge. And you’re going, ”Would you really push a little kid to get the new Harry Potter, Uncle Stevie? Surely not!” I won’t cop to it — maybe I’m just playin’ witcha — but I do have an ”I’d walk over you to see the Who” shirt. And besides: You gotta have what you gotta have when it comes to pop dope. These are the Quarter Pounders of the soul we’re talking about, Big Macs of the mind, cheese fries of the imagination.

I may think people who dress up as aliens at Star Wars conventions are dorks, but I’ve already got the date the Will Smith version of I Am Legend opens marked on my calendar. And I’m writing this just 11 hours before the final installment of The Sopranos. I don’t have to say any more about that, except that if faccia di merda Paulie Walnuts doesn’t go down, I’m going to write David Chase a letter of complaint.

No addict waiting for the Man ever waited more patiently than I did for Scott Smith’s second novel (the first, A Simple Plan, was published in 1993). Finally I was rewarded with The Ruins. I didn’t just buy it; I scored that sucker. Last year, while reading what seemed like thousands of short stories (I was editing an anthology of them), I came across Scott Snyder’s remarkable collection, Voodoo Heart. That was excellent pop dope. So now I’m waiting for a novel, and chortling because the guy’s so young. He’s capable of producing stuff I can crave for the rest of my life.

But it’s TV that’s been the most reliable purveyor of pop dope in the last few years, and it illustrates one of the shiniest facets of entertainment addiction: Even when the stuff’s bad, you keep buying, hoping this time you’ll get some of the primo stuff that hooked you. Remember the spectacular second season of 24, when President Palmer (the believable President Palmer) and Jack Bauer (the believable Jack Bauer) were trying to keep the believable terrorists from blowing up L.A.? I got that season on DVD and sat there in front of my TV hour after hour, slamming in new discs and hoping that Jack would whack the abusive father who was terrorizing Kim. Last season’s 24 was only a pale imitation, but I’ll be back next year, hoping for a return to the good stuff: more thrills, less filler.

And sometimes you get the good stuff. Take Battlestar Galactica. Excellent pop dope! I’ve been downloading season 3 from iTunes at a faster and faster clip, sending them over to my TV by way of some agreeable Macintosh juju, and then pigging out. I know one of the major characters dies, but not which one. My money’s on that tough old geezer with the eye patch. And yes, I really think about these things. Maybe I shouldn’t, I’m sure it’s not cool, but I can’t help it. Pop dope, baby. It gets into your brain and just simmers.

Also, the pusher sometimes gives up a little extra. More Jericho episodes, for instance. Radical!, as we used to say in the glory days of my youth, when I stood for 45 minutes in the pouring rain, waiting to buy a ticket to see Bonnie and Clyde.

And hey, there are worse obsessions than the pop cult — believe me, I know. A good popular entertainment can brighten life with anticipation before and spark hours of good conversation afterward. There are a hundred other examples — we haven’t even touched on Heroes and Lost — but I must check my favorite Sopranos websites. Only 10 hours to go until the final episode. Of course, at 10 p.m. tonight it’ll be over…or will it? If Tony survives (I’m betting he will), there’s always the possibility of a movie. In the meantime, though, I’ve got to check those sites. Today that’s my job.

There’s nothing like a good obsession to help a person keep his priorities straight.

What’s your pop dope? Tell us your obsessions below.

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