No one ever keeps their New Year's Resolutions, do they?

A calendar is such an arbitrary thing, and not everyone follows the same calendar. Even for the majority celebrating TONIGHT, there's variations. As I write this, there are still two hours left in 2004(though by the time I finish this long entry, certainly even less that that). Yet due to time zone differences, it's already 2005 in Europe and Asia. And when it is 2005 here, other parts of the United States will still have 1-3 hours left in 2004. Yet people mark a moment all the same, as a turning point to make changes, major changes, and “turn it all around.”

I used to make big plans but eventually stopped because I never followed through. People often set their goals too high and the first time they falter, give up completely. A person may vow to call his middle school crush after 3.5 years at a different school and ask her to his senior prom, only to spend the next few months hanging up after six digits at every attempt and missing the prom altogether. People have resolved to give up snacks and lose 30 pounds, and by noon on January first have found themselves sitting alone in bed with an empty 13 Oz. Doritos bag. No one I know, of course. ::cough::

On Monday I mentioned an idea I was considering. Thinking about resolutions, I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of fantasy resolutions, major changes I should make in my life within the unrealistic boundary of one year in which I do EVERYTHING. Not only would this serve as a study in human nature, possibly touching on the failed resolutions of any who might read and relate, but it would also be fun to document and compare 365 days from now, to see if I actually did any of it. So what follows aren't exactly resolutions since I don't make those, but a list of things I SHOULD but more than likely WON'T be doing in 2005. Enjoy!:


Not going to happen. In college, I hardly exercised except for walking from class to class and marching in parades. My weight fluctuated on the sole basis of my diet. If I wanted to drop 5-10 pounds I'd go a week or so without snacks, and it'd be gone. At 5'6”, I think 150 pounds is a good weight. I haven't SEEN 150 since the summer before my senior year of college, unfortunately. As we get older, it's a fact that our metabolisms slow down. This is especially true for those with sedentary lifestyles who spent the amount of hours I do sitting in front of a computer, both at work and at home. My diet has vastly improved the last few months, theorizing allergies might have something to do with the fatigue I've experienced. I can't remember the last French Fry I ate( a blatant lie: it was October 23rd at 6:27PM), and I've added a multitude of fruits and vegetables as well as vitamins. Every morning I have a banana and in the afternoon usually an apple, sliced melon, or tangerines. For exactly two years I've been going to the gym on a regular basis and doing large amounts of cardio. Before slowing down this summer, I would generally run 3 miles on a treadmill in a half hour, then take another half hour to ride 10 miles on a bike, then take a break to lift weights, then finish with another 3-4 miles on an elliptical machine. Through all of that, my weight dropped from 190 to a disheartening 185. That's pretty much where I stay no matter how much I work out or how many snacks I eliminate. It would be nice to be back in the 160s at least, but my guess is that by the time I see that number on a scale I'll be several decades older, and several inches shorter. I should lose weight(my parents are unanimous in believing I'd feel healthier with the extra weight off), but I don't think it's something I can achieve.


I learned how to drive on a 1981 maroon Monte Carlo. It was my dad's, although it had belonged to my music teacher before that. My dad took great care of that car before, during, and after it was his, and lasted me until the end of 1998. By then many things were wrong with it, most notably a rotting body. My dad had welded old metal signs from his old shop on the underside to prevent my feet from falling through rust holes and going into ”Flintstones” mode. It was a great car, getting me back and forth to school in Queens as well as to gigs in Brooklyn and my girlfriend's out on Eastern Long Island. But in the Fall of ‘98 she took a job in Massachusetts and though I planned to continue to see her, if biweekly, my dad informed me that there was no way I would be going with THAT car. Shortly before junking it my dad accidentally hit a rock with a lawnmower, sending it into the passenger side window and shattering it. I still have a shard by the side of my bed, a souvenir of my “Millennium Landau” as my girlfriend had dubbed it(a combination of the type of roof the car had and the Millennium Falcon--her car I had dubbed the “Mirth Mobile”, a Wayne's World reference.)

My job then didn't pay much, under $20,000 which isn't a lot in New York, and I hadn't been out of college long enough to have any real savings. With my dad's help I eventually found a used car, a 1989 Mazda 626. The car served me well, great gas mileage a plus for the four hour drive(which I often shaved to three doing 90MPH on I95, STILL being passed by big scary trucks) to Massachusetts. She broke up with me a few months later, but I'm still driving ”Bluestreak”.

2004 was a rough year, car-wise, though it began a few months before that. On my way home from work a car edged me over to the right on a tight curve where the curb jutted out, and I flew up into the air a bit, coming down hard just shy of a railroad crossing as a train was going by. When it passed and I began rolling forward, it was clear that I had a flat tire. Changing it was difficult in the dark with a crappy flashlight, but a kind lady pulled up behind me and left her headlights on until I finished. It was tough getting the spare out--I discovered my trunk had been leaking and water had rotted a wood board covering it. It literally turned into splinters between my fingers. My luck being what it is, not a mile down the road the air leaked out of the donut. I made it to a side street in a nice neighborhood a good two miles from where I expected the nearest payphone to be, a train station. When there was no phone there, I had to trek another mile until I found a diner.

My dad was at a band rehearsal but my mom was home. She arrived to find me with police, since people in the neighborhood thought I looked suspicious and had reported my presence on the side of the road. Fortunately her spare fit, but this wasn't the end of my car trouble. A month later, my car wouldn't start after a short drive. The problem persisted for months, my dad unable to diagnose it. If I let the car cool down for a few hours it would start but if I tried to start it again after a half hour or less, it was completely dead. We replaced fuses, the starter, the battery, and more, and just when I'd given up entirely and decided to just buy a Saturn, my dad fixed it, finding a small broken wire in the air filter. He was able to find a working one in a junk yard, and the car's been running fine ever since.

If the first half of 2004 was marked by a defective car, the latter half was marked by a defective driver. Ever since some health problems I encountered in June, which I've already blogged about in painful detail, I've been getting shortness of breath and dizzy spells while driving. I've been in two car accidents in the past six months as well. First at a Fourth of July parade my dad's 1985 Monte Carlo was sideswiped by a minivan at an intersection. He floored it when I told him they weren't going to stop, saving my life, but it still caught the back of the car and spun us around 180°, ripping off the bumper in the process. Insurance totaled the car, though my mom has been reluctant to part with it for sentimental reasons(even calling my old high school for a bumper sticker because she couldn't get the old ones off). Now it's just sitting in the yard rotting, to my dad's great annoyance. A few months later on the way to work I was rearended at a traffic light, damaging the bumper on my Mazda. Fortunately, the other driver's insurance covered the body work. And when my car was inspected a few months ago, they found my muffler had a leaky gasket, which was sending fumes up through the hole in my trunk. So my dad and I put in a new muffler, and bolted metal over the holes.

I've really gone off on a tangent here and I apologize; the point is, I've never had a new car and though my car is fine, I think I associate bad things like carbon monoxide and dizzy spells with it, even though we've fixed that problem. I can't drive with my windows down this time of year since it's not healthy. I think I have an associative anxiety disorder; though I have gotten the spells driving my parents cars, they aren't as bad. I'd hate to dip into my savings and splurge for a stupid psychological assuagement, but I've had the car a while. It's probably time to get a new one, and maybe next year I should. Historical precedent tells me it won't happen, but who knows.....


I screwed up my only possible opportunity in 2004, though as my mom pointed out, I shouldn't go out with the first girl that shows interest in ME; I should find someone I like. Still, my last relationship lasted over two years and the fact that she pursued me was not only a turn-on, but gave me some confidence and security. There's nothing worse or more embarrassing than thinking you have a shot and making a play, only to find out she's already spoken for. I've only made that mistake twice in my life, though the first time I later found out the guy was someone I was something of a friend with, adding to my guilt for hitting on his girl. Still, nothing is gained without risks. Maybe I didn't screw up with the girl from the party--at a subsequent meeting she seemed cold when I said hello and I thought she was mad, but later complemented me on a drawing I had done months ago and had used many times since. Maybe I should at least talk to her some more and become friends, find out her religious and political stances and see if she IS someone I could like. It's probably too late for that though. I should find SOMEONE next year. Six years seems like a long time to be alone, even though I was alone longer than that before my ill-fated dream relationship. Since then I've been in this catatonic state, going through the motions, partly stunned that I was once again a dateless loser and partly afraid to pursue someone new in case she came back; any time I was interested in someone, it always felt like cheating. There have been at least six girls I've seriously considered since her that have all proven out of my reach for one reason or another. I don't really know WHO she is right now, but there's got to be someone out there for me--the first track on the mix Rey made is a song by Harry Connick, Jr. that sums up these feelings quite well. Maybe 2005 is the year I meet Mrs. MCF...


It's expensive to live around here, and nearly impossible to buy a home on one salary. I always thought I'd get married and that buying a home would be something my wife and I would do together. I don't want to rent an apartment because I consider rent a waste of money, and anything I could afford even with what I've saved would be too small to house all the crap I own and refuse to part with. Between my parent's health issues and my own, it seems like there's safety in numbers right now. A few years ago I almost bought a house, mostly to make myself more “worthy” of someone I had my eye on. It's fortunate that when I crunched the numbers with my parents I found I wouldn't have any money left if I bought it. We learn from mistakes, but it's better to learn BEFORE making the huge ones. Yet it's an annual tradition to eat Chinese food with my parents on New Year's Eve(except for the few years with my girlfriend and the one year I saw my friend Mike's band headline a club), and tonight I had an interesting fortune: YOU WILL MOVE TO A WONDERFUL NEW HOME WITHIN THE YEAR. I'm Catholic though, so I don't really believe in superstitious stuff. ;-D We'll see.....


I've had dial-up since 1999 and though it's better than the nothing I had before I had internet access, 56K really sucks. First of all, the most I've gotten on rare occasions is 12K; I usually average 5. I can't watch large movies, and even small flash files take a few minutes to display. I miss out on a lot of great online gaming and it's limiting sharing a phone line. Just a few hours ago while watching the AWESOME movie Collateral, I decided to look up one of the actors whose voice I recognized but not his face(It was Mark Ruffalo looking very different than he had in 13 Going on 30, the only other movie I'd seen him in). Anyway as my computer clicked on to dial there was silence, and then two bewildered 60-something-year-old women shouting, “Hello! Hello? Hold on, I think someone's on the line!” My mom came running out of the bedroom, complaining that it was only 9:30 and what was I doing going on before 10PM? I apologized and explained that I didn't know she was talking to my Aunt, and that I only wanted to look something up very quick.

If I had DSL it would not only be much faster, but I could go online anytime without interfering in my parent's calls. DSL rounds out my list of resolutions, but as I hinted the other day, that changed already. Yes. I did it. I ordered DSL. My equipment arrived yesterday. The service doesn't activate until January 6th unfortunately, but I can wait a few more days.

So here I am on the brink of 2005, and I've already done one of the things on my list. It's VERY exciting and a big change. I can't wait to see what if anything else on the list I achieve. Hopefully, you'll all be along to see too. So, until next year, be safe and God bless; HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!


Turtle Haze

”Why do you always get sick on your vacation days? You should do something fun--” began my Sicilian Sophia Petrillo-esque mother with a mix of genuine concern and impending nagging, finishing the thought with, “--like clean your room.”

I hope this isn't the flu. Every joint hurts, and I had a headache most of the day which had me in a pretty slow-moving daze. First I was sick, then my parents, and now I seem to be sick again. The same thing happened in a vicious cycle last year for about a month, and I totally blame the hacking monstrosity mixing and matching antibiotics in the next cubicle. I guarantee I'll feel better when I go to work on Monday, and have another relapse by the end of the week. That sounds harsh, but I went through the same ordeal last year at this time. Argh.

I did a lot of drinking today, water that is. And rest. At one point I sneezed and a glob of mucous flecked with blood flew out. That's disgusting. I can't put that in my blog. Eh, that's what editing is for. I'll write the rest of this, and I'm sure my head is clear enough now that I'll remember to go back and omit this entire paragraph.

Something very exciting happened today. More on that tomorrow.

ABC news had a pretty lengthy report on blogging today. Apparently I've jumped on the bandwagon at the height of its popularity and presence in the collective awareness. Did you know bloggers are helping with the Tsunami aftermath? Or that bloggers were under consideration to be Time's people of the year? Or that blogging can get you fired for posting “risque” pictures of yourself at your workplace? I wouldn't post photos of myself online at work or anywhere else, considering the potential consequences. I like my anonymity, and I like my job.

My parents were paying a visit to my dad's sister in a home today. They rarely have the opportunity to visit and holidays are generally spent with my mom's side of the family; we stopped exchanging gifts with my dad's side years ago. I could tell my dad really wanted to see her though, and my mom had gotten her a sweatshirt for Christmas. If my head wasn't heavier than normal and my thighs didn't feel like they were breaking with each step I took, I might have joined them. My mom generally can only take my dad's sisters in small doses, especially this one. I heard a story the other day of when they were first married, and the first time my dad's sisters were visiting. They were stunned to see my dad helping out with the dishes and freaked out, shoving him out of the kitchen and shrilly scolding him for doing “a woman's job.” If it was Everybody Loves Raymond, then this tale sounds like my mom was Deborah facing off against four Maries My mom used to work in a phone company with the Aunt they visited today, and when one of her friends(later my godmother) was fixing her up with my dad, she assured her that he was nothing like his sister.

So there was some definite tension in the house today. My dad wanted to go early, but my mom had “projects” to do. She's been varnishing our kitchen cabinets, and doing so this morning bought her some time. Meanwhile, against her advice he called his sister early to let her know they would be coming. He should know better by now. Even though he told her 3PM, she impatiently called within 20 minutes of his initial phone call at noon. She was also placing “orders” which was annoying my mom. She requested pizza which my dad agreed to as a treat for her, but my mom pointed out when his sisters “treat” their overweight sibling, my dad yells at them. The more Italians yell at each other, the more they care. I don't understand it, but we all care a LOT about each other apparently. I've heard him tell her things on the phone like, “Why'd you eat that? That's why you're FAT!” but I think he saw the season as an exception, and genuinely believed if they brought her food she wouldn't go on to have a second dinner later that evening in the home. His naiveté was optimism, borne from the right place in his heart, but likely naiveté all the same. I'm sure she ate more after they left.

When he called again at 2:30, she changed her order and instead asked for a chicken cutlet hero instead. My dad agreed, but my mom got really annoyed by her behavior. At this point in time I was lying in bed feeling like there were wooden stakes through every muscle, but when I heard the yelling and the door slam I staggered out to mediate.

My dad was sitting in the car, having told my mom in a huff, “Fine! I'll go by myself then.” My mom was leaning on a chair exasperated, and told me she envied me for getting to stay home. I was the voice of reason and pointed out that though my Aunt was acting like a child and treating them like room service, and that what she was asking for wasn't healthy, she should still go and be there for my dad. It was clearly important to him. He came back in at this point and my mom caved and joined him.

Hours later, I awoke as they were returning. My dad's face beamed as he told me how his sister's face lit up at the sight of the hero, and how she devoured it. He was really happy to have brightened her day in that lonely place, though by the expression on my mom's face I could tell that the sight of my aunt devouring a large, messy sandwich and not offering to share was a piggish spectacle to behold. Still, I think she did the right thing by going, even if the sweatshirt my mom got my Aunt was too small and she must now find another gift.

If yelling is one way Italians show love, food is definitely another. Growing up with four sisters in the 30s, I know my dad and his siblings worried about food, even though my grandfather ran a convenience store and they often “ate the profits.” My dad's not overweight because he's always done constant physical labor, but he eats several meals a day of varying sizes. Breakfast at 5:30. A sandwich or an egg around 8. A snack of plain low-fat unsalted pretzels around noon. Another sandwich at 3. Dinner at 7:30, although he often complains we should eat at 4 “like normal people”. And finally a snack of dried cereal during primetime, before going to bed at 9:30. He's been known to heap massive amounts of spaghetti on my plate, leaving barely any room for sauce, and then yell at me for adding butter because it “will put weight on.” He's told me, “Take seconds; finish this up!” within minutes of suggesting I “should do sit-ups or something.”

A wise online associate once shared this pearl of wisdom with me: “Irony is not a construction material.” In my family though, it's definitely part of the foundation.


Mixes aren't funny; they're FABULOUS!

”Dude, you have a LOT of angry rock!”

So sayeth my friend Rey as he was rifling through my CD drawer at work yesterday for what was at the time an undisclosed reason. I would have argued, and started to, pulling out discs at random to show my diverse tastes. Rage Against the Machine. SliPKnoT. Megadeth. godsmack. Alice in Chains. And so on. I did have several albums from my favorite band back in college, Pearl Jam, as well as the odd lighter soundtrack such as A Life Less Ordinary, but they were definitely outnumbered. I suppose my Cypress Hill album could have been used to argue that I have angry rap as well in that drawer, but it wouldn't have exactly been the right argument.

Despite considering my tastes to be diverse, the majority of stuff I listen to tends to be ”K-Rock” music, the sort of music I was made fun of for NOT being familiar with in high school. My friend Mike, always on the cutting edge of what's in, gave me a cassette copy of Nirvana's Nevermind when I was a high school senior, opening up a whole new world for me. I was into grunge by the time he was into Ska, by then fronting his own band in college. I catch up with him about once a year these days with his globetrotting and active social life, so I've long since given up looking to him to get a jump on an upcoming trend. It was hard enough to keep up when I saw him every day in school. I had some other friends in my neighborhood around high school that got me into pre-sucky Metallica dubbing the black album for me and soon it's even better predecessors. By the time I was in college I was not only into Nirvana and Metallica, but Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and STP as well. Sawyer had a line on a Lost rerun tonight along the lines of the irony of becoming the very thing he was hunting. People who weren't my friends mocked my ignorance of their music. People who were my friends helped educate and expose me. My enemies are long gone. Those friends moved on to other types of music, and some moved on with their lives. But I'm still listening to that stuff.

What DID I listen to before the end of high school? When I was a kid, stuff from my mom's generation. Every morning she played Jonathan Schwartz on WNEW AM, and I was exposed to: Sinatra. Tony Bennett. Duke Ellington. Count Basie. Steve and Eydie. And many more. In fourth grade I pretended to like Michael Jackson more than I actually did, buying paperback books from the school book club to impress the blond girl I had a crush on at the time who was a real Michaelphile. In middle school kids were in to Bon Jovi and The Beastie Boys. I genuinely enjoyed their music myself, yet in a somehow less cool way. Perhaps I should have kept spoof lyrics like “aw mom you're just jealous it's the yeastie boys!” or “shot with a fart and you're to blame” to myself. I'd have gotten less beatings, and possibly dated before I was 20.

I guess it was the beatings made me wise. Make-out sessions with my girlfriend after college were often supported by Jewel, Dave Matthews or The Foo Fighters. We exposed each other to our tastes in music. There were both overlaps and new discoveries for each of us. I remember one cassette she made to tell me how she felt. Apparently my love was ”better than ice cream.” Dave Matthews and the Cranberries were among those who rounded out that wonderful tape. In my only attempt at such a venture since the fake radio shows I recorded when I was in elementary school, I returned the favor. I don't recall what songs I put on there for her but I know it was a big hit. She listened to it in the morning on her commute to our job, a small company we were both hating by that point except for the joy of seeing each other every day, and a place where we kept our relationship a careful secret for two years before she was “downsized”. Apparently the tape brightened her day since she came in beaming, the effort not to look at me more noticeable than ever. First chance she got she pretended to drop a paper near my printer and from behind it as she picked it up whispered a quick “I love you.” That's an awesome memory for me.

Music is an important part of life, and one of the strongest things to ground memories. It can move us in many ways. The “angry” music I listened to in college got me through more late night painting sessions than I can imagine, the fast tempo crucial in moving and motivating me. Some days at work it still does. In the day and age of CD burning software and IPODs, it's easier than ever for friends to share music, experiences, and life. As it turns out, the reason Rey was rifling through my CDs was to find songs to include on a “New Year's” album he was making for several of his friends. He didn't use any of my “angry rock”, but did compile an impressive range of emotions from sadness to wistfulness to angst to inspiration to hope, thus cementing the spirit of the times into a fabulous memory. Thanks, man!


I got nothin’

I didn't get any new movies tonight, so I won't be reviewing anything.

I suppose I could blog about “toughing it out” and making it through another harrowing drive home, or talk about how frustrating it is to not go a simple 15 miles to or from work when I used to drive to other STATES, last year by myself in a bad rainstorm no less. I like driving. I miss worry-free/fatigue-free driving. I'm getting there. This morning and tonight were rough, but better than yesterday. More importantly, I'm feeling good otherwise, really good. I biked 10 miles in the gym tonight.

Contrary to what I just said about feeling good, I am getting a tickle in my throat that I'm praying isn't a relapse--it's too soon to get sick again. It's been COLD here though, and I often have to open my window when I get those “nodding off” spells in the car. Walking from the gym to my car in shorts and a t-shirt isn't smart either when it's 17 degrees. Despite all my own stupidity, I still lay some blame on my cubicle neighbor who twice a years gets some kind of really bad infection and coughs constantly. Worse, I overhear horror stories of her self-medicating. A few weeks ago she was talking about using some leftover antibiotic that her husband had from the DENTIST. Earlier today I heard her talking to a doctor finally, but only to report that she'd missed her dosage and was going to “double up”. At first she expressed shock when he apparently told her she had to now wait a month before resuming taking whatever it is she was on. Later in the conversation he finally reached her as she laughed, “I really messed up THIS time, huh?” She punctuated that with raucous laughter that quickly turned to barking. My mom had repeatedly recommended I bring spray disinfectant and obnoxiously spray over my wall the next time this happens. Fortunately she's out the rest of this week and I'm off Thursday and Friday, so I only have one more day to spend in the infected zone. Which is good since my office seems to shut off the heat every day at 4, and I find myself freezing for the next 2 hours. 3 counting the time I'm down in the gym which is no warmer, but I don't feel it once I get moving.

Wow. My dad mentioned as he was going to bed the latest death toll he'd heard on the news. 56,000. That's inconceivable. I live near a shore on Long Island. If something like that happened here...it's crazy. What a horror for those people. My dad thinks the end of the world is coming; he just told me to “put my house in order” and “ask Rey what the bible says about the end of the world, if it's fire or if water's involved.” It really is an unimaginable disaster of biblical proportions. Inconceivable.

I haven't finished Wolves of the Calla yet....I'm about a third of the way in, maybe less, and I expect to get through another big chunk this coming weekend. It's awesome so far, and I'll definitely dedicate a post to it when I'm through, but not yet. Not tonight.

There is one thing I could blog about tonight, except it kind of ties in to that great idea I alluded to yesterday. What happened tonight changes part of what I was planning to write, but I can still include it, so it will have to wait until another day. Until Friday. Tantalizing readers seems to work for my friends Jerry and Curt. Does teasing equal ratings? Stay tuned....

So I got nothin', just another NLTB™ post. Check back tomorrow for something of many words, and little import.


Thunderbirds are GO!

I don't always know what I'm going to blog about. More accurately, as the day progresses several ideas coalesce but when I finally sit down, I find myself writing about something altogether different. I have what I think is a great concept percolating, but I'll save it for later in the week. As I sat in gym today listening to the music that was playing, I paid real attention to the lyrics to The Bad Touch by the Bloodhound Gang with a mixture of shock and amusement. I was definitely familiar with the refrain, but some of the lyrics really stood out. It's amazing that something can be both corny and inappropriate all at once. Several times I was given pause as I wondered(not aloud, only by effort), “Wait, did he just say he's Ebert and she's getting ‘two thumbs up'? ‘Like the lost catacombs of Egypt, only God knows where we stuck it'? What the hell??” These lyrics are at once terrifying and brilliant. I just wanted to get that out of the way before moving on.

After surviving yet another commute home, I settled in to watch the latest movie to come to my doorstep, this year's live-action Thunderbirds. I thought it was at once terrifying and brilliant. As a kid's movie, it had a similar flavor to the Spy Kids franchise, though less savvy in nods to parents. It'd be nice to have kids of my own someday with which to sit down and enjoy something like this together. The original Thunderbirds was about ten years before my time, although I have vague memories of seeing reruns of those puppets on Saturday or Sunday mornings when I was a kid. I don't know if director Jonathan Frakes was a fan himself, but opinions are pretty diverse on the IMDB boards, where those with better memories of the original series than I seem upset. I'll have to refresh my memory and rent those someday. This definitely struck me as a “kid power” movie with the adults and vehicles as more of the backdrop to the children's crusade, and on that level it was enjoyable enough. Presented now in approximate chronological order are random thoughts which popped in to my head as I watched:

“Wow, cool title sequence...reminds me of Catch me if You Can's a little.”(later confirmed in Frake's commentary as being the same company)

“Wait, this was directed by Riker? I wonder if Xanatos will have a cameo.”

“Who is this kid? Does Rider Strong have a kid brother in the business? Tobey Maguire's kid brothers got to act in Spider-man 2 and give him his mask back on the subway. What kind of name is Rider Strong anyway? It sounds made up, like a porn name or something. I'll have to look that up later and see what his real name is.”(later confirmed that his birth name is “Rider King Strong”; decided to forgive parents for naming me “Mysterious Cloaked Figure”)

“Man, Bill Paxton is in EVERYTHING I've seen lately....A Simple Plan....Club Dread....Spy Kids 3D....what's up with that? He's got a cool voice. He's no Bill Pullman though.”

“HEL-LOOOOOOO Nurse! Looks like I have a new celebrity to stalk. Looks like Lady Penelope is just there for all the dads watching this movie.”

Ben Kingsley. What a great actor. I have to make sure this isn't the only film I've seen him in. It can't be.”(It wasn't, but there are some glaring must-sees on my list)

“These kids are REALLY blonde, especially that one in the space station. There's a real Aryan thing going on. If this was a Lethal Weapon movie, Mel Gibson would be shooting the Tracy family while Paxton made the fatal villain error of explaining his schemes and Danny Glover was still ‘gettin' too old for this.'”

Anthony Edwards, excellent actor and once the star of the hit series E.R. I think leaving was a mistake if this stuttering scientist named ‘brains' is the best he can do. Seriously, I never thought I'd see the day Anthony Edwards was playing a nerd.

“That is NOT Kathy Griffin...?”(It wasn't)

“God she's hot. So British. So blonde and proper. So many bubbles in that bubble bath. This is an awfully long scene though....oh right, I hit pause.”

This stuttering kid is starting to annoy the hell out of me. Someone warn Jonathan Lipnicki his career may be threatened!”

“Whoa, that was cool.”

“That was cool.”

“Getting bored....wait, was that telekinesis? What the hell?”

“These vehicles look like big toys. Which makes sense given the source material. Still, I hope the live-action Transformers looks better than this.”

“Right. Let the ten-year old and his friends fly off to stop the terrorist alone. It's not like these kids know magic. I've forgiven a lot of the outlandish plot twists up until now but---ah, Lady Penelope is going with them for adult supervision. Mmmmm, adult supervissssiii...I gotta get a girlfriend.”

“Do it! Strike him down!

“Aaaand it's over. Hey there's seven minutes on the timer, I bet that something happens during the credits. Let me fast forward....”

“OK, I can't believe the credits were seven minutes long. Guess it was all the effects. Time to rate the movie on Netflix. It was really a ‘3' but I'll factor in that it was aimed at kids, had cool effects and entertained me, and throw in a 4th star. Now to sit down and write that great post I had in mind since last night. Or maybe I'll save it and review this movie. I should mention that damn song that was playing in gym before though....I'm sure I can find a seamless way to integrate it into a post about the Thunderbirds....”


Therapeutic Bleeding

Early medicine involved treatment with leeches to bleed away an affliction. This practice was eventually abandoned as doctors learned more, although in recent times leeches have not only resurfaced but maggots as well, to eat away at dead or diseased tissue in a living patient and promote healing.

I was thinking a lot this morning about an ordeal I went through in the Fall of 2000. I've tried not to talk about it much since after it was over I spent weeks talking about nothing BUT my surgery, a topic I'm sure those around me eventually tired of. Everybody has medical woes from time to time and I needed to get over it already and stop making myself the center of attention. It was also a particularly graphic tale. I'll warn readers now that though I will endeavor to be tactful, at times details will be unavoidable.

I recovered from my operation just fine but in the Summer of 2002, sharp abdominal pangs sent me back to the doctors, and for months I was on Nexium and having various scans and tests on my gall bladder and kidneys and ultimately finding no reason for my perpetual nausea and pains. Eventually I stopped with the medication and began feeling like my old self, and in January of 2003 joined my company's gym. From then up until a few months ago, I felt the best I'd ever felt. A dizzy spell on a treadmill stopped me back in June however, and I waited anxiously for my heartbeat to subside in the locker room. I tried to drive home but only got a few blocks before pulling over and drinking an entire bottle of water. I made it a little further to a shopping center where I let my seat fall back and waited for my breathing to normalize, and my left arm to stop tingling. I didn't think it was a heart attack, but I was in no shape to drive, and found a payphone from which to call my parents. The subsequent half hour sitting in my car was very frightening, but once they arrived I began to feel better. When we got home I felt all right, but still wanted to go to the hospital to be safe. Fall of 2000 was not the first time I'd had the aforementioned graphic symptoms that led to my surgery. In February of 1999 I experienced them for a week, at one point collapsing on my bathroom floor begging God, “no, please, no.” I was embarrassed and told no one, not even my parents, that I was bleeding during bowel movements. It went away on its own after a week and I foolishly dismissed it, only to have it return with a vengeance two years later. Even then I put off going to the doctor, and nearly bled to death before being hospitalized. Subsequently, with the stomach pains in 2002 and the dizzy spell this summer, I've taken things seriously. I fear becoming a hypochondriac since no one takes seriously he who cries wolf. but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

So I spent about five hours in the hospital that night, enduring a number of inconclusive tests. I was sent home and told it was probably “just a bug” but to follow up with my doctor. I called in sick the next day and though my doctor was unavailable, met with another doctor in his office who was. She checked me out and found nothing irregular save for a skipped heartbeat which she chalked up to caffeine and told me to give that up immediately. Just to be safe I was sent to a cardiologist, especially with a history of heart disease in my family. Those tests found nothing as well and he chalked it up to “a bad day.” I was scheduled for a follow-up with the first doctor to have my thyroid checked out, but in the interim had to play a feast in Brooklyn. I was fine up until we were about to begin the procession, and then felt very lightheaded. While my dad and the band went off without me, I guiltily lay in a pew in the back of the church waiting for my heart to stop pounding and my head to clear. It eventually did and I tracked down the band, to try and play, but only made it a few blocks before I had to rest again on a nearby stoop. Afterward, the band leader insisted on paying me despite my protests. And my dad insisted on a return visit to the hospital as well. Once more I was checked out, and once more tests found nothing wrong. This time the doctor I saw suggested I “go to Hawaii”. The next day I had to play a gig up in the Bronx and the feelings returned, but I forced myself through, although I had my dad drive us to and from the gig.

A week later I had more blood tests for diabetes, lyme disease(I had played paintball in some woods weeks prior to the symptoms), and some other possibilities. Upon a return visit for results the only thing the doctor found to be positive was a past Epstein-Barr infection, which is quite common and doesn't cause fatigue in everyone. She dismissed my fatigue as viral but I continued to struggle with weird symptoms. Swollen glands. Occasional zoning out and hearing loss. Falling asleep, especially at the wheel. I took to the psychotic practice of dragging my dad with me to work every day in case I needed to pull over, and having him take the car home and return for me in the evening. I began exercising again slowly, and taking vitamins while cutting out any foods I thought might be giving me an allergic reaction. These days I feel pretty good 90% of the time, although the “headiness” and fatigue return in stressful times, particularly when driving. I've gotten it in meetings, in church, and during gym as well, in situations where I think how bad it would be to pass out in front of so many people and subsequently FEEL THAT WAY. Repetition has helped build confidence with the driving; after a while I stopped taking my dad with me, and I've driven myself enough times to convince myself that I'm not going to pass out. Keeping my mind diverted is important too.

This morning I had some of those feelings at the beginning of mass. As I sat there with my mom, I started thinking about my surgery in 2000 and composing the tale as a blog entry in my mind. I thought about how strange it was that, at the time, I was making all sorts of promises to myself, from the serious to the stupid. I remember one silent vow to stop lowering my eyes when I passed people in the hall, and give them a friendly greeting no matter what. If I was ignored or got the old, “who the hell are YOU to be addressing ME!” glare then screw them, but at least I'd try and not care what they thought of me. My life was going to be DIFFERENT when I got out. I was in the hospital for eleven days then, and spent four more weeks at home while I healed from having my intestines resectioned to remove a Meckel's Diverticulum and my appendix removed “while [they] were in there” as my surgeon put it. Other than it being a frequent topic of conversation upon my return, life went back to normal quickly, almost abnormally. I had almost died, and yet settled back in to my routine as though nothing had happened. I expected things to be different, that I would have made major changes, like in the movies. I thought e-mailing the tale to my ex-girlfriend would bring her rushing back to me in a fit of sympathy and we'd reconcile, but our e-mail exchanges were very matter-of-fact on the subject with no soap operaesque romance and we gradually stopped corresponding altogether. Things sort of fizzled there. Life went on and I had no trauma and little difficulty functioning. Sometimes it bothered me that I didn't react more, but I didn't dwell on it.

As I thought about it this morning, and put the tale into words in my mind, I felt healed from my current affliction. It was as though something that had been bothering me had “bled out”, simply by allowing myself to think about it. Sometimes it bothers me when my mind wanders in church and I don't hear the readings or the sermon, but I think taking the time for quiet reflection to discover things buried within me was an important part of healing. I fully intended to write about it tonight to continue that healing, but writing in general and blogging in particular often takes one in directions he or she was not expecting. I ended up writing a lot more about THIS YEAR than I intended. I think the problem I had in 2002 started out as food poisoning perhaps and turned in to something more because of underlying stress from the earlier, serious problem. I think this year was no different. I may indeed have been fatigued from some infection during the Summer, but the less the tests found the more worried I became, the more time I spent just sitting around thinking, “What's wrong with me, My God what's wrong that they're not finding and is only getting worse?” Indeed, there are many times while driving when my mind will wander from this irrational worry, and I'll have this realization that I've driven a few miles without any trouble, only to have the trouble resurface the second I allow myself to think about it again.

These days, I'm getting more sleep and eating better, if not right. I carry a cell phone. I've been back to the gym and I've played dozens of gigs since the two most problematic ones back in June, including a fourteen hour procession in Hoboken. So I know I'm okay with all this evidence. Rationally I know I'm just fine and not dying; convincing my subconscious especially when behind the wheel has been trickier. Fear of death isn't rational though; we're ALL dying. I need to let this go to move forward. I know tonight has been a particularly long ramble, even for me, but it's something I needed to do. Blogging as therapy. Now that my tale has been told and I'm not bottling things up, I hope I can move forward. I feel a little better already, actually. Wish me luck....


Sweet Christmas!

...as Luke Cage would say. It's a great expression, though I suspect lost on the modern incarnation of the character I first encountered in Marvel Tales #100, which reprinted Amazing Spider-man #123. Upset over the death of his friend Norman Osborn(and unaware that Osborn was in fact the Green Goblin), J. Jonah Jameson hires the freelance hero Power Man(Cage) for $5,000.00 to take down Osborn's killer, Spider-man. 300 pounds of solid muscle, Cage is more than a match for Spidey, who survives their first encounter by using his opponent's mass against him. Their second confrontation is settled when Spider-man webs up Cage and tells his side of the story, seemingly successfully since Cage returns Jonah's money. I miss the ‘70s version of Cage. The ‘90s saw Marvel modernize the character, shaving his head and giving him high-tops and brass knuckles that spelled his name, trading one era's stereotype for another. It'll be interesting to see Cage and Spider-man interact as New Avengers though. And from what I've read, Cage's girlfriend Jessica Jones has an interesting backstory in the pages of Alias and The Pulse, whose trade paperbacks I might have to pick up at some point.

Speaking of sweets, and Christmas, I've had plenty of both. My mom cooked an outstanding Italian meal for my dad, her brother, and I, and later we enjoyed pastries my Uncle brought and cookies she had baked. The acid dancing up in to my throat now is a sure indication that I overdid it, but it was nice at the time. My uncle left early, since both of my parents are still recovering from the colds I inadvertently gave them. Out of the blue as he was putting his coat on, he asked me if I had more time off and I mentioned that though I was back at work on Monday, I was taking off again the following Thursday for yet another four day weekend. He advised me to take my vacation days, and lamented that he never went on any vacations while he worked, at one point accruing as many as thirty unused days, a familiar tale. After he'd left I asked my mom if they had been talking about my own recent health issues which I've reluctantly attributed to stress, and she said they had not. Why do people keep telling me to go away? A more neurotic and paranoid individual might think people were trying to get rid of him. On the other hand, maybe 2005 will be the year I do get away, once I'm feeling more like my old self. Realistically, I don't know where or when or if I'll ever feel 100% without taking a real break, but it's certainly something to consider. But of course my Uncle retired early for various reasons and lived off of stocks, and frequently goes on trips with fellow veterans and friends from A.A., and never got married. There are pros and cons to the source of the advice I was given tonight.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to wish anyone kind enough to read this column a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas. I hope everyone is healthy and had a great day, and enjoyed their presents, including MCF writing a rare short article. Peace!


Sweet Relief

My dad hates to be late. For this reason, he almost never goes to church with my mother and I since my mom is the exact opposite. My dad goes to bed at 10 PM and gets up at 5 AM, no matter what day it is. He always has and always will. He's always gone to the 7:30 AM mass, which he usually arrives for at 7 AM. Getting there early insures a good parking spot, a place to sit, and saves him the “embarrassment of walking in late.” Going to parades with him has always been particularly stressful, since he reminds me at 15 minute intervals throughout the day what time he wants to leave. And when we do leave and I ask why he's driving so fast since I was ready on time, he usually snaps back with something like, “I told you I wanted to leave at 3:15! It was 3:17 when you came out! You're just like your mother; I don't know why you people never want to go anywhere on time!”

I'm definitely more like my mom in the regard of time. I'd rather stay up late than go to bed early, and prefer sleeping in. It's a struggle to leave on time for work no matter when I get up. If I get up a half hour earlier, I somehow end up taking a half hour longer getting ready, and leave at the same time I always do. Over the years, my dad has yet to realize that incessant nagging isn't much of a solution. In fact, it sometimes has the opposite effect. When I was a teenager I'd slow down out of spite; these days it's not spite but a lack of motivation that slows my progress.

I tried to do my shopping early but in typical fashion, time slipped through my fingers. I did do the majority of shopping for my parents a month ago and had gotten toys for my cousin's kids a week ago, but had put off the rest of my family until this week, finally settling on Old Navy gift cards. Still, I felt I should get them something small to open to attach the cards to, and so set out shopping on Christmas Eve of all days. My mom tipped me off to some stores in the area, and I managed to get hats, socks, scarves, picture frames and other suitable ”chachkas”. I had that nodding off feeling while driving, even short distances, and began formulating a new theory that I was subconsciously holding my breath. It made sense, since I was worried about breathing fumes in my car, that I would stop breathing. I did some reading tonight and though it feels like I'm not breathing, it may be the opposite. It might be a form of hyperventilation even though my pulse is slowing, not quickening. Working on breathing through my nose and relaxing seems to be the way forward. I even found a spot-on description of what I've been feeling the past few months: ”... they are experiencing symptoms that feel life-threatening. They go to numerous doctors and are told there is nothing wrong. They conclude that they have some mysterious condition that will kill them any day and the doctors aren't smart enough to find it. With each treatment that is unsuccessful, their conclusion is strengthened and their fear—and panic attacks—get worse.”

Knowledge provides relief. Relaxing and avoiding stress does as well, but stress is a family trait I've inherited. Tonight being Christmas Eve, my family was going to an 8 PM mass together. There was an earlier one at 5 which my dad would have preferred to go to because it was earlier, but my mom didn't want to go that early. All day long he would ask us, “We're leaving here at twenty to eight, correct? You people are going to be ready?” It's about a 5-10 minute ride, but as I've said, he hates to be late. Despite the nagging, I managed to get myself ready with minutes to spare. My mom, on the other hand, was still getting ready as of 7:30, and so every five minutes he was calling in to see if she was ready yet. At one point he suggested to me that he might just go and have us meet him there. I tried to be the voice of reason, pointing out that it was more important to arrive together as a family than be on time, and that there was no penalty for being late. It wasn't a sin, and he didn't know anybody to be embarrassed. No one was going to point and laugh, and there would be parking spots as well as places to sit. He was silent and pensive, and I really thought logic had reached him. He then calmly walked down the hall, opened their bedroom door and yelled, “HOW ABOUT I GO MEET YOU PEOPLE THER--oh, you're ready.” As she was putting on her coat my mom, clearly miffed, told me if I ever get married “make sure you help your wife on with her coat.” I hate when I get put in the middle of old couple bickering. Sometimes we're like the Barones(sans Raymond since I'm an only child).

We raced to mass which was frightening since my dad's vision and judgment is bad enough during the day. At one point after the fact of drifting half in to the right lane he asked me if anyone was there and, terrified, I said yes. We got to church on time and the mass itself started at 8:03. I could sense him fidgeting next to me at that. I was also nervous when the priest cracked a joke reminding people what day it was. “I bet ya forgot, but it's Christmas eve.” He has a very nontraditional stand-up comedian approach which my dad hates so much he actually started going to a different parish where the priests were serious, solemn, and traditional. I'd have him read Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery”, but I don't think he'd get the significance. Early on in the mass I felt like I was passing out, and I unzipped my jacket and loosened my collar. As the service went on, the feelings subsided. Afterwards, I offered to drive. My dad held the door and helped my mom in to the car, and it was a pleasant ride home. He was glad that the priest only made 2 or 3 jokes and it otherwise felt sacred, like we had attended a mass. I mentioned my theory to them about holding my breath, which I was considering while having those feelings in church. When I got home I went online and found those articles I mentioned earlier.

This is probably the most stressful time of the year for me. But with shopping, wrapping, and now mass behind me, there's definitely a significant sense of relief.


Sweet Nothing

What a marvelous day. I did absolutely NOTHING.

Today began late last night when, instead of going to bed early so I'd be rested for work, I stayed up and watched a movie until 2 AM. I may not be the target demographic for Mean Girls, but surprisingly I enjoyed it nonetheless. Great cast, solid performances, and a frighteningly accurate anthropological study of the high school social caste system that made me glad I'm no longer in high school. It also contained one of the most shocking “I did NOT just see that!” moments since Meet Joe Black. Which is probably a massive spoiler if you've only seen one of these movies...right, moving on then...

It was raining this morning but I didn't care. I got up and threw some waffles in the toaster oven and threw Serendipity into my computer. My ex would have loved this movie and had we still been together in 2001, we almost certainly would have seen it together. She was a John Cusack fan to the extreme of frequently saying how much I resembled the actor. Since I look more like a slightly overweight Rob Schneider/”Squiggy” type person, I should point out that she wore contact lenses and was very infatuated with me for some reason before coming to her senses and moving as far away as she could and then dumping me. That sounds bitter but the tone is meant to be ironic/humorous; it's just hard to convey tone in writing sometimes. Anyway, Serendipity was light and fun, and who wouldn't fall in love with Kate Beckinsale. Just don't analyze some of the decisions characters make too closely and the plot works. And definitely don't question anything as deep as faithfulness vs. true love. I would have enjoyed it more with a companion, but I had fun watching it all the same.

Finally around 1PM I got dressed and went to the post office to mail back my movies. The “nodding off” feeling wasn't so bad and didn't hit me until I thought about it. When I rolled down the window for the drivethru at Taco Bell, the fresh air revived me. And since I don't plan on driving for the next three days, I saw no problem with breaking my strict diet and having a treat for lunch. I didn't get any fatigue from the tacos nor did my face swell, but I did have a slight headache. For a change of pace in the afternoon I watched decidedly different movies from the previous ones, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Freddy vs. Jason. I had seen the latter in the theater but had borrowed it from a friend to check out the alternate ending. When I didn't recognize anything in the beginning, I realized the other reason I wanted to borrow it; I had walked in late when it was in theaters and missed a good ten minutes of it.

As for the RE sequel, I thought it was AWESOME. Roger Ebert may consider it the 8th worst film of the year, but I'd bet he hasn't played the games. I saw scenes taken straight from cutscenes in the game, and some visually stunning action sequences and makeup. Plot elements and dialogue that made for great game moments were finally incorporated into the film. The first movie suffered from trying to tell its own story, and having a looser connection to the games. This one is a love letter to the fans, and it shows. Maybe critics should limit themselves to certain genres they enjoy. Certainly that was the feeling I had listening to some of the dumb comments on the Matrix commentary so far. There is something to be said for universal appeal certainly. The best comic book movies are the ones that everyone gets and enjoys, not just the people who've read the comics for years and had preconceived notions of what they'd like to see. Certainly my liking Mean Girls is evidence that, done right, a movie can appeal to a wider audience than intended. Yet there's nothing wrong with a cult favorite either, and a film dedicating itself to pleasing one niche of the population. There's something empowering about being part of a small group that “gets it”, and being able to rise above everyone else's negative opinions. That being said, I'm definitely going to see the inevitable RE3. And maybe next week, I'll compile a top and bottom 10 list of my own....


Sweet Freedom

I'm living from weekend to weekend lately, and with a vacation day tomorrow and a holiday Friday, I'm looking at a blissful four days.

No driving.

No deadlines.

No struggling to find diplomatic, non-accusatory/confrontational methods of getting people to do their jobs so I can do mine.

No staring at a pile of unfinished work hanging over me, or feeling the weight of truth, that once I do get to it there is no sense of accomplishment, because by then there's more work that I'm worrying about getting to. No dreading the next 30-40 years of that cycle continuing, if I live that long.

No putting off basic amenities like using the bathroom or getting a drink of water until I “finish designing one more page.”

No getting up early.

No shaving--at least until Christmas when my Uncle comes over. Wait, going to an 8 PM mass with my folks Christmas eve....ok, so TOMORROW I get to not shave. Sweet. Stubble rules.

No more lines--got the last of my shopping done today.

NO stress.

Yes DVDs.

Yes staying up late.

Yes sleeping late.

Yes video games.

Yes sweatpants.

Yes web-surfing.

Yes reading.

Yes writing.

Maybe junkfood....maybe...

I'm exhausted. I had the same spells driving again tonight, the low pulse and shallow breathing and a clicking sound in my right ear joined the party. Stress is clearly turning me in to a hypochondriac. Wound tight to the point of breaking, I'm definitely looking forward to a blissful four days of rest, relaxation, and decompression.

I'm free to do what I want.... free falling...



Everyone is guilty of it at one time or another. Drifting. Daydreaming. Mind wandering. Life is short but there are things that are tough, things we need to just “get past” or “get through.” We complain that there aren't enough hours in the day. We wonder when this day will end. It's a state of supreme paradox. I drive better when my mind wanders, when I listen to the radio or think about work or things I have to do, when I'm not thinking. When I do, as with this morning and tonight, I get odd panic attacks. I get really tired. My pulse slows down. It seems like I've stopped breathing, but I'm probably hyperventilating without realizing it. It was a rough ride home after a good workout, which is odd because exercise usually perks me up, and I had the best treadmill run I've had in months, although during cool down mode my pulse dropped from 173 to 64 in record time. I don't know if I can trust the instrumentation on those things though. I can't rule out the psychological factor of seeing the number 64 and subsequently feeling weak. I drove home without pulling over, without giving in. There were many stretches of road in which I realized I was driving without concern or symptoms, only to induce them upon the realization. It's definitely an uphill battle.

I was in a fog before I went to gym though. This morning I had a meeting, and those always mess up my brain for the rest of the day. Once a month I meet with my team to show them printouts of the catalog I'm working on, as well as discuss what they want for the next issue. Generally exhausting in themselves, the meetings also leave me with the big question of “What Do I Do First?” upon returning to my desk. It seems to get worse as I get older. I'll decide to work on one thing at a time, but constantly change in the middle. After the meeting, I saw that several illustrators had e-mailed me sketches for book jackets I was designing. These had to be forwarded to my editors with my thoughts and subsequently when they added their feedback, I needed to reply to the artists. Several times I started writing one e-mail, had another one come in, and forgot I had the e-mails sitting open and unfinished. Then there was a phone call about a new jacket I was commissioning. The artist was unavailable but his agent had e-mailed me samples from other clients. I had to review those, and suggest alternatives to my editor. Suddenly, it was lunchtime. An excursion to a friend's home to play video games seemed like a good diversion at the time, but possibly only made things worse.

By 4:00 I was utterly bewildered. I hadn't even touched the catalog we had discussed in the morning, not one page. I had revised a logo on ONE JACKET DESIGN that my boss had asked me to fix shortly after the meeting. I had no idea where the afternoon had gone. I had typed up a request for missing images to submit with a layout to our prepress department, and then forgot it was in the printer. Several times I launched a program only to forget what I was about to work on. I was continually distracted by the sounds around me and had difficulty focusing. The woman across from me was very loudly yelling at her teenage daughter on the phone, that “NO IT IS A BIG DEAL!!!! A ‘D' IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!! WHY AREN'T YOU DOING YOUR HOMEWORK?? BECAUSE IT'S HARD? YOU STILL HAVE TO DO IT!!!” She slammed the phone down and exasperatedly related the tale to her cubicle neighbor, who in all fairness probably had pieced the story together as I had from the mother's half of the conversation. She suggested checking the girl's homework, or calling the teachers to check when the kid comes home and says she doesn't have homework. The mother was not hearing it and complained she didn't have time for all that. It was a rare moment that I was glad my parents had time to check my homework, and be skeptical when a teacher didn't give me any or I had less than three hours worth of assignments at the end of the day. I was never an ‘A' student and I never became rich from my chosen profession, but I can't say I ever brought home a D.

The woman in the cubicle next to mine is contagious in many ways. All afternoon I was listening to her hacking and coughing, and telling friends on the phone how her cold “just comes and goes.” She was also telling everyone in sight how overwhelmed she was, and how she just wasn't being productive. It made me question my own struggles. Were we inefficient, or was it just too much work? This woman was frantic because she was taking a single vacation day and though she had a freelancer coming in to cover for her, still wasn't making the progress she wanted to make. Around 6 PM one of our in-house illustrators passed by, wearing a jacket and hat and clearly headed out in to the cold. He joked with me that I could go home and he meant to tell me that earlier. In the middle of our conversation she just started talking to him about assignments she needed him to do while his supervisor was out, and he mentioned that he was swamped and probably wouldn't get to anything before Monday. It was in one ear and out the other as she continued and explained she was out the rest of the week and wanted to be at peace knowing something was getting done. He continually told her they'd discuss it Monday but she simply started explaining what she wanted him to do verbally. He obviously wasn't taking notes and wasn't going to get to her artwork in the next day and a half, and though it was late and he was leaving, she was in another place, a work-induced fog. At one point she complained that she'd have to come in tomorrow or Thursday to pick up a package because she had ordered gifts that hadn't arrived yet. She used the work address because she was “never home.”

So I looked at the folders I was organizing, at the torn cover sheets that I had filled out and trashed when I realized I'd used the wrong ones, and thought about the ugly fog in the mirror before me. I shut down my computer, turned out my lights, and just let it all go. It's too much. All around me people who HAVE spouses and children and lives surround themselves in this fog that they don't seem to see. Only by seeing others in it could I see myself in the same fog. At some point these people must have had more than work to have gotten married and had kids, two things I never did. What the hell was I doing there at 7 PM in a daze, doing crappy work because it was too much and I was mentally and physically exhausted? Fueled by a sudden clarity, I went to the gym and had an awesome run. I still had a rough ride home because I think the damage had been done already, and one exercise session won't mend accumulated stress and fatigue.

Kevin Spacey had a great line in American Beauty which I watched tonight, about feeling like he'd spent most of his life in a coma and was suddenly waking up. The Fog is a dangerous and seductive trap, and many of us have rare escapes from zombie-like states. I like those moments of clarity, when I feel like I'm fully breathing and my head isn't in a vise. I like being aware and alive. I have to figure out a way to experience those times more frequently than I do. I hope it's not a natural numbing that occurs with age. Spacey's character explores radical and dangerous solutions to achieve his state of truly being alive, none of which I'm inclined to try.

I will say this; writing is one of my solutions. Organizing my jumbled thoughts into rants and rambles like this often helps me to focus and break through the fog. Ironically, work clears my head too, when I'm not tired or overwhelmed and I'm getting things done. Like most things in life, I guess it's just a question of balance.


Cold Day in Hello Operator

On Saturday, my mom expected it would snow yesterday. It did not, although there was some rain later in the day. I feel like the seasons have been shifting, weather-wise. It stays warm well in to October. It snows in April. So I didn't put much faith in the weathermen's call.

At some point in the limbo of dreams, I heard a tapping which drew me in to consciousness. I thought, ”Tis the wind and nothing more!” Yet it persisted, and so I stumbled, half-asleep to my windowshade and lifted it to peer out in to the night.

The sun was not yet up but snow covering the world tends to make it much brighter. And set against this sudden bleaching was a shivering 74 year old man in a crooked knit Giants hat partially off his head, clutching a snow shovel and shivering. It couldn't be Roberts Blossom; there was no scraggly beard and wild eyes that would scare Kevin McCallister until he saw his heart and understood the true meaning of Christmas or something. No, this was my own father, stammering something that was lost between the windowpanes and the wind. I got the gist of it though; the backdoor had frozen, sealing him out when he went to get the paper.

I moved as fast as my state of partial paralysis would allow, misreading the kitchen clock as 7:45 rather than 6:45 and thinking “O Cwap! I'd overslept!” Oversleeping is bad. I let him in as he stated the obvious about how cold it was out there. Sure enough, the metal latch on the outer door was frozen solid. You could get out, but not in if it closed all the way.

The main problem was that it had rained first and then the temperature dipped severely. We only had 2-3 inches here, but it was enough. I bundled up and headed out to clean off my car. The door was frozen shut and despite being unlocked, I thought the handle would come off in my hand before the door itself budged. I let the car run as I worked at the ice, feeling my own body temperature dip and my movements slow. I was not going to be able to stay out for long and decided to head in for breakfast and a break before tackling the driveway. In the tail end of a bad cold, my lungs weren't letting in that much air to begin with. Despite clogged arteries, increasing dizzy spells, and growing fatigue, I heard the familiar sound of my dad coming outside to be at once stupid and admirable. I admire his strength and stubbornness, his ability to always keep going and let little slow him down. I wish I had half his work ethic and focus. But I've been worrying about his health for the last ten years since we learned of his heart condition, and since he's been dizzy and his blood pressure's been frequently low the last few months, I've been especially worried. Nothing seems to stop my dad, and I don't want to see that happen. He's the most stubborn person I know, and direct confrontation is futile. I've tried every tactic I can think of when it snows to get him to go back inside, from a direct request to a more subtle, “I want to do this”. It only makes it worse. He takes it as a challenge and only does the opposite. So I had little choice but to let him help with the car, and he fortunately couldn't take the intense cold for more than a few minutes either. We went in and I had breakfast, and when I went back out to tackle the driveway, the exact same thing happened. I tried to help him clean his car and he told me through gritted teeth to get out of there. I began shoveling the entire width of our driveway and he told me to just shovel behind my car. Ultimately, my only “sane' recourse was to work faster than he was, something surprisingly easier said than done. Years of real, physical labor have left him far stronger than my sedentary lifestyle has left me. I shoveled most of the driveway though in record time, and felt it.

There's nothing worse than coming in from 14 degree weather drenched in freezing sweat. Your surface is ice cold but your insides are hot, and its a feverish feeling without the added problem of a cold. I was wheezing very badly right up until I left for work, and the slow crawl through snow and sand behind an endless line of cars was torture. It took me over an hour, well over twice my normal travel time, and I thought for some time I'd pass out at my desk. I felt better as the day went on and because today was the awards luncheon for a gym competition I was in, didn't actually leave the building until 7:30. Sometime in the afternoon I realized I hadn't even had my 10AM banana slices, I had been so out of it. Thankfully, when I came outside from gym it didn't seem as cold as it had this morning, and my door was not frozen.

Today is December 20th. Potentially, this may be what we're dealing with for the next three to four months. Here's hoping they go by quickly.

One last humorous aside: as I was furiously typing away about ten minutes ago, my mom shared some anecdote about her friend's cat that I half-listened to and mumbled in assent. She stood in the hallway for a moment, the air thick with silent motherly concern, before sharing, “I hope the FBI isn't going to be knocking on our door because of whatever it is you're doing there.” As I reread to her the last few things I had typed, the first four sentences of the paragraph beginning “The main problem was that it had rained first..”, a smile slowly graced her face and she walked away. And, now that she's “bought it”, I can get back to my real evil schemes....;-D



Roland of Gilead is not of our world. The gunslinger and protagonist of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, he is on a journey through many worlds, some we've seen in other King novels, along with a party of characters from “our” world. I won't spoil the epic saga for any who have yet to read it. Currently, I'm reading Wolves of the Calla, the fifth of the seven-volume series. Early on in the book when Roland's companions, his “Ka-tet”, tell him of the various genres of literature in their world, he is puzzled over the separation. “Do people in your world always want one story-flavor at a time? Only one taste in their mouths?” he asks. “Does no one eat stew?”

The Matrix Trilogy was ultimately loved or hated by critics and fans alike. It is a series of films that work on many levels at once, borrowing a lot from various theologies and philosophies as well film genres, most notably science fiction, action and kung fu. The Wachowski brothers have never publicly offered their own interpretations upon what the films were supposed to be. Like any great work of art, they remain open to myriad perceptions. There's not necessarily any one correct take, although some are better than others and the viewers' enjoyment seems wholly dependent upon which reading they subscribe to. Those seeking a simple special-effects typical Hollywood action-fest may be disappointed in where these movies end up. The commentary I listened to today cited one critic as saying he “didn't want to think in his action movies.” They didn't name the reviewer, but I vaguely remember hearing that ridiculous statement. I should probably add at this point that this post WILL contain major spoilers for those who haven't seen these films.

Dr. Cornel West is a notable African-American Harvard professor who enjoys a small role in the second and third films as a member of the human council. Ken Wilber, author and philosopher, joins West in a very insightful commentary track on all three films. Both seem to explore common traditions and characteristics of various faiths and ideas in this world, and how the Wachowskis, in their opinion, explore them in the trilogy. Their views of faith and religion are strictly academic and anthropological, and should be taken as such, but they come to a fair interpretation of the movies that holds up. Here are some of the ideas they explore:

1) There is a Trinity of existential levels being explored, the body, mind, and spirit. The realm of the BODY is the “real” world, filmed primarily in blue tones, the world where humanity survives in Zion. Man has a physical body as do their enemies, the machines. The second realm is the realm of the MIND, which is the Matrix, which is filmed in tones of green. We see a lot of cool martial arts, gunplay, and car chases in the Matrix over the course of the films. While we are seeing physical representations of confrontation, these are actually conflicts of THOUGHT, as humans plugged in to the system confront the programs, and physical bodies are merely avatars, representations of self-image. Revelations that characters such as The Oracle are programs show the deceptive quality of this realm, and the complexity of the films beyond a simple clash between good and evil, and man and machine. Finally, there is the realm of the SPIRIT, represented by gold. Only as his powers grow is Neo able to perceive this level, and understand the true nature of the conflict. Man built the machines but the complex programs grew sentient, developed “souls” of their own. Man was flawed, and it was man that rendered his world unto darkness to destroy his enemies. The Matrix too is a flawed system. Therefore....

2) ...neither side can prevail. A typical Hollywood ending would be man's victory over machine, the destruction of evil by good. But both are halves of a whole and representative of the dualistic nature of existence, that one cannot survive without the other. Neo destroys Smith in the first movie, but in fact frees him. After likening humanity to viruses in the first installment, Smith himself emulates humanity and goes on to replicate himself over and over. He even manages to cross over into a human body at one point, the first clue of the commonality of spirit. It is as futile for Neo to destroy him as it would be for him to destroy Neo. Ultimately, a union of both takes place and only then is there resolution between the worlds of the mind and the body. Neo sacrifices himself for all beings, a true messianic trait. And yet....

3) ...many things he does counter not only religious ideas of what a savior should be, but the very things the aptly named Morpheus dreamt of. At the end of the first film, the most self-contained, it seems that the prophecy has been fulfilled, that Neo is in fact the One. But when you watch the movies as a whole, the initial film isn't as self-contained as it seems(And the latter two don't hold up as well on their own, particularly the third one). Neo still questions his role, even after accepting that his mind can do amazing things within the Matrix. Many times people turn to their “savior” for answers, and his response is “I don't know.” He honestly doesn't, he's honestly human, and perhaps this demonstrates some sly brilliance in casting Keanu Reeves as someone without answers. He has doubts, and his choices are undeniably human. He chooses to save Trinity over Zion it seems in the second film, putting eros over agape, and placing his love of an individual before his love of all humanity. Neo is no god, no perfect being, not even a god made flesh. He's just a man with some gifts, and the fifth or sixth such individual to come along. Yet in not trying to live up to some idealized version of what he is supposed to be, by BEING HUMAN, he succeeds where his predecessors failed. And saving Trinity wasn't damning humanity after all, since...

4)...they're in it together. In the first film she is his guide, the one he calls to for help when facing agents, the only one who can work with him as one in saving Morpheus. When he dies, she brings him back and when she dies in the second film, he brings her back. When blind as Frank Herbert's Muad'Dib, at least to the physical world, Neo depends on Trinity to fly him in to the machine city. And since his perceptions extend to the realm of the spirit by this point, and he sees the beings of light, she needs him to guide her. When she dies, she's still with him and when he confronts and merges with Smith, he dies not long after. They die together saving the world, and man and machine begin a new understanding thanks to their sacrifice.

Obviously there's a lot more to touch upon, but these were some of the highlights the philosophers spoke of that I found interesting, and reasonable takes on what the Wachowskis were saying. Agree or disagree, it shows how multifaceted the films are, and how many levels they can be appreciated and enjoyed. Perhaps some time in the next week I'll listen to the second commentary track by critics, and share that here as well.


Almost Healthy

A sore throat is definitely the worst part of a cold for me. The later stages are no picnic, but are at least somewhat bearable. I find I can function, on some level, with a head cold, but there's a point toward the end of a cold in which my normal perceptions are impaired. I began my day by enjoying Cameron Crowe's awesome semi-autobiographical look at music and growing up in the ‘70s, Almost Famous. Initially, I feared my sore throat had returned when I awoke, but a few glasses of water and breakfast alleviated what was just a dry throat. Tired, I popped in the movie and settled back in to bed. When it was over, my biggest ailment was a nose that dripped like a leaky faucet, but I was a little shaky as I moved about. My dad asked me to help him put some lights out, but I was sluggish, off-balance, and not wanting to expose myself to cold air, selfishly forgetting how much worse it would be for someone his age. I felt guilty and got myself cleaned up and dressed, and decided in a possibly semi-delusional state to drive to the post office and the gas station. My mom had mentioned going to a late mass tonight since snow was predicted for tomorrow, and it sunk in that putting the lights out tomorrow wouldn't be an option. I mentioned to my dad that I'd take care of what he'd asked when I got back, and he accused me of “putting on an act” and “playing dumb” since I “knew [he] already put them up.” My sense of lost time was as great as my guilt; was I really moving that slow?

I put on a hat, something I'm generally loathe to do because of what it does to my hair, and probably bad memories of “keep-away” and people making fun of me for wearing a hat when I was younger. As I type this, it occurs to me that I need to figure out a way to recognize when my behavior patterns are dictated by things that happened twenty years ago, and change them in the now. In other words, I can't let those little snots keep haunting and running my life. Anyway, I staggered to my car in a daze and realized I meant to reinforce the mail with some tape, since either Netflix is using thinner paper or their envelopes are getting more beat up in transit thanks to higher holiday mail volumes. I stumbled back to the window and my asked my mom for tape, who handed it to me. She asked if I was okay to drive and I said yes.

I really don't remember the drive to the post office other than it was without incident because I was either too out of it to think about and cause anxiety, or because a stuffy nose kept me from over-breathing. Suddenly I was there in a parking spot, and panicked when the car next to me backed up without warning, because for a second there was an illusion that I was rolling forward and I slammed my foot on the brake even though I was in park and not moving at all. I laughed the laugh of a fool who should be anywhere but driving a car, and stumbled down the street to the post office.

My mail is so getting lost. It wouldn't fit in the slot and I looked in and saw the stack filling the bin. I managed to slide the movies in but it was a trick. For my next trick, I drove to the gas station which was packed since others anticipated bad weather tomorrow. I managed to fill up and make it back home, the journey again a blank. I realized with some irony that I drive better when I don't know what's going on. There was no soup in the house, so I decided to just lie down until church and start watching my Matrix boxed set. I remember Neo waking up in the pod, and then there was a noise like a chainsaw or electricity. I had a bad headache and I looked at the screen and saw it was on special features. At 3 or 4 second intervals Andy and Larry Wachowski's names were being highlit with an electrical sound effect in the background. Apparently, I'd fallen asleep again.

Mass presented more lost time. One minute I'm kneeling and hoping my nose doesn't drip on the pews and that people don't think me rude for not shaking hands at the peace offering, and the next thing I knew the priest was reading off the mass schedule for next week. It's hard to believe Christmas is a week away and that, after starting shopping early I subsequently did nothing for four weeks and suddenly have a lot of last minute buying to do. The way I spend money, I wouldn't be surprised if my credit card company thinks mine was stolen when they calculate this month's bill. As is the tradition, I offered to drive after mass. At this point I was completely delirious although I have complete recollection of the events. As I repeatedly hit “lock” instead of “unlock” on the keychain, my mom asked me if I was sure I was okay to drive. At a stoplight she punched my arm when I was “resting my eyes.” In Burger King I reached the height of irrationality. I grabbed a handful of napkins and put them in the bag, and grew enraged when my mom grabbed even more. I snapped at her in the parking lot, “TELL me how many napkins is enough!! No matter what I take, you ALWAYS take more! You TELL me what the right amount is so I don't screw up and do something right!” Rightly so, she refused to give me the car keys at this point, yet since she made the mistake of unlocking the car I got in the driver's seat first and refused to move. Eventually she caved and got in the car with a resigned, “What do I care if you kill us; I'm old.” I got us home safely but when my dad began lecturing me that I'm not going to get better staying in my room and should have gotten fresh air today, what SEEMED to me like a transparent dig for not doing any work today, my mom cut off my inevitable outburst and warned him that I was in one of “those moods.” After dinner I lay down again, still not feeling right, and watched the Matrix with commentary by philosophers who used the word ”Manichean” a lot. Did you know the first Matrix is deceptive and that the sequels go on to show the worlds being portrayed are not as Manichean as they seemed? I know I learned something, even though I slept through about an hour of it.

My head is clearing now though, and I think I'm able to string words together in my usual semi-cohesive manner. I feel ready to actually DO something tomorrow, and not lie around feeling useless or dazed. If it snows, I'll get some sleep and be ready to get started before my dad gets back from 7:30 mass. Hopefully, I'll even start wrapping the presents I've gotten already. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get through the other Matrix commentaries and write a decent post about the overall philosophy of the trilogy. And I won't lose track of time.