The Eyes Have It.

A few years ago, television ads for the film Amelie frequently caught my attention. There was of course the seemingly magical elements of the film, such as a scene of a pig-shaped lamp coming to life and turning itself out. But what really caught MY eye were the eyes of the lead actress, Audrey Tautou. They were large and full of life and mischief, and every time she turned and looked out of the television with that coy smile, I wondered what was going on behind those eyes.

I did not see the movie in the theater. Time passed, and eventually it came to DVD. Several times in Blockbuster I'd pick up the box, with those same eyes drawing me in, but ultimately put it back in favor of other movies. Once I joined Netflix, nearly a year ago now, it was among the first movies added to my queue. When it comes to movies, I have a LOT of catching up to do, and so it is that today was the day I finally saw Amelie.

The close-up of her in the trailer is not the only scene like that in the film, and there are many such scenes throughout. Her eyes are important, because her character is someone who has a unique way of looking at the world. An only child, protected by her parents, she had no friends and instead developed a powerful imagination. In one of the many magical scenes in the movie, the little girl is given a camera to play with, and the clouds she is shooting clearly are shaped like a bunny and a teddy bear. As an adult, she retains her imagination as well as an appreciation for the little things in life, the small details we overlook. She enjoys running her fingers through a bag of grain, and skipping stones across a dam. When she accidentally finds a tiny metal box in her apartment containing the toys of a child who'd lived there several decades prior, she sets out to return them to their grown-up owner. The film goes on to explore how good deeds, especially anonymous ones, prove fulfilling. Yet for all her humanitarianism, she herself cannot truly be close with anyone, and her deeds are done from behind the walls she's built around herself. Even when fate brings her into contact with her perfect match, a man with an equally troubled childhood and equally quirky hobby, she cannot bring herself to deal with him directly. Her stratagems bring her both closer to and further away from him, even as she continues to change the lives of others who are depressed or lovelorn. It's been said that no good deed goes unpunished, but some good deeds are not without rewards.

What did you cherish as a child? Was it a car, or a doll, or some other toy? Perhaps it was a place, beach or a trail or a treehouse. If it was an object, do you still have it or know where it is? If it was a place, when was the last time you went back to visit? I went to yet another beach today, the smallest one in my town at the end of a long street, and one I hadn't been to in years. It was raining on and off, but I made my way down the steps through the wall at the end of that street, and across the sand to watch the raindrops hitting the waves. There was no one else at that beach, and there was a certain magic to the photos I took. When I got home, some of the close-up shots of the stone wall and steps could easily have been somewhere in Europe, had I not known better. In the commentary for Amelie, the director points out that Paris is not as magical as it's usually portrayed, possibly missing the beauty of his own film. Any city has its downside, and I've seen New York City portrayed as both heaven and hell. I may never see Paris in my lifetime, but I've lived close enough to New York to have visited countless times. Heaven or hell; which portrayal is correct? The answer is of course both, depending on where you look, but more importantly HOW. The movie focuses a lot on a particular Renoir painting, and how artists capture the world. The world can be heavy and depressing or magical and if you're looking for magic, the eyes have it.



I've been tagged by Kev Bayer. I know the rules; now that I'm “it” I have to continue the meme, and then make others “it”. In order to do that, I must pick five of the professions listed below and finish the sentence. Seems easy enough:

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an inn-keeper...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be an astronaut...
If I could be a world famous blogger...
If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...
If I could be married to any current famous political figure...
If I could be a dog trainer...

If I could be a musician... I'd want to be a rock star. I think the money would be better than fire department parades and Italian feasts, and I can tell you from experience that women do NOT throw their underwear at brass musicians or ask us to sign body parts with a magic marker. On the other hand, I'm kind of shy and traditional and wouldn't be comfortable in that lifestyle without a LOT of vodka, so I think I'd opt to be a jazz musician, dust off my trombone and remember the old syncopations and improvisations I used to do when I was younger. I'd find a nice cool dark place to hang out and meet quiet girls who dig jazz and poetry.

If I could be a chef... I'd be a LOT more than 30-40 pounds overweight. The treadmills in my gym would all be broken, assuming I still went, and while I'd finally have a marketable talent for attracting the opposite sex, I'd be physically repelling. Damn you catch-22!!!

If I could be an architect... I'd build the home of my dreams on a parcel of land I could afford on my architect's salary. It would overlook water and the beach would be a short walk away through some woods. It would have a large wooden deck and a great backyard for having all my friends over for barbecues. I probably wouldn't have a pool but I would have a jacuzzi or two. My living room would have a very high ceiling and large HDTV, as well as a projection screen for showing movies to my guests. I'd have an island in the middle of my kitchen with pots and pans hanging over it, and black marble countertops. There would be plenty of skylights, and downstairs I'd have a studio with a drawing table, as well as several computers, a scanner, printers, and a drawing tablet. With that kind of pad and my sweet income, I'd surely have a wife and kids, so there would a be a room tailored to her interests as well, and maybe a train running through the house like on Silver Spoons. There would also be a game room with both air hockey and pool tables. I'd have most every video game console, but those would of course be in the living room with the big TV.

If I could be a writer... I'd hope to be successful enough to hire an architect to build me that dream house in the woods, where I could find inspiration for my novels. I'd want to write stories that went beyond the everyday to things that interest me, from science fiction to fantasy to the supernatural, but that were grounded enough in reality and well-developed characters that they'd be accessible to all people, and maybe even bring disparate personalities together. If somewhere in some bookstore a cheerleader and a chess expert reached for my book at the same time, their fingers meeting seconds before their eyes, my work would be successful. It might be fun to write comics as well, and see better artists than I really give life to the characters in my brain. I'm NOT a writer unfortunately, but I think anyone reading this knows I've found an outlet for my desire to write.

If I could be a dog trainer... I'd still be afraid of dogs, but facing my fears everyday in a (hopefully) heavily padded suit. Eventually things I need would get bitten off, but not enough to kill me. By the time I retired, I'd be a shellshocked head and torso in a wheelchair, living in an asylum somewhere drooling and mumbling things like “...so many teeth...” Yeah. If I could be a dog trainer, I probably WOULDN'T.

There you have it, those are my five. I probably could have had something to say about all of those, but for now it's time for me to pick my targets. I shall tag J-No, AverageJoe, and FawnDoo. Carry on, gentlemen. Looking forward to your contributions to the meme.

"When a spark goes online..."

My good friend Rey and his wife just had their second child this morning, a healthy baby girl! Please stop by to read their tale and congratulate the proud parents.


The Beauty of Nostalgia

Television has come a long way in just a few short decades. I couldn't help but notice the difference between the fight choreography on last night's Alias and on the episodes of Knight Rider I've been watching. Things seem a lot more REAL now, but I wonder if I'll look back on today's shows and scoff at things like a bullet being aimed in such a way as to miss vital organs, or someone jumping several stories from a fire escape into a dumpster, getting up, and running down an alley. I find myself chuckling at many things on Knight Rider, like when Hasselhoff walks up to an old man sitting at a picnic table because K.I.T.T.'s scans reveal him to be heavily armed. With the trademark Michael Knight swagger, he saunters up and says, “Excuse me, could I talk to ya for a second?” Still seated, the man suddenly turns and delivers a rabbit punch from less than a foot away and at a bad angle, that still manages to fell a man half his age and twice his height. As the stocky assailant trundles off, Michael, on one knee, gasps into his wristwatch communicator and asks his sentient car to head the guy off. I laughed at the bit, but I loved it.

Today in a supermarket, father-to-be(again) Rey confided in a hushed whisper that he realizes the Star Wars® movies are bad, but he has to defend them. He's a big fan as am I, but we realize that the acting won't win anyone any awards. There's a reason why one man alone from the original trilogy went on to a successful career, but there's also a reason why Mark Hamill starring in a film is a selling point for me.

Last night I ordered the first season of Gargoyles on DVD. I hope it's as good as I remembered it to be. It was an interesting experience when I started watching The Transformers on DVD after not having seen anything other than The Movie in about 15-20 years. I loved the show when I was a kid and thought it was really heavy and serious. Watching it as an adult I still love it, but it's not because of deep dialogue and intricate plots. It's not even for the animation, which has a lot more characters colored wrong or important things disappearing like mouths than I recall. It's mostly because I remember the EXPERIENCE of watching it, of what the characters meant to me as a boy. If I saw it for the first time today, I'd probably write it off as childish garbage like the Robots in Disguise series. The comics, film, and Beast Wars series all treated the mythos with such reverence and importance, that I forgot what the original cartoon was like. I find it hard to believe that, at the age of 12 or so, I once argued with an older cousin that The Transformers: The Movie was superior to anything by Disney; what was I thinking?!

The people we are remember things fondly that the people we once were loved. We're NOT those people anymore, but the beauty of nostalgia is that it allows us to appreciate those things for what they provided our former selves and recapture those old emotions, even if time and aging now allow us to see the flaws. The shows, movies, and cartoons we watched shaped who we would become as much as anything else, so it's good to embrace them and smile, and look back every once in a while.

* * *

On a related note, I watched Dickie Roberts; Former Child Star which surprised me by being smarter and cuter than I would expect from a stupid comedy. Though it wasn't great and they could have done more with it, and there was one element of the resolution that didn't sit well with me, it still had its moments. There was an IMPRESSIVE amount of cameos by real former child stars that had me rolling(especially Emmanuel Lewis.) Name someone at random from any sitcom you've ever watched, and there's a strong chance they show up, if not in the film then in the musical montage during the end credits. I found an (unfortunately)edited version of the video on IFilm so I can share it here. Don't expect the vocal quality of We Are the World, but watch for the proportionate star quality and a chance to see a lot of old friends again.


PBW: Thousands of Words

Normally, my plan with a Photo Blog Wednesday is to choose a picture, and use it as a jumping off point for my tale. Occasionally, as with the first two installments of this weekly feature, more than one photo is needed. Since today's story has already been told in words, this post will consist of more pictures than words for once:

my local beach:

Sagamore Hill:

’nuff said.



Serenity NOW!!!!!

Dictionary.com defines serenity as “The state or quality of being serene” and “a disposition free from stress or emotion.” I've been inexplicably achieving it lately despite all outside conditions. I've developed a “whatever” attitude for all the insignificant things that I used to place far, far too much importance on. I've been relaxed behind the wheel, and taking the long way home along the coast. Is it like Frank Costanza's ”Serenity now”? Am I a ticking time bomb waiting for some little pinprick to burst my balloon of zen? I don't think so. It hit me today driving home that the way I've been feeling lately, is like myself. I have no idea what that means. I also thought “I'm back”, which makes little sense as well. I don't know who I've been or where I was, but it's good to be me. However, all my talk of calmness and a relaxed state of being flew out the window a few hours ago when I saw THIS TRAILER and nearly screamed like a girl, remembering at the last second that I was still at work as were many people.

If only EVERY show FOX prematurely canceled got a feature film like Firefly. It'd be very easy for me to go off on a tangent about how they canceled Tru Calling six episodes into the second season, waited until a month ago to air them, and then only showed five out of six, arguably the best five of the series with a lot of plot seeds left to now wither. This trailer looks HOT and while I'm hoping the sounds in space are just for the trailer and not for the film, I could live with marketing pushing Whedon to put the sounds in for the dumb general public because otherwise, I am excited. Ron Glass is conspicuously absent from the trailer, but everyone else is there. Nathan Fillion is still one of the baddest mofo captains of any sci fi series, and Summer Glau's River gets to seriously cut loose. You do NOT mess with either of these two and not suffer consequences. And I think I saw a R****r, but I'll block out that for anyone who doesn't want to be spoiled. Adam Baldwin is in full form as Jayne and Alan Tudyk gets in the kind of wisecrack that only a Whedon character could. The ships look a little clean and CG but it may be too early to judge that. Hopefully, they can get into this story with minimal exposition for newcomers. All I know is September 30th seems very far away, and I wonder if anyone is still reading at this point. If it was me reading my own blog, I don't think I would have gotten past the words THIS TRAILER.


How did I get HERE?!

I spoke of inertia being my goliath the other day, that opponent that I must defeat though I am dwarfed by it. Lately, a lot of the things that were sufficient to entertain me in the past just don't hold my interest anymore. I get bored and restless, and feel the nagging sensation that there's something I'm not doing that I should, but I don't know what. To that end, I've been taking a lot more vacation days and actually going outside to beaches and parks, when a day in my room surfing the net, watching DVDs, reading, and playing video games were once enough. I've been trying to figure out if it's an early mid-life crisis, a relapse to immature teen years, or just some weird phase, but I haven't come up with a definitive answer yet. I guess I'll be happy when I find whatever it is I'm searching for.

I was still sick when I woke up this morning, and I'll spare readers a graphic description of whatever protoplasmic life form I coughed up. It was cold again, and cloudy, and the easiest thing for me to do on a day I had taken off was to stay in my room with the light out and the curtains drawn, and just rest. I could watch Knight Rider, and play Sonic, and when I got bored with that I could read some old New Warriors(which I felt like nostalgically revisiting after seeing this article). That should have been enough, but all morning and part of the afternoon I bounced from one thing to the other, consistently getting bored. I'd watch the DVD, lose interest, read a few comics, lose interest, play a game for an hour, lose interest, and repeat the cycle. Occasionally the sun poked through the clouds but it really wasn't an ideal day to go out. I'm not a child anymore. When I was a kid if I didn't get to go out an play, I'd get antsy. I should be well past that at my age, shouldn't I?

I didn't have much motivation to go out and couldn't think of anyplace to go, yet I felt it was something I had to overcome. I forced myself to get dressed around 2:30-3, and got in my car. I had no idea where I was going, but the more I drove the clearer my head felt. I went to the nearest beach, the one I went to all the time when I was really young, and one of the few in the area I hadn't hit since this “beach regression” of mine began a few weeks ago. It was high tide and seemed small than I remembered, but I took a walk down the pier and snapped some photos. It started getting cold again as the clouds grew darker, and I felt a drop or two of rain. I returned to my car and let it take me. I thought it was taking me home. I was wrong.

I drove through the wooded back roads of the North shore of Long Island, staying as close to the coast as I possibly could. As the sun came out again and good songs played on the radio, I continued to prolong my drive, making left turns when I should have been going right. I reached a beach three towns away I'd been to many times before, and kept going. I wanted to find what was beyond. As I drove down a road through beautiful estates and past an oddly familiar airplane hangar looking out on the water, deja vu gripped me. It was when I saw the sign for Sagamore Hill that I knew WHY it seemed so familiar.

The grounds were open though the sign said the museum was closed on Mondays. It was very surreal as I drove past the former home of Theodore Roosevelt and pulled in to an empty parking lot. I had not been there since an elementary school field trip, and it was strange to find myself there today. When I first left the house and went to the beach, I planned to just read in the car with the window cracked to get some sea air. Along the way, I pondered a blog entry about how I need ideas for things to do on my days off when I can't stay put at home and it's not beach weather. Inadvertently, I had now found something to do.

I studied a sign posted in the lot. Besides being a historical FAQ, it showed a crude map. I had been to the house years ago, but either didn't remember or hadn't gone hiking on any of the trails. The map seemed to indicate a footbridge of some sort on the far end of the woods, leading to a private beach. I made my way across a field, down a driveway past one of the staff houses, and to the entrance to the woods flanked by an old wooden fence. I made my way down the trail, and as branches creaked above me became aware that no one knew I was there. The middle of the woods behind Teddy Roosevelt's old backyard ranked rather high on the list of the last places anyone would look for me. Despite the whole ”Blair Witch” feeling of the place, I continued down the trail, which became steeper and steeper until I found myself forced into a slow jog. After about fifteen minutes of this, I began to notice water through the trees. I came upon a fork in the trail. One seemed to loop around back inland, while the other led to a long weathered wooden bridge, leading across wetlands to a small island populated by seashells, a few geese, and a swan. The thing creaked as I carefully walked across it, staying where I saw nails indicating more support underneath. I was soon alone on the small island as the sun shone brightly. I had found a very happy place.

After safely crossing back to the mainland and reentering the woods, I took the second fork rather than retrace my steps up the steep trail. My journey took me past a large Asian-style mansion which made me wonder just how far I'd walked. Eventually, I got to the top of the hill and the woods' end. The sky was much darker now, and as I walked across the field to the parking lot, a few drops of rain were falling. As I drove down the road, I noticed the main house was visible and stopped. There was no shoulder and only one lane in either direction, but there was absolutely no traffic, I rolled down the window, and snapped my last picture of the day before continuing along the road back to the real world.

I took a lot of pictures today, some that looked like something out of Lost, and I may share a few on Wednesday. By the time I returned from my unplanned journey, my breathing was a lot better and I was feeling pretty good, if a bit tired. A nap after dinner nearly caused me to miss 24, but otherwise there was no further drama.

I used to like exploring and finding new places. When I was a kid there wasn't a nature preserve, beach, or trail that I hadn't navigated in my area. Once I started driving, I'd often take my girlfriend down roads “just to see where it goes.” I thought I'd outgrown that wanderlust in the last five years or so, and there would be weeks at a time when my car would go from my driveway to the parking lot at my office and back, and not go anywhere on the weekend. I suppose as long as these “escapes” I'm taking don't interfere with my responsibilities, there's no harm in them. I have no idea how I ended up where I did today, but it was definitely a nice change from my room. Today's destination was a nice surprise. Perhaps I should do more aimless wandering in the future.


Phantasmic Links 4.24.05

I love Brooklyn. Only there can you stand in the back of a church and listen to a priest speak in fluid Italian, only to switch to English to address the children and suddenly sound like Rattrap: “Ay, how you kids doin'? You, what's your name? Jack? How ya doin' Jack? You kids know how ta get ta heaven? Jesus, yeah, fugeddaboudit!” I'm exaggerating, but not by much. He did go on to explain that you should never ask for directions in Italy, because if anything Italians are TOO helpful and will tell you too much, even if they don't actually know how to get where you want to go. This may explain the obligation I felt when I worked in a gas station to figure out directions for people when a simple “I don't know.” would have freed me to get back to the pumps.

I also love hearing the old-time musicians talk about when gum was a nickel and you could get two cigarettes for a penny. I'm not sure if I added anything to the conversation by mentioning I set foot in a comic book store this week and saw they now cost $2.99, when they were $1.25 when I stopped collecting and had just gone from 75¢ to $1.00 when I started. I even remember seeing some in the supermarket for 65¢ when I was younger before I was collecting.

Brooklyn is a great workout. I can walk for two hours through the streets, and because the pavement is uneven and potholes are plentiful, my muscles feel like they got more use than when I run at full speed on the treadmill in gym. All in all, it was good to get out to Brooklyn for a few hours today, and it's good to be in and posting this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

With a name like ”Anakin Dynamite”, I hardly think this first link needs much explanation.

AverageJoe beat me to posting the new picture of Superman from the upcoming movie. I'm reserving judgment until I see this in motion in a trailer, but after seeing this picture I have to say I have some concerns...

Hey, just in case you ever need to start a fire with a soda can and a chocolate bar...

Speaking of gas prices, the best I can get right now is $2.37. Even with this Gas Buddy Rey sent me, it's still rough out there.

Speaking of Rey, his brother sent me an RPG-style flash battle of the consoles. It's really cool and not that long if you're a huge gaming nerd, and I appreciated quite a bit of the humor in it. On the other hand, if games aren't your thing, a half hour flash movie may not be for you, although you can still be impressed how much they fit into 1.4MB.

This is the future of music. I had seen this over a week ago so it may be old, but I had never been able to get the WMV version to play all the way through on my IMAC. Now having seen it, I can share both.

This week, a co-worker shared a Love Letter to Condi...

MAD Libs!

Find your personal Mondrian.

Can the computer guess which sitcom star or dictator you are?

I can't be sure, but I think this video is about someone trying to escape hell...

This video proves that opposites attract, and even losers can have a happy ending given the opportunity to save the life of the one they're attracted to.




My goliath has always been inertia. Getting up in the morning has never been easy. Even when my mom would threaten to throw cold water on me, and even occasionally have to follow through on the threat, I still moved like molasses. In general, it's difficult for me to get motivated to try something new and break from my routine. Once I overcome my state of inactivity however, I can really get moving. Either I don't talk much or, once I break my silence, I talk too much and annoy people. At the end of the day when I'm tired and can barely move, a few minutes on the treadmill gets me a second wind and I break in to a full run for a solid half hour, fully awake by the time I head home.

Activity, both mental and physical, paradoxically energizes me. Conversely, inactivity only makes me more tired. I've been trying really hard to go outside on the weekend, now that the weather is nicer, and I've visited several beaches and parks. Today I had two things against me. The first was the weather, as rain alternated between pouring and drizzling throughout the day. The second was my cold. A few days ago I woke up with what I thought was a postnasal drip, that didn't go away and went from a tickle to one of the worst sore throats I've had in a long time. It was so bad that I barely slept Thursday night and was a barely functioning mess on Friday. I managed to get my work done and drive there and back without passing out, and by last night the cold receded into my head. Today it's been mostly congestion and a headache, so I should be okay to work tomorrow morning at a feast in Brooklyn. I started this month with a cold and it looks like I'm ending it with one, which sucks. I blame the weather. When it's hot at night and freezing the next morning, not dressing warm enough for bed can lead to this. My biggest regret is having a wasted Saturday, only leaving my house once to go to the post office and once to go to church, spending the rest of the day in bed. Four hours of walking on a (hopefully) sunny Sunday should get back the energy I feel I'm lacking right now.

Ask anyone younger than me what they think of when they hear the name David Hasselhoff and the answers may be frighteningly varied. Dodgeball. Baywatch. Spongebob. EuroTrip. Pop singer, especially popular in Germany. Depending on how young the person you ask is, you might even get “who?” as a reply. But some might have the same answer that those 30 and older would surely give, and that answer is Knight Rider. This show was a staple of my childhood and Michael Knight is one of my favorite heroes. I picked up the season two DVD set this week, and before spending the day sleeping managed to watch Goliath, the two-part season premiere.

Goliath was LEGENDARY when I was in elementary school. In the first season, K.I.T.T. had met his evil twin K.A.R.R., voiced by Peter Cullen. In Goliath, it's Michael's turn to meet his match in the form of the son of the late Wilton Knight, the wealthy philanthropist who saved his life and gave it a new mission. Michael had been given plastic surgery after being shot in the face, but had no idea that Wilton had him remade in the image of his son, who was incarcerated in Africa. In a tradition perhaps established by Evil Spock, Hasselhoff plays a dual role, becoming the evil Garthe Knight with the simple addition of a goatee. It was cheesy and brings a smile to my face now, even with the extra bass he adds to his voice as Garthe, but I though him a frightful enemy when I was 10.

The real draw to this episode for young MCF wasn't so much the villain as his ride, the enormous semi-tractor trailer armed with missiles and an impenetrable coating that the episode was named for. Goliath was the toughest vehicle K.I.T.T. ever faced, and when Garthe and his mother stole the formula for K.I.T.T.'s molecularly bonded shell and applied it to this behemoth, our heroes were in trouble. Every commercial break showed a clip of the truck and the Trans Am barreling across the desert toward each other, a teaser for their inevitable confrontation. When Goliath finally DID mow down K.I.T.T., and send he and Michael toppling over and over in the dust, it was a breathtaking cliffhanger that was all anyone talked about at school the next day. Of course this was television, good old bad ‘80s television, so of course Michael crawled from his overturned vehicle with just a few scratches and, after consulting the manual, jury-rigged a crude ramjet to get K.I.T.T. back on his wheels and out of the desert.

Subsequently, upon having K.I.T.T. repaired and himself patched up, Michael confronts Garthe in a casino, using K.I.T.T.'s abilities to somehow cheat at a dice game. Garthe is infuriated at losing and chases after them in a rage, falling into their trap and being forced into the back of their own mobile truck headquarters. Putting on a fake goatee, Michael impersonates Garthe and tries to get close enough to plant a bomb on Goliath. But Garthe escapes and stops him, resuming his master plan to break into a government missile facility hidden inside a mountain. With help from K.I.T.T., Michael escapes Garthe's African rebel allies and charges off to stop his evil twin. Round two ends differently once they use K.I.T.T.'s modified laser on a weak point on Goliath. Garthe jumps out of the smoking wreck and Hasselhoff has a classic ‘80s action show fist-fight with himself. It's filmed really well and in the days before VCRs, DVDs, and other technology with pause settings, seems seamless. Today I was able to freeze a few frames and realize he was fighting Gabe Kaplan.

Cheesy as it is by today's standards, I still love this episode. From Hasselhoff hamming it up as the villain to the formidable and very awesome truck, it's endured in my memory for two decades, and it's great that I now own it. Makes me wonder what the threat will be in the film version...


Why Superman?

As I shared with everyone at my last Blog Party, Spider-man is my favorite Marvel hero and Batman is my favorite DC hero. Why then, when Jerry posed the question of what comic hero I'd want to be, and wanted the first name that came to mind, did I choose Superman?

As directed, I went with my gut. My old music teacher told me I wasn't Superman whenever I was discouraged about not being able to play a difficult part, or shared my frustrations about keeping up with band and schoolwork and my parents wishing I was involved in more activities like some of my classmates. “Are you Superman? No, so don't think you have to do everything all at once. Do one thing at a time, and the rest will come.” Christopher Reeve was awesome in his films, especially Superman II, a film that would rank in my top five comic book movies of all time. I liked that he was something MORE than what he appeared to be, that while he could be practically invisible to Lois, at any time he could step out a window of the Daily Planet and soar across Metropolis. Who wouldn't want to fly? In high school when I had to run through a park to catch a train while kids from a neighboring school taunted me, I often wished I could fly or at least run fast. Many was the day I'd arrive as the train was leaving, and have to wait an hour for the next one. It took twenty minutes to get to the train station from my high school easily, and school ended exactly twenty minutes before the train arrived. My last period of the day was band, so I couldn't even go back to my locker. I had to take my bag to band with me and leave right from there, some days bringing my instrument home as well. One day as I ran two older kids ran laughing maniacally and kicking my case. I've always loathed bullies. If the General Zod scene in Superman II is my favorite, the diner scene is a close second. For a portion of the film, Clark gives up his powers for the woman he loves. For the first time in his life, when confronted by a bully, he doesn't have to pretend he's weaker. He is, and is humiliated defending himself and his woman in a diner. Later, after his powers have been restored, he returns to that diner and settles the score. The guy takes a swing at the Man of Steel, hurting his hand. Clark spins him around in his chair, lifts him up, and slides him across the counter into a pinball machine. Leaving money to pay for the damages, he notes the stunned looks on the faces of the waitresses and other patrons. “Oh I've been uh, uh working out.” he explains, making a geeky pumping gesture with his arms.

I love that.

Flying would be great, having superspeed so I could spend less time on work and more time on life would be swell, and I don't need to extol the virtues of x-ray vision. But I always wished I could defend myself the way Reeve did as Kent, to let my enemies see that beneath the surface, I had hidden powers and deserved respect. I could list other examples from the comics or cartoons or various television incarnations, but that one scene I think truly captures the essence of why I personally would choose to be Superman if I could.


Driving Rock

K-Rock is scared. Once Howard Stern leaves the airwaves for satellite radio, I suspect they're worried about losing listeners. Personally, I wouldn't mind having more music options for my morning commute. The last few weeks they've instituted the motto “Great Rock. Period.” and have been mixing older songs in to their playlist. They haven't gone classic, but they've gone far enough back that I'm listening to stuff I listened to in college, and that could explain why I've been feeling young again, as I alluded to the other day. There are certain songs that drive me, that take me away to memories and day dreams, and everything outside my car becomes a blurry background in a music video. There's nothing wrong with the newer music. Beck's new song is funky and bouncy, keeping me rolling even when he isn't even singing words. I first heard the new NIN single on Darrell's Southern Conservative Blog, and that's been getting steady airplay now as well. But for all the good new songs on K-Rock there are the DJs that insist on playing System of a Down's BYOB sometimes FIVE times in a row. I remember when I was younger and everything I listened to was labeled “that rock and roll crap” by my parents. Often I would wonder what the next generation would listen to, if music was in such a decline. If my stuff was bad, what would my children listen to that I would consider “noise”? I think SoaD is it. Just when you're getting in to it and thinking the guy can sing when he wants, he cuts in with the atonal shrieking again. It's NOT music.

Below are some of the songs I've been pleasantly surprised to hear on the radio these past two weeks. Some are songs that had plenty of airplay in the mid-'90s, while others I've only heard on the albums I'd bought back then. At any given time in my car, one of these may take me away:

Undone by Weezer.

Once by Pearl Jam.

Glycerine by Bush.

Wherever I may Roam by Metallica.

Enter Sandman by Metallica.

Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog.

No Rain by Blind Melon.

Mother by Danzig.

Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones.

Young Lust by Pink Floyd.

Cherub Rock by Smashing Pumpkins.

Burden in my Hand by Soundgarden.

Drain You by Nirvana.

Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi.

Man in the Box by Alice in Chains.

Coming Clean by Green Day.

Off the top of my head, these are just a few of the things I'm hearing again interspersed with the newer stuff. Now THIS is what I call a playlist!


PBW: The Inimitable Mister Chirp

Photo Blog Wednesday

It was just a matter of time before things went according to my carefully crafted plan. The boy slumbers now, oblivious to the sedative I'd tipped my claws with. Many was the time I'd observed him sitting in front of this device, studied the correlation between the small white things his fingers danced upon and the reaction on the strange flat window. Some nights I curled into a ball upon his lap, and stretched out for the holder of the white things, what he calls a “keyboard”. He told the old woman, another of my servants in this palace. They thought it was cute. They didn't know I was learning.

Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. My true name is unpronounceable in any of the two-legs' languages, and especially the one they call English. The names the two-legs have given me over the years aren't much more relevant, but Chirp is the most recent and so it is AS Chirp that I address the world. It was bitterly cold that one Winter when I saw the orange palace, found haven in the nearby woods. I'd mastered the cry of the flying mice, the ones the two-legs call “birds”, and lulled many into a false sense of security. I don't know why prey would be called by any name OTHER than “mice”, but there is much I may never understand about the two-legs. The old woman thought the sounds I made were cute, and after asking me in her tongue, “don't you know how to meow?” as though she expected me to reply, eventually began referring to me as Chirp. The boy thought it was a stupid name as well, and I gained some respect for him. Properly trained, he'd make a powerful ally in my survival. The trick with any two-leg is to make him think your ideas are theirs, so to this day I imagine he still believes he “lured” me out of the first snowstorm into their warm entranceway with the dried sustenance, or “crunchies” as they crudely refer to them.

I was not the only refugee to take up shelter in this castle. At first I was kept separate from the others, a basement my new residence. I listened and I caught scents, and learned about the other occupants of the castle. There was the boy and the old woman of course, and another like the boy but much older, and with a scent of motor oil and grease about him. These simpletons were of little concern to me; it was the others I wanted to know more about. Munchkin, the brown lady, once the youngest and now the oldest resident, having tricked the boy nearly two decades earlier into taking her in much the way I had. Cubby, the cowardly grey. Once very much a mouse himself when the old ones found him trapped in a window well, the tiny kitten was bottle-fed by the woman and doubled in size again and again. Though larger than I, I sensed his nature and knew he'd be a valuable henchman. Finally, there was Samson the black. Old, with a scent that defined his years, he was the gentlest of the three. What a marvelous palace I had found, that supported such a motley quartet!

I studied during my time in the cellar. I discovered that if I jumped in to what they called a “laundry basket”, they would stop whatever they were doing and pay attention to me. It wasn't long before I trained them to carry me around in a manner befitting one such as I. If were to interact with my fellow felines, I would have to plan my escape. I watched the two-legs walk through the metal thing at the bottom of the stairs, the “door”. I noticed they touched a curved piece of metal before this blockade would move. Soon, I figured out how to hang from this metal, this “handle”, pull on it and let my weight open the door. I'd then drop to the ground and run up the stairs. The two-legs loved it and it became a game. “Look how smart he is!” The fools.

Tragedy struck one Summer, several years ago. When Samson breathed his last, there was great sadness but little surprise. He was nearing the end of his journey when they'd found him, and hadn't been here much longer than I. Munchkin however had spent the bulk of her 18 years here, and with her passing marked the last female the old woman had cared for. I've heard them speak of Cindy, the Calico, but she was before my time. There had been another elder before Samson as well, and I've seen this Peter's photo in a place of honor in their living room. The family was quite distraught to lose Samson and Munchkin within 3 or 4 months of one another. Even I had to respect their passing, though I hadn't gotten to know them very well in my few years here.

Life, somehow, always goes on. In time the two-legs would laugh again, and I would eventually be promoted to being an “upstairs” cat. I tussled quite a bit with Cubby, mostly making fun of the stupid name the old woman had saddled him with. Even when the boy tried to give him a more respectable variation like “Lord Cubbington”, it only made me want to tackle the big grey coward more, and perhaps claw the boy's ankles. I wanted to, but I didn't. The woman may have fed me, and cleaned up after me, but the boy often added “Mister” before my name, and afforded me the proper respect. He helped me down whenever I've decided to scale his screen windows and not had a clue where to go next. He's even come home from wherever he goes in his blue rolling box every day that makes him seem a little bit older, and greeted me with a song parody. Sometimes I get, “You're a strange one, Mis-ter Chirp!” to the tune of that Grinch song. Other times I get “Missssster Chirpy!” which is by someone named ”Ozzy”. Of course, I'm not one to judge a two-leg name. I tolerate this bad singing mostly because for brief moments, the boy looks the age he was earlier in the day. That's not true. I actually just like the attention.

I know how to get attention when I want it, too. When I want the “crunchies”, I stand and reach for a metal thing, another kind of “handle”. This one is round and I haven't learned how to turn those yet, but the two-legs always turn them for me. After years of trying to get upstairs, I now run downstairs anytime the cellar door opens, just to mess with them. When the boy calls out to the old ones in the morning that he's leaving, I shoot like a rocket from wherever I am in the castle, and sometimes make it through the closing door. My favorite trick however, is to make my way to the top of the big humming white thing with the two doors, the box containing Winter in the room where they eat. The woman has a water spray bottle with which to discourage me, but the boy is better trained. He thinks when he snaps his fingers over any kind of basket or box, he's trained me to jump in so he can carry me around. Quite the contrary is true, and I'll sometimes jump up on their “refrigerator” just so he'll bring my favorite red basket, hold it for me to step into, and then carry me around for a while. It's a game I never tire of, although earlier this evening while the boy was watching the pretty girl inside that grey box I completely ignored him when he snapped his fingers, and continued on my way.

Two-legs. Sometimes, you need to remind them who's in charge and...uh-oh. The boy is stirring; the sedative wasn't strong enough! He really needs to lose some weight. In the meantime, I'd better post my message and jump down before he realizes what I've done. Come, Cubby! Let's make sure no mice have invaded our castle....



MCF Smash!

I am in a good mood.

I'm not sure why. Work isn't any easier and my life hasn't changed drastically, but the last few weeks or so I've been feeling great. As the temperatures rise so do my spirits. I've been going to beaches, and driving home past beaches every night. There hasn't been one workday that I haven't seen the sun setting over a placid body of water. Perhaps I'm finally getting over that weird fatigue/anxiety thing that plagued me from last July well into the Winter, especially while driving, and my strength and confidence have returned. Perhaps it's a freeness of spirit that comes with the absolute letting go of everything that I once considered crucial and important about my job. I think about other things at night, and I certainly don't check my e-mail at night or on days off anymore. There may be another seemingly trivial factor adding to my feeling of “restored youth”, and I'll explore that topic on Thursday. We're a complex bundle of electrochemical reactions, and sometimes there is no logical trigger for our sense of euphoria, or our rage.

I've always been the “nice guy” for as far back as I can remember. My seventh grade crush even wrote the painful words “I think you're really nice” in my yearbook, words that filled me with nerdy joy until my friends explained the complexities of the male-female relationship and how “nice” was actually a bad thing. Even before that, in elementary school, many teachers and even my principal placed the blame for how I was treated by bullies upon me. “If he'd just fight back or hit them once, they'd leave him alone.” I had a Catholic upbringing. I was always taught to “turn the other cheek”, and that the meek were blessed. Fighting didn't appeal to my nature anyway, and though my friends and I play-battled, imitating our favorite television shows, there was a certain ugliness when tempers flared and anger was real. In seventh grade one of my quieter friends, who wasn't really picked on that much, was tormented during a class. The “cool” guys kept kicking his chair, and sliding it around, every time the teacher wasn't looking. I'd never seen him lose his cool, but suddenly he was on his feet, his chair on the ground and, beet-red, he was shrieking in a cracking voice “STOP IT!! Just STOP IT!!!!” Of course they only laughed at this, and the teacher dismissed my livid friend. All his anger served to do was make him a bigger target.

I controlled myself; I was made fun of plenty already. Whether I opened my mouth, or just sat there with my big ears and corduroy pants, I was a target. As I got older, I did less and less to call attention to myself. Only once did I snap in Middle School, and that's when a kid stole my pencil and took off down the hall. If it was anyone other than the only guy who was shorter than me in my class, I probably wouldn't have taken off and tackled him. People cheered; I immediately felt guilty. Not only could I have hurt him but, like the incident with my friend, I too had now lost my temper and control of my actions.

I'm a nice guy, difficult to provoke. It takes a lot, and it's a side of me only those closest to me, those I feel secure won't leave when I get scary, suffer through. Many was the day I snapped at my parents for something insignificant and did something stupid. A few years ago I was rushing to get out the door to a parade. My dad, as always, was stressing about traffic and parking. My mom noticed I was wearing grey socks instead of black ones, but I didn't care. Dress socks were dress socks, and my pants would cover them. I gave her a terse “it's fine” as my dad continued to yell in from outside. Neither she nor (unfortunately) I could have predicted the irrational response her next words would elicit: “Fine. Look like a NERD; I'm not the one that will look stupid if there are any cute girls there.” Like Banner becoming the Hulk, I watched from a distance as a stranger choked out the words “DON'T. CALL ME. NERRRRDD!!!!” and put his fist clean through a sheet rock wall. I instantly realized I had done NOTHING but prove her right and, in a moment of anger, I had been an ass. Apart from our breakup, the closest my ex-girlfriend and I ever came to fighting was about a year in when she got frustrated that I never lost my temper, never got mad about anything. She thought anger=communication and the lack of was part of what divided her own parents. Communication is good, but there's no point looking for things to be angry about and most of the time, no good comes from it. The only “good” that came from my outburst toward my ma was my learning how to spackle that year.

My friends have only seen hints of my anger. I fear scaring them off, and I fear being made fun of. Just as only my parents see my dark side, so too are my closest buddies the only ones I've been comfortable enough to let loose around. The most notorious incident occurred on a college camping trip. The last night of our excursion one of our number was staying up all night to drive home early in the morning. I stayed up and kept him company, and caught the sunrise after he'd left. As my other pals began to rise, I made my way into the trailer we were renting, and decided to take a very short nap. So deep in sleep was I in my bunk, that I did not feel them slip my hand into a pot of hot water. When absolutely nothing happened, one grew impatient and, as was recounted to me later, took the pot and dumped it on my crotch in a fluid motion. To their dismay, there was still no reaction. I was OUT. Yet, deep in my slumber, as the hot water soaked into my clothes, I began to feel a warmth, and then a burning sensation. Suddenly, I snapped out of my slumber and leapt up in shock, hitting the ceiling and nearly landing on the floor. I was disoriented and sputtering as I got my bearings and tried to remember where I was, and figure out why I was wet. The laughter in the next room was a big clue, and I remember screaming at a room full of laughing friends.

Then came the moment where anger made it worse.

There was no conscious decision involved as my hand gripped my belt, whipped it off like an urban superhero, cracked it on a nearby couch and screamed: “I WANT SOME ANSWERS!!!!!” No one had ever seen me like this and years later some would confide in me that they thought they would die that day. All smiles faded except for the one guy who did it, the guy who was twice my size and had army training. He continued snickering while I shouted, “I KNOW IT WAS YOU!!!!” In those irrational moments in which I was looking even more the fool, I still didn't know the whole story or what precisely had happened. It wouldn't be until later when we could all look back and laugh about it, that the blanks would be filled in and I'd hear the precise sequence of events during the portion of the tale in which I was unconscious. The tale's become legendary, and is still told at parties. Had I reacted differently, the story may have faded with time.

I've mellowed over the years. I've gotten a lot better at controlling my temper, and my close friends and family have learned to recognize certain triggers. Once in a while when under stress and pushed far enough, I may still lash out. Reducing stress helps too. My parents didn't realize what a positive influence my girlfriend was until she spent two weeks visiting friends in England, and I was back to being grumpy and snapping at them until she returned. Every day I was short with them my mom would ask when she was coming back so her “nice son” would return. These days, regular exercise and excursions outdoors are a must for my sanity.

I like being a nice guy, but I don't ever want to be the guy on the news a neighbor describes as “He seemed like such a nice guy....”


Crisis on Infinite Springfields

As of last night, The Simpsons has, by my count, three episodes devoted to a potential future in its 16 seasons. The first two glimpses are gained via mystical means while the most recent involved technology. Should these episodes should be considered imaginary, such as the Treehouse of Horror series, Simpsons Spin-off Showcase, Simpsons Bible Stories, Tall Tales, Tales from the Public Domain, and Margical History Tour? Or are they in fact canon, despite some contradictions? The show is known for ignoring continuity, since time passes and cultural references are made, and yet the children never age. It's also possible, given the nature of these visions of the future that they are possible futures, revealing alternate realities. Will The Simpsons need a Crisis to resolve these questions? Probably not. At the end of the day, the jokes outweigh the continuity of the show. Nevertheless, I thought it would make for an interesting article to explore these three futures.

Lisa's Wedding is a bittersweet tale of an 8-year-old girl who meets a fortune teller at a fair, and gets to see her family will be just as embarrassing to her in the year 2010. She falls in love with a classy British guy but when he refuses to wear cufflinks shaped like little pigs, to honor her father's only request, she realizes she needs to be with someone who can accept her family and calls off the wedding. In this future, Marge and Homer are still together, Bart works in demolition, Lisa has been away at school and though Maggie supposedly has a lovely voice, she is interrupted every time she's about to speak or sing. Milhouse is now Homer's boss, and bitter over Lisa getting married. The episode implies that Milhouse was her first. The episode aired in 1995 and Lisa was 8 at the time, so she would have been 23 in this future.

In the year 2000, Bart to the Future first aired. While sneaking around an Indian casino, Bart meets up with a Shaman who shows him a vision of the year 2030. Bart and Lisa are perpetually 10 and 8 years old respectively, and that hasn't changed in the year 2000. Therefore, they are 40 and 38 in the future portrayed, which makes Lisa the right age to be President of the United States, and Bart old enough to have lost his construction job from the previous vision of the future and now be a slacker musician sharing a shack with Ralph Wiggum. Homer and Marge are still together, and the doddering father leads his wife on a quest for Lincoln's gold, mostly as filler for the episode(pointed out in a clever in-joke). Milhouse is part of Lisa's cabinet and still has a crush on her, but she still has no interest in him.

Last night Future-Drama aired. Bart and Lisa accidentally wind up in Professor Frink's basement, but he's been expecting them, thanks to his new invention, a machine that shows the future. The show establishes a potential flaw in the device from the start, because he was also expecting Maggie. Frink's machine shows them their Senior year of high school, which sets the events of the episode prior to those of the previous two glimpses of the future. A year is not specified, but if it's 2005 in present day Springfield and the pair are still 10 and 8, it would be 8 years later when he's 18 and she's 16. This would set the episode in the year 2013, three year's after Lisa's Wedding in which they were already much older. Lisa has skipped a few grades which is why she is graduating with her brother. Marge and Homer are separated in this episode, and at one point she's dating Krusty the Clown, much to Homer's chagrin. To keep his high school girlfriend from leaving, Bart accepts a scholarship from Mr. Burns that was meant for his sister, but later relents. Homer and Marge reconcile. Other than the discrepancy in the years, it's entirely possible for the resolution of this episode's events to lead to those of Lisa's Wedding, since Lisa may have gone on to graduate school in England where she meets her fiancée. After throwing away his chance to go to college, it's likely Bart would go on to be a construction worker and then a slacker musician. But what of Milhouse? Everyone's favorite nerd has bulked up, and this musclebound small-ankled geek gets to take his true love to the prom. He nearly gets more than that when she's despondent about not going to college, but Bart swoops in at the last moment and stops her from “throwing her life away”. While the breakup scene between Lisa and Milhouse in Lisa's Wedding did not show Bart's involvement or a hulking Milhouse, it was seen from his memory so time may have changed things. He could have then dedicated himself to his work and become Homer's boss in Lisa's Wedding, and it could account for why he and Bart are no longer close friends in Bart to the Future--at the time I thought it odd that Ralph was Bart's roommate. Best of all though, is a cameo of Bender.

The Simpsons. Three possible futures seemingly conflicting, but things can be explained so long as no one minds fudging the dates. I think there's great potential here for a future future episode in which all possible divergent timelines are revealed to coexist separately, and versions of these characters from each reality somehow meet. In conclusion, this is how one watches a show like the Simpsons after spending far too many years reading comic books. Thank you, and see you in the future...


Phantasmic Links 4.17.05

It's entirely possible to bake a cake, and eat it too.

I was still groggy when my mom called in to tell me she was going to her job at the arboretum, that my father was already over there, and that he planned to go box weeds at his lot when he was done helping her. She advised me to go with him, closed the door, and left. After the nice day I had yesterday, I hardly felt like arguing. When my dad got home, I was done eating and ready to go, and spent several hours carrying heavy logs, pricking my fingers on thorny vines as I boxed them, and genuinely enjoying being outside. I was tired when we got home, but still managed to vacuum the house as I'd promised my mom yesterday. Not only that, but with the sun still shining and temperatures reaching into the 70s, I even found time to take a book down to the local park and relax on a bench overlooking the water from on high. Sure, I thought I was dead when an SUV careened down the hill toward my bench, turned at the last second, and continued on its own way while a nearby family commented on how ridiculous it is that we now have to worry about traffic IN A PARK, but then that's to be expected with my luck. Though it was a gorgeous day and I made wise use of every hour, I also found time for this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Ever go through old bookmarks? I did last night, and came across a classic time waster for me--hope you enjoy QUINTZEE.

Fast food chains have them. Random vendors on Canal Street sell them And now, you can see bootleg action figures on the web.

It's funny NOW, but I wonder if video game themes are the future of classical music...

Can you guess What is that thing?

Spell with Flikr

Just imagine what you could do with a Yugo...

What ever you do, do not press the Big Red Button...I certainly didn't press it over 200 times. Nope, not me...

Here's the problem with Smallville. Hat tip to Rey.

In keeping with the previous link, look! Up on the web! Is it a bird? Maybe a plane? No, it's the first pictures from the set of the new Superman movie!



The Adventures of MCF

He awoke to the sound of purring, jumbled dream reenactments of the mess he'd had the misfortune to behold the night prior fading with consciousness. As Ben Affleck was banished from his cognizance, his head inclined backwards, to observe the small black-and-white cat perched atop his headrest, squinting down at him as sunlight streamed through the drawn shades.

He moved with great effort, reaching for his wristwatch in an exaggerated motion reminiscent of scaling a cliff. 11 AM. It was too late to catch the new episode of TMNT, but with the sun shining and six hours until mass, there was a whole world of adventure waiting for him.

“What should I do? Should I call Richie and ask if he's going to have a rehearsal this year?” His father's cry jarred him from the zen of his Rice Krispies. Every year, one of the marching bands they're active in meets for a rehearsal at a firehouse. There is no pay involved, and usually only 7 or 8 of the 40-plus members actually show. The same marches are played every year, and the rehearsal is a huge waste. He was half-hoping it would be called off this year, knowing in his heart that it would probably fall on a Saturday on which he was considering attending a large game pf paintball. It was difficult not to snap at his father, and some acid dripped through into his innocuous “I wouldn't worry about it.” He took hold of the illogical rage building, of the inner voice hissing that he should curl up in a ball and go back to sleep. No. Soon enough, many Saturdays would be lost in the service of others. Soon, every Saturday would be lost until the weather grew cold, and the last leaf fell off the trees. Soon, but not yet. Not today. Today he had no obligations to fulfill, no tasks to complete. Today, he would embrace his freedom.

“I'm going out! Tell her I'll be back in time for church!” he called out, his father's words of acknowledgment lost in the wind as he raced to the end of his block. He glanced at the contents of his passenger seat. A book. A digital camera. Sunglasses. The DVDs from the night before. The last were deposited at the post office, and he was on his way. What beach would he lounge on today? What adventure could he find? The car and the road were driving him, and he found they were taking him away from the North shore of the island that was his home. As he realized where he was going, a rare smile crept across his face. The dry skin on his forehead cracked with the expression, diverting him to a nearby supermarket to pick up some sunblock. Learning from past mistakes was yet another rarity bestowed upon him.

He flew down the parkway, weaving in and out of traffic. A familiar tingling and shortness of breath began to rear their ugly heads, but he quickly put the triggering thoughts from his mind. He thought about where he was going, and where he would soon be. The worst journey is endurable for the best destination. As traffic dissipated, he alone was soaring down an open road, a brisk wind coming off the Atlantic and across a bridge as his tires buzzed on the metal grating below. He saw the tower at last, and knew Jones Beach was within his reach.

Even for a brisk day in the middle of April there were an impressive amount of cars in the parking field. He was a bit surprised that there was someone guarding the field, asking for six dollars in exchange for a parking permit. He had come this far and was not going to turn back. After paying, parking, and applying the sunblock, he was soon walking down the beach. There were fewer people on the beach than on the boardwalk and in the various eateries, which suited him just fine. He snapped some pictures with his camera, discovering how hard it was to see the screen in a truly bright environment. Hopefully, the pictures would turn out fine. Children were flying kites. A group of college kids in sweatshirts huddled around a cooler. A family of four played an impromptu game of softball. A father cautioned his small daughter as she giggled and ran toward the crashing waves. He stopped to pick up a few seashells for his mother.

Myriad sights and sounds surrounded him as he strolled down the beach lost in the absence of thought, until he realized how far he'd walked and what time it was. Making his way toward the boardwalk, he noted seagulls playing in a large pool of water left behind by the tide perhaps hours earlier. Kneeling to take their picture, something glinted in the sand. A penny. 1996, the year he graduated college and met his girlfriend. Just then, a girl in sunglasses and a ballcap power-walked past on the boardwalk. A crazy notion of fate and destiny, and echoes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind drove him forward. What a wonderful curve ball it would be if SHE was back, if that was why he'd been so compelled to come to the shore. If it was someone else, he'd continue on his way, but he'd at least know.

His legs were heavy after walking more than a mile, and she was becoming a speck in the distance. He knew it would be easier to walk once he was on solid ground again, but a lone fir decorated with Christmas ornaments distracted him. A solitary and unique being isolated on a sand dune beyond a “Keep off the Dunes” sign, it was an image screaming to be preserved. Logically, the woman couldn't be who he thought she was, his actions walking a fine line between romance and stalking, but this tree was ART. He turned from the diminishing speck that wasn't his ex-girlfriend, walked back out on the sand, and got his picture.

The wind tore at him, tears stinging his eyes as sand assaulted them. Mothers pushed carriages as elderly couples in jogging suits smiled at them. Nearby, a man guided his blind wife and her seeing-eye dog, describing the large black-and-white photos hanging on the wall to commemorate the beach's 75th anniversary. The woman said something softly, and he husband responded, “Sunblock? Nah, you don't smell sunblock. Not TODAY.” Sometimes, other senses compensate when one is lost.

The car threatened to stall, and though he had a cell phone, dreaded explaining just how far from home he'd ventured. The second try was the charm, and he was soon careening around the dangerous circle at the base of the tower at 70MPH, while faster and more impatient drivers left him behind. Yet there was no panic or anxiety in the drive home, and he felt quite at ease if a bit exhausted from walking several miles in the sand. His mom was still at work when he got home, arriving not long after. As they drove to church she expressed disapproval at the exorbitant parking fee, saying she would have turned around and come home, adding “...but if you want to spend your money, that's up to you. I guess you must have a lot of money and six dollars is nothing.” She asked what else he did that day, if he'd vacuumed the house or done anything to help her. He reminded her of the seashells, but she reminded him that seashells don't clean a house. Normally, he'd snap at some point during such an exchange with one of his parents, instantly feeling guilty as they looked hurt and wondered if they “weren't allowed to just talk.” This time, he just smiled, apologized, and assured her that he'd clean the house tomorrow. When they returned home, his father would mention that he HAD called Richie and that there wasn’t a rehearsal this year, but also added that Tony, another band leader, had called to remind them of next Sunday’s gig. Once more he smiled, outburst-free, and nodded.

Sometimes, the best perspective on reality and responsibility comes, ironically, from escaping those very things for a few hours.


No Dreams?

”Hey, remember back in college when we wanted to do this for a living?”, I asked Rey as we perused through some of our old favorite comic artists. “Quiet!” he hissed in mock anger, “No dreams!”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It's an interesting question, often asked of children still struggling with long division and playground politics. I never really had an answer. Once while playing with blocks, I may have told a relative “architect”. When I was in elementary school, I just didn't think that far ahead. I lived one day at a time, reacting to things as they happened. By the time comic books were my hobby and my notebooks had more doodles than notes, I started to seriously consider it. I knew it was a dream; I REALLY couldn't draw that well in high school. Even so, time was running out and I had to choose a major. And I was starting to see some artists published that I was sure I could do better than. In the early ‘90s, I clearly recall the dread I'd feel when I'd pick up the next issue of my favorite comic, and find out it was a “fill-in” issue, some story by a different artist and writer about the same characters that usually had nothing to do with the previous issue, nor the subsequent one, and only served to get the book on the stands on time while the real creative team finished up. I don't buy comics anymore and only order the occasional trade paperback when I read about something interesting on the internet, but I will see fans complaining about their books being late and bashing the creative teams for missing their deadlines. Maybe it doesn't bother me because I only buy trades, or maybe because I'm now in an industry in which I see how little time there is to accomplish a large quantity of creative efforts, and have empathy for the writers and artists. Until someone actually DOES the work, he or she has no idea what it entails.

I'll spare readers from this turning into a rehash of my Career Tracks series. Long story short, I majored in graphic design in college, while taking some more traditional courses and developing my fine art skills. In the past nine years I've had two office jobs, and while the benefits are good and the pay is okay, both could always be better and the creative aspect of my job sometimes gets lost amid scheduling meetings, dealing with people in other departments via e-mail, and more technical applications of my computer skills. I used to draw daily, but in my first job soon found myself too drained at the end of the day to pick up a pencil. I found inspiration in my girlfriend for a time, but once she left I stupidly abandoned my fine art side and vowed never to return to my studio, to finish the painting I would have given her had we made it to our next Valentine's day. It was a grand romantic gesture, ringing with poetic angst. I gave up many things, punishing myself as much as I was wallowing in doom and self-pity. I was a stupid, stupid kid.

No dreams? Everyone has dreams. Sometimes we give them up completely, whether by choice, circumstance, or exhaustion. Often we compromise in favor of reality, and comfort ourselves with, “well this is SORT OF what I wanted to do...” There are many things in life that I've never done, that I may never do, and I've been learning to accept it, because that's what I believe growing up and becoming an adult entails. My parents always taught me that life is hard, that we're put here to work and suffer and no matter what, we DON'T play until all our tasks are complete. My dad at 75, for all his medical problems from a heart condition to arthritis to carpal tunnel syndrome, still plays a musical instrument on the weekends, and still fixes his friends' cars any time they ask because he “wants to stay in it, not get rusty.” My mom's being going through some medical problems of her own, but still manages to run a group of volunteers at an arboretum on weekends. The work they do is FUN for them, things that interest them and, by staying active, they're reaffirming the fact that they're still breathing.

I never had much interest in working in the yard, or fixing cars. I wish I had paid attention when I was younger, and picked up some of their skills. I did go into a field I felt I could still work in well past the age of retirement, and something I thought I'd enjoy since so many hours of one's life are spent at work. There's been a shift lately in which I don't think about work very much once I leave, and I strive to get home while it's still light out. For four solid days I've driven home along the shore, and bore witness to incredible sunsets shimmering on water from a respectable height. I'm searching for something, but I don't know what. I've entertained the notion that I've lost my mind, or that I'm going through a mid-life crisis of sorts. The former is something that's always been a question but, as I understand it, a question only asked by the sane. The latter is equally unlikely, unless I'm going to die at 60.

A woman at work, a few decades my senior, shared some wisdom with me this afternoon similar to what I've been thinking about. She said “we work here so we can go out there and have fun, not the other way around. THIS isn't important. OUT THERE....that's what matters.” Echoes of FawnDoo's words. Echoes of things Rey and other coworkers have postulated. Echoes of MYSELF. What will Monday bring? Who cares? Monday is miles away and I plan to continue tearing the good pages out of young MCF's book. Maybe I'll have an adventure tomorrow; I have no idea. This morning I took a long drive through wooded areas to work, well off my beaten commute, and flung myself a 60 MPH on to a dangerous parkway cutting across four lanes of heavy traffic moving equally fast, to catch my exit. Any time I leave my room, freeing myself from my self-imposed exile to solitary confinement, the odds of adventure increase.

“No dreams”?

We'll see about that....

”It's the old days. The bad days. The all-or-nothing days. They're back.”—Marv, Sin City


Writing About Jack

Jack is a VERY popular name right now. Driving home tonight, I was pondering random patterns as I'm wont to do, and the fact that four hour-long dramas I watch regularly feature a character named Jack(and none of those shows is Jack and Bobby either). I guess when Kristine listed Jack Stiles, it got me thinking about how common a name it is. There's something about a one syllable name ending in “ck” that's tough and masculine. Nick Fury. Dick Grayson. Chuck Woolery? Okay, maybe it's not a perfect theory, but there are some pretty cool Jacks on the small screen right now. This post is more than likely to contain spoilers for the shows being discussed, so read on with caution.

For four years, it's been a solid fact that everyone is incompetent in law enforcement, and only one man knows the right way to get the job done, even if it means going to extremes. On 24, Jack Bauer has tortured suspects, driven the wrong way on the freeway, taken heroin to “fit in” with drug lords while undercover, beheaded a guy, flown a plane with a nuclear bomb out in to the desert, and dealt with having a kidnapping-prone daughter. Those are just some highlights from four days of this character's life and since each season is set a few years apart, who knows what goes on that we don't see. If you want ruthless terrorists stopped by any means necessary, set Jack loose and stay out of his way. If you're a bad guy and you value life, limb, and your family's apparent well-being, don't mess with Jack.

If there's another Jack on the air that bad guys would do well to avoid, it's Alias' Jack Bristow. Like Bauer, he too has a daughter, but she's a formidable fighter, spy, and master of disguise. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but she'll break down and cry every now and then. Not Jack. A loving father and a focused CIA agent, he rarely cracks a smile and he's always all-business. You never know when he's going to shoot someone he's interrogating, garrote an old friend, kill his wife, or laugh off massive doses of radiation and continue doing paperwork back at the office like nothing happened. Jack's tough like that.

On Lost, Jack Shepard is a different sort of hero than the first two. He's a doctor, not a member of an elite antiterrorist unit or a spy. All he really has in common with Jack Bauer is occasionally being in the vicinity of Daniel Dae Kim. The only trait he shares with Bristow is a passionate need to save those he cares about. Actually, it goes beyond that, and his hero complex is both his greatest strength and weakness. Within minutes of surviving a massive plane crash on a desert island, he was running down a beach from survivor to survivor, tending to the wounded. He's pounded furiously on the chest of a seemingly dead man. He managed to transfuse his own blood into another badly injured castaway. Once focused, he has a hard time letting go. He's never personally tortured anyone like Bauer or Bristow, but he did authorize someone else to do so when another's life was at stake. It haunted him later, but when caught in the grip of rage fueled by a patient's well-being, Jack Shepard is not someone you'd want as an enemy.

The last Jack I'll write about isn't a hero, though he'd tell you otherwise. Every week on Tru Calling, Jack Harper does his best to prevent the title character from doing her job. Someone dies, and the day rewinds. Only these two remember the events that transpired. She uses what she knows to save the victim. He tries to insure they stay dead, and insists that SHE'S the villain for messing with the natural order of things. He goes about his business cold and unemotionally, occasionally taunting her. In a twist in tonight's episode, the victim asks HIM for help instead of Tru, and when the day rewinds he struggles to make the right decision. He spends the day with the woman who may die again, and without exactly telling her what his job is, does admit that sometimes he hates it, but he isn't strong enough to quit. If he saves her, he's altered the natural course of things and by his own definition, committed an act of villainy. But after getting to know her and starting to care for her, how would he react if she died all over again? How would he handle that? I'm not going to spoil which scenario played out tonight, but I'm even more upset that there are only two episodes remaining.

I don't know why the name is so popular right now, but this is definitely a formidable foursome. Whatever shows you watch, it’s safe to say that most people know Jack...


PBW: Chasing Sunshine

I've reached a breaking point of sorts with work. Everyone is stressed and overwhelmed by the new workload and organizational structure, and for a few weeks I've been steadily working late, missing the gym some nights, and missing the sun every day.

No more.

Something has snapped inside. With more work, I would expect to lie awake at night even more, and check my e-mail from home even more. I did that for a bit too, but as the weather warms and the days grow longer, I find myself not only leaving work earlier, but leaving it behind. From 9(ish) to six I'll worry about work, and I will get it done. I always do. Speaking about the importance of vacation days, FawnDoo recently said, “Time off reminds me that I work to live, not the other way around, which is a trap I fall into all too easily.” I can very much relate to the sentiment. FawnDoo goes on to say how a day off without the structure of a work schedule does funny things to time. Weekends certainly fly by faster and faster for me and when I do extend them, it barely makes a difference. A three-day weekend sometimes makes that first day back at work worse than any Monday. I took off THIS Monday, and yesterday morning was a hectic struggle to respond to e-mail requests, reprint pages I had printed on Friday for a meeting that changed due to some of those e-mails, and try to get my head back in to a work mindset. The trap I fall in to with a big workload is that when I don't know what to do first, I often wind up doing nothing. I wander around. I talk to my friends. I can't focus like I could when I was younger.

Yet, yesterday wasn't so bad, and by the afternoon, things were going more than smoothly. I was done with work by 5:30, had a good workout in the gym, and managed to drive home while the sun was still up.

The sun and the sand and the sea have all been beckoning, stronger and stronger. I'm drawn to these open places, and reminded of a time when a day off DIDN'T mean sitting in the dark looking at a computer. I enjoy the work I do even if the volume bothers me. I enjoy surfing the web and watching DVDs when I'm home. The end result of the similarities between my work and my play is that I spend roughly 12-14 hours a day in front of a computer or television screen, many of those hours in the dark or in dim lighting. I place value on the sun and deprived of it for so long, I risk ”losing my powers.”

I want to be outside as much as possible. I took Monday off, and I was either at the beach or in the yard every day. Three days felt like six, but in a good way. Doing more than sitting in my room waiting to have work to go to again didn't accelerate time. In some cases it slowed it down. On Monday, I picked up a digital camera. It was inexpensive and not the best, but good for me starting out and a gift card I had covered it. I still need to learn the adjustments for indoor photos and get used to a delay on it, but it's pretty good for outdoor photos. Which brings us, in my trademark long-winded manner, to a new weekly feature on the NOI: Photo Blog Wednesdays! Each week I'll pick a pic to share and write about. With a new toy and more to say than can be encompassed in one photo, this week I have three to share:

This idea is blatantly stolen from FawnDoo, even if the neatness isn't. Maybe at some point we'll see my (slightly) neater set up at the office. In the context of tonight's post though, this shot illustrates my normal view when I'm not at work, as well as how bad this camera(or the photographer) is indoors.

Literally, Monday was a walk in the park. This was a really cool tree I saw.

This is what I saw lying on the beach. I made it my desktop pattern at work Tuesday. It's definitely not the same as being there. Lying on my back listening to waves crash, looking up at a cloudless blue sky, I was more relaxed and at peace than I have been in a long time.

I showed these and other photos to some of my coworkers, but jaded by the system they only mocked me. A man I spoke with at a wake the other day talked about how relaxed Europeans are compared to Americans, and even on vacation they're in a rush. He was on a tour and the bus stopped at a café, and everyone immediately began grumbling, wanting to get back to the hotel by a certain time, to adhere to a schedule. The schedule isn't going anywhere. Life IS.

Two days in a row now I've taken the long way home, which takes me along the shoreline in time to catch the sunset. Work won't get any easier, and soon I'll be starting up my side musical jobs on weekends and have even less of these moments to myself. So whenever the opportunity arises, I will be chasing the sunshine.