Phantasmic Links 7.31.05

By now, I imagine quite a few native New Yorkers and tourists are enjoying photographs they took of themselves with a small Italian band. We also met some character actor from some movie I haven't seen yet. Man, people from Brooklyn LOVE Tony Danza. All I know is that while a four hour procession may go by quickly, four hours of walking back and forth on the same two blocks of Mulberry Street can seem like an eternity. Between expressway traffic and complications with subway construction, it was a very long day, and it felt good to finally eat dinner after having had nothing but half a bottle of water over the course of nine hours. It's time for me to summon the last scraps of energy I have, and gather together this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Will Flip-out make you flip out?

I'm never moving to Florida.

If I were to have my own superhero car, I think it would be something like this. Then maybe I could take on alligators...

Turn your PC into a Mac-- you KNOW you want to!

This is the perfect ride for those looking to shake things up.

Earlier this week, Janet posed the question “How did your blog get its name?” It's a great question, and I'd love to hear my readers' answers.

Do you like Mashups like Beatallica? Sean at Swimming in Champaign links to a pretty cool one.

Water does wacky things in zero-G. Another hat tip to Sean.

Dosetaker posted some fun links from Orsinal. The games on this site capture peace and tranquility and nature so perfectly, it proves that games don't have to be about sniping and carjacking to be fun. The ones I enjoyed the most this week were The Way Home and Floats.

I really enjoyed this Revenge of the Sith translation, linked to by Kelly.

At last, the virtual album we've all been waiting for has arrived! This brings back memories, and reminds me how much Bea Arthur does indeed sound like Alex Rocco. If this hurts you, scroll back up to the Mashups to cleanse your audio palette.



Blog Party: Where You Been?

As I mowed two lawns today, first the one at my dad's lot and then here at home, my mind drifted to thoughts of vacation and travel. My family has never been one to wander, and my dad never left Long Island until he and I started getting musical jobs in Manhattan or New Jersey, within the last decade. The only other time he traveled was when my mom planned a trip to Florida for their 30th wedding anniversary a few years ago and took him to see the Yankees in their Spring training. His four sisters were all shocked that after nearly 70 years, he was actually going to FLY somewhere. I think my mom had done a little more traveling than my dad before she got married, but I don't think she's ever been out of the country. The same holds true for myself. I've never been off the East coast, and I've only flown twice, three times if you count a connecting flight. The one thing I did embrace once I was old enough to drive, and have friends who could drive, was the road trip.

Some may disagree, but vacation is for the young or the wealthy. Once you graduate college, you have responsibilities. Unless you're fortunate enough to be a teacher, you work all year long. The weeks blur together as do the months, and it all becomes one mass of indiscernible routines. I'd like to think that my adventures are not all behind me, that I'm not too old to visit new places. It took 69 years, but my dad finally went somewhere. Lately I find myself wandering around at Google™ Maps, exploring as much of the world as their bank of satellite images will allow me to. While my thoughts were of places to go, my plans were to just stay home this weekend. It was the first time in weeks that I didn't have to work, but that changed daily. Yesterday, my dad asked if I'd come with him to the lot this morning and since I hadn't in weeks, and he was still tired from resealing the driveway during the week while I was powerless at work, I felt compelled to help him out. This morning one of my band leaders called, and while he originally told us a tentative job today wasn't happening, he learned that we were needed tomorrow. So tomorrow I'll find myself in Little Italy for several hours instead of my room.

When you're young there are pockets of time where you don't have to be anywhere but where you want to be. As we get older, these pockets shrink and we have to weigh where we want to be with where we need to be. That doesn't mean I go nowhere though, nor does it mean I didn't go to some interesting places when I was younger and had the time and opportunity to. This entire line of lawn-mowing musings melded with my realization about how long it's been since my last Blog Party, and I've come up with a great theme for BLOG PARTY: MCF Version 5.0, which will be held on Monday, August 8th. Here's the usual list of guidelines:

1) The host establishes a date for the event and chooses a topic to blog about.

2) On that day, neighboring blogs may discuss the same topic from their point of view, linking to the host's post.

3) The host may design a logo to commemorate the event, which other participating sites may copy to their servers and display as a link to the host in their post as well.

4) Everyone comments on everyone else's posts, “mingling” with the guests. A good time is had by all.

5) The next day, the host posts links in an “afterparty” post, collecting everyone who commented and participated in one place.

Post links to your contribution in the comments section of my post that day, or send me an e-mail at MCFSPU@hotmail.com My post will be up early Monday morning, and I hope to see you all follow with the following topic:

The Five Favorite Places You've Visited

At this point, some may be thinking they haven't been enough places to participate. I assure you, this topic is broad enough for you ALL to contribute, and it would be great if you encouraged your own readers to do the same. Answers can range from exotic islands I've never heard of to museums or supermarkets in your immediate area. Think back on your journeys, revisit memories of specific places and times, and then share why you've chosen your five. Nothing is too big or too small, too mundane or extravagant. In eight days, the Blog Party is going on a massive virtual vacation. Won't you join me, and add to our destinations?



FawnDoo's Blog Party II: Old Coots and Change

It's interesting that FawnDoo, whom I'm certain is still somewhere in his mid-twenties, centered the theme of his second blog party around our “inner crazy old coots”. I've always felt like I was born about 40 or 50 years later than a time I would have fit in to better, and my friends have often likened me to an old man because of my ideas. While my notions may be mature, my emotions have been anything but. As a child, I got along best with either kids in my neighborhood younger than me, or people my father's age in the bands we played in, and rarely with people my own age.

Where was I? I seem to be rambling more than usual...perhaps the host spiked the punch with something. The topic of the evening is change, something else I've never gotten along with. Not all change has been bad, and I've eventually embraced some changes more than others. This is a party, so I'll try to avoid deep, meaningful, and depressing fare for lighter observations. I can't make any promises though; I'm in nigh complete stream-of-consciousness mode, and anything may come out of my typing....

What changes do you regret?
I regret the way branding has overtaken television shows. I remember when I could sit down, watch a sitcom, and then as the credits rolled in the background would be scenes from the episode I'd just seen, edited cleverly and filling the screen. Between the '80s and the '90s, this practice declined but instead we'd get an extra minute or two of original content at the end. Then something happened. Sometimes the original content would be cut out in order to advertise new shows. Sometimes it would be there, but the screen would split and a commercial would get the larger and louder portion of the screen. By the time some of these shows were syndicated, chunks were missing from the episode. The Simpsons is notoriously butchered in reruns. Characters will still be talking as the volume fades out and it cuts to commercial, sometimes truncating their line entirely! But the branding, the distracting station logo in the lower right hand corner of every show, is the most regrettable change to shows. Sure, they make the icon somewhat transparent with network shows, but it's still distracting. Saturday morning cartoons have brightly colored opaque logos obscuring the entire corner, often overlapping key portions of the animation.

On a more serious note, I also regret the decline of ethics in the work place. There was a time when a person could work hard, and move up on his or her own merits. A boss appreciated extra efforts and rewarded hard work, and workers felt a responsibility and duty to their jobs, which many of them held for their entire career. These days, you can't stay in one place for very long. Sometimes, it's not your choice, as Janet astutely pointed out in her comments to a recent post. It doesn't matter who you are, how good you are, or how hard you try; at any given time if a company needs to make budget cuts you can be deemed expendable. Even if you do survive layoff after layoff, you'll only inherit the work of others, with no increase in pay. In fact, with the hours you'll need to put in just to tread water, the hourly breakdown of your salary will suffer. The ones who survive and get ahead in business aren't the honest, hardworking people. They're the ones who lied in school, copied off tests, or got other people to do their work for them. They carried these practices into the real world and found nothing but success by doing so.

Watching Wall Street this afternoon, and an accompanying documentary, I found more analysis of the decline of ethical business practices. In the film, Charlie Sheen’s character is torn between the dishonest practices that made his idol Gordon Gekko(Michael Douglas) incredibly wealthy, and the honest ones that leave his father(Martin Sheen) potentially facing the destruction of his airline. The film was intended to show not that “greed is good”, as Gekko proclaims in a famous speech from the film, but that it's important to take the right and honest path, even though it may be the most costly and expensive. Is it better to have moral wealth or tangible wealth? Director Oliver Stone laments in the documentary how many viewers thought the honest people were suckers and idolized Gekko. When people matter less than numbers on a page, they'll lose every time. I regret the increase of such practices, but while Wall Street and the more recent In Good Company portray their rise within my lifetime, classics like It's a Wonderful Life show that it's nothing new. The only change is that the balance has shifted against people in favor of profit.

What changes are you pleased with?
I love the rise of DVDs. I've never been the first person to get any media format. When my friends were listening to CDs, I was still listening to audio cassettes. When DVDs came out, I was still renting video cassettes. Then I got a computer that played DVDs. I started buying them, started watching commentaries and special features and easter eggs and realizing how inadequate the cassette was. On more than one occasion I've had to get out a screwdriver and disassemble my VCR to save a cassette that had become tangled, and I still remember similar incidents with my audio tapes. Thank God for #2 pencils. With my luck, I'm surprised I haven't hit the eject button on my computer to see tape spill out. DVDs are great. With Netflix, I'm catching up on a lot of movies I've missed over the years, and I can't see such a program practically working with clunky cassettes. The fact that DVDs can be mailed in flat, lightweight envelopes attests to their advantage in that regard. Were it not for DVDs, and computers that play them, I wouldn't have been able to watch Wall Street at work this afternoon while working on a logo for a presentation my boss has to make.

Speaking of computers, I'm not sure I'd even have a career in art otherwise. My first year in college gave me a taste of traditional graphic design, and I don't think I have the patience or motor skills to line up fonts by hand, one letter at a time. Graphic programs give me a remarkable degree of control and precision, and my computer skills more than compensate for some of my artistic weaknesses.

Where can you see it all going?
I think advertising on television is going to get so bad, that many people will wait and watch shows exclusively on DVD. As it is, I often tape shows so I can fast forward through the intermissions. And once “reality” TV has completely conquered the airwaves, I may be done with television entirely.

How do you feel about the changes?
I feel good about CDs and DVDs and air conditioning and automatic seatbelts and air bags. I feel REALLY good about the internet, without which I'd be a lot more bored and probably less intelligent. The ability to find ANYTHING out, to have the power of knowledge at my fingertips, may be the greatest change in my lifetime. I feel concerned about the moral and ethical changes in our society, and have no idea what the future holds. All I can do is take one day at a time and Keep Going. I'm sure my parents' generation had their hardships and they made it, as did their parents and generations before them. In the grand scheme of history, from natural disasters to diseases to wars, humanity is still here, as Fishburne's Morpheus proclaims in The Matrix Reloaded. The average lifespan is increasing. Maybe it's not so crazy after all that FawnDoo invokes the inner elderly; at 30, I would have been considered a senior citizen in the Old West.

What would you change if you had the chance?
I'm not sure I would ever have the chance to make great changes; there are things in my own life that I've been unwilling or unable to attempt to improve. The world has changed so much; how can one person possibly revert to the things that were once right about it? Wouldn't it be great if a person graduated school, married and then had sex for the first time, remained with his or her spouse for life, raised children, and held on to the same great job where he or she climbed the corporate ladder rung by rung? Isn't that the way life is supposed to work? A nice, uncomplicated Leave it to Beaver existence would be one I could handle, but I don't see things going back in that direction. People will continue to confuse license with freedom, and desperately seek to justify doing whatever they want at the expense of others. I don't think I could change society itself. A more realistic hypothetical scenario would be winning the lottery, buying a television station, and running it the way I wanted to, with employees having job security and shows being longer than the advertisements, which would be less intrusive. That too is a naive scenario, sadly enough, and I'd be out of business in a very short period of time.

What will you tell your grandchildren about 2005?
Another hypothetical, eh? I'd probably say something like: “When I was your age, we got up to change the channel on the television. My first television had rabbit ears, stood on four legs, and didn't have color. When we turned it off, a little white dot remained in the middle of the screen for a long time. By the time I was thirty, we had remote controls you had to hold in your hand and aim at the televisions, which were larger, sharper and in some cases flat. There were no holographic projectors, no chips implanted in our brain stem at birth that allowed us to tune in to any program we wanted at any time, or visualize our dreams and thoughts. And while we had the internet, its speed was measured in megabytes and even kilobytes per second, none of this gigabyte per second nonsense. That's why you kids are so damn impatient. You also don't understand loss, what with all the cloning and memory chips. Why when our pets and loved ones died, we FELT it. We visited places called cemeteries and paid our respects, and held on to memories, the only thing we had left. You kids have had the same dog and cat your entire lives, and I'm your third Grampa MCF! This moon colony is going down the tubes and if things don't change soon, we're going to end up so much space debris like the Earth. What? 'What's the Earth' you say?! Why you little--!

Will they believe you?
Hell, no.

* * *

Thanks, FawnDoo. I feel a lot older now. And by the time anyone finishes reading this rant, we'll all be a little older. Still, I encourage my readers to pop in their contacts and be sure to check out what our host had to say.

(On an unrelated note, I can't believe it's been so long since I hosted one of these cyber shindigs...stay tuned....)



Hooking Up at the Bar

For most of my life, I've been shy, withdrawn, quiet and self-conscious. Social situations always made me uncomfortable. I had an irrational anger toward groups of people laughing, saw them as a clique when all they may have been was a group of people I didn't know and wasn't talking to. I'm not the sort to sidle up to people I don't know or know only casually, and join in the conversation. This may come as a surprise to readers familiar with my long-winded daily musings, but I'm a horrible conversationalist. I often find myself standing with a group of people with little to add, and attempts at starting a new topic are usually mundane statements like, “Boy, hot the last couple of days; I like the breeze...” or “Yeah, work is busy. Yeah. Work....” followed by an uncomfortable silence. My ineptness at social gatherings is exacerbated by self-esteem issues that, while I've long since recognized as being potentially false, still lurk in my subconscious. I know the group of people laughing probably aren't laughing at me. I know the girl who makes a face and looks away may not be thinking, “Ew, what is that thing and why is it trying to make eye contact?” I know these things may be false, but I know they may also be true, and my emotions lean toward the latter every time.

A very talented artist is leaving our company tomorrow, and while I would have enjoyed going out to a group lunch his co-workers instead set up a happy hour for tonight. Already the feelings of not being comfortable or thinking the “cool kids” wouldn't want me in their presence surfaced when I first saw the invitation, but some of my friends were talking about going and at one point the artist himself dropped off a business card and asked if I was going. Rey, like myself, never enjoyed the bar scene. He's much better at striking up conversations with strangers or associates, entertaining them, and making new friends. But he doesn't really drink, doesn't enjoy smoke, and probably doesn't like having to shout and ask people to repeat themselves. He worked with this artist too, and decided he had to at least make an appearance, but he wanted me to talk to other people besides him so we “didn't look gay”. I arrived at the bar a few moments after he did and as we walked in, he called his wife to set up an “exit strategy”. In 17 minutes she would call with some emergency with the kids or something and he would have to politely excuse himself “reluctantly”, and head home. In 17 minutes I was on my own.

I've been working for this company for nearly 6 years, so the people in the room weren't complete strangers. There were a few that I'd talked to enough that I felt comfortable talking to, but even then there were the same awkward conversations and silences, only louder. I'm not much of a mingler, so eventually the people I was talking to had to politely excuse themselves so they could talk to someone else. I honestly don't understand how people hook up at bars, and I may never be the sort of person who does. I understand the beer factor. I was at a wedding once where a hot co-worker and former sorority girl who wouldn’t look at me twice not only danced with me, but drunkenly called out her name at the end of the evening and told me to look for her at the next happy hour. The fact that we had met several times before and she still felt the need to tell me who she was made it clear that she had no idea who I was, and indeed when I smiled and said hello in the hall the next day I only received an uncomfortable nod of half-recognition in return. At our last Christmas party, another female co-worker might have been hitting on me, and definitely was very, very drunk. I understand the beer factor; I know I look better to them when they’re drunk. But when people are shouting over music and other people, I think there's no real conversation or comprehension to be gained. There's a lot of laughing and nodding, but no one knows what's been said. I spent part of the evening talking to one of the tech guys from our company who's sometimes hard to understand with his thick Chinese accent when I CAN hear what he's saying. I just nodded when he nodded, laughed when he laughed, and said “yeah” a lot.

There was a lot of laughing going on, and at one point a live guitar player belting out such hits as Sweet Caroline, My Life, Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da and of course Margaritaville. I can't say I wasn't entertained, but the performance was so close to karaoke it would have been even more fun if I got a turn on the microphone. The wings and mozzarella sticks were great, and at one point a girl I didn't know caught my eye, looked at me, looked away, then looked again. It wasn't the typical “ewww what is IT?!” look I usually receive either, and once more I marveled at the beer factor. It’s just as likely cheese was hanging from my chin, I suppose. I did get to talk to the guest-of-honor for a bit too, and recommended he add more pieces to his website. He may have been too drunk to register the conversation by this point, and his wife assured us that she was the designated driver.

It was a different sort of Thursday for me, definitely not the same as my normal routine of working late and going to the gym if I get done with my work before it closes. I did feel guilty when I came home and found my dad had resealed half the asphalt on our driveway today, moreso when I learned he didn't use gloves or a mask as a contractor in one of the bands we play in had recommended. It never ceases to amaze me how the cycle of life works. There was a time when my parents needed to monitor ME constantly, and now I find myself worrying what sort of trouble they'll get into when I’m not around. My mom went out today to one of the gardens she volunteers at, and he took the opportunity of no one being home and the weather being decent to do the job himself, his way. He told me he couldn't wait for the weekend because the weather was good today, and assured my mom that the sealant he got on the sidewalk would come off.

Someday, I'd love to have an “exit strategy” of my own to come home to instead.


PBW: Return(s) to Sanctuary

Photo Blog Wednesday

The town of Mill Neck, at only 2.6 square miles, is so small that it's easy to drive through before you realize you're there. A collection of nice estates near Long Island's north shore, it's nestled deep in the woods near a lake. Their single train station is also their post office, and their police station. For weeks I searched in vain for the Shu Swamp, a nature preserve I hadn't visited since I was much, much younger. I've always loved the fact that there were so many beaches and nature preserves in my town and the neighboring communities, loved being able to walk or take my bike to the places in between the places with all the noise and people, and find a whole other world. To most, Long Island is synonymous with strip malls and expensive real estate. While such a description is increasingly accurate, it's nice to know some of the places that gave the island its initial appeal still exist.

As I've been blogging about ad nauseum of late, I've been very busy with the various bands I belong to. After work tonight I played in a several hour procession in Brooklyn from which I've only recently returned, and yesterday I spent several hours at a feast in Hoboken. On Saturday I performed in a fire department parade and on Sunday I found myself strolling with a small Italian band through the streets of the Bronx. I awoke Saturday determined to find some time for solitude and relaxation between noise and labor. Some research online eventually revealed why I had been so unsuccessful in finding the Shu Swamp in the past. I knew it was near a train trestle, but it was further down the line from the locations I suspected. I was also spelling the name with an “oe” rather than a “u”, which is why most of my searches weren't helpful. At last I had the elusive location, and I was on my way Saturday afternoon before the parade.

It was a magical journey. I parked my car and made my way down the trail, deep into the woods over bridges and past dragonflies. I saw broken trees supported by other trees, heard strange birdcalls, and snapped one very scary-looking rusty gate in the back corner. I emerged upon a small lake fed by a larger one, and noticed movement in the water. There I saw several fish about the size of my forearm swimming about; I have no idea what kind they were. The silence was broken by the incongruous sound of a train whistle, and I looked up to see a train impossibly fly through the treetops. I made my way to a break in the trail and saw a steep incline leading to the tracks which ran through the otherwise peaceful place. Finally I came upon a bronze statue of a bird and emerged into the parking lot once more, but not before getting the standard “serial killer perspective” shot from between the trees that's common in any horror movie. I got home with plenty of time to spare before the parade, and discovered that my camera sucks.

The batteries were low, which was one possible problem. It also has a very poor memory card setup. The card is spring loaded, and the door doesn't really hold it in. I have some tape on it, but if the card just slightly pushes out, pictures will be saved to the camera itself, which has a much smaller capacity. Apparently this happened since I only had about 10 out of the 30 shots I knew I'd taken, and some only showed up when I let the card stick out a bit. It was annoying, and there was no time to go back on Saturday. It did give me an excuse to return on Sunday however, and though I had to get to my job that day earlier I still squeezed my mission in. I knew which images I needed to recapture this time, knew to put in fresh batteries and keep my thumb on the loose card door. Between the two days, I can now take all of you along the same path I walked, and share with you the sanctuary I found. Sit back, relax, and watch this video I took. Come now with me through the Shu Swamp:



Noise Pollution

In the right hands, the ”Ave Maria” is a beautiful hymn that can inspire love, harmony, and images of verdant meadows and fluffy white clouds. In the wrong hands, it may become a weapon of mass destruction that can shatter glass and tear even more holes in our already depleted ozone layer. Today, I heard the latter.

I shouldn't talk. Doubtless when I work parades and feasts there are scores of people in the neighborhood who didn't ask to have a brass band march or stroll down their street blaring Sousa or the Tarantella. But nine times out of ten, we're at least in tune when we do it. The cracking voice that warbled forth from giant speakers across the street from the church in Hoboken was, as our band leader put it in the words of Randy Jackson, “pitchy”.(and I just learned he's Samuel L.'s cousin--cool!)

Perhaps there was something off with the acoustics in the church. Perhaps the amplifiers were set way too high and the voice was distorted. All I know is that as I looked at the faces in the crowd, spectators and musicians alike were either grimacing, cringing, or blatantly holding their ears in agony. Again, perhaps I shouldn't talk. The ensuing five hour procession was a blur to me in the three-digit weather, and our instruments weren't always in tune because of the effects of the heat on the metal. Several times my valves froze up completely, despite being oiled every time. The people seemed grateful afterwards, but I can make the same joke that our drummer made when the speakers exploded with uproarious applause at the end of the singer's solo: “they're just happy it's over.”

Surprisingly, the day held very few other complications. I wasn't sure how carrying a musical instrument in a large military-looking green dufflebag would fly on the trains. The presence of police and soldiers to inspect backpacks and carry-ons didn't result in a single inspection of OUR belongings. Perhaps they recognized the outline of musical instruments, or saw the brass bells peering out from the drawstring openings. I think anyone who's seen Desperado would think twice about underestimating an instrument or a case. If a guitar case can house a flamethrower, why not a Baritone Horn? Apparently you not only need to play a guitar to get respect from the ladies, but from the authorities as well. Our rides on the LIRR and the PATH trains were mostly uneventful, although on the way home the LIRR came to a dead stop in the middle of an iron yard in Queens just after emerging from the tunnel. I suspect the air conditioning and the rush hour overload combined with the heat to create an electrical problem, and we sat there for several minutes in the middle of nowhere before they got the train running again. I should say that I STOOD there; I let my dad get the last seat and I was among the 30-40 passengers standing in our car.

I wasn't in the mood for company, but my mom's friend and her husband had driven up from Florida. She entertained them during the day but they were still here when we got home, sporting matching t-shirts that said “I survived the Blackout of 2003”, which occurred on their last visit. My mom, I noted, was wearing one as well, a gift from her friends. My mom's friend made my exhausted father and I take out our instruments and pose on the lawn for a photo. They're nice people, but it was torture after the day I've had. In fact, they're still here and from my dad's shouts, it sounds like they let the cat get in the basement and need me to retrieve him. I'll share one more anecdote from my day before I return to the geriatric party down the hall. I noticed several great billboard ads at various stops with charts comparing Vitamin Water to Tropicana. The headline above the chart reads: “OJ Found GUILTY(of being high in sugar, that is). I would LOVE to work for an agency that gets to come up with stuff like that someday.


Keep Going.

I was feeling a little depressed earlier this evening as I was driving home. One of my greatest assets at work used to be my speed. Some pieces I'd design would be better than others, but the one constant was that my superiors always marveled at how quickly I got everything done. Nine years ago I was even faster and more eager to please, but in the years I've been out of college and in the “real” world I've slowly been learning that the faster one is, the more work one is “rewarded” with. Still, I can't help a certain personal satisfaction when I set a goal for myself and actually achieve it.

Work's not too bad right now. I left for the weekend feeling confident about what was complete, and what I still needed to accomplish. Before I left tonight, knowing I'd be out of the office for a feast in Hoboken, I planned to finish designing seven flyers. Normally I get through flyers pretty quickly, even those as large as 8 pages, but somehow this afternoon hours just slipped away from me. I was constantly working and not getting sidetracked, yet every time I looked up at the clock an unbelievable amount of time had elapsed. By the time I left the office, I had completed but one flyer.

It's hard to push myself sometimes. My parents are from a completely different generation with a completely different work ethic. If not for the uncanny physical resemblance and other traits I inherited from them, I'd wonder if I was adopted. Twelve years ago, when he was 62, my dad found he would get winded very easily, getting a strange feeling in his chest when he walked fast. He described it as feeling as though he had breathed in cold air. He met with a cardiologist, had some tests done, and discovered that most of the major arteries in his heart were clogged. After two unsuccessful balloon angioplasties and a third procedure with a laser failed to clear the blockage, the doctor was very blunt. He told my father he had two options: have bypass surgery or go home and sit in a chair and wait to die.

I spent a lot of time in college worrying I'd lose my dad. He persevered meanwhile and, not liking what the doctor told him or wanting to have surgery, sought other solutions. I never thought it would be possible for someone to change his diet with the discipline and immediacy he employed. After years of baloney for lunch every day, and daily visits to Carvel, he quit cold turkey. I doubt I'd have the willpower to do the same. He also began an alternative treatment known as chelation therapy, in which an intravenous supply of vitamins would help flush out some of the blocked arteries. Twelve years ago, a cardiologist gave my father six months to a year without surgery. Today there's a 75-year-old man who still gets up at 5:30 every morning, does his own automobile repairs, does yardwork to keep busy, and plays just as many parades and feasts as his 30-year-old lazy son. When I'm walking for six hours in the heat tomorrow, he'll be right beside me. Some days, I can't even walk as fast as he does. No matter what, he KEEPS GOING.

My mom is the same way. She's not the morning person my dad is, but her work ethic kicks in at night. I called my dad around 8 to let him know I was still at the office, and he told me my mom had just gone outside to do gardening. She's never let her asthma slow her down for long, and she remains active in her own yard as well as several arboretums in the area. No matter what, she KEEPS GOING.

Lorna left a comment yesterday that despite being picked on as a kid, I was “strengthened by adversity.” I hope she's right. I've written confidently about surviving, before, and I hope my own hype is true. In high school, the abuse from bullies and cool kids was verbal and not physical like in the preceding grades, but it still took a few years before I stopped flinching. Surviving can make us strong, but fear can cripple us if we let it.

Reading about Lance Armstrong winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France on Swimming in Champaign definitely put me in the survivor mindset. If ever there was a role model, a source of inspiration, it's someone who had cancer, had it spread in the worst possible ways and not only beat it, but went on to greater achievements in his athletic career. In 1996 Lance Armstrong got some bad news from his doctor, and he KEPT GOING.

Somewhere amid distant role models like Armstrong and the two I have closer to home, the answer to life may be gleaned. When I get frustrated with the mundanities of my office work, I often have to remind myself that eventually, it all gets done. Sometimes it's overwhelming that the day I turn in some pieces is the same day I'm given new assignments, but I wouldn't have a job at all if there wasn't anything to do. Work keeps going, and life keeps going until we get tired and stop. I might get tired on the treadmill at work after a few weeks away from the gym. People may snicker at the humorous sight I no doubt present. I will never let any of it stop me. There's no reason to ever give in when we think we can't press on, can't go even a little further. We can do more than we think we can. The trick is to stop thinking, and just keep going.


Phantasmic Links: 7.24.05

I should feel more tired than I do, but perhaps it hasn't caught up to me yet. These are busy times for the Cloaked musician. A parade yesterday. A feast in the Bronx today. A feast in Hoboken this coming Tuesday. Another gig in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. I'm just taking things one day at a time, and resting when I can get it. I even got some interesting photographs in between jobs this weekend, that I'll share later this week, along with a (hopefully) interesting tale. For now, I'm going to share this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

”The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die”--I'd probably do it in one sitting and make the list prophetic.

Coming soon: Biggie the Movie.

I play games over and over and over until I beat them. I beat all five levels of Alphaforce this week, for example. Each day, I got a little further until I beat it(I know, I need a girlfriend). Black Knight, meanwhile, has thus far proven unbeatable. I haven't been able to get past the fourth level, and I haven't gotten a weapon any more advanced than the battle axe. It's a fun game though; I enjoy the style of the animation and the music.

Holy crap! So THIS is where he's been hiding! Thank you Google™Maps....

Holy crap! OS X can DRIVE!(Hat tip to J-No via e-mail.)

Holy...crap?! (sorry.)

Bouncing a toddler on a sugarcube is fun, but this game reaches new heights of wonderful absurdity with the introduction of helper monkeys....

Can you beat your friends in an AIM®fight? Would you want to?

GrowRPG isn't an RPG so much as one of those weird games in which you have to use the items in the correct order to win, much like the original Grow. It's also a lot of fun and has a great payoff, if you like this sort of thing. Fellow frustrated obsessives can feel free to ask for the correct order if you get stumped.


Bullitt to Brazil

I briefly mentioned yesterday that I had finally seen Bullitt. It's a shame Steve McQueen isn't still with us. After seeing The Towering Inferno a few months ago and The Magnificent Seven last November, I've definitely gained an appreciation for this actor. So many films and television shows were influenced by Bullitt, and I definitely saw shades of Jack Bauer among others in McQueen. McQueen plays it cool from beginning to end, and never screams or shoots anyone in the kneecaps, but then Bauer has his cool moments in between his explosions, and in those I see a little bit of Bullitt. One thing is for certain: no one drives a car like McQueen. The car chase scene is what this film is most famous for, and given the fact that its stars did a lot of their driving and logged a lot of hours on real racetracks to get used to high speeds and add authenticity to their performance, I have nothing but awe and respect for it.

As I mentioned, I was watching it at work, and at one point one of my coworkers came by and asked, “What are you doing? Why are you watching that? That's OLD. Watch something that people are talking about, movies that MATTER.” I sarcastically apologized for not watching Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious yet. In 1968, there were no computer enhancements or special effects. Actors, and possibly stuntmen, were out there doing it for real. Every movie matters, just as history matters, in understanding where we are now and how we got here. By the time he reminded me that I also need to see Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2, I realized any further defense of Bullitt would be lost.

Last night I jumped ahead 10 years and watched the 1978 science fiction classic The Boys from Brazil. When I say “science fiction”, it may conjure images of aliens or spaceships to some, but this is sf in the most traditional sense. It's set in what was present day at the time and the science elements involved were not only based in reality, but something that today is more of a reality than it was back then. I'm sure many of you know the “secret” of the film whether or not you've seen it; I knew what it was about going in and the revelation suffered slightly for it. The film boasts an impressive cast, from Gregory Peck as the despicable Nazi geneticist Josef Mengele to Sir Lawrence Olivier as Nazi-hunter Ezra Lieberman. This is also one of Steve Guttenberg's first films, the drama does nothing to suggest his career would go on to include Police Academy, Cocoon, or Three Men and a Baby. I've made a mental note to stop thinking of him as “not Howie Mandel. And Jeremy Black gives such chilling performances that I'm surprised to see this is his only acting credit.

As I watched, several supporting characters stood out to me as well. My friend said old movies didn't matter, that people didn't talk about them anymore. If that's even remotely true, it should be changed. I recognized Anne Meara, wife of Jerry Stiller, mother of Ben Stiller, and a performer I've seen in many projects, including a soap opera my mom watches. Stiller and Meara have been married since 1954 I see--that's an impressive record, especially for celebrities. Besides Meara, one old man with a small role seemed very familiar, especially his voice. I didn't think it could possibly be him, yet it did indeed turn out to be Michael Gough, who I'm most familiar with as Alfred Pennyworth in the 1989-1997 Batman quadrology. Gough wasn't the only actor an entire generation may erroneously associate solely with a comic book character. Some will hear the name Rosemary Harris and only be able to cite her role as Aunt May in Spider-man and Spider-man 2. Before yesterday, I would not have been able to cite more than those two films myself. While she's much younger, her voice is distinctive and her hair his pulled back in the same familiar bun.

Every movie matters. It's all part of one large pattern, one tapestry of actors, careers, influences, and advancements. They are dewdrops glistening on a perfectly spun spider’s web, and I choose to SEE them rather than walk right through it.



Had I been born a decade later, I would surely have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. In elementary school, I was always moving from desk to desk, talking to different kids, and generally disrupting the teacher's workflow. Often I had to be isolated, and many times I had to stay in at recess to write “I will not talk in class” or some similar phrase hundreds of times on sheets of loose-leaf. My mind was always going, and when I couldn't find enough diversion outside, I sought it inside. Many was the day my pen would become a spaceship, and fly around my desk while the crew had adventures. Sometimes the cap would separate, and the pen would become a deadly rocket to destroy aliens on my desk that looked suspiciously like block erasers while the crew soared off safely in the cap-shuttle. I was in many worlds, and often not THIS world.

When I would watch shows like Muppet Babies or read comics like Calvin and Hobbes, I delighted in seeing imagination take form. My action figures were never pieces of plastic and metal; they were alive, with personalities, histories, and back stories. The alternate realities children create are tangible to them. Who among us DIDN'T want a purple crayon to magically draw what we needed and bring it to life?

I can't watch television unless I'm fiddling with something, whether I'm taking the battery cover off the remote and putting it back together, or I play with a Slinky® or a Rubik's Cube. When I watch DVDs on my computer, I can only keep it fullscreen for so long before I need to minimize the window and surf the web or play a simple flash game that doesn't require TOO much attention. In college, I found I could draw or paint better with tapes of my favorite bands playing, either on a boombox in my studio at home or on a portable player with headphones in class. I always had the radio playing at my first job until I came back from lunch one day to find the bosses had removed it, and by my next job I had a computer that could play CDs as well as a set of headphones so as not to disturb my neighbors. Even then, one once complained that she could hear them and politely asked me to turn it down. White Zombie's Thunderkiss ‘65 was not the same driving force toward creativity and productivity to others that it was to me.

I get bored without multiple stimuli, yet it's a delicate balance. Throw in too many diversions, or just a few that are more appealing than what I should be concentrating on, and my focus is lost. I work in an office where multitasking is more requirement than asset. My workload has doubled and doubled again in the nearly six years I've been there. Needless to say, my attention span being what it is, I often suffer from “What do I do first?” syndrome. Graphic design requires a lot more math and language skills than fine arts. If I'm painting or drawing, I can have a radio or television going in the background and it won't distract me. If anything, it helps me turn parts of my brain “off” so I'm not thinking too much about what I'm doing. For some reason, I get better results when I let myself drift into autopilot. I'm not saying that fine arts are never deliberate, or even that they shouldn't be, but there's more room for things to be random. With design, there are rules. Pages will be printing a certain size. Photographs need to have a certain color balance that reflects and enhances reality. Certain typefaces work better with certain subject matter, and some typefaces should never be combined. There are some things in design that are so mechanical and repetitious that I can tune in to music, or partake in conversations without stopping entirely. Other aspects require me to read the words I'm putting on the page, and measure the position of various elements. Often, design requires the use of both sides of the brain.

Two weeks ago, I was finally upgraded to a (fairly) new computer. Among the many benefits I was looking forward to, I could finally play DVDs at work. I've been bringing in discs from my own collection, shows and movies I've seen before. It was nice to hear in the background and have playing up in the corner, and I found I was more productive than ever. I made the mistake this morning of mentioning to my folks that I was bringing a movie I'd rented, Bullitt, to work with me. I figured I could be efficient and start getting through new movies during the day instead of having to wait until I got home. My mom became very concerned that I wouldn't pay attention to my work, and my dad admonished, “You better not fool around in your shop; they're gonna fire you if you're not careful.” I assured them that it would not be a problem, nor did I think anyone at work would have any objection to it, so long as it was something playing small on the side while I did my job. As it turns out, we were both wrong.

The movie didn't distract me from my job at all, but rather the opposite occurred. I'd finish designing a few pages and glance over at the movie, and wonder who a character was or what had just happened. Several times I had to back up and replay a chapter. Phone calls would come in. People would stop by to ask me questions. Even my friends, normally a welcome distraction, forced me to pause and back up a few times. Ultimately I ended up starting it from the beginning when I was done, and going through it a second time. I definitely appreciated it as THE definitive cop movie from a few years before I was born that laid the groundwork for every similar movie I've loved from within my lifetime. But I'm not certain I watched it under the best of conditions. It was a bad combination of a new movie that I needed to pay more attention to, with a day of left-side brain work.

If I were Jamie Madrox and had the power to create multiple copies of myself, I wouldn't have these problems.


The A.T.C.T.

After tonight's post, there's a possibility that I may lose some readers.

I've thought that before, and I've been wrong every time. When I wrote about Google™-ing information about my (now married) ex-girlfriend, I was certain my female readers would decry me as a stalker and flee in terror. Instead I only found support. When I wrote about my Catholicism, I thought that would not be received well by some. It's never been easy to be a person of faith at any time in history, and people are especially apprehensive given the actions some people have used their religions to justify. It hurts to be called a “quack” or a “religious nut” or any other derogatory comment, and to see the good aspects of faith lumped in with the bad. That particular post didn't result in any such comments as I feared, however. And when I dabbled in fiction and wrote a really twisted story, my readers not only didn't run, but one even gave me a trophy. There's a good chance I'm wrong once more about the reactions that may result from tonight's post, but then abortion is a somewhat more volatile subject than I normally delve into on this site.

This isn't going to be a political or religious rant. I'm not a woman. I don't have any children and I'm not married yet. I'm a Catholic. Already, I'm on shaky ground to speak on this matter. I'm not going to condemn people I disagree with, and while it would be nice if teenagers possessed the same restraint as my parents' generation and those before them, it's sadly no longer realistic. Of my friends, I only know of two guys for sure who had the strength to wait until marriage. I'm certainly not proud of my own failings in that area, and I'd be a hypocrite to condemn anyone else for being human and giving in to their desires. I do think that teenagers should not be having sex, and if they aren't mature enough to take precautions, then they're in over their heads already. Unfortunately, teenage irresponsibility isn't the only source of unwanted pregnancy, which makes the issue even more complicated. For a better debate of both sides of the issue, with both sides wavering between rational and heated due to the nature of the topic, I suggest you read here and here. I stood on the edge of that pool many times in the last few weeks, weighing whether or not to dive in. I ultimately decided not to splash around and make things worse, but here in my own pond I've decided to share one of my patented meandering MCF tales.

Having a child is something of a paradox. It seems so easy for a couple to get in “trouble”, yet there are many risks and complications for those who set out to intentionally procreate. Whether you're religious or not, our very existence IS miraculous. There are so many factors against the successful fertilization of an egg and growth of a healthy child, yet we've been reproducing and multiplying long before medicine advanced to the point it's at now. My own parents had their share of difficulty conceiving, for various reasons. An asthmatic, my mother's always been in fragile health, and I have many scary childhood memories of going with her to the emergency room during bad attacks. Once when my dad was at work and she had to rush to the hospital, I came out of school to find she had called the police to pick me up in her absence and bring me to her.

I don't know if age was a factor in their problems as well. My dad was 39 and my mom was 30 when they got married, and it is true that the risks increase with age. And of course, the medical advancements that exist today were not around when they were trying over thirty years ago. They lost a baby on more than one occasion, and my mom went through two stillbirths, both daughters. 30 years and 8 months ago, they finally had a son, their only child.

When we went to the cemetery to see my grandparents and various other relatives, there was always one plot of land in the back corner we would stop at. It was different from the rest. There were no markers or tombstones of any kind, yet people would come and leave flowers on the ground. Were my parents religious nuts for visiting the ground in which their daughters and the lost children of others were buried, or grieving individuals dealing with real, genuine loss? Their pain was real. My older sisters, no matter how short their lives, were real. It's easy to refer to unborn children at various stages of development in clinical terms, but to the mother who loves the life growing inside her, that uninterrupted and uncomplicated will continue to grow and develop, that life isn't anything else but Her Baby. I used to feel bad when I'd act up as a kid. Too late I'd see the toll it took on my mother, and I felt nothing but guilty over the fact that they tried unsuccessfully so many times and when they finally did have a child, they got ME. My mom may have even said as much in a moment of anger once when I was particularly misbehaving, but I can't recall exactly what was said.

School was rough. In first or second grade I would occasionally talk about my sisters, and the kids who knew I was an only child called me a liar. Telling them I did have sisters and they were in heaven was only met with more scorn and mockery. And so, they joined the list of things I never should have let other kids rob from me. I stopped talking about them. Of course, the kids found other things to make fun of. I've been called plenty of names in my day. Spock. Mickey Mouse. Troll. Tattoo. Eddie Munster. Dumbo. Dopey. And countless others. While I'm among the first to admit that I've never exactly been easy on the eyes, some of these names were harsh and unfounded. None of these names, however, compare to this one:

”The Abortion That Came Through.”

I'd never heard something so harsh, and it's all the more sickening looking back to realize this was coming from THIRD GRADERS. Did their parents speak of such things? Older siblings? The very fact that they knew of it was bad enough, but the implication that I shouldn't exist, that I was some thing that should not be was devastating. I never told my parents, but I asked some of my friends to explain and when I was a little older did some reading of my own on the subject. I was perhaps in seventh grade by the time biology class offered disturbing, graphic images. The phrase meanwhile faded from memory, until I was in high school. My parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to a Catholic high school thinking it would be “better”. I never disabused them of the notion that kids there would be better. It meant nothing. Parents never fully know everything their kids know and do, no matter how involved they are.

Looking back, I think the most interesting thing about the nickname is the “Came Through” part. Third graders understood what abortion was, that it meant that an individual's existence would cease. They also understood that, undeterred, a baby would emerge and grow and go to school and eventually be standing on the playground dealing with their crap. Despite this and every other hardship I've survived in my life, I honestly believe that I'm still better off than my sisters. I don't know why they died. Parents lose children all the time, it's hard to imagine anyone not wanting their child to live. I hope to someday have a wife and child or two of my own.

If you've read this much, whatever your opinions of me now may be, I thank you.


PBW: Herbies

Photo Blog Wednesday

When I was a little boy, I referred to any Volkswagon Beetle as a “Herbie”. My friends(and enemies) had a different name for them, and it was a bewildered young MCF that often got hit when one of them inexplicably shouted, ”PUNCH BUGGY!!!” My name for them came of course from the movie The Love Bug which, while a little before my time, would air occasionally as the Sunday night Disney movie. I had the paperback adaptation which I read cover to cover many times, and I also had the book for Herbie Goes Bananas. I'm not certain if I ever saw the film for the latter, but I read the book enough times to think I had. Apparently, there were a few other sequels and remakes I haven't seen as well. As I got older, I started calling Beetles Bumblebee or Cliffjumper. Of course, that earned me some punches as well from anyone in earshot. Eventually, I learned to call the cars by name or simply not at all. The novelty eventually wore off, or was beaten out of me.

I don't really have a strong desire to see Herbie: Fully Loaded in theaters, but the nostalgia factor is just high enough that I may rent it when it comes out on DVD. On Saturday, we had about five or six hours to kill between performances in Brooklyn, so we came back home for a bit. After dropping off the trumpet player at his car, I could swear I saw Herbie parked in front of a tire store. When we passed by a few hours later on our way back, he was gone, but I knew what I saw, even if my dad had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn't believe he didn't remember Herbie, and he actually thought I meant a saxophone player from another band we're in who goes by the same name. I can't WAIT to be 75.

I returned on Sunday with my digital camera, and there he was. Replica or one of the actual cars used for the movie, I do not know. I didn't care. I parked in the next lot and casually walked down the sidewalk, then got my shots. As I made my escape, the oddness of the paparazzi approach struck me. This wasn't a celebrity and likely NOT an original model. There were no signs forbidding photography, yet there I was being blatantly subtle. It was there to promote the store and draw in customers; they put it out front for people to look at. My tendency to always be strange FIRST aside, I got some cool shots despite the overcast weather. Enjoy!



Profile: Virgil Webster

Run, E.T.! Peter Coyote is back!

I'm never quite sure how to describe The Inside. I was expecting The X-files, and a show about FBI agents like this certainly has the same flavor, but there are no supernatural elements. There are no aliens or psychics, but such things would ruin the show. X-files had its creepy old guy, but he was a nemesis to the main characters. The intriguing cast of The Inside actually WORK for their creepy old guy.

As Virgil “Web” Webster, Coyote is something of an enigma. He never tells his agents his theories about the serial killers they hunt, not directly. Instead, he'll drop casual comments and clues with which they must use to arrive at the same conclusions themselves. As a mentor, he's something of an Xavier/Magneto hybrid, with just a dash of Cable's Nietzschean methods. Initially, I thought he was just a great detective and teacher. In one episode, after his agents have spent hours inspecting evidence, he walks in the room, takes one look at the items scattered on the table, smiles grimly and says “gotcha”. Soon they're on the trail of a twisted sociopath based on Web noticing a connection instantly that his team had not.


The last few episodes have begun to show more and more of the darkness within which Web operates. Initially, it showed how he pushes his agents very hard. Each has some problem or personality trait that he'll often exploit in order to catch the trail of their deadly prey. In the pilot episode, one of his best agents is murdered, but we soon learn that she tore her own face off to make her suicide LOOK like the work of the killer they were hunting. His agents are always on that edge, and he brings in beautiful rookie Rebecca Locke, played by Rachel Nichols, to replace her and solve the case. Rebecca has a childhood secret that gives her some insight into the criminal mind, and though she has some traumatic memories, Web makes her use them to get inside and think how the killer thinks, to solve the case. If he pushes his team to the edge, he's teetering on the brink constantly.

Web pushes. He believes the ends justify the means. So what? What's so interesting about that? Aside from Coyote's subdued yet immense presence, the last few weeks have really revealed some scary facets to his character. Paul Ryan(Jay Harrington), one of his agents, learns that he planted evidence years ago to stop a serial killer who cut out his victim's hearts. On Paul's first case with Web he found a heart buried in the sociopath's garden, but years later Paul pieces together some clues that paint a very different picture. Web followed the killer one night, and though he was too late to save the victim he did interrupt the process and the killer fled. When efforts to resuscitate her failed, Web himself cut out her heart and planted it in her murderer's yard, then called the guy's neighbor and offered her money to testify that she'd seen the killer out digging. Her lie comes out and the killer is released. I won't go into how his situation eventually resolves, but Paul nearly quits, at one point turning in his badge and gun. He returns and demands respect from Web, and learns that Web is suspended pending an investigation into how he handled that case. In a truly creepy follow-up episode, the story bounces between the agents hunting yet another serial killer, and Web making bizarre requests of a prostitute. One isn't sure where it's all leading until the end, when the stories converge and we see that Web asked the hooker to dye her hair, wear certain clothes, and walk a certain way as bait for the psycho-of-the-week. He makes her into a nearly irresistible match of the killer's first victim to lure him into a trap. Web is eventually reinstated, and the team is surprised that Paul supported him after their recent clash. Paul explains that he felt the world was a safer place with “Web in here.” Rebecca adds, “'In here.' As in not out there.” The episode ends with Web staring out the window of his office into the darkness of his own reflection.


The Inside is a great show with interesting stories, and an excellent cast which also includes Adam Baldwin. Since it's all of these things AND is airing in the Summer on Wednesday nights at 9 PM on FOX, I'm not going to let myself get too attached to it. Tomorrow night, for example, they're already preempting it for yet another reality show, this time involving bad dancing or something. But after the last few episodes, Virgil Webster is easily my favorite ambiguous television character, the kind we only get occasional glimpses of with Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor. Outside, Web could be just as unpredictable and scary as the serial killers he and his team catch. It's a good thing he's on The Inside


The One Where Michael Sings

When I was ten years old, David Hasselhoff was something of a hero to me. As Michael Knight on Knight Rider, he drove a cool car, wore cool clothes, and always got to kiss whichever pretty girl was guest-starring each week. At some point his career went in a very different direction, and outside his acting career he developed a second career as a singer, popular in Germany. At times I found myself missing the days when Michael Knight was the epitome of cool. Memory, I realize, has a funny way of playing tricks on us.

I'm finally nearing the end of my season 2 DVDs, and in the episode ”Let it be Me” I was stunned earlier today to discover the roots of David's musical career in 1984. Of course I have vivid memories of Michael Knight's true love Stevie, played by his (now ex-) wife Catherine Hickland. Apparently, this particular Stevie episode was blocked from my memory. If my memory is to be refreshed however, I plan to take my readers with me.

When a rock singer in Stevie's band, Class Action, overdoses and foul play is suspected, Michael eagerly volunteers to go undercover. With help from K.I.T.T., he manufactures a false identity as a singer from Australia and replaces the deceased member of the band. Going undercover requires a lot of musical numbers, and the scenes you're about to see take up more minutes of the episode than the actual plot.

A flashy outfit and some fancy moves get him through his first stage performance, but the record executives need more convincing...

Showing emotion in a performance is just as crucial as singing ability, but the real test comes when they shoot a music video while driving a jeep on the side of a cliff, a camera crew filming them from a flatbed.

Of course their brake line is cut, possibly by the episode's villains or possibly by writers angry about Hasselhoff forcing them to give him an episode in which to showcase his singing talent. K.I.T.T. rides in and saves them, and after yet another stage performance they finally nab the criminals responsible for the death of Class Action's original lead singer. Michael has one more surprise for Stevie however, as he and K.I.T.T. take her to an empty stage for an emotional duet...

Finally, it's time for Stevie to go on the road again. Michael summons all his strength and Tribbiani School acting know-how to rein in his tears.

Hold it in, Michael. Just hold it in....

With Stevie gone, Michael returns to his other true love.

But he will sing again, someday...

OK, show of comments; how many of you actually remember that Hasselhoff singing goes back this far?

All images © 1984, 2005 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.


Phantasmic Links 7.17.05

I had a great day! On Rey's recommendation, I watched the HIGHLY informative Hitch. Is it a typical Hollywood fairy tale? Yes, but within that framework there's a lot of insight about relationships. Are there foolproof plans? Is “be yourself” always good advice? I don't know if all the relationship theories put forth in the film and in the special features are correct. Certainly, everyone is different and there's no cookie cutter solution to winning a girl over. Does a girl care how well a guy dances, or does she just appreciate that he's confident and doesn't care what others think? Agree or disagree with some of the ideas in the film, it still leaves the viewer with a lot to think about, if nothing else. I definitely recommend it, not just to dateless wonders like myself, but any guy. Even if you've already found that special someone, it's good to refresh your memory about how you got her, since anyone can fall into the trap of taking someone for granted. It's good to be reminded that you need to appreciate what you have so you don't risk losing it. Given the opportunity, that's a dumbass mistake I don't intend to repeat.

A break in the crummy weather for a few hours also allowed me to take advantage of a photo opportunity I noticed while driving yesterday. I think this week you'll see one of my better Photo Blog Wednesdays. Be sure to stop by and let me know if you agree. The weather also allowed me to break my lazy streak and mow the lawn after a two week hiatus. It was a bit scary when a lioness leapt out of the tall grass at one point, and I'm determined not to be so lax in the future.

Finally, as I do every week, I was able to compile this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Today was chock full of education. As if Hitch weren't enough, Citizen Willow offered more insight into what women look for in a man. Pretty much every thing she said conflicted with the movie I watched, and I think I'm leaning more toward the film, but it's more to consider and a great plan B should all else fail. Seriously, it's a great piece of satire.

Hey! You know what's funny? Bananas. These ads probably weren't at the time, and it makes me wonder how future generations will regard the stuff we produced, but some of this is downright scary. I defy any of you to look at the butcher knife or the juicer and tell me that's not the most sadistic banana you've ever seen.

Bad day at work? Hat tip to Messy Christian via Happy Husband.

The coolest kid in the world tosses his money away.

Scottish Blog Party Animal FawnDoo is throwing another Blog Party this Friday, July Tikkety Ninth. I have to say “tikkety” because the Kaiser took my number “twenty”. FawnDoo has also provided a wealth of banners.

40 Things that only happen in Movies. I had actually seen these pop up in an e-mail at work a few years ago, so this may be a classic to some of you out there as well. It all still holds true.

Is it true that there's A Web site for everything out there? Blame A Small Victory for this link.

I always enjoy comics made from still photos of action figures Thanks for finding this one, Kev Bayer.

Step one: Don't click this before going to bed at night. Step two: Be certain to watch on an empty stomach. Step three: Watch Rubber Johnny, one of the freakiest things I've seen in a while.

I'm still disturbed, possibly insane, after that last link. The only thing that can clear my head will be a nice side-scrolling shooter. I love the fact that this thing seems to be a biplane, with missiles, plasma rays, or flame throwers among its arsenal.


Hope for the Future

It’s been a long day, so I’m only going to take the time to share one brief anecdote from it. The Italian procession I played in today went absurdly fast, and the clouds kept the heat and humidity from becoming unbearable. Every year we end the day with a sit-down performance on the sidewalk with a few of the core members of the band. This year was no different, but in honor of the society’s 60th anniversary they had hired a DJ. The members are getting on in years, and I think the legacy is slowly being passed to the 20-somethings. Loud dance music blared from the speakers, and at one point our drummer, the band leader’s son and a DJ himself, was out in the street explaining something called the “pizza dance” which involved gestures like twirling a pie or putting it in a brick oven with one of those big wooden spatulas. It was truly a sight to behold. Eventually, the DJ turned it over to us. Two trumpets, two Baritone horns, and a trio of drummers proceeded to play as we do every year, but after the conga line the DJ had inspired in the young Brooklynites, I definitely felt inferior.

As we finished our first song, I noticed a trio of small children standing a few feet from the band, their eyes wide with wonder. I recognized them from last year when they had plastic trumpets and pretended to play along with us. Off drawing with chalk on the sidewalk and completely disinterested in the DJ, they had suddenly been drawn to us, and were soon joined by a few friends. Any thought I had that our music only appealed to the elderly, that the traditions of these neighborhoods were drying up with our work soon to follow, was now in question. The thing that TRULY blew my mind was when I heard the kids arguing over who “got to be” who in the band. We’re not athletes, rock stars, or gangsta rappers, and yet here were children who wanted to BE us. “I’m that guy, the trooompit!” exclaimed one little boy. “I wanted to be him!” complained the girl next to him. “I’m that guy--the one in the back with the BIG trumpet!” beamed one kid proudly, pointing in my direction. I was stunned. A child wanted to BE me.

I hope these kids pick up real instruments in a few years when they’re old enough. It’s great to think that we could have inspired them. I hope when they go to school they aren’t made fun of for their tastes in music, don’t give in to peer pressure. Why do we do that? Why do we compromise our likes and dislikes for people whose opinion ultimately doesn’t matter? I was very open and vocal as a little boy, and every year I was in school I got quieter and quieter until I grew into a very guarded adult who kept a lot of things to himself. I miss the age of No Shame. These kids were playing mock instruments with their hands and marching proudly down the street. They haven’t had that experience yet, the cool kids looking down at them and scoffing, “Eww, you like _____?!” A great many wonderful things can be squashed by peers.

Children like traditional Italian music. There’s hope for the future yet....


Summer Nights in Brooklyn

Her bare back glistened in the late afternoon sun, her burgundy dress billowing as she walked. A pale slender neck led to a goddess’ head, no emotion betrayed behind her dark glasses, and her black hair pulled into a tight bun. She glided across the street as if the large black bag on her shoulder weighed nothing, paying little attention to the musicians gathered on the corner. There was a confidence and determination in her journey, and her eternal legs capped with crimson heels vanished around a corner. She was gone, but she would only be the first that evening.

I love Brooklyn this time of year. Today was an especially humid day, as I discovered when I left my office a little before 3PM. I only had an hour to get home, change my clothes, and drive with my dad to meet a trumpet player. From there, the three of us had to brave the Long Island Expressway on a Friday night. I wasn’t looking forward to that but my dad’s car, not yet a year old, has excellent air conditioning compared to my car, which actually has NO air conditioning. But I can manually open the windows, so there’s that. The commute wasn’t bad since most people were either still at work or, like myself, got out early on Fridays in the Summer.

It was still humid but the sun was setting, and it cooled down enough to make our three hour procession bearable. There was a healthy supply of sights like the one described in my opening paragraph, and an excellent food stop with Italian sandwiches and homemade cookies. It’s such a different atmosphere than the suburbs of Long Island. When it gets dark here, the lights go out and life on the street seems to cease. Anytime there are still children out my parents get upset and wonder when their bedtimes are. In some cases they’re showing their age, but occasionally even I’m a little surprised to see 4- or 5-year-olds running to an ice cream truck at nine o’clock; I definitely wasn’t allowed OUT let alone UP at that hour when I was that age.

Brooklyn, like Manhattan, seems to wake up when others would go to sleep. People are walking up and down the streets, or riding bicycles, or just lounging at sidewalk cafés taking in the music as we walk by. Mothers push babies in strollers and children ride by on scooters on the sidewalk laughing. It’s definitely unreal and magical, and a nice escape from the reality of my normal schedule. Sometimes it depresses me to think that being an adult means falling into a routine, and it’s nice to see a place where adults and children alike might spontaneously go out and have fun, regardless of the hour and what society deems “decent”.

I don’t have long before I return. Every July there’s a big Italian feast celebrated on the 14th and the 16th. This year they moved the first date, the night procession, to the 15th. It’s helpful that this gig fell on a weekend this year since I’m almost finally caught up at my day job. Chances are, I’ve jinxed myself with that statement. The downside of the feast being two days in a row however means that there’s not much time to rest. I have to be back in Brooklyn by 8 AM tomorrow, and it will be a long day. There’s a break from 10-11, and longer one in the afternoon from 2:30-7, and the majority of our playing at night will be sitting down. I should be home before midnight and thankfully, another job I was supposed to do in Queens on Sunday was canceled so I’ll have a chance to recuperate. With all the craziness at my regular job, I haven’t made it to the gym more than once a week for a while now and it’s showing. Tonight and tomorrow will provide much needed exercise. If nothing else, I’ll get in quite a bit of abdominal exercise sucking in my gut every time some beauty in a sun dress floats by.


Four Anderson Windows....

...Wes Anderson, that is. Over the last few week's I've watched this director's body of work. Here now are some brief impressions:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, his fourth and most recent film, was the first one I saw. It was quirky, dry, and not for everyone, much like a certain cloaked individual. I enjoyed it a lot, from the magical animated sea life to Bill Murray's trademark delivery to Owen Wilson's very un-”Owen Wilson”-like performance. There was something about the style of the movie, from the camera angles to the mood that piqued my curiosity enough to throw Anderson's previous three films on my Netflix queue. They would NOT arrive in order.

The Royal Tenenbaums, his third film, was the second I saw. Owen Wilson was also part of the ensemble, but the ones who really stood out in this sadly humorous portrait of a dysfunctional family were his brother Luke and the always great Gene Hackman. The movie evoked a lot more emotion that I was expecting based on my recollections of trailers a few years ago, and the poster depicting the colorful cast was deceiving as well. One look at Ben Stiller in a sweatsuit and I was expecting one of his over-the-top characatures. I thought that's what I was getting from him at first, but near the end he brought a tear to my eye in a scene in which he wasn't even speaking.

Next came Bottle Rocket, his debut film. The Wilson brothers were prominently featured in this one as a pair of friends who bumblingly try on a life of crime. At this point I noticed a pattern, and some checking revealed that Owen Wilson not only cowrote Bottle Rocket, but The Royal Tenenbaums as well. It was a side of the actor I hadn't seen in his other roles, though his role in THIS, his first, movie definitely reflected the wacky characters he would go on to play. As with the other films it featured a great soundtrack, some very funny moments, and some very emotional ones. It wasn't as quirky as The Life Aquatic nor as depressing as Tenenbaums, but fell into a comfortable zone of defining this director's style, and I enjoyed it.

Finally, I saw Rushmore, his second film. Rushmore introduced Jason Schwartzman, Nic Cage's cousin, as an unusual leading man. He plays a geek in a private school who's actually not all that smart academically, but very active in extracurricular activities. To some degree I could identify. I too went to a private high school, and struggled to maintain a good average. I managed to stay in the 89-90 range, but only through a lot of effort and a consistent 3-4 hours of homework a night. The teachers said no subject should take more than a half hour to complete and there were six, so anything over three hours was bad. As for extracurricular activities, I was active in the band and one of three kids in the art club. This was a character I could identify with to a certain point, but he went beyond. He was a pathological liar, spreading falsehoods such as his barber father being a brain surgeon, without pausing to think about it. He was also far bolder than I would ever have been at 16, pursuing a romance with an older teacher and, as a result, vying for her affections with Bill Murray. Owen Wilson also cowrote this one, and it has the same gamut of emotions as the other three.

Each movie is similar in style and structure but very, very different in characters, settings and environments. I probably liked Rushmore the least because it was actually hard to sympathize with the main character at times. Despite the areas in which I identified with him, there were many aspects of his personality and decisions that were just obnoxious. I probably liked The Life Aquatic marginally better than The Royal Tenenbaums, and Bottle Rocket then comes in as my third favorite of the four. His next project, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, is based on a novel by Roald Dahl. I can only imagine what strange and familiar world this fifth window will peer into....