PBW: Found.

Photo Blog Wednesday

Whether or not you acknowledge the existence of a supreme being, I think we can all agree that no one on this planet is omniscient. Working together we can find some answers, but not all. We can all be a little Lost. Ironically, in a place that looks like the backdrop for the television series of the same name, I found some tranquility. I took a book and drove to a local nature preserve, making my way down through the woods and trails until I reached the steps descending to a small beach. I found the perfect place to sit and read. A subsequent stroll revealed some interesting items along the shore, until I reached a “private property” sign forbidding me from going any further, into a portion of the beach designated for people with a lot more money than me. They ”put up a fence” to ”keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in.” I turned and retraced my steps, where the climb back to the trails, and eventually the parking lot, awaited me.



Dork Test & Music Meme!

Everybody loves a double feature! In fact, I could probably write thousands of words on the subject, but no one would scroll to the features of tonight's post, so I'll save such musings for another day.

* * *

For tonight's first presentation, I'm sharing my results from a test I found over at Tales from the Dorkside:

Computer Savant
34 % Nerd, 52% Geek, 60% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

I scored better than half in Geek and Dork, earning me the title of: Computer Savant.

People confuse me with a Nerd all of the time. I'm not some genius, like some people have said, and didn't really like school all that much (and I especially hated some of the social aspects, like getting mocked). It's just that I have some passions and interests that I'm extremely into/good at, and this has placed me in circles with other social outcasts, some of whom are exceptionally bright.

The awesome thing about being where I am is that I get to hang out with an elite group (though I'd probably rather be alone, or with only the closest friends and family) and I can make quite a good career for myself in my particular specialties. Common to this group are people who are highly into electronics/computers as that is where the money lies, today.


This test tracked 3 variables.
How I compared to other people my age and gender:
I scored higher than 8% on nerdiness
I scored higher than 61% on geekosity
I scored higher than 96% on dork points

Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on Ok Cupid.

* * *

Those are interesting results indeed, especially compared to an earlier post of mine dealing with this very subject. Terminology like “Computer Savant” aside, I think the description is quite accurate. I didn't enjoy school, specifically getting mocked, and I definitely prefer smaller groups of close friends when I'm feeling sociable. This test is circulating and some of you have taken it already, but feel free to share your results if you haven't.

Now then, on to tonight's second feature:

* * *

I found this Music Meme over at A Small Victory. The rules are as follows:

A.) Go to musicoutfitters.com
B.) Enter the year you graduated from high school in the search function and get the list of 100 most popular songs of that year
C.) Bold the songs you like, strike through the ones you hate and underline your favorite. Do nothing to the ones you don't remember (or don't care about).

Here goes:


1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A-lot
3. Jump, Kris Kross

4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton
7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers

9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson

15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus 16.
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey

17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston

21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna
22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John
27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic
39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development

41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister
46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx
57. Mysterious Ways, U2

58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Nine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe

73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap

76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse

83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt

I was bad with song names back in those days, so I suspect I'd know a lot more of these if I heard them again(I figured if I had to look them up though, it would defeat the purpose of the “don’t remember/care” category).Smells Like Teen Spirit is the easy favorite in that list, since it opened my ears to a sound and energy I'd never heard before, and my (clearly) eclectic tastes found a focus in the whole grunge scene for the next few years. College would consist of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, S.T.P., and more, as well as a whole lot of flannel shirts worn as jackets. If I could pick more than one favorite from that list, November Rain would have been the clear winner.

This test was definitely educational. Not only did it take me back to my music listening history, but I finally found out the real lyrics to my favorite song. I'll leave you with what I've been singing along with on the radio for the last 13 years:

The Walk-on comes,(Load up on guns)
Bringing Friends(Bring your friends)
It's hard enough(It's fun to lose)
toooo pretend(And to pretend)
She's often bored(She's overboard)
and self-assured(Myself assured)
to know enough(I know I know)
the dirty word(A dirty word)

Hey, I was kind of close...


Blog Party: Wish I Might...

I turned off the television and allowed the preceding two hours to wash over me. “Shawshank the Series”—I mean, ”Prison Break”—was pretty good. It was good enough to keep my interest, and hopefully not so good that FOX inevitably cancels it. I turned off the light in the living room and as I passed through the kitchen, craved a snack. On some level I realized a late night snack would undo the three miles I'd run earlier this evening, but surely one cookie or chip wouldn't hurt? Yet as I rummaged around, nothing could be found. Then I noticed something golden and shiny on the table. Had my mom picked up some kind of new tea kettle or odd-shaped cookie tin? She would hide snacks where I'd least expect to find them. I picked up the object and tried to pry the lid free, with little success. Suddenly, there was a loud thunderous crack and a flash of blinding light! I leapt back as blue smoke swirled from the nozzle, and a face with glowing red eyes spoke to me in a booming tone.

”You will throw another Blog Party very soon, for there is only time for ONE MORE before the inevitable comes to pass. You shall call it BLOG PARTY: MCF Version 6.0, and it will be held on Monday, September 5th. BEHOLD, your 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) Late the next day, the host posts links in an “afterparty” post, collecting everyone who commented and participated in one place.

Participants shall post links to their contributions in the comments section of the post that day, or send you an e-mail at MCFSPU@hotmail.com. YOUR post shall be up early Monday morning, in which you will tell me:


I stared in awe at this misty newcomer. He was to grant me three wishes? Surely the standard “no wishing for more wishes” clause would hold true, but would he grant the wishes of those who joined in the festivities as well? Surely this would be the greatest incentive yet to come to a party! But what was the “inevitable” he spoke of? I looked up from my ponderings to find he had gone, and though he may have been a figment of my hunger or my creativity, his directions seemed important enough to type up.

Spread the word; MCF's Blog Party 6 is one week from tonight, on Labor Day. Start thinking of those wishes; you never know when a genie will put you on the spot, and it's good to be prepared....



Phantasmic Links 8.28.05

Sometimes, a weekend just seems too short. I don't understand why this one seemed insufficient to me. I didn't have any gigs, made it to the beach, finished an AMAZING book(which another blogger spoiled a few weeks ago), finished a few more levels of my Fantastic Four game, and saw four movies(The French Connection, The Jacket, Scooby-Doo and Young Frankenstein). Despite all this, I still don't want to face another Monday, not yet. It seems the only cure to the Sunday night blues is rounding up this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

One way to escape Monday is to turn our mind's back to Cube's Kat Blog Friday. I could watch that goofy thing for hours.

It was only a matter of time before someone cataloged Every Monkey Reference on the Simpsons. Funny, but I somehow always thought it would be me....

I found ConneXions, the pipe-puzzle game so fascinating, that I played until I secured a high score of 261,220, which isn't at all sad. Hat tip to Dosetaker for the link.

One of my favorite writers in my blogroll seeks advice on taking her site and skills to the next level, whatever that might be. If you have any suggestions and/or have ever written professionally, click on over and comment.

Combining Hello Kitty, Transformers, and some hilarious dancing into one animated masterpiece guarantees one immortality as a Phantasmic Link. I found this one on Milk and Cookies.

Primary colors, perpendicular lines, and a chomping old friend meet in Pac-Mondrian Link submitted via IM from The Happy Husband.

Despite all the movies I've seen, I still can't recognize more than half of these stick figure scenes. How well can YOU do?

One of these days I should enter one of these Photoshop film poster merging contests. I think “Dirty Harry Potter” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Angels” are my favorites. “Herbie Begins” and “Doodevil” brought a smirk to my face as well. I found this and the preceding stick figure link over at Sarcasmo's Corner.

Who is fighting Conan? BEAR is fighting Conan?! Oh my word! How can that be??

People often say to me, “Hey, aren't you Mark Ruffalo?” OK, no one EVER says that to me. But it makes for a funny lead-in to this link of celebrity lookalikes.

This game is infectious. If anyone gets past level 15, send me a screen shot as proof.

Stay calm. You haven't accidentally dropped acid. You're merely watching evidence of the Super Mario Brothers cartoon, complete with live Captain Lou segments. I must have been really “hooked on the brothers” at some point in my life since I totally remember that gorilla incident. The rap theme song somehow escaped my memory until now, as did the rapping EPISODE with a very special guest star. No one would believe me if I told them this stuff existed...

If I'm going to catch myself singing ”I'm a Hippopotamus and I got noodles on my back, noodles on my back, noodles on my back.” throughout the day, I'm taking all of you with me. All of you with me, all of you with me.



Time and Time and Time Again....

Our physical presence here on Earth is linear. We cannot reverse aging, and we experience things chronologically. The mind, however, bears no such shackles. Through memory and study, the past is always within reach. Through imagination, no future is beyond our envisioning. The mind can accomplish great things. My mind tends to accomplish weird things. For no reason in particular, and not having heard either song recently, while driving I found myself singing the lyrics to AC DC's “You Shook me All Night Long” to the tune of Harry Chapin's “Cats in the Cradle”. It was a surprisingly good fit. Try it on for size. Instead of “My child arrived just the other day”, substitute “She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean” and take it from there. I guarantee you won't regret it.

My mind does some strange things sometimes, and I wonder if the principal that told my mom I was ”not right in the head” wasn't some kind of prophet. While my mind blends disparate songs, Adrien Brody's Jack Starks seems to be able to transcend time itself with his mind, in the film The Jacket. Wrongfully accused of murder, and unable to recall the events due to a head injury suffered during the Gulf War, he finds himself committed to an asylum where he becomes the subject of an inhumane experiment. Injected with drugs and bound in a straightjacket, he is left isolated inside a morgue drawer where his doctor hopes he will sort his memories out. Instead, he seems to find escape into the future. Whether this retreat is all psychological or actually accomplished is something the filmmakers imply is open-ended. Personally, I think there's enough evidence presented for the viewer to know what is and isn't real, but I'm not about to spoil that here. It was a very cool movie, with a great cast and atmosphere. Having only seen Brody in the slightly disappointing The Village, I'm inclined to see more of his work now.

I think what I liked the most about The Jacket was the premise. Implausible though it may be, it appealed to me because it was a different kind of time travel story. Movies like Back to the Future, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and The Time Machine, in which some technological creation is needed to accomplish the feat of time travel, have their place, but I have an appreciation for movies that find new methods. Films like The Jacket, Twelve Monkeys, and Donnie Darko don't need to spend a lot of time explaining the method of travel. It is the resulting paradoxes, and the psychological impact on the protagonists, that drives films such as these.

Time can be an implacable foe. It's relentless in its progression, and doesn't stop when we do. It can slip away when I'm not looking, and suddenly I'm working late, starving, and still not done with all my work. Time is tricky. Anything worth having, be it the right job or the right girl, should be approached with the same precision needed to disarm a bomb. Move too fast, and you scare them away. Move too slow, and you'll lose to someone else. Even driving involves an understanding of time. If my dad hadn't sped up when I saw a van speeding toward us on the right wasn't stopping, it would have killed me instead of clipping our rear bumper and spinning us 180 degrees. In the physical world, time is something we have little control over. But our mind can reverse

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Time can be an implacable foe. It's relentless in its progression, and doesn't stop when we do. It can slip away when I'm not looking, and suddenly I'm working late, starving, and still not done with all my work. Time is tricky. Anything worth having, be it the right job or the right girl, should be approached with the same precision needed to disarm a bomb. Move too fast, and you scare them away. Move too slow, and you'll lose to someone else. Even driving involves an understanding of time. If my dad hadn't sped up when I saw a van speeding toward us on the right wasn't stopping, it would have killed me instead of clipping our rear bumper and spinning us 180 degrees. In the physical world, time is something we have little control over. But our mind can reverse and move forward through recollections and projections.

Clearly, my old principal must have been wrong about me.



The young boy sat alongside the teacher's desk, alone and silent. Around him, the other kids laughed and chattered, occasionally throwing things, but of all the second graders the teacher had singled him out as the instigator, as the one she needed to keep an eye on. While everyone else had desks in the center of the room, his was right next to hers. Class had not yet begun, and already the boredom was overwhelming. His gaze fell upon the metal of the larger desk alongside him, and something round and dark, an opening a bit smaller than a quarter. There was only one thing he could do.

Everyone found their places by the second or third request of the teacher. She called for them to rise, hold their right hands to their chests, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Without fail, every student fell into place and stood at attention as the room grew silent. Every student complied, except for one. Slightly annoyed, the teacher called for him to stand up. “I can't.” he said meekly. She repeated her request, a bit stronger. “I CAN'T! I'm STUCK!” he exclaimed, as giggles began to break the silence and multiply. Her expression of anger transformed to one of restrained amusement as she approached, and saw that he'd stuck his index finger into the hole, and had been unable to withdraw it. He couldn't stand because his desk and chair were one unit, with a bar blocking the side closest to the larger desk. Giggles had evolved into full blown guffaws now as the exasperated educator called for silence anew.

The boy cried out as she tried to pull him free, his finger conspiring to stay behind should she pull him hard enough. She left, as curious onlookers craned their necks, some poking the boy with their own fingers. She returned quickly enough with the gym teacher, and a jar of Vaseline. The boy would not question why the gym teacher had this item, nor how his own teacher knew of it, until he was much older. The only thing that mattered that day was his freedom, in more ways then one. After that, she decided it was better to move his desk back out on the floor with the rest of the students.

* * *

He'd endured so many names, so many rhymes and distortions of his birth name, that one would have expected more empathy from him. Yet a young third grader took uncharacteristic advantage of a new student with a funnier name than his own, and taunted him in the cafeteria at lunch. The other boy grew increasingly incensed, until he could take it no more and flung his paper plate of baked ziti at his tormentor. The name-caller slid aside even as the plate curved, landing in the lap of his white-pants-wearing neighbor. Once more out-of-character, the first boy cried out “FOOOD FIIIGHT!!!” and ducked as the entire table began flinging their lunches. In counterclockwise rotation, the melee spread around the gymnasium/cafeteria from table to table, like a prison riot.

It would prove impossible to sort out the instigators of the incident, but the principal only needed examples. She singled out three usual suspects to send to her office, including the one whose taunts started it all. Already infamous from various playground brawls while leading his own ”A-team”, and from an incident the year prior in which he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for some absurd reason, he was often at the top of the appropriately named Dr. Bear's list of troublemakers. The inside of his office was a familiar setting, where he devised games to pass the time. Shooting rubberbands into the teachers' mail cubbies, he kept score based on which cubby they landed in. The principal's, top and center, was worth 500 points.

* * *

“Don't hit him until you see the WHITES of his eyes!” called the ringleader of the group that had cornered the boy against one wall of the gymnasium. He hated the winter months and indoor recess. The children were more restless and savage, and hit hard for third graders. He clenched his eyes tight, cursing himself every time he squinted to see if they were gone, inviting a new rain of fists. ”I'm bringing this on myself.” he thought ruefully. Years later he'd think back on such incidents and wonder why he saw the inside of the principal's office more often than his regular assailants did. In hindsight, he wondered if his visits weren't a sort of “protective custody” to keep him away from the general population, too numerous to contain.

* * *

The only way to keep him from talking to other kids, to keep the class running smoothly, was to separate him. His fourth grade teacher may have heard tales of his earlier exploits, and rather than keep him close, he was isolated, his desk in the farthest corner in the back of the room, among a rudimentary computer lab in which data was stored on audio cassettes. Her words were lost as his mind wandered, a familiar mix of boredom and curiosity taking hold, as fresh air from the nearby open window seduced him. The ledge was sloped, but wide, and the second story wasn't all that high. He could walk along the ledge as he'd seen people do on television, make his way to a vertical beam and shimmy his way to the ground. If he slipped, the bushes would surely break his fall. Even if he didn't make it to freedom, he had to see what it was like out there.

Possibly the only person in history to climb out on a ledge to “see what it was like”, he soon found himself looking down, wondering if it wasn't a bad idea after all. After several moments of contemplation, he decided to return to his desk. Halfway in the window, a woman's fingernails dug into his forearm and he felt air beneath his feet as he was whisked indoors. He would have no memory of the trip to the principal's office, and it would seem as though he'd gone directly from the ledge to a familiar beat-up green chair in the waiting room. When his mother arrived for another reason, to pick up his musical instrument which he could not yet carry alone, she was surprised to see him sitting there. He told his tale, expecting the worst, yet while she was displeased with his actions, she defended him when the principal icily informed her that her son was “not right in the head”. It was a confusing time, to be in trouble yet under his mother's protection at the same time. It was one of the few times in his youth that he would have an understanding of the complex role a parent must play.

* * *

In fifth grade, the ultimate battle for supremacy on the playground was fast approaching. True to one of his favorite television shows, he'd limited his A-team to one girl and three other guys. His enemies called themselves The True A-team, yet imposed no limit. They were vastly outnumbered. They split up while their enemies searched for them, and set a careful plan into motion. Beneath a second-story window ledge he was intimately familiar with, various pine bushes yielded bright red berries. He and his friend filled two black garbage bags, and returned to the main school yard where they were spotted. They fled for an outcropping of bushes along the fence nicknamed “the cave”, where they could scale the chainlink fence unseen. The first of their enemies to breach this stronghold met a grisly ambush, as the contents of the garbage bags were emptied upon them. They retreated, covered in red, like wounded soldiers. Only one boy would see the inside of the principal's office that day, but by then I was used to it, and it was totally worth it.

* * *

He. I meant to say “he was used to it”. None of these stories are from my impeccable and uneventful elementary school days....


Things I Can't Change.

I swore I would not work late. I'm not going to go into details about my job, since the specifics are meaningless and boring to those in other fields. It's also potentially risky to write anything that could cost me my job, so there will be no photos posted of me in a stewardess' uniform(apologies to any ladies with weird fetishes). Suffice to say, the one common complaint I think we've all shared at one time or another is the amount of hours we spend working, compared to the amount of hours we spend living. I've been feeling in control of my workload again lately. There's been time to take vacation days and still make my deadlines. Even the gym, closing at 7PM during the Summer, was once more in my reach. Last week I was actually getting down there by 5:30 some days and getting in a decent workout. Talking to a friend at lunch about work philosophies, I couldn't help wondering if I was jinxing myself as always. I'd come to the conclusion, not for the first time, that the more work one does, the more one is assigned. Not for the first time I mused that missing a deadline every now and then wasn't terrible, and would underscore to my superiors just how overworked I am. If I continue handing things in on time and sometimes early, will anyone really notice how often I work late to do so?

With these thoughts in mind, and having taken advantage of some truly awesome weather, I returned to work with a clear head, ready to tackle the changes to my latest issue made in a morning meeting that had burned me out. I worked efficiently and at a good pace, as my ”Take a Bite Outta Rhyme” CD of rock stars covering old school rap blasted from my headphones. At some point I noticed it was 4:30. Then 5:30. At 6:30 I couldn't understand why I was only on page 12 of a 24 page catalog. It was taking too long and worse, if I stayed any longer, I would miss gym. I hate to leave things unfinished, and though the work really could have waited until tomorrow, even if it meant working a little later on one of our Summer half-day Fridays, it would be better than sacrificing my workout. I needed to get rid of the tension I was feeling, and learn when to let go. I didn't get the amount of work done in the time I wanted to do it in. I can't change that.

In life, many things are out of our control. We can't control the weather, or people's opinions of us. We can't cheat death. Stress arises when we work against the tide. I've become laid back over the years, learning to roll with punches. ”I guess it was the beatings made me wise.” Still, for all the things I accept, tension builds. I was tightly wound as I forced myself to stop working. My computer chose this opportune time to freeze, possibly destroying the previous hour's work. Forcing it to restart would mean losing changes to the file, and possibly losing the file itself! Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking. I rolled the dice, restarted, and launched the file. All was intact. As I raced to the stairwell, I silently cursed myself for waiting to check on the file, when I could have done that tomorrow morning during regular hours. A rare voice of experience cautioned me to check my shoelaces, as they often come undone. I'd actually learned from past incidents, thus preventing a three-story tumble. In the locker room, the clock said I had twenty minutes. I changed faster than ever and signed in at the front desk, where the girl cautioned me: “MCF, we close in FIVE minutes!” The clock on the wall said ten, but I knew she was eager to go home after a full day as well, and didn't argue the point. I doubt the five minutes on the step machine helped me physically. It didn't help me mentally.

Driving home, I was a bundle of nerves. I was embarrassed about showing up at the gym at closing time, and not simply going home. The work left unfinished still haunted me, as well as the amount of time I'd spent doing as much as I had. I searched for answers. How many times had I been sidetracked during the day? How many times had I checked this blog, or neighboring blogs? I kept reaching points when I didn't feel like concentrating on my work, and needed a break. All around, commenting and posting have declined, yet I still looked for new things to read, new diversions. Some days, I really can't focus on my work. The answer to the problem, oddly enough, is to NOT focus.

The more I worry about EVERYTHING, the more I accomplish NOTHING. When I relax, and tackle one thing at a time, I'm one of the fastest people in my company. Over the years, I've learned to turn my mind off in troubled times. As far back as elementary school, I can remember many anxious nights trying to fall asleep, worrying about tests and homework. In second grade, I worried how I'd handle third. In third, I saw no possibility of surviving fourth. The pattern continued until, to my surprise, I somehow found myself in college. Things keep going. Some things we have control over; some things we don't. Worrying about the latter isn't a solution. And so, for the last few hours, I managed to forget about work, and delve into The French Connection. Instead of deadlines and various social blunders, I had more important concerns:

”Was I ever in that neighborhood? That street looks familiar. Wow, a lot of things haven't changed. How are they filming these car chases? It looks real, and I know they didn't have CGI or green screens in 1971--WHOA! He just got hit! And he's still going! And he got hit again! LOOK OUT FOR THE BABY CARRIAGE!!!! I swear they’re really shooting people in this thing...”

I can't help that I didn't see a movie that was made before I was born until over 30 years later. I can't help that the sequel isn't available on DVD, nor the television pilot starring Ed O'Neill. I'm never going to see EVERYTHING, no matter how hard I try. It's been two days now since I heard the 10,000 Maniacs version of “Because the Night” on the radio on my drive home. I haven't heard it in years, and I can't help that it's playing in my head right now. There are many things we'd like to change. There are many things we can't change. I can't undo a stressful day, but I can write about it for strangers to read, and get it out of my system.

I feel better now. I'm off to a good night's sleep!


PBW: A Walk in the Park

Photo Blog Wednesday

Something's been wrong with reality these last few days. Things were indistinct and out-of-focus. I felt sluggish and weary. Colors were less saturated and gray seemed to be the dominant shade. Words, not my strong suit to begin with, often failed me and I nodded without comprehension of my supervisor's requests, only to have questions later in the day. I realized too late that I'd forgotten or neglected to heed the requests of other coworkers. Everything I did felt like I was going through the motions, like a dream of a place in which I did not belong. I kept expecting to open my eyes and find myself elsewhere. Today was clearer to me than yesterday, and tomorrow things no doubt shall be more in focus. Tomorrow, sadly, work will be real. I wish I could still see the sun and breathe the air I breathed on my day off. Everything, from

the crashing waves on the beach below,

to the crackpot reading a beat-up tome aloud in an arcane tongue,

to the manic squirrels,

to the laughing children,

to the mob of geese,

to the resting jogger who asked me in a Jamaican accent, “What you up to Popeye?”,

to the tiny ants that kept biting my legs until I moved from a park bench to some stone steps,

was preferable to being back in the office. Maybe none of it was real, but I managed to get evidence that it wasn't a dream either:



Counting Down

123 shopping days until Christmas.

38 days until Serenity hits theaters.

69 years and 73 days until my one hundredth birthday.

69 years and 72 days until the world ends.

69 days until Halloween.

69 seconds until I snicker again like a sophomoric frat boy for no apparent reason.

A little over 2 months until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes out.

108 days until The Chronicles of Narnia comes to life on the big screen and reminds me why I read the books so many times as a kid when my mom would take me to the library.

Lost returns in 29 days.

Smallville returns in 37 days.

Alias returns in 37 days.

A little over 3 months until Scrubs returns.

39 days until TheWriteJerry's Wedding, and he STILL hasn't posted the comic he proposed with. Some people have no concept of priorities.

18 days until my longest gig of the year. 2% chance I'd find a photo of the band from last year—I'm the one cut off on the left. It's a great picture of my forearm, wristwatch, and instrument.

3 days until a rare work-free weekend. 2 days until a 75-year-old man casually mentions repairing a roof or boxing weeds at his lot.

311 days until Superman Returns

51 days until the one year anniversary of the Nexus. MARK YOUR CALENDARS.

What are you counting down to?


Fix or Repair Daily

In many ways, it's a blessing that my father was a mechanic. He always had a keen ear for maintenance, and would hear when something was wrong. Subtle changes that went unnoticed by me never escaped him. We'd go for a drive and he'd tell me something needed to be repaired, and expressed surprise that I didn't hear anything and bring it to his attention sooner. When he had his own garage, he was popular with his customers because, while most mechanics would simply replace parts with even minor damage, he would repair those parts instead, and save them money. At some point it proved impossible for an honest mechanic to stay in business, and he traded his shop for a nice union job fixing police vehicles for the county.

In many ways, it's a blessing that my mother is so frugal. When I was a kid, I'd often be embarrassed when she'd stock up on ketchup packets at fast food places, or accept furniture from friends who were moving and planning to throw it away otherwise. Yet her methods made it possible for a mechanic's salary to support a family of three. My parents had money when they wanted to send me to a private high school, and while scholarships covered a little over half my college tuition, they covered the difference for me. I didn't understand until I was older that sacrifices for your family outweigh modesty, that there's no shame in using a coupon.

At some point, things can't be fixed. At some point, you have no other choice than to dig in to your pockets, spend the money, and replace something. My mom's VCR has eaten cassettes on her more times than I can count, and she insists that it will be fine once the heads are clean. The VCR has to be at least fifteen years old and better technology exists now. When my own VCR inevitably dies, I'm certainly going to be looking toward a digital solution. Every time I've had to disassemble hers to disentangle the tape, I tell her to get a new one. She expects things to last a long time, but they sincerely DON'T make things like they used to. My mom forms strange sentimental attachments to things too, and the beat-up car that's been in our driveway for over a year now, since a van hit my dad and I, is a testament to that. My dad hates that it's taking up space and wants to junk it or give it to charity. She wants to fix it or give it to someone who will fix and use it. For some reason it's hard for her to accept that the car was totaled, that it's “gone”. Her cousin's widower was visiting us yesterday, and backed my dad and I up in saying we'd best donate it to charity before it rots and rusts away to something worthless. I found myself having the same conversation with her about the VCR as I took it apart this morning, and later when she taped a show and found the picture quality was terrible. I'm going to start researching VCRs and rewritable disc recorders on my own, and maybe just get one for my parents for their anniversary in a month or so. She'll never break down and get rid of it on her own. Also to my dad's chagrin, we still own every television set we've ever bought, and there's at least five barely functioning models secreted away in the basement, that she can't bring herself to part with.

Last night my little oscillating fan simply died. It hasn't sounded right for days, and it's newer than the ones my parents have, yet it simply sputtered and stopped. I checked the casing and found it was extremely hot, and the smell of burnt plastic assailed my nostrils. I unplugged it and prayed nothing caught fire during the night. I had some trouble disassembling the motor this morning, making the mistake of asking my dad for advice. I only wanted to take it apart and clean out any dust, but he began telling me how to fix it. He got out his Ohmmeter to check continuity, and see if I had a broken wire somewhere. Between my mom's VCR and my fan, I was already seeing my day off consumed by annoying repairs. It didn't help when my dad asked if I was going to mow the lawn today. Ultimately, I became frustrated and said it would be easier to just get another fan. For twelve bucks or so, it would be worth it to save the aggravation of splicing wires with duct tape as he was planning to do. Unlike my mom, my dad will break down and buy something when he sees that we need it. My dad is stubborn when it comes to fixing things though, sees it as a challenge and can't understand why I'd rather buy a new one than repair the wiring on this one.

Curt linked to a post in which a man ponders what life would have been like if he'd stayed single, and not had children. Among his observations, the one about putting in more hours at work struck especially close to home. Work is important, not just to earn money, but to be productive and gain an appreciation for those times when we're not at work. Vacations just wouldn't be vacations if we never worked in between. Life is all about finding the balance. Not knowing what to do with oneself apart from work and family can be problematic, and underscores the importance of hobbies. I'm happy to report that my day off was not entirely spent doing yardwork and fixing small appliances, and that I managed to steal away to a local park near the beach and find a shady bench on which to read the latest Harry Potter. At one point, I think I even saw an evil wizard, as a balding man in a stained t-shirt and torn jeans walked up and down the path reading from some ancient tome and waving his free arm as he mumbled something in a vaguely European or Middle Eastern tongue that I didn't recognize. I decided to go for a walk through the park and get some pictures, and get away from this unusual character. As I walked, I wondered if he was thinking I was the strange one, sitting there with my book and not even reading aloud.

Machines are objects that can be fixed to a certain point. Eventually, they need to be replaced with newer, better models. People cannot be replaced, but things wear us out all the same. Just as wires need to be spliced and parts need to be cleaned, we all require maintenance to ensure a longer life, every day if possible. A day in the park with a good book, away from computers and deadlines and bands, was exactly what I needed to keep my motor running. As I was heading back to the car, a mother was pushing a baby carriage and accompanied by her little girl who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. With a precocious adult tone delivered in a child's voice, the girl hopped up on a nearby park bench and observed, “This is SUCH a nice day to just sit and re-lax!”

It certainly was.


Phantasmic Links 8.21.05

My friend Bill the trumpet player has had a great sense of direction for as long as I've known him, and when I first started playing with bands in Brooklyn and Queens, it was he who would provide the best directions to the jobs. He's pushing 80 now, and his eyesight is failing, so my dad and I have been giving him rides. Today we drove in to Brooklyn and grabbed a subway in to Little Italy, since parking is nonexistent where we were going. Coming up from the subway platform, I was certain we had to walk TOWARD the Manhattan Bridge and underneath it to reach the job. Bill “recognized” an apartment complex across the street and led us away from the bridge. I often defer to the wisdom of my elders(a practice I'm slowly starting to question as those elders get older), and so we followed him, for six blocks more than we should have. He stopped and asked directions and, as I suspected, we were walking the wrong way. There was still time before we had to meet up with the rest of the band, but my dad pushed himself and told us to go on because he was having chest pains, and got mad when I waited for him. “Your health is more important than the job!” I told him.

His pain subsided, and we met up with the band, waiting an hour in front of the church for everyone in the procession to get set up. The regular band leader had to attend a funeral, so his son was in charge. A drummer with no concept that wind musicians need to REST between songs, he obliged every request of the crowd. At one point the sun got to Bill and he had to sit down and rest while the drummer's fiancée got him some water. As the day wore on, another older trumpet player dropped out because of the sun, and I felt woozy more than once myself. The crowd meanwhile often turned vicious between songs, crying out “Come ON!! Musica! MUSICA!!!” Non-musicians have no idea sometimes that we're human beings, not a jukebox. At least one of the guys who hired us was sympathetic, and said we were definitely earning our pay today. There were no casualties, and we're finally home. Right now I really appreciate the fact that I took tomorrow off. I should sleep good tonight, after I unwind and gather this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

It's very exciting to me when Science Fiction becomes Science FACT, and lends quite a bit of credibility to writers' imaginative creations. Technovelgy is a site one of my writers directed me to this past week, and it showcases some of the real inventions that have been inspired by works of fiction.

I heard a story on the radio yesterday, about a girl who had been picked on all year in school. Her parents sued, not for damages, but for new legislation to be passed to protect children against bullies. As someone whose parents were told repeatedly by teachers and principals, “If he'd just HIT them back once they'd leave him alone”, and “We can't fight his battles for him”, I'm glad to hear schools are finally taking this issue seriously. From some of the horror stories I've heard on the news, from bombs to guns to real abuse, what I went through as a kid was nothing. I applaud stories like these:
I believe this was the story I heard on the radio yesterday.
Here's one from Maine.
And yet another from Arizona.

If you're a technogeek, enjoy this detailed explanation of a laser camera that can capture fast-flying insects. If you're just interested in cool pictures, skip ahead. The detail is insane.

You know what America really needs? More Elephants.

This. Poor. Cat.(i didn't want to hotlink; click the link to the movie file in the linked article to see what I'm talking about)

Check out this simple yet addictive puzzle game. Hat tip to Dosetaker.

If this video is real, why is the thief recording it? I'm thinking it's an educational video to show office workers like myself the folly of our ways. Warning: Video contains a soupçon of bad language...

Be The Batman. The second section of the second level is impossible. There's no way to get out of that place in 90 seconds. Prove me wrong.

This is how I waste my math skills.

Tonight's post can't end on anything other than...Hats of MEAT?!



Remind You of Anything?

Yesterday, when I arrived home from work, my dad had a seven foot rusted iron beam waiting to be carried into the cellar. My uncle may be moving in a few months, and my mom is going to be reclaiming her old upright piano which has been in her old room since she moved out of that house nearly 40 years ago. To support the section of the living room she plans to put it, my dad's been putting beams in the basement beneath the piano's future home. At one point the beam rolled across my hand and crushed my palm, and I needed to lower it to reposition my grip. As I called out for him to wait, my dad scowled that I, “just don't understand work!” It was more a cry of impatience than anything else, since we were only a foot away from where he wanted to put it. As it turned out, the beam was too tall and I managed to convince him to buy a new one from Home Depot that would allow him to adjust the height, rather than cut into the beams as he was considering.

I've blogged ad nauseum about the differences between my parents and myself, and I don't intend this to be another post defending my laziness. I often read more into what people say than what they put into it. My dad is very impatient, and though it will be several months before my uncle moves and several more before my mom gets the piano since she has to have it fixed and tuned, he had to have that beam up IMMEDIATELY. It's true I don't invest as much time in physical labor as his generation does, but I definitely spend a lot of time at the office. Some weekends, I even consider the bands I play in to be work. I'm not sure when that happened. When I was younger, and first had the opportunity to play in bands outside of school, I was amazed that people actually wanted to give me money for it. According to some of the older guys in the bands, years ago there was work every day of the week, and they could make their primary living as musicians. I've always felt that the best kind of work was fun that people paid you for, which may be one reason I majored in art back in college. The only person who ever tried to talk me out of that decision oddly enough was my driver's ed instructor, a veritable character that encouraged us to call him “Uncle Al”. When I mentioned to “Uncle Al” that I graduated high school with a 99% average in math, he told me I was a fool for not becoming an accountant. Visions of a dark classroom and a droning voice explaining supply, demand, economics and research leapt to the forefront of my thoughts, and drawing superheroes and painting pretty girls seemed so much more appealing.

Ironically, some days graphic design can be as exciting as accounting. I'm fortunate to design catalogs with science fiction and fantasy books, and even collaborate with well-known illustrators on book jackets. While the subject matter appeals to me, I'm still sitting in a gray box staring at a computer all day and while that doesn't drain me physically, it takes its toll mentally. At first, when I graduated college, I was glad to actually be working. The music jobs on weekends, once my sole source of income, became icing, a way to bolster my income. As the years went on, and my workload and hours increased, I began looking forward to weekends where I didn't have anything to do. Once I was young, eager, and bored, and needed constant diversion. At some point I began to appreciate having days with no responsibilities, though such appreciation flies in the face of everything my parents and teachers ever taught me about being an adult. So when faced with weekends like this one, with a gig on both Saturday and Sunday, I'll take a vacation day on Monday to get my “nothing” day in. My dad never needed such breaks, and on his days off from the shop he simply did work around the house. FawnDoo recently commented on my similarities to my father, but we have our differences too. Yet “laziness” may simply be a phase of youth, as both my parents have often expressed regret at not helping THEIR parents out more. Maybe there's hope for me yet, and I just haven't reached their sense of responsibility yet.

The shift from play to work with my music “career” is definitely a psychological one. The more I let myself get bummed out about “giving up” a Saturday or Sunday, the more I dread it. Once I'm actually there, it's never as bad. Once I lose myself in the music, time flies and I do have fun. Today's job in Astoria was a breeze, an hour's walk around a few blocks while old women balanced vases on their heads as part of some tradition from the region of Italy they hailed from. Tomorrow will be four hours of nearly constant playing in Little Italy in Manhattan, and while I'd rather just sleep NOW, experience has taught me that I'll be on my way home from the job before I know it.

Since tonight's job finished so quickly, we even made it to Home Depot on the way home to pick up that beam. Driving back, I heard the new Audioslave Song “Doesn't Remind Me” for the first time, and became mesmerized. Chris Cornell hasn't sounded so mellow and Eddie Vedder-like since he sang with Vedder on Hunger Strike, and other songs from their Temple of the Dog album. Every once in a while a new song will grab me and stay with me for days, even months, as my theme song. Has anyone seen the episode of Family Guy in which Peter gets three wishes from a genie? One of his wishes is to constantly have theme music reflecting his every action. Maybe I've seen too many cartoons and sitcoms, but I've often wished the same thing. Life would just be so much cooler with theme songs. Tense music could build as I race to finish a design by a deadline. Jaunty music could play as I walk outside on my lunch break. Driving would be the one place I wouldn't need theme music, since the radio handles that already. More times than I can count, I've sped up and changed lanes because it was appropriate to the music that was playing at the time. I'm a little bit off sometimes.

“Doesn't Remind Me” is a happy little ballad, and Cornell simply lists things he likes, because they don't remind him of anything else. At a time when I needed a reminder of how playing in a band differs from working in a cubicle, how it breaks the routine, the radio answered my tired mental meandering. At the end of a long day, looking back, I have to say that I like walking through the streets playing music, because it doesn't remind me of anything else I do.


Crown vs. Crown

I had a conversation with some friends the other day about remakes, and the lack of originality in Hollywood. Scary though the prospect may be, its entirely possible that we'll someday see a new version of films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and It's a Wonderful Life. As it is, how many times have we seen spoofs of these movies in sitcoms and cartoons? Meanwhile, Planet of the Apes has been remade, Walking Tall was remade, and a remake of King Kong is on the horizon. Even Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was recently recycled and updated to create the film Guess Who. I'd have a hard time thinking of films from within my lifetime that will endure in their originality. Star Wars®, The Godfather, and Raiders of the Lost Ark are the first ones that spring to mind, yet it borders on blasphemy to put those modern epics in the same class as Casablanca and company.

One of the things I try to do in my quest to see everything is watch the originals as well as the remakes. So when I rented 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, the 1968 original with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway was not far behind. The films share many similarities. Both tell the tale of a bored and wealthy man who decides to mastermind the perfect crime. Each Thomas Crown has a beautiful and crafty woman acting as both nemesis and love interest. Each woman is torn between her duty to an insurance company and her weakness in the face of Crown's charms. The films have their differences as well. McQueen masterminds a bank robbery, while Brosnan is an art lover, planning a much more elaborate theft of a painting from a museum. As a result, the “twist” ending of each film differs as well, and while I applauded the resolution of the remake even as I figured out precisely what it would be, the original managed to surprise me since I was expecting something else. The original has a certain ‘60s flare and style, with funky music and split screens that would make Jack Bauer envious. The remake is polished and modern, with technology playing a major role.

When the remake first hit theaters, the biggest buzz I heard involved the amount of nudity Rene Russo displayed. Many critics praised the over-40 actress for her bravery. Indeed, she was in very good shape for her age, as was her older co-star. In a high-energy scene, the pair roll around naked on nearly every surface of Crown's apartment. I don't envy his butler. Russo's nudity goes from sensual to casual, and she wanders around topless on some tropical island as her rigid by-the-book character surrenders her inhibitions and learns to loosen up. While McQueen and Dunaway's encounters aren't as borderline pornographic, they engage in the single most erotic chess game I've ever seen. With barely any lines of dialogue, the two square off in front of a crackling fire, with close shots of their faces and the playing pieces as the score underlines the game beneath the game. I realized why some of this sequence, including Dunaway fondling one of the bishops, seemed so familiar to me at one point: it had been spoofed in one of the Austin Powers films. As a result, I found myself snickering during some of the more ridiculously extreme close-up head shots during a scene that was intended to be serious. Dunaway's sensuality is enough of a distraction to put McQueen in check, at which point he pulls her to her feet, suggests they “play a different game” and kisses her passionately. The camera whirls around as the image blurs into some trippy psychedelic mash of colors indicative of the era.

The relationship between the characters in the new version is so explicit and physical, that it almost seems like that's all there is to it. In the original, since so much is suggested rather than shown, it seems like the involvement is more emotional. Thus, there's more at stake, and each have more to lose if betrayed by the other. Both are good films in their own right, but I think I marginally prefer the original. I definitely won't look at my chess set the same way ever again.



There is nothing sexier than a beautiful lady raising a cigarette to her lips, tendrils of smoke beckoning me closer through a hazy bar. Maybe she'll clear her throat a lot, occasionally cough something into a handkerchief. The most important thing is the dry, raspy voice, and the first signs of the leather her skin will become years earlier than natural. That is the epitome of hot.

I've never been a fan of smoking. I think pop culture and my parents actually succeeded in that department. I remember an ad that ran back in the ‘80s. A boy is making his way through a crowded party. His eyes meet an exceptionally cute blond across the room. She brushes her hair across her ear and shyly looks away. He plays it cool, talks to his friends, but continues stealing glances. She does the same. Finally, he works up the nerve to approach this goddess and she chooses this moment to take a puff of her cigarette. The boy looks crushed as he lowers his head and turns around, leaving her embarrassed and disappointed as the commercial fades to black.

My mom's had asthma for most of her life. I've never known my uncles, her older brothers, as anything but mature and dignified adults, but she's told me horror stories of how they teased her when they were teenagers and she was a little girl. They had just started smoking, a habit they thankfully didn't carry into adulthood, and used to throw a blanket over her and blow smoke into it. Whether it was the cause or simply the trigger, her asthma manifested not long after. My mom’s always had an acute sense of smell, and was very sensitive to even a hint of smoke. If I'd go into my friend's house two doors down, where both parents were smokers, she knew. If I evaded her keen olfactory ability, once she started wheezing it would be a matter of time before I was confronted. I was forbidden to play in that house, and if I ever went to a bar when I was older and in college, she would know too. I had to go directly to the basement to put my smoky clothes in the washing machine immediately, or I wasn’t getting upstairs.

Clearly the circumstances of my childhood, the trips to the hospital when my mom had particularly bad attacks, stayed with me. I never had so much as a desire or a curiosity to smoke. At one of the Christmas parties for the first company I worked for, the boss passed around complementary cigars and prodded us all, especially the reluctant ones, to take at least one puff. Of course I choked on it, and it took several glasses of water to rid my mouth of that foul taste. I don't understand the appeal.

Years ago it was different. Commercials showed doctors lighting up after a tough day at the office. Nobody knew about lung cancer or asthma or emphysema or the rest of that fun stuff. I guess the kids of my generation, the ones who scoffed at PSAs and didn't live with asthmatic relatives, must have gotten started trying to look cool. I say smoking never appealed to me, and yet even I enjoyed bubble gum cigarettes, or pretending to smoke a lollipop stick. Somehow, some way, that message got through to us that smoking made us adults. Maybe it was in television shows, if not commercials. George Peppard had his share of stogies clenched between his teeth on The A-team, and looked cool as hell doing it. Lollipops came in handy when I wanted to play Hannibal on the playground. I regret that I didn't understand WHY I got beat up for that, and rightly so, at the time. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

Once people start, the addictive quality takes over, and quitting is difficult, even knowing the cost to both health and wallets. What's more problematic is, for all the fatalities, there are those genetically predisposed not to suffer ill effects. “Look at George Burns; he lived to be 100!” is a defense often proffered by a 78-year-old chain-smoking trumpet player in one of my bands. He'll punctuate most of his sentences with hacking and wheezing. Having made it as far as he has, there would be no point in anyone trying to convince him to quit now. Personally, I've had enough brushes with death not to tip the scales even further against me, especially with my family history. I didn't inherit asthma as far as I know, but I've had some respiratory problems with some colds that were very scary, and I've found myself wheezing whenever I've spent more than an hour or two around secondhand smoke. It’s a shame my dad’s heart condition hasn’t inspired me to eat better, although hopefully the hours of cardio I do in the gym each week are helping me somehow.

Does anyone out there smoke? What factors contributed to you picking up the habit in the first place? Do you wish you could quit? Has anyone tried, and has anyone succeeded? What reasons would you have not to quit?


PBW: Aftermath.

In the aftermath of the tornado that hit my home town last Friday, I ventured out this past Sunday to get some shots for this week's Photo Blog Wednesday. I'm morally obliged to inform you that these images, especially one in particular, are not for the faint-of-heart. I shot two locations: the parking lot of a bank, and a field and side street near my old middle school. As of today, clean-up efforts are still going on. Some people lost power. One person had a car crushed by a falling tree. Another family had their house sheared in half. The newspapers said there were no casualties, but I know otherwise. In the parking lot of that bank, where the jagged end of a fallen tree lorded over the battlefield like a triumphant dragon, I faced a horror that I didn't realize until too late. As I made my way snapping pictures, I noticed several grey mounds dashed against the pavement, barely recognizable until I came across some with intact beaks. I truly WAS in the middle of a battlefield where nature had defeated about 40 or 50 occupants of that fallen tree. I was torn about taking a photo, and about posting it. I think journalism NEEDS to show the truth at all times, both good and bad. I do know that I'd never want to photograph the aftermath of an actual war, nor find myself faced with the sight I saw in that parking lot ever again. As I stepped carefully and made my way back to my car, a flock of birds erupted from the branches of a nearby tree that had stood firm.

I could take some solace in watching the survivors soar.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~



Shockingly Stubborn

As I was leaving for work yesterday, I caught the middle of an argument between my parents. “Don't you go up on that roof!” my mom admonished. The skylight in our kitchen had been leaking, and after the last few days of rain, it had gotten worse. I had no wish for my dad to lug a ladder up from the basement and climb on to the roof, especially since it was still damp out and threatening to rain again. When I arrived at work, I called home to reinforce my agreement with my mom. I'm working with one of my bands on Saturday and Sunday, and I'm taking next Monday off from my regular job to recover. I pointed out that I could help on Monday if he could just wait for a day when I was home. My friend Rey, who was in earshot of my conversation and has known me since college, joked that he's heard me have that argument many times in the last 12 years. It's not the first time there's been a leak, and not the last. Someday I'll own a house, and I can look forward to the various responsibilities and maintenance woes that go with it.

I often wonder how much of my bad luck is my own doing, and how much is hereditary. My parents have had their share of unusual problems, and I can think of one that's plagued them for more than 30 years. I definitely tempt fate more than I should, and possess a powerful reverse psychology that only works against me. If I say “A beautiful girl WON'T fall in love with me,” she won't. If however, I say something along the lines of, “I've never been struck by lightning,” it will result in this morning's mishap.

There's a certain routine one develops when working in the same office long enough. I usually walk in, hit the power on my computer, set down my gym bag, turn on my overhead light, get out a banana and a sports drink, and check my voice mail while my computer starts. This morning I walked in as always, hit the power button, set down my bags, and noticed the monitor was still dark. I figured I hadn't pushed the button far enough and tried again, to no avail. My overhead light was working, but a desk lamp next to my computer would not turn on either. The logical conclusion was that the cleaning people had perhaps knocked my surge protector loose. I moved my chair, crawled under the desk, and began feeling around and checking the connections in the dimly lit space. Everything seemed to be plugged in, so I decided to try another outlet, the one my overhead lamp was plugged in to. That light was on, so I could rule out the outlet if my computer still didn't work in the new outlet. It did not, so I began to suspect my surge protector. I unplugged the computer and the desk lamp, and took the surge protector out into the light. I didn't see any switch or anything that a vacuum might have hit, so I plugged it back in to the first outlet. I then plugged my lamp in, and then my computer. I had the computer plug barely in when


I let out a cry of alarm and leapt back as a four-inch blue-and-white spark leapt from the outlet. Cautiously, I pushed the plug in the rest of the way and turned on my computer. It worked, as did my lamp, so it seemed to me that the problem had been solved. Rey came by and asked why I was pale, sweaty and shaking. I hadn't noticed, but I told him I was probably just startled by the spark. This elicited a few incredulous “What?!”s from my neighbors, who all agreed that a call to office services was in order, that I probably should have called them when the computer first wouldn't turn on. Honestly, I like to look for solutions to potentially simple problems on my own first. I'd be embarrassed to make a phone call and be told I had a plug in backwards or some other obvious solution that made me feel and/or look like an idiot. Rey thought it was a stubborn streak like my dad's, and that I'd be climbing up on roofs when I was in my seventies. As my computer seemed sluggish, I reluctantly left a message with office services, who apparently weren't too concerned that an employee had gotten a spark since no one every got back to me. By the afternoon, my machine seemed to be working normally, but I definitely wouldn't turn down a new surge protector.

My house was strangely dark when I got home. My mom's car was missing, so I figured my parents had gone to the store or to the arboretum my mom works at. I found the door unlocked, and when I stepped inside I noticed the basement light was on. “Hello?”, I inquired of potential thieves and murders. “I'm down here!” replied my father, “trying to fix this damn oil burner!” I set down my gym bag and made my way to the basement, where a 75-year-old man covered in grease and surrounded by wrenches was looking both puzzled and disgusted. “I had the guy look at it today but he wanted $95 an hour, so I said the heck with that. I'm gonna fix it myself. Do you know how to cut glass?” I said no, and moved closer. He began draining one of the water pipes into a large plastic bucket, but the years and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have not been kind on his hands. The water sloshed and spilled, and the drop lamp he was fumbling to keep under one arm was making me nervous, especially with the cord coiled at his feet in the water. I remembered the time I'd seen him use a blowtorch on a stubborn rusted pipe, dangerously close to a car's gas tank, and I realized that my bad luck wasn't hereditary. Tempting fate is what runs in my family. I quickly took the light from him and moved the wire out of the water, and held it for him. Eventually, I even convinced him to switch with me when he kept dropping wrenches, and he held the light while I turned the bolts he told me to turn. My mom arrived home from her arboretum and came down to check on us. As I relayed the day I'd had while tightening the pipes, she smiled at Rey's comment that I was stubborn like my dad and her eyes darted for a second to the oil burner. It was an ironic bookend to the day.

Tel Pére, tel fils. Father and son: shockingly stubborn.



...wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

...the word ”inert” indicates remaining still, does “ert” apply to something in motion?

..it had been an actual fire and not a drill at my office today, could the crowd of people milling dangerously close to a potentially burning building have leapt and ridden the shockwave of an ensuing explosion to safety?

...I were a rich man, would I really “biddy biddy bum” all day?

...Juggernaut, an unstoppable force, ran into The Blob, an immovable object, what would happen?

...you were locked in a room with William Hung, Four Non Blondes, the lead singer of System of a Down, and John Tesh, and only had one bullet, what would you do?

...I could save time in a bottle, I'd have fewer nickels.

...The Machinist were any thinner, he'd be Calista Flockhart.

...I back into a one-way street the wrong way, am I breaking any laws?

...Eric Stolz had played Marty McFly, how would those movies have differed? What difference would it have made to both his and Michael J. Fox's careers?

...I put a stationary bike in my cubicle and peddled for 8 or 9 hours a day while I worked, could my lifestyle still be described as “sedentary”?

...”Mario” is actually the last name of the Super Mario Bros., were Mario's parents more or less creative than George Foreman, who named his five sons and two of his daughters “George”?

...Calista Flockhart is reading tonight's post, I'd like to apologize for my outdated and uncalled-for remark earlier. I'd also ask what brings her to the Nexus.

...it's acceptable for Tom Cruise to date someone considerably younger than himself, would it be wrong for John Stamos to do the same?

...I legally changed my last name to “Ellipses”, could I abbreviate it “...” when I signed important documents?

...I had a nickel for every time the odds were in my favor, I could afford a can of soda in the 1920s.

...I were more creative, I might have had something to write about tonight.


Phantasmic Links 8.14.05

Phew! To quote Nelly, or more recently, Wang Chung, ”It's gettin' hot in here!” Today, temperatures where I live reached 98 degrees, feeling closer to 108°. It wasn't until dusk that I decided to venture out, intending to sit by the beach and read the latest Harry Potter book before the sun went down. Not twenty feet from my house, lighting scarred the heavens, and soon it was pouring. Recalling the tornado we had here the other day, I decided to head back home. Perhaps the rain will cool things off. Once more as nature rages, I find myself at my keyboard, this time sharing this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Heavily-medicated Darrell Results in Debut of Hilarious Film Geeks Action Figure Theater.

Janet Diagnoses Celebrity Syndromes. Hilarity Ensues.

Addictive Game of Dominos and Tomatoes Consumes MCF's Free Time.

Giant Woman to Conquer Earth.

Rising Gas Prices Lead to Hybrid Tweaking.

Fiction Contest Seeks Worst. Writers. Ever.

Run. Jump. Scale Walls. Collect Gold. Make to the Door in Time. SURVIVE.

”For a Good Time, Call 867-5MCF.”

I saw this test at another blog via comments at The Art of Getting By. Here were my results:

The Provocateur
(57% dark, 38% spontaneous, 42% vulgar)
Your humor style:
You'll crack on anything, and you're often witty, even caustic, about it. Therefore, your sense of humor is polarizing. You're transgressive, and you've got a seriously sharp “edge”—maybe too much for some folks. If they get you, people think you're one of the funniest (and smartest) people in the world. If they don't, they think you're an ass. Whatever, right? While some might question your judgment, your comic intellect is unquestionably respected.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Chris Rock—Lenny Bruce—George Carlin

My test tracked 3 variables.
How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 54% on dark
You scored higher than 9% on spontaneous
You scored higher than 63% on vulgar
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid



MCF Versus the Volcano

Just, as I've never been struck by lightning, so too have I never jumped into the mouth of a volcano. Granted, unless there are lava men amid my audience, this holds true for my readers as well. But how many of you have taken leaps in a more metaphorical sense?

I think it's safe for me to discuss the movie Joe Versus the Volcano without worrying too much about spoilers. The movie is FIFTEEN years old, and I'm notoriously slow with seeing films everyone I know has already seen. The interesting thing is, before I watched it, I was certain I had seen large portions of it on television before. The DVD I watched this afternoon bore little resemblance to any memory I had of the film, save for a few moments on the island at the end. If I'd seen the movie before, I'd only seen 10 minutes of it, and missed out on the larger picture.

On the surface, it doesn't seem like there's a lot to the picture. Tom Hanks is stuck in a miserable job, learns he's dying, quits, and accepts a rich man's offer to jump into a volcano to appease a native superstition so the natives will trade with the rich man. Along the way Hanks encounters three very different women portrayed so brilliantly by Meg Ryan, that I didn't catch on until later in the film. The journey Hanks' Joe Banks takes becomes increasingly ludicrous, and at some point becomes a blatant fairy tale. From what I've read, the film didn't do very well in theaters, and I suspect most audiences didn't take the time to look beneath the surface and see what a brilliant tale it truly was.

Joe is a hypochondriac, a condition exacerbated by his life-threatening experiences as a fireman and stress from his office job. Trudging to work his shoe falls apart, and when the receptionist Dede(Ryan) asks what's wrong, he sighs that he's “losing his sole”. I don't think I'm a hypochondriac. I once put off having serious symptoms of a major problem looked at for weeks, and passed out at my desk from blood loss before finally going to see a doctor. I never go to the doctor for colds, and with the exception of the month I was recovering from surgery for the aforementioned problem, I don't think I've ever taken a sick day. About two years after this incident, I began having abdominal pains and feeling nauseous all the time. I visited several doctors and endured several tests, and every indication was that I was in perfect health. After about two or three months, the symptoms eventually disappeared. I don't LIKE going to the doctor, and in a strange way I don't like going and having them find NOTHING. I feel like it damages my credibility and brands me a hypochondriac, which could hurt me if I ever visited them with a real problem. Last Summer, I started feeling tired and weak all the time, with frequent dizzy spells. It began one afternoon on the treadmill at work and felt like a heart attack. Several doctors dismissed it as anxiety and one even said I “needed to go to Hawaii”. I cut out caffeine, started taking vitamins, and eventually began feeling normal. Looking back on last year, it's somewhat embarrassing to think that the symptoms were all generated by stress. The one lesson I took from the experience is that work should never affect us when we go home. My job is twice as stressful now than it was last Summer, yet I've learned to shake things off. It's not easy, but health and general well-being is so much more important.

Joe complains to his boss, played by Dan Hedaya, that he isn't feeling well. Hedaya's character scolds him with a philosophy I've often heard my own parents endorse. He points out that he doesn't feel good, that NOBODY feels good, and that it's part of growing up. I've always found that to be a very bleak world view, and while it's true that as we get older our energy decreases and our joints stiffen, so much of that can be overcome with the right attitude. This is precisely the course the movie takes. Joe learns that his symptoms, like my own, were brought on by stress and past traumatic experiences and that his terminal illness does NOT present any actual symptoms. He tells off his boss, quits his job, and asks out the cute receptionist. Joe starts to LIVE and as his attitude changes, so does the look and feel of the film. The gray, desaturated tones of the factory where he works are replaced by multicolored bright lights, first at the restaurant where he takes DeDe, and at various times throughout the film as he journeys first to Los Angeles and then to the volcanic island to meet his destiny. The symbolism is strong and every detail, every object has meaning. There's a jagged line that appears many times, first as the path leading to his factory, then on his factory logo, as a crack in the wall of his apartment, as a bolt of lightning that destroys a boat he was on, and finally as a procession of natives with torches moving up the volcano. I found an excellent web site that analyzes the ”lightning bolt” and other subtle details of the movie far better than I could.

Ultimately, Joe finds himself at the mouth of the volcano with Patricia, the third character portrayed by Meg Ryan. It is there that she speaks the line: “Joe, nobody knows anything. We'll take this leap, and we'll see. We'll jump, and we'll see. That's life.” This is really the major philosophy of the movie. Too many people fall into the trap of a zombie-like existence, going through the same routine over and over and fearing risks and the unknown. Once Joe broke that pattern, his life became healthier and more colorful. In the beginning of the movie he's got a job and, while he never feels well, he's still alive. He's miserable. By the end of the movie, he's dying and on his way to a spectacular suicide, and at one point when things are at their absolute worst, he's DANCING. Joe starts to really live once he's dying, and does more with the time he has left than he did with all the years leading up to his epiphany. On the off chance that someone reading this HASN'T seen the film by now, I won't mention the movie's final outcome.

Now, chances are I'm not going to march in to work and tell off my boss on Monday. I'm not going to quit and use my savings to buy a boat and sail to some exotic location. The movie does have me thinking a lot more about life and risks though, and those occasional leaps we all must take to move forward. There are many things that are “safe” and “smart”, but is it worth it if we're not really living our lives to the fullest? Joe's tale isn't about a man who's dying. It's the story of a dead man who finally comes to life, a journey we should all be fortunate enough to take.

”My father says almost the whole world's asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement.”—Patricia Graynamore, from Joe Versus the Volcano