When I was a kid, my block was my block. Every day after school I'd go from house to house, gathering my friends for another day's adventure. “Can so-and-so come out to play?” Hours would be wasted playing tag or riding bikes, and sometimes we'd combine the two. Tag is especially great when bicycles and a frisbee are incorporated. We'd race, and take the “jump” in front of my house where a tree root had raised a portion of the sidewalk. There were trees to climb, sticks to duel with and pinecone “grenades” to throw, and only the dreaded cry of our respective names from our respective parents could summon us from paradise to the reality of dinner. In the Summer as I got older and closer to my teen years, my parents sometimes let me go back outside after dinner. I complained that my neighborhood friends, all younger than me, were allowed to stay out and I either eventually won that argument, or simply turned an age they felt appropriate for that privilege. Night time was the right time in the Summer. It was when lightning bugs came out, when we could play with sparklers and snappers, and enjoy the cool night after a hot day of running around.

As much fun as we had in our neighborhood, not everyone was happy. One time we were playing football in the street in front of my house and a driver in a station wagon leaned on the horn and said something as we parted and he drove past. “Stupid kids!” Of course my only option at that point was to hurl the football with all my might at his back window. Even though the soft Nerf ball bounced harmlessly off his window, he still came to a screeching, heart-stopping halt. You know those moments in life that immediately follow action sans thought, in which you wonder what the hell you were thinking and ponder the wisdom of remaining a non-interfering Watcher the rest of your life, never speaking or taking actions that potentially would have a negative outcome? It was definitely one of those. Fortunately my dad was a few feet away pulling weeds, and quickly came over to apologize and point out that there was no damage, so the guy stayed in his car and drove off. Suffice to say I never did anything like that again.

When we played on my block, we'd wander onto our lawns and those of our neighbors, especially during games of hide-and-seek. One home was particularly frightening, as it contained the meanest old man in the world. I remember the first time I ran through his flower bed, and up the hill. I never saw him, only heard a bellowing, “WHAT ARE YOU KIDS DOING?! GET OFF MY PROPERTY!!!!!” It was terrifying, as if the house itself was yelling at us. In some perverse way it also encouraged us, and running on to that lawn soon became a dare. Back then, my block was my block. My friends and I would assemble and do what we wanted, go where we wanted, limited only by the extent of our imagination and moreso the cruelty of adults. We were human and free. How dare they yell at us, forbid us from exploring every inch of our block. How dare parents call us home for dinner, or not let us out after dark? Adults were no fun at all, and I knew I would never, ever sympathize or be like them.

Time defeats all children eventually. We grew up, started driving, went off to college and other interesting places, and the four streets that were once our world became ordinary and hardly noticeable, something to roll over as we ventured out into a veritable universe. There were no children, and the neighborhood grew quiet for a few years. Occasionally, a new couple would move in with an infant, or young couples in the neighborhood would have children. It was still quiet. More time passed. Those children became toddlers, began running around on their front lawn giggling in the sprinkler as their parents watched from the front steps. It was cute. My mom would look out, then punch me in the arm and ask when she was getting grandchildren. That was less cute. Even more time passed. The kids got braver, and would start to explore neighboring yards and cross the street. Just as I formed a group decades earlier, so too did they bond with one another based on geographic proximity and relative ages. Sometimes a ball would “accidentally” land in our yard or roll under a car, the perfect excuse for a mischievous little boy to come over. “HEY! Get away from my car!” my dad would shout from the window. I'd laugh and tease him, imagining the kid fearing our house and remembering going through the same experience with another old man a lifetime past. My dad just grumbled about kids getting hurt and not wanting to be responsible but I'd be off to see my girlfriend, to explore a world greater than these measly four streets. Kids play. It's harmless and adults should let them do what they do while they still have the free time to do it.

The children have multiplied like self-replicating nanotechnology. We should have seen the signs. For years no one came to our house on Halloween, once my generation outgrew it. Then a few kids came. Then a few more. When we didn't recognize someone, we wrote it off to good costumes. It was the only warning we would ever get. Now there are dozens of children in the street. Their parents are not always around, and I don't know where half of these kids come from. A wooden horse with the words “children at play” scrawled on it is sometimes put across the road to deter vehicles. When I need to get into my own driveway, I have to wait for a sea of imps to part, many of whom are giving me dirty looks. I've almost had to blow the horn at them. Most are out past 8, sometimes until 9 and now that school is out they'll probably be out even later. “Don't these kids have homework or bedtimes?” asks my dad, and all I can do is respond sympathetically. He's 100% right; why are they still out there at those hours? Why does the ice cream man drive by after dark? These animals run around screaming, dueling with sticks, throwing balls and pine cones, and they ride their bikes up our driveway and down into the street, often without checking for cars. I don't understand kids. When I see how untamed and out-of-control they are, I worry about the future. They'll never put responsibility before play, or respect their boundaries. They'll never feel the weight of the consequences of their actions.

I can't understand or relate to this new generation of savages. I was never like that.


Did you know?

• An Octopus can blend in with its environment. Someone clued me in to this video today. I'm not sure if it's real or not, but further research explained how special skin cells known as Chormatophores allow them to rapidly change pigment and reflect what's around them. Soon, nanotech suits will allow soldiers to blend in, and more.

Superman was initially bald.

Bumblebee is going to look very cool in the live action Transformers movie. I can't wait to see that construct moving and interacting with actors. I dreamed of this in elementary school, and technology is finally able to make my dream a reality.

• I finally saw Dazed and Confused last night, and while I recognized stars who went on to become more well-known such as Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, and Joey Lauren Adams, it wasn't until the final credits, during one of those sequences where clips from the film accompany each ensemble member's name, that I realized Ben Affleck was in there as well. These days, when I see Ben Affleck in a movie, I think “there's Ben Affleck”. I don't actually mind him, and my main criticisms of his work include being wildly miscast as Daredevil and that ridiculous scene in Armageddon where he (successfully--!) romances Liv Tyler with an animal cracker and a bad Australian accent. I was rooting for the asteroid after that. In Dazed and Confused however, he so thoroughly immersed himself in the role of O'Bannion, a jerk Senior who terrorizes Freshman with a paddle, that I loathed the character without recognizing the actor.

• Dazed and Confused also included an actor by the name of Rory Cochrane, and while it wouldn't be tragic to miss that movie or his portrayal of a disoriented stoner, I do recommend catching his performance in Empire Records. I had caught part of the movie on television years ago and enjoyed the ensemble, and finally saw a special remix DVD edition last night as well. For me, the ‘80s have always had more of an identity for me than the ‘90s, and one of the characters in Dazed and Confused muses that the ‘70s weren't as good as the ‘60s and looks forward to ‘80s, theorizing that only the even decades are cool. Empire Records, in the look of the kids and the music they play and discuss, really captured the ‘90s for me in a way that was only surpassed by Singles. The cast includes Anthony LaPaglia, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, and a young Renée Zellweger. I recognized the name Robin Tunney in the opening credits as well, but it wasn't until after the movie that I realized which character she played. If you know her best as Veronica, the lawyer on Prison Break, you won't recognize her as an angsty youth with a shaved head. It's a shame the ‘00s are more than half over, and don't seem to have the distinguishing traits that the decades I grew up in included. I wonder if teenagers today feel differently though, and do have movies, music, and other bits of pop culture they identify solely with this decade.

• I've saved the best for last. A few days ago I caught a bootleg cut of the new Spider-man 3 trailer. Of course now it's available in much better quality on the Apple site. If you want to avoid SERIOUS spoilers, you should avoid the rest of this paragraph until May 2007, which now can't arrive soon enough for me. You have been warned. The trailer shows the symbiote attaching itself to Spidey, and the CGI is tight. We see him in the black costume struggling with the changes to his personality. We see him romance Gwen Stacy in her trademark black headband, and we see how Sandman looks both as Thomas Haden Church and as a menacing giant of sand. The effects look truly amazing. If you watch the trailer carefully you'll even catch the new Green Goblin. I like that they didn't just repeat the costume from the first movie, even though in the comics Harry Osborn did don his father's costume. Instead of a helmet the new outfit seems to include just a facemask, which makes sense given how personal this conflict will be. At one point in the trailer the Goblin attacks Spider-man out of costume. Most exciting though is a single, creepy frame of Topher Grace looking up and droning, “Parker...”. Several months ago, when the cast was announced, I speculated that Church would portray Eddie Brock, given his resemblance to the comic rendering of the character. Topher looked so much like Tobey Maguire that I cautiously wondered if he would play Ben Reilly, Spider-man's clone. Then Kirsten Dunst leaked who the actors were playing. Topher is ominous and virtually unrecognizable in that one clip, and it should be enough to allay the concerns of any naysayers. As much as this “teaser” trailer gives away, we aren't shown how he's going to look as Venom. I'm expecting no less than a three-hour epic given the amount of material and new characters the film has to cover, and I'm confident this will be another success from Sam Raimi.

Is it next May yet? Aunt May?


PBW: Forms and Colors

Today’s Photo Blog Wednesday may be the most random installment yet, as this collection of close-ups examines how ordinary everyday things around a home might be considered art. Also, it rained a lot this past weekend. Enjoy!




In anticipation of Superman Returns, I picked up the documentary Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman on DVD last week. I actually picked up quite a few Superman-related items: the third volume of Superman the Animated Series; the second season of Justice League; the third season of Lois & Clark; and the unfortunately slightly sub par Brainiac Attacks. The documentary was excellent, and may be the most thorough account of the character's history I've ever seen. Superman has appeared in comic books, comic strips, radio serials, commercials, merchandise, movies, cartoons and television. There are sad moments in the documentary, such as the tragic deaths of George Reeves and Christopher Reeve. There are funny moments too, such as George Reeves' guest appearance on I Love Lucy(“You've been married to this woman for 15 years? And they call me Superman!”). Superman has had his ups and downs over the years, and even died, but he always returns, and there's always a certain excitement that precedes each new incarnation. Scenes in the documentary from the first episodes of Smallville reminded me of the great potential I first saw in that show.

Long-time readers may recall my first and most successful Blog Party. Over the course of last year I would hold six more, with declining popularity and participation. By Blog Party 7, which was on the dry topic OF blog parties themselves, it was clear from the subject matter as well as the response that the well had run dry. A lot of time has passed however, and there are some new faces around here, and so, inspired by the return of a hero, I've decided to host another party. It gives me great pleasure to announce BLOG PARTY RETURNS!

Here's how these things work:

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.

Participants may post links to their contributions in the comments section of the post that day, or send me an e-mail at MCFSPU@hotmail.com.

The party will be held on Thursday, July 6th. The topic of the party will be:


Answers can range from sequels to loved ones coming back from war to lost pets finding their way home. Life is change, and all things inevitably leave, which is why it's so special on those rare occasions that they come back. Feel free to look through my archived past parties for inspiration and enlightenment. Think of this as a M.C.F.A.T. essay question that I answer first. Tell your friends. Tell your friends' friends. Tell your friends' neighbors. Tell your neighbors' friends. Tell your neighbors' friends' neighbors' cousins' third uncles' grandson. Just don't tell that pesky Mxyzptlk. I look forward to seeing everyone's posts on the 6th!



Phantasmic Links 6.26.06

My Sunday proved to be far more productive than my Saturday, and I accomplished the most before 11:30 AM. Maybe there is something to that whole getting up early thing my dad's done his whole life. We got back from church a little after 8, and with inexplicable adrenaline and a desire to beat the rain, I had a jack under my car and wrenches lined up before I'd even had breakfast, before even my dad was ready to work on the car. I didn't get far however, as the jack jammed and after realizing I had it on an unsafe portion of my car's underside, I was unable to loosen or lower it. This led to a brief conflict in which my dad, happening on the scene and discovering my dilemma, declared that I had broken his jack and was just like my uncle, rushing in without knowing what I'm doing. I argued that the problem might be that the jack was older than I was, but once I got a secondary jack out of my trunk so he could free and fix the big one, we soon engaged in a different kind of teamwork. It was he that handed me wrenches as I struggled and loosened rusted bolts on the pipe between my muffler and catalytic converter. At one point he went inside to get a hacksaw, but I had the bolts out to his surprise by the time he returned. On one end, the pipe came loose completely and I realized as loud as my car had been this week, it would have been worse if the pipe had fallen loose while driving. For the first time, I would say I did 90% of the repairs on my car instead of vice versa, and my dad proudly said I did good. My mom even suggested that I now had a backup career should I ever lose my current job, but I don't think I'd want to fix other people's cars on a regular basis. It's enough to be able to fix one's own vehicle, and it takes forever to get my hands clean afterwards. Like a proud fisherman with a particularly large catch, I of course had to document the offending part I removed:

Note that where there are two pieces in the above photo, those brackets were originally attached and that was all one piece. I know it's not Wednesday, but I couldn't wait to share the photos before delving into the real reason you're all here today, this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Here's a museum of handheld games.

These are games with the worst names.

If you get stumped playing Dumb: The Game you might feel like Buddy, as played by Willie Aames.

Survive Undead Assault or perish in flames.

Add http://www.gabbly.com/ before any web site and if someone else is doing the same thing at the same time, you can talk to them. Will my readers be able to talk to each other today? Is “Jimmy” a nickname for “James”?

Hubble goes somewhat blind. I guess we won't catch sight of any interstellar dames.

What happens when MCF approaches females in his office? This is why I don't stake any claims.

In Donut Boy, collecting donuts and surviving 36 floors are your chief aims.

Finally, I've got a big bag full of crabs here, and when you're all singing about it later you'll know where to send blames.



Rain on my Parade.

I was supposed to replace a pipe between my muffler and a catalytic converter this weekend, to make my car run quieter and smoother. I was going to cut the lawn, and help my dad and the neighbor put up a new fence. Most importantly, I was going to play in a parade. It’s funny how well “scattered” thunderstorms can disrupt one’s weekend plans. I managed to watch Everything is Illuminated, Snake Eyes, 8 MM, and several episodes from the third and final set of DVDs for the Superman animated series, but accomplished nothing of importance or significance.

Saturday was an odd day. I looked outside, saw a squirrel foraging in the wet grass, and wondered when the sun might come out so I could fix my car. My dad was certain we wouldn’t get to the car, and that we should rest for the parade and worry about the car on Sunday instead. Every time I looked out the window I saw something different. Sometimes it would be absolutely pouring; other times the sun would almost peek out from behind thick clouds. Driving to the parade we encountered more bizarre weather patterns, as lightning would strike in the distance and torrential downpours would last from one traffic light to the next. At the starting point, there was no sign of any fire trucks, only band members in parked cars outside a school, waiting to hear whether or not the gig would be canceled. The radio mentioned a flood watch in effect, and as golfball-sized spheres of water pelted the car, I was certain they were right.

When 5:30 hit, the time we were supposed to meet, my dad got out of the car. I convinced him to put a poncho on over his uniform, and silently wished I’d brought one myself, or a jacket at the very least. He was visibly embarrassed and pointed out no one else was wearing one, but I was firm in my position. Even though fire department parades are strict, and we’re judged on our appearance, I wasn’t about to risk a 76-year-old man getting pneumonia. My health was expendable, since I could shake off a cold better at my age than he could. Together, we made our way across the parking lot as other band members from our group and others started climbing reluctantly from their vehicles. The downpour had subsided to a drizzle, and it looked like we might get the parade in after all.

We were supposed to start at 6. By that point, other than a few police officers blocking a side road and some fire trucks from one town at the end of a street, there wasn’t any indication that anything was happening. We waited by the side of the road as various people pulled over to ask questions. Some asked what was going on. A limo driver asked directions to a road miles in the opposite direction from where he was driving. And a woman in an SUV informed us that her baby in the back had a fever, and she needed to know where the nearest pharmacy was. As one of our trumpet players directed her, I told my dad what she had said since he couldn’t hear her, and he immediately started shouting to a police officer across the street, “HEY! We got a SICK BABY OVER HERE! HEY! SICK BABY! HELLO!” Meanwhile, the traffic light changed and people started beeping at her, so she drove off.

City workers started putting out those plastic bag lined cardboard boxes for garbage, and someone heard that the battalion really wanted to get the parade in, and a decision would be made by 6:30. As it started to rain again, I wondered why they didn’t start on time, and get the parade done before the next downpour. All over Long Island, shiny fire engines remained safe and polished in their garages, as band members slowly got soaked. Eventually, we received word to gather, so we got our instruments out of the car even as other incredulous musicians called to us from their cars, asking if we were really going to play. One musician kept bemoaning the fact that he had given up an indoor gig that paid twice as much. Similarly, my dad and I had passed on an Italian procession in Queens. The Italian band leader wasn’t happy about it, but we had booked the parade first and had to stand by our original commitment.

“Put ‘em away; it’s canceled!” called a man in a kilt. Word spread quickly, but a few people had called our band leader and were instructed to wait for him, rain or shine. Sometimes we still get something, just for showing up. And so eventually, as firemen, police and musicians vacated the area, 30 of our players stood alone under a tree that provided little protection. When the boss did arrive, apologetic and saying he’d take care of us the next time we were together, a few people were unhappy. On our way back to the parking lot, the trumpet player who’d given up the indoor job informed us that this was probably his last outing with us. He was DONE. My dad tried to dissuade him, since no one can control the weather and it’s actually a very rare occurrence for us to be rained out, but it wasn’t the right time to convince him otherwise. The final irony, the insult to injury, hit when the sun appeared as we drove home. There wasn’t much of it, but it would have been dry enough to play after all. Who knows, maybe later in the season they’ll reschedule it. For now, I just hope Sunday is dry enough to fix my car, so I can say I accomplished something productive this weekend.


Bug Hero

Lately, I've been rescuing insects, and I'm not sure why I keep finding myself in a position to do so, let alone why I'm inclined to do so. It's been a very strange week for me in many ways. First there was that spider last weekend, the one in my sink who was spared for photogenic qualities. It would not be my last act of mercy however. Late Thursday night, exhausted from the day's events, I shuffled in to the kitchen for a glass of water. The room was illuminated from the hallway behind me, but otherwise set in shadow. I noticed a crumb on top of our white toaster oven, and thought it was a bit of bread. As I leaned in, the thing suddenly CLICKED and leapt about a foot in the air, even as I stumbled back and said a word approximating “boowahguhuhuhuh!” I felt cold and itchy at the same time, and shrunk back down the hall to my room as I contemplated how to deal with it, should I find it again. I looked around and spotted a water bottle that just had a few drops left in it. Shaking it dry, I snuck back in to the kitchen and looked around. It was gone.

Cautiously, I flipped on the light, and very carefully pushed aside a piece of tin foil on top of the oven. Sure enough, the invader was there, probably as scared as I had been. I put the bottle over him, and he didn't react. I looked around, trying to figure out how I was going to extricate him if he didn't climb up into the bottle. I definitely didn't want bug guts on the toaster oven. I spied a piece of junk mail on the table, and slid it between the toaster and the bug, under the bottle. I carried this construction through my living room, fearing dropping the bottle and the thing leaping at me. I thought it might be what I've erroneously referred to as a Potato Bug for years, until a horror story from Rhodester about a screaming Jerusalem Cricket taught me that I had no notion of what a Potato Bug really was. Research proved that the only other bug to share that nickname is the Woodlouse, which I've always referred to as a Pillbug. Whatever it was that I had caught Thursday night, was of a breed that I knew from experience pinched with amazing force. I managed to get this one outside, lift the bottle, and quickly close the door to my veranda.

Of course after staring at the closed door, I realized I had to get my camera. At first I tried to shoot through the screen door, but my camera kept focusing on the screen. I realized I had to open the door, and risk the thing leaping back into the house. I only got one picture, and I didn't even realize a curious little ant had wandered on to the scene until I uploaded it to my computer. Friday morning the junk mail was there, but no insects. If there was a battle, I couldn't tell you who won.

Friday should have been free of similar incidents. My morning was quiet, and a walk in to town at lunch on a cloudy day was equally uneventful. After lunch I was sitting at my computer working when I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, at something bright, bright green against my striped black dress shirt. I looked down and saw a grasshopper making his way toward an opening near a button. As an artist and an amateur photographer, I should have admired the composition, the vivid color against the dark background. Instead, I kicked my chair back, arms flailing as I exclaimed “boowahguhuhuhuh!” By some miracle, no one saw nor heard me, at least that I was aware of. My attention was focused elsewhere. Changing course, my new friend decided to start walking UP the shirt toward my neck. I looked down my chest at shiny, round green eyes that for some reason cried “mama!” I looked around for help, and spotted my trusty stack of Starbucks napkins. Can anyone guess what happened next?

I held the napkin flat against my chest, my chin touching my chest to see the critter as it got closer. It scampered on to the napkin and I lifted it away, holding it in the palm of my left hand. I expected it to jump at any second. But it stood still and gazed up at me. “Where are we going mama?”, inquired the imaginary voice in my head as I got up, left my section, and started walking down one of the rows of cubicles. I shielded it from wind with my right hand as I wondered the answer to that question myself. I made a right, then a left at the stairwell, opening doors with my feet. I walked down three flights of stairs, nodded hello to a woman on her way up, and continued on. I walked around past our ATM machine, past the front security desk and to the front door, where I stood aside to let a couple enter. I walked outside and looked around for an appropriate flower bed. I tried to shake it off on to some yews but it wouldn't budge. I walked a little further to a bed of pachysandra, and again it remained on the napkin. “But I want to stay with you, mama!” Plucking a leaf, I gently nudged my little friend on to the plant with it. It blended in, and walked down into the plants. They grow up and leave home so fast. I returned to the building, depositing the napkin in the nearest trash receptacle.

I spent the rest of the afternoon questioning my sanity and scratching imaginary itches. It's the price of being an unwitting, possibly insane, bug hero.


Wheel in the Sky

Today's title comes of course from a Journey song, appropriate since “journey” sums up the whirlwind last few days for everyone in my family.

Ever since we received the bad news on Monday of my aunt's passing, the week has been unreal, like a dream. Work was a distraction, a welcome sense of the daily and the normal, and it grounded me. Leaving early and coming home to an empty house Tuesday night, heating up dinner, then meeting my family at the funeral home was anything but routine. The room was packed, family and friends alike, all people whose lives she touched. I've never seen so many flower arrangements, and as always there were old photos. There was one amazing portrait of her that was surely done in a studio by a professional. It was a profile, set against a blue spotlight, and she looked up with an amazing nobility as she receded in to shadow. I commented on it to one of my uncles, the older brother of my mom and younger brother of the widower, and he told me his brother had taken the photo years ago, and that he used to be interested in photography. He said he went to the city a lot and shot bridges and other subject matter. Some days I feel like an outcast, and other days I find I'm more like my family than I realize. I was in college before I learned that all of the oil paintings hanging in my house had been done by my mother when she was in her twenties, and now I find out that one of my uncles dabbled in photography, as I currently do. Both of my uncles were draftsmen, working by hand to create precise engineering drawings, but I guess in some ways they were artists applying their talents where they could make a living, even if it wasn't exactly what they wanted to do. My other uncle also used to paint, although I've never seen his work.

Wakes are important not just to honor the dead, but to comfort and distract the living. So many cousins and friends and other relatives showed up to talk about old times, and keep my uncle occupied. I spoke with him about the portrait I admired, and he explained the techniques, and how my aunt was always self conscious about her chin, even when she was younger and thinner. He set up the shot specifically with her looking up, so the chin stretched out, and lit it just right. He always treated his wife like a queen, and that picture was a window into his head, to look through his eyes at her.

As I grow older, I'm starting to remember my mom's extended family, the people I see every five years or so at weddings or funerals who tell me they remember “when I was this big” and hold their hand a few feet off the floor then lie and tell me how handsome I’ve become. Occasionally I meet people I don't know, who still know me. Wednesday night's gathering included the following uncomfortable exchange with one woman:

“You're [blank]'s son, aren't you?”
“Oh..yes...h-hi how are you?”
[to husband]”This is [MCFy]. He's [blank] and [MCF]'s boy.”
[to me]”I was speaking to your mother before. She was telling me how much trouble you're having finding a good Christian mate. You know, I have a single daughter. Mind you, she's MUCH older than you; don't misunderstand what I'm saying. But she has trouble too. You know, she goes to Catholic singles nights but even there, there's nothing great.”

[inching away]“Uh, yeah, yeah it's tough out there, plus finding time with work and all.”
[taking my hand]”Yes. It's not like it used to be. My daughter is a nurse and she has no time. It IS tough out there.”
[cracking a smile and trying to lighten the tone]”Well, it's a different world.”
[taking both my hands and looking deadly serious]”But not a BETTER one. Well...well you stay strong, and hang in there, ok? You'll find love. If you want it, you'll find it. But you have to want it.”[piercing gaze]
[pulling my hands free]“Yeah, thanks. Hey, good seeing you again.”

At this point she just nodded and scrunched her face sympathetically and the husband nodded apologetically and shrugged his shoulders. I moved on to greet my godmother, cousins, and other people I actually DID know who weren't going to tell me how bad my life was because I was still single at the ripe old age of 31. When I related the tale to my mom, I learned as I suspected that she had paraphrased and embellished their earlier conversation. At most she may have said she wished they could see each other on a happier occasion than a funeral, hopefully my wedding. I doubt my mom used the specific phrase “good Christian mate”.

Thursday morning brought the biggest dose of surrealism. We arrived at the funeral home for a final, silent viewing. The previous two days were filled with laughter rather than tears, with family joking and remembering all the good times. Now there was only silence, as my aunt's sister, my Uncle, his son, and his daughter-in-law sat in the front row looking at my aunt for the last time. My aunt's sister beckoned for my mom to sit with them, and I sat in the back with my dad and my other uncle. After about half an hour the funeral director instructed us to move to our cars. My dad took my mom, and I drove my other uncle. The immediate family rode in a limo behind the hearse. I have to say that every funeral procession I ride in seems to take on less meaning for other drivers. There was a time when a row of cars following a hearse with their headlights on were respected. Now people cut in between, honk horns, and are generally rude. A friend of mine recently sent me a link in which New York was rated the most polite city in the world. I remain skeptical.

At mass, the priest said some comforting words about death being inevitable change, and that we’ll see her again. He spoke of how much she gave to the community, and I recalled all the volunteer work she did with senior citizens after she retired. I sat through the ceremony in a fog and my cousin, normally a sarcastic and confident Gary Sinisesque giant of a man, hunched at times, his usual stride broken. My uncle just looked really, really tired. After mass it was time for another procession to the cemetery, one unlike anything I've ever participated in. I've been to funerals where the cemetery was a few towns over from the church, and most of the time we do drive past the deceased's home along the way. But while the church and their home was on Long Island, the cemetery was in Queens. If I thought it was difficult keeping a procession together on the streets of Nassau County, but that was nothing compared to riding on the Northern State, Grand Central, and Jackie Robinson parkways. With each transition the etiquette of other drivers got progressively worse, and the occasional closed lane didn't help matters. I had to keep an eye on the hearse which got further and further ahead as our caravan expanded from 18 to 30 cars, as well as check my mirror occasionally to make sure I hadn't lost my father. Sometimes the hearse would disappear completely, then I'd spot it again. At one point, a few of the cars turned on their hazard lights and I did the same. It was overcast, and people couldn't be faulted for not thinking anything of daytime headlights. Of course, a few drivers caught on to the trick and turned on their flashers, strangers joining our lane to pass people in theirs. When we reached our exit, I caught a glimpse of the lead cars before a traffic light changed. A procession is allowed to go through lights, but we dared not risk it in Queens.

I kind of knew where the cemetery was, and there were still one of two cars in front of me with flashing lights. I hoped they knew where they were going. At the cemetery, we asked for directions at the front gate that led us past two other services to a chapel, and a caretaker who told us to ask someone at the front gate. By some miracle we found our party, and the service hadn't started yet. My dad started complaining as soon as he got out of the car that I shouldn't have put on the blinkers. “People are going to think you're having trouble. Why did you do that?” I argued that other people had done it and it allowed me to follow them, just as it allowed him to see me when he kept falling behind as cars cut in front of him. Then something strange happened. The guy who had been driving in front of me, a friend of my aunt and uncles, strung five words together that while they made sense alone, were foreign to me in that configuration: “You did the right thing.” We moved to the grave and final words were said. The reality I kept denying sunk in once more, my throat tightened, my lip quivered, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I pulled it together as we were each called on to walk past the grave and toss a flower.

I had a few hours still until the first of two meetings back at work, so my mom asked me to come to the restaurant for a little while, especially since it was on the way back. My dad was very grumpy about the whole driving experience, and asked one of my cousin's cousins on his mother's side how to get to the restaurant without taking any parkways. He gave good directions, and my dad followed me since I was somewhat familiar with the area, having gone to college not far from there. The route I took did lead us on to the Grand Central again for just three exits, and of course my dad complained when we finally got to the restaurant. Meanwhile I had to stop after every intersection where he caught a traffic light that I didn't. Inside the restaurant, I lost track of how many times someone said, “What happened? Did you get lost?” and I had to answer, “My dad doesn't like the parkway.” I couldn't stay for more than bread and soda, but did sit with some interesting people, including my cousin's father-in-law who had photos of his classic cars, his old college buddy, and a guy who's appeared as an extra on The Sopranos, a few cop dramas, and very nearly Spider-man 3. The rest of my afternoon was a blur. I kind of know what was said in my meetings, and I got some work done and put out a few fires that would have spread had I not tended to them, but otherwise I was useless. A run, my first visit to the gym in two days, cleared my head somewhat, and at last it was time to go home.

Does anyone else out there subscribe to the notion that bad things happen in threes? My parents always have. On Wednesday, my mom learned that a friend's husband had died, and my dad grumbled that he'd probably be the third one this time around. Driving home tonight, however, I observed three GOOD things. The first on a suburban street was a mother walking on her lawn, holding a small infant and whispering things as the wide-eyed wonder gazed around the yard and reached out a hand for something, for life. The second was the sun, making its first appearance today as it set on the horizon, turning all the clouds an amazing shade of orange. Finally, as I pulled in the driveway and started walking toward the house, there was a fluttering and I turned to see the largest, most majestic red cardinal I had ever seen in my life. She was crimson and glowing, with a regal tuft of feather on her head. She was on the fence for a second, then just as swiftly receded back into the woods behind our house, disappearing into the thick growth before I could even think of going in the house to get my camera. I walked in and told my mom what I'd just seen, and she simply nodded and said my aunt's name.

This week has been a strange journey, and the wheel keeps on turning. Thanks to all the readers who stuck with me, and offered prayers, sympathy, and good wishes. God bless.


Five Fives.

It's been a crazy week, and I'll probably have something more of substance to write about tomorrow, once things have settled back into my usual routine. For today, I'm taking the easy way out with this Five Things Meme Lyndon tagged me with, even though I've done one of these Five Things Memes before. Perhaps I'll have to do three more over the course of my blogging career, for symmetry. I say this is a post without substance, but I suspect my answers will tell as much of a story as my usual long-winded sentences.

5 things in my refrigerator:
1. Milk.
2. Pepperoni.
3. Grated Cheese.
4. Peanut M&M's.
5. Jars of sauce.

5 things in my closet:
1. A rolled-up sleeping bag.
2. Castle Grayskull.
3. All my high school notebooks, textbooks, folders, and homework.
4. My disassembled crib.
5. A large garbage bag full of old stuffed animals.

5 things in my pants
(not the best way to phrase this; I'm subsituting for “purse” from the original meme)
1. My wallet.
2. My car keys.
3. My cell phone.
4. My loose change.
5. My key to an art closet at work where I kept paintings, back when illustrators still sent original pieces on canvas instead of e-mailing high resolution digital files. Why do I still carry this thing around?

5 things in my car:
1. Receipts from my gas station.
2. A flashlight with dead batteries.
3. A tire gauge.
4. A small black umbrella.
5. My favorite sunglasses.

5 people I tag:
1. Rey.
2. Curt.
3. Jerry.
4. Kelly.
5. Dave.


PBW: Arachno/Philia

Owning a digital camera can really change a person. Granted, I was always the sort of person to catch insects in the house and release them into the wild, but there were definitely exceptions. If a spider or some other many-legged invader appeared running across my bed, or anywhere near food in the kitchen, he'd be tissue paste in seconds. If I were watching television in the living room however, and noticed a spider waaaay up in a corner by the ceiling, I had no problem living and letting him live, at least until my mom noticed. When I saw a spider in my kitchen sink this past Saturday, I grabbed a paper towel then hesitated. I admired the form and markings, and suddenly thoughts of “let's finish this quickly” changed to “I better get my camera; this will make a great Photo Blog Wednesday:

Am I imagining things, or can you actually see the reflection of my camera in its abdomen in the previous shot?

So yes, I didn't have the heart to destroy my gracious model, and spared its life, ushering it into an old vitamin bottle that I then put out on our veranda. He(or she) remained for a while whenever I'd look out the back door, but departed by the next morning to parts unknown, hopefully to spread tales of fame and survival. For anyone traumatized by these images, I've also provided some cute shots of The Inimitable Mister Chirp, who can get comfortable anywhere, from piles of junk in my room to a basket my mom was planning to put my dad's Father's Day presents in.



Run Time.

I normally have trouble waking up in the morning. I look out the window at the sun, check my watch, and roll over for a few minutes to a half hour. My father's been my alarm clock for years, with declining effectiveness. Our exchange Monday morning, however, was one which had no trouble shocking me to consciousness:

“[MCF], it's time to get up. Aunt Irene died.”


I sat bolt upright in bed, certain I had been dreaming and didn't hear what I thought I heard. He quieted me down and told me my mom was still on the phone with my uncle. As the shock subsided, he told me she had passed away a few hours earlier during the night. It took a while for my mind to process it. My mind in many ways is still processing it, and I can only imagine what her immediate family is feeling right now.

She was my mom's oldest brother's wife, and growing up they were my favorite aunt and uncle. I once told them I liked them the best because they got me toys while the rest of my family bought socks and underwear. I felt guilty about that years earlier when I understood a child's faux pas of being too honest. It wasn't just the gifts that I liked though, materialistic brat that I was. They were fun. They visited Disney often, long after my cousin was grown and living on his own. They traveled to casinos. They always had the largest tree at Christmas. Parties at their house ran late and included card games and a veritable banquet. They were the first ones to get a computer, cable television, air conditioning and other modern amenities. My Uncle is a hard worker like most of my family, but together with my Aunt they were different from everyone else. They didn't complain about health problems or politics, at least when I was growing up. They went to restaurants, told jokes, laughed, and lived.

My Aunt was 77, only a year older than my father. She had some things working against her. She was diabetic, overweight, and had developed heart problems in the last few years. She loved life, but didn't have the discipline to give up the foods that made life enjoyable, even if doing so might have extended hers. That takes both fear and inhuman focus that a rare few possess. The last time we were all together for the holidays, at the beginning of the year, my dad brought a list of foods from his nutritionist, noting what he was allowed to have and what he wasn't. I don't know if she tried to follow it or not. I do know she was in and out of the hospital the last few months, with swelling, shortness of breath and the other problems that accompany heart trouble. I also remember the last time I saw her seeing cracks in her trademark jovial facade as she lamented getting old and told me to enjoy my youth. “We all live too long nowadays, and we're all falling apart.” I'd heard similar sentiments from other members of my family over the years, especially my dad, but never from her. Her spirit was weak back then, and last night at 2 AM, her physical self succumbed to kidney failure.

She led a good life, and definitely enjoyed it to the fullest before her health problems. Those rote statements people say in these situations like “she had a good run” or “it was her time” will probably be small comfort to my uncle, my cousin, or her sister. Will my cousin's daughter and son, who I believe are about 7 and 5 respectively, remember their grandmother? I lost my maternal grandmother, the only grandparent still alive after I was born, when I was 9 or 10 and I remember her vividly, sometimes to my mom's surprise. There's so much my aunt won't see her grandchildren do, except perhaps from heaven. I don't know what that's like, if we are still aware of the events on Earth, but I know it's different for those of us left behind. I'm sad that she won't be at my wedding. That's not an announcement, by the way. Other than a few casual dates with someone a few months ago, I really haven't made much progress on that front. It's just that my aunt would always ask me whenever she saw me if I had a girlfriend, and I know my wedding was something she was looking forward to. I would have liked for her to be there. It reminds me that my parents aren't getting any younger either, and I hope they're still here when that day comes.

I'm going to miss my aunt. All day long yesterday at odd times I've been imagining her voice in my head, the way she'd say the childhood version of my name, the way it didn't bother me as much as when other people still used it. I wonder about the irony that some of life's greatest pleasures are deadly in the long run. I've been fighting a downhill battle with my own weight since college, and a few months ago at a sobering record high of 215 lbs, it was time for a change. I've gotten down to 198, and I'm focused on a specific goal right now to help with my discipline. In exactly five weeks I'm going to be running a 3.5 mile race at Jones Beach, an annual competition among Long Island's corporate circles. I ran it for the first time in 2003 and finished in about 32 minutes which, while not great when the winners clock in at just under 20 minutes, was still pretty good for me. I was only about 180 then though, and worked out for an hour and a half daily. In 2004 and 2005 the race fell on the same day as an Italian Feast, but this year that gig falls a day later which means I can make the race. My goal is to do as well if not better than I did the last time, but I weigh more and only get in a half hour a day at the gym. So to facilitate achieving my goal, I'm eliminating the snacks that I enjoy. Can I really go 35 days with no sweets and no chips? I have no idea, but I'm going to try, and I'll occasionally post my weight to keep myself honest and leave myself open to motivational ridicule.

We can never eat sweets and live to be 100, but if we're unhappy is it worth it? Conversely, if we indulge in every craving we might be happy in the short term, but all we'd have is a short term. I think to enjoy life we need to find balance in all things. We all have a finite run time on this planet. I want to enjoy mine, but I also don't want to miss anything that might happen when I'm gone. We'll miss things after we pass on, but more importantly, people will miss us. I'm going to be very aware of that truth over the next few days.


Phantasmic Links 6.19.06

Sunday was HOT. I did very little on Saturday other than sleep late, watch Seed of Chucky and Deliverance(eclectic, eh?), go to 5:00 mass, and do some last minute shopping for my dad. I should have cut the lawn on Saturday. I didn't battle birds like my friend Rey did, but I did battle the heat. It was over 90° and dry, but I still broke a sweat early on that stung my eyes. I don't have any allergies that I know of, but anyone covered in sweat, dust, and grass clippings is bound to have a sneezing fit or three. After a cold shower and opening every window in the house, I finally swapped the storm windows in my room for screen windows. I brought the screens upstairs weeks ago but the nights had still been cold. Now it's finally that time of year. It cooled down slightly by the time I took my parents out for dinner, but I'm definitely sitting in the direct path of a fan now as I compile this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Nature abhors a vacuum, and apparently so do Star Trek fans. Hat tip to the SFBC.

Seriously, how could this guy not suspect?

Can anything stop...The Technogirl?

I love shooters, and Uchuwars is a nice bite-sized diversion with 8 challenging levels. As with most games, you continually get stronger and stronger weapons. Clicking the bars on the main screen will allow you to start the game from any of the levels you've reached, as well as adjust your weapon level.

This might come in handy some day: a list of problems solved by MacGyver.

Is Duke Nukem Forever setting a record? A lot has happened in the world since it was announced....

Step 1: Ask someone to pose for a picture.
Step 2: Hit the video recording button on your digital camera instead.
Step 3: Record how long they remain in a Long Awkward Pose.

Echoes is a very cool Flash site for Pink Floyd. Hat tip to the Dosetaker. I just accidentally discovered how much better an old episode of Thundercats is with Another Brick in the Wall playing in the background.



My Dad...

...grew up with four sisters, two older and two younger.

...played the Baritone Horn in high school, the same instrument his father(my grandfather) played.

...learned to be an automobile mechanic after high school, giving up music to become a hard worker.

...worked in several gas stations and finally got his own garage when he was in his ‘30s.

...met and married my mom when he was 39.

...received a Baritone Horn from my mom on their first wedding anniversary, after she saw his yearbook photos.

...had one son when he was about 45.

...was loved by all of his customers. Most mechanics would cheat people, but he was honest, didn't charge much for labor, and often repaired parts other mechanics would have simply replaced, saving his clients money. It's hard to be honest and run a business, so he eventually had to sell his garage and got a job working for Nassau County, repairing police cars. He worked a 12-hour tour, three days a week, and had Mondays and Tuesdays off to spend with his family and do work around the house. When he reluctantly retired at the age of 65, he had several months of unused vacation days and received full pay for months after he stopped working, until his official retirement date.

...used to let me stand on his feet as he held my arms and walked me around the room. This delighted me no end while I was still in single digits.

...helped me with my homework until third grade or so, when I started explaining things to him.

...always made time to play catch and throw a ball around with me, even though he'd have to rotate his shoulder after every pitch to loosen up his arthritis.

...maintains stubborn wisdom, like “hard candy makes saliva” and “you should wear an undershirt because it absorbs the sweat.”

...rarely sleeps past 5:30 AM or stays up past 10PM. When churches moved their early mass to 7:30 he continued to show up at 7. If he was ever watching a movie that ran past 10, he'd say, “tell me how it ends” and go to bed. Friday night he and my mom got home from a wedding at 12:45 AM, likely a record. When I woke up this morning, he was already outside with one of his friends working on his friend's car.

...practiced his horn in the basement every day when I was growing up, and stuck by me when I struggled to learn the same instrument in fourth grade. When I wanted to give up he wouldn't let me, and when school wasn't enough he paid for lessons from a great teacher. I managed, thanks to them, to play well enough to earn a scholarship that paid half my tuition in exchange for playing in the school pep band at basketball games.

...gave me his car to drive when I started college and always kept whatever cars our family drove in working order.

...could tell if there was a problem with a car just by subtle changes in how it sounded. “Don't you hear that?” was a popular question whenever I gave him a ride somewhere. “Didn't you hear me?” is now a popular question my mom asks of him, now that his hearing isn't what it used to be.

...is a life long Yankees fan. If I cared about or followed sports, I would be too.

...could beat up your dad, if he was a violent person. He never hit me and I think I only angered him enough once for him to even raise a shaking fist. My mom and her Sicilian Wooden Spoon of Doom™ handled discipline, so my dad got to be “good cop” when I was growing up.

...will never stop reminding me “make sure you take seconds; there's plenty of macaroni,” and to “go to the bathroom before we leave!” He called me at my job on Friday before he and my mom left to go to a wedding, and began giving me detailed instructions on how to take sauce and spaghetti out of jars in the refrigerator, put them in a pot with some water, and heat up my own dinner even though I've cooked for myself plenty of times.

...was and is everything a father should be. Father's Day is today, and I wish my dad a great one. Happy Father's day to all my friends, in real life or online, such as Rey, Curt, Jerry, Darrell, Kev Bayer, Sean, Paul, Scott, Cube, and anyone else I might have missed. Happy almost Father's Day to Dave and other fathers-to-be as well.


You Might Disagree, but...

}}} Bride of Chucky was a satirical masterpiece, and thus far the best of the Child's Play sequels. Every time it would start to lose me, something would happen such as a doll headbanging to Rob Zombie, and it would win me back all over again.

}}} Deep down, I secretly think my perception of how people see me is all in my head, but I'm probably wrong.

}}} The President was probably joking with the guy in this video clip.

}}} I think this comic book plot development offers a lot of possibilities for stories that haven't been told before, and real change. I'm also certain that, like all changes of this magnitude, something will eventually restore the status quo.

}}} TheWriteJerry is baiting his readers to post bad words in his comments section.

}}} The Hulk is potentially stronger than Superman.

}}} The American version of Men Behaving Badly was a funny show that had potential.

}}} Mary Ann.

}}} Revealing my true, secret identity would ruin this blog.

}}} Smart blondes are better than dumb blondes.

}}} The swiss cheese plot holes ruined the film Independence Day. I like Macs, but I wouldn't be able to crash a mothership with one, unless perhaps I installed OS X....”Destroy the Earth! Why have you not fired on the humans? No!! Not the rainbow wheel of death!”(translated from the Kree of course)

}}} Sushi is a disgusting concept.

}}} Don't mess with Darrell's bandwidth. No power in the ‘sphere can stop his hilarious jpeg assaults.

}}} Why tie sneakers more than once in their lifetime? Simply pry them off each night until they become as loose as loafers, and disregard any and all sarcastic remarks from one's mother such as: “Why don't you just get a pair of loafers?”

}}} When Dane Cook said every group of friends has one friend they keep around but don't actually like, he was probably talking about me in elementary school...middle school...high school...college...

}}} Rose Nylund.

}}} Ketchup and saltine crackers go well together.

}}} Why is E.R. still on the air?

}}} Jesus is bigger than The B-Sharps

}}} 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510....

}}} While a fatally catchy tune Tom's Diner is not that bad a song.

}}} The sheer magnitude of controversial statements in this post will result in a weekend record number of over 100 comments.


M.C.F.A.T. XIII: Answers

Do you know what day it is? It's the day I reveal my answers to the Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test Volume XIII. But first, let's hear what you had to say:








Kev Bayer

Rubi Bayer

And now, my turn:

1) What were some of your scariest vehicular experiences, either behind the wheel or as a passenger?

When I wrote this question, I was anticipating a three hour road trip with a notorious fast driver. As it turned out, I had little to fear. He drives fast, but has complete control, even while taking both hands off the wheel to answer his cell phone and attach his hands-free headset. Sure, there were a few times I gripped the door handle in fear as we weaved in and out of traffic, and my eyes were always on the airbag panel in front of me, but a three hour trip under those circumstances isn't so bad, especially when it takes only two hours.

I guess my first scary driving experience would be my driver's test. The gruff battleaxe of a woman giving the test did little to ease my nervousness, especially when I turned out of the parking lot at a cautious 20MPH and she barked, “Ya can go faster ya know!” Then there was parallel parking, still a challenge to this day, which I performed perfectly, only to turn around and screw up a three point turn, something I had mastered in practice. In a moment of doubt, thinking I hadn't backed up far enough, I inexplicably slammed on the gas and sent us backwards on to a curb. When it was over and I pulled to a stop in the parking lot, she began jotting things down and without looking up informed me, “I'm going to have to fail you.” “You are?” I asked with genuine incredulity borne of the ether. Her only response was a stare and a raised eyebrow. Three months later I'd pass my second road test, and on my first drive to college take a curve too fast in the rain. I turned my wheel to the right with the curve, but the car kept going straight for the fence separating the parkway from the side road. I recovered and ever since then, the older I get, the more cautious I get. My days of speeding are well behind me, especially after getting my first and only speeding ticket about two or three years ago.

Finally, two Summers ago my dad pulled out at an intersection after stopping at a stop sign. I glanced to the right and saw a minivan in the distance. Suddenly it was even closer, and I noticed there wasn't a stop sign for his portion of the intersection. Despite it being a residential area, he was going fast and showing no signs of slowing down. “They're not stopping!!” I screamed and in a split second my dad made a decision that saved my life if not both of ours. I would have hesitated in that situation, even hit the brakes. He floored it, and a radiator grill inches from the passenger side door was replaced by open sky, even as we suddenly spun as the van clipped the back half of our car. The world outside turned to a blur while everything inside slowed down, and I looked at my dad holding the wheel, looking more aggravated than afraid. When we stopped, we were facing the intersection, having spun a full 180 degrees. Long time readers will remember photos of the day we finally said goodbye to that car.

2) Are you going anywhere fun this Summer, and does Summer even mean the same to you as it did when you were younger?

Yes, I went to NASCAR. Other destinations this Summer will include Brooklyn and Hoboken, although those trips will be for work, if playing music and entertaining people while getting exercise and fresh air can be considered work. As for the second half of my question, I'd have to say the entire year is now a blur. I miss having the Summer off during my years as a student. Seasons change in the outside world but inside, at work, every week is the same as the one before it and the one after it, with no break in the routine, no demarkation beyond the work week. It's not a bad thing necessarily, but I've gone from having something to look forward to every year to looking forward to retirement in 30 years, at which point I'll probably be as bored as my dad was when he retired and no longer had anything to do. June is half over and I swear it was just March a week ago. In September I expect I'll be wondering about July. At least I got a road trip in this year though, and got a taste of what Summer means, or should mean, to younger people. Youth is wasted on the young. Enjoy what you have while you have it.

3) What was your favorite childhood toy, and how did it influence you over the course of your life?

The answer can be summed up in a classic post, but the Transformers were supreme among the various robot toys emerging in the ‘80s. I loved those toys and was always impressed by how they worked. “Watch, dad, WATCH! Are you watching? Look, it's a steamroller--are you watching?? And look, now it's a ROBOT!!” I must have annoyed the hell out of my parents. I used to “operate” on them too, taking them apart by removing all the screws then reassembling them. Sadly, some were never the same. On the positive side, in competing with friends in third grade to draw these characters, it sparked an interest in art that would lead to my present career. On the negative side, it was yet another haven for a shy kid, and a gateway to eight years of reading and collecting comics. While neither toys nor comics were bad hobbies, the way I buried myself in them didn't advance my social skills. I had a female friend in 4th and 5th grade that went to a different school from 6th onward. We used to talk on the phone all the time. One day she called me, after I hadn't heard from her in months, and I could barely pay attention because the cartoon was on. When she asked why I wasn't talking, I started telling her about the episode I was watching. She was disinterested, the conversation ended, and I never heard from her again. My hobbies can and have lead to strong friendships with those that share such interests, but if I'm not careful, they can be also used as tools for my at times baffling bouts of self isolation.

4) Speaking of childhoods, since I cast a Thundercats movie, Rey cast a Dungeons & Dragons movie, and Wendy made a comment about casting Atlas Shrugged, now it's your turn. Choose a cartoon, novel or other favorite work of fiction that's never been made into a movie, and tell us who you'd like to see star in it. If you're among those who've done this exercise before, of course you can do it again with something different.

What was I thinking? I'm not going to go as in-depth with my explanations as I did the last time. The series I'll choose for this exercise will be G.I. Joe, and my movie will star Kiefer Sutherland as Duke, Michael Clarke Duncan as Roadblock, Josh Lucas as Flint, Eliza Dushku as Lady Jaye, Jamie Foxx as Stalker, Jennifer Garner as Scarlett, Christian Bale as Snake-Eyes, Mark Hamill as Cobra Commander, Carrie-Anne Moss as Baroness, Michael Dorn as Destro and Jason Statham as Zartan. If I thought anyone wanted to see her in leather, I'd have cast Shohreh Aghdashloo as Baroness instead of Moss, because her voice is perfect for the role.

5) Your Current Age/2 = A
A + (A/2) = B
Your Current Age = C

What was your favorite pizza topping at A, B, and C respectively?(Providing the numeric values of A, B, and C is of course optional).


B=23.25=Sicilian or Pepperoni

C=31=Pepperoni, Buffalo Chicken, or Ziti slices.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: If you could know one thing about MCF that you didn't, what would it be?

What do I really look like, and why am I my own worst enemy?

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Makes me laugh...

• Driving to work yesterday morning, Chumbawumba's “Tubthumping” came on. One of the things that always brought a smile to my face whenever I heard it was the dulcet tones of the female vocalist in contrast to the boisterous male singers, as she makes the phrase “pissing the night away” sound very classy and soothing.

• On the back roads leading to where I work, someone had repainted the white lines at every stop sign. To prevent cars from driving over these lines, a row of four traffic cones had been set up along each one. At every intersection the cars would have to drive into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting the cones on their side, then quickly get back into their lane to avoid hitting the cones on the other side, and pray that no one was coming the other way at the same time. This was especially amusing when I had to drive around a row of cones and make a right turn under a train trestle with a sharp turn on the other side.

• On Kelly's recommendation, I checked out the 1979 classic The Clonus Horror. The Island is nearly identical in plot and concept to this film, but the newer film skews more toward an action blockbuster while the original is more thought provoking and horrifying. Though I liked Clonus, it reminded me of how far acting has progressed in 2 or 3 decades. Back then film styles seemed more like a plays than reality, with exaggerated reactions and dead line delivery falling somewhere between a mannequin and a soap star. Soap acting cracks me up too. I think the next time I'm in a challenging meeting and need to lighten the mood, I'll turn my back on everyone and address the ornate bottles of liquor just out of focus in the foreground as I swirl vodka in a glass and admit that yes, yes it was I who designed not one but two catalogs, but only truly love one of them.

• The Quizno's near my job had pricing columns transposed in one section of their sandwich menu, so regular subs were listed as less than small subs. At the register the manager apologized and said he couldn't honor it, then told one of his minions that they really have to fix that sign. Toward the end of the meal he approached our table and handed out cards. Each time you visit with one of those cards and purchase something, a box is circled. When the card is filled, you get a free meal. These cards had three sections circled on the house, with only three more visits required to get the deal. I've noticed two things about this card. Primarily, it's valid for the months of May and June only, which means we'd have to return four times in the next two and a half weeks. Secondly, as I double-checked the card to write about it just now, I noticed that the offer is actually $5 off my next purchase.

Angry Alien 30 Second Bunny Parodies always make me smile, and Lyndon has posted a link to their latest: Superman.

• Imagine Cypress Hill covering just about any song outside of the hip hop or hard rock genre, such as Fly me to the Moon(TO THE MOOON!!) or American Pie(DAY THAT I DIE!!).

• My old ”self-portrait.”

• As we approached a toll booth on our road trip Sunday, my CD of live Guns n' Roses performances shrieked the question, ”Do you know where the **** you are?”, to which I responded, “We're in Pennsylvania, baby!” You can't plan timing like that. Ironically, hours later, we'd find that we did not, in fact, know where the **** we were.

”Dude...the party's over!”
(h.t. jpeg .at. 11)


PBW: MCF's Day of Thunder

This past Sunday, I took Photo Blog Wednesday on the road as I traveled with some friends to the Pocono 500. I'd never seen a NASCAR race before, and was certain even the trip to and from the race would provide good photo opportunities. And so, at 7:30 AM, I and three others were on our way from New York to Pennsylvania.

Even stopping for fuel for both the car and our stomachs, the trip took less than three hours with a speedy friend at the wheel. Once we reached our exit however, we found that a two lane road had been changed into a one way road with three lanes, and it would take almost an hour before the raceway was in sight.

While we waited, I took the opportunity to take one of my trademark vague self-portraits, catching some interesting reflections while trying out my friend's racing goggles.

At last we arrived, finding a spot on a vast field of countless other cars, trucks, and mobile homes. In many instances people were camped out, with tents, barbecues and beverages.

I would hang on to my ticket stub that day, unlike the Pearl Jam experience I shared yesterday.

In racing, the higher the seats, the better the view. Those on the lower levels miss the cars whizzing by on the outside of the track, because they're too close to the wall. At 11:30AM, the stands were still clear as well, but that would soon change. It was also windy and very cold for June, and so none of us would use the sunblock we had with us.

A massive crowd with pit passes got a better view of the vehicles prior to the race.

The pre-race festivities included speeches from members of our armed forces, a barbershop quartet singing a medley of old-timey tunes, including the now rarely-heard introductory verses to God Bless America, and of course a giant motorized shopping cart.

Each of the 40 drivers participating that day were introduced, as statistics appeared on the giant screens at either side of the track. They then rode out on the back of jeeps to greet the crowd. Below, several wave, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Soon the race was underway. For the next four hours I would learn the best ways to capture images of fast moving vehicles, witness some scrapes, and some cars too damaged to continue.

As the storm clouds gathered, perhaps from far across the sea, I turned to a magical silver bullet to distract myself from the cold, my stiff back, and my claustrophobia.

And here's a different silver bullet witnessed shortly afterwards:

I began to get the hang of moving my camera with the cars as they passed by, to get the best shots

Of course at their top speeds, most cars flew past in the blink of an eye.

As impressive as the vehicular speeds were, the pit crew amazed me as well. Within seconds tires were changed, fuel was added, and a crowd of mechanics moved out of the way even as the driver peeled out to rejoin the battle.

For fifty bucks, one of my friends rented a device that tied in to several of the cameras mounted on drivers cars, the announcers, and various statistics. In photographing it, I accidentally caught yet another vague self-portrait with layers of reflections.

The crowd was massive:

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.:

Below we see Jeff Gordon's car in the pit. A little over half the crowd booed when he was introduced at the start of the race, and one of my friends who follows NASCAR regularly explained his reputation as a young hotshot. Later in the race he'd do something else that wouldn't add to his popularity...

As the 500 mile, 200 lap race neared to a finish, things were getting close. It seemed rookie Denny Hamlin had a good chance at winning and a decent lead, recovering after a hit earlier in the race.

With 8 laps remaining, Jeff Gordon took a turn too quickly and smashed his car into the wall, taking out three sections of it. It happened too far away for me to get more than a picture of it on the monitor, and while he was unharmed, the race had to be put on hold while crew's replaced the styrofoam wall panels and peeled Gordon's car from the track.

The other racers were lined up in the order they were in at the time of the accident, but this meant the distance Hamlin had ahead of the other drivers had closed. Once the race resumed, he'd have to pour on the speed and stay ahead of the vehicles now directly behind him.

Miraculously, the clouds that had formed parted in one area as the sun burned through. It was as though God Himself was peeking down at the race. It was also as if deadly UV radiation was burning a quartet of unsuspecting yankees.

In the final lap, the results were certain and Hamlin had a good lead.

The other drivers pulled in to the pit as Hamlin took a checkered flag and drove a victory lap around the track in the opposite direction.

Here he joins the others in the pit as the final results are displayed:

As we shuffled out with the rest of the heard, I noticed an interesting sign on the building directly behind the stands.

I took one last look at the structure from which I watched my first race, where we'd all gotten some bad burns. One of my friends had recently shaved his head down to stubble, and would suffer the worst burns on his scalp. I'm somewhat red faced, but healing. It's not the first time I've burned, foolishly so, and it probably won't be the last.

A handheld GPS device brought by one of our party helped us locate our vehicle out in the emptying field.

The rest of the evening consisted of a quest to find Easton, where our Comfort Inn would be, and the GPS saved the day when we got lost. After checking in, we headed out for an awesome steak dinner at the Lone Star Steakhouse, where I would enjoy steak soup as an appetizer to my steak, a filet mignon wrapped in bacon served with steak fries. Last night, the treadmill at work screamed in agony when I climbed back on after being away from the gym for a few days. After dinner, it was a quick stop to pick up some aloe for our faces before crashing. I caught a rerun of House, possibly the first episode, in which Prison Break's Robin Tunney plays a teacher diagnosed with a brain tumor, until House deduces that because she had ham in her house, a tapeworm has embedded itself in her brain. This deduction is supported by her earlier response to a steroid treatment, as well as the fact that he makes amazing educated guesses that fuel his sarcasm and arrogance. I'm already two season's behind though, and have a ton of movies to see on DVD yet, so we'll see if the show makes it into my regular rotation next year. I drifted off to sleep in the middle of an episode of The 4400, another series I'd never seen about alien abductees returned to Earth with strange powers. The episode included Peter Coyote...briefly. There are so many shows, and so little time, and so much life to live in between.

The above photo should answer a recent inquiry from Wendy. The next morning I discovered an awesome set-up in the kitchen downstairs, a timed waffle iron accompanied by cups of batter, where guests could make their own waffles. It's a very small thing given the sights I had seen, but I was impressed when I lifted the grill and saw that big fluffy waffle.

While the other guys got ready, I took a walk around outside to check out the area in the daytime, and some of the locals.

We took the Outerbridge Crossing on our return trip, and I can't believe Eugenius H. Outerbridge is the real name of the guy from whom the bridge gets its designation.

I'm not sure, but I think at this point of our journey along the Belt Parkway we were leaving Brooklyn....

Back at the office parking lot where I'd left my own car the day before, I caught a few detailed shots of a Tent Caterpillar walking along the top of a trash receptacle. In trademark MCF fashion, I heard one of the guys say, “Oh, they're trash fans.” and I looked up to see a pretty girl giving me and the other guy with a camera crouched over the garbage an odd look.

The weekend is behind me and I'm already back into my hectic work schedule, though a bit more rested and focused after a fun vacation. I left several voice mail messages from the track, simply holding up my phone as the cars whizzed by. One is on my phone at work, one is on my parent's cell phone, and yet another is on my friend Rey's phone. Rey missed the trip because apparently Pennsylvania is huge and he lives on the opposite end of the state. He had other concerns that day however, as a cryptic voicemail with nothing but screams and engine noises led him to believe his parents called him while dying in some horrific crash, leading him to frantically call them and then his brother when he couldn't reach them. As for me, the day may be over but the images and sounds still remain.