Random Ramblings

4) The title of today's post isn't precisely original, nor is the format, but both are apt for the collection of jumbled thoughts I have for today.

8) I may be a jinx. It's rare that my luck often harms others, although my friends in elementary and middle school were quite convinced I was the one offsetting the cool in our group and bringing the rest of them down to my rung of the social ladder. When I posted about my aversion to animal death and suffering, I hope I didn't skew probability. Last week walking back to work at lunch, my friends and I witnessed a very fast bird zip by, with unusual colors. Near as we could tell, it was bright yellow with black wings, and we wondered if someone had lost a pet. It seemed too exotic to be a native of Long Island. After perusing birds online, my best guess is that it was an American Goldfinch. Yesterday walking in to town I happened to glance down on the sidewalk, and see a tiny, flat yellow bird with black wings. I have no idea how it ended up in such a state in the middle of a wide sidewalk, although the town does have little maintenance carts that sometimes drive along there. It was really depressing to see the little guy end up like that. If my writing did somehow lead to that, this very paragraph may be sending out ripples of improbability to the rest of the animal kingdom. It's best I move on.

15) I finally saw 12 Angry Men last night, and I don't mean I ran into the adult incarnations of the guys who used to shake me down for lunch money in the school cafeteria or punch me in the stomach for laughs. I wasn't sure a black-and-white film set almost entirely in one room would hold my attention, but it wasn't long before I was absolutely enthralled. The characters are amazing in their diversity and motivations, and I love how through dialogue alone I had a clear picture of the unseen trial as well as the alleged murder itself. The gaps in my film viewing extend into decades beyond the years I've existed, and I'm certain it was an all-star cast even if Henry Fonda was one of two I'd heard of and Jack Klugman was the only one I recognized. I didn't even recognize him at first, but experienced a familiarity of, “Hey, that guy looks like somebody...” before he started speaking and I connected the dots. I'm debating whether I should bother with the remake, which has an amazing cast of actors I have heard of, or if I shouldn't sully the experience of the original masterpiece. I know there are more than a few movie aficionados and reviewers among my audience; is the remake worth seeing?

16) Is this week dragging for anyone else? Yesterday really felt like a Thursday to me. Time is a funny thing. Maybe it's the fact that it's been raining for nearly a solid week, or anticipation of a long weekend, that's slowing everything down. I usually complain about the opposite, that my life is whizzing by faster and faster. I probably just like to complain.

23) Was it the first Naked Gun in which Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebin walks into a restroom at a press conference, and forgets to turn off his microphone? It'd be embarrassing if anyone did something like that in real life, eh Kyra Phillips?
(Hat tip: NYC Nomad)

42)I can't believe Lost wasn't at the Emmys this year. I can't wait for October 4, 2006, for the start of the third season. Soon my brain will be working overtime to decipher the puzzles and mysteries, and make all the connections even as I debate and discuss theories with friends and coworkers. Rey reminded me about Lost and their lack of nominations when he showed me Conan O'Brien's hilarious Emmy opening skit and monologue:


PBW: Hercules and the Eagle.

Sometimes I get really bored. Any really fun break in my routine is great, though it's always depressing to come back down to reality afterwards. I wonder, “Is this all there is?” When I'm not at work or playing with one of my bands, I don't always know what to do with myself. Granted there's the internet and DVDs and video games and at least seven books on my “to read” pile, but there are days when that all bores me too. I took an arbitrary vacation day last Thursday for no reason other than I was caught up at work, had no meetings or deadlines that day, and decided to take a break. Even after going to the bank to renew a mature CD, and meeting my dad to buy my mom a new television set, I found I still had a few hours left of daylight. On occasions when I'm really bored and don't know what to do with myself, I grab my camera, hop in my car, and just drive. I pick a direction, generally East, and let the road take me. When that happens, low ratings be damned, I'm going to share my experience through a Photo Blog Wednesday.

While it was bright and sunny in the morning when I was running errands, clouds were rolling in by the afternoon. It was a gamble, but one that paid off. By the weekend it was raining consistently, in varying degrees of severity, and nearly a week later there's no end in sight. My aimless wandering soon led me to familiar signs of places I haven't visited in years, and once I was in the historic town of Stony Brook, I knew immediately what I would be photographing that day. First would be the Hercules Pavillion, where a ship's figurehead looms before an arctic whaleboat. If the menacing gang of geese gathering between the historic site and myself would allow me safe passage, I'd get some nice pictures that day...

After capturing the pavillion and the surrounding wildlife, I crossed the street, beckoned by chimes indicating I was too late to film another of Stony Brook's famous landmarks. Not only is it the home of Hercules, Stan Lee, and Kevin James, but its post office has a wooden eagle which flaps its wings every hour. Not uncharacteristically, I missed it by two minutes.

That would have been the end of my adventure, had I not pulled over to inspect a duck pond, wander over to a grist mill, and ultimately discover the entrance to a new, hidden artistic wonder that, alas, will have to wait until next week. I hope you'll join me for the best seven acres of that day, complete with video. And in two weeks, I hope to debut the first ever Photo Blog Wednesday contest....



Evil Men and Veterinarians

If you don't want to know what happened on last night's Prison Break, or can't bear tales of suffering animals, you may want to skip today's post. You have been warned...

I'd be hard-pressed to consider a more despicable villain on any current television series than Prison Break's T-Bag. He's a rapist, a murderer, and a pedophile, and every word out of his mouth oozes, dripping with slime. It's a credit to the actor who portrays him, Robert Knepper, who has neither the drawling accent nor the sheer depravity of his character. I recently watched an interview in which he spoke quite cheerfully and crisply about the role, how his character consistently charms viewers before breaking their heart all over again. He’s a convincing devil. The first season of the show left us actually feeling slight sympathy for this monster, when one of the other escaped inmates took his hand off with an axe.

The second season opened with the convicts still on the run, and the wounded and alone T-Bag stumbling upon a campsite, where he put his severed member into a cooler of ice. He then sought medical attention from a small, inconspicuous clinic, one that turned out to be a veterinary clinic. Undeterred, he forced the vet at the point of a screwdriver to reattach his hand, and to do so without anesthetic. The trembling animal physician had no choice, and miraculously succeeded with the surgery. How much feeling and motion T-Bag will regain is yet to be seen, but after enduring such agony, his next step would be to kill the vet so he wouldn't talk. Strapping him to a table, T-Bag whispered a chilling speech about Indian warriors claiming the souls of those they defeat. He then jabbed a needle in the helpless man's arm, and euthanized him.

We've never put our pets to sleep. My mom doesn’t believe in it. She's had cats live as long as eighteen years, and she always sat stroking and comforting them in their last moments. I'd often wake up the next morning to find she'd stayed up all night. Only once was she not there, when we came home to find her Calico Cindy lying stiffly in the living room, my mom’s shrieking sob confirming my worst fears. She felt really guilty that she wasn't with her in her last moments. I've been awake with the last two cats we lost, and it's definitely an emotionally draining experience. The care of a good vet and the love of owners can only prolong the inevitable for so long. I tend to cringe at roadkill and hate to hear stories of animals suffering cruelty or untimely demises. I'm glad the dog always escapes the natural disaster/serial killer/collapsed tunnel/asteroid/alien invasion in 99.44% of the movies I watch. I was 31 the first time I saw Bambi, and I still haven't seen Old Yeller, or any movie about a horse because I’m sure the horse always breaks a leg and has to be shot. I watch people get shot, sliced, diced, crushed and worse all the time without flinching, but if an animal is threatened I really start to worry.

If someone starts to tell me an animal story that might end badly, I might cut them off. My mom usually talks faster to get the story out, because while she doesn't like it either I think she needs to share her pain. Last week she told me a story about her cousin's daughter bringing her four little boys to the arboretum where she volunteers, and poking at a frog with a stick. There wasn't more to the tale than the thing crying in pain and fleeing, the demon quartet finding it wherever it hid in the greenhouse, but I was afraid of where the story was going. Yesterday, one of my friends at work started telling me a story about a turtle crossing the road when he was driving. My brain immediately leapt to a sickening crunch beneath his tires, but I steeled myself for whatever came next. As it turns out, he pulled over and moved the turtle to the side of the road and, after calling to consult his wife, took the turtle to a local pond where it can potentially live happily ever after. There was hope rather than the tragedy I anticipated.

In spite of this, I was transported to the past on my commute home, recalling an incident from my college days. A group of us were at the university, meeting on a Saturday to catch a movie and waiting for our friend Rey, who was uncharacteristically late. We knew something was wrong when he appeared carrying the small plastic bin most of us were familiar with as a receptacle for art supplies. It seemed heavy in his arms, and there was a strange sound coming from it. He set it down, and in it we saw a small black puppy, whimpering and broken. He'd seen a car strike it on the expressway and keep going, so he pulled over to rescue it. Most of the gang thought it was sad but realistically there wasn't much to be done. Still, we set out in search of a vet, hope or mercy if not a miracle. Rey drove while I held the box in my lap, uttering ineffectual “It's okay”'s every time the wounded animal would cry. It was a high-pitched sound, a sound I'd never want to hear again, and can never forget. The sound is the sharpest part of the memory, the anchor point that can still draw me back to that day if something reminds me.

We found a vet and explained the situation. The woman at the desk was kind and sympathetic, and thankfully didn't offer a prognosis one way or the other. There was no collar, and chances are the wounded stray would simply be “put to sleep”, an expression I really hate. Indeed when we got back to school and related the outcome of our quest, one of our friends suggested as much. It was still better to try, and I still have the naive hope that the dog was saved, and went on to live a full and healthy life. One of my dad's friends had a cat that got hit by a car, and the man spared no expense in having the vet save him. Broken bones mended, fur grew back, and the cat lived out a natural life span. It's possible the same happened with the puppy Rey tried to save, but if they put it out of its misery instead, perhaps that was a better fate than leaving it in the gutter. All he could do was try, and in trying there was hope of a better outcome.

In elementary school, there were always kids who thought it macho or cool to talk about putting animals in the microwave. I pray it was all talk, and none of them ever attempted such an experiment. Their laughter infuriated me, made me want to hit them, but I was smaller, and usually the recipient rather than the dispenser of fists. There are a lot of twisted people in the world, and a character like T-Bag who'd put to sleep a doctor who just helped him isn't as much of an exagerration as he should be. Animals kill for food or survival, or act out of instincts for such behavior. There is no malicious intent. Is that why it's harder for me to hear about animal suffering? Are they more innocent than human beings? I wish I knew...


Phantasmic Links 8.28.06

How is it Monday already? Undeterred by the rain on Sunday, I did make it to the beach for a few hours, even if I just sat in my car and read a book, listening to the rain and the waves and the occasional mournful cry of a seagull. Well, before I go back to work, I'm going to share this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Darrell wouldn't post this Mallrats/Superfriends mashup due to the explicit content, so he e-mailed it to me instead, gaining a P-link hat tip in the process. Oh yeah, (damn funny) explicit content appears in this link.

The next Survivor will be a race....against race?! Hat tip to The Fifth Column for this bizarre gimmick.

Sean gives us a look at the new live action Megatron. I can't wait to see that in action; it will be terrifying. For more spoilery robot goodness, check out a script review(spoilers well marked), glimpse of Optimus Prime, and the best possible voice news I've heard yet.

Believe it or not, George isn't at home...

Caixa is MCF's addictive game of the week. Who among you can beat my high score of 406250? (Who among you cares?) Hat tip to the Dosetaker.

Otis reveals the secret origin of one of our blogging mainstays. Hilarity ensues and perhaps on the horizon, retribution?

Hot Fuzz is Simon Pegg's next project. Thank Kelly for the head's up.

I disagree with the philosophy that ”There is Nothing” presents, but I can't deny its phantasmic creepiness.

Stephen Colbert puts himself in front of a green screen with a light saber. He then issues a challenge to internet geeks everywhere, resulting in epic and hilarious compilations. Here are some of the better ones I've found:


Cave Troll

Star Wars® Kid




To Be an Action Star

It must be nice to be an action star. Sure, you're always jumping to ride the shock waves from explosions, or diving into the ocean to dodge bullets, but you never miss, have infinite bullets, and always get the girl, sometimes more than one. My Saturday morning consisted of being trapped in the house. Our neighbors had a huge yard sale, and my mom decided to capitalize on the crowd by selling plants and some other items. My dad was cutting metal to make a stand for the plants, but mostly she used plywood and overturned plastic flower pots. Just going to the post office proved a chore as I backed out of the driveway and had to wait for them to move some of the plants aside. The street was filled with parked cars, some partially blocking the driveway. I got out, got back in, and didn't get out again until it was time for church. By then my mom's plants were out of the way, but the sale next door was still going strong and the street still full of cars. The weather was gray and neutral, and so was I.

That's what real life is like for most of us. I guess that's why entertainment and escapism is so important, to preserve our sanity. A few obstacles wouldn't keep Steve McQueen trapped; he'd just leap them on a motorcycle like he did in The Great Escape. There are any number of ways I could have made an escape, from throwing a grenade to hang gliding off my roof to swinging to freedom on a rope. Instead I played video games, surfed the net, watched some DVDs, and thought of things like my Top 15 Action Stars:

15Will Smith has come a long way since his days as the Fresh Prince, but I might be in the minority in considering him an action star. I will concede that he's not in the same class as the rest of the guys on this list, and probably a few I left out. But when he does do action, he brings just the right amount of humor to the table while charming the ladies and surviving explosions, gunfire, and high speed chases. I submit as examples Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, Enemy of the State, Men in Black, I, Robot, and even crapfests like Wild, Wild, West and ID4. Versatility in playing comedic and romantic roles would not count him out, as we'll see with some of my other choices.

14Jean Claude Van Damme must have disappeared, and I was sure of it when Darrell reminded me he exists. The last Van Damme movie I saw was Maximum Risk, with the smoking-hot Natasha Henstridge, and as far as I knew he hadn't worked since 1996. Apparently he's done at least 16 movies since then, some still to be released. I don't know if they went straight to DVD or if I stopped paying attention. Van Damme will never win any awards for acting, but has more of a charm and presence than say, Steven Seagal. He's more than a stuntman with lines. His real talent was his martial arts ability, so it's interesting to read that he's still kicking after all these years. He may have been part of a horrible adaptation of Street Fighter(check out the animé instead, just not with your kids), but he was great in Timecop and yes, even The Quest with Roger Moore. It's probably best to stick with his films from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and Universal Soldier is one glaring exception from the list of movies I've seen. I'll have to correct that soon.

13Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn't have a lot of films under his (wrestling) belt yet, but the ones he does have show his potential to be the great action star of this decade. The Scorpion King, The Rundown and Walking Tall all established his ability. The Rundown even had a cameo appearance by an action star metaphorically passing the torch. He's a big guy and can fight, but he can also act and bring humor when needed with a wry grin. I suspect Doom might lack some of the substance of his earlier films, but I'll probably still check it out at some point. With the upcoming Gridiron Gang, will he be moving away from action roles to those of more substance, or just showing his range?

12Wesley Snipes is great as Blade, but that's all I've seen him as since he took on the role and his acting has been reduced to gritting his teeth and tossing out one or two tough lines. I'm not even sure if a Black Panther movie starring Snipes would still be a good idea at this point, and I hesitated in including him in my list. But I can't ignore Blade or previous roles like Passenger 57, Drop Zone, or U.S. Marshalls. I even liked his over-the-top villain in Demolition Man, a movie that probably wouldn't stand the test of time if I saw it again now. Maybe Snipes will start doing action movies with more dialogue now that the Blade series is done, or maybe he's done. Time will tell.

11Jet Li is another one of those rare martial artists than can act. Forget the language barrier; he can evoke a lot with facial expressions, as in Unleashed. In Black Mask, you could feel his pain in his characters inability to feel physical pain, or anything else. In The One, he plays both hero and villain, and we get to see one of the great theatrical fighters fight himself. That alone is worth a science fiction concept that might alienate the average viewer.

10Jason Statham co-starred in The One with Jet Li, and has been getting more and more leading roles, making him as much if not more of a rising action star than The Rock. He has a cool accent, a cooler demeanor, and he's kicked major assailants in explosive adrenaline fests like The Transporter, The Transporter II. Statham debuted in such films as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Crank, in which he plays a poisoned hitman who will die if he doesn't keep his adrenaline up.

9Chow Yun-Fat is yet another cool martial artist charming the ladies and taking out the bad guys, and was the quintessential John Woo star in A Better Tomorrow and Hard-Boiled, and a powerful lead in City on Fire(the original Reservoir Dogs). More recently he teamed with Mira Sorvino in The Replacement Killers, leapt across treetops in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and trained younger fighters as the Bulletproof Monk.

8Bruce Willis was once a bartender. A few small roles lead to his Moonlighting gig, and television was only the beginning. Die Hard led to two sequels, and an extensive film career which included action roles in The Last Boyscout, Pulp Fiction, Twelve Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Hostage and Sin City. He's proven that anyone has the potential to rise from mediocrity and shine. Will a certain Mysterious Cloaked Figure be discovered by a director surfing blogs? Probably not. But next year, you can see Willis in yet another sequel to Die Hard, Live Free or Die Hard.

7Charles Bronson was one of the greats, his career dating back to the ‘50s. If you want to sound tough, just imitate his halting style of speech and staccato syllables. I'm more familiar with his later work like Death Wish, Murphy's Law and Assassination, but I've been catching up on classics like The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The fact that he was still intimidating and tough when he was in his sixties should be an inspiration to action stars everywhere.

6Harrison Ford is a great actor, and doesn't need to do action roles anymore. Hollywood Homicide, while a mediocre picture, did capitalize on his status as an aging actor not afraid of a few jokes at his suspense. He's already proven himself with a resumé that includes Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all of their sequels. A lesser actor might have been forever typecast as Han Solo or Indiana Jones, but Ford survived such distinctive roles and went on to Blade Runner, Witness, Patriot Games, The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger, and Air Force One.(“GET OFF MY PLANE!”) After playing such a kick-ass president, I think a number of people might have voted for him in real life. Like Willis, Ford is returning a fourth time to one of his successful wells with another Indiana Jones in 2008.

5Sean Connery is more than just the definitive James Bond. He may have set the standard for irresistibly seducing lovely co-stars and dispatching villains with guns, gadgets, and a parting wisecrack, but like Bronson he continued to take on action roles in his later years. Like Ford he played a prominent part but escaped being typecast. Zardoz, Highlander , Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock and LXG were all done after his Bond years. Rumor has it he may even rejoin Ford in the fourth Indiana Jones.

4Sylvester Stallone joins Willis and Ford in a growing theme on this list, as he makes yet another sequel to Rocky and returns for a fourth time as Rambo. Truth be told, I still have to see those first three Rambo movies. But there's no question that they established him as one of the two top action stars of the ‘80s. The list includes Cobra, Over the Top, Tango & Cash, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, Assassins, and Daylight. Dredd and Daylight may be the worst of his modern work; Assassins is probably the best. Is returning to his two most popular roles a sign of his longevity, or blatant defiance of the fear of typecasting?

3Jackie Chan is crazy. The first Chan movie I saw was Rumble in the Bronx, when it appeared in American theaters, and I was astounded at the injury reel at the end. He's a cinematic martial artist that does all his own stunts, and often gets badly hurt while doing so. One clip had him water skiing, despite a broken foot being in a cast. His fighting style is probably closer to dancing than actual fighting, but there's no denying the appeal of such choreography. Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, and their sequels used the mismatched buddy action comedy formula to bring him to the forefront of a larger American audience, but he's been a star as far back as 1962. He's much more comedic than the traditional gritty action star, but excels with the appeal of an underdog overcoming impossible odds.

2Arnold Schwarzenegger busted out of the bodybuilding scene as Hercules, but it was Conan the Barbarian that made him a household name, synonymous with Stallone when describing what an action star was, especially in the 80s. While newcomers like the Rock and Statham might mean Arnold isn't our Last Action Hero, there's no denying the impact The Terminator, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, Total Recall, T2 and True Lies had on the genre. He's also delved into comedy and starred in at least one tragedy, but the current governor of California was best in his action roles.

1Clint Eastwood has all the qualities of everyone else on my list, and has had them longer than most. He surpassed Bronson with Dirty Harry and its four sequels as the Hollywood tough guy, and did so after an extensive Western career in the 60s, especially with A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and of course The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. His days as a gunslinger might be behind him, but, like my own father, he's still going strong at 76. Listen for him in a video game version of Dirty Harry next year.

* * *

Rather than a standard honorable mentions section, I'll touch on some of the names that didn't make my list in a brief FAQ, because I've always liked the fact that “FAQ” sounds like “fact”, and despite the fact that technically the following questions wouldn't be considered “frequently asked”.

”MCF, I think your list SUCKS. How could you omit....”

...Samuel L. Jackson?
I considered him, but I think he's more of a “shouting badass” than action star. He's starred in so much more than action movies too, that I felt it would be limiting, moreso than some of the other versatile actors that made my list, to classify him as such.

...Mel Gibson?
This was a tough one. I love the Lethal Weapon series. I like the Rush Hour movies but they wish they were Lethal Weapon. When I finally saw Mad Max and its sequels last year, I thought they were great too. Gibson's done more than just action roles though, and in his later years he's moving into other genres. Stallone seemed like a mandatory inclusion, but if I could have left him out I would have put Gibson in his place. The way things are now, I also feared having to issue a public apology for including him.

...Steve McQueen?
He's one of the greatest action stars of American cinema, moreso than Bronson, and he's probably my most glaring omission. I simply haven't seen enough of his work yet. I only saw The Great Escape two days ago, and last year was the first time I saw The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Towering Inferno. When I compiled my list, I was also focusing on living stars, although Bronson proved to be an exception. I grew up watching Bronson movies, which were among my family's first VHS rentals. McQueen is more of a recent discovery, but I suppose will make this list if I revisit it in the future.

....John Wayne?
He's my dad's favorite actor, and I've bought him plenty of John Wayne movies as gifts, but I think of him more as a Western star than an action star, especially by the Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Willis definition I grew up with.

...Denzel Washington?
Denzel is a fine actor, one of my favorites, and certainly better than Snipes. He exudes charm and personality and excels in all his movies, even action parts. Man on Fire is an amazing tale of righteous vengeance, for example. But, moreso than Jackson, he's so much more than an action star; he's an actor.

...Antonio Banderas?
He's not really an action star either, though with Desperado and The Mask of Zorro, he's starred in some of the greatest action movies.

...Vin Diesel?
Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick were great, but then you have things like xXx and The Pacifier. I can't stand Vin Diesel. ‘nuff said.


Machine Herald

I never liked the sound of machinery, especially when I was a kid. When I wanted to sleep late on a Saturday, the roar of a lawnmower outside my window would tear me from my slumber and dreams of solving mysteries with Inspector Gadget's niece. In my youngest days, the din of a vacuum cleaner was the worst. Even as our cats scrambled under beds and into dark corners, I'd curl up in a fetal position with my hands clamped to my ears. Comic books and cartoons definitely increased my flare for the dramatic. The thing I feared most about the vacuum was the fate of my toys. I hated when my mom vacuumed my room, because I was bad about picking up my figures and their accessories. Many a time a plastic brick or gun or sword would go missing, and my mom would have to go through the vacuum bag. Sometimes these items would vanish forever, to my horror, yet I never did learn to keep a clean room. Instead of being motivated to keep my stuff off the floor, I was motivated to close my door and try to keep her out.

Machine sounds have never heralded good things for me. Just yesterday I came home to the sound of an electric saw. It was a horrible, jagged sound, and I hesitated to go downstairs and see what my dad was up to. I approached with caution, as he's 76 with clogged arteries and I didn't want to startle him. He didn't hear or see me as I observed what he was doing. On a plastic milk crate rested an old metal sign from the days when he had his own automobile repair shop. He held it down with one hand as he pressed an electric saw through it with another. It slid and leapt around despite his efforts to hold it steady. He was wearing neither gloves nor goggles, but he's never wasted the time on safety. “I've lived this long...” He's often been critical of my wimpy caution. Over at the vacant lot he owns, the old lawnmower in the garage has no bag. It just spits grass out the side. Since our lot has grass, weeds, twigs, thorns and more, I always put on a pair of safety goggles before cutting it. “Come on, we don't have all day!” Still, when I'm done mowing and catch a glimpse of my reflection in a car window, my face covered with dirt, grass, and bits of wood save for the area around my eyes where the goggles were, I have no regrets about the time spent protecting my eyes. Maybe my dad's never done more harm to himself than a couple of cuts and scrapes, never blown up a car when he's used a blowtorch to remove stubborn parts dangerously near the gas tank, but he's just been lucky. Considering all the freak injuries I've endured doing perfectly ordinary things, tempting fate is never a good move for me. If I use that mulching mower, I will wear goggles, and if I climb a ladder to work on the roof, I will insist he hold the bottom, especially when I'm avoiding that one cracked rung.

The sign my dad was cutting was vibrating and bouncing all over the place. He kept slipping, and metal shavings were everywhere. As he hit a snag and let the saw wind down, I took a few steps back and addressed him from the other side of the room, as though I'd just arrived, rather than appear suddenly over his shoulder and startle him. He explained that my mom needed some shelves for plants, and he was cutting up the old sign. I noticed pencil marks indicating pizza-shaped slices, with the tips rounded off. The milk crate had a few nicks in it from the sign vibrating out of his grasp. How soon before he slipped and cut himself? So, despite saying he didn't need help, I climbed around to the other side of the crate and braced the sign. As metal shavings bounced around, I squinted and thought of the goggles in a garage next to an empty lot three towns away. He finished the slice he was working on when I got there, and got through the next one, pausing when he realized the saw was hot and choosing to finally put on a glove to hold it. Mission accomplished, I got up to finally go upstairs, unpack my bag and change out of my gym clothes. I glanced at my leg and noticed a three-inch gash. It didn't hurt, nor did I feel it happen, and seemed to be mostly surface damage. My guess is one of the fine shavings was on my skin and I brushed it away, cutting myself. Meanwhile, my dad noticed somewhere along the line his pencil mark had deviated from the cardboard template he'd used for these makeshift “shelves”, and he had to trim the last piece. Before I could stop him, slice in one hand, saw in the other, he took off a very fine sliver from the quarter-inch thick metal, miraculously keeping all of his fingers.

I'd share more tales about what the sounds of machines herald around here, but I hear the roar of a saw cutting metal out in our driveway. I'd better go see what my dad's up to...


Everything Pluto is Wrong, et al.

We're constantly learning new things, and the only constant in this world is change. I was amazed in high school when my science textbooks differed from the teacher's updated lesson plan, and moreso in college when I found out some of the stuff in high school was wrong. It's still a conscious effort for me to dismiss the traditional model of an atom, with electrons orbiting the nucleus like a miniature solar system rather than the more accurate Electron cloud model. Science has again changed with the historic reclassification of Pluto(h.t. Rob). Pluto is smaller than our moon, and at times its orbit brings it inside Neptune's. I think I was in high school or college before I knew that little detail, that our ninth planet was occasionally our eighth. Now, it's no longer considered a planet at all and our solar system only has eight. What is Pluto? According to astronomers, it's a Dwarf Planet, along with Ceres and 2003 UB313. Once again, school books will be wrong for a few years, although the decision may yet be contested by some scientists. At this time, Gimli was unavailable to comment on our trio of Dwarf planets.

Nothing lasts forever, but don't tell my mom that. For weeks her 13” television has been acting up, and most of the time would not turn on. I'd guess the set is nearly 10 years old, and some research online pointed to fairly common problems with the power supply with that particular model. Repairs would prove more expensive than a new set, especially now that flat screens and high definition models dominate the market. A regular tube television might be as cheap as $60 or $70. Stubbornly, she refused to part with the old one, citing “sentimental value” as my dad and I got it for her, and because the woodgrain casing matched the bureau it sat upon in my folks' room. I really don't remember when we got that set, and my dad thinks one of her brothers gave it to us as a Christmas present. Her solution at first would be to hit the television, which if anything made the problem worse. When it reached a point of complete death, she opted to start using the larger flatscreen in our living room, which is attached to my VCR. She also started using my VCR to tape her shows and watch them at night, falling asleep in the living room chair instead of her room. My dad started looking at televisions on his own and asking my advice, despite her insistence that she didn't want a new set. It's a common tale, not unlike our old car sitting in the yard for a year after being in an accident and classified as totaled. She doesn't like buying new things, and has trouble parting with old things. “You're just like her!” grumps my dad, venting his frustration. He has the opposite flaw of being in a hurry and buying the first thing he sees, just to get it done. They've balanced each other out over the years, though it's never an easy process. “I just have to get it myself, or nothing will get done!” Knowing full well the result of that attitude, especially at a time when television technology is changing so rapidly, when my parents have never even had air conditioning or Cable, I really had no choice but to help him. I took a vacation day on Thursday and after taking care of a few personal errands at the bank and post office, I met up with my dad and hit three different stores, settling on a good model for my mom's needs. They simply don't make black casings with wood grain details anymore, at least nowhere we checked, but the silver casing did match the new VCR I got her last year, also reluctantly accepted. I hooked everything up even though she kept saying she didn't want it and that we should take it back or my dad should put it in the den. She thought it was smaller than her old one but a tape measure proved that while the casing was smaller, the screen was the same size, with a sharper and brighter picture I might add. As I programmed the channels she began hitting her VCR remote, which wasn't working. “Does it need batteries?” I asked. She said no and took the batteries out, and began rubbing them on a sheet to create static. “These are the ones that came with it; they should still be good.” I went in the closet and got out a fresh pair of batteries. Nothing lasts forever, but don't tell my mom that. I think I'm going to get another pack of rechargeable batteries like I use in my digital camera, and let her have those for the remote.

Ducks sometimes venture into the woods and dig around in mud and leaves. Geese fear children. A labyrinth may not always have walls you can see. My favorite places have always been the places in between places, but sometimes I'll discover a new place in between those. I'll have more on that next week...

The poster for the upcoming film “Eragon” has been revealed. There's also a video game coming out prior to the film's release. For those of you who don't know, Eragon was a novel, the start of a trilogy, written by a Christopher Paolini when he was a teenager. When I was that age, I thought our solar system had nine planets and that electrons orbited the nuclei of atoms like planets in a solar system. At my age, I'll sometimes confuse Et cetera with et al., though never with Peter Cetera. Sometimes, everything you know is wrong.


Breaking Out and About

• One day, after I'd been going to college for a year or so, I was playing video games with my neighborhood friends. It was dinner time and, without much thought, I stood up and announced that I was going to “break out”. Anytime new phraseology is introduced into one's personal lexicon, people notice. Just the other day Rey confronted me online about my increased (mis)use of ”et al.” of late. I honestly hadn't noticed, and can't account for where it was coming from. I tend to have the mentality(and sadly physique) of a sponge, so when I'm exposed to words and behavior I absorb them, often subconsciously. “Break out” was a fairly common expression among my college friends when they were leaving a gathering, but one my neighborhood friends had never heard, and thus I was mocked for it.

Prison Break returned for a second season this past Monday, literally off and running. William Fichtner joined the cast as an FBI agent pursuing the escapees, and dangerously figuring out Scofield's plans. Now that the convicts have broken out, and the show is no longer mainly confined to the prison as it was in the first season, it opens up many avenues of storytelling. The ending of Monday's episode, long overdue given events of last season, was still a shock, and I think set the tone for the rest of this season. I won't spoil it, but check out the full episode while it's still online.

• People need to break out of the habit of rushing. My driving experience on Wednesday was something of a tragedy in three acts. In act one, I slowed to a stop at a light at the bottom of a hill, noticing a car in my rearview mirror edging to the right. I cut left a little to give him room, and he squeezed between me and a parked car to make a right on red. It was a normal enough maneuver, until I watched in disbelief as he executed a u-turn across four lanes and a double yellow line, then made another right turn and continued in the direction he would have been going if he waited behind me for the light. Act two of my commuting experience found me nearly to work, waiting behind a bus that was taking entirely too long to move after picking up a passenger. Still, I would be patient because I'm working on that weakness, and because, let's face it, all we need is just a little patience. Behind me, cars cut to the left to pass us. Behind me, a light turned red at an intersection. Before me, the bus remained idle, lights flashing. I edged to the left. No one was behind me in either lane. I turned around after checking my mirror and pulled forward, suddenly struck by the jarring blow of a blaring horn. I quickly returned to the right lane as a car veered around me, followed by a second car. I have no idea where they came from; I guess they turned at the intersection. The bus now was moving, so I remained in the right lane, in a cautious state of driving a little slower. At one point our lane moved a little better than the left lane, and I passed the car that nearly struck me, mumbling a sheepish “sorry” under my breath and looking straight ahead as I passed. The third act of my commute occurred on my ride home, when I saw flashing lights and traffic blocked on both sides of the road. There was a bus pulled over ahead of me, and one on the other side coming from the opposite direction. There was a large crowd of people gathered, and an ambulance in the center. Within the circle of people, buses, and police cars I couldn't see what happened as I detoured on to a side street. Whatever it was, it was bad. I felt as if the dangerous moves and near misses from my morning commute were foreshadowing for whatever had happened in the evening.

• I know few people who are truly free. In some way we're all prisoners of our habits and routines. We become institutionalized. Change is more horrifying than an unpleasant existence. I'm taking a day off today. I never take more than one day off at a time, and haven't done so since I graduated college in 1996. I wouldn't know what to do with myself for a week, and would probably vegetate in front of the computer or television, occasionally doing yardwork or other tasks around the house to avoid being labelled a “bum”. I worry about the expense of a real vacation, and the unknown, being so far removed from the familiar. Work gives my life structure, yet as much time as I spend working I don't feel I earn vacation time because I'm not doing physical labor. At the heart of things my parents are right; I do just sit in front of a computer all day. Every once in a while though my vacation days take me away from the routine, and I force myself to break out. The best adventures happen when I don't have a plan, and just pick a direction and drive. I suspect photos of my shrine visit may have proved deadly to my ratings, especially to subsequent Photo Blog Wednesdays, but for me it was a great day, especially because it was unplanned. I just went East. It's supposed to rain today though, and I need to go to the bank to renew a CD, and I promised my dad I'd help him buy a new television for my mom, because hers stopped working and she's too sentimentally attached to it to replace it herself. Chances are today will be about errands, which on a Thursday are in themselves a break from my routine of sitting in a cubicle. It may even be enough of a distraction to silence the annoying part of my brain that feels guilty because I'm not at my desk, where I should be. I'm aware of my various self-imposed shackles, and from time to time friends will point them out to me. It's not easy to escape prison, but we're all capable of breaking out.

Aren't we?


TBW: Fresh Snow

In the middle of August, ice and snow seem odd subjects for a Terragen™ Blog Wednesday, especially since I've been feeling a sense of depression at the sudden impending end of the Summer. It's getting dark earlier and the heat wave had passed, but now it's starting to get warm again. While trying to keep cool in my Fortress of Solitude, a.k.a my room, my latest renderings all emerged from cooler layers of my subconscious. As with last time, click each image to enjoy a larger version:

Labels: ,


Man enough to admit...

Since I posted my list of ”be-a-man” movies a few weeks ago, I feel secure enough in my masculinity to delve into my softer side, and admit which female friendly flicks I like. I'm only going to list my top 5, with no honorable mentions. On with the girly show:

The Girl Next Door
I wonder if the trailer for this film could have been considered false advertising. “Can I come in? I'm all wet...” coos a dripping Elisha Cuthbert to a stunned high school boy opening his front door. A fantasy in which a porn star moves next door to a teenager would draw in any male viewer, only to discover it was about the boy learning to respect her as a human being even as he helps her respect herself and escape the seedy world she's trapped in. Despite the bait and switch, or perhaps because of it, I liked the movie a lot.

You've Got Mail
Yes, I actually prefer this romantic pairing of Hanks and Ryan over Sleepless in Seattle. I suppose it may be a controversial choice. Besides the refreshing lack of an annoying child, the movie delved into the different faces we show people, how the two main characters behaved one way in real life, and actually were rivals, only to connect on the internet where behind their business facades they actually had a lot in common when they bared their souls. It's lighthearted and funny, with a quirky supporting cast, and it's a fun ride watching to see how and if they'll get together in real life. They're perfect for each other, if only each can realize who the other is on the inside.

13 Going on 30
In my defense, it's Jennifer Garner. It's also the story of a teenage girl in the ‘80s, complete with slumber parties and singing along to Pat Benatar and Michael Jackson, even if she is transported to the present as an adult. It may be the chick-iest chick flick on my list. I couldn't watch it with the guys, and I probably wouldn't discuss it with them over a few beers. I'm embarrassed to admit I liked it quite a bit. I probably identified with the Mark Ruffalo character too, since he went from being an overweight geek to a graphic artist that was sort of a hip, good-looking version of MCF, a statement that will no doubt guarantee some wry comments from my real-life friends. I couldn't help thinking, “If he could get Jennifer Garner...” What I especially liked was the lesson, similar to You've Got Mail, about who people are on the inside. Both stars, along with co-star Judy Greer, admit in the DVD special features to being geeks in high school, which should give us all hope.

There's a right way and a wrong way to dramatize a catastrophic historical event and use it as the backdrop for a romantic tale. Pearl Harbor clearly demonstrates the wrong way: ”There are these two guys and they're friends. They both love the same girl. This starts this flummoxing love triangle as they struggle to overcome their own self needs and expectations…oh yeah, that and then there's this part where the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Anyway, so the girl loves the first boy…”-Nehring. Titanic made the ship a character, and painted a portrait of the period and the characters, from the crew to the band playing on even as they were sinking. Leo uses his mutant irresistible boyish charm to woo Kate, even getting her character to model nude for him. If I had his looks and charm, and could draw better, I'd carry a sketch book everywhere. How many hours did they know each other before he pulled that off? Seriously though, their love goes far deeper, and they make an amazing connection in a short period of time, the only time they'll have. The final words of one to the other are cheesy and cliché, so why was I still bawling in my girlfriend's car after we left the theater?

Say Anything
John Cusack is cool, and could make a living doing only romantic leads, though he's more versatile and does just as well with comedy and drama. There are any number of romantic pieces in his repertoire, and I was tempted to go with something more recent like Serendipity or Must Love Dogs. Of all the classics of his youth, Say Anything has the strongest visual: him holding that boombox aloft to win back Ione Skye by blasting ”In Your Eyes” outside her window. It was one of my ex-girlfriend's favorite movies and after we broke up, I was tempted on many an occasion to make the four hour trek North with a radio to win her back. I never did, but real life seldom works out like the movies so I probably would have wasted the trip if I tried. Her favorite movie was Young Frankenstein, but while I could have done a decent impression of Marty Feldman, I don't think that would have helped my cause. Of all the Cusack films, I have the strongest emotional connection to Say Anything so it tops my list.

* * * * *

I wasn't going to list honorable mentions, but mentioning Ruffalo in the 13 going on 30 section reminded me of Just Like Heaven which was both funny and moving, with a definite healthy share of lump-in-the-throat moments. Reese Witherspoon is ridiculously lovable. Let's call that #6 until folks remind me of other chick flicks I'd be man enough to admit to seeing and enjoying. Maybe there are a few that I've refused to see that I can be convinced otherwise. I finally saw Pretty Woman two days ago, for example. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn't nearly the torture I was expecting. And now, I must contact a physician and inquire about testosterone shots...

Do you have favorite chick flicks? Why not share them for that chick Janet's Tell It To Me Tuesday?



Phantasmic Links 8.21.06

Everything fell into place on Sunday. I got my dad and our friend Bill to the subway in Brooklyn with no trouble in the morning, and while I encountered not one but two accidents on my way home, one involving a motorcycle and another a few exits later in which a tractor trailer was twisted around and facing the HOV lane, I still managed to get home, get ready, and get to the church on time for my friend's daughter's christening. It's always great to see my college friends, and my face still hurts from laughter. Meanwhile my dad survived the gig, although the player who was supposed to cover for me didn't show up so he was on his own. My concerns were for my dad's health and sense of direction, so while he felt embarrassed about a few wrong notes, I was relieved my truancy hadn't led to more serious consequences. I did a lot this weekend, including collecting this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Is surfing the web supposed to make your wrist hurt? It will after a few rounds of the addictive ball toss game Tama.

Four Second Frenzy exceeds its predecessor Four Second Fury by providing three levels of challenge. You either have 7 lives to defeat 20 of the mini games, 10 lives to defeat all 50, or 1 life to beat the whole thing in an impossible sudden death mode. Add to that at least 10 more games in defeating the final boss, and you have a real challenge and an excellent time waster on your hands.

Rey explores two extremes of family bloggers, and focuses on a third variety that provides real problems, and real solutions.

There's only one way to watch Snakes on a Plane. With a game like this, it has potential to become a traditional cult favorite on par with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. On the off chance you're concerned about spoilers with this film, skimming or waiting until you've seen it may be advisable.

What can people do...When Mannequins Attack!??

This interesting; active ice geysers have been seen on Mars. The really top secret stuff though is the giant robots:
Optimus Prime

FawnDoo Lives.

When the FF faces the NBA, who will win?

Peter David lists eight utterly pointless things he'd like to see. Given the fact that I'm watching all the Bond movies right now, I think the casting on the first one is genius, although Lazenby would technically be a more accurate choice. Maybe he inexplicably steps in 6/7 of the film and Connery returns for the last seventh. Hat tip to Sean.

Finally, check out this Ultimate Avengers blooper reel. Why do I have a sudden craving for ribs?



Worlds Collide

”Here they come!”


“There they go!”

Parking is always a nightmare in the particular section of Queens where I played a small procession Saturday night with one of my bands. I navigated a maze of one-way streets, strewn with potholes, double-parked cars, and the occasional ambulance squeezing by, sirens ablaze. I found a spot though, and accompanied by my dad, the bandleader, and a trumpet player, we left the car and proceeded to the Italian club. When we rounded the corner, our presence and subsequent departure were announced by a girl hanging on the railing of a corner laundromat. The above commentary was lost as we took in the sight before us. The street, blocked off on either side by blue wooden police horses, greeted us with music, barbecues, tents and chairs as a Brazilian festival rocked full swing. “Can you believe it?” asked a random local, reclining on his front steps, “they granted two permits for the same day on the same street.”

We made our way through the crowd, greeted by the same requests and propositions any musician receives when passing through a large group of people. Inquiries ranged from asking us to play a song to volunteering to play a song for us. Smile and nod, smile and nod. Inside the club, the women from the society prepared for the procession, balancing vases upon their heads, an old tradition. One of the officials greeted the band leader enthusiastically, and reminded him to walk slower when the event began. Apparently last year we got too far ahead of the ladies, and were around a corner while they were still balancing several feet behind.

The band leader’s son, our snare drummer, arrived with his self-dubbed “girlfriend-fiancée-whatevah”, functioning as his driver and complaining about the traffic and the parking. “We saw something so friggen’ disgustin’ walkin’ down here; I don’t even wanna tell ya!” she exhaled, collapsing into a chair. “Should we tell you?” asked the son, eyes gleaming eagerly. “You might as well...” I said hesitantly, dreading the outcome. “We saw this woman go behind a car at the gas station...” began the girlfriend-fiancée-whatevah, even as the son proceeded to mime the bathroom-challenged woman’s actions. I was way ahead of both these Hemingways though, and quickly waved my hands to indicate they’d given us enough to get the picture.

The girlfriend-fiancée-whatevah began to complain about the gig, pointing out that they had tickets to a baseball game. I told her it was actually a short job, no more than an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and they’d make it to the stadium easily. We simply had to go up to the local church, play the crowd down the hill, past the society, around the block and back to the club’s backyard, where they’d have an outdoor mass. We’d probably hang around at the end and play one or two songs in the yard. “OH NO,” she gasped, “When this is ovah, we’re leaving.” Smile and nod. She set her sights on nagging her boyfriend about the vase tradition, unsatisfied with his response to her persistent inquiries of “WHY?”, as tradition and “’Cos that’s what they did back in Italy!” didn’t seem to be enough.

At this point we were instructed to move outside and up to the church, three blocks uphill. The procession began as soon as everyone was lined up, meeting one minor snag when the police car leading us turned down the wrong block as a frantic society member ran after him. Our route had to take us back to the street the club was on, and through the Brazilian street festival. I wasn’t sure how we’d be received, but the crowd enthusiastically applauded both the American and Italian national anthems as we played them outside the club. They clapped along with the drums as we moved past the tents and chairs, launching into one of our Italian marches. Worlds meshed seamlessly.

When we arrived back around the block, only 45 minutes had elapsed. True to my experience, we played two more songs while everyone found seats. the bandleader’s son and future daughter-in-law/whatevah bid him a quick farewell, and likely made it to their game on time. We grabbed a few bottles of water before making our own exit, back through the street fair at the end of which a gentleman on the corner asked if we were going to be playing. The band leader assured him that we already had, and as for me, I just smiled and nodded. On the ride home, the band leader agreed to meet my dad and the trumpet player at the subway station where I’d be dropping them off later today, before moving on to the baptism of a friend’s firstborn. I think my dad will be fine, and the bandleader confirmed that he found some other players to cover for me. Feasts, street fairs, baseball games and personal time can coexist. When it looks like worlds are going to collide, sometimes you just have to smile and nod, and it will all work out.


MCF LI 2: Let's Go to the Mall!

When you're a kid, and you live on an island, there are only so many options for amusement. It's even worse if you live on an isolated part of the coast with no movie theater, and little more than stationary stores, bike trails, and pizza places for diversion. Granted, the beach is an option for a few months of the year, but may also require adults to drive you if it's beyond your limits. The beach might only be five miles away but it may as well be fifteen like the nearest mall. At least, that was my experience growing up on Long Island. Some kids were more fortunate, and lived near malls or movie theaters. I was nearly in high school before my town finally got a theater, and we've never had a proper mall. The central hub for all mall activity in my neck of the woods was Roosevelt Field.

Historically, the Roosevelt Field Mall was once an airfield, from which Charles Lindbergh launched to fly across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. To me, it was always a mall, and a hard one to get to if my mom or dad weren't able to drive my friends and I. It took twice as long by bus, due to the convoluted bus route, and I was at least 12 or 13 before my mom even conceded to let me take public transportation with my friends. These days, there are far better options for movies, infinitely preferable to the old theater, but as a kid it was the place to be. I vividly remember my dad taking my friends and I to see Gremlins there.

While the mall was fun for kids to travel unsupervised, it morphed into something undesirable when shopping with one's parents. I often remember my mom dragging me to Alexander's or Woolworth's. The highlight of the Woolworth's in the mall that set it apart from the one in my home town, was an adjoining diner with an entrance both from the store and the mall. If I behaved, I got to have a sundae.

The mall has changed and expanded quite a bit, especially in the last decade or so. Stores have come and gone, and the entire structure was renovated to add a second floor and a massive food court shaped like a blimp, with the counters at the base of the structure. One of the things I miss about the mall from my childhood is the Petit Mall. Before the changes made in the ‘90s, there used to be a separate section of the mall, an older structure that felt tacked on and didn't match the rest of the place. There was a hair dresser shaped like a cavern, with a rocky exterior. The rounded sign posts conjured images of Paris, and is the closest I've ever been to France. The Petit Mall had a certain mythical quality as well, as I couldn't always find it. The entrance was at the end of one of the main hallways, and tucked in a corner. There was a period of time in which I vividly remembered being there with my parents, but when with my friends I could never prove it existed. Now, it no longer does.

The mall is not always about shopping. Sometimes it's just a place to fill time. I've spent more than one lunch hour as an adult wandering through various malls with my coworkers, looking in game or book stores before settling in a food court. As Roosevelt Field grew, other locations became preferable. In high school and college, a friend and I often hung out at the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa. There were fewer crowds, and it boasted not one but two arcades. One offered the best air hockey tables while the other had the rare six player version of the first X-men game as well as Captain America and the Avengers. It had a great central fountain with a round walkway on the second level overlooking it. While the current design of Roosevelt Field boasts similar aesthetics, back in the early ‘90s it set Sunrise apart and made it more modern. They also had a much nicer theater built into the mall, though I only saw a few movies there, including the historic Star Trek®: Generations, one of only four films from that franchise that I've seen on the big screen. I haven't actually been out to Sunrise Mall in well over a decade, but during my early college years when I was first driving and had more freedom, it was often the destination of choice.

Long Island is a mecca of malls and strip malls for shoppers and Mallrats. While Roosevelt Field and Sunrise Mall figured most prominently in my life, there are a few others of note:

• I've only been to the Smith Haven Mall a few times, but it's my understanding that its the center of Suffolk County the way Roosevelt Field is for Nassau.

• At the other end of the spectrum is Green Acres Mall, a somewhat dangerous locale that I've only set foot in once or twice, accompanied by friends from the area. In college we'd often go to the nearby freestanding multiplex where we caught such films as Street Fighter, ID4, Desperado, and Last Man Standing. What I remember most about the last film is members of the audience attempting a dialogue with Bruce Willis, pointing out that he'd popped more caps than the type of gat he carried could discharge without reloading, and thus his movie was playing all of them. On an unrelated side note, I should mention that this was the first theater I ever went to that had metal detectors in the lobby.

• My other childhood favorite besides Roosevelt Field was the Broadway Mall. It had more quaint shops lining the halls between the larger department stores, a great ice cream counter with the best waffle cones, and most importantly a long, dark arcade. It seemed pitch black from the outside, but once one stepped into the darkness, eyes would adjust to the bright screens. I loved the cacophony of explosions and electronic music. It was there that I was first exposed to the wonders of animated games like Dragon's Lair, Cliff Hanger, and Space Ace. I marveled at the overwhelming odds and piercing music of Gauntlet, which sang out and beckoned amid all the other machines. Sadly, the current Broadway Mall no longer has this arcade or any other, and an attached Target, a multiplex adjoining a modern food court, and a neighboring IKEA are its main attractions now.

• Finally, Long Island's newest mall is the Source, originally constructed as an addition to Fortunoff's. Major points of interest that are no longer there include the Virgin Megastore, the Rainforest Café, and Jillian's, which is now a Dave and Buster's. It has a great food court with a huge window overlooking Long Island, as well as a few other restaurants including a Cheesecake Factory. Stores of interest for me include Old Navy, Circuit City, KB, and an exterior-accessed Cold Stone. The mall has also recently put a miniature golf course on an unused section of lawn outside their parking garage.

* * *

Even when we have nothing to buy, when there's nothing to do, we shop. Browsing through merchandise, eating a variety of food, watching movies, observing people and admiring architecture are all attractive qualities of the mall. When it's hot outside you can shop at dozens of stores and enjoy air conditioning, and in the winter you can stroll through a tropical environment, past waterfalls and fronds. As malls are redesigned and connected to neighboring structures, I joke about Long Island becoming one great mall. Looking at something like the Mall of America in Minnesota, which boasts its own amusement park, over 500 stores and 2.5 million square feet, there's definitely precedent. The days of making a pilgrimage to the mall may be left in my childhood, as the expanding malls will make pilgrimages to me.

Previously, on MCF LI:
MCF LI 1: Fire Department Parades



Patience Pending

Patience is one of the hardest things to grasp as human beings. We live in a world where adults cut ahead of one another in line at restaurants, and in which most people abuse the horns on their cars. I sometimes wonder why we're all in such a hurry. Is it the nature of New York? Do people rush through life because it goes so fast, or does life go fast because people are rushing? I've always associated patience with maturity. A child, with no concept of time, wants what he or she wants now. By the time we reach adulthood, we should know that when we have to wait, there's nothing that can be changed by getting upset.

I've struggled with patience and maturity on more than one occasion. Sometimes, where work is concerned, I don't have the luxury of waiting. I hate to nag people and it's a last resort in order to maintain good relationships, but sometimes it has to be done. Patience is good for mental health and reduced stress, but sometimes stress can increase as a result of it. On my way to work Thursday morning, already running a little late, I waved someone on that was pulling out of the parking lot of a diner. I've found that traffic moves smoother when people don't bunch up and allow merges, keeping everything flowing. Indeed, within a matter of seconds after the light turned green I was moving forward again, but as a result of the car in front of me slowing to a stop, I caught the same red light twice. Had I not shown kindness, I might have made it through and not lost another three minutes. We can't change what's already happened, and while frustration bubbled I did my best to quell it.

Ordering lunch at Subway tested my strained patience once more. When someone has an accent, I do my best to listen and answer only when I'm certain I've processed what I've just heard. I don't like to be that guy saying “What?” or “I'm sorry?”, making people repeat themselves two or three times, because that tests both of our limits. I'm generally good with accents, but amid the din of the food court yesterday I was at a loss to understand the vendor. The fact that I made the poor guy repeat himself probably annoyed him more than me, but the real pet peeve involved something I've encountered at many sandwich places, with all kinds of people. It doesn't seem to matter who's behind the counter; they always ask what I consider to be stupid questions. If I order something with a specific dressing in the name of it, they ask me “What kind of dressing?” When I order a “Chicken and Bacon Ranch”, I always have to tell them that the dressing I'd like is Ranch. Similarly today, I tried a new Bourbon Chicken and when he asked me what kind of dressing I wanted on it, a second time after I didn't understand him the first time, I told him the Bourbon glaze and shifted my gaze to the sign. I guess people get tired working behind the counter all day, listening to orders over and over. I'm not unsympathetic. But in that moment, when I've asked for something and get that kind of question, my brain reels at the stupidity of it. I guess it's not on par with being asked what kind of meat I'd like on my chicken sandwich, but it's a close second. And given the time back in college that I ordered a chicken with broccoli, and asked the waiter to hold the broccoli, I imagine people in the food service industry have just as much frustration with stupid customers. Maybe that's why they always ask about the dressing in Subway. I won't throw stones, but I definitely find myself clutching them.

The kids playing in our street are multiplying. I've defended them to some degree as my dad grows more frustrated, pointing out that my friends and I used to ride bikes on the sidewalk and in the driveway, and play ball in the street. Of course there were about five or six of us, and four of us lived on the block. At my last estimate, there's a horde of twenty or thirty kids riding bikes, throwing rocks, and screaming. They also tend to not move out of the way when they see a car, and even glare at the driver. One day last week they all moved out of the way by going into my driveway. As I slowly turned I made a parting motion with one hand, keeping my cool as to maintain a good relationship with the parents of the two or three kids that actually are our neighbors. My dad's never been a patient man, and cares less as he gets older. Earlier this week he coated the driveway with a water sealer, and set up a barricade of branches and wood across tar buckets to keep people off it until it dried. I later heard from my mom of one child who decided to sit on one of the tar buckets, resulting in my dad running out shouting, “Hey, you lousy kids get off of there--!” When I was a kid, we didn't like the old man that yelled at us for playing on his lawn, but we feared and respected him. All it took was one outburst and I was forever afraid to trespass. The new generation is spiteful, and takes it as a challenge. Wednesday they continued idly rolling around in the street as I tried to get through, and when I threw up my arms in a “What the heck?” gesture, many of them made chattering sounds as if mocking me. Thursday when I came home, they were playing baseball, with real bases. We used to use manhole covers, cracks in the sidewalk, or trees. “OK, the manhole cover is second base!” These kids had ACTUAL bases and I nearly rolled over second to avoid hitting the bikes that were parked in front of my driveway. Under my breath, I found myself muttering, “Lousy kids...” So much for patience and understanding.

I guess I'm impatient because my dad is impatient. When he asks me to look something up on the computer, “when I get a chance”, he repeats the inquiry far too often. Once he asked me at night, then the next morning, then when I got home from work. By the third time I snapped and asked when he thought I'd had time. This weekend I've possibly made the mistake of turning down a gig in the city on Sunday to attend a christening for the firstborn of one of my college friends, and see people I see once a year, if I'm lucky. The band leader got someone to cover for me, but my dad is still going. After nagging me repeatedly about the subway, I sat down with him last weekend and walked him through the map, even writing it down. I'll have time to drop him and another musician off at a subway stop in Brooklyn that will get him to the city in just two stops, and to the church location in just a few more stops after a transfer. To me, it's easy. We've gone that route every year for a number of years, and the trumpet player he'll be with has done it even longer. I lost patience and snapped at him the other day when he asked me when I'd have the final plans for him, and referred to the fact that I'd not only shown him on screen, but I'd written it down. I'm really starting to worry about him getting lost, even though he'll be with another player and they're both now actually meeting the band leader at the station, who definitely knows the trains since he grew up there and in fifty some odd years has never driven a car. I suspect part of the reason my dad keeps asking the same questions is because he's worried, and while I now feel kind of guilty about blowing off the job to hang out with my friends, it's too late now. I have to get my patience back though and keep my emotions in check. We have another job in Queens on Saturday night, and I got annoyed when he interrupted a movie I was watching to make me call the band leader to finalize when we were picking him up. “I'm just the chauffeur; you tell me the time,” I snapped before calling the guy for him. He had already been understanding a few weeks ago when I told him I wanted to see my friends and their new baby, and the band leader had actually taken the news worse before thinking of someone who could cover for me. Why am I so terse and sarcastic when asked to make a simple phone call, or repeat directions for the train?

Patience is taking that extra ten seconds to think about our response to questions we find irritating or stupid. It's recognizing when the things that seem simple to us may not be to others. It's the deep breath that's not always our first instinct, and the difference between peace and conflict. In the grand scheme of things, looking back at my life, I've really improved. But every once in a while I still have a day like yesterday where everything builds, and control goes out the window. Someday I'll get the hang of it but for now, my patience is pending.