With apologies to my female readers, I may be getting a little sexist with tonight's post. In my defense, the question of “Who are your sexiest famous or semi-famous women and why?” comes from one of my female readers, so there. Now, on with the parade of babes, in alphabetical order:

Amy Acker:
Best known for portraying Winifred Burkle, this beautiful Texas-born actress quickly showed her range as she went from playing a mousy but brilliant Southern gal to the demon Illyria during her time on the series Angel. Her next recurring role found her playing a villain on Alias, the devious Kelly Peyton. One of my favorite shots of her on that show was her calmly striding through an office moments after firing a missile, as a burning helicopter falls past the window behind her. Rumor had it that she and some of the other core villains of that show would star in a spinoff after the series ended, but nothing ever came of it. Other than guest appearances on How I Met Your Mother and Supernatural, and some voice work on JLU as Huntress, her career's been relatively quiet, but I hope we'll see more from her soon.

Cameron Diaz
She's a hot blonde, and that should be reason enough. But she had a certain classic femme fatale quality in The Mask that I fell for as well, and when the hero, a shy awkward bank worker, wins her over, it was the fulfillment of every geek's fantasy. By the time she was dancing in Spider-Man panties in Charlie's Angels, she could do no wrong.

Eliza Dushku:
She's not the type of girl that I would go for in real life, at least given the tough characters she's portrayed on shows like Buffy and Tru Calling. She could clearly kick my ass, and would have endless reserves of energy to go clubbing all night while I'd rather have a girl I can cuddle up with on a couch and watch a good movie. Still, I like her attitude and her smile, and there's something attractive about an untamed lioness. Like most if not all of the women on this list, she probably wouldn't go for me anyway, but if The New Guy adopted that attitude, his movie wouldn't have been as good, and probably much shorter.

Jennifer Garner:
Does this one even need much explanation? In the last six years, were there many heterosexual red-blooded American males who weren't completely in love with her? She could hold her own in a tough situation as well as any of Dusku's characters, but had a softer, vulnerable side as well. Beyond Alias and Elektra, she even made me love a chick flick. Damn you, Affleck.

Heather Graham:
Yes, she played a rollerskating porn star, and a sexy sixties special agent in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But what I really appreciate in this gorgeous blonde are her eyes. During her stint on Scrubs, I really noticed what wide, crazy eyes she has. Those are the eyes of a hot girl who's just a little bit off, possibly off enough to go for an overweight Italian guy that lives with his parents. Quiet, leave me my dreams.

Teri Hatcher:
As I made my way through the fourth and final season of Lois and Clark this past weekend, I was reminded of why I fell in love with her back in college. She was every comic geek's dream Lois Lane. She was pretty, but not as tough or emotionally guarded as Margot Kidder's character. It helped a lot that she lacked Kidder's smoker's rasp as well. She was sharp and confident as a reporter, but we got to see her insecure side as well, and the show did a great job of humanizing her. It's a shame this raven haired beauty was wasted in Tomorrow Never Dies. I lost interest after that, and I haven't seen one episode of her new show. I used to be obsessed with her. I even named a character after her in The Sims, but somehow she ended up marrying a character named Cameron Diaz and the game changed her name to Teri Diaz. How's that for too much information? We'll probably all sleep better if we forget I ever mentioned that.

Milla Jovovich:
I keep watching her display her agility and flexibility in bad movies, from my introduction to her in The Fifth Element to her more commanding role in Resident Evil. What she lacks in a chest she makes up for in curves, and a strikingly beautiful face. I was really torn watching Ultraviolet, because she was a visually amazing character in a visually amazing environment flipping improbably through a series of choreographed fight scenes influenced by comic books and anime. The conflict lies with her flat voiceover, the overall weak dialogue, and wisp of a plot holding the action sequences together. I also realized that the kid in the movie annoyed me because he was the same creepy kid from Birth, which I hated. I borrowed the movie from B13 though, so at least I didn't pay for a really bad movie that looked really good, in which she looked really good.

Keira Knightley:
When I sat down to compile this list, I made a rule that I wouldn't choose anyone born after 1984, no more than ten years younger than I. She was born in 1985, but I have to make an exception for this talented British actress who, like so many on my list, balances a softer side with a tough side in films like Pirates of the Caribbean and King Arthur. She played a tough American in The Jacket and an even tougher bounty hunter in the gritty Domino. This beauty has a lot of good roles ahead of her.

Evangeline Lilly
If I had to be stranded on a desert island, I could only dream of having someone who after a month of grime and sweat still looks ridiculously sexy. The writers have found a way for her character to have a shower or two over the last few seasons, but the makeup people should win awards for strategically placing dirt to accentuate her cheekbones.

Alyssa Milano
I feel like I grew up with her. When Who's the Boss? began, her character was something of a tomboy, a spunky Italian girl from Brooklyn. As the years progressed though, this boyish duckling blossomed into a hot swan, and I wished I had grown up with her and won her heart before better looking guys noticed her. I could never get into Charmed, but I do own a VHS copy of Embrace of the Vampire. She's definitely still one of the most beautiful women in the world, in my book.

* * * * *

Wow, it's late. If I had time to elaborate, additional mentions would go out to Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Morena Baccarin, Kirsten Dunst, Selma Blair, Jennifer Connelly, Mía Maestro, Laura San Giacomo, Rena Sofer, Mia Kirshner, Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, Judy Greer, Rachel Weisz, Jewel Staite, Ashley Scott, Jenna Fischer, Kate Beckinsale, Paget Brewster, Scarlett Johanson, Sarah Wayne Callies, Elisha Cuthbert, Audrey Tautou, Charlize Theron, Yvonne Craig, Dina Meyer, Winona Rider, Rashida Jones, Maggie Gyllenhaaland probably more I'll think of long after posting this. I had way too much fun with this week's topic.



PBW: Tapping into Clarity

Something about the shore, the fresh air and the crashing of the waves, dissolves the cobwebs that sometimes accumulate in my brain. Sometimes I’ll take the long way to work to attain clarity. Sometimes I take the long way home. In any case, there’s a road along the water that offers a peaceful interlude before more industrial surroundings signify a return to civilization. Feeling fuzzy over the long weekend, and taking advantage of a warm day before those thermometers inevitably dip, I went to this place and did the only thing I could do. I took pictures for this week’s Photo Blog Wednesday.



MCF's Perilous!

I'm sure most if not all of you are familiar with Jeopardy!, that timeless game of answers and questions. At least one person on my blogroll(that I know of) was an undefeated champion. For those of you who aren't, the rules of this game show are simple. Answers are provided, and the contestants are challenged to come up with the correct question. If they don't phrase their responses as questions, they don't get any points.

Flipping the M.C.F.A.T. inside out and adding a dash of Twenty Questions with just a pinch of Whose Line is it Anyway?, I'm proud to announce the debut of MCF's Perilous! Below, you will find 20 answers. You will have one week to come up with the corresponding questions and post them on your blogs, leaving a link to your post in the comments below. Next week, I'll reveal the questions I was thinking of, along with everyone's scores.

Yes, you've read correctly. Unlike the M.C.F.A.T., there will actually be a scoring system for this. As of right now, the points don't matter. But, if this is popular and becomes a recurring feature on my site, the points will carry over from one installment to the next. Who knows, you may even be able to redeem them for some nifty “prize” down the line. For now, you'll simply earn bragging rights over your fellow bloggers. Since this is highly subjective and there will be many correct questions for each answer, from the serious to the humorous, I'll automatically award 1 point for simply playing along and posting questions. If you choose the same question I was thinking of when I posted the answers, that will earn you 2 points. Should you forget to phrase it as a question, or even forget a question mark, I will deduct 1 point. To review:

1 pt=each question
2 pts=each question that matches MCF's
-1 pt=not posting in question form or forgetting a question mark

Will you face the perils below and attain the maximum 40 points? I can't wait to read your questions; here are the first 20 answers:

1. Howie Mandel and Gilbert Gottfried.

2. Because I was bored.

3. Polly-O string cheese.

4. Sister Christian.

5. Seinfeld; Prison Break; Joey.

6. My finger was stuck in a hole in the desk.

7. A Recorder.

8. A refrigerator box.

9. Peter, Cindy, and Dudley.

10. Jams.

11. Alcohol.

12. Goggles.

13. April.

14. Hold a pen properly.

15. Oyster Bay.

16. Iceman, Nibbler, and Megatron.

17. “This can't be a dream; there are no girls!”

18. He doesn't have one.

19. Change.

20.”Sweet Christmas!”



Phantasmic Links 11.27.06

Can there be too much of a good thing? After five days off from work, I hope I can remember how to do my job when I finally return on Tuesday. It seems like an eternity, and my brain has picked up cobwebs from a state of relaxation I'm not accustomed to. For example, Friday I drove to the beach, surrounded by families with the same idea on such a nice day. I leaned back in my seat reading a book, and at one point rested my eyes for a “moment.” I felt cold when I opened them and continued reading, and after a few minutes, I sat up and looked around. I was the only car in the parking lot. Everyone else had vanished, and I was surrounded by hundreds of seagulls standing on one leg, facing the setting sun. I slowly drove away through the crowd, who were reluctant to move and took the least amount of steps needed to clear a path, glaring at me all the way. It was like wandering into the territory of a rival gang.

Yes, a vacation can be surreal at times, as days and hours become indistinguishable. It's good to have some routine, if only to forge chronological landmarks. If it's the beginning of a new week, then I must be posting this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

If you're a fan of the Cheat Commandos like I am, you might appreciate their Thanksgiving special.

Can you help Michael Scofield make a Prison Break? I'm horrible at these stealth games.

Midnight Zamboni rocks!

Lost loose ends or impatient fans? You decide. Hat tip to Otis.

These ant portraits are super macro!

Be glad it's not you in any of these embarrassing television moments, unless of course some of my readers are in any of those videos....

Exercise creativity and get in on the fun of Rey's story hopping today!

Can't make up your mind about something? Maybe you're having a disagreement with a friend? I say the best thing to do is let Tekken decide! It's hours of fun if you suffer the same personality quirks as me!

Photographers should note the difference when you take a photo with flash.

This new Office Space looks terrifying. Let the man have his stapler!

Post-its live!

The biggest mobile machine in the world eats bulldozers for breakfast. That may be the coolest machine I've seen outside of animation and science fiction.

This is a rocking good use for an NES. I'm keeping mine intact, but that still looks hot.

Weboggle will boggle your mind. I personally couldn't find words longer than three letters playing on a 4x4 board, so I gave up and went back to playing that stealth game.

Of course, I could also enjoy flash remakes of ‘80s games instead. Thanks go to J-No!

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



Let's Go to 100 Movies!

Since listing 102 Essential Movies and noting which of those I've actually seen, I've since caught up on two of the ones I had missed, The 400 Blows and On the Waterfront. I really should pay more attention to that list instead of focusing my efforts elsewhere, not that I didn't enjoy getting caught up on the entire Karate Kid quadrology this past week.

Meanwhile, Jeff found a better list, containing The Top 100 Movies of All Time. I use the word “better” subjectively, in that I've watched a lot more from this list, and even own a few. That's precisely the goal of Jeff's meme as well. The ones in bold are the ones I've seen, and an asterisk(*) notes the ones I own, either in VHS or DVD format. I expect I'll feel less out of the loop when I finish this exercise. Feel free to join in the fun!

1. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back*
2. Fight Club
3. Pulp Fiction
4. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King*
5. The Shawshank Redemption
6. GoodFellas
7. The Godfather
8. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring*
9. Jaws
10. Donnie Darko*
11. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope*
12. The Usual Suspects
13. The Matrix*
14. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
15. Se7en*
16. The Godfather: Part II
17. Gladiator
18. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
19. Aliens
20. Sin City*
21. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers*
22. LA Confidential
23. Taxi Driver
24. Die Hard
25. Batman Begins*
26. Back To The Future*
27. Schindler's List
28. Spider-Man 2*
29. The Big Lebowski
30. Heat
31. Reservoir Dogs*
32. Blade Runner
33. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
34. Alien
35. X-Men 2*

36. Annie Hall
37. Léon
38. Casablanca
39. Apocalypse Now
40. Memento
41. Jurassic Park
42. It's A Wonderful Life
43. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
44. Monty Python And The Holy Grail

45. The Third Man
46. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
47. Toy Story 2
48. A Clockwork Orange
49. Moulin Rouge!

50. The Apartment
51. The Wild Bunch
52. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
53. Trainspotting
54. Raging Bull

55. City Of God
56. Stand By Me
57. The Thing
58. Scarface (1983)
59. Airplane!
60. The Silence Of The Lambs
61. Blue Velvet
62. Seven Samurai
63. Citizen Kane

64. 2001: A Space Odyssey
65. Shaun Of The Dead
66. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl
67. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

68. Lawrence Of Arabia
69. Halloween
70. The Searchers
71. Rocky
72. Once Upon A Time In The West
73. Platoon
74. Kill Bill: Vol. 1

75. Magnolia
76. The Deer Hunter
77. The Shining
78. American Beauty
79. Fargo
80. Chinatown
81. Saving Private Ryan

82. Vertigo
83. King Kong (2005)
84. Goldfinger
85. The Wizard Of Oz
86. Dawn Of The Dead
87. Requiem For A Dream
88. The Terminator
89. Psycho*

90. Brokeback Mountain
91. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb
92. The Bourne Supremacy
93. The Incredibles*

94. Some Like It Hot
95. Spirited Away
96. Rear Window

97. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
98. This Is Spinal Tap
99. Forrest Gump

100. The Exorcist

83 out of 100 is definitely better than 40 out of 102! I know I'm still missing some big ones, but I'm looking forward to the day when I hit 100% with both lists.


My Punishment.

In 1973, writer Gerry Conway conceived of a gun-toting vigilante to pit against Spider-man. He passed a rough doodle along to artist John Romita, suggesting the name “The Executioner” and hinting at a small skull motif. Romita finessed the design, enlarging the skull, and in 1974 The Punisher made his debut in the pages of The Amazing Spider-man #129. At the time, Conway had Spidey facing off against the diabolical Jackal, and intended the Punisher to be little more than a pawn of that villain. He had no idea the popularity the character would gain, starring in his own title by the ‘80s.

I've never really cared for the Punisher in the anti-hero role later writers crafted for him. While many comic book superheroes are vigilantes in the sense that they operate outside the law, most aren't cold-blooded killers. Frank Castle became the Punisher after his family was gunned down by mobsters. When Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, he too lost a piece of his sanity as he became the Batman. Yet while guns became anathema to Batman, a weapon he swore never to use in his fight against criminals, the Punisher embraced the very arsenal which ripped his family from him, turning villains instruments of destruction against them. The best heroes evolve out of tragedy, and Spider-man's had his share of losses, from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy. These tragedies made the webslinger more vigilant than vigilante, and a more responsible protector of human life.

I've seen Dolph Lundgren's 1989 depiction of The Punisher. It's neither a great movie, nor well-acted, and the iconic skull logo appears only on the base of his knife and not on his costume. At the heart of it there is the basic revenge story. Man loses family; man goes out and shoots everyone responsible for it. In sparing a mobster's children he has his moment of humanity and redemption, but there are no illusions about what he's become. When the first images of Thomas Jane appeared for 2004's The Punisher, the skull was on his chest, but as a clean t-shirt any kid could find a convention or comic book store. It didn't seem promising, I didn't have much interest in it, and bad reviews from both Jerry and Rey further convinced me that there was no rush to see it.

Two years later, I would see the DVD in a sale at my company for a mere seven dollars. I figured it was worth at least that much, and couldn't be any worse than Daredevil. The design of the character had evolved from the early posters, and the skull was more distressed. Jane looked the part, moreso than Lundgren, and I'd later learn how his commitment ranged from intense body building to suffering through most of his own stunts. The movie posters and promotional artwork from Punisher comics cover painter Tim Bradstreet magnificently bordered between illustration and reality. The movie had a good lead, and great visuals. Everything else was horribly, horribly wrong, as I'll now elaborate upon without regard for spoilers.

In the comics, Frank is in the park with his wife and kids when they see something they aren't supposed to, and the mob guns them all down. He's the only survivor and he snaps. It's a simple enough formula. In the film, this apparently isn't enough. When a police operation orchestrated(though not solely) by Castle results in the death of a mobster's son, he becomes their object of vengeance. For the mobster, played by John Travolta, killing Castle would be enough. His wife, the lovely Laura Harring, wants his family dead. Conveniently, his entire extended family happens to be at a reunion on a small island, so an army of gunmen can take out Castle's aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, second-cousins, first-cousins-once-removed, grandparents, father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate and more in addition to his wife and son. It's not enough to simply kill his nuclear family.

Castle is the last to be shot. Then he's left on a gasoline soaked pier. Rather than finish things with a head shot, professional mobsters set the dock on fire, and assume the resulting explosion will finish the job. Instead, it propels the bullet-ridden protagonist out to sea, where he washes up on another island to recuperate. He returns much later, indicated by a beard, and collects his father's guns as well as the last thing his son ever gave him, a t-shirt with a skull on it. When the man who helped him wishes him “Vaya con dios,” Castle replies with a straight face: “God's gonna sit this one out.”

He proceeds to trick out what I first thought was an abandoned building. Guns are hidden in secret compartments along with grenades. He somehow gets a car and adds armor. Over the course of this montage we learn he shares this tenement with three neighbors: perpetual beauty Rebecca Romjin, comedian John Pinette, and extraneous Angel Ben Foster. The dark tale ventures into a strange sitcom territory as these three wonderfully mismatched neighbors stand around commenting how weird the new guy with the guns is, but never call the police. Castle himself casually visits some of his former allies at a courthouse to let them know he'll be taking matters into his own hands. Other than “hey, cool, you're not dead!” and a stern warning to stay away from Travolta and his crew, this is the last we see of the law. No wonder this world needs a Punisher.

The movie could easily have deviated into a shooting spree at this point, and may have been better if it did. First Castle meets a guitar player in the diner where Romjin's character works. The guy serenades him with a fairly decent folk tune reminiscent of Johnny Cash. I enjoyed the song(which has since been put to better use in promotions for Day Break) but thought it odd that the musician, Harry Heck by the name on his case, goes on to announce that he wrote it for Castle's funeral. It's no surprise when he attacks him further down the road, but weird that he announces his intentions in such a matter. Castle also faces a Lundgren-esque Russian who knocks holes in his apartment and counteracts every single trick Castle spent time setting up in the earlier montage. He bats a grenade back at the anti-hero with a pipe, and smashes a gun with a weight. Jane's comic expressions of surprise would be great in any other context.

As for the main object of his revenge, Castle goes through a convoluted scheme too tedious to explain, in which he ultimately gets Travolta's character to kill his wife and gay best friend, after tricking him into thinking those two were having an affair. Yeah. This wacky gag also includes a fake fire hydrant and million dollar earings regularly left under the front seat of a car. When Castle finally does seek his revenge, there's a lot of shooting and archery and explosions and about ten minutes that actually reflect his four color counterpart. He then rips off Daredevil in a ridiculously over the top series of controlled explosives that kill a bad guy and leave a burning skull the size of a parking lot visible from the air. Is signing his work really that important to a grief-stricken madman? What worked in The Crow, a far superior tale of loss and vengeance based on a comic, doesn't work in either of the films that stole from it.

To continue my punishment for being stupid enough to even spend seven bucks, I watched the special features and listened to the commentary. I'm always interested in segments about the source material so interviews with Romita and Conway were particularly good. The director meanwhile defended every criticism of the film. He didn't set it in a big city or urban environment because of the budget. Any out of place comic elements, or extreme characters like the Russian, he blamed on source material, a graphic novel by Garth Ennis. I've read Ennis' masterpiece Preacher, and if his Punisher was anything like that series, something clearly was lost in translation. I can't believe there's going to be a sequel. I do believe that I'm going to save my money when that one comes out. It'd only be just.


More Dream Casting

It's always fun to suggest dream casts for animated series, were they to become live action movies. In the past, I've covered Thundercats and G.I. Joe, and Rey cast Dungeons & Dragons, complete with a movie poster. After a day spent updating my archives, watching season 2 of Batman Beyond, and questing for a bazooka-wielding turkey in DragonFable, my brain isn't sharp enough to write anything of real substance, so enjoy these hypothetical casting calls:

* * * * *

Batman Beyond:

Terry McGinnis: Will Friedle
Bruce Wayne: Kevin Conroy

Conroy's been the definitive voice of the Dark Knight since the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series back in 1992. I couldn't imagine anyone else voicing the gruff mentor to the new, young Batman, and with the right makeup they could easily age him. Friedle meanwhile is young enough to play McGinnis in real life, and hasn't had many on-camera roles in the last few years. I'd round out the rest of the cast as follows:

Commissioner Barbara Gordon: Yvonne Craig
Dana Tan: Lucy Liu
Max Gibson: Regina Hall
Shriek: Adrien Brody
Inque: Bahar Soomekh
Mad Stan: Henry Rollins
(OK, 3 voice actors would reprise their roles in front of the camera)

* * * * *

Voltron: Defender of the Universe

Keith: Zach Braff
Lance: Jensen Ackles
Pidge: Elijah Wood
Sven: Dean Cain
Hunk: James DeBello
Allura: Maggie Grace
Coran: Alan Rickman
King Zarkon: Christopher Judge
Prince Lotor: James Callis
Haggar: Alice Krige

Look for a real cast for this one in 2008.

* * * * *

So, what shows should I tackle in the future?



Thanksgiving Begins Royale

I was thankful for a lot of things in 2004. In 2005 I cooked Thanksgiving dinner. In 2006, my mom decided to postpone the holiday two days so both my uncles can join us, and to give her a little more time to recuperate from her recent surgical procedure. It's still Thanksgiving though, and my parents and I will still celebrate, albeit over a smaller meal.

Thanksgiving is a time for many things, including leftovers. When Janet asked for five things I was grateful for, I knew I'd wind up listing some things I'd given thanks for before. As I reheat some of these though, two years have passed since I really compiled such a list. My experience in that time just might give this a new flavor.

1) My Parents' Health: My mother is in her late 60s; my dad is in his 70s. She has asthma and has been dealing with interstitial cystitis, though the latest procedure seems to be helping so far. He's lived with clogged arteries for over a decade, opting to change his diet and seek natural remedies rather than bypass surgery, back when doctors gave him two years or less without an operation. His stubbornness keeps him going, but also leads to risks to prove himself. I always have to fight him for a snow shovel, and wind up shoveling faster because it agitates him more when I try to stop him. He'll sometimes decide to lug a ladder out of the basement and climb up to clean gutters while I'm at work and helpless to stop him, though the last few times he's surprised me and waited for the weekend. While I can help him work on my car, moving heavy items like the jack and undoing stubborn or hard-to-reach bolts, I can't always be around when he goes off to work on his friends' vehicles.

In many ways, my concern for my folks is a selfish one. There are days when I pause and wonder how I even function as a human being and survive. They not only gave me life, but saved it on more than one occasion, being there when I needed to go to the hospital, and teaching me not to do stupid things. Many times I learned lessons when I didn't listen to them, but I know I have so much more to learn. My mom checks her blood pressure from time to time, and while I brush it off and think she worries too much, there's a part of me that grows concerned every time I hear that beeping in the other room. A few times a year, my dad will have a bad morning of dizzy spells, which he brushes off. “I probably just need to clean my ears!” Tuesday morning he complained of one, even as he was dusting and probably inhaling fumes from the cleaning spray. He only told me because he couldn't climb the stepstool to change a lightbulb. He shouldn't have lugged the stepstool as far as he did to begin with, and finally his stubbornness dissolved as he caved and decided to lie down. When I left for work, I heard the beeping as my mom checked his blood pressure. By the time I got home he was fine, and I was grateful.

My parents go to doctors several times a week, and take various medications and vitamins. It seems like at some point, staying alive becomes a full time job. People come and people go in our lives. I've lost touch with friends over the years, but it never feels final as long as I know they're still alive, even if there are a few I'll never see again. Death is permanent, and even believing in God and Heaven it's tough to face the prospect of life without certain people. I believe we'll be reunited, but I have no concept of what it will be like, and the time without them in between is tough. I'm glad my parents are still here, and glad every time they overcome another ailment.

2) “It's just a dream.” So often, my anxiety creeps in to my subconscious. I've gone to school without studying for a surprise test, only to wake up and learn it was a dream. In my mind I've missed deadlines at work. I've dreamt that I overslept and missed church, gigs, camping trips, and outings with friends. I woke up Sunday after a vivid argument with my dad about not waking me until 10 AM, hours after I needed to get up to meet B13. When I looked at my watch, it was only 6:30. I've seen people die horrible deaths, and on more than one occasion I've fallen over a ledge or stumbled in front of a train.

Wednesday morning's dream was insane. I met some friends in Manhattan for breakfast at Starbucks. It was some new location high above the street, with an amazing view through tall glass. There was some wonderful deal in which I'd get something for free if I ordered five drinks and a pastry. As they mixed a Frappaccino, I told them to put it all in one pitcher sized container, which marvelously enough they had, complete with a jumbo straw.

We sat at the window looking out on a windy day. I noted the back of a cathedral, and the way some of the brick columns had shifted to one side over time. A man stepped in to one of these columns, only it changed to aluminum and had a window so I could still see him. The whole thing suddenly strained and pulled away from the building as some of the brick columns collapsed. I saw his look of terror and we all leapt to our feet as he tried to leap back into the building. The column fell away, the gap to wide for him to make his jump, and it all toppled out of view into a haze of smoke and debris. Sirens wailed in the distance.

Maybe my brain was trying to protect me, or maybe I'm just a horrible human being. Though at first I wanted to run down to help with the rescue efforts, when we passed the counter I remembered the offer. I showed my receipt and they gave me a plastic key. They said I had to collect these keys and redeem them for free treats. Rather than wait, I opted to trade it in right then and there. Unfortunately, one key only allowed a bite of a pastry and not a complete one. I looked in the glass and chose a donut. Then I went downstairs and was suddenly in an unfamiliar house, where all of my college friends along with their spouses and offspring sat at a round new table made from unfinished wood. I woke up, remembering the man who fell from the church, and was glad it hadn't actually happened. I couldn't help feeling guilty about the places my mind wandered to instead of helping, but dreams are difficult to control.

3) Five Days Off Without Traffic. My company is closed Thursday and Friday and, as I do whenever I can, I took a vacation day on Monday to extend the weekend. It's the largest chunk of time I don't work and while I'm consistently horrendously bored after the first few days, right now the time off is looking pretty good. Particularly, I'm glad to be off the road. As if the broken railroad crossing on Monday and the downed power lines a few weeks ago weren't enough, Wednesday offered more surprises.

Because of the holiday, I found myself heading home a few hours earlier than normal. Traffic didn't seem as bad as I would expect, but no sooner did I think that than I saw the flashing lights. For some reason the police had flares up and the main road was blocked off. Traffic diverted to a side street, and I followed the other sheep through a residential area to another main road. I had a choice of going left or right. If I went left, I'd have to make a right turn to pick up my usual North bound route, right by the train tracks that delayed me on Monday. If I went right, I'd make a left turn on a road that would take me safely under a train trestle, traffic the only possible concern. As I've said in the past, every decision I make is retroactively the wrong one.

I thought at first the traffic I encountered was due to the detour. As we crept further up, I noticed more flashing lights. It was dark and hard to see beyond them. Some cars made u-turns, while others turned off to the right down side streets. Finally, I saw an electrical pole snapped in half on the other side of the street. One SUV tried to drive around the police barricade, because commuters are nervy like that. I made a u-turn, and doubled back to my original road. What were the odds of trouble at the same railroad crossing on a day when two nearby roads had problems of their own?

The barricades were working, but I caught three different trains. At one point, I heard furious beeping a few cars back. We were stopped for a traffic light, and the line of cars extended well past the tracks. Some rocket scientist had stopped on the tracks, rather than hang back one car length. I love futile beeping. Where were we supposed to go? Each car had another in front of it, save for the first car which was stopped at a red light. In my rearview mirror I saw an SUV pull forward at a sharp angle, just as a train sped past behind it.

Once I got past that trouble spot, it was clear sailing. Of course, ten minutes from home and the nearest gas station, my fuel light decided to come on. The car was sputtering a little too and I wondered how I let it get so close to empty. Traffic moved well until that light came on, then cars seemed to materialize out of thin air before me. Red lights hung on a little longer. I was sure I'd be pushing the car when it ran out a few blocks shy of the gas station, but I made it, and finally got home on a dark and rainy evening. If I can avoid traffic for the next five days, I'll be grateful indeed.

4) The Internet: Like everything I've listed so far, this could be a post in itself. There's nothing I can't find online. If I miss a television show, or don't have a channel a particular show airs on, I can find it easily. News items like the Michael Richards tirade and his awkward apology can be found in their entirety. Blogs and message boards give everyone a voice and people can make their own decisions about things. I can stay in touch with old friends and make new ones, virtually anywhere in the world. There are games and comics and movie previews. My dad will wait ten minutes to hear the weather on AM radio; I can find out the weather in an instant. Even the Jumble is no match for the internet. The world is at my fingertips, and while I'm sure I only scratch the surface of it, I'm grateful for the ability to find answers to questions as trivial as movie stars or important as medical conditions.

5) Creativity: The world is a fantastic place, and we all perceive it differently. Sometimes reality can be bleak, and artists can enhance that. A painting or photograph can idealize a scene or immortalize its sadness. Artists are not limited by reality either. Authors can craft tales of science fiction, imagination opening the doors to thinking which leads to science fact in time. Television shows let us escape after a long day, and a surprising many can make us think and inspire us. Movies continue to advance, from special effects which make anything possible to more quiet and emotional performances. I'm grateful for all the painters, writers, photographers, musicians, directors, sculptors, illustrators, animators, and other creators out there. There are so many ways to express ourselves and communicate, and we can peek inside the minds of others while stimulating our own creativity. It's how the world moves forward.

* * * * *

That's my five. I hope all of you and your loved ones have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!



PBW: Montauk Heroes

Being a misfit superhero, one must deal with many pitfalls, such as being upstaged by one's sidekick. If you're a regular reader of B13's Fotographica, today's Photo Blog Wednesday might feel like a bit of a rerun. Since he was the one who told me of the existence of Camp Hero in Montauk, an abandoned army facility near the lighthouse at Long Island's Easternmost point, I can't really fault him for putting his pictures up first. He also drove and got us there in record time, even driving 90 MPH with his hands off the wheel as he took off his jacket at one point and we swerved a little. It would be the first of many risks on a long adventure.

One of the first sights I noticed was an enormous radar tower in the distance. I zoomed in for a shot, confident we'd make our way toward it eventually, without any concept of how long that might actually take.

Was B13 taking a dangerous risk, or merely “bluffing”?

Erosion created interesting textures in the bluffs overlooking the beach far below, and in the distance the lighthouse beckoned.

I thought it interesting that these birds were swimming in formation, and noted three distinct species grouped together.

The perspective doesn't do justice to how far down the beach was. As it is, we both probably ventured closer to the edge than was wise.

Though I could zoom in and get some great images of the lighthouse from the bluffs, I definitely wanted to get a closer look. The radar tower would wait as we proceeded East.

Various bunkers and concrete structures were sealed up and overgrown. It was an interesting environment to explore, and after jumping down from a small hill to get a closer look at one of these structures, my heart froze when B13 suddenly warned: “Wild dogs!”

Thankfully, the rustling and movement in the underbrush was a trio of young deer. They blended in well, and though I didn't exercise a ”one shot, one photo” rule, I only ended up with one photo where you can kind of see a tail. Eventually the wind shifted or we made too much noise, and they fled. I crept around to another trail, listening for them, and spied them already across a road and vanishing into deeper growth. I found myself striving to be a tracker, to be everything a hunter is, short of being a killer, because even in that moment it was the one aspect of hunting I couldn't comprehend.

With the deer gone, I was back to shooting concrete buried by nature.

And still that lighthouse beckoned.

We tried a side trail that ultimately went nowhere, and had to double back and traverse the official trail which was more pond than path.

We found ourselves on my favorite kind of path. As a kid exploring nature preserves in my area, I loved when forests formed tunnels. I also noticed markings on a branch and knew a deer had rubbed his antlers. That false sense of being a hunter rose up once more.

At times, the growth was so thick that I lost my sense of direction and even the lighthouse seemed farther away.

Yet the trail only went in one direction, and emerged down on the rocky beach at the base of the lighthouse.

A flattened toe wall around the base of the lighthouse warded off erosion and provided a way past the crashing waves below.

Even without that sign, a fence kept us off the slope leading to the lighthouse.

Though, as B13 noted in his entry, we found a Stargate Chevron, we lacked six others to dial a proper address and activate a portal across the galaxy. If we had, I imagine that mysterious, massive square block nearby would have lit up.

Even as the clouds gathered, the sun provided interesting backlighting for the pillar before me.

A round rock nestled in a rounded hole in one of the boulders made me surmise that the waves and time had used the smaller rock to wear away at the larger one. Either that, or some kid threw it in there.

A bittersweet message written on one of the boulders down the beach moved me.

Something about one particular naturally occurring rock formation really spoke to me.

B13 held up the spine of a small fisherman that had asked him too many questions about the “family”. I hoped he was joking, and moved on.

We walked and walked and walked, and though I was sure the coast would bring us back around the other side of the lighthouse, we got further and further away from it. Beyond a swamp lay private residential areas, so we found a road that led back up to the main entrance to the lighthouse.

On an overlook, I inspected a map and got a better sense of where we where, where the lighthouse was, and just what the various land masses far across the water were.

After finally seeing the lighthouse from the front, and walking for well over an hour, it was past time to get back to that military facility.

All the brochures warned about unexploded ordinance along the Battery 113 trail. Not at all discouraged by the hammering sounds we'd later realize were gunshots, we set off on another hike, exercising the same level of caution we had up on the bluffs.

What could be behind this door? Would Lou Diamond Phillips and a contingent of soldiers be guarding Victor Drazen? Would we find John Locke? The rusted-away portion at the base of the door was irresistible.

Sticking my hand in and using my flash, I got to see pipes and rubble. Yay!

The winding trail framed by trees was endless, and I lost count of how many times we crossed the same stream on a wooden bridge I hoped was not the same as the one before. After three hours, I was starting to feel tired and hungry. Gunshots and a darkening sky discouraged me from resting.

The battery of guns once mounted on this wall used ammunition larger than a man. The parking lot and road beyond it meant we probably could have driven to this area. What are the odds?

We might have disobeyed the signs to get a closer look at the radar tower, but there was a man(soldier?) in fatigues back in the parking lot, and I could sense we were being observed. That last shot was taken on the trail back to the original bluffs, when clouds parted to make way for a blue sky, and trees parted to give me a clear shot.

Red clay deposits mixed in to the stream that followed alongside our path.

How much fun would it be to play golf on these bluffs? It would be like extreme golfing. “The crowd goes silent as McGavin lines up his shot and....oh no! The undermined cliff just gave way. Looks like he'll lose a few strokes, and quite a bit of blood too. That's a shame.”

It was so tempting to climb down to the beach, even though I could see pockets of empty space between the eroded areas. Fortunately, up the road there was a path down to that section of the beach.

Seeing the bluffs from this angle made me realize how risky it was to get close to the edge, when there was nothing underneath to support us. I climbed up on a boulder to film the crashing waves....

...and when B13 tried to get some tabloid photos to expose my secret identity, I called upon my mutant solar abilities to foil his get-rich-quick scheme.

And so the world was safe again...but...for how long?