2.29.2008

Quest for Justice

Justice League: The New Frontier was released this past Tuesday. Based on an award-winning DC comics series that I really need to read, it takes a nostalgic look at their heroes set in the time frame of the 1950s. For all the perks of my new job(technically not that new now that I'm there nearly half a year), it lacks the location of my old one. Certainly, I have a great view of the water and can have lunch at the beach five minutes away, but I'm not near any major stores. For the past seven years I was always a short distance away from two malls and several major chains, notably Target and Best Buy. “Best Buy Tuesday” was a weekly ritual, as there was always someone in our ragtag group of lunch adventurers who needed a particular CD or DVD releasing any given week. Sometimes that person would be me, and sometimes I'd learn about a new movie on the day of its release. It was hard to miss anything.

This won't turn into yet another post about my mom's hospital stay, as she finally was released on Thursday. My dad called in the morning to let me know she was coming home, and when I couldn't reach her room at lunch, I tried my house and had better luck. So for the first time this week, I didn't have to race home after work and a detour was possible. I'm just too far away to make a reasonable trip to Best Buy during lunch, so any Tuesday releases have to wait until Tuesday night.

Why do I need a DVD the day it comes out? Price is a partial concern, as Best Buy offers new stuff on sale the first week of release. But Best Buy, Target, and other stores often carry exclusive versions, sometimes with books or extra DVDs, and these are limited editions. I got burned once already a few months ago when I discovered I'd purchased a no-frills edition of Transformers from Walmart with zero special features. There wasn't even a commentary, and the two trailers were hidden as Easter eggs. It was bundled with a second disc, an animated twenty minute prequel that was pretty good, but not enough for me. I ended up buying another copy of the movie from Target, which had a commentary, several hours of behind-the-scenes features, and a transforming case. People like me care about these details, or else stores wouldn't continue with such gimmicks.

So, when I buy a movie, I need to make sure it's a widescreen version, and the best possible edition. Thursday evening was the first chance I had to go to Best Buy, two days after New Frontier was released. I found plenty of copies, but it seemed too easy. The case was pretty nondescript, thin with no extra garnish. I explored the store for a bit, finally finding a display specific to the movie. Sure enough, a few empty cubbies were labeled “special edition”. It was time for deeper investigation. Finding a computer console, I ran a search for that version and cross checked it against the local zip code. Inventory showed that no Best Buy on Long Island currently had it in stock. I decided to go home and order it online, though I hated wasting a 12 mile trip for nothing.

Target wasn't far, a parking lot away, so I decided to try there first. New Frontier didn't even merit its own display, and the five copies they had were all the vanilla edition. I decided to be unconventional and try Circuit City. I'm not sure I've ever bought media from them, and from what I remembered their prices weren't great. As the New Frontier display right at their entrance proved however, they had the same prices as Target and Best Buy. And though the special edition was on the sign, the only copies they had were the basic single disc version.

It was definitely time to go home. The longer I lingered, the greater the odds of missing what would turn out to be the best episode of Lost this season. But, there was time for one more longshot: Walmart. I wandered in cautiously, nodding to the handicapped greeter, and made my way to the back of the store. They had fewer new releases and a lot more empty shelves, and I wondered how they could compete surrounded by so many better stores. But, at the end of one aisle in the furthest corner of their DVD section, I found THREE copies of the elusive two-disc edition. My quest was at an end, a mere two days nearly costing me my prize. Hopefully, I chose wisely, as I haven't had a chance to actually watch what I bought. If I have two discs though, and both are in good shape, expect a review in the near future. I miss working near all those stores though, and special shopping trips will take getting used to, at least until I solve the riddle of instantaneous matter transportation...

2.28.2008

Best Medicine

At the very least, it looks like my mom will end up spending a week in the hospital, where she's been since last Thursday after experiencing heart palpitations. She's feeling fine, and once the doctors are satisfied that her blood is taking to enough of the Coumadin they're giving her to prevent future Atrial fibrillation, they should discharge her. There's a goal number of “2” that they're trying for, and right now she's at “1.6” or so. I'm not sure what those are units of, only that she's almost free. After that she'll probably have to continue taking the medication, which is a blood thinner, watch her diet, and go in for regular blood tests to make sure the cure is working, and that it isn't worse than the disease.

In between visits to his own doctors, my dad's been staying with her during the day. He stops home in the afternoon, and when I get home from work we go back up there together. It's been years since we all watched Jeopardy! together, and if nothing else this experience has forced us to spend quality time together as a family. I think they've dumbed down the answers a bit since I stopped watching. I'm not that smart and only got a lot of questions right when they had student contestants and easier answers. It's funny how a health crisis can change a situation. Some nights I come home from work, log on to my computer or watch a movie, and don't really feel like talking to my folks. Now, though tired, I sit with them for a few hours and share stories from my day. I've even checked in with my mom with my cell phone during my lunch break. She's probably enjoying that while it lasts.

Though my mom is the one in the hospital, I think my dad's the one I need to keep an eye on. His hearing is getting worse, and he insists that one of his doctors was wrong when he advised him to get a hearing aid. “The battery dies every week!” is one of his excuses, while the main one is an insistence that he has a lot of wax, even though the doctor said otherwise. “He was lying to sell the hearing aid! There has to be wax in there.” Thursday night I found a Q-tip on the bathroom floor, little flecks of red on each end. I advised him not to poke around in there so hard. “That's blood? I thought that was wax!” One of these days it's going to be brain matter if he's not careful.

My dad also insists on “testing” himself to see if he really has a heart problem. Fourteen years ago he was diagnosed with clogged arteries and given 2-5 years to live without bypass surgery. He radically altered his diet, started going for Chelation therapy to clean out his veins, and the numbers prove that he's doing something right. But he'll be 78 this Sunday, and needs to realize that he's going to get winded if he walks too fast, and needs to slow down and let his medication work. He thinks he can take a hit from his heart spray and immediately run a marathon, and it just doesn't work that way. “If I use the spray and still get a pain, then it's not my heart that's the problem!” When we went to see my mom on Wednesday night, he pushed past another old man as soon as the elevator doors opened, and practically sprinted down the hallway. “Where's the fire?” I asked, trying to keep up. “They have some nice pictures on the walls here, don't they?” he replied, having no idea what I'd said. That's me in 45 years, which is a little scary.

My mom has a very nice roommate, and in a small world her husband is friends with a musician my dad and I know. They're great people, and the husband has a good sense of humor. He told us on our last visit about how he had a cow valve in his heart. He wanted a pig valve, but he said LIJ wouldn't give him something that wasn't kosher. The wife's doctor is someone I stopped going to, because his practice got too busy. A few years back, there were about four doctors sharing that office, and once I got past the inexplicably angry receptionist to make an appointment, I never got to see my doctor, always one of the others. When I had what probably was a panic attack back in 2004, experiencing an unusually rapid heartbeat of my own while running on a treadmill, I immediately made an appointment, after a visit to an emergency room cost a lot of money for doctors to tell me it was probably “just a bug” and I should “go to Hawaii”. Having ignored symptoms of serious illness in the past, nearly bleeding to death from a rare birth defect because I waited so long to check it out, I had learned my lesson. I didn't want to become a hypochondriac, but a checkup is worth the peace of mind of hearing I'm okay from a professional.

I went in for a visit with one of the other doctors, and after speaking with me about the treadmill incident she suggested I cut back on caffeine, and perhaps it was anxiety. She wanted to prescribe Xanax to me, “just to see” if it worked. At that point she'd only spoken to me, hadn't so much as listened to my breathing with a stethoscope. I didn't even have a blood test, and didn't like the idea of being given a pill to see if there was anything wrong with me. “If it helps then that was your problem” seemed random and dangerous. I might as well get medical advice from my father.

I didn't go the route of altering my chemical balance. I went for more tests and saw other doctors, ruled out various possibilities. It was a frightful couple of months, and occasionally writing proved therapeutic, but the biggest problem seemed to be dizzy spells and tingling whenever I was behind the wheel of a car, occasionally some facial swelling. I had everything from my blood to my lungs to my heart to my brain looked at, and finally I gave up on doctors. I asked a woman in a health food store about my problem, and she suggested a rescue remedy. If the essence of flowers in a little spray bottle cured me, I could care less whether it was a placebo effect or if it actually worked. Even though consciously I knew I was fine, I needed to convince my subconscious. It took months, but through a combination of that remedy and the realization that I never did pass out, even when I felt like I was suffocating and spinning, I soon moved on. It's come back to a lesser degree in the last few weeks, but knowing what it is makes it easier to handle and recover more quickly. Still, I've eliminated things like caffeine, soda, and the chunk of butter I'd melt into a bowl of pasta three nights a week, thrown in some exercise whenever possible, and that's definitely making me feel better.

So, I gave the couple in my mom's hospital room a much abridged version about my dips into insanity, just telling the first portion about how I stopped going to that office because the doctor they gave me was ready to prescribe medication without a real examination. They told me the office is up to six doctors, and I asked what the names of the new ones were. I couldn't remember the name of the one I saw, but it wasn't any of the ones they mentioned. I described her, and told them this incident took place about four years ago. “Oh her,” said the wife with a frown, “She's gone; fired. They got rid of her a while back.” I was surprised insofar that I’ve become jaded about people losing their jobs for being incompetent or unqualified.

Justice and logic are the best medicine. Thanks to everyone who's been expressing concern about my mom; hopefully I'll move on to other topics very soon.

2.27.2008

PBW: Ghostly White

It's been a strange couple of days. After a lunar eclipse, I discovered a bunch of settings on my camera that I'm still playing with. Why read the book that came with it, right? My mom is doing a lot better but she'll probably be in the hospital a few more days until the doctors are satisfied the medication is taking to her blood. We had a massive snow storm that actually resulted in my office closing, and in the days since we've had Spring-ish temperatures. By Tuesday it was raining, and by the time my mom comes home she'll never know how much snow there was.

So, this week's Photo Blog Wednesday is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from ghostly or speedy images of yours truly created by using a 15 second exposure to random shots of cats and snow. There's even a desktop image at the very end, so enjoy!








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2.26.2008

Myclofig Mea Culpa

It's been one month since I listed the 2007 Oscar nominees. Each year I try to do my own awards, and the Myclofigs generally allow my readers to vote on movies we all actually saw the year before. I'd be the first to admit that The Bourne Ultimatum, Transformers or The Simpsons Movie are not award winning features, yet they are among my favorites from 2007. Every year, the Oscar list seems to focus on films that just barely came out in time to be eligible, and ignore movies from the beginning of the previous year. Additionally, I'll often learn of the existence of certain films upon their nomination.

I try to catch up before the awards show, but somehow I never do. It was about a week ago that I finally watched Babel, for example, a 2006 winner in one category and nominee in six others. Having my mom in the hospital for over four days certainly distracted me, but missing a specific blog post is a small and trivial toll. My dad seems more exhausted every day, and on Monday when I went to work and he had to visit her on his own, he forgot where he parked his car. When I returned with him to the hospital after I got home from work, he told me how he missed a turn while walking and didn't realize it until he was at the end of the street, I'd say about a quarter of a mile. Now that she's out of the ICU and being weaned off IV drips in lieu of pills, she should be home in a day or two and all our lives can get back to normal.

Some people are capable of multitasking, capable of taking whatever life throws at them and trucking onward. I've always been easily distracted and can only focus on a few things at a time, albeit with great attention and dedication. In searching the web for old Myclofig posts for instance, I found a Carnage Blender Wall of Remembrance, listing notable players who'd stopped playing an online game. When the developer released a second version of the game and subsequently deleted all records of the original, a game I'd played for five years under the username “Myclofig”, I decided it was a good time to quit. My achievements were lost forever, and I wasn't about to start over from scratch on a new version of the game. It's nice that someone kept a record of my character TMII BoGo® though, “a single tank, 2 million plus pr character that accumulated over 3 million hit points and fought without ranged weapons.” Three Million Hit Points. That's insane, but it does show how focused I was when I was younger, even if the game itself was probably a distraction from other things I should have been doing.

As for the thing I should have been doing last week, I dropped the ball and can only promise to pick it up again next year. At the time I listed the 2007 nominees, Sweeney Todd was the only one I'd seen. I managed to add a whopping three to the list since then with Juno, Eastern Promises, and No Country For Old Men. Here's how they did:

BEST PICTURE
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

BEST ACTOR
Daniel Day Lewis - THERE WILL BE BLOOD

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard - LA VIE EN ROSE

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Javier Bardem - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Tilda Swinton - MICHAEL CLAYTON

BEST ANIMATED FILM
RATATOUILLE

BEST DIRECTOR
Joel and Ethan Coen - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Joel and Ethan Coen - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Diablo Cody - JUNO

Of the two best picture nominees I managed to see, I'd agree with No Country For Old Men, and I'm glad Javier Bardem got the Best Supporting Actor award. The villain he portrayed in that film was a terrifying, unstoppable force of nature with a unique weapon. I was afraid for anyone that crossed his path, and though it's cliché to say, I genuinely was on the edge of my seat with every close call and hopeless situation.

I enjoyed Juno tremendously and I'm glad it won for screenplay, though I think Ellen Page deserved an award as well. I didn't see any of the films her fellow best actress nominees were up for, but her quirky wit reminded me of a young Janeane Garofalo, and as with Hard Candy she continues to show her talent and range as an up and coming actress. Between her and Ben Foster, I'm beginning to realize that X3 had some amazing talent in underutilized roles. They've both amazed me in subsequent projects.

There's not much else I can comment on, though I should make Ratatouille and There Will Be Blood priority rentals as soon as possible. Also, I noticed Transformers was nominated in sound and visual effects categories, and didn't win. Really? Millions of independently animated moving parts lost to a polar bear with a compass? That had to be some bear, and so my movie list continues to grow.

Sorry again for not holding Myclofigs this year! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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2.25.2008

Phantasmic Links 2.25.08

The creators of Scrubs use real medical consultants to make their stories more authentic, but I can't imagine real hospitals are that zany. On the other hand, during one of my visits to see my mom in the hospital on Sunday, I not only heard a “Dr. Zany” get paged but also a “Dr. Ravi Shankar”. Sitar and medicine? What talent!

The ICU only allows visits in two hour windows throughout the day. On the one hand, it's better than spending six or seven hours straight sitting around. On the other, my dad and I were back and forth between the house and the hospital four times, never spending more than two hours in either location. I can't complain; I know that it's worst for my mom, who spends all her hours there. It's looking like she'll be back in a normal room by Monday though, and hopefully home by Tuesday or Wednesday. They still don't know why she had palpitations, but she's had steady vitals since and seems to be responding to the medication, which they're now administering in pill form instead of through an IV. “We're in big trouble if your mother goes first...” sighed my dad during one of our forays back home. I think I'd be in big trouble without either of my parents though that's a reality most of us can't avoid, and it's selfish to wish otherwise.

Now that I'm home for more than a few hours, let's see what I can find for this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Myclofigia actually lost a citizen this week, but rest assured that our community continues to grow and improve with your clicks.

(2) Police baffled in the disappearance of a...bridge?
Hat Tip: Lyndon

(3) I'm so excited that Mulder and Scully return this Summer! They look the same; I didn't realize Gillian Anderson was merely 25 when the original series began back in 1993.

(4) The internet is a great way to find information on useful skills we can obtain, and apparently a repository for obsolete skills as well. Rabbit ears went obsolete in 1990 for example, but don't tell that to the small set in our den attached to its own ears and not an outside antenna like the rest of the televisions in our house. The scary thing is, in less than a year none of our televisions are going to work without cable.
H.T.: Darrell.

(5) Australia's Target commercials are so much better than ours.

(6) Music in Motion offers four levels in which geometry and music meet. Use the rhythm to time the blocks and beat the boss.


(7) 15 Craziest Personal Names: #1's going to have a problem as sequels appear, and #5 has to be the best, especially if he was born with that moniker.
H.T.: Darrell.

(8) Wait, where's the third place you can stick this musical SpongeBob thermometer?! The cartoon on the box is a little suspicious too...

(9) Here's another one of those hand lyric movies, set to Kanye and nearly seamless. Not too shabby.
H.T.: B13

(10) In Grid 16, you have 16 games going at once, and you never know which one it will jump to as it gets faster and faster.

(11) If you have some free days, here are SIXTY little known tech sites to check out.
H.T.: Darrell.

(12) Skeemo asks you to match four or more of the same colors, a simple and familiar concept. It's a great challenge and I've yet to pass level 3.

(13) I used to beatbox when I was this kid's age. I guess the kids laughed at me because I wasn't anywhere near as good or I wasn't in Germany.
H.T.: B13

(14) We'll conclude this week with Five Great Auditory Illusions. Do you hear what I hear?


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!

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2.24.2008

Life is Short.

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time painting and drawing in a basement studio that, in the years since graduation, has gradually become a storage area for boxes and furniture. I can't really complain since it's my parents' house and I stopped using the room about nine years ago for some reason. I listened to a lot of Metallica though and produced a ridiculous amount of art back in my college days. And I recall one cold February night when I heard a tapping, a gentle rapping, on the door at the top of the stairs.

I could see the door to our driveway from my desk, and through the curtain I didn't see anyone standing there. I assumed it was the wind and nothing more, turned my music back up, and went back to work. A few moments later I heard that tapping again, a gentle rapping at our driveway door. Late nights often played tricks on my mind and sometimes I'd turn too quickly and mistake the cord from my radio for an animal running past. Still, I opted to check out the faint noise at the top of the stairs. Armed with a T-square(not to be confused with a scarier T-Bag), I crept up the steps, flipped on the outside light, and peered out the window. There was nothing out there, so I dismissed it as the wind.

I returned to my drawing table, and no sooner had I picked up my brush then I heard that tapping again. I bounded up the steps, opened the door, and found the screen door partly open. “Cold” said a small voice. I looked down as a three- or four-year-old little boy pushed past me and headed up into our kitchen. “Uh Ma, you have a visitor!” I called in. She was very surprised to see little Peter from across the street, and after calling his frantic mother to let her know where the little guy had wandered off to, she made him some hot cocoa. When the couple across the street moved in, longer ago than I realize, they were expecting their first child, Peter's older sister. Now they have three children, two daughters and a son, and on Saturday morning my dad informed me that their son was plowing our driveway out and asked me if he should give him money.

“What do you mean Peter's plowing the driveway?” I asked groggily. The kid can't be more than 10 or 11 now, and short for his age. But sure enough, when I looked out the kitchen window, most of our driveway was clear. Peter had a plow hooked up to his four-wheel ATV, and was operating it like a pro. By the time we got out there with our shovels, there wasn't much to do but the edges of the driveway and around the cars. “What do I owe ya?” asked my dad, reaching for his wallet. “NOTHING!” laughed the little boy, but my father stood in front of his vehicle waving a twenty until he took it. It was only fair; in ten minutes he had accomplished what would have taken us at least an hour. I used to feel guilty when friends of my father would clear our driveway before I got to it, like I was such an irresponsible son that someone else had to clean up my mess. I'm kind of getting over that as I get older and lazier.

So, with one less thing to worry about, our attention turned to my mom, and the hope she'd be discharged from the hospital. But each time my dad called her room, he got a weird answering service and opted not to leave a message. I suggested she might be talking to someone else and it was going straight to voicemail, but my uncle soon called and said he had trouble reaching her as well. When he tried the main desk, they told him her line had been disconnected!

I wasn't worrying yet. It could have been a technical glitch, or perhaps after the first night you had to pay for phone service and my mom hadn't requested it yet or was trying to save money. But when my dad got through to the nurse's station on her floor and found out she had taken ill again and was returned to the ICU, we went in to crisis mode. I didn't even have breakfast, just took a quick shower, got dressed and leapt into the car, my dad riding shotgun. Up in the ICU, my heart leapt to my throat when I peered in to the unlucky section #13 where she was the other day and saw an unconscious woman with myriad tubes running from her nose, throat, and arms. It took me more than a few seconds to ascertain whether or not it was her. Without her glasses, she did kind of resemble this woman. Thankfully, I turned around and saw my mom waving from a bed across the way, in the very familiar station #5 where I spent many a sleepless night in the year 2000, waiting for the diagnosis of my Meckel's Diverticulum and subsequently recovering from my surgery.

She seemed fine, and her vitals were somewhat normal, but apparently during the morning she had some more palpitations and the instruments monitoring her showed a return of her thus-far unexplained Atrial fibrillation. Nurses rushed in while she was helping her roommate adjust her curtain, and screamed at her to get back in bed. She didn't even realize the portable device she was wearing was still transmitting vitals.

A number of things could have triggered the attack. Prior to it, a doctor had visited her and given her a device to do breathing exercises. He left, never returned, and never told her how many to do. She may have hyperventilated a little bit. The other thing that irritates me is that, while she was brought in for heart palpitations and was on a low-salt diet, each meal was served with what appeared to be black coffee. She's since let the doctors know and requested tea. Who serves caffeine to someone with her symptoms?! The biggest annoyance though is that they relocated her without notifying her family. You'd think a phone call to my dad would have been in order, kind of a “don't panic; your wife is okay but we've moved her back to ICU to keep a closer eye on her” message. Imagine if we showed up without calling and found an empty bed in her room?

My uncle showed up not long after my dad and I. A doctor stopped by, still not offering any theories but asking her what she thinks triggered the attacks. Her vitals remained steady and they have her on various medications to regulate everything. She'll probably remain in the ICU at least another day before they move her back to a normal room. It makes more sense than moving her along too soon again only to rush her right back where she started.

Visiting hours were shorter, and when they brought her lunch we had to leave. She's still sharp, stocking up on things and asked me to take a packet of mayonnaise and a little plastic container of butter home. It's not that we have a shortage of condiments or can't afford them; she never could pass up anything free. I put them in my jacket pocket and subsequently forgot about them. My dad and I then had lunch with my uncle, and talked about his trip to Florida. After a month down there in 80 degree weather, enjoying casinos and a lower cost-of-living, it had to be hard for him to arrive back in New York the other day during the heaviest snowstorm this season. My dad asked what television shows they got down there and he explained that the channels might be different but most places get the same shows. “When are you going to get Cable?” he asked my dad, “You know, life is short.” At the age of 80, now a widower for about a year-and-a-half, my uncle definitely appreciates the value of enjoying the time we have. Earlier in the day I saw someone who didn't even exist yet when I was in high school operating machinery and working more efficiently than two adults. Time goes by so fast.

We came home for a bit after that, where the neighborhood kids had taken to collecting all the snow in the neighborhood on a flatbed, which Peter towed on his ATV back to his yard to construct a fort. I took my dad back to the hospital in the afternoon, and my mom asked if I had snow on my jacket. I rubbed at a wet spot that didn't feel wet, and figured it was just a stain. I left them for an hour to go to 5:00 mass, and the church was either very hot or I was having another one of my panic attacks. I relaxed my breathing, unzipped my jacket, and removed my wristwatch. I tucked it into my jacket pocket, and my hand came out a little greasy. If I was fighting panic, I soon had to fight laughter instead when I removed my day planner from that same pocket and saw it covered in butter. We all had a nice laugh when I returned to the hospital and explained the mystery stain. I'm such a mess.

Sometimes life is like the movie Click, like events play in slow motion or fast forward and we have no control over which speed. In the past few days I've spoken to more doctors because my dad is hard of hearing, and they seem to be looking at me as the adult responsible for my folks. I thought they were the adults responsible for me. I'm the guy walking around with busted plastic butter containers in my jacket, the one who doesn't get to shovel his driveway before a ten-year-old cleans it. Why are they explaining things to me? I've never learned how to properly swim, and I remember some people telling me that the best way to learn is to be thrown into a pool and let your reflexes take over. That's what life is like. Things move so fast, sometimes we're tossed into the water whether we're ready or not. I guess it's time to start swimming.

2.23.2008

Pimp Slap Averted

”Dude, if you make your father walk to the hospital in the snow, I'm going to drive up there and pimp slap you.

Rey and other readers will be happy to know that, while my dad and I entertained the notion of walking through a blizzard to visit my mother in the hospital, the weather let up enough by Friday afternoon that I could shovel enough of the driveway to get the car out, and the roads and parking lots were finally clear. I did consider challenging my friend's threat since I haven't seen him since he moved out of state about two years ago, but it wasn't worth ending up with two parents in the hospital.

As for my mom, she's doing much better. My dad called the ICU a few times on Friday morning to ascertain when we'd be able to visit her. I say “we” because the weather was bad enough for my office to close. After making a phone call to a coworker to determine whether I needed to start shoveling, I found out we were not open, and got the number to call for future emergency situations. The hospital is only a few minutes from home, but with messy roads and parking lots it wasn't a practical journey by car. Visiting hours were limited in the ICU, but the nurses told my father that they expected my mom to be in a regular room by the afternoon, as soon as one was available.

By around 1:30, the plows were on the move and the quarter sized snowflakes had been reduced to a fine mist. The snow was soft and sloughing off some of the cars on its own. The hospital had called and given us my mom's room number, so the question of when to visit had been resolved while we decided on how. While my dad cleaned off his car, I shoveled out the base of the driveway where we'd been plowed in. We were then able to drive over the six or seven inches of soft accumulation in the driveway.

The roads weren't bad, and the hospital parking lot was pretty clean as well. As my dad impatiently trundled toward the building, I began to put the wiper blades up so they wouldn't freeze, a state I observed on nearly every other car in the parking lot. “Don't do that! No! Put those down!” shouted my old man, “If you do that, some kids are going to come along and break them, to be wiseguys!” My argument about the other vehicles in the parking lot fell on figuratively deaf ears.

We spent a few hours with my mom, who was in better spirits and health. All her vital signs had normalized, though they're still going to keep her at least another day to run some tests and determine why she had those symptoms in the first place. She was more concerned about the cats and how we were doing, and was surprised I didn't have to go to work. The ICU didn't have windows, so I don't think she saw the worst of the storm.

My dad complained that his heart medication is good for nothing, that neither his patch nor spray give him relief. “Do you give it time to work?” asked my mom, and I had to point out that after putting on his patch, he immediately was outside cleaning off the car. His defense was that he didn't in fact go into the cold right away, and had gone downstairs to get boots and shovels, so the medication had plenty of time to work. I suggested that maybe going up and down stairs shouldn't be part of his definition of “time to work”, and told him to sit with a stopwatch and wait at least five minutes after taking any medication. “If you take an aspirin, does your headache disappear instantly?” He had to admit it usually went away within a half hour. My dad's always been impatient and stubborn, and I doubt I could have prevented him from walking to the hospital had that been a course of action he set his mind to.

“AIyiyi!! Help! HEEEELP! NURSE! Oh I can't breathe! Emergency...EMERGENCY!! I'm DYING!!!” It took a while for anyone to respond to the woman down the hall shouting about breathing difficulty with a suspicious amount of air and volume. Eventually someone came and calmed her down, and gave her a painkiller. She was yelling a few minutes later that it wasn't working while the nurses again patiently explained that it took time. It can't be an easy profession, and as many people panic, there are plenty with legitimate symptoms, so they have to take every concern seriously. I've heard radio DJs Opie & Anthony discuss a few horror stories about 911 operators. In one instance, a little boy was repeatedly told to stop playing jokes when he called to say his mother wasn't breathing. Eventually, he had a call taken seriously, but paramedics arrived too late to save her. More recently, they played a call from an invalid woman whose bed was on fire. They asked if she could stay on hold, and though she said it was an emergency and she couldn't wait, she was put on hold anyway and died in the fire. It might be hard to separate real concerns from jokes or fears, but the safest course of action is to take every cry for help seriously and err on the side of caution.

My mom has a good demeanor and good people skills. She asks questions when various physicians visit her, calmly and with a smile. She'll be glad when it's time to come home, but she's not complaining, letting them help her and do their job. I believe you should treat medical people with the same fear and respect owed to waiters. You don't want anyone to spit in your food, and you want a doctor or nurse to respond promptly when you have a legitimate complaint. Sometimes a good attitude can avert bad treatment. You definitely don't want some random Dominican showing up to pimp slap you.

2.22.2008

Out of My Mind

Around 3 PM on Thursday, I was feeling pretty good. I've been feeling a bit off the last few days, from a panic attack accelerated heartbeat during a big meeting to backaches, stomachaches, headaches, tiredness, and lightheadedness. Odds were I was dealing with a touch of some kind of infection coupled with my brain making things worse by running down all the things that could be wrong. A horrible diet and a complete lack of exercise these past six months haven't helped, and for the last few days I've managed to eliminate soda, caffeine, and fast food from my diet while reintroducing vitamins, energy drinks, water, tea and vegetables. Even if it was just psychological feelings from doing things to improve my well being, my being was well.

Caught up with all my work and feeling better, shortly after 3 PM on Thursday I felt like I couldn't catch a breath, like I needed to yawn but couldn't. It was a strange feeling, and only subsided when I distracted myself in an unusual manner, taking a pencil and a piece of paper and drawing an elaborate, mazelike design. Once I wasn't thinking about my breathing, I was just breathing. I really need to spend more time thinking outside of myself.

I arrived home to an empty house, which is not unusual. “Your mother always likes to go shopping late!” is a standard complaint from my dad, who generally has breakfast at 5:30 AM while my mom is more of an 11 AM person, taking time to leisurely read the paper and take a bite of a bagel or a sip of tea once every 20 minutes. Usually they leave a note, but not always, especially if they expect to get home before me. Having older parents with various health issues, I always think one of them is in the hospital when I come home to an empty house and find no note. Most of the time I'm wrong, but on two or three occasions one or the other has been in an emergency room. That's the thing with anxiety and fight-or-flight responses; the “what if” and slight chance your fears might be real are enough to keep them going.

There was a message on the machine from one of our fellow musicians about an upcoming job, but nothing from my folks. So, I sat down to check my e-mail and prepared to watch a DVD before Lost and Supernatural came on. Then the phone rang, and while I dismissed the possibility that it was what I normally fear, when I heard my dad start to leave a message, I knew this was one of those times my fear was real.

Earlier in the day, coincidentally around 3 in the afternoon, my mom started having some palpitations. She's had a cough and been a little achy for a few days, and probably had a bit of a cold herself. As I later learned, she was up on a ladder in the kitchen helping my dad attempt to change a light fixture, when lightheadedness and a rapid heartbeat made her swoon and climb back down. She called her doctor, who was booked for the rest of the day but who upon hearing her symptoms recommended a visit to the emergency room. My dad put her on the phone and she sounded fine, saying I didn't need to visit as though I could really stay home. After lowering the shades, feeding the cats, and putting some chicken away that she had started to thaw in the oven before rushing out, I raced to the hospital. She wasn't in the room they said she was in, but two rooms shared the same number and a nurse was able to help me find her.

I spoke with her doctor who said the x-rays and other tests seemed fine, though her pulse was way up and her blood pressure was erratic. He pointed out that a new medication she started over the weekend occasionally has this side effect, and if she does have some kind of infection that might be contributing as well. They soon moved her to the ICU where she would spend the night as a precaution, and he expected she'd need to stay a few days just to be safe. Meanwhile she seemed a little frustrated, even regretting calling the doctor if it meant staying in the hospital. She's in good hands with the ICU though; my dad's been there and I even spent a few days there a few years ago. They'll keep a close eye on her. I was given specific instructions on feeding the cats so she doesn't come home to “two little skeletons”. The cats meanwhile, when my dad and I finally came home a few hours later, clearly sensed something was amiss. Chirp, the last family member to go to a hospital on a Thursday evening, sniffed at her coat when I lay it on a chair, turned to me and asked, “Mah?”

I stop worrying about myself when I have reason to worry about those close to me. I get out of my mind, and get out of my mind with concern. The ICU, while a good place to heal, is mentally frustrating. There are no televisions or telephones, and machines are beeping constantly day and night. I told my dad to bring her some puzzles and newspapers when he goes back to visit Friday morning. Lying there amid rows of other sick people surrounding a nurse's station, I imagine my mom will need some distractions to get out of her own mind. All I can do is pray, and hope she returns sooner rather than later.

2.21.2008

Meow At The Moon

I think I need a tripod:





Out of 35 shots, those were the best images I got of the Lunar Eclipse on Wednesday night. I couldn't hold the camera steady enough, even if I knelt and rested it on my knee. And, after playing with a decent digital camera for two years, I finally figured out some of the different settings and adjustments. With the longest exposure and widest aperture, I could get more than a red blob. But the steady thing was still a problem which is why I got some unintentional but cool effects. Finally, I remembered I owned a music stand, and using that as a makeshift tripod worked the best. The part of the moon not in shadow was still a bit bright though, so maybe I had the aperture too wide. I experimented, but didn't get much better, and started to worry about the neighbors looking out their bedroom window and getting the wrong idea when they saw me with a camera aimed up at the moon beyond their house. If you want to see a real photographer with a better camera tackle the same subject, click here and here.

Wednesday turned out to be rather cosmic. The Navy successfully shot down that falling satellite. In case anyone wasn't following that story as intently as those of us wondering if Cloverfield's viral campaign had extended to legitimate news, one of our satellites malfunctioned and was coming down fast. The fuel was pretty toxic and lethal, as much a concern as a metal object the size of a truck hitting a populated area. So there was a small window to detonate the fuel in the upper atmosphere and break the thing into smaller pieces safely over the ocean. I don't eat seafood, so I'll be immune to the pending mutations resulting from contaminated fish. They also destroyed it over the Pacific, so debris won't be a problem either here on the East coast.

Satellites are things we take for granted. From weather to espionage to research and more, various countries have these artificial bodies in orbit. Thankfully it's not that common for one to break orbit and be affected by gravity, and while it's happened before this is the first time I was aware of one falling. It's been strange these last few days hearing news reports that sound like science fiction casually mixed in with other human interest stories. “...and so, the military has one shot to destroy the plummeting object. Now, we go live to Brooklyn and see what a rascally puppy has done...”

One of my friends, while not exactly a conspiracy theorist, is convinced that there's more out there than is divulged to the general public. He monitors various stories for the day scientists confirm the existence of Bigfoot, for example. We're trained to doubt, to dismiss such things as drunken sightings from people who need a DVD player or a video game system. Logically, could there be some kind of undiscovered mammal living deep in wooded areas, some near extinct species? Is the notion of aliens so far-fetched given the scope of the universe? Did God only create life on one world in the vastness of space? A lot of these things are improbable, but that's not the same thing as impossible.

Anyway, my friend monitors these things, and pointed out another interesting story on Wednesday. A Meteor apparently struck near Portland and was caught on tape. Having never seen footage of such an event, I couldn't say for sure what I see in that video. Does it flare up before it hits the ground? Does it look like a scene out of Michael Bay's Transformers to anyone else? Am I the only one that remembers the original series began with the alien robots crashing in Oregon? “I don't know why they wouldn't just tell us if it was aliens,” said my buddy, “We've seen plenty of movies; we could handle it.” I pointed out that uploading a virus to a mothership could easily be done with a ‘90s Mac laptop.

So in the same day, we've seen meteor footage, a satellite was shot down over the Pacific, and we had a full Lunar eclipse. It probably all adds up to absolutely nothing, but it's fun to observe and speculate nonetheless. And I’ll definitely be experimenting with more night shots now that I found some of those settings, so I can attack the next eclipse more fiercely.

2.20.2008

PBW: How Now Brown

I am really looking forward to the inevitable Photo Blog Wednesday: GREEN, but we’re not there yet. On a drizzly day amid bark, leaves, and muddy streams, there were a few hints of green and purple, foreshadowing colors just around the corner on brighter days. There will be a green week in our future; this isn’t it:










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2.19.2008

Change for the Worse

After lunch this past Friday, I attended a meeting with the CEO of my company. Myself and others who'd been hired in the past six months would have an opportunity to meet him, hear his vision for the company, and ask any questions. It was a very nice atmosphere, a warm conference room with a large table, and snacks were served. While we waited for him to arrive, I helped myself to an iced tea, a slice of poundcake, and two large chocolate chip cookies.

When he arrived, we each introduced ourselves before he went into his presentation. As the meeting went on, my mind wandered to being stuck in traffic earlier in the week during a snowstorm, how I felt trapped and lightheaded, how that was a common feeling I struggled with for a few months a few years ago before getting over it. I thought how I felt during that period at my old job whenever I was in a big meeting with executives, especially when there was a large crowd. I thought about the time I actually passed out during a class in college and how embarrassing that was, and how for months after that I worried about passing out in church while standing before everyone as an altar server. I remembered the time I passed out at my desk at work from blood loss, a serious internal birth defect ignored for too long, almost fatally.

It's funny how the mind wanders while listening to the history of a corporation and how it evolved. I felt a little lightheaded thinking how bad it would be to pass out during this meeting, how I couldn't really excuse myself and walk out without everyone noticing. Was that a ringing in my ear? Had my arm gone numb? I shifted in my chair, rested my head on one arm and concentrated on looking alert and focused. I nodded at key points, and tried to get out of my own head. My heart was beating faster and faster, my chest actually hurting from the impact. I knew it was all panic induced, fear of such symptoms creating them, but once that chain reaction begins there's nothing to do but breath and ride it out. After about ten minutes my heart had slowed down and I felt less lightheaded, and when we were dismissed I felt fine.

Twice in the same week I'd experienced symptoms I hadn't seen in years, from a period when every medical examination came out clean and I felt like a hypochondriac for even checking. As I munched on Wheaties on Sunday morning, I felt pressure at my temples. I glanced in a mirror and saw they were a little swollen. That was another symptom that was never explained and eventually went away. I didn't know what was going on, and didn't want to start worrying about every ache, pain and odd feeling. Why was my back sore? Was the mole on my right shoulder turning cancerous, even though it looked exactly the same as it had for 33 years? Maybe the attack on Friday was a heart attack and not panic. Maybe I had a glandular problem. My brain wouldn't shut up, and I knew it would make things worse. Then I had an epiphany.

I thought about how my life had changed since August. Sure I'd lost my old job which I loved, in spite of some of the more stressful aspects of it. But I'd found a new job immediately at a great company with great people. I was making a better salary, and even had a few bonuses, one as recent as this past week. The workload had slowly increased as I was given more responsibility and learned the ropes, but I was handling it and rarely worked late, maybe one or two days every two or three weeks. I worked late every day at my old job to stay ahead of crushing deadlines. I was experiencing symptoms of stress, but it was a mystery, wasn't it?

Then I thought about some of the other things I'd been doing differently since August:

1) I no longer was a member of a gym. I tried exercising on my own a bit after I started the new job, but that soon gave way to more time watching DVDs and surfing the web. I went from running at least three miles a day to sitting in front of a computer for as much as twelve hours. And while I got up for coffee or tea breaks regularly when I first started, once I had more important assignments I found I'd have days where I didn't get up until lunch, sometimes only taking a half hour break.

2) I noticed I'd run out of multivitamins months ago and never replenished them.

3) I used to drink water throughout the day. Now I might have a cup of coffee when time allows.

4) I now eat fast food four days a week, including a return to Taco Bell which I'd given up for a year.

5) I'd have a banana in the morning and a Gatorade every day to keep my potassium up. I stopped bringing both with me when I started the new job.

6) I made a point at the old job of taking at least two vacation days a month, partly because I'd lose them otherwise, but also because the occasional three-day weekend would recharge me. When I found out I was losing that job, I saved the remainder of my vacation days since they would pay me for them. When I started the new job, I didn't take any days until Christmas when I used two days to extend our break. I'm sure people older than me are thinking a guy with a desk job has no right to whine about needing a vacation while people younger than me think it's lame that I've never been hang gliding or to any attraction with the word Disney in it.

7) I stopped hiking. One of the things that helped me cope with stress was developing a camera hobby and exploring various beaches and nature preserves around Long Island. After a few years, a lot of my pictures started looking the same and I visited a lot of places more than once. Between poor weather and boredom, I hadn't had any adventures in a while.

So, by themselves, any one of those changes shouldn't affect me that much. But when I actually made the list and realized I'd ceased all of those beneficial activities and practices, suddenly there was no mystery if I had a little back pain or couldn't catch my breath. I haven't been doing anything healthy, mentally or physically, and I think these recent incidents have been reminders. I actually priced treadmills this weekend, and while I could probably get a nice one for around $499.00, even those models were too big to fit in my car let alone my house. I did stock up on multivitamins though, and I did make a point of not sitting in my room all day when we had off Monday for President's Day. It was raining on and off, not the best day for pictures, but I went hiking anyway because the walking is the important part of such excursions. On a bridge in the middle of the woods, holding an umbrella and listening to light rain hit a trickling stream, I breathed easy and my head felt clear and unclouded.

It's a small start, but I definitely need to make some changes for the better.

2.18.2008

Phantasmic Links 2.18.08

Bad acting, nice car and driving sequences, and cool theme music combined to make the new Knight Rider a worthy successor to the original, definitely better than the short-lived Team Knight Rider. I'd watch an ongoing series if this television movie does well enough to earn one. I'd also watch an ongoing series or sequels based on Jumper, which had a great concept, great effects and a great cast with the exception of Hayden Christensen. It's a bit of a problem when the villain and the sidekick are both more entertaining and portrayed by higher caliber actors than the hero. As one of my friends pointed out, Jake LLoyd would have done much better with the role. It was an entertaining diversion in the style of your average comic book movie, which I suspect would disappoint fans of the novel, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Meanwhile, you can still depend on PHANTASMIC LINKS to deliver a good sequel or ongoing series each and every week:

(1) Here's my weekly Myclofigia reminder! It won't be long before our city has 200 denizens, though we have a long way to go to reach the top spot.

(2) It's a what?! While researching old commercials for a friend, I came across the Swing Wing, which probably gave migraines and/or brain damage to an entire generation who grew up to complain about their kids sitting too close to the television and playing video games.

(3) Hello? Is it Lionel Richie on helium you're looking for?
Hat Tip: Darrell

(4) If you think that voice is funny, check out Spongebob voice actors dubbing classic movies.

(5) Mandles, for ladies who want to get their fella a manly candle. I wouldn't mind steak sauce scented...
H.T.: B13.

(6) Hilarity ensues when a corny soccer mom interviews Bill Hader, Rashida Jones, Lonny Ross and Rob Riggle. Whether in a minivan or a ladies' gym, one wonders how she got them to agree. Imagine if I interviewed celebrities? From my room? And I wore a cloak? Yeah, that'd just be creepy.
H.T.: Rey.

(7) Since I actually know at least three geeks with children, I thought this Geek Parenting site may be of interest.

(8) Superman: The Man of Slam-Dunk Contests!

(9) We can all learn something from Oswald's Big Banana. What a strange, strange cartoon with no double meanings whatsoever...
H.T.: Rey.

(10) The Force is Strong with this Darth Vader Hot Air Balloon.

(11) Barbie's Fall lineup includes superheroes. It'd be weird if I thought their Supergirl was particularly hot, right? I'm just asking hypothetically of course...

(12) Finally, of all the ‘bots to release a rap album, why did it have to be HIM?



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!

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2.17.2008

That Karaoke Wishlist

As I mentioned the other day, I've been thinking a lot lately about what songs I might like to attempt at an upcoming Karaoke party. I mentioned that Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer was a great choice to get a room motivated and energized, which prompted a long e-mail from my friend Curt. Here's a brief excerpt:

”Um... Livin' on a Prayer? You might try it in the car, but you don't sing well enough to do that in public. I've never heard you sing, but... I promise you, you can't sing Living on a Prayer no matter how drunk you get. Seriously.”

Had I been alone on Saturday, I might have recorded myself to confirm or dispute his position. The truth is, whether or not you're a decent singer, if you pick that song at the right time, preferably after people have had enough drinks to loosen up but before they've had enough to pass out, you will have people joining in. It's just one of those all time great party songs and everyone knows the words. I'm not remotely a good singer, but then that's not a requirement of Karaoke. I do think it's important though that, since we're only going to have the room for a few hours and others will want to sing, I go in with an idea of what I'm going to do. So I'm just going to make a wishlist. When the time comes, I'll probably only have time for four or five of these, and I might even find something that isn't on the list. Some of these are songs I can sing, others are ones I wish I could sing, and others would be great at a party, especially if someone else is singing. Some I've done before with various degrees of success, while others would definitely be uncharted territory. Ultimately, this is just a bunch of songs I like, and I'll let you know in a few weeks which wishes came true.

1) Live: Dolphin's Cry

2) The Proclaimers: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

3) Bon Jovi: Living on a Prayer (Sorry Curt)

4) Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

5) Linkin Park: Shadow of the Day

6) Bush: Glycerine

7) Midnight Oil: Beds are Burning (Thanks for the suggestion, B13)

8) Skid Row: 18 and Life

9) Bryan Adams: Summer of ‘69

10) Temple of the Dog: Hungerstrike

11) Guns n' Roses: You Could Be Mine

12) Muse: Starlight

13) Green Day: Boulevard of Broken Dreams

14) The Beastie Boys: Fight For Your Right

15) Weezer: Buddy Holly

16) Bob Seger: Turn the Page

17) Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

18) House of Pain: Jump Around

19) Night Ranger: Sister Christian

20) Journey: Don't Stop Believing

21) Rolling Stones: Paint It Black

22) Bon Jovi: Wanted Dead or Alive

23) Erasure: A Little Respect (Blame Scrubs)

24) Bush: Comedown

25) Pearl Jam: Even Flow

26) AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long (An octave lower, of course)

27) Metallica: Wherever I May Roam

28) U2: With or Without You

29) Finger Eleven: Paralyzer

30) Jimmy Eat World: The Middle

31) The Smashing Pumpkins: Bullet With Butterfly Wings

32) Guns N' Roses: Sweet Child O Mine

33) Tom Petty: Free Fallin'

I can think of a lot more, but since I already have more than 20 choices too many, I'll stop at one for every year I've been alive. Let the additions, subtractions, and disagreements commence!

2.16.2008

Half-Baked Half-Dozen

Last weekend, I invited readers to guess actor's names with only six letters, three from one, three from another, but otherwise in order. There were six groups of six, and while the individuals in each group were connected somehow, so too did an element link the groups. Here are the names of everyone who ventured a guess:

...

Okay, clearly this isn't the newest Nexus game, but I'm going to keep trying until I find one that works. I refuse to believe my best ideas are behind me. Meanwhile, here are the answers to last week's puzzle:

Group 1: from The Matrix Reloaded
1) ncefis=Laurence Fishburne
2) anuree=Keanu Reeves
3) nnemos=Carrie-Anne Moss
4) icabel=Monica Bellucci
5) oldper=Harold Perrineau
6) ugowea=Hugo Weaving

Group 2: from Saving Private Ryan
1) tomhan=Tom Hanks
2) attdam=Matt Damon
3) vindie=Vin Diesel
4) emydav=Jeremy Davies
5) nnirib=Giovanni Ribisi
6) ardbur=Edward Burns

Group 3: from Smokin' Aces
1) yanrey=Ryan Reynolds
2) raylio=Ray Liotta
3) hewfox=Matthew Fox
4) emypiv=Jeremy Piven
5) sonbat=Jason Bateman
6) ndygar=Andy Garcia

Group 4: from Planet Terror
1) osemcg=Rose McGowan
2) ddyrod=Freddy Rodriguez
3) eenand=Naveen Andrews
4) efffah=Jeff Fahey
5) oshbro=Josh Brolin
6) ucewil=Bruce Willis

Group 5: from Hulk
1) ricban=Eric Bana
2) fercon=Jennifer Connelly
3) oshluc=Josh Lucas
4) icknol=Nick Nolte
5) daekim=Daniel Dae Kim
6) samell=Sam Elliott

Group 6: from The Rules of Attraction
1) mesvan=James Van Der Beek
2) nynsos=Shannyn Sossamon
3) iansom=Ian Somerhalder
4) icabie=Jessica Biel
5) jaybar=Jay Baruchel
6) atebos=Kate Bosworth


Finally, why did I choose groups of actors from these six films? The common link is that each list contains at least one cast member of Lost. And now that the answers are found, I'll cook up some more ideas for the future...

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2.15.2008

Old Glory

I miss patriotism. I miss pledging allegiance to the flag each morning in elementary school. I miss Captain America as a symbol of liberty, freely beating up Nazis and Hitler even though those comics were created about three decades before I was born. Remember the emotional swell that came from hearing Proud to Be An American? Remember Christopher Reeve restoring the American flag to the White House at the end of Superman II and giving the president his word that he'd never let him down again?

Patriotism and pride in your country is a good thing. Who can forget that scene in Casablanca in which Rick's patrons sing the French national anthem and drown out the Germans? These days, patriotism isn't as popular as it once was. Highly stoked over the release of the new Indiana Jones trailer trailer, I headed over to IMDB to see what other fans had to say. Besides some threads devoted to Ray Winstone's ”CGI Pants” that proved there are internet geeks who look at things way more closely than even I do, I found a lot of negative reactions to the American flag. As with the pants thing, I hadn't even noticed it, but on another viewing I did see it prominently billowing as a transitional scene set in the U.S.A. It didn't bother me at all.

Plenty of people are unhappy with our current president, particularly our foreign policy and the fact that we've been in a war for a bit too long that many disagreed with and some felt was entered into under false pretenses. I think these people who get bent out of shape over a flag appearing in a movie, who make comments like “this is worse than Spider-Man 3”, are missing something. It's a free country. We can disagree and voice our opinions. We can vote and make changes, and we've never had to suffer a horrible president longer than eight years. We have an opportunity every four years to vote for someone else, though I appreciate that may be a long time when soldiers are dying on a daily basis. Still, to confuse the gravity of those issues with the portrayal of patriotism baffles me. If you think your government isn't properly representing you, then they aren't representing the flag. But the flag itself represents something good, and if you feel it isn't then don't complain on the internet about a movie trailer; go out and do something to make the flag stand for what you believe it should.

When did this happen? When did people get so disillusioned that they can't even stand the sight of a fictional character standing in front the billowing colors of our nation? Where has the pride gone? Those of you who've lost that feeling, wouldn't it be great to have it again? I was very moved when I watched Glory the other day and saw Denzel Washington take up the flag when a comrade carrying it fell in battle. On the one hand, that film portrays the cost of war, the futility of some battles, especially the way fighting was done hundreds of years ago. It was never about making a difference strategically from a military standpoint, but rather the gesture, what it represented for the first Black infantry to be treated as human beings and fight beside their fellow countrymen. Honor is a concept that gets watered down every day.

These days, you won't see Cap punching any evil dictators. Even the upcoming G.I. Joe film modified the original story and changed them from American troops to an international strikeforce. Some people get so upset with Hollywood as a propaganda machine when the flag is shown, but filmmakers are just as likely to remove patriotic imagery or references in order to make more money and do well in other markets. Movies are a business with the agenda of making money through entertaining the masses. For all the serious issues out there, it's amazing what three seconds of a flag in a trailer will do. Wasn't it a decade ago when people were offended by the burning of the flag? Now the pendulum has swung and it's the sight of it that offends some people. I look forward to the day when things shift back to normal.

Of course, these are the same people who debated over those CGI pants and were upset that George Lucas ruined “their” franchise. I really shouldn't take them too seriously.

2.14.2008

What Should I Sing?

An unrecognizable Christian Slater hunches down in his cubicle, muttering to himself as he loads a pistol and tries to build up the nerve to start shooting, determining which order people will die. Most of his coworkers ignore him or treat him like dirt. He leads such a lonely existence, that the only friends who really “talk” to him are his fish, who mock him every day he comes home from work, pressuring him to just do it already. It's a daily ritual, and on the day when it seems like he might finally pull the trigger, something else happens and the outsider finds out what it is to be a hero, to be accepted, and even know love.

I can't say much more about He Was A Quiet Man without ruining it, but Slater gives one of his best performances in this sad and surreal film. Milton from Office Space meets William Foster from Falling Down in his Bob Maconel. You empathize and feel bad for his character, and when his pitiful existence is illuminated by the smile of the right girl, you pray his fragile happiness lasts.

I know what it's like to daydream, to feel left out and lonely. I've run into my share of difficult and dishonest people. I can't say I've ever thought of killing anyone though, and beyond my moral upbringing I'd also note that while I've felt lonely, I've never truly been alone. Bob's fish are all he has. I have friends and family to keep me grounded. Maybe the only real trait I share with Bob Maconel comes from the film's title. I write plenty, and I communicate my thoughts to those closest to me, but outside of my friends and family I don't speak unless absolutely necessary, and there's a lot going on inside my brain that never leaves the confines of my skull. Most of the time, I'm a pretty quiet man.

Music is an exception. The majority of noise I make comes out of a Baritone Horn, nearly every weekend between April and October at various Italian feasts, fire department parades, and other events where my unusual talent is needed. I often sing along with the radio when I'm by myself in the car, but the only other time I sing is at karaoke, usually with the help of a beer or two. In my late ‘20s it was something I did every weekend but that died down after a while. Last year I got to rock with a mike again not once but twice. The first time, I hung out with a high school friend I hadn't seen in a few years who'd introduced me to karaoke in the first place. A few months later, I found myself singing in front of coworkers at another friend's birthday party. Despite hogging the microphone and generally being a drunken fool standing on couches, knocking over bottles, and trashing the private room, I seem to still be on the guest list for an upcoming karaoke birthday party this year.

I've been looking forward to it, and it's only a few weeks away. Now when I sing along with the radio in the car, I find it's with purpose. I'm not a good singer nor is that remotely a prerequisite, but there are definitely singers and songs that are well out of my league. Kurt Cobain, Axl Rose, and Chris Cornell are among my favorite singers who hit notes I couldn't reach without switching to a falsetto and sounding like a prepubescent. Some of their songs I can handle, either because they're high enough to take down a full octave or they're within my range. But there are a lot of songs with a reasonably pitched verse but a chorus that's way up there.

I definitely want to have some songs in mind before I get to the party. On the one hand, the hours might fly by as they have in the past, and I'll find myself lamenting the songs I didn't have time for on the way home. On the other hand, in my eagerness to sing everything, I might maniacally key in four or five consecutive songs with the remote and not give anyone else a chance to sing. I’m not doing that again. If I come up with a list ahead of time, I can pick not only the songs I like best or can handle, but I might even come up with a few to encourage wallflower participation. Nothing gets the people sitting in a corner all night more riled up than the chorus to Living On A Prayer or Jump Around. Karaoke can be as exciting as watching someone else play a video game unless you get others involved when it’s your turn.

Slater and Elisha Cuthbert team for an interesting karaoke rendition of Midnight Train to Georgia in that aforementioned flick. I wonder if I should try that one. I think I'm just going to have to compile a list, whittle it down and when the time comes, have at least four or five definites, and pick any others by spontaneity. I’m open to any suggestions, other than “stick to singing in in the car” and “post a video after the party”.

2.13.2008

PBW: Ah Ain't Yeller.....

...but ah shure don’t...::ahem::...I sure don’t enjoy sitting in a car for two hours because a few snow flurries are falling and the roads have iced over, especially when it normally takes me a half hour to get home from work. After making my way to the edge of the town where my company is located, I discovered the police diverting traffic back in to town. I guess there was an accident or that particular hill was too steep. In any case, the volume of cars diverted from one of the only two ways off a peninsula now moved at a crawl and it took me twenty minutes to go less than a mile back to the other main road, where it took another half hour before cars were moving.

As it grew darker and the snow increased, I made the mistake of thinking about the “anxiety attacks” I was experiencing when driving a few years ago. One day while on a treadmill at gym, I felt lightheaded and had a tingling in my left arm. I sat down for a bit, cooling off, then tried to drive home. It was scorching hot and my car has no air conditioning, so I still wasn’t feeling right. I thought I was going to pass out. I had to pull in to a parking lot and call my folks to come get me. My heart was pounding.

I don’t like going to doctors. I literally had to be bleeding to death one time just to leave work early and check out a serious birth defect in my intestines that nearly killed me. So I decided to take my dizzy spell seriously and go see my doctor. He wasn’t available, and I had to meet with another doctor in his office. She wanted to give me anxiety medication “just to see” if it helped. She barely examined me, a cursory check with a stethoscope. I wasn’t going to try any drugs “just to see” . Over the course of a month, I had x-rays, blood tests, and even an imaging scan of my head. I began feeling like a hypochondriac as each test came up negative, but knowing you’re imagining you aren’t feeling right and feeling right are two different things.

As a result, I went through a few months where I’d feel dizzy, like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen, any time I was behind the wheel of my car. The more I thought about passing out behind the wheel, the more I felt like I was going to. My dad actually had to come to work with me, and occasionally switch and drive when I felt like I needed to pull over. Looking back, it’s so obvious that it was in my head, but it felt so real. It took a long time, but after I continued to drive without incident, I eventually stopped thinking about it and it went away.

Sitting in traffic in the snow, wipers intermittently cutting through droplets and the glow of lights from other cars, trapped in the center lane in a parking lot of a main road, I thought about that experience from a few years ago. Even writing about it now, I feel that swimming feeling in my head, the sensation that I’m not breathing, that I need to yawn or gasp for more air. It’s a vicious cycle where I get a hint of that feeling, worry about passing out, and that makes it worse. There was definitely an element of claustrophobia involved, feeling like there was nowhere I could go, because I wasn’t going anywhere. If I passed out, I’d be fine, because I wasn’t moving anyway.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I reached a turn where the traffic opened up, where I was moving again that the feeling subsided. I was able to focus on the radio again, sing along, and forget that lightheadedness. I guess it is a stress response, one I associate with being behind the wheel. A few years prior to the incident on that hot day when I overdid it on the treadmill, I actually was in danger of passing out from internal bleeding, fighting my way through pins and needles and ringing in my ears and genuine medical symptoms. I guess that concern will always linger, even if intellectually I know there’s nothing wrong.

So I got a little stressed with the driving conditions on Tuesday night. That doesn’t make me yellow, but here’s a Photo Blog Wednesday that is:












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