3.31.2008

Phantasmic Links 3.31.08

Congratulations to Kev Bayer! In correctly matching both columns in Saturday's quiz and identifying the results as G.I. Joe characters, he earned himself the second-to-last piece of the coveted Mysterious Master Prize™! Only one fragment remains, to be awarded in a future contest. In the meantime, Kev should watch his inbox for Libris.jpg.

I've had a pretty busy weekend. I not only played Paintball for about five hours on Saturday, but I ended up hiking through two different sets of trails across Long Island on Sunday afternoon, after cleaning paintball equipment and exploring a car lot in the morning. Photos will follow next week, as this week will conclude my current photo contest. We'll see soon enough if anyone guesses correctly and gets that last prize fragment. Meanwhile, let's click some PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Myclofigia: need I say more? Eventually I'll move this link to my sidebar, but for now the weekly reminders will continue. We're clicking our way to a metropolis, folks!

(2) Here are 20 Things That Look Like Other Things, not to be confused with what I see in a mirror.

(3) Can you redeem a convict on Death Row and prove his innocence? Do you have the patience to beat my score?:


(4) Aaah, that's some nice toilet paper.
Hat Tip: B13(Of course).

(5) Is this early footage from that robotic big dog from last week, or something else?
H.T.: Darrell.

(6) The 10 Most Insane Child Warping Moments of 80s Cartoons reminds me of how many levels the shows I enjoyed worked on beyond my comprehension. Here's a G.I.Joe moment laden with innuendo that should have had an honorable mention.
H.T.: Sean.

(7) Take the theme from one show, mash it up with the video of another's opening credits, and enjoy Macgyvergate. Here's an hilarious related blooper. I had no idea that show ran for 7 years.

(8) Got smokes and a computer? Maybe you need to make a USB Smoke Absorber.

(9) Of course, Gas Masks might be a more fashionable alternative to the previous link. Get one for your dog too.
H.T.: Cube.

(10) Baby Orangutans and Tigers, oh my!

(11) An electric fence catches a BIG snake.
H.T.: Rey.

(12) This digital lady follows your mouse point, blinks, smiles, and generally freaks you out.

(13) Finally, here's one of the hardest but most rewarding Escape the Room games yet! Myst fans will find this familiar, frustrating, and addictive.


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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3.30.2008

Won't back Down

One of my college friends had a saying for whenever something unlikely or improbable befell me, or simply whenever I did or said something uniquely idiosyncratic to MCF: “It's gonna be a looooong life!” Indeed, his words have proven prophetic thus far on numerous levels. Life will always throw me curve balls, or put me in challenging situations. I am a clown, here to amuse and entertain you. Of course, I keep going and don't let any of it stop me. Life won't back down, nor will I. And while it often seems like I'm the star of my own sitcom, I know that we all have that unavoidable first person perspective, and I face problems and challenges like any other human being.

Saturday was an absolutely perfect and challenging day. Under a clear blue sky, I set out early for a long overdue day of paintball, the perfect combination of exercise and fresh air after a long Winter. For some stupid reason, while driving on the expressway, I'd occasionally think about panic attacks, and how they plagued me while driving for a few months several years ago. I eventually overcame, and all but forgot about them. Forgetting seemed to be the key, because worrying about those times when I'd feel lightheaded or like I'd stopped breathing was exactly the thing that caused those sensations. It was a vicious cycle. I was fine until one resurfaced during an important meeting, but knowing what it was this time around, that it wasn’t a heart attack and that nothing bad was going to happen, helped me recover and get back to normal much quicker, weeks rather than months.

Don't think about blue. If I tell you that, I guarantee blue will be all you think about. So on a perfect Saturday morning, with light traffic and a wide expanse of road, all I started thinking about was how bad it would be if I lost consciousness before reaching another exit. The wall alongside me loomed, seeming to curve over me, and I felt my heart rate going up. ”Faaaake it! IF YOU'RE OUT OF DIRECTION...!” I sang loudly and nervously along with the radio, trying to drown out my own subconscious. “THUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUD!!!” sang my heart in response. I didn't pass out. I didn't crash into the wall. It was close, but I made the exit, and at the first traffic light caught my breath and got a hold of myself. The danger was self-induced, and a bit embarrassing.

I can't understand what causes these incidents, why my subconscious mind can be on such a different wavelength from my conscious. I was practically on vacation all week. I went to a happy hour on Friday night. I was on my way to do something fun, and the weather was beautiful. There was absolutely no stress in my life at that moment, and yet there I was taking the service road for the next four exits in case it happened again. I guess I need to re-forget the sensations that trigger such an attack.

Distraction is key. Maybe that road was too open, my mind too clear and free to perform a self-diagnostic and question things rather than wander like it normally does when I take a long trip. At the field, I soon forgot it all as I met up with my group and geared up for battle. Once again, the day was perfect, and there would be no more curve balls, save for those filled with paint.

I'd borrowed a friend's gun, so before going on the field I had to have the speed checked by a referee. The kid pointed it and clicked the trigger a few times, to no avail. “There's a switch...” I pointed out, but he couldn't get it to work. “I don't understand this kind,” he said, handing it back to me. I walked up to the bench, took aim, and clicked the electronic trigger.

Nothing.

This wasn't good, but I was sure it was something simple like a battery. I headed back to my team's tent, borrowed a screwdriver, and opened up the handle. Inside, a 9V battery looked like it had a little rust on the end, or worse had leaked out. Cleaning the contacts and removing it carefully, I brought it up to the counter and asked if they sold batteries. For three dollars, I once again had a viable power source.

I hooked it up and brought it back to the range. Again it didn't work. The ref suggested that the gun might be jammed or need cleaning. Back at the tent, I removed the hopper full of ammunition along with the barrel and the CO2 cartridge, then tested the trigger. The basic body of the gun should just click forward without anything hooked up, but it wasn't. I shook it. I looked inside to no avail. I jiggled it. I pulled the trigger. The spring loaded launcher clicked and worked. I pulled it back again. Again it worked. I was going to be okay.

Back on the range a third time, the ref saw me and muttered, “THIS one again?” He pointed and fired a few times with success. “What was wrong with it?” he asked. I wasn't sure, but was beginning to appreciate the things I didn't need to worry about when using rental equipment, as weak as the rental guns were.

About halfway through the first game, the gun died on me again. “COVER ME!!!” screamed our captain as he ran out into the open with me for backup. “MY GUN'S NOT--” I began, when it suddenly fired, missing my foot by inches. I raised it and provided cover fire. We advanced, and we conquered the first field. I was less lucky on the second field, and after the whistle blew I found I could no longer get it to fire at all. I stayed pinned behind a barricade, hearing shells pinging against the wooden wall I was leaning against, until finally an enemy stormed my position and called for my surrender.

No one knew how to fix the gun. Most thought it needed to be disassembled, perhaps oiled, but I think more intense surgery will be in the hands of the owner. I'm afraid of making things worse. They let me use a rental, and I was able to finish out the day with a surprisingly decent gun. My natural “why me?” instinct was tempered by the fact that I'd be handing someone else a malfunctioning weapon on Monday morning. The problem was not mine alone, hopefully could be fixed. The worst case scenario was that I'd owe my friend a new gun, though I don't know if it will come to that. In the short term, I was still able to play.

As bad as we think things are, it could always be worse. During one of our breaks, we watched in fascination as an ambulance pulled up, and workers unloaded a cart and headed out onto one of the fields. Had someone lost an eye? Had the waiver stating that injuries were not their fault if people didn't abide by the safety rules finally proven useful? As we soon found out, someone had broken his leg. As more information trickled across the fields, we found out that it wasn't from some heroic leap or nasty fall. The guy was laying down in a trench, when someone came running across, didn't see him, and landed boot first on his leg, snapping it like a twig.

And I think my luck is bad. I should worry only when I have something REAL to worry about, and even then I won't back down.

3.29.2008

Column A and Column B

The game is simple. There are two columns of fifteen seemingly ordinary words below. Match the correct word from the left with the correct word on the right, tell me what the common element is in this list, and a Mysterious Master Prize™ fragment shall be yours!

1) snake               A) girl

2) road               B) rat

3) ship               C) wrench

4) rip               D) fly

5) heavy               E) peek

6) first               F) block

7) storm               G) ball

8) monkey               H) aid

9) snow               I) wreck

10) scrap               J) cord

11) cover               K) eyes

12) crystal               L) duty

13) fire               M) shadow

14) sneak               N) iron

15) tunnel               O) job

3.28.2008

Defending Star Wars®

It's rare, but there are people who've never seen a Star Wars® movie. I call these people “twenty-somethings”, and the older I get, the more I meet. There are even those in my decade and older who've either never seen the movies, or came to the game late. I found myself reading a discussion about someone who fell into the latter category, who saw the movies recently and just didn't get it.

Geeks get lumped together, but there are subcategories and class divisions. We all like a little bit of the same things, but we also have favorite things that define us, just as a sports fan might embrace a specific team. My particular initial poison was cartoons, Transformers most of all, and this was the gateway addiction that led to a solid eight years of collecting comic books, that led to an adult who watches each new comic book movie with nostalgic glee and reads Newsarama several times a day. I grow old but not up as I keep peering back into a world that once consumed me.

I don't get Trekkies anymore than I get the fat guys who go shirtless to football games and paint the colors of their favorite teams on their faces and stomachs. “Fan” is short for “fanatic”, and in many cases proves to be a literal description. I've been to my share of comic book conventions, and I'm heading to one next month, but I've never gone in costume. I can't say that makes me any less of geek than the people brave enough to show up in robes, armor, or face paint, and I'm definitely entertained by all those photo opportunities.

So what is it about Star Wars®? Why has that endured, and why is everything measured against it? How do you explain it to an adult seeing it for the first time in this golden age of computer generated special effects. How do you defend the horrendously bad acting? Mark Hamill may well have been the ‘70s version of Hayden Christensen, although in Hamill's case his acting improved in the sequels. And the boy who whined about picking up power converters grew up to be the man that voiced the definitive Joker.

I think we take special effects for granted. Computers can generate anything. Shows like Battlestar Galactica can easily portray a massive space battle as though it were being recorded by a shaky handheld camera capturing a war documentary. Stargate can make you believe a metal ring has generated a wormhole event horizon that resembles a shimmering pool of water. We accept what we see, and it's not as remarkable as it used to be. But in the ‘70s, many people were seeing giant ships on a big movie screen for the first time. Back then, ILM was just George Lucas dangling a toy ship in front of a matte painting of stars. People didn't know that, and it didn't look like that. It looked good. We believed a tiny ship was being chased across the screen by a massive one, and we watched this from the best possible perspective to feel dwarfed ourselves.

Star Wars® has a lot going for it. It borrows from various religions, martial arts epics, and fantasy archetypes. Inspired by the best of these influences, it forged a mythology of its own. It was a phenomenon that couldn't be duplicated, even by itself. The prequels don't hold the same mystique, reverence, or nostalgia of the originals. We remember the first time we see The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, or The Usual Suspects. In the grand scheme of time, movies like The Others, Identity, and Hide and Seek won't be remembered. Twists become clichés. The first time people saw the big twist near the end of Empire must have been huge, and I wish I'd seen it in theaters instead of hearing about it from my fellow third graders with less strict parents and no notion of the concept of spoilers. Even so, my mouth hung wide and I half thought they were making up an outlandish rumor. “Luke's father is WHO?”

The thing is, once we've seen a few of these twist endings, we start looking for them. I bet this character is dead. I bet that one is imaginary. I bet those two are related. We lose some of the magic of the experience. When Star Wars® did it it was brand new and fresh to many people. So, in the end, I guess it all comes down to when you see things. If you see Star Wars® after you've seen films with twists, and good acting, and great special effects, then it doesn't seem all that new and fresh. You wonder how the merchandising could have been so successful, how it could inspire yet another fanbase of costume wearing escapists. Whether it's Transformers, Star Wars®, or The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, or Narnia, we all have another world we escape into. Maybe it's comics or sports or video games, but everyone has an obsession that's special to some individuals and questioned by others. You can defend it, and you can explain it, but the experience personal to your introduction cannot be duplicated.

3.27.2008

Nothing Day

It's definitely better to pair a vacation day with a weekend whenever possible. Through a combination of meeting schedules and having to use up leftover days from 2007 before the end of the month, I find myself working only Tuesday and Thursday this week, a schedule I was looking forward to. Monday was a productive day that included the start of my search for a new car. But Wednesday got away from me somehow.

I'm not sure how it happened exactly, but at some point I sat down at my keyboard and realized the day was over. Weekends have structure. I know when I'm going to church, or to a movie with my friends, or a happy hour, or to play paintball, or to play a gig with one of my bands. I have things to do and places to be at very specific times. I make a list every Friday night that includes these things, as well as blog posts, photo excursions, and chores like doing laundry. By Sunday night, when I've removed things from the list, I feel like I've accomplished something, that my time was well spent.

Weekdays are easier to plan. I don't need to come up with a schedule; work does that for me. I have deadlines for assignments, and I accept meeting appointments. I know where I have to be and when. I know what I have to do and when. When I lose track, I make a checklist. At the end of the day I go home. I eat dinner. I watch my shows when they're on, and my DVDs when they're not.

I didn't make a list for Wednesday. So much of my life has structure, necessary to my sanity, that sometimes I need a break. Sometimes it's boring. I have a good imagination, yet I'm terrible at improvisation. This week then, I feel like Wednesday didn't exist. I feel like Tuesday night was really long, and suddenly it's Thursday. I must have done something though, so I'll need to backtrack and see how I wasted the day:

• Woke up at 10 AM. Finished watching the Stargate Season 4 finale I'd begun before falling asleep the night before.

• Checked my e-mail. Read some blogs.

• Checked on my dad, recovering from a small medical procedure. Went outside to get the newspaper for him. Noticed what a nice day it was going to be, and started considering places to go.

• Folded laundry. Put recyclable items in recyclable bin. Sampled some of the chocolates I bought my mom for Easter. Started making a pizza.

• Started watching Stargate's Season 5 premiere. Paused to get pizza, then finished episode.

• Raised curtain to get some sunlight in my room. While still pondering what to do with my day, began cleaning out e-mail inbox, which contained over 1,000 messages, some still unread. Able to clear 170 just going through old link and photo e-mails from B13 alone.

• Found an addictive new “escape the room” game; made note of it for next week's links.

• Played Pac-Man. Started watching The Accused.

• Played Ms. Pac-man. Started watching Six Degrees of Separation.

• Logged in to my work e-mail briefly to turn off my “out of the office” message. Tried to resist the temptation to read work e-mails on my day off. Caved and read one or two before forcing myself to log out.

• Chatted with some friends online. Wondered why so many were surprised I was taking a day off. “A real day...for fun?” asked one.

• Turned off computer as the fan was getting loud after running it all day. Went in other room and finished watching The Accused.

• Suddenly, it was dinner time and the sun had set. Got a bowl of pasta, and finished watching Six Degrees of Separation.

And that brings us to the present. Technically, as I write this there are a few hours left in the day and I'll probably get in another Stargate episode or two, or start watching Troy, but for the most part this day is done. I did things I enjoyed and wanted to do, but not as much as I would have liked, and somehow I barely left the house. I don't regret taking the day; a friend recently described my ideas about work to be “unhealthy” so I probably shouldn't feel guilty about sitting in my room instead of sitting in an office. But after a cloudy morning, the sun did come out for a bit and I do feel bad about lying in front of a computer or a television all day. I had a full three-day weekend behind me, and I have a full one ahead of me that among other things will include both a happy hour and many rounds of paintball. I'm in good shape at work and should accomplish a lot in the two days I am putting in this week. So Wednesday was nothing, just an odd interlude, a cosmic break in the normal flow of time. Still, the next time I have a standalone day off, I probably should make a list.

That's right, I actually have to write “go outside” or I won't do it. I'm starting to understand why my dad had such a hard time adjusting when he retired, how frustrating it was when his life mirrored that of a cat, wandering the house and walking from window to window looking at the outside world. Sometimes I can't wait to retire, and other times I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with my time when I don't need to work. Sometimes, I can do all the things I do and still be bored by it all.

3.26.2008

PBW: Paths of Solace Part 1

As many of my friends know, I derive solace and even energy from long walks away from civilization. Both exercise, fresh air, and the peaceful sounds or silences can clear my head. I find water especially beneficial to my mental health, be it a running stream, pond with birds, or crashing waves at a beach. Finding new places for Photo Blog Wednesday can be a challenge after all this time, and sometimes I’ll revisit old ones.

Take this past weekend, for example. I won’t say where I went; that’s for you to guess. We’ll see who’s been paying attention, and if you have the first correct guess, I’ll send one of the few remaining fragments of the Mysterious Master Prize™. As many times as I’ve been to this place though, I took a different path I hadn’t noticed before, and discovered a mile or two more of trails I had no idea existed. I’ll share those images now, and next week we’ll see other images from sections I have visited before, along with a pretty “exciting” video...



















And, here’s a desktop preview of what’s to come:

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3.25.2008

Car Quest

The time has come. Actually, the time has come many times before, possibly even before I bought my car ten years ago. Honestly though, my little used ‘89 Mazda 626 served me well, best $2,200 I ever spent. Granted, the air conditioning never worked, it had a gouge in the right door, and the hood was a faded color that didn't match the rest of it, but it also got great gas mileage, got me where I needed to go, and survived not one but two separate and severe rear collisions. “Bluestreak” has had a good life.

After the last accident, my dad noticed how worn my brake lines were when the car was on a lift. Between a rusting chassis and the level of difficulty of such repair, he's pretty much washed his hands of it. “You can drive it,” he said, “but one day you won't have brakes. So be careful.” Obviously, I had to press further after a statement like that, and he couldn't tell me precisely when I'd lose my brakes. “Could be tomorrow; could be a year from now. Just be careful.”

Indeed, after nearly two weeks of driving my dad's 2004 Chevy Impala, the brakes on my own beloved jalopy felt a lot softer to me. I informed my dad that I was now driving a lot more slowly and he seemed surprised. “I didn't tell you to drive any differently; just be careful.” The closer he gets to 80, the less I understand him. Perhaps he's just trying to scare me into doing something long overdue, but it is working.

It's not like this is the first time I've thought about it. As far back as 2004, I considered buying a new car to be a New Year's resolution I should but probably wouldn't keep. And through the years, friends and family have tried various angles to persuade me. “What if you had to take a girl out? You wouldn't be embarrassed to pick her up in that thing?” On the one hand, my social life was sufficiently sad that I really didn't have to worry about it. On the other, perhaps the point was that I might actually have a date with a nicer car. I didn't want to hinge my future on someone that superficial, but the zen notion of “if you drive it; they will come” was appealing. When I was borrowing my dad's car, I did get a few smiles at traffic lights instead of eyes cast aside in disgust.

I had some vacation time coming to me. Days I hadn't used in 2007 would expire before the end of March, so I found myself looking for the best breaks in my schedule to use the last of them. As a result, I'll only be working on Tuesday and Thursday this week. I felt a little like I was doing something wrong, playing hookey, but they're not my vacation rules. Taking advantage, I set out to some car dealerships on Monday with my dad in tow. “Don't buy the first car you see,” advised my mom as we headed out. “Why not if he finds something? You can't just go window shopping!” argued my dad. It's taken this long to even get me to look, so there was no way I was going to buy a car the first day.

My criteria was pretty simple. I knew what I could afford, and what would afford me the best value. A brand new car is never a great investment, worth half what you pay for it the minute you drive it off the lot. On the other hand, I didn't need another old car. My dad's too old to do that kind of maintenance, and though I can do the work with him directing me, it'd be nice to have more free time on weekends, and not risk having anyone in our family be short a car when something went wrong. What I needed was something slightly used, maybe a 2004 or a 2005 vehicle without a lot of mileage, a previously owned or leased automobile. I also wanted all the things I didn't have already. I wanted power windows, to not have to turn a crank up or down. I wanted airbags, to never fear the next time someone collided with me. I wanted air conditioning, and perhaps a CD player, and perhaps power locks too. Things most of the world considers standard would be luxuries for me.

Hearing good things about Honda from a few people, we checked out some places. Amid a lot I found my dream car, a black Accord. It was only a two door, but had a tempting balance between sensible car and sports car. It was also a 2008 vehicle and close to $30,000, more than twice what I was looking to spend.

I came back down to reality and browsed the used section, helped by a salesman one of my dad's friends recommended. I found a nice 2005 with all the features I was looking for and only 16,000 miles. The color wasn't quite what I wanted, a bit of a grayish green, but of all the cars we looked at it seemed the closest. I took the guy's card and left a number for him to contact me as he was expecting other vehicles in later in the week.

The next dealership seemed a little shadier. None of the cars had prices on the stickers, and all had a sticker saying the car wasn't for sale yet and to ask a dealer when they'd be available. We didn't linger too long. At another dealership I found a black version of the 2005 Accord I'd looked at. It had a leather interior instead of cloth, but otherwise had all the features of the green one I'd considered. There was neither a price nor mileage on the sticker, and I had to track down a salesman who seemed more interested in reading a newspaper than leaving his desk and coming out to the lot with us.

The mileage was a little higher than my “maybe” car, at 22,000, and the price was about $5,000 more than what the first guy was asking for. He showed us a few 2004 models, many of which had the windows tinted almost to opaque. “Someone's gonna SHOOT him if he drives one of those!” offered my dad helpfully to the salesman, who pretty much ignored him. Inside, he gave me a card and suggested I browse their website for more options.

My quest is only beginning, but I know more than when I started. I'm getting a better idea of what I like and don't like, and future vacation days will probably find me on more lots. And before buying anything, I'm definitely going to want to try a test drive. No matter what, after ten years, I'm going to have to adjust. When the time comes, I'll have to act swiftly, before I change my mind. I've never bought anything more expensive than a computer, and even then I thought of it in terms of how much time it would take to earn back the money I'd spent. “If you think that way, you'll never buy anything,” pointed out my dad. Maybe he makes more sense than I realize.

3.24.2008

Phantasmic Links 3.24.08

The days are getting longer, and slowly warmer. My cold is fading and I went for a nice walk on Sunday down paths I've somehow never trod on before. This is one of my favorite times of the year. One of my favorite times of the week is when I gather this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Myclofigia: A click a day keeps our population so great.

(2) Behold an amazing recap of the world's various conflicts...represented by food.

(3) Is this a list of 10 Guy Movies You've Probably Never Seen? For me, it's a list of 6 Guy Movies I've Never Seen. Time to update my queue...
Hat Tip: Sean.

(4) Bands I Useta Like is a collection of comic strips about, interestingly enough, the bands the author used to like. I still like a lot of these bands.
H.T.: Darrell.

(5) If you were to record the movements of a person's eye as he or she read a paper, then printed that path, it might look something like this.
H.T: Rey.

(6) This creep is sporting a particularly ironic t-shirt in his mugshot.
H.T.: B13.

(7) Sometimes when walking through the woods, I might hear barking in the distance and freeze in my tracks. I've yet to encounter a RoboDog on my travels, but I think curiosity and the cool factor would outweigh fear. And that's how I'd be assimilated.
H.T.: Darrell.

(8) The new G.I.Joe movie has gotten the look of Snake-Eyes very, VERY right. Arguably the most popular character from that franchise, their Wolverine if you will, I'd say they're off to a great start.
H.T: Rey.

(9) Kick it old-school with this Flash version of Pac-Man. No quarters required.

(10) Finally, journey to the Wonderful Sea to free a little octopus, and yourself, as you collect things.


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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3.23.2008

Celebrate the Joy

This year, the Easter Vigil I celebrated in my church on Saturday night was particularly inspiring. I didn't want to go, but was glad that my dad pushed me. Still fighting a cold, I'd spent most of the day in bed, drifting in and out of various states of consciousness. When he called me, it was a bit of a rude awakening.

At first I feared my chills had returned, but the house had simply gotten colder as the sun set. A few minutes and a warm shower later, I was sitting out in the car waiting for my parents. I was dizzy, and had a headache, and felt a bit nauseous. These were either lingering symptoms from my illness, or a normal response to oversleeping. Perhaps it was both. Either way, I was grumpy and a little terse. When my dad repeated “okay on the right” for the third time, I snapped back there were still cars coming on the left. “Fine, I won't talk. I'm just trying to help you avoid another accident.” he sulked. Still fighting a lingering cough from his Walking Pneumonia, his mood was made worse by the possibility that we'd be late for church. “I don't know why I go with these people...” I heard him muttering before we left, while my mom was still getting ready.

We made it on time, though not early, and there were no parking spots. I dropped my folks off at the door, circled the block, and found a spot up the road. The walk in the brisk air helped perk me up a little bit, and I was pleased to enter a darkened church. We begin our Easter celebration with a candlelight vigil, and this year my ill light-sensitive eyes appreciated the atmosphere.

After about 45 minutes of songs and readings, the lights came up at full power and it felt like someone stabbed me in both eyes. We blew out our candles and listened to the gospel reading, then our pastor proceeded with a strong homily. Rey has an outstanding post up in which he ties Good Friday to some of his rough high school experiences with gangs(which I recently alluded to briefly). Rey had a lot of bad Fridays, but Jesus had a particularly bad one. It's a solemn occasion, a time to remember that He gave his life for all of us, even our enemies as Rey observes.

It's easy to get caught up in the bad things in our life. Our pastor spoke of people who tear us down, who focus on the negative in their lives as well as our own. Many people mourn, and many live forever on a bad Friday. They never get beyond that. They’re stuck on Friday. Three days after death was a great miracle, a resurrection, a time of great joy. “CELEBRATE the JOY!” he declared. I can never be reminded enough not to feel sorry for myself, that I've recovered from everything I've suffered. Even as the priest spoke, I could feel my head clearing. I took a deep breath, my lungs filling to their capacity without a struggle. My aches and pains were fading. I was getting healthier, as I always do.

Easter Vigil is also a time when we renew baptismal vows, responding to a series of inquiries from the priest...

“Do you reject Satan, and all his works and empty promises?”/“I do.”

“Do you believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth?”/“I do.”


...and so on. However, like children in school who've repeated things so many times we don't know what we're saying, each “I do” was a barely audible mumbled sound from 200 parishioners. The pastor stopped after two questions, and pointed out that we could do better, to really listen to what he was asking and enthusiastically respond. He started over, asking each question boldly, and it was truly energizing. I hadn't been so caught up in a moment since the last time I threw my fist in the air for each “NO!” during a karaoke rendition of ”We're Not Gonna Take It” last month.

So rejoice. Forget about all your problems, all the things in life that you're not happy with. Time heals all wounds and makes all concerns trivial. It seems like the persecuted have the most faith. Bad days and suffering sometimes have a higher purpose, even if we don't recognize it during those low points. It's hard to imagine a day worse than being mocked, beaten, and crucified. Yet that served a far greater good, and led to a pretty amazing Sunday.

Happy Easter.

3.22.2008

The Place To Be

Like any good community in this great state of New York, the town in which I work offers 6 or 7 places to get pizza. Some are of the fancier brick oven variety, in which a waiter or waitress brings you a large pie on a separate platter. Others are your basic hole-in-the-wall family-owned pizzerias, where you choose from a marvelous variety of options behind a glass display before placing your order at the counter. One or two offer both the restaurant and quick fix options.

I haven't been to my favorite one in a while, as at a little over two miles, it's too far to walk. Ever since the weather started shifting toward Spring, even marginally, I've resolved to be healthy and walk every single day. Even the rain didn't stop me, as an umbrella and determination were all I needed.

It's a Catholic tradition to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the season of Lent leading up to Easter. I try my best to observe this practice, but there hasn't been a year in which I didn't forget at least once. I'm sorry to say that, as some Catholics do, I've made up my own exceptions on those occasions, like “Pepperoni is a topping; it's not technically meat.” or “Chinese food doesn't count.” I can't say that these “exceptions” make any sense. At the heart of it, I believe that God knows better than anyone that to err is human, and He can forgive an honest oversight.

Lent went by quickly this year. As I set out on Good Friday for lunch, I realized this was the first time I made it through 40 days without having meat on Fridays. I also was successful in giving up something I enjoy for those 40 days, another are in which I've faltered in the past. I don't know that going this long without a single Frosty is that big of a gesture or will help my soul in the long run, but on a personal level I'm glad my will power is improving.

The nearest pizzeria is about half a mile from my office, maybe a ten minute walk. The furthest and best one I've only driven to, and my lunch hour doesn't afford me the time to make the journey and back. About a mile-and-a-half away is another little place, one that takes about 20 minutes or more to reach on foot. I made the journey once before, and upon telling my father, who grew up in the area where I now work, he suggested a shortcut.

I had stuck to main roads, avoiding the quiet backstreets. I know my way around, sometimes driving home down those side avenues, but I'm not sure what I feared. Would another pedestrian attack me? Would a rabid dog or an angry goose chase me? My imagination is not always literal in conveying danger. Sometimes a little voice suggests I take a long way around without any explanation. I suspect it has its origins in my childhood ”dogless route”. Later in life I'd find friends who grew up in areas where “knifeless” or “gangless routes” were the best way to get home from school, and realize the jingling of a dog collar wasn't the great threat I perceived it to be.

It was extremely windy on Friday, part of my journey taking me along an open area by a beach. I weighed the benefits of the fresh air on my current cold against the brutal chill, and the added presence of an unimpeded sun tipped the balance in favor of the further destination.

Everything changed once I left the main road. I walked along a pond, past observation decks and open woods. As though someone flipped a switch, the sounds of civilization were replaced by chirping birds and rustling leaves. The sidewalk ran along an old, open wood post fence, past two ponds to a stream. The stream feeding these ponds rain along the inside of the sidewalk, and as I passed the park and began walking past people's houses, I realized each person's driveway was a small bridge.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine such paradise, to step out your front door each morning and hear the trickle of a stream beneath your driveway, the rustling of wildlife? I'm a long way off still from owning my first home, as a new car has become more of a priority, and I'm definitely a long way off from a home in that sort of neighborhood. But I knew, someday, that this was the type of place where I wanted to be. Civilization was but a few minutes away, but here was a wonderful haven.

My dad neglected to tell me until I got home how steep the hill would be on his shortcut, but I made better time walking downhill back to the office. I was even feeling better, breathing easier with no aches, and my heart was glad at my father's continued improvement from his illness. My mom meanwhile is starting to develop a cough, and may be in for the same rough journey we've been on.

I love the longer days, the sun still shining long after I've arrived home from work. A nap before dinner seemed the perfect addition to all the other healthy things I've been doing, but when I awoke an hour later the sun had set and the house had grown cold, a little too cold. Even now I still have aches and chills, and wonder if the exertion earlier caused a relapse. My one comfort is my cat Chirp, whom I thought was ignoring me the other day, even calling him a name because he was keeping his distance now and I had stayed by his side when he was ill last month. Both Friday morning, and Friday evening before supper, I awoke with a small weight on my chest, and my eyes adjusted to see the cat resting on and studying me. I guess he senses I'm not feeling well after all, or perhaps he was just cold. Either way, I took it as the former, though I didn't let him stay for long. I don't think what I have is contagious to animals, but I'd rather not risk it.

Someday I'll be healthy and, if not wealthy, I'll have the wealth of a home with a stream in the front yard. For now, I have the wealth of family and pets. For now, this is the place to be.

3.21.2008

Walking Pneumonia

Upon rereading yesterday's post, which I thought was “brilliant poetry” at the time, I realized a few things. I'm glad I didn't feel well enough to add links, as nearly every sentence would have gone somewhere. More importantly though, I realized that I'm awesome. And if that's not any indication that I'm still under the weather, then nothing is.

It's not so bad though, just annoying. Mainly it's a head cold at this point, stuffy nose and teary eyes. I'm drinking ridiculous amounts of fluid, and soon I'll have a few days off from work to rest. I'm not too worried about myself right now. My dad, whose had his cold for about a week now, finally went to the doctor on Thursday, and was told that he had Walking Pneumonia.

To read the description of this illness, it doesn't sound so bad. It includes the adjective “mild” and basically states that it's an infection that won't incapacitate you and leave you bedridden. It's an infection that you can walk around with, hence the name. Of course, this may be why it's so deadly, especially to near-octogenarians like my dad. A person could continue walking around thinking it's just a cold, going about his normal routine, and only get worse.

For the most part, my dad was getting marginally better each day, at least until Wednesday when he went shopping in the rain. When I got home from work, he was back to being slumped in the living room chair wearing a Winter coat. When he told me Thursday morning that he was planning to see a doctor, I knew it was serious enough for him to be concerned.

So, he's on an antibiotic now, as well as some tablets for his postnasal drip. He's still complaining about having no pep, and he keeps dozing off. I heard a ratcheting sound at one point from three rooms away, and walked down the hall to find him in a chair with his head hanging back, eyes closed, and mouth wide open and snoring loudly. Drowsiness is also a side effect of one of the medications they gave him. He probably caught about twenty minutes of Lost, and I had to fill him in during intermissions when he woke up.

It's funny how things so small that we can't even see them can knock us out of commission. It's been a long, strange week, and I pray that healthier times are ahead for all of us as Easter approaches.

3.20.2008

i like delirious

I like delirious. I don’t like being sick, but delirious is like drunk without drinking. Aches, pains, sure, but I break into song and nonsense and laugh. “How was work?” asked mom. “Mimsy were the borograves and the momeraths outgrabe,” said I. Then I said something about a scorpion and broke into giggles.

I don’t like sore throat. I’m not there yet, and I’m drinking a lot of water and taking plenty of vitamins. My dad’s still sick, getting a little better each day but not as fast as I’d like. Between the two of us, my mom doesn’t stand a chance. I hope she doesn’t catch it, given her recent hospital stay and current prescription for blood thinners. It won’t be good.

I’m not all aches and pains and nonsense as boiling is my brain. Some good news there is, as my car is fixed. Yay! I think Thursday old Bluestreak will be back on the road. I hope I remember that the doors lock manually when I get it back; I could get spoiled driving dad’s car. Soon a new or slightly used Honda I think will I get. Maybe I’ll look on Saturday.

I like delirious; it gives me an excuse to skip HTML and just write words as they come to my mind. It’s all stream of consciousness, streaming video, flash video, flash ahaaaa, saveeveryoneofus. Me mule wouldn’t walk in the mud, so I had to put 17 bullets in him. Yep, there’s your answer fishbulb. I think she’s starting to suspect something. Who? Your wife. I’ll never tell. I see dead people. Are you gonna kill my little girl? No! Why not? Who is driving car? Oh my, BEAR is driving car, how can that be? Are you gonna bark little doggy, or are you gonna bite?

I may be exaggerating my state of mind just a bit, but it is fun to write like this. Fast, too. I’m looking forward to Easter, and I’m taking another vacation day on Monday. We’ll see how long I can keep up my streak of three day weekends before someone complains. I’m doing a good job though. I’m starting to get results on mailings, and pretty much everything I’ve designed has done better than people predicted. Prophet-able!

Man, it’s hot in here. It was freezing before, now it’s hot. I’m going to turn off the heat. Turn the radio up, for that sweet sound. Stop, baby, what’s that sound? Sound off! One, two! Freddy’s coming for you! I hope human colds aren’t contagious to animals. My cat’s actually been keeping a safe distance. Ungrateful bastard. I sat with him when HE was sick. There he is, my little guy. There he is, my little guy. Isn’t he cute?

Purple monkey dishwasher. Seriously. I have misplaced my pants. And what’s the deal with Subway? Why is it that every time I order a sandwich from the “toasted” list, I then have to ask them, “can you toast that?” Quizno’s PWNS Subway. I need a Quizno’s by me. At least we have a Carvel. I can’t wait for Summer to take advantage of that and completely undo all the positive effects of walking a mile each day for lunch instead of driving. Is the Tylenol kicking in? Am I making sense? Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

Wysiwyg. Kumquats. Pomegranates. Alpha. Teal’C. Tango. Cash. Cash rules everything around me. Cream. I like my sugar with coffee and cream. My rap styles vary, and carry like Mariah. Boom shakalaka. I am not a Skrull. Goo goo ga joob. Bah wheep gragh nah wheep nih nih bong. 42. Rest in peace, Arthur C. Clarke. It sucks that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer’s. When will this rain stop? Did I look like the Penguin walking to Subway with my black umbrella? And who are these people? Stop eyeballing me, Paz!!

12345. It’s the combination of my luggage. I’m kidding; I don’t have luggage because I never go on vacations. Baggage yes, luggage no. I wish I was on a beach right now, sipping a Corona. Oh, hello Denise Richards and Jessica Biel. What are you doing here? The Island gives me what I need. 4. 8. 15. 16. 23. 42.

I should probably bed to go now before sense make weird. Prizes to anyone who gets every reference. I like delirious.

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3.19.2008

PBW: A Lunch Walk

Many things about my new job are better than my old one, but I do miss the walks I used to take with my friends at lunch through the surrounding neighborhoods. Now that the weather is gradually getting warmer, I’ve walked to lunch nearly every day, the furthest distance at 2 miles. My favorite deli is about a mile away, and to get there on foot requires a walk along a beach. Yes, life is hard. It would be nice to share the scenery though, so join me my friends, on a Photo Blog Wednesday lunch walk. Please enjoy the complementary desktop image about third of the way through.















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3.18.2008

I Be Illin'

What is it about colds? It seems like one person gets sick, then another, and before you know it, the thing has spread like....like...like some sort of virus.

Weeeeiiird.

It all started on St. Patrick's Day, or rather, at a St. Patrick's Day parade a week ago. As I was reminded on Monday by the number of people in green at my office, including one gentleman dressed as a Leprechaun, the actual holiday took place on March 17th. But a week ago Saturday, despite rain, wind and hail, I saw quite a lot of people wearing green, drinking green beer, and celebrating.

By some miracle, perhaps the luck of the Irish rubbing off on our Italian selves, my dad and I walked away from that gig without getting sick. At least I thought we did. On Friday, after a nap, my dad sounded horrible, and admitted to having a postnasal drip or irritated throat for a few days that turned into something worse. Over the course of the weekend, he went from sounding stuffy to huddling in a chair wrapped in a coat, complaining about how chilly it was in our 80 degree home. He became very irritable, his already bad hearing made worse by his illness. On more than one occasion we had to shout and repeat ourselves when he got upset and thought no one was answering him.

“You men are such babies when you get sick,” pointed out my mom. Over the years, I have observed women exhibit a higher threshold for pain. I knew one that returned to work four days after having her appendix out, and another who described a very painful case of TMJ, and never once betrayed any signs that she was in excruciating pain. Even my mom, when she was in the hospital with heart palpitations, behaved normally, even helping her neighbor with a curtain until nurses came running down the hall screaming at her to get back in bed because her telemetry readings were going crazy. Maybe it has something to do with that whole childbirth thing. Maybe it's because when a woman gets sick she still needs to be a mother, but when a man gets sick he needs to be mothered. Indeed, my dad did sound a bit like a little kid as my mom ran down a list of soup options from the pantry, and he sulked “I don't like that kind.” He wasn't himself.

On Monday afternoon, my car woes were nearly resolved. The man whose vehicle struck mine called to let me know he'd made an agreement with the body shop. I just needed to get my car there. I called my dad to see if he could drop it off, and the conversation went from him asking me to repeat nearly every sentence, to practically sobbing that he “had no pep” and couldn't give me an answer. I realized he was in no shape to leave the house, even for a five minute drive, so I called the body shop to find out how early they're open. Fortunately they open at 8 AM, so if all goes well I'll still get to work on time Tuesday and make an important meeting.

When I got home on Monday, my dad was a lot more lucid, and my mom explained that she finally got him to take some aspirin. He's had a rough couple of days, from chills to a sore throat to a bit of delirium, but he's getting better. One thing I noticed at work was how many people were sneezing and coughing. A few were out sick. And as the day went on, I started feeling a little off myself. It started with a tickle, not quite a sore throat, that I could clear with a cough. Soon I started to feel achy, and by the evening I felt as though I weren't thinking clearly, and started to feel a little chilled. I'm drinking a lot of fluids, took advantage of a nice day to walk on the beach at lunch, and I've double my normal Vitamin C dosage to 2000 MG. I know what's coming. My dad's been sick the last few days. People in my office are sick. I've not only been exposed to germs, I was in that same cold rain a week ago that likely weakened my father's immune system.

I can't stop what's coming. I'm not sure I'm even making sense now. All I can do is get some rest, drink fluids, take vitamins, and hope to lessen the impact. I've had a sneak preview, and I'm not looking forward to the next few days. These things are so....viral....

3.17.2008

Phantasmic Links 3.17.08

I say every weekend should be a three-day weekend! What say you all?

While you ponder this proposition, peruse this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Click Myclofigia and help build up our industry. As the population rises, so too does unemployment. I don't even want to think about virtual gas prices....

(2) Scientists have discovered the beginnings of another Earth-like planet. It will be good that we have a back-up for when we finish messing this one up.

(3) When not finding new worlds, scientists are also discovering new birds.

(4) I doubt it will surprise anyone to learn that my favorite video this week is a mash-up of The Transformers: The Movie and Lord of the Rings
Hat Tip: Kev Bayer.

(5) In case the regular version has gotten too easy for any of you: 3-Way Chess, anyone?
H.T.: J-No.

(6) Now this is what I call art: A Star Wars® version of The Last Supper made up of trillions of screen captures from the films.
H.T.: Wendy.

(7) Have you ever read a comic and wondered if perhaps you weren't smart enough to understand the humor? I've had that experience, but fortunately there's a Comic Strip Doctor to explain why some strips just aren't funny.
H.T.: Darrell.

(8) Think you have good observation skills? Do the Test.
H.T.: B13

(9) Spider-Monkey does whatever a Spider-Monkey does, and probably a bit more. Is he strong? Listen, bub...

(10) The NY Times honors the late Gary Gygax, and makes some great points, including the parallels between role-playing games and social networks.
H.T.: Curt.

(11) Unless you've been living in an underground gamma bunker, you've probably seen the Incredible Hulk movie site. It looks like they're using the source material and television series as blueprints this time around, which is a great idea in my opinion.

(12) Her name is Lisa.
H.T.: Rey.

(13) Oh L'il Bruce Wayne, if you only knew what your future held...
H.T.: Sean.

(14) Passive Aggressive Notes are among us, and they are hilarious. Read them. Or not. See if I care.
H.T.: Wendy.

(15) Finally, Retro Sabotage allows you to play through spoofs of classic video games. Some of these are particularly well done, especially this Tetris Odyssey.


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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3.16.2008

More Weird Than Ten

We're all unique, and some of us are more unique than others, so unique that we're scary.

Hi!

CoffeeSister posted 10 “weird” facts about herself, and though I know I've done stuff like this before, and that ten things barely scratch the surface of this mysterious cloaked figure, I decided to tackle it anyway. I'll try to come up with things about me that my readers don't already know, definitely a challenge after almost three-and-a-half years of blogging.

1) I don't like left turns. I'm overly cautious and sometimes miscalculate the speed of traffic, realizing too late that I could have made a turn safely without waiting for oncoming cars to pass. It's not uncommon for me to go out of my way and make three rights instead.

2) I still don't swing my arms when I walk, particularly my right arm. At my old job, my friends speculated it might have been a homophobic thing, like I was afraid of accidentally brushing my hand against someone else's. For some reason I thought about my arms while walking to lunch by myself the other day on an empty street, and realized that neither arm was moving. I concentrated on swinging them, and after a few steps my right arm settled back into just hanging there while my left one moved back and forth slightly. When I used to run on the treadmill, both arms would swing, palms open and fiercely cleaving the air. For whatever reason, it doesn't feel natural when I walk. If my hands aren't in my coat pockets, or holding a musical instrument in a parade, I don't know what to do with them.

3) I've never stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons. It's been years since I got up early and sat in front of a television with a bowl of cereal watching a three or four hour block, but there have always been at least two to five shows that I've taped and watched later in the afternoon or evening. As of now, with the conclusion of The Batman, I'm down to just two series, Legion of Superheroes(which might not be renewed when season 2 wraps in a few weeks), and the new Spectacular Spider-Man. After three episodes, the show continues to be enjoyable as a modern adaptation of original ‘60s comics. It's definitely something I'd call “all ages”, something I'd enjoy watching with my own son if I wasn't still living like a child myself.

4) I've been shaving since I was 14.

5) I generally tie a pair of sneakers once, when I first buy them. As long as they don't come undone, I could go years without re-tieing them, and tend to treat them as loafers.

6) I tend to neglect important things and worry about little things. I noticed a light discoloration on my right shin on Saturday, surrounded by a red circle. I immediately showed my mom and asked her if it was the bullseye associated with Lyme disease. She recognized it as a bruise and pointed out a matching one on my left shin. I realized I was probably leaning too hard against a ladder when installing a light fixture a day prior. Meanwhile, Palm Sunday caught me by surprise this year, reminding me that I only have a week to shop for Easter. Big things happen while I'm distracted by the little ones.

7) All my secret identities are geeks, and none of them are superheroes.

8) I sometimes catch myself thinking out loud. It's not exactly talking to myself as I don't carry on full conversations, but I will occasionally verbalize a task, or make a sarcastic remark about something stupid I've just done.

9) Twice now, ushers have asked me to help count the collection money after mass. I was an altar boy for like 8 years, definitely one of the older ones by the time I was in college. Since then, I'd gone back to being a “civilian” in the congregation. I wonder if serving as an usher is in my future. And, as I sorted money on Saturday evening to seal in a bag and lock in a vault, my main thought was that I was handling the germs of over 200 people.

10) Occasionally, I think about closing the Nexus, and the only thing that keeps me going is not wanting to break my streak of consecutive posts. This will be 1,256. It's not that I have anything better to do or don't enjoy it, but some nights I sit down and can't think of anything to write. Thankfully, I have an excellent blogroll for inspiration, and after reading what others have to say, I'll still come up with something to write. The streak will end someday; just not today.

3.15.2008

Mental Health Day

Stress has a way of building up quietly over time. Small problems become large ones. An ache or pain that we might otherwise dismiss can become something we obsess over. What is that “tugging” feeling inside my back sometimes? Is that a tumor? Instead of a rational conclusion, like maybe I've been leaning forward on a new oak desk for practically six straight months, I might veer away from simpler explanations.

As I learned with my last job, I found it very beneficial to take a day or two for myself each month. The company had a “use ‘em or lose ‘em” policy for vacation days, as does my new job. I'd taken on so much responsibility after seven years, that I'd have to work considerably late in the days leading up to a vacation. It was always worth it for a three day weekend though, and a walk on a beach or through some trails in the woods, one extra day to myself out of the office, did a good job of keeping me level and sane.

It's taken a few months, but I'm finally getting the rhythm of the new place. I can predict when I'll have busy weeks, and when things will quiet down for a few days before picking up again. I can finally gauge within a week or more if there's a day on which I won't be missed. People actually do cover for each other when we go on vacation, but as the new guy, I haven't felt comfortable taking advantage of that policy just yet. I took a few days around the holidays, but I had four left from my few months in 2007 that I carried over to this year.

Suddenly, it's March, and I realize how fast time goes. I saw an opportunity a few weeks ago in my schedule, and put in for this Friday. It had been a while since I had a three day weekend to myself that wasn't a holiday or a snow day. Of course, a week ago a car accident took my car off the road until I could get the bumper repaired. I've been using my dad's car, and I wasn't going to take advantage. Four days for work would be enough driving. The fifth day would be a day of relaxation, of not worrying about deadlines or worrying if there was something wrong with me. I'd sleep late, and if I did venture out I'd probably find a local beach and listen to the waves.

So of course, at 9 AM, the phone rang. My dad called in to tell me it's the owner of the car that hit me. I reached over for my cell phone to check the time, my dad informed me that the call was on our land line. Before I could explain, I heard him telling this guy, “he'll be right with you; he thought you were on his cell phone.” As the old man chuckled, I knew it was going to be one of those days.

The guy did get my fax with the estimate, but hadn't called the body shop yet. Instead, he looked up the value of my car and pointed out that it wouldn't make sense to spend more than its worth to fix it. He wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know, but then that was irrelevant. New car or not, his babysitter slammed his car into my property, and I wanted it fixed. He assured me that he'd still pay to have the car fixed if I didn't want money instead, and I told him yes, I did want my vehicle back on the road. His only other recourse was to suggest that, if my body shop didn't give him a price he liked, that I might consider his body shop. At this point, I just want it fixed so I have my own car to drive to work, and to dealerships on weekends as I begin the process of looking for another vehicle.

So, with my wishes in mind, he was off to call my body shop. This would be the last I'd hear from him that day, but my mind soon focused on other concerns. Plastic covered the kitchen sink, in front of which was a ladder. A cardboard box sat on the counter, surrounded by dust and sheetrock. My dad put it there to catch debris, and it did catch some, but a little box isn't enough to cover a three foot area. You see, a few weeks ago one of the light fixtures in our kitchen died. After trying in vain to pull the old one free, my dad finally just cut a big square in the ceiling to take it out. Calling an electrician would have been an admission of defeat.

My dad's been very helpful to me lately. Honestly, he's been helpful for 33 years. In the past week though, he's not only given up his car, but he took mine to a body shop for me and got my estimate. I'd promised to help him and return the favor, especially since the last time he started working on this particular project and had my mom on a ladder, she ended up in the hospital with heart palpitations. I know nothing about electricity but, as with automobile repair, I've found I can do the work as long as my dad is there to talk me through it. He is a little “braver” about leaving the power on though, and since I'm scared of shocks, I did have to implore him to turn the power off before we started working.

Installing the fixture was no easy task. My dad asked me to read the instructions, then cut me off in the middle of reading as he was thinking aloud. He can be a little impatient. Eventually, I discerned how the brackets fit between the beams, and that the metal was designed to snap off and adjust as needed. With the little square he'd cut though, we couldn't screw the fixture in place first or he'd have no room to attach the wires. The wires had to be attached first.

Soon, my dad was standing on a sheet of plastic on our kitchen counter, while I stood next to him on an old wobbly ladder. I like heights as much as electricity. After a few instances of plaster falling into my eyes, I resorted to wearing goggles. My dad never does, but then he does wear glasses. While I supported the fixture, he attached the wires. Meanwhile, morning was giving way to afternoon and, when the phone finally rang, I knew it was either the body shop or the owner of the other vehicle.

“Hello?” said my mom, blinking a few times as she listened to whomever was on the other end. “Oh....go to Hell!” she said, then hung up. “WHAAAAAT??” I screamed, nearly falling off the ladder and wondering why she was smiling. As it turned out, it wasn't for me. It had been some recorded message selling insurance or something, typical annoying telemarketing.

My dad had finally secured the wires, and it was time for me to screw in the fixture. He was ready to jump down since I was in the way on the ladder, but I instead told my mom where the power screwdriver was. The beams were tough, but I managed to put in enough screws to hold the metal in place. Next came the hard part.

My dad had cut a piece of sheetrock roughly the size of the opening and, after filing the edges, we had gotten it to fit before we put in the fixture. Calculating where to cut a hole in it for the light was trickier. I preferred to use a tape measure while he used a yard stick, at an angle, and said it was “close enough”. My mom had the best idea, and gave me a piece of blue chalk to rub around the edge of the metal. Then I pressed the square against it, and when I lowered it we had a round marking.

As a guide, we used the outer plastic cover of the new fixture to draw a better circle around our rough chalk lines. Even so, the opening was too small and took some filing to get right. The piece also cracked in one corner and had to be glued. While we waited an hour or so for that to dry, I had some time to finally relax and start watching some movies. But soon, I was back on the ladder, drilling holes and securing the sheetrock. By 6 PM, we were done for the day:




My dad sounded worse as the day went on, and finally told us he had a bad cold. I don't think breathing in dust helped, nor did the fact that he stopped to make a sandwich halfway through, eating with dusty hands in a dusty kitchen. “You know how much dirt I've eaten in my life?” is his favorite scoffing expression when I suggest he wash his hands first in such scenarios. So when I finally did get out of the house on my vacation day, it was to drive my mom to the supermarket while my dad finally settled in to a chair for a much needed nap.

The ceiling obviously still needs to be spackled, to cover those edges, and then it will need to be painted. In the meantime, we finally have a working light over the sink again and the bulk of the project is behind us. It might not have been the day I had in mind a week ago, but it was a productive day, and frees up my weekend. I still have to figure out which body shop will fix my car, so the weekend isn't entirely free. I think it's time to start looking at my calendar again, to plan my next mental health day.

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3.14.2008

Whoring

SwanShadow makes a good point: ”...what ‘service' could anyone possibly provide in an hour that's worth $5,500?” He is of course referring to the recent scandal in which New York governor Eliot Spitzer was caught transferring exorbitant amounts of money to a prostitution ring, and subsequently resigned. While classy enough to avoid an obvious pun like ”Spitzer swallows”, SwanShadow did go on to compare the hourly rate to the cost of a down payment on a house. Considering the fact that an average down payment in New York would probably be closer to $80,000, I'm wondering what else is wrong with my favorite state. We pay a lot for houses and our politicians pay a lot of money for prostitutes. Maybe her nipples dispensed beer or something. Maybe he doesn't know how to use the internet. Maybe his wife is a man. I could speculate all day what would drive a man to spend that kind of money on sex.

There are other ways of whoring though and, geek that I am, Smallville of course comes to mind. The mysteriously long-running series is no stranger to product placement. In the beginning it was subtle, and CDs of various musicians featured in the background of each episode would be promoted at the end. Pretty much every drama on the same network followed this practice. Over time, the young Clark Kent finished high school and mysteriously remained on a farm instead of going to college to study journalism and eventually develop his superhero alter-ego. It's been seven years, and even though about a half-dozen other superheroes have shown up and tried motivating him to leave the farm and help the rest of the world, the show has an audience and they're stretching as much as they can. I still watch faithfully for some reason, often to marvel at how bad it gets, but occasionally to catch the two or three amazing episodes each season. There are still a few. Obviously I'm not the only one watching, and whether the rest of the audience watches for the same reason, their numbers keep the show on the air.

I'm not sure when the product placement became so blatant. I remember a Prius playing a prominent role in one episode a few seasons ago, to the point that characters were not only referring to it by name, but admiring specific qualities like a roomy glove compartment. In an age where people record shows and fast forward commercials, or watch online and avoid the ads almost entirely, advertisers need to integrate themselves into the entertainment portion, like stickers on a car at a NASCAR event. I wonder how long before Clark sports an outfit like Captain Amazing's.

In this week's latest bit of advertainment, we're treated to the long overdue return of Clark's best friend, Pete Ross. When last we saw Sam Jones III, his parents were divorcing and he was leaving town with his mother. As the only one who knew Clark's extraterrestrial origins and special abilities outside of Clark's adoptive parents, Pete realized he'd be in constant danger. Imagine his surprise to find out that, at this point, half the cast knows the big “secret”.

We catch up with Pete working as a roadie for One Republic, who perform not once but twice in the course of the episode. Both concerts are held in an “abandoned gum factory” for some reason, and after helping himself to some Stride Gum, laced with Kryptonite, Pete gains the ability to stretch his body. The rest of the episode is irrelevant, a reunion with a formerly marginalized old friend taking a back seat to sledgehammer dialogue and jokes like “why did they have to make the flavor last so long?” To make matters worse, halfway through the episode there's a commercial for some comic book cross promotion between the gum and the show, and they use a clip of Pete with his arm in a cast, flashing a smile and a pack of gum which he declares, “Kryptonite Free!” Thanks for spoiling the ending a half hour early, Smallville. Maybe they were afraid people wouldn't make it that far. I'm surprised I did. It didn't cost me $5,500, but I think I did lose a bit of dignity.

3.13.2008

Fate vs. Faith

I spend a lot of time thinking about odds and probability. It occurs to me that, when I saunter down dark paths of wallowing in self-pity and asking myself, “Why me?”, I'm ignoring the role of God in our lives. Who's in charge? Is there such a thing as bad luck? Or is there a grand master plan that none of us can see? Does everything happen for a reason? Do all bad things pass? A glass-half-empty person might argue that good things pass as well, but I'd say the good outweighs the bad and quality beats quantity.

I wasn't looking forward to my Wednesday. I'd made three calls to the woman who slammed into my car, and had heard nothing. Out of courtesy, on the off chance that perhaps I had a wrong number, I called a fourth and final time before going to work on Wednesday, to politely inform her that I'd have to call their insurance company if I didn't hear from anyone by lunch. I've been driving my father's car all week while my car was sitting wounded in our driveway, waiting to be repaired. No one was hurt in the collision, nor was the damage irreparable. It was expensive, but that wasn't a big problem unless I had to pay for it. I wasn't angry; I just wanted them to take care of what they'd done.

I wasn't looking forward to work, either. Besides the difficult call ahead of me at lunch, a flurry of e-mails was sending me a huge curve ball. Apparently, my company sometimes inserts a last-minute flyer into a mailing, advertising the latest and greatest product. It's not a terrible idea from a business standpoint, but it means that after I think I'm done with one mailing and I've moved on to my next assignment, it's possible that someone will ask me to design an extra flyer on very short notice. Tuesday I learned about this flyer, at the very end of the day, with the barest of details. I knew what size it was and the name of the product we were selling. I didn't know what the product looked like, there was no information for my writer, and there was no art. To make matters worse, the person handling the schedules sent us an e-mail on Wednesday morning letting us know that it was due by the end of the day and asking us the status.

Oh, Wednesday morning was a bundle of problems. The burdens of the universe weighed heavily on MCF as always. I sent various e-mails asking for more information. My writer e-mailed even more people to let them know we probably weren't going to get it done by the end of the day without materials. I had planned to take a vacation day on Friday, my first of the year, and began to wonder if I'd have to come in to deal with the emergency. That's when my boss stopped by.

He's a good guy, my boss. He's reasonable, practical, efficient, fair and honest. I can't go into details here, but it's been a few years since I worked for someone like that. He told me that he caught wind of this extra flyer the day prior, and had someone else take care of it, since he knew I was busy. Normally, there's a little more notice on an assignment, and he made a point of letting the people know, even though someone on our staff still had to accommodate. I have to say he's really good about balancing the workload among his staff and dividing things equally. I might not be so lucky the next time one of these last-minute assignments pop up, but this was one I didn't have to worry about after all. I thanked him, and a few minutes after he left, my cell phone began buzzing.

I'd lost track of the time, and it was after noon. I didn't recognize the number but I answered anyway, since I was hoping the owner of the car would get to me before I called his insurance company. Much to my surprise and relief, it was him. He said they'd gotten all my messages and thanked me for being so cordial about everything. He said he'd be willing to take care of the damages and didn't want to go through his insurance since his “foreign au pair” was driving the vehicle. I guess that explains why she'd been hesitant to return my calls, and perhaps I scared them when I said I'd be calling their insurance company directly. I faxed him the invoice from the body shop, and now I'm just waiting to hear back that he's agreed to their estimate.

As I walked to town for lunch on a sunny day under a clear blue sky, I marveled at how all my problems had been lifted in the span of fifteen minutes. Everything I was worried about that morning was suddenly gone. Should I resign myself to my fate, that 2% odds for anyone else are 98% odds for me? Or should I have faith that all things work themselves out in time? Tomorrow could bring more problems. There will be more challenges at work and more inconveniences and unexpected surprises out there in the world. I'm sure this accident won't be the last time I get blindsided when minding my own business; it certainly wasn't the first. Tomorrow could bring more problems, but the next day could bring more solutions. I need to stop bemoaning my fate, and start celebrating my faith.