5.31.2008

Eye Drive

During my daily lunch constitutional, a father and son rolled past. The father was on a bicycle, while the little boy pedaled along on his plastic 3-wheeler. “Oh no!” exclaimed the toddler, as his back wheel caught against a fire hydrant. “You okay, buddy?” asked the dad with a grin as he turned to help the boy, who was already cutely managing to extricate himself.

I continued on down the sidewalk, and slowed down as I passed a small parking lot in front of a veterinary office. A girl was backing up in the parking lot, looking over her shoulder to watch the metal railing and brick steps in front of the converted residential building. I didn't want to cross the driveway until I'd made eye contact and she acknowledged a pedestrian. Once I noted that she saw me, I crossed safely.

The crunch sounded a lot worse than it probably was, but I looked back down the block over my shoulder and her car was clearly butting into the steps. With her windows rolled up, I couldn't make out whatever she was shouting at the heavens, but I imagine there were some choice words. In a brief moment of ego, I imagined that she was so distracted by my rugged good looks that she floored it while in reverse. This was followed by a moment of panic, fearing that it was somehow my fault. I lingered long enough to note her car wasn't dented and she seemed okay, then continued on to the shopping center. After lunch, when I walked back past the building I noticed a few scuff marks on the black metal left by the white car.

Driving can be challenging to different people for different reasons. I seem to have my driving-induced anxiety spells(or whatever they were) under control again, and my autopilot is operating at near peak capacity. When I pulled in to my driveway after work on Friday, it dawned on me that I was “suddenly” home. I love when that happens. With parade and feast season in full bloom now, it's very important that I'm able to traverse great distances without incident, now more than ever. In the past few weeks, my father was diagnosed with cataracts that have gotten worse at an alarming rate. He went from seeing a few blurry spots to “I can't see that traffic light...” in a matter of days. He was originally going to postpone his surgery until the end of the Summer, when the music season was winding down, but the sudden decline forced him to move up his timetable, and he's having the first eye worked on next week.

I'd imagine eye surgery is worse than going to the dentist. The thought of having your head in a vise, with metal clamps keeping your eyelids open while doctors moved in with blades or lasers is terrifying, though I haven't shared this opinion with my dad. A woman at work told me a horror story about her husband's procedure, in which anesthesiologists put a shunt in his arm then forgot to hook up the IV line. Afterwards, he admitted it was an ordeal, and they soon realized he went through it without being sedated. I told my mom to make sure nothing like that happens, although my dad is both tough and numb. I've seen the skin on his hands cracked open while getting caught against metal inside a car, and he's continued working despite the mix of blood and grease. I wish I had a nickel for every time I had to ask, “Uh, do you know you're bleeding...?” only to have him admit that he did NOT know, then dismiss it as nothing.

My dad's driving has been limited to local places, though even that will have to stop until this problem has been fixed. He confessed that he may or may not have run through a few lights coming home from church on Sunday morning. He claims he sees fine when it's cloudy out, but the sun is too much. Now he understands what one of our friends in one of our bands goes through. A trumpet player in his 80s with one glass eye, our friend Bill developed inoperable cataracts in his good eye a few years ago and could no longer read signs or see traffic lights. We've been driving him to jobs ever since. Now that my dad has the same problem, I'm the only one that can get the three of us where we need to be. Supposedly, if all goes well, my father's vision will actually be better. We've spoken to a few people who, after having their cataracts worked on, didn't need glasses anymore, or only needed reading glasses.

It's an inconvenience, but he's managing. My mom can handle driving while I'm at work during the week, and his biggest concern has been reading music. Unable to make out the notes, he's finally being forced to memorize some songs, which I knew he could do even if he thought otherwise. When he expressed surprise after our last few jobs, I pointed out that he's played this music like 800 times, and it's in his subconscious. I never use a book during feasts; it's one less thing to carry, and most of those old Italian songs are (badly) handwritten.

“Could you help me with something tomorrow morning?” asked my dad as I walked in the door on Friday night. Just about every night this week he's had a request, from helping him enlarge sheet music in a photocopier to putting up screen windows. “I didn't say right now!” he'd insist when his son, tired after full day of work asked if it could wait until Saturday. By Friday he'd learned to specify a timeframe for his requests.

“I need you to check the bumper. Your mother stepped on the gas instead of the brakes and smashed up the car.”

I don't think our screen door even had time to close once he hit me with that. I was back out in the driveway, checking his car. I asked if they were okay, and he said they were in the parking lot at the supermarket, and as my mom pulled in to a parking space she suddenly floored it and hit a concrete planter. I headed to the backyard where she was gardening to make sure she was okay and, if so, to tease her mercilessly.

“I hadn't eaten,” she explained, pointing out that she had to fast for a blood test. Ever since her bout a few months ago with an irregular heartbeat, she'd been on blood thinners to control the problem, while doctors check each week to make sure she's on the right levels. Instead of coming home after the test though, they opted to stop at the supermarket, a normally simple task.

“I hope I don't need to hire a driver for you two,” I half-joked. Later when she came in I asked if she managed to garden without crashing the wheelbarrow. Kidding aside, it is a bit worrying now if neither parent can be trusted behind the wheel. I really can't be around during the week to drive them places, unless they can wait until I come home to go shopping. Most of their doctors are local so they could walk if necessary. My mom insists it was a one time lapse, and reminded me of the time I did the same thing with her car and drove into her shed. Anyone can step on the wrong pedal. After dropping me off near my car following an office Christmas party, one of my friends once forgot her SUV was in reverse when she floored it and backed into me with enough force to send me spinning. Earlier in the same day my mom had her little collision, I witnessed that girl in the vet's parking lot do nearly the same thing.

My mom is the sharpest one in this family, and the one we depend on the most. I can usually go out with a clear conscience, knowing the house, the cats, and my dad will all be fine and exactly how I left them when I return. For at least another week or so, she's the most/only reliable driver when I'm not here. “Now I have to worry about both of you...” I realized aloud when I was done making jokes.

Some companies have “bring your child to work” days. I might have to look into a “bring your folks to work” policy at my job. Then again, if I did that, I'd probably need to look into therapy too...

5.30.2008

My Brain is LOST.

The season 4 finale of Lost was ridiculous, like five movies crammed in to one. I suppose part of the insane pacing can be attributed to losing a few episodes to the strike, but I was in awe. I laughed. I cried. My jaw was agape. I jumped. My heart is still pounding. It may be the best episode yet, and there's a ton to process.

Oh yes, there will be SPOILERS.

Working slightly backwards with the scenes freshest in my memory, and assuming readers are familiar with the show as it would literally take years to explain:

1) I was not expecting Locke to be in the coffin at the end. Even when Ben walked in to the funeral home and started speaking to Jack, I thought the reveal would be Ben's body in the coffin, with the Ben speaking to Jack being one of myriad manifestations of dead characters we've seen on the show. Like an idiot, I totally took ”Jeremy Bentham” to be an alias Ben was using, and missed that it was an obscure philosopher influenced by John Locke. In hindsight, besides Locke choosing an alias connected to his namesake, it makes more sense that he would have visited Walt and brought him up to speed on what really happened on the island. But...the coffin did seem short, didn't it? Could one of the “bad things” that happened after Jack and the others left be that Locke loses his legs? That would be pretty tragic after the Island had restored his ability to walk in the first place.

2) The second moment that added a few tears to the lump in my throat was Desmond's reunion with Penny. I don't know about anyone else, but I got really nervous when he told her he'd never leave her again. That line was just begging for a surprise gunshot, but I'm glad out of all the couples separated across the great divide on this show, those two got together, at least for now. I was worried in general about both Desmond and Frank since they weren't among the Oceanic Six, but it makes sense that they wouldn't be with the survivors and part of the cover story since neither character was on the plane in the first place. Will they have to go back to the island with Jack and the rest next season? “See you in another life, brother.”

3) Marvin Candle and those damn DHARMA videos are so frustrating. This time, using the time “Dr. Edgar Halliwax”, he begins explaining an experiment in time and space using the island's unique energies, likely the same energy that shifted Desmond's consciousness through time after the events of the second season finale, and turned the sky purple, a similar effect to what happened when Ben turned the wheel. The tapes, a microcosmic parallel for the show itself, always give us pieces of information, enough to tease but not enough to explain it all. I knew the tape wouldn't finish; they never do. As for Ben being the one to turn the wheel and move the island, it's interesting that he said the one who moves the island can never return. Wasn't the same thing said a few episodes ago about Charles Widmore? He sent a team to fetch Ben because he himself couldn't set foot on the island? If so, could he have been there before and turned the wheel? Did the island move or shift when Desmond turned the key a few seasons ago? Was that why there was suddenly a second island in season 3 that they never noticed before? It doesn't explain why the second island was gone this time though. Actually, in all the aerial shots I'm not sure we caught a glimpse of it at all. Perhaps the island exists in multiple times and spaces at once, which is why the course heading is so specific. It didn't “move” so much as it shifted out of phase with that particular point in reality. The other island could be somewhere else in the world, reached only by traveling from the side of the island touching on that point. The release of the island's energy can close some of these rifts and bits of folded space, kind of how Samantha Carter figured out how to use explosions to make wormholes “jump” on Stargate SG-1. Or maybe I watch too much science fiction...

4) Since the helicopter folks didn't run into Faraday, maybe his boat was caught in the energy pulse and shifted with the island. I think it's funny that Sawyer can jump out of a helicopter and swim back to the island faster than a little boat with a motor. And of course he had to lose his shirt along the way and do a male version of that scene from Dr. No where Ursula Andress comes out of the water. That was for you ladies, I guess to balance out the Kate shower scenes we get each season.

5) As for the boat, that was a massive explosion. I guess Michael is pretty much done, but who knows? Some force kept preventing his death until he returned to the island, and as of this season he never set foot off the freighter. Christian appears and tells him “you can go now” right before the bomb goes off. Was he recruiting him into the brigade of characters who still appear and give creepy advice after dying? Was he saying he'd served his purpose and wouldn't be saved this time? Will Waaaalt ever see him again? If everyone who left the island needs to return, then it's more than the Oceanic 6 and Locke; they might need to bring Walt back too. When Jack and the other survivors of the chopper crash first saw the light on the water, I remembered the season 1 finale in which Walt was taken, and was a bit concerned. It was a nice parallel to shoot the scene that way and lead us in one direction, only to reveal it was Penny, as friendly a contact as they could hope for. Just as the island might converge on different points around the world, so too are these people intertwined and connected across great distances.

6) Michael might be done, but I remain hopeful for Jin. We didn't see a body, and he was out on deck. Granted, he didn't have time to get a life vest on, but maybe he was thrown clear by that first blast before the whole ship really lit up. Sun needed to lose him in order to be motivated to take over her father's company and be tougher, but if anyone deserves a reunion it's those two. At the very least, I'd like to see him appear as a spirit to meet his daughter. At the very most, I wouldn't care if he climbed into a refrigerator and was thrown safely back to the island, so long as he was okay. All I know is, seeing his wife in hysterics on the helicopter was a very emotional moment and a very intense scene, and that happened with an entire hour left in the episode!

7) I liked the little tease about Charlotte searching for her birthplace, and Miles' cryptic remark about her being “back” on the island. I think a lot of the subplots with these new characters were lost in the shorter episode count, so it was a nice suggestion that there'd be payoff next season. Potentially, three original cast members bit the dust this season, so there's room for the new folks to shine next year. Along with Jin and Michael, I'm starting to think Claire crossed over at some point, maybe as a delayed result from being in an exploding building. She stayed in this world long enough to make sure Aaron would be safe, then Christian appeared to help her cross over. She appeared in Kate's dream begging her not to bring her son back to the island, and I'd like to think she might be reunited with Charlie. It is interesting that Desmond had a vision last season of Claire and Aaron leaving on a helicopter after Charlie sacrificed himself, but for whatever reason Claire wasn't on that helicopter with her son. Did events in the timeline change, or was he seeing another helicopter further in the future?

* * * * *


I'm very tired, and it will take some time to process everything. I haven't even had time yet to analyze the Octagon Global Recruiting viral website advertised near the end of the show. I apologize if my thoughts are jumbled and disorganized, and I'm certain there were other important things in the finale that I missed. It seems like teleportation was confirmed, and Ben appearing in the desert with a parka and an injured shoulder a few episodes back was explained. When the island moved wherever when he turned the wheel, he was shunted there. It would also explain the DHARMA polar bear skeleton Charlotte found in Tunisia. As for time travel, is it physically possible or can only consciousness move as with Desmond? Ben did ask what year it was when he was in the desert. If we're dealing with alternate timelines as well as alternate space, then these “ghosts” might not be ghosts but alternate versions of these characters stepping through into this reality to set events on their correct course. Or maybe I have been watching too much Stargate.

All I know is, it's going to be a LONG Summer...

5.29.2008

Gardening Tips

Near the end of an Italian festival procession this past Saturday, the band and the church members had a short break at a home where beverages and pastries were served. After two hours, it was a welcome respite, home baked powdered sugar treats and bottled water the perfect companion to sitting down at a curb for a few minutes.

While we waited, my dad struck up a conversation with one of the society members, standing nearby sipping a beer. My dad asked if they had a larger crowd years ago, which led to a lament on this gentleman's part about the new generation.

“They don't want the same thing as their parents! They want barbecues, and hanging out with their friends! All the old traditions are lost!”

“Well sure, with television things have changed.”

“What television? It's the parents! They don't teach kids! They let them do what they want! The apple don't fall far from the tree!”

“Yes, but the tree has a lot of different branches.”

“What branches? It's all roots! If the roots are bad, them apples are rotten!”

“But roots need water....”

They went on with this line of metaphors for a good five minutes, making less and less sense until the man with the beer resorted to speaking plainly again. Once, when he was a boy, hundreds of people would have gathered in the streets to hear our music, to follow a statue of a saint through the streets, and partake in wine and snacks. Now, only a handful remain, 20 or 30 at best, and our band may well have outnumbered the people who hired us.

As he finished his beer, the man drifted into related tangents. The problem was more than parents not teaching their children about their heritage, about allowing them to stray and do the things they want to do rather than the things they need to do. He recognized that even parents and teachers who would be good disciplinarians now have their hands tied.

“If I acted up in school, the teacher would hit me!” he said, “Then he'd tell me to go home and tell my parents. I wouldn't dare tell my father that the teacher hit me, because he'd give me a whack too! Nowadays, the kids call the cops on the teachers! You can't even yell at a kid without it being ‘verbal abuse'. I told my daughter if she ever called 911, she wouldn't have no fingers!”

Eventually they were joined by one of the police officers guiding the procession, and the conversation turned to politics and retirement benefits, and how the new generation won't have any money by the time they reach their 60s. Beer rant aside, the man did have some valid points. I may be the only member of my church between the ages of 20 and 40. The majority of parishioners are elderly, with a few scattered 40-something parents bringing their young children. It seems like all the people in my age range disappeared when they went to college, never to return. I wouldn't blame it all on television like my father, but TV could be part of a rich tapestry of distractions causing one generation to veer into different directions than the preceding generation.

He was right about discipline, too. Granted, by the time I was in school teachers couldn't do more than hand out demerit slips or send me to the principal's office. But growing up, my mom only had to use the dreaded wooden spoon a few times before I developed a fear and respect that still extends today to a woman now half my size. Now, kids roam the streets freely, leaving school grounds in the middle of the day to go into town. They glare at adults, and scoff at police. And just as our town and my dad have had problems with skater punks, I'm noticing it in the town where I work as well.

I was in Subway at lunch the other day, on line behind two kids that couldn't have been more than 10 or 11. Maybe school is out for the Summer, or they just had an extended holiday weekend. All I know is that while one kept watch, the other was standing partially beyond a door marked “private”, while the staff remained oblivious. Both had skateboards, and I soon noticed the one partially in the back room was using their slop sink to wet a towel to clean blood off his knee. One of the workers walked past at this moment and the kid froze, ducking behind a bread cart. She glanced at him, frowned, and continued on her way.

The kids soon took their skateboards and departed without ordering anything, so I was able to step up to the counter and place my order, all the while wondering how the kid not only got past a locked door, but what he was wetting to clean his knee in a place that rations one napkin per order. It was perplexing. Though the bread cart in that back room was surrounded by a protective plastic sheath, I still didn't like the idea of blood being washed away in the near vicinity, and the worker doing little more than making a face. I'm still close enough to my own childhood mentality to remember that when you get away with something once, you feel it's okay in the future.

Last week, I found the porch at the beach where I usually take my lunch swarmed by skater punks leaping over picnic tables. I took my food to the shade of a tree under a bench nearby, when all of a sudden a woman swore loudly, “MOTHER******!!” I looked over to see a lady holding her head with one hand, and a skateboard in the other, glaring up at the deck where a scrawny kid leaned on the railing. “Sorry...” he mumbled, “I fell.” “You shouldn't be up there!” hissed the lady, handing back the skateboard and sitting back down in her lounge chair to resume tanning.

The kids continued skating, being loud, and cursing. The woman and her friend yelled up at them a few times to shut up, tossing out a few swears as well. Eventually the kids got bored and left, and as I finished my sandwich and walked back to my office, I realized my biggest problem with the entire scenario.

She gave the skateboard back.

I once hit a softball through a neighbor's window when I was a kid. They kept it. I once threw a football in the window of a passing car. You better believe that guy kept it. My parents have a collection of things kids have hit into our yard. This kid, skating in a dining area at a park, wiped out and sent the board flying off the deck and into a woman's head. She swore at the kid, then gave him the ‘board back. If it were me, I probably would have kept it. He hit her in the freaking head; that's the least he owes her. Don't adults confiscate things anymore? Do they fear legal retribution, or simply the strength in numbers of a group of unruly kids? Do they not want to face parents unquestioningly defending their little brats?

And that's the problem; the fear has shifted. When I was a kid, I was afraid of adults. I wouldn't go near the house with the crazy old man and the pristine lawn. I never played baseball on the same street where I broke a window. And I learned not to raid the cookie jar before dinner. But now, there are no consequences. Kids can do something wrong, and it's all a big joke. The skateboarder could barely suppress laughter as he “apologized” and took back his board from the lady he hit. His friends didn't even bother to suppress the laughter.

I wonder if I don't sound old with these ideas, if I spend too much time with the over-60 crowd. But there definitely is a problem with some trees and their branches and apples, and it extends to the whole forest. Frighteningly, what seemed like a nonsense conversation at the time makes a lot more sense in hindsight.

5.28.2008

PBW: Memorial.

Before we get to this week's Photo Blog Wednesday, I have some sad news to share.

After a recent health struggle took a turn for the worse, B13 had to bid a farewell to his beloved friend Chili, the Schipperke. B13 and his wife introduced this cat person to his first dog show, and over time I've gotten used to their canines and learned that dogs were more than scary animals like the one that once chased me into traffic as a boy. Over the years my parents and I have had to say goodbye to several cats, and I know the void losing a pet can leave in a home.

I'll remember Chili's energy, and especially his dark eyes, sometimes only noticeable against his black fur when they'd reflect bits of light. I remember sitting in B13's living room one time with a tray of Chinese food as a bunch of us gathered to watch a movie, feeling a presence by my leg, and looking down to see those deep, dark eyes gazing up at me, hypnotically urging me to drop a piece of chicken. He'll be missed not only by his owners, but by those fortunate enough to have met the little guy. In his honor, I'm reposting a desktop image of Chili I took last Fall:



I have a philosophy that things on this Earth are finite to give them value. We treasure our friends, family, and pets because we're not going to be with them forever, not in this world. It makes the time we have together a precious gift. On Monday we honored our fallen soldiers. After a morning of parades, prayer, and rifle salutes to ensure that these brave men and women would not be forgotten, I took some solemn shots of the flag on our front lawn, and some other colorful scenes around the yard. Already the petals are starting to fall off some of my mom's flowers, but there will be a fresh bloom next Spring, just as I hope we'll see old friends in the next life.










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5.27.2008

Random and Strange

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Sometimes I like to pretend I can hear my eyeballs. I'll blink slowly, and imagine the squishing sound as my eyelids wrap around the darting, damp spheres.

~ ~


I divide days by sleep. I took a nap after my parade on Sunday, so it felt like two days. My cat woke me up at 3 AM early Monday morning, walking around squeaking a mouse toy. I woke up again at 6:30, drove to the next town to get a trumpet player from a train station, and returned home to play two parades. Afterwards, my dad and I returned the musician to another train station, then stopped at Target so I could shop for my friend's daughter's upcoming birthday party. When we got home, I dozed off again. So, by my count, a three day weekend was actually a six day weekend, albeit short days. I can't wait to get back to the office and relax.

~ ~ ~


I was very happy to locate my favorite sunglasses Monday morning, especially prior to major, local parades. One reason a shy individual such as myself has no trouble performing in public is because I've done it so many times, for so long, that I don't have to think about it. The music just flows. But the glasses also act as a sort of psychological forcefield. I have this ostrich mentality. Just as an ostrich thinks no one can see it when it sticks its head in the ground, I figure if people can't see my eyes, they can't see me. It's strange and ridiculous, but it helps me get the job done.

~ ~ ~ ~


On Sunday, it took an 84-year-old trumpet player to inform me that Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day, because people would leave medals and ribbons on the tombstones of veterans, and that the holiday's origins go back to the Civil War. Sure, this information was readily available online, but I often waste my surfing time on pop culture, researching movies, television shows, comics, and music. I've been appearing in Memorial Day parades for 23 years, but it's always been for a school requirement or some extra spending money. Too often time erases the meaning of holidays. We know we have a day off; we forget why we have a day off.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sometimes I like to pretend I can hear my eyeballs. I'll blink slowly, and imagine the squishing sound as my eyelids wrap around the darting, damp spheres. I also think my memory is starting to go, but other than misplacing a pair of sunglasses, I haven't seen much evidence of that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

5.26.2008

Phantasmic Links 5.26.08

Memorial Day weekend can be rough. After a brief respite Friday night to see the latest adventure of Indiana Jones, it was time to buckle down and get to work. Saturday was a beautiful day, gorgeous weather for a three hour procession with refreshments. I hit a bit of a snag on Sunday morning, however, when improbability stepped in. I remember seeing my favorite sunglasses on top of my keyboards. I remember reaching for a tie on the top shelf of my desk, only to find it weighted down by various bits of junk. I remember tugging at the tie, causing an avalanche of keys, loose change, bits of plastic, and other assorted items toppling behind my desk to get caught in the wires from my computer. After a bit of a tantrum, I managed to pick most things up, only to notice my shades were conspicuously absent. I searched in vain, but the clock was ticking and I had a parade to get to. My dad offered me a pair of lightly tinted old man glasses, not understanding that I needed my glasses, whose mirrored surface hides my eyes so I'm free to look at pretty girls on the sidelines while we walk down the street.

Um, I mean to protect my eyes from deadly ultraviolet rays.

In any case, they still haven't turned up, and it's frustrating that I'm losing my once decent memory at such a relatively young age. I find myself relying more and more on lists and calendars. Such is life, which does take things away over time. I still have two more parades to play and a lawn to cut before this long weekend is over. It will be nice to get back to my office and sedentary lifestyle. It's hard to believe that I have one free weekend before the end of August; truly Summer has begun. I'll just grab a quick break here and find some PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Click Myclofigia and help build our city. 340 strong, and growing...

(2) Is your baby too loud? Does it cry and keep you up at night? Are the expenses of caring for an infant too great in this $4.00-a-gallon-gasoline world? Have you considered selling it on eBay?

(3) Need to fight crime as colorfully and unconventionally as possible? Then you need to visit the Brooklyn Superhero Supply.
Hat Tip: J-No.

(4) Witness an elaborate device Creme that Egg!
H.T.: Curt.

(5) Can a Pac-Man movie really be in the works? Is it sad that I'd see it no matter how bad it looked?

(6) Life imitates art when children's drawings are brought to life.

(7) A blogger dedicates himself to growing every beard type. I've only had about six; who knew there were so many?

(8) Ever wonder from where some of those terms you've heard around the office originated? Wonder no more.
H.T.: Sean.

(9) Show me the way to go home. I'm tired and I want to go to bed. Ah screw it, I'll just sleep here.

(10) Crumbs may be the diet I'm looking for. I can eat as many (virtual) cookies as I want without gaining a pound!

(11) Boomstick is simple yet challenging. Shoot enemies and collect ammo, but shoot conservatively to last...

(12) Dave Cockrum's X-men Freak Out. That man had talent.
H.T.: Sean.

(13) A crafty raccoon makes an acquisition...

(14) Finally, here's an interview with the guy that created Solitaire for Windows. Blessed are the timewasters


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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5.25.2008

Life Takes Away?

"We seem to have reached the age when life stops giving us things and starts taking them away”-Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

That quote reminds me of this guy I know. The son of hardworking Italian immigrants, he and his four sisters learned by example. His father was one of the pioneers of the lunch wagon in this country. His mother once carried a burning cast iron stove out of the house in the middle of the night, hurling it outside and saving her family. His parents also ran a small convenience store, though sometimes he and one sister were less than helpful when they got into the ice cream supply.

After high school, he took some classes and became a pretty good mechanic, finding various mentors in the field. His diagnostic skills were unparalleled, and he could simply tell what was wrong with a car by listening to it. In his free time he was an athlete, coaching his own baseball team. Later in life, he'd tell his son that everything was downhill after age 40.

He settled down and got married at 40, around the time his vision started to go bad. Glasses corrected the problem, but as arthritis set in, he had to give up ball playing. He'd still manage to play catch with his little boy, though he'd rub his shoulder and rotate his arm after each throw. By the time he was 60, many of his teeth were false, a minor annoyance compared to a new problem. When he'd walk fast, he'd describe a tightness in his chest, a feeling like he was breathing cold air. He hardly visited doctors, but decided it was worrisome enough to investigate professionally.

One failed stress test and various imaging tests later, he was diagnosed with several clogged arteries around his heart. Without bypass surgery, doctors estimated a year or two at best before he'd succumb to a fatal heart attack. He tried two balloon angioplasties and one with a laser. All procedures were unsuccessful in clearing the blockage, and doctors actually burned him on the last one, a very unpleasant experience. Meanwhile, he made radical changes to his diet and lifestyle. No longer would he eat “lunch baloney” every day. No more would he make daily trips to Carvel after work but before dinner. His wife would eliminate beef from the family diet, substituting turkey meat for meatballs, meatloaf, and sausage. He'd begin a homeopathic treatment of Chelation therapy several times a month to flush out his arteries. He'd exceed the two year life estimate by well over a decade and keep going.

With an outstanding work ethic passed down from his parents, he'd retire early and earn a full salary for some time thanks to decades of saved unused vacation days. He'd continue marching in various bands, retaining one pleasure from his youth. After high school he’d quit, but his wife got him a Baritone Horn on their first wedding anniversary after seeing some old year book photos, and his love of music would not only be rekindled, but he'd pass it on to his son. One cannot deny the social and cardiovascular benefits of various parades and feasts.

That's my dad. For all that he's considered “downhill” from middle to old age, he's kept going. His hearing's been getting progressively worse, and we occasionally have humorous misunderstandings when he responds as though my mom or I have said something else entirely. He has a bump on his left shoulder, non-cancerous, that doctors can't remove. All they can do is occasionally drain the fluid that causes it, but it seems to come back bigger each time. What was once the size of a golfball is now closer to a softball. At this rate he'll soon have a second head. His latest ailment is cataracts. There were warning signs that he probably missed, like specks he'd attribute to bits of paint spatter on his glasses, or the fact that the last time I let him drive me somewhere he couldn't see the lines in the road and made several involuntary and (for me) terrifying lane changes. It's getting progressively worse, and now he can't even see traffic lights.

For all his accomplishments, my dad has somehow never been able to memorize songs. On Saturday morning, at the first of four jobs we're playing this weekend, he consistently had to ask me what key various songs were in as he couldn't read the music. “It's all...cloudy.” Maybe he'll finally start memorizing, and on a few tunes he should know by now he didn't do too bad considering he could only see part of the page. He's having one of the eyes worked on in a few weeks, with the other scheduled for whenever he recovers from the first one.

My dad is 78 years old. His hearing and vision are failing, he's missing most of his teeth, at least one major artery is 98% clogged and he has a tennis ball-sized lump on his shoulder. He visits at least 3 or 4 different doctors a week and, not unlike my mother, takes a plethora of medications. Some treat his ailments while others compensate for side effects of those first medications. It's a delicate balance. In some ways, his cynical assessment that his life's been downhill for the past four decades is accurate, just as that professor in Crystal Skull was partially right in his assessment of life. But none of these things have really stopped my dad. Simple things are more challenging, but he still gets them done. Another musician in the band, a 75-year-old youngster chuckled about seeing young musicians lean against a car or sit down on a curb. I certainly get tired sometimes when we're just standing around waiting for a parade or a procession to begin, but watching the older generation makes me realize I have no excuse. If they can be on their feet for five hours, so can I.

Sometimes I look at the things my dad has to deal with, and depressingly realize that will probably be me someday. Sometimes I look at the things my dad accomplishes in spite of his problems, and hope that will be me someday.

5.24.2008

Belated Sequels and the Kingdom of the Oversized Sicilian Melon

Wow, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a lot of fun, with great humor, action, and nods to the previous films and television series. Although it has its flaws, it's still an entertaining ride. I could suspend my disbelief about most things in the movie, save for the use of one common household appliance, but perhaps I'm saying too much. It was great revisiting that world.

There's always understandable skepticism when filmmakers return to the well after so many years, and I know audiences will be divided over this fourth installment. Ultimately, I think it was a good execution of a good idea. But what of bad or unlikely sequels? I've speculated Belated Sequels before, and just when you think the topic is closed is when the time is ripe for another sequel to those posts. Consider:

1) W for Worcestershire: In this unexpected follow-up to V for Vendetta, a new protagonist dons the Guy Fawkes mask to stand up for a new cause: condiments. Can he turn the tide against a government contractually obligated to ketchup? Can he bring new flavor to a bland bureaucracy? A reckoning is at hand, and there will be accounting for bad taste....

2) Bee13 Movie: I admit, I haven't seen Bee Movie yet, but it seems like a no-brainer to convert one of the more colorful characters I know into a colorful CGI bee and let him tackle the voice work. Inspired by his hive-brother's adventures with humans in the first movie, and shunned by his 12 siblings for his obsession with human interests such as photography, Bee13 sets out on a journey to see the world outside, and show others how he sees things. It's a BEE with a CAMERA--a fun ride for the whole family!

3) Double Mocha Venti Me: Morgan Spurlock educated and disgusted millions of Americans with his hit documentary Super Size Me. Now, in a rare reality sequel, instead of a fast food only diet, Spurlock tackles coffee chains. See the man lose weight and act increasingly jittery as he survives on nothing but Starbucks for 30 days. You might never order twenty ounces of brown fluid again!

4) Great Grandson Kane: Move over, Citizen Kane! Rising star Shia LaBeouf takes on his greatest role yet. Heir to a great fortune, running a successful online sled store, Chuck Kane the 5th has everything he wants, and nothing he needs. Brittany Murphy takes a marvelous dramatic turn as a professor who teaches Kane that love and happiness can't be bought, only traded.

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5.23.2008

Across the Music Verse

Without marvelous renditions of The Beatles tunes, the tale recounted in Across the Universe probably would have taken about fifteen minutes and been a lot less engaging. It's a great idea though, taking a selection of a band's songs and crafting them into a cohesive musical. Pink Floyd: The Wall is probably the closest similar experience I've had, though Across the Universe is for the most part a brighter romance, with a few dips into darkness and drug-induced hallucinations. But it was mainly those classic songs and ballads that won me over.






Okay, some of the trippy stuff won me over too, like that Bono rendition of I Am the Walrus. It did get me thinking what tales could be found in other group's repertoires.

A Pearl Jam musical would no doubt follow the tragic life of a young boy named ”Jeremy”, with a stunning opening in which he takes his life in front of his whole class. We'd then be privy to a final fantasy captured in a split second between life and death, as he imagines a world in which he's still ”Alive”, knowing there are still ”Oceans” to cross. He might go through a ”Wishlist” of things he wanted in life, might crave ”Immortality”, but ultimately realize he's reached his ”Last Exit”.

Metallica's musical would follow ”One” war veteran, not quite right in the head from his experiences, lying in a ”Sanitarium”. Once released, he'd sing ”Wherever I May Roam” as a celebration of his freedom to go where he pleased, so long as he got enough ”Fuel”. In coming to terms with his past, he'd dub some people ”Unforgiven” as ”The Memory Remains”. Only when he forgives them can he find peace and sleep without nightmares. ”Enter Sandman”.

Bon Jovi perhaps has the best assortment of songs for such a treatment. Imagine the story of young Tommy and Gina, he working on the docks while she works in a diner all day. They'd just be ”Livin' On a Prayer”, but their love would keep them going. A tragic accident would introduce conflict when Tommy is nearly shot through the heart, and Gina is to blame. Recovering from surgery, he'd drive her away by telling her, ”You Give Love a Bad Name”. His survival is nothing short of miraculous, though in the aftermath he struggles with addiction to ”Bad Medicine”. Gine, after a mournful solo plea to ”Never Say Goodbye” becomes a bit of a ”Runaway”. She finds work in a ”Dry County”, while Tommy struggles with the ”Edge of a Broken Heart”. Ultimately he tracks her down, realizing his mistake, and serenades her with ”Born to Be My Baby”. The pair reconcile, recognizing that they need to ”Keep the Faith”, and the film closes with a montage of their wedding and subsequent journey to a honeymoon suite, where he lays her down in a ”Bed of Roses” as the doors close to give them privacy as the credits roll.

I can probably think of more, but something tells me I need to get some sleep so I can keep my day job. Maybe I'll revisit this theme someday, and certainly feel free to add your own modern musical ideas.

5.22.2008

Two Much.

Two words.

Easy meme.

Kev Bayer:

1. Where is your cell phone?
Charging Up.

2. Where is your significant other?
Tell Me.

3. Your hair?
Shaved Down.

4. Your mother?
Gardening Fiend.

5. Your father?
Musical Mechanic.

6. Your favorite thing?
Having Friends.

7. Your dream last night?
Work Anxiety.

8. Your favorite drink?
Green Tea.

9. Your dream/goal?
Only One?

10. The room you're in?
My Bedroom.

11. Your hobby?
Watching Movies.

12. Your fear?
Fear Itself.

13. Where you want to be in 6 years?
Venice, Italy.

14. Where were you last night?
My Bedroom.

15. What you're not?
Remotely Normal.

16. Muffins?
Cat Names?

17. One of your wish list items?
Significant Other.

18. Where you grew up?
Long Island.

19. The last thing you did?
Watched Stardust.

20. What are you wearing?
Shorts. Shirt.

21. Your TV?
Living Room.

22. Your pets?
Two Cats.

23. Your computer?
My Life.

24. Your life?
My Computer.

25. Your mood?
Cautiously Content.

26. Missing someone?
Many People.

27. Your car?
Like New.

28. Something you're not wearing?
Any Socks.

29. Favorite store?
Best Buy®

30. Your Summer?
Bands Galore.

31. Like someone?
Dwindling List.

32. Your favorite color?
Blood Red.

33. When is the last time you laughed?
Just Now.

34. Last time you cried?
Terabitha. Quiet.

5.21.2008

PBW: 'lings

I’m starting to notice the local geese accompanied by their much cuter and fuzzier young. I headed down to the water and got as close with my camera as protective parents would allow for this week’s Photo Blog Wednesday Along with goslings, I did find a batch of ducklings who huddled close to their mother and swam swiftly in tight formation to the safety of an island in the middle of a pond. Nature’s young heralds the true dawn of Spring, even if we are currently bombarded by rain.















Click the following images for photos from my last nature walk sized to fit your desktop:



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5.20.2008

MCF's Fall Couch Time

I'm not sure what I would have done if there was no Writer's Strike this season. Between returning old shows and a crop of new ones that proved too good not to add to my viewing habits, many conflicts kept my VCR whirring and my eyes blurring. But then the strike hit, and I had all this time to catch up on movies. In a few short months I've watched nearly 8 full seasons of Stargate SG-1. Somehow I maintained a balance between vegetating and exercise, taking advantage of increasingly warm days to walk as much as possible on my lunch hour at work. Oh, I still have a stack of DVDs on loan from B13 that remain untouched(sorry, Boy Eats Girl), not to mention a DVD set of From the Earth to the Moon that was a Christmas present from my cousin, but I'll get to those in good time. Most of the shows that returned after the strike have concluded, and once Reaper and Lost air their respective finales, I'm pretty much done with television for a few months. Now's the time to put a dent in my DVD stack, because television is going to be returning with a vengeance, if The Futon Critic is any indication.

DELETED!:

Of the new shows which debuted during this turbulent season, New Amsterdam is the only casualty on my list of must-see shows. I'm surprised FOX only took out one new show that I liked, but next year they'll have at least two opportunities to grab me then cut me loose. We'll get to that shortly. I watched every episode of the now canceled Bionic Woman update, and I can't say I'll miss it. I forced myself through one episode apiece of Cavemen and Carpoolers, and my only real surprise was that those shows lasted beyond one episode. Somehow I blinked and missed Miss Guided, a shame as I've been a fan of Judy Greer since The Specials. I suspect I would have enjoyed Journeyman as well, but I was watching way too much on Monday nights already. I never saw Jericho, but I do feel bad for the fans. The only thing worse than having your favorite show get canceled is having it get canceled and saving it through heroic efforts only to have it get canceled again. Ouch.

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN!:

I'm glad these old favorites will still be around:

The Simpsons
Family Guy
How I Met Your Mother
Heroes
Prison Break
24
Lost
Scrubs
The Office
30 Rock
My Name is Earl
Smallville
Supernatural

I'm glad Scrubs will be getting a proper finale and if I've stuck with Smallville this long, I can make it through their final season as well, even if their strongest actors, Rosenbaum and Glover, have left the show and Doomsday is going to be showing up way too soon. The kid, now in his 20s, still can't fly, hasn't gone to college or left his farm, but his enemy next season is the guy that killed him in the comics? And yet, I'm still going to watch every episode. Earl was a little uneven after the strike with a drawn-out coma/sitcom fantasy subplot, but the finale set things up nicely for next season to get back to normal. I'd say Heroes, Lost, Supernatural, How I Met Your Mother and The Office are the strongest shows in this list, and I have high hopes for Prison Break and 30 Rock to continue to deliver as well. I also hope I can get back into 24 after what feels like two years.

NOT QUITE DEAD YET!:

The Freshman shows didn't have much time to prove themselves, but I'm glad all of these will have a chance at being Sophomores, either in the Fall or midseason:

Chuck
Reaper
Pushing Daisies
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

If Supernatural was my new X-Files, then Reaper is my new Buffy. The show's really evolved and developed all of the characters and their relationships, moving beyond a “monster of the week” formula toward wider story arcs about the trials and tribulations of a boy whose parents sold his soul to the devil. Pushing Daisies was so charming, quirky, and unique, that I'm pleasantly surprised it's still around. Chuck fell on Mondays, and I really watched enough that night as it was, but with enough convincing from Rey I had to check it out and was subsequently hooked by the story of a geek caught up in government intrigue. And it's soon to be a comic as well! Chuck cast member Adam Baldwin is a great actor with a horrible track record of canceled series, so I'm glad both he and Chuck are sticking around. Baldwin's former Firefly costar Summer Glau kicked serious badass in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, even working her ballet skills into the mix, and I'm hoping a little thing like a massive explosion isn't enough to put a dent in her character's futuristic robotic frame.

NEW ARE YOU? NEW NEW!:

It almost seems unnecessary to bring in new shows next year as we barely got a taste of the new ones this year. I'm sure I'll be adding to this list as I learn more about the new shows, but a few have piqued my curiosity thus far. Dollhouse is a new Joss Whedon project that stars Eliza Dushku, Amy Acker, and Tahmoh Penikett, and those names are all I need to know to tune in. Fringe is a new J.J. Abrams joint, and that too is enough information for me to check it out. The Knight Rider TV Movie was decent enough for me to try the ongoing series, even if it does turn out as bad as 2007's Bionic Woman. At the very least its failure might pave the way for a proper feature film. Do we really need a Prison Break spinoff, a Family Guy spinoff, and an Office spinoff? I love the originals but wonder if this slew of spinoffs won't dilute what makes them good. I'll definitely find out of course, but I'll probably avoid the next generation of 90210. And SNL Thursday Night Live? Really? Does that even make sense if you spell out that particular acronym? One wonders if the TV folks are running out of ideas with all these remakes(and all the reality shows and game shows I don't watch). Then I read that Robocop and Red Dawn are both being considered for remakes, and I realize some people in the movie business have the same problem.

PHEW!:

If anyone needs me, I'll be getting phat on the couch...

5.19.2008

Phantasmic Links 5.19.08

On Sunday I journeyed to a strange and magical land where time moves differently and the air is filled with song. Am I talking about an Italian feast in Staten Island or the latest Narnia movie? While I try to figure that out, check out this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS :

(1) Click Myclofigia and help build our city. Soon this thing will take on a life of its own...

(2) A Mac Music Video shows off all the facets of OS X again and again and again and again....
Hat Tip: B13.

(3) a) The director of Step Up 2 challenges Miley Cyrus and Mandy Jiroux to an online dance battle.
b) Miley and Mandy respond.
c) Their challengers come back with a massive all-star dance of destruction.
Those movies aren't my cup of tea, but I have to admit all these folks have moves
H.T.: Rey.

(4) Create your own three-dimensional online art work with Cubescape! I wonder if I can build an online city much faster, once I get the hang of this...

(5) How fast can you guide a rat to 54 pieces of cheese? It took me awhile, as those “last” seven pieces can be tricky to find. I average around 173 seconds. See if you can find the hidden MP3 as well...

(6) One day, The BBC had no news to report. I guess that's good news?

(7) Scientists dust off an astronomical discovery. I think my room shares a problem with the universe...

(8) Explore Picasso's Guernica in 3D. It really changes the way you see things.

(9) Mobile phones have come a long way since 1985...

(10) Coming in at #10 this week are 10 things you might not know about ‘ol Blue Eyes. I only knew one of those.

(11) A collection of images go out of frame.

(12) Russians breakdance to Run DMC.

(13) Eliza Dushku returns to television and FOX in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Have neither of them learned from past experience with that network? I plan to watch every episode they air before they cancel it and put the rest on DVD. Then I'll spend money on the theatrical coda.

(14) Finally, Deadly Dash offers 25 levels and two different degrees of jumping power. It starts out simple enough, but by level 17 it got tough and by 22 or 23 it was just plain evil. Can you escape the warehouse with a score better than 2496?


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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5.18.2008

Can Anyone Do Anything?

”Anyone can do anything.” declared the boy with dead certainty in the wisdom of his 6 or 7 years on Earth, leaning against a tree on a hill in his backyard and folding his arms with finality.

“Nuh-UH!” came the little girl's response.

“Yeah, whatever they want they can learn to do!” insisted the boy once more. Oldest on his block and the self-declared leader of his group of friends, he'd often say things to sound smart, even if he was just repeating things he'd heard in cartoons or quoting a song out of context.

“People couldn't FLY!” was the girl's answer.

“Yeah they COULD!” he said, “They just go to school and learn and they can fly a PLANE!”

“But they can't just fly; the PLANE flies!”

“Well...yeah, but they're still finding a way to do what they want to do. Anyone can do anything.”

“That's silly,” she said, “You're silly.” And off she went.


We have such confidence when we're young, before life makes us jaded. As we get older, we tire more easily, both physically and psychologically. I often look back at how I started, what I believed when I was a boy, and what I believe now. There were no limits to what I believed was possible. I tried to create life by mashing leaves in a bucket of water and telling the other kids it was a “protoplasm”. I tried to build a time machine with a toy car, a magnifying glass, and an electrical wire connected to a “no parking” sign. I once built a working “robot” around a walkie talkie and sent it rolling in to the kitchen via remote control to ask my mom for some cookies. There were more than a few design flaws, from one-way communication as I had the receive button screwed down to getting the thing to turn around and come back.

When we're young, we have a lot of silly ideas, but they don't seem silly at the time. In truth, perhaps we're not capable of anything, and we do have natural limitations. I'll never reach things on the top shelf naturally, not without a step stool. I'll never cure a disease or solve physics equations. The thing is, some of our limitations come from a “try and fail” approach, while others are mental limitations based on our own perceptions or things we've been told. When we use the word “never”, is it stating a fact or indicating a choice?

I often look back on past decisions, as we all do. Geek that I am, I often look back on past decisions as points of divergence, and I'd like to think alternate realities branch off from each of these points, creating variant versions of myself leading different lives based on different decisions. Would I be married by now, own a house, have kids, earn a six figure salary? Would I travel out of the country or have a different career? And who made the correct choices, my doppelgangers or myself? The past cannot be changed, so who's to say I'm not on the course God intended for me? Am I the divergence or the core reality?

Practice and time can eradicate as many “can't”s and “never”s as bad experience and time can create. We might experience panic in certain situations, be it traffic or stressful meetings, but after “surviving” these experiences enough times, we reach a point where we don't even think about it. Autopilot can be a marvelous thing that lets us achieve more than we thought possible. There are days when I dread my “to do” list and get nothing done, and other days where I'm not paying attention and finish hours earlier than I would have anticipated. It can be hard to overcome limitations, but once in a while it's nice to look back and realize we've been doing all along what we once thought we could never do.

I never learned how to swim. I almost drowned in a pool when I was very young, and avoided beaches for a while. In high school it was a requirement of gym class, but I'd always panic and sink like a rock. I managed to learn the strokes and propel myself through the water wearing a life vest, but the underlying fear that I would sink prevented me from ever trying it without the vest. A few years later, a wave and an undertow nearly took me out in the Atlantic. Spun around, I ended up swimming through a cloud of stirred up sand, only to swim the wrong way and hit the bottom. Instead of fighting, I let go, and flipped right side up and floated to the top. Walking on tiptoes, I slowly made my way into shallower water where I could walk, praying all the while that another wave wouldn't pull me further out.

As far as confidence can take us, I think we often forget the value of prayer. On church on Saturday, our pastor spoke of people building walls by trying to do things on their own, shutting out God and those around them. There's an elderly couple I see each week in wheelchairs, accompanied by their middle-aged son and daughter-in-law(or daughter and son-in-law). When it comes time to stand, sometimes their younger relatives will wheel them forward and help them to their feet, where they can lean on the back of the pews. It's a very small thing that was once easy, but is now a great accomplishment for them. In the end, not being stubborn or held back by our own self-imposed restrictions can allow us to accept help, be it from God or our fellow human beings.

I guess it was that untapped potential I spoke of when I was that little boy, though I might not have understood it in those terms at the time. Maybe we could do anything we wanted, if we were willing to risk the effort or consequences of at least trying. Potentially, anyone could do anything, though ultimately, everyone won't do everything. Even without fears or anxiety, there's simply not enough time, and no one's invented a device to manipulate time.

Yet...

5.17.2008

Scrubbing Up

Scrubs never got any respect from NBC, but over the years it's earned mine. It took me a while to get into the show. One of my friends sang its praises from the beginning, but at the time it was in a bad timeslot against both 24(remember 24?) and Smallville. It's hard to believe all those shows were once on Tuesdays. I forget if I taped 24 and watched Smallville or vice versa, but Scrubs was something I caught bits of on intermissions. Out of context, the impact isn't there.

That Summer after the first season I'd catch up a bit, though Tuesday evening band rehearsals in July made me miss a few. Still, it grew on me. I identified with lovable loser J.D., who'd often escape the rigors of a stressful hospital job by escaping into Simpson-esque daydreams. In its prime, Family Guy might have wowed me with its rapid and obscure pop culture references, but Scrubs would do more than just reference. You never knew when Carrot Top, Jimmie “JJ” Walker or even the late, great Fred “Rerun” Berry would show up in one of J.D.'s fantasies. J.D. worked with his cooler, darker college pal Turk. At the time, I was still working with my cooler, darker college pal Rey. Of course, besides differing careers, there was one other significant difference since it was a television show. For every beautiful woman I couldn't get the nerve up to talk to or would invariable make a fool out of myself in front of, J.D. would make a fool of himself in front of gorgeous women he'd eventually charm, such as Sarah Chalke's Dr. Elliot Reid. He also suffered his share of undeserved (albeit humorous) torment, from both his mentor Dr. Cox and nemesis, the nameless Janitor. I know something about psychological torture as well.

The biggest hook for me wasn't the comedy or thin parallels I'd draw to me own life, at least not those things alone. There was a third dramatic element, the fact that we had to laugh because sooner or later, we are going to die. The show managed to provide comic relief for its darker moments, but many of those darker moments were unexpected sucker punches. Lines like “Where do you think we are?” or “What happened to your son, Denise?” literally flipped their respective episodes upside down and changed the tone of what I thought I was watching.

The first four seasons are probably the strongest, and while it slumped a bit in the fifth and improved slightly in the sixth, there were still gems to be found. Just as a single line could make an episode so much better, certain episodes redeemed entire seasons. Season seven was to be the last, though the Writer's Strike disrupted the planned 18 episodes. Only 11 were filmed, with 7 airing before the strike and the remaining 4 showing up throughout the past month. NBC was done with the show, and calling last week's episode a “finale” may have confused and disappointed some fans, especially since it was aired out of sequence and didn't reflect the departure of a hospital staffer in one episode and promotion of another in the next. They didn't add “season” or “series” to their description, because the show's not over. Bill Lawrence elaborates more in a recent TV Guide interview. (Hat Tip: Rey) There will an 18 episode eighth season, and it will air on ABC. ABC owned the show for years, but not the rights to air it for reasons beyond me. It does explain partially why NBC never promoted the show, moved it around a lot, and didn't air repeats.

I don't know what people did before the internet. I wouldn't know otherwise about the show's fate; I'd just think it ended on an abrupt and confusing note. How else would I know New Amsterdam was gone(boo) and Reaper was renewed(phew)? I guess I'd have to read magazines and newspapers and get my information the old-fashioned, printed way. As for Scrubs, hopefully it will get an uninterrupted and satisfying final season. Maybe the J.D. and Elliot relationship will rekindle and finally stick. Maybe we'll find out the Janitor's real name. As Homer said to his mother on this past week's Simpsons: “You keep disappearing and reappearing and it's not funny! You're just like that show ‘Scrubs.'”

One can hope he meant NBC's scheduling wasn't funny, as opposed to the show itself. Then again, Homer might not be bright enough to get all the jokes.

5.16.2008

Going Home Again

It's been several months since I left my old office for the last time. Since August, I've only driven past there once. I've settled in to a new job, a new reality, and a new life, but still have fond memories and ties to former coworkers. I still see my old friends on a somewhat regular basis, but I definitely attend as many happy hours as possible to keep in touch with everyone else.

Most of our gatherings have been in Manhattan, with one or two exceptions, but there was one at a bar up the road from the old office, back in my old stomping grounds, this Thursday. Thursday gatherings are tough as Friday morning comes early. I suppose it's a popular night for people wanting to avoid the Friday night crowds and youngsters, or simply those who can't make it another day without getting a drink or two with their friends. Television is still conspiring to put the majority of new episodes of my favorite shows all on one night, but I've missed so many things because of television that I really need to rethink my priorities. With another happy hour on my schedule for Friday night, I didn’t need two long nights in a row. Still, I had two VCRs primed and ready for prime time when I went to work Thursday morning. I'd make an appearance, and be prepared if I stayed out longer than expected.

And so, driving home from one office, I took a crucial turn that would allow me to continue on away from my literal home, and back to an old figurative one. I find that both gum and a bottle of water are good ways to alleviate the stress of driving and keep my mind sane and focused on reality. As I got closer to the bar, I began to feel the effects of all the water I'd been drinking. I knew I couldn't walk in, breeze past all my old coworkers and duck right into a restroom before I'd said hello or had a beer. Fortunately, seven years of lunch on that particular street taught me many options. I could duck in the back entrance of a Dunkin' Donuts, use their restroom, and continue out to the front entrance without ordering anything. I think we all know how well my plans usually work.

I walked down the hallway and grasped the handle to the restroom. Would it be locked? Would I need to ask a cashier for a key? Fortunately, it was unlocked. Unfortunately, it was occupied. I saw the old woman first, bending down with a piece of toilet paper in her hand, frozen and bewildered at the sudden intrusion. Next to her, a little girl stood with her diaper around her ankles, presumably waiting for her grandmother to clean her up. “Oh...sorry...” I muttered, backing out in to the hallway and closing the door. It was a unisex restroom, but for whatever reason the woman neglected to lock the door, or perhaps it didn't have a working lock.

I stood outside for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and averting my eyes whenever other customers walked past. At some point it occurred to me that I'd probably come across as a pervert, especially if the grandmother found me loitering. I decided to hold on a little longer, and proceeded outside and across the street to the bar.

I caught one old guy on his way out with his wife, a nice gentleman who'd been with the company forever before layoffs forced him in to retirement. After exchanging pleasantries, he told me there were a few people inside. “Few” literally meant four, reminding me how much things had changed. That number would eventually triple as other people arrived from their new jobs out of town. There are still plenty of people who gather, just not as many who are still with the same company.

I didn't stay too long, just had one drink and caught up with some people. After about an hour, I remembered my restroom delay and cautiously and slowly opened the door to the men's room. As I was leaving, one of my buddy's mentioned that he'd found some printed samples of my work and recovered them, if I wanted to stop back at the office. If driving past there was weird a few months ago, driving in to the parking lot was stranger, and surprisingly challenging. The last time I'd been there, a little flooding problem had struck one of our buildings due to a low spot that diverted all water in the parking lot to the lobby. I soon found that the entrances were still blocked by the same sandbags that were there last Summer. After some maneuvering and doubling back, I found my way in to the parking lot.

Heading home, to my real home, was perhaps the most surreal experience of all. I found myself retracing my old commute, at around the same time I used to drive home after working late and going to the gym. The car was different, one section of road was nearly converted to run under some train tracks, but otherwise it was a very familiar journey. I can't really go back, not to my old reality. I can visit the people and the place, but not all the people are there and the place lacks the same spirit. It was strange waiting in the parking lot for my friend, knowing that I couldn't go in the building unless I signed in to security as a visitor. It was my home for so long, but I've found a new one. Hopefully I'll stay awhile, but I know someday I'll be as much a visitor as I've become to the old place.

5.15.2008

The Ultimate Assemblage

After a few weeks, it might be safe for me to discuss the big surprise awaiting folks after the credits for Iron Man. If you haven't seen it, especially after my glowing review, what are you waiting for? At least Rey finally saw it, and since he's the biggest voice in protest against spoilers, I feel safer in discussing this. Before I talk about Marvel's future in theaters however, I'm going to review the past.

Ask Stan Lee his rationale for creating the Fantastic Four, Marvel's first family of heroes in 1961, and he'll probably cite the Distinguished Competition's Justice League. DC had a successful team book in the ‘60s, so Stan came up with his own team with personal ties to one another: a scientist, his girlfriend(later wife), his best friend, and his girlfriend's brother. The FF might have been created in response to the JLA, but the structure of another Marvel team would bear a closer resemblance to DC's, in collecting a number of popular established solo characters into one book, giving fans their dime's worth.

Radiation was foremost on people's minds in the ‘60s. It was cosmic rays in space that granted the FF their abilities, and in 1962 Stan and Jack Kirby would once more bring us a radiation-powered superbeing, this time fueled by gamma rays. The Incredible Hulk was born when Dr. Robert Bruce Banner pushed teenager Rick Jones to safety after the young man drove on to the military base where Banner's gamma bomb was being tested. Jones was safe but, caught in the blast, Banner mutated into a giant gray beast, green in subsequent issues as the mutation settled(and comics creators looked for an ink color that printed better). In his early days, the Hulk was a bit more intelligent if unpleasant, and managed the occasional short but uneasy truce with Marvel's heroes, though they clashed more often than they joined forces.

A few months prior to the jade giant exploding on to the scene, another scientist was embarking on adventures in the pages of Tales to Astonish. Henry Pym has adopted several alter-egos over the years through the use of his size-altering “Pym Particles”, but the first was that of the original Ant-Man. Hank could reduce his size but retain his strength, and through a cybernetic helmet he could control ants. It seems like a pretty lame power by today's standards, but back then there were fewer super-villains and more things a science fictional adventurer was more than equipped to handle. As the Marvel Universe changed, so did Hank Pym. He'd later use his particles to increase his mass adopting identities such as Giant-Man or Goliath. As Yellowjacket, he was a bit more aggressive with his sting ray, but one of his more interesting roles was as himself, simply Dr. Pym. After an emotional breakdown and a period in which his body couldn't take the strain of shrinking or growing, he still found a way to fight by shrinking various weapons, gadgets, and even a ship so they'd fit in various pockets. At any time he could grow any device he needed.

A year after Pym's creation, they introduced a love interest. To avenge her father's death at the hands of an extradimensional creature, Janet van Dyne would turn to her father's lab assistant, Hank Pym, for help. Pym operated on Janet and, besides exposing her to Pym Particles so she too could shrink, implanted wings and antennae and gave her the ability to fire biochemical stings from her hands. The winsome Wasp was born, and the pair would go on to have one of the more tumultuous relationships in Marvel's history.

In 1962 in the pages of Journey Into Mystery, Stan and Jack would take Thor, Norse god of thunder, and reimagine him as a superhero. To teach the warrior humility, his father and ruler of the Norse pantheon, Odin, erased Thor's memories and placed him into the mortal Dr. Don Blake. While on vacation in Norway, where he was drawn to for reasons he didn't understand at the time, the lame doctor encountered an alien invasion. Seeking shelter in a cavern, he found a walking stick to replace his. But upon striking it against some rocks, both the doctor and the stick were transformed. Blake became Thor once more, while the cane took on its true form as his mighty hammer Mjolnir. He could summon storms, possessed great strength, and could fly through means best explained by his creator.

It was in 1963, in the pages of a book called Tales of Suspense, that Iron Man was first forged. Much like the film version, wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is injured and taken prisoner by enemy forces who want him to build them a weapon. Instead, he first devises a chest device to keep shrapnel from piercing his heart and killing him, and then a lumbering but powerful iron armor to break free. He'd later appear in a gold version of that bulky armor, probably for the same reasons the Hulk went from gray to green, and over the years he's never stopped refining and upgrading his technology.

Some of these characters were more popular than others, but in September of 1963 Stan and Jack discovered that the sum was greater than the individual parts. When Thor's evil half-brother Loki devises a scheme to pit the Hulk against Thor, it backfires in a big way. Iron Man, Wasp, and Ant-Man all show up in response to the Hulk's apparent rampage, and once the deception is revealed, the five heroes team up to defeat Loki. Earth's mightiest heroes work so well together, they decide to make it permanent, and the Avengers are born. Of course, the Hulk isn't much of a team player and departs by the second issue of the series. By the fourth issue however, the team discovers a frozen Captain America, perfectly preserved since World War II. Revived, he's granted Hulk's place on the team and goes on to become their most iconic member. The roster has changed many times over the years, sometimes branching out into multiple teams, and I've lost track of just how many Marvel heroes have made the roster. Ten years ago I would have had that list memorized, but it seems like nearly every Marvel hero has become an Avenger at some point.

Therein lies a small problem. For every geek that painstakingly collected back issues and studied decades of fictional history, there were so many more potential new readers that couldn't just jump in and start reading. I was a serious collector in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and I managed to fill in the blanks from the decades I had missed. But each year that passes is another year of interconnected stories. Marvel didn't want to scrap all that history or reset their universe, but through their Ultimate line, which debuted in 2000, they found a way to start over while the core books continued. Set in it's own continuity, the Ultimate books showcased Marvel heroes if they debuted today. They didn't have to worry about fuzzy Marvel time and why characters who were teens in the ‘60s had only aged about five or ten years while 40 passed by in the real world. Ultimate Spider-Man was a high school kid in the year 2000, even as his mainstream counterpart was an established photographer, husband, and professor in his late ‘20s.

The Avengers were reborn as The Ultimates in a gritty, realistic setting closer to our world. Frozen since WW II, Cap is found and revived and has a hard time fitting in to society. Iron Man, Giant Man, Wasp, Thor, and even the Hulk are all there, similar yet different. This Iron Man is dying from a brain tumor, and drinks constantly just to be able to handle flying around in his armor. Thor seems like a crazy hippy who only thinks he's a god, and most of his teammates don't believe him. The team works for the government, pulled together by S.H.I.E.L.D. and coordinated by Nick Fury. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, Fury is a war hero and a super spy whose been around since 1963. Most know him by his eyepatch and gray haired temples, and some might remember the Hasselhoff T.V. movie version(note to self: locate that VHS tape). In the Ultimate universe, they went for a bald African American based on Samuel L. Jackson, who gave them permission to use his likeness.

It's only fitting then that Jackson would portray Fury in that Iron Man movie coda I referenced about nine paragraphs ago. When he spoke to Tony Stark about an “Avengers Initiative”, comic fans knew exactly what that meant. Drawing from the best elements of the original Marvel continuity and the Ultimate universe, Iron Man is the first in a series of Marvel films to lay the groundwork for a series of movies as interconnected as the comic books. Later this year we get another Incredible Hulk movie. In 2010, Ant-Man and Thor will hopefully make it to the big screen. Captain America brings back some much needed patriotism in 2011 and, if all goes as planned, the casts of all these films will assemble for The Avengers that same year. I really hope all goes as planned. Already, Cap's shield had a cameo in Iron Man and his Super Soldier Serum plays a role in the Incredible Hulk. These days, we expect comic books to cross over and heroes to join forces. Fifty years ago this was a novel idea. Quite possibly we're on the verge of a new age of movie crossovers, and cinema might never be the same.