I Have No Idea....

...what prompted me to try a new product called DORITOS® 1st Degree Burn Blazin' Jalapeno. I have a good tolerance toward spicy food, and generally find most to be underwhelming. Despite the name of this new variety, I didn't think it would be that hot. Indeed, after my first chip, I thought “this isn't so ba--” and couldn't finish the thought as the spices activated in my throat, setting the back of my tongue on fire while opening nasal passages I didn't even know were clogged. That being said, it's a great chip; just make sure you have enough beverage to wash it down with. I miscalculated and finished my tea well before my chips.

...why people seem to direct information to me outside my area of expertise and responsibility. Without getting in to specifics, writers at my company have a ton of legal challenges to face due to the nature of our business, and have to be very careful about how we word things. As an artist, I just have to make sure everything is visually appealing to our audience. But there's been an increasing trend of multiple people looking to me during meetings while explaining what has to be written, often some technical strategy behind a particular effort. I'll sense the eyes upon me, and kind of look in the direction of my writer or my supervisors, my body language trying to convey, “What are you telling me for? I'm just the dumb artist.” I think part of the problem may be the way I quietly nod during meetings and act like I understand what everyone is talking about. That's going to backfire someday.

...where Supernatural will be going with their next season. This was originally supposed to be the final one, and having Lucifer himself walk the Earth while the brothers faced increased demon activity, corrupt angels, and even the four horsemen of the apocalypse seemed to be as much of an endgame as one could hope for with the series. But they got renewed for another year, and if they do manage to defeat the biggest big bad of all in the next 3 weeks, next season could be kind of a step down. They did introduce pagan gods in a recent episode, so maybe they'll have to deal with other pantheons.

...why I'm such an idiot savant. For all the things that are intuitive to me, whether it be solving problems with math or just instinctively understanding software, I do my share of dumb things and my math has yet to translate into personal gain or home ownership. I suppose things could be worse and I could be an idiot idiot, but why can't I be a savant savant instead?

...why I feel so tired. It's been a busy week, but I rose to the challenge in the face of crisis at work and met all my deadlines. There was one day I came to work an hour early, and practically locked myself in my office for 12 hours until everything was done. I only made it to the gym once this week, and still my ankle was killing me after my run. I hope I don't have to permanently switch to low impact exercise; my metabolism couldn't handle it. I might have to....diet. And without things like radioactive chips, my life would lack the required flavor of enjoyment.

...what else I have no idea about.


My Comic Book Costume Five

After watching the preceding videos in which Tim Gunn critiqued various superheroes' wardrobe choices, it got me thinking about My Five favorite comic book costumes:

5) Quasar:
Greg Capullo's redesign of the original costume had to be his greatest contribution to the character. He stayed within the same iconic palette of red and blue with a touch of yellow, but modernized it by integrating the cape more into the torso and logo. More importantly, he underscored the cosmic nature of the character by making the outside of the cape blue and the inside a freaking starscape. I bet the artists who had to draw the character later loved that...

4) Supergirl:
I realize the costume is somewhat derivative of her cousin's. The “S” shield is the same, most of the time against a blue top. The red cape is a little shorter, but again not a big departure. So other than the obvious, what separates this blonde beauty from the man of steel? It's the miniskirt; definitely the skirt.

3) Magneto:
The X-Men's most formidable adversary has the regal, imposing costume every good villain should have. It's evolved over the years, and I personally think Jim Lee had the best rendition of the suit, but the basic elements are almost always the same, a mix of metal and fabric in dark crimson and purple hues with a billowing cape emerging from a metal torso piece. Most important of all is the helmet, which has function as well as form, protecting the master of magnetism from various telepaths among our heroes. For a time in the ‘80s, Magneto went without the helmet and sported a giant “M” on his chest, but that just looked ridiculous. Sometimes, you just don't mess with an original.

2) Batman:
In it's purest form, this is a costume truly designed to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, a “cowardly and superstitious lot”. The cape and cowl are sometimes black and sometimes dark blue, but that single piece element of the costume is what fully evokes the sense of a giant bat emerging from the shadows. I personally prefer the dark black bat emblem on the chest to the hokier one in a yellow oval, even though some writers have used the explanation that he's wearing a bullet-proof vest under there and wants them to aim for the yellow rather than his head. And of course, the infamous utility belt with pouches and compartments conceal weapons and devices for any eventuality. I had considered listing the sleeker, futuristic Batman Beyond, which replaced the cape with glider wings, added a full face mask, and went all-black with a more modern red emblem on the chest. It's a great redesign, but I think it would have been heresy to ignore the original.

1) Spider-Man:
He's had a few costume changes over the years, as noted in one of those videos I posted, but the original is definitely a masterful design that's seen many interpretations by many artists. There's something so graphic about Steve Ditko's design. Discounting the webshooters concealed under the gloves and the rarely seen belt with his logo on a light, it's usually depicted as a seamless costume. The mask, shirt, pants, boots, and gloves are all separate pieces of course, but the continuous pattern of the red webbed sections over the blue are what tie it all together. He may have a spider emblem on his chest, but the whole costume is one big logo. The red, white, and blue manage to be patriotic without being overtly so, and with his face fully concealed behind big, white lenses, he's one of the more mysterious heroes. It's a timeless look that he always seems to return to, and even subtle changes like moving the webshooters to the outside or slightly changing the pattern were fleeting. A good original is hard to improve upon.

Well, those are my favorites; what are yours? Perhaps more importantly, and something I may consider in the future, who do you think has the worst costumes?



PBW: Toe, No! Toe, YES.

I miss running every day. Lately, it seems like my exercise routine has been all over the place. There hasn't been a week that's gone by in which I haven't run at least once or twice, a minimum of four miles each time, but I had been running 7 miles 5 days a week for a while there. Between my dad's operation and a few emergencies at the office, it's been hard to get back into my groove. Even last week, when I made it to the gym four out of five days, I only ran once. It aggravated whatever muscle pull or whatever's been bothering my left ankle, and I had to resort to low impact elliptical and cross country machines for the remainder of the week.

Of course, a bad ankle hasn't been my left foot's only problem this year. A few months ago, I got some kind of blister that resulted in a dreaded black toenail. The swelling went down, and it didn't get infected, but for a while it wasn't pretty. A few weeks ago, I noticed the thing was raised up, and snapped a few photos. A few days later, it finally came off entirely, leaving a newly forming baby toenail underneath. I know this probably isn't what Krispy meant when he asked, ”So we'll be seeing more of you now?”, but this week's Photo Blog Wednesday nonetheless serves as a reminder of being careful what you wish for:



Brackets: Imagine Greater

I probably should have anticipated this. With only two voters(thanks Lyndon and Rey!) in last week's brackets, we had more than a few ties. I probably could have acted as a tie breaker, but I think it's more fair to leave it up to my readers, and advance the tied characters to the next round. So now it gets tougher, and we'll need to narrow down 13 characters down to four. Also, you'll notice comparisons between apples and oranges as diverse shows come together. Technically, voting will close at Midnight EST on Sunday, giving me time on Monday to tally the vote(s) and update my bracket graphic, but if any stragglers post their choices during the day on Monday before I get to it, your vote will likely also be counted.

Four sets; hopefully only one victor from each:

1) Dr. Walter Bishop vs. Barney Stinson.

2) Jack Bauer vs. John Casey vs.Liz Lemon vs. Sookie Stackhouse.

3) Guerrero vs. Castiel vs. Hiro Nakamura.

4) Shawn Spencer vs. James “Sawyer” Ford vs. Stewie Griffin vs. Bart Simpson.



Phantasmic Links 4.26.10

Final reminder: If you haven't already, please vote for your favorite bracketed TV characters! The first week's results will be up in just about 24 hours....

My father needs to learn the difference between “doctor's orders” and “doctor's suggestions”; I'm not even sure the latter is actually a thing. Two weeks after open heart surgery, he already did a load of laundry when my mom wasn't looking and carried the basket upstairs. He's not supposed to lift anything heavier than a carton of milk for six weeks. And if she didn't hide his keys last week, he would have driven himself to church. “Ahh, that's just a short ride!” I had to be up early this Sunday anyway for a gig in Brooklyn, and I'd missed mass on Saturday because my mom left while I was still mowing the lawn, so it all worked out with me taking him to his early mass.

My mom accompanied us to Brooklyn for the first time, since I wouldn't be able to watch my dad at all times and make sure he didn't try to follow the whole three hour procession. We kind of lucked out with the inclement weather though, since most of these churches and societies don't like getting the statue of their saint wet. So after playing a few hymns for mass, we simply led the statue in to the adjoining gymnasium, and played a few tunes while the parishioners enjoyed their brunch. Up to that point, I was having a good day.

After the gig, the band leader called me and two of the regular trumpet players aside with a grim look on his face. “I got a real problem,” he began, as he explained the band was on probation for an upcoming job, and that he'd gotten a letter with several complaints. For various reasons, the job last year had run about an hour late, which didn't make any of us happy. I think what made it worse psychologically was being told we'd be back by a certain time; they really should tell us we'll get back later than they expect. So if we think we're getting done by 3 and get back by 2, we feel a lot better than if we were told we'd be done by 1. In any case, our bass drummer was very vocal about the whole thing, yelling and cursing, and obviously the society wasn't too happy. They also claimed about 12 guys were late which was a bit of an exaggeration. I know there was at least one gig I got to late because it was on a weekday and the LIE traffic in the morning was horrendous. Even worse, they procession started a half hour earlier than normal. The society counts bodies not sound, so even though there were enough musicians for the band to sound good for those first 3 or 4 songs out of a 6 or 7 hour day, it didn't look good.

I get all that, and appreciate my leader's dilemma. I'll make an extra effort to get to that job on time this year. But I wasn't one of the ones complaining, and that particular drummer happened to be absent, away on a cruise when he was telling us all this. “Why's he telling us?” laughed one of the trumpets after the band leader stepped away for a minute. “Please guys...work with me,” he begged when he returned. “I don't know when these jobs are gonna end all the time.” He also returned to an old tune that always bothers me, the guilt trip that he calls us first all the time so if any of the other bands we play for call us, we should check with him first to make sure our calendars are free. I have a hard time with that. There are definitely some dates that are annual. I know he always has something the last Sunday in April. I know he always has a job on July 16th. He knows there are dates like July 4th on which I'm always booked with a marching band. But outside of dates like the examples I listed, if my calendar is free then I'm obligated to whomever calls me first. Too many times he's had me save a date that wasn't definite, only to later claim the job “fell troo.”

I'm not unsympathetic his personal woes. His regular job doesn't pay much. He's close to losing his house. His perpetually unemployed son lives at home with a wife and two infants, and recently bought two computers somehow. This “kid”, who's 36, a few months older than me, also has a minivan sitting in the yard that they pay insurance for but no one in the family can drive. So I shouldn't take anything personally. On the other hand, every time I got a word in edgewise and mentioned that my dad had open heart surgery a few weeks ago, I got a dismissive, “yeahyeahyeah,” and then it was back to “me me me.” They didn't even question why my mom tagged along. And since they don't drive and take a train everywhere, and the regular bass drummer was on his vacation, I ended up carrying the bass drum there along with my not small brass instrument. When we were leaving, I asked the son if he'd at least carry the drum to my car. He asked where I was and only agreed after hearing it was a block away. If it was two blocks would he have said no? As we walked and he complained about how his legs hurt him when he wakes up in the morning, I knew he very well might have.

I joked with one of the other musicians on the side about what the world would be like if our day jobs were run the same way these guys run their band. Thank God my company doesn't say to show up and then let us know whether or not weather is canceling work for the day. We know we'll get paid at the end of each week and won't have to wait for the bosses to get their money first. We know the work day (usually) ends at 5 PM, and not “whenever we get back”. I never complain, so I guess that's why it bothered me so much to be one of the ones getting the lecture. I know he's worried about losing another gig, but he needs to talk to the drummer who complained. And that drummer wasn't wrong in complaining, just in the very public and profane manner in which he chose to do it. I give up plenty to help these guys out, and I hate that they assume other bands are the only reason I might not be able to make a date. It already looks like I'll have to miss ComicCon this year because it was moved to Columbus Day weekend. Maybe that's why I got so worked up, thinking about the things I give up. Or maybe after a week of dealing with deadlines and knowing what was ahead of me at work, I needed a relaxing weekend playing music, and a lecture made my hobby feel like a real job. When the band leader appreciates me, I might get an extra $20. When my company appreciates me, I get a five figure bonus, 8% salary increase, and a promotion. So in the grand scheme of things, what the band leader has to say should not be important enough to bother me.

Sorry for that rant; I needed to get it out of my system. I guess this is one of those weekends where going back to work on Monday will actually be more relaxing. Maybe some mindless PHANTASMIC LINKS will clear my neurotic head even further:

(1) How absolutely beautiful is this anime style Super Mario poster? I'd love to see an entire animated series rendered in that style.
Hat Tip: Rey.

(2) Shocking but true: when it comes to men's fashion, George Costanza was ahead of his time.

(3) Learn how a prison cell spared the life of one man from a volcanic eruption while 30-40,000 were not so lucky....

(4) In the “We're all going to Hell” category, here's a dance remix of that girl with the neurological disorder caused by the flu shot that permanently messed up the way she moved when she wasn't running or walking backwards.

(5) Bored? Maybe this will help.

(6) You won't know what a true screen villain is until you look upon The Many Faces of Alan Rickman.

(7) The Formula is some truly freaky 3D animation.

(8) When I was younger, I never realized Riverdale was such a filthy place.

(9) There was once a time when a movie didn't have to be a comic book movie to have some great comic book moments: here are 12 of the best examples.

(10) Roboblast is my favorite game of the week! Use your mouse and keyboard to help a little robot defend itself in an arena full of increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Fortunately, you can upgrade him with better and stronger weapons as the game and your levels progress.

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!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 40

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 40th WWW:

1) The Crazies(1973):
I wasn't too impressed with the recent remake, but upon learning that what I'd watched in the theater was a remake, I knew I was obligated to seek out the original in order to make a fair comparison. The original isn't bad, but it's definitely not George A. Romero's finest work, and it's a low budget 70s film that shows its age. In some of the outdoor sequences, it's hard to hear dialogue over the background chirping of frogs or crickets. More than once, when we cut to a scene of a pilot flying a plane or some other military sequence, we're clearly watching grainy stock footage. In the remake, it's kept a mystery as to what's causing the townspeople in a small town to slowly go mad and slaughter each other. Here, we're told in dialogue within the first ten minutes. Then it becomes less of a film about infected individuals and more of a paranoia piece about the government stepping in to contain a problem it caused. There's not as much gore as in the original film, a disturbing scene of incest taking the place of pitchfork murders. The situation is as futile here as in the 2010 version, although the irony we end on is a lot quieter. In the end, we have two average films that are average for different reasons, and while I can understand why the first film was made and what the filmmaker was trying to say, I'm not really sure why anyone thought this was a good choice of a film for a remake.

2) Blades of Glory:
I'm not the biggest fan of Will Ferrell, and I don't get his appeal as a comedian let alone a lead actor. He's made some truly stupid films, but he's also made a few really funny ones, enough to keep him bankable. Often, the ones I like are because of who's starring opposite him(such as John C. Reilly,) and though Blades of Glory is definitely a stupid comedy, it's also stupid funny thanks in no small part to the rest of the cast. The concept of two rival male figure skaters being forced to team up in couples competitive skating is funny enough in and of itself. Ferrell crafts an over the top, boozing sex addict in Chazz Michael Michaels, that plays nicely off the fair, innocent Jimmy MacElroy played by Jon Heder. I didn't have high expectations, so there were definitely a few visual gags and bits of dialogue that took me by surprise and had me laughing out loud. Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, a real life husband and wife, here play a brother and sister skating duo and rivals to our two leads. Some of their costumes and routines are just as ridiculously awesome as the things real figure skaters do. Jenna Fischer plays their sweet younger sister and love interest for Jimmy, while Craig T. Nelson seems to be a natural as a coach. He just might have the move that MacElroy and Michaels can win with, but it's risky. It's so risky, I can't even spoil what it is, but the first time I saw it I had to pause and go back after I stopped laughing in disbelief. If you have an hour and a half to turn off your brain for a dumb movie and just need some laughs, this isn't a bad one to watch.

3) Underworld: Rise of the Lycans:
I was looking forward to seeing Kate Beckinsale reprise her role as the vampire Selene, and instead got a prequel about how the war between the vampires and the lycans(werewolves) began. There are enough things to tie this film back to the previous ones, including Bill Nighy as Viktor and Michael Sheen as Lucian, and overall it's a visually stunning gothic tale. The vampires are supreme, protectors of humanity for a price, while the lycans are vicious animals, constantly storming their fortress walls. Lucian is different, the first humanoid baby born to a feral mother, and Viktor has a soft spot for the child, who rises to the rank of blacksmith and enjoys better treatment than other enslaved members of his race. He also shares a forbidden romance with Viktor's daughter(Rhona Mitra), something the vampire lord would definitely not approve of if he knew. The effects in the film are solid and it's a decent story with strong characters. I don't know if it was a necessary story, and I don't think it offered much in the way of new information. But, viewed as a standalone movie and putting aside any disappointment at not seeing Beckinsale swoop into action once more, it's a pretty entertaining movie. Besides, with Underworld 4 announced, we'll probably be continuing the main story by 2011....

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!




Quick reminder: Only one more day to vote on your favorite bracketed TV characters

In some ways, each generation is an improvement over the one that came before it. We're more technically savvy than our parents, and our children's skills will exceed our own. Lifespans are constantly increasing. And yet, for all that gets better, I think we lose a little something too.

I'm beat. It's been a rough week with a lot of deadlines, all of which I hit, but there's a good chance some of the projects I did will be changed for reasons I can't go into. We were literally just about to go to press, so next week there may be a lot of scrambling to get everything back on track. I'll get it done; I always do, and I'm glad the final decisions about the extent of the changes can wait until Monday so everyone affected can enjoy the weekend. I was glad to hit the gym, grab a beer and some food with some friends and catch The Losers(such fun flick!). It's going to be a busy weekend with an Italian procession on Sunday, hopefully not in the rain. I'm also starting to get schedules from various bands, and it's time to start filling in my calendar.

For all I complain about, I think earlier generations had real problems. My dad remembers his mother carrying a cast iron stove out of the house because it caught fire. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but despite not living past her 60s or 70s, that had to be one tough woman. Another friend's mother has survived two different types of cancer, both caught early, and continues to work insane 12 hour days as a research professor. I remember another friend whose dad once caught fire when grease on the stove ignited. He died of unrelated cancer a few years later, but his earlier survival was still miraculous.

I guess we can take more than we think we can take. I never thought I'd bend again for fear of my guts spilling out, but after a month I all but forgot about my intestinal surgery. It's now two weeks since my dad had his bypass, and other than the occasionally glimpse of his scar peeking over his collar, you'd never know he had heart surgery. I keep encouraging and reassuring him that he's doing remarkably well. I'm not sure I'd be up and about after what he went through, and I'd certainly have bigger concerns than a sore shoulder or occasional pain around the site of the scar. After my operation, my surgeon made clear the differences between surgical pain, and the pain caused by the defect he had corrected. I reminded my dad that his cut was deep and his chest had been pinned open. It's good that we're out and don't remember such things. But those occasional twinges are what my surgeon referred to as “reminders of surgery”.

I constantly hope that, when I'm in my 70s or 80s, medical technology will be incredibly advanced and a tablet or a laser will instantly solve what a several hour surgical procedure once fixed. But I have to wonder why my parents and my friends' parents seem so tough. Is it because they didn't have it as easy as we did? I enjoy the advancements, but I wonder if it will make the tough times harder to bear because I'm not prepared. I'm ready to collapse after a busy week of doing “work” at a computer. My father used to fix cars 36 hours a week, then come home and paint or build stuff around the house, and repair our cars or his friends' cars, and then go play a parade. My mom is always gardening or sewing or cleaning. They never stop. I hope I inherit some of that work ethic and resilience. It hasn't kicked in yet, and I think it will be instinctive when it does. Maybe that's the key, not stopping to think if something hurts or if part of you is on fire. Maybe the key is to not let your thoughts slow you down, to just aim yourself in the direction of any given action and take it. Sometimes, being resilient means just doing that which needs to be done until you're unable to do it, not until you think you're unable to do it. Because often, that's a big difference.


One of THOSE Days.

Some weeks, I really feel the burden of working five days. Some weeks, a Thursday should really be a Friday. This Thursday was one of THOSE days.

It started out like any other day, a busy day full of meetings and problem solving followed by me waking up exhausted after dreaming about the day that was ahead of me. I'm working on several high profile, deadline sensitive projects at the moment, on which every other current project in the company depends. In short, if my team is late, that's the first domino that will make everyone else late. No pressure. People are alternately asking me where things are and telling me what a fantastic job I'm doing.

My dad continues to heal from his bypass surgery, occasionally telling me that it didn't work. For those keeping score, it's been two weeks since his chest was sliced open, an artery was removed and grafted in place of a clogged one on his heart, and he spent 12 hours under anesthesia with a breathing tube, IV lines, and several drainage tubes. To see him shuffling around the house or reading the paper, you'd think he only went in for a haircut. So that impresses me, while the man wonders why he can't lift a car over his head or run a marathon. He claims he got some chest pain while walking on the beach, and said he “only” walked for a half hour. I had to dig out the paperwork from the therapist documenting that, by week two, he shouldn't try to walk for more than five minutes. He'll get up to 30 by the fifth week after surgery, but he's impatient and/or forgetful. We're just glad he's here, and wouldn't have him any other way.

The morning was a frantic whirlwind as it always is, and I definitely lost some time digging out the paperwork to prove to my dad that he's doing better than he thinks he is and needs to pace his recovery. Running out the door with my gym bag, I paused long enough to catch a plastic bag full of garbage my mom tossed at me, to throw in the pail outside. I dashed out with my keys in one hand, and the bags in the other, and upon lifting the lid of the garbage can, I proceeded to let the wrong bag drop, quickly catching my gym stuff before it landed on some wet bags of leaves. I shifted that bag to the hand with my keys and deposited the correct bag, and was on my way.

My morning at the office was not without some technical difficulties, mysteriously changing fonts that I won't bore you with. Suffice to say, after redoing that which a glitchy program had undone, I was ready to enjoy some fresh air and a comfort Frappuccino. I've developed what turns out to be an unfortunate game of will power, in which I try to take little or no sips of my frozen treat until I've completed the ten minute walk from the local strip mall back to my office. So, as I resumed my duties in the afternoon, I still had a chocolately mix to enjoy. By 3 PM, I was just slurping the last of the whipped cream, and as I withdrew the straw, very nearly dropped some on my pants. It was a close call, but I was good. As I sat in two hours of back to back meetings, I noticed a smudge of chocolate on one of my papers. I turned over my arm as I'd been leaning on the papers, and there was chocolate and whipped cream residue there. Hopefully no one had noticed.

Later, some people visited me in my office to resolve some outstanding issues from the meeting, which we did with ease. It was only after they left and I used the restroom, that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, at the huge brown stain dead center of my dress shirt. There was a reason what fell from the straw earlier never made it to my jeans; it hit my shirt first. At least my coworkers either didn't notice or were too polite to point it out.

It is finally Friday, is it not? I wouldn't be surprised if that whole Thursday was just another dream, and one of those days is only just beginning.....


My Modern Age Five

Every since Rey and the geek friends discussed modern heroes, I've been thinking about which characters have been created in the last 25 years. I suppose the comic geek in me will never fully die, and so it's fairly easy to set my mind down this road. For the most part, both the heroes and villains got darker which, as Rey astutely pointed out, mirrored the changes in society itself. Pop culture is a reflection of reality, though sometimes that can be a chicken and egg relationship. In any case, inspiration often comes from the things I need to get out of my brain, hence My Five favorite comic book characters created in the modern age:

1) Apocalypse:
I suspect this villain may have initially been created for the logical play on words of his henchmen being named after the four biblical horsemen, but he definitely developed into a formidable villain in his own right. First appearing in the pages of X-Factor in 1986, this shapeshifting metallic mutant's initial greatest claim to fame was taking a wingless Angel and granting him new metal wings that hurled blade “feathers” laced with a neuro-toxin. Angel's teammates believed him dead until Apocalypse unveiled him as his horseman Death. Later, he rejoined the team as Archangel, and would probably have a place on this list were he not an updated version of a character created in 1963. Apocalypse was responsible for giving Cyclops' son a technorganic virus for which there was no cure in the present, forcing him to send the child far into the future where he would grow up to become the mutant mercenary Cable, another popular modern age character that might be on my list if I called this “My Sixes”. And, as if X-Men stories weren't convoluted enough, Apocalypse was later the chief villain in the Age of Apocalypse saga, a tale about an alternate timeline created after history is altered by the murder of Charles Xavier in the past. Apocalypse, later revealed to be the world's oldest mutant, born in Egypt 5,000 years ago, remains a formidable enemy of the mutant heroes, as though they didn't have enough to worry about between Magneto and a world that hates and fears them.

2) Speedball:
As dark as the ‘90s were, there were still a few lighthearted heroes out there. Enter Robbie Baldwin in 1988, a kid whose power was bouncing--how absurd! I have to admit that I didn't initially care for the character when he first appeared. His hair always sticking up to a point due to the kinetic spheres that surrounded him, he kind of looked like an ice cream cone. Comic book newbie that I was, I didn't appreciate the art of Steve Ditko in his solo series. It wasn't until he became a founding member of The New Warriors that Robbie got interesting. He wasn't this happy-go-lucky kid anymore, instead portrayed more as a real teenager with real problems. His parents were fighting, and eventually separated. His joking facade covered his problems, much like Spider-Man. And his powers started to seem formidable. Any impact could activate his kinetic field, but he gradually learned to control it instead of bouncing around like a maniac. He would do interesting things like jump in front of a train and allow the impact to trigger his powers and send him across a vast distance. When facing off against Terrax, Speedball's teammate Marvel Boy grabbed him in a telekinetic field until his kinetic bouncing spheres built up, then released them against their opponent. Taking down a herald of Galactus was a sure right of passage for any young hero, really a hero of any age. Sadly, the modern age eventually caught up with Robbie Baldwin, and I've read that after a story in which he felt guilty for surviving when hundreds of innocents including several of the New Warriors died, he adopted the codename “Penance” and started wearing a suit with spikes on the inside to cause him constant pain(and because his powers were somehow altered by the explosion that killed everyone else). Jerry pointed out that Baldwin may be returning to the Speedball persona in the near future though, which I was glad to hear. Sometimes, something good comes out of the “nothing is permanent” status quo nature of these stories that factored in my decision to stop collecting after 8 years.

3) Firestar:
That's right, I'm listing another New Warrior. More importantly, Anjelica Jones' place on this list doesn't have so much to do with her comic book adventures as it does with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons growing up. In a rare occurrence, she was a brand new character created for the show in 1981, but would eventually join the Marvel Universe proper in 1985. So I'm counting her as a modern age comic book character. Despite her name, her powers are based in microwave radiation rather than flame, though they allow her to fly and fire concentrated bursts of heat energy. Though depicted as a lighthearted college student and superhero on the cartoon, she had a rougher time in the comics, struggling with her mutant powers and joining the Hellions, rivals to the X-Men's New Mutants. She found a more heroic fit with the New Warriors eventually, a romance with Marvel Boy, and even became an Avenger. That's not bad for a character who only existed because cartoon makers couldn't get the rights to use The Human Torch. That would have been a very different show indeed....

4) Gambit:
These days, they probably come up with a new X-Man each week, but in 1990 the team was pretty tight. Remy LeBeau was a thief with a charming personality, able to woo the ladies while fighting with his bo staff. His mutant ability wasn't too shabby either, and he was able to charge any object with kinetic energy, causing it to explode. But what made the character really interesting and supported his codename was his choice of weapons: playing cards. He'd carry a few decks around in his trenchcoat and hurl an endless supply of exploding cards at his enemies. He's a man with a shady past and some questionable allegiances, but always seemed to be a hero at heart. For a high school art project in which we had to create a giant figure out of foamcore, I chose the impressive Jim Lee character design and still have the four-foot creation(shorter now since over the years the feet have snapped off). Gambit, the cajun thief, was often paired with Rogue, the untouchable Southern mutant belle. He's gone on to appear in both animation and film, and remains a popular character today.

5) Venom:
One thing I loved about comics was how it was this giant sandbox of resources that artists and writers could dig around in, drawing inspiration from years of stories while bringing something new to the mix. I'll never forget Venom's first appearance in 1988, when Spider-Man's wife at the time Mary Jane came home to a darkened apartment and thought she saw her husband lurking in shadows, wearing his black costume. But it wasn't him, as we all soon learned, as he grew a fanged smile on his mask and uttered a chilling, “Honey, I'm home!” At that time in the comics, Spider-Man was also wearing a black costume, but his original black costume had been an alien symbiote he picked up during the Secret Wars. After it tried to bond with him, he though he destroyed it with church bells, since it was vulnerable to sound. Instead, it was only weakened, and found a new host in Eddie Brock, a reporter contemplating suicide after his career was ruined by Spider-Man disproving a serial killer exposé of his by catching the real killer. The costume gave Eddie all of Spider-Man's abilities while enhancing his own strength, could simulate webbing, and could share knowledge, which meant that Eddie knew Peter Parker's greatest secret. This made him one of Spidey's deadliest foes, and he remained so for years until the symbiote somehow ended up with Scorpion, one of the b-list villains in the rogues gallery. Brock is still around as a character called Anti-Venom, but I don't think I or any of my comic book collecting contemporaries will ever forget his earliest appearances.

Can you tell I was a Marvel fan back in the day? Static and Mike Mignola's Hellboy are two notable examples of independent creations from this era too, but if I'm being honest I know them mostly from a cartoon and a film series respectively. Who did I leave off this list that you would have included?



PBW: Crossing Over

There is a small bridge whose Long Island small town residents once dubbed the “bridge to nowhere” because it seemed as though the mayor was wasting valuable taxpayer dollars to renovate a perfectly good street over a perfectly dingy creek. Indeed, many people drive past the area every day, oblivious to the fact that there’s a little park in there, and a happy haven on a clear Spring day. This photographer, always willing to venture off the beaten path, crossed over that bridge for a Photo Blog Wednesday excursion that was a breath of fresh air:



Bracketers Welcome

Did you know there was a recent bracket style poll in which people voted for their favorite current television characters? Because I didn't find out until it came down to two people, Charlie Kelly and some dude I never heard of because I've never seen Burn Notice. You know that's not right. So, recalling the Bracket Blogs competition I ran a few years ago, pitting together 16 bloggers from my blogroll, I decided to recreate the vote among myself and my readers. Madness? Indeed, especially well into April. Skewed? Certainly, since I'll be choosing the initial 16 characters and I don't know how many of my readers will be motivated to vote without the same personal stake they had in my previous bracket competition.

Below, I'm going to list 8 pairs of characters, for each of which you must choose one. Each week, voting will close at Midnight EST on Sunday, giving me time on Monday to tally the vote(s) and update my bracket graphic. I'm sure to overlook some of your favorites in picking the first 16, but I'll try to be diverse and choose only one character per show. Perhaps if this feature proves popular, I’ll run a second competition based on your suggestions and then pit the winner of those brackets against the winner of these. But first, we need to narrow these down...

Let the Character Brackets begin!

1) Dr. Walter Bishop vs. Dr. Nicholas Rush.

2) Barney Stinson vs. Andy Bernard.

3) Jack Bauer vs. John Casey.

4) Liz Lemon vs. Sookie Stackhouse.

5) Guerrero vs. Castiel.

6) Abed Nadir vs. Hiro Nakamura.

7) Shawn Spencer vs. James “Sawyer” Ford.

8) Stewie Griffin vs. Bart Simpson.



Phantasmic Links 4.19.10

Have you ever slept so much that it made you more tired? That's the kind of weekend I had. Saturday was a gloomy, gray day, the perfect day to laze about and catch up on some much needed sleep. But on Sunday, when the sun peeked out for a few hours, it took a supreme effort to get myself motivated enough to get outside and go take pictures in the fresh air. Now that things are settling down and my dad is recovering from his surgery, I need to get back into my regular exercise routine. I think that may be why I'm so tired. I'll recover my lost energy this week, but first I'll laze about some more and see what PHANTASMIC LINKS the internet has to offer:

(1) This photo is 100 meters long, and depicts 178 people the photographer captured over a period of 20 days. I shot a rock this weekend. I need to step up my photography.
Hat Tip: B13.

(2) The Internet, not surprisingly, is the #1 Most Awesomest thing ever, with Life a close second.

(3) Enjoy this collection of 30 Amazing Semi-Photorealistic 3D Cartoon Characters.

(4) A cookbook typo calls for freshly ground black WHAT?! That's not going to be good for business....

(5) A FlickR set compares similarities in various posters and other images, ranging from homages to happy “coincidences”.

(6) Can Manhattan survive an 8-bit assault in PIXELS? Can the world...?

(7) On a somewhat related note, can you escape from Tetris Hell? (If you do, I want to see a screen grab....)

(8) Star Wars® is re-imagined in the samurai age. Full circle, things have come.

(9) This seriously might be my FAVORITE link this week: The Comic Book Ad Campaign the KFC Double Down Needs. Genius.

(10) Say hello to a little but deadly penguin army in Penguins Attack TD 2 and say goodbye to boredom and productivity. They have superior forces and firepower, but as the game progresses and you level up, the odds shift in your favor....

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!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 39

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 39th WWW:

1) Miller's Crossing:
Joel and Ethan Coen bring us a 1920s gangster film as only they could, and I wonder how I missed this gem when it was in theaters. I think there was a reference to it in an episode of Psych that first pointed to this glaring hole in my mental pop culture database. Gabriel Byrne, in one of his best roles, is Tom Reagan, chief aide to an Irish mobster played by Albert Finney. Finney controls everything in town, including the mayor and the chief of police. Character actor and frequent Coen collaborator Jon Polito is an Italian crime boss with a problem, a Jewish guy who owes him money, who he wants dead. The problem is, this Bernie Bernbaum(John Turturro) is under Finney's protection, because Finney is involved with his sister Verna(Marcia Gay Harden). Polito and his bodyguard The Dane leave without having their request fulfilled, and Reagan warns his boss that protecting Bernbaum for the sake of Verna isn't worth having the Italian and Irish mobs clash. But Reagan has problems of his own, both his debt from horse racing and his own secret affair with Verna. Miller's Crossing is a very stylish piece with some fine acting and great action sequences. There's a lot of brawls and tommy guns and jumping out windows. Finney shows why his character is on top and not to be messed with. Polito killed me several times, perhaps the funniest bit when his fat son comes in trying to get his attention while he's talking with Tom. He slaps the kid and yells at him to be more stoic like Reagan. After a moment of stunned silence, the kid bawls while Polito hugs him: “There there, whatsamatter, somebody hit you?” Turturro is appropriately weird and creepy, more than once appearing just waiting in a darkened room seated in a chair. Harden is surprisingly fiery, manipulative and seductive, different from other roles I've seen her in. And Byrne? He's just a man of honor trying to hold on to his hat, stay alive, and hold things together. He's cool under pressure, a quality that shines when everyone around him is yelling, crying, screaming, or generally freaking out. He has a haunting dream of the woods from which the film gets its name, of an ever symbolic hat being carried off by the wind. It's foreshadowing for sure, and you'll be fully invested as you watch to learn his ultimate fate. A must see for fans of the Coens and/or old-timey gangster flicks.

2) Lolita(1962):
James Mason enters a mansion looking for a man named “Quilty”, and finds a very drunk, very hilarious Peter Sellers. Mason isn't laughing when he pulls a gun, and as the situation deteriorates, we eventually go back a few years to find out what brought these two men into conflict. Mason's Professor Humbert, looking for lodging, decides to rent a room from a widow played by Shelley Winters. His decision is sealed by an attraction to her underage daughter Lolita(Sue Lyon, and Stanley Kubrick subsequently submits his audience to several sitcom-like situations as Mason struggles with his inappropriate attraction, while an oblivious Shelley Winters makes advances on his oblivious character. When Lolita is sent off to Summer camp and Humbert faces the prospect of losing her, he agrees to marry her mother in order to remain in the house. A subsequent sequence of events puts Lolita in his care, and while on the road they run into Sellers' Quilty, an old acquaintance of the family. The film, based on a novel of the same name, was quite scandalous for its time, even though most things are left to the audience's imagination. When Lolita first whispers to Mason about some “game” she played at camp while the two are in a hotel room, the camera fades to black. The film is also ripe with double entendres. Quilty's brother was the family dentist, and Winters' character talks about him “filling Lolita's cavity”. The camp her daughter stays at is known as “Camp Climax”. Mason's Humbert seems almost a comic figure, so sympathetic that we sometimes forget we're watching a pedophile on a cross-country sex trip with his “daughter”. Quilty is equally deviant, and as he messes with Humbert in various disguises showcasing Sellers' chameleon skills, it's clear that he's just as drawn to the young girl as Humbert is. In the end, it comes down to two men who are simply different sides of the same coin, one revered as a playwright and the other a professor, both ultimately destroyed by their lust for the forbidden. It's a well-acted piece that dances around risqué subject matter, leaving the worst to our imaginations, and its one flaw is probably the text epilogue, although that's a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate to be told “this is what happened to these characters next” written on the screen as though they ran out of film to show us.

3) Lolita(1997):
From what I understand, the 1997 adaptation was apparently more faithful to the novel than Kubrick's. Jeremy Irons is much creepier as Humbert, as he justifies his attraction early on by recounting a lost love from his teen years, a girl who died when he was only 14, marking him for life. He seems less comedic and more tortured, in pain every time he looks upon Lolita. Melanie Griffith takes on the Shelley Winters role as Charlotte Haze, although she's not in the film long enough to make much of an impression. Dominique Swain is perfect as Lolita, switching from child to seductress with the subtlest of details. She's lying on the lawn next to a sprinkler when Irons' Humbert first sees her, her clothes soaked to transparency. He's clearly breathless at the sight of her, even as she flashes a smile and a mouth full of braces, reminding the audience that this is a child. It's hard to tell, with Irons' narrating, how much of what we see is accurate. I think at times when Swain is sexualized, we're seeing her through the eyes of the Humbert character. The film leaves some things to the imagination and thankfully there are no explicit sex scenes, but we do see them kiss and a lot more is implied. In the Kubrick version, I was never 100% sure if Humbert and Lolita ever got together, but there's little room for doubt here. When she begins to undo his pajama bottoms after whispering to him about the “game” a boy taught her at camp, it's a little easier to guess what she's talking about. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two films is in the character of Quilty. Frank Langella is a shadowy, devil-like figure that we never quite see until the end of the film. Humbert first sees him in darkness, sitting on a porch beneath the ominous light of a bug zapper. Sellers was an amusing adversary; Langella is a demon, a pure evil pervert. When both pedophiles have their inevitable confrontation at the Quilty mansion, we see what a pathetic, sick wretch he truly is. Once again, we get a text epilogue, but this time there's an additional sentence that makes the ending doubly tragic and depressing. This version might be closer to the novel, and Swain does a better job with the dual nature of the title role, but beyond that I'd say the Kubrick adaptation was better.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Kick-Ass Kicks Ass

Warning: The following review may contain SPOILERS:

What would happen if a comic book geek like say, myself, decided one day to put on a costume and actually try to fight crime without any powers or special training? Most of us, myself included, would not have to learn the hard way that such action would lead us to the hospital or the morgue. Fortunately for us, the protagonist in Kick-Ass lacks such common sense.

I haven't read the comic book series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by J.R. Jr. on which it was based, but a friend I saw the film with thought it was pretty faithful, with a few parts changed. Surprisingly, he thought the book was more violent. I thought the film pulled no punches. If you go up against someone with a knife, you're going to get cut. The movie walks a fine line between cautionary tale and satire, and while comic nerds can identify with geeky, awkward teenager Dave Lizewski(Aaron Johnson) as he escapes his crappy life by putting on a costume at night, it's not long before we get into darker territory.

Lizewski's exploits as Kick-Ass make it on to the internet and soon inspire other costumed vigilantes. One such character, Big Daddy, is an amalgam of Batman and The Punisher. In the comic, there's a twist to his identity, but in the film he has a more conventional origin, motivated by tragedy and injustice to obsessively work toward destroying the crime boss who ruined his life. To that end, he trains his 11-year-old daughter to become the perfect killing machine, and this may be the element that divides film critics.

Early on, when we see Nicolas Cage “training” a bulletproof vest-wearingChloe Moretz by shooting her at close range, it's clear that something is wrong with this father-daughter dynamic. As one of his friends later points out, he's so consumed with revenge that he's robbed this girl of her childhood by turning it all into a game, making the world a real-life comic book. Some critics were disturbed, but I think we're supposed to be disturbed. There are moments when she seems to be a regular little girl, asking for girly things, only to just be messing with her father. There are other moments under heavy fire and great loss that, just for a second, we get a glimpse that this is a scared child. It's easy to forget, because she's so capable as Hit Girl. And our reactions say something about ourselves as an audience. I was alternately laughing or sitting with my jaw open in shock as she stabbed, sliced, and shot her way through bad guys. Hit Girl is completely awesome and the most capable fighter in the movie, but after cheering you're left with this bad aftertaste as you remember she's eleven and killed without remorse. She was probably my favorite character in the film, but her dialogue and actions take on a greater shock value because of her age. Of course, that's probably the point.

Kick-Ass definitely stays in the “real world” most of the time, albeit one in which high school kids hang out in some hybrid comic book store coffee shop. Seriously, do those exist? Why wasn't I informed? We go through familiar Spider-Man territory, with some sitcom elements as well. Dave gets close to his dream girl, but only after she mistakenly thinks he's gay after the first time he gets beaten up. He doesn't correct her since it lets him spend more time with her, but it's not an ideal situation either. His geek friends aren't much help, his mom passed away, and his dad is too busy at work to notice the various lies his son is living. Christopher Mintz-Plasse got some laughs from the teenagers in my audience every time he was on screen, likely because they recognize him as “McLovin” from Superbad. As Red Mist, he's one of the few heroes with a budget that can afford his own “Mistmobile”. Like everyone else in the movie, he too leads a different life when not in costume, making for some great moments when his motivations come to light. By the end of the movie, we do find ourselves in an obligatory comic book showdown with gratuitous violence and unlikely props, but by then we want some fantastic elements to lift our spirits. In the end, it's about how one person can become an icon, how inspiration can change society as a whole. The film seems to carry two messages, the first being that comic books are glorified fantasy and we could get hurt emulating fictional characters. But at the same time, it makes a comment on our role in society, that as human beings we may not have powers, but we still have a responsibility to help each other and not look away when a fellow human being is in need. People are going to love or hate this one; I know where I landed.

If anyone needs me, I'll be digging out my old “Cold-Snap” costume and weapon from college. Why? No reason....


Dreamcasting Five

I think we're living in a golden age of comic book movies, and I hope it's not winding down any time soon. The Golden Age of comics in the ‘30s and ‘40s spawned the popularity of superheroes, who thrived in the Silver Age with both brand new characters and new takes on legacy characters. By the time I was born, comics shifted into the Bronze Age and things got a little more “real”, with colorful characters facing death, drugs, crime, and other issues reflecting society at the time. In the Modern Age, things got even darker, and anti-heroes became incredibly popular. Lasting new creations from that period include Cable, Venom, Deadpool, Apocalypse, Gambit and Spawn, to name a few. But, for the most part, the iconic pantheon of heroes spanning multiple mediums and resonating in the pop culture consciousness can be traced back to the Golden and Silver ages. A recent Geek Friends™ Discussion tackled the subject of very few strong new characters who weren't successors carrying on a legacy being created in the last 25 years. I think the success of a character extends beyond comics. As a child, I only knew who Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man were because of various movies or television shows. Maybe the spandex-clad adventurers are on the verge of being replaced, just as they once replaced Western heroes. I don't know what might be next; I just hope it's not emo vampires. But with all the great movies coming out, especially all the solo hero movies setting the stage for The Avengers, I have hope that the comic books I loved in my high school and college years aren't quite done yet. A new Heroic Age may be just around the corner. So what better time for me to do a little Dreamcasting, and jump well ahead of the studios to the inevitable team spin-off:

The West Coast Avengers

The Avengers' roster had grown large over the years, and reached a point where they had enough heroes to support two active teams. With the main team located on the East coast in Manhattan, a new team was based on the West coast, and the “Whackos” were born. They had a good run before the series folded and the characters were either folded into new teams or the original Avengers, but if a film about the Avengers proves successful, why not try the same concept with a different cast of characters and actors?

Hawkeye: Josh Holloway.
Hawkeye was always the cocksure wiseguy of the group, but the archer proved he had what it took to lead his own team when the West coast branch was established. Holloway is physically fit and has the right swagger and charm to play someone smarmy and confident who's heroic at the core. More importantly, the dude is going to have a lot of free time once LOST ends, and his involvement might make it easier for comic geeks with wives or girlfriends to have their significant other in the seat next to them.

Mockingbird: Yvonne Strahovsky.
Hawkeye's wife was a beautiful acrobatic blonde and former secret agent. On Chuck, Strahovsky portrays sexy CIA agent Sarah Walker. She's lithe, beautiful, and does well with fight choreography. She routinely beats up bad guys every week, so why not alongside costumed heroes?

War Machine: Terrance Howard.
Howard was the original James “Rhodey” Rhodes in the first Iron Man. When the West Coast Avengers began, it was Rhodes, not Tony Stark who wore the Iron Man armor while Stark battled alcoholism. Stark become Iron Man again shortly thereafter, while Rhodes would rejoin the team some 80 or 90 issues later in his new armored guise as War Machine. Howard never got the chance to portray War Machine, as he was replaced by Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequel, but by the time they get around to making a WCA movie I'm sure Howard will be more affordable than Cheadle. I'd love to see him get a second chance to don the armor. If nothing else, besides paralleling the switch in Iron Men in the original comics, they could make a bunch of ”Becky Conner jokes....

Tigra: Nia Long.
After her turn as a blue-skinned cat-like alien in Avatar, I could totally see Ms. Long as the furry feline female Avenger. She's got the moves, and looks good as an animal lady.

Wonder Man: Tom Welling.
At first, it might seem strange to have the long-time Smallville star step into the boots of another company's red-eyed, raven-haired hero. But, as no stranger to a red jacket, he has the right look and build for the part, and I could see him doing interesting things playing a guy who splits his time between being a superhero and being a movie star. Basically, he almost wouldn't have to act at all, and that's kind of his specialty.



Over this past week...

...we went to the hospital at 5:30 in the morning where my 80-year-old father had a single bypass surgery on his heart and spent a little over four days in the hospital, during which time he hallucinated from pain medication.

...I got a promotion at work which wasn't a big deal, but was a small personal victory since it was a title I never achieved at my previous company.

...I got to work a half hour early one morning, on a day when my supervisor ended up being three hours late.

...I nearly got run over by another supervisor in the parking lot, because she was driving with her right blinker on and I thought she was turning. I jumped back when I realized she wasn't slowing down, and she looked as startled as I felt as she swerved around me.

...my total state and federal taxes exceeded an entire week's pay. I'd consider getting a third job to afford these checks next year, but more income would only mean I'd owe more.

...I pretended to be my father when someone from my old high school called up looking for donations. “What? WHAT? He's not home from work yet. Mail him something. I don't know he comes and goes. I just had an operation. Have a good day! Hello?” The girl was getting flustered and clearly losing her place in the script in front of her, and at one point called me “Mister” followed by the city I live in rather than my surname.

...I used the lawnmower for the first time this year. So I wasn't too surprised when I saw a news report about getting an inch of snow, until my mom pointed out that she had an old tape playing in the VCR.

...24 surprised everyone with a silent clock two weeks in a row, two deaths guaranteed to make terrorists sorry they messed with Jack Bauer in these final episodes of his series.

...LOST aired an episode in which one character suddenly explodes after mishandling dynamite(shocking only because it wasn't the first time something like that happened), a major landmark on the island is destroyed, two deceased characters played by actors I never expected to see on the show again appear, a mystery of the jungle from the first season is finally explained, one character is tossed down a well by another character, while in an alternate reality those roles are reversed as one guy runs the other guy down with his car. INSANITY, with only four episodes left before the two-hour finale.

...the increasingly-satisfying action adventure series Human Target aired a season finale which not only told the origin story of its main protagonist and his three closest allies, but guest-starred Winifred “Fred” Burkle, Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter, and Steve “Six Million Dollar Man” Austin. This show always complements its solid regular cast with some great guest stars. I hope we get a season 2.

...my neck locked up on me for a good two days, worst in the morning around 6 AM when I woke up feeling paralyzed. It gets better throughout the day as I gradually regain more and more turning ability, but stiffens again after I've slept for a few hours. It seems to affect turning to the right more than turning to the left. After a week away from the gym I finally ran on Wednesday night, so we'll see if that makes it better or worse. It could be all the junk food I've been eating to deal with recent stress.

I'm exhausted. I wonder why...


PBW: From the Heart

Thank you to all my friends, even the ones who’ve never met me or my dad, who offered prayers or good thoughts as he faced bypass surgery at 80 years old. Thank you to the wonderful doctors and nurses at the hospital for giving him such excellent care. There’s some poetic symmetry about the hospital where I was born being the place where my dad was repaired. Thank God he made it, and may he find new strength and quality of life once he fully rests and heals from the operation. This week’s Photo Blog Wednesday comes straight from the heart, and can be summed up with a single image:

He’s back. Praise Jesus.



"How did you make that so real?"

Saturday was not a great day for my father. I'd felt relief on Friday night when he was finally awake after his bypass surgery, with his breathing tube out and his only complaint a sore shoulder. He was understandably tired, but he was lucid. On Saturday we found him in a different section called the “step-down unit”, where patients transition from the Cardiothoracic Unit to a regular room. There, 3-6 patients are closely monitored by nurses at all times. There, my father was not himself.

“I'm dead...” he moaned, as my mom held his right hand and brushed his forehead. “Why are all you people here? Why won't you let me die in peace?” The nurse told us that he'd just been brought in, and that he was doing great. I was skeptical. “Never again...never going through this again...didn't help at all....didn't do any good....” he moaned. Again we looked to the nurse, and she explained that he was probably having a bad reaction to some pain medication and just needed to sleep it off. We noted that all his vital signs were good, indeed the best numbers he's had in years. His at-rest heart rate, normally kept around 50 by medication, was now a healthy 71 like my own. His blood pressure was great too.

“It didn't do anything....it didn't help....I'm finished...” he closed his eyes, and seconds later seemed to be sleeping peacefully, his mouth partly open as he snored. My mom continued to hold his hand while talking to her oldest brother, my Uncle Ciro, who was a good sport for keeping us company after dealing with similar environments before my Aunt Irene passed away a few years ago. We talked about crazy dreams, and the recurring dream my dad has of someone in our driveway that he chases away. It's not uncommon to hear the old man yell, “GET OUTTA HERE!!!” in the middle of the night before he rolls over and continues sleeping, oblivious to the fact that he's woken everyone else up.

My uncle said he often dreams of not being able to find his car in a bad neighborhood. He recalled a time years back when he and his other brother-in-law, Aunt Irene’s sister's husband, were mugged in their car. Uncle Ciro was yelling at the guys to leave, while Uncle Bob, who had a gun drawn on him, shouted, “Shut up Ciro!” In the end, they gave up their wallets, and when they returned to the ladies, my Aunt Antoinette innocently joked, “What took you guys so long? Did you get held up or something?”

My dad continued to sleep, shifting every now and then. Sometimes it looked like he'd open one eye. On one occasion he raised his left hand to the bandage on his chest, or to his forehead. If it looked like he was going to scratch the surgery site, I'd take his hand. He'd squeeze mine, and settle back down. We'd notice his feet kicking sometimes, and postulated that he was probably running in whatever dream he was having.

After an hour or so, my uncle had to leave. My dad woke up, and seemed to recognize us. He shook my uncle's hand, and as my mom walked my uncle to the elevator, I sat by my dad's side. “Boy, I was having some hallucinations there!” he exclaimed. He seemed normal, though he did complain of some dizziness. I updated him on various things I'd taken care of around the house, including calling some of our friends in various bands to update them on his condition. “How did you make that so real?” he suddenly asked, free of context. I asked what he meant, and he kind of just looked confused and didn't answer. I thought about my Uncle Jerry and his dementia, and feared the worst.

When my mom got back, there was no mention of his odd question. He still seemed a little confused, and when we left to go to church he asked us to bring back a veggie burger from Burger King(which the nurse subsequently advised us to not do). After going to mass and grabbing a bite to eat, we returned to the hospital. My dad seemed more like himself, and told us about some of the hallucinations he'd had. He could see the wing he was in, but it was located in the basement. I was there, but I was also “Scott”, and I was the doctor in charge of things. In each of the surrounding beds, he saw one of my mom's friends, and several of his sisters. My mom was in the distance, and would only wave and keep puttering around whenever he called out to her. He was sure he was dying, and didn't understand why all these people from his life were haunting him, holding him back from this light he wanted to go into. He was surprised when I mentioned his “Why won't you let me die in peace?” line, which he didn't know he had said aloud. It astonished him every time I'd quote something he thought he had imagined.

“It was so real,” he said, “Like a movie. And you were directing it. And I got mad and kept kicking you, but you wouldn't stop.” So apparently, when his feet were moving, he was thinking about kicking me, proof that I'm annoying in any reality. As he recalled more of his day, he remembered the staff giving him some pills before they transported him, but not what they were. The old man isn' t used to pain medication, and I'm pretty sure he's never had a drink in his life. He thinks he might have tried a beer once, when he was a teenager, and didn't care for the taste. The nurse on duty at this point told us that anesthesia sometimes lingers in the system for a bit, and can cause strange senses of unreality and sometimes interact with some pain medications. She also told us that for a while he thought he was in Burger King after we'd left. In any case, they were done with the strong pain meds.

“Oh, and I found a nice girl for [MCF]y!” he told my mom, and I wondered if he wasn't still on drugs since he never plays matchmaker. Usually I get a joking warning like, “You see what I go through? Don't ever get married!” I'm not sure if this really happened or not, but he said he talked me up to some single blonde nurse who was 33 years old, told her his son just got a promotion and was now a Senior Art Director. “She had a few extra pounds, but not too heavy,” he told me. I've yet to ascertain whether or not this girl actually exists, but it felt good to hear my father talk about my career with pride, even if he was probably saying it to a janitor or a chair.

By Sunday, the staff knew which medications not to give my dad, as word of his hallucinations spread. An old man in a neighboring bed, who looked near death on Saturday, was up and talking on the phone, and actually got a regular room before my dad did. I overheard that he was in his early 90s, and he told the nurse that his aortic(pronounced “a-rotic”) valve had been replaced. It's a miracle what modern medicine can accomplish. We were worried about my dad at 80, but people older than him go through surgery just fine. Other than his carpal tunnel suddenly becoming more acute in his swollen, unbendable hands, he had no real pain complaints. He has a pillow to hold against his chest when he coughs and does breathing exercises, and he's encouraged to walk. So eager to get out of there, he walked down the hall almost too fast for me to keep up, while I reminded him to pace himself. On Monday, they moved him to a normal room and removed more tubes, just leaving one IV line and a wire connected to a portable pacemaker. He might be home as early as Tuesday, though if they keep him one more day it won't be a bad thing. I'm not sure my mom will be able to watch him at all times, to make sure he doesn't do any heavy lifting in the next four to six weeks. I'm not all-powerful in this reality like my hallucinogenic counterpart, so hopefully he simply takes my advice about listening to his own body and resting when he gets tired. He's healing now, which takes time and energy, and that's going to tire him out until the process is complete. I know he wants to get better and stay better. On Saturday night he made me take the cheese off a turkey sandwich I bought him. “That's what put me here in the first place!” He nearly bit my fingers off as I fed him bite-sized pieces, so his appetite is great. And he's already talking about seeing another doctor to have his hands worked on again. “I'm going to take care of that on Wednesday!” he declared, while I recommended he deal with one thing at a time. I think he should heal from, you know, the heart surgery before he goes under another knife. But I do love hearing his impatience and strength of will; that's how I know this is real, that my dad's not going anywhere yet. Hopefully, I’ll have plenty more years to do things that make him want to kick me.