7.31.2010

MCF's COMMON Bondz 11

And now we shall learn the COMMON bonds in yesterday's edition of MCF's COMMON. Were the answers as obvious as I thought? Not all of them....

GROUP 1
(A) Virginia.
(B) Josephine.
(C) Rose Marie.
(D) Jane Marie.
If you've been reading the last few days, you might recognize the names of my father's sisters, listed here from oldest to youngest. My late Aunt Josie's full name was Josephine, but probably the one that confused people who were paying attention is my Aunt Mary, whose real name is actually Jane. For some reason, her husband is the only one in the family who calls her that instead of Mary, which I guess derived from her middle name of Marie. There are a few people in my family with name changes, none of whom had bad names to begin with. I've always been happy with my name, which is....wait, I'm starting to ramble. I'd best move on and explain the next group.

GROUP 2
(A) Hal.
(B) Guy.
(C) John.
(D) Kyle.
Did you know The Green Lantern Corps has counted four Earthmen, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner among their ranks? I never really read their comics, but somehow I possess this useless knowledge, thanks to the comics I did read as well as various incarnations in animated series. And then there's Alan Scott, the first hero to bear the name and a ring, though he didn't share the cosmic origins of Hal and the rest of the corps. Ryan Reynolds will be portraying Hal in the upcoming film, hopefully the purest incarnation that will make the character more accessible to a wider, non-comic book geek audience.

GROUP 3
(A) Hoops.
(B) Camera.
(C) Rifle.
(D) Lincoln.
These are all things that someone would shoot. What, too soon?

GROUP 4
(A) Pepperoni.
(B) Ravioli.
(C) Buffalo Chicken.
(D) Caesar Salad.
Obviously, these are all toppings I've enjoyed on a pizza, though I could see this being so obvious that people might over think it.

GROUP 5
(A) 2001.
(B) 2005.
(C) 2012.
(D) 2099.
These are all dates with particular geek and/or pop culture significance.2001: A Space Odyssey was a 1968 science fiction film based on a book by Arthur C. Clarke. Our space travel wasn't quite as advanced when we reached the real 2001, although there have been advances in both that area, computers, and artificial intelligence. The year 2005 is when The Transformers: The Movie tool place. The writers and animators of 1986 were also generous in their predictions of the future, and 2005 looked nothing like that animated feature. Chalk that up to the intervention of an advanced race of giant robots sharing their technology with humans. 2012 is an unlikely movie about survival in the face of cataclysmic global destruction, the fulfillment of Mayan prophecies thanks to the sun superheating the Earth's core. At the time of this post, we haven't reached 2012 yet, so let's hope they were wrong about that one. Between heat waves, earthquakes and freaky tornados, I'm starting to wonder. Finally, the Marvel 2099 imprint debuted in the early ‘90s, and gave us a glimpse of what the heroes and villains of 2099 might be like, many inspired by those of the present. Sadly, I doubt I'll be around in 2099 to see if there are any special anniversary issues. Note to self: figure out how to live for another 89 years....)

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7.30.2010

MCF's COMMON 11

MCF's COMMON is starting to become a weekly feature, but then this week in particular has been a rough one. A variety of games, prolific prose, and real photo expeditions are surely in my future, but for this week I’m once more relying on a classic Nexus game.

Below I'm going to list FIVE groups of FOUR things. Each group has some thing in common, some thing that links each quartet. It's up to you to guess, and I'll reveal the answers tomorrow.

20 items. 5 COMMON bonds. Through a combination of skill, luck, knowledge, and flat out guessing, can you guess what they are?

GROUP 1
(A) Virginia.
(B) Josephine.
(C) Rose Marie.
(D) Jane Marie.

GROUP 2
(A) Hal.
(B) Guy.
(C) John.
(D) Kyle.

GROUP 3
(A) Hoops.
(B) Camera.
(C) Rifle.
(D) Lincoln.

GROUP 4
(A) Pepperoni.
(B) Ravioli.
(C) Buffalo Chicken.
(D) Caesar Salad.

GROUP 5
(A) 2001.
(B) 2005.
(C) 2012.
(D) 2099.

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7.29.2010

Always Darling

”What was that, dear?” asked the nurse as she changed my Aunt Josie's oxygen tube, “I'll ‘always be your darling'?”

My aunt, still groggy, repeated the complement, slightly more audibly. She had been sleeping comfortably in her hospital room, while my parents and I stood nearby, wondering whether or not to disturb her. She seemed peaceful, even snored a bit, and I thought my father's other sisters had exaggerated her condition. But sometimes looks are deceiving, and sometimes we see that which we want to see.

When the nurse was finished, she elevated the bed so my aunt could see her visitors. She was very tired, partly from the morphine, and partly from the ”Preleukemia” ravaging the once strong 82-year-old woman's system. It was only a few months ago that I first learned my dad had driven her to a few appointments for chemotherapy, he himself still recovering from heart surgery. It was hard to believe she had taken ill so quickly, so severely.

Though weak, she was still alert, and knew who we all were. She asked about my job and my bands. She inquired how my father was feeling. When my mom fed her some lemon ice, she called the nurse over and asked for more ices, not for herself, but for us. Looking back on the last time I saw my aunt, that generosity and concern for others sums up the type of woman she was. Even in pain, she was worrying about us.

Over the next few days, I found myself researching her syndrome, to find out the specifics of what she was dealing with, and what might cure it. Between her bone marrow not properly producing red and white blood cells, and her age, chances of recovery seemed slim. At her age, a marrow transplant wasn't a viable option, and they had already tried chemo to no avail. Her eldest son moved her into hospice care, where her pain was managed, and not much else could be done. I wished my final words to her had been more potent than “feel better”, a weak phrase in hindsight.

On Saturday morning, my cousin called with the news that his mother had passed away, one day shy of a week after I'd visited her with my folks. When my mom told me, my first thought was of my old man, and how he'd take the news. This is an 80-year-old who tests his limits since his heart operation by climbing up ladders, cutting down trees, and building small bridges for my mom's garden, then wondering why he still gets chest pains after such exertions. My dad and his four sisters might not be an indestructible lot, but they're a tough bunch, from tough origins. My grandfather survived World War I, with mustard gas damage to one eye, and still managed to dig out sand pits in his community, pioneer a lunch wagon, and run a general store. My grandmother raised five children, and once carried a burning kerosene stove out of the house in the middle of the night to save their lives. My dad would miss his sister, but he was a survivor like the rest of his family. We all agreed that she was no longer in pain, and that she had led a full life. She was the first in the family to get married, even before my dad's oldest sister, and had raised two sons. She lost my Uncle Armand about seven years ago, though mentally Alzheimer's had taken him well before that. And she had four grandsons, fortunate to have had their grandmother in their lives, the eldest for over 20 years. She was there for their concerts, baseball games, and recitals. She was there, loved, and was loved.

The next few days were a blur, with one constant. Family and friends converged and spoke not of how Aunt Josie died, but how she lived. We looked over old photo albums and remembered old gatherings. She was a great clarinet player, and I was fortunate to join both she and my dad for several Summers when I was younger, playing in a community band with alumni of their old high school. She worked as a librarian for many years. She used to have a cat named “Zsa Zsa”. Memories flooded the funeral home, stream-of-consciousness non-sequiters painting a collective portrait of the woman we all gathered to remember.

Most remarkable was the change in my Aunt Rose. She had lost weight, dyed her hair, and was extremely sharp, remembering the most minute details about her grand- nieces and nephews. As I drove her back to her nursing home after the wake on Tuesday night, she spoke about all her friends, and how she liked to walk around the courtyard, go on trips, and partake in various games and activities. Despite needing a walker, she was still very adept at maneuvering. I hadn't seen her since Easter, when she had been adjusting poorly to being moved to a new room. She didn't want to get out of bed. My Aunt Josie stopped by to see her while we were there, and chastised her for lying down. “Rosie, it's beautiful outside! You know how many people have worse problems than you, and wish they could go out there?” I'd seen my dad and his sisters bicker before, often like they were still children, but it always came from a place of tough love and old-fashioned Italians speaking their mind, for better or worse. At some point, Aunt Josie must have gotten through to her sister, and the change in my Aunt Rose was yet another legacy of her life.

At her mass on Wednesday morning, everyone had a role to play. Her grandsons served as pallbearers. I got to do a reading, as did her younger son's girlfriend. My dad and my Aunt Mary helped with the presentation of gifts for the Eucharist. The church was packed with family and friends, most of whom joined in the subsequent procession to the cemetery, passing her house one final time. There was an irate driver or two apparently unfamiliar with funerals, impatiently beeping and veering around the hearse and slow moving vehicles behind it, ignorant of the significance of our headlights. These minor annoyances aside, the weather at least was beautiful, warm and clear and less hot and humid. After a few final words from the priest, we each laid a rose on the coffin and said our goodbyes. I watched in awe as my Aunt Virginia, visiting from Florida for the services, walked with my father over a few rows to see my grandparents' plot. It was great to see them getting along as they paid respects to their parents. In such times, family tension will either be high, or family will come closer together. I'm glad the latter prevailed. We all enjoyed a nice lunch afterwards at one of my aunt's favorite restaurants. The day had gone quickly. Life, goes quickly.

Rest in Peace, Aunt Josie. To those whose lives you touched and influenced, you'll always be our darling.

7.28.2010

PBW: Aunt Josie

Photo Blog Wednesday:





Sister. Mother. Grandmother. Aunt. Friend. Musician.

You will be missed.


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7.27.2010

Order of Operations

I don't know how I'm going to get through this week. I honestly don't.

I probably should have skipped the Italian feast in New Jersey on Monday. But I've been doing it every year for a while now, and had already put in for the vacation day. But with my Aunt's funeral coming up on Wednesday, it meant that I'd be missing half a day at the very least. My boss will understand, but it's going to have a serious impact on my workload. I should have gone to work on Monday.

The day started out pretty crummy, with my dad upset at the way his nephew worded the obituary. Apparently there are all these rules, such as a name in parentheses indicates a spouse, or siblings should be listed in age order. My Aunt had two sons. The older is married with four boys; the younger never married but has had the same girlfriend for over 30 years. So he put his name first, with her name in parentheses, then his brother's name. When he got to his Aunts and his Uncle(my dad), he swapped the order a bit so it looked like the youngest sister was second, followed by my dad, then my Aunt Rose. Also, he has my dad's name wrong. It's not a major thing, simply the nickname his sisters called him, which literally is just his name with a “y” at the end of it. That's it. But he's grieving, so he's probably taking it as more of a big deal than it should be. He called another sister to complain, and I got angry when I heard him mention that my name wasn't there nor her other cousin's. I don't care if my name is in the obituary; I don't think it should be. Those things are just announcements anyway, prone to typographical errors that anyone who was close to the deceased will recognize.

So when my dad got off the phone, we had a bit of an argument. “How will my friends know that's me!” he insisted, “What if they wanted to come pay their respects? It sounds like I'm some little kid!” I countered that he'd been complaining about the limitations of being 80 years old and not feeling magically younger after his heart surgery, but he wasn't in a joking mood. I tried to tell him that I didn't actually disagree with him, only that he should keep it to himself, at least for now, that the wording of the blurb bothered him. My aunt's son is grieving too; now isn't the time to pick a fight over something small. And telling one of his sister's is basically like telling the whole family, as much as he insists that he didn't actually complain to the son.

In any case, I was soon on the train to New Jersey, for a long day that thankfully wasn't as hot as the last few have been. I have a bit of a sunburn, but there was a nice breeze. Everyone asked how my dad was doing, and a few that I told about our loss expressed their condolences. Somewhere in there I got a free beer; the band gets wristbands from the feast bar when the procession is over. The waitress charged me for my second drink. She claimed the bartender only put the first round on the house, but I was sure I saw other guys drinking without paying. Our drummer somehow got a cheeseburger in the mix too. If she overheard me tell one of the players she looked like she was in her 40s when he asked what my opinion of her was, that might explain why she came back and charged me. Honestly, I think she was older and I was being nice, but I tipped her as an apology just to be safe. Twelve hours later, I was back in Long Island, with my day off a blur.

Reality set in when I checked my work e-mail from home. There is a lot going on right now, including a ton of things that are running late because I wasn't there. Three different writers actually used “MCF isn't here today” as an excuse to people asking where certain projects were. So I need to go in early Tuesday, tell my boss I probably won't be there Wednesday, likely skip lunch, and then I can't really work too late because the wake is from 4-8 PM and I promised my dad I'd try to get there no later than 6. Then I'm driving one of my aunts back to her nursing home because my dad can't drive at night, and early the next day is the mass, where I'm now apparently doing a reading.

I'm seriously on autopilot right now. I need to go into super efficient robot mode on Tuesday, shut everything else out, and focus on getting three days of work completed in one day. And after all that, I'm finally going to see the body, and this whole thing is going to be real. I probably blew up at my dad despite knowing the stress he's under because I have some underlying negative feelings about this whole situation too. I'm sure it's the same reason he blew the obituary wording out of proportion as well. Our whole family is going to be on edge for the next few days. I've broken days out into priority focus, a clear order of operations. Monday I was the dutiful musician. On Tuesday, I will be an office machine. And on Wednesday, I will be a good son and nephew, patient and supportive of those around me. The more I hear about the itinerary of the mass and cemetery and lunch at some restaurant afterwards, the less likely it seems I'm making an important 2:30 companywide meeting. I don't think I'll be missed; it will the CEO addressing a cafeteria full of employees, and I'll be one face missing from the crowd. If I go in at all on Wednesday, it will be to get anything back on schedule that I failed to finish on Tuesday. And as I'm stressing about the timing of it all, I can't help but feel guilty that I'm like my aunt who blatantly said if her sister didn't die while she was up from Florida, she would not be making a return trip. Death isn't convenient, nor should it be. There are things in life that supersede other things. There are ripples and waves, and all we can do is grab a piece of driftwood, and hang on until regular currents resume.

I don't know how I'm going to get through this week, but one day at a time, I know I will.

7.26.2010

Phantasmic Links 7.26.10

I suppose I can sum up this weekend by saying I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I caught a matinee of Inception, and thought it was great, a concept with many layers that was complex without being incomprehensible, and had great performances. I may write more about it later in the week after my brain has had time to process it. The bad news is that my Aunt Josie, who hadn't been doing well due to cancer, passed away. It doesn't seem real yet, and will probably fully sink in once we've gone to the wake on Tuesday and funeral on Wednesday. My dad seems fine so far, but I'm worried about how the first loss of one of his siblings will affect his health. I may write more about this as well after my brain has had time to process it. Right now, it's enough to assemble this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) But first, let's get a first look at the Avengers assembled! Joss Whedon is officially directing! What beloved character will he shockingly kill off when we least expect it? Mark Ruffalo officially replaces Edward Norton! He's a great actor; will he be as good a Bruce Banner? Jeremy Renner is officially playing Hawkeye! Who is this guy, and when will I get around to renting The Hurt Locker to find out why fans think he'll make a great Clint Barton?

(2) Kevin Bacon is going to appear in X-Men: First Class! Why has he never done a comic book movie before, and what films might have been better with his involvement?

(3) “HULC smash!” No, this one isn't actually comic book related, but rather a new military exoskeleton, the Human Universal Load Carrier. So it's more like, “HULC carry a lot of heavy equipment!”

(4) In a Great Comic that Never Happened, behold an untold undercover adventure of Jimmy Olsen. Just remember that some things, once seen, cannot be unseen....

(5) Darth Vader: Bank Robber. Hey, fully armed and operational battle stations don't finance themselves....
Hat Tip: J-No.

(6) Beware the perils of using Comic Sans....

(7) What secrets lie in The Illusionist's Dream? Take on the forms of various animals as you delve deep into his subconscious seeking something you've lost....

(8) In Romania, a ”Happy Cemetary” has painted, etched images of the deceased on either side of each tombstone. One side illustrates how each person lived; the other, how he or she died....

(9) In case you were wondering, here's how to make a Daft Punk helmet in just 17 months! (I think the video is sped up slightly....)

(10) The Enchanted Cave is the perfect mental escape. Navigate down 100 levels of dungeons. Use “Escape Wings” to get out with all your elite loot and gems, so you can make it a little further each time. It's like chess meeting an RPG.


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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7.25.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 53

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 53rd WWW:

1) Turner and Hooch:
Here's a Tom Hanks classic that I missed, though truth be told, it was by design, not accident. I tend to avoid movies where an animal shares top billing, because that means one of two things: corny humor, or heartbreaker in which animal is injured and or killed. And even though one or both of those descriptions proved accurate(to my surprise), I did enjoy the film. It comes from a simpler time when slapstick and character were enough to drive a story, and the plot didn't have to be all that elaborate. Hanks is Scott Turner, an investigator in a small town where nothing ever happens, on the verge of moving to the big city. When an old man Turner was friends with is killed, he reluctantly ends up with the man's dog Hooch, a type of slobbering mastiff known as a Dogue de Bordeaux, and the only witness to the murder. Most of the film relies on physical comedy, and the contrast between this large, destructive beast, and Hanks' obsession with keeping things in order. It was fun to watch a young Hanks early in his career, if only to reinforce how much his son currently mirrors him, and how far he's come. Turner and Hooch of course eventually come to an understanding and learn to like one another, and Hooch even leads his new master to a romance with a pretty veterinarian played by Mare Winningham. Just when you've almost forgotten the murder mystery cop drama aspect of the film, it comes back in with a bit of a jarring tone shift, as well as tv-movie-of-the-week dialogue and revelations as the bad guy explains his motives. By today's standards, it's all very predictable, and may have been predictable even in its time. I'd probably change one thing about the ending, because a cute reveal in the very last scene didn't make up for something horrific in the sequence prior, something that reminded me why I usually stay away from this type of film. Hooch reminded me of the Neapolitan Mastiff some friends of mine own, and definitely stole the show. I personally wouldn't want a dog that big that was perpetually drooling white foam, but I did enjoy watching him on screen.

2) Notorious:
I was never in tune with the hip-hop scene, although when I went to college in Queens my friends definitely turned me on to Wu-Tang Clan and other rising artists. While I was following the mainstream rise of Grunge in the ‘90s, big things were happening in the world of rap. I knew who Notorious B.I.G. was and could recognize a few of his songs, but until this film I didn't know much else about his history. Gunned down at the age of 24, he didn't have all that much history, which is probably why the film didn't have the same epic feel as other musical biopics, such as Ray. Still, with the constant rhythm of Biggie's music throughout the film, it kept my interest, and I occasionally caught my head bobbing or foot tapping. Biggie, born Christopher Wallace, started out, as he narrates, with a “clean slate”. His own son Christopher Jordan Wallace plays him at a more innocent age, when his overprotective mother would walk “Chrissy-poo” home from school and never let him off the stoop. He had good grades and a lot of potential, but the lure of the street was greater. One day he finally rebels, and becomes a drug dealer. He manages to keep this part of his life a secret from his mother(who in one scene hilariously mistakes drugs under his bed for plates of “old mashed potatoes”), and begins to question the value of an education. When a teacher tells him he's destined to be a garbage collector, the sharp youth quickly realizes that a garbage man makes more than a teacher. Without his father around to teach him what it means to be a man, he draws his own conclusions and decides getting paid and having nice things makes him a man. His morals are dubious; in one scene he sells crack to a pregnant woman. This isn't 8 Mile. For the most part, the at times graphic movie pulls no punches and seems to tell it like it was. He has talent, occasionally rhyming and rap battling on the street, but it isn't until he gets arrested and has nothing but time to write in a notebook that he begins to develop his lyrical poetry. When his friends introduce him to Puff Daddy, he soon begins a rough road to a career and superstardom. You feel sympathy for the child he was, but as a man he's clearly corrupted by his fame. He's not a fat little nerd anymore, and draws inspiration from soda, weed, and women during one recording session. Despite his size, he was smooth and had style, but could never remain faithful, not to his first girlfriend and his daughter's mother, not to Lil'Kim, whose career he helped launch, and not to his wife Faith Evans, who gave him a son. Temptation was all around him, and he succumbed constantly. It was strange watching a film narrated by a dead man, his life flashing before him in his final moments when it was too late to change the things he might have regretted. He forged a strong friendship with Puffy, but his friendship with Tupac turned into a bitter rivalry between East and West coast rappers. The film portrays the origins of this feud as a misunderstanding, Tupac blaming Biggie for an ambush while Biggie was apparently rushing down to help him. And after Tupac is killed, Biggie would meet a similar fate while on the West coast. A lot of the events in the film probably need the word “allegedly” attached to them. In the end, Biggie made an impact on his fans, something his mother finally realized upon seeing the outpouring of support at his funeral procession. And she could still hear his voice on the radio. His second album dropped posthumously, and no one knows where his career and life might have gone. Notorious tells the tale of someone who burned bright, and burned out early. He was a smart boy who became a thug who almost turned things around with his talent. In fiction, a protagonist will usually have an arc, and come to some great realization and make a change in his ways. In real life, we don't always have the chance. If the movie lacks something, it was because the man's life lacked something. Maybe he was growing as a person, maybe he was going to be a better father to his kids, but all that growth was interrupted by a few bullets. The rest is silence, and memories on CD.


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

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7.24.2010

MCF's COMMON Bondz 10

Did you guess? Did you know the COMMON bonds in yesterday's edition of MCF's COMMON? Let's find out what linked each group of four, and how close you were....

GROUP 1
(A) Magic Head.
(B) Lavender Gooms.
(C) Methuselah Honeysuckle.
(D) Trapezius Milkington.
If you're a fan of Psych, perhaps you recognized four of the myriad nicknames wisecracking “psychic” detective Shawn Spencer has come up with for his best friend and sidekick Burton “Gus” Guster over the years.

GROUP 2
(A) My upper lip.
(B) My abdomen.
(C) My right hand.
(D) My left knee.
Spockgirl's guess of my “hairy body parts” was, sadly enough, an accurate answer, though not the one I was looking for. These are all places where I bear scars: I fell on glass and split my lip open when I was five, I had surgery when I was 25 to remove a birth defect from my intestines, my right hand has small scars(and likely glass shards) from when I accidentally punched through a window as a teenager while pretending to be Colossus, and my knee has one big scar from when I fell on a chunk of asphalt while playing near some road work. Actually, these are some of the few places where I can't grow hair anymore.

GROUP 3
(A) Ryan.
(B) Loretta.
(C) Angelo.
(D) Jack.
This one was really obscure and a bit graphic design nerdy: four names that rhyme with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, the colors in four-color process printing.

GROUP 4
(A) Wizard.
(B) Sandman.
(C) Medusa.
(D) Paste-Pot Pete.
Did you recognize the original roster of The Frightful Four? No? Congratulations; how did you like dating in high school and college?

GROUP 5
(A) Kurt.
(B) Eddie.
(C) Chris.
(D) Scott.
Cobain, Vedder, Cornell, and Weiland, all lead singers of bands who made it big during the Grunge boom in the early ‘90s.

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7.23.2010

MCF's COMMON 10

Hey look! Up on my blog! Is it a bird? A plane? A collection of curiously connected quartets? If you guess that last one, chances are you’ve played MCF's COMMON before!

Below I'm going to list FIVE groups of FOUR things. Each group has some thing in common, some thing that links each quartet. It's up to you to guess, and I'll reveal the answers tomorrow.

20 items. 5 COMMON bonds. Some will be obscure. Others will be obvious. But can you guess what they are?

GROUP 1
(A) Magic Head.
(B) Lavender Gooms.
(C) Methuselah Honeysuckle.
(D) Trapezius Milkington.

GROUP 2
(A) My upper lip.
(B) My abdomen.
(C) My right hand.
(D) My left knee.

GROUP 3
(A) Ryan.
(B) Loretta.
(C) Angelo.
(D) Jack.

GROUP 4
(A) Wizard.
(B) Sandman.
(C) Medusa.
(D) Paste-Pot Pete.

GROUP 5
(A) Kurt.
(B) Eddie.
(C) Chris.
(D) Scott.

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7.22.2010

Tact vs. Age

My father grew up as a middle child with four sisters. Aunt Virginia is the oldest, followed by Aunt Josie. Aunt Mary is the youngest, after Aunt Rose. Like all siblings, there were times they didn't always get along. Aunt Josie was the first to get married and move out, followed by Aunt Virginia, who as the oldest wasn't too happy to be beaten to the altar. Aunt Mary wed next, followed by my dad, leaving Aunt Rose, who never married, at home with my grandfather(my grandmother had already passed). When he died, the question arose about what to do with the house. My father didn't want it sold, nor did my Aunt Rose, who was still living there. But Aunt Virginia, self-appointed leader, organized the others and pressured Aunt Rose into going along with them. She used their family lawyer to sue my father, something which shook him on multiple levels, something he'd never forget. “Hey, it's just business...” said his own lawyer when questioned about the course of action. In the end, my dad managed to hang on to a piece of property across the street, a garage along with a strip of land my grandfather bought my grandmother for her garden. To this day we still maintain it, including a pear tree, figs, grapes, and assorted wildflowers.

For a long time my dad didn't speak to his sisters, but gradually mended fences, though there would always be tension with Aunt Virginia. They all had their quirks and idiosyncrasies, with Aunt Rose seeming to be the “craziest” outwardly and Aunt Josie the most practical and down to Earth. Aunt Josie was also a clarinet player, and as an alumni of the same high school as my father, I got to play with both of them in the same Summer concert band for many years. At some point Aunt Virginia moved to Florida, where her husband died shortly thereafter, and remained there. They never had children. Aunt Josie had two sons, the oldest of whom married and had four boys. Aunt Mary had one son, who is now married with 3 kids. Aunt Rose never married, and went through some difficult times around the time I graduated college, no doubt made worse by some of the treatments she was subjected to by therapists her sisters sent her too. Once the drugs and shock treatments subsided, she went from the zombie mode she was in back to her old self. She eventually had to sell her apartment and move into an assisted living facility.

Aunt Josie lost her husband about five or six years ago to Alzheimer's, although mentally he was gone long before he perished. She remained a strong matriarch with her sons and grandsons. She was a good person for my dad to talk to when he was facing heart bypass surgery a few months ago, because she'd gone through the same thing. Recently she'd taken ill, and a few times my recovered father drove her to the doctor. About a month ago he let on that she was going for chemotherapy, because in his words she “supposedly had cancer.” That stemmed from his lack of knowledge of the exact details of her ailment, as well as her reputation as a mild hypochondriac. She erred on the side of caution when it came to visiting doctors, while my dad was the opposite extreme, reluctant to deal with medical professionals once his heart condition forced him to in his early 60s. Within the past week, I learned her condition was Myelodysplastic Syndrome, an early form of leukemia also referred to as “Preleukemia”. It's a disease of the bone marrow in which they don't produce healthy red or white blood cells. It's eventually fatal, but various treatments can keep a person going for years, depending on that individual's age and the severity of the problem. A bone marrow transplant is a possible cure, though no one over the age of 60 is considered a good candidate.

We visited her in the hospital over the weekend, after hearing she'd been admitted and wasn't doing well. She seemed to be resting comfortably, and I though my Aunt Mary had exaggerated her condition. She eventually woke up, groggy from the morphine, and my mom fed her some lemon ice. She was lucid, asking me about my job and my dad about how he was feeling. She said she couldn't stand the pain, while my dad said pain is good and we need it to know when something is wrong. He never knew the right thing to say even before he reached that age where people say whatever they think.

A few days ago my cousin had her moved to a hospice, which is usually where terminal patients were cared for. She was done with chemo, and not getting any more blood transfusions, which we later learned would only make the problem worse. When I came home from work on Wednesday, my dad said they went to see her, and she didn't look too good. I could tell by his expression and tone that the reality was finally hitting him. On Sunday, he was telling my Aunt Rose that Aunt Josie didn't look as bad as everyone was saying, although he followed that assessment with, “but she said she wants to die”, a matter-of-fact statement that I probably wouldn't have said to the nursing home-bound aunt. Thing is, that lack of tact, that brutal honesty, is a family trait on my dad's side. And with age, it doesn't get any better. The worst offender, the one who has me reeling enough to be venting all of this, is my Aunt Virginia. She called and spoke with my mom, and told her she was coming up to visit. She also said this would be her only visit for this situation, and if Aunt Josie didn't die by the weekend, she would not be returning for the funeral. “I have to do what I have to do,” she said. I know my aunt is suffering and there's a strong chance she won't improve, but part of me hopes she sticks around long enough to “inconvenience” her older sister. It's one thing to be realistic about a situation, but it's a whole different thing to try to plan someone's death and coordinate with your personal schedule. In the back of my mind, I might be thinking about all the work I have to get done at the office right now, and the feast I'm scheduled to play in New Jersey next Monday, but I know that a funeral is without question one of those “drop everything” scenarios, that will take priority.

I grew up as an only child, so I guess I don't have a true sense of how siblings relate to each other. All my “brothers” and “sisters” are simply close friends with similar interests, people who chose to make me a part of their lives and vice versa. You can't choose family, and family doesn't always get along. People also deal with grief in different ways, so I recognize that her apparent lack of tact may be her way of not showing that this is bothering her. Or she's heartless. Whatever she was like when she was younger, when she took action against my dad before I was born, she hasn't improved with age. As for me, I continue to pray for my Aunt Josie to recover, or at the very least to enjoy some more pain free days. And when the inevitable happens, I'll miss whatever I need to miss in order to pay my respects to a good Aunt and a fellow musician. As my folks raised me, that's what family does.

7.21.2010

PBW: The Six Faces of Dorkness



It has been way too hot to go outside and take photos during the rare free time I've had between gigs on weekends, so pardon me while I burst into flames. Some of my friends may have seen this series of photos in which I experimented with different effects on the same self-portrait, but it's new to most of you, and thus should suffice for this week's Photo Blog Wednesday:







For bonus points, see if you can guess the inspiration for each image(without cheating and looking at the file names)....

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7.20.2010

Signs and Causes of Stress

• I don't remember going to sleep on Sunday night, so I was a bit disoriented when I woke up. Maybe it was that first dream where I was in a meeting at work, getting a big new assignment. Perhaps it was that second one, where a conference room morphed into a mansion and I was part of a gang of thieves pulling off a heist of some fat bearded rich guy's sports car, which he kept in the living. The third dream, where we just marched out of there as an Italian band as the sun rose, the perfect disguise, was odd too. Then there were a few girls in bikinis amid the band as we marched through Manhattan, and one with an “enhanced” chest. If you think you know where the dream went next, you'd be wrong. I noticed visible scars where the new breasts had been sewn on, and one of the giggling girls in the back row of the band laughed and told the enhanced girl, “You've got super-sized cancer containers!” Then my eyes snapped open as I mouthed that inexplicable last phrase as a question. I didn't know what the hell that was all about, but once I got my bearings, I found I had another hour before I had to be up.

• I probably should have stayed up. Somehow, I went back to sleep, had some more bizarre dreams that I didn't remember, and even though I didn't nap for much longer, I still found myself leaving the driveway fifteen minutes later than I should have. I got stuck behind every slow driver imaginable, making up some time on a narrow bridge that most people are afraid to speed over, then lost time again with a school bus that refused to turn right on red, which they probably can't do by law. I wasn't sure, and I'm not a jerk, so I had to just wait it out.

• I brought in my umbrella because it looked like rain and I had a meeting in another building. I spend most of the morning answering e-mails and phone calls that came in while I was on vacation on Friday. When I went to my meeting, umbrella in hand, I walked out into some rain forest level humidity. My meeting was in a different room than I expected, because there had apparently been some leak and a mold problem on some curtains that someone had a bad allergic reaction to on Friday. Always remember that there will always be someone with worse problems.

• I opted for a quick lunch which I ate at my desk, since I had a lot to finish for a big meeting on Tuesday. I read up on Preleukemia, which is apparently what my hospital-bound aunt is currently suffering from, and then turned to something lighter, message boards for Psych which had an hilarious 5th season premiere last week. It's the little happy things like that which help alleviate stress like an interrupting kick to the face.

• I need to get out of the 3 PM coffee and Peanut M&Ms break. Sometimes I push it to 4 PM, and the later I have caffeine and chocolate, the more jittery and awake I am hours later, especially if I don't burn some of it off running on the treadmill. And my big race is coming up in three weeks already!

• Long day short, I actually got all my stuff done by 5 PM, and simply had to print. Long day longer, a paper jam lead to unimaginable problems, when suddenly the printer wasn't recognized by the computer after clearing the jam. And I found that, since we recently had new printers installed, that was the only printer I was set up to use. I probably spent more time than necessary trying to fix the problem before finally relying on a friend's computer. By 7:30 I had everything printed, and by 8:15 I had half of it collated and comped, but had enough. The rest would have to wait until morning. I'd already missed my window to go to the gym; I wasn't about to miss The Good Guys.

• After dinner and my show, I faced the battery leak in my basement that I'd put off. The radio and the corroded D batteries were already outside, but I had simply poured vinegar on the floor to neutralize the acid and left paper towels on top of it. This time I went with a more vigorous scrubbing after lifting the towels into some plastic bags, and I think enough soap and water got that section of concrete cleaner than any other section down there. Sometimes an unfinished basement is a blessing. I put all the garbage and recyclables out at the curb, to save time Tuesday morning. I think vigorously washed my hands, and still feel phantom burning sensations, although at least one of those spots may be a super thin paper cut between my fingers that I got earlier while collating my printouts.

• I don't know how much longer I can continue at this pace, but that's life. “I guess you never thought you'd end up this way...” said my dad to his sister, meaning well but never knowing the right thing to say in such situations. When I was bleeding to death from a birth defect 10 years ago, he mostly complained that I needed to shave. In any case, sooner or later we're all going to end up in some bad way, either mentally or physically or both. “I hope when I go it's quick,” said my dad over the weekend, as we discussed a tuba player in one of our bands who suffered a stroke. “I don't want to go on like this any more,” said my aunt, clearly in pain that would probably be worse without her morphine. So sometimes life will be extremely busy, and extremely stressful, but these things remind us we are alive. My dad told his sister that pain was a good thing in a way, because it tells us when something is wrong. I think we all reach a point where we can't work through pain or exhaustion, so we should keep on trucking for as long as we can. Some day I won't be able to be productive, to do the things I do now. And in the interim years, if I buy a home and start a family, it doesn't mean my other responsibilities will cease. I'll have a new batch of responsibilities to handle on top of the old ones. So I'm pressing on, and if coffee, sweets, and mindless television helps maintain my sanity and recharge my batteries before they corrode, then so be it.

7.19.2010

Phantasmic Links 7.19.10

This has been a very long, hot weekend. I played for five hours in Brooklyn on Friday morning, two back on Long Island Friday night, and another two on Saturday morning. The sun and music took their toll, but by Sunday morning I was feeling like my old self, if still overheated. I had an emergency project when I noticed fluid under a radio in the basement, acid that had eaten through the eight D batteries inside the casing. It didn't have much sentimental value beyond inheriting it from my old friend Rey years ago when he left the company we had both worked for, and truth be told those were probably still the same batteries he had in the thing. I never really had used it, and fear of coming in contact with the caustic liquid made putting the thing outside to be thrown out with the garbage on Tuesday a no-brainer. It took brains to research online and discover that vinegar would neutralize the pool of acid on the basement floor, but I've still been feeling phantom burns on my hands and feet all day. Taking my folks to a hospital to see my ailing Aunt, who's reacting badly to chemotherapy and pain medication took my mind off my imaginary problems, though I'll probably still be wary of that spot on the floor near the washing machine every time I do laundry. Batteries are a household product, so they can't be that dangerous, right? And it's not the first time I left some in an electronic device too long; as a kid, I ruined several keys on my electronic synthesizer when batteries leaked, though my mom took care of the clean up and managed to restore the device to partial working order. What a weekend; I actually can't wait to get back to work. But first, I'll get back to some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Close your eyes. Now open them. Look at my blog. It's a link, to a library spoof of that Old Spice commercial you love! Click like a surfer, surfer.
Hat Tip: B13

(2) Hawkman and Hawkgirl have more complex origins than you might have realized. Wow. Comics, right?

(3) I'm not sure how accurate this Brain Profiler is, but it certainly hit upon similar traits tests taken in the past have revealed about myself. My breakdown was Auditory : 64%, Visual : 35%, Left : 47%, and Right : 52%, which is unusual for an artist. In the larger summary, it was more spot-on when it spoke of me being critical of myself, or getting too caught up in specific details. These things are always interesting, though I've never discovered how to practically apply any of the results, if even necessary.
H.T.: Spockgirl.

(4) ”Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain. Why is he climbing a mountain?”

(5) I guess K.I.S.S. was one of those groups that sounded so much different when they performed live. Frightening.
H.T.: Krispy

(6) If Star Wars® had been a 1920s silent movie, it might have looked a little something like this....

(7) Ryan Reynolds is Green Lantern! I think these early shots look promising. The internet has other opinions.
H.T.: J-No.

(8) Mr. Hipp's blog has some truly sick interpretations of various comic book and science fiction characters. I particularly like his Spider-Man.

(9) In one of the more surreal stories of the week, Archaeologists find the remains of an 18th century boat beneath the former site of the World Trade Center.

(10) Black and White, one goes left when the other goes right. Can you guide them both to their respective exits?


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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7.18.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 52

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 52nd WWW:

1) xXx: State of the Union:
Sometimes I like to watch a bad movie, if only for the fact that they're more fun to review. This is less of a sequel to the original xXx and more of a spoof, and while that may not have been the film makers' intent, watching it with that mindset made it infinitely more enjoyable. More than once I had to pause and go back after I was done laughing at some outlandish line or sequence. In the original, Vin Diesel is an extreme sports expert tapped by the government to be a special agent. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as a caricature of himself, a shouting government agent in charge of a top secret program that's literally underground. He needs a new xXx, someone more extreme, when their operation is compromised, and turns to an old member of his military unit currently serving time. Rapper turned actor Ice Cube definitely has presence on film, and has turned out some likable roles. Here, he's a walking cliché, all attitude, scowls, and catch phrases. The soundtrack frequently blasts rap because, you know, stereotype. Sometimes it can be hilariously distracting, and at least one lyrical “YEAH!” on a scene change seemed to be in response to a question asked by a character at the end of the previous scene. Cube really doesn't bring anything more to the table than Diesel, or show what special skills he has that Jackson requires. He's a “master of disguise” because he'll sometimes put on glasses and wear a suit or tuxedo, because who would expect that from a black guy? Did I mention stereotype? He quotes Tupac more than once, and eventually even has the president of the United States doing the same thing because, well you get the idea. Treated as a serious contribution to the action genre, an American James Bond, this movie is absurdly bad. Viewed as satire, it borders on brilliant. Cube's action hero status is wholly manufactured. He drives a boat up a crane and lands it on a police cruiser. As everyone in the background runs around screaming, he strolls in slow motion, looking around with a badass squint, and calmly gets in the car with the nerdy white tech guy he's rescuing. Then they drive off with no further interference from the law. There's also a scene where he shoots water after leaping off a moving train, because I guess displacing it would keep him from breaking his neck. A burning train car is falling right on his heels, just to make it interesting. “Welcome to the first tank-jackin' in history.” he says during one of the sequences in which he gets to drive a tank, and he even manages to throw one tank at another. In one scene he's saved by editing, since at one camera angle he's falling short of catching the skid of a helicopter, while at another he's much closer. He fools thermal detectors by heating up TV dinners. The list of ridiculous things is almost endless. Jackson is adept at self-parody yelling things like “I told you you shoulda killed that b*tch!” The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, with perhaps yet another xXx agent, but they'd really have a hard time topping this. I like Cube, and this might be his best comedy since Friday, but it's definitely a franchise killer for a movie that shouldn't have spawned a franchise to begin with. To paraphrase Tupac, bad movies come and go, but bad sequels are eternal.

2) The Benchwarmers:
Yes, the humor is very sophomoric, and there are a few too many gross-out scenes, from bullies breaking wind in nerd's faces to projectile vomiting and worse. The acting won't win anyone any awards. And there's something very telling in an ensemble when Rob Schneider is the normal one. Schneider plays it fairly straight for a change, as a good-natured landscaper who takes pity on some kids facing bullies on a ball field. He teams up with his two misfit friends, David Spade, as a lonely video store clerk and Jon Heder, as the world's oldest paper boy, and challenges the mean kids to a game. As expected, Heder and Spade suck at baseball, but Schneider is actually pretty good. He consistently cracks home runs and seems to know what he's doing. The film paints nerds and jocks with broad strokes, but touches on the theme of how these things get passed down from generation to generation. The “cool” kid's dad is clearly his role model, and picked on Heder and Spade when they were kids. Schneider didn't grow up in the area, and there's an interesting twist about his childhood toward the end of the film. Jon Lovitz(remember him?) shows up as the father of the kid they defended, and as a nerd who grew up to be a successful billionaire, he gets to drive around in cool cars like the original KITT(complete with William Daniels' voice) or the 1960s Batmobile. He sponsors these three losers in a competition which begins to draw more and more attention(while Schneider manages to hide it from his wife, who wants to conceive a child with him). The film slowly segues from gross-out comedy to feel good humor, giving hope to underdogs everywhere. It's formulaic Happy Madison, with a definite “aww” moment or two near the end as it becomes less about revenge and more about changing attitudes. We're all people; we all have the right to enjoy the same things. Sometimes it isn't about winning or losing, but how you enjoy the game.


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

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7.17.2010

Crank Wanker

”I'm dropping the bass drum off at your house because, as you know, I'm out of commission.”

It seemed like an odd way to begin a conversation at 7 PM on a Thursday night. I was working late because I was going to be taking the next day off to play a feast in Brooklyn, and I wondered what our drummer was talking about, as well as how my cell phone was actually getting reception in my office. He went on to explain that he'd been out of work on disability since tearing his Achilles tendon last month and definitely wouldn't be able to do any band jobs. Because the Brooklyn band leader and his son/band-leading partner don't drive, those of us with cars often get saddled with lugging the thing they'd have the most trouble transporting via train or cab.

It seemed to be since I spoke to both band leaders less than a week ago, that one of them might have mentioned something. The bass drummer certainly seemed to think I was already aware of his injury. Someone was pulling a fast one. I considered showing up at the gig Friday morning and pretending not to have the drum. It backfired when I saw the band leader's son on a corner and my dad yelled at me to pull over so he could get the drum out of the trunk and I wouldn't have to carry it from wherever we ended up parking. But when I popped the trunk, the kid said they didn't need the drum until our evening gig, since they got the wife of a trumpet player to bring her own for the morning job and had someone else playing later on. Again, it would have been nice if someone put me in the loop.

Both father and son agreed on the same story, that they had no idea about the bass drummer until they called him to remind him of the job and he informed them he couldn't do it. I'd spoken with the band leader's son within the last week. I couldn't get a straight timeline as to when they spoke with the bass drummer. He had hurt himself in June. The band leader also accused the guy of lying because he didn't want to do the job. “When my son called him, he was in California with his girlfriend. What the heck was he doing in California? How could he get there with a broken leg?” I knew the girl lived there and he'd began a long-distance relationship after meeting her on a cruise, so that explains why he was there. And if he's not working anyway, he might as well rack up some sympathy points. Where I really had to bite my tongue was when I considered sarcastically agreeing that it would be impossible to pedal a plane if you're on crutches and in a cast. In any event, I saw the guy the night before when he gave me the drum, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't hobbling about in a cast with crutches to put on an elaborate ruse.

The gig was awesome and terrible. It was awesome because we had some of the best food stops in years. There was a breakfast buffet outside one house with rows and rows of aluminum trays filled with giant pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and more. Also, a new regulation now limits city and borough processions to no more than five hours, at which time we were losing our police escort(not that that prevented some nervy drivers from whizzing through intersections and nearly running people over). So we were pretty much guaranteed to be done by 1 PM. It was terrible because, once the sun got to full strength, we were feeling those 95 degrees. I'm the youngest guy in the band, a few months behind the band leader's son, and I found walking to be an effort after a few hours. One woman who'd never done the job before wouldn't stop complaining during the last hour, while I reminded her that most years we'd only be halfway through the job. That new regulation was a life saver. My dad walked with us in the beginning as a spectator, took a bathroom break in a local church, and when he emerged he had no idea what street we were on. So he was spared the majority of the walking.

At night, there was a job in Long Island, and one on Staten Island. The band leader's son was taking most of the band there, while we were taking the band leader out to the one closer to where we live, to meet up with some replacement musicians. But we have five hours to kill, and no recourse but to take the guy home with us first, yet another surprise from our non-driving employers. Sitting in traffic on the expressway, I soon heard one of the funniest phone conversations ever.

“Yeah. Yeah I spoke wit' Kevin and George. I didn't like their attitude,” said our band leader, answering his cell phone.

“Here's the t'ing. My bus meets dis other bus, which is always late. And I know dat bus goes to the T--targay umlaut....yeah, dat's it.” I had to assume the person on the other end asked if he meant Tangier Outlets. Mind you, this wasn't even the funniest part of the conversation. He went on to complain that Kevin and George both had become dismissive, and always hung up when he called the bus depot to complain about their service. One of them suggested he ride a bike to work when he asked how he was supposed to get there. He didn't understand if there were three buses in the morning, why there were only two in the evening. He didn't get why a busy mall got better service than a field where he waited alone. If I worked for the bus company, I'd assume this guy was making a crank phone call. He didn't sound like a real person to me. I've known this man for years, and I couldn't believe he was serious.

I definitely almost lost it when he described an incident in which he was running for a bus he'd just missed and was waving his arms. “I had trouble wit' dat driver before! He saw me! I know he saw me! Everybody on the bus was waving and telling him there was someone to pick up! I tripped and fell in the street!” He complained about how taking two buses gets him home after 9 PM every night, and how he has to be up at 5 AM to make the connections needed to get him to his warehouse job by 8:30. Public transportation sucks around here, especially the further East you live. It's not like Brooklyn where he spent the bulk of his life. Moving to Suffolk has been a culture shock he never adjusted to. A car is such a necessity around here, but he's too old to learn to drive now. He'll probably retire in 3 or 4 years. His son should learn, but apparently fails the written test any time he actually applies. The kid is living with his parents, a wife, a step son, and two baby girls less than a year apart. They spend a lot of money on cab fare.

I guess they've always managed to find someone to help, someone to carry a drum or give them a lift. There was a span of about a year where I felt sorry for them and used to drive them all the way home. But that was about an hour out of my way, which meant I got home two hours later. At some point, I stopped feeling guilty about giving them a ride to a train station. After Friday night's gig, I definitely took him to a station. We're all playing on Saturday morning for another band out on the island, and I expect my shuttle services will be called upon once more. I still don't get the sense of entitlement, that they expect people to give them rides, and on a larger scale now expect the county to adjust their bus route to make his commute more convenient. I recognize that my personality is the opposite extreme, that I'm very laid-back and accepting of circumstances when the road gets rough. I do give the official who called him back credit for listening to his complaint, even if he can't realistically address it. I would have had a hard time taking him seriously. And when all is said and done, maybe getting a bike isn't such bad advice after all.

7.16.2010

Loop De Loop

Wasn't it just yesterday I was talking about mental deterioration with age? After I posted, I began pondering the odds that I'd never used that old “Ford” acronym as a title before. So I did some searching, and I had. About five years ago. I had to tweak the title of the newer post.

I guess it's an understandable mistake, but it makes me wonder how often I've repeated myself and wrote about the same things, perhaps in almost the same words. In general, I often feel like life itself is an endless hamster wheel. I enjoy my work, but there have always been busy seasons at every company I've worked at, and any sense of accomplishment is short-lived due to the overlap in assignments. As one project is being finished, there's always a new one starting. I'm never done, and while I'm grateful for steady work doing stuff I enjoy, there are times when it gets monotonous. I've never taken off for an entire week in my working career. I've never had more than a weekend off between transitioning jobs, either. So I've been working for more than 14 years straight. I'm not complaining; my dad did that his whole life, although the last 30 years of his career he managed to swing a sweet 12-hour tour that had him fixing police cars Wednesday through Friday, with the rest of the week off. I could work three 12-hour days if it meant consistently having four days to do my own thing.

I'm always at odds between routine and freedom, because I don't always know what to do with freedom. On odd weekends when I have no band gigs and chores are done, I might nap a day away. And even when I do find something fun to do, like go to a movie, or go hiking and take some pictures, I get tired of those activities after a while. Variety is the spice of life, but there's only so much variety one can experience before things repeat. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. No matter what I do, “Repeat” always makes a comeback. Lather. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat. No matter what I do, “Repeat” always makes a comeback.

It is nice to have a schedule, and to know where my next paycheck is coming from. At the same time, planning dates in advance has made one year indistinguishable from the next. I'm playing a July 16th feast in Brooklyn because there's always a July 16th feast in Brooklyn. The only difference is that last year it fell on a Thursday and this year it's on a Friday. The day of the week doesn't matter. Once I'm on familiar streets with familiar people playing familiar songs, it might as well be a Saturday. The only thing I'll have a sense of for certain is that it's Summer, because I'll be very hot. At least we picked up a new gig Friday night that we've never played before, and I'm playing with yet another band on Saturday morning for a gig that might be new. It's all a blur sometimes, so when I get there I probably will remember doing the same thing last year.

I think it damages one's perception of time when the range of variety gets too narrow. Obviously we all need safe boundaries, and there's wisdom in planning the future. But in a way it makes life a little shorter, emotionally rather than literally. College seems like yesterday, but I'm in my mid-thirties. My cousin's wife is throwing him a surprise FIFTIETH birthday party next month. When did that happen? I think that's the confusing part, that our surroundings and routine might stay the same, but we're all still getting older. Inside we might feel the same, while a mirror might tell a more shocking story.

Life is a cycle of cycles. We have jobs until they bore us or grow bored of us, and then we get new ones. We have friends until they bore us or grow bored of us, and then we get new ones. We have hobbies until they bore us, and then we get new ones. And it happens over, and over, and over again. Round and round we go; when we stop, nobody kn

7.15.2010

Fix or Repair Daily Redux

I'm not sure when I caught it, or if I've always had it, but I definitely have a troubleshooting bug. I didn't notice it as much in my school years, but it became very apparent early on in my career. Working for a small publisher right out of college, we didn't have a tech support department. I served as both a graphic designer's assistant and the guy who kept our hardware and software in working condition. And over time, even when I got to larger companies, I was still inclined to figure things out for myself.

Part of it is definitely the puzzle aspect of a good problem, the sense that there's a mystery to be solved. Maybe that stems back to my boyhood dream of becoming a detective like the heroes of the novels I read, role models such as Sherlock Holmes, Jupiter Jones, or McGurk. I think it also bothers me when I don't know the answer to a question, and I have an obsessive-compulsive need to add to my mental database. I'll research until I find the answer and, failing that, make sure the person tells me later on when he or she find out. Then that information is stored in my brain for future retrieval.

Due to the nature of my work, this idiosyncrasy of mine is most prevalent in the realm of computers. I'll contact tech support when I'm stumped, or when I face a problem that they need to be aware of because it affects our entire department. But it never stops me from doing my own research, checking message boards, testing solutions, and on rare occasions solving the problem for our tech people. Some mysteries are ongoing, and even if my attention is focused on deadlines and more immediate priorities, glitches are always being pondered in the back of my mind. “Why did the machine crash when I did this? What if I do that instead next time?”

One area in which I could use more knowledge is that of automobiles, and it's no mystery why. I am the son of a mechanic. I've spent my life holding flashlights and handing my father wrenches, and most of my childhood I hated it. I wanted to be inside watching cartoons. I didn't like being covered in grease. I was a fool. I wish I'd paid more attention, and it's only in the last few years as my dad's gotten older and I've learned the value of such skills that I've actively expressed interest. When something needs to be done on my car, I don't make the 80-year-old man with arthritis and a heart condition lie on the ground. I need him on a consulting basis, but I do all the heavy lifting. I've picked up a few basic things, like how to replace brakes, patch a tire, or how to do an oil change. But that's the extent of my abilities, and I'm certainly not the diagnostician that my old man was in his prime. Time was, we'd be in the car and he could hear if something was off and know what it was. Now, I'm lucky if he hears me talking to him.

One of my friends at work had car trouble on Thursday, and discovered at lunch that it just wouldn't turn over. His first few attempts got a sluggish “R-R-R-RRR” before sputtering out, and then it was just clicking when he turned the key. I know enough to know the most obvious causes of that situation are a dead or drained battery, or a bad starter. But then, so do most people. Being a mechanic's son should give me a little more insight than that. One of the older guys at work tried jumper cables, and when that failed, he became convinced that corrosion on the battery was the problem. He hunted down a wire brush to clean the leads, while the rest of us stood around an open hood debating. The battery wasn't totally dead if he had lights, an alarm, and other accessories. The starter had been replaced a few months ago. We did have heavy rains and some flooding the day prior, conditions that had my rear brakes making scraping noises. It seemed like too much of a coincidence for his car to just die the day after such conditions, although it didn't explain why it worked in the morning.

We checked fuses, not knowing what we were really checking. One of my friends who lives near the office went home and came back with some tools. We tried jumping it again. I traced the wires to what I thought was the starter, and phoned my dad to confirm. In the past, he's gotten me out of similar situations by hitting the thing with a hammer while I turned the key. It's not the most elegant solution, and it doesn't do the starter much good, but it can save you a tow truck and get the car running long enough to move it elsewhere. In the end, I didn't have my dad's magic touch, and didn't have the right angle to hit it with the metal end of the hammer with enough force. My friend ended up having a tow truck bring it to a local repair shop, and I gave him a lift to his friend's place in the area.

It's funny how an open car hood will stop people, how everyone will stand around and offer solutions. When I got home, I even read a similar situation play out in a preview for an upcoming Superman comic book. I don't think any of us could ask for a better diagnostic tool than x-ray vision, although we still need to know what we're looking at in the first place. It's hard when things don't work the way they usually do, the way we expect them to, and more often than not it happens suddenly. It happens with computers. It happens with cars. It even happens with people. I still retain numbers and information in ways that scare people, but I remember at my first job knowing the code numbers to every job I worked on. My recall is slowly declining, and if I'm not what I was ten years ago, I won't be what I am now in ten years. My dad laments that heart surgery wasn't a fountain of youth. Sure, there are signs and symptoms sometimes, but often they're so small and gradual that we don't notice until something big happens, whether we get a chest pain while walking fast or our car doesn't start. It's so important that I maintain my obsession with problem-solving, because the older I get, the harder it will be to learn new things. One day the bucket will be full, and I won't be able to find everything I need in there. One day, I'll spill knowledge while trying to retrieve some of it. One day, my writing will turn to rambling, with no clean conclusion.

I hope today's not that day.

7.14.2010

PBW: MCF Takes Manhattan 3

Well, I managed to make my recent trip to Manhattan last for three weeks, but this Photo Blog Wednesday contains the third and final batch from that excursion, many shots taken as my window for catching the last train for two hours narrowed dangerously. Between bands and the heat wave things have been too hectic and hot to get out and shoot some new photos, but it looks like I’ll have to come up with something for next week. I will. I always do. For now, let’s take one more stroll through midtown:











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7.13.2010

The Old Man Keeps Going.

Unsatisfied with the results of his bypass surgery, my dad insisted on having an angiogram last Thursday, to check for blockage and possibly put in stents to keep his arteries open. No matter how many times we stress that the surgery was done to prevent him from having a heart attack, and was not meant to turn him into a 20-year-old, he doesn’t seem to get it. “That’s not normal, that I should have to stop and take pills every time I walk a few miles!” Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled that he’s still going strong. But he is 80-years-old, so if he has to take a pill and rest for five minutes, especially on a hot day, that doesn’t seem so bad to me.

He was told after the surgery to take it easy, to avoid stairs and not lift anything heavier than a carton of milk, for at least six weeks after his operation. He was also told that he would have reminders of surgery while he healed, from multiple incisions and having his breast bone cut and stapled back together. But he’s impatient, and strong spirited, and it wasn’t long before he was climbing ladders, trimming hedges, painting his shed, digging up trees, and testing his limits any way he could.

My mom phoned me on Thursday, after the procedure, to tell me all went well. Everything checked out normally. The new artery was good. The other two were not any worse, and not bad enough to be life-threatening. The doctor told them that there were “64 reasons” why he could be having chest pains, not related to the heart, and it could even have something to do with the fact that my father is “riddled with arthritis”. His hands and his knees bothered him prior to the surgery, and I’m sure having a bone cracked open in his chest is definitely going to leave some lasting soreness. The doctors told him to keep using his patch, and keep taking his pills, and “keep” taking it easy. As my mom told me he had to rest for a week, I heard him in the background:

“THREE DAYS!”

“That’s what the nurse originally said, but the paper from the doctor said a week.”

“THREE! DAYS!”

“You hear him? He’s arguing with me. He already went up and down the stairs.”

“I CAN DO STAIRS! I PACE MYSELF!”

Clearly. So physically, he’s right where someone his age should be following such a procedure. And my mom also found out the reason why he only had a single bypass was actually his own fault. He was very afraid of the doctor taking an artery from his leg, because he needs to walk in parades and feasts and didn’t understand that he could have spared an artery or two. Limited to his chest, there was only one artery available, so they used that to replace the most seriously blocked one in his heart. I guess if he didn’t need the others replaced, it all worked out, but he still can’t make it through a parade let alone a feast. The recovery time may have been longer with a triple bypass using arteries from the leg, but he might have found himself in better shape afterwards, assuming he could wait that long. I don’t think he could.

I was also supposed to look up a socket for his car, whose directional lights keep burning out. One melted and fused, and he was having the hardest time tracking down a replacement. I explained I was in a busy season at work now since we have a new TV campaign running and a lot of extra print projects to support it, and that I’d do research for him over the weekend. The next day I came home to find wrenches and tools in the basement along with the lamp from his car, which he got my mom to help him with. When I went to a parade on Saturday night, he spotted a parts store nearby and went in while I waited for the gig to start. The socket proved elusive, and the dealer would only sell him the whole unit. He’s not going to spend $50 when the only piece he needs runs closer to $9. One of the players in the band offered to check with some of his sources, but again my dad proved impatient.

“[MCF], are you busy?” said a faint voice on the other end of the phone. It was 11 AM on a Monday, and I was in my office, so of course I was busy.

“Who is this? Dad?”

“Are you very busy right now?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m at work dad. What’s wrong?”

He sounded quiet, and a little out of breath, and I remembered seeing him weeding in the yard when I left for work that morning, wearing a back brace and drenched in sweat and dirt.

“Could you look up a part number for me?”

Now, my boss is pretty cool, but my office is in earshot of his, and I’m didn’t want him to think I was running a parts shop on the side. I couldn’t reach my door to close it, so I lowered my voice as much as I could, remembering that the old man is hard of hearing.

“What?”

“I called a place, and they gave me this name, and if you go to the web site you can find the part.”

I found the site, but the part wasn’t listed. I asked for the year, make, and model, and started working my magic. As always when I research car problems, I found dozens of message boards where people had the same complaint, but few answers. It seems the melting bulbs were a common issue. Finally, I located a socket number for a running light, which apparently was close enough to a directional light, and matched his car exactly. I had to read several long serial numbers to him over the phone, every now and then catching an odd glance as someone walked by outside.

When I got home, he was elated. “That internet of yours is FANTASTIC!” he said, “Best invention ever! What it told you was great! They’re ordering the part for me!” As a side note, I should point out that he often refers to the internet as a sentient entity under my command, like a wizard summoning a mystic creature to do his bidding. Most inquiries start with, “Would your internet tell you...?” He did apologize when I told him my boss might have heard me talking and hoped he didn’t get me in trouble. My mom, meanwhile, was apparently oblivious to the fact that he’d called me at all. I guess he was so quiet on the phone because he didn’t want her to hear and yell at him. Heh.

My dad’s spirit is, for the most part, a good thing. It’s the reason why he’s doing so many things most 80-year-old wouldn’t still be doing. Sometimes I wish he could relax, and just sit in front of the television; I know I have no trouble doing that. And sometimes he does, usually for an hour or so at night, after he’s already built or repaired something or done some yardwork during the day. On Sunday he wanted me to clean the gutters, and had there not been a ball game on television, he might have carried the ladder up from the basement on his own. “Your father was talking about the gutters...” my mom warned me, as I was retreating to the basement to escape the brutal heat. I had no choice; she didn’t have to elaborate. If I didn’t do it, he would, likely when no one was around. So I carried it up, climbed up where it was even hotter, and pulled out any leaves. It’s not like we’re getting (much-needed) rain any time soon, but he was right about one or two spots. A small tree was actually starting to grow in one of them. I don’t think he heard me with the television blasting, and may not realize that I took care of it.

Sometimes I wish my dad could relax and slow down. He was getting very stressed when we hit traffic on the way to the parade, and anxiously asking if I could get over to the left lane as cars whizzed by. We had well over an hour before we’d be late, and I reminded him that he wasn’t going to be late for anything. My dad could stand to relax and slow down, but then, he wouldn’t be the same man if he did. For all his aches and pains, nothing stops him for long. The old man just keeps going. May we all do the same when we get there.

7.12.2010

Phantasmic Links 7.12.10

I really hate the question, “Hot enough for ya?” almost as much as the conditions which cause people to ask that. I've been lucky with the last few fire department parades, and adequate cloud cover in the evening kept us cool. I just hope this grass-scorching MCF-angering heat wave breaks soon, especially with a five hour Italian procession coming up this Friday morning followed by another 2-3 hour gig in the evening, and possibly a third job on Saturday. Even if this wasn't the busy season at my job, I think I'd be spending as much time as possible inside the air conditioned goodness of my office. So, to sum up, it's too hot. Let's see if we can cool off with some cool PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Do you ever prefer scenes in film trailers that don't make the final cut of the movie? It happens to me all the time, which is why I really appreciate all these alternate takes of Iron Man 2's more infamous scenes.

(2) Human race doomed by a giant asteroid or nuclear holocaust? Not a problem if this European project to build a “doomsday ark” on the moon works out.

(3) Hakone looks like an awesome outdoor museum in Japan. It's great that the internet allows me to visit places like this virtually.

(4) A UFO shut down an airport in China. Hey, if it was a flying object, and it was not identified, then the description fits.

(5) Here's an overly elaborate project to build a fake Google Street View car. That's all well and good, but why not put a real camera up there and see what you get?

(6) Now Grandpa or Grandma can have his or her own bionic eye!(Technically, it's a small telescope implanted in the eye, but it's still pretty cool).

(7) Ed Norton will NOT be reprising the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers. That's a shame; I know he had his differences with the producers, but I did like the idea of continuity with the cast of these various connected films. I wonder if Eric Bana is outside the realm of possibility?

(8) In a great comic that (sadly) never happened, meet The Thing's tag-team wrestling partner!

(9) Morphsuits will let you blend in anywhere that matches the color of the suit you're wearing, and they look incredibly comfortable, and not at all like I'd make people nervous when I start wearing one.....

(10) Doodle-god is AWESOME. Start out with four basic elements, and start combining. Can you get 115 items from those initial 4? Can you create....the world?


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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