31 July 2012

July, 2012 Errata

I had a terrific time a couple weeks ago; after seeing Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears in concert, I took in The Dark Knight Rises in a matinee showing with my friends the following day and Citizen Kane at The Louisville Palace the night after that as part of their summer movie series. I was disappointed by the laziness of TDKR, but thrilled at seeing "the greatest movie ever made." It's not, of course; I'll happily take Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia over it, just to name a pair, but I was more than impressed and satisfied by the outing. Of course, I adore just being at the Palace and the chance to see this film there - where, as my friend noted, it likely played during its original run 71 years ago - was too good to pass for my first ever viewing!
[NOTE: My reviews of The Dark Knight Rises and Citizen Kane were published in my diary on Letterboxd. I find it easier and more convenient to review films there than here, and in all likelihood most of my movie reviews will likely appear there in the future. I invite you to join Letterboxd and friend me there!]
Then someone alerted my guts to the fact I'd had such a wonderful time. I woke up Sunday (22 July) feeling miserable. It's stayed with me. I've had to take a Promethazine every day since, save one. I've slept 75% of the time, entirely exhausted and fatigued even when I manage to get out of bed. I was in excruciating pain all throughout Saturday and Sunday, forcing me to resume Prednisone, which I haven't taken regularly in a few months.

This is all routine for a Crohnie. As I've said before, there are plenty worse experiences one can have in life, and even within the spectrum of life with Crohn's, I've had it better than some. I'm genuinely grateful that Prednisone is still effective for my flares, as the other meds I've been prescribed over the years have all proved useless. I've had a difficult time staying hydrated, though not for lack of drinking plenty of water. I've had to make enough mad dashes to the bathroom that I'm relatively certain I could win at least a silver medal in three different Olympic events.

It's not been all doom and gloom. I finally took the time to stream Downton Abbey in its entirety (Series 1 and Series 2, plus the Christmas special), catching a few episodes here and there in my sporadic bouts of consciousness. It's a likable enough period soap with a solid cast and some witty dialog. It reminds me as much of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories as it does Dallas, only instead of Southfork the setting is an aged English manor. It also reminds me of the Robert Altman film, Gosford Park (also starring Maggie Smith). I have to believe that Phyllis Logan was cast as Mrs. Hughes because of her resemblance to Helen Mirren (Mrs. Wilson, who held the same position as Mrs. Hughes).

The second series's running narrative of World War I was particularly well handled, I thought. I confess I have some problems with the continuity of the show; some subplots seem to pick up exactly where they left off in the previous episode despite months, even years, passing between them. Eight years is an awful long time to accept as covered in the span of the 17 episodes that presently exist, particularly with the cast not showing any real signs of the passage of time. Even hairstyles have remained consistent throughout, which is fine for some characters but seems a bit unlikely for others.

One thing that I now want to see is some kind of modern day Patty Duke Show story starring Kristen Bell and Joanne Froggatt. I don't really care what the story is, really, as long as those two appear together in it. This needs to happen. While I wait for Hollywood to get on that, at least I'll be able to follow along with Twitter when Series 3 debuts (whenever that is; sometime next year, maybe?).

Meanwhile, there have been some social issue stories that I've not discussed in this blog. I'm reluctant to get into them at all, frankly, but this kind of catch-all post sort of invites it.

Regarding James Holmes's mass shooting in Aurora, CO at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I was reminded of something Craig Ferguson espoused in one of his TV specials. He suggested that there are three questions to ask before discussing something: "Does this need to be said?" "Does this need to be said by me?" "Does this need to be said by me, now?" I quickly decided that whatever I might have had to say about the shooting didn't need to be said by me.

I did get caught up in a side conversation about a Facebook campaign to get Christian Bale to visit the victims in the hospital dressed as Batman (I thought the notion was misguided and evidence that Facebook would make a lousy therapist), and I did pitch the idea of a special tax on guns to help fund a pool of therapists specifically trained for treating victims of gun violence that met with predictable resistance. Otherwise, though, I found I didn't really care to add my voice to the cacophony. It's weird, as a self-avowed activist/advocate/whatever I am, to shrug and say, "This doesn't need me," but there it was.

Likewise, I'm not terribly inclined to comment much on the current controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A and their ownership's very public anti-LGBT doctrine and spending. I last ate at a Chick-fil-A in late Spring, as I was hungry and leaving Best Buy one afternoon. I hadn't really planned on it, but I was there, it was there and that was that. I love me some waffle fries, but their menu prices are way too high. I can only assume that if they quit using the restaurant as a fundraiser for a hate group that my conscience and my wallet would both be more inclined to eat there. As it is, I'm perfectly content to abstain from the chain. I haven't put a single dime into BP since their oil spill, and I've no intention to fund Chick-fil-A, either. (I also have a vendetta against Sarah Lee for engineering a hostile takeover of Jimmy Dean and ousting the venerable singer/actor from his own company.)

Lastly, I was recently made aware that an album is being released in September collecting Waylon Jennings's final studio recordings. He recorded the vocals shortly before his death, and they've been finished posthumously by former band member Robby Turner. We've already had the Waylon Forever album, in which Shooter's backing band, The .357s, filled out Waylon's vocal tracks and a pair of other such recordings ("The Dream," which appeared on 2003's I've Always Been Crazy: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings and "Goin' Down Rockin'," which appeared on The Music Inside, Volume I: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings). The lead single is a different production of "Goin' Down Rockin'" from the one that appeared on The Music Inside release. I'm excited about this project, though I'm hopeful this isn't going to amount to just a variation on the handful of tracks already in circulation.

29 July 2012

The Great Recasting Blogathon: "Batman: The Movie"

My pal Hannah brought this to my attention via Facebook this afternoon and it got me to thinking. Given how much my friends and I have talked about Batman recently, I decided it might be fun to "re-cast" the 1966 feature, Batman: The Movie. Now, the idea here is to recast a movie made after 1965 with actors from before that year. We'll toss aside the fact that this film was made from the TV series using its cast. I'm already a day late on this, but I figure since I'm not part of their section of the blogosphere, it'd be alright if I participated anyway.


BATMAN
Recast: Orson Welles | Original: Adam West

Batman is the ultimate straight man in this absurd comedy. We have to buy him as noble and daring, but he also has to fit into the zaniness of the rest of the picture. I think a young-ish Orson Welles would have had the gravitas and sense of humor to pull it off.

ROBIN
Recast: Casey Kasem | Original: Burt Ward

Robin the Boy Wonder has to be exuberant and earnest. Really, he's the character who links the straight Batman with the rest of the film so his chemistry with the lead has to be pitch perfect. Casey Kasem would have been perfect. There's the same age difference between Kasem and Welles as there is between Burt and West, plus there's the added bonus that Kasem voiced Robin in various animated series from 1968 through 1983.

THE JOKER
Recast: Frank Sinatra | Original: Cesar Romero 

This one might seem unlikely at first, but it's inspired by real life trivia: The Chairman of the Board wanted to play The Clown Prince of Crime when he heard the TV series was being developed, but Romero had already been cast by the time he spoke up about it.

THE PENGUIN
Recast: Peter Lorre | Original: Burgess Meredith

Lorre would have made a terrific Batman villain at any age, really. He demonstrated his ability to be truly sinister in Fritz Lang's M, but could also be disarmingly charming as in Casablanca.

THE RIDDLER
Recast: Dwight Frye | Original: Frank Gorshin

Of the entire picture, this is the hardest to recast because Gorshin owned that role. The only classic film performance I've seen that registers in the same league of mania is Dwight Frye's spellbinding turn as Renfield in the 1931 production of Dracula. Unfortunately, Frye passed away in 1943 at the age of 44 so that rather fixes when this dream cast could have been assembled. It would have still been possible, but Kasem was only 11 at the time and certainly not on any casting director's radar.

CATWOMAN
Recast: Ingrid Bergman | Original (Film): Lee Meriweather

Why Ingrid Bergman? Because I'm in love with her, that's why! I specifically imagine her in the scenes as Miss Kitka, and it all just seems so...purr-fect.

COMMISSIONER GORDON
Recast: Gary Cooper | Original: Neil Hamilton

Straighter even than West's Batman was Hamilton's Gordon, often teased by the cast for being the only one not in on the joke. Gary Cooper could have been a convincing police commissioner, and one imagines him being just straitlaced enough to ground the whole thing in some semblance of reality.

CHIEF O'HARA
Recast: Ernest Borgnine | Original: Stafford Repp

Casting Chief O'Hara isn't easy, either. Ernest Borgnine was versatile in dramatic and comedic roles, and it's easy to picture him yukking it up in the supporting role here as Gary Cooper's comedic foil. Provided we stick to making this in 1943 before Dwight Frye died, Borgnine would have been just 26 but somehow I think even at that age he'd have looked the part.

ALFRED
Recast: Boris Karloff | Original: Alan Napier

Only an actor from his era, with his work in pictures that walked the thin line around camp could handle the role of Alfred: imbuing the affair with his authenticity. Besides, who wouldn't have wanted to see him driving the Batmobile in a tux with a bowler hat and a flimsy eye mask?

I Hate Provocateurs

I hate provocateurs. There is some measure of irony in this, as I have at times been one myself - particularly in my youth. My life experiences have taught me a greater humility before many topics, and with that humility has come a heightened empathy and sensitivity. I can scarcely slog through most contemporary stand-up routines, obsessed as our culture has become with shock humor. I'm the guy at the comedy club who is often self-conscious, looking around for the face of the one person who came for a reprieve from something troubling in their life, only to have it rubbed in their face by the comic on stage.

One of my chief problems with provocateurs is that they shirk any responsibility for the consequences of what they provoke. Anyone who isn't a laughing sycophant is greeted with either a dismissive, "Lighten up!" or worse yet, hostility. Provocateurs are incapable of saying, "I'm sorry, that was insensitive of me." Rather, they spoil for the fight that goes with being confronted for their insensitivity, as though they alone are possessed of the enlightenment that the rest of the world needs in order to function more properly, devoid of our immature notions of hurt feelings. I cannot abide this arrogance.

There is, of course, a proper place for a socially-conscious provocateur. History has often recognized the place of such individuals in all fields from the scholarly to the scientific. Where would we be if not for Plato, Galileo or Upton Sinclair? There is a tremendous difference, though, between their work and that of today's provocateurs. They knew what they wanted to accomplish, and their aspirations were much higher than simply upsetting people and testing their comfort zones.

I can certainly be the spoilsport and I make no bones about it. That said, my own sense of humor is not wanting. Even at my lowest point during my Year of Hell, when I finally acquiesced and checked into Our Lady of Peace, my humor was intact. I made the intake nurses laugh, and it was through humor that I primarily engaged the other patients. I'm a Southerner, so I'm already predisposed to a specific kind of wry humor. At times, I've had to clarify to outsiders that just because I joke about something doesn't mean I don't take it as seriously as it deserves. On the contrary, sometimes one can only see the humor in something by understanding it thoroughly.

This leads me to the endless debate: is there, in fact, humor to be found in every subject? Philosophically, I think there is. I've often been the one to find it, so I know it can be done even in delicate situations. But there is a striking difference between the kind of humor that one learns from experience with a subject and the kind that comes from standing at a distance, trying to rise above the fray. Just offhand, anyone could make light of Crohn's disease. In the hands of the average person, it would be primarily toilet humor. Someone who has actually experienced Crohn's disease, however, understands plenty of other sub-topics that could be mined for laughs. This isn't to say that Crohnies don't engage in scatological humor as well, but somehow it's a bit sharper, perhaps somewhat more authentic in a way?

I do, therefore, believe that there can be humor in every situation. I do not, however, believe that merely cracking a joke constitutes finding that humor nor do I believe everyone is up to the task.

That all said, I've come to realize this blog is surprisingly light on humor. I don't come across half as humorous as I actually am and I'm not sure what to do about that. Should I make a more conscious effort to be funny here, or simply write as I have been writing, and allow humor to surface whenever it may on its own?

26 July 2012

Movie Confessions

My pal Jandy posted this prompt in her blog, The Frame, and I decided to take a whack at it. I will very likely forfeit whatever credibility I have as a movie reviewer before this is finished.

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

Gone with the Wind. I could tell you it's because of all the racism, but I've managed to slog through other racist, sexist and other discriminatory films. If I'm being entirely honest, I'm pretty sure it's because the first (and, to date, only) time I've ever seen it, I watched it with an ex-girlfriend. Her name was actually taken from the film and she grew up practically obsessed with it. I was really into her, and then one day she just wasn't into me. That was nearly ten full years ago and the lack of an explanation still irks me. Unfair to hold against Gone with the Wind? Maybe. But somehow, I'm certain the warped paradigm of Scarlett and Rhett had something to do with undermining me.

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

Just ten? I could probably list a hundred, but just off the cuff...
  1. The 400 Blows 
  2. Singin' in the Rain 
  3. A Clockwork Orange 
  4. Scarface 
  5. The Searchers 
  6. North by Northwest 
  7. Rear Window 
  8. Rocky 
  9. Sunset Blvd. 
  10. A Streetcar Named Desire
Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

Nope. I have, however, sneaked concessions into theaters on countless occasions. My mom was a big proponent of this during my childhood. I gave it up in 1995 when I began going to the Oldham 8 on my own. When they first opened, they sold hot dogs and I'd get a couple of those and a Coke while waiting in the lobby for the movie to start. Then somewhere along the line, they stopped serving dogs. I've rarely had concessions since.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

I'm not big on "overrated" questions in general, but for the life of me I cannot comprehend the following that Kristen Stewart enjoys. Even accounting for the projection of the character (Bella) onto the actress doesn't explain how she has effectively sleepwalked into stardom.

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

Akira Kurosawa. It's not a conscious aversion; just no real exposure. The first annual DVD Talk Criterion Collection Challenge was in September, 2010 and I originally planned to get to one then. That fell by the wayside when I fell in love with Ingmar Bergman's work, however, and concentrated on that. I decided to explore other continents in 2011, but by then The Criterion Collection had largely moved to HuluPlus and I was only a Netflix member so it was postponed then, too. Maybe this year, I'll finally get around to it.
Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

I've developed an unhealthy love for Batman & Robin. I become defensive when I hear people bash it as "The Worst Movie Ever Made." I'm like, "Really? Have you not endured Legally Blonde 2? Epic Movie? The Quest?"

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

In the mid-to-late-90s, it was semi-fashionable to do the Mystery Science Theater 3000 bit of joking about the film. My friends and I tried to confine it to just a whisper among ourselves, though sometimes one of us would pop off with something particularly clever and the laughter would become conspicuous.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

Hmm. I honestly can't think of any examples. Truthfully, I'm not big on knowing much about movies before I see them. I've shared it before, but it bears repeating that in my teens, my friends and I would sometimes see a movie knowing only its title and show time - a hell of a way to find yourself seeing Event Horizon, incidentally! I have, of course, sat through countless movies I expected I would not enjoy for the basic reason that I was with someone who wanted to see them. Had I not been married, I would never have subjected myself to the first three Twilight movies, for instance.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

I put off foreign films until just a few years ago. It wasn't an active resistance kind of thing, so much as just I wanted to tackle more of the prominent English language films first - and they were much more readily available. Foreign films required commitment, and I wasn't far enough along in my exploration of film to make that commitment until relatively recently.

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

I'm not entirely sure I've had these a full five years, because my DVD Profiler data only goes back to 6 December 2008 when I first began using that software to track my purchases, but:
  • The Brave One 
  • Ewoks: The Battle for Endor 
  • Ewoks: Caravan of Courage 
  • Munich 
  • The Opium Connection 
  • Paint Your Wagon 
  • Painted Hero 
I've seen at least part of one of the Ewoks movies once upon a time, but I honestly don't really recall anything from it. Also, I have numerous DVDs that I haven't actually watched, but of movies that I have seen so I excluded those. For instance, I saw Mr. Holland's Opus when it opened in theaters. I picked up the DVD from a $5 bin at Walmart once upon a time, but have yet to actually pop in the disc to re-watch it.

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

Mr. Baseball, because I had never seen it until a couple months ago to even know how awful it is. Ditto Hell Is for Heroes. Those two will be going to Half Price Books soon, I suspect. I also have some of the usual geek suspects (Batman & Robin, Die Another Day, Superman Returns, the Star Wars prequels) partly because I'm a completist and partly because I have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome thing for those.

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

Maybe I do and maybe I don't, but since you didn't ask what they might be, you'll never know.
Any other confessions you want to make?

The first time I ever visited a strip club was after seeing E.T. during its 20th anniversary re-release.

22 July 2012

Ideas for the Next Batman Movie

Now that Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" has concluded, and Warner Bros. have already announced their plans to reboot the franchise, the time has come to flood the Internet with ideas about what the next Batman movie ought to be. Here are my suggestions.

The Dark Knight Returns starring Adam West
In Adam West's Bat-memoir, Back to the Batcave, he wrote about how in the late 1980s when word broke that Tim Burton was going to direct a big screen Batman feature, he wanted to play an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement as in Frank Miller's now-iconic story. In 1989, that wouldn't have worked, but here in the 21st Century the technology exists to make it happen.

A Riddling Crime Noir
Frank Gorshin's delightfully manic Riddler is the go-to incarnation, but there's potential for someone to do a really twisted story with The Riddler as a sort of "Jigsaw"-level psychopath. Batman is supposed to be the world's greatest detective. I say it's time to put him through his paces. The Riddler shouldn't be sadistic, necessarily, but his cleverness should frustrate Batman - and us.

Halloween in Gotham
Imagine a Jeepers Creepers-style Man-Bat terrorizing Gotham City! Or perhaps a vampire story, as in the Batman vs. Dracula: Red Rain series of graphic novels. Maybe a monster movie with Clayface or Killer Croc would be fun. This is an aspect of Batman storytelling no one has really tried to explore on the screen outside of animation.

Batgirl Returns
It's no secret I love me some Batgirl. I got a kick out of seeing her in Batman & Robin, but surely we deserve better than that one appearance.

Back to the Golden Age
There were two serials produced during the original era of Batman comics, but no other screen adventures have been set during that time. What happens when we take Batman out of contemporary settings and put him back in his original time period? Just imagine how striking he would be on screen in a frame with late 30s/early 40s aesthetics!

20 July 2012

Why I Had to See Black Joe Lewis Last Night

You may recall, Dear Reader, I had a minor freak-out/depressive episode in anticipation of the Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears concert that I had hoped to attend. In the span of a 30 minute chat, I had gone from excited to fearful and too ashamed to go. I know I can be a very open here, but that piece effectively live-blogged an anxiety attack and I think it's probably the most candid thing I've written yet. I don't say any of this in the interest of self-aggrandizing, but so that you understand 1) my emotional state as I went to bed after sharing that piece and 2) why I hope it may help someone get a better sense of what it's like to face depression and anxiety.

Anyway, I went through the motions of sharing a link to the post as I generally do. When I got to Twitter, I absentmindedly changed "Black Joe Lewis" in the title to his Twitter user name, @BlackJoeLewis. Apparently, he checked it out and shared it or something because while I was asleep, I received the following tweet:


O_O

Now, I don't share this so that you might think to emotionally blackmail Joseph Woullard, Black Joe Lewis or anyone else into adding you to their guest list and I'll be very upset to learn that someone tries to exploit the generosity that Mr. Woullard graciously extended to me. I wanted to note his kind offer here, though, because he deserves recognition for being such a cool cat.

I naturally felt guilty, thinking that by blogging the way I did that I had extorted the offer. Of course, Black Joe Lewis didn't have to even read the tweet, much less did it ever have to reach Joseph Woullard - and even if so, I never had to know about it. But they did collaborate to get me to come to the show, and I knew I had to go. When someone goes out of their way to help you, you don't leave them hanging.

I actually pulled up at the same time as Black Joe's white van. Once I parked ($3 in the lot across the street; thankfully I actually had a little cash for once!), I went in and explained that I was on the guest list. Unfortunately, they had to wait to even get the list from the band, who had only just arrived. No worries, though. They got me in within a few minutes.

Once I got inside, I discovered three small tables set up just in front of the sound booth, and then the rest of the place was pretty much just an open dance floor. Today was a rough day on me physically, to the point that I used my cane for the first time in about a month. I was glad to have arrived early enough that I could snag a seat at one of the tables. It didn't take long before I began to feel anxious, being there by myself (my plus-one couldn't make it and I couldn't find a substitute) and surrounded by what can best be described as a "bevy of beauties." Seriously, y'all: Black Joe draws the hotties.

The opening band - The Bad Reed - went on around 9:00. Their instrumentation sounded pretty good to me, but I have no idea what any of the lyrics were. I don't know if it was the singer, the mixing, the acoustics or just the fact that I'm getting old. Anyway, during their penultimate song, I saw her. My former classmate.

I waited until the end of The Bad Reed's set to approach her. I definitely surprised her, but she seemed happy to see me and we chatted throughout the break. The questions I had feared she would ask came. I just answered them, though I tried to get through them as quickly as possible so as to minimize how much of a downer things have been. To my relief, she never appeared to judge me for being a failure or anything that I had feared I might face. I started to share the story about my freak-out and blog post with my former classmate, but didn't. Why make her feel uncomfortable knowing she had symbolized the judgment I had feared?

My hips and my back hurt from standing with her, but then Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears took the stage. I didn't want to leave her, so I remained where I was. I didn't even bother trying to keep up with their set list as I normally do. I was happy just being there. As I mentioned, the hottie ratio must have been about 5:1. I admit to a certain bias but my former classmate was the most impressive of them all. You know the line that encourages you to "dance like nobody is watching"? Well, she does that. Others were doing that stand-and-sway thing while the band ripped through song after song, but not her. She had her entire body going from her arms to her feet. I think a few people thought she was "with" me. I confess, I kinda liked that.

However energetic she was, though, the band was even more so. I've been to my fair share of concerts and I'm here to say that I don't think I've ever seen a band run at full throttle like they did, for so long! Their set ran around two hours. I'm not sure exactly when they started, but I would ballpark it around 10:45 and it was well after 12:30 when they finished their encore. Bear in mind, Black Joe's idea of a slow song is "Scandalous." For those two hours, the entire band was this amazing ensemble of enthusiasm. Instrumental bridges became an entire jam session, no player willing to be the first to crack. I've heard Garth Brooks talk about how, when things are going the way they're supposed to, the band has more fun than anyone else because they feed off the audience's energy. I saw that tonight. I scanned the room periodically and everywhere I looked, I saw people having an absolute blast.

You can tell when a band is just going through the motions. The Honeybears didn't do that. They were there to play and by God, they played! Just when I thought they had to be wearing down after a non-stop, 10 minute jam version of something, I looked up and saw my benefactor Joseph Woullard having the time of his life or the other horn players, Jason Frey and Derek Phelps, jumping up and down or laughing during a rest (a musical rest; not an actual break in play!).

At some point, they played "I'm Broke." It made me smile, because it's such an identifiable song for me! Of course, it's identifiable for most people these days and I think it was the one where the crowd sang along the most enthusiastically.

That brings me to an interesting point. Unlike most concerts I've attended, tonight's wasn't much of a sing-along. For one thing, the band jammed quite a bit and Black Joe himself stepped back from the mic to just play his guitar and jump into the bass player (whose name escapes me at the moment and I can't find online). Also, Black Joe's vocals are so unique that it's hard for me to sing along with him and I suspect it's that way for a lot of people. I don't even worry about it. I just enjoy hearing the music and this separates Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears from nearly every other artist or band out there. The songs aren't even important in some ways; you come to see this band to watch and hear them demonstrate their skills and talents. It's like going to a baseball game; you don't expect to play catch with anyone or step into the batter's box yourself. You just sit back and watch the pros do their thing. Same thing with Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears.

My classmate left around midnight because she had to get up early, but I hung out till the end and managed to chat for a few minutes with Joseph Woullard. I was able to properly thank him for the invitation, and I asked him how the band managed to play that hard for that long. He just smiled and shrugged, "It's like that most nights." He confided that the band had even more fun than we did, which recalled Garth's commentary on the subject.

Not that it's a competition, but I've rarely had as much fun as I had tonight. I'm in no small amount of pain, and I'm supposed to catch a noon showing of The Dark Knight Rises (just over eight hours from now), but I'm still riding high. How often does one get to attend a show as a guest of the band and stand next to the sexiest woman there?

19 July 2012

Why I Can't See Black Joe Lewis in Concert Tonight

I love live music. According to my Setlist.fm profile, I've seen 91 concerts (61 unique artists). The vast majority of those shows were between 2001-2004. Then came Crohn's disease. I saw not a single concert in 2005. In early March, 2006, I went to see George Strait with Tracy Lawrence and Miranda Lambert at Freedom Hall. More than two years passed before I went with a friend to see Hayes Carll perform at a local dive called Gerstle's. That was my last actual concert, though I did also get to see MC Hammer perform before and after a Cincinnati Reds game in 2010. That's five of Setlist.fm's 91 count since I was diagnosed. Three in one night, one at a dive bar and another at a Reds game.

I've shared it in the past here, but I'm paranoid about buying concert tickets. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I went ahead and bought a Kenny Chesney Fan Club membership just to ensure I could buy tickets to his show at the Kentucky State Fair that year. I had them in hand, and then the day of the show I felt entirely too miserable to go. I ended up handing them over to my neighbor, who did eventually repay me for the face value of the tickets though I was still out the fan club membership. I've become very intimidated by large venues and crowds, too.

Anyway, I recently learned that Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears had a show scheduled for what is now tonight at Headliners. Just $15 for a modest size venue. I've never been there, but I'm given to understand it wouldn't be particularly threatening to me. Black Joe is one of the handful of artists I've gotten into in recent years, and he's therefore on my list of favorite artists that I haven't gotten to see perform live. It seemed exciting to think about going and I even allowed myself to get caught up in the giddiness of actually going to a concert for the first time in literal years.

About an hour and a half ago, I mentioned that in passing to a friend of mine with whom I was chatting on Facebook. She casually mentioned that she thought one of our former classmates was going, too. I'll spare you the whole ugly process, but here's an overview of what then ensued. Mind you, I cannot recall ever exchanging a single word with this woman or even ever having a class with her. It's not like she was one of the (admittedly many) classmates I had a thing for and never approached. We honestly just had nothing to do with one another, and that wasn't because of any animosity or anything other than our paths just never crossed.

So now all of a sudden, I'm curious what she's like in the present. Is she single? What's her personality like? What does she do? My friend provides some answers, many of which actually seem like they could point toward some measure of compatibility. She sounds like a very laid back hipster, basically, with a thing for the arts. The more my friend expounds on this, the more I think maybe there'd be something to it.

Then reality sets in and I'm reminded we never even spoke to one another. I'm not even sure I know what she looked like then or would know her if I saw her now. If she remembers me at all, it's likely as a pathetic, attention-seeking outcast who tried desperately to hide his insecurities and inadequacies behind humor. Of course, it occurs to me that I'm still pretty much that same awkward, easily intimidated outcast.

Now my mind is swimming with hypothetical scenarios. We run into one another. She recognizes me and says hi, and that clues me in who she is. We make small talk before the show starts. She's impressed that someone from our graduating class has the kind of taste to come out to see Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. Then comes "What do you do now?" I explain Crohn's and the impact it's had on me not as an excuse but as an explanation. It doesn't matter, though, because it sounds like an excuse. Anything I say begins to raise one red flag after another. I've got a lot of baggage that's tedious to even know about, but some of it has to come out just in the course of answering the original question. I've failed as an adult. I'm a loser.

Before I even knew this former classmate might be going to the show, I was happy to imagine myself taking in the performance and enjoying my first concert in years. But now I'm self-conscious. I shouldn't even be there. Concerts are for real grown-ups, not for impostors like me. I don't deserve to be there at all. "Says who? You were going to pay your $15 admission, same as anyone else." Sure I was - with benefit money stolen from their hard earned wages. I'm a leech on these people and they shouldn't have to see me flaunting my easy lifestyle by coming out to where they went for a break from the daily grind that I don't do.

I've felt a lot of pressure in recent months about money, my chances at finding companionship, and the role money will play in my chances at finding companionship. Maybe this freak-out was just anxiety. I've got pills for that. Maybe it was depression, which I've felt trying to reform itself. I share all this now in the hopes that maybe if it is depression, that I'll weaken its sting on this matter by sharing all this instead of just keeping it to myself - which I did throughout my Year of Hell.

I have an ulterior motive for sharing all this with you, Dear Reader, and that is that I wanted to document an incident that showcases how the depressed mind works. This all literally just happened in the span of about half an hour, and then about an hour for me to compose and publish this post. This kind of self-loathing, of feeling so inferior and undeserving that I can't even be allowed to intrude upon decent people enjoying themselves is exactly what I fought for an entire year and what millions more people out there right now are fighting.

I know how absurd this all sounds, believe me. But I need you to trust me that this is not at all absurd in my head or inside the head of anyone else under the sway of depression. This is partly my own wiring, and partly the direct result of the Republican bullying over those like me and our need for help. I'm sorry I'm a failure, Society. God knows I wish I wasn't one, but I am. Isn't that enough? Must I see on Facebook every day how I'm responsible for ruining everything and why I'm what's wrong with America (if not the entire planet)?

I just wanted to go see Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. That's all.

15 July 2012

My Blogging Philosophy

While chatting about Ingmar Bergman films with a Swedish pal of mine, somehow we hit on the subject of my philosophy about blogging. He insisted he would love to read about it, and as I am a river to my people, here it is.

I had heard of blogging years before I first ventured into it myself. I was unclear; was it an informal sort of journalism? Was it merely a diary in a different format? What was the objective of blogging? How did one begin as a blogger? Was there some kind of Official Registry of Blogs whose approval one needed? What about readers? How did one connect with them? Was there someone operating as an editorial director? Was there money in blogging?

I've still never answered most of these questions, or any of the myriad others that first appeared as barriers between the blogosphere and myself. I cringe at my early blog posts, which read to me as embarrassing attempts to emulate journalism. I'm not a journalist. I have never been trained as one, though I like to think I understand the journalist's objective of distilling an issue without being reductive. My early movie reviews are laughably objective-minded, trying to remove myself from the commentary. I had been taught in school that one does not write in the first person for anything "serious" and for some reason, I had the notion that discussing films online merited such "professionalism" from me.

At some point early on, I realized that I wished to discuss different topics: movies, music, books and politics were the most obvious themes. I created a different blog for each of these, and a few others. It seemed to me that if you, Dear Reader, came looking to read and discuss movies, you didn't want to have to sift through talk of books and music between posts any more than you wanted to read about me.

Then, in 2009, I read something in Roger Ebert's Journal. A reader and his friend had debated the merits of Ebert's value as a film critic and constructed what became a trial using criticism from Dan Schneider as their evidence for and against his work. What struck me was Ebert's casual acceptance of one of the primary charges against him, and his deflection of it:
I would agree that I am a more emotion-driven critic than Siskel or Schneider, and indeed many others. My reviews usually include a reflection of how I felt during a film, since film itself is primarily an emotional, not a cerebral, medium.
It was an epiphany for me. In another of his posts around the same time, he expanded on this point and explained that it was his belief that the appeal of his reviews originated in the reader's ability to appreciate his personal context for the viewing at hand. If he entered the theater frustrated with his professional life, that would color his sensitivity to a story about the workplace, for instance. Here was perhaps the most famous critic of our era not only not trying to remove himself from his criticism, but actively promoting it! The "star" of Ebert's criticism isn't film; it's Ebert himself. Read through a handful of consecutive reviews of his from nearly any period and it becomes evident that you're not really coming to Ebert to learn about film; you're using film as a forum through which to learn about Ebert.

That changed everything for me. I had permission to exorcise the admonitions of my former teachers and insert myself into my blog posts. (Why not? No one was reading anyway!) I consolidated my blogs, on the basis that if you're using my discussions about film to learn about me, then you would do well to also learn about me through my thoughts on literature and politics, as well.

My Swedish pal said to me, "You tend to be more frank and open than most, though. It makes for great writing." I thought that was terribly kind of him. I know plenty of bloggers who are just as candid about their personal lives as I have been, but I also recognize that many others are much more reluctant to share of themselves the way I do. I've been asked about this in the past, so this seems an appropriate time to address that.

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2005, I initially tried to hide it. I didn't want to be seen differently than I had been before the diagnosis. I didn't want to be "defined" by it. Of course, the truth of the matter is that I am different with Crohn's than I was before it. As I began to connect with other Crohnies via the web, it became increasingly obvious to me that in addition to the obvious health concerns we face, there was one other bogeyman in our lives: the lack of understanding by the general public.

I am not a doctor or a research scientist. There's nothing I can do to treat or cure Crohn's disease. However, I can use my voice (spoken or written) to help raise awareness and understanding of what life with this stupid disease can be like for people. It was a natural outgrowth from that to begin discussing my experiences with depression, though there's something else at play about that topic. Depression works in isolation. It makes one withdraw from one's family and friends. Every foible is bathed in self-conscious shame, discouraging discussion. "If you talk about that, you'll sound stupid." Depression takes your self-respect hostage.

I decided to shoot the hostage.

By sharing here the kinds of things that I do, I deprive depression of its power to lord over me anything that could seem embarrassing or compromising. I've put it out there for the whole world to read. Now what, depression? Yeah, that's what I thought. Shut up and sit down!

That leads me to the final part of my philosophy and that's that I have put my name on this blog, coming out from behind the shield of an anonymous screen name. It's because my name is on my blog that I'm able to entirely negate the ability of depression to make me feel self-conscious. If I published under a pseudonym, I might still feel cathartic for sharing and you may still connect with what I shared, Dear Reader, but it wouldn't be the same because I could still deny the blog is my own work. I can't do that this way, though, and that's surprisingly freeing.

A few years ago, I happened upon an interview with Aaron Tippin. I'm relatively sure it was on TV, but maybe it was in print. Anyway, he was talking about the fact he doesn't perform in bars anymore. He said that at some point he began to feel funny that his young son couldn't come to those shows and that led him to decide that if the venue is somewhere his son can't be, then maybe he shouldn't be there, either. I really liked that philosophy and I adapted it to my blog. I decided that if I wasn't comfortable putting my name on something that I wrote, knowing that the kids in my family could find it, then I didn't need to be writing or publishing it.

That brings me to the final component of my approach to blogging, actually. I have long been fascinated with storytelling. I realized at some point early in my childhood that it seemed my family only recycled the same handful of stories time and again and I was certain there were countless other tales that no one ever shared. It wasn't that they were some kind of secret to be obscured, but simply that the storytelling canon only had room for so many anecdotes and the rest fell by the wayside.

If my blog was now a means of using different topics to get to know me, then it seemed perfectly allowable that I would sometimes share things about myself outright. My blog took on a new dynamic of also being a depository for my personal stories and recollections. It may sound silly, but this blog is more or less my personal legacy. It is what I will leave behind one day, and through this my family and friends will have a permanent record of anything chronicled here. Maybe they'll recall things differently than I do, of course, but at least they'll have my version there to even remind them and they can share their differing interpretations with others.

I am proudest of my sub-series about depression, because of the feedback that it has generated since I began sharing about that. Not all feedback has come in the form of comments here on the blog. I've received messages through Facebook and Twitter, and I've even had a few offline conversations where someone wanted to discuss a specific post with me. It was my hope all along that somehow, I might be helpful to others by sharing my experiences with depression and it seems that maybe I have been.

I've recently opened a new email account (TravisSMcClain@gmail.com) and you are welcome to contact me privately in case you're not comfortable commenting openly. Just send no spam and don't hack me! I'll send a team of ninja assassins if you forward me chain letters.

That said, my personal favorite posts to write are the ones that merit the My Memoirs label. I don't always know when I begin writing whether a post will seem appropriate for that. After all, if my perspective is that the whole blog is ultimately about me, then isn't the entire thing a sprawling memoir? I try to reserve it for those posts that are specifically, or at least primarily, about my life rather than how I relate to a given topic. Those are the posts where I feel I have the most room to laugh and become entirely conversational, and I hope that each time I indulge in my reminisces that I've written in such a way that at the very least, they're amusing but also I like to think that even though they're specific to my life, that somehow they're accessible all the same to you, Dear Reader.

There you have it, folks. These are the specific reasons why this blog is the way it is. I realize I have not discussed my actual writing style. This post is already rather lengthy, though, and besides that there's the fact I'm still not comfortable thinking of myself has actually having a writing style. Real writers have a style, and I'm not one....yet!

13 July 2012

On the Occasion of My Niece's Tenth Birthday

I have no idea how it happened, but my niece turned ten years old Monday. I mean, sure I understand that she was previously nine years old and then 365 days passed (366, actually, on account of this being a Leap Year). Anyone who has ever been close to a child knows that their growth can be deceptive. You can work backward in your mind to previous intervals, but it gets really fuzzy tracing their evolution from one point of their lives to the next.

Anyway, I spoke with her by phone on Monday to wish her a happy birthday (after having previously texted her mom on Saturday about it, only to be informed I had somehow jumped the gun by two days). The first thing she wanted to know was whether she could spend the night with me. As it was, I was already en route with my friends to Iroquois Park to see From Russia with Love. She'd have become bored easily by that film, which is why I didn't even bother trying to include her in those plans. Besides, I figured she'd be doing something on her actual birthday. I tried to juggle a few different things, eventually settling on last night (Thursday, 12 July) as the night she and I would celebrate.

Back in June, I got in on an Amazon Local deal to purchase two Fandango movie tickets at half price. I had it in mind that I would use one to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX and the other in August to go to Baxter Avenue Theatres to see Tombstone. Alas, neither the Rave Cinemas with an IMAX screen nor Baxter actually participate in Fandango ticketing. My niece wanted to see the new Ice Age movie, and I discovered that I could use my Fandango tickets to take her to tonight's midnight opening at Tinseltown. Terrific! A midnight movie seemed like a great thrill for a 10th birthday. She was excited. I ordered our tickets. The night was set.

We started with dinner with my mom, then headed out to the area around the theater. I needed some more cat litter, so our first stop was Petsmart, but we were out of there quickly because we got there 15 minutes before they closed. From there, we hit Target so she could shop with the birthday money my mom and grandmother unexpectedly gave her. I think she enjoyed the fact that I was attentive, following her through the girls clothing department, dutifully looking for denim shorts in her size and boot cut blue jeans in her size from the clearance section. At one point, I texted a friend wistfully that it was the closest to fatherhood I suppose I'll ever get. Maybe for actual parents that kind of thing becomes tedious, but for me it was a chance to make her feel grown-up and special, and all it required of me was my time and attention.

She had her money spent by 9:30, so off we went to Barnes & Noble in The Summit. I could've sworn they were open until 11:00, but apparently that's only on Friday and Saturday nights. By the time we got there - oblivious to their operational hours, mind you - I had to go to the restroom. Gah! I had run afoul the one problem of being out with my 10 year old niece by ourselves. What to do with her? Being B&N on a quiet Thursday night, we decided she would go into the ladies room, into a stall and wait for me to call to her that it was okay for her to come out. It worked just fine that way. Unfortunately, by the time we came out of the restrooms, the store was closing. What to do with two hours before the start of the movie?

At one point while trying to figure out our next move, my niece approached one of the posted directories of the shopping center. The weather was gorgeous, and my niece and I have traditionally enjoyed taking walks together. I decided to make a sort of scavenger hunt out of the place. There are five water fountains scattered throughout the area. The game became to find them and for me to take a picture of her at each one. She's always been a complete ham, and tonight was no difference - though I confess I felt some white hairs grow into my beard at some of her more grown-up poses. Nothing lewd or anything like that, but clearly she's been paying more attention to Miley Cyrus than to Hannah Montana lately.

It gave us a chance to chat and tease one another as we've always been wont to do. We paused to look at the window displays of various shops. I asked her which dress she liked. She asked me whether I was for UK (the University of Kentucky) or U of L (the University of Louisville). Idle chit-chat, sure, but the kind of conversation that can make a child feel he or she is treated like a grown-up. I've always made a point not to talk down to children, and it's one of the key reasons that children have traditionally taken well to me.

Eventually, though, the time came for us to head to Tinseltown for the movie. On our way back to the van, she found a series of sprinklers watering the grass in the parking lot. She kept trying to walk as closely to it as she could, trying to get wet without openly defying my insistence she stay dry. Ultimately, I gave in to a fit of fancy, threw her on my back and gave her a piggyback ride through the sprinklers. My jeans were damp (though not fully soaked) by the end, but she was laughing the whole way. It seemed worth it to me.

We reached the theater around 11:15. Her mom had given me some cash for her to use at the concession stand, and I handed that over to her without a single admonishment. "It's your money and your birthday. You get whatever you want that that covers," I told her. She bought a large Sprite and a box of Snow Caps. Not bad choices, really, though I've always been partial to Junior Mints and Sprite at the movies.

Unfortunately, there were nearly 25 minutes of commercials and trailers before a Simpsons short film, The Longest Daycare, began to play. It was amusing, and honestly I think I liked it a bit better than Pixar's La Luna (though I still admire La Luna's unconventional whimsy). Unfortunately, the first five minutes of the movie were plagued by streaming issues. The image froze and the sound stuttered, like when your computer cursor sticks. One of the guys went to tell the manager. They stopped the movie and began again, showing us The Longest Daycare a second time. That went fine, as before, but the feature continued to skip and stammer, just as before. The screening was canceled. We were invited to mosey on down to the 2D screening already in progress and about 15 minutes in, but my niece was already falling asleep. I took the raincheck tickets and brought her back home.

With Crohn's disease and the ravages of Prednisone, I can't say whether I could give her that piggyback ride on any other night. Maybe it'll be the last night I'll ever actually be able to do that. I don't know. What I do know is that I was able to share a magical, if simple, night with her and how much I appreciated it. What she'll remember of this night, I can't say. What I'll remember, perhaps more than anything else, was how she radiated pure joy in that stretch between The Summit and Tinseltown, basking in the whimsy of the impromptu piggyback ride through the sprinklers and with the excitement of a midnight movie still in the air. It was during that euphoric drive that she declared, "I'm glad I have an uncle like you."

That's winning, friends.

07 July 2012

Enjoy Your Amazing Journey with Flat Tires


This has been making the rounds on Facebook and I've been sorely tempted to respond each time it's appeared in my news feed. Each time you do that, though, you risk a war with all the people your Facebook friend knows that you don't, and no good ever comes from that. Here on my blog, though, I'm more comfortable if for no other reason than you came here, Dear Reader. Even if we disagree, at least it's all in one place instead of me hashing it out in seven different threads concurrently.

Here's my problem with Bob Moawad: He's entirely wrong.

Bob, I'm going to deflate the tires on your car on the day you have an important appointment to keep. Now, I'm not going to apologize to you for it so don't expect one. Don't bother trying to make excuses for your absence by explaining what I did. It's your life, remember, not mine or theirs. Don't ask your neighbor for a lift, because you shouldn't be leaning or relying on them. And, of course, don't blame me for what I did. It's your amazing journey.

This self-reliance concept is bunk. Partly, it's self-congratulatory nonsense denying credit to all those who helped you get wherever you are. Partly, it's selfish justification for refusing to help anyone else. Maybe Bob there would actually be indifferent about me sabotaging him, but I doubt it. He'd want to see me punished, he'd want the people he was supposed to meet to understand that it wasn't his fault he didn't make it, he'd expect to be able to reschedule the appointment and he'd probably be pretty upset if he knew his neighbors could have taken him where he needed to be, but just didn't want to take him. He'd probably even start trying to think of any favor he ever did for his neighbors that might constitute an obligation on their part - but, of course, he'd come up empty handed because he's never been there for anyone else.

Bob Moawad, you're entirely what's wrong with the world.

05 July 2012

"The Film Club" by David Gilmour

The Film Club
David Gilmour
Date of Publication: 6 May 2008
Cover Price: $21.99
225 pages
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Reviewing The Film Club presents different dilemmas than I typically face with a memoir. I suspect most criticism focuses on David Gilmour's entirely permissive parenting style. That becomes a debate all its own that gets away from the subject of this one specific memoir. Confining myself to just The Film Club, however, I have to say that I didn't turn a single page without rolling my eyes or wanting to slap someone.

I think for me the underlying problem I have is that at no point do I get the sense that there's any meaningful growth for anyone involved. Gilmour himself seems only partly self-aware, knowing there is a big picture to life but having no idea what it is or even demonstrating much curiosity to learn. His son Jesse is obsessed with his girlfriends - themselves self-indulgent flakes. Whenever Jesse shows the slightest interest in maturing, it occurs in a vacuum. It's never attributable to anything his father has said or done; it's always something that originates within, but then when he expresses it, his father stays hands-off for fear of quashing it. I understand the point about not micromanaging someone's growth, but there is also something to be said for offering guidance and Gilmour flees from that role at every turn.

Instead, he wants to be Jesse's BFF. Several times, he remarks how "beautiful" his boy is, almost like he's got some kind of weird crush on him. It's one thing to fawn over one's own offspring, but Gilmour's chronicle of Jesse's love life devolves from parental curiosity to living vicariously through his son. Worse, whenever Jesse comes to him with questions, time and again he lies to avoid saying anything that might upset his son. Early on, Jesse expresses concern that as a high school dropout, he may not have a good life. David doesn't use that opportunity to say, "That's the trade-off you're making by being a dropout. Maybe you want to reconsider?" Instead he lies to his son, saying, "You're going to have a great life. I know it!" Are you kidding me? I loathe dishonesty, especially to children and about important matters.

Later, when Jesse is going through one of his numerous heartbreak cycles, he asks his dad his opinion about the girl. By now, he's picked up on the fact his dad only ever offers him disingenuous appeasement. When David says he thinks the girl is "terrific," Jesse presses him: "If she broke up with me, would you say that?"

"I'd take your side."

"What do you mean?"

"That means I'd say whatever I had to say to make you feel better." (pages 169-170)

David Gilmour is not a parent; he's an enabling sycophant with a dubious fascination with his son's sex life. Early in the book he feigns squeamishness, but then divulges how eagerly he awaits details. For that matter, his salivating descriptions of Rebecca Ng made me uncomfortable. He comes across like Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused, gawking at teenage girls.

Ultimately, I think the most damning thing about The Film Club is the fact that Jesse eventually gets what I assume is the Canadian equivalent of the G.E.D. - a decision he made on his own. He crammed into 3 months what he bailed on in two years. There is no demonstrable advantage to him not being compelled to endure those two years in the first place. Watching three movies a week could easily have been done even with school work - especially throughout the summertime.

When I stand back and ask, "What do any of these people have to show for this?" I cannot answer the question. Jesse essentially learned that there is absolutely no reason he can't be self-indulgent the rest of his life, and David seems to have convinced himself that by refraining from offering any actual guidance whatsoever that he was some kind of enlightened father because, in the end, Jesse has a job and something equivalent to a G.E.D. - both of which he got without his father's help at all!

Casual racism shows up at various parts of the book, as do some distasteful homophobic remarks (including an entirely uncalled-for reference to "faggy lattes"), both reminders of the privilege of the Gilmours. Early in the tale, David himself is out of work. He's still footing all the bills for his son's activities without requiring him to earn a single dollar (or even get out of bed before 5:00). He then meets with someone about making a documentary about Viagra, which he takes as justification for taking his son and his son's mother (his ex-wife) on a week long trip to Cuba. When he returns to discover the deal has fallen through because the other guy has been given a better opportunity, Gilmour cries foul at having been misled.

At every turn, I kept waiting for the great epiphanies within father and son that would justify a memoir of such self-indulgence. It never came. Make the Gilmours a different race and they would be too ashamed to even share this story, and crucified if they did. Instead, it sees the light of day and at worst we shrug it off because Gilmour could afford the experiment.

It's things like this that remind me I'm a moderate liberal.



View all my reviews

"Dallas" (2012) Episode 5

Dallas
Episode 105 "Truth and Consequences"

All the obvious cards are now on the table; J.R. has control of Southfork. He touts it as the return of Ewing Oil, though I'm very unclear about that since the last I knew, that business name was still in the legal control of Cliff Barnes. I'm also fuzzy on just how easy it is to get approval to drill for oil and start shipping and selling it. Even in Dallas for someone like J.R. Ewing it can't be that easy to begin pumping and distributing oil just because he now owns property where oil has been identified. I guess government regulations are like cancer; only as dreadful or easily overcome as is convenient for the purpose of an episode's story arc.

What I took away most from "Truth and Consequences" was a reinforcement of my admiration for Bobby Ewing. However much fun it's been to see J.R. back in action, it's been just as thrilling to watch Bobby become the assertive leader he always shied away from being. Everyone forgets, but when pushed to the test, Bobby really did best J.R. for control of Ewing Oil in the past...and he did it his way.

I couldn't help but catch Bobby's rejection of Christopher's fight-fire-with-fire insistence: "That's not who we are." That's one of the obvious drinking game phrases of President Obama, and I have to think that's not coincidence. It strikes me that the President would do well to study this episode very closely; Bobby gives the kind of red meat here that many of Mr. Obama's supporters have publicly demanded of him since his election.

Moreover, though, I'm also acutely aware that the end of this episode sets up at least two important subplots going forward. The absence of J.R. forces John Ross into the next stage of his growth, while also allowing the aged Larry Hagman to sit out some of the demands of a weekly TV series. Plus, I think it's best that J.R. loom over everything without necessarily being shown often; it gives him a sort of "Dr. No" kind of mystique that way.

The other thing is that we have the chance to finally begin getting to know Anne. Watching her interact with both Rebecca and her ex-husband in this episode was about the most insight into her that we've had since the series debuted a month ago. I'm inclined to like her, but to date she hasn't had the chance to really win me over. She started to do that in this episode and I hope to see more of that.

On a personal note, I had to catch the 11:00 encore airing to see the entirety of everything from J.R. revealing his ownership of Southfork to Bobby to J.R. leaving Dallas because my baby brother stopped by. Late last night he took his girlfriend fishing and while they were were out, he proposed to her! I had no idea he was even considering proposing, so I was taken by surprise. I haven't gotten to spend a whole lot of time around her, but I like her and I think she's good for him. He seems to be happier and more active than he was with any of his ex's, and that's more than enough to win my endorsement.

02 July 2012

2012 Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments

Hallmark has already released their 2012 Keepsake Dreambook and I have to say I was overwhelmed by its 80 pages. Eschewing the "collect 'em all!" approach because, frankly, that's so impractical it may as well be entirely impossible, I've collected here a baker's dozen of ornaments that really caught my eye. There are no Star Trek or Star Wars ornaments in my picks this year. There's one of Darth Vader trimmed for Christmas that was almost my bonus pick, but at the last minute I decided I was more interested in something newer.

Catty Christmas

There are numerous cat-centric ornaments this year, but I've picked out a triumvirate that really speak to my taste.
Sculpted by Cullen Brown * $17.95 * July

It plays a clip from the song, "The Circle of Life." If it actually opens with Lelo M.'s famous yelling, then I'm even more interested. Cullen Brown nailed this one. I love the look on Simba's face!

$14.95 * July

There is a Batman ornament based on The Dark Knight Rises also, but Catwoman is represented instead by this ornament based on Adam Hughes's comic book artwork. This is one of the best looking superhero ornaments Hallmark has done yet, and I really hope this means there's potential for more comic book-specific ornies in the future. Oh, how I would love a New 52 Batgirl!

Hallmark will also be offering a very limited Batman ornament based on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns at San Diego Comic Con this year. It looks terrific, but since I don't stand a chance of ever owning one, I'm kind of irked about it. Whatever, Hallmark. Just don't pull these shenanigans come Batgirl time.



$14.95 * July

I have wanted this ornament since 1986.

My Childhood on a Tree

There are several ornaments based on TV & movie characters from the 80s, when I was a boy. These are my picks.


Sculpted by Anita Marra Rogers * $17.95 * July

I grew up watching Scooby cartoons. I have plenty of vivid memories of the show, enough that at some point I think I'm going to just have to blog about it. I will say this to Hallmark: this year is not a good time to try to hit me up for $18 for a Scooby-Doo ornament, but if you were to make an ornament next year of Sandy Duncan as she appeared in Scooby cartoons, then you can name your price and I will pay it. I've admitted before: one of my first crushes was Cartoon Sandy Duncan. There's a second Scooby ornament that's only $12.95 featuring Scooby by himself wearing a Santa cap, but it's only 2" wide. I just can't do that.

My other first crush was Daisy Duke, and I have to say that The Dukes of Hazzard should be mined for ornaments. I want one of Daisy's shorts, just like they've done with Dorothy's ruby slippers.


Sculpted by Cullen Brown * $14.95 * July

Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, was always my favorite Looney Tunes character. I admired that he kept his eye on the prize at all times, and also that he was willing to think outside the box to try to achieve his goal. I'd still like to see him file the mother of all lawsuits against the Acme Corporation.


Sculpted by Ken Crow * $19.95 * July

They did Beaker last year and I missed him. Fozzie would have been my second choice, though I think my personal favorite Muppet might actually be Pepe the Prawn.



Sculpted by Cullen Brown * $17.95 * July

I can see Slimer and ECTO-1 being decent ornaments, but somehow I don't think either would top this to represent Ghostbusters on a Christmas tree. Naturally, it plays Ray Parker, Jr.'s theme song.


Sculpted by Kristina Gaughran * $17.95 * October

Okay, I confess: I'd have rather seen an ornament based upon the iconic "cycling past the moon" shot, but Kristina Gaughran did a great job capturing not just the look of E.T., but his personality as well. E.T. is $18 because he lights up if you plug him in.

Makes Me Think of Others
It's All About the Hair, Tangled
Sculpted by Katrina Bricker * $14.95 * July

One of my dear friends loves this movie. I hope she gets this ornament and it makes her smile. I like it when she smiles.

OUTATIME, Back to the Future
$17.95 * October

This could also have gone in My Childhood on a Tree, but the truth is I wasn't into Back to the Future until one of my friends got me into the trilogy in 1991. I think of those movies more as his than as mine.

Sculpted by Tracy Larsen * $14.95 * July

I've only seen parts of Caddyshack and I've only played golf a couple times, but one of my friends and his dad have played golf for ages and they both enjoy the movie. There's also A Christmas Story ornament that would suit the two of them, but this seems even more interesting to me. Partly, I'm sure, that's because I absolutely despise A Christmas Story and partly it's because we've seen merchandise based on that movie for years now. When was the last time you saw a Caddyshack ornament?


Sculpted by Anita Marra Rogers * $12.95 * July

One of my Crohnie friends always seemed Eeyore-ish to me based on her posts. Then one day several months ago we experimented with Facebook's new video chat and I discovered she's actually full of enthusiasm and vigor. My associating her with Eeyore has become a running joke. I am certain that should she see this post, she began laughing the moment she saw this picture and she knew it was about her.


Bonus Pick

Sculpted by Joanne Eschrich * $14.95 * July

Okay, I was mixed about the movie but I thoroughly loved Merida as a character and this ornament by Joanne Eschrich looks great. 

01 July 2012

Muffin

A few months ago, I profiled Harriet and I've been meaning to come back and spotlight the rest of my heathens. Here, then, is a look at Muffin. He was the first of the four to come to us, in 2006. My grandmother found him in a small box next to the dumpster behind my family's consignment shop. He was a tiny little emaciated kitten, along with his brother (named Cuddles). Sadly, his brother was too unhealthy by the time he found his way to us and he didn't make it. Muffin, however, was a born fighter. My wife encouraged him to roughhouse with her, not that he needed it, leading to a mostly deserved reputation for bein' on'ry as we say here in the South.
There is a sort of pattern of white hairs in his coat, and because of this and his sometimes aggressive behavior, we took to calling him a leopard because we're certain that's what he thinks he is. I have no idea if he's ever been to the zoo to know what a leopard is, but the leopard is the mascot of the elementary school here (which I attended from Kindergarten through third grade). Maybe he passed by the school before he came to us.

I resisted even having a cat at all, and when my mother brought in the box with the kittens and she and my wife elected to adopt them, I stayed out of it hoping the interest would blow over once they were nursed to health. Alas, this meant I stayed out of the naming process which is how they came to be called Muffin and Cuddles. I'm not even sure what names I might have coined had I taken an active role in things early on. For that matter, I'm not even sure I can say I know how Muffin's name came to be.

One afternoon, I found Muffin sleeping in the computer chair, lying on his back with his front legs drawn up to his chest and crossed over one another. It was just like Count Dracula, which prompted me to coin the corruption of his name, Count Muffula. I kinda like that one, though he's yet to indicate whether he gets the reference or finds it amusing. I wish I had a photo of him sleeping like that.

Muff was always a mama's boy, favoring my wife over me. She would hold him upside down and rock him, just like an infant, and sing "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" to him until he would attack her. I've worried about him since she's been gone. I've noticed he's become increasingly affectionate toward me. I don't know if he's trying to make the best of things and find a substitute in me for what he misses, or whether maybe he's expression pity for me at those times. He's not the oldest of the four - that would be Harriet - but he's the one who's been here the longest.

Hard to believe my fierce leopard was ever such a scrawny kitten!
He's mellowed a lot in the last couple of years, rarely being as rambunctious as he once was. He can still become fixated on chasing bugs, though, and he doesn't care how badly his claws hurt my legs or my arms when he leaps off in hot pursuit.

One little thing I've discovered he and I have in common concerns feeding time. When I fill the cats' bowls, he hangs back and watches, and he generally waits until the others have begun to eat before he'll start. I have a thing where I wait for my partner (be it my wife when we were together, a girlfriend or even just a dinner date) to take her first bite. It's kind of neat to me that he also does this, given that we've never really, y'know, talked about things like eating etiquette.

What I suppose I've learned from Muffers is resilience. He was a kitten who was frankly left for dead. He rejected that, though, taking care of his brother as best he could while trying to keep himself going. He kept them together as best he could, as long as he could, and while it was heartbreaking that Cuddles didn't make it, I know that we only even met him because of the care of his brother. I think that's the basic definition of family: the ones you will fight for the most fiercest. I'm glad he's family.

Muffin won't talk about the nature of his beef with Randy the Moose.