General Ramblings

Nearing Midnight…

Those of you who may still be out on this All Hallow’s Eve, still flitting from shadow to shadow in search of candy or mischief, or maybe just a tingle down the spine to break up the monotony of your tame and fenced-in little suburban lives, so modern, so clean and above all, so predictable, had best be making for home soon. But be wary… even in this modern 21st century, you may encounter something you do not understand… out there… in the dark…

“If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.

 

The next morning the old horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass at his master’s gate. Ichabod did not make his appearance at breakfast—dinner-hour came, but no Ichabod. The boys assembled at the schoolhouse, and strolled idly about the banks of the brook; but no school-master. Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor Ichabod, and his saddle. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.

Happy Halloween, kids…

"The Headless Horseman" by Chris Beatrice

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The Evolution of The Face

I think it’s pretty common knowledge that the face of Michael Myers, the unstoppable boogeyman of the Halloween films, is actually William Shatner’s.

According to lore, the makers of the original Halloween bought a Captain Kirk mask at the local drugstore for a couple bucks, modified it a bit, and spray-painted it white. The rest, as they say, is Hollywood history, as that film went on to become one of the most successful horror flicks ever made (it was the most successful for several decades), spawning a slew of sequels, imitators, and outright rip-offs, while the Michael Myers character became an icon. Personally, I think part of the reason why Michael is so unsettling is because that blank, expressionless visage is so weirdly… familiar. But even knowing why he looks familiar, I’ve had trouble actually seeing my boyhood hero in that face of evil.

Not any more:

halloween_shatner-to-michael

It’s even more unsettling now.

Just something to ponder as Halloween 2016 winds down…

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The Drawing of the Three

Evidently, there was a meme floating around a few weeks ago (which I totally missed because I was on vacation) that asked you to choose three fictional characters that you feel somehow represent yourself. (Kelly did it here.) I’m always a sucker for a good meme, of course, but me being me, I started wondering about things that weren’t explicitly spelled out in the premise. Are these avatars supposed to reflect your self-image or is it about how you think others perceive you? And are we talking your idealized self, i.e., what you want to be like, or is the point of the meme to be honest about what you think you actually are? In other words, do I indulge in a little wishful thinking (Thor! Yes, he’s so much like me!) or go for total self-deprecation (Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons… because he’s… also… so much like me)? Do you see how difficult these supposedly simple games actually are?

Well, after wracking my brains and struggling with a lot of deep self-reflection for, oh, 45 seconds or so, I finally decided on three options, which I will now present for your approval and/or shouts of derision:

indy_1950

star-trek_mccoy_wtfdances-with-wolves_costner_journal

I started writing explanations for each of my choices, but decided they might all end up sounding narcissistic and ridiculous, so I’ll just leave these here. Thoughts, anyone?

 

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Nevermore

It’s a beautiful afternoon in the SLC, warm again after a week that seemed to promise an early start to a long, gloomy winter. Even though I know it’ll cool off again by the end of the month, and possibly even snow, today’s conditions represent my ideal October moment: mellow sunshine, no jacket needed, and the trees burnished with golden leaves that have yet to drop. Halloween is coming… and what better way to get in the mood than a visit from a certain black bird? No, not that black birdthis one:

My thanks to Cemetery Dance for scaring up this clip!

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“The Mindless Menace of Violence in America”

On April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet, Senator Robert Kennedy, the younger brother of the late John F. Kennedy and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in that year’s election, delivered a speech at the City Club of Cleveland. The night before, he’d given a beautiful, heartfelt, improvised statement about Dr. King’s death that is sometimes credited with helping to keep the peace in Indiananopolis, even as some 60 other American cities were wracked by riots. With his Cleveland speech, he expanded on the themes he’d spoken of the night before.

How sad that every single word he said is still perfectly applicable on this day, July 8, 2016… the morning after five police officers were killed by snipers at a peaceful protest against the police killings of two black men earlier this week… only a month after the 48th anniversary of RFK’s own death by an assassin’s bullet.

I remain stubbornly convinced that humanity will evolve — is evolving — beyond our savage nature, just as I learned from all those musty old Star Trek re-runs when I was a kid. But goddamn, the road is long. And it’s so very hard to be patient.

The words of Robert F. Kennedy:

[This is a time of shame] and a time of sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity — my only event of today — to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It’s not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children — whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded. “Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and we call it entertainment. We make it easier for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition that they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of rioting, and inciting riots, have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats; others look for conspiracies. But this much is clear: violence breeds violence; repression breeds retaliation; and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions — indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.

And this too afflicts us all. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear — only a common desire to retreat from each other — only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great, to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot banish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek — as do we — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.

Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Tennyson wrote in Ulysses:

…that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Thank you, very much.

 

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Speak Up

I keep thinking I should’ve been the one to speak up…

I was immersed in my book, an eighteenth-century world of pirates and slaves and ladies in need of rescuing (if they don’t figure out how to rescue themselves first), savoring my last few minutes of escapism before the train reached my stop and another day of mundane labors began. I’d just been interrupted by a friendly guy across the aisle, who’d simply had to say he’d read those books too and how did I like them and wasn’t there supposed to be a TV miniseries (actually a regular ongoing cable series) made from them? We’d shared a moment of small talk, but now he’d returned to his own thoughts and I was sinking back into the seductive textures of that richly imagined other place —

“Towelhead.”

The word struck my ears like a knitting needle shoved into my auditory canal, and I realized that the atmosphere in the train car was changing. People were sneaking furtive glances over books and phones, cocking their heads to listen, shifting in their seats as if trying to gain whatever distance they could between themselves and the ugly word.

“Towelhead bitch is killing us, you know…”

I took a quick glance around. There was a man one row behind me, on the opposite side. He wore a bright blue blanket wrapped around himself like a cloak, his face had a raw, weatherburned appearance, and his hair stood up in windblown twists. Homeless, I immediately assessed, but not harmless like my friend David, who panhandles near my office and always has a friendly grin and a fist-bump ready when he spots me. This guy was the other kind of homeless person, the one who radiates unfocused, unpredictable hostility and makes you think about crossing the street in mid-block before you reach his corner. Another refrain boiled out of him, erupting as if he just couldn’t contain it. His voice was louder this time, not quite a shout yet, but definitely raised above a normal speaking level. Too loud to ignore.

“Don’t you people care that this bitch has killed hundreds of people in the time between stops? From Ninth South to Courthouse, how many of our countrymen have died?! Towelhead bitch!”

It isn’t unusual to encounter people like this on the train, people who’ve had way too much to drink or inhale or inject, or people who haven’t had enough. Often, their tirades aren’t aimed at anyone in particular, at least no one that anyone else can see. This guy, though, was glaring at someone across from him, never moving his gaze as he continued to rail in his almost-shout about Americans dying while people like this were coming here and taking jobs and getting ready to start their killing ways on our soil.

I craned my head around to see who had gotten him riled up. Given the nature of the slurs he was throwing around, I expected to see someone in hijab or perhaps the turbaned Sikh gentleman I occasionally share my commute with, about whom I’ve heard nasty (and ignorant, since Sikhs are not Muslim) comments. But it was neither. Directly behind me was a young woman dressed in jeans and a buttondown shirt, as anonymously Western-style as anyone else on the train. She had dark brown skin and thick black hair, and a tiny bit of gold flashed from the side of her nose. Rather pretty, I thought, although, if anything, she looked Indian to me, not Muslim. Mostly, though, she looked like she wanted to shrink herself into a dot and disappear like Lee Meriweather on the old Star Trek series. She visibly cringed as the loudmouth launched another “Towelheaded BITCH!” her way.

I shifted my attention back to the crazy guy and felt my own mouth opening to say something, anything, to try and make him shut the hell up, but I hesitated. How unhinged was he, exactly? What if he had a knife or a gun? I don’t like to think of myself as a coward, but I am cautious, and this guy was getting more agitated by the second. His knees were jumping with nervous energy, like someone who’s downed six espressos in a row. The air in the train car was static-charged and beginning to stink of adrenaline. Somebody had to do something before this guy hurled himself out of his seat like a boulder from a trebuchet.

He was just beginning to direct another volley of verbal abuse at the poor woman when the guy who’d asked me about my book shouted, “Hey, sir? Who are you talking to?”

The crazy guy’s snapped around and his black stare settled on a new target. “What business is it of yours, chief?”

“You’re kind of making it everybody’s business, as loudly as you’re speaking. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that camel-fucking towelheaded bitch sitting over there plotting to KILL US ALL! The problem is my American brothers spilling their blood…”

“It looks to me like that woman is just on her way to work, sir. She’s not plotting anything or hurting anyone.”

And at that, as I’d feared, the crazy guy was on his feet and moving toward the man who shared my taste in reading. I don’t remember what he was shouting at this point; my own fight-or-flight reflex was taking over. I do recall setting my book down on the seat next to me and preparing to stand up myself. I might not have been the first to act, but I was ready to help my comrade across the aisle if the lunatic attacked him.

He was holding his ground pretty well on his own, though. In a calm voice, he informed the nut that he’d been in the Army and seen people die, too, but the woman two rows back didn’t have anything to do with it. The crazy guy wasn’t having any of that, though; he wanted to fight and was trying to egg the man on. The vulgar language escalated. The train was nearing the next station, and Crazy Dude wanted to “take it outside,” so to speak. But the heroic man remained in his seat, saying he didn’t need to prove anything and Crazy Dude just needed to chill. He made eye contact with me at one point and a nervous smile tugged at his lips. I knew then he wasn’t as cool as he appeared, but damn, he was putting on a good front.

Then the train stopped. The doors opened. And the belligerent, bigoted, crazy man, still spouting a steady stream of angry slurs, got off. The train started moving again, and just like that, it was all over. The collective exhale from those of us who remained sounded like the whoosh of air brakes.

I turned in my seat and asked the woman who’d innocently provoked all that ugliness if she was okay. She nodded, and smoothed her hair back with a trembling hand.

“The guy was off his meds or something,” I offered. She smiled and nodded. Then another man leaned down to her, holding his cellphone. “I called the cops,” he said. “They’ll be looking for him back there.” She nodded again. At the train’s next stop, she got up and went to the doors. Everyone who’d witnessed the incident was watching her, and she knew it. She looked around, gave a little wave, and said, “Thanks, everyone.” Then she was gone too.

The next stop was mine, and as it happened, the other guy’s as well, the one who’d asked about my book and then stood up to the crazy man. We stepped down to the platform together, and I said to him, “Thanks for saying something back there.”

He grinned and said, “Thanks for backing me up.” I nodded, even though I really hadn’t done anything. Then I walked to my office building and went to work hunting for errant commas.

All this happened Friday morning. I’m still thinking about it now, Sunday night. Thinking about the sickening sensation that always competes with relief after something like that is over, when the tide of unused adrenaline begins to subside and you can’t help but imagine all the ways the incident could have gone, just how bad it might’ve become. I am troubled by the things that man with the wild eyes and the blue blanket-cloak said, how they mirror a lot of the nasty memes, comments and “humor” I encounter almost daily on social media. Surely this guy was off his meds, or he needed to be on some to start with, but his cultural and racial hostility, his paranoia about people who look or believe differently than himself, is not uncommon. We may be living in the 21st century, surrounded by glittering technological wonders, but there is still a core of unevolved, brutish tribalism slithering around just beneath our veneer of sophistication. And it seems to me that it’s getting worse, not better, in this election year… and yeah, that bothers the hell out of me.

And I’m troubled as well by my own actions — or rather, inactions — during the whole incident. We all like to think that when we’re confronted with injustice or bigotry or just plain danger, we’d have the strength of character to stand up for what’s right. That we’d be the hero. I keep wondering what Jamie Fraser, the hero of that big fat historical adventure I’m reading, would have done in the same situation. But of course, he’s fictional and I’m not.

I keep thinking I should’ve been the one to speak up, instead of waiting for another man to do it. Because what might have happened if he hadn’t?

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Another Year Gone

And 2015 is in the books.

Normally, this would be the entry where I get all melancholy and lament the passage of time and all the stuff that didn’t happen in the past twelve months, how my life isn’t amounting to much, etc. But this year… well, 2015 was actually a pretty damn good year for me. There were some moments of sadness, yes. A couple friends passed away, both of them far too young and whom I regret not getting to know better while I had the chance. And there was one celebrity passing that affected me deeply. Also, I completely failed (as usual) to write a novel or clean out my damn basement. I didn’t read enough, I didn’t manage to keep up on new movies, and I struggled (as usual) to find the time for everything and everyone that required it.

But I also seemed to have more than the usual allotment of triumphs for one year, too, some of them pretty major on their own terms.

I celebrated ten years at the ad agency, the longest I’ve ever been with any one employer and something pretty astounding to reflect on, considering I initially thought it was just a “for now” job that would last maybe six months.

I underwent LASIK eye surgery, threw away my glasses, and regained my original face (and, as lame as it sounds, a lot of my confidence).

I caught three “wishlist” musical acts that I never thought I’d manage to see live, namely the legendary rocker Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band; national treasure Willie Nelson; and Van Halen, improbably reunited with original frontman David Lee Roth.

Anne and I went to Scotland for 16 days.

And the year ended with a new Star Wars film, which the more that I think about it, maybe wasn’t that big a triumph after all. But that opening weekend was fun, at least.

Overall, though, it was a good year. It feels both good and really odd to say that. It’s so out of character for me. But it’s late, and rather than dwelling on that, I think I’ll just post this photo again. Because it makes me smile, and because it symbolizes, as well as anything else, my 2015:

coo kiss

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Seriously, I HATE the 21st Century

I recently read someplace that you can supposedly tell what a new century will ultimately be about by the time you reach the fifteenth year of that century. In other words, the issues and overarching trends that will define the century are, according to this theory, already shaping up in that first decade and a half. If that’s true… if the past fifteen years are any sort of guide to the 21st century as a whole…

Is it any wonder I’ve practically made nostalgia into my own personal religion?

I’m going to go home and watch The Rockford Files now.

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Forty-Six

In a few days, I’ll be 46 years old. Once, not so very long ago, that age seemed as far-off and science-fictiony to me as 1999, 2001, or even, yes, 2015. And yet… here it is.

Long-time readers know that I don’t especially enjoy my birthdays. I used to, when I was younger. Like everyone else, I suppose, because hey, who doesn’t like cake and ice cream and presents when they’re a kid, right? Unfortunately, though, somewhere along the line, birthdays stopped seeming like achievements unlocked and started feeling like grim ticks of an ebony clock that can’t be rewound. I’ve dreaded them since at least my mid-30s. Maybe earlier.

It isn’t aging per se that bothers me, as people often assume when I start brooding about this. You won’t find me standing in the bathroom mirror, counting wrinkles and gray hairs. (On the contrary, I’d be delighted to have gray, silver, or even white hair, so long as I had a full head of it. I really hate being bald.) No, what gets to me isn’t the accumulation of years so much as what I’ve done — or more accurately, not done — with them.

I’ve blogged about this before, of course, approaching the problem from different angles, trying to find the clearest way of articulating a feeling that’s probably very common, but isn’t so easy to express. At least, it’s not so easy for me. The sad truth is that my adult life sat on the launch pad for a lot longer than it should have, and even now I have days when it feels like I still haven’t cleared the tower. And the real bitch of it is that I’ve got nobody to blame for it but myself. While my friends were establishing themselves in the world and charging toward the landmarks that our society uses to gauge success, I…  dithered. Wracked with indecision, insecurity, and probably a walloping good case of undiagnosed depression, I told myself I had plenty of time. I realized too late that that wasn’t true… that not only had I reached middle age without doing the ordinary things — marriage, babies, a mortgage — I hadn’t gotten around to any of the other things I wanted to do either. And despite what we tell ourselves these days about 50 being the new 30, opportunities not taken oftentimes really are lost for good.

(It probably doesn’t help that my birthday falls right on the cusp of the changing seasons, when the kids are headed back to school and the quality of the air and the sunlight is changing as Indian summer fades into autumn. It’s hard to avoid that sense of time running out when the Halloween decorations are starting to appear even though you’re still wearing shorts and driving with the top down in the afternoons.)

But you know, something interesting happened with my birthday last year. I didn’t blog about it at the time — no surprise, considering how rarely I manage to blog about anything substantive any more — but my 45th birthday was actually kind of… pleasant. I took the day off from work — the whole week, actually — and I got some excellent presents and I had a nice steak dinner with my parents and Anne. I had 170 people publicly wish me “happy birthday” on my Facebook timeline, and I also received a number of personal messages as well, all of which were very much appreciated. I even got a couple of old-fashioned cards in the mail.

More importantly, though, I (mostly) managed to avoid the smothering depression that usually afflicts me around this time of the year. As I reflected on my latest voyage around the sun, I had to admit — difficult as it was! — that I’d had a pretty good year. I’d maintained the healthier weight and lifestyle I was forced into back in 2012; I’d observed my nine-year anniversary at a job I originally figured wouldn’t last six months; I’d attended no less than four big nerd conventions right here in my own hometown, meeting a lot of childhood heroes in the process; and I’d even managed to lay to rest a couple of ghosts that had haunted my memories for far too long. (You’ll forgive me if I don’t elaborate on that last point; even with my exhibitionist tendencies, there are a few things I prefer to keep inside my own head.) So yeah, not too bad a year, nothing to feel especially depressed about.

And now this birthday coming up, Number 46, looks to be even better, because I intend to celebrate it in The World’s End pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Because birthdays are always like the end of the world. Get it?

Yes, it’s true, this whole entry has (mostly) been a really roundabout way of announcing that Anne and I are setting off on an adventure. We’ve talked about going to Scotland for years, she inspired by her all-time favorites novels, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and me because I’ve been a fan of the cult movie Highlander and its spin-off television series since I was in college. And of course, one of the things I’ve always most wanted to do with my life is travel. See the world, explore new places (new to me, at least), shake off the dust of this small town… all that George Bailey stuff. Not so very long ago, I was feeling a genuine sense of despair because I was increasingly certain that it just wasn’t going to happen, that my only two previous international trips (to England and Germany) were the only ones I was ever going to get. I know that’s more than a lot of people manage, but the thought that I’d already filled my dance card without realizing it, that my dream of being a world traveler was just over, was unbearable to me. At some point in the past year, though, Anne and I looked at each other and said, “We need to either quit talking about going to Scotland, or actually go to Scotland.” And so here we are actually going. And for a change, I’m not facing the approach of my birthday with regret and sadness. Because I’m doing one of those things I’ve long wanted to do. I’m crossing an item off the bucket list. And good lord, it is a good feeling…

 

hobbit-adventure

 

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