Monday, July 28, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare A Urinal?

Pastor Jeff writes about his search for a men's room at a local (I presume elementary) school. Funny.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Monster Movies With Grandpa

Whenever I see a man in a rubber monster suit strangling the life out of a beautiful woman, I will think of my grandfather and smile.

As a matter of course, sleepovers at my Grandparents' house would generally start with a trip to the toy store, and segue into delivery pizza and coca-cola; the evening capper being two or three monster movies with my Grandfather. This is my warmest memory of my early relationship with him.
Grandma would bring us our pizza slices, and mason jars filled with either coca cola or iced tea. Grandpa would go over to the movie cabinet and pick out ‘a good one’. He was usually spot on.

We watched so many monster and b-horror movies together that I can’t remember them all, but a few are archetypal in my mind. While most of the Slasher films kind of bleed together after awhile, Theater Of Blood left a pretty gruesome impression in my mind: The scene where Vincent Price is extracting the pound of flesh from the theater critic who gave him bad reviews was so graphic (and so over-the-top),that once I had seen it, it became impossible to shake.

More pleasant are the monsters. The Thing From Another World, both the original and the Kurt Russell Remake were very impressive to me as a young connoisseur, and provided plenty of spin-off material for the play-time scenarios I dreamt up for my brother and sister. Alien and Aliens:Sigourney Weaver running around in her underwear through the cold, white halls of the vacant spaceship was oddly intriguing to my eight year old mind. All of the Creature From the Black Lagoon movies were good, except the one that had him wearing clothes. We watched them all: Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Boris Karloff’s Mummy. We went from The Giant Ants from Them up to the strange, Lovecraftian grotesque of that under appreciated 80’s gem, Leviathan. I would sit there right next to my grandpa and switch between watching the movie and watching his reactions to the movie. Sometimes he’d smile a little bit when someone would make a morbid joke. He’d wince a little, when he knew someone was gonna get it.

Usually, if the movie involved some kind of military craft, he would point out inaccuracies in the way the ship was made-up. More familiar was the exclamation, Run You Idiot!

Just something that came to mind as I am adding the original The Thing From Another World to my netflix cue. I hope the boys are ready for it. I hope all of the flashy CGI monsters haven’t spoiled the creepiness of the stiff-legged, usually off-screen Plant Monster. After it’s all said and done, hopefully we’ll be running around some local playground, trying to figure out the best way to stop the creature and save the earth once and for all…until the next time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

these people are nuts

I suppose one reason I began self identifying as a liberal is because Eddie Vedder is awesome. I was fifteen, hormonal, and totally into the Seattle scene when I first started exploring political and philosophical thought outside of that which I was raised with. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Of course I would frame the liberal/conservative divide in such a fashion: keep in mind, it would be another year before my Spiderman subscription would expire.

On the one hand you had a bunch of old white guys with neat televangelist hair and expensive suits. They were talking about the degradation of our (read: W.A.S.P.) culture and family values, and there was an unpleasant hue of racism and sanctimony hanging over their speech.
On the other hand you had the cool guys. The entertainment guys (appealing conservatives are hard to find in the entertainment industry): George Carlin. Bill Maher. Eddie Vedder. They bucked the status quo and called conservatives out on their hypocrisy and apparent cultural fascism. Plus, Eddie Vedder could sing like a madman. I’d like to see Newt Gingrich pull off ‘Yellow Ledbetter’.

Unfortunately, a lot of the thought underlying many of the current ‘liberal’ positions is as incomprehensible as the lyrics to that classic Pearl Jam tune.

The liberal position is one that advocates the virtual enslavement of illegal immigrants. The humane position, although it is often not voiced in this fashion, is to help make Mexico a viable economic power through strategic trade and aid, and also to make Mexico a more welcoming place to Mexicans by aiding the Mexican organizations that seek to curtail crime. Forcing poor people to brave hazardous conditions for slave wages is not a compassionate option.

The reasonable choice on the energy front is to go nuclear, go wind, go water, go ethanol, go electric, and yes, to drill. Drill in ANWR and off shore. There have been all kinds of advancements in drilling technology that will assure the environment will receive minimal damage, but will allow us (the most humanitarian nation in the world) to maintain our power-player status. Also on the environmental front, stop opposing CCS. If carbon emission is the problem, devices that reabsorb carbon from the atmosphere make all kinds of sense.

Timelines in Iraq are a bad idea. The surge has worked. Those of us who opposed it need to admit that. The best solution to the situation in Iraq is to follow a pragmatic strategy based on conditions on the ground. It was a mistake to invade, but we’re there now. If we leave, all kinds of people are going to die. Remember, we’re still in Germany.

There are more: breaching Pakistan’s border in a search for Osama Bin Laden is foolish. Tax cuts help businesses and families trying to pull themselves out of the lower classes. Making trade between ourselves and South American countries more seamless is the height of neighborliness. School vouchers enable families with less desirable options a chance to offer their children a better learning environment. Healthcare savings accounts for citizens is a much better solution to our healthcare difficulties than handing the system over to the federal government.

I’ve been a reliable left/libertarian voter as long as I’ve been able to vote. I support gay marriage, arts funding, and the public school system. I was opposed to going into Iraq, and I support reasonable gun laws. I am a conservationist. I oppose the patriot act, and support social safety nets, such as social security and welfare. I am against the death penalty, and for decriminalization of marijuana. I believe in a strict separation of church and state, and oppose the teaching of creationism in science class. I also publicly applauded the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that allowed Gitmo detainees to have access to our court system.

But I am finding it hard to rally to the call of our left wing gurus. Many Obama supporters come off as glassy-eyed revivalists. Al Gore doesn’t seem far away from seeking to have those who question man’s role in global warming committed, or put in prison. Hugo Chavez is an opposition-silencing dictator. Jesse Jackson is talking about cutting people’s nuts off.

The world doesn’t need to be protected from liberals or conservatives. The world needs to be protected from radicals on all spectrums whose endgame is of the convert,kill, or silence model.
All of the radicals--at least the ones we need to worry about--seem to be on the left this time around. John McCain isn’t a true believer like George Bush. He’s a clumsy opportunist in some ways, but he’s also a pragmatist. He’s got a record of consensus building. He was a member (to the fury of many on the right) of the gang of fourteen. His policies on healthcare are moderate, and he has a relatively liberal environmental policy.

A vote for John McCain is a vote more or less for the status quo; not necessarily the best option, but better than socialism, and definitely better than joining Obama‘s personality cult.

There has to be balance in society. Balance between government and corporations, and balance between left and right. With an apparent democratic tide rolling in in ‘09, McCain is the moderate's choice. He may not be bringing sexy back, but at least he seems to be aware that he is a man applying for a job, rather than a man recruiting fishers of men.


I am voting for Barack Obama. According to the madman posting above, McCain is the moderate choice. Maybe I am not such a moderate as I thought. Because I was turned off by the borderline worshipfulness of some of Obama's supporters at the time I wrote this post, I blocked out McCain's steadily increasing & cynical pandering to the right. The fervor some on the right feel for Palin has eclipsed and equalized what disturbed me about the enthusiasm of many Obama supporters. She's brought the wingnuts to the party. I still like John McCain, and hope he has a good retirement. The debates have shown me that Obama is the person with the temperament to lead our nation, not McCain. Obama's solution to the forclosure crisis is actually more conservative than McCain's. Obama has (reluctantly) expressed a willingness to explore drilling, and has a far safer healthcare option than McCain. I still support school vouchers, but find myself more in-line with Obama on the economy, immigration, foreign policy, and social issues. The two candidates aren't that different, but Obama seems to be the safer option at this point.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Can You See Heaven?

Abby took this picture with her cell phone camera, through my dirty windshield. It was much prettier in real life. We had just gotten home after spending a nice day doing family things, and she pointed out the sky to me, and when I looked, I was blown away. I had spent the whole day looking at my kids, looking at little things that they wanted to show me, things they'd found on the ground; rocks,bottle caps, centipedes.

I had spent the day counting the freckles on my wife's neck. After a day of looking close at small (important) things, looking at that huge sky took my words away. The picture doesn't do it justice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the genius

The Genius has gained so much understanding that there is no one alive who is capable of comforting him. He knows there are people who are perfectly serene; some through a deficiency in understanding, others through what is generically called ‘enlightenment’. The genius would accept either of these methods to happiness willingly, were someone able to convey their essences to him in a language that didn‘t sound to him like :

1. a peacock plucking out it‘s own back feathers.
2. an engagement ring in the garbage disposal.
3. a herring being swept up in the claws of a grizzly bear.
4. an overfull zit, rocketing itself onto the surface of a mirror.
Since no one can comfort The Genius, he just stares out the rain specked window in his study. His sits in a comfortable red leather chair, and looks at the wet blue grass, the streaked gray shed, and the absorbent brown fence in his backyard.

It is always raining in the genius’s mind. When he’s standing in his kitchen, talking to his wife--who herself only has one small way that she can connect with him on such a high plain--he sees rain. Sometimes it pours, and her hair and shirt are soaked, and he can clearly see the outline of her plain cotton bra and her unserious bellybutton . Sometimes the rain just tinkles, just a small bout of heavenly whizzing. He can hear it chink against the tile, and it sounds with an echo in the deep set sink.

Once, when the genius was in the throes of desperation and willing to toss experience and reason to the wind, he went to see the world’s most renowned Psychotherapist in a small gray flat in Switzerland. The flat overlooked a gray field, a small pond, and a medium sized wooden shack that probably held lawn equipment.

The Eminent Psychotherapist began the session fully aware that he was, indeed, taking The Genius himself down the road less traveled, and so proceeded with deft attention, erudition and care. By mid-session somehow things had gone upside down, and the Genius found himself lecturing the Eminent Psychotherapist (mouth agape, upturned palms supporting his soft chin), on the fundamentals of String Theory.

The Genius has since abandoned all hope of seeing full remission of the Great Descending Haze in his lifetime.

One thing will occasionally lift the influence of that golden demon/will swat the black-eyed dog with cold newsprint:

A casual human touch. A brush of fingers through his graying hair. A hip-bump on the subway car from a careless stranger, or two hands reaching for the same dropped object at once, colliding.
The touches work best when they are accidental.

An accidental human touch--now and again--will appease the insidious beast of woe, and will allay the dull ache that accompanies The Genius through the flak-starred night of his bleakest desolation.

Sometimes the rain smells sweet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How We Spend Our Friday Nights

the flesh cooked so soft
barely clings to the bone
hanging like a stranded climber
like a man with a drink
Alone in a room full of people.
(you wonder if the man with the tray
will notice that this is the third kabob
you have swiped).

your pocket is full of mini-javelins.

she is talking,
swaying to the music--
a dull thump of bass
in the background--
and her cheeks are pink
from how many glasses
of pinot.

you smell the smoke in the air
men are playing pool in the next room
you were a child once
at parties like this.

you were upstairs in your room
and you would sneak out after waiting
and you would watch all of the adults
naked, out of their skins.

they talked to each other so desperately:

hoping to find god
On the comet tail
of every Tic-Tac coated breath.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

from so simple a beginning

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received regarding time management was given to me by a UC psych. professor named Kenneth Ghee.

He told my class that every morning he goes into the bathroom, takes a colored notecard from a box he keeps there, and writes down five things he would like to accomplish throughout the day. He checks the list periodically throughout the day to see if he's on track, and then at the end of the day he sits down with a pencil, checks off the things on his list that he accomplished, and circles the ones he didn't: then he asks himself why he may have failed at accomplishing the circled items.

I knew this was good advice when I heard it, but I didn't institute it in my own life until a couple of weeks ago. Brother, let me tell you. It has revolutionized my productivity.

I've always had time management issues. I used to make these huge, multi-paged 'change my life' type charts that I would follow for a day and then forget. The notecard system has worked for me because it is easy, does not involve managing my whole day into a strict militaristic regimen, and allows me to keep track of my progress. Also, by whittling down the list of daily objectives, I discover what is really important to me.

The feeling of having spent a day productively has lifted my mood considerably.

A bad mood can be reflective as much or more of a bad diet and/or lack of exercise as it can be of deep psychological issues. Guilt about certain sexual thoughts and actions probably reflects more about the society you live in than God's righteous anger. The human chin may be a simple biproduct of the evolutionary development of other neighboring aspects,and may have no particular adaptable aspect of its own. Dick Cheney may simply just be an evil man: Dr. Phil can't reach everyone.

Lots of things are simple, in spite of my periodic desire and expectation for them not to be. Sometimes it is hard for me to wrap my mind around a simpler solution because in many cases I have trained myself to 'go deep' on so many things. I don't know if this stems from reading so many works on psychoanalysis, or because I have been rewarded with an increased understanding so many times by my willingness to take apart and analyze. The fact that writing things down on a stupid note card can make my life so much easier, or that going for a daily jog can dispel the deepest, darkest existential funk, is astounding.

No Spencer, God hasn't left you in a meaningless world of cruelty and despair. You just need a cup of coffee.

Sometimes simple explanations mystify and humble me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

cutting the grass, and a eulogy for a refrigerator


When I cut the grass, this is what I do: I take two beers from the fridge and put them in the freezer. We have a hill in my backyard, and I use an old mulch mower, so it can take awhile sometimes. Usually by the time I’ve finished, the beers are nice and frosty. Not just frosty, but nice and frosty.

Today when I was cutting the backyard I noticed my youngest son watching me out of the bedroom window. When he realized that I saw him he smiled. I waved at him, and he waved back, and I thought, I could get used to this.

Our refrigerator died a slow death. It was a good death, and we all had time to prepare for the end.

Sure there was a point where it couldn't freeze ice cubes anymore, and sure, we had to put the milk in the freezer to keep it slightly cold. But right up to the end it was still humming along, and whenever you opened the door the light came on.

Although we didn't spend alot of time with fridge--we just bought the house in December--we are reassured to know that its time was time well spent. It may not have always been everything we could've wanted, but it took care of the previous owner's perishable goods for quite a long time: that's no small feat.

So, wherever fridges go when they die, we hope it's a better place. We hope it's in a a place where the Ben and Jerry's can bend a spoon, and the Stout beers and chilled wines are respectively stout and chilled.

We also earnestly hope that no friend of Punky Brewster's is ever trapped inside of the old fridge while playing a game of hide and seek with friends. Things often don't turn out in real life the way they do in 80's sitcoms.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

4th of July

"It is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe." Thomas Paine, From The Age Of Reason.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Ebert Ethic

You don't go to a Roger Ebert review looking for a generic overview of a movie to see if it's worth seeing or not. True, the whole thumbs up/thumbs down dynamic was created to serve this basic premise, but it's not what's good about Ebert's writing.

What Roger Ebert brings to his reviews is a humane worldview, intellect, humor, and an admirable desire to judge a film by the standards it establishes for itself. If the equation doesn't add up in our world, that's alright, so long as it stays consistent throughout the course of the work.

I've been reading Ebert's reviews for years, and I just started reading his blog, which is available on his main site. It's a good look behind the scenes. I was appreciative of this post , that he wrote about a correspondance he had with one of the blog's regular commentors. In it he talks about the power of affirmation and redemption in film, and a few of the films he has seen that have best represented these qualities.

I'm not sure if there's a critic out there who has the cheeks to fill this guy's chair when he decides it's time to exit the theater.