Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why We Blog

Yesterday Sylvia and her friend Suzanne flew to Victoria for a short getaway. I drove Sylvia to the airport, escorted her inside, wished them well and drove back to Edmonton's north side for an evening of Dungeons & Dragons with my friends.

About as mundane a day as any North American could imagine, and yet thousands and thousands of us are blogging about events equally ordinary. When I came home to an empty house last night, I browsed through some of my older posts and, somewhat embarrassed by the sheer ennui of much of the contents, wondered why I blog at all. Doubtless many folks who have accidentally stumbled upon this blog wonder the same thing.

But after reading forward from the early days of the blog, I realized that I was grateful that I'd captured some of the past few years of my life, however ordinary, because with the passage of enough time, even the everyday somehow starts to feel extraordinary.

Take, for example, Sylvia's flight. Ten or twenty years from now, we might be amazed that middle-class Canadians could afford to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres for trivial reasons; if the oil runs out and the era of cheap flights ends, what was once mundane could become amazing in retrospect. On the other hand, perhaps by then Canada's capital cities will all be connected by maglev trains that make air travel seem slow, dangerous and inconvenient. Or maybe we'll all be using blimps to get around.

For reasons I still don't entirely understand, I've saved a great deal of my life's minutea. I have hundreds of photographs, cards, notes, badges, buttons, pins, schoolbooks, binders full of university notes, letters, old toys. I've carried these things around from place to place, examining them only rarely.

But sometimes I'll come across something revealing or mysterious, something that captures the essence of days gone by: a series of notes for a play I directed at the University of Alberta, a cartoon drawn by a friend in high school, a broken toy Batmobile, a batch of slides waiting to be scanned and reexamined. Usually these objects tells me something about the past, or presents a new mystery to ponder, such as a quote scrawled by a feminine hand in one of my notebooks: "To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world." I could google the quote now, I suppose, but I feel like that would take a bit of the magic out of it. I'll likely never know who quoted that bit of wisdom and slipped it anonymously into my belongings...and not knowing is somehow special.

So all these posts about nothing - about action figures and model kits and trips to northern Manitoba and grown adults playing with miniature figures and ruminations on politics as transitory as our very ephemeral lives - all these posts, by myself and so many others, have some value, I hope. If nothing else, should these words last at least a few years, they'll give our future selves reason to wonder who we were and why we did the things we did, and if we've learned as much as we've lost.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

41 Laps Around Sol

I'm not generally excited by birthdays, but I have to admit that today was a pretty good one. I received well wishes from family and friends, Sylvia surprised me with a beautiful boxed set of the Harry Potter books, my colleagues at work surprised me (literally surprised me by using a clever ploy to lure me to the main meeting room) with cake and said nice things about me behind my back (reported to my face later), and Sylvia and I finally managed to see Avatar, a stunning technical achievement with a darn good story too, damn the naysayers.

I try to be self-sufficient, but every once in a while it's nice to know that  you're loved and appreciated by the people in your life. Thanks very much, everyone.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Return of the C'lonials


Andrea and Greg brought their new baby Mitchell over for a visit last night, and a good time was had by all. Currently they're living just outside London in the UK, so it's a nice treat to see friends from faraway. Sylvia and I are hoping to visit London in 2011 or 2012 - it'll be cool to see the C'lonials in their adopted land.

Mitchell got along with Sylvia quite smashingly.

"I've had enough of your antics!" Usually this is Sylvia's line (to me).


Andrea and I interpret "The Scream."

Andrea, Greg and her family will be in Alberta for a little while yet, enjoying the slopes and visiting relatives. For more on their adventures, check out their blog, Attack of the C'lonials.

Thanks for the great visit, guys!

That's Not the Shocking Secret

"WHAT IS THE SHOCKING SECRET OF THE MAD BUTCHER'S SUPERB SAUSAGES?" I babbled tonight in an effort to distract myself from the tedium of keeping the house clean. The quote is a tagline from an old horror movie, and of course implies that the "shocking secret" ingredient is human flesh.

But Sylvia's deadpan response was a mere, "I don't know, spices?"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tub Thumping



Mom and Dad are renovating their bathroom. Sean and I went out to help today, and when we were hauling the old tub to the dump, Dad revealed that Mom had ripped out most of the drywall in a burst of energy while he was running errands - this while she's in between recovering from surgery and waiting for chemo. I'm glad she's on our side.

I thought it would be cool if we dropped off the tub in an unusual way. Sean would sit in the tub in the back of the truck, with the tailgate down. I'd film the action while Dad would drive backwards at high speed and then slam on the brakes, sending the tub, with Sean riding it, sailing smoothly out the back and into the trash heap. It would be like the Olympics!

But Dad vetoed the idea.

Friday, February 19, 2010

LEM

Sometime during my early to mid teens, I assembled and painted my favourite model kit, the Apollo Command Module/Lunar Excursion Module set. I was never much of a modeller, and most of the kits I attempted to built turned out poorly. But enraptured as I was by the space sciences, I devoted more time and effort to this kit than any other, carefully filing down the rough edges of the individual parts, taking my time when glueing the pieces together, and choosing and applying the correct paints to the correct places. Somehow I even managed to apply the decals at the right angles.

I still have both pieces of the kit, but time has not been kind. The Command Module is missing its long-range antenna, and the LEM is missing all kinds of protrusions - antennae, landing gear, retrorockets...

Building model kits has a ritualistic aspect. It's as if by carefully recreating a vehicle or character or landscape in miniature, you somehow attune yourself to the essence of the thing you're recreating; somehow participating in and sharing its power. Building these kits certainly made me feel as though in some mystical way I were a part of the space race, at least if my still-potent dreams of space travel are any indication...

The End of Literacy?

Steve Fitzpatrick has posted an excellent review of Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. It's the sort of review that makes you want to go out and read the book, which I've duly added to my reading list. Take a few minutes to see how Steve reacted to the book.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sean's Ride to Conquer Cancer


Sean explains the background here, but to make a long story short, Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks back. Fortunately it was caught early and Mom will be okay after some chemo and radiation therapy. Mom's always been in excellent shape and so far she's kicking cancer's butt as if Bruce Lee were taking on the Three Stooges. Of course Dad has been steady as ever in helping her get through this.

In response, Sean has decided to participate in the 200-km Ride to Conquer Cancer. Please visit Sean's personal Ride to Conquer Cancer page if you'd like to donate.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hey! Where's my thank-you wave?

It happened again today on the way home from work. At the last possible second, a motorist flicked on his signal light, pleading for me to allow him into my lane. I acquiesed, and the car slid into position ahead of me...

...and no thank-you wave.

There's no good reason for this to rile me up as it does, and I always try to give drivers the benefit of the doubt; perhaps I simply didn't see the wave, perhaps he or she is dealing with troubling personal issues, perhaps the driver doesn't know about the custom. But I can't help but be a little annoyed, because I've always felt that small kindnesses deserve some sort of acknowledgement. It's not that I'm hungry for thanks, but rather I want people to recognize that we exist within a society filled with other human beings. Ignoring a courteous gesture is akin to treating others like robots or obstacles.

Of course, in a world filled with far greater injustices, it's silly to get too upset about such trivialities. But I can't help but think that ignoring the small moments of politeness is symptomatic of a society moving toward greater indifference to others.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Hills Are Alive...With the Sound of Silence

Some DVDs feature a score-only audio track, a bonus I've appreciated on such films as Superman, North by Northwest, and Enter the Dragon, among others It occurs to me that an audio track that included everything but the orchestral score might be just as interesting.

Imagine watching Star Wars, for example, without John Williams' music - just the dialogue and sound effects. How would that transform the experience? I think it might make the movie far less thrilling, but might it not also draw the viewer further into the world of the film, documentary style? Without music, which always breaks the fourth wall, audiences might subconsciously consider the events of the film more "real," even when they're watching science fiction or fantasy films.

Removing the music might also allow the audience to discover whether or not the emotional impact of scenes works without the score. Would Superman's first rescue in Metropolis be as heart-pounding without Williams' rousing music? Would Halloween be as scary without John Carpenter's eerie main theme? I have a feeling that removing the music might actually work with some horror films, since creepy music often telegraphs scares, making them less effective. But most action, fantasy, and science fiction films absolutely depend on their scores to keep the emotional momentum going. And musicals wouldn't work at all, though they might be very amusing to watch...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Pete Versus the Minivan

About a dozen years ago, my friend Pete asked me to guess what kind of new vehicle he'd just purchased. Pete was obviously very proud of his new acquisition, and I thought hard about what he might have bought. I turned the possibilities over and over in my head, until a flash of insight struck:

"You bought a minivan!" I shouted.

"I didn't buy a minivan," Pete snarled, looking much like he does in the photo above. Actually, he'd purchased a pretty fancy car, just like the one Pierce Brosnan drove in Goldeneye. I think Pete was a little offended by my guess, especially since I'd known him long enough to realize that a minivan was really about the least likely thing he might have bought.

And yet, in that moment, I knew with complete certainty that Pete's new car was a minivan.

I was, of course, absolutely wrong.

Insight and intuition are funny things. Some people depend on them completely. I've used intuition myself. But experiences like this one reinforce my belief that reason, backed up by solid data, is a surer path to knowledge and truth. By no means am I diminishing the power of a sudden revelation - but it's always good to check the facts.

Dramatization

Early this morning I watched a commercial. It featured the now-common "Dramatization" subtitle, for which I am grateful, for the ad also featured a car crashing onto the front lawn of a suburban home, a bag of groceries hopping out of the vehicle and walking into the kitchen by itself, a happy housewife NOT shrieking in terror as she witnessed same, and a talking glove stating that it will prepare dinner.

Thanks, makers of Hamburger Helper, for making sure that I understood this commercial was merely a "Dramatization" and not a documentary.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Spider-Mite

Spider mite, spider mite
The unfortunate spider mite
Eats my plants, makes them die
Sends their souls to the sky

Watch out! Here comes the spider mite

Do they breed? Listen bub
They’ve got randiness in their blood
Do they swing from a thread?
Take a look, your plant’s dead

Hey there! Here comes the spider mite

In the heat of day
They will breed millions more
You can’t keep them out
Even if you shut the door

Spider mite, spider mite
Unfriendly ravenous spider mite
Spins a web, looks real gross
On the plants in my house

To him, the garden is one big banquet
Where ever plants are hung up
You’ll find the spider mite!

Retro Review: American Ninja

I wrote this review way back in the spring of 1991, again on Freedom BBS.

Last night I had the pleasure of viewing the Canon Group's kung-fu fistfest, American Ninja, starring the unequalled Micheal Dudikoff in the title role.

American Ninja is the touching tale of a lonely man--known only as "Joe"--who just happens to have great prowess in the mystic arts of the Ninja. Joe knows not where his skills came from--his earliest memory is of a great explosion at a mine he was caught in as a youth. Joe's troubled childhood is filled with strife and lonliness; Joe moves from reform school to reform school, until finally he is forced to join the US Army. Joe is posted on a war-torn Pacific island, where he is looked upon by his fellow Marines with disdain. "We like teamwork in this outfit, fella."

Trouble begins when the Rebels begin hijacking US arms shipments to use for their own nefarious purposes, and it is here that the movie heats up. A Rebel attack is stopped as Joe, using his incredible martial arts, beats the tar out of no less than a dozen rebel fiends. In one memorable scene, Joe rolls to a toolbox under a hail of rebel machinegun fire. Thinking quickly, he grabs a screwdriver and throws it, daggerlike, into the shoulder of one gunman. Next, Joe wields a tire iron, flinging it square into a hapless rebel's mouth. But Joe's efforts are in vain--for, streaming out of the jungle, comes a horde of black-garbed Ninjas!

The ninjas make short work of Joe's marine buddies, who fall under a hail of arrows, throwing stars, and swords. The Ninjas even go so far as to threaten the beautiful Patricia, US Army Colonel Wild Bill Hickok's only daughter.

Fortunately, Joe is there to defend her, deflecting arrows with the handle of a conveniently nearby shovel. However, Joe realizes he is outnumbered, so he and Patricia flee into the jungle and jump into a river to hide. This maneuver not only saves our stalwart couple from certain doom, but it also allows the viewer some choice glimpses of Patricia's anatomy, revealed by her now-soaked white blouse.

The action just keeps on coming as Joe fights Ninjas, traitorous Army officers, European gunrunners, and even his best friend. Joe's greatest fight, however, is for the understanding and acceptance of his peers. The climactic ending is truly touching--Patricia, kidnapped by the evil Ninja clan, is held captive in the evil Ninja training school. At first, Joe believes he will have to rescue her alone--but wait!! Out of the jungle mists comes Joe 's adoptive father, a wizened old Japanese soldier (one of the ones trapped on an island in the Pacific for twenty years after WWII ended and who still thought the war was on). Joe's pop returns to join him in the rescue of Patricia, but is, tragically, killed in the act of saving Joe from the evil Head Ninja, the Black Star Ninja. Joe, sobbing, attacks the Ninja horde, but the effort is impossible--he is wildly outnumbered. But then, over the hills--the US Army! Trumpets blaring and guns blazing, the 'good 'ol boys' charge into the training camp to lend Joe a hand, armed with APCs, jeeps, heavy machine guns, and grenades. The unarmed evil ninjas fall like chaff before the Marines' awesome assault. But the evil French arms dealer is running off with Patricia! Thank Goodness that Joe manages to grab the underside of the escape helicopter as it makes its lunge for freedom. Joe manages to grab Patricia just in time, leaping from the chopper just as Joe's best friend Jackson blows it up with a Made in the USA rocket launcher.

With the last bad guy blown to kingdome come, Patricia, Jackson, and Joe can relax...at least until American Ninja 2.

Rating: 9 out of 10 for pure bad movie enjoyment.

Ninja photo by Roryv

The 2 to 6 Club

Back when my friend Ron Briscoe was running Edmonton's old Freedom BBS, he set up a room called the 2 to 6 Club, a place for insomniacs to post whatever profound insights they might glean during the witching hours. Here's something I wrote in that room almost 19 years ago to the day. Unlike most of what I wrote as an angst-ridden twentysomething, I don't hate this.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have seen the wrongs I've failed to set aright.
I have ignored the beggar's pathetic plight
I have pushed the lonely problems from my sight

I too have stood on a lonely highway at night, my car and I--engine

ticking softly--
Warm summer night, completely alone but for the stars and the trees and the

plain over that hill--

Take a walk to the top of that hill and just look and just listen and just

smell and feel and taste and be that night. You become night, living night,

banished with the day but not defeated. And the wind blowing through your

hair is a part of you and the grass under your sneakers is a part of you and

the croaking of the frog is a part of you and the baleful gaze of that stern

moon is a part of you.


It is all just you and it is all more than you can ever imagine, more than

you are contained inside you, worn on you like an overcoat.


Melodrama made real. And none of the cliches matter...because they are

true.

Walk a little further, into the farmer's field. Stalks of grain waving back

and forth like some great living thing, one being. A little scary, but it

doesn't matter--you are the night, a part of this, and you cannot be hurt.


You can be lonely, but you cannot be hurt.


Look up. That winking star overhead--a satellite, benignly swooping by,

taking pictures of you, a reminder of the fellow men who you don't need

waiting for you with the dawn. And there, a 747, reminding you again that

there is no real escape, not now.


Soon. But not just at this moment.


You walk back to the car, open the driver's side door. Car welcomes you with

harsh interior light glare and harsher seat belt buzzer. You get inside

quickly to avoid disturbing the beautiful darkness any further.


And you sit there for a little while on the shoulder before you finally turn

the ignition key, activating the radio, the lights, the engine. And then you

pull onto the road and just drive for a while

just________________________________drive_____________________



Until Neon City looms large once more and the night whithers before human

magic and you surrender too...giving in to another twelve hour wait before the

wonder sets in again.


Some of the folks I hung around with during the heyday of the 2 to 6 Club. Ron and I are at the far right; Ron's seated on the floor.