Saturday, December 29, 2007

Time and Aging

I’m tempted to say “the holidays are over” even though New Year’s Eve is Monday night. Suffice it to say that the holidays are over for us. Jen is working New Year’s Eve and the night after that. Those are usually her days off, but she is needed to fill in during the holidays. After entertaining her parents last weekend and then with two extra days of work this week our free time has been squeezed out of existence. The words “free time” are more likely to earn a chuckle than anything else these days. I’m usually so damn tired in the afternoon when Justin is taking his nap that I end up falling asleep on the couch. If I don’t fall asleep then I regret it later on. But when do I take an hour or so to read? Do I give up movie time in the evening in order to read? It sure would be nice to have a long weekend at Kalaloch to figure what to do with what little free time I have available to me.

Justin is sleeping soundly at the moment. He actually has slept progressively better each night that Jen’s parents have been gone. Justin is not used to someone unfamiliar being here overnight and all day. And I’m sure the vast array of Christmas gifts kept his little motor running overtime. Today he seems to be pretty much back on schedule, which makes life easier for all of us. He’s still putting this new high pitched scream of his to use a little too often. One ear piercing shriek is enough for me, but the frequent succession of them lately is a little nerve wracking. Especially when we’re trying to ignore this behavior, so that we don’t encourage it. We realized that he may have learned this shriek while we were attending the Christmas party put on by the clinic where Jen works. A coworker’s son was sitting across from us and he was being encouraged to shriek in public. (The opposite of the “indoor voice.”) I didn’t think Justin was paying any attention, but evidently he didn’t miss a decibel.

So now I have to decide whether to devote some more time to reading The Third Chimpanzee, or to try and get a movie watched before I go to bed. I have so many DVDs that I have acquired recently that I’d like to watch soon. Films like: If, O Lucky Man, 1900, Blade Runner, The Proposition, The New World. The list goes on. Last night I watched a film from Netflix called Topkapi, starring Melina Mecouri, Maximilian Schell and Peter Ustinov. It was a standard heist flick with action and comedy with a little romance thrown in for spice. In the end it seemed just a little stale. I’m sure upon it’s release in 1964 it probably felt a lot more hip and breezy. Ustinov is always good and the movie certainly had it’s moments. Using a four staring rating system I’d give it ***.

I’m sitting here listening to Dwight Yoakam singing the songs of Buck Owens and I’ve been writing for about a half hour. It would be fun to continue to sit here writing down innocuous thoughts, but time is slipping away. I’m nearly 50! The time I have left to read all the books in my collection is shrinking rapidly. And that’s assuming that I’ll live long enough to be a senior citizen in America. Jen’s dad was just telling me about all the great discounts that seniors get on movies and bus rides! And then there’s hearing aids and a medication schedule! Oh, and regular colonoscopies are right around the corner! I better stop. There’s no use spending the aging process writing about the aging process.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Musical Passings

Two musical passings happened in the past week. Dan Fogelberg died Sunday, December 16th at his home in Maine. He was 56 and died from prostate cancer. A week later on Sunday, the 23rd, Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist died at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, outside Toronto. I bought a few Dan Fogelberg records when I was an early teenager in my pre Led Zeppelin days. His music could politely be labeled “soft rock.” I still get a tear in my eye when I hear “Same Ole Lang Syne.” And Oscar Peterson was just one of the all-time greats. His two record interpretation of Gershwin standards are my favorite of his albums. Everyone should have the pleasure of hearing Oscar Peterson playing with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day to all you Canadians out there! I had wanted to post some thoughts on Christmas Eve and on yesterday, the actual holiday, but time just got away from me. It’s not that I didn’t have any thoughts. I did. It’s just that I was spending most of my time either wrapping presents, unwrapping presents, eating, or sleeping. Right now my in-laws are ensconced in front of the widescreen television watching Michael Moore’s Sicko. I asked them if they wouldn’t mind me holing away in my office to catch up on all this stuff that I don’t get to do when I’m parenting.

I got some great things for Christmas, but — like most consumerist Americans — there are always a few items still desired on the day after. I took a breather from entertaining relatives today and drove over to Silver Platters. My intention was to pick up a couple of discs by this band called Sasquatch and maybe one by Mondo Generator. Very heavy music with crunching guitar riffs. Instead I walked out with new albums by Suzy Bogguss, Stacey Kent and Rachel Sage. Talk about being at the other end of the musical spectrum! I still couldn’t quite get myself to purchase the latest discs by Steve Earle or Wilco. The highlight of the shopping experience was getting a free CD, because I had amassed enough credit from previous purchases. It’s some kind of frequent buyer program. After shopping for music, I walked across the parking lot to purchase a cherry pie from the Marie Callender’s restaurant. It was a stop that never got made on Christmas eve.

This afternoon I ordered a copy of the new DVD documenting the Zappa Plays Zappa tour of last year, and in particular their show at the Paramount that I attended. The DVD is two discs and over three hours, so it sounds like they have included the complete show. It’s a little pricey at $35, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy reliving the concert again and again. I also ordered a DVD and live CD from the Suzy Bogguss site. I'm making up for missing her recent show at the Triple Door in Seattle.

And even though I gave into my consumer cravings a little today, I did get some great gifts yesterday. Jen gave me a big surprise: the POV 20th Anniversary Collection, which contains 15 documentaries that have been show on the PBS show P.O.V. It’s an impressive collection and I’m sure it’ll take me a while to work through it. I received two other DVDs: Cool Hand Luke and the four disc collector’s version of Blade Runner. Lots of good viewing ahead. I also received some excellent books including the writings of Thomas Paine published by the Library of America and an Everyman’s Library edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Voyage of the Beagle. My parents sent me a T-shirt commemorating Jolly Cholly’s, which was a local amusement park I used to go to when I was just a tyke.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice!

The big Christian consumerist holiday is nearly upon us. Other factions make their meager attempts at winter celebrations such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but in America Christmas rules. By Christmas I mean Santa Claus, flammable trees strung with electrical lights, the annual tradition of at least one horrendous Christmas movie, and the high tension stress brought about by forced familial interaction. Oh, and it’s the day that Christians celebrate the virgin birth. Mary, an unwed teenage mother, couldn’t possibly have been having pre marital relations with Joseph. That burgeoning belly bump must have been brought about by miraculous means. And all of this excessive consumerism that surrounds me must have originated with those “wise men” bearing gifts for the babe in the manger. Frankincense and Myrrh has become the Nintendo Wii and an assortment of plastic gift cards. My own little Christmas in damp North Seattle will be brightened by the joy on our son Justin’s face when he gets to tear open his assortment of colorfully wrapped gifts. Last year he wasn’t quite one-year-old at Christmastime, so he couldn’t really appreciate the event. This year he’s a walking, talking marvel and he’s not quite two. We used restraint buying gifts for him, but of course surprises arrive from across the continent, so Justin will be overwhelmed. Luckily, we’ll soon be moving him downstairs into a bigger bedroom with his own toddler bed. He’ll have more room for his toys and art supplies, but it also means that he’ll . . . er, I mean we will have to readjust to him being in a “big boy” bed. He’ll no longer be contained by the wooden bars of rickety crib. Soon he’ll be driving!!

We found out a couple of days ago that Jen’s parents will be joining us for Christmas. They are actually flying out on Christmas day and will be staying for three nights. We’ll put off opening the majority of our gifts until they arrive in the late afternoon and Justin has awoken from his nap. We can empty our stockings and Justin will probably get to open the blocks he received from Jessie, Bob and Victoria. Those will keep him busy until lunch and the nap, which usually comes right after. Justin’s not quite old enough to realize that we’ll be withholding the pleasure of his opening the entirety of his gifts until much later than is agreeable with most children. I’m feeling a little bit of stress accompanying the visit by my in-laws, but that’s natural. I actually get along with them quite well. It’s more the finding out a mere week before Christmas that you’ll have visitors and knowing the cleaning that should get done, but probably won’t get done before their arrival. I’m am glad that Justin will get to reacquaint himself with this set of grandparents and maybe Jen and I will actually get a little free babysitting out of the deal for one evening . . . maybe.

I finished reading Atonement a couple of days ago and it was quite enjoyable. It’s the second novel by Ian McEwan that I’ve read, the first being Enduring Love, and he’s quite the master of dark psychological drama. I look forward to seeing the film adaptation of Atonement, but I think I can wait for the DVD rental. I’ve been struggling with what to read next — Not an uncommon problem for me — and I think I’ve settled on The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. It’s just a bit of nonfiction about man’s origin and his effect on the planet. I had been tempted to read some more fiction, preferably under two-hundred pages, but my mind has been drawn to a lot of weighty subjects in this past year and I think I’ll gain more satisfaction from reading the anthropological work by Diamond. It’s more work reading nonfiction. There’s no plot to keep me turning the pages. In fact, I find myself rereading entire sections to try and ensure that I’m getting it. The end result is worth it though. I look back on my reading this past year and I feel like I’ve big step forward in my thinking, at least in certain areas.

I found out today that the lecture series that I enjoyed attending so much this past fall will be extended for five monthly lectures through the spring. With the presidential election heating up the religious rhetoric has also been ratcheted up. We now have Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist minister from Arkansas, leading the pack of Republican yahoos; and Barack Obama participating in a "40 days of Faith and Family" tour. Now more than ever we need to shore up that faltering wall between church and state. This government was founded to be for All the people and not just the Christians. Look it up.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Afternoon

A week from Tuesday is Christmas day. Luckily, Justin is only two-years-old, so I haven’t had to try and explain the meaning of Christmas, or who the fat guy with the white beard is that he keeps seeing everywhere. We haven’t even attempted taking Justin to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap. We know him well enough to realize that he’s not about to sit on some stranger’s lap to have his picture taken. Opening gifts on Christmas morning will certainly be more fun this year than last. We put our Christmas tree up last week and have a barrier around it, so neither Justin or the cats can get to the decorated greenery. I did mention to Jen though that next year we might want to wait until Christmas eve to put the gifts from Santa under the tree.

I’m getting out of the house for a little while tonight for movie night at a friend’s house. I’m not sure what we’ll be seeing, but it’ll probably beat staying at home and babysitting Justin’s two-year-old playmate, Daniel. My official nights off from parenting duties are now Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Last week I had my last of the Wednesday University lecture series to attend. This week I’m relatively free, which means I’m still hoping to get out and see a movie, or two. I’m Not There is still at the Varsity. Unfortunately, the Varsity doesn’t have matinees during the week, which means I might need to go out at night! I’m trying to plan some schedule where I would see a late matinee at the Metro maybe, and then have time for supper in the U-district before the seven o’clock show of I’m Not There. In the meantime, Justin will be napping soon and I’ll have a little time to read some more of Atonement (I’m two-thirds of the way through) and maybe take a little nap of my own.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

'Tis the Season of Phlegm

If it’s past midnight then it must be the blogging hour. I’ve been battling a cold virus for the past week and a half and I’m ready to be free of it. The worst was seeing my son Justin coughing and hacking. He would look up at me and point to his eyes and then say “eyes” to let me know that his eyes were irritable. At times after a particularly racking cough he would look at us with a crooked smile as if to say, “shit, this is no fun!” He’s gotten through the worst of it. In fact, he’s become quite cranky in the last day or two, which just proves that he’s feeling better.

I was so sick last week that I ended up missing one of the Wednesday lectures that I’ve been enjoying so much (Religion, Politics & the Modern America Presidency.) The last of five lectures is this coming Wednesday. Plus there’s going to be a little book signing party on campus before the lecture. I had planned on picking up Professor Domke’s new book anyway. I might as well get a signed copy and have the chance to chat with him a little. I’m also hoping to get out to a matinee Tuesday or Wednesday to see I’m Not There, which is still at the Varsity. So having a phlegmy cold is cramping my style.

Tonight I watched The House Without a Christmas Tree, which was originally broadcast on television in 1972. I remember the film having quite an impact on me and I ordered a copy as soon as it was release on DVD. It’s the kind of intelligent family drama that doesn’t get made for broadcast telelvision anymore. The acting by Jason Robards, Mildred Natwick and especially young Lisa Lucas is exceptional. It actually quite a melancholy movie, but it earns its heartwarming ending. I was disappointed to see that it’s not carried by Netflix. It’d be a great disc to send my parents. Christmas will be here in just over a couple of weeks and I haven’t had to go to the mall once. I’d like to decorate the house a little, including a Christmas tree. This year I think we’ll be erecting a barrier around the traditional tree. I’m hoping that the plastic fencing will keep both Justin and the cats out of the tree. Sometimes hope is all we have.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Rat Behind the Screen

I have been remiss in keeping up with my blog. One might think that I was suffering from PTSD after visiting friends and kin in Massachusetts. That would not be an entirely true statement. Actually, I’ve just been busy being a stay-at-home dad, and for the past three or four days I’ve been quite sick. The trip back east went fine and I managed to keep my sanity by limiting my trips and visits. I even managed to sleep in until nearly 11AM a couple of days (of course, that’s east coast time and my inner clock was still set to the west coast, so technically I wasn’t really sleeping in.) There is still no one back there that shares my interest in freethinking or left wing politics. Everyone is caught up in their own spectrum of activity and that’s understandable. The flight back was even stress free, considering that I was flying on the day before Thanksgiving with a flight change in Chicago. I even had an empty seat next to me on both legs back to Seattle. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

I’m going to make this a short entry tonight, because it’s already nearing midnight. But I want to get back in the habit of posting more regularly. Sometimes the problem is that I have too much to write about and not enough time to prepare my thoughts for posting. I just finished watching a B-movie from 1992 called The Resurrected. It was based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft and written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (Return of the Living Dead and writer of the original Alien.) It was a decent low budget horror flick with some inventive special effects including some stop-motion work. Last weekend I got out to see No Country for Old Men, the new “American Classic” from the Coen Brothers. A couple of days later I got ambitious and saw a matinee of Dan in Real Life, which was a disappointment and should have been a rental at best (which is exactly what my friend Adam said, but I had to see for myself.) It has some great talent involved including actors Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche and it was written and directed by Peter Hedges, whose directorial debut was the smart and funny Pieces of April (certainly the last decent piece of work that Katie Holmes will ever do.) Hedges also wrote the novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, so to find Dan in Real Life saturated with movie-of-the-week clichés was quite disappointing. I also had a chance to see Ratatouille recently and it will rank up there as one of my favorite films of 2007.

Well, if this is going to be a “short entry” that I had better stop. Oh, it snowed today! And I don’t want to forget to mention that when I saw Into the Wild at the Neptune I saw something I hadn’t see before. As I was sitting there staring at the white screen before the film started I noticed some dark shape in the lower left corner of the screen. Then the shape moved and it became a large rat that then crawled out from the screen. I subtly glanced around to see if any of the other dozen or so people in the theater noticed, but it seemed that I was the only observer of the rodent. After about five or ten minutes the rat returned to his home behind the screen. I’m assuming he had filled up on greasy popcorn before taking in yet another showing of Into the Wild. I’m sure it would have preferred that Ratatouille was on the bill.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Last Night of Trip

Tonight is my last night back in Massachusetts. It's been a fine visit, which translates to: I could have been a lot busier running around stretching my fragile self much too thin, but I've opted to sleep in each morning and keep my socializing to a minimum. Granted, that sometimes disappoints those around me, but that can't be helped if I hope to keep my sanity on this trip. Tonight I'll be trekking to New Bedford to take in a live show by the Pearly Baker Band at a tiny watering hole called the Bullpen. I made sure to buy some ear plugs yesterday in preparation. You know how these crazy kids are with their rock and roll! Actually, the club is so small that the music is easily too loud and I'm probably already destined for a certain amount of deafness from my previous years of listening to "that crazy rock and roll" at loud volumes. I consciously try to keep the volume of my headphones lower these days, but when I'm listening to QOTSA or the Scorpions I cannot help but turn it up to 11.

My parents are picking me up shortly to treat me to lunch and then I'll spend some time with them before being picked up by my friend Tim, who is the bass player in Pearly Baker. I've enjoyed my visit, but I'm ready to get back home for Thanksgiving and the welcoming arms and my wife and son. Luckily, we don't have much planned for Thanksgiving except dinner at our friends house. That's at five o'clock and we'll have to get Justin back home at about seven, or shortly thereafter, to get him to bed.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Horror Films and Family Reunions

Tomorrow night I fly off to the east coast to celebrate my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. They have no idea that I’m coming and I’m only there until Wednesday morning. As the zero hour approaches my stress threatens to increase accordingly. I don’t have much time while I’m there and that will be split between my parents and my friend Tim. I already feel like I’m being pulled in two directions and I’m not even there yet. I’m trying to put the whole trip out of my mind and concentrate on the little things, like cutting Justin’s fingernails, and feeding him lunch. While on the trip I’ll deal with the pressure of a family visit by depending on those things which have kept me sane most of my life: my books and music. I’m lucky enough to have an 80G iPod, so I pretty much have anything I may be in the mood to listen to contained in the little piece of technology. I’m also reading an excellent book by Carl Sagan, a boyhood hero of mine, called The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I struggled for a few days to pick a book that I would probably be in the middle of reading on my departing flight, and I realized that rather than fiction I needed to fill my head with some truth. Cosmos, Sagan’s television series from the 1970s, was a great inspiration to me and I’m embarrassed to admit that this is the first nonfiction book that I have read by him. (I previously read his novel Contact, which was quite good and was made into one of my favorite films.) Part of the problem with spending anytime back in Massachusetts are all of the reminders of why I left in the first place. There is not anybody back there that can truly relate to, or is interested in, my interests and passions. I end up being the listening ear to everyone else’s interests and passions and that’s the way it has always been.

Well, now it technically is the day I’m flying to the east coast, so I better get my ass off to bed. I wasted the evening watching 28 Weeks Later, which was a horrible sequel to one of my favorite horror films of recent years. The story was ridiculous and after an hour I kept hitting the display button on my remote to see how much time was left. I nearly stopped watching, because I knew it was just going to get worse. With lines like “Oh man, this is F.U.B.A.R.!” and “I’m okay, it’s only a flesh wound” one might think that the screenwriters were trying to be funny. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland should be ashamed for having their names associated with this film in any way. Ugh!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Missing the Music

I was lying in bed last night, listening to some music before dropping off to sleep, when I started to think of some of the concerts I was missing this fall. Last year I saw the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, which consisted of Dweezil and some special guests (like Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai.) It was an amazing show, but I was stuck up in the nosebleed section of the Paramount theatre. This year I had a chance to get great seats on the floor, but then I realized that I would be in Massachusetts at the time of the show. I’ve also recently passed up opportunities to see Ween and Queens of the Stone Age. Two of my favorite bands and I’ve never seen either one live. I also missed seeing Suzy Boggus at the Triple Door at the end of the summer. Suzy Boggus is a fine country singer, who doesn’t fit into the usual mode. In fact, her last album was a disc of swing music. The Triple Door would have been a great venue to appreciate her voice, especially considering that the only time I had seen her live was at a fair in Adams, Massachusetts. I don’t remember the exact reasons for not attending these shows, but it’s not as easy as it used to be to get out of the house. Jen works nights and I’m a stay-at-home dad. We have a few people to call on for babysitting duties, but one doesn’t like to overtax their charitable offers. It’s like asking a friend one too many times to take you to the airport. Pretty soon you’re minus a friend.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Literary Scotland and Norway

Ah, Friday. There are many folks out on this rainy night, tipping back cold draft beer and exchanging looks of possibilities with strangers across the room. These revelers are enjoying the prospect of sleeping in on Saturday morning, with no prospect of punching the clock until sometime Monday morning. I haven’t had a Friday like that in many years. The cheesy rock band .38 Special used to exclaim that “everybody’s working for the weekend.” Not everybody.

This evening I decided to forgo watching television, since I spent two and a half hours last night watching the movie Hamsun, based on the last years of the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Instead I finished the novel I had been reading for the past week: Looking for the Possible Dance by A. L. Kennedy. In recent times I believe that I’ve stated that A. L. Kennedy is my favorite Scottish author, but then I’d have to admit that she’s probably the only Scottish author that I’ve read. I had previously read So I am Glad and Original Bliss and quickly discovered that Kennedy has the uncanny ability to peer into the darkness of human souls and she certainly doesn’t shy away from the violence that sooner or later seeps into all of our lives. Looking for the Possible Dance is her first novel and she already seems to have mastered her ability to lay bare the pain that often accompanies love. I could really feel the sense of desperation in that small Scottish fishing village. Margaret Hamilton, the main character, works at a social centre aiding the unemployed. She was raised by her father, who begins the novel by telling her daughter that the moon looks down on us all and tells us living is the only thing that matters, “everything else is a waste of time.” Margaret is in a constant low level state of mourning for her father, while at the same time trying to shape a relationship with Colin, who hopes to someday marry her. The book jumps back to various points in Margaret’s life while she takes a train from Scotland south to London. It was a wonderful book filled with the tenderness and fragility that make us innately human.

As for Hamsun, the movie I watched last night, it was better than I had hoped for. On the recommendation of my friend Adam, I had read both Pan and Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Hunger is considered by many to be one of the forerunners of modernist fiction, featuring an internal monologue with no plot in the usual sense. I also highly recommend either of these two works. The film Hamsun does a fine job of trying to detail the later years of Hamsun’s life when he gave moral support to Hitler during the Nazi occupation of Norway. It helped to expose the grays between the intense black and white issues of right and wrong. It also has some marvelous acting by Max Von Sydow as Hamsun and the Danish actress Ghita Norby as his wife Marie.

Getting back to Friday and all it’s psychological implications — I actually had a very nice Friday. Jen got home from work this morning declaring that she was able to sleep seven hours while working at the emergency clinic last night. She was feeling so energetic that she decided to take Justin to the Burke Museum in the U-district and then out to lunch. I utilized that time taking a stroll to the library with our dog Molly to pick up some CDs that I had on hold there. Then I drove to Silver Platters and bought the latest discs by Dwight Yoakam (Dwight Sings Buck) and Jim Lauderdale (The Bluegrass Diaries), followed by treating myself to lunch at Marie Callender’s restaurant. Jen and Justin had a good time at the museum, but it wasn’t the most kid friendly of the local museums, so Jen spent a lot of time try to keep Justin from touching the displays.

So now begins the task of picking the next book that I will read. I only have just over two-thousand titles to choose from. I suppose the decision would be easier if I only owned a dozen books, but where would the fun in that be? Will it be The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War, or maybe Everybody Smokes in Hell? Ah, so many books, so little time. The story of my life.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

After Innocence

I watched an excellent documentary last night entitled After Innocence. It details the lives of several men who had been wrongly imprisoned — in some cases up to a couple of decades — and then exonerated through DNA testing and the hard work of some lawyers working for nothing. I wouldn’t exactly say that the lawyers worked for “nothing.” The reality is that they were working for justice and seeking the truth. The fact that they didn’t get paid makes their efforts that much more noble. This film ties in with a play that I saw a few years ago entitled The Exonerated, in which the stories of six former death row prisoners, who were released from prison after their convictions were overturned, are told. I also read Mike Farrell’s memoir a few months back. Besides being an actor (most notably as B. J. Hunnicut in M*A*S*H), Mike Farrell is a human rights activist and a life-long opponent of the death penalty.

The idea of someone being innocent until proven guilty is a fallacy in this country. We as human beings are so quick to judge others, whether it be because of their looks, or their beliefs, or their cultural background. Doughy ignorant citizens are happy enough that the “bad guys” are behind bars. Out of sight, out of mind. I’m sure this type of mentality is the reason that the powers-that-be have recently legalized torture (They did this by changing the definition of torture. Now it’s only torture if the subject is at risk of organ failure or death.) and thrown away the valuable tool called habeas corpus. Doughy ignorant Americans are having their civil rights stripped away right before their eyes, but the magic of misdirection and distraction keeps everyone riveted by the latest reality show with cell phones glued to their ears, and iPods grasped in their sweaty palms. Global warming becomes a ploy by Al Gore for publicity. Complicated international relations just becomes a battle between the good guys (us of course!) and the bad guys (everyone who is not with us.) Somehow it’s become more important for people in this country to attempt to save unborn children and vegetables hooked to life support, rather than actual living breathing humans, who have been shunted aside by our cold dispassionate society.

So, a rambling entry spurred on by the watching of the documentary After Innocence. Tonight I took a break from the stresses of conscientiousness by watching four episodes of The Next Iron Chef. Over the past year I’ve come to enjoy Iron Chef America and this new show is a competition to pick a new Iron Chef.

Well, it’s just past two in the morning and even though I get to sleep in tomorrow . . . tomorrow is now today. I best get some rest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

H. L. Mencken

Tonight I attended the second of five lectures by the Professor David Domke on the subject of religion & politics. I came home with a renewed interest in H. L. Mencken, so for tonight a reprint of "Mencken's Creed":

  • I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind--that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
  • I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious. . .
  • I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
  • I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech . . .
  • I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
  • I believe in the reality of progress.
  • But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
-- Mencken's Creed, cited by George Seldes in Great Thoughts

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Low Biorhythms

My energy level has been much too low lately to stay up at night typing away on my blog. Justin has entered a new phase of whining and crying, especially at bedtime. Jen and I keep saying, “we need to sit down and read a book or two. Figure out some kind of game plan.” When he’s wailing like a banshee at bed time going into his room just seems to exacerbate the situation. Tonight I promised myself that I was not going to go into his room in an attempt to sooth him to sleep. I did go up once after about five minutes of screaming. But after that one time I did not go back up and he actually seemed to fall asleep a little more quickly. It’s just past eleven and he hasn’t woken up whining for attention yet. Because of Justin’s erratic sleeping patterns I haven’t been getting much rest either. Jen is also filling in tonight for her boss, so my time off schedule is screwed up this week.

Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of my first date with Jennifer. She had answered a personal ad that I had placed in the local alternative rag called The Stranger. We met at a restaurant in Bellevue called Twelve Baskets, which I mistakenly thought was a vegetarian restaurant. It was actually a biblically themed restaurant. I think that meant that the dishes were all based on some biblical origin. Lots of fishes and loaves! I remember that the heretic stew was quite good. The previous week I had been talked into attending a Christian singles weekend by a coworker, at a campground in central Washington. Needless to say, I spent most of my time in the woods reading a book. At the first opportunity I left early with someone else, who had to get back to town and pick up their kid. On my first date with Jen at the Christian themed Twelve Baskets, I recognized two women at an adjacent table from the previous singles weekend. I noticed them sneaking looks my way. I wondered if they overheard Jennifer when she proudly exclaimed that she was an atheist. Fourteen years ago. Last night we celebrated with champagne and pumpkin pie

Tomorrow night I’ll be attending the second of five lectures at UW entitled Religion, Politics, and the Modern American Presidency. I believe that professor Domke will be covering the Scopes trial. That should make for an interesting evening. Now I need to creep upstairs past Justin’s crib and hope that he continues to sleep soundly through the night.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Julia Sweeney and Spamalot

Last Saturday evening I saw Julia Sweeney perform her latest monologue entitled Letting Go of God. It took place at a new performing arts center in Bothell, which is actually housed in the local high school. I would have liked to have seen every seat filled, but that wasn’t the case. I didn’t see much publicity ahead of time, but I happened to see a listing for it on I had bought the CD version of the performance earlier in the summer and thought it was brilliant. It’s very funny, but also very poignant at times. Having grown up attending church regularly as a United Methodist protestant, and even considered the clergy at one point, I could relate to Julia Sweeney’s journey out of faith. I have also read through Buddhist texts and studied Native American beliefs on the look out for a belief that felt more comfortable with my own world view. The radio show This American Life did a feature piece on Julia and Letting Go of God and it was one of their most popular shows, generating enormous amounts of e-mail. I had the good fortune of seeing Julia Sweeney speak just last weekend at the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention, which took place in Madison, Wisconsin. If you are not able to catch a live performance of Letting Go of God, the good news is that a film version is now in post production. It’s a wonderful celebration of the mind and what it feels like to be a human in this vast universe.

On Sunday evening Jen and I attended a performance of the road production of Spamalot. I had read all the publicity about this show while it ran on Broadway. It’s based, for the most part, on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the writers did a great job of inserting other elements from Python’s repertoire. They even include the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the film The Life of Brian. I grew up watching Monty Python on my local PBS station and my high school was filled with kids like me, who were constantly quoting lines from the Holy Grail. I remember taking my dad to see it and the fact that he didn't laugh once during the entire film. While the audience was laughing uproariously during the killer rabbit scene he leaned toward me and whispered, This is stupid! I suppose that he was right, but does that lessen the humor? Certainly not for a fourteen-year-old. My dad didn't get the British humor of Monty Python's Flying Circus, but he would guffaw loudly while watching Benny Hill late at night. It was fun to be sitting in the Paramount theatre amidst throngs of other Python fanatics. Spamalot gave a fresh face to our nostalgia for the carefree days of youth. (Which, if any of us take a moment to ponder, we quickly realize was anything but carefree.) For any fan of the Holy Grail this musical adaptation provides over two hours of fun and laughter.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Matter of Taste?

“You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You’ve got peanut butter on my chocolate!” Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have recorded an album together called Raising Sand and it’s produced by T-Bone Burnett. Burnett has become a producing guru like Brian Eno, or Daniel Lanois. Krauss and Plant first worked together at a 2004 Lead Belly tribute. On Raising Sand they sing tunes by writers such as Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, the Everly Brothers and Sam Phillips (wife of T-Bone Burnett.) Somehow the whole thing sounds as if it should have been filed under the “Never Sounded Like a Good Idea in the First Place” category of artistic collaborations. It seems to have been getting good reviews with much praise heaped upon Mr. Burnett. I’ve listened to a few brief clips and I’m not immediately impressed. I prefer Plant’s voice of yore with its high pitched wail. I realize he cannot duplicate those sounds anymore, but somehow this project seems off the mark. Kind of like that album by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Of course, the critics loved that one too. But what the hell do they know? You know that old saying: “Those who can’t do teach. Those who can’t teach become critics.” Recent CD releases on my want list are: Nellie McKay - Obligatory Villagers, Stacey Kent - Breakfast on the Morning Tram, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band - It’s Not Big It’s Large, Dwight Yoakam - Dwight Sings Buck, Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade, and Jim Lauderdale’s The Bluegrass Diaries.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back Home

I arrived back in Seattle just before 6pm on Tuesday, October 16th. Last night I started attending a lecture series at UW called Religion, Politics, and the Modern American Presidency. This lecture series is the reason I'm now reading American Gospel by Jon Meacham. I'm still readjusting to west coast time and to being back in the role of the full time parent at home with my son Justin. I'm sure that I'll have more thoughts on my recent attendance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's annual convention as the days go on. Yesterday I drove north to Third Place Books to pick up a signed copy of Stephen R. Donaldson's latest tome entitled, Fatal Revenant. It's the second of four books in the "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant." The original series is still one of my favorite fantasy tales and I hope to reread them all in the near future. I also bought the latest book by Tom Perrotta, author of Election and Little Children, entitled The Abstinence Teacher. Perrotta continues to probe the lives and mores of middle-class suburbia.

I'd like to close with a recent quote from one of my favorite film directors, David Cronenberg:". . . as an atheist, I believe that your body is you. That's the first and only fact of human existence."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Rainy Sunday

This morning was the members only meeting of the FFRF. It was the last event connected with the convention. Members voted on new board members (all running unopposed.) We also heard financial reports and updates on legal battles. The best news was the FFRF's membership has doubled in the last two years. At the end there was time for an open mike for questions and comments. Of course, there was still some residual anger left over from Hitchens appearance. FFRF is a nonpartisan organization, but it's obvious that the majority of the membership is comprised of liberal minded folks. One complainer compared inviting Hitchens to inviting James Dobson. A comment I found way off the mark. After the meeting I met up with someone from Gig Harbor, Washington, and we went to the Chazen Museum of Art, which is on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. It was quite an impressive museum, especially considering that there was no entry fee. There was a special photographic exhibit called Small Arms: Children of Conflict that was quite moving. Maybe Christopher Hitchens should have taken in that exhibit, but I doubt if it would have changed his mind about bombing innocent citizens. Somehow I think that his intake of Johnnie Walker Red over the years has taken its toll on his compassion. After spending a few hours admiring artwork I went back to my hotel room and slept just over three hours. I'm certainly looking forward to being able to sleep in tomorrow, which is my last full day in town. I think that I may trek on down to the campus again and take in the geology museum there and tomorrow night there's a showing of Superbad at the Orpheum. By Tuesday morning I'll be ready to get back to Seattle to see my family.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hitchens Hits Hard

For the most part, today was the last day of the conference. There is a members only meeting tomorrow morning at 9am to vote on issues relevant to FFRF, but other than that it's over. It has been most inspirational. This morning we began with Ellery Schempp, whose complaint as a high school student led to the landmark Supreme Court decision barring prayer and bible reading from the public schools. He received the "Hero of the First Amendment" award and gave an exceptional and moving acceptance speech. Next up was Matthew LaClair, who is a seventeen-year-old high school student from New Jersey, whose history teacher was proselytizing during class, declaring evolution to be unproven and therefore false, and informing the class that nonbelievers would be going to hell. All of this in history class! Luckily Matt LaClair was smart enough to record his teacher in the act. If only all everyone was as brave as this seventeen-year-old this country would be a lot better off. Matt LaClair was followed by Stephanie Salter, a liberal columnist, who had worked out for the San Francisco Chronicle for a couple of decades and then ended up moving back to her home of Terre Haute, Indiana, when her father took ill. She gave an interesting perspective on being a outspoken supporter of the separation of church and state (even though she herself is a believer and goes to church regularly.) She read a couple of her columns including one about a 50 foot red and white striped cross with a flashing red light on top and the words "Jesus Saves" on it. Somehow, an evangelical church was able to bypass all kinds of laws and restrictions to erect this cross. Ms. Salter was sure that they wouldn't have bent the laws that way to allow a 50 foot tall Mickey Mouse. She suggested how fifty foot tall question mark might be more appropriate. She also has a web site going up about the matter of state sponsored "In God We Trust" license plates that are not considered vanity plates as they should be. I'll put up more information about this when I have time to do the research.

After a break for lunch we returned to Monona Terrace for the main event: Christopher Hitchens. He received the Emperor Has No Clothes award and was, as expected, combative and argumentative, even among the atheist crowd. He likes to push people's buttons and he knew that he was in a room full of liberals. Atheists, but liberals also. He bemoaned the fact that there was no literature for sale on the evils of Islam and told us that we couldn't consider ourselves serious opponents of the dangers of religion without examining Muslim extremists. He's right, but I certainly don't agree with his suggested methods to take care of the problem: bomb Iran back into the stone age. If there are no Muslim children then wouldn't it be wrong to kills thousands of innocent children, because of the backward beliefs of their parents? Hitchens switched from hard left to hard right when the Iraq war began and he hasn't wavered. No comment on Abu Ghraib or the lawlessness of private security contractors. No comment on the jobs handed over to Bush cronies with no experience, whose tasks were to rebuild a country. Yes, Muslim extremists are over the top and Islam is just another false belief, but war breeds war and isn't it about time we started to develop some alternate methods of solving international problems besides death and destruction? Just wondering. After he sparred with questioners, Hitchens sat down to sign books and I stood in line for about ten minutes to get my copies of God is Not Great and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice signed. After the signing I returned to my hotel room to take a brief nap before returning for tonight's dinner and entertainment. I've been on west coast time since I've arrived and haven't been able to get to sleep until at least three in the morning for the last two nights. I don't think I'll have that problem tonight. After dinner the entertainment was Tunes and 'Toons, which was Dan Barker at the piano and Steve Benson (editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic.) It was a lot of fun. The entire convention has been a lot of fun and I think I've finally have found a club that I would want to be a member of (to misquote Groucho Marx.) I feel comfortable among these independent freethinkers and found everyone to be very kind and engaging. I've met lawyers, doctors, lobbyists, ex-boxers and ex-priests. I think I may have found my calling.

It's nearly midnight here and even though I don't think I've had eight hours of sleep in the past 48 hours I wanted to jot down some thoughts about today. Currently the Red Sox and the Indians have just gone into extra innings with the score tied at 6-6. I've already predicted to my dad that the Red Sox will go on to win the World Series in 5 games. Let's see if I'm right. Now I've got to get some rest.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Convention Begins

Tonight was the official opening of the 30th annual FFRF convention. Earlier in the day there was an open house at the FFRF offices, but before going to that I spent an hour in the Madison public library reading American Gospel by Jon Meacham. It was a pleasant time and I may end up going back there tomorrow just to find some quiet space to read. Once I got to the open house there was quite a crowd waiting to get in. While waiting in line to enter the building I struck up a conversation with a gentleman named Bill, who had driven up from Illinois for the event. Once inside it became a little awkward moving through the small building balancing small plates of food. I grabbed a cup of punch, but skipped the free food. (Can you believe it?) I ended up in the library upstairs talking to Bill about politics and the history of the Middle East. Heavy stuff. I left after about an hour and on the way back to the hotel I stopped at Capitol Kids to pick up a little something for Justin. At first I thought I'd get him something that represented Wisconsin, but all they seemed to have in that respect was a Wisconsin football jersey, or a stuffed badger wearing a football jersey. I ended up getting him a shirt with an elephant on it and a small plastic elephant to go with it. I was a little dismayed when I saw that the price of the shirt was $23 yet it was made in Vietnam. Somehow I don't think the wages of the textile workers in Vietnam merit the exorbitant price.

This evening conference events started at 7pm, so I left the hotel about 5pm and went to a bar & grill called Nick's for a chicken gyro. I was surprised when it arrived on my plate deconstructed. I'm used to eating my gyro like a sandwich, but I ended up using a fork. I couldn't finish the fries, because they were quite rich . . . as if they were fried in lard. Tasted damn good though. After dinner I walked to the Monona Terrace where the evening's events were taking place. I had a little time to browse the freethinker products on sale and picked up a copy of Dan Barker's book Losing Faith in Faith and Katha Pollitt's Death or Virginity. Ms. Pollitt was the first speaker after some musical entertainment provided by Dan Barker and local jazz singer Susan Hofer. Katha Pollitt was very inspiring and political. In fact, she stated at the beginning of her talk that she wanted to be hopeful for a change, because a lot of good things have happened for secularists in the past couple of years with no small thanks to FFRF. Julia Sweeney was up next and first she commented on an item that Katha Pollitt had mentioned. Katha Pollitt talked a little about the ineffectiveness of abstinence programs and one of the programs she mentioned was the "silver ring thing." This is someone's ridiculous idea of having teenagers wear a silver ring to signify their virgin status and they are only to take the ring off once they are married. Julia's comment was "How hot would it be for a teenager to have sex while wearing the silver ring? Didn't they learn anything from those Catholic school girl uniforms?" After the talks I stood in line to get a couple of items signed by Julia Sweeney and Katha Pollitt. I mentioned to Julia that I'd be seeing her perform Letting Go of God in Bothell next week. She replied that a friend asked her, "where are you performing? In a brothel?" She commented on the copy of Dan Barker's book that I had in my hands, talking about a particular moment when he is lying back on his bed contemplating the whole idea of disbelief. I then had Katha Pollitt sign her book Virginity or Death. In her talk she had mentioned going to communist summer camp and I told her that my wife had had a similar childhood. I told her who my father-in-law is and she said, "Oh, I get e-mails from Clark all the time!" Small world. Once I had my items signed (I also found Dan Barker and he signed my copy of his book) I made my way over to the tables to have a piece of cake. By chance I ended up sitting by a woman from Capitol Hill in Seattle. We had a nice conversation. In fact, I was so involved with being social that I left my signed copies of Losing Faith in Faith and Virginity or Death on the table in the convention center. My only hope is that someone found the books and noticed that they are both signed "to Mark" and turned them into lost and found. I'll be back at Monona Terrace tomorrow for more events, so I'll check then. There was a time when that little mishap would have me beating myself up for the rest of the evening, but somehow it just doesn't seem that important.

When I had gotten back to the hotel I met the gentlemen from Gig Harbor, who I had met the first night, coming out of the hotel restaurant. He told me that he and Christopher Hitchens were the only patrons in there and he was sitting there with a copy of Hitchens' book. He contemplated asking Hitchens to sign it, but thought that would be intruding. These nonbelievers are so damn considerate. That's why somehow I think that the books that left behind will be turned in to lost and found. He then told me that Hitchens was in currently in the bar (who would have guessed?) I went to my room and deposited my stuff and then head back down to the bar with visions of a pint of Guinness in my head. Unfortunately, the bar was packed and there was an annoying jazz band filling the room with sound. I think that I did spot Mr. Hitchens at a table by himself. In fact, he looked up as I was scanning the room for a seat. I decided to pass on the bar and went downtown in search of a quiet spot to enjoy a stout. I soon realized that there is no quiet pub on a Friday night in a college town. I was soon back in my hotel room, setting my alarm clock for 7am, so that I can go downstairs for the non-prayer breakfast tomorrow morning. I have to admit that I wish I was flying home a day or two earlier than Tuesday morning. I suppose that I can head back to the public library for some quiet time. There is also the geology museum and the museum of modern art that interest me, so I have some options.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Spotted Cow

I have landed safely in Madison. Jennifer got me to the airport by nine this morning and my flight didn't leave until 10:44, which meant that I didn't have to rush around like a crazy commuter. After finding my window seat I was slightly dismayed when a rather large older women sat in the aisle seat and plunked her hefty bible (the "red letter" edition) on the seat between us. Here I am on my way to an atheist's convention and I'm seated next to a full-fledged Christian. Fortunately for me the middle seat was filled by a rather hirsute gentlemen, who played solitaire on his cell phone the entire flight. I had about an hour layover at O'Hare until the small jet plane left for Madison. Soon we were taxiing out of the terminal, but we soon stopped and the captain announced that something was wrong with his chair and we would need to return to the terminal to allow a technician to board the plane and make the necessary repairs. I don't think the captain's chair was reclining, or something. After an hour delay we were on our way to the "Berkeley of the Midwest." I'm told that's how they refer to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Upon arriving I called the hotel from the courtesy phone, but I needn't have worried, because about three or four other passengers had already called for transport and the shuttle bus arrived at the airport within five minutes. Check-in was quick and easy and I was soon in the Ovations restaurant on the first floor of the hotel waiting for a someone to pay attention to me. My waitress finally arrived and apologized for leaving me hanging. I ordered a local beer on tap called Spotted Cow, which was quite good, although I had to dispose of the lemon wedge that accompanied my glass. For dinner I ordered roasted chicken breast with a chutney topping and rosemary polenta. I guess the presentation was what made the dish worth $18, because I was still hungry after the meal. I stopped at the bar (which is called The Bar) and ordered one more Spotted Cow, while I continued to read Angels Flight. The bar was cursed with two TVs. One was stuck on the weather channel and the other was obviously glued to a sports channel. A table near me was filled with four women of Indian descent. There's something about an Indian accent. I could have sat there and listened to them talk all night. Another table was filling up with wine drinking men in business suits. I also realized that the bar menu was more suitable to my tastes: burgers, fries and pizza. But that's for next time. I left the bar after one beer with about ten pages left to read. I got up to my room about ten o'clock and the message light on the phone was flashing. Jen had already called and left me a message. I think she was hoping that I would get to talk to Justin on the phone before she put him to bed, but no luck. I called her back, but the phone info in the room states that an average 4 minute long distance call costs about $7.80, so I think I have to have Jen call me back next time to save a few dollars.

I met one gentlemen from Gig Harbor on the shuttle bus to the hotel that is here to attend the FFRF convention. We chatted some on the ride to the hotel. This is his second convention. He attended last year's event in San Francisco. While I was eating dinner I couldn't help overhearing the elderly woman in the hat at the adjacent table, who was talking on her cell phone during my entire meal. She was talking about the FFRF convention, the latest insane rant by Ann Coulter, and the fact that she was on her third glass of Shiraz and hadn't decided what to order for dinner yet. She was the main reason that I decided to take my second beer at the bar, rather than in the restaurant.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the first official day of the convention. It starts off with an open house at the FFRF building, where I hear that there will be complimentary hors d'ouevres and desserts. How can I resist?

Madison on the Horizon

I'm leaving for the airport in about fifteeen minutes. This evening I'll be in Madison, where I'll be staying for the next five nights. I'm expecting to have time to blog from there, so I'll catch up with this then.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Red Sox and Religion

It’s nearly a quarter past eleven on a Friday night. Tonight I split my attention between the Red Sox winning their second straight game of the playoffs and finishing the Christopher Hitchens book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It was a fine book, as far as anti-religious screeds go. It’s the third books that I’ve read of the so-called “big four.” The other three being The End of Faith by Sam Harris, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett. The last title is the only one so far that I haven’t read. I might get to that weighty treatise early next year. The evening after my return from Madison I’ll be starting a Wednesday night lecture series entitled: Religion, Politics, and the Modern American Presidency. In addition to a packet of relevant excerpts and articles, there are a number of books recommended by the professor. I’ve picked up a couple of the titles including American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham. It was only a week or so ago that I saw Mr. Meacham debating Mr. Hitchens on a show moderated by Tim - “What’s your favorite bible verse?”- Russert. Meacham’s book is purportedly a evenhanded history of religion’s role in the shaping of our nation. I’ve seen him on a number of shows and he seems to be a pleasant enough guy . . . for a believer. All of the books that are recommended for the lectures seem to take a unbiased view of the subject and I suppose that’s pretty much mandatory in a university setting (contrary to the ravings of David Horowitz.)

The Saturday evening after my return from the FFRF convention in Madison I have a ticket to see Julia Sweeney perform her latest monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I listened to the CD recording of it recently and, yes, I laughed and cried. I have a lot of the same sentiments that she has had along this journey to unbelief. She’ll be speaking on Friday night of the convention, and the latest news is that they will be showing the soon-to-be-released DVD of “Letting Go of God” after her speech. That showing will be from 10:45pm to 12:34am, so I may take a pass since I will be seeing her perform it live the following weekend. My life has recently become busy and, more importantly, full of thought provoking ideas. The effect of parenting and possibly the prospect of reaching 50 years of age. Whatever the cause, I’m enjoying the effects.

Sometimes it’s difficult to give up what little solace I have in an evening, so instead I stay up much too late reading, writing, or trying to catch up on my movie watching. Justin was quite cranky after going to bed tonight, basically whining for about an hour and a half before dropping off for any length of time. When he woke up screaming at ten o’clock, I decided to give him some Motrin. He’s still congested from this cold that we’ve all been battling over the past week. I’m going to miss the little guy while I’m away next week. Oh, you can be sure that I’ll enjoy the solitude and peacefulness of that first night, but I’ll soon miss his smile and quirky antics that usually fill my day. Maybe I’ll be lucky and he’ll finish up any serious teething that needs to be done while I’m away. I can dream can’t I?

I think the next book I’ll read will be Michael Connelly’s Angels Flight. It’s another in his Harry Bosch series and I’ve been reading them in order over the years. In the last installment Harry got married in Las Vegas to a former FBI agent that Harry himself had sent to jail at one time. Of course, in the start of Angels Flight the marriage is already on the skids. Surprise, surprise! Any reader of the series knows that Hieronymus Bosch is destined to be a loner. It’s the nature of the hard boiled thriller. I’m in need of some serious escapism after some of my recent reading, and looking ahead at what I’ll be reading in the near future. This book may even last me through my flight next Thursday.

This is a photo I snapped of Justin during our recent trip to Vancouver Island.

October’s Rainy Entrance

Summer is over. It’s like a giant switch has been pulled and we are now immersed in the rainy gray season. This lasts until late next spring, with a sunny respite usually appearing for a short stretch at the beginning of the year. I used to be able to depend on a few hours of playtime for Justin in the backyard, but now I have to get creative. We’ll both go bonkers if we’re forced to stay in this house during the dark season. We’ve now all officially been afflicted with our first cold of the season. Actually, Jen and I have been hit harder by the bug than Justin has. Maybe it’s because he eats more vegetables than we do. My cold started off as a headache beginning just hours before I was to see Jethro Tull last Sunday evening. This headache was centered at the occipital area of my skull. It dissipated enough by show time, so that I was able to enjoy the concert that evening. Well, as much as you can enjoy a troupe of sixty-somethings, playing prog-rock that’s nearly forty years old. And Ian Anderson’s voice seems to have suffered over the years. He seemed to be struggling to get the notes out. Maybe they should have turned his microphone up.

I haven’t posted on this blog in a week. I think part of the reason for that is that I’m thinking instead of writing. I’m mulling things over. A week from tonight I’ll be asleep within the walls of the Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. My reason for being there is the 30th convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It’s a foundation that works to ensure the separation of church and state in this country through legal action and activism. Appearing at this upcoming event will be Julia Sweeney, Katha Pollitt and featured speaker Christopher Hitchens, who will be receiving the “Emperor Has No Clothes Award.” I’m about fifty pages from finishing Hitchens’ diatribe entitled God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

As I said, I’ve been mulling all of this stuff over and I’m still trying to come up with the words to describe what my thoughts about all of it is. The debate about religion is as old as the practice itself, but it feels fresh to me. I grew up going to Sunday school and church every week until I was about sixteen years old. It was not too long after I was confirmed a member of the church that I began the see the membership was rife with hypocrisy, behaving in one manner on Sunday and differently through the rest of the week. I began to realize that the practice of religion — or at least the United Methodist version of Christianity that I was accustomed to — was no guarantee of ability of one to lead a “good life.” Pastors — right along with their believers — were human and hence fallible.

The final break from organized religion for me involved a meeting with an air force chaplain, who told me that he believed Jesus Christ would have no problem working on a nuclear missile site. I didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit into his smug visage. Instead I left his office quietly with his list of scripture passages to read. Stuff about following orders and respecting authority. You know, bullshit. I started to compile my own collection of biblical quotes to counter his position, but alas, we never had another meeting. From there I went on to read about the religious practices and rituals of Native Americans and that led to studying Buddhism. It’s only been within the past year that I’ve ventured into the literature of skepticism and it’s been quite enlightening. I’ve learned more about the actual contents of the bible than I ever had while a member of the church.

I could go on all night in this vein, but I’d rather ruminate on these ideas a while longer. I will go so far as to state that I’m agnostic about the existence of any type of supernatural being. I consider myself a “freethinker,” unfettered by dogma and able to pursue the true nature of the world around me without the filters of some ancient tribal superstitions. But that’s just me. So rather than stay up all night blathering on about this, I’ll end with some banalities

I got myself out to a matinee showing of Jodie Foster’s latest flick, The Brave One. Jodie plays intense better than just about any actor out there today. Sometimes that intensity is misplaced, so it takes just the right vehicle for it to work. The Brave One is a fine piece of filmmaking by Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy to name but a few of his other films), but I’m still wrestling with the theme of vigilantism. I think it’s trying to be Death Wish with a conscience, but it doesn’t quite succeed. I’m hoping that while I’m in Madison next week I’ll have a chance to see a movie or two. On my to see list are: 3:10 to Yuma, Into the Wild, In the Valley of Elah, and I still wouldn’t mind catching the latest Bourne film while it’s still in the theaters.

As I’ve been writing this my soundtrack has been songs of the old west, or at least of western themes from film and TV. Marty Robbins and Tex Ritter. Eddy Arnold and Gene Autry. The mournful yodeling makes me want to be out on the vast prairie with a crackling fire to keep the dark night at bay. Coyotes yip and howl and in the distance I hear the rattle a train rolling over its tracks. A star-filled evening when the struggles of existence seem but a distant memory.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Mundane

I've just spent the last hour and a half flipping back and forth between watching the Mariners game and the Republican debate moderated by Tavis Smiley. The debate was most notable for the candidates who chose not to appear: John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. All of the — so called — front runners. I like a lot of what Ron Paul has to say. He's a former presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party and I agree with a lot of their principles. He cannot call himself a true Libertarian though, because he's fervently anti-choice. He is against the war though (and the whole damn military industrial complex!) and he's believes the war on drugs is a ridiculous and failed policy. So he's semi-sane. As opposed to Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter and Alan Keyes. They're all around the bend. I picture Duncan Hunter in his den with a glass a scotch in his fist, watching the Military Channel late into the night, growling at the eternal enemies of the televised war. When I was in the service we used to call his type "ate up." Alan Keyes . . . even he was surprised they let him in the door. Sam Brownback strikes me as phony and pious. Besides the fact that the evangelicals love him, which immediately gives him a black mark in my book. Oh yeah, I keep a book. Tom Tancredo? Oh, don't get me started on him. And then there's Mike Huckabee. I like the guy. Oh, I've read some things about him that would immediately put him out of the running in my book. But he's very likable and he talks a good talk. He also pardoned Keith Richards, so he can't be all bad.

And then there's the Democrats. Ugh! Would somebody cull the herd already. If only the — so called — front runners in that party would fail to show up to a few debates we might actually hear something interesting. Let Hillary and John and, yes even Barack, stay home for an evening and watch the fiasco called an electoral process that American citizens are subjected to. I caught the very end of the Democratic debate on MSNBC moderated by chubby Tim Russert. He asked the last question with much seriousness and gravity: There's been a lot of discussion about the Democrats and the issue of faith and values. I want to ask you a simple question . . . What is your favorite bible verse? I was aghast. I was waiting for someone to mention the verse about stoning women for being rape victims (Deut. 22:21), or the one about killing 50,000 innocent persons because a few looked into a box (1 Sam. 6:19.) Tim is of course referring the media's obsession with the idea that somehow only the Republican party can truly represent Christians. Imagine that! What does that tell you about the perception of Christians in this country? Republicans are constantly rewarding the richest and whitest among us. So much for not being able to get that camel through the eye of the needle, heh? When it comes to crime and endless war they're downright bloodthristy; but somehow calling a microscopic clump of cells a human being justifies a "culture of life." Sam Brownback used that exact phrase tonight during the debate on PBS.

I voted for Kerry in the last election and I still wake up in a cold sweat sometimes because of that. The Democratic Party hasn't had a candidate I liked since Jimmy Carter. Oh, along the way you may see Tom Harkin, or Dennis Kucinich, or yes, even Howard Dean. Someone not so greased up already by the corporate powers that actually run this country. But those "fringe" candidates are winnowed out of the field pretty quickly. I think the problem is the two party system. That and the fact the elections are not publicly financed. I'm still amazed that mainstream Democrats still blame Ralph Nader, because we now have that bumbling fascist in charge, stripping away our civil rights left and right. Somehow it's Ralph's fault that the supreme court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and many other longstanding landmarks of justice. Brown v. the Board of Education maybe? I'll probably return to the Green Party or Libertarian Party for the big elections, or write in someone with some sense of reason.

Oh, I believe the Mariners won. They were leading 4 to 1 the last time I peeked. Baseball has a very long season, and although the Mariners have had their best season in years, I'm ready to take a break from being a sports fan. Everyone on the team had a decent year, except for, um . . .Richie Sexson. Maybe Richie should have chosen his other dream of being a C.I.A. agent.

My son Justin has been teething for at least a week now. I think he has one of those horse-sized molars coming. (All the better to bite me with!) This means that he is up much of the night, whining and writhing. When he napped this afternoon I took advantage and did the same myself. I gave him a bath just before bed tonight. I always hope that will induce a more restful sleep, but that seems to be wishful thinking on my part. There's no shortage of that. As I was getting him dressed in his PJ's he leaned forward and bit me on the shoulder. I picture that moment from the beginning of the Dawn of the Dead remake, when the little girl next door rips a chunk out of the guy's shoulder. This wasn't that bad, but I don't want to encourage it. Maybe Justin has just a little vampire blood running through his veins. The biting and nighttime waking? I think I have some garlic in the kitchen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Misty Morning

This morning I had time to finish reading Bearing the Body by Ehud Havazelet. It was a decent first novel, but it didn't quite live up to the promise given in Francine Prose's review. On the plus side: it was the seventh book from the library that I've read this year. This is a good trend that I want to keep up, but so far it hasn't slowed my book buying. I just manage to find other books to buy. My next read is already chosen: God Is Not Great by Christohper Hitchens. I've feel like I've read my fill of atheist polemics over the past year, but I'll be seeing Hitchens speak in a couple of weeks, so I thought I should have his book digested by then.

Tonight Jen and I will be going to the Mariners game. They only have six games left, so we're getting in just under the wire. I was lucky enough to be invited to a game earlier in the year, but Jen hasn't been to a game in a while. We'll be dropping Justin off at our friends house and picking him up after the game. We just need to promise to babysit their son Daniel in the next week or so.

Yesterday I attended a matinee showing of David Cronenberg's latest film, Eastern Promises. I had a pretty good impression of the nature of the film going in, and it didn't do anything to exceed my expectations. I would have to say that I enjoyed it slightly more than The History of Violence, but the film seemed to have a cold heart at its center and the storyline of the Russian mob operating in London doesn't present anything new to the viewer. The film's mood is punctuated by Cronenberg's scenes of ultra-violence, but there was no passion between the scenes of brutality and blood to elicit any empathy from me for the characters passing by on the screen.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Music of Aging

For the past month or so — really since getting my haircut — I’ve been listening regularly to the Scorpions, a German heavy metal band. I owned a copy of their album Blackout when I was 20 years and serving my last year in the air force. But I wasn’t really into heavy metal music back then. My collection at the time leaned heavily towards punk and new wave with bands like the Clash, Jam, Plasmatics, Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Human League, the Ramones, Sham 69, Bram Tchaikovsky, and others. At the time I was stationed at Grand Forks in North Dakota, which is also a university town, so they had a couple of well stocked record stores. You never heard punk music on the radio out there on the prairie, but you could buy it in town.

Just before adopting Justin I was only listening to jazz and expanding my knowledge greatly in the musical genre thanks to my local library. Jazz and Frank Zappa. For some reason I could put on Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction Sessions, close my eyes and all my cares and woes would drift away like the autumn leaves. I remember moving all 30 of the Frank Zappa albums that I owned into my office, so that I would have them close at hand. To some (like my wife) this type of music is a cacophony, but the seemingly chaotic music worked to counter my own inner turmoil.

Over the years I’ve listened to everything from twangy country to hardcore punk. Free-form jazz to big hair heavy metal music. I have a few thousand albums in my collection and there really is a little bit of everything in there. I could be in the mood to hear Tony Bennett’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore one minute and then the Scorpions' Another Piece of Meat the next. There is part of me though, that worries that listening to the Scorpions…and Kansas, and Deep Purple, and Alice Cooper is some sort of latent nostalgia rising towards the surface of my psyche as I lurch towards the age of 50.
It’s less than four years until I turn 50 years old; and I think that I’m pushing any symbolic significance of the date aside, partly by planning a return trip to Europe. Justin will have just turned five-years-old, so I think that he would have fun seeing some of the sights of northern Europe. If you know me you know that I’m not the kind of person who will be having a big mid-life birthday bash. At the time I was about to turn 40 I was living in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and feeling like a man without a country (not that that’s changed much.) I dreaded the thought of celebrating that significant birthday (even though I didn’t personally believe in the significance) in Massachusetts. Instead I came up with the idea of flying down to Jamaica for a few days of sun and fun. What better way to celebrate the fact that I was a few days closer to death? So, on my 40th birthday Jen and I were floating in a saltwater pool on the cliffs of Negril under a full moon. It reminds me — and it probably did at the time — of the first trip that Jen and I took to the Olympic Hot Springs. I’ve had my moments in paradise. That can be stated unequivocally.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sidney-By-The-Sea II

Yesterday was pretty much a blur. I know that I started off the day on Vancouver Island in the beautiful province of British Columbia, or as their promos say "Super Natural" British Columbia. The trip was a lot of fun and a nice little break. Three nights counts as a "break," not a vacation. For the most part we stayed in the little town of Sidney. The first night Jen exclaimed, "It's like Mayberry." And I naturally replied, "I know . . . I love it!" Would there be any question? Nine bookstores in a tiny seaside town? Jen informed me at one point that she had overheard someone observing that "Sidney was for newlyweds and nearly-deads."

Anyway, as I had stated in yesterday's entry, we hit a couple of the bookstores on the first day. That was after having lunch at Smitty's, which seems to be Canada's version of Denny's. Breakfast, lunch or dinner served all day. I had their special, a grilled chicken club. I don't think the term "special" could be applied to it. They also get another demerit for serving ice tea pre sweetened. I would expect that in Alabama, but not in the Great White North. Justin rejected his bacon and eggs, but devoured a bowl of fruit. And Jen seemed to enjoy her waffles. So, that was Smitty's.

After stopping downtown to purchase books, we returned to the Cedarwood Inn, where Justin and Jennifer proceeded to nap while I delved back into Sophie's World. That evening we ate at Theo's Greek restaurant, where we had also dined the first night. We had the same waitress again, who proceeded to sit us at the table we had the previous night. I switched from chicken to steak this time. I rarely eat beef, but this time I threw caution to the wind. Maybe just to see if I could still swallow the cooked muscle of a cow. I will not mention the desirability of the crew of waitresses dressed in black. Some things are better left unsaid. For legal reasons and marital stability. Just don't ask me what happened that time in Tucson.

On Tuesday we got out of our suite at about ten in the morning. (Notice how I said "suite" and not "room"? Picture the inside of a hunting cabin decorated in the 70's, but it has a microwave and cable TV.) After stopping to dump forty-seven dollars worth of gasoline into the Forester's tank, we drove south to Bucthart Gardens by way of the Butterfly Gardens. I always smirk when I see that I have to walk through a gift shop to get in or out of any kind of exhibit, but the Butterfly Gardens were impressive. Humid, but impressive. I think I lost five pounds in there. The majority of the specimens were from the tropics of South America, so the conditions had to be reproduced. Justin was asleep when we arrived, so we just transferred him to the stroller and went through the gardens. He awoke as we were exiting through the gift shop. We just had to go back through, so that he could stare agape at the varieties of butterfly. We then drove a few miles down the road to Butchart Gardens, which is set off in the woods. Lunch was our first priority and then, as we started to walk through the one hundred year old gardens, we realized that Justin would have to be constrained to the stroller, so that he would not pick rare orchids and otherwise trash the place. The gardens were quite crowded for an overcast September day in the middle of the week. I shuddered to think what it was like on a weekend in midsummer. The colors and contours of the gardens were alluring and all the more so on an overcast day. I pushed Justin through the paths, pausing occasionally to snap a photo. I couldn't help fantasizing having the whole place to myself on a cool fall evening. It just had this air of serenity, even with all the humans milling about. As we left I was able to avoid the gift shop by taking responsibility for Justin outside in the courtyard. Away from small breakable objects. As Justin and I loitered by a large water wheel, an older gentleman and his wife — whose combined ages probably hovered around 165 — came up to admire the mechanical wonder. The gentleman sported a faded blue sea captain's hat and a collection of broken blood vessels across his nose. He proceeded to talk to me about how amazing it was how little water it took to power the immense wooden wheel. Meanwhile, I was trying to prevent Justin from cracking his skull against the surrounding stone wall as he clambered over a bench. At one point the jovial older man's wife chimed in with a good humored barb at his expense and he complained, "You're always giving me a hard time." She replied with a poke in his ribs, "You used to enjoy it!" It brought a smile to lips, as I also watched my young son just beginning his own journey full of wonder and curiosity.

Upon leaving Butchart Gardens we decided to return to Sidney by the back way. This took us through the farm country and reservation areas that were spread along the northern side of the Saanich Peninsula. By the time we arrived back at the Cedarwood we were all quite exhausted and slept until the early evening, arising in time to dine at Carlo's Mexican Cantina in downtown Sidney. This will become known as the night we discovered how much Justin likes sour cream. After our meal we spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the inn, reading and filling in sudoku puzzles, while Justin slept. It wasn't until we decided to go to bed that he awoke with a glint in his eye. He wasn't fussy so much as giddy. Yes, giddy. Usually I can use my stern voice and command "lay down and get to sleep," and amazingly Justin usually falls over and goes to sleep. But this particular night he just laughed at me. That's right, he laughed!

Wednesday morning we arrived at the ferry terminal approximately 90 minutes before departure to deal with ticketing and customs. About halfway through our ferry route they stopped for a man overboard drill. Many people got up to watch the practice run. I remained in place, enjoying some reading time with a view of Mount Baker poking through the clouds. Jen and Justin were both napping in the car below decks and I had a chance to start reading Bearing the Body. The return trip was a straight trip to Anacortes (not counting the pause for the man overboard drill.) When we arrived in port we had to drive through U.S. customs for the second time that morning. The usual questions: How long was your stay? Where are you from? Any alcohol or tobacco? Do you kiss on the first date? Evidently, I passed the test because we were soon on the road back to Seattle.

So that's the meandering version of our three night stay in Sidney on Vancouver Island. I'm getting a little bleary-eyed and it's late. But first:

I was rereading The Story of Ferdinand to Justin today and occurred to me — not for the first time — that I longed to be Ferdinand the bull. Let the others run and butt heads. I'd rather recline beneath my favorite cork tree not be bothered with the need to succeed (whatever that is.) I also realized that the book wasn't being entirely honest. When Ferdinand enters the bullring it reads, "He wouldn't fight and be fierce no matter what they did." But it fails to mention that that includes him having his muscle pierced with lances and barbed sticks to get him fired up for the big finale. But because Ferdinand is a avowed pacifist he gets to return to the shade of his beloved cork tree to to while away the hours smelling the flowers in field otherwise filled with cow dung.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


We just got back from our three night stay on Vancouver island late this afternoon, so I don't have much energy to put into a serious entry tonight. You would think that I planned on vacationing at a spot that has more bookstores per capita than any other town in Canada, but it just worked out that way. Sidney is a small town, so it's nine bookstores easily give it that distinction. I had one brief hour to investigate two of the bookstores: Beacon Books, which carried used titles and Tanner Books, which was a selection of new books and a wall of magazines. I found a couple of used books worth getting at Beacon: a Modern Library paperback edition of Jude the Obscure, one of my all-time favorite books; and a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which has been on my "must get" list for a while. At Tanner Books I was hoping to find the posthumous release by Carl Sagan called The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search For God, but instead I walked out with a copy of something called Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life. Can you spot the trend in my recent reading selections? And speaking of Philosophy: I finished reading Sophie's World on my last night in Sidney. Jen sat in an adjacent chair (a Lazy Boy) doing Sudoku puzzles all night, while I finished the heady tome. Now I'm into a recent novel that I got from the library called Bearing the Body by Ehud Havazelet. I was persuaded by a review in the NY Times written by Francine Prose. She positively gushed over Havazelet's first novel and it sounded like it contained some of my favorite themes: loss, desperation, desire, redemption and so forth. A dark journey of the soul. In other words, a light read.

I just finished watching a Polish black comedy entitled Day of the Wacko (I prefer the original Polish title: Dzien Swira.) I'm still undecided as to my opinion. The main character was very annoying, but his neuroses were the central theme of the film. I also think I missed some of the humor, because I'm not more acquainted with modern Polish culture.

Well, I'm fading fast. Maybe tomorrow I'll have more time to devote to this trivial exercise.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Sweatin' to the Oldies"

All this housework! Vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, doing dishes, folding laundry and just generally picking up crap. All so that we can leave for Vancouver Island tomorrow morning, knowing that our house is clean. The other reason is that we have house-sitters, and we wouldn't want them to live for three days in our filthy house. If only the cats would pull their weight!

I can see my wife and I trying to use the power of positive thinking: We will be relaxed on vacation...we will be relaxed on vacation. At least Jen will not have to go to work the evening we get back. Even though she only works three nights a week, sometimes it seems like too much. Of course she work nights and those shifts are 14 hours long. I know that I wouldn't want to be the one performing a C-section on a dog at three in the morning . . . Maybe an ear lavage, but not a C-section.

I had the wrong music on while I was cleaning: The Pat Metheny Group (you may have heard them while watching the Weather Channel.) It's much too relaxing to be mopping floors by. I had the overwhelming urge to plop down on the couch with a big old glass of Merlot (Yeah, right!) Well, now that the cleaning is done I plan to pop a movie in the DVD player, while I pack my bag. I just realized tonight that Jen has recently claimed my travel bag. Something about "not being able to find" hers. Hmmm. I either have to crawl through the wreckage of what is our garage on a quest to find her bag, or settle for a smaller pack. Hmmm. I think I can pack fairly lightly, as long as there is room for a couple of books, the iPod known as Existenz, external speakers for said iPod, portable DVD player, a few DVDs such as Bob Newhart and Eddie Izzard, appropriate wiring and headphones for all audio and video devices, camera, binoculars, sunglasses, reading glasses, a few recent Sunday crossword puzzles, appropriate pens, clothing for three days, toiletries and other sundries. Whew! So, I should back away from the computer and begin to compile the items listed above.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Mariners Win!

This is the Mariners third straight win. One might even call this a winning streak. It was another very good game too, with the score being 1 to 1 in the 9th. Felix pitched finished eight innings, garnered 8 strikeouts and gave up the one run on an RBI single in his last inning of work. Tampa Bay's James Shields also pitched an impressive game. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, their bull pen has an ERA over 6.00. It was a sweet win. I'm looking for to the game that Jen and I will be attending at the end of the month. I don't think that they'll be in the running for any post season glamour this year, but they've had a good season. Their best in years. Especially considering that Mike Hargrove walked out as manager nearly halfway through the season. I think he needed to stop and smell the roses a little more often and the intense baseball schedule was getting in the way. He's probably in his R.V. right now, tooling on down the highway.

My friend Adam called yesterday and asked if I might be interested in taking the kids to the Woodland Park Zoo today. Justin's calendar was clear today, so at about 9:30 this morning we were heading to the zoo. Justin has been there a few times, but I've only been there a few times to attend concerts on the lawn (Steve Earle & Pink Martini . . . separate shows.) I found that I had to put up an emotional wall while chauffeuring Justin from habitat to habitat. I've always found zoos depressing, especially the primate exhibits. I was shocked that they have a snow leopard at Woodland Park. The snow leopard is one of the most elusive animals known to man. And they have one captive. The animal was nowhere to be seen. I was happy after-the-fact that we had bypassed the elephant exhibit. I would have been reminded of Hansa's death earlier in the summer and my emotional wall would have crumbled, or at least fractured a little.

I have one more day to clean the house before we leave for Vancouver Island on Sunday. Jen did quite a bit of cleaning today (bless her heart) before collapsing and getting some sleep before work tonight. We have friends house-sitting during our short vacation, otherwise I wouldn't be so concerned about the neatness of my surroundings. Justin can so quickly erase an afternoon with of picking up and straightening. I was happy to find out that the town where we'll be staying, Sidney-by-the-Sea, has more bookstores per capita than any other town in Canada. I could always use a few more books. There's also a bug museum in Victoria. It's right down the street from the wax museum. I don't think Justin or Jennifer would enjoy the wax museum as much as I would. There's something about those life-like figurines that is so . . . meltable. Having Justin along limits us to a certain amount of outdoor free-form activity. He's under two and still in diapers, so afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress is out. For Justin, as long as he can wander about picking up various rocks and sticks then he is a happy human. Myself? Just give me reading time and plenty of it.

Movies That I Watch Again and Again and Again . . .
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939) - I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this classic. I used to be able to recite it line for line along with the film, but thanks to many hours spent with a therapist I don't do that any more. But if I were King of the Forest . . .
  • Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) - Don't even talk to me about the remake. This was after Burton had the unmitigated gall to remake the original Planet of the Apes. WTF? The original film has great music by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. It has one of Gene Wilder's greatest performances. And I have the memory of seeing it at the Drive-in when I was but a wee child.
  • Contact (1997) - My favorite Robert Zemeckis film (Yes, I enjoyed it more than Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Romancing the Stone.) I love Jodie Foster as the impassioned astronomer Ellie Arroway with her quest to make the ultimate long distance call. I have to admit thought, that I get more and more annoyed with Matthew McConaughey every time I watch this film. I was a fan of the original novel by Carl Sagan and I thought Zemeckis did a nice job with the adaptation.
  • Groundhog Day (1993) - It drives my wife crazy that I watch a movie over and over again that is about a man living the same day over and over again. It's also about self-redemption and the value of Right Action. Bill Murray is brilliant as the acerbic and melancholic Phil Connors (Yeah, like the groundhog Phil), with outstanding comic support from Chris Elliot and Stephen Tobolowsky. I still laugh enough to blow milk out my nose every time Phil Connors gets hit in the head with a passing snow shovel, while standing at the payphone . . . that's if I drank milk.
  • The Bridges of Madison County (1995) - Yes, I've heard that the book is laughably bad, but whatever the book may be like, it inspired a wonderful movie scripted by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Unstrung Heroes, and Living Out Loud, which he also directed.) and directed with subtlety by Clint Eastwood. It also has yet another in a long line of amazing performances by an actress named Meryl Streep. I watch this movie again and again for those first scenes of dialogue between Eastwood and Streep. They feel so natural that I just want to step into that summer afternoon in Iowa and join them for a cold ice tea on the veranda. But Francesca (Meryl) and Robert (Clint) probably wouldn't want me along, since two's company and three's a crowd and all that. I also have a soft spot for Annie Corley, who plays Streep's grown-up daughter. She also has the role of John Turturro's wife in Box of Moonlight, another favorite film.
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - I'm a sucker for Frank Capra's films celebrating the common man and small town virtues, but this one is my favorite of the bunch. Whenever I'm in the mood to cry buckets (and yes, I do get in those moods) I play this movie. I don't believe in angels, or that the poor working-class will ever triumph over the Potters of the world, but this movie helps me to believe differently, if only for 130 minutes. Other Capra films I'd recommend: Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take It With You, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

I think that it's enough time spent on this inane list for now. I'll have to come back to this list, so that I can wax rhapsodic about Dirty Harry. I just love to gush about my favorite onscreen fascist, Dirty Harry Callahan. I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? I once traded my entire collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines for an original one-sheet of Dirty Harry. That's when I knew I was growing up. The Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver and Ray Ban Balorama sunglasses became symbols of cool for me. I became that loner wearing an army surplus jacket and standing at the edge of the crowd. At least that was me through my three years of high school until I made the brilliant decision to join the United States Air Force at age seventeen. After the recruiter gave his presentation he asked if I had any questions. I asked, "Do you have any terms less than four years?" "No," he responded. "It's four or six years." I sighed, "Okay, four years it is then." All of a sudden I became just another shaved head in olive drab uniform. But that's a story for another day . . .

It is now past the midnight hour and I can feel my limbs withdraw and my complexion start to change to orange, as I transmute into the proverbial pumpkin.