Thursday, January 31, 2008

Living Cells in Repose

I’m sitting here trying with all my might to lift my fingers and tap out some sort of banal entry to this blog. It’s not like I don’t have a lot to write about: Justin’s birthday bash at the zoo was last Sunday. I attended my second Schlock Cinema class. The film was The Giant of Metropolis, which was an Italian strong man movie from 1963. I also watched The Lady in the Lake, which was based on the Raymond Chandler novel I read recently. It was horribly bad and could have easily have been shown in my Schlock Cinema class. That’s just my humble opinion, but I’m a fan of Raymond Chandler and I thought the film, with it’s experimental main character POV technique, took all the cool out of Phillip Marlowe. But I digress. I was talking about my lethargy when it comes to making a blog entry tonight. I guess part of it is that I don’t feel like staying up to midnight for something so trivial. I’m tired and I’m hoping that Justin will sleep through the night and give me at least 8 hours of sleep myself. He was quite cranky tonight I’m putting my bets on teething. He’s had the telltale drooling for the past two days and nighttime waking. The only teeth left to come in are his top molars.

We had our passport photos taken at the local Bartell Drugs yesterday. The pregnant lady, who worked behind the photo counter, came out to take our photos against a white screen that she pulled down out of thin air. Justin got to go first, standing atop a child’s plastic chair he was all smiles. It took three tries until he was looking directly at the camera, but he looks so cute with his hair all frazzled and his smile. He’ll get us through any border.

I’m taking a break and staying three nights in Edmonds this weekend. The little annoying voice inside my head (freak me out Frank) keeps questioning whether I really need a break from domesticity. Then the voice of reality, which is actually quite loud and commanding replies: OH YES I DO!!! Just a few consecutive days without our cat Lyle yowling in the bedroom upstairs, while Justin is sleeping in the next room. Not to mention that the cats are always on the wrong side of the baby gates. I thought cats could jump? And, yes, as much as I love my son, I could certainly use a break from the fulltime job of stay-at-home dad for a few days. In Edmonds I can walk along the pier, watching the ferries going to and fro. I’ll have the chance to eat some good seafood. I plan on making a stop at the little independent toy store on Main St. to pick up a little something for Justin. He’s only now starting to enjoy the gorilla puppet that I bought there over a year ago. I’ll also feel required to purchase a book or two at the independent bookstore in town.

On Monday I plan to take a drive back into Seattle for lunch and a showing of There Will be Blood. There’s probably another 3 or 4 movies that I’d like to see, but I’m not staying in a hotel in Edmonds to keep driving back to Seattle to see movies. I’ll be ensconced in my room reading, trying to get through Life Itself. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fascinating book about cell biology and it reads like science fiction sometimes. The inner workings of the living cell are simply amazing now that we’re starting to understand it. It’s just that it’s nonfiction and sometimes I find myself rereading pages to ensure that I’m really getting the gist of it. I’ll also have to bring along a book of short stories on my retreat and some of the recent magazines I’ve picked up, but never seem to have time to read. I was thinking of bringing along Jen’s laptop PC, so that I could write and check e-mail. The desire to relax and enjoy the quietude will be the priorities though. A few weeks after my brief sojourn Jen will be doing the same thing. If you can afford it, getting away home life once in a while is a healthy thing. It certainly helps to keep me from going batshit.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Train Rides and Two-Year Olds

Where to begin . . . Last Sunday we took the train south to Portland. We were joined by our friends and their two-year-old son Daniel. The boys are both excited about trains at this time in their development due in no small part to the proliferation of Thomas the Tank Engine products flooding the toy market. Daniel in particular in obsessed with trains and train crossings and having your tickets punched (which never happened on our train by the way.) Neither boy took a nap on the nearly four hour trip from Seattle to Portland, so they were quite wired by the time we checked into our rooms at the Embassy Suites Hotel. The last time Jen and I were in Portland was probably three years ago, in our pre-Justin days. We had remembered eating at a great place called the Red Star Tavern. It was a little pricey (I come from rural Massachusetts when having lobster once a year on the fourth of July was our family’s big luxury.) I tampered my parenting stress with a couple of pints of porter and enjoyed a seared tuna with braised oxtail. Jen had a delicious Wellington prepared vegetarian style. Justin devoured all of his fruit dish and whatever Daniel couldn’t finish. It was a great meal with friends and a perfect way to celebrate Jen’s birthday. Everyone crashed soon after the walk back to the hotel. The next day we made the obligatory trip to Powell’s Bookstore. It was a nice clear day in the city, but the wind whipping down the streets made it quite cold. Later on, after everyone had a nap, the kids enjoyed frolicking in the pool. I took the opportunity to stay in the room and get some reading done. There was free HBO in the room, so we happy to catch an episode of Bill Maher’s show. Dan Savage, the editor of our local alternative weekly The Stranger, was a special correspondent that evening reporting on the Republican primary in South Carolina and Mike Huckabee’s candidacy in particular. It was a good piece and provided an opportunity for Bill Maher to climb onto his soapbox and trash religion. Always entertaining. Religious fanatics are so thin skinned and temperamental. I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to the existence of some kind of supernatural being, whether it has an active part in our lives, or just got it started way back when. (Six-thousand years? Better think again.) But I applaud people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher among others for speaking out loudly and without self-censorship for a side that doesn’t often get a voice.

So I got a little off topic there. Meanwhile back in Portland. Justin had definitely gotten Daniel’s cold virus, so the train ride back was a minor detour into hell. No nap again, so the little guy was a snotty miserable wreck by the time we got home. One would have thought that he would sleep soundly that night. That was not the case. As a parent, I’m always come up with reasons for his waking and crying: he’s teething, it’s a cold, he’s overtired and the damnable combination of all three. That evening I was due to attend another in a series of lectures about the merging of politics and religion, but I opted to stay home and distress from the weekend with the toddlers. I opted to stay home from Schlock Cinema the next evening too, because I also have this cold virus that followed us from Portland. I missed a showing of Attack of the Puppet People. Damn! I did find out that I can watch it on my computer for free on the Netflix site, so I can theoretically make up that class.

Tomorrow is Justin’s second birthday. He received a retro-style tricycle from Jen’s parents today (some assembly required.) We holding a big bash for him at the Woodland Park Zoo on Sunday morning.

It’s quarter past eleven. Justin has just awoken and is crying out. He varies from a whine to a full throated wail, trying to get me to come up there, so that he can make believe that he’s asleep when I walk into the room. I’ve started reading a book that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a decade. It’s a book about cell biology called Life Itself. It’s fun to ponder facts such as human beings being composed of 70 trillion cells that are also able to live independently. There are two hundred types of cells that make up our physical being (liver cells, nerve cells and such.) Each of those cells contain a bustling world of electro-chemical reactions that we’re only just beginning to understand. I’m sure that in the decade since this book was published that many more milestones have been reached. It was just a week or so ago that it was announced that a beating rat heart was created in a lab in Minnesota from baby rat cells. The researchers emphasized that they were at least ten years away from creating a beating human heart.

Justin is still whining and it’s now eleven-thirty, so I’ll post this and deal with my cranky baby. He probably just wants to know that I haven’t forgotten about him.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winne the Pooh was an Atheist

Last Monday evening I was lucky enough to be invited to a lecture given by Colson Whitehead at Benaroya Hall as part of the Seattle Arts & Lecture series. I’ve heard Whitehead’s name bandied about in recent years as one of the up and coming literary writers, but I haven’t taken the time to read any of his work. Tonight’s lecture was funny and smart and it certainly has given the incentive to read something of his soon. He has written three novels (The Intuitionist, John Henry Days and Apex Hides the Hurt) and a book of nonfiction (The Colossus of New York), but tonight he read from a forthcoming “autobiographical novel.”

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been trying to convince myself to catch a matinee of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film There Will Be Blood, but I’ve haven’t quite been in the mood for a 2 hour and 38 minute battle between oil barons and religious zealots played out on the hardscrabble tableau of early California. So on Tuesday I was within a few blocks of the Guild 45th theatre when I finished my lunch at the Blue Star, but instead of walking over to the Guild I got back in my car and headed to Half-Price Books. There I found a first edition of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku, Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry and The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. I also bought a duplicate of a book already in my collection: Honored Guest by Joy Williams. There was a whisper inside my head telling me that I might already have that book, but I couldn’t resist the $5.98 price for the attractive hardcover. Maybe I can think of someone who would appreciate the collection of short stories.

On Wednesday evening of this week I started a continuing ed. course through North Seattle Community College. It’s actually offered at the Sand Point Way facility, which is near Magnuson Park. The course is called Schlock Cinema and it’s taught by “Professor Fred” of local cable TV fame. This is the second year he’s given this course through NSCC and the current class that I’m attending has set a record for number of students attending evening continuing ed. at the college. The first class was a lot of fun and Professor Fred is just as witty in the classroom setting as he is on TV introducing B-movies to Seattle audiences. At the beginning of the class he went around with a plastic shopping bag loaded with cheapo movies on DVD and passed one out to each student. It’s our chance to be more actively involved than just watching a movie each week. Completely on a volunteer basis, we are to take our movie and watch it in the privacy of our own home and give it a 3 or 4 paragraph review. I got a disc with two films: Blood Tide with James Earl Jones as an adventurer in Greece, who somehow manages to reawaken some mythic beast; and Death Rage with Yul Brynner, which has something to do with something in Italy. I volunteered to give my review at the next class, so that should get me my A for classroom participation.

The first film we watched was called Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, which is a Japanese production from 1963. I’ve actually had the movie in my Netflix queue for months. It starts off similar to Gilligan’s Island with five vacationers and two crewmen marooned on a deserted island after a stormy night at sea. Everything changes once they start ingesting the mushrooms that grow like a fungus on the tropical island. The design of the landlocked research ship, where the stranded travelers end up is pretty impressive and reminded me of some of David Cronenberg’s work. Matango has it’s share of unintentionally funny moments, but it also has some genuinely creepy moments and it’s certainly worthy of a rental. No ‘shrooms required. Next week’s film will be Attack of the Puppet People, which Professor Fred claims we’ve all seen. The still from it on his handout looked familiar. I probably did see it on the Sunday afternoon movie back in the days of UHF.

I’m about halfway through Raymond Chandler’s Lady of the Lake. I’m well past the part where they find the lady in the lake, although she doesn’t look so much like a lady as much as she does a pulpy mass of fetid flesh with some jewelry attached. At least according to Marlowe’s description. I can’t help but hear the voice of Humphrey Bogart in the back of my head as I read the word of the 1940’s shamus. I’ll probably finish the book in the next day or two, so that I’ll be starting something fresh for that trip to Portland this weekend. The book I should be bringing along is Controlling Your Toddler and Other Parental Fallacies, but instead I’m living that one. Little Justin and Daniel, who are both two (Justin will be 2 in a week) are sure to enjoy the train ride south to Portland. I’m sure we’ll all be exhausted upon arriving at the Embassy Suites Hotel and while everyone is sleeping I’ll sneak in some reading time.

I just received my “Freethought of the Day” from the FFRF people and this one features A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh and friends. He was born on this day in 1882. One of his teachers growing up London was H.G. Wells and he attended Cambridge on a math scholarship. When his father gave him 1000 pounds upon his graduation he used the money to move back to London and pursue writing. Here is his quote:

“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”
— A.A. Milne, cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught

Kind of makes me happy that my son has become so attached to Milne’s characters, even though Disney is now adding to their billions by imprinting the characters on everything from plates to diapers.

So this has become a very long blog and I’d love to keep going. I spent the early evening watching bizarre Scientology videos featuring Tom Cruise and looking into the conspiracy of whether Katie Holmes actually completed the New York marathon or not. The video I watched of Mitt Romney being called a liar right to his face by an AP reporter was pretty sweet. Last night I watched, Sunshine, the latest collaborative work by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, creators of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. A few nights earlier I watched Zwartboek (The Black Book), the latest film by Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Quite the resume that man has. But these are all topics to be covered at a later date, since it is now one minute past midnight and I wanted to get this posted yesterday.

It seems that Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People is popular enough to have warranted the release of this really cool action figure.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Vacation Plans

I have finally stopped procrastinating and made reservations for a week at a resort on Maui. Jen has been wanting to take a real vacation for a while. That means going somewhere merely for our own pleasure and not to fulfill some kind of family or business obligation. It’s been difficult to decide on a vacation destination, because we now have to take into account that we will be bringing a two-year-old along wherever we go. If we were still just a couple our choices would be more varied, but now we are a triad. The rules have changed. We will be staying at a condo in West Maui called Kaanapali Shores. The apartment is a 907 sq. ft. one bedroom/2 bath with a fully stocked kitchen and an ocean view. I’m already contemplating which book(s) would work best with the lanai, a cold glass of beer and a view of the setting sun. The resort has two pools with one of them being more kiddy sized. The beach is just over the hedge bordering one of the pool areas. Sun and fun, oh yeah!

We’ve also made a other plans for a few minor upcoming trips. On January 20th (Jen’s birthday) we’ll be taking the train down to Portland, Oregon, for a couple of nights. The first weekend in February I’ll be taking a couple of nights away to myself. Most likely I’ll just stay up in Edmonds for those nights. It’s inexpensive and it feels like I’m farther away from home than I actually am. Jen also reserved a campsite at Deception Pass for a couple of nights in June and a cabin at Wallace Falls State Park for a couple of nights in August. We’re also hoping to squeeze a trip to Kalaloch in there somewhere. It’s always good to have a few trips to look forward to.

I finished reading The Third Chimpanzee last night and I believe that I have already chosen my next book. My friend Adam had recommended a short story by Kazuo Ishiguro that was on the complete New Yorker DVD collection and it spurred me to read that story and then to choose An Artist of the Floating World as my next book. This particular title had been chosen by an old coworker of mine as a “staff pick” when I worked at The Bookloft and I’ve been interested in it ever since. Another incentive is that An Artist of the Floating World is only 206 pages long. Considering my lack of reading time, short books are better.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Politics and Shopping

Barack Obama lost the New Hampshire primary to Hilary Clinton by a few percentage points. The overriding factor in this narrow victory for Hilary seems to be the crying event. The day before the polls opened Hilary let the political veneer that she’d been accumulating over the past thirty odd years crack just a little. She showed emotion, her voice quavered and little tears pooled in her eyes. I’m still backing Obama and if Hilary gets the nomination then I’ll have to write in Viggo Mortensen’s name or something. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion, but I personally believe that everything in Hilary and Bill’s life has been created due to political calculation. If another Clinton ends up in the White House it won’t be much different then if another Bush had ended up there. Corporate power takes many guises and if you don’t think that behind the plastered on smile of Ms. Hilary Clinton that there’s a little corporate pawn inside then you have a lot to learn my friend.

Yesterday was Tuesday, which means that new books, DVDs and CDs are released. I had a $50 gift card from Best Buy that had been burning a hole in my pocket since I pulled it out of my Christmas stocking, so I went to Best Buy yesterday and picked up the new 2 disc director’s cut of Zodiac, 3:10 to Yuma, Remember the Night: David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall and the soundtrack to Juno. I had been waiting for the 2-disc director’s cut of Zodiac ever since the one disc bare bones version was released last July. This may be Fincher’s most mature work, which means that he cuts down on the flashiness. I haven’t seen 3:10 to Yuma yet, but I liked the original with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale seem like worthy replacements in the remake. I happened to have seen some of the David Gilmour DVD when I was visiting my friend back in Massachusetts. A lot of the concert is material from Gilmour’s latest album “On An Island,” which is his best work in a long time. And I couldn’t resist the Juno Soundtrack, because the movie was so lovable and listening to the disc will be a pleasant reminder of the film. Plus it’s got a lot of great tunes! So the $50 gift card evaporated pretty quickly once I got inside Best Buy.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Obama '08

Barack Obama has won by a significant margin in the Iowa Caucus and I have to admit that I’m getting caught up in the excitement. Last week Ralph Nader announced that he was backing John Edwards, which kind of surprised me a little. Edwards talks a big talk, but I’ve never been convinced that he walks the walk — especially after the $200 haircut incident. And have you seen his new house? He could house quite a few of the poor right there! Barack has been adamantly against the war from the beginning. He’s never had to backpedal. In fact, he has gone as far as to call it an illegal war, which in my book says that he sees through the bullshit that has been cooked up by Bush an his cronies. Obama is a breath of fresh air in a political scene usually controlled by (and for) big corporations. His soul hasn’t been soiled by the intense atmosphere of greed and power that infiltrates the power structure in this country. Now Hilary on the other hand . . .
And the results in Iowa have caused Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd to call it quits. They were probably two of the more qualified candidates, but by “qualified” I mean that they have been a part of the Washington power structure for a long time. I briefly heard Hilary speak after the loss in Iowa and she’s battling back, trying to sound more radical. As if she hasn’t been in lock step with the powers-that-be ever since she became a senator. And I’m not about to count her time as first lady towards some type of governing experience. I’ve been married to a veterinarian for over eleven years now, but I don’t think that would give me the qualifications to neuter your pet Shar Pei.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Don't Step in the DNA

It’s Friday night in Seattle. I could hear the wind blowing the rain against the south side of the house when I took a bath earlier. I’m all ready to head up to bed, but I had promised myself that I would get some reading done and post an entry here tonight. I’ve given myself a good amount of reading time. I’m more than halfway through The Third Chimpanzee. It’s written by Jared Diamond, the author of the bestselling Guns, Germs & Steel, and he doesn’t shy away from controversial viewpoints. He nearly always points out that there are alternate viewpoints, and he admits that his views are just attempts at the nearly impossible task of figuring out what makes us uniquely human, when we share 96% of our DNA with Chimpanzees. He tries (and somewhat succeeds) to find animal precursors to human behaviors such as art and drug addiction. He’s also shown that the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry was a mixed blessing. It’s quite an interesting book and it manages to reignite my old interest in archeology, but I have to admit that I’m craving some fiction after a few weeks of paleobiology, anthropology, paleopathology, archeology and more.

Last night Jen and I took advantage of a babysitter willing to baby sit for two toddlers and we went out with our friends (the parents of Justin’s friend Daniel) to see the film Juno. It definitely lives up to all the buzz and is a worthy companion to — and in my opinion better than — the earlier spate of films from Judd Apatow and crew released recently (40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked-Up, & Superbad.) The first time script by Diablo Cody is smart and quirky. She deserves all the accolades that she’ll be getting for this film. I just think it’s unfortunate that we’ll always hear the phrase stripper turned screenwriter attached to her name. It’s all part of her self-invented fame though. None of it can take away from her fresh take on life in high school and in particular the strong and smart female voice in what is usually a testosterone fueled sea of teenage male angst and lust. And it all works thanks to great performances lead by Ellen Page as Juno. Juno was directed by Jason Reitman, who made the brilliant Thank You For Smoking a couple of years ago. I look forward to seeing Juno again, so that I can catch all those lines I missed while the audience was busy laughing.

A couple of nights ago I watched Shoot ‘Em Up, starring Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti. It’s an over-the-top parody of action flicks. Clive Owen stars as Mr. Smith, who gets caught in the middle of a firefight as assassins pursue a pregnant woman through the streets. Smith (Owen) kneels over and aids the woman as she gives birth in a warehouse while he simultaneously guns down all the attackers that enter the area. After the baby is born Smith quickly severs its umbilical cord with a shot from his pistol. It’s that kind of movie. A few scenes later Giamatti, as the sleazy bad guy, is fondling the dead mother in the backseat of the limo. I was wondering how an actor prepares for his necrophilia scene. For a movie that’s an obvious parody of a genre it wasn’t very funny, or particularly inventive. It was at times ugly and trite. I didn’t expect much from the director whose previous films were the teen sex comedies Girl Fever and 100 Girls.

Well, I’ve been writing for nearly an hour now and if I want to get a decent night’s sleep I should post this and move on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008 Already?

New Year’s Day in all its glory! The neighborhood is quiet. It seems that most folks have the day off and are spending it relaxing at home. In this household Jen worked last night, so she’ll be sleeping until at least four o’clock this afternoon. Justin woke up just after 8 this morning, so he’ll probably be laying down for his nap just about noontime. In other words, it’s a routine day for me. Last night I talked to Jen by phone just before midnight. It was a relatively slow night at the clinic and Jen was spending her downtime playing Sudoku puzzles. I didn’t do anything special to ring in the new year. I flipped by some of the network stations that were in Times Square for the official U.S. countdown. I noticed that the crowd had been given this stupid red top hats with a Pontiac ad emblazoned on the front, and that the crowd was freely wearing this advertisement on their head (the part of the body that contains the brain.) I was disturbed enough to shut off cable TV. I watched The Matrix for a while before retiring just after midnight. Nothing to write home about.