Sweet Christmas!

I only tell you this in the interest of transparency. It’s really none of your business, and most of you frankly just don’t care…but the tone of this blog sort of requires a bit of backstory regarding my philosophical beliefs. They’re fairly nebulous. If I absolutely had to define myself, I’d go with quantum-spiritualist. Maybe a super-agnostic. Saganite Buddhist. I believe that as we learn more about our universe via quantum physics and the exploration of space, the more we find that yes, maybe some of those philosophers that lived and taught two millennia ago were on to something. Those giants of aniquity sensed things about our universe that they couldn’t quite explain, truths that they felt in their very cells, but for which they had no mechanism for exploration, other than to just ask “what if?” That’s why all the really good old Greek and Roman figures happened to be scientists and mathematicians as well as soul-searchers and dreamers. They were trying to figure out the universe from both angles, and perhaps the world would be better off if we did more of that sort of thing nowadays. All that being said, I’m here to heap 100% of the credit for what we know as our traditional holiday season at the feet of our Christian brothers and sisters. They deserve it.

My atheist and new-age intellectual friends are surely interrupting with “but Christmas itself is a pagan holiday!” And they’re right, of course: it goes even deeper than that and much further back in time. The Winter Solstice has been recognized by cultures since humans first started scribbling on cave walls. It evolved into Celtic and Nordic observances and then into the full-blown Saturnalia festival of ancient Rome. And that’s where Christianity took the ball and ran with it.

jesus-football

Jesus was clearly forward of the line of scrimmage.

Early Christian leaders were a savvy group. They knew that their religion was bound to spread like wildfire simply by telling the common people about the great news: simply accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Redeemer, the incarnate son of the One True God, confess to him your sins, and presto! Eternal life! It really was too good a deal to pass up. But the church knew that The People enjoyed certain practices and celebrations as part of their culture that would not easily be given up. So the Christian leadership wisely said “Fine, you can keep your silly rituals. But we’re totally rebranding them.” So instead of pagan fertility rites involving eggs, rabbits, and other symbols of baby-making sexual intercourse, the church offered instead to celebrate renewal in a very literal sense: the return of Jesus from the dead. And of course, the Saturnalia (or, amongst the “barbaric” German and Celtic peoples, “Yule”) became not only a celebration of “the return of the sun” but of the “birth of the Son.” It made perfect sense. And once the emperor Constantine began establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire sometime early in the 4th century, the deal was truly sealed.

That’s why we have Christmas trees instead of Yule Trees. Or Holiday Trees. That’s why we have Santa Claus (Greek bishop St. Nikolaos) and gift giving and such, right there in the dead of winter. Not that all of those things, the reindeer, the mistletoe, the holly, the candy canes and gingerbread houses, were necessarily Christian in origin, but because of the rapid and total spread of Christianity, these customs all fell under the same umbrella. They became universal. Sure, the Polish Santa might be unrecognizable as Swiety Mikolaj, but the idea remains intact.

MerryOldSanta

Oh, that’s a doll. Thank God. I thought I was going to have to write a really dark Polish Santa joke.

 

Christmas drives everything in December. Hanukah wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for Christmas. Nobody would have ever heard of Kwanzaa if it took place in June. They’re just piggybacking on the runaway rollercoaster of goodwill that Christianity started. Jesus had momentum. Plenty of room on the Midwinter Bandwagon.

But here’s where the dark clouds roll in. The sad truth is this: there have been plenty of bad Christians out there saying and doing enough stupid shit that the non-believers or folks sitting on the fence of religious belief are being driven from the church by these actions. Fighting against marriage equality, spouting hateful (and mostly untrue) things about Muslims on Facebook, thinly-veiled racism and hypocritical greed, misogyny, the abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests…all of these things have stained the reputation of the once-infallible and all-powerful church.

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Pictured: everything bad.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. No, Christianity didn’t invent this holiday. But they took it and gave it to the world. You don’t have to be part of the church or its belief system to appreciate that. Nor do you have to be washed in the blood of the lamb in order to enjoy a cup of eggnog with friends you haven’t seen in years. It’s okay to enjoy everything the holiday season offers, no matter where you are in your spiritual life. And for fuck’s sake, it’s okay to call it “Christmas.” It totally is. I mean, chances are you don’t worship the Norse pantheon (although more and more Icelandic folks are doing just that) but it’s still okay to use the words Wednesday or Thursday. Like it or not, Odin’s Day and Thor’s Day are still right there on the calendar, and even Frigga gets some love with Friday. It’s fine. They’re just arbitrary names for things. Just words. They can’t harm you. They don’t stand for anything evil; they don’t commemorate a dark, bleak, tragic day in history. I also get that some of my well-meaning liberal brothers and sisters are hung-ho in their desire to shield the world from the insidious indoctrination policies of Christian evangelism. They have armored themselves in Political Correctness in an effort to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. They really do mean well, but…dude. It’s Christmas. The reason of the season. Absolutely. It just is.

The ultimate point to all this? Don’t be afraid to call the holiday by its actual name. Use the word “Christmas.” It’s just a word. It’s not even a bad word. And like it or not, the Christian church is responsible, in a roundabout way, for your vacation days around that time in December. Had Genghis Khan run roughshod over all of Europe back in his time, we’d likely still have a celebration of the Winter Solstice and the gradual lengthening of our days…we’d just call it something else. But that didn’t happen. Christianity happened, thanks to the Roman Empire. So it’s Christmas. Big deal. Go to church if you want. Stay home. Put up a tree, or don’t. Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, Sikh…it doesn’t matter how you label yourself. You can still enjoy listening to Bing Crosby as a log crackles in the fireplace and children tear open gifts. And I really, really hope that you do.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A Civilian Addresses the USMC

Today is November 10, 2015. The 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. And I have something to get off of my chest.

 

Once, a long time ago, I disliked the United States Marine Corps. I mean, I really didn’t like Marines at all. My disdain had nothing to do with being a liberal punk-ass kid or a dislike of the military. In fact, I’d been actively recruited by various branches of the military after I made the huge mistake of absolutely crushing the ASVAB test. I considered the Navy for a while, as my pops had enlisted back in the day before receiving a medical discharge. I ended up going to college and never joined up with the armed forces of this or any other country. So, right away, my dislike had nothing to do with my peacenik, pussy-ass Democrat leanings.

 

No, it was more the Marines themselves. Specifically, the guys that I knew from my small hometown of Mount Vernon, Indiana. Guys who you either didn’t ever pay attention to in high school or the ones that got the wrong attention, being bullied by the meathead jocks and made to feel inferior. (Hey, it was high school. If you’re one of the lucky ones who never got bullied or made fun of, congrats. Savor that shit.) Some of these kids, though, went off to places like Parris Island, and they came back hard. Too hard. I mean, I get it: you used to get beaten up. Now you can kill a man with your bare hands before he has a chance to even flick his cigarette. Good for you. The problem was that some of these guys didn’t wield their new powers with class or grace. They were every bad supervillain from the comics. “Remember me? Remember stuffing me into that locker? Remember all those wedgies?! Do you? DO YOU?! NOW YOU WILL TASTE TRUE POWER! “ They were living out the fantasies of the victim.  “One day I’ll learn karate and teach you all a lesson.” (Although as I type this, it occurs to me that maybe if more kids enlisted, we’d have fewer Columbines.)

 

Those guys. Those guys sucked. Those guys became the thing they hated. Those guys, with their ridiculous high and tight haircuts. Those guys would get into deliberate fights just to prove how tough they were, how less-weak, all thanks to the miracle of the USMC. Those guys are the reason why I was prejudiced against jarheads.

 

But then something happened. My wife and I moved to New Bern, North Carolina in 2001. We got down there literally the week after 9/11 to start a new life. Holy shit, was that scary. New Bern happens to be about twenty or so minutes up the road from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, and about forty or so minutes from both New River MCAS and Camp Lejeune. We were right in the middle of Marine Country as it was ramping up to full deployment mode. It was nuts, especially to a lifelong civilian from the Midwest. I must also admit that the atmosphere was fairly exciting. You just haven’t lived until you’ve found yourself at the Taco Bell drive-through in Havelock, NC trying to shout your chalupas order over the deafening roar of the Harrier hovering in mid-air half a mile away.

 

During that time, I started making friends with various folks, either through my work in radio or socially though roller hockey and surfing. And I was shocked…SHOCKED! to discover that many of these folks were actual active-duty Marines. And they were…well, they were awesome. Hell, even the retired (de-commissioned is a better word, as they were always going to be Marines) USMC guys at work were amazing. Funny, smart, confident, disciplined. I was welcomed into some of their circles, playing roller hockey outdoors aboard MCAS New River while Cobras and Ospreys flew overhead. Spending Thanksgivings aboard MCAS Cherry Point. Attending Carolina Hurricane games in Raleigh and minor league baseball in Kinston. Eating at Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning after a night of boozing it up. Kegstands at a party at the off-base civilian lodgings of some young Marines. (They pooled their housing allowance for a two-room apartment to save the rest for video games, stereos, and yes, beer.) I made some lifelong friends during my time in NC, and it’s safe to say that at least half of them were/are Marines.

 

I’ve learned some things. The first is that it is absolutely ludicrous to base your judgment of any group on the behavior of a select few. I’m frankly embarrassed by the prejudicial views of my youth. I was no better than the racist who points at the TV any time a black man is shown in cuffs and hisses “Goddam blacks. Fuckin’ let ‘em kill each other.” Or another recent example, where I called someone out on Facebook for asserting that all Muslims are terrorists that hate Christianity. I asked him how many actual Muslims he knew. His reply? “I don’t need to know any, because I can see what they do with my own eyes.” I shake my head at this type of idiot. I would shake my head at my own ignorant, adolescent stupidity.

 

That being said, here’s another generalization. Hockey people and Marines are the groups that I’ve encountered that have the highest percentage of all-around superiority. True greatness. Stout hearts, loyalty, courage, generosity, compassion, strength, intelligence…all of it. Sure, there are going to be turds in any subset. I know some hockey guys that have failed humanity again and again. But most of them are stand-up men and women. Same thing for Marines. There will always be that asshole wearing his cover out of uniform in the hopes that a civilian will ask “were you in the Marines?” But there will also be a staff sergeant in civilian clothes asking the stranger, a woman at her wits’ end with two screaming kids and a flat tire, where she keeps her jack as he strips off his blazer and opens the trunk.

 

I guess this was all my way of apologizing. Of saying “Sorry, Marines, that I ever doubted you.” I will never again. Thank you for your service, Devil Dogs. And Happy Birthday. Semper Fi. Oo-rah.

 

That is all. Carry on.

 

Your Own Universe

 

Now and then, I have a bit of problem falling asleep. My mind just keeps racing around, creating fantastic scenarios which usually involve dragons, The Edmonton Oilers, clones, clones of the Edmonton Oilers, the musical theme to Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension, or Salma Hayek and Zoe Saldana fighting over who gets to scale Mt. Watson and find the golden orgasm hidden at the summit as Katee Sackhoff watches, repeatedly blowing her whistle and yelling “WRONG!  Run it again!  We’re going to stay here all night until we get it right!  Again.  AGAIN!”

 

I have some issues, obviously.

But often my imagination drifts off into deep thought-land. And sometimes, every now and then, something really profound strikes me, and I gotta let it out.  This is one of those such occasions. Thanks for indulging me.

Deep breath.  Here we go.

The universe behaves in strange ways. When we observe behavior, we alter the universe. Photons and atoms collapse into the state we perceive out of multiple possibilities, and it happens every second of every day. Everything you observe with your senses…everything you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch…has collapsed into that state of being simply by your noticing it. It’s a rule of science that has become easier and easier to accept, even if it remains a hard concept to wrap our minds around.

And yet, this is also a kitty corpse.

And yet, this is also a kitty corpse.

Now consider this: your observations are your own. They are unique. No one experiences the world and the greater universe the way you do. No one else has your history, the sum of your experiences, your nervous system, your sensory organs or the brain that interprets them. Which means that the universe you experience is unique. Ergo, each person experiences his or her own personal universe.

 

And some of us believe we ARE the whole universe.

Some of us believe we ARE the whole universe.

There’s overlap, of course. Think of it like taking a video of your friend while your friend takes a video of you taking a video. You’re shooting each other. And a bird flies right between you as you’re recording. You both exclaim and shriek, “Did you just see that?! That was crazy!” And you watch the video, each of you holding your phones up side-by-side to review your respective videos simultaneously. You and your companion see the same bird, from different angles. But what’s more, you each notice little things. The bird starts a fraction of a second sooner on your friend’s video, because maybe she was recording sooner. The bird looks more orange on your phone, while your friend’s video is more reddish. The sounds from each phone’s speaker are different. You’ve both captured (and observed) the same event. But the physical variances of your recording equipment, along with things like the respective angle of the sun (in your face, at your friend’s back) wind direction, and a million other tiny little differences mean that the videos look very different. And yet they depict the same event.

"Mr. President, do you think we should bring some official news cameras?" "Ha! If anything happens, I'm sure a shaky hand-cam will be all anyone will ever need. Drive on!"

“Mr. President, do you think we should bring some official news cameras?”
“Ha! If anything happens, I’m sure a shaky hand-cam will be all anyone will ever need. Drive on!”

The point is that our bodies are much like those cameras. They observe the universe with sometimes minor and oftentimes major differences. You hear treble sounds better than I do, I see the color blue more vividly than your rods and cones allow. But that’s all just gathering and interpreting data. The fact remains that when I observe something, the way those quantum particles and events collapse into the state that I sense is unique to me. Because you may not have observed them at all, meaning they exist in an unresolved state. Or you observed something that I didn’t.

And some people aren't exactly sure WHAT they've seen.

And some people aren’t exactly sure WHAT they’ve seen.

Add to all this the notion of freewill and decision making. You and I could both read through the same old “Choose Your Own Adventure” book and come out with vastly different endings. All the possible outcomes are all contained within the book…but by choosing one page or the other, we alter the finished experience. It’s the same book…but we will always have very different memories and perspectives on it.

Unless it's this one, which has nothing but TOTALLY KICK-ASS endings.

Unless it’s this one, which has nothing but TOTALLY KICK-ASS endings.

That’s the multiverse, kids. That’s the world we share. Completely unique to each of us. Enough shared experience to make it “real” for everyone. And yet, a million different variations every day. Mind-bogglingly awesome. (And yet…also non-awesome, prior to observation. How ’bout that?)

Quitting Monopoly

Yeah, so…three months. It’s been three months since I’ve updated this blog. Yeah. A lot has transpired since. I mean, it’s been a crazy summer, huh? Plenty of stuff happened. Most of it good. Some of it terrible. But that’s life, eh? The ‘middle’ seems boring, and safe. But that’s where we all strive to live. You can’t stay up in the stratosphere forever, just as you can’t dwell in the abyss too long.

One kid that maybe lingered down there a bit too long was a great, bright, funny kid named Palermo. I loved that kid. He ran around with some odd (in some cases ‘nerdy’) friends. I totally relate to that. He was part of a crazy, multi-ethnic, multi-racial extended family, one that my wife and kids and I are all part of by proxy. It’s a clan, a group of mismatched puzzle pieces, equally brilliant and foolish, much greater, much stronger, than the sum of its/our parts. I am of that clan. So is one of the very best friends I’ve ever had, a gal so bad-ass and beautiful…she’s like a real-world Kara Thrace, but with more martial-arts training. But neither she or myself or anyone else in our clan could ultimately help her nephew Pale (pronounced Pah-lay, Palermo’s family nickname) when he decided that the best thing for him to do was take his own life. God damn it, why did he have to go and do that?

That’s one of the worst parts, or at least top ten, about the whole situation. That every single one of the rest of us has to ask that question over and over, and be no closer to the answer, no closer to understanding what was going on in his life, in his mind. What could be so awful, what could make him feel so hopeless? And then other strange, stupid thoughts creep in during all this wondering. Thoughts like ‘maybe he figured it was only logical? Maybe he weighed all the options and came to the conclusion that the effort to repair what he believed to be an impossible situation (or series of them) just wasn’t worth it anymore?’ Shit, we’ve all hit ‘reset’ on a game we couldn’t beat, gone back and started the level from the beginning, flipped the stupid Monopoly board over, turning the entire bank into a ticker-tape parade of multi-colored pastel bills, that little fuckin’ doggie into a bullet, the dice into meteors, while you scream “I QUIT!! I HATE THIS STUPID GAME!!”

And you know what? Every time you’ve done that out of frustration, admit it: it felt sorta good. The frustration just gets so bad you say “TO HELL WITH THIS AND EVERYTHING!! BOOM!” And you storm off and pout and light a cigarette or check your Facebook or just chill, and then it’s a big exhale, letting your breath out with a long hissing sound like air from a punctured bike tire, and you’re better. You feel SO much better. The pressure and frustration are gone. So you go back into the living room or wherever, and you see them.

Your friends and family, glaring at you through slitted eyes as they pick up all the crap that you just wrecked. Putting the bills and cards and dice and tiny, plastic, red and green hotels and houses, back where they’re supposed to be: the box, because nobody feels like playing anymore anyway. And maybe one of your closest friends shakes his head and says “Dick move, man.” And then you feel like crap, but you know what? It’ll be okay. They’ll get over it. You’ll play again.

But see, Pale can’t. He can’t play with us anymore, and that sucks. We, as a clan, played kickball. He helped my kids climb trees while discussing Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and he and his buddies demonstrated Titanfall on the (then) new Xbox ONE. That shit ain’t ever gonna happen again, at least not in this world. And that’s too bad.

Bottom line: nobody knows why Palermo decided to check out. I mean, some of us probably almost get it. You’re not supposed to talk like that, but let’s not bullshit each other. You’ve thought about it at some point, you have. Some low night when she won’t return your calls, some day after seeing him at the mall, happy with her, happier than you ever remember him being with you. Losing the job, failing the test, wrecking the car. Sometimes it’s something absolutely stupid. The cat crushes and walks all over the project you’d just spent hours and even days on. You drop your coffee and it explodes all over the front of your new dress right as you simultaneously stub and probably break your big toe in a rush to answer the door only to find your sour-faced landlord standing there, demanding to know when you intend to pay your rent (which is a week overdue.)

It happens. You almost break down completely. You stand at the edge of the abyss and look down and think, “Maybe this isn’t worth it.” But most of us…most of us…back up slowly, step by step. We shake it off. We sigh, and maybe we dive into a whole tub of pistachio-almond ice cream or watch Superbad or smoke a cigarette or do a shot (escapism and substance abuse isn’t the long-term answer, you know…but damn if it doesn’t get some of us over the hump now and then) and we pick up where we left off. Some of us, like Pale, just don’t get that lucky, I guess.

So, anyway, Palermo is gone. And we’re still here. I asked my dead friend Ed for advice on what to tell people about the afterlife and all that. I mean, hell…he’s an expert. But Ed just rolled his eyes and said “Really? Shit, you’re gonna need a whole ‘nother blog for all that. This one’s already too long.” I reminded him that this was serious stuff we were blogging about, and he raised his hands in an ‘I surrender!’ pose and said “Hey! Your show!“ and he’s goddam right it is.

I’ll deal with you later, Ed. Crazy ghost.

Anyway.

Palermo is gone. That sucks so hard. Especially for the ones that have to clean up the mess, put the Monopoly game back in the box. We’ll sure as hell miss that kid. We do miss him. We will. But the thing about Monopoly is that there are always some dumbasses willing to play. And it’s always frustrating, and it takes forever, but that’s not the point of the game, is it? No, it’s the one activity that your eight-year-old cousin, your grandma, and your dad can all play, and everyone has the same shitty experience. And despite yourselves, you laugh. And you remember that one time when the board got tossed all to hell and gone, scattered so far around the dining room that you’re still finding pieces of it to this day. God, remember that day? That was so crazy. Oh, the look on your face! You were so mad!

Yeah. So anyway, you rolled doubles. Go again. I own all the orange properties, and you’re gonna pay me soooooo much MONNNAY!

Roll.

Palermo, the dinosaur hatchling. Seeya 'round the universe, bub.

Palermo, the dinosaur hatchling. Seeya ’round the universe, bub.

Need help?  Standing on the ledge?  Feel like there’s nowhere to turn?  Hate the idea of a lecture from a regular help crisis line? Text “START” or “GO” to 741-741

Confidential. Easy. And responses come from people just like you. Worth a shot, huh?

The Doors of Ice and Fire

Okay, hear me out.  I’m throwing this blog together without giving it much thought, because, well…I just have to make sure I’m not completely crazy.  Or, you know…more crazy than I already believe myself to be.

I was listening to some tunes recently.  In particular, a bunch of songs on my Spotify playlist of Vietnam War-era songs.  Anyway, the Doors classic “The End” comes on.  If you aren’t familiar with it, well…okay, here’s a YouTube link with the lyrics (which, as it turns out, might be helpful for what’s to come.)

I’m sitting here listening to this thing and a really strange, and seemingly far-fetched theory starts to manifest itself, and it’s so nutzo that I can’t shake it.  So indulge me as I explain my latest crackpot fan theory.  Ready?  Here it goes.

The lyrics to The End at least partially influenced the story of George R.R. Martin’s epic “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, which many of you know as the book version of “Game of Thrones” (the very popular HBO series.)

No, really.

So without any further forethought (I’m seriously doing this before I over-think it and think better of it) here are the lyrics to Jim Morrison’s epic song and how it relates to GRRM’s epic tale.  I’ve made my notes in red.


This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again
(The coming of Winter and the White Walkers)
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land
(The Stranger represents death and the unknown in pantheon of The Seven. He leads the Dead into the underworld)
Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
(Children of the Forest? Waiting for the Summer Rain that will come after the long winter.)
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby
(The Kingsway. Also, “The Gold Mine” could be Casterly Rock)
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold
(Snake=Dragon. A lake called “The Womb of the World” lies near Vaes Dothrak. Vaes Dothrak translates to “City of Riders”)
The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here, and we’ll do the rest
(Westeros)
The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you taken’ us
(Possibly the Blue Graces, the Blue Winter Rose of Winterfell, The Blue Bard, or even Daario Naharis, who sports a three-pronged beard dyed blue in the novels.  Also ‘Daario Naharis’ almost sounds like ‘blue bus’ if you’re ridiculously stoned, I suppose.)
The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
(The assassins who serve the Many Faced God in the House of Black and White)
He went into the room where his sister lived, and…then
(Jaime and Cersei Lannister? Or is this Tyrion’s POV?)
he Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door…and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
(Tyrion again?)
Mother…I want to…fuck you
(Sweetrobin in the Vale? Or a reference to the Mother of Dragons?)
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
On a blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
C’mon, yeah
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
(Jaime releasing Tyrion, or Dany and her dragons?  Theon and Jeyne/Sansa?)
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end
(And now his watch is ended.)

Brotherhood Without Bass  (See, some of you will totally get that)

Brotherhood Without Bass (See, some of you will totally get that)

Well, it’s fun, anyway, to think that way back when George was first contemplating a new fantasy world in which to set his masterpiece, maybe he smoked an enormous bowl and listened to The End.  Hell, maybe he tripped acid and watched Apocalypse Now.  We’ll never know for sure.  Or maybe he’ll explain it all in the afterward to the last book in this series. HA!!  GOTCHA!  THERE WON’T BE A FINAL BOOK!  HAHA! HAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!

Oh, now I’m sad.

Waiting With Motia.

“What’s with the yellow glasses?” I was curious. Motia didn’t wear specs as a general rule, but she was sporting these sporty little numbers with sleek, black frames and yellow-tinted lenses.

“Glare, stupid.” She spat. Her head didn’t turn my way in the slightest. She kept staring out the glassless window, and I knew her eyes were sweeping the horizon and everything between it and us. Looking for nothing in particular except maybe movement. A shadow flitting between cacti or from gorse to sage. It was still that pre-dawn dusk, and I couldn’t imagine what sort of glare she was talkin’ about, since the world was shades of purple, slowly in places becoming more periwinkle and rose.

“Where’s that goddam Indian?” she muttered, taking a bite from her protein bar. All we’d had to live on since Outworld, it seemed. Oat-and-nut bars with some sort of grain, like maybe quinoa, baked into crumbly rectangles. Them and stale water. How the hell does water go stale? Maybe that’s not the way to describe it, but that’s the word that pops into my head when I think about those aluminum cylinders with the thick rims and screw-off caps that never seemed to want to screw back on correctly.

And then her gun was in her hand. It always happened so fast. One minute she’d be talking and laughing, snorting out her nose with mirth, and then BAM! Her face went blank, like someone had hit a reset button and you noticed her pistol was up and ready, the action pulled back so everyone knew it was ‘go time.’ And if you didn’t know that, you were sure to have it explained to you with a sudden explosion of gunshots and smoke and the sound of tables crashing onto their sides for cover and sometimes the sounds of yells or screams that were always someone else’s. Motia didn’t yell. She just went to work. Thanks the gods, too, because she’d already saved my bacon more times than I could count.

This time she stood there, looking at nothing. Listening. And then I heard it, too. The baritone rumble and crackle of a V-twin engine and motorcycle tires on a dirt and gravel road. This was good news or bad, because whoever was riding our way didn’t give a good godsdamn who knew they were coming.

The engine stopped. We waited. The sun was on its way up now, and the big front window to the old, long-abandoned deli now opened upon a stunning landscape of gold, brown, and red with a high, clear, hard blue canopy. I listened for footsteps in the dirt and heard nothing. But Motia did. She gave me the time-tested “Shh” motion with a finger to her pursed lips and slid noiselessly to the side entrance. Her tactical position was such that the door’d hide her if it swung open. I stood there like an idiot before her angry eye told me to make myself scarce. But I was too late to move. There was nowhere to go. Then I heard it…a voice that sounded as warm as good whisky and yet thin as smoke whispered “Moe-TEE-yaaa…”

I surprised myself just then. My pistol had found its way to the sweaty palm of my right hand and was in the process of coming up, up slowly, it seemed, too slow, agonizingly slow…in reality it couldn’t have been more than half a second, but I knew it wasn’t fast enough. Not in this reality or any other. Didn’t matter anyway, as Motia’s arm knocked my hand skyward, my aim towards the grimy, grease-covered ceiling tiles and away from the tall, thin, brown-skinned man that stood just on the other side of the open storefront window.

“For FUCK’S SAKE, Pappu. You’re the only human in ten worlds that can do that!” Motia had already holstered her sidearm and was wiping perspiration from her brow. Pappu laughed his crazy old man laugh. I say ‘old man’ but let’s be honest, nobody knows how many centuries Pappu (or Papuulu or Papunu or P-Smoke or any number of names people have given him) has stalked the universes, most recently astride his vintage Indian motorbike which was, I suspect, chosen to be deliberately ironic. From what I’d observed, Pappu was always maintaining at least a dozen inside jokes (which often ended up being part of some elaborate long con he was running) but it was hard to tell. The fact that his best pal and confidante was an old Navajo called Sicheii (I say ‘called’ rather than ‘named’ because no one except maybe Pap knew his real name) added to his love of deliberate puns. Seriously, two “Indians” running around on Indians. I guess that shit’s hilarious if you’re an ancient mystic or something.

“But I let you hear me! Look, I’m even wearing sandals!” He lifted a bony leg that could’ve passed for a mangrove branch to display what looked like a brand new multi-colored rubber flip-flop, one that could’ve easily been purchased (or stolen) from any Dollar General.

“Jesus, Pappu. Trim your toenails. That shit’s nasty,” Motia chided as she helped him step over the sill into our makeshift redoubt.

“Jesus doesn’t care of man’s old toenails. You should see his! Like black scales! No, he care uh-uh no. But enough foot language. You come with me now.”

And just as soon as he had both feet on the dirty grey-green floor, he stepped nimbly back out the window and into the desert. Motia sighed.

“Whelp, I guess that’s why we drug our asses out here, huh?” And she smiled. I hadn’t seen that in a while. It was really, really nice. White and bright and confident, like she knew everything was going to be okay.

“You’re the boss,” I replied, checking that my pistol was secured in its holster. Then I followed the others, over the sill that still bore a few crumbled pebbles of old greenish-blue safety glass, into the dust and growing daylight of the Big Empty.

Trying New Things

You’ll notice some changes to the ol’ site, and you’ll probably notice more going forward. For starters, a new theme and a new layout.  This theme (one of WordPress’s many free layouts) is sort of a throwback to the original blog design, but with some stylistic nods to my most recent effort.  Considering this is only the third theme change for my blog in almost four years, I suppose that’s something.

“But why change?” you moan.  “I like the old page, with literally all of your blog posts easy to see at once!” you cry like a little baby.  “Please give me an orgasm!  It’s been so long, and you’re nowhere near as good as you were when we first married!  I’m leaving you for a goalie” you screech like my wife.  Well, there are several reasons, thank you very much.

For starters, some readers plain didn’t like the old design.  Said it was confusing.  Yes, you could scroll down and down and down and down to find that Big Bang Theory blog I did in 2011 (that thing STILL gets views) but there was no archive feature, no calendar.  It was sort of browsing through a bunch of old back issues of magazines to find that story you wanted.

Also, the old format didn’t allow me to showcase two things I love very much: myself and my friends’ blogs.  I love me.  I love me so much that I often have physical relations with myself.  You can now see my Tweets (EVERY ONE OF THEM IS HILARIOUS!) and my Facebook page (EVERYTHING IS STOLEN FROM REDDIT!) on the right-hand side.  But over on the left, beneath the latest and archive blog posts, you’ll see my blogroll is once again visible.  This is a list of some fine blogs, many of which are updated a lot more often than this one.  You’ll find comedy blogs, entertainment blogs, blogs about roller derby and poetry and comics and heartbreak and pie.  I encourage you to check them all out.  I know some very talented motherfuckers, and you should get to know them as well.

I'll be completely honest, I just wanted to see how photos displayed on the new page.  Oh, and there are spiders everywhere on this blog.  Sleep tight.

I’ll be completely honest, I just wanted to see how photos displayed on the new page. Oh, and there are spiders everywhere on this blog. Sleep tight.

That’s it for now.  I have to research some product info for a big commercial thingy.  But take a look round and let me know what you like and don’t like about the new layout.  Maybe I’m not done yet.  Maybe we need some curtains and laminate flooring.  Maybe it’s just fine.  Ashley Motia will tell me to my face.  Yes sirree bob, she will.  Lawd yes. But you can leave a comment below.  Just as good.

Thanks for reading.

How Not to Lose Your Leg

What follows is a sort of journal, a record of the strange little adventure I’ve been going through of late.  See, I had a wee procedure to fix an old problem, and it’s become…well, it’s been a bit of an odyssey.  Please enjoy (although I’d warn those with weaker constitutions to maybe skip this one.  Y’been told.)  Without further ado, here are the five things I’ve learned about knee surgery.

  1. The sooner you see the doctor, the better

My knee troubles began when I was a young 20-something. I was hit from behind playing ice hockey. My right knee went out sideways, rather than back along the hinge as nature intended. It hurt quite a bit, but I just wrapped it in an ACE bandage, iced it, etc. I was young and probably under-insured. Mostly, though, I didn’t want to bother. “Probably nothing” I told myself. That is, until I started having discomfort. It felt at times like I needed the joint to ‘pop.’ You know how sometimes it feels good to crack your knuckles or your back? Like that. Sort of a dull ache and stiffness. I would sometimes lie on the floor and have a friend pull my leg out from my body until I felt (and sometimes heard) a gentle crack. Then I felt better for a while. As I aged, it started turning into an ‘old man knee’ which would react negatively to the weather changes and such. I discovered that the older I got, the more pain I’d experience after playing hockey, paintball, or soccer. Sometimes I could barely make it up the stairs. Two procedures, and a scary infection later, I wish I’d gone to the doctor right away. Might’ve been expensive, but would’ve saved time and money in the long run.

And a lot of waiting.  And selfie-taking, natch.

And a lot of waiting. And selfie-taking, natch.

  1. Your body is a crazy, autonomous, self-protection machine

The main problem was that a bit of scar tissue from my initial injury (or perhaps a bit of bone or tendon) had broken free inside the flesh within my knee. My body decided to encapsulate it in a cyst. The cyst grew over time, until it became the size of a peach pit. This, more than anything, was the cause of most of my discomfort. Imagine having a Lemonhead candy in your knee, only it’s wrapped in layers of raw bacon and wet tissue paper. Gross, yes. But that’s what your body does to protect itself. It’s akin to an oyster creating a pearl around a grain of sand, if the oyster was a fan of David Lynch films. This bodily reaction is all well and good, until it gets in the way of flexing your knee or pushes down on your patellar tendon or expands and contracts in response to barometric pressure. Then it becomes troublesome. And, jumping ahead a bit, it turns out that for years I harbored a sub-dermal infection in the knee after my first procedure. (SURPRISE! It’s MRSA! Seriously, this could’ve ended up with me doing a great Long John Silver cosplay.) This infection stayed trapped in the knee cavity for years. In other words, my body basically threw up a force field around the nastiness, keeping it from spreading throughout my body…until we inadvertently released the monster.

"Heeeeeeere, monster!  C'mon out, buddy!" (And yes, that's me on the table.  I spared you the rest of the pics.)

“Heeeeeeere, monster! C’mon out, buddy!” (And yes, that’s me on the table. I spared you the rest of the pics.)

  1. Even nurses get grossed out

My first outpatient procedure was almost ten years ago. They went in and, unable to remove the entire cyst, sort of cut it down a bit. Trimmed the proverbial hedge. The problem was that the sutured wound became infected. They took out the stitches and gave me topical antibiotic cream and antibiotic pills. Should’ve cleared it right up. It didn’t. WARNING: we’re now getting to the part where you weak-stomached types might want to skip ahead. When the wound finally healed, it left a little ‘vent’ of sorts. This was disgusting, as now and then enough fluid would build up inside the joint that it would express itself. On one hand, it meant that the juice in my knee never reached critical, painful levels…but it also meant that it never truly healed, and had the added annoyance of being irritating and embarrassing. I’d stand up from kneeling to tie my kids’ shoes and there’s be a wet spot on my knee. Yuck. And the cyst was still in there, so when I did get down on my knees, at just the right angle, it was like having a marble sewn inside your pants leg right at the knee. Awkward and unpleasant. Finally, I’d had enough and went to my current doctor, who also specializes in sport medicine. He went in and basically performed the same procedure that I’d had before. Sewed me back up. And, you guessed it: more infection. The knee had been swollen and sort of red for a few days, and I was getting concerned. Then my shin got sort of pink. Finally, the Monday after my procedure (I’d gone in the previous Thursday) I awoke to find my knee a bloody mess. Literally, I’d ruptured, and spilled blood out of my dressing and down my leg. When I went to clean it up and re-dress, with every small bit of pressure I put on the wound, fresh blood poured out. It was like my knee was a water balloon full of blood, water, and pus. I called the doc, and he got me in fairly quickly. Opened me up, flushed out all the nastiness with saline, swabbed it, and packed the wound with medicated gauze. Here’s how that works: he opens a jar containing the gauze. The strip is about 1/4 to ½ of an inch wide and a foot or so long. He takes the forceps and slowly crams it all into the wound. Then he covers it with dry gauze padding, wraps it with more gauze, and puts an ACE bandage over all of it. One of the two nurses that have assisted every time I’ve been to the doctor has told me how hard it is to keep her breakfast down during my visits, first the cutting-out of the mass and cyst (the stuff looked like chewed-up watermelon bubble gum as he pulled more and more out) and then the stuffing of the raw, open hole in my knee with gauze. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating to watch. I had my phone in my hand at one point, and he asked “taking a video?” I told him that I was Tweeting, but damn if that wasn’t a good idea. But it was too late by that point. The good stuff was over.

Afterwards, I thought "Huh.  Hope I didn't interfere with some guy's heart monitor or something..."

Afterwards, I thought “Huh. Hope I didn’t interfere with some guy’s heart monitor or something…”

  1. The pain actually isn’t the worst part…

The most difficult hurdle of this whole situation has been my feeling of helplessness and immobility. The healing process mandates that I keep my leg as straight as possible at all times…even during sleep. You know how difficult that is? Do you realize how many times a night you instinctively pull your knees up, fetal-style? I also have the tendency to cross my legs under one another, like a figure-four. Every time I’d start to move too much, I’d wake myself up in alarm. It makes for restless nights. And maybe it’s the stress or it’s the antibiotics, but I’ve had some interesting dreams. Stress dreams about my knee exploding or blood soaking through the sheets, enough so that I wake up and have to feel the wrapping to make sure all is well. The doctor also told me to keep weight off the knee, and recommended a cane. “Not only does it help keep the weight off, it forces you to keep your leg straight.” Great. But fucking cumbersome. Have you ever tried to get a laptop bag, cane, and cup of coffee out of your car while keeping your leg as straight as possible? It’s like a hilarious one-man game of Twister. And stairs? Fuck stairs, man. But then there’s the whole ‘propping my leg on a chair at work.’ My job primarily involves sitting at a desk, looking at a monitor. No problem. But when you have to torque your upper body almost 90 degrees to accommodate your gimp leg, it gets old really fast. And showering? Good luck. You’re told to keep your dressings dry. Holding a leg out of the shower doesn’t help that much, as water tends to run all the way down your body no matter whether it hits your head or your torso, following gravity and the surface tension of your skin; water doesn’t give a shit if there’s some gauze and tape in the way, it just wants to flow down. I’ve taken to encasing the knee in Saran Wrap, holding it out (basically standing on one leg) and hoping for the best. And your muscles do strange things. Because I am working so hard to keep my right leg straight while walking and sitting, it’s like I’m constantly flexing it. (Try this: stick your leg out in front of you, keeping it as straight as possible. Good. Now, hold it like that all day.) The downside is that when you do get a chance to relax, you sometimes have cramps. Like, bad ones in the arch of your foot. Or maybe just twitchy spasms in your thigh. And the other (left, in my case) leg sometimes feels like it’s carrying around most of your (in my case) 197 pounds all by itself. So when you ask it to go up the stairs once more, it sometimes says “No. No more. Let’s stay right here.” Hard to argue, Mr. Leg. I didn’t really need to go to the bathroom anyway.

Got my Netflix...got my Depends on...I'm good to go!

Got my Netflix…got my Depends on…I’m good to go!

  1. …but there is quite a bit of pain, too

Ain’t gonna lie. There were some really excruciating moments in this little adventure. The initial procedure a few weeks ago was no fun; yes, I received a shot to numb the knee to begin with. But even that part sucks. They stick a needle waaaaaay deep into the place where he’s gonna do the cuttin’. And then he adjusts locations and sticks you again. Doesn’t take long, but damn, it’ll take your breath away that first time he jabs you. And here’s a fun little tidbit about me: I apparently have a very high tolerance for painkillers, especially lidocaine and novocaine. This means that after the doctor numbed me and started cutting, he had to administer more shots. Every time he’d go to expand the incision, starting at about an inch and then going wider to get at more of the pulp, I’d feel it. He’d stop and dose me again. Tedious. But the really bad part came when, after my first infection-solving gauze-pack, I went in to have the gauze replaced. Watching him pull a foot of bloody bandage out of my knee like a flesh-and-blood tape dispenser was surreal, but more uncomfortable than painful. Replacing the gauze with new, fresh stuff, however…ouch. He started shoving some in and saw me flinch. “Want me to numb it?” he asked. “Nah, just do it. Go.” So we’re clear: this means that I was able to feel everything as he grabbed my skin with a pair of pincers and then slowly, inch by inch, fed a strip of medicine-infused cloth through the red maw below my kneecap and into the cavity within.

You’re gritting your teeth right now, aren’t you? Yeah. That’s pretty much all you can do. Stare at the ceiling, grip the edges of the table tightly, and clench that jaw. But there’s good news. The pain afterwards is minimal. No ongoing sharp pains. And the times when I do feel a twinge or ache, I simply pop a couple of Advil. So no super-powered painkillers or narcotics. No danger of becoming Greg House.

Now it’s just a waiting game. Waiting for this thing to heal. Every time the doc or I change dressings, we remove a bit more of the stuffing. And day-by-day, the wound starts to close and heal. The antibiotics seem to have cleared up the infection. No more MRSA. (I’ll keep taking the pills, though, until the damn thing is fully healed.) Yet, I know that there’s still work to be done. My right leg is going to have to learn how to bend at the knee, slowly and gently stretching the new skin and scar tissue. Plus, there’s sure to be a bit of muscle atrophy (although my left leg should be able to do single-leg squats by now, as much work as it’s doing.) But after all is said and done, I should be right as rain by the end of the summer.

Just in time for hockey season.

When Bad Guys Were P*ssies.

Maybe it was 9/11, you know? Like, maybe the horror and shock of that day forced us to ‘grow up’ for better or worse. We got tougher, a bit more wary and jaded. I don’t know. Maybe it was something else; Western Culture catching up a tiny bit with our European brethren, psychologically speaking. Whatever the case, the fact remains that back in the 80’s and early-90’s, we were soft, pink, mewling little kittens. 2015 us could wipe the floor with 1988 us.  Fact.

Here’s what led me down this particular path of discovery.  Recently I was doing an image search for actor Lee Tergesen.  I’d considered putting together another “That One Guy” blog, with a slight difference in focus:  I’d concentrate on one particular actor. Perhaps make a series of such posts, one for each iconic character actor. Lee is one of those guys who’s been in a lot of films and TV shows, usually sort of disappearing into his role, which is what makes him such a great actor.  The same guy who played Tobias Beecher on HBO’s prison drama ‘Oz’ also played one of Wayne and Garth’s metalhead buddies, thrashing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before appearing as Evan ‘Scribe’ Wright in ‘Generation: Kill’ and so on and so forth.  Anyway, one of his earliest roles was that of Rosie in ‘Point Break.’

Rosie was the archetypical scary biker tough guy.  Bodhi’s muscle, in a very real sense. (Note to self: consider a blog entry that examines how Bodhi, Utah, and Rosie were all manifestations of the Super-Ego, Ego, and Id.) Rosie was frightening, and supposedly capable of gutting someone with nary a concern other than trying to avoid getting any ‘on his shoes.’  I remember seeing the film when I was not quite twenty years old and thinking he was fairly intimidating. Rosie wasn’t a surfer, he was ostensibly some sort of biker.  An outsider, even among the outsiders. He was a savage, and hey, remember that scene at the bonfire?  Remember?  The others are out surfing at night, but Rosie is back on the beach, drinking, and spitting booze onto the fire, making it flare up.  Remember?  I wonder what sort of wickedly potent, liver-pounding rot-gut booze he was slugging?

Wait…seriously?  He’s drinking…

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE!  YEAH!  KICK IT!  KICK IT AGAIN!

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE! YEAH! KICK IT! KICK IT AGAIN!

CORONA?!  Are you fucking kidding me? A beer?! I mean, don’t get me wrong: beer is great. And Corona is easily one of the top-fifty beers from Mexico. But, c’mon. Rosie is a terrifying monster in bike leathers. He should be drinking moonshine or whiskey…maybe 151…ANYTHING approaching 100 proof. Beer? BEER THAT ONLY TASTES GOOD WITH A STINKIN’ LIME IN IT?! Might as well have been a Zima. (Actually, Zima was a malt liquor beverage with a higher alcohol content than most beers, so it would have been MORE manly.)  A kid that had never actually (up to that point) been to an illegal beach bonfire or nearly incinerated a friend while spitting and igniting grain alcohol and other things that maybe I should stop talking about right now might have been impressed with Rosie.  Shit, I was.  Now I realize he’d get his ass kicked in any place outside of Malibu.  Perhaps his ending was the most realistic part of the film.  It happens off-screen, but Utah tells Bodhi that Rosie apparently got knifed to death in Mexico.  What if that was Rosie’s first trip outside of his home county?  He thinks he’s a tough guy, orders a Corona ‘straight up’ and the Mexicans beat the living shit out of him with bottles of Pacifico and Modelo.

So, R.I.P Rosie and his tough-guy image. I sat there thinking about him, and my mind flashed on another badass that maybe wasn’t. Bennett.  The bad guy from ‘Commando.’ the actor’s name is Vernon Wells, and yes, I could do an entire ‘That One Guy’ on him.  The dude’s appeared in everything from ‘The Power Rangers’ to ‘Innerspace’ and has no fewer than twenty-one projects due to be released this year alone. But the role you will probably remember him from was from the iconic Mad Max sequel, ‘The Road Warrior.’  He played a character named Wez and holy shitballs, was he scary.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Wells would go on to almost exactly replicate that performance as a party-crashing biker/euphemism in ‘Weird Science.’  Again, an impressively crazy, wild-eyed psychopath on a motorcycle.  Jesus, I almost crapped my pants just thinking about him.

When the guy from 'The Hills Have Eyes' is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

When the guy from ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

So when you learn that Vernon Wells is playing the nemesis in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure flick, you think “AW, YISSS!!  MOTHER FUCKING BAD-ASSERY!” and then you get to the theater and see…

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Freddie Mercury?!  What the actual fuck, man?  What happened?  Is that vest made of old pop-tops or just nasty grey yarn that his grandma didn’t want, because seriously, who wants an olive-grey tea cozy?  Nobody, that’s who. Good call, grandma. While I’m talking about relatives, Bennett looks more like your weird uncle Gary that collects Thomas the Tank Engine stuff even though he doesn’t have any kids.  Maybe that’s more unsettling.  Could the makers of Commando been deliberately trying to give off that pedophile subtext?  After all, the main point of the ‘plot’ is that Arnold’s daughter has been kidnapped…were the studio types making a statement?  A subtle, veiled threat to the virtue and physical well-being of the girl in order to make moviegoers even more uneasy?

"Hey, kids...wanna see my Percy?"

“Hey, kids…wanna see my Percy?”

Or had Wells simply let himself go between roles?  Like, the casting director didn’t request an up-to-date headshot, and when Wells rolled up to his trailer on the first day of shooting, the director was all “Well…huh.  Fuck it, we’re on a schedule people.  Keep the mustache.  We’re rolling in five.”  Occam’s Razor makes that seem like the more likely scenario.  Either way, though, you’re never truly convinced that this doughy, sweater-vested, Bob’s Burgers cosplay guy is going to be able to physically match up with Arnold’s character.  They may as well have cast Kevin Spacey as the bad guy, although holy shit: Kevin Spacey in a mustache would be a GREAT Bob’s Burgers cosplay.

A really smug Bob 'Keyser' Belcher.

A really smug Bob ‘Keyser’ Belcher.

The point is, we were seemingly much more easily intimidated back in the day.  I won’t even get into how the Friday the 13th movies look so dated compared to modern horror films and television.  Seriously, the Jason Vorhees flicks remind me of old 50’s Martian invasion movies.  But initially, they were terrifying enough to spawn a generation’s worth of sequels.  I guess that’s sort of comforting.  The things that scare us often turn out to be not so bad after all.  Laughable, even.  (Gene Simmons used to terrify people.  Let that sink in for a second.) There’s a lesson there somewhere.  Sleep tight, America.

Saying Goodbye With a Crappy Movie

You can’t go home again. It’s a tired expression, but damn it if Netflix doesn’t bring it into relevance with alarming regularity. Case in point:

Something sad but hopeful happened a few weeks back. The world lost the great Leonard Nimoy. He was many things, a poet, director, artist, singer (well, okay) but his most enduring legacy will be the character he developed and perfected, the incredible Mr. Spock. (Spock lives, forever and ever.)

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind...

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind…

So there I was, sad that he was gone, but overjoyed for the human race that the man existed at all, and boy had he lived a great life. Nimoy exemplified The American Dream: the son of Jewish immigrants rises to Hollywood immortality. But I was still selfishly sad. I needed closure. To say my goodbye, it would have been easy to just pull up Wrath of Khan, for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to go back and feel, as Carol Marcus would say “Young, as when the world was new.” I ran to Netflix and watched a flick I hadn’t seen in its entirety for well over twenty years. The original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remembered it being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, and I also remembered having a bit of buyer’s remorse after seeing the film in the cinema with my mom and brother. We’d had the option of seeing Disney’s The Black Hole and opted for Trek instead. Keep in mind that we kids had already been blown away by Star Wars two summers previous, so it was going to take an awful lot to impress us. I think my brother might have dozed off during STTMP. Maybe it was me. I’m sure someone was snoring. Fast-forward to many years later and Star Trek the Motion Picture’s appearance on one of the cable movie channels. I watched it with a more discerning eye, a little more seasoned. I remember thinking that it wasn’t terrible, but still not great. Plus, I really appreciated the late Persis Khambatta. Mmmm-hmmmm!

"Stand back, Jim. I'm not sure how big this thing gets."

“Stand back, Jim. I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”

So that brings us to now. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through since that cable experience in my early-20’s. I sat through the entire thing on my couch, and…wow, is it bad. I mean, really bad. I’ve heard (but not yet researched) that the original plan was to make a revamped Star Trek television series, but after Star Wars made such mad dough, suddenly every studio wanted a big space epic. As a result, what should’ve been maybe a one-hour TV pilot became over two-hours of…well…mainly the bridge of the Enterprise.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

Seriously, there’s a long (TOO long) exterior shot as Scotty and Kirk fly out to the newly-overhauled and refitted NCC-1701 and it’s nice, for about forty-five seconds.  Then it’s “Oooo, there’s the old gal! She looks so silvery! And look! They’ve added 1957 Bel Air wings to ‘er!” Afterwards, it’s mainly the bridge and a few corridor shots. And for some reason (perhaps to distance it from the primer-colored uniforms of the original series) they opted for a de-saturated color palette. Everything is grey or shades of flesh-colored fabric. It’s really quite bad. The only saving grace is the incredibly sharp grey-and-white dress uniform that Admiral Kirk wears in his early scenes.

All the poon.  James T. Kirk got ALL the poon.  In the galaxy.  All of it.  There ain't none left.

All the poon. James T. Kirk got ALL the poon. In the galaxy. All of it. There ain’t none left.

Those uni’s were sharp enough to get re-cast in the J.J. Abrams reboots. Classy duds. Especially compared to Kirk’s weird, too-snug, short-sleeved white tunic that looks like it belongs on Mr. Clean or a tropical cabana boy. Bizarre.

"My God, Jim!  He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!"

“My God, Jim! He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!”

But the stuff that really looks cheap are the matte paintings. Gods be good, but I’d swear most of them looked like they’d been borrowed from Forbidden Planet. Don’t get me wrong: Forbidden Planet is one of the all-time great science-fiction films and one of my personal favorites…but Jesus, man. We’d just seen Tatooine and the Death Star. You can’t come at us with eight-color acrylic industrial landscapes and expect us to take you seriously.

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

But for all the lackluster elements to the damned flick, it did boast a huge check mark in the plus column: that wonderful score, repurposed years later for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A word about that Jerry Goldsmith composition. It really is at its best when they use the largo version, slowed a bit, a more rolling pace. It’s actually a movement entitled “The Enterprise.” It sounds nautical. Grand. Somewhat melancholy. Lovely. (It gets really familiar around 1:37)

Even though TRUE Star Trek fans know that THIS is what we think of when we think of Star Trek movies…James Horner’s brilliant and enduring Wrath of Khan stuff.

Then again, Michael Giacchino’s “Enterprising Young Men” has been also been a smashing success…

(Not to self:  do an entire blog about sci-fi musical scores.)

I guess in closing I’d say that it’s sort of a miracle, to me, that the studio even decided to go ahead with a sequel. It really was a make-or break proposition. When you think about it, STTMP was one of the earliest examples of a Hollywood reboot. New ship, new uniforms, new Klingons, new score. Consider that the production budget was (according to Box Office Mojo) around $35 million dollars. Joss Whedon’s Serenity had a budget of $39 million, and Star Trek Into Darkness cost $185 million…but adjusted for inflation, that first Trek would’ve had a budget of over $112 million dollars. Sort of right in the middle of the big sci-fi epic production costs. So when it earned just shy of twelve million dollars (less than half the cost to produce) on opening weekend, well…I imagine that some folks at Paramount likely shit their collective pants. The good news is that the film went on to earn $85 million, so the studio ended up doubling their money and then some. Thus was a franchise born. And now, here we are 36 years later, in the midst of another cinematic reboot. New cast, new ship, new Klingons.

A new Spock.

You really can’t go home again…but that’s fine. Because its so much fun to wonder what’s out there…thattaway…