Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some Holiday Thoughts for 2007

This morning has been a long time coming, it seems. It's the Saturday before Christmas 2007, and I know I'm going to have to get dressed--get my gas tank filled up & tires checked (for the trip home in a couple days) along with some last minute shopping--but for now it's nice to just sit here on my couch with a hot cup of coffee, watch the sun come up & enjoy the quiet of the morning.

To be honest, sometimes I very much enjoy being a single guy.

I honestly can't believe how much food I've eaten this week--besides the daily trays of Christmas cookies & candy that have been literally within arms reach at work, we had a baby shower for one of our coworkers--complete with too much pizza and too much cake.


Jamie's baby shower at the office came complete with a dozen pizzas & a huge cake

Also of course, the company's holiday luncheon; followed 2 days later with our own Christmas feast, laden with platters of goodies, fried chicken, deviled eggs, stuffed banana peppers, meatballs, chili--the works. I ate like I couldn't get enough. (My diet has been thoroughly screwed; I've gained 4 lbs & it's not even Christmas Day yet.)


My niece Drew sparkles at her school’s holiday program; after the show, my other niece Sophia; aren’t they beautiful?

Ever since Mom passed away (sadly, right around this time, in 2004) the holidays just haven't been the same. It was the only time of year that all her kids got together in one place; we haven't done that now since.

Fortunately, I have my sister Shawn & her family to spend the time with, and this year we're planning a get-together with Donda, Bob & Drew--which should make it feel even more like the family holiday it should be. I got Sophia the movie 'Hairspray' (which she saw at the theater 4 times--poor Shawn!) and this nifty 'Pizza Party' kit. Drew is 14 now, so I'm giving her what every girl her age appreciates--cash! Seriously though, Drew has always been a very gracious kid--she responds the same way to whatever gift she receives.

Well, not a lot more to say--other than I feel the beginnings of a sore throat coming on, and I'm praying it isn't the start of something more serious! We've had a lot of people at work coming down with stuff this week, and who needs that at Christmas?? I'd better go get things started!

Happy  Holidays  Everyone     

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Girl Crazy Again (but this time it’s old school)



Several years ago, I asked my sister Shawn what she wanted for her birthday; she told me she'd always wanted 'Girl Crazy', one of those early 40s Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films (and considered their best).

I was surprised that I wasn't familiar with the film, I’m a huge Judy Garland fan myself.  I also couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find the movie (and the price, which was much higher than average).

I asked to borrow the movie, and was shocked--I loved it even more than I'd anticipated.  (Believe it or not, I saw 'Babes in Arms' for the first time just a year ago.)  I promised myself to collect these films someday.



Mickey & Judy in 'Strike Up the Band' (1940)

I'm glad I waited.  Several weeks ago, I heard that Warner Brothers was releasing a 4 picture set of Garland & Rooney's films.  They were even on promotion ($27.00 at DeepDiscount).  

While waiting for it to arrive, I thought "Hey, waitaminute--Warner DVD has a reputation for putting out premium sets...I wonder if they'll do anything special with this one?" 




'Babes in Arms', one of the movies in the collection

Opening the box made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.  Inside the collection is 'Babes in Arms', 'Strike Up the Band', Babes on Broadway', & 'Girl Crazy'. 

And not only have the movies been digitally restored (and look startlingly new), they're presented in their original theatrical format: each film comes complete with movie trailers, war-reels, intermission, short films, cartoons.  It's brilliant. 


The set also includes:

A beautiful hardcover book detailing the history of their working together, with reproductions of all the movie posters

A photo album with 20 5x7 glossy photos of Judy & Mickey; publicity stills, rehearsing on the set, costume changes, even going to dinner.  (What's remarkable is that they're NOT in a book--they're 20 photographs, beautifully bordered & suitable for framing?!)

A 'Bonus DVD' which sets off the entire collection (and almost made me cry when I put it in my dvd player).  It's the 'Judy Garland Songbook', a gorgeously produced collection of 25 of her songs from her movies--including her later films, i.e. with Gene Kelly, 'A Star is Born', etc.   I had NO IDEA this was part of the collection, and I would've gladly paid the collection price for this one disc alone.

My only regret is that I didn't buy two; the set is now $52.00, and I'm betting my sister Shawn would love this too.  (I'll be watching for the next sale!)


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Girl Crazy (I’m talking about movies here!)



Since rejoining Netflix around 5 weeks ago, I've already seen 21 movies. 

(Waitaminute, I've seen 21 movies?!) 

I saw a good (but formulaic) story with Anthony Hopkins in "Fracture", and an excellent German film (based on East Berlin in the 80s during the height of the eavesdropping craze, "The Lives of Others"). 

But truth be told, I really haven't been that impressed--EXCEPT FOR THE FILMS WITH CRAZY WOMEN.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate--I should say 'films with unbalanced women in some crazy situations'.  But the thing is, these movies easily rate an 'A' in my book, which I don't hand out lightly.



Lonely Hearts (2006)

I rented this to see James Gandolfini & John Travolta working together in a 1950s period piece; they were ok, but Selma Hayek was a knockout.   She plays a homicidal maniac who feels she's found the love of her life in a con-man she encounters (who just so happens to be on the brink of sanity himself--and willingly lets Selma push him over). 

Sexy as ever, she's the very definition of a femme fatale;  she'd just as soon love you or slit your throat.  (Watching her sympathize with a young foreign widow for days, then tire of it and give her a gruseome poison was downright chilling.) 

And when she tells her crazed lover "I want to have a baby..." you can only shudder.


Waitress (2007)

Everything that 'Little Miss Sunshine' was acclaimed for (blech!) this movie DESERVED.  Keri Russell just does an amazing job here, playing a waitress in a 'Hot n' Cold Pie' restaurant who lives to make pies and fantasizes about leaving her husband--"the worst man on the planet". 

And oh boy, is he ever; I grimaced whenever he came on the screen.

But then she discovers she's pregnant.  She begins keeping a journal for her future baby, apologizing in advance for "not wanting you, damn baby, I hope someone gives you hugs like my mother did with me."  (Rest assured, the movie has a terrific ending, even better than you're hoping.) 

Her life is told thru different pies she creates (always shown being made in fast-motion).  She develops a crush on her doctor--and decides to take him one of her specialties.  When she arrives, he's out for the day & an older woman obstetrician is taking his place.  "Oh, you brought a pie?  What is it, pumpkin?" Keri lowers her head & blushes.  "It's a Naughty Lovers Super Spice Pumpkin."  

The doctors reaction had me on the floor.    


The Dead Girl (2006)

Amazing.  Brilliant.  And bleak beyond compare.  I'm thankful I got to see this, but could never sit through it again.  Told in 5 chapters:  The Stranger.  The Sister.  The Wife. The Daughter. The Mother.  Each story of a separate woman in a painful existence, none of whom know each other, and how they all tie to the last story--The Dead Girl  (played by Brittany Murphy, who has the character of a twentysomething junkie down to a science, she is that frightening, and that good.) 

Throughout the entire film, you have this strange feeling of both 'impending doom' and real despair--I still can't figure out how it was pulled off. 

Toni Collette returns to her roots here, as an overweight, troubled loner who finds a dead body in the field behind her house (which she shares with her handicapped, insanely abusive mother).  It only gets better from there.


Bug (2007)

You have to give Ashley Judd some serious credit here; this one isn't for the faint of heart, and shows her in a pretty unattractive light.  (Without makeup thru the film, dirty, naked.)  Ashley plays a woman literally on the brink of sanity--she lives alone in a seedy, filthy hotel room; she fills herself up with various medications, and keeps her closet stuffed with old toys and dirty clothes--the remnants of a son that was abducted as a toddler a decade ago.

And then by unlucky coincidence, she meets Michael Shannon, a quiet man (who is already quite insane).  He's on the run (from no one); he believes the government used him as a guinea pig for breeding insects in people.  

And not only does he convince Ashley of this delusion, but soon has her believing there's a reason why they met.  Her fall from sanity is complete--what happens then is (literally) shrieking terror.

And finally, Crazy Girl Movies that the critics warned were bad but I rented anyway because I was Girl Crazy for Halle Berry & Sandra Bullock: 

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I should've listened to the critics.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How my mom helped inspire the 1950 Batmobile—well, you’ll see what I mean


I know that's a pretty strange title, but in a few short weeks it will have been 3 years since Mom left us; I miss her terribly & wanted to share an example of how very special she was, right up until her final days.

How this came about actually started in the winter of 2003. I always chatted with her on the phone several nights a week, and one night I said “Hey Mom, if I tell you something nerdy do you promise not to laugh?”   She said “No promises, kiddo—now spill it!”

So I explained how I'd been online, browsing Ebay, & came across an interesting item. Some guy had taken a 1950 Batmobile model kit, done an incredible job of customizing it, and was selling it--for 200 bucks! Mom asked me if I knew how much the original model was; I told her you could buy the (unassembled, basic) plastic kit for under twenty bucks.

She said "What'd he do, gold-plate it?!" We both laughed, then she said something which surprised me: "Buy it."


Interior view of the actual custom model that sold on Ebay; instead of a backseat, this car was known for having a mini crime lab in the rear--complete with stool & desk!


Now Mom could've very easily said "Doug, you're a 40 year man--don't waste that much money on a damn toy!" & I would've agreed. But she didn't & I know why, God bless her; because from as early as I can remember, I've always been a huge Batman fan.


For my seventh birthday, my mom got me this Batman costume and added Bat-boots & an awesome utility belt with all kinds of Bat-gadgets!

Anyway--I said no, as much as I wanted that 50s Batmobile. I really had no desire to spend that kind of money on such a thing.

MOM: Why don't you buy the model and do it yourself?

DOUG: Mom, this guy goes on about how he used real auto paint, and made miniatures of controls & instruments; he must be a real pro, I wouldn't have a clue where to start.

MOM: I know what you're capable of. I'd love to see you build one. Doug if you do it right, I'll display it right on top of my tv!

(Two weeks later I ordered one of the kits--but when I saw all the plastic pieces, I rolled my eyes & stuck it in the top of my closet.)



Detective Comics, No.156 "The Batmobile of 1950"

It became a sort of 'running joke' on our phone calls; every once in awhile, she'd say "How's the custom Batmobile coming?" I'd go "Uh..." & she'd say "What are ya saving it for, retirement?! You're just like your dad!" and we'd both laugh.

But it was soon forgotten; because it was around this time that Mom began getting sick, and I could do nothing else but feel worry, fear, depression. And then one day, while spending time with her in the hospital, watching tv…      

MOM: Did you ever finish that Batmobile?

DOUG: No mom, I never started it. Too much else going on...

MOM: I'm never going to get to see that thing, am I.

DOUG: Mom, it’s not that important.  I wouldn’t even know where to start, anyway.  Where would I even buy an autosprayer, or a breathing mask?  It’s just a dumb model car…

Sometime later, when I was leaving the hospital, my sister Shawn (who worked there as a medical transcriber) ran to where I was waiting at the elevator & handed me a surgical mask.  I said “What’s this for??”  Shawn said "Mom said to give it to you so you can work on your car." I couldn't believe it.

This sounds strange now, but I knew then that I wanted to do it for her. I began thinking about where to begin, & in the weeks ahead...

  1. I joined an online HobbyTalk board--found out that Future Floor Wax would make clear plastic look 'glass', and how to use needles & toothpicks for fine detail painting, & how SIX COATS of auto body paint achieved a 'true depth'.
  2. I'm at the jewelry store getting a battery in my watch replaced: what is that he's using? MicroFine jewelers sandpaper, can I have a postage stamp piece of that? Voila, car mats!
  3. Dry mustard & brown coloring pencil over rough primer will create a wood-like finish on plastic (for the desk, steering wheel and cabinets).


(The floor is actual stainless steel, like in the comics; the owner of my local hardware store cut me a piece from his industrial flooring samples)

To be honest, over the next few weeks building the thing became therapeutic. Instead of sitting on my couch at night & wringing my hands in frustration over mom (watching tv or reading was out of the question), I honestly felt like I had something to do. Build the thing, make it a real showpiece, do it for Mom.



Using Adobe Photoshop, I was able to shrink this photo of my parents to the size of my pinky nail, along with a brief biography of them. (You need a magnifying glass to read it.)

And if you look hard enough, you'll see them in Batman's 'Missing Persons' folder which rests on his desk. (I also cut a sliding panel into the bottom of the desk, and inserted my name, a brief history of how I built the car & why, and a dollar bill; what's better than hidden money?)


On October 15, 2004 I presented the completed Batmobile to my mom. She couldn't even stand on her own at this point, but took the time to hold & marvel at the finished car. I will never forget that.

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Of course, with everything else poor Mom had to deal with in the end (including Shawn's new baby girl) I realize this was too small to matter. But the thing is, it helped me get through those final months; and everytime I look at it, I am only reminded of her unselfish nature & love. And if it wasn't for Mom, there'd be no 1950 Batmobile.

I love and miss you very much, Mom


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lofty Wishes for a swank Teepee…



Yesterday I had an appointment with a realtor to see a unique set of properties for sale in my neighborhood. 

Approximately 4 blocks from my apartment, the former local high school (which has been shut down for a couple decades) has been converted into 18 'upscale' lofts. 

I liked what I saw--but I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen. 

I'd actually been there once before--around 6 months ago they held an 'Open House' on one of their first remodeled units, but at 235K I knew it was out of my price range.

(Here is the original open house model below, a two bedroom with maple kitchen.) 


I still left my name as a possible interested buyer, though.  And now the renovations for the entire building are just about completed.

Three years ago, when I heard the news that someone had bought the property to convert it to lofts, I admit I was pretty excited.  As a single person, I've just never had a lot of interest in owning a traditional home.  And to be honest, I genuinely like 'apartment living'.  (At the same time though, I wouldn't mind having an extra bedroom to use as an office, & my own washer/dryer hookup.)



My own place may be small, but it's a secured building on a quiet street; and I have a nice balcony with a 'backyard view' of the neighborhood.


But my bus goes past that school every night on the way home from work, so earlier this week when I received a call from the company asking if I'd like to make an appointment for a private showing, I said yes.



Doug, I guess you know there's been a downward trend in the realty market recently, & banks are being more particular with mortgage loans.  We're only arranging to meet buyers that have been preapproved.  I just need your permission to let me make this determination. 




Doug, wonderful news!  You've been pre-approved for a mortgage loan up to 225K.  You have a superb credit rating, a healthy 401K & savings account, a car that's paid off & no debt!   I think we need to meet right away; how's this weekend look for you?


What bank would loan me 225K?  I mean--yes, of course.  How about Saturday afternoon?



Now there is NO WAY I could afford that type of loan with a salary under 55K, but I said sure, what the heck.  Helen (the agent) said she'd be happy to show me all the available units (5 of the 18 have already been sold) but she'd prefer to focus on the 'median-priced' lofts.   (They have several at 210-235K, four at around 350-400K--haha! & a couple of VERY small studios at 165K which simply aren't worth it, IMO.)



Thru the main entrance, the inside of the school has also been immaculately restored, with dark oak staircases that lead to each unit  

I was shown Unit #307, which I admit I just loved.  Six tall windows & a large open kitchen on the first level, with a winding metal staircase which led upstairs to an 'open area'  bedroom & study.  There's also a nice sized bath and a walk in closet.  (Another bathroom is downstairs.)  

This is the floorplans for unit 307; the second diagram shows the mezzanine loft. 

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                    And here are some pics of the kitchen, windows & bath:

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I think you'll appreciate these ceilings--they're over 20 feet high!  And just imagine the entertaining you can do here; do you do a lot of entertaining, Douglas? I wonder how high the heating bills are going to be?  



Well, of course they're going to run a bit higher than your typical home.  But that's why they invented electric blankets--and cuddling! what's the property tax on this, anyway?



I don't mean to be rude, but I was actually trying to reason out the finances in my head during her sales pitch.  I genuinely loved the place...but eventually, I had to let reality set in.  

  • The price is 230K, firm.  No negotiations.
  • Property tax is PROJECTED to be 3500.00 per year (could be higher).
  • 'Grounds fee' is $200.00 a month.  (Covered parking is extra.)

(So in other words, the property tax & monthly 'grounds fee' alone equal what I'm already paying for my apartment.  I'll need an additional 14,000 per year just for the mortgage; and that's after I hand over most of my savings for the down payment.)   Rats.

I just had one more question; what do those 370K units look like, anyway?  



A pretty swanky kitchen, a personal library that looks like a 19th century gentleman's club, and yep--a private elevator to underground parking and your very own wine cellar—I would’ve settled for much less, you know.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

I was once a movie junkie, but I’ve reformed...



I'll never forget how it all started: it was June 1999, I was eating lunch at my desk and happily exploring the “world wide web” (the internet was still a newfangled thing to most of us).  I stumbled across an advertisement for “Rent movies—thru the mail!” 


It was from a website called Netflix and—aha!  It was dvds, not videotapes.

I recently bought a dvd player, but they were newfangled too—I only owned one DVD, “Galaxy Quest”.  

So that night, I get online--find the site--it sounds great.  For a set monthly fee, they'll send you 3 movies at a time--& as soon as you send one back, they'll replace it with another from your "wishlist".  So if you only watch 3 movies that month--good for them!   But if you can get & send back 30...good for you.


The very first Netflix rental I received, "Run Lola Run"; nearly 2000 films later, it remains in my Top Favorites

At first I was doing pretty good with the site--I loaded up my "queue" with all the mainstream Hollywood films I'd been missing out on for the last few years, and watched 'em at a healthy pace.  But after awhile, I began thinking "I should join the '4 Rental' deal..."  And then 5.  And then 6.  

Soon I joined the "Ultimate Program": 8 movies out at a time.  I was watching 40 movies a month, easy!

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Films I rated 5 stars; I rarely give movies my highest ranking!

Looking back, I think "Forty a month? How was that possible??"  but Netflix had an excellent recommendation program (based on your prior viewing history & how many stars, 1-5, that you gave to movies you've seen.   The more you rate, the better they can suggest other titles).  

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Here are 3 films I loved so much, I ran out & bought after renting.  I don't own a large collection--I only buy 3 movies a year at most.

But still, there's only so many films out there...right?  Wrong.  I soon discovered documentaries & independent films, and my real favorite--foreign movies.  Korean, French, Spanish--they put Hollywood to shame.


Oldboy (2003) a terrific example of Korean excellence in filmmaking; and the most incredible tale of revenge I've ever seen!  This guy gets kidnapped & is locked in a hotel room with nothing but a tv for 15 YEARS.  Why?   

This went on for years--and finally, around April of 2006, I quit.  I didn't go thru any "withdrawl symptoms", in fact it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders!  (Actually, I requested a 'leave of absence'.)

Okay, okay--this summer I did a 30 day trial with Blockbuster, and watched 5 good films--"Notes on a Scandal", "Letters from Iwo Jima”, "Apocolypto", "Half Nelson".  

But that was it, I swear to God!

And now here I am, 18 months later--& I just received an email from Netflix informing me I’ve been missed, and would I like to reactivate my account.   Tentatively, I went to the site (which felt strange, like coming home) and was surprised to see all the movies from my ‘wishlist’ queue now in my 'Available to rent' queue.  (Y'see, with Netflix--you have 2 queues.  You can fill up one with titles that aren't released to DVD yet, movies just hitting the theaters or even movies currently being filmed.  And when/if they DO get released to DVD, they automatically move to your 'Available Now' list.)

I signed back up.

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Welcome back, Douglas!  We're shipping these out today!

When I quit Netflix in April 2006, I had 2 movies left in my 'Available Now' list.  There's now 57 out there.   Doesn’t matter, I went with the minimum '3 at a time' plan.

I just hope it STAYS that way!