Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Humbuggery of Christmas & some other grinchy things on my mind


The original title for this post was going to be titled ‘The Twelve Stages of Christmas’.  It was going to show my disillusionment with the holiday season thru the years, from being in a glorious near-faint from the yuletide excitement in the 1960s, to 2008 with me pondering over a string of lights and wondering what a pretty Christmas noose it would make.

I seem to be getting in a grinchier mood with each passing Christmas, and this year is the worst; I’ve been preoccupied with the economy and my shrunk-to-nothing 401K.  My goal of retiring in 15 years has gone right up the chimney.) 

Forget about Miracle on 34th Street, we need a miracle on Wall Street instead! 

Anyway, I decided not to at the last minute.  Who wants to read that crap?  And I’m sure I’d get guilted for making holiday jokes about hanging myself. 

“Doug this is when people are more prone to attempting such things!”  I know, I know.  NOW BEGONE WITH YOU, SPIRITS.

grinch1aMeanwhile, my brother-in-law Bobby & my sister Donda wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas...   

Okay, all kidding aside I hope my family and friends enjoy their holidays, and I apologize for my humbuggery.  Just because I'm not feeling it doesn't mean I don't want everyone I care about to feel my gloom.

There are perks to being a grinch, you know.  For example, I've finally grown cynical enough to stop feeling guilty about not decorating my apartment; In fact I've never bought a tree--but at least now I don't feel bad about it.  This is also the first year that I haven't mailed out 4 dozen Christmas cards; I refuse to feel guilty about this either--most of 'em go out to people I haven't seen or talked to in years.  Who the HELL is Tim and Sarah?  They've been getting one from me since 1995!   Oh wait, I remember—Sarah was my boss’ sister from my days of working with Omega, I used to see her & her husband at holiday parties.  Nowhere else though.


Christmas cards with glitter make an especially nice fire... 

I know that people say "Well, Christmas is the time of year when you catch up on what's going on with so-and-so"'; but when you're both exchanging "Happy Holidays" & nothing else, it all seems a bit phony-baloney, doesn't it?

In all honesty, I suppose the holidays just haven't felt the same to me since Mom passed away around Christmas 2004.  While I miss her year 'round, it's especially so at Christmas.

Here's a true story:   Mom & The Mystery of the Snowman's Wife"  grinch2a

Back in 2001 when I was home for Thanksgiving,  Mom asked me to help her set out her outdoor Christmas decorations.  

She told me to head down to the basement & bring up her Snowman Family, a wooden trio made for her by an old family friend.  So I go downstairs, find & bring up Papa Snowman & Junior... but no Mrs. Snowman.  She tells me to keep looking.


  • DOUG (yelling up the cellar steps):  Mom, I thought you just had 2?  That's all you had in your yard last year, y'know...
  • MOM (yelling from upstairs):  WRONG, IT’S A FAMILY YOU NITWIT.  KEEP LOOKING.
  • (20 minutes later)

  • DOUG:  Mom, there's no snow-wife down here!!
  • (20 minutes later)

  • (20 minutes later)

  • DOUG:  Hey Mom, remember me!?  I've been down here for an hour, you wanna throw some food down the stairs?  Cause it looks like I'll be here all night!
  • DOUG:  This is the best Thanksgiving ever!
  • MOM:   Doug do you see that phone down there?  On the wall with the shelves? 
  • DOUG:  Yes!
  • DOUG:  Isn't this where Frankie comes to pee?
  • (Once upstairs)

  • MOM:  Doug, go outside and look at my front yard!
  • DOUG:  Yeah, I see 'em.  The snowmen--very pretty.
  • MOM:   Pretty RETARDED!  As soon as you're gone I'm gonna go bring up my Missus Snowman and tell everyone you're blind as a bat!
  • (The following week, I am back in Pittsburgh; I come home from work & there's a message on my answering machine from Mom.  "Hi honey...please call me as soon as possible..."   I call her right away.  

  • DOUG:  Mom?  Is something wrong?
  • MOM:   Do you love me?
  • DOUG:  Yes...
  • MOM:   Do you promise not to kill me?
  • DOUG:  WHY.
  • MOM:   After you left, I tore that basement apart looking for my missus snowman--I couldn't find it, and called Peter Rumskey to ask if he'd make me a new missus, as somehow I lost the first one.  He said "Linda, I only made ya two to begin with...what made ya think you had a third?"
  • DOUG:  And you thought I was the crazy one!!
  • MOM:   Well, THAT hasn't changed--I just wanted to tell ya there's no third snowman.  But hey--you could've come upstairs anytime, that's your own damn fault!
  • grinch3

    Well, as grumpy as I've been, it's fond memories like that (and the picture below--my niece Sophie is telling Santa she wants underwear for Christmas) that still make the holidays special.  And okay--I can't wait for this elf to see the Easy Bake oven I got her!

    Merry Christmas Everyone


    Friday, November 28, 2008

    Thanksgiving 2008: It’s as good a time as any…



    Well, yesterday was Thanksgiving, and international and economic crises aside, it couldn't have been a nicer day.  After a week of darkness & sleet & snow, everything brightened (both the weather and my spirits) and I enjoyed a lovely holiday with family.  (Shawn is a very good cook, and sent me home with a couple pounds of leftovers to boot!)  And of course her husband Jim was there, and my niece Sophia, beautiful and ornery as ever. 

    (When I arrived and walked in the door, that angel ran right over, hugged me & said "Oh Uncle Doug, I've missed you..."  while Shawn and I exchanged some pretty emotional expressions.  That alone made my day.)


    Later while I was loading some files on my sister's computer, I went online to see what some of my 'internet pals' were up to, and I noticed that someone had started a 'Giving Thanks' discussion, with items both traditional and non. 

    It seems like I've been caught up in such a variety of negative things lately (squabbles with other family members, dental problems, fears about the economy) that I've neglected to consider the things that are right in my life as well. 

    So in no particular order, and certainly not including everything, here's a few items I am giving thanks for this Thanksgiving weekend:


    My job with UPMC Health Plan - It pays the bills (and then some)

    While part of me resists sounding like a corporate shill, I want to be honest here--I like my job.  I work in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, I feel I'm paid fair enough (in fact I just received a nice salary increase on Tuesday) and I'm treated both as a friend & professional (by my coworkers & manager).  I may grumble about my job from time to time, but I feel fortunate to be part of the UPMC organization.  (I've now begun my ninth year there too; it's a good fit.)


    Stephen King and his return to the short story (among other things)

    While I haven't always been proud to admit it (now why is that?) I've always been a Stephen King groupie.  From the first novel of his I read in college ("The Dead Zone") to bewildering works like "Insomnia", I've never failed to get excited when I hear he has something new out there. 

    And with this just released collection of short stories (both old and new), I am reminded once again why Stephen King is my favorite storyteller.   (It also includes a return of his 'Constant Reader' introduction; how I've missed these personal glimpses into this thoughtful man's life.)



    Jim, Shawn & Sophie (for including me in their holiday)

    While of course I have more than one sibling (and I'm grateful for them too), it's my sister Shawn & her family who I'm giving thanks to here.  It's one thing to be loved, but when Shawn said "Doug please come, this won't be Thanksgiving unless you're here" (and I knew she meant it) then it becomes more than a feeling of gratitude, but a real sense of belonging. 

    And for a single guy, that's often a nice thing to have.  




    Nifty Chinese inventions

    Here's what I currently enjoy using:  penstyle & mini e-sticks, which produce a harmless vapor with apple, caramel or mint flavoring

    I know I've written about these "e-cigs" before in the teepee, but it bears repeating: the Chinese saved my life with this little invention that mimics smoking (allowing you to 'puff' on flavored water vapor instead).  I've now gone 5 months without a cigarette (I'll never go back to smoking) and I still enjoy 'vaping' mist with these electronic gadgets.  (They're not for everyone, but for someone who was desperate to quit smoking & get their health back...this did the trick.)



    The truth may be out there but it's in here too (thanks to 'The X-Files' on DVD)

    Scene: it's my day off, it's raining outside, I don't feel like reading and there's nothing good on TV.  And that's usually when I remember I own all 9 seasons of 'The X-Files', and I haven't seen most of the episodes since their original air-date.   I'm only up to Season 2 & I'm in no rush to get thru these excellent shows.  This series is in my Top 5 shows of all time, too.  617D5C2B848A9C67_4436_7[1]


    Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name...

    I love these girls--and thanks to their diligence, ingenuity & hard work, they transformed a quiet little lunch counter into my favorite place to eat downtown.  Their shop was formerly owned by a quiet, polite Greek man who (after only being open a couple months) decided to move back to Greece.  Sarah (the tall one) and Gina (the spunky one) worked the counter.   I had become friends with them, & they told me they were planning to become partners and buy the place.   Uh huh.

    Well, they surprised everyone when they did just that.  They jazzed up the menu & transformed the place into a lively, inexpensive little eatery. 

    They know all their original customers by name (like me & my friend Karyn) and on a couple personal occasions, have helped me out (making hors d'oeuvres, cookies, even a cake) for special occasions at the office.   They also happen to make the best pita pizzas around!


    And last but not least, I'll always give thanks for my own little piece of the planet

    It's corny but true: while it isn't much, there isn't a single morning that I awake & not feel real gratitude for my little teepee here in Pittsburgh. 

    When I moved to this city in 1988 to go back to school, I had less than a hundred dollars to my name and didn't know a single person here.  (Of course I hoped to finish school, land a good job & get my own place, but until all of that actually happened...)  

    Anyway, I promised myself I'd never forget where I came from or take for granted what I have once I got it.  And I never will.

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Everything old is new again (well, lately it certainly seems that way….)


    Have you ever noticed that when a friend or loved one is going to have a baby, suddenly there's pregnant women everywhere?  I think this can apply to phrases too. 

    Earlier this week on my way home from work, I overheard two women on the bus talking about the 'new recession' and how stores were restarting "layaway shopping", and one of them said "Well, everything old is new again." 

    It certainly seems so, in both good and bad ways.  Anyway, the next thing I knew, that phrase just seemed to apply to everything else going on this week too.



    In the above photo, I'm about to dig into the 'Arrogant Onion' Fatburger; Erin with me outside of Fatheads  

    Here's an example:  this week, I went with Julie D & Erin O to Fatheads, a popular bar/restaurant on the Southside.  I used to love this place, but it's been years since my last visit; I felt like a 'first timer' again.   It was nice to see the place as popular as ever, it was jam-packed in there.  Also, it was nice to just be in a social setting; this is a personal thing with me, something I need to work on more.


    Anyway, I need to get back there soon--they have an awesome 'Voodoo Burger'.  Thanks again, Erin & Julie.  


    Meanwhile, they're coming... to a theater near you

    While I don't like "talking Trek" in these blogs, I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it in this one; because just today, Paramount finally released an image of the "new old" Enterprise for the upcoming "retro Star Trek" movie being released in May 2009.  

    abrams version


    JJ Abrams groovy reimagining of the 1960s Enterprise  


    There's really nothing more I can say about it (that hasn't already been discussed, critiqued & spilled blood over on a million other online forums in the last couple days).  All I know is, I'm genuinely excited to see the franchise get such a serious reboot (this film will be the most expensive Trek movie to date) along with being grateful that a mainstream director like JJ Abrams is doing the picture.  But for the phrase "everything old is new again", it doesn't get any bigger--or better--than this!   (Well, if you're a self-confessed Trekkie that is...)   


    Getting back to the 21st century... could a "new" Great Depression be around the corner?  

    Ulp--while typing up that piece about Fatheads, I watched President Bush on CNN, stating that he & other world leaders met earlier today, & have agreed to coordinate & modernize their financial systems to keep the economic system from getting worse.  He ALSO said that the United States could have gone into a depression worse than the Great Depression.

    Just when I thought we might be revisiting the recession of the '70s, we could be heading towards a depression similar to the 1930s instead? 

    Working in the healthcare industry, I've always (perhaps falsely) assumed my job was relatively safe, even after witnessing recent layoffs at my company.  But of course if enough companies begin laying off workers (or even closing their doors), that means less members belonging to company healthplans and...talk about 'trickle down economics'.   Gulp.   Well, if Bush believes he's responsible for staving off such a dastardly crisis, so be it.  We don't have to wait for Obama, let the Texan take the credit.  

    Didn't Nostradamus (or Albert Einstein, or both) predict this planet wide 'economic calamity' for the dawn of the millennium?  It seems like just yesterday that we were all worrying over potential Y2K issues... compared to this, how I miss that goofy time. 

    Speaking of the Millennium...Catherine Black is alive and well again in the Teepee


    While everybody is familiar with Chris Carter's creation "The X-Files", I'm always surprised at how few are aware of his OTHER show, 'Millennium'.  It aired on Fox from 1997-1999, and simply put, was ahead of it's time.

    Megan Gallagher as Frank Black's wife Catherine  

    The show dealt with a mysterious organization (The Millennium Group) and one investigator in particular; Lance Henriksen as Frank Black (man, he's terrific).  He dealt with horrific crimes believed to be related to the upcoming Millennium (the year 2000-remember all the Y2K paranoia?)  This show saw the new century very ominously. intlcms_003021  

    I recently got all 3 seasons on DVD & frankly I'm amazed how well this show has stood the test of time.  It's extremely literate (and darkly poetic) with movie production quality.  Frank Black is a man both blessed and cursed, with terrific insight and great sadness.  He's all too aware of the darkness in the world, and has "visions" of sinister events, usually thru the evildoers eyes.

    (Ironically, all the emphasis on the year 2000 (er…2001) doesn't date the show; what does is Franks research on the internet, which looked a lot different in 1997 than it does today; along with the fact he only had dial-up access!)  

    What I find amazing however is how little I remember about the show--I watched it during it's original airing, but could only recall that I loved it--no specifics.  It's like every episode is brand new again. 

    I saw a recent interview with Lance Henriksen talking about Millennium & he said "I didn't want to do it, it just felt too dark; but Chris (Carter) convinced me, he said  ‘That's why you live in a yellow house on the show, in a nice neighborhood.  The yellow house will be your salvation.’  I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but he was right, you know… the yellow house saved me.”    

    Gosh I just loved that…. I hope someday I find a yellow house of my own.


    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    We have a winner—and as corny as it sounds, it’s all of us


    I was never a strong follower of politics, but how could you not have been during this (long) Presidential election?  It's been quite a ride, but I'm relieved it's finally over.  We have a new Democratic President & frankly I couldn't be more happy about the outcome. 

    I stayed up late last night just to hear Senator Obama's acceptance speech and once again, he did not disappoint.  (I don't know if it was because I was so tired, but the man is such a powerful orator that he left tears in my eyes.)

    To be honest, I'm surprised that McCain's electoral count was as high as it was--but he's also a good person and I was moved by his gracious speech conceding the race to Obama.  (Just so relieved he didn't win this race, we were desperate for a real change.)

    Anyway--I honestly couldn't be more excited; not only for my country, but for my nieces who will have this as a piece of their own history; and of course, the African American population (and all other minorities).  While I think it's awesome that we're finally tearing down godawful prejudices & racial divides, it certainly helps to have it done by someone like Barack Obama.  He's a good man with real class & style, confident and earnest and I honestly believe he's going to be a great leader...not just for this country, but for much of the planet. 

    I honestly thought I was too old (and too cynical) to feel such excitement and hope about a new President...but for the first time ever, I do.


    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Halloween 2008: It’s that time of year again, for masks & mortality


    I take real pleasure in the smallest things. For example, this morning I woke up & noted with smug satisfaction that it was still dark outside; the clock said 5:20. I love getting up before the sun rises--when I looked outside, the other houses on my street were dark, and everything was very still.

    I felt like I had the world to myself for a little while, this Sunday morning; well, my small piece of it. Sometimes I wish this wasn't as important to me as it is.  As of Friday I am 47 years old, and for some reason… ah well, nevermind.   

    Anyway, I hadn't planned on getting up this soon, but I fell asleep earlier than usual last night--I always do after I come home from a long car trip. I spent yesterday back home with my sister Shawn, her husband Jim & my beautiful niece Sophia for my birthday. (They had originally intended to take me to a restaurant called 'The Porch', a buffet style place, but based on my wishes we had lunch at their house, then went to little Washington to do some shopping & dinner at my er... favorite "seafood place".

    (Okay, I confess, Long John Silvers. It was my mom's favorite place & mine still--I'd go there everyday if I could, I love their menu.)



    Sophia presented me with a big 'Happy Birthday Uncle Doug' cake; I know this pumpkin loves me, but she loves birthdays like none other!


    Sophie sure made me feel special--that sweetheart kept hugging me for no reason & asked me to hold her hand when we were walking into the restaurant. I believe she yelled "Uncle Doug!" 67 times during my visit--she's a little squirrel and a real treasure.    

    Thanks again for the nice day, guys


    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    My Indian Blanket (and other slings and arrows of no particular interest)


    I must confess that I've been battling some feelings of depression for the last several days.  (I know the difference from "feeling down" and this.  When I'm upset about something, I'm anxious to get it off my chest...with depression, I pull it around my shoulders like an Indian blanket & for the most part, withdraw from the rest of the world.)  

    It always starts the same way; never any "big" thing, but a series of bothersome events that seem to spiral together and overwhelm me.  I think it'd be a mistake to go into annoying details here.  No one really cares, and why should they?  Plus I'm sure that a year from now, it will all read as silly and inconsequential.  It will pass when it does. Hoever, there are two things that worry me.  And since I'm writing about crummy stuff anyway...  



    The economy continues to get worse; as does my 401K, which lost 41000 dollars this year.  (Almost half of what I had in there.)  Hearing "You're not alone" is no help, either 


    One final thought about this:  earlier in the week when I began feeling out of sorts, I went online to a 'message board forum' I frequent and (half-joking) wrote "Today is my 100th day of being smoke-free; and nobody cares".  This was a response I received from my UK pal Andrew, who always manages to make me smile.    



    "Enough of this talk about humdrum tedium and nobody caring. You live the life you have chosen and we amongst many others are particularly partial to your abracadbra - across the East Riding of Yorkshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Irish Sea, Ireland, across the mighty Atlantic Ocean and Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and finally down your street and up into your flat, undiminished by distance, I send warm regards and kind thoughts.   You big f-cking girly. Put the kettle on and fill the biscuit tin, we're all coming round."  

    Thanks Andrew—appreciated.   (Isn’t he a great writer?)

    617D5C2B848A9C67_4366_3Meanwhile, when it comes to issues... Marcia Brady tells all  

    It's not exactly a secret that I was a fan of the Brady Bunch growing up (and in fact, still am to an extent; I should be embarrassed about the amount of 'Brady Trivia' I can spout off at a moment's notice). 

    So when I heard Maureen McCormick's autobiography was being released this week, I whimpered a little in gratitude first, before rushing out to get my copy.    



    I've only read the first couple chapters so far, but this book is turning out to be a real treasure.  She begins the book with "Imagine going thru your life always being shadowed by a prettier, more popular, younger you." 

    It really sets the tone of things--in fact, I'm only 40 pages into it & finding one surprise after another. 

    (She's a clone of her father, she jokingly considered Florence a "closeted sexpot", she was obsessed with Eve Plumb's breast size, she fantasized about marrying Robert Reed, on & on...)  

    I know what's coming--she's been all over the news this week, doing talk-show confessions of sex for drugs in the 80s and some other tragic mistakes.  But I can't help feeling a lot of affection for her.  When Barry Williams (Greg) wrote his book I was a Teenage Brady, his stories were told from a witness' viewpoint.  When Maureen is recounting her experiences, she does it with real love & genuine humility.  She grew up in a poor household & was always surprised & intimidated by the better lifestyles of everyone else on the show.   

    And finally, on a lighter note--ApacheDug's Pizza now delivers...  



    My personal website on a custom baseball cap; I'm surprised I got a couple requests from people who wanted one!  


    Last week at my niece Sophie's 4th birthday party, my sister Donda & other niece Drew gave me an early birthday present; a customized baseball cap with the logo, 'ApacheDug's Teepee' stitched on the front.   (I love it, but discovered it was a bit pricey; I don't think I'll be having a case of these made.)

    Anyway, yesterday afternoon I decided to try out the new pizza place that just opened a couple blocks from my apartment.  It's run by an Italian family, and you really get what you pay for; I ordered a medium deluxe pizza that must've weighed 10 pounds. 

    617D5C2B848A9C67_4366_6 I walked up the street to pick it up, but it was cold outside so I slipped on my Apachedug cap.  When I got back to my apartment building, there was a guy in the lobby getting his mail, saw me & said it smelled good, and I smiled & nodded my head and went upstairs..

    This afternoon as I'm going out to go grocery shopping, there's that same guy, coming in with a woman and they're talking about some football game and he's saying "Why don't we get a pizza?  Some guy from Apache's Teepee delivered one here yesterday and that thing smelled good."   What the—!! 

    I wanted to say something, but the door shut before I had a chance;   I guess he didn't recognize me without my pizza delivery cap.


    Saturday, October 4, 2008

    There is life outside the Teepee (and someday I’ll take part in it)



    Sometimes it just doesn't feel right, writing about personal feelings or the mundane assortment of details that comprise my humdrum existence, when there's so much..."news" in the world.  

    In the last couple weeks the country's been plunged into an economic tailspin, an American legend (Paul Newman) dies, in a month we'll have either our first black president or first female vice president... (I'll be voting for Obama, but I truly wonder if it will make a difference who gets in that office.)



    I keep this wonderful book within arm's reach; it's really just 'common sense' items, but don't underestimate those simple reminders that we worry too much about things out of our control

    So my life continues on it's quiet little way...and I'm going to do my best to just go on doing what I've been doing all along--going to work & enjoying my time spent with family & friends, good books and movies & television, and writing about inconsequential things.  (Okay, & praying my 401K regains some of that 20K loss!) 

    Speaking of Family (and getting out once in awhile)...



    My sisters Shawn (center) and Donda, from this past Wednesday

    A couple days ago I took a day off in the middle of the week to head south, for no special reason other than to visit with my sisters & nieces. 

    We all went to IHOP for dinner & I got to spend some extra time with my older niece, Drew.  (It's hard to believe she'll be 15 soon!)  I've always loved the kid dearly, but the older we all become, the more I genuinely LIKE her.   She's just your average American girl who's been blessed with above average looks & a loving family--and she doesn't take any of it for granted.


    My niece Drew is growing up

    (My only regret was that the day couldn't have lasted longer; by the time Shawn joined us, I only had 90 minutes or so until it was time for me to leave.)  Still a nice time, though.  And I'll be seeing everyone next weekend, for my OTHER niece Sophia's 4th birthday party. 


    Speaking of Travel (and good people...)

    I'm not sure what I'm waiting for.  For as long as I can recall, I've always had this fascination with England.  As a kid, I'd look at photos of those quaint English villages with their cobblestone streets & odd wooden signs above various pubs & shops, & felt an odd sense of comfort...nostalgia, almost.

    The older I get, the more I know I need to plan a visit there.

    Of course the fascination isn't an uncommon thing; with it's assortment of castles & royalty, Piccadilly Circus & the West End, famous attractions like London Bridge & Stonehenge...I know, I sound like the inside of a cheap travel brochure! 



    Who wouldn't want to see some great castles? Or Saint Paul's Cathedral?

    And basically, that's all I want; to sign up for some ordinary run-of-the-mill plan & visit all the touristy stuff.  (It's just something I don't want to do alone.) 



    Interview with an Englishman (my online friend Andrew)

    Andrew is a 41 year old man who lives in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England; he's been with his lovely wife Kerry (who he refers to as "The Kezzer")  for 16 years.  Together they have 2 beautiful daughters, Phoebe who's 11 and Charlotte who's 3.

    When he isn't nursing the populace back to health, he devotes his spare time to family, gardening, motorcycles, guitars and cooking.   A gentleman in every sense of the word, Andrew also has a wit sharper than a Ginsu knife.  Here's a small Q&A session we had:

    Q: Andrew, how far do you live from Buckingham Palace?                           

    A: Not far enough.

    Q: I know you've often expressed disdain for the Royal Family.  How come you don't love 'em like us Americans do?

    617D5C2B848A9C67_4281_8[1] A: They’re just the hangover of a feudal mafia. They represent to me the very worst aspects of class division. The more we learn of how much they have strong-armed, robbed, and sponged from the working class, how much land and property they ‘own’, and the more we learn of their tawdry secrets and lack of any moral compass, the more we realise what a ghastly outfit they truly are. I’d nationalise them and return all they have to the people.

    617D5C2B848A9C67_4281_9[1] Q:  Finish this quote:  "My favourite Beatle is..."

    A:  George Harrison. I must confess that I’m not a huge Beatles fan, my man. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a pretty tidy popular beat combo but they do not figure massively in my record collection. My best mate is a Beatlemaniac, and I like to argue that ABBA put out better stuff – it makes him apoplectic…

    Q:  It seems to me that the British are ahead of the US when it comes to racial equality & gay rights.  Why do you suppose that is?

    A: Well, it seems to me like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but we are just generally more concerned with the welfare of our fellow citizens, more inclusive, less disenfranchising. America still operates on a frontier mentality, it seems to me.

    617D5C2B848A9C67_4281_10[1]Q: I know you're a vegetarian, what's your favorite dish?   Do you miss fish n' chips?

    A:  I don’t really have a favourite dish. I grew up in a very racially diverse place, so I love Indian and Pakistani food, Italian and West Indian food, too, as well as all the regional British classics. I don’t miss fish. I’ve been a vegetarian 25 years now and never missed flesh of any kind. Meat is murder – Morrissey said so!

    Trust me, the man was on his best behavior here--he even said as much later, knowing this is a 'family friendly' site.  (But to know him is to love him...the more wicked the better!)

    Thanks again, Andrew


    Saturday, September 6, 2008

    My Top Ten Favorite Adventures in Time Travel



    Sometime in the early seventies, MGM rereleased their 1960 George Pal classic "The Time Machine" to theaters.  When it came to the Opera House, Duke (my older brother) said "Let's go!"   So off we went, and I saw the best movie of my 10-11 year old life.  After the matinee, my brother proceeded to explain to me why the movie was flawed in regards to time travel, but it didn't matter. 

    I was a changed man. Time travel.  I was hooked for life.



    Rod Taylor in George Pal’s 'The Time Machine', 1960  

    But this blog isn't about the endless possibilities of such a thing--yeah, I know; if I went back in time & killed my great grandfather, would I cease to exist? 

    If I could go back & hand Thomas Edison a light bulb and tell him what to do with the blasted thing--then who really invented it? 

    I have no desire to debate paradoxes here; I just want to share my Top Ten Time Travel Favorites!   Oh, and for the record--for the people who say Doug, what about 'Timecop'?  'Terminator'?  'Time Tunnel'?  'Peggy Sue Got Married'’?   'Somewhere in Time'? My response would be...well, what about 'em!?  

    I'm sorry, but when it comes to time traveling I can be a downright snob.   So, going in ascending order...


    10. The Best Time Travel Stories of the Twentieth Century (collection of short stories)



    I don't know if I'd say they were the 'best' stories; but they're certainly the most nostalgic for any sc-fi reader.  And perfect for when you need to do some time-trippin' but don't want to invest in a novel or movie!  Ironically, this includes one of my favorite Bradbury shorts--"A Sound of Thunder", which translated into an awful movie.  What were you thinking, Ben Kingsley!?




    9. Deep Space Nine - "Trials & Tribble-ations" (November 4, 1996)


    Okay, the ONLY reason this isn't higher on the list is because it was (IMHO) a loving tribute to Trek fans only.  The episode begins with the USS Defiant (Captain Sisko & his crew shown above) returning to DS9 (their space station and home) with the 'Bajoran Orb of Time'.  Unknowingly, a Klingon (surgically altered years ago to look human) has OTHER plans--revenge!  He uses the Orb to throw the ship 100 years into the past--where the Defiant lands smack-dab in front of the ORIGINAL USS Enterprise--who are in the middle of their own adventure, the classic Star Trek episode from 1967:  “The Trouble with Tribbles”!

    After the bad guy sneaks off the Defiant, Sisko & Company must don "original Trek" uniforms (complete with miniskirts, go-go boots and 1960's hairdos) to secretly blend in with the classic 'Star Trek crew' & keep this rogue Klingon from altering history.

    617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_7[1] 617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_8[1]

    (The first image is from the original episode; the second shows the same events, but DS9's Odo is now in the picture!)

    The producers did such a wonderful job of recreating original costumes & sets, including incredible exterior shots.  But what was GENIUS was the expert weaving of actual clips from the 1967 episode into the story, including computer enhancement to 'insert' the DS9 crew in all the right places.   I believe my jaw hit the floor at least a dozen times the first time I saw it!



    Benjamin Sisko meets both his hero & ours, Captain James T.Kirk--and the timeline has been preserved too!  An unknowing Lt.Uhura is obviously smitten...




    8.  The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)



    In a nutshell, the story is about a man with a mutated chromosome who begins 'falling backward' in time (at the age of 40) to the 1960s, in this 9 year old girls backyard.  He can be there for 10 minutes--an hour--an entire day before he 'pops back' to the present; he has no control over the phenomenon.  Over time, this girl discovers and befriends him, always keeping food and clothing ready for his next visit. 

    The book gets really interesting as she grows up and enters college; she decides to find this man.  (They're actually around the same age, as he is coming from the year 2001.)  And when she does meet him--she's already had the experience of getting to know who he is for the last 10 years.  He on the other hand, is only in his early twenties (he didn't start 'falling back' until his late 30s) so his younger self has no idea who this woman is, or why she's pursuing him.  A great read, both from a relationship perspective--and paying careful attention to the intricacies of time travel as well.  I couldn't put it down.  The ending?  Absolutely flawless.



    7. The Final Countdown (1980)

    On December 7, 1980 the USS Nimitz (a nuclear aircraft carrier--102 aircraft, 6000 men) is mysteriously thrown back thru time--to December 7, 1941!   (And very conveniently right before the Japanese are ready to attack Pearl Harbor.)   The captain (Kirk Douglas) now has to decide if he should use his vessel (which contains more firepower than the US & Japanese fleet combined) to stop one of the greatest attacks in American history.  But won't it alter history?  He has to make a decision... will he fight the Japanese?  Hell yes, he's a Navy captain not a scientist!

    This movie should be used as a recruitment film for the Navy--the music is proud & patriotic as we watch F-14s do incredible maneuvers, including shooting down a couple of shocked 1941 Japanese Kamikazes (who were attacking a civilian boat on their way to Pearl Harbor).  If ONLY that darn "time-storm" didn't reappear so soon & whisk 'em back to the present!   I recently watched this (for the first time in 20 years); it still packs a wallop.

    6. Replay by Ken Grimwood (1988)



    Jeff Winston is a sad, overweight 43 year old (with a nasty wife who has made his life miserable for the last 20 years) when he drops dead of a heart attack.

    Or did he?  He awakens to find it is 1963, he's 18 years old again, and he's in the bedroom he had growing up...with the full knowledge of his next 25 years intact.  Can he change his own destiny?  He can and he will.  (I loved the part where he's on the beach, and sees a younger version of his wife there; he remembers that this is where they first met.  When she sees him staring and invites him over--he high-tails it outta there!)  So for the next 25 years, he makes smart investments (based on what he already knows--he finds Steve Jobs & asks to invest in his future--years before he creates the first Apple Computer).  It's a good life, but certainly a much different one...

    But then at the age of 43--he dies again.  And what happens?  He awakens in his 18 year old body, it's 1963 once more.   And now he has the memories of TWO futures.  And this is where the book takes off!  While the author never explains what caused this 'time loop', it's fascinating to watch how this man lives the same life over and over...and how it all ends.  Good stuff.  

    5. Time and Again by Jack Finney (1970)

    617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_13[1]This book would probably be in my 'Top 15 Novels of All Time List' as well.  It involves an illustrator for a New York advertising company who volunteers for a government project attempting time travel by 'fooling the mind'.  He's placed in a "late 19th century apartment" overlooking Central Park, where even his outside view matches the same scenery that someone in 1890 would have.  And here he lives a 19th century life, having period food & newspapers delivered to him, day after day, then weeks, months.  And then one morning he wants to ask one of the deliverymen something, runs downstairs--and he finds himself in 1890 New York.

    What makes this book so fascinating is its attention to detail.  The main character (Si) is constantly intrigued; these aren't the "good old days" portrayed in films or books he's seen.  In reality, churches had the lowest attendance in history--seances were all the rage; parlor games were the focus of most conversations.   The author of this compelling (and lengthy) story also included dozens of actual tintype photographs from the period--with his characters blurbs beside them, as if he was the one taking all the photos.  A beautiful blend of fiction and recorded photographic history. 

    Here's something else interesting about this book; originally published in 1970, it was released as a 'Book of the Month Club' again in the mid-90's.  And that's when it found it's real success.  So much so in fact, that the author was asked to write a sequel--and completed it right before his death in 1995.  

    4. Back to the Future (1985)


    I'll never forget when this movie was being advertised, in the summer of '85.  I can still remember watching the commercials with Michael J.Fox looking up into a tree & saying "My dad was a Peeping Tom?" and I was groaning right along with him--"Aw no, they gave that guy from 'Family Ties' his own movie?!"   Even the title (which is common now, like 'Gone with the Wind') didn't make sense at the time.  I had no plans on seeing this.  





    "This tells you where you're going, where you are, where you've been..."


    But then one day, my youngest sister (Courtney, who was 10) asked me and our sister Shawn if we would take her to see it.   We agreed, begrudgingly--and I couldn't have been more surprised at what we were watching; a smart, funny movie, destined to become a modern day classic.

    I honestly felt like that 10 year version of myself from a dozen years earlier, seeing 'The Time Machine' for the first time.   I've seen the second and third sequels (of course), and they're both good.  But the first one--I would've been content with this picture alone.  It was wonderful.

    3. Planet of the Apes (1968)



      "Cornelius--I think he understands me!" 


    Without a doubt, this 1968 movie (based on the novel by Pierre Boulle) was YEARS ahead of it's time (no pun intended).  Even the harshest movie critics in '68 agreed that it was wildly imaginative & very entertaining; the ending (which wasn't even needed) catapulted the film into cinematic history, thanks to Rod Serling’s spin on the tale.  Neverminding the franchise this spawned, the original stands as a true masterpiece.



    "Oh my God. I'm back.  I'm home.   I've been on Earth the whole time...you maniacs!  You blew it up!"



    2. The Time Machine (1960)



    Well, here it is; the 1960 movie that got me hooked.  A faithful adaptation of H.G.Well's novel, about a scientist in 1899 who builds a time machine & flies off into the far future.  




    Published in 1895, the book that started it all...

    I'd like to go back in time just to see the kids faces in 1960 when this premiered.  Directed by George Pal (famous for 'Tom Thumb' in 1958), he was known for his use of 'stop-action' special effects, and certainly didn't disappoint here.  (I still marvel at the 'changing mannequins' in the shop directly across from the scientists lab.)  Throw in a 1960 Yvette Mimieux (as Weena) and some blue-skinned Morlocks (ugh, they're cannibals!) and you have the very definition of a Saturday matinee.  Whatta show!


    1. Star Trek - "City on The Edge of Forever" (1967)



    This Star Trek episode is not only my favorite Trek show, but leads this list as well.  It's brilliant.  After Dr.McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of cordrazine, he flees the ship in a paranoid state--only to go to the planet below being studied by the Enterprise.  He jumps thru that contraption and--voila!  Changes Earth's history in an instant.  Kirk & Spock have no choice but to follow him back in time to right what he's wronged.  (And as it turns out, what McCoy did was prevent a woman from being killed in 1930--who was destined to die, or lead the country in a 1930s Peace Movement, allowing Nazi Germany to win World War II.)  Whoa!   But waitaminute--Captain Kirk has met & fallen in love with her before finding all this out!



    Kirk hints to Edith that there are better days ahead, among the stars

    The story worked on so many levels--superior script, imaginative effects, a bittersweet romance & a climax that STILL raises the hairs on my arms everytime I watch it.  And all this from a 1967 television episode?   (And as any Trek fan can tell you, this episode was the first time the Hugo Award was awarded to a televison show--it wouldn't happen again for 25 years.)

    So there you have it, my Top Ten List.  There's a few more I would've liked to include--Homer Simpson's broken toaster sending him back in time (where he steps on an insect & changes evolution), or Star Trek: The Next Generation & 'Yesterday's Enterprise',  or Dennis Quaid's 'Frequency'.  All these choices..and I'm ready for more!