28 February 2007

I'm getting old

When I was a kid and I thought about the future, I never looked past the year 2000. It always seemed so far away. Until I was 18 (1985), I always thought of myself as an adult perpetually stuck at the age of 33.

In February of 1986 I became an uncle when my nephew was born on the 28th (I think you may see where this is going now-blatant hint) and my life has never been the same. I used to think of him as I did of me, incapable of getting past a certain age. I could never see him past the age of five because he was so much fun to be around when he was a toddler. But, obviously, he did pass being five. And then ten. And then thirteen, sixteen, eighteen-all certain milestone ages.

When 2000 came and went, I readjusted my thinking about the future, since I had made it to 33 and kind of felt like I wanted to keep going. Both of my parents were 33 when I was born. It seemed like a plateau age.

Then my father died a year or so later and that line of thinking changed too. I started thinking about life not in terms of age, of years past, but of years to come, years left. And it occurred to me that when my nephew reached twenty-one, I'd be pushing forty.

My nephew turns 21 today. I will be forty in May. I don't feel like I am about to be forty. I feel like I am barely past 21 myself. And obviously, I don't see my nephew as 21.

Ah but he is. He's taller than me. He could probably ball me up and stuff me into an empty soup can (though he will never be my equal mentally-BWA HA HA HA!). I look at him and he's no longer a kid. He hasn't been for a long time now.

But he's one of the reasons why I feel nowhere close to forty.

I had no idea what being an uncle was going to be like. I had plenty of them when I was young but they were all so much older than me and I always thought of them as authority figures. I didn't want to be a nineteen year old authority figure, so I wasn't. I don't think I ever have been. I have three nieces and two other nephews now and I don't think of myself as authority figures to them either. They are all wonderful to be around, one after the other, the last three within ten months.

Being around my nephew so much from the first day of his life introduced me to a lot of things-how to care for infants, babies, toddlers, small children, etc.-things I had never thought of before. I'd like to take some of the credit for the way he has turned out. He's thoughtful, generous, even-keeledand hasn't caused an ounce of trouble ever, but those are all things he learned from his parents and his grandparents.

I'll take credit for his sense of humor. He is almost as funny as I am.

There is an episode of M*A*S*H where Radar is in trouble because someone has stolen a gun belonging to a colonel recuperating at the 4077th. Hawkeye and BJ know Frank Burns has the gun. When they confront him about it, Frank denies it. Hawkeye explains to Frank that if the gun isn't returned, Radar could be sent to the brig.

Hawkeye then says to Frank: "I'm very fond of Radar. He's both the son and pet that I've never had."

I would say the same thing about my nephew. I may have three cats now, but I'm still waiting for a son. Or a daughter. And when he/she comes, I will be ready because of my memories of being around my nephew when he was young.

And if I am lucky, he/she will turn out as well as he has.

So happy 21st birthday nephew. You were an outstanding child who became an outstanding young man and you are now an outstanding adult. You have no idea how much you have affected my life and the lives of everyone around you. 

You've been very lucky, and I think you know that. We've been lucky too, and I hope you know that.

(PS-remember that I wrote this when I am 85 and need a place to live)

25 February 2007

Where I "Babel" about a certain forthcoming injustice

'Twas a time not so long ago that I would have seen almost all of the movies and performances up for Academy Awards. Not anymore. I made a mental list in early January of what I still need to see, and feel fortunate if I get one out of the way.

I did so yesterday. More on that in a moment.

I've never remembered a year that seems more predictable than this one. All four of the acting awards have been supposedly locked up since the day the nominations were announced. Same with director. Snore. Where's the motivation to watch?

I can't predict, but I can analyze:

Best picture: I have not seen Babel, The Departed, The Queen and Letters From Iwo Jima (though I did sit in a theater next to one where that was playing yesterday, and man is that film loud). I have seen Little Miss Sunshine, which I liked but hardly find worthy as a best picture nominee, much less winner. If that film deserves any award, it's one for making me cringe for the last fifteen minutes more than any movie ever. Best part of that movie was seeing it on DVD a few weeks ago with some people who had never seen it before and watching their reaction towards the end. They say this race is wide open but I am going to say The Departed wins, mostly because of Martin Scorsese but also because Babel is too much like Crash (last year's winner, one of the worst best picture choices ever). If there is an "upset" it will be Little Miss Sunshine, and the Academy will have blown it two years in a row.

Best Director: I haven't seen the aforementioned four films above along with United 93, so I can't make an objective pick, but if they don't give it to Martin Scorsese, they might as well take him out back and shoot him. If he doesn't win the academy is just being cruel. Put the guy out of his misery one way or another.

Supporting Actress: I have only seen Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin, who has no chance of winning, nor do the two women from Babel or Cate Blanchett (nope, didn't see Notes on a Scandal either). I haven't seen Dreamgirls, have no desire to, and I have no real opinion on Jennifer Hudson. She will win though.

Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy is the big favorite here, but he should be disqualified on general principle for Norbit. Having only seen Alan Arkin (who was great and would be a deserved winner) I can only say that anyone I know who saw Little Children was blown away by Jackie Earle Haley. Mark Wahlberg will win an Oscar someday, and Djimon Honsou has had a role I didn't care for. This is probably the strongest category.

Actress: Saw none of these films. Penelope Cruz will win someday; Meryl Streep collects nominations like I do Cubs ticket stubs; Judi Dench could recite Dr. Seuss and get a nomination; I have a feeling Kate Winslet's performance is the best of the bunch, but Hello, Loyal Subjects, Helen Mirren wins for playing Lizzie II, something I have a problem with, which I will explain in my reasoning for next:

Actor: The sole reason I am writing this whole thing. First, haven't seen Blood Diamond (sorry Leo-ps you should have won for Gilbert Grape) or The Pursuit of Happiness (Will Smith). Nor have I seen The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker). I have seen Half Nelson and Ryan Gosling was great, second best performance I saw.

But this is all about Peter O'Toole. I am incredibly biased here; the man is the greatest actor who has ever lived and I can't believe he has never won. If I wanted to depress myself I would go back and see who he lost to the previous seven times he's been nominated. Ugh. The first ever date I went on was to go see My Favorite Year (let me tell ya, the movie was miles better than the date). And spare me the fact that he was given an honorary award a few years ago. The man has won as many acting Oscars as I have.

I went to see Venus yesterday, sitting by myself in a semi-crowded movie theater. Best performance by an actor I have ever seen. Bias aside, I swear that is was. Amazing. The movie isn't for everyone as it has a certain ick-factor of a seventy-five year old man thinking he can seduce a twenty year old woman, but even when he is about to say something that he shouldn't, he does it better than no one else. I think he deserves to win for a scene where he doesn't even say a word: the woman suggests they meet at a London pier the next day at noon. He is seen getting dressed, walking to the pier, and then remaining there all day because she never shows up. He goes from leaning against an iron fence to pacing to finally sitting wearily down on a bench as the camera quickly advances from noon to dusk. His mannerisms, the looks on his face-perfect. Simply an amazing performance throughout. I can't wait until the movie comes out for sale (and I am not a big fan of buying movies).

I can't possibly describe his performance enough. It has to be seen to be appreciated.

Forest Whitaker is going to win for his impression of Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland. He is a great actor as well; his work on the last season of "The Shield" was brilliant. I am sure that he is great in this movie as well.

But it's an imitation. He is playing someone who he had the chance to study. Same with Helen Mirren. If they weren't good at portraying these real-life characters, they wouldn't have been in the film. Same with Jamie Foxx a few years back. I'm not saying that these aren't worthy performances, but I think it is harder to create a character that is fictional. Besides, Peter O'Toole is 74 and ain't going to be around forever. It will be a shame if he shuffles off to eternity without winning. Remember Henry Fonda? He was not the best actor out there when he won for On Golden Pond, but he was in his 70s and ailing.

I was going to try to see The Last King of Scotland today, but decided that I'd rather see it after the academy breaks my heart and snubs Peter O'Toole again.

I sure hope I am wrong.

24 February 2007

Roma, checking in

I was so affected by that episode of "Touched By an Angel" (with a completely Emmy-overlooked performance by Harry Hamlin, if I dare say so) that I've spent the last two weeks trying to figure out a way to affix a soft orange glow behind me and get Della Reese to roadtrip with me.

Excuse making is fun.

School has been kicking my behind. I've been doing so much writing lately that the last thing I feel like doing is venturing over here and doing more of it, yet every day for the last fourteen I have at some point said to myself that I am not doing this enough.

So what else? Last year was the first time since 1984 that I never set foot in Wrigley Field. I had my reasons and I am glad I stuck to my guns, but I'm going to go back at least four times this year. Bought the tickets today. I can't believe baseball season starts in a little more than a month. There's nothing like the feeling on Opening Day of knowing that for the next six months there will be baseball almost everyday.

As you can tell, I am being sucked back in. Did I mention that new Cubs manager Lou Piniella and new offensive threat (like he eschews deodorant or something) Alfonso Soriano were on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week? Ugh. Thanks for that one, guys.

This just in: Lou Piniella has been eaten by a snake, and Alfonso Soriano has lost his right arm in a freak croquette accident.

I am blatantly stealing this next portion from here. I went to college in Iowa City. He lives in Iowa City. He won't mind-we're soul Iowans. It's Friday. Write about the first eleven songs that pop up on the trusty i-pod.

(I've gotten so much writing mileage from my 'pod haven't I? I love it more than I love blood. I mean my blood. You can have yours. Relax. I don't want it. Really.)

1. "Fall On Me"-REM. I usually skip this one because I need to be in a certain mood for Michael Stipe's exceptional drone in this song. One of the least favorite songs I like from REM.

2. "Sinking"-The Cure. Off to a dark tone. Love the bass that plays for the first half, before Robert Smith makes us feel like he's got a 376 lb. chain around his neck and just fell into the River Thames. Can you imagine how well off you'd be if you owned a pharmacy in his neighborhood?

3. "Is It Like Today?"-World Party. More happy stuff! This song is at least ten years old, I think. I picture Al Gore singing it for a year after the 2000 election.

4. "The Way You Look Tonight"-Frank Sinatra. Now we're rolling! It was probably a bad idea for me to just attempt to wake up my wife and get her to dance with me though.

5. "Love Is A Stranger"-Eurythmics. Man I love Annie Lennox. If memory serves she covers a lot of ground in the back of a limo in the video for this song (pining; nothing else-get your minds outta the gutter). "And love love love is a dangerous drug."

6. "Slow Emotion Replay"-The The. Might have the the greatest single lyric I've heard in my life: "Everybody knows what's going on with the world. I don't even know what's going on in myself." This is the the dude (this group was pretty much one person) who has that song on the the latest TV ads for M & M's.

7. "Are You A Hypnotist??"-The Flaming Lips. Well? Are you? (That just never gets old) I can type perfectly to the rhythm of this song. This is from one of the greatest road trip CDs ever, but only if you are driving through Utah.

8. "Hiding Out"-Pete Townshend. First heard this song in the fall of 1985. Didn't figure out that he's singing "I am safe hidden here" in the refrain until 2002. One of my ten favorite songs ever. You'll never get this CD from me. Never. Don't even try.

9. "Short Skirt/Long Jacket-Cake. Hey don't these guys have a song called "Frank Sinatra"? Random stolen-idea i-pod list symmetry. I had my first ever Kareoke experience last October and I wanted to sing this song but it was not available. Yeah, I'm singing now. To myself. C'mon, it's 2:54.

10. "Skybird"-Neil Diamond. Well this is awkward. Actually it isn't. I remember listening to the 8 track of this entire album back in the 70s. I'm almost 40 and I think the strangest technological thing I've ever seen is how an eight track would sometimes switch tracks in the middle of a song and you just had to accept the fade-out fade-in in the middle of the song. Rally each thought.........at the sight of your silver wings!

11. "Rain King"-Counting Crows. I first wrote Black Crowes and I'd do that cool thing where instead of deleting something you just cross it out, but I have no clue how to do that. And now I'm going to go to sleep hearing Chris Robinson singing this song.

Hat tip to Brando. Go Hawkeyes.

09 February 2007

A sign that I might need to get out more often

I just watched an entire episode of "Touched By An Angel."

07 February 2007

The Brief History of My Psyche

One thing that I have told myself I need to do this year is read more. So far, so good; one week into February and I am already on book # 7.

Last night I started reading The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. I had read the opening chapter of the book in my first graduate fiction workshop three semesters ago and have been meaning to read the whole thing since.

One of the settings in the book (and I am not giving anything away plot-wise by revealing this) is an unnamed city where people go when they die. The dead remain in this city and exist in a sense that resembles their human life (they eat, have jobs, etc.) until the last living person on Earth who has a memory of them dies. When that happens, they disappear immediately from the city. No one knows to where.

I've been thinking about this concept of a living city of the dead all day today. Ironically, I began reading the book on February 7th, my father's 73rd birthday, and the fifth birthday since his death in 2002.

This is not a missive about living without my father. I have addressed that subject before several times since his death. I had a sort of epiphany last year on this day when I realized that if he had survived the day that he died, I had a feeling he might have died by his 72nd birthday anyway.

I've accepted his death. I did so a long time ago, and I am proud, in a way, of my ability to have moved on. Everyone in my family seems to have done this. I see now that you almost have no choice. You either die or go insane if you don't.

What if there is a city of the dead? I think about Dad being there, with his brothers, his in-laws, his friends-all people I have memories of and therefore would be in the city with him-and others who I have no memory of, like his mother (long dead) and his father (who died nine months after my birth), but still have people alive who remember them.

He'd be there a long time too, as there are plenty of young people on this planet who remember my father.

As I said, I've been thinking about the idea of a city of the dead a lot today, about him being there, and most importantly, the fact that he would most likely still be there when it became my time to be an inhabitant of this place.

It's pure fiction, I realize, but most of us spend our lives holding on to a belief that Heaven exists and if we are fortunate enough to get there, we will be reunited with our departed loved ones. A sort of city of the dead, except there would be no disappearing from it.

I'm certainly no fan of death. I find the concept of a world without me impossible to understand. I know that civilization had thousands of years here before I came along and will most likely have thousands more after, but the world exists entirely in my head, in my mind, and when I die, when it dies, all that goes away. It's enough to obsess about, and there are times in my life were I have obsessed about it, and I'm sure I will do so again.

It's like dreading a perpetual root canal appointment.

But what if Heaven exists? What if my father is there, will always be there, and I will see him and spend eternity with him someday? Why be so resistant to that idea? The realist in me does not accept the concept of blind faith. I just can't believe in something because I am told that it is so. I need proof. I wish it were different, but it isn't. That doesn't mean that I don't believe in Heaven. I look for proof every day of my life and at times I think I find it, but I am always unsure.

Someone once told me that the idea of Heaven is incomprehensible, and always will be. It's just something that we as humans lack the capacity to understand it. This person also told me that once they accepted that they would never be able to grasp what Heaven was, they were able to believe that it existed, and they looked forward to seeing it someday.

That person is dead now. They have their answer.