Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Stats

Well, relatively speaking, June was an eventful month for me. Did a lot of things I’ve never done before or don’t do enough. Took in a Yankees game with the family, went to a gospel church, chilled with the in-laws in Brooklyn, swam with my little ones in a ginormous pool, spent a sick day watching a killer octopus flick with my sick oldest (and introduced her to the monster movie classic Bride of Frankenstein the week before), went to the movies with my pal to see World War Z, basked in pride attending Little One’s recorder concert, ditto with Patch’s pre-K graduation, and painted her room a luxorious shade of pink.

From a literary perspective, I finished the epic, way-too-long-on-the-bookshelf Anathem as well as a pair of Westerns. Bought a half-dozen books I’m quite excited about, too, and spent about $12 doing it.

As far as the physical goals I set earlier this month … well, I tried. I did get my twelve fierce workouts in but could not get up to a mile run without stopping. In fact, I only ran three times. Running now seems to be my nemesis. And with the busy-ness at work at home the final week in June, I stopped working out the final four days. Look to resume tomorrow.

Of the other goals that I posted the first day of June, I’d guesstimate I accomplished fifty percent of fifty percent of them. The other fifty percent range from zero to twenty-five percent. See, I force you to think to see whether the extent of my shame is shameful or not. Well, “shame” is a bit harsh. Better to set a goal and not attain it than to never set a goal. Right?

Interestingly enough, the wife brought up self-publishing on her own accord earlier this past week. One of my June 1 goals was to research that process. That is something that definitely needs to be done before the next month concludes. We’ll see where that puts me. Oh – I did re-read a large chunk of my Whale novel this past Friday (which I haven’t read in full in three years), and was quite proud of it. That’d be the crown jewel of my self-publishing empire, when that finally comes about.

Peace out, June. It was good to know ya, but now it’s time to move on.

The Wolf Is My Brother

© 1967 by Chad Oliver

Oliver was an intriguing writer of about a dozen science fiction and western novels. Though he isn’t a household name, he had won literary respect during his lifetime. The Wolf is My Brother won an award from the Western Writers of America for best historical novel the year it was released. I had never heard of him until I came across his first book, Shadows in the Sun, in a hole-in-the-wall used books store two years ago. I read it, liked it, and reviewed it, here. Then, a few weeks back, I came across this western and, recalling the name, picked it up.

The most interesting thing about Oliver was his full-time occupation, Professor of Anthropology. As such, the themes of the two books are similar: one culture inevitably buckling under a stronger, more advanced one, suffering death through absorption. In Shadows in the Sun, it is the human race at the hands of an invisibly invading alien force. In The Wolf is My Brother, it is the America Indians losing to the ever-expanding, ever-advancing White Man.

There are no winners here. The novel is told from two main viewpoints, that of US Calvary Officer Colonel William Foster Curtis and a Comanche warrior named Fox Claw. Adversaries from the outset, though they don’t know it, the two are gradually brought together by societal forces out of their control (“Manifest Destiny” and the Department of Indian Affairs for Curtis; the conflict between accepting the Reservation Policy and the ancestral warrior spirit for Fox Claw). At the end, one loses his life to gain it, as they say, and the other loses his soul.

The novel is spare, grim, unrelenting. The reader, like the character, feels himself in the thrall to forces greater than himself, unable to change the script or leave the play. Life on the prairie, especially during the hard winter months, is delicately and painfully described in all its awful detail – how ever could a soft man like myself survive in those days? Historically, the novel exudes authenticity to the point where it feels almost as if Oliver heard the tale at his great-grandfathers knee.

The novel also bears the authenticity of real life: literary and plot devices which I thought would come into play don’t. The result is a sloppy story, as sloppy as reality. The murder of Fox Claw’s surrogate son by US soldiers; the siege of the settlement of Adobe Walls by rebelling Indians; Curtis’s sham of a marriage and sham of a life (he lives with a terrible secret committed a dozen years earlier in the War between the States). It’s all there in the story, adding flavor but not fuel. As a writer myself this confused me, and I’m not of definite opinion whether it is for the better of the story or not.

The main thing, the important thing, for me at least, is it’s believability. Oliver creates – or recreates – a world long gone and places you in it, painfully and gloriously so, that for a few brief hours you will forget you live in the 21st century, where men no longer carve out a brutal existence, living knife to mouth, one step always ahead of the elements, natural or otherwise, that can snuff them out as easily as blowing out a candle.

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sometimes a Book is Just a Book

For some strange, unknown reason * , for the past couple of months, I’ve felt an odd urge to read up about India. The whole thing. The people, culture, the land, and, especially, the philosophical and religious beliefs of this especially philosophical and religious place. But I’ve been putting it off.

I never really checked out India save for a few rare times. In the 90s, during my spiritual wanderings, I investigated Hindu beliefs for something like a week one summer. Most of that decade was a tug of war between Zen Buddhism and Catholicism. Around the turn of the century I read most of the Mahabharata, giving up after growing impatient with it. As for non-religious India, I did a day’s worth of research on the country for background understanding for my reading of The Satanic Verses.

Of late I’ve been trying to deepen my Catholic faith, and feel a little oogy reading books about other belief systems (even philosophies in the traditional sense, i.e., Kant, Spinoza, even Kierkegaard). But today at my local book store, in the used section, I found a small book aptly entitled A History of India for $5. Begging to be plucked off the shelf.

I plucked.

And I rationalized:

Sometimes a book is just a book, and not a metaphorical metaphysical statement of eternal consequence.


* = it’s called being a “Hopper”

A Koan for Athletes

May I present, the post on the Stupid Man two days back notwithstanding, a koan for athletes?

A renowned sports journalist of yesteryear, Grantland Rice, once wrote:

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name.
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the game.

Vince Lombardi, head coach of the Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two Super Bowls, stated emphatically:

Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

I propose that these two thoughts are exactly the same.

Yes, they are.

Think about it.

Friday, June 28, 2013


In a sorta salute to this morning’s post, may I present one of the funniest, most hilarious things I’ve seen in ages …

This out-of-left-field-type humor never fails to reduce me to a quivering piece of jello.

(Hat tip to my wife for shooting this over to me in an email yesterday ...)

World War Z

Let me get this off my chest right away:

What a major, major, major disappointment!!!

Okay. Now I feel better. Though a few vulgarities should’ve been thrown in to make my opinion a little more clear.

Anyway, World War Z is the movie based on a book that’s long been on my radar. Problem is, I’m almost at the point where I’m zombie-d out. Like vampires two decades ago, zombies have become culturally saturated to the point where they’ve almost lost any and all literary, cinematic, and visceral taste whatsoever. (That last phrase conjures up some nasty images re: the undead, but I’ll let it stand.)

The book, however, and this is only from what I’ve heard (meaning, reviews I’ve read), offers a fresh take on the zombie genre. Rather than a narrative, characters-trying-to-survive –the-zombie-apocalypse-style story like Night of the Living Dead and The Walking Dead, it’s written as a series of United Nations reports on the living’s response to a catastrophic global phenomenon. I remember a reviewer mentioning an interesting point brought up in the book of how the living could not go in water over their heads. Reason being, there most likely were zombies prowling along the bottom. Since they need no air to breathe to survive, zombies could theoretically march down the beaches of Los Angeles, trek across the Pacific floor, and rise up on eastern Asia. They probably are, in the book.

So, with this in mind, I was quite excited to see the flick. What would Brad Pitt do with it? Honestly, I have no problem with Pitt; the majority of the time he either chooses quirky roles or brings a quirkiness to a role that I don’t find annoying. For example, my wife notes than in nearly every scene of the Oceans Number movies he’s eating something. And, of course, who can forget his defining moment as Floyd the stoner in True Romance? I was expected nothing less than a unique and refreshing take on a stale and stultifying horror trope.

You may say that my expectations were raised too high because of this. I might, too, except that the movie blatantly stunk.


Let me count the ways …

First and foremost, the zombies aren’t zombies. They’re the virus-infected monsters from 28 Days Later. You get bit, and twelve seconds later – twelve seconds! that's some fast-actin’ killer proteins! – twelve seconds later you’re a member of an Olympic 100-meter relay team on PCP, with an unnatural fondness for cannibalism. The purist in me shrieks out: These aren’t zombies, and they don’t belong in a zombie movie!

Second, there ain’t no gore. Now, I’m not particularly fond of gore for gore’s sake. I don’t see the vast majority of today’s horror flicks because too often they are simply an excuse for gore for gore’s sake. But it’s a zombie movie fer cryin’ out loud! Where were the blood n guts? There is more gross-out special effects in the opening scene of any Walking Dead episode on AMC than in this entire movie! Oh yeah, right. Need to keep it PG-13, so it can take in more money at the box office.

Third, Brad – looking every bit like a metrosexual Jesus Christ – works for the UN, but that’s about where similarities with the novel – the source material, fer cryin’ out loud, end (Note: there will be a lot more “cryin’ out loud”s in this review, though mercifully I’ll stop using the phrase.) Oh, I think the part of Israel proactively constructing an anti-zombie wall is in both the book and the movie. In the movie, that is, for about ten minutes. So instead of a “meta” take on the zombie phenomenon, we have Brad, loving husband and father with loving wife and daughters in tow, being chased by sprinting zombies for half the movie. The other half he’s trying to solve the “mystery” of zombie-fication, and how mankind can fight back. While being chased by sprinting zombies.

Fourth, the third act devotes itself entirely to solving the “mystery” and discovering a method to fight back. And it’s weak, man, weak. We all now zombies are attracted to sound, right? It’s in every zombie movie, and it’s in this one as well. So when you have to sneak in to the zombie-filled lab to retrieve the vital samples, do you create a sound distraction? No – not until our hero decides to use himself as bait. And when at least ten percent of the audience in the theater is giggling at your supposedly dreadfully frightening monster, you know as a filmmaker you’ve make some terrible choices all along the way.

Fifth, I’ve read that the entire third act was re-shot and added on because test viewing of the original third act failed to generate any positive buzz. The original third act was a climactic army vs. zombie battle that takes place in Russia, where Brad has the earth-shattering epiphany that cold is the greatest weapon against the undead. Yet this was chucked out and the tepid haunted laboratory scene thrown in. I also read – so I can’t vouch for its authenticity – of a weird scene involving grouping members of the same belief systems together to better fight the zombies in Russia. Our Christ-like bearded father-of-the-year UN secret agent hero with the two-hundred dollar straggly haircut is, natch, an atheist. Perhaps not including this scene was the wisest thing the filmmakers did.

Sixth, just so much of it didn’t make sense if you pay attention. The whole “tenth man” thing in Israel – where, if nine Israeli Intelligence agents come to the same conclusion, policy dictates that a tenth man must say the opposite, which is then acted on – is more than a head-scratcher. It’s just dumb writing trying to be profound. The fact that the Navy will kick our hero’s family off the aircraft carrier sanctuary simply because he doesn’t call in for 48 hours is dumb. Especially more so since the authorities are worried the family will consume too much food at the commissary – then spend how much fuel helicoptering them to Nova Scotia! In the lab, Brad injects himself with a random toxic sample, risking his life to test his theory … when he could just hold up a piece of paper to the video camera – which he did earlier to tell the others to let his family know he loves them (remember, father of the year, etc.) – and get expert opinion on what sample would work best.

And on and on and on. I know you’re required to suspend disbelief in the movie theater, but, darn it, these things work their way into my brain in the days after!

The bottom line is that the three seasons of The Walking Dead – particularly the first season – has made any attempt at a traditional, big-screen zombie movie futile. Absolutely futile. The only possible way to succeed is to transcend the genre, and by thus doing, transform it. It can be done. Spielberg is a master at doing this (i.e., Close Encounters, Poltergeist). George Lucas did it with Star Wars. Tim Burton, and later, Christopher Nolan, did it with Batman. It can be done, but it takes vision, expertise, and a damn good story.

World War Z contains neither.

Grade: C-minus.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stupid Man

Stupid, stupid, stupid man.

You had the world. You had a 7100-square-foot mansion, a guaranteed $40 million in your bank account. Fame and adoration were yours for the taking so long as you did what came natural to you on the playing field. You had an organization that backed you, that had faith in you, that wanted you to succeed, that wanted to propel you into the limelight. You had legions of fans, legions of young kids who looked up to you and wanted to be like you. You had sponsors salivating, waiting to throw even more money your way if you would only but wear their logo.

You were set for life.

But you are a stupid man.

You are a fool.

You are an idiot, for you threw it all away.

Threw it all away.

The dead body of one of your acquaintances is discovered a half mile from your mansion. You refuse to hand over your cell phone to the police, and when you do, it is in shattered pieces. You wipe clean the video of your home surveillance system. You have your home professionally cleaned. All in the brief couple of days since the body was found. If you are innocent, you have a foolish and suicidal tendency to exude and magnify guilty behavior.

You gave it all up, gave up a successful life (by the standards of the world, that is). Perhaps now, in prison for life if you are convicted of murder, tattoos all up and down your body, perhaps now you can discard that faux bad attitude and understand what it takes to become a real man.

The choice will be yours, and you will have years to act – or not act – upon it.

Stupid, foolish man.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jaws vs. TV

“Twenty-eight children in the United States were killed by falling television sets between 1990 and 1997. That is four timees as many people as were killed by great white shark attacks in the twentieth century. Loosely speaking, this means that watching Jaws on TV is more dangerous than swimming in the Pacific.”

- “The Statistical Shark,” The New York Times, September 6, 2001

[The most interesting thing I read in a dreadful day from hell, work-wise. Found in an old logic textbook I’m skimming through, trying to find a list of fallacies for an idea I have. Yes, I spend my free time skimming through old logic textbooks. What happened to me?!?]

The Soup of Peru

SCENE: Driving down the highway in the Impala, Patch (age four) in the back seat.

PATCH: Hey Daddy?

ME: Yeah?

PATCH: I have a problem.

ME: Oh, no! What’s the matter, sweetie?


ME: Oh dear. That is a problem. Were you learning about Peru today in pre-school?

PATCH: Yes. I want to go visit Peru.

ME: Maybe when you’re an adult you can do that. You can travel anywhere in the world when you’re an adult.

PATCH: I was thinking like when I’m eight or nine.

ME: Oh, okay. So, you like Peru?


ME: What do you like best about it?

PATCH: The soup!

ME: The soup?!? Not the llamas, or the mountains, or the beaches?

PATCH: I love the soup. Peru makes the best soup!

And such was a half-hour of our journey last night: all things Peru seen through the eyes of a four-year-old. I love ’em when they’re first starting to really talk, first starting to formulate opinionated thoughts in their little noggins, trying to get a point across with their blossoming menagerie of words and sentences.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Lonely Men

I don’t claim to be an expert on the Western novel (as I do with SF and Tolkien). The Lonely Men is the second Louis L’Amour book I’ve read. The first was Hondo, a novelization of the John Wayne movie based on a short story L’Amour wrote. (Read it May of last year but never reviewed it.) And I bestow upon The Lonely Men the same grade I gave Hondo: an A, burned into the side of a heifer with a red-hot branding iron.

I finished the book in four days, but really could’ve done it – wanted to do it, actually – in two, as I buzzed through the second half of the book in one sitting. Given the opportunity, I’d have probably read the whole darn thing in a long afternoon (it was only 160 pages or so). Probably will do so with the next L’Amour Western I pick up.

Anyway, even without knowing his history, based solely on the two books I read, L’Amour is, er, was, a genius in his chosen genre. Every Western trope (I won’t say “cliché”) is to be found in this novel, but the whole thing just flows natural and smooth that you don’t realize you’ve seen or read these things hundreds of times before. The Lonely Men was written in 1969, and he’d been writing novels for two decades at this point, so perhaps they weren’t as trope-ish as they seem nowadays. There’s –

The taciturn, manly hero

An Apache stagecoach ambush

Evil spinster woman with evil spinsterish plans

Quick-draw showdown in the saloon

Rescuing the stolen children from marauding Apaches

The Spanish don with his fine cigars and library of leather-bound books

Hired killers with cool names (“Arch Haddon”)

The Apache whose life you spare is actually the chief in whom your life depends later on

A tutorial on how to survive and track / not be tracked in the desert

And more!

Honestly, I loved it. I ate it up. The pages flew by and the story pulled me in. A despite my good-natured razzing at all these tropes and stereotypes and whatnot, it was actually hard to predict what would happen. Even the final scene, which seemed unnecessarily added on, out of nowhere became an awesome serving of comeuppance upon the bad guys (and girl) who somehow eluded justice at the hands of our lonely hero only a few pages earlier.

The Lonely Men is actually part of a long running series of L’Amour’s that follows the generations of the pioneering Sackett family. There are close to twenty books in all, with setting ranging from the 1600s and all the way up to the end of the 19th century. This one takes place ten or so years after the Civil War; the taciturn, manly hero “Tell Sackett” actually served in the Army of the Potomac and fought at Shiloh and The Wilderness.

Have other Westerns to check out now, but I will pick up good quality L’Amours as I come across them.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Five years ago this month I was reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

Ten years ago this month I was reading Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Fifteen years ago this month I was reading Albert Camus’ Caligula.

Twenty years ago this month I was reading E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed.

What is wrong with me?

In all fairness, I’d grade the above books A, B, C, and D. Though which grade goes to which book I leave that for you to decide.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

On teevee. Courtesy of Patch and Little One:

I’m probably a couple years too late to this party, but Adventure Time is the funniest, wittiest cartoon out there right now. (Regular Show is a close second.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013


© 2008 by Neal Stephenson

[minor spoilers]

Well, I finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem a couple of days ago, rather much more quickly than I anticipated. First, it’s a woolly mammoth of a book (as was Cryptonomicon, the only other work of his I read). The story itself clocks in at 932 pages in my oversized paperback edition, and that doesn’t include a prologue describing the planet where the action takes place, Arbre, a brief 5,000-year chronology, and a rather lengthy appendix featuring a glossary and three “calcas” – lectures – on some of the mathematical ideas presented in the book.

Second, I read it while simultaneously listening to the book on CD. This is a new hobby of mine that I rather enjoy. Reading along with the spoken word forces me to focus on the story and not get distracted by outside noise or inside thoughts and not read so fast I miss what I’ve just read. Bad habits, yes, and relatively new ones. I chalk them up to stress. Anyway, in addition to Anathem I’ve also done this reading / listening thing to The Lord of the Rings, The Killer Angels, and Atlas Shrugged.

I finished the novel in 26 days, missing only two days I believe. So that averages to about 39 pages a sitting. Not bad for such a wordy tome. And let me be up front: when it got rolling, I found it hard to put down. On at least two occasions I sat and read / listened to over 80 pages at a time.

Now, that’s all fun and good and really appeals only to über-book nerds like me. The important question is, what did I think of the book?

I guess the bottom line is that it was good but not great. “Good” being a relative term. Relative to me, I kinda enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t re-read it again. To contrast, I might re-read Cryptonomicon again. (Ed. Note: on further consideration, I would re-read Anathem again if you paid me no less than $400. Cryptonomicon would require a payment of $200. Now, I fully understand this may not necessarily reflect the literary merits of the novels, only my current woeful economic state.)

Anyhoo, there was a lot of good in Anathem. It does have an epic vibe about it, and it all begins with the setting: the entirely plausible self-sufficient world of the planet Arbre, and the culture(s) of the people that inhabit it. Technologically, they are basically the equivalent of us early 21st-century Earthlings. However, several thousand years prior cataclysmic calamities simply referred to as the “Terrible Events” nearly ended life on the planet (I imagined it was some sort of wide scale nuclear or biochemical warfare). As a result, all scientists and intellectuals were forced to retreat behind monastery walls out of everyday society. Thus a rich monastic lifestyle mirroring that of the religious of Earth has developed. Physicists, mathematicians, philosophers and the like are now simply referred to as “avout,” and further subdivided by how often they may interact with the outside world during the once-a-year ten-day festival.

The first two hundred pages acclimatizes the reader to the rituals and terminology of this monastic world. And serves as a sort of literary trauma center, triaging out those who can’t hack the dense prose. Then, ever so tortoise-like, a threat to Arbre’s existence is uncovered, bit by bit, clue by clue, piece by piece. An alien spacecraft is discovered in polar orbit around the planet. The Saecular Power has but no choice to “evoke” – call forth or call out – dozens of the avout to investigate and possibly confront this potential menace and thus save the world.

What do you think happens?

I found myself unable to predict, which is a good thing, but what was revealed was not as great as I would’ve hoped for, given the investment of time and energy in the reading of the thing.

What else was good?

Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of things, but like everything else with the novel, they have their drawbacks. Warfare in orbit turns out to be a cool thing. I also loved learning of “equivalent” ideas as I read. That is, what the Arbreans called our theories and such. For example, the Pythagorean Theorem is known as the “Adrakhones’ Theory.” Even better, and playing a much larger role in the story, is the “Hylaean World Theory.” This is none other than Plato’s theory of Forms for you Philosophy 101ers. I also really liked the main characters – especially, for example, Lio, Yul, Samman, Orolo, Jules Verne Durand, Fraa Jad – but wound up disliking the main character, “Raz.” Maybe it was the vocal stylings of the narrator (the novel is in the first-person).

What was outright bad?

Well, as I’ve broadly hinted at, the novel is way too long. That 932-page story could easily have been – should easily have been – 466 pages and would not have suffered loss of story and setting. I get that some novels you want to take in as a fine, intricate painting. I’ve read them (Tolkien, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Clive Barker’s stuff). It’s a personal thing. Just wasn’t my personal thing. Because of this over-length, or maybe the reason for it, is the novel’s dreadfully plodding pacing. Things take way too long to happen. Despite my reading / listening style of experiencing the story, I still found my mind racing to predict what’ll happen five or ten pages down the road.

I can live with an overlong glacially paced novel though, so long as there’s tension and payoff. There’s not really either in Anathem. The threat posed by the alien spacecraft is never viscerally felt. The bad guys were essentially non-entities, non-factors in the story. The climax, the denouement, just kinda happens, and all the Damocles Sword aspects just kinda go away because, I guess, Stephenson was under contractual obligation to come in under a thousand pages. A large chunk of the novel had characters discussing – in Arbrean terms and whatnot – the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, so a potentially clever use of alternate realities towards the novel’s conclusion just felt confusing and forced to me. In fact, upon finishing the novel, I’m almost certain it doesn’t add anything to the storyline. But that last thought’s a probability wave I’m not skilled enough to derive.

Probably will read Stephenson again. I read Cryptonomicon in 2008 and Anathem in 2013. One Stephenson book every half-decade sounds about right. Next up: well, we’ll see, sometime in 2018.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gospel Church

Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to go to a gospel church.

Now, those of you who may know me, know that I am just about the farthest thing to a gospel church-goer as could be. But friends of my wife invited us to be there with them as they were participating in the joining ceremony or ritual or whatever. My first instinct was to try to get out of it, but, as I soon found I couldn’t, I decided to go into it with a curious mind.

Here are my observations and conclusions.

The church we went to is a large one – a “mini mega-Church” is how I thought of it – that’s been in our area for years and years. In fact, two decades ago, I seriously dated a girl from whose house we could see the church downhill from the front living room window. There are several large buildings – a church, a school, and some sort of big meeting house – and the parking lot probably held twice as many vehicles as the one for my local Catholic parish. There is a big “Jesus Loves You”-type sign, at least fifteen feet high and thirty feet wide, angled towards oncoming highway traffic.

Once inside I guessed the church could hold five hundred people. Later, I saw it held more as I spotted stairs to the balcony and side doors to other rooms-with-a-view. But what immediately hit me when we first walked in was the fact that I was now in the middle of a Christian concert.

And I mean, in the middle. My wife’s friend and her family sat in the third row, dead center. And by “sat,” I mean, “stood, clapping and singing.”

Oh Lord. This ain’t me.

I felt extremely uncomfortable during the first fifteen minutes of the Christian concert. Tried to make myself invisible. Two dozen feet in front of me, on a stage a hundred feet wide, all miked up, were four singers in three-piece suits or dresses, an Asian keyboardist / bandleader, a guitar player who looked like Kenny Rogers, a drummer behind what looked like a Plexiglas penalty box, a youthful black bass player, a horn section of three older men all the way on the right, and a choir of twenty behind them all. No robes though. But everyone dressed well, and were sort of coordinated: black pants and robin’s-egg blue tops.

The band performed three songs. One both sides of the stage were the largest flat screen teevees I’ve seen outside a sporting arena. You were able to follow along with the songs as they splayed the lyrics for all to see, superimposed over inspirational scenes from nature.

After all this we sat down. One of the ministers talked for a few minutes, then we all stood for his blessing. A youth minister then came onstage to talk. He was very powerful, a very energetic, enthusiastic, and, ergo, effective speaker. My wife whispered to me, “That’s what we need!” meaning that’s what our Catholic church needs. Later I pointed out that, being the only gospel church in the county (88 townships and probably a million people), they had a larger pool of participants to pick from than our church did (2 townships of about fifteen thousand people).

The first preacher came back out and invited all the new members to come onstage. Each introduced him- or herself, and occasionally the preacher engaged in some witty and humorous banter with them. We all clapped and took photos when it was over.

A musical interlude of two songs followed. One man soloed during the second song as if it was the season finale of American Idol: Mature Evangelist Edition.

Then the main event: a twenty-minute sermon on … Satan. How he works, why he works, his tactics, his objectives. All biblical-based, with chapter and verse quotations flying up on the flat-screens. If there is something I will easily grant Protestants as a group it is that they know their Bible inside and out. We Catholics, pathetically not so much. And their preaching is so much more dynamic. As the husband of my wife’s friend said to me after the service, “I learn more in a half-hour sermon here than I learned in all four years of Catholic high school.” I would agree. We’re going through a similar situation questioning the value of my oldest daughter’s CCD obligation.

Some more music and the service ended. Just under ninety minutes in length.

The gospel church appeals to a certain personality type. Specifically, the not-me personality type. If one is emotional, extroverted, touchy, weepy – and there is nothing necessarily wrong with being that way – then someone may find himself comfortable in a gospel-type church (and apparently a lot do). But it ain’t me. I’m monkish, introverted, bookish. I receive the Holy Spirit best through history, prayer, creeds, the Latin, the symbolism of the Catholic Church. Crying singers on stage don’t do it for me. (Schubert’s Ave Maria, sung once every Christmas, is the only exception.)

This is the third protestant service I have been at, the other two being Lutheran and Presbyterian. If you forgive my ignorance and take this observation as merely an observation and not a judgmental condemnation, I found each to be lacking. The Lutheran ceremony felt like a town hall meeting to me. Indeed, the church itself looked like a 19th-century New England town hall. The Presbyterian service also felt like a town hall meeting, albeit one with a pretty neat musical interlude where a dozen girls of various ages played a song by ringing different-sized bells. I especially dug the cowboy boots the minister wore on his stage. And if memory serves correctly, that sermon was also about being wary of Satan.

A dominating thought as I sat through all the preaching that day was one of a continuum. Put all those self-help seminars you see on teevee – and maybe your company pays you to attend – such as Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Bryan Tracey, et al, on one side and pure, unadulterated, un-hippy Catholicism all the way on the other, and each of those three Protestant services would fall at varying locations in between.

When I say that these services “lacked something” for me, what was lacking was some participation in the Holy. There was nothing even vaguely Sacred or Transcendent about those services, and I used those words with the first letter capitalized for a very specific purpose. It indicates the Hand of God reaching down to brush fingertips with our outstretched arms. That is what the Catholic Mass means to me, and on more than one occasion I actually experience it. I found not an inkling at any of these Protestant services.

But – if you are reading this and you are non-Catholic – believe me when I say that we are not enemies. We are brothers, not enemies. We are all part of the family of Christ. But even those who are not – Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Secular Humanists, Scientologists, Agnostics maybe (that’s a pun) – they are not the enemy either. There is only one Enemy, and he must be resisted. And no, I did not learn that fact at the gospel church two weeks ago.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

O Angelic Doctor

O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity. Amen.

- Prayer to St. Thomas Aquinas, c. 1920s

Ed. Note: Just something I’ve been thinking of a lot lately.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Well, I stayed home from work today.

Little One has strep throat.

At first we thought the sniffling and congestion was due to allergies.  Then it migrated south.  She became hoarse from the coughing, then the chest started with that tell-tale rattling.

The wife was out of town, so I had to take a Personal Day.  Out of an incredibly busy work week.  (I'll probably work a full day Saturday.)  So the morning began with getting Patch dressed and fed then dropped off at day care.  Then calls to Little One's school, aftercare, and pediatrician.  Then the trip to the doctor's.  Then the pharmacy.  Then the library for books and CDs for her.  Then to her aftercare to pick up her prepaid hot lunch (2 slices of pizza).

And so on, and so on.

However, we did sit down and watch It Came From Beneath the Sea.  I was truly touched when she looked me straight in the eye, smiling, and said: "There's nothing better than watching a science fiction movie about a giant radioactive octopus with a slice of pizza with your daddy."

Get Well Little One!  I love you!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


There are three fairly decent used book stores out where my parents live in north-eastern Pennsylvania. Since it’s a 90-minute, 75-mile drive out there, we only visit a half-dozen or so times a year. Usually Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and a handful of other times. So whenever we’re out there I like to hit one of the used book stores. For Father’s Day I hit the one in Milford.

Lately I’m kinda sci-fi’d out. With the thirteen PJF books I read this year plus Neal Stepheson’s mammothian Anathem (which I’m close to completing), I’m looking for a genre change. Two summers ago I read a coupla Zane Grey westerns; last summer I read a couple Cornelius Ryan WW2 books. Since I’m desiring fiction, I decided to go with the westerns for a while.

So that’s the mindset I went into the store with.

Here’s what I came out with:

Childhood’s End (1953), by Arthur C. Clarke. OK! OK! I just violated all that I said before by buying this classic SF tale. Truth be told, I never read it. Plus the book was in great condition. So I picked it up, knowing it would probably sit on the shelves behind me for a couple of year before I got to it.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978), Alan Dean Foster. OK, the last SF. This one I’ve seen a million times over the course of my life and have never read it. From what I understand, the storyline here was supposed to be filmed as the sequel to Star Wars until The Empire Strikes Back actually was. So it might make for an interesting couple of days read, hearkening back to my childhood. (I read large amounts of the Star Wars original novelization waiting at the DMV with my grandfather on 1970s summer.)

The Streak (1937), by Max Brand. Brand is one of the pioneers of the classic Western tale, having written over 300 of them in his super-prolific career. He also volunteered – in his fifties – to be a front-line war correspondent in WW2 and was tragically killed by shrapnel. The bookstore had about a dozen of his books on the shelf; this looked to be the most interesting: young man fancies himself to become a gunslinger … then a real gunslinger comes a-callin’.

The Wolf is My Brother (1967), by Chad Oliver. Hey – I read a book by this guy two summers ago – but it was a science fiction novel! (See here for the review.) That has to be an odd combination, no? Anyway, I enjoyed the SF novel of his, so I’m interested in seeing how Oliver fares out in the west. Post-Civil War. Indian War, to be exact.

The Gates of the Mountains (1963), by Will Henry. This’ll either be incredibly eye-opening or incredibly dull. The novel uses the Lewis & Clark Expedition as a backdrop for one scout’s search for his missing father at the hands of the Shoshone. For years I had Undaunted Courage on my shelf – unread – despite being fascinated watching an hour-long special on the expedition. Maybe this book will inspire me to read the history. We’ll see.

So … once I finish Anathem this week, I’m moving on to one of these …

Monday, June 17, 2013


No, I don’t suffer from it.

What I do suffer from, is Temporal Stenosis.

That is, a shrinkage of time.

More concretely, a shrinkage of discretionary time. Time I have to pause, ponder, pen in the corner of the mouth, eyes cast upon the heavens, time to peruse life in all its various experiential existential phases.

I haven’t been able to find time to write, dammit!

Another too-busy weekend. But, admittedly, a fun one.

What did I do?

Friday – rushed home, got the girls, balanced the checkbook and paid the bills, did a coupla loads of laundry. Had burritos with the wife. Read 30+ pages of Anathem. You know, important stuff.

Saturday – slept in, until 7 am that is. Did a three-set weight workout. Showered. Ran quickie errands with the little ones. Then packed everyone in the Impala and drove up to my folk’s home in the woodlands of PA. Stopped at my favorite used book store en route and scored a quintet of reads. Got there, unloaded car, went to pool for two hours. Swam. Read some of Bullfinch’s Mythology. Had a Corona in the cabana. Got back to parents house with the family, showered, went to mass. Got home, everyone had taco soup. Put girls down. Watched Identity Thief with the wife and my parents. Crashed at 10:30.

Whew. Let me catch my breath a minute. Go to another website, then come back in five minutes.

Okay …

Sunday – Father’s Day! Woke at 7, had cereal with the girls. Took a 90 minute bath and read 50 pages of Anathem. Went for a 4-mile walk with the wife. Got back, she cut my hair … and I mean, cut my hair. Showered. Rest of family over for next six hours. Drank a few brews, had some cheese and shrimp and, later, a burger with potater salad. Snuck away and read 50 more pages of Stephenson. Opened Father’s Day gifts (thank you, girls!). Packed everything up, hit the road by 6. Home by 7:30. Unloaded car while wife showered girls. Put them down by 8:30. Took an hour-long tub (I’m allowed two baths on Father’s Day and my birthday weekend) and read 30 more pages of Anathem. Watched skittttttttters!!!!!!! with the wife (that’s the so-bad-its-good TBS show Falling Skies). Passed out a little after 11.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

The good news is that I now have a lot of material to write about. The bad news is, well, still finding time to do it. But lunch-time tomorrow and Wednesday looks good. Some stuff on deck

- my first trip to a gospel church

- that five pack of books I just bought

- and, er, more!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nantucket Sleighride

In my younger days, me and my drummer would jam on Mountain’s “Theme From an Imaginary Western” ad nauseum. At least, ad nauseum to my drummer’s parents listening in some room above our basement rehearsal studio. Anyway, I was a big fan of this song, Nantucket Sleighride, particularly in the late-80s, but never really played it until the past year or so, and then only on my acoustic six-string.

Nice tune to play. I’m especially fond of a sliding ten-note G pentatonic run after the “silk sheets” line in the chorus.

Regularly scheduled programming to resume tomorrow.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Workout Anniversary

Yesterday marked my one-month anniversary of working out. Thirty days ago I brought my exercise bike and my metal free weights out into the garage, which we cleaned out back in April. My workouts consist of a half-dozen anaerobic exercises targeting my biceps, chest, quads, hams, calves. I do two sets at about 75 percent max. I do these workouts three times a week.

Before the weight workouts I warm up with five to ten minutes on the exercise bike. On non-weight days I do ten to twenty minutes on the bike, or, of late, a couple blocks of walk/running. My goal by the end of the month is to get to one mile without walking.

Usually one, maybe two days a week I rest.

My diet has not really changed, except for increasing fruit and veggies by approximately ten percent and decreasing sugary stuff by the same amount. Oh, and my beer consumption has plummeted. I probably drank a tenth of what I normally do in a month.

After a weight workout I consume of scoop of whey protein in water, chased by a 1 gram Omega-3 fish oil capsule and a Centrum multivitamin aimed for men of my age. At night after dinner I take another fish oil capsule.

That’s it.

What benefits have I noticed?

- I wake up every morning without an alarm clock between 5:50 and 6:10 regardless of the day.

- My confidence has definitely increased, especially at work.

- My belly has noticeably shrunk and hardened, though it can bulk up (as it did last night after three slices of pizza, two beers, and a pint of ice cream – but we were celebrating Patch’s graduation!)

- My chest and arms have definitely bulked up, at least that I can notice. Legs, not so much.

- I get to bed almost immediately at night when I hit the sheets.

- Because I start feeling fatigued around 8 pm.

- Hard to tell if my aerobic capacity is improving or not. If it is, it’s without a doubt lagging behind my muscular / mental improvement.

Any non-benefits? Any down-side?

Well, the only thing I can think of is that I’m slightly depressed about losing my stress relief. Yes, I realize that a tall, cool, frosty, delicious glass of bubbly beer on a hot summer day on the deck with the long, hard, nagging day finally behind you is not the most ideal way to wipe away stress, but, dammit, when are those exercise endorphins going to kick in?!?!

I’ll try to remember to post another update next month, provided, of course, that I continue the exercise routine.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Bride of Frankenstein

I spent a delightful Saturday afternoon with Little One watching The Bride of Frankenstein. Nine years ago when she was but a bump in my wife’s belly, I fantasized about “Monster Movie Matinee” on Saturdays I’d spend with her, giving her a first-class education in the science fiction and classic horror cinema which riveted me as a child. What a great way to bond with her, and hopefully leave her with some nice memories to carry on through the years (subject matter, of course, age appropriate).

Well, she seemed to enjoy The Bride. One thing I am very, very concerned about is the chance she’ll become jaded to these flicks being exposed to the CGI that’s so prolific in today’s movies (big screen as well as regular teevee). CGI, to me, is a mixed bag. Can be good (see Jurassic Park, which still holds up two decades later) or can be dreadful (see any and every Syfy movie). When I was young, it was the black-and-white atmospheric make-up for the Universal monsters (and Technicolor blood red of the Hammer films) that sent chills up my spine. Along with the magic produced by Ray Harryhausen. I just want Little One to experience something similar.

Verdict? She liked it. She has a soft spot in her heart for Frankenstein’s monster. When she was learning to read in kindergarten we alternated paragraphs working through an age-appropriate retelling of Shelley’s tale. A year or so ago we watched the original Karloff movie. The main thing that stuck with her was the scene where the monster tossed the little girl into the lake where she inadvertently drowns. Can’t blame her. However, we talked about it, and I don’t think there was any damage, nightmares, etc. In fact, she took it quite adult-like and used it as a learning experience. Be wary of strange(looking) men.

I enjoyed Bride too. Truth be told, I’m not a hundred percent certain I ever saw this most famous of flicks as a child. Or at least not from start to finish. So it was neat for both of us – experienced a classic monster movie for the first time, together.

The movie, made four years after Frankenstein, is a direct continuation of the original. At the first movie’s conclusion Victor Frankenstein is killed as the monster tosses him off the windmill. The pitchfork-weilding villagers burn the mill to the ground, with the monster inside. Or so we’re led to believe. Monster actually falls into the water beneath, and the doctor actually survives the fall. Fast-forward a few weeks as eerie Dr. Pretorius comes a-calling, enticing / forcing a repentant Victor to resume his work animating dead bodies – this time a female. The original monster, rejected and hunted throughout the countryside, winds up back at the castle, and, after being rejected by the newly-reanimated “bride”, pulls a lever which destroys the entire laboratory and all within.

What struck me about the movie?

First, the literary egg head in me was surprised – and sorta enjoyed – the opening scene featuring the poets / writers / philosophers Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley. The men must’ve heard the version of the Frankenstein movie we saw in the first movie, and are begging Mary for more. She indulges them and – we begin the Bride. I was a bit worried the Little One would zone out at this point, but it was only a couple of minutes long, and then she settled right into the story.

The monster’s first appearance – and first murder in this film – seemed quite grim for its time. Emerging from the slimy, water-filled cave, Alien-esque, it kills a man and woman who’ve lingered too long at the windmill pyre, a man and woman who turn out to be the flower-girl-from-film-one’s parents, thus systematically eliminating that entire family. Again, very grim for its time. Typical for a movie of today, but back then, not so sure.

But – what a great, creative way to “bring the monster back” for a sequel. Falling through the floor into the water, saving it from the inferno. Genius in its simplicity.

The entire movie could be cited as the Platonic Form for a horror movie: dark, atmospheric, eerie … you could just get lost in the background alone! The cinematographer deserved every accolade he got – and even those he may not have. He’s the Edgar Allan Poe – no – the H. P. Lovecraft of cinematography.

The movie itself should also be credited with creating the whole dirty scientist / dirty laboratory motif. How many movies today are influenced by it, even if only in the subconscious of their writers, directors, and designers? The blood-stained dirt and filth are commonplace nowadays, and have long ago moved out of the labs (I’m thinking of Walking Dead, for instance). The inherent, infused creepiness of Doctor Pretorius. The unhinged insanity of Victor Frankenstein. Groundbreaking, influential stuff.

[I learned, somewhat sadly, that Colin Clive, who played Doctor Frankenstein with memorable maniacal verve, was plagued with alcoholism throughout his life and died, at age 37, shortly after making this movie.]

And poor Frank! The monster, that is. So rejected, even by the hermit who only wanted a friend. Frankenstein plaintively – and not so plaintively – wailing “Friend!” “Friend!” as the hunters burn down the hermit’s shack. I thought this might get to Little One, but no, she thought it amusing. Sad, but amusing. It touched me a bit more, I think. The desire for a friend, for companionship, for fellowship, and later in terms of the “bride”, for love, is a fundamental drive found in the deepest depths of all our souls. Perhaps it hints that this reanimated hunk of dead flesh, perhaps, might have a soul, someway, somehow, too.

Then – the Bride. Two things struck me, one immediately and one in hindsight.

First, I was immediately surprised by her beauty. For years, based on one of my “Monsters of Hollywood” books I devoured as a kid, I had the impression of the Bride as an old fuddy-duddy. A cross between Ayn Rand and Bea Arthur. Probably that crazy hairdo did it, along with the grainy black-and-white photos I’d look at. Anyway, she was – if not ravishing – beautiful. Sure, there were stitches sewing on her face and that spider-web-y hair, but I was taken and pleasantly surprised by how youthful she looked.

And how she acted. Scared, disoriented, defensive. I later learned that Elsa Lancaster based the creature’s hisses and behavior on swans, which is an intriguing and highly imaginable vision. But I was impressed by the acting and the level of pathos it brought out in me, a viewer.

Second, as I thought about it, I was surprised that the Bride was only onscreen for five or so minutes. It was a powerful five minutes, and possibly that’s why the movie is great – that 15th round knockout punch. A lesser writer or director would have brought her in earlier. Though part of me wishes the evil doctors animated her a little sooner.

We liked it. I give it a solid A, and Little One concurs. ’Twas a great ninety minutes spent in another world.

On deck: It Came From Beneath the Sea

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Esrever ni tucriah a

Couldn’t write at lunch at work today – way too swamped. Ergo, I present the following in the spirit of posting something, er, just, er, plain weird.

[Something I saw percolating last month on a couple of blogs I visit … Normally I don’t post a lot about beard-related ephemera, not having a beard and all. But I did have a beard-centric post once, here, a long time ago.]

Monday, June 10, 2013

Crzy Bzy Wknd

Yeah, crazy busy . But I had fun.

Three major highlights. First, I watched The Bride of Frankenstein with Little One as our Saturday afternoon matinee, off the DVR, complete with pillows and blankets on the floor and some chocolate ice pops. Sunday, I attended my first gospel church meeting, courtesy of some acquaintances of ours who are joining the church. Finally, later yesterday, me and the girls all piled in to the Impala to journey out to Brooklyn to meet my visiting in-laws. We spent a hot, sunny afternoon at the Prospect Park Zoo followed up with an excursion into a very scary restaurant.

I’ll post on each one this week. I promise it will be interesting.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Triple Crown

Thus Speaketh the Hopper:

“There shalt never be another Triple Crown winner in Horseracing.

For all of Eternitie.”

Thus Spaketh the Hopper.

Friday, June 7, 2013


So my wife has on the Today show while we’re getting ready for work, and they’re teasing us with “Which Hollywood actress will play Hillary in the new biopic?” as if we’re hanging off the edge of our seats in tingling anticipation. Me, I couldn’t care less. We all know the movie is supposed to put Hillary into the White House in 2016. {shudder} Whoever is picked will be picked solely to make Hillary look, er, well, much more smart and, let’s face it, attractive than Hillary was back in the day.

But feeling a bit playful, I announce to the room: “I know who should play Hillary in that movie!”

“Who?” my wife asks warily.

“That chick who plays Uhuru from the Star Trek reboots!”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Anathem at Half-Time

Well, I reached the half-way mark in Neal Stephenson’s 932-page 9.32-pound novel Anathem. Fifteen days in, reading while leisurely listening to the book on CD, averaging 30-35 pages per day.

What do I think?

It’s good, so far, not great.

What do I mean?

Well, it moves at a glacial pace. And by glacial, I mean full axial-tilt ice age glacial. Now, I understand he’s building a world here, setting a mood, developing themes. But there is a lot of extraneous data shoveled on top of the hapless reader. Maybe it won’t be extraneous as the plot unfolds, but at the halfway point, it certainly seems that way.

Still, though, I’m enjoying the trip, now that I got most of the lingo down. And, yes, like I stated in an earlier post about the novel, I must confirm the reviews I read that caution that one won’t really get in the swing with the vocabulary and history until page 200 or so.

The McGuffin is shady and slowly being revealed to me. I’ve heard that it is something apocalyptic and catastrophic, but that’s not been established yet. Just the vaguest of vague hints. Our main character is on a quest, though to what end he – and I – don’t know. Most of the characters are appealing, some a lot more than others. There is no one here that I despise as a literary creation.

Two points against –

I’m not sure I’m a fan of the guy who’s speaking the story on the CD. His voice, that is. He’s been talking to me for a dozen hours now, doing his vocalizations for the different characters and whatnot, and my gut reaction to him just isn’t glowingly enrapturous. But we’ll see. The voice may grow on me.

Second, my spidey sense is tingling like crazy. There’s a phenomenon in conservative circles known as the “Liberal Sucker Punch.” That’s where you’re watching a Hollywood movie – it can be on any subject, in any genre – when out of the blue you’ll get hit with a leftist diatribe on some cause of the day. Global warming, homelessness, gay rights, you name it, even if it’s an a completely different movie topically, say, like a baseball movie, where such lecturing would be absurd and audience-killing.

Anyway, I’m dreading something similar, in a whole Science vs. Religion vein. One of the main premises of the book is that Science has retreated behind monastic walls. Now that our “monks” are out and about, ostensibly to save the world from something or other, they are encountering the religions and religious of this world. So far the sparring has been light and probing, but the judges are decidedly in Science’s corner.

We’ll see.

Expect to finish it in two weeks.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Exercise & Technology

Want to know something cool?

I am writing this post on my iPad while plugging along on my exercise bike in my garage!

Neat, huh?

OK, so I fat-fingered about two dozen times and accidentally wound up on the wrong websites twice. Still, I gotta love the time I save, killing them two birds with my one rock.  Specially since in ten minutes I have to get the little ones showered, dried, fed, read to, and homework-checked and in bed in 75 minutes.

This could be addicting!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yankees 7, Indians 4

Last night we all went out to Yankee stadium to watch a baseball game. By “we,” I mean me, the wife, the two little ones, my father-in-law, and his lady friend.

What an awesome time we had!

Now, I’m not a big baseball fan. Never could hit a ball, going way back forty years, and still can’t. But lately I’ve been watching some games and reading some online stuff, and I find it enjoyable. Relaxing. The slow pace of the game, which used to frustrate me, now appeals to me. The statistical end of the game fascinates my left-brain hemisphere.

My dad took me and my brother to a bunch of Mets games in the 70s. Then a ten-year hiatus until I went to a half-dozen or so Yankee games with my pals in the late 80s. I must’ve written about it somewhere here on the blog – those were some fun days. Guzzling beer, smoking, swimming in my friend’s outdoor pool after the game on hot August nights. You know, stuff you enjoyed when you were an immortal kid.

After I met my wife it became our tradition – instigated by my father-in-law – to take in a Yankee game, usually late in the summer. We did this every year in the early 2000s, and stopped for some reason or other when Little One was an infant. Those, too, were enjoyable games, so my wife took it upon herself to re-institute the tradition. And we’re all glad she did.

She scored some discounted tickets on Groupon a few weeks ago and made all the arrangements. Yesterday I left work an hour early while she got the kids from school and day care (Mondays are “office days” for her where she works out of our home). We left our house at 5:40 and, surprisingly, made it to the stadium in an hour. Surprising since we were driving in one of the most typically dense traffic centers in the country (Routes 17 and 4 in New Jersey leading into the George Washington Bridge and the Major Deegan Expressway). With a half-hour to spare before the game, we were parked, paid, and walking into the new Yankee Stadium

This was our first trip to the Yanks new home. I have to admit, I was impressed. Me, I’m a traditionalist. Normally, I’d be upset, had I been a big baseball fan. I’d been to the old stadium maybe two dozen times in my life, so I kinda sorta knew it. But the new one … clean, expansive, user-friendly. Didn’t hurt that the rainy day turned into a gorgeous twilight. Crowd flowed smoothly about, not traffic stop gaps. Lots of stadium employees holding fan-sized signs encouraging us to ask them to be of assistance. Everything clearly marked, easy to find. Even the bathrooms weren’t that bad.

Anyway, my family met my wife’s dad and his lady friend right before the game started. We chatted overlooking home plate from three tiers up. The Yankees’ GM’s daughter – age 15 or so – sung the National Anthem which greatly awed Little One. The wife grabbed a beer, I grabbed a soda, we managed to hold off ice cream for the girls for a couple of innings, and took our seats.

Legendary Yankee Andy Pettitte was on the mound, returning after being injured for a few weeks, and going for his career 250th win. The Yankees were – I think – 2.5 games behind Boston in the AL East, and Cleveland was game or so behind Detroit. The first two innings were scoreless, and we primarily explained the game to Little One and tried to keep Patch amused (i.e., not falling onto any spectators below us). Then, at the top of the third, the Indians scored a run.

I was really hoping the Yankees would win, and this would be a memorable game. I was rewarded on both counts. When the Yanks got up to bat next, they loaded the bases. Mark Teixeira, himself also recently returned to the lineup from injury, socked a line drive home run that barely cleared the right field fence (in fact, I think it hit the top and bounced into the stands). A grand slam! The girls went wild.

In the fifth Cleveland came back with three runs to tie it up. We waited expectantly for the Yanks to do something during their turn at bat, but, alas, it remained 4-4. We also could no longer hold off their girls’ appetite for ice cream. After a trip to the bathrooms, we bought them chocolate with rainbow sprinkles in a Yankees helmet-cup. I had a waffle cone. The wife, ever the contrarian, opted for a hot dog at another stand.

Back in the seats, the girls were getting antsy. It was approaching nine o’clock. They were overtired and overstimulated. They were also fascinated – perhaps more so than with the game – with the fan shots on the jumbotron, the chanting and cheering, the wave, the ground crew doing the “YMCA” at the 7th inning stretch. They were definitely enjoying the party atmosphere.

But there was still a game. Travis Hafner’s solo home run plus some quick base running or well-hit singles gave the Yanks three more runs. And then – top of the 9th, Mariano Rivera was brought in to close. Metallica “Enter Sandman” blasted over the PA system. When we first entered the stadium we were handed “autographed” Mariano pics, which both girls stared at wide-eyed. Now they were seeing him pitch in person, though we had to explain the circumstances and why it was so momentous.

Now, I saw Rivera close out the last game we were at, sometime around 2007 or 2008 I’d guess. He completely dominated the opposing batters, three up three out on something like fourteen pitches. Last night’s performance was not as masterful (there was one, maybe two hits), but, yes, he did retire the Indians for the night without any worry. Nick Swisher, ex-Yankee, was the final at-bat. He popped out to short left field. Ichiro Suzuki caught it, and the game was history.

Everybody cleared out rather quickly, but we lingered. Got some pics of the girls with the baseball diamond behind them. We said our goodbye’s to my father-in-law. Took our time getting out, which paid off. Got to the parking garage, got our car, got on line, got out on the road, over the bridge, into New Jersey, and him in a little over thirty minutes. Not bad at all, not bad at all.

Patch fell asleep in the back seat, utterly exhausted. I carried her in to the house, and she and Little One were able to get into jammies and brush teeth and get in bed by 11:30. They were out like lights by 11:32.

What an awesome day. Can’t wait to do it again … in 2014.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gettin' Old

The deaths this past May of Ray Harryhausen, Ray Manzarek, and Jack Vance got me thinking: I’m getting old. One major indication that one is getting old is when one’s idols, er, begin to, uh, die.

Now, I didn’t idolize these particular men per se. (Okay, I idolized the work of Ray Harryhausen.) But I knew them, knew them growing up at various stages of my life, and they made my existence just a tiny bit more enjoyable than it would have been without them.

Don’t laugh, but I guess it all started when DeForest Kelley – “Bones” McCoy from the original Star Trek series – died in June of 1999. I grew up on Star Trek. Played with those Trek dollies my friends had. Remember the spinning transporters? From the ages of eight to twelve I saw every single episode at least three or four times. Vividly do I remember them. I dreamed about them. And a few short years after Dr. McCoy crossed over, Scotty joined him.

When Shatner and Nimoy go (they are both 82 years old) I’m going to have to wear a black armband. And take some anti-depressants.

Anyway, from a literary perspective, my main focus this past decade or so, I’ve seen Arthur C. Clark leave us (March 19, 2008), Philip Jose Farmer (February 25, 2009, the day I left the hospital after 20 days), and my science fiction Master, Ray Bradbury (June 5, 2012). Again, I grew up with Clarke and Bradbury, and have super fine memories of reading both their works. Farmer is a recent acquisition, though I read him before his demise.

Michael Crichton died unexpectedly (at least to me) early in November, 2008. Fifteen years earlier, I was a huuuuuge Crichton fan. In short order I read Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, The Thirteenth Warrior, and, for better or worse, Congo.

Who else? Well, pop-culture-wise, Neil Armstrong left this mortal coil for other worlds this past August. Steve Jobs, the force behind Apple everything, bid adieu the October before that.

On the global stage, the death of John Paul II hit me hard. He was Pope for 27-some-odd years, the majority of my adult life. The way he died … what he accomplished … what he preached … how could I – or you – ever live up to that, ever live in gratitude to that?

I don’t know.

In the immortal worlds of Johnny Winter –

Somebody tell the world to stop
Or just slow down …

Saturday, June 1, 2013

June Goals

Lessee, lessee …

Since this is so new, haven’t given it much intensive thought. How about –

1. Twelve fierce weight workouts

2. Run a mile nonstop (no time limit)

3. Complete outline for my next novel (currently 25% done)

4. Finish listening to/reading Stephenson’s Anathem

5. Spend two hours researching self-publishing

6. Return all my library books (30+ spread throughout my house)

7. Plan each day at work (first thing) and work the plan

8. Get home finances under control (that means a budget)

9. Read through a Greek Mythology book with Little One

10. Read through a space book with Patch

oh, and

11. Live so that I don’t have to go back to Confession (this month).

Not a bad 30-day list.

Let’s see how I do by June 30th.