Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ye Olde New Year’s Eve post, 2009 edition

Good-bye, 365 days of crap and despair. Don’t let history hit you on the ass on the way out the door...

Instead of poring back over the past year, enumerating and expanding upon what went fanny-side-up (almost everything) as was my initial inclination, just thinking about it is depressing the shit out of me. Time to go to Plan B and quick.

...but in the end, I couldn’t help myself looking backward, being the glutton for punishment that I am. I started to list, in my head, all the things I wouldn’t be writing about till I realized that was as self-defeating as just writing it all out. Instead, I forced myself to remember that there were a lot of good times and moments of beauty in the last year, too, sandwiched between all the sadness and ill tidings that grabbed the headlines and our lives.

And the one thing almost all my good memories of 2009 have in common is, my son was part of them. Not just present, but accounted for. Now other people were there—The Missus, The Last Boy Scout, The Best Man, the return of Leonard Cohen and Jim Cameron—for a lot of the best moments, but no one near as many, even all put together, as The Boy.

There’s the already-nostalgia-tinted memories of swimming once a week at the community pool down the block all summer long. Finally winning the potty-training wars; Yosemite and the holidays as seen through the eyes of a happy four-year-old.

Discovering that he still likes Johnny Cash and remembers his first dog, Woody, who passed away half his lifetime ago now. Reveling in his sly, capricious sense of humor and ready laugh.

And oh my gawd, the super-hero cartoons we’ve enjoyed together! I finally have the perfect cartoon buddy—we love all the same shows and he never Bogarts my stash. There are so many good Marvel Comics-based cartoons on right now, plus I have all the cool DC ones from last decade on DVD. It’s opportunity and circumstance aligning in perfect synchronization...

Watching him love “Star Wars,” but be plenty freaked out by “The Empire Strikes Back,” (Note to self—pre-screen future such entertainments for number of dismemberments per hour of screentime).

Watching him play with the remote control unit to his broken remote control car and explaining matter-of-factly, “I’m pretending I have a car.”

Best of all, though, are the smallest moments. I put him to bed the other night and I always resist saying “I love you,” because it’s already turned into the call-and-response exercise it’s become everywhere these days. Whether they’re talking to their mom or their hairdresser, everybody throws “I love you” and “I love you too” around the way you used to hear people say “Looks like rain” and “Yep, shore do.”

As a matter of principle, I almost always decline to say I love you in said call-and-response situations with The Boy. I try to save my professions of fealty for unexpected moments and noteworthy circumstances, when social custom doesn’t necessarily dictate a like response. Which is hard because I love him all of the time. So limiting myself in this area is as much an act of masochism as it is bad parenting by design.

At bedtime I usually say things like, “I’ll be here in the morning, son,” or “Have a good sleep, I’ll see you when you get up.” Give him a sense of security, assurance, without weakening him up with all that sissy love talk.

The other night, after The Missus had done all her excellent Mommying business, getting him ready for a comfy night's snooze, she came in and asked me, “Do you want to say good-night to him? You’d better hurry.”

Sure enough, he was sacked out and turned toward the wall already. I figured I had missed my opportunity but wanted to give the little bugger a kiss goodnight anyhow. It was enough for me that I knew I had done it. I leaned over and gave his cheek a peck and whispered, “Have a good sleep, buddy, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Unexpectedly he rolled over and crooked an arm around my neck, pulling my face toward his. He opened his eyes and said, “I love you, Dad,” and pulling me closer, gave me the sweetest kiss on the lips. I kissed his forehead and said, surprised, “Well, thanks son. I love you too. You have a good sleep, okay?”

“Okay,” he said and without another word, rolled back over and pulled his blanket up around him.

I mean, seriously, you can’t buy that shit. You can’t steal it. You can’t even find it on The Google. You either earn it or you miss out.

And at the end of this most horrid year—annus horribilis—I decided I should only look back and be grateful at the Good Stuff I didn’t miss out on.

(Don’t worry. It’s a short list.)

So, thank you, Sweetie. I’d be nothing without you, halved at least. One-thirded, even. To The Last Boy Scout, all I can say is, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Thanks for the songs, Mr. Cohen. And everybody who was cool to me and gave me the benefit of the doubt when my mistakes or misbehavior didn’t necessarily merit a second chance, I recognize and appreciate your generosity.

And to my son, thanks for giving me a reason to still want to hop out of bed every morning and brush my teeth first thing. I know the day will come that you’ll pull away, that my Big Boy will grow into a Little Kid who won’t want anything to do with PDAs by the Old Man. I’ll embarrass you in front of your cool skateboarder friends, then piss you off by grounding you ‘till infinity’ for doing something I probably did, too, when I was your age…

A period of estrangement and resentment will likely follow and then you’ll be a Teenager and you will communicate solely by unintelligible monosyllabic grunts, silent shrugs and over-the-shoulder baleful glares for a few years.

(In the best of all possible worlds, you will spend this period of adolescent pique learning to play the guitar and writing angry songs of rebellion that will ultimately lead to Springsteenian success as an arena-filling folkie/rocker and me and The Missus to a house on the hill with a full staff to care for us in our dotage.)

And should I live long enough: Rapprochement. Redemption! Kids of your own and the better-late-than-never realization that, actually, I really was constantly riding your ass in your own best interest (most of the time!). You’ll realize that without me around to push your buttons, you never would have had something so implacable to strive against so young; no one to teach you how to not yield to the irresistible force with one hand while still sucking your thumb with the other.

But until then, it’s enough that you know that I will always be there when you wake up. And I’ll see you in the morning.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fang’s Mom is still a babe…

…well into her ninth decade. Is it weird for me to mention it?

Thanks to Uncle Ron for the photo.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ye Olde Christmas Post, 2009 edition

2009 has been much too wretched and sad a year to mull it over on the traditional Christmas post. Maybe I’ll save the litany of grief and despair for the New Year’s entry!

Instead, I want to take you back to a better time, a time of optimism. A time when America was only enmeshed in one ill-conceived, unwinnable overseas war. When gas was less than a buck a gallon, maybe way less (to say more would require research, which the proprietors of this site are not paying me enough to do), and when a young Fang was coming to the philosophically sound but ethically questionable conclusion that if everything he did was wrong, then nothing he did was wrong.

The world seemed alive with possibilities.

And the Big Three networks were giving variety shows to absolutely anybody. Glen Campbell had one and so did Flip Wilson and Joey Heatherton. So did Dean Martin, who enjoyed the singular perk of being contractually obligated only to show up for the actual taping of the show. The chaos that ensued from his weekly lack of preparation was the stuff of legend. They were giving variety shows out to anyone who was selling albums and agreed to play by the rules (sorry, Smothers Brothers).

They even gave one to Johnny Cash in 1969 after his massive hit concert album the year before, “Live From Folsom Prison,” catapulted him to mainstream superstar status. And for 58 mostly memorable episodes, Cash brought his unique hybrid of good ol’ boy patriotism and bleeding heart social activism to America’s living rooms.

The show isn’t available on the amazon, but I did find a copy of the full run on the ebay a few years back. Watched them with my boy in the pre-dawn hours from when he was an infant to early toddler-hood. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was an interesting thing Cash was trying to do. There’s no tell-all book out on the show so I’m only guessing, but word is Cash forced one musical guest on the network for every one the network would force on him.

That’s how you’d get shows where Tom T Hall would follow Pat Boone, or Odetta and Roger Miller would have to share screen time with alleged comedian Charlie Callas. Or another episode that included both Bobby Sherman and Burl Ives, or another one where Brenda Lee opened for Pete Seeger (who ended up dominating the at-first skeptical Grand Ol’ Opry crowd—oh hell, I have to imbed that one, from March 4, 1970).

Another thing that was consistent was an 8-10 minute segment called “Ride This Train,” where Cash would talk about the history—and sing the songs of—a featured underclass of American society every week. Or do an episode about Civil War songs, or another about long-haul truckers. Cash knew from “real America” and as long as he had a forum, the people in the big cities, who tuned in for Brenda Lee and Stevie Wonder, would too.

I wish I had watched the show at the time, but as I alluded to earlier, I was just getting ready to go off the rails and thus missed most of the pop culture of the period except that which was televised on weekend mornings. I don’t remember my parents being big TV watchers but maybe I was in bed.

The clip at the top of this piece is from Cash’s Dec. 23, 1970 broadcast. The episode also featured Johnny and June Carter’s infant son John Carter Cash in what amounted to his television debut. That clip is HERE.

In the clip at top, Cash welcomes the episode’s guests into an ersatz living room and passes a guitar around. Don and Phil Everly sing “Kentucky,” followed by Roy Orbison doing a solo acoustic version of “Pretty Paper.” Then Ike Everly plays “Cannonball Rag” before Mother Maybelle Carter joins him on guitar—literally. She does the chords and Ike strums. Someone named Vince Matthews sings “Melva’s Wine;” Johnny’s Dad, Ray Cash, rhapsodizes about meeting President Nixon then Cash’s mother, Carrie Cash, plays piano while the ensemble sings “Silent Night.”

This here is my Christmas gift to anyone who stumbles across this blog, from “real Americans” to the Intellectual Elite. To Johnny Cash, we were all just Americans.

So Merry Christmas, my fellow Americans. May better days be coming for us all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brittany Murphy: Done too soon at 32

Sad, so sad. Of course drugs are suspected, she was too young and pretty and famous for it to be anything else.

This is the first time I’ve been grateful that “King of The Hill” got canceled since the axe fell.

Every year some celebrity dies in the last couple weeks of the year, after all the annual commemorative issues of the entertainment magazines have gone to press. This year it’s Brittany Murphy who fell through the cracks. Apparently, in more ways than one.

If I remember 32 correctly, I’m damned lucky to have made it through alive myself. Thank God I was neither pretty nor famous.

I hope wherever her spirit is now, she’s being better looked-after than she was while she was here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Seriously, go see this movie right now:

Jon Stewart had one of Avatar’s stars, Sigourney Weaver, on his show recently and told her that for months this film looked like it was going to be “a giant turd.” I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

When we had dinner with The Last Boy Scout and his family last weekend, I asked them if they were interested in seeing it. They quickly agreed that the film looked like a big stinky turd to them, too, and had no plans to see it. Everyone agreed—everything we’d seen of it smelled like bad cheese.

But, I’ve been a stalwart James Cameron fan since the first Terminator came out. At the time, it was playing at the $2 theater right around the corner from me. An old place with uncomfortable seats that ran movies that weren’t on the major screens anymore but hadn’t been pulled yet. Not like these days where, when a movie disappears from the multiplex, it’s completely gone till its DVD release two months later. I don’t know how many nights I saw it there, but I remember it played for a long time.

I even liked The Abyss, the Cameron film that none of the press for the new movie mentions. It made money but it also earned Cameron a very unflattering reputation as a taskmaster asshole. Hard to work for or with unless you, too, happened to walk on water. Or on that film, breathe underwater, as he repeatedly almost drowned cast members.

And because I didn’t stay to hear the music over the end credits, I even unabashedly loved Titanic. (We also fled before the saccharine bombast swelling up over Avatar’s end credits reached its crescendo.)

So it was only because Jim Cameron made this movie that I would even consider touching it with a ten-foot pole. A CGI fantasy film with fake-looking (but mostly naked and strangely hot, see inset) blue faerie people flitting about on repurposed dinosaurs? Why not throw in some unicorns, too?

But Cameron has never made a dud. He’s never made anything but excellent movies. And I’m a brand-loyalty kind of consumer.

Man am I glad I am. What a great flick! It feels a lot like Aliens and not just because Weaver starred in that one, too. The twist is this time, we’re the aliens who need to be driven out.

It’s a Jim Cameron film all the way, pastel-blue pixies and all. The plot structure at the beginning and end is straight from the Cameron (and Joseph Campbell) playbook and all the weird fantasy stuff in the middle isn’t anywhere near as off-putting as the 90-second clips on talk shows make them appear. The climactic battle sequences easily surpass similar set pieces from any film in the Lord of The Rings trilogy, the former standard-bearer for fantasy action/adventure filmmaking.

I also like Cameron’s use of (what look like American) Marines in this flick. Even though he employs them as The Bad Guys (doing the bidding of future-earth’s skeevy corporate masters), he still crafts characters that demand the audience’s respect. Even as I was rooting against the Marine commander in one of the film’s action set pieces, I was thinking, “Jesus, that guy’s a bad-ass!” instead of “Die, motherfucker, die!”

And his use of 3D is judicious, not promiscuous. Things don’t jump off the screen or get thrown at the camera just to remind you you’re watching a 3D movie, he actually uses the process and technology to more fully immerse the audience in this strange new world he has created from the ground up.

There are simply not enough superlatives to describe the experience of seeing Avatar in the theater, and in 3D. Once again, Cameron has employed bleeding-edge technology, most of which he designed and built himself, to tell a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology used irresponsibly.

I’ve seen Cameron out promoting this flick and he’s still a pompous asshole, even when he’s trying not to be. But in Avatar’s case, it’s the movie not that the man that I’m recommending. Trust me. If you sit this one out, you’ll regret it. Cameron has raised the bar again, way high. It’s gonna be a hard act to follow and I, for one, hope he can’t wait to get started trying.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preschool is kicking somebody’s ass

The Boy is in his second week now and the transition has been smooth as silk. None of the “issues” parents are warned about. He doesn’t seem to miss his favorite playmate from daycare and every day when we pick him up, he’s usually playing actively with a bunch of other kids his age. One time he was explaining something to two peers, complete with whiplash facial expressions and explanatory arm gestures.

The thing is, he’s having so much fun, and they don’t force kids his age to take naps, by the time he gets home he pretty much just wants to be fed, watch some TV and fall asleep at 7 p.m. mellowing out to groovy tunes in the easy chair in my office.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another reason Al Gore should have been elected in 2000:

That creep Joe Lieberman would have been effectively neutralized as VP for four or eight years and he wouldn’t be fucking things up in Congress today. He’d be some Douschebag Emeritus on a bunch of right-wing non-governmental boards with about as much political clout as Tucker Carlson’s bowtie.

Instead he remains in the Senate, caucusing with the Dems, giving them a pyrrhic 60-vote majority that they can’t do a goddamn thing with because he votes against them every time.

(I’m actually pissed at a co-worker this morning, but since I don’t blog about my job I’m gonna take it all out on this sack of shit I didn’t know they stacked that high.)

What a complete and utter bastard this Lieberman guy is. At the time, when he was the first Dem on the Senate floor to call Bill Clinton out for getting caught with his pants down, I thought it was kind of cool. Somebody on our side had to do it, I figured, and I was glad it was this cuddly, unthreatening white-haired dude from New England.

(In my defense, I also believed Clinton hadn’t diddled the intern until he confessed, so my political naïveté at the time must have been pretty impressive to behold.)

I caught Lieberman’s act on Sunday morning and the headlines today… I love it when politicians dismiss the disenfranchised with a casual “only 4 or 5 million people will be adversely affected…”

Since when did four five MILLION people become a small number?

A city will marshal all its resources and spend scores of thousands of municipal-level dollars to keep a single hard-luck-case from jumping off his roof to become street pizza. One person. Who is statistically likely to try it again and succeed later, but society deems his life important enough to ante up the dollars it takes to get him off the ledge in one piece.

And we have a whole generation of Americans trudging into middle age—myself among them—whom Joe Lieberman (and to be fair, the rest of his ilk) are willing to write off as acceptable losses. Collateral damage. Four or five million. That’s only one or two fewer million than the number of Jews Hitler killed in WWII. And Senator Lieberman is on record as believing that those millions of people, that’s a big number.

Which it is, which is my whole point. One human life is a big number. I get that politics necessarily deals with large numbers, usually involving human lives at some level. So at the same time as it’s killing me to watch the health care bill dying the death of a thousand cuts in Congress, I know that some dancing with the devil is required.

But thanks to Lieberman being the Dems’ 60th vote—which he never gives them—their paper majority is a sham. And even the perfectly reasonable idea of moving Medicare eligibility up to 55 dies aborning.

Guys like Joe Lieberman are making this a shittier country for my son to grow up in and I take that personally.

I am so pissed at my co-worker…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We will be hearing more from this kid...

I don’t throw around the word “genius” much when I’m not being sarcastic, but I think this young fellow may just be the real deal. He’s Mozart with a ukelele:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“Dad, I want to take a picture of you.”

My son, the artist:

The Boy continues to surprise me with his aesthetic sophistication.

A little while ago I was listening to a playlist of my most recently purchased tunes while I read (Stephen’s King’s new 1,000-pager) and The Boy played with a car on the floor of my office. After a few sissy guitar folk songs, “I Love It Loud” by KISS comes roaring on. After a few measures he looks up at me and asks “Are these superheroes?” I laughed and said, “Well, kinda, yeah.”

I jumped up and grabbed the t-shirt I bought at the concert last month and showed him the band graphic on the front, in full makeup and regalia. I asked him, “Do they look like superheroes to you?” After a moment, he said, “...yeah.” I pressed the issue. “Are they Good Guys or Bad Guys?”

He smiled and affirmed without hesitation, “Good Guys!”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heroes at work...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Happy 60th birthday to Tom Waits

Thanks for taking a little bit of the onus off December 7. I will take it as a good sign, then, that The Boy starts pre-school today. Hats off to all the artists in my life!

(Holy crap, I just realized this means Tom is younger than Bruce Springsteen! I just don't understand how that could be possible?!)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

George Will on Obama's trip to pick up his Nobel

From ABC’s Sunday morning politics show:

“He’s going to give a wonderful speech for winning an award for making wonderful speeches.”