Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Art of Encouragement

A shameless plug, if you'll indulge me. Amber, over at the run-a-muck is a wonderful lady that I only e-know, but she has managed to make me blush from ear to ear. This is a quote from her most recent post:

Something else: There are these super cool guys who review films, and they L-O-V-E Jesus in that cussy kind of I've-been-in-the-pit sort of way. They're complete strangers to me, though friends of some of my friends, and they're my brothers. Has a movie review ever made you cry? Or has a review made you laugh until you slobbered on your keyboard and made the f stop working for a while? I'm not kidding, more than movies, you get what you feel are pieces of the writers that can only come out when art moves them out - as if a piece of art tangles into the brain near where we keep secrets, so to speak of the art is to tell of ghosts, what we saw as children out of the corner of our eye, or of deep, hard crushes and that wind that caught your breath the first time you realized God, those things that only art could shove out into the seeing/hearing world. Go here: Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag.

How's that for a compliment? Made my month.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Skinny (In More Ways Than One)

I have this group of friends that sits around and discusses working out. No, they're not super-jocks or meatheads or anything, they just like to stay in shape. So when we all get together, there's always talk of "have you seen this new workout site?" or "I managed 40 reps last night." I, being a superiorly trained doughboy, usually have nothing to add to this conversation. Until now. Behold, the landscapers diet! Push a fertilizer spreader, sling 50 pound bags of granular weedkiller, spread mulch in 90+ degrees (with no AC in the truck), all for 10 or more hours a day! You too will lose weight at an alarming pace!

Yesterday, I stepped on the scale and it read 202. I haven't been this close to a weight with a 1 in the front in many, many years. I think I'll be there by next weekend.

Problem is, after next weekend, the landscaper's diet goes away. Next Sunday, our church votes on me as the new (title to be determined) tech and facilities guy. Assuming that there's no general undercurrent of dislike against me, the vote shouldn't be an issue. So I will be working in an air conditioned office, sitting on my rear all day. Bye bye 100s...

Anyway, back to the job. When we sold our business back in March, I figured it wouldn't take too long to find something new. I was wrong. First, I was supposed to go work for my dad's company. That didn't fly. So I applied and applied. I applied for things that I was eminently qualified for and i applied for long shots. I got exactly one interview in three months. So, my friend Jason had mercy on me and hired me to work for his landscaping company. And it's been a blast, really. It's been totally out of my comfort zone and completely good for me.

Before going to work for Jason, I met with our pastor at Bojangles, just for some career advice. He said he'd pray for us and the direction we were supposed to go. Turns out, unbeknownst to me, later that day or the next, the tech guy at Providence told Chad he would be leaving in a few weeks. A few elder meetings and some prayer later and here we are. It's pretty amazing how God answers prayer by closing door after door. Eventually the right one opens.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Over there -->

Zip over to THREE HANDS IN THE POPCORN BAG. I've got a new review of WALL-E up there...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Be Kind, Check this Out

I don't know if BE KIND, REWIND was screwed over by the marketing department or if director Michael Gondry was making a point about the way we brand movies. What I do know is that a movie with Jack Black, Mos Def, and an extraordinarily wacky premise isn't supposed to turn out as a loving treatise on the importance of community.

Quick summary: Mos Def works in a video store where Jack Black (who becomes magnetized in a great scene involving ingenious camouflage) accidentally erases all of the videotapes. Because no one carries VHS anymore, they can't replace the tapes. So they do the only logical thing: they remake the movies themselves with an ancient camcorder and a process they term "Sweding." They begin with GHOSTBUSTERS and by the end, they have Sweded over 200 movies, including ROBOCOP, KING KONG, THE LION KING, and, DRIVING MISS DAISY. The community comes to like the Sweded films better than the originals and a phenomenon is born.

Everything about this film screams unconcerned about whether people actually come to see it. Jack Black, Mos Def, and all the rest treat the movie as a kind of love letter to both film and to community. They have the aura of artists who so truly love the material that they are doing this for free, and the result is an electric kind of chemistry that shouldn't work, but manages to defy all logic and does anyway. A movie that includes Jack Black's magnetized urine shouldn't be lovely and touching, but is.

Gondry, who also wrote the script, turns Hollywood stereotypes on their heads throughout the picture. When Danny Glover's video store (which only carries VHS) is on the brink of demolition by a developer, every other movie ever made would have portrayed the developer as a money-hungry Texan who has no sympathy for the people and culture he's displacing. Gondry treats the character as a sympathetic man who is truly trying to improve the quality of life of the people of Passaic. Mia Farrow's character, an old lady that is the impetus for their movie-making (she's the one that wanted to watch GHOSTBUSTERS) is a beautiful woman that cares selflessly for the young black men of the community.

Race, although always present in the film - the three main stars of the Sweded movies are white, black, and Hispanic - is never discussed directly, but wonderfully and hilariously shown in context, such as during the filming of DRIVING MISS DAISY where Jack Black is the Jessica Tandy character to Mos Def's Morgan Freeman. When Jack shows up in blackface to play Fats Waller - he figures he's the right man to play him since he too is fat, Danny Glover takes him outside gently to discuss the problem. We don't hear the reprimand, but we do see it in what may be the best scene of the movie.

BE KIND REWIND ends with a scene out of a Frank Capra film, a scene just short of sappy, but so lovely that both Janna and I had the beginnings of tears in our eyes. Overall, the movie is a paean to interconnectedness. It's a simple film with a small budget that is more than the sum of its parts. It's a sort of anti-HAPPENING for me. Rather than liking it less and less the more I think about it, I like and admire BE KIND REWIND more and more.

4 and a half magnetized drops of urine out of 5.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What's the news from your bed?

A few updates for you:

1. I use ellipses way too much.
2. This is completely self-indulgent. I mean, this is totally, wholly, egotistical on our part. I know this. But it's so much darn fun. The hamster, Myles, and I have started a new blog where we do nothing but review movies. Check it out - it's boss.
3. Benjamin loves him some Blue's Clues. Amazing. Steve (and Joe, I reckon) have helped raise all three of my kids.
4. There is some big news on the horizon. We hope. Should be happening in the next week or two. Cross your fingers for us. And say a prayer or ten.
5. Do you have to be married for, like, 30 years to renew your vows? Cause I love my wife a whole lot. She's groooovy. And she puts up with me getting tired and going to bed at ten o'clock.
6. The new Ben Shive record is jawdroppingly gorgeous. Go to The Rabbit Room and buy it. It's worth the ten bucks - seriously, what's ten bucks anymore, an extra value meal from McDonald's? Go buy "The Ill Tempered Klavier."
7. I bought this great book from the used bookstore this week. It's called Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who by Frederick Buechner. Awesome.
8. I am officially a Tennessee state certified commercial C3(turf grass and ornamentals) pesticide applicator. As my mom says - "Every mother's dream."
9. I really want to go see WALL-E this weekend. Have you seen the reviews?
10. This one's from Laney, "I love you, world."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's All (not) Happening!

Eberto the Pirate says "Arr, there be spoilers ahead. These be dangerous waters. Mind your spinnakers!"

THE HAPPENING - A Tale of Trite Shite

"Class, welcome to Great Directing 101. This week, we're discussing the concept of denouement. Now who can tell me what denouement means? Steven? Marty? Wilder? Clint? Oh fine, Alfred."

(class groans, murmurs of "teacher's pet" abound)

"Professor Kubrick, it means the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or novel."

"Good, good, Alfred. Now, let's discuss examples. M Night, can you give me an example of the proper use of denouement? M Night? Has anybody seen M Night? Dang it. This'll come back to bite him one day. Ok, let's move on. Joel, Ethan, can you give me an example?"


Oh, THE HAPPENING. How I wish thee had not been a bad movie. How I wish that you had lived up to thine wonderful opening scenes. Those bodies falling like raindrops,the calm of shoving a knitting needle through a jugular, the idyllic, foreboding images of nature. The first five minutes or so were excellent. Then Marky Mark opened his mouth and everything began to fall apart.

I wonder if Marky Mark was thrust upon M Night, or if M Night chose Marky Mark. Either way, it turned out bad. He simply can't carry a movie. He has one emotion - incredulity. Fortunately for him, it helped in some scenes - that was the required emotion. But incredulity can only carry you so far. The unfortunate part is that Jon Leguizamo was excellent, if wasted. His role is far too limited, as if M Night didn't want him stealing scenes from Marky Mark. Zooey Deschanel is wonderful, of course, and her bright blue eyes dominate the screen.

I do think, though, that THE HAPPENING could have survived Marky Mark. But the story is really the low point of the film, and not even Zooey's eyes can save that. It's almost as if M Night (who my boss at work calls "Midnight" as if the M stands for Mid) came up with the concept and figured that the kinks would just get worked out along the way - "An ending? Don't bother me with details!"

Here's the plot in a nutshell: People start committing suicide en masse, and no one knows why. Marky Mark, his wife Zooey, and their buddy's young daughter attempt to flee from New England to escape what's HAPPENING. They progress in smaller and smaller groups until they are alone and assured that they too, will die. (SPOILER) They don't. Everyone lives happily ever after. What was killing everybody? You guessed it, the plants. The plants are mad that people are mistreating the earth, so they start killing folks (actually, getting people to kill themselves). We find all of this out in a third act that lasts all of four minutes - very reminiscent of Speilberg's crappy WAR OF THE WORLDS. In fact, the whole of THE HAPPENING is reminiscent of WoTW. So much so that Stevie might want to check out some plagiarism lawyers.

Oh, M Night can still build suspense. There are some excellent, tense scenes. They effects are nice - a guy gets run over buy a riding lawnmower, etc. There's a really great scene involving three individual suicides with the same gun.

M Night's strength has always been that he's an excellent storyteller, but I'm afraid he's lost his mojo. The movie really feels like a student assignment - "Do a film about global warning. Make it a metaphor." 2 Marky Marks out of five.

(Sorry Kevin)

Friday, June 13, 2008

A (Day)Dream Show

There's this charitable organization called Letters to Santa. They do some really cool stuff for underprivileged kids, or something. I'm not really interested. What they do that is awesome, though, is that every year they have a living room benefit concert with Jeff Tweedy. They record it and it ends up online somehow (something to do with vacuum tubes, I think). And then those recordings find their way magically on my computer where I can lovingly enjoy them.

But here's the best part. The format of this thing is that Jeff goes around the room to each person and lets them request a song. That's the set list. Each person chooses their favorite and he plays it. Ridiculous.

So I was spreading fertilizer a few days ago and listening to the show and daydreaming about what I would choose if Jeff picked me. I'm so indecisive though, everyone would get mad at me for taking too long to make up my mind (Should I pick When the Roses Bloom Again? How about Hummingbird? Candyfloss? Via Chicago? Summerteeth? I can't decide!! Janna, just pick for me."Ok, honey. Heavy Metal Drummer, please, Jeff.")

So here's my question for all of you. Which performer, and which song?

(Myles, if you say King's X, I'll scream.)

Here's my real answer:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Something New, and Still Really Old, Under the Sun

(note: the sister review of this fine feature film can be found over on the hamster's site)

(another note: some of this review should be a bit, um, graphic. Fortunately, I've tastefully removed any possibly offensive terms and replaced them with the word "Chewbacca." If your curiosity gets the better of you, click the link. But don't say I didn't warn you.)


If I told you that the movie I'm about to review concerns a centuries-old, cross-cultural, mythological phenomenon that has roots in Egyptian, Greek, Christian, Native American, and African folklore, would that make me seem scholarly? Professorial, even? 'Cause it does come from those traditions. Really. I promise. Look it up.

I've seen lots of horror movies and I've seen lots of blood and guts and pretty much every conceivable way of killing some poor Hollywood schmuck. But this is a first. I can sit through SAW and HOSTEL without flinching. I can watch Freddy Krueger invade the nightmares of unsuspecting teens with nary a bad dream of my own. But this, this myth called Chewbacca, this is the hardest to watch. This made me look away.

Throughout the history of our vast world, patriarchy has always been the status quo. Men have always held the power. Owned the land, made the money, voted the votes. That's where the root of this Chewbacca myth comes from. It's a story where the script is flipped, a feminist dream. Men become the victims, the helpless ones. In a situation where they believe the power is theirs, they find in one quick, sickening second, that they are powerless. And a bit lighter.

TEETH is a cautionary tale for boys. Remember that time in middle school where the boys are separated from the girls and each gets to watch a "special video?" I don't remember the video we watched 20-some years ago, but I know this: TEETH should be required viewing for all pubescent boys who are considering becoming "active."

Our heroine, Dawn, a high-school age girl who trumpets celibacy to young people everywhere, saying things like, "That's what the ring is all about. The way it wraps around your finger - that's to remind you to keep your gift wrapped. Wrapped... until the day... you trade it in for that other ring. That gold ring. Get it?", has come to realize that perhaps there is something that is... let's say "unnatural" down there. Through no fault of her own, she is forced to confront this... umm, mutation. Her first victim is a fellow save-it-for-later fellow she genuinely likes, who decides to get a little too frisky and ends up as crab food. Then there's the perverted OBGYN who loses a few fingers and, hilariously, writhes on the floor screaming, "Chewbacca! It's real!", but won't tell the doctors what actually happened to his hand.

When she discovers that she can, in fact, control her... um... gift, Dawn comes to realize the potential she has, not only the potential to defend herself from sick and unruly boys, but also the ability to be pro-active. To punish stupid fellows who think first with head #2. She becomes something of a feminist superhero, or, at least, vigilante. Her mission (and by the end of the movie, we believe that she has chosen to accept it) is to destroy those males who would use their superior physical strength to take advantage of the "weaker" sex.

It's a moral tale in the vein of the slasher films of the '80s. Just like Jason chopped up the campers at Camp Crystal Lake (and on a cruise ship, and, oh yeah, in space - I'd forgotten about that one) for sins as varied as fornication, pride, and gluttony (or just being the funny guy), Dawn enacts justice on the predators in her town. It's really a tale of the evils of sexual exploitation of women. Every guy who gets... um... shortened, absolutely deserves it. The moral of this morality play is this: Treat women as objects and suffer the consequences. The horrible, terrible, life-altering, gruesome consequences.

TEETH owes as much to the '90s teenager movies - CLUELESS, HEATHERS, BRING IT ON, etc. as it does to Jason and Michael Myers. The teen caricatures are typical - the geek, the bully, etc. It's campy (the good kind), smart, and biting (ha!). It's really a B-movie that lives above its means. Some of the effects betray the budget, but that's forgivable. Mostly it's a lot of wince-inducing fun.

Husbands, don't show this to your wives. They might get ideas.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Joy Like a Fountain

There was this book I read and loved,
the story of a ship.
who sailed around the world and found,
that nothing else exists;
beyond his own two sails,
and wooden shell,
and what is held within.
- Bright Eyes

I am an extremist. Janna tells me this all the time. I either love something or it's absolute dreck - not much lives in between. But, I can say for certain that I have reserved the following statement for only two novels in the past ten years. The first is A Prayer for Owen Meany, the second is Peace Like a River. The statement is this: "This is my favorite book."

I finished Peace a month or so ago. I've wanted to write a review of it ever since, but I've held off, mainly because, if I'm being honest with myself, I don't know how to do it justice, despite that Bachelor's degree in English Lit that I purloined back in '99. But, with some encouragement from The Hamster to start talking about literature again, here goes.

I read a lot. Like, more than anyone else I know. In the past week I've finished at least two, maybe three novels (actually, on further review, I think it was four). I probably read at least a hundred books a year. I'm not trying to brag (or as Shaq would say, I'm not trying to be bragadocious). It's just that I can read anywhere, regardless of what's going on around me. I can read and watch TV at the same time. I usually have at least two, sometimes more, going on simultaneously. I read my favorites five, ten times over.

But when I started Peace Like a River, all of that went away. Like the Bright Eyes quote above, there was no other existence than me and the boat I was in. A boat I shared with Jeremiah, Reuben, Swede, and Davy Land. I felt like young Bastian in The Neverending Story, simply disappearing into the novel.

The story is simple. A family in Minnesota in the '60s undergoes a family tragedy of sorts that serves to both bind them together and pull at the fragile seams of their lives. It's a story told from the point of view of an adolescent child, who is just beginning to understand love, all kinds: the love of a father for his sons, the love of a sister for her brothers, the protective love of a big brother, even lust for the opposite sex.

But more than anything, the novel is, for me, an examination of the nature of faith. Not simply faith in Christ, although that's definitely part of it, but a larger faith. As Reuben watches his father, Jeremiah, struggle through raising three children alone, he sees a man who is profound in his faith, so much so that he bears as much resemblance to Peter, James, or John as to the elementary school janitor that he is.

And perhaps the fact that faith is at the core of the story is what lends it such a childlike quality, almost naive in its worldview. It's not a story where everything turns out alright in the end, but there are no lasting tears for what's been lost. It has an innocence that's akin to To Kill a Mockingbird and characters that are as rich as John Irving's. And magic... oh yes, there's magic.

It's difficult for me to muse on an intellectual level about the merits and faults of this one, because it affected me on such an emotional and personal level. I proclaimed it my new favorite immediately upon finishing the last page, and the more I've thought about it and discussed it in the weeks hence, the more I am confident in my proclamation.

My affection (strange how affection and affected are so close) for the novel lies in the details, like in this story about a revival at church. Reuben and his crush, Bethany Orchard, sneak away to the church kitchen for a snack, where she begins to cook pancakes for the two of them. When the smell finds its way into the sanctuary, here's what happens:

Therianus-dequayas-remorey-gungunnas, a man called out, plus a paragraph or so more. I'm not making fun; the language was complicated and musical, an expression outside human usefulness. Expectant silence followed. The Reverend Johnny surveyed the room. At this moment I noticed that the smell of our pancakes - Bethany's and mine, and they'd been good ones - had floated upstairs, a fabulous smell. It occurred to me we might get into some small trouble for using the kitchen during service.

Then Reverend Johnny spoke up. "Does anyone have the interpretation? Who's hearing the word of the Lord tonight?"

Nobody said a thing.

Johnny Latt persisted. "Someone's fighting obedience tonight! Speak up, for no prophecy goes untold. Joe, is it you?"

And Joe, a bull-shouldered patriarch whose shirt stretched wet across his back and who looked to be in deep communication with the Almighty, rose without hesitation and gave it a shot. "O my sons and my daughters, how I love thee! How I wish to provide for thee! Yea, I long to surround thee with delicious smells, heavenly smells! How gladly will I sit thee down in my banquet hall, for beauteous are the cakes therein! Oh, golden is my syrup! And unto me shall gather the hungry from every nation-"

What a shame Swede wasn't there. She'd have adored that prophecy who knows what commentary she'd have whispered in my ear?

Even though I didn't grow up in the '60s, or in Minnesota, there is a feeling of familiarity with the Land family. Just like Jeremiah welcomes even the undesirable door-to-door salesman into their home for dinner, you, the reader, are welcomed in to the Land clan.

I guess that's where the brilliance of the book lies. Just like with Harper Lee's Finches, the reader becomes a de facto member of the family. Relation becomes instantaneous, not something you have to work at. Empathy is not difficult, not forced, because these people are people you wish were your flesh and blood, people you want to sit down for breakfast with. Maybe having been an adolescent boy once upon a time helps. Maybe having sisters, maybe being a person of faith. Maybe just being a member of the human race is good enough.

Please read this. Please?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Things that I Love

In the wake of an outstanding Over the Rhine concert a few days ago, I think I'd like to mention some things that I love.

- Venues that serve beer and cocktails during the concert - any show is better with a Shiner Bock in tow.
- A crowd that's chronologically, socially, and economically diverse
- Guys that wear the shirt of the band that they're going to see - not that I would do that, of course
- Mary Gauthier, a whizbang combo of John Prine and Emily Saliers
- Merch Tables
- Gay Street in Knoxville
- A mom that will watch the kiddos on short notice
- Karen Berquist
- Linford Detweiler
- The stand-up bass
- A wife who likes to dance to the slow songs - even if she's the only one in the joint doing it
- Concerts with less than a couple hunnerd folks in attendance
- The Knoxville Bijou
- Music, especially the good kind

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Post No One Wants to Write

We drove up I-81 to Baltimore yesterday and I had managed to go a couple of days without even thinking about the news of Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter. I had seen it first thing Thursday morning before work and, thankfully, shoveling mulch and spraying weed killer allowed me to not have to think about that five year old girl being struck and killed by her teenage brother in his Land Cruiser.

But yesterday, somewhere around Bristol, TN, Janna was driving and I was taking a snooze. She had slipped in a mix CD that I had made a year or so ago for a trip we took to Little Rock. I woke just in time to be caught completely unaware by track 12 or so. It was a live performance at the Dove awards - Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Mac Powell, and Jeremy Camp doing a tribute to Steven Curtis Chapman. Christian music's most important worship leaders expounding on the influence SCC has had on their lives and careers. It's short, really, only about 5 minutes, when it could have been 50.

The song came on and I looked back toward the back seat and I saw Laney (who's 5) playing with her toys and looking happy. My insides dropped. It's a good thing Janna was driving because I was so affected at that moment that I probably would've driven into a guardrail.

All I could think about for those 5 minutes were Steven and his family and what had happened to them. I had visions of ambulances being called... CPR being administered... hospital waiting rooms... walking in at night to an empty bedroom... waking up to check her bed hoping it was just a bad dream. I thought about the guilt, the life-changing, horrible guilt her brother will feel forever. And then I thought about how I would feel if Laney, my sweetheart, the apple of my eye, my beloved daughter, were suddenly gone.

I didn't cry. I wanted to, but I didn't want to have to explain to them why I had suddenly lost control in the middle of the interstate, so I willed the tears back. I'm having similar trouble writing this in the Hampton Inn breakfast area.


I went back upstairs to the hotel room after I wrote that. Janna and the kids were still in bed. The shades were still drawn and the room was still dark. They stirred when I came in and Sam moved over to Janna's bed to snuggle with her for a few minutes. I laid down next to Laney. I wrapped my arms around her and didn't even try to stop the tears. They were flowing freely and I found myself crying out to God in that moment, praying "Please don't take her from me, please don't take her from me..."

Today, a few days too late, I join the thousands who have already sent their condolences and good will to the Chapman family. I share in their grief and wish that I could take some of it upon myself. Maybe knowing that they will see her again, whole and sweet and happy, will grant them some measure of peace.

God, bless the Chapmans. Let them know that they are loved by millions around the world and they have friends that they've never met.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's About Time...

Silly readers, I said that I would do something new each day until I got a job


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

MD + 3, The Great Alaskan Adventure

Be warned, spoilers abound in the waters ahead...

As I write this, I am watching American Idol. Idol, it would seem at first blush, couldn't be any further from INTO THE WILD, the mostly-true, somewhat-guessed-at, story of Christopher McCandless. McCandless was a recent college graduate who decided to give all of his savings to charity and hike into the Alaskan wilderness to live. He did not make it out alive.

American Idol is the paragon of the pursuit of the American dream. Young people, competing their hearts out to make millions of dollars and sell millions of records. Meanwhile, INTO THE WILD tells the story of a young man who forsakes all earthly possessions, save what he can carry on his back, in pursuit of the earth. Idol is about excess, McCandless craves simplicity. Idol promotes the participation of everyone in America, Alexander Supertramp (McCandless' alter ego) wants to ultimately be left alone.

But when I think about it more, I think that the two entities are more alike than they might seem.

McCandless encounters people along his journey toward Alaska who offer him their hearts. He seems to engender this spirit in those he meets, a spirit that wants to nurture and take care of him. The hippie couple who see him as a substitute for the son that they never had together. The grain barn owner who sees a little brother to play with and pal around with. The old man (played brilliantly by Hal Holbrook) who finds a grandson and an heir. But Christopher (or Alex as he's renamed himself by this point), uses each of these people, not with a spirit of malice, but almost with a sense of pity, like he's sorry that they haven't figured out what he's figured out about the world and how it works. He puts much more credence in the words of Tolstoy and Jack London, even while they are telling him that true happiness is found in the company of others. So when each of these people who love him begin to get too close, too attached, he picks up his pack and hits the road again.

Like Idol, McCandless is driven through his self-imposed exile by ego. He is convinced that he has it right and the rest of the world has it wrong. That he will find happiness in Alaska is never even a question for him, despite having little to no training in how to live in the wild. When he does realize that his books on edible plants and his notebook with tips on what to do with wild game aren't going to be enough to keep him alive, it dawns on him that living alone is not a sustainable life.

Idol is about superficiality, McCandless never bothers to use the wisdom of the people he calls friend. Idol relishes the concept of destiny, Supertramp believes to his soul that his is waiting for him in the wilderness. Idol makes "idols" out of pop stars, Mariah Carey and such. McCandless takes the words of his favorite authors as gospel, even over those who have fought and won happiness and have it to spare.

There is a scene where he is reading Tolstoy, a selection from Family Happiness, and he seems to find this passage to be validation for his experience.

"I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work, which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps. What more can the heart of a man desire?"

But at the end of it all, his realization that he ignored the last portion of that quote is not enough to save him from his ego-driven decisions. Being alone in the wild is what undoes him.

It's a brilliant film. Sean Penn's direction is gorgeous, and Emile Hirsch as McCandless should have garnered an Oscar nom. The supporting cast is flawless as well. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MD + 2, or what I have in common with Tom Cruise

I've been reading about D-Day lately, so from now on, all these posts will be titled as above (MD stands for Mother's Day).

Today's new thing: I took Lucky for the longest walk ever, through Bennett Place, a neighborhood I've never been in. The houses were gorgeous, but there wasn't a soul outside. It was like one of those plague movies where the entire populace has been wiped out. I could only hear the birds chirping and Lucky's claws on the street. Kind of surreal, really. I felt like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky.

Simple, but nice.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Day #02 - Panther Creek, or Running Downhill

So here's my new thing for today:

Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, TN
Sam played hooky from school today and he and I went on a little adventure. We packed lunches - turkey sandwiches, string cheese, sardines (for me), chips, and bottles of water - and we set off for the great unknown. Well, not that unknown, since I went to the website and picked a trail, plus I Google Mapped directions. Be prepared, right?

We took the Point Overlook Trail, described in the pamphlet thusly, "1.9 Mile Loop, Moderately Difficult. Along this trail, hikers are rewarded with a breath-taking view overlooking Lake Cherokee."

Sam taking the sign a bit too literally.

The hike up to the overlook wasn't too bad. We saw a wild turkey, yay! And Sam wanted to play Harry Potter the whole time, so he was too distracted to notice that he was getting winded. At the top, the view was great - not exactly "breath-taking," but impressive none the less.

Sam at the overlook, casting, I believe, Avada Kadavra.

On the way back down the hill, I noticed what separates me from Sam. We were going down some fairly steep grades and I was being careful. Sam, on the other hand, was running downhill like some kind of cheetah on an African savannah. He had no fear at all, no concern whatsoever that he could go butt-over-teakettle at any time. Meanwhile I was thinking about what I was going to say about it in my blog. Oh, to be eight again.

Sam took this one.

The walk back to the car took longer than we planned, and we took an unexpected detour at an intersection with no trail marker, but all in all it was a wildly successful hike. Sam was a trooper. The woods were beautiful. We defeated Voldemort. I did something new. All is well with the world.

Victory! The mountain has been conquered!

Hail the conquering heroes!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A New May's Resolution

I made two observations today, both painfully obvious. One, today is Mother's Day. Two, I am still as of yet unemployed.


Last night I asked Janna what she wanted for her Mother's Day breakfast. She thought about it for awhile, and answered, "Crepes." Well, I've never made crepes before, but I do like them. And thanks to the internet, I can get a recipe for any darn thing I want. So I did. After a late night trip to Kroger (fresh strawberries or frozen? I went with frozen), and then a good night's sleep, I steeled myself for the great crepe experiment. I'll spare you the floury details, but it'll do to say that the crepes were a success - Janna liked them a lot and so did I. Laney scraped the strawberries out of the middle and Sam didn't eat a blasted thing, but that's par for the culinary course.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned before, I am still unemployed and suffering from non-productivityitis. That is, other than making a few hundred bucks doing a yard sale this weekend, I seem to do nothing but consume.

So in the spirit of Mother's Day, a day in which we celebrate creation of new life, here's my resolution: for every day that I am unemployed, I will do something that I have never done before.

Today's new thing: crepes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grow up. Take the knife out.

So I found out something today that seriously bummed me out. I got really excited for a few minutes, and then my hopes were dashed like a line on an Indiana Jones map. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, you know what my favorite joke is? Here you go:

Q: “What’s the best time to go to the dentist?”

A: “2:30.”

Think about it for awhile. It’ll come to you.

I tell you this joke to begin to attempt to convey the sheer ridiculousness of my sense of humor. If Janna had known how utterly absurd my sense of humor is, I sincerely doubt whether she would have accepted my marriage proposal. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have.

I’ve never met a pun I didn’t like, and I like them all the more if they are juvenile and silly. Even my eight-year-old thinks my sense of humor is immature.

Here’s why.

When I was a teenager, I watched a lot of television. I had this 15-inch Sony that sat on top of the dresser in my bedroom. That TV saw me through a whole lotta great Nintendo and a lot of fantastic television. And the greatest channel on TV in the early ‘90s was, no doubt, Comedy Central. Comedy Central was fantastic. That’s where I discovered Jake Johannsen and Mitch Hedberg. It’s where I first saw Whose Line is it Anyway (the British one, with Clive Anderson). It’s where I was exposed to the Holy Grail of my kind of comedy (which deserves its own post eventually), Mystery Science Theater 3000, maybe my all-time favorite TV program. And, it’s where I first saw The Kids in the Hall.

This leads me to my big disappointment today. I found out that KiTH are touring! For the first time in many years, all five of them are together and touring the country. Great news! Except… they played Nashville two weeks ago. Two freaking weeks ago. Total dismay.

Anyway, back to high school. Back then, KiTH was appointment viewing for me and my buddy Adam Armstead. It was the water cooler conversation at school the next day (the metaphorical water cooler, of course, Lake Howell High School had no such amenities. Perhaps the water fountain…). The polar opposite of SNL, KiTH was a show that I could identify with. While SNL (which I loved too, but in a different way) was a collection of the cool kids doing all the things that became cultural vernacular, KiTH was the fringe of comedy – five buddies who did completely inappropriate and hilarious things that nobody else thought were funny. And, although I could go on and on about my favorite sketches (Chicken Lady, Cabbage Head, “I’m Crushing Your Head!”, etc), I’ll just show you my all-time favorite. This sketch is manna for the soul for people like me – people that get frustrated by stupidity. And, it’s about Citizen Kane. This is absolute comedy perfection. If you don’t laugh, you can have your money back, I promise.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What I Did Yesterday...

“The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.” - William Faulkner

Drive just outside of Knoxville, through Oak Ridge (The Atomic City), and hang a left on 95. Go past the big church on the right, pass the nuclear research labs, and look really hard for the sign on the left side of the road. The one that reads "African Burial Ground." Drive up the hill and pull over at the turn around.

That's where you'll find the Wheat Community African Burial Ground. It's really no more than a empty field, a square of land surrounded by a fence in the middle of nowhere. But if you could dig up the top layer of soil, you'd start to find the bodies. This plot of land is where the slaves from Laurel Banks, an early 19th century plantation, are laid to rest. There are no markers, no headstones, no idea how many men, women, and children are buried there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Our Backyard After Last Night's Storm

Friday, April 25, 2008

These are Better Days, baby

Yes, that is real caviar is my header (real dirt, too). And, yes, as Myles so intelligently pointed out, the title of this contribution to literary history comes from a Bruce Springsteen song.


We were having one of those evenings here in Knoxville where the weather is just perfect - 70 degrees, slightly cloudy - something out of a Ferrol Sams novel. Janna and I were cooking dinner for a picnic out on the deck - the back door was wide open, the kids and the puppy were running around having fun, and we turned the music on. I pulled out one of my favorite records - Bruce Springsteen Unplugged (only it's not really unplugged, but whatever). Janna was making fun of me singing along, as usual, and I didn't care, as usual. "Red Headed Woman" came on and Janna was offended (Well I don't care how many girls you've dated/But you ain't lived till you've had your tires rotated/By a red headed woman). Then "Better Days" and "Atlantic City," "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Man's Job." But I kept switching it back to "Better Days," long a favorite Boss tune, but not my all-time (that distinction belongs to "Thunder Road," my favorite song, period). But for some reason, "Better Days" was resonating with me that night.

It shouldn't have been. These have been some of the Worse Days around here in quite some time. Our business closed, and I've been job hunting for more than a month now. Being home all day, every day has stressed me and Janna out. The kids have been sick off and on a lot. Money is tight.

There was no reason for it, yet I couldn't help connecting that night. I was reminded of a time back in Arkansas when we were in a similar situation and I couldn't get enough of the Counting Crows song "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" - it particular the line "Things are getting worse/But I feel a lot better."

This one says:

Well my soul checked out missing as I sat listening
To the hours and minutes tickin' away
Yeah, just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin
While it was all just slippin away.
I'm tired of waitin' for tomorrow to come
Or that train to come roarin' round the bend.
I got a new suit of clothes, a pretty red rose
And a woman I can call my friend
These are better days, baby
So although I'm obviously too old to appreciate true art, I still continue to use what art I can find to help me define what's going on around here. And between the mounting pressure of Janna pushing me to start back up blogging, and the visual image of caviar and dirt, I pulled the trigger. Of course, part of it was that it was an excuse to go buy some caviar and crackers and have fun with the Nikon and with Photoshop, but here it is.

And yes, I did eat the leftover caviar...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Terminally Unhip, or How Veronica Stole My Mojo

Janna and I finally caught the Hip Train last week and watched "A Fresh, Unusually Intelligent Comedy," according to Roger Ebert and the DVD case. Now here's a question - why capitalize all the words in the quote? Did he actually actually do that when he wrote it? Can we just capitalize that stuff on a whim for the sake of a DVD case? Doesn't that violate some sort of quotation law? Susan Wink would frown, methinks.

(here's where John takes a breath and lassos himself back to the point)

So, Janna and I finally caught the Hip Train last week and watched "A Fresh, Unusually Intelligent Comedy," according to Roger Ebert and the DVD case. The movie, of course, was Juno and since we were the last Americans other than my parents to see the greatest movie of all time, Ellen Page's evil plan for world domination is well on its way.

Here's the rub: I thought it was just ok. Not earth-moving, not gag-inducing, just ok. It was kind of funny in parts, but then, so was Dodgeball. It was nicely directed, but then, so was Winter Passing. It had some touching moments, but then, so does the Lifetime Movie Network.

But the dialogue, oh, the dialogue, that witty, hipster, smarmy-nonsense, make-up-words-to-be-annoyingly-clever, dialogue. I felt like I was watching Univision with my rudimentary Spanish - I got weary of having to interpret everything. Maybe I'm just lazy, but it seemed like too much work. Maybe it's old age setting in. In fact, I got way more pleasure from the Allison Janney character than I did from Ellen Page or Michael Cera.

I say all of that to get to this story.

I was in Borders last night ordering some coffee concoction that cost way too much and didn't really taste all that great anyway, and the girl behind the counter (Veronica) had purple streaks in her hair and a nose piercing - not a sexy nose ring, just one of those sparkly studs that look like hanging boogers. She also had a Juno sticker on her name tag. So I said (because I talk to everybody - it drives Janna crazy), "Hey, I finally saw that movie a few days ago. It wasn't bad." Well apparently to her, "wasn't bad" was utter blasphemy - you'd have thought I just made a joke about drowning puppies or killing the Pope, or something. "Not bad? Not bad? Juno is the greatest movie of the 21st century! I saw it 8 times in the theater - of course, my cousin works at the Pinnacle, so I get in free, but still. It should have won Best Picture, no doubt."

I was taken aback a bit by the passion of her argument, to say the least. So I did what any self-respecting jerk would do - I pulled the salt out of my pocket and dumped it on the wound I had made. "Really, best movie of the 21st century? It wasn't even the best movie this year. No Country for Old Men? There Will Be Blood? Both better. In fact, I think I liked National Treasure 2 better. "

(While I was having my fun, the other girl behind the counter was watching us like she expected Veronica to fly over the counter and stab me through the heart with a biscotti)

"National Treasure 2. National. Treasure. 2. You think National Treasure 2 was better than Juno. Seriously? How old are you?"

I thought for a second about how best to respond. By this time my latte was ready, so I could have just taken it and run for my life. But I've never been one to flee from a stupid, utterly pointless argument. So I said, "How old do you think I am?"

And she said this. I am not making this up. I promise that she, Veronica, who pours chai tea at the Borders in West Knoxville, actually allowed these words to pass her lips. She looked right at me with an air of extreme supremacy and disgust, and said:

"Obviously too old to appreciate true art."

Game. Set. Match.

As there is no possible retort to this statement, I took my overpriced beverage and fled the scene. It'll be only Barnes & Noble for me now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Interesting Dinner Guest

So this is what my parents came home to find in their dining room today. Apparently the roofers working up the hill forgot to properly secure the parking brake on their dump truck. No one was in the house, but it pretty much trashed everything in the dining room. Fun times.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

#50 - Told you so.

See #50 below. I toooold yooouuuu....

Friday, April 18, 2008

50 Things

1) I want a pair of Adidas' for every day of the week.
2) I own over 25 Monkees CDs.
3) I once snuck my girlfriend (now my wife) into my dorm room by walking her behind a very fat man.
4) The first beer I ever had was a Guinness.
5) My first job was slinging burgers at a McDonald's in Orlando.
6) I shaved my head bald in high school (not pretty).
7) I loooove bad horror movies - the worse, the better.
8) Favorite pro teams: Orlando Magic, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Ravens.
9) I have preached at church 3 times.
10) My car broke down in ghetto Orlando while I was on a date with my dream girl, and I had to call my friend's dad to come get us.
11) My all-time favorite novel is A Prayer for Owen Meany
12) Weather greatly effects my moods.
13) I once spent the night in the Shark Encounter at Sea World.
14) My sister and her husband are adopting a child from China.
15) My secret ambition is to be a rock star (now if only I could sing or play an instrument).
16) My wife is an incredible writer.
17) I think, like Myles, that one of the greatest smells in the world is photographic fix.
18) I love to cook.
19) Greatest band of all time? Vigilantes of Love.
20) Second greatest: Counting Crows.
21) I looove spicy food. Gimme heat and lots of it.
22) Eggo waffles are the food of the gods.
23) I have been to 2 NBA Finals games
24) I have visited Israel, and want to go back.
25) I have the My Little Pony theme song in my head right now.
26) I think Casino Royale rates with the best Bond movies.
27) I have taught all three of my children to give head butts.
28) I think that Calvinism v. Arminianism is a pointless argument.
29) My children have been forced to watch my favorite childhood shows - Danger Mouse and Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, for example.
30) My first concert was Billy Joel, Storm Front.
31) I can't hit a baseball to save my life.
32) But I can shoot the three with the best of them.
33) My wife is jealous of my whistling skills.
34) I will have a hard time deciding who to vote for this year.
35) But I'm leaning toward Obama.
36) I'm a little tired of video editing.
37) I'm going on a date tonight!
38) I have tried, really I have, but I can't make myself care about hockey or soccer.
39) My mother kept, and my children have worn, some of my baby clothes.
40) Top Chef is the best reality show on TV.
41) I want to move to the Dominican Republic.
42) I went to the Tennessee/Vanderbuilt football game this year. My first College football game, OBU notwithstanding.
43) Ketel One, Glenlivet, and Negra Modelo.
44) I am glad that my son loves comics because it gives me an excuse to read them again.
45) I got my left ear pierced in college, but the hole has since closed up.
46) I'm turning into an after dinner pipe smoker.
47) I would have a hard time living without my Blockbuster Online membership.
48) My favorite time of the day is sitting on our bed reading Harry Potter to Sam and Laney.
49) I was second chair trumpet in middle school.
50) My wife is ridiculously hot. Seriously.

Politics as Usual

Hey Hillary, I think I've got something on my cheek. Can you see anything? Look closely....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Five AM, or How I Came to Pee-Pee on the Puppy

This is Lucky (“Hi, Lucky”). Lucky is a puppy. Lucky is our puppy. The kiddos named Lucky Lucky. I wanted to name Lucky Andy, after this guy. I was outvoted. So, this is Lucky.

Every morning Lucky wakes up around 5:00 or so, because his little puppy bladder simply cannot hold it in anymore. I don’t hold this against him; it’s the nature of puppy bladders to not be very big. So, every morning when I get up at 5:00 or so to take Lucky out, I have an instant dilemma. Do I pee before taking him out, knowing that all the while Lucky will be whimpering and potentially waking up Benjamin, or do I hold it until afterwards?

Well, thank God for middle ground. After doing this for a week or so, I came to the realization that if it was ok for my dog to pee in the back yard so early in the morning, then dagnabbit, it should be ok for me too. Now, this realization does not extend to later in the day, after the sun has assumed its customary place in the sky – this is strictly a darktime activity.

Here’s the usual routine: Lucky trots out the back door, goes down the steps, and heads right, to the fence to do his watering of the grass. I slouch out the back door, go down the steps, and head left, to do my business under the deck. At this point, it’s a race. Who can finish first: the puppy who has been holding it for six hours or so, or the 30 year old who drank 2 glasses of wine before heading off to bed?

To spare you the suspense, I pretty much always lose. Turns out the 30 year old bladder is bigger than the 10 week old bladder. Go figure.

When he beats me, he trots on over to check on my progress. I have learned, over the last few days, that Lucky thinks that my output is extremely interesting, so much so that he heads after it like he’s trying to drink from the garden hose. Needless to say, I don’t want him drinking from the garden hose – not this one, anyway. The result is some very creative aiming on my part and some very creative chasing on his.

This morning, he won.

And that, dear reader(s), is how I came to pee-pee on the puppy.