Friday, December 24, 2010

Chicago's Bravest

I have been lazy. The old disease snuck up on me when I thought I was in remission. But at least I have been busy in the studio trying to figure out the nuances of the new film camera I bought. Toying with film has proven to be quite an undertaking. I cannot fathom trying to write a cohesive sentence after I have been taking meter readings in less than favorable conditions and playing the role of Art Director as well. So whine whine whine life has been so tough. Something happened this week in Chicago that deserves address. Some acts of bravery were executed that make me shake my head in awe of human capabilities.

A one alarm fire turned into a several alarm fire on the South side. Departments responded without hesitation as the calls went out. When they arrived at the correct address they knew the dilapidated building. This particular building had a reputation for being a destination for the destitute. Squatters and homeless addicts often broke through the barriers put in place in order to find shelter from the harsh Chicago weather and members of the CPD on patrol. This make-shift residence somehow caught fire and demanded a rapid response from not just one firehouse but several.

Along the way the firefighters had to deal with misinformation and frozen fire hydrants. Despite the roadblocks Chicago's bravest were able to provide all necessary equipment and personnel necessary to combat this fire. These men and women followed procedures and began their attempts at disrupting the temper of the blaze.

One of the first things to happen is what gets me the most. Two firefighters, Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer, ran toward the flames in order to make sure that no one was inside. These two me were not hustling toward a building full of precious school children or rescuing a batch of puppies from and animal shelter; they went after any one who might possibly have a heartbeat that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The slightest possibility of saving a human life was in the percentages and proper protocol was followed. Earlier in the month a coyote was rescued from a slab of ice that had drifted pretty far out into Lake Michigan. Again, proper protocol was followed. The men and women whom reach the ranks of "firefighter" are called to duties that are far beyond many people's capacities and capabilities. They are, absolutely, far beyond my own.

Mr. Ankum and Mr. Stringer did not make it out of that building alive. The bagpipes are playing "Amazing Grace" in their honor. Two of Chicago's Bravest sacrificed their lives for people who may or may have not been inside a building that had been neglected. The building had been abandoned by its owner. No human being should have been inside those decaying walls and trusses. Now, families are suffering through a horrific sense of loss just a few days before Christmas.

How Mr. Ankum and Mr. Stringer acted is stuff Hollywood movies are made of. I have often dreamt of acting the role of "hero" in many situations that would require stunt men and a lot of safety harnesses. On a few occasions I have had the opportunity to pull of some sort of heroic deeds, but failed to execute the necessary actions to achieve such a prestigious title. It's funny, how heavy my shoes became at those times. I failed where others have done so much better.

I know my limits. Maybe, at times, I can go beyond my limits. I am glad we have those who go beyond their limits without hesitation. Having Angels and Heroes among us is something we should all be thankful for. Whether it is the guy who jumped on the gunman on the Long Island Railroad back in the early 90s or your local Volunteer Firefighter we need to know that there are those, and their families, who deserve so much more than they get. My appreciation and my heart goes out to all those whose job it is to protect. More than I am able to offer goes out to their families as well.

As the Holiday Season passes by please be well aware of those who allow you to live the way you do.  I know I need to be more appreciative. Have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It sounded like a .45 going off!

The new camera arrived...a Mamiya 645E. I love the feel of it. The first time the shutter went off I jumped! Dang, that thing is loud, but it sounds so sweet.

Patience is forced upon me with this camera. I love how careful I have to be setting up the shot and composing the frame. So much metering and tweaking is necessary, but that is why I bought the used beast. I have to slow down and be thorough...this will be good for me.

The first day went fairly well. The biggest problem was finding the right amount of pressure to exert upon the shutter release button on the rapid wind grip. TTL metering is not my friend. Yesterday, I basically wasted a roll of 120 film trying to find my trigger finger. Call it a bad case of pre-mature shutter release.

Today is a new day. Practice sessions continue. My neighbor, an actress from Second City, is coming to the studio to be a test subject as I go through the detailed process that is shooting film. My buddy Tim is also coming over to sit for me. I appreciate good friends and good neighbors coming to the studio. I will reward their patience with M&Ms and good refreshments.

Who else wants to stop by for a session?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fox's New Series: The Chicago Cold...

This December 15 will make 4 years that I have rented in Chicago. People from back home always ask if I can handle the winters here. I have always told them that the dry cold here is not as bad as any wet cold with the least bit of humidity. In fact, the coldest I have ever been in winter was during a three-day cold spell in New Orleans in December 2002. There was no way to fight that wet chill. The air penetrated all layers and I had to wear a down sleeping bag (basically an expensive Snuggie from REI) in the house. Wearing a lot of layers can easily combat the drier cold I have dealt with in Chicago. But then I worked a couple days on the new TV show "The Chicago Code." After two days of working outside before winter has even begun  I am nervous about what the future might bring. Actually, it's more than nerves; it's fear.

Some of the folks I worked with that grew up in and around Chicago complained about the uncomfortable temperatures we had to deal with. This made me feel better about my own misery. I am none too apprehensive to complain about the goings on that take place on a movie set but I did not want to be the new guy from back East bitching about the weather when it's not even February. We all suffered through these miserable days as brothers and sisters and everyone got along pretty well. All the work was completed with professionalism and nobody suffered any medical trauma. At one point I did think I was going to break. However, the nice girl from Craft Service brought me a well-timed cup of hot chocolate when I was unable to leave an 8X (for close to three dark hours) that was getting ready to sail right into the middle of the CTA Building.

Working outside for a couple days allowed me a little time to experiment with my layering strategy for the ensuing winter season. This week I went with my light-grade layering system and while I was miserable, I was able to handle the assigned tasks without taking too much time and making too many mistakes. Knots were a bit of a problem, but they stayed tied. The Key Grips (Rigging and Set) I worked for are some super nice guys who understand the misery the crew experiences working in less-than-favorable conditions. I hope all bosses are as compassionate but from what I hear that does not seem to be the case.

Despite the conditions I am glad I am getting some work here in Chicago. I am thrilled to be a part of I.A.T.S.E. Local 476. I have met some great people and learned some new tricks from some well-versed technicians. For the next several months I am going to try and avoid the wind and stick my face out for every ray of sunlight I can. Spring cannot be too far away can it?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gonna Kick It Old School for a While...

Over the past week I have become obsessed with learning all I can about medium-format photography. I have grown quite disenchanted with the "art" created in this digital world. My Canon 5D Mark II sits on a shelf in my studio covered in dust. I can barely look at it without getting nauseous. This camera, and other HD cameras, are the reasons why kids just out of the film department at University of Whatever are heading out into the real world calling themselves Cinematographers and/or Photographers. An infant could take a good picture with the 5D! I like taking pictures but being able to do it without putting in the "work" just doesn't hold a lot of appeal anymore.

I cannot wait to start working with film again. Back in the day, I started learning how to get an exposure with several types of film cameras. The most satisfying was a Sears and Roebuck 16mm film camera I found at a thrift store for $17.00. Most of the footage I took was completely uninteresting but at least it looked good. My light meter worked! I finally learned how to work my light meter! Seeing film exposed at the levels you prepared for was quite a satisfying feeling.

Now that I learned how to incorporate strobes into studio and location lighting (many thanks to Melinda and Steph from Columbia College for this) I want to try my hand at syncing my ideas with 120 film, strobes, and an old has-been camera. Maybe this will also help me to slow down and be more thorough when it comes to creating art. I always tend to rush through things and that has rarely turned out well.

To this day, the best portrait I have ever done was on film. I was working as the Generator Operator on Step Up 2 and was able to sneak in an extra half hour after the rest of the crew wrapped in order to do some photos for a musician friend of mine. The Teamster said I had 30 minutes before he was driving away. I took 10 minutes to work with the Dimmer Board Operator to set the ambient light then took close to 15 minutes to set up the key light and some fill, metered everything, then spent less than five minutes shooting one roll of 35mm film. (You can tell I am a Technician by how little time I spent with the talent directing him in front of the lens.) By the way, a lot of the crew heard about what I was doing and stuck around, not to help but to watch. I felt the pressure and I was sweating...a lot.

Out of 24 pictures 3 were pretty good and one was spot on! The club setting and the talent looked amazing I just did not direct him very well. We nailed one tho! When I saw the pictures I was pretty embarrassed with the poor directing but the feeling of getting one that turned out album-cover worthy was something I never experienced with the digital format. It is time to go back to where it all started for me. I want to create on film.

My old buddy Nick Von Spaeth would be proud of me for this decision. Nick was a documentary film maker who worked on Star Wars: The Magic of Myth that was at the Air and Space Museum. He lived just outside of Oxford and always answered questions I had about filmmaking. All of our conversations took place before I even started working on films. Nick even gave me an old reel to reel editing table, but on the condition that I start working on projects shot on film. He hated seeing the rise of HD cameras. In one of our last conversations before he died he said something along the lines of: 'Your foundation must be film. Shoot on HD later when everyone else is but you have to learn how to shoot film first.' He was adamant on the verge of being angry when he said this and I always appreciated his candor with me.

Some frustrating times are a-comin'! Being precise and patient are foreign to me; however, I welcome the challenges. It would be so much easier just to smoke pot and keep shooting on the 5D, but I don't really dig the weed anymore. Shooting film will be a good hobby. Doing the research has been a lot of fun and I am really failing at being productive in the studio. Time for an affordable change of pace. Maybe I should buy 2 dinosaur cameras in case one gets thrown against the wall?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am the worst boss I have ever had.

I need a good kick in the pants, not one that hurts but one that inspires. Sitting on the eastern edge of a Carolina mountaintop watching the sun rise out of the horizon would help. Hearing Kermit Ruffins play his horn at Vaughn's on a Thursday could be beneficial. Setting an anchor in the Dry Tortugas with Fort Jefferson in view might kickstart something in my brain. Then there is always Bermuda...Bermuda is always good for what ails you. Unfortunately, a road trip is a little out of the question right now. I am bonded to the home for a spell. At the moment, I can barely get up off the couch...

A trip to the gym is rather necessary, but after freezing my toes off in a scissor lift last night I am not much for going outside today, even if the walk is only a few blocks. Across the street from the gym is my studio. The dust is starting to gather once again.

The grocery list is sitting on the table right in front of me. I better get going before the line at the market grows to unbearable lengths. The pecan pies for the Ale House dinner are my responsibility and we are low on beer in the fridge.

I'm afraid if I go buy beer now I might have a couple. I did work last night so today could be considered a day off. How guilty would I feel if I took today off? Stuffing self-employed-vocational guilt away somewhere where I do not have to think about it is something I am very good at. Why am I worrying about all this at all? It is Thanksgiving Eve.

When it comes down to it I don't have to bake the pies until tomorrow, the gym is open tomorrow and the dogs have already been walked this morning. It might be all right to laze about today. I can go to the studio tomorrow. But I have pies to bake tomorrow...

No official call time today. It is up to me to fill today with productivity. I'll get back to you on that...  

Monday, November 22, 2010

How can this song still be on the charts?

I do not always keep a firm grasp of the English language but at least I put forth my best effort and attempt to adhere to the proper rules of usage. Frank Conroy, the former director of the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa stated that in contemporary writing all works needed to have a combination of four ingredients: meaning, sense, brevity, and clarity. Some exceptions are allowed and some rules are often broken without distraction, but there are limits. If I recall correctly, the limits especially apply when it comes to one's writing making sense. In the song "Like a G6", by the music group The Far East Movement, the envelope of the artistic license is pushed well beyond the edge of acceptability. I have a hard time grasping how the hook of the song makes any sense. However, I am obviously in the minority because the popularity of song kept it in the top ten on Itunes for quite some time. During the week of September 29, 2010, "Like a G6" even reached number one. The standards in our modern society are reaching some frightening lows.

Very few pop songs annoy me. I can keep the radio tuned to any station that plays pop music and suffer through the garbage to get to artists I can tolerate like Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, BOB, Taylor Swift (as long as she is not singing live), and even Justin Bieber. I don't necessarily like all of these artists but I can sit through one of their songs. "Like a G6" sends me into conniption fits from the first beat, then comes that annoying hook...

Poppin bottles in the ice like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard

Am I wrong? With lyrics like these how can this song still be on the charts?

When I think of a blizzard I think of frozen particles hitting the earth rather hastily. I'm afraid if the Far East Movement started popping their bottles on the ice in any way nearly associated with a blizzard-type effect the glass might shatter. Their blizzard-esque intent, figuratively, might have been to mean lots of bottles hitting the ice for all in attendance at the club. Whatever the implication of the writer might be, I have a difficult time accepting it. If they had changed "like" to "it's a"I would be able to somewhat tolerate the song, until I heard the next line.

I do not think there is anything more offensive than some skinny hipster chick trying to rap/sing a new word into the English language. "Slizzard" might be the dumbest attempt in the history of the arts. Other artist have been able to do so successfully. Snoop Dogg used his charm and talent as a rapper to bring his linguistically-pleasing creations into the mainstream. Plenty of times I tried to be hip twisting my fingers into awkward positions while answering {fo' shizzle my nizzle} to many questions over the years. Snoop Dogg has a gift of making words flow together in a way that sounds pleasing. The flow is phonetically pleasing as well. Dev Tailes' abilities are not even comparable to Snoops in her contribution to "Like a G6." However, she displays a strong business sense with her contribution to the song. The young lady probably won't have to worry about paying her bills for some time.

Maybe I am just old and getting grumpier. I am getting fed up with mainstream culture (meaning what is overly popular among the masses) influencing our society in a negative way. Yes, I love to be entertained by copious amounts of less-than-cerebral material in many genres of entertainment. This weekend I watched a few minutes of VH1 hoping to catch a glimpse of Katy Perry in her video for "Teenage Dream." I love that song; I love looking at her, but after four horrendous videos and an endless amount of commercials I could not wait any longer. I switched over to Lidia's Italy so I would maybe learn how to make a new pasta dish.

What I saw on VH1 made my eyes hurt. Hearing "Like a G6" when I'm driving makes my head hurt. Time to go back to vinyl for a while. This week I am going shopping for a turntable so I can listen to music that was created with care and attention to detail. I don't know what is scarier, how old I am getting or how bad contemporary music is? I will say this: Katy Perry was robbed last night for the Artist of the Year award on that award show last night, whichever one it was...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Skyline...the view not the movie!

Last night I was driving home from work a little bit after five p.m...this is not the beginning of a horror story. For most people this might be the launch of a diatribe attacking all that is wrong with rush hour traffic. My experience was much different. Hitting Lake Shore Drive along with thousands of other people forced me to slow down and take notice of my surroundings. I also didn't mind the darkness that comes with Daylight Savings Time. All the evil forces of winter combined and turned into something wonderful.

Chicago's skyline along Lake Michigan is what made me first take notice of the city's beauty and instilled in me the desire to want to live here. A year after that initial visit, I moved to a small artist's studio in Old Town. Three years after moving here things have maybe, sort of, finally fallen into place. Last night everything felt good; it felt right. At this point in life it feels as if I am traveling the exact path that I should be.

Now back to the lights...oh those city lights. Never before has the Chicago skyline looked so brilliant. Even with asbestos dust covering my contact lenses, the city looked in panoramic HD. Maybe because it was a clear dark night on the doorstep of winter that might have added to the brilliance of the city's shine? Or maybe it was the fact that I was driving home from work as a member of I.A.T.S.E Local 476 here in Chicago? There are too many to state. A lot of ingredients combined to make the drive home so appealing. Lake Shore Drive isn't too shabby a road on which to travel homeward either.

After parking the car right in front of the apartment in the Triangle, I went and had a couple beers with Grace at the Ale House then took Eli Mongrel on a walk through the neighborhood. Eli behaved and we got to look in some windows of some really cool places. All the windows were wide open at my favorite building in the Old Town Triangle!  I have not had a day that started so well and by the end made me feel so fortunate in quite some time. Thank you, Lord, may I have another!

Over the last three years Chicago sometimes felt like home and sometimes felt like a worthy experience that demanded change. Now, it is starting to feel like home. No longer am I having to travel in order to chase paychecks to buy rice and beans. I can buy my rice and beans right down the street at Treasure Island. Coming home from work after a 20 minute drive is amazing. I haven't had such a short commute in forever and a day. Home feels good right now, even if I catch nothing but grief for putting ketchup on my hot dogs. Thank you, Chicago for your warm embrace last night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crash Bang Boom...I have a love/hate relationship with technology.

Last week my computer went kaput...completely kaput. This was not the uh oh; this was the UH OH I am totally F$@&*D type of ordeal. I bought the G4 seventeen inch laptop back in 2003 and had all of my projects stored on it. Troubleshooting the problem with the user's guide garnered no positive results. Then there was a frantic call to Apple tech support. I was told that the only thing I could do was take the laptop into a data recovery specialist and hope for the best. The technician I spoke with on the phone said my work had a 50/50 chance of coming out alive. All I hoped to recover was the seven pages I had worked on the previous week. I have hard copies of most everything else. However, the last seven pages typed into that computer were part of a path back to consistency I had been lacking for several years.

To sum everything up - the specialists I visited were unable to retrieve any of the data on the hard drive. They said they could fix the computer but what was there, in terms of data, was gone. To say the least, I was crushed. The sense of loss was devastating. I certainly don't need to go through with that bonfire any more! Hard drives are like brakes on a car; they need to be replaced. And it is best to replace them before they go out on you driving down a steep hill!

I only lost seven pages, no big deal. So what if it was the best prose I had written since grad school and had made me excited about writing everyday again. I did not lose any legal pads or Fort Ticonderoga #2 pencils. There are still tools in the studio to create. But damn, it is so easy to make up excuses not to go to the studio right now. I could still be in recovery from the devastating loss last week, my back hurts from working 30+ hours in two days on "Shameless", I have to baby sit the Eli Mongrel who just paces around the studio, there are still a few projects to do around the new apartment, and the season finale of "Bored to Death" awaits on the DVR. But I will remain strong and focused...

Just when everything seemed like it was moving forward in a positive direction too. As much as I don't want to, I need to head over to the studio and get to work. I recall a teacher once telling me if a wall pops up that keeps you from achieving your goals, if you can't climb up and over it, go around it. Seems easy enough. It never used to work before, but that was then and this is now. Today I am going to go to the studio and re-boot myself. Tonight I want to sit on the couch and watch the Redskins game feeling satisfied after a good day's work. Time to dust off one of my typewriters!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"I love cake; cake is my favorite food." Lee Winslow

Getting back into reading books and newspapers has proven to be a worthy decision. I feel the mechanics of the mind slowly coming back to life. My mother was right – television dulls the mind. I used to think that just because I work as a technician on movies and commercials that watching television at any point in the day and for any amount of time could be categorized as research. Thinking that way made me feel better about wasting the day on the couch. On Monday, I had the day off and did not turn on the television until the football game. For the whole day I had my nose buried in a book called Tough Guy about the life of hockey great Bob Probert.

Tough Guy was the first book since Pat Conroy’s Beach Music that really struck some emotional chords. I was a huge fan of watching hockey when Probie played. He was an amazing fighter who could also score. He played hockey the old way and was even elected to an All Star game one year. Bob Probert also dealt with substance abuse. For a guy that had a whole lot going for him, Probie could not avoid the path of self-destruction. In the book I discovered that we both went to jail the same year for similar violations. However, I knew the moment I went behind bars that it was not a place to which I wanted to ever return. A lot of bad decision making immediately ceased. The case was not the same for Bob Probert.

As a huge fan of number 24 for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, I am grateful to his wife for publishing the book. Bob Probert died of a heart attack back in July. His wife wanted his story told the right way, in Bob’s words. I am truly glad that Bob’s struggles are over and he can finally be at peace.

On a happier note…I have started re-reading what I think is the best coming of age novel…ever. My apologies go out to the Salinger estate because Catcher in the Rye dropped to number two after I read The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman. What an amazing book. The way Mr. Mossman writes creates such a vivid journey for the reader. His prose triggers my own imagination. While reading the book memories from my own youthful days have returned at an almost overwhelming pace. People I had almost forgotten about were once again sitting next to me as if they were full of life. I am uncovering buried treasures! This book might be more inspiring on the second read...

My next book will have to be a new read. I feel like re-reading a favorite is cheating, but I did need a good kick-start to get in a groove. In the mornings, I no longer start my day watching the news. In the afternoons, I no longer waste hours surfing through channels to find anything tolerable. Many mornings I grab a brown Mongrel and head out the door for a quick walk. When there is free time in the afternoon, I’ll grab a Griff Mongrel and explore the new neighborhood. I love NOT wasting time with meaningless activities. I do need to get started earlier in the mornings tho. Maybe one morning I’ll try my buddy Mike Valliant’s prescription and take a Mongrel on a rise-up run before the sun comes up. However, for now, I am going to stick with baby steps.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 8 of Cohabitation...

Last night I was sitting on the couch watching Sunday Night Football and heard some singing coming from the kitchen. I turned the volume down a couple notches and realized Grace was singing "I Hate Myself for Loving You." And she didn't just sing it once. There were multiple encores. I wondered if she was aware of the fact that she was singing this song just loud enough for me to hear. Shouldn't she have been singing "I Hate Myself for Buying Two Uncontrollable Male Dogs" instead or how about "I Hate Myself for Not Buying Basil Those Skate Shoes I Promised Him"? The nerve of that girl, so lucky to be sharing space with a guy like me, to possibly be upset in any way about something I might have done but I probably didn't do!!!!

But then again, maybe I did sit in the couch a little too long yesterday. I deserved to though, at least I thought I deserved to lay around and do nothing for an extremely long period of time. Yesterday I discovered that I am a pretty good plumber. After 3.5 hours and four trips to Tipres Hardware I had all the pipes under the sink rebuilt and had almost stopped all the leaks. I deserved an NFL marathon on the couch!! Hell, I thought I deserved an all-expenses-paid vacation in Bermuda after almost fixing the kitchen sink!! Where was my victory celebration!!??

After further reflection I slowly began to understand that chores around the house, large or small, are just things one does to properly maintain a home. "Chores" was such a scary word when I was a kid. It's taken me a while to face my fear as a rookie adult. And, for the first time in my life I actually enjoy facing the challenges that arise in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. I am okay with tackling the odd jobs that come up and not having to receive a prize for everything I cross off the to-do list. Getting that slight smile accompanied with a slight jerk of a nod that says: 'it's about time' will be just fine.

I asked Grace this morning if she knew what she was singing last night. She laughed and told me that the Sunday Night Football song Faith Hill sings has the same music or something very similar and it wasn't any kind of subliminal message. So I guess we are doing pretty okay with this moving-in-together thing. The adjustments are happening at a pretty good pace. We are even managing to incorporate some fun every now and then between the chores.

The apartment is almost ready for visitors. It won't be too long until you all will have to come on and visit when you get the chance. Right now I have to go wake Grace up so she can walk the mongrels...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dang, that was a lot of dust...

Yesterday I was in my studio trying to get space and mind organized. The goal was to go through all the projects deep in hibernation on shelves and pick one to focus on for the next few weeks…but that being said in the way that it is, brings a major problem to light. I wrote – ‘focus on for the next few weeks.’ What I need to state and adhere to should read more like – I picked a project to focus on until it is completed. Now I will rephrase in order to properly summarize: yesterday I picked out a project to focus on until it is finished.

I have stated a lot of things before and failed to justify the end of said statements. On the shelves and in cabinets of my studio are way too many projects that were started but never completed. There are paintings, drawings, novels, videos, and poems underneath many thick layers of dust. The dust came from New York, Charleston, Key West, Oxford, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Washington D.C. Not only did I lack focus in completing a project but I also lacked a focus on where I wanted to live. Now that the living situation is settled my base for excuses has weakened considerably.

Upon further inspection I know there will be plenty of those projects that can be discarded and used for kindling. At one point in time I considered starting a huge bonfire with the whole stockpile of misfit endeavors. I saw myself drinking a Budweiser as all the years of frustration went up in flames just on the edge of the Tred Avon River. Had I gone through with it I doubt I would have regretted it. (I was really close to doing this but moving everything, AGAIN, would have been too much work.)

In what I went through yesterday, I found a few things that I thought were promising and a few things that made me cringe when I reread them. And the drawings…whoa…they were bad, but all I have to do is walk through another museum of contemporary art and I will be inspired to put some medium on some other medium again!

Now I need to go get a mug of coffee and begin today’s work. I could keep writing but then I would be crossing the line into procrastination. As soon as I finish the 4th cut of the Street Jimmy documentary I am going to address that novel I started back in grad school – and I am going to focus on it until the words “The End” are typed onto the last page! Or so I say…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Hangover Continues...

This blog is on hiatus until the recovery from the move is complete. Dealing with furniture deliveries, DIRECT TV dish placement, wild mongrels, Halloween candy, and work schedules has me a bit frazzled. I now realize why I never wanted to become an adult. Through countless plastic bags of hex screws and mounds of dog hair I can sort of see our pad coming together into a comfortable home. The future looks good; I am just ready for the future to be today.

I would like to thank the makers of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey for their support and encouragement through these frantic times. A little nip of Michael Collins, taken in moderation of course, has proven to be very soothing and beneficial. Also, it has an amazing flavor and is a perfect fall beverage. Time to go sweep a floor...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Morning Meditation

I like to try and start my day with a bit of reflection and prayer. Growing up in a Christian household I discovered early on about the benefits of getting out of bed in reverence of a Higher Power. As I have grown older, many days I have woken up feeling no need of nothin’ from nobody! Ninety five percent of the time I have been wrong thinking in such a manner. The mornings I do wake up and “get spiritual” I am filled with energy. Coffee seems unnecessary when I start the day off right. Usually, there is no grand epiphany; no lightning strikes inside the apartment. I read, I reflect, I pray, I check Facebook, and I get out of bed.  However, this morning I came across an interesting passage that could not have been read at a better time in my life. Proverbs 29:9 reads, “When a wise man has controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” (New American Standard Translation) Today was a good day to be reminded to choose my battles wisely.

In my youth I often avoided confrontation. I chose to remain silent and endure ridicule or even run. As I got older and more weathered I started to stand up for myself and even involve myself in situations that were best avoided. For a while there I did not grow older and wiser, but constantly donned the hat of the jester. But everybody goes through different phases so I eventually stepped out of the fog and began to focus my energies in more positive directions.

This weekend I begin another phase in my life. On Saturday I begin to share space with another person. Anyone who knows me will attest to my strong need for independence and a predisposition toward selfishness. These are not good qualities when it comes to choosing battles. Because of my ways, moving in with someone is a step that I once swore I would never take. Such a vow was declared at a time in my life when I was frequently misguided, misinformed, and inebriated. Today, I do not know how much of that has changed but I do believe I have met someone who knows what she is getting into.

Starting tomorrow the pace of the relationship will change dramatically. For the last couple of years we have moved very slowly. We have taken our time getting to know one another and not rushed into things. This move feels right. It feels good. There are nervous apprehensions as well because now the relationship will demand work. From here on out it will be of the utmost importance to choose wisely when choosing battles.

Being in the middle of a good mystery novel, I almost passed on meditating this morning. A sense of urgency took over and I reached for the Good Book instead of “Crooked Letter Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin. At verse 9 I realized I had made the right choice. In the ensuing days I will need to adapt my lifestyle to include another person. In order to be successful I will need to be more self-disciplined and patient. In order to be self-disciplined and patient I will need constant reminders to adjust. From this day forward I am quite sure it will prove very beneficial for me to wake up the right way so I will choose wisely when considering a scuffle.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Public Apology

I need to apologize to those that visit this site. The offerings have not been as grammatically sound as they should be. Part of the reason I decided to take on “An Eccentrics Take…” was to get back in the habit of writing on somewhat of a consistent basis. Too much time has passed since I wrote with care and precision. I once thought my prose had luster. However, carelessness has impeded some readers from being gratified after reading my sentences. Over the last several years of hastily written emails and late-night texts I lost my attentive eye. I let my own set of standards fall by the wayside.

Back when I first started dabbling with technology (meaning the internet, emails, and cellular phones) I noticed how quickly people began to lose interest in adhering to proper usage. Many correspondences from friends and colleagues were atrocious. I wondered how anyone could send out such poorly constructed communications. During my stint as a high school teacher I started to use the Internet on a more regular basis. Student emails were on an elementary-school level. I began to threaten my students with grading their emails unless they started paying more attention to grammar. I swore I would always attempt to maintain a certain standard in all my forms of communication.

Once I stopped teaching, finished graduate school, and grew disenchanted with the prospects of becoming a famous novelist, my own laziness took a strong hold. Grammar had always been a lot of work for me and I was tired. (My thesis at Johns Hopkins had to be withheld from publishing until the grammar was attended to.)  Things got really bad when grammatically incorrect text messages were being sent from my phone. Too much time had passed since my words had been held to any standard. I fell in with a majority of America by being hasty and unconcerned when it came to correspondence. Now is the time for change. Now is the time for a return to fundamentals. If only my Chicago Manual of Style had not been lost in the flood…  

I am well aware of my mistakes and weaknesses. Through practice I hope to regain a keener eye for any misuse of the English language that may occur. Already this morning I am taking more time to construct each sentence. Also, I have decided to get rid of my Iphone. Technology had a hand in my undoing so I am getting rid of all applications offering any kind of shortcut for anything. While I did enjoy playing Scrabble with my friends overseas, I am going after more productive and hands-on ways to pass the time. Send me your home address and I will be happy to write you a letter by hand or type it out on one of my antique typewriters! I know my first few posts were in need of the dreaded red pen, but this morning I ask for your patience for I am on the mend.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Judgement Day

Judge Elden Fox may go down as one of the worst judges in the history of jurisprudence in the state of California. Handing down a sentence of a stint in rehab to Lindsay Lohan for violating her probation is appalling. She is a repeat offender displaying no signs of recovery. I am positive that such an obvious statement may not even need to be put into words at this point in time. The press has provided plenty of information on the downward spiral of this troubled actress and many wonder how did she avoid being sentenced to jail. There is no mystery to the exploits of Ms. Lohan. The only mystery seems to be how to properly deal with the troubled star.

In rehab she can still carry on her business dealings with the outside world. As a woman of privilege and beauty she may even be treated as a celebrity within the confines of the Betty Ford Clinic. What she needs are confines that will re-introduce her to the harsh realities non-celebrities face in this world. What she needs is jail time.

As a wayward youth I found myself sprinting down the wrong path at a frenetic pace. I felt invincible. There was nothing I wanted to do that I could not do. If there was something I did not want to do; I felt no need to do it and rarely dealt with any long-standing consequences. I could put anything into my body and still manage to maintain a normal schedule. I had everybody fooled or so I thought. Just when I thought I had reached the zenith of adolescence; it all came crumbling down. The devil-may care life of the irreverent joker turned into three years of misery. The consequences I had been skirting around culminated into a an early summer vacation spent inside the Rappahannock Security Center.

And I was lucky! I was treated as a fortunate son. Ten years incarceration was the maximum sentence; I was given 30 days. Many people in the community spoke up on my behalf. Rumor has it, that I was to receive no jail time for the laws I broke but my parents demanded that I serve some punishment in order hopefully learn a few long, overdue lessons. Judge R. Miller put his stern reputation on the line for me. It was a risky move on his part. I am thankful for the support people showed during this time. Ms. Lohan could use a stronger show of support based on discipline and accountability.

Throughout the whole ordeal my parents constantly told me they were fully behind me but they would not rescue me from any situation that deserved punishment. Early on the path of self-destruction I was warned that I would always have their love and support but I was to face the consequences that resulted from my actions. My mother told me how hard it was to watch everything unfold during this time period. Her strength and wisdom provided the foundation for the positive changes in my life.

I worked on "Just My Luck" in New Orleans, which happened to be around the start of Ms. Lohan's downfall. Back then she was, I believe, 18 years old, a major celebrity, making tons of money, and on location in New Orleans without any adult supervision. What would one expect to happen? At this point she was still a beautiful young lady with an infectious smile. At the wrap party we had some very minor interactions and I became a true fan of her not only as an actress but as a person. Years later, as the stories of her unravelling were brought to light I felt an affinity with Ms. Lohan. I understood what was happening and early on I predicted what I thought would be the only solution to the self-destructive behavior.

Today I am very thankful for what I went through. My step father told me that he had no doubt that without serving some time in jail I would have ended up dead in a gutter somewhere. Rehab only works when one makes a clear choice to desire to put an end to destructive behavior. Jail can work on anyone who breaks the law because the ability to make choices in life are, for the most part, taken away completely. You are assigned and considered a number, not a person. The privilege of being regarded as a person is stripped away. To put it blatantly - you messed up and are no longer eligible to be a member of society. Jail is a method of correction so one can try and re-enter society having learned from their mistake(s). Inside, time for reflection is all too abundant. Inmates are forced to think and stimulation from the outside world is very limited. It is nearly impossible to avoid evaluating one's place in life.

On the morning I was released from jail I went home and immediately opened up the refrigerator and poured myself a glass of orange juice. As I held the orange juice up to take I sip I paused for a moment. Right then and there I started to realize everything I had been taking for granted over the last several years. A simple glass of orange juice in my parent's kitchen became the point of embarkation toward clarity. After some probation time and a few more years of bad, but not quite as consequential, decision making, I discovered how fortunate my position was in life. I finally appreciated the love and support of family and close friends. Most of the good came out of this due to expert parenting.

The lessons my parents hoped for were learned. It is my sincere wish that Ms. Lohan will find her way back to the correct path and that beautiful and talented girl with the infectious smile will return to the big screen. Maybe this stint in rehab will work, but if it doesn't what will happen next? I guess we will all just have to sit back and watch hoping for the best...

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Going Book Shopping...

Last year I signed up for Direct TV. The first rule I set was - no junk, movies and sporting events only.  I thought I would be able to exercise self-discipline and not succumb to surfing through all the channels to keep some kind of background noise for companionship purposes. Not much time passed before I was breaking this rule and watching shows like "Hell's Kitchen", "Pawn Stars" and yes, even "Jersey Shore." Despite my lack of strength, I was able to live with my quick collapse. These shows weren't too awful. I even learned some cooking tips from Gordon Ramsay. However, for some reason I found myself in the middle of watching the T.Ocho Show on Versus. It was then I realized how far I had slipped.

I doubt there has ever been a more useless and absurd half hour on television. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, two talented NFL wide receivers, have built stronger reputations for disruptive behavior rather than any accolades on the football field. Both have had other reality shows on VH1 and one must wonder if these distractions have affected their focus and abilities. Last time I checked, neither have ever won the NFL's Most Valuable Player or Offensive Player of the Year. Despite the bravado displayed by these two athletes they only have one Super Bowl appearance between the two of them. (Terrell Owens appeared in Super Bowl XXXIX with the Philadelphia Eagles.) I find it to be a sad commentary on the current tastes of our society that these two are worthy of a half-hour television show.

I desperately need to address my time management issues. Before I had cable, I found many more productive ways to pass the hours. I exercised both mind and body without the distraction of background noise. If I was bored in the evening I would take a walk and people watch. Senses were stimulated by viewing and being a part of the world outside my living room. Time without cable television also started my love of crossword puzzles. Many hours were spent trying to solve puzzles from various newspapers and now the crossword is part of my morning ritual. I also read a lot. Most of my free time was spent with books. Closing a book after finishing the read felt like such a positive accomplishment compared to hitting the "off" button on my remote.

This weekend I am going to go book shopping. I need to return to the hobby of reading rather than watching. At 41 I should work on sharpening the mind rather than dulling it. I am not saying all television is bad; I just need to become a choosier viewer. There are a lot of hard-working authors of the present and from the past who deserve to be read more than a lot of reality stars need to be viewed. The time to revolt against awful television has arrived! But this doesn't mean I'm going to miss the Redskins game or the Martinsville race this weekend...     

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's the Way I Was Raised!

My mother told me that as a child I loved sitting at the kitchen table and reading the newspaper in the morning. This early morning ritual stuck with me for most of my adult life...and then came the invention of the internet. However, that changed nothing for me. No laptop, Iphone, Kindle, or Ipad is going to change my love of going to the newsstand and buying the paper. 

This morning I look forward to bundling up against the fall breezes and heading out for the New York Times. For most of this past winter I was unable to do so. Money was extremely tight in my household and I had to cut out any and all expenses I could. Coffee went from the French Press method to instant, entertainment became whatever was on TV, and I had to read my newspapers online. I absolutely loathed having to pull out my computer to read the headlines and attempt the crossword puzzle of the day.

The sensory pleasure of reading the news was gone. I missed the smooth feel of the paper. There is nothing like the feel of a fresh newspaper in the morning. From the fold of it during the walk home to the peacock-esque unraveling as I took to the couch for the morning read. Holding a newspaper feels so much better than hanging on to some electronic device that could drop and malfunction. If one drops a newspaper you dust it off and go back to your article; if one drops an Iphone there is no insurance if it breaks and the application usually shuts down. Technology can make the simplest of pleasures quite frustrating. 

Opening the newspaper is a grand gesture that makes quite the statement for the reader. You see one sitting or standing behind an open newspaper you know that person wants to be left alone. Said person is in his or her moment and by the way, he or she looks awfully smart with the world's news at their fingertips. You see one hunched over their e-device reading their e-paper they look cross eyed. That person will probably end up needing botox after focusing on a much smaller plane for any length of time. The e-paper person also seems so much more withdrawn from the society they are reading about. The traditional newspaper reader appears alive and ready to take on the soon as he or she puts the newspaper down.

I always snapped my newspaper open to start my morning ritual. The sound of fibers becoming taut was my "gentlemen, start your engines" for the day. Here is when the cup of Folgers kicked in and I finally felt awake. While reading the news, I loved the sound of the pages rustling together or the gentle utterance that came from turning the page. To me, there is nothing so pleasing as a peaceful setting with the occasional clattering of a newspaper. No more getting interrupted by text messages in the middle of reading an article on my Iphone.

The reports of the state of the newspaper industry are very disconcerting. I wish everyone would feel the urge to put down their devices and go out and buy a newspaper. This industry is important to society. I especially think that sensory participation is important to young readers. The newspaper is a great learning tool for young students. To some it may be a "green" thing to read online but recycling may offer a satisfactory solution. Trends tend to make comebacks in fashion I hope that one day in the very near future the newspaper will become a must as an accessory. Save Itunes for the music. Today I am going to head to the newsstand to do my part to not stop the presses.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Airport Observation

Traveling back and forth between Chicago, where I live now, and the East Coast, where I am from, offers me many opportunities to observe the human form in one of my favorite locations...the airport. Usually I sit back and take it in the varying scenes without feeling and bias. Something happened this weekend. I don't know if it was the relentless sinus pressure from a head cold or feeling beat down after a strenuous week rigging on Transformers 3 but it was different.

I first noticed the boy and his father in the security line. One could not help but notice the boy. He looked to be in his mid 20s standing just shy of seven feet tall and displayed a wide and unceasing smile. Close to his side was the father with a tanned and weathered face, like one who has spent his life working hard and honestly in a profession that required being outdoors. Under his thick crown of gray hair was a pair of dark eyes that could only be described as gentle. It did not take long before I lost track of everything else around me and remained focused on the boy and his father.

Having lost my own father at the age of three I am always drawn to the interactions between fathers and sons. Sometimes the behavior I witness almost makes me glad circumstances came about as they did and sometimes I am indeed envious. No matter what I observe I always wonder what I would be like as a father. I used to dream about having a family. Then I started watching my friends and other family members start having kids. I could not fathom all the sacrifices that needed to be made and all the energy being a dad required. The demands seemed overwhelming. I quickly determined myself to be incapable of properly raising a child. After this weekend, I realized how selfish my way of thinking has been.

By the time the boy and his father reached the screening station it became clear that neither traveled very often. The TSA agent had to lead them through all the nuances of passing through security. For a moment the smile on the boy's face turned into a confused look but as soon as he grabbed his suitcase from his father's hand the smile returned.

They walked toward the bench where I was sitting putting myself back in order. As soon as the boy sat down next to me the father got down on a knee and began to put the boys shoes back on and retie the laces. The gentleness in the eyes I saw from a distance was confirmed. I felt the tears begin to form in my own eyes. watching this interaction one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. 

As the father worked on the boy's and his own shoes, the boy pulled out some sort of reading material and set it down on the bench beside him. Without being too obvious I snuck a look as I got up to head my own way and saw that it was a full-color brochure for Walt Disney World. Hence the reason for the boy's unceasing smile. I remembered my own happiness the first time I went to the Magic Kingdom when I was around five or six. My emotions really started to get a hold of me. Instead of heading to to nearest Starbucks I had to find a quiet corner where I could gather myself. I was afraid if I went into a restroom I would end up in a full on cry.

The walk through the airport helped me gather myself. I said a little prayer of well wishes for the boy and his father and tried to focus on my own happiness due to the fact that I would be back in Chicago soon. There was so much for me to look forward to. I would soon be seeing Gracie and the Mongrels, having a beer at the Ale House, and moving into a new apartment to start a new phase in life. However, I could not think about anything concerning myself. I wanted to know more about the boy and his father, but there was not much more I could do but just observe them for a little while longer.

The next flight to Orlando was departing from Gate A2; I headed that way. The boy and his father were wandering around looking for the gate when I reached the concourse, the father in the lead the boy moving his tall legs as fast as he was able. I wanted to help lead them the right way but figured I was already intruding enough. They did make it to the gate in plenty of time and even fell into conversation with someone nearby. Only the father spoke. The boy remained silent and just stood there smiling, the brochure still in hand. I could not help but feel disappointed that I never heard the boy speak. I felt as if hearing his voice would offer a kinship, as if the lessons I learned from my observations weren't enough. Once the boy and his father boarded the plane and went out of view I went on a walk to try and let the air dry out the moisture in my eyes. 

I was touched by this boy and his father. Watching them made me begin to rethink my outlook on a lot of things. My words fall short of giving the beauty of their interaction justice. Like all relationships I am sure there were/are frustrations and trials to accompany the trips to the Magic Kingdom. As I begin this next phase of my life in Chicago I want to continue the maturation process. Toward my family and friends I want to make sure that I work on stifling the selfishness and bringing out the gentleness in my own eyes. And I hope the boy and his father had the time of their lives at Disney World.