Sunday, May 29, 2005

This Place Don't Make Sense to Me No More- Part One

ONCE UPON NINE LIVES AGO, there stood a humble faux brick abode in the heart of aging Familyville. Inside the walls of this less than sturdy fortress lived three boys who sometimes merely co-existed but often times came to realize they were in this thing, whatever this thing can possibly be about, together.

Boof Bonser was a handsome boy. He had a perpetually sad look upon his face but the spot to the right of his nose was perfectly imperfect and his expressive eyes only hinted at the depth of his caring albeit worried heart. Boof had grown up in the wild, roaming the tamed wilderness of a metropolitan park. One day his curiosity got the best of him and he took a step where he shouldn't have stepped. That fraction of a moment cost Boof his leg and forever set in motion the chain of events that would be the rest of his life.

Fred Smoot joined Boof when Fred was just a few months old. The two immediately bonded. Fred was impossibly dashing with his long dark hair and a piercing set of green eyes that could melt the polar ice cap on the coldest of days. It was his nature to be friendly and loving though he tried to keep that weapon of his arsenal quite secret. Where Boof had issues that would make some reluctant to accept him, there was nothing about Fred Smoot that to the naked eye was anything but charismatic and charming.

Boof and Fred ended up together and after a period of necessary adjustment they became inseparable, almost enough so that you could describe them as best of friends.

One day out of the blue the two were joined by a youngster named Nick Punto. Punto was a playful young boy with spacey eyes. Just a few weeks after his birth his trusting nature got the best of him and he was sat on by someone playing too rough and not paying attention at all. Nick's back legs weren't broken but they couldn't be used. The doctors thought that he may never be able to use them again. But Nick Punto was nothing but someone adept at adapting and he learned to get along with what he still had. And where some would have become jaded by the experience, Nick never let it affect his wondrous outlook on life. To him all the world was a playground. And he loved to show his affection to whoever came along.

Boof Bonser and Fred Smoot weren't so quick to accept Nick Punto into their home. At first it was a matter of not knowing what to make of him. Where Boof and Fred had learned over time, like the ocean waves wearing down rocks into sand, to be weary and a bit guarded towards the unknown, Nick Punto had not gotten to the same point yet.

To Boof and Fred Nick's relentless playfulness was tiresome and where they sometimes really needed their quiet and solitude Nick would often egg them on, leaping at them unexpectedly and from every angle imaginable.

All three boys were raised in the Maxolic church believing that if you lived in fear of your sins and truly repented and asked for forgiveness after accepting the truth of the higher being that a tenth life was possible in some higher plain of being. Like many religions being a Maxolic meant believing in things that you had never seen though there was plenty of proof in existing touch and smell that something greater once truly existed.

To watch the three boys day to day was to rediscover the blessing of learning something new each and every day. They may have all been created in an equal place under different circumstances but they all three found themselves sharing a space, a life together whether they wanted to or not. They were as similar as they were different and though they might not have been more than a blip on the radar outside their walls, they all three made this world a slightly better place.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Numb Skull

"And when the time comes round, we will be duty bound/To tell the truth of what we've seen and what we haven't found/Will not be going down, despite too easy ride to see/From a lover to a friend take your own advice/Let me love again. Now that you turned out to be, someone I can trust, someone I believe..."
-Paul McCartney

I'm not sure if numbness runs in my family but it sure seems to be running up and down various parts of my anatomy over the past few years.

Last year about this time I was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, a disease that rendered the left side of my face droopy and numb. With a little acupuncture and adding a little herb to my diet, my face regained its perpetual frown in no time at all.

This year I have been diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy. The two friends who have expressed the most concern with my suffering happen to be two who are a long ways a way (one in Hawaii and one in Blue Earth County). Go figure. I figured my closest friends would at the very least organize some all night televised marathon for me. It's the least they could do after all. It sucks getting old.

It might be noted for the record that the diagnosis sounds worse than the actual suffering involved. Even my doctor admitted that. Cervical radiculopathy is the medical term for having a pinched nerve in the neck. For years I have had a tingling in my shoulder and recently that mostly annoying but sometimes pleasing sensation spread down my arm to my hand. My forefinger feels like it's always asleep now an affliction similar to the state of my brain for the past six years or so.

When I finally got around to calling my health care people once they heard the words "tingling" and "left side of my body" they told me I had to come in to urgent care. That evening it was determined I didn't have cancer, M.S. or carpal tunnel. I met with one doctor and then days later I met with another (the same one who diagnosed me with Bell's Palsy though she didn't recognize me. Must have been the non-droopy demeanor). With a prescription of an anti-inflammatory drug in hand and an appointment to see a physical therapist scheduled, I went on my merry way.

On my way home I popped in Lucinda Williams' new live CD. Looking at the packaging I must say I was a bit disappointed by the song list. Most of the songs are from her last two CDs and the inclusion of such dirge-like songs like "Joy" and "Atonement" didn't do much for me. Still when she got to "Reason to Cry" I just about did. It's my second favorite performance of the song- right up there with when I was riding with the Grad Student and she sang along with Lucinda. Man she hit the right notes on that ride.

Thankfully the slight discomfort was further alleviated when I finally found out who murdered Veronica Mars' best friend Lily and that Veronica wasn't actually raped nor did she have sex with her brother. Veronica Mars is the show getting all the buzz if you don't count Desperate Housewives. A lot of critics are saying that it is as good as Buffy in its writing and its depiction of the angst of growing up. I thus had to tune in to see what all the praise was all about.

I indeed saw that Veronica Mars is a smartly written show that deftly mixes black humor with insight. Most every character has a dark side including the dour blonde Veronica herself, and the standard operating procedure seems to be to do whatever best suits your individual needs and deal with the consequences later.

Later that night I had a long talk with a friend down in Florida. The purpose of the call was to talk about the shape of my soul, admittedly a little ragged, worn, and torn these days. She sent me a book about the story of life and suggested I read the book of Romans in the Bible. "I'll say a prayer for you," she said and I thanked her profusely. I was glad to hear she is doing well.

"Of everything in this world I guess I'll never know why/Something as good as this could flower up and die/When you lost your happiness when no one's standing by/When nothing makes any sense, you've got a reason to cry..."

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Woodpecker

I was driving to work the other day and listening to the news when a story came on telling how a bird observer down in Louisiana had seen an Ivory Billed Woodpecker, quite a remarkable sighting considering that the bird was declared extinct years ago.

The news made my ears perk up. I've long been an admirer of those who show skillful survival abilities against the odds. Almost all of the people I admire most have stories of being counted out at one point or another only to stage some type of comeback. This was the all time comeback story. Imagine having your species declared down for the count forever and yet there you are. You're still bleeping there. I almost turned my car around to head back home to tell my three boyz the news. Their reaction probably would have mirrored any reaction I could get at work at 6:30 in the blessed a.m.

Having become a complete scooterhead these days this was one of the few recent mornings that I was actually glad I was in my car. This spring hasn't exactly been abundant with ideal scooter riding weather. Every night before I hop into bed I listen to the weather forecast for the next day. The forecast more often than not either calls for unseasonably cold weather or worse, for drizzle, showers, and rain. I go to bed hoping and sometimes praying that they are wrong.

I then wake up thinking this might be the morning that my prayers have been answered. I look out the window hoping it isn't raining and as MPR's Cathy Wurzer tells me the temp at 5:10 a.m. I try to tell myself that since it's above freezing maybe it won't be too cold to scooter.

Alas more often than not I soon find myself snug as a slug in my rusting and dying car wishing I could be zooming along on my scooter, Marco the Nimrod. One advantage to driving to work in my car is that I can listen to the radio. It's a luxury I don't have when I'm out in the open where I could in theory put on some headphones underneath my California Highway Patrol style helmet. I don't want to do that though because I'm trying to be ultra-alert to everything going on around me knowing I probably won't come out the winner in a collision between me and another vehicle.

The few times I have been able to ride my scooter I fill the music void by singing at the top of my lungs. Of course the obvious choice of song would be the cliché motorized two wheel anthem, "Born to Be Wild" but as I was searching for my own personal theme song to sing on my scooter my mind flashed back to the Rutles' "Cheese and Onions" Lord knows why.

"I have always thought in the back of my mind/Cheese and Onions/I have always thought/That the world was unkind/Cheese and Onions/Do I have to spell it out?/C-H-E-E-S-E- A-N-D-O-N-I-O-N-S- Oh no/Man and machine/Keep yourself clean/I'll be a has- been/Like a dinosaur/My device for everything nice/You better think twice/At least once more..."

As weary as I've been I came home the other night and trying to make the most of my Netflix subscription I plopped my rented DVD, Seabiscuit into my DVD player. I must say I've never seen a better sports related movie. God almighty the movie is good.

Granted the cinematic sports genre is full of many clunkers so the competition isn't all that great. The only movie that has ever made me boo the screen was the dreadful The Natural. And unfortunately my extreme disliking of that movie happens more often than not when watching a sports related movie. Sports can be so inspiring, so poetic, so beautiful and yet when movies try to capture these aspects they usually fall far short.

Seabiscuit is the exception. The movie manages to capture the beauty and the danger of horse racing and still it's really not about the sport itself. Like all my favorite movies there are themes about redemption and loss and overcoming odds. The movie is about misfits rising above expectations and finding another who can inspire you to live up to the potential that exists within. That it also captures the relationship that can develop between man and animal and how one can push the other to be something greater, is something to behold and treasure.

I loved this movie. Chris Cooper's performance as the trainer, Tom Smith is remarkable and makes this a must see movie all by itself. Seabiscuit is the kind of movie that makes you want to go out into the world and make a difference or at least join the land of the living one more time before you give up faith knowing your lucky horseshoe can never make a difference in a land full of indifference. I watched this movie with a three-legged cat sound asleep on my chest feeling as peaceful as he can in this dangerous world. When it was done I was inspired to hop on my scooter and just ride, didn't matter where.

Monday, May 9, 2005

I Could Have Been Somebody

I don't know if "reality TV" has been so dubbed because it's supposed to reflect anything that's actually going on outside that big black box in the corner of my living room. More likely it's been called that because nothing that happens on those shows has been written and we all know that nothing written is ever real.

I've been a huge fan of the original network reality show Survivor, ever since its inception. Yes I know the show is utterly predictable and dumb but I've always been quite entertained by all the conniving and scheming done by groups of good looking albeit more often than not, rather vacuous people.

This season started off the same as always despite the twists the producers have tried to introduce. Immediate lapses in judgment led to poor strategy by a couple of people who apparently have never seen the show before. The one thing all Survivor players should know by now is that the one thing you do not want to do at the beginning of the adventure is to call attention to yourself. You don't want to be too bossy or assume that it is a good idea to try and be a leader, a loner, or an eccentric. If you stick out you're gonna have this huge target tattooed on to your back and you're gonna get voted off pronto.

Sure enough the first person booted off of Survivor Palau was a woman who thought she'd entertain everyone else by belting out songs she had written about the show. While the others rowed their boat toward shore this woman annoyed them all by not only not helping row but by singing some rather dreadful songs.

The plot twist this season was that the first two people ashore got to be captains and they chose the next person they wanted on their team. That person then chose the next and so on. The singer/songwriter of course did not get chosen. As the teams were formed it appeared to be a mismatch. One team contained all the young, athletic, good looking people while the others had the misfits and old people. Surprise of surprises the young athletic team did not win an entire immunity challenge and all of their tribe members have now been voted off.

Up until this season my all time favorite Survivor was Elisabeth Filarski who parlayed her charm and sweet personality into a full time gig co-hosting the ABC daytime talk show, The View. However one of this season's Survivors, Stephenie, has moved to the top of my heart by showing she was perhaps the best female participant ever. She kicked butt in the immunity challenges even though her team never won one. She out hustled, out performed and outwitted the rest of her team. When she ultimately joined the opposing team, her odds in surviving were minimal because not only was she the odd person out, but she was seen as a threat for her prowess in challenges.

There reached a point where Janu, a whiny Las Vegas dancer wanted out and she let her teammates know by completely isolating herself and shutting down. Still some wanted to vote out Stephenie first, because they didn't see Janu being a threat in any way shape or form. At the next tribal council Stephenie soon began to realize she was in trouble. As it dawned on her she began to cry. She said it wasn't fair (and it wasn't) that because she had done so well she was apparently done while there was another who was asking to get voted off and she apparently wasn't going to get her wish.

I didn't realize that Stephenie's competitive drive had gotten to me until the tears began to stream down my own cheeks. It wasn't the first time in my life a Stephenie made me bawl. But that's another story of course. Since that particular Stephanie, my life has somehow morphed into being about all kitties all the time. Sometimes I think living with the three that they have formed a Survivor like alliance and if we had a vote on who to kick out of this house I'd be the first to go.

But then again if this house was actually made into a reality show (or at least something real) it would be more like NBC's The Contender. That show kicks Survivor's butt because the actual demise of its contestants is to lose a hard fought boxing match not some kind of goofy contrived challenge and the show if nothing else has shown over its run that boxing is a rather brutal sport.

The Contender does a splendid job of effectively building the tension up to the actual fight. The mixture of realism and reality TV is highlighted by the presence of Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard both equally comical in their attempts at analyzing what is going on. I'm not sure if Sly realizes he was never an actual championship boxer, and I'm not sure if Sugar Ray realizes he was never the entertainer Ali was, but if they came over to my house they could maybe help me sort out the pecking order between Diego-san, Thompson, and young Theo. When the boyz wrestle I'm not sure if they're playing or if they're playing for real. All I know is this isn't the Real World and yet I'm still game in playing along.

Monday, May 2, 2005

Listen Up

As long as we're talking about conversation based movies I gotta say the oddest one I've ever heard is Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's 2004 Talk to Her.

I'm not exactly sure what the movie is about but the plot involves two men bonding because the one thing they have in common is they are both in love with women who happen to share the unique affliction of being in comas. Marco is a travel writer who falls in love Lydia, a female bullfighter (I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me). Lydia ends up sustaining a work-related injury and ends up in a hospital (also an all too often occurrence in my life).

It is there where Marco meets Benigno a male nurse who is in love with Alicia a dancer he longed for months before she is hit by a car on the street that separates his apartment from her dance studio. Benigno's extra special care of his comatose patient is a little creepy and Almodovar doesn't hide this in lingering scenes where the nurse is giving his patient a sponge bath.

It's not clear if the movie expects us to be touched or repulsed when Benigno tells Marco he has never been more in love, nor has he had a better relationship than he has with Alicia despite her inability to respond to everything he has ever said to her.

While she was still a conscious human being Alicia enjoyed silent movies. Thus Benigno makes it a point to go to as many as he can so he can tell her all about the movies she is now missing. This leads to one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever watched in a movie. It is a simulated silent movie where a man shrinks much to his lover's chagrin. He ends up literally crawling up inside her. The visuals of the scene made me cringe and I'm sure I'll be talking to my therapist about this nightmarish imagery for the rest of my life.

Eventually there is a scandal of course and Benigno ends up in prison where Marco's support and friendship becomes invaluable. There's something lovely about the conversations between the two men and their devotion to the women that remain a part of their lives.

Talk to Her was made before the Terri Schiavo situation became front page news (at least in this country). The movie raises thought provoking questions about the nature of relationships (how much does one have to converse with another to actually qualify as being in love?); it also delves into what a human spirit consists of (if the brain ceases to function does the spirit survive?). It's a beautifully shot and directed movie, well acted and almost always intriguing to watch. Yet it's also a somewhat manipulative movie and the silent movie scene itself is so bizarre and calls so much attention to itself it's difficult to imagine anyone can truly say in the end they enjoyed watching this film.

As creepy as much of Benigno's behavior is, his love and devotion to one who would likely not love him back if she was actually conscious, is in its way very sweet. He makes it his duty to take it upon himself to try and keep Alicia connected to the things she once loved in life even if science has defined her situation as hopeless.

At the heart of the movie is the question of whether to qualify as an actual conversation, the exchange has to include give and take from both participants. Is it good enough to intuitively feel a connection or does the other person have to communicate that all too rare occurrence with actual clunky words? When we're all alone in solitude (or in a house full of lovable kitties) is the dialogue/ monologue we carry on meaningful enough or is it just a symptom of some form of insanity?

At the same time if words can be heard but not fully comprehended or at least responded to on any level does that qualify for a conversation? Can humans definitely connect on a strictly non verbal level? Talk to Her ends with a scene involving Marco and Alicia and though those characters alliance relies soley on others there is something significant and beyond words in their self imposed limited exchange.