Sunday, January 30, 2011

Here's Something to Chew On

Yesterday afternoon around 5pm, I sat Indian-style on the bathroom floor while reading the latest issue of TIME magazine as I ate a Smart Ones Fajita Chicken wood-fired pizza. The article that I was browsing during said meal was about the troubles that Arizona is currently experiencing, problems like illegal immigration, an education system that is in the bottom ten of the fifty states, and the site of a shooting that made headlines for a number of weeks earlier this year.

About halfway through my meal, as I bit into another portion, I felt something hard. Weird, I thought. I chewed one more time and still felt something hard in my mouth; that's what she said. I spit the portion out and saw nothing but chewed-up food, so threw it into the toilet (just inches from my face) and flushed. I finished the pizza and began using my tongue to remove the debris that had accumulated over the meal. Just then, I felt something weird on the upper left-side of my mouth. Either an extra-large piece of debris, it couldn't be.

I looked in the mirror and saw that a piece of my tooth was missing; the filling was now fully exposed and I was reminded of the movie "Terminator", feeling a bit more machine now than I was five minutes before. Before telling my wife, I headed onto the internet to find out what my options were, if tooth fairies still come if one inadvertently flushes a molar down the toilet.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

268 Lafayette

During 10th and 11th grade, I lived with my mother and stepdad in a 3-bedroom apartment. It was actually part of a very large house in downtown Winona. From there, it was a mere 2-block walk to Midtown Foods where we went to rent videos. Midtown was cool in that me or any of my siblings could go there on our own and pick a movie or two out. We merely had to sign the rental contract. Some of the movies they rented which I had no interest in were "Top Gun" and "The Secret of My Success".

Five blocks further, there was another place called Video Hits which had a greater selection, but wound up being shut down because they were renting out porn. There were two consecutive doorways to get to that section. The first led to science fiction, which I frequented, and a few steps past that was the XXX section. Some might've saw me heading to sci-fi and think I was going to check out porn, but it was merely to see what they had for Star Wars-type films; "Star Whores" would have to wait.

A number of years earlier, my mother took us boys to a barbershop called Farrell's. Playboy magazines were liberally strewn throughout the shop. Though curious, I never picked up an issue while my much younger brother, Matt, had no such hesitations.

A couple of times, getting home from school, I noticed that my mom had locked the front door. She was supposed to have left it unlocked when she left home after eating lunch. Rather than wait around, I headed to the side of the house where my bedroom was located and was able to finagle the window open and sneak in that way.

My four younger siblings visited on the weekends while I had the week to myself. My bedroom was sweet in that the space under the door was extra wide on one corner. It allowed me, when I laid on the floor, to see everyone that was sitting on the living room couch watching TV. One night in October of 1987, I watched as they celebrated the Minnesota Twins' victory in Game One of the World Series. I was really into the Beatles then and explicitly remember listening to "Within You Without You" laying there one evening. Sometimes the light would shine onto me and Matt would say, "I know you're looking under there".

At the place where he lived, if you got on top of the couch in the TV room, you could see into his bedroom. He liked listening to CD's back then on his hi-tech stereo. He had stuff by Harry Connick, Jr, Joey Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, and a disc that played a Thunderstorm for an hour.

For a number of weeks, my sister came over after school and we watched shows like "Hollywood Squares" and "Double Dare" while she munched on a small bag of Cheetos.

George Michael's "Faith" was extremely popular at the time and my sister was a big fan of it. Who wasn't?

Since I only saw them on the weekend, I liked to have fun with my brothers. On a couple of occasions, when they went to the movies and I elected to stay home, I put one of their 10-inch action-figure wrestlers on the top of the door that led into our living room.

The first person who walked in would get a surprise. I staked out a spot to watch in the kitchen as magic time approached. One time, my mom came in first. Yeesh! But on another, I got my brother, Matt. He response was swift. He went straight into my bedroom and broke my Luke Skywalker Dagobah glass. As he came back out into the living room, I said, "You're gonna have to pay for that".

I especially enjoyed it when my mother and stepdad would go out of town. They typically left me with five or ten bucks and stocked the fridge with my two favorite foods, Little Debbie Zebra Cakes and Totino's Pizza. It was great having the whole place to myself, not least because it allowed me to watch movies in complete quiet and darkness. A couple of the films I enjoyed during this time were "Silver Bullet" and "Christine". Late at night was when the real magic happened as we had HBO and Showtime; translation: I got to watch soft porn.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taking It Up the Tailpipe

I think it’s a bit ridiculous the degree to which some are hung up on gas prices. It’s like they always have to look at what it’s going for in the morning and the first they hear that it may be going up, they rush out to save a few nickels. Can you imagine how different things would be if gas stations didn’t have their prices displayed on huge signs outside, if you had to enter the store to know what it was going for? Why should gas be any different than coffee?

I admit to glancing at the price of petrol once in a while and concede to getting a small amount of satisfaction when I purchased some for 3.45 last week (the price now stands at 3.75). But let’s look closer. I bought 10 gallons of gas, so saved 3.00. That means I have 3 more dollars in my checking account than I did before. Does that make me happier? Not really. I’d rather have no reaction to the increases and just pay what they’re charging. I can take it up the keister as well as anyone (that’s what she said).

Bill Maher said a number of years ago that the price of gas should be at least 5 dollars a gallon (considering the value you get from it as well as its scarcity). I agreed with his sentiments and as gas has steadily increased, I’ve paid it no mind. I do feel bad for those who have less disposable income and who, therefore, suffer more as prices increase. I guess what it comes down to is one can either piss and moan about the oil companies or do something about it (public transport, bicycling, walking, car pool, hybrid, siphon others' gas). Stop playing the victim.

(Composed on September 16, 2008 - First time posted)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I was surprised to get a call from my mom the other night that her marriage to my stepdad has faltered. It's mainly a case of one party being too controlling. I don't get wanting to control others. I feel that my will for another is their will for themselves, kind of how I feel God feels about us. Why would you want to constrain those you love? Resentment is sure to build in such cases.

They did quite a number on keeping the extent of their troubles hidden. Other than some strange goings-on on Christmas Eve, I wouldn't have figured their union was in any danger. Interesting how people put a happy face on their lives when it's anything but. Some are the same on Facebook, nothing but positivity. You know they can't be like that in real life and if they are, you married the wrong person.

When I first received word that my parents were contemplating divorce twenty-eight years ago, I was watching Olivia Newton-John's concert special on HBO.

It is forever linked now with that evening. One of my siblings told me what was going on and I went to the source to see if it was true. My dad was sitting on top of my mom in the living room, but this was no sex act. He was asking why she wished to dissolve the partnership.

This happened at almost the exact moment that I was first experiencing puberty. I'd go to my 7th grade classes and get what I liked to call "tenny" (tension) headaches on many a day. My grades went into the toilet and I came to rely more on my grandmother as I began to feel more distant from my parents.

My dad moved out of the house and into an apartment complex. One evening, I went there with my siblings. It was small, but sufficient, I suppose, for a now-single man. I noticed a jar full of quarters on the nightstand. I asked if I could have some. He said that he was saving them for something or another. A moment or two later, when he wasn't looking, I took a couple dollars' worth out of it and said that I was going to head over to the mall; it was located just two blocks away.

The shopping center was mighty quiet on that evening. I headed the length of the mall to my favorite haunt, the Electric Rainbow arcade. Halfway there, I saw a girl who was in one of my classes, Courtney. She was the one who as a 1st grader, I fantasized chose me to play with out of all the boys in our class. She looked fantastic that night, a vision with beautiful blond hair and preppy clothes. She may have gazed at me as we passed each other. I wasn't sure if she even knew who I was.

I set to playing some of my favorite video games: the sitdown version of Turbo, Star Wars, Joust, stuff like that. Playing those games helped me decompress a bit. They gave me peace when that was in very short supply. I left the arcade and just a couple steps later, saw Courtney again, heading in the opposite direction as before.

This time, she smiled and said, "Hi". I said "Hi" back to her and was on cloud nine as I walked past the rest of the stores. I was living in a broken home now, but it needn't be my destiny. Someday in the not-too-distant future, I would have a family of my own and all this heartache would be a thing of the past.

Tracks I listened to while composing this:

Take Good Care Of My Heart - Jermaine Jackson & Whitney Houston
New Girl Now - Honeymoon Suite
I Go Crazy - Paul Davis
How Much I Feel - Ambrosia

Monday, January 17, 2011

Myriads and Myriads of Memories

Four years ago, I made a number of posts regarding the time I spent in the Jehovah's Witnesses.

They can be found here, here, and here. Thanks to a regression therapist that I've recently started seeing, here are some more memories that have come to light:

The songbook back then had 119 songs. One was sung before the meeting started, another during halftime, and one more at the end. There are three that I remember to this day: The first is the last song in the book: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. The second is called Myriads and Myriads. I don't know the name of the third, but it was unusual in that it had a bit of a bouncy beat, something unusual compared to the rest of the Witnesses' oeuvre. It's one you wouldn't necessarily mind hearing on the radio. The only lyrics I remember from it were, "If you have such faith accompanied by works, da da da da da da da da".

To this day, I don't understand why they thought it was a good idea to make children sit for two hours during the twice weekly meetings, one hour for a third meeting. Kids have to sit enough during school, but to expect them to do more in the evening hours, for subjects that most likely wouldn't interest them, should almost be considered a form of brain-deadening neglect.

I had a number of games I played to kill time while waiting for the meeting to end. If I was lucky enough to sit on the inside of a row, I counted the number of raised particles on the walls. I imagined that one was a star, another was a galaxy, over here was another galaxy, we lived here, and so on.

I knew Jehovah was on my side whenever I sat next to one of the two windows that looked out on a resident's yard. How grand, I thought it must be, as I looked at a man playing with his dog, to be able to spend a Thursday evening relaxing and unwinding, to be able to wear a T-shirt and jeans as opposed to a suit and tie. I love how the Witnesses' make a big deal about how they're not worldly yet wear clothes that are an unmistakable symbol of the world.

Another lucky break was when my parents couldn't wake up in time to take us to the Sunday meeting. I was as quiet as a mouse if I got up early on Sunday morning so as not to accidentally wake them up. There was no way I was going to try to rouse them. It'd be like knowing that today you were to have a root canal and anything went as far as trying to get out of it. Sometimes they woke up in time to just take us to the second hour which was bittersweet.

Michael Jackson was a member of the Witnesses in the early 80's which was cool in that he was the hottest singer at the time. If he found something compelling about the beliefs, maybe I should, too. These days, Prince is their most famous adherent, something that negatively affected the concert I went to see him perform at in the summer of 2004.

It had been 20 years since Purple Rain had rocked the world and his show that year was an opportunty for us all to go back to those halcyon days. Xcel Energy Center in St Paul was sold out and thousands of fans were pumped to see him perform. For the most part, it was good, but he excised some of the songs that he felt no longer fit in with his new spirituality.

I found this ironic. In the mid-80's, I surreptiously listened to his music while a Witness. Now out of the Witnesses and free to listen to whatever I wanted, Prince had decided that he was too holy for such theatrics. My highlight that night was his performance of "D.M.S.R.", a song I didn't expect to hear as the S in the song stood for sex.

My old man was not above striking me or my siblings if we stepped out of line. I recall one evening when me and one of my brothers were escorted outside by my father during the middle of a meeting. Under the starry sky, he proceeded to 'rap our backsides.

At home, he utilized a more sinister device, the belt. I have a number of scars on the middle of my back that my wife and various doctors have asked about. I'm not sure if they came from my dad, are a past-life scar, or have some other source. I don't blame him for hitting me, though. He must've known that one day, I'd be much sexier than him.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yet Another Movie-Related Post

This past Saturday, I went with my high-school friend to "Tron: Legacy". The original "Tron" came out 28 years ago; I was 11 years old at the time. I remember my mother taking me to it. Though the special effects were ground-breaking, I wasn't overly impressed with the film. Looking back, I am overly impressed with my mom. She taught me to love the movies from a very young age. Back then, one couldn't go online and see what the reviews were for a given movie. The closest thing was to look at what the movie critic had said about the film in the local newspaper. My mom would base what movie the family should see on what "looks good".

While taking us to plenty of sci-fi and action films, she also enjoyed going to films that were more her style, things like "Tootsie", "9 to 5", "Arthur", and "Mr. Mom". In most cases, I had a good time going to these films as well. One of my mother's favorite parts from "Arthur" was when the butler, John Gielgud, said to Dudley Moore, while he was in the bathtub: "Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit." I'm greatly looking forward to this spring's remake which stars Russell Brand as the title character.

As me and my friend walked into the screening room on Saturday afternoon, a couple men and their sons were coming out. They looked confused. We walked in to complete darkness. Other than the track lights coming off the stairs, it was pitch black. I paid it no mind and found us a seat at the very top. Gradually others came and the pre-show magic began. There were about twenty other people at the show, all of them male. I explained to my friend what had occurred in the first so he wouldn't be lost; he got lost, anyway. The plot didn't make perfect sense, you see.

Nonetheless, we had a great time. Daft Punk did the soundtrack which was full of electronic and techno beats. I was grooving throughout the film. One of my favorite moments was when Jeff Bridges' son (by the way, this was the second consecutive movie I was attending that starred Bridges) went into the old video arcade and approached the circa early-80's jukebox. The first track it played was Journey's classic "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)". Bridges was fun as always. In one scene, when his son is yelling at him, he says, "You're messing with my Zen thing, man!" Though not a masterpiece, we had a great time with the film and were glad we went.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Happiness & Laughter

After spending a fruitful weekend with a high-school friend, last night I took the opportunity to watch programs that had accumulated on our DVR. One of my favorite comedians, Jim Carrey, had hosted Saturday Night Live and I looked forward to checking it out. Much to my surprise, I gained nary a laugh from said program while my wife chuckled a number of times. Could it be that I just wasn't in the mood for a bit of levity?

After finishing "The Larry Sanders Show", I saw that a movie from 2004 was playing on the Independent Film Channel. Starring Tom Hanks, "The Ladykillers" was a Coen brothers movie (they directed the recent "True Grit") that I hadn't seen. The trailers made it look amusing, but I wasn't motivated enough to see it more than a half a decade ago.

It was a very unusual role for Hanks in that he played a Southern gent with an incredibly vast vocabulary and a goatee. He reminded one a bit of Colonel Sanders. There were a number of laughs in the early going and I loved how Hanks' character wasn't ashamed to use the 12-dollar words that he was familiar with; I sometimes have the tendency to dumb down my language when talking to others because I don't wish to pelt them with phrases they're not familiar with.

My wife grew tired and went to bed about an hour into the movie while I watched the heist that the film's characters had planned took place. It's a fantastic feeling to stumble upon a film that you have no expectations for, but which winds up pleasing you greatly. There was a running gag involving a garbage barge and I laughed the hardest, crying almost, when it was used for the last time in the movie's final minute. Just as an orgasm completes the sex act, so too, should the biggest laugh of a comedy come about at the very end and this is one of the rare movies that did so for me.

If it wasn't pleasing enough to close my night with a huge guffaw, my morning had started strong as well. As I drove with my friend on the interstate and looked at the farms covered by snow on a day in which the temperature hovered around 20 degrees, I was struck by a knowing that everything is perfect just the way it is. Now, that is something that I like to believe, but to actually feel it in the marrow of one's bones was a beautiful thing.

On the way home, my wife picked up a prescription while I walked a bit in the clinic's halls. I saw a lady who was walking kinda funny and smiled a bit, almost ashamed of how good I was feeling. I wanted to tell her that though it might not seem so, nothing needs fixing. A moment later, as an older man passed me, I again displayed an expression of extreme contentment. Walking outside to the car, I was tempted to skip, so great was my feeling of well-being. I do what I can each day to create my own happiness, but sometimes I'm surprised by how strongly the feeling can manifest.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Return to the Movies

Last week, I went to a movie for the first time in two months. The colder weather and paucity of high quality films combined to keep me away from the movie show over Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were a couple of movies I wanted to see ("Paranormal Activity 2", "Harry Potter and the Deathly Bowels"), but I just couldn't quite get the gumption to drive out there, think of a clever faux-name to declare to the cashier, take a whiz before the show starts, get a seat, sit through a dozen commercials (movie theatres used to be a refuge from ads) before finally getting to see the feature presentation while hoping my feet don't get cold.

My wife had been pestering me of late that she wanted to see the new "Focker" movie. A friend that she usually goes to the movies with has been busy, so it was up to me to take her to a movie she'd been eagerly anticipating for months. There was no way that I was going to see the film, though. Feeling burned by the last movie, released during the Christmas season of 2004, I wasn't about to be let down again. My love would witness Ben Stiller shenanigans while I went to "True Grit" which costars Matt Damon.

Interestingly enough, the last film I went to also starred Damon; "Hereafter", my favorite movie of 2010.

One plus of going to the theatre that we did is that they've recently reduced their pricing in order to be more family-friendly; it costs a lot of money to take a couple kids to a movie and get them pop and popcorn. Their evening shows are now $6 while matinees are just $4. We headed there in the mid-afternoon after eating at Subway; my cholesterol is a tad high, so I'm reducing my ingestion of saturated fats, not to mention trying to get more exercise. The movie theatre, in my eyes, was getting close to going out of business, so it was nice to see that the nicer prices had brought a lot of families out that day.

After getting tickets, as I'm wont to do, I strolled around the lobby and looked at the posters for upcoming movies. One thing that always brings a smile to my face is the huge paintings they have displayed high up. One is of the original poster for "Raiders of the Lost Ark", another for "E.T.". Looking up there takes me back thirty years to when I was a child and they were initially released.

After a time, she went to the "Focker" screening room where she opted to go all the way to the top and sit in the back. That's also where I chose to sit in my screening room. I noted that Jeff Bridges was starring in not only "True Grit", but in the film playing right next door, "Tron Legacy". I did see the original "Tron" when it was released in 1982, but can't say it was anything too special, though $4 might be a good incentive to check the sequel out later this week.

Once I got my seat, I laid down to my side and put my ear plugs in so as not to be adversely affected by the pre-show which consists of movie trivia and adverts. If anyone ever asks why I'm lying down, I'm going to say, "My doctor says that I can't be exposed to advertisements". Once the movie started, I took the plugs out and continued laying down though I propped my head up a bit with my right arm in order to see over the chairs in front of me. So comfortable and my feet didn't even really get cold. It could've been because of the several dozen people seated down below.

As for the movie itself, directed by the Coen brothers, it is an exemplary Western with a great cast. Terrific word-of-mouth is allowing the movie to do much better financially than was expected. I laughed out loud numerous times at some of the things that Bridges did. In his first scene, he was taking a shit in an outhouse and told the lady outside that he was gonna be in there for a while. I know the filmmakers have done their job when I leave the theatre with a smile on my face.