Wednesday, February 28, 2007


If you love movies, you're require to have some post-Oscar observations. Here are mine:

1) Nice to see Alan Arkin win. I'm tempted to say he was the best thing about Little Miss Sunshine, but all the actors were exemplary. Arkin simply had the fortune to exit the film before the overly familiar script mechanisms started to grind, and all the promise of the early scenes collapsed into feel good cliches.

Arkin's win, of course, was Eddie Murphy's loss, and there are a variety of theories as to how the front-runner came away empty-handed. Some think it was simply the appearance of Murphy's most recent crapfest, Norbit, which turned off voters. Others, more disturbingly, think it was racism, which would explain why a seemingly Academy-friendly movie like Dreamgirls didn't get a Best Picture nomination.

But let's propose an alternate theory, shall we? Maybe Murphy didn't win because he wasn't that good. Or more accurately, he was as good as the movie allowed him to be, and is sensational in the opening scenes. As the story progresses, however, and he's required to become a tragic figure, he's badly let down by the film's indistinct point of view; he becomes a plot point, not a character, and there's nothing he can do. he shows what a fine dramatic actor he could be, someday, in a movie focused on character, not costumes.

2) Many in the animation community are incensed by the choice of Happy Feet as Best Animated Feature. They argue, correctly, that a movie like this (or Monster House, also nominated) depends so much on live action motion capture technology that it isn't strictly speaking animated at all.

Me, I'm a cel animation guy. My beef with the recent spate of motion capture pictures is the same as my problem with most recent CGI features: They are so frantic, so full of pointless motion, both of the characters themselves and of simulated camera moves, that they seem to assume all audiences have ADD, and won't sit still for a scene that runs longer than a minute or two, that something has to happen, something has to be moving all the time.

And of course, all these recent so-called "animated" movies have been aimed at kids. Studio execs seem incapable of thinking of animation as a medium unto itself, a way of telling all kinds of stories, a way to paint deeper moods. Brad Bird's stupendous The Incredibles, while family friendly, seemed like it was pointing the way to animated films about real human beings with real human concerns. Alas, Pixar has roped Bird into directing another animated critter movie, and word is, his next project will be live action. A possible visionary and savior of animation gone, but who can blame him?

3) The Departed? Really? Is there anybody, anywhere, that thinks this was the year's Best Picture? Or that Scorsese deserved to win an Oscar for this?

And about that whole Scorsese's-never-won-an-Oscar thing: So? Neither did Altman, until they gave him an honorary one last year. Neither did Hitchcock, Kubrick or Peckinpah, all infinitely finer filmmakers than Scorsese. But now he's won, so everybody please stop whining.

4) I didn't watch the telecast, but God knows I've seen enough clips to confirm my opinion: This show is worthless. If a year went by and it wasn't broadcast, would anybody miss it?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hope you've been saving those pennies, kids, because there's tons o' good stuff on DVD today. There is, for instance, D.A. Pennebaker's amazing documentary Don't Look Back, released in '67 but shot in '65, capturing Bob Dylan at precisely the moment he achieved greatness. Absolutely essential, even though it's been given an unnecessarily expensive box set packaging.

For pure weirdeness, you can't do better than Terry Gilliam's Tideland or Jess Franco's Dracula. Franco's picture alternates between utter amateurism and trippy genius, but with Christopher Lee in the title role, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing and Klaus Kinski as Renfield, can you go wrong? Of course not.

Somewhat more staid pleasures await you with Season Three of The Rockford Files. This is one of the most consistent shows in TV history; even the lesser episodes were pretty good, and most remain endlessly rewatchable. Sure, it's James Garner's show all the way, but also enjoy the fine supporting cast, particularly Joe Santos and Gretchen Corbett, and notice how the writers took the time to write strong scenes for these so-called minor characters. This was the season in which David Chase joined the writing staff, and the tone of his episodes tends to be noticeably darker. One of the best shows in TV history, uncut and non-time compressed--a bargain at any price.

Still, the DVD release I'm most excited about is Sergio Corbucci's goofy 1981 superhero send-up Super Fuzz, starring Terence Hill as a cop who gains super powers when he's caught in a nuclear blast. It's unbelievably cheap, relentlessly stupid and barely entertaining, a real come-down for Corbucci, who once made such fine films as Django and The Great Silence.

But hey, it has Terence Hill (real name: Mario Girotti), a childhood favorite of mine for his Trinity pictures, and Ernest Borgnine blusters amusingly, and the whole thing is so darned nice, you can't help but love it.

Mostly, Super Fuzz's lasting legacy is as a last gasp from the days when low budget international fare could actually play neighborhood theaters in the U.S. Japanese monster movies, weird-ass Italian kiddie movies and that seemingly endless parade of Swedish Pippi Longstocking movies played non-stop as matinee fare, and exposed kids to other cultures and other sensibilities. Some of these were entertaining, some were worthless, but all were better than the carefully-engineered Hollywood blockbusters designed to appeal to kids these days.

Today a movie like Super Fuzz feels as ancient as the pyramids, a strange, handmade reminder of a time when people didn't program children to be cynical automatons.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


The Oscars are tonight, and there was a time when that would have meant something to me. Not that I ever cared about the awards themselves--anybody remember 1979, when Kramer Vs. Kramer won over Apocalypse Now and All That Jazz, and Being There wasn't even nominated, but somehow Norma Rae was?--but the show itself was a guaranteed cheese-tastic spectacle, big stars being forced to do things that obviously made them uncomfortable, stunningly stupid jokes, and of course, hideous production numbers.

That started to die off sometime in the eighties, and despite the fond memories created by the Alan Carr-produced debacle which featured Rob Lowe crooning "Proud Mary" alongside Snow White, it's never going to come back.

For one thing, are there such things as Movie Stars anymore? When presenters include the likes of Drew Barrymore and Jack Black, you wonder why these kids are so dressed up. Where are the real movie stars? Once in awhile they'll trot out the likes of Sean Connery to remind you what a real larger-than-life presence looks like, but then it's back to Leo DiCaprio and Kate Hudson, and the sneaking suspicion that we're watching high school kids.

(I realize that all of these actors are the same age as Errol Flynn or Bette Davis in their prime, but they don't look it--there's no aura about them, nothing that sets them apart from mere mortals--they may be celebrities, they may even be talented, but they're not Movie Stars.)

Without that, the glitz & glamour aspect of the show is gone. There was a time--not so long ago--when you didn't see movie stars on TV. You watched the Oscars for a glimpse of Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster or Paul Newman. Even into the late seventies, when it seemed like Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson were nominated every year, it was still unusual to see these guys on TV, in a semi-casual setting.

Now, of course, every major actor from every movie made is on some channel or other every five minutes, whoring themselves as aggressively as Pat Robertson pimps for The Almighty. And the clips from the nominated films that you see on the actual awards show are the same clips you've seen a million times before. You don't even need to have seen Dreamgirls to be sick of Jennifer Hudson's big solo.

The main thing missing from the Oscar ceremony these days is even a nominal sense of entertainment. The forced, unfunny repartee between presenters is still there, but the jaw-dropping production numbers aren't. And that was half the fun of the show, wondering just how bad a dance number built around a James Bond theme song would be. (Inevitably, worse than expected.) We don't even get flashy opening numbers anymore--for the last several years, the intro has been built around clips from old movies. How lazy is that? Amateurs post more invigorating clip jobs on YouTube every day, but this is the work of professionals, this is--unfortunately--how the movie business sees itself: Creatively exhausted.

I've watched the show pretty faithfully for most of my life, and I couldn't name a single entertaining moment from the last five years. Well, okay, last year, when Robert Altman won an honorary award and made a genuinely moving speech about mortality. But that was Altman, and as soon as he left the stage, it was back to crap--even with Jon Stewart hosting, the show was dull as could be.

So this year, I won't be watching. I barely even know what's nominated, and what's more, I don't care. Does anyone?

Saturday, February 24, 2007


As an Iowan, I suppose I should offer some reaction to the news that our former governor Tom Vilsack has dropped his presidential ambitions.

That reaction would be ZZZZ.

It was a quixotic venture from the start. The Democratic Machine had put its money behind Hillary a long time ago, and even in his home state, people are more excited about the occasional Obama sightings than they ever could be about Vilsack. And we know him here, whereas in the rest of the country he's a non-entity. Since he's actually less charismatic than late seventies pop star Rupert Holmes, and since his stump speeches pretty much stuck to the usual say-what-you-think-people-want-to-hear template, the rest of the country had no reason to want to get to know him better.

Still, as he dropped out, he made a valid point. There came a point when he realized that it just wasn't possible for him to raise the kind of money he'd need to continue. (Again, the lack of personality and inability to say anything remotely interesting may have had something to do with that, but still...) He could raise money, he said, but he couldn't raise Big Money, something that only the well-connected can do, and that only the chosen few can even afford to run for president these days.

Which is hardly news, but it's still painful to hear. Times are troubled, and as the American people cry make it clear that they are fed up--with the war in Iraq, with lack of affordable health care, with escalating debt--it becomes more and more obvious that our elected representatives don't care about us, don't care about the things we care about, don't have our best interests at heart.

And more, it's obvious that we had nothing to do with electing them, that money and influence and connections got them into office, and the elections were a mere formality. The Democrats won the midterms, but has anything changed?

So we've been cast adrift, manipulated by forces beyond our control, and we fixate on Anna Nicole Smith not because we care, but because it makes us feel nominally better about ourselves, makes us, not good, but maybe slightly better about our own lives, slightly less helpless.

Friday, February 23, 2007


I'm sure you're sick of reading about it, here and elsewhere, and Lord knows, I'm sick of even thinking about it, but: Iraq.

The whole situation is too bleak, too depressing at this point to mine many laughs from it, but watching the Bushinistas trying desperately to put a happy spin on the departure of the only other major partner in the Coalition Of the Willing--England--does provide a sort of desperate, 2 AM, my-life-sucks-so-what-else-can-I-do-but-laugh level of amusement, or the feeling you get while watching Xanadu when, after racing through all five stages of grief in record time, it finally occurs to you that the notion of trying to sell Michael Beck as a romantic leading man is vaguely amusing.

So hearing Condi Rice tell us all that of course the British have accomplished what they set out to do, it's a sign of victory, while knowing that in the U.S., the military is about to order more National Guard troops back to fill the gaps, well, it's kind of funny.

And by funny, of course, I mean tragic.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Further thoughts on recent posts:

1) A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the ten year anniversary of meeting my ex. It's odd, because I don't miss her anymore, and the point of the piece was to explore my feelings about a marriage that ended, and how that feeling of, for lack of a better way to describe it, failing can affect a person. That fear of failure has unfortunately hovered over nearly everything I've done in the five years since we split.

And yet, now that I find myself with Tabbatha, I find myself constantly surprised by my willingness--no, my desire--to be part of her life. She just landed a new job, and I found that I was insanely happy for her--a feeling of selflessness with which I'm not acquainted. (I'm a selfish bastard, and I've never really pretended to be otherwise.) Also, the hours of this job will require me to spend much of my time on Kid Duty--and I couldn't be happier.

In other words, this relationship is leading me, at forty-one, to finally live like an adult. About time.

2) Nothing to add to my previous post, but I want to say it again: Go see Pan's Labyrinth.

3) When I wrote yesterday about the divisive rape story playing out in Iraq, I didn't mention where I'd read about it, because I figured it would be a big enough story, everyone would be covering it. And as long as you read The New York Times (or any number of international papers), you would have heard about it.

But if, like me, you live in Iowa, and your primary source of information is the once-revered Des Moines Register, you'd never know. There were a couple of local stories of real interest on the front page, but there was also a story about some local yokel wanting to guest host Today, page two was full of celebrity gossip, and page three had a wire story on Anna Nicole Smith.

Buried further into the paper were the stories on the federal appeals court denying basic human and constitutional rights to prisoners at Gitmo and the Supreme Court tossing out punitive damages against Big Tobacco. Hey, it's not like those are important stories.

And of the rape story, nary a mention. Surprise, surprise.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


A woman appeared on Al-Jazeera Monday night, claiming she'd been raped by officers of the Iraqi National Police. That would be the largely Shiite security force that has the full backing of the U.S. Shiite government officials called her a liar. Sunnis called her a martyr. And the U.S. military responded with more charmless stammering than you'd find in a Hugh Grant triple feature, their official statement saying, essentially, "We're, um, um, investigating, and, um, um, we'll, uh, let you know."

And where does Bush's loyal dog, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, stand on all this? First he issued a statement promising an investigation, then abruptly claimed the woman was a liar, that the woman showed no signs of assault, had a criminal record, and that the officers involved should be rewarded.

Very sensitive, Nuri.

Problem is, there's a nurse claiming the woman did indeed show sign of sexual assault. She's not willing to give her name to the press, however, because she's a Sunni, and the Shiite-dominated government has claimed that both she and the hospital where she works have provided aid and comfort to the enemy, because they have provided medical care for insurgents.

There's no way, at this point, to know for a fact that the woman's story is true. But Maliki's rabid willingness to throw his support behind alleged rapists, only hours after the accusations have been made, certainly makes him sound every bit as insane as Saddam Hussein. Sunnis live in fear of official reprisals from the Shiite government. The Iraqi government is worthless, the Iraqi military is dominated by cowardly thugs. Car bombs explode every day.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney made a speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier stationed in Japan, claiming that victory with honor is possible in Iraq.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Not much on DVD this week, but I would like to highlight one of last week's releases I somehow overlooked, Paul Mazursky's Blume In Love.

The story of a philandering divorce lawyer who realizes--perhaps too late--just how much he loves his wife, Blume is typical Mazursky: funny, unpredictable, occasionally overbearing and downright annoying--but always warm, always alive.

In the seventies, Mazursky was considered a major director, and received accalim equal to other filmmakers of the era, like Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, in the eighties he was well-known and held in some regard, by the nineties his stock had fallen and he's all but forgotten today. This despite a filmography that includes, in addition to Blume In Love, such fine films as Harry And Tonto (one of my all-time favorites), Next Stop, Greenwich Village, An Unmarried Woman and Enemies: A Love Story.

Maybe you've heard of these, maybe you haven't. (And if you haven't seen Harry And Tonto, one of the funniest and most heartbreaking movies I've ever seen, for God's sake, run out and buy a copy right now. That's right, buy, not rent. You'll thank me later.) Art Carney won an Oscar for Harry (He beat Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino--deservedly!) and An Unmarried Woman was the topic of many an op-ed piece on the state of marriage back in '78, but for whatever reason, Mazursky's work has not only faded from the public consciousness, but has fallen from critical favor as well.

I suspect this has something to do with the nature of his films. He always tried to engage with his times, to tell stories about the way life was lived as it was lived. So yeah, his movies sometimes feel dated in a way the work of his contemporaries does not. Scorsese spent most of the seventies looking back (Mean Streets, New York, New York and Raging Bull), as did Coppola (both Godfather films, and Apocalypse Now), and the seventies and eighties work of John Cassavetes and Robert Altman, though seemingly of its era, tends to have a timeless feel--only the fashions feel dated.

But the America Art Carney moves through in Harry And Tonto has largely vanished, and An Unmarried Woman charts the dawning of a feminist awareness that we all now know. At their worst, Mazursky's films are like watching a stand-up comedian from the mid-eighties, riffing on TV personalities and pop culture trends no one remembers.

At their best, though, these films are achingly human. Hearts still get broken, relationships still need to be negotiated, we still age and die--Mazursky's films may have been about the society and times in which he lived, but his true subjects are emotions and behaviors we all know, and his characters always surprise us with both their nobility and their pettiness. We recognize ourselves in them, whether we want to or not.

Monday, February 19, 2007


The kid wanted to see Bridge To Terabithia this weekend, so we went. It's actually pretty good, much better and more emotionally honest than you would expect from a movie produced by the Moral Uplift factory of Walden Media and released by the Disney empire.


As with most movies these days, the credit Music Supervisor appears before a credit for a composer. A music supervisor's job is to spot a movie for sequences that might be able to feature a potential hit single or two (or three, or however many may be necessary to fill a "Songs Featured In And Inspired By" soundtrack album).

Music supervisors have been a part of movies forever, from the nameless studio functionaries who coordinated the music in AIP Beach Party movies to the hapless Gordon Zahler, who received credit for merely compiling library tracks for no-budget wonders like Ed Wood's filmography. And that's fine, music supervisors are an important part of filmmaking, and certainly deserve credit.

But they've taken over in recent years, and the determination of studios and music superviors to use movies to sell albums hurts the movies. In the case of Bridge To Terabithia, the story is occasionally interrupted by pointless montages scored to bland tweener pop, which doesn't fit the mood of the film, and seemingly comes out of nowhere. It doesn't ruin the movie--though the abrupt appearance of a you-can-do-it anthem over the end credits does kind of kill the impact of the final scene--but it does diminish it.

The rise of the gratuitous pop song has gone hand in hand with the devaluation of the original score. Aaron Zigman's score for Terabithia is frankly nothing special, but it's buried so far down in the mix, it's hard to hear it anyway. Most scores these days are just noise, just another sound effect on an already bombastic track, and they have very little impact.

Too bad. Think of famous movies of the past. Try to imagine Gone With The Wind without Max Steiner's swooping strings, or The Great Escape without Elmer Bernstein's great march. Many of the great directors understood the importance of music, and considered the composer an important part of their team. Consider the great work of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Federico Fellini and Nino Rota, Francois Truffaut and Georges Delerue. There are directors today who recognize the value of an original score--David Cronenberg's always fascinating work with Howard Shore, or Tim Burton's with Danny Elfman--but they are rare.

Not every movie needs a musical score, of course, and the use of pop songs can be artistically valid, but only if the director supervises their use. (Martin Scorsese remains the gold standard when it comes to this approach, even though his instincts failed him miserably in The Departed.) But the vast majority of movies are assembly line jobs, and music is unfortunately considered just another option. The fact that the prominent use of music in a contemporary style might date an otherwise good movie in a few years is of no interest to the suits in charge. They make money, not art.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


To recap: Monika was my cat for the first three years of her life, then when I moved away to an apartment that didn't allow pets, Mom sort of inherited her (along with a dog, another cat and Pinback, a weird visitor from the planet Zontar who was posing as an earthly cat while formulating plans for invasion...but that's another story.)

When I originally owned her (yes, I kow, no one really "owns" a cat), Monika was perfectly sweet, affectionate and polite. And she ate whatever I fed her, which, since I'm a cheap bastard, was usually Alley Cat, the budget-priced cat food manufactured by the same folks who make Meow Mix. (Somehow, I think just typing the words "Meow Mix" strips a person of some dignity, but maybe that's just me. Incidentally, am I hitting the parenthetical asides even more than usual? I'll try to stop, I promise.)

In all the time Monika was in Mom's care, she was fed whatever the hell Mom felt like feeding her. Usually Friskies, which, stupid name aside, is presumably a step up the quality scale from Alley Cat. So Monika developed a more rarefied palette, and decided the plebian life was no longer for her, and nothing but the best would do from now on. (You and I know the quality difference between Alley Cat and Friskies can't possibly be that great, but to Monika it's the difference between eating out of a tin can with hobos or dining with the swells at The Ritz. She has a tiny brain, so give her a break. And I know, I know...more parentheses!)

When Mom died and I took Monika back, I'd already had Delmar for over three years. And Alley Cat was just fine for Del. He was pretty much raised on it. But when I first tried feeding it to Monika, she literally stuck her nose up in the air. And wouldn't eat, and wouldn't eat, until finally I broke down and bought her something else.

Which became the usual pattern, until recently. Finally I decided, no, I'm not backing down this time. I'm feeding her Alley Cat, and when she gets hungry enough, she'll eat it. Bit by bit, the food went down. Now, when I pour this stuff into her dish, she comes running and starts to eat.

Yes, like Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke, I've broken her spirit, and I should probably feel terrible about that. But I say, if she wants the good stuff, let her grow opposable thumbs, go out and get a job and buy it herself. Besides, Strother Martin was one of the coolest actors ever.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Mom died a year ago today.

I should be able to say something, words should pour, but no, it's just too much, there's too much to say and too many emotions and...No. These feelings are mine, and I don't feel like sharing. Not now.

I was going to write about her love of music, how she once astutely compared P-Funk to Spike Jones, or the fact that I thought she was crazy for claiming Dinah Shore as her favorite torch singer until I finally, much later, heard some vintage Shore recordings and realized she was right, or the time when I was six or seven and I rode along as Mom drove up to the bank in Rippey; listening to a bootleg eight-track of the White Album, she kept trying to cue it up to hear Rocky Raccoon again but somehow it kept replaying Happiness Is A Warm Gun instead, thus giving birth to my life-long John Lennon obsession. I could write thousands of things about the thousands of different styles of music she loved, and how that love changed and evolved every day. But I won't. Maybe someday.

Instead, I'll give you this, the words to a song written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, and originally performed, of course, by Kermit The Frog, Mom's idol and role model. This was one of her favorites, and though at times she could be cranky and cynical, it probably sums up her philosophy of life as well as anything. And everytime she heard it, she'd cry:

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it--
Look what it's done so far
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me

All of us under its spell,
We know that it's probably magic...

Have you been half asleep? And have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm s'posed to be
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me...

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I was so tired that day, and it was nearly seven that evening before I got home from work. All I wanted was to eat and get some sleep.

Then I checked my messages. Most of them from my sister Ann, an edge of fear in her voice, telling me Mom was in the hospital, issuing progress reports from throughout the day, wondering where I was. Then Mom's voice, sounding tired but calm, peaceful, even: "Hello, Honey, it's me. I'm in the hospital, but I'm okay. You can come up and see me, or not. Wait until tomorrow if you're too tired. I'll talk to you later."

Too tired? No way. I'd just seen Mom the day before; I'd taken her to the doctor. She wasn't doing well--a bad reaction to her chemo, apparently--but what happened? Why was she in the hospital?

She looked so small and fragile when I got there, her glasses off and her dentures removed, almost like a stranger. But she smiled when she saw me, and complained that the local ABC affiliate was delaying Lost for a basketball game. I'm so sorry I wasn't here sooner, I had to work late, I said. "That's okay. Ann and Julie wondered where you were, but I told them you probably went to China One for supper." No, I said, in fact I hadn't eaten. "You could go to the cafeteria. No, it's probably closed. And it's Methodist, so you probably wouldn't want to eat there anyway..."

Okay. I felt better. Whatever had happened, she was still Mom, still wanting to watch her TV shows, still complaining, still kind and full of love, still a mass of contradictions. But what happened? What was she doing here?

"Oh, that. I fell." She went on to provide details that quite frankly I've mostly forgotten, because I just couldn't and can't deal with them. The human body is so frail, and so easily broken, it seems an inadequate host for a spirit as large as Mom's.

We talked for awhile, but she seemed more concerned about the fact that I hadn't had supper than anything to do with her own condition, and she finally gave me my marching orders: Go eat!

So I went home, heated up a frozen pizza and watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD, all the time pushing my mind to remain blank, to not think.

But when I went to bed, sleep was difficult, plauged by bad dreams and nightmare scenarios, and I kept waking as soon as I'd start to drift off. Finally I got up at about 3 AM and called the office, telling them I wouldn't be in for work that day. I tried to get some more sleep, but it wasn't forthcoming, so I got up and tried to relax with a nice, calming bath.

Then the phone rang. It was Ann, telling me she'd just gotten a call from the hospital telling her Mom's condition had worsened, though they wouldn't specify how over the phone. What does this mean, I asked, and she said she didn't know. I told her I was heading to the hospital right away.

The nurses didn't tell me much, and Mom slept, so I just sat by her side. She woke up shortly, took a few minutes to remember where she was, and said hi. Obviously she was medicated, and had just awakened, but she seemed disoriented in a way I'd never seen before. Still we talked, and I told her I wasn't working, she'd have to put up with me for the whole day.

"Oh," she said, "you know what we should do? I can't walk so well right now, but we should get a wheelchair and you can push me, and we'll go exploring all through the hospital. I understand they sell cookies here..."

I told her I'd go ask a nurse, so I did, but was told no: "We tried to get her into a wheelchair last night to get her to the bathroom, it took three of us but she was just dead weight and we gave up. She can't be transferred. She can't even leave her room. Her immune system is down."

When I told mom, she sighed. "I just want to get out of here."

This story doesn't have a neat little climax, an obvious ending; the day progressed, visitors came and went, Mom sent us out of the room so she could watch The Young And The Restless. And while we were all finding things to do to keep ourselves distracted, she died. And if that was the end of the story for Mom, it was only another chapter for the rest of us, as we tried to continue writing our own lives, even though our inspiration was gone.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


It's a war on terror, dammit.

Everybody has to tow this line. When, for instance, Barack Obama inadvertently spoke the truth and said that 3000 Americans have died for nothing in Iraq, he was quickly forced to apologize. Or the Democrats in the House, scheduling their tiresome (and no doubt futile) debate on some sort of resolution on the war, have made damn sure they're framing the whole thing as some sort of judgement of Bush's prosecution of the war--in other words, they're criticizing Bush for mismanagement, not for starting the thing in the first place.

Because to do otherwise would, apparently, be too depressing. But some of the unease in the country right now has to do with a gradual national awakening, a realization that, Oh God no, all those deaths really were in vain, that there really was no point to this whole charade.

As sad and depressing as this truth may be, we can handle it. We're adults. Everybody dies, and there is no purpose to cancer, or a car crash, or heart failure. Life goes on, until it doesn't.

Of course, these particular deaths came about as a result of a shameful, needless war, and grieving families might start asking questions, and those questions could--perhaps--lead somewhere, if they were persistant enough, and an ugly truth could emerge, a truth that would lay bare all the lies and hypocrisy on which official Washington functions.

Well, obviously, we can't have that. We can't level with the American people. We can't tell the truth, so we'll continue the Big Lie, the very lie we were denouncing only a few months ago as we sought election. We'll agree that Iraq is somehow part of this nebulous war on terror, or at least won't quibble with the terminology. We'll cover our ears and close our eyes, we'll change the subject, and though we may profess our religious beliefs, we will pray only that we will never he held accountable for our sins.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


One of the ultimate cinematic mindfucks, 1970's Performance, is out on DVD today, and there's no excuse for not owning it. Showcasing great performances by James Fox as a vicious gangster and Mick Jagger as a decadent rock star--or is it the other way around?--Performance means to mess with your head, your sensibilities and your libido, and succeeds admirably. If you want to dig a little, Donald Cammell's script is thick and deep, but if you just want to experience it as a crazy thrill ride, Nicolas Roeg's smashing cinematography and an amazing soundtrack featuring Randy Newman, Jack Nitzche and of course, Jagger (plus Ry Cooder and Lowell George as session players!) will certainly provide that.

Cammell and Roeg co-directed Performance, and the subsequent careers of both men would ultimately prove heartbreaking. Cammell, the godson of Aleister Crowley, was a fixture on the London social scene when he turned to screenwriting, and he turned to directing to protect the integrity of his scripts. Ironically, most of his subsequent output was taken out of his hands anyway, and though there are a handful of cultists who revere his work, ultimately it is only Performance of all his films that is entirely successful.

Roeg would have better luck. In the ten years after Performance, he directed a string of astonishing films--Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) and one of my all-time favorites, Bad Timing (1980). But Roeg, an Englishman by birth, had always depended on sometimes shadowy international funding for his films, and never cast his lot with Hollywood studios. As the eighties progressed, he kept busy, doing occasionally fine work (Insignificance in 1985, and the Jim Henson-produced The Witches in 1990), but mostly it was little seen. And some of the jobs he did find, like the TV miniseries Samson And Delilah (starring Liz Hurley!), were not exactly worthy of his talent.

Donald Cammell killed himself in 1996 (According to some accounts, the shotgun to his head didn't kill him immediately, so he fetched a mirror in order to watch himself die!), and Roeg continues to toil away on projects that no one ever sees. Performance is not a sentimental film in the least, but there's still an aura of sadness about it, a promise that could never quite be kept.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


1) Two additional thoughs about Pan's Labyrinth. In my post yesterday, I listed a number of filmmakers to whom it seemed director Guillermo Del Toro paid hommage. I want to make it clear, I don't think Del Toro was ripping these people off, or giving cute little shoutouts to his heroes. I don't even know if these were deliberate.

While it's true that Del Toro (who is from Mexico) uses the film's Spanish setting to pay tribute to a number of great Spanish artists--the lighting and much of the imagery recalls Goya, Del Toro has clearly read Garcia Marquez, and there is one blatant reference to Bunuel and Dali's Un Chien Andalou--other influences may be more oblique. The use of music and the painterly lighting schemes seemed to me to evoke the great Italian fantasist Mario Bava, and I have no doubt Del Toro is familiar with his work--but the connection is subconscious not deliberate. And the film's haunting final shot reminded me very much of the final shot of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke--but was this a connection Del Toro intended, or something that is entirely in my own mind?

The second thing is, Pan's Labyrinth is such an outstanding piece of work, it made me immediately look forward to whatever Del Toro would do next. And the good news is, he starts production on a new movie this spring. The bad news? It's Hellboy II. Sigh...

2) Pan's Labyrinth is, among other things, about the end of childhood. We experienced a bit of that in the real world yesterday--somebody stole Paul's Nintendo DS. He and his mom were meeting friends at a restaurant yesterday, sitting at the front waiting for them, Paul playing with his game. When the friends arrived, he set the game down on the chair beside him, and ran to the door to open it and greet them. The hostess proceeded to seat them, and they began to eat. Paul remembered he'd left his game on the chair up front, went to get it--and it was gone. Tabbatha asked the management if anyone had brought it to them, but no. It was taken.

You could argue that Paul shouldn't have brought it in to the restaurant with him, and certainly that he was neglectful in leaving it in the chair. But he's seven. He's going to do things like that.

As a seven year old, he knows bad things happen in the world. But he's never had anything stolen from him before, certainly not something as big and important to him as his Nintendo DS. "I wish the world didn't have people who do things like that," he told Tabbatha. Well, yes. A part of his life has been taken, and it can never be gotten back.

3) The Bushinistas are claiming Iran is responsible for much of the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Not directly, mind you--the claim is serial numbers on roadside bombs "suggest" the bombs have been smuggled in from Iran. No proof the Iranian government has anything to do with anything, but this is exactly the kind of shadow evidence used to get us into Iraq, and so far the Democratic leadership is unwilling to rule out action against Iran.

I wish the world didn't have people who do things like that, either.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


A bit late in the game, but I only just got around to seeing Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which is not only clearly the best film of 2006, but a movie which might well ultimately stand among the greats of all time. Nothing Del Toro has done previously--personal projects like Cronos or commercial claptrap like Blade II or Hellboy--could have prepared me for what he accomplishes here. This is the work of a filmmaker in astonishing control of his medium, using it to illuminate the depths of the human soul.

Set in Spain in 1944, it is the story of a young girl, Ofelia, brought to live by her widowed mother with her new stepfather, a sadistic captain in Franco's army, and the parallel fantasy life she leads as the horrors of the real world fester all around her. Pan's Labyrinth is many, many things. It is, above all, one of the finest fantasy films ever made. But it is also a serious, probing meditation on the nature of facism, and as an exploration of the adult world from a child's perspective, it ranks with such films as Curse Of the Cat People, Heavenly Creatures, and even The Night Of the Hunter--a movie I hold in such high regard, I wouldn't make comparisons to it lightly. But Del Toro honestly earns the comparison.

He also explicitly references the works of many other filmmakers--from Luis Bunuel and Jean Cocteau to Mario Bava and Terence Fisher. But he's evoking, not imitating, and honestly, based on his accomplishment here, Del Toro may be the equal of any of them. Every cut, every camera move is carefully considered, the use of CGI is the best I've ever seen, and Javier Narravete's score is achingly beautiful. But perhaps the strongest aspect of all is Del Toro's original script, rich in character, with dialogue that bounces off itself to shattering effect, as when Ofelia's mother, at the beginning of the film, instructs her to call the captain "Father" ("It's just a word") to the end, when the captain is told his own son will never know his name.

And, as with any movie that has a profound emotional effect, there's a personal connection. One of the movies Pan's Labyrinth recalled (intentionally, I suspect) is Jim Henson's Labyrinth, with Jennifer Connelly as a young girl braving a fantasy world that may or may not exist only in her imagination in order to save her baby brother's life. This was a favorite of my mother's, and as Pan's Labyrinth reached its tragic (or was it transcendental?) conclusion, I suddenly had a vision of Mom watching it, and reacting to that scene by releasing torrents of tears, and me having to walk her up the aisle afterwards. As the credits rolled I realized I was in a whole other world emotionally, unsure if it was the movie or this unexpected reaction, and realizing that it made no difference anyway.

Friday, February 09, 2007


I guess this fits into the David Faustino-gets-a-divorce category: Why should I care that Anna Nicole Smith has died?

I mean, I derive no joy from her death, and I wish all who are saddened by this news well, but how does this effect me, or anyone? Why was she famous? For having big tits? For being scarily blonde? For her weight problems, or marrying that old guy? Have the standards for celebrityhood fallen so low?

But it's the top story on all the morning shows, and it's all over the web, and Matt Lauer actually referred to her "untimely death," like she was working on a cure for cancer or something.

So it must just be me...

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Unhappy Anniversary, it's ten tears since we met
There is no need to remind me, no way I could forget
We fell in love and then fell out
Both times there was no net
Unhappy Anniversary, it's ten years since we met...

The lyrics are by Loudon Wainwright III, and they describe so accurately the regret and sorrow that lingers for so long when a relationship ends. I'm posting them because it is, in fact, ten years since we met--ten years ago today that I met Sue Ellen, my ex wife.

I can't improve upon Wainwright's lyrics, so I won't try. I'll only fill in some details, and add a few asides.

Unhappy anniversary, I cannot count the days
And nights I have thought of you since we went separate ways
My mind says to forget you
But my heart disobeys
Unhappy anniversary, I cannot count the days...

Was it cold that day, as the overcast sky darkened to night? It must not have been, since we marked time by wandering endlessly through the ped mall, making small talk that gradually deepened. She offered her hand and I flinched, surprised by the gesture. I took it, finally, and didn't want to let go. Ever.

Time passed, the relationship evolved. Quickly. Soon we were living together, soon we were married. Problems appeared and were dealt with, or ignored, in the hopes they would go away. Instead, they lay dormant, waiting for the worst possible time to reassert themselves.

We both had issues. This was all new to me, I'd never been in love, and I wanted the highs to never end, and every fight, every conflict, felt like it could be the last, like my whole world would end literally over spilled milk. I was confused a lot, and the confusion led to anger, crazy, uncontrollable anger. She was bipolar, only she hadn't been diagnosed yet, and wouldn't be until after we'd split. She acknowledged she had problems, but never wanted to admit they ran as deeply as they did. She said I was trying to convince her she was crazy, and i knew with all my heart I only wanted her to feel better. Even in that, though, I was selfish--I wanted her to be better, so I could feel better.

Most days were good, but the bad ones tended to skew the curve. If you asked Sue Ellen, she'd probably tell you I was unhappy more often than I actually was. But I was anxious a lot, and so was she. Our anxieties only occasionally had to do with each other, but our emotions were so on the surface, so operatic, that we only fed each other, pulled the other into our own private drama, writ large and without subtleties. When we'd fight, it was suddenly an Edward Albee play. And when we were happy, it was like a Gen X sitcom, all random pop culture references and snappy one-liners.

Something happened. I never quite knew what. She accepted a job offer in DC, moving us halfway across the country without even asking me first. But I followed her like an eager puppy, and adjusted to my new life. Her mind was somewhere else, and perhaps her heart as well. The marriage was over, I just didn't realize it yet. I spent more time hanging out with the cat than I did with her. Scotchie was a great cat, so I didn't mind. Much.

Then, it ended for real. I wound up back in the midwest, she stayed in DC. It took me forever to file for divorce, perhaps in the hope that as long as we were still technically married, there was some hope for reconciliation. Or maybe it simply meant, as the string of girls I dated suggested, I needed a distancing device, something to keep me from getting too close to anyone else, no subsequent relationship could move forward until I divorced...and none of those relationships ever did move forward.

Sue Ellen and I spent five years together, and it's been five years apart. Later this year, we'll have been split longer than we were together. She and I have both moved on. She's getting married this May, I'm apartment hunting with Tabbatha.

Tabbatha, of course, represents a whole new stage of my life. She's got a kid, and that's new to me, and it's a big adjustment I'll have to make. Ten years ago, I couldn't have done that. Now, I believe I can. There's no point in saying my relationship with Tabbatha is deeper or better than my relationship with Sue Ellen. It's just different--everything about it.

But I wouldn't be here, be ready to handle this new chapter, without the life I had before. All the times, and there were many, when I told Sue Ellen I would love her forever, I wasn't lying. Love simply evolved, is all, from romance to friendship. Long distance friendship.

And I'm in a better place now, a place where I no longer suffer the pain Loudon Wainwright described. Most days, at least, I don't.

Unhappy anniversary, it's one year since we split
I walk and talk and get around, lie down, stand up and sit
I eat and drink and smoke and sing
And live a little bit
Unhappy anniversary, it's one year since we split

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Actor David Faustino, 32, is filing for divorce.

Since, if you're anything like me, you're thinking, "Who the hell is David Faustino?", let me put it this way: The guy who played Bud Bundy on Married With Children is filing for divorce.

Yeah, I don't care, either. And yet there was the wire story, at the website for The New York Times, for crying out loud, like I'm supposed to care, like this is, on some level, news.

Sure, we're all supposed to worship at the altar of Celebrity. Britney neglects to wear panties, BOOM, the photos are available everywhere. Paris Hilton's vagina services its one billionth customer, the papparazzi soil themselves. Lindsay Lohan...well, you know.

And no, I don't know why anywone, anywhere, would care about the likes of Britney or Paris. But they're the celebrities we've got, the mindless diversions of the moment, and I accept that.

But we're talking about Bud Fucking Bundy here. Despite being on a long-running sitcom, this guy barely had a moment in the sun in the first place. This guy's level of celebrity makes Screech look iconic. Hell, he makes Ed O'Neill look famous. And he's getting a divorce? Hey, tough luck. I got a divorce, too! Where's the wire story about me?

On the other hand, Bud Bundy is thirty-two? Man, I feel old...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Clint Eastwood's magnificent Flags Of Our Fathers is out on DVD today, as well as a movie that provides an ideal companion, Vincente Minnelli's The Clock.

Flags, of course, tells the tale of three guys who happened to be in a certain place at a certain time, who, by raising a flag, somehow became acclaimed as heroes. For all three, the pressure of trying to live up to what the public expected of them caused nothing but pain.

Eastwood neatly delineates the full breadth of their lives, the camarederie with their fellow troops before they ship out to Iwo Jima, the mounting dread as they approach the island, the pure, unbelievable horror of combat, and the slow descent of their lives afterwards.

Flags is a contemporary film trying to recreate the attitudes and mores of a specific time. The Clock is a product of that time, a bittersweet love story about a GI on forty-eight hour leave in Manhattan, who meets a young woman in Penn Station, and their whirlwind romance is a sort of dance of the damned, two people who must cram a lifetime into their brief time together, because who knows what will happen when he ships out?

There's much wrong with The Clock--lots of cornball comedy relief, and the backlot shemping for New York City doesn't always work, although Minnelli's magnificent staging of sequences in the colossal Penn Station set shows his flawless rhythmic and visual sense--but knowing that it was made in 1944 (though released in '45), at the height of a war with an outcome that was very much in doubt, lends it an overwhelming poignance. The heartfelt performances of Robert Walker and Judy Garland help, too. When it's finally time for Walker to ship out, and Garland says with absolute certainty, "You're coming back," you're going to cry, guaranteed. And Minnelli's magnificent final shot, watching Walker and Garland's private goodbyes enacted by dozens of other couples as the camera pulls back to the rafters reminds us--all of these soldiers and all of their lovers promised each other they'd stay together forever, and very few of them would.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


After last weekend, when I barely left my bed, I had hoped to catch up with some of the movies that are finally getting a wide release. like Pan's Labyrinth and The Last King Of Scotland. Instead, I saw Eragon.

Well, it was my fault. This was the weekend Tabbatha was going to have her "girl's night out," the night I agreed to babysit Paul. But then Tabbatha's night out fell through, and I had to work Saturday, and was still recovering from the flu and incredibly tired. No problem, I figured. I'm off the hook.

But I'd told Paul we were going out, and he intended to hold me to it. I figured all along we'd go out to eat--his choice of restaurant--maybe hang out at an arcade playing Star Wars-based games, then rent a movie. But I wasn't hungry, didn't feel like hanging out at an arcade, and never got around to renting Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I did, however, notice Eragon was playing at the local second-run theater, and it's only five bucks a person, which includes popcorn and a drink. What's to lose?

Nothing, as it turns out--I had a great time. True, Eragon is a pretty silly movie, and its wholesale borrowings from Star Wars and The Lord Of the Rings couldn't be more obvious (certainly not to Paul, who was constantly saying things like "He's going to turn out to be a fake Obi-Wan" and "He has to go rescue a princess? Is she named Leia?"), and watching actors like Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle and especially John Malkovich (looked like his scenes were shot in one fifteen-minute block) try to maintain some sense of dignity while competing with CGI critters and silly dialogue provided some amusement.

But it did seem to realize it was basically aimed at kids, and didn't weigh itself down with hipster irony or painfully prolonged plot complications. It zipped along, had a pretty cool looking dragon and did its job with admirable efficiency. More importantly, Paul loved it, and watching his obvious delight ("Is the dragon okay? They won't kill the dragon, will they?") I couldn't help but remember my enthusiasm as a kid every time I saw a movie in a theater, and how important it was to talk about it and act it out afterward. And sure enough, Paul wanted to talk--"Are they going to make another one? Because the King has an evil dragon, and they didn't do anything about it. They'd better make another one..." And I was happy to listen.

As a lifelong moviegoer, you'd think I'd already know things like this, but apparently I didn't: Sometimes, it really isn't about the movie. Sometimes, it's about the experience.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Maybe we should just admit we're a race of fatalists. A final kiss, a shrug, a sigh to indicate it was fun while it lasted, then a leap into the great void. Let's just say goodbye right now.

The UN-funded Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--catchy name--issued a report yesterday basically saying that we're frying the planet and we really, really ought to think about stopping. The panels is made up of top scientists from around the world, telling us stuff we all know.

Because, really, aside from a few far-right lunatics, who among us doesn't know we're trashing the planet? We've known this forever. Bad science fiction movies set in an enviromentally ruined future have been around since some producer realized if you shot in Bronson Canyon and said it was once a lush forest, you had production values. MAD magazine used to feature gags about kids going to school wearing gas masks. Silent Spring, people--it's been around since I was a kid, and I'm in my forties.

And the reality of what we're doing to the environment, and what it is doing to us in return, keeps getting worse. And we keep right on doing it. Problem ackowledged, but we've got a lifestyle to maintain. To ask us to change it is just a crazy notion.

So screw it. Let's just admit that we're really bad stewards, that our time here is brief, that the planet's gonna die and there's nothing we can do about it. Let's use all the gas we can while doing the most trivial things. Let's take the Hummer to pick up a pizza. Let's have some good times, so that when the end comes--much sooner than originally though, but hey--we'll at least have some good times to look back and laugh about, or would laugh about if our toneless bodies, too slow to adapt to the new environment, allowed our faces to be anything more than a frozen mask of uncomprehending fear.

Let's party like we just dont care!

Friday, February 02, 2007


If you have any interest in going out to see a new movie this weekend, may the Good Lord somehow bless and keep you. Outside of the biggest cities, you have two choices: Because I Said So, a movie that actually deserves the derogatory term "chick flick" or The Messengers, which sounds like a Mormon tract but is actually a supernatural thriller not screened in advance for critics, which is becoming a genre unto itself.

Both of these movies are depressing wastes of talent. Because I Said So features Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore and--forgive while I drool as I type her name--Lauren Graham, and was directed by Michael Lehmann, who in 1989 directed Heathers, and has done absolutely nothing of interest ever since. The Messengers, even more dire, is the latest Hollywood product to be nominally directed by Asian horror specialists, in this case Danny and Oxide Pang, but in fact is the product of so many executive decisions and focus grouped meddlings that the final product is utterly devoid of even the slightest hint of anything discomforting, much less terrifying.

These are movies as time killers, which exist only because there was once a human instinct to go to movies, regardless of what may be playing. But does that instinct even exist anymore? There are so many more options out there; why on earth would anybody pay money to see this sort of thing? The Hollywood machine has been broken for quite some time, but they don't seem to realize it yet. So they'll continue to churn out product to diminishing returns, and wonder why audiences don't show up, and everybody else will be doing something more interesting, at someplace nicer than a multiplex.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I feel the need to say something about Molly Ivins, one of the best known and most effective liberal newspaper columnists we've ever had, who finally lost her battle with cancer at 62.

I almost used the term "leftist" instead of "liberal," because I tend to think of liberals as wishy-washy, like most Democrats. And Ivins was, God knows, more commited than that, but I can't quite equate her with the likes of Noam Chomsky. She was a liberal, but her belief in the essential decency of people was perhaps her defining trait.

Her writing style tended to be a little too down home jus' folks for my taste, but that's okay; it appealed to the people it needed to reach. Her voice was friendly (if sardonic), and it sought to remind all who would read it that they were important, their opinions were important, and the terrible injustices in the world, they all mattered, and maybe together, we could make it better.

And unusual for a syndicated columnist, she remained a reporter at heart. She didn't work backwards to make the facts support a preexisting opinion (like, say, Davids Broder or Brooks), she made sure she knew what she was talking about, and could cite chapter and verse, to devastating effect. Her books Shrub and Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, are probably the best starting places for anyone wanting to learn how Our Beloved President somehow came to power.

And though breast cancer had become a recurring, unwelcome presence in her life, she never let that get in the way of fighting the good fight. I'll close with this excerpt from her final column, eloquent words and a wonderful final raspberry blown at the powers that be:

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to stop this war...We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"


The doctor released me to go back to work today, so even though I still feel horrible, I'm obligated to go back to work. This despite a wracking cough from somewhere deep in my chest, sinus drainage that is resulting in runny bowel movements, and after staying in bed for five days straight, my body has very little strength. My job is very physical, and, not being the brightest or most compasionate guy, I doubt that my boss will take any of this into consideration when he hands me my assignment today. This will be, um, fun.

I don't usually get sick like this. A day, maybe two, that's it. From Friday night until now, with no clear end in sight. If I didn't need the money, I'd stay home today, too.

Somewhere during the night, in a literal fever dream, I tried to remember the lst time I'd been this low this long. And I remembered the Christmas season of '77.

December 17th was my brother John's birthday. As part of the festivities, he, my sister Ann and I all headed down to Des Moines to see Close Encounters Of The Third Kind,which had just opened that weekend. It was a wet, foggy day, not Christmas-like at all, not even all that cold, though the temperature started to drop as the day turned to night. I loved the movie, but I had zero energy afterwards, when John and Ann did some Christmas shopping. We ate at Wendy's, the first time I'd ever eaten there, and the food was absolutely dreadful. I could barely chew it. More accurately, I could barely move my mouth to chew it.

Leaving Des Moines, there was still some shopping to do, so we stopped at a department store in Perry on the way home. John and Ann went in; I stayed in the car, listening to top forty radio while I watched streetlights in the fog, Slip-Slidin' Away followed by Boogie Nights followed by Come Sail Away, and mercifully, they appeared, and we went home.

My brother's birthday was the day we officially put up the Christmas tree, always a favorite ritual, but I skipped it and went to my room, where I fell asleep early.

My first perception the next morning was that somewhere Abba was playing, and that my stomach felt like it was going to swallow itself. I ran downstairs to the bathroom and puked my guts out.

And that was it, I was out of school the next few days, the last week before Christmas break. I was in bed the whole time, too miserable to even read, listening to top forty radio. (I was twelve; I didn't know other options existed.) Heaven's just A Sin Away, Desiree, Turn To Stone, How Deep Is Your Love--an endless loop, the same things over and over, the only point of reality I had as I drifted in and out of consciousness, my only comfort as I floated so far out of my body I wondered vaguely if I'd ever return.