Saturday, December 31, 2011


My brother and sister had vague plans.  They had sodas and snacks, and they planned to stay up until midnight.  Why, I asked Mom, were they doing this?

"They want to celebrate the new year."


"Because that's what people do."

I was six, my brother and sister thirteen and eleven--enough older than me that I figured this must be some vaguely grown-up thing.  I never stayed up until midnight, but I saw the footage on TV every year of people who did, people crowded together in cold weather, wearing fancy clothes and silly hats, raising glasses in honor of...something.

To me, the new year only represented the end of Christmas vacation.  In a couple days I'd be back in school, my brief, glorious period of freedom ended.  It wasn't a new beginning, it was an ending.  The good times were winding down.

Guess I've always been that way.  I've never put much stock into the promise of a bright and shiny new year.  Arbitrary markings of time aside, it's just another day.  Sure, as I got older, my brother and I took to ironically watching New Year's Rockin' Eve, an act of condescension that eventually became a full-blown ritual, so maybe the joke was on us all along.

Also, of course, I got married on New Year's Eve, and we joked that we picked that date so we could remember our anniversary, but five years later, we'd have no more anniversaries to mark.  And for some time after that, I'd try to pretend the evening had no significance, just another night, not a reminder of failure and regret.

But hey, don't let my sourness ruin your mood.  I'm doing okay as this year draws to a close.  I have to work, so no midnight celebrations here, but let's face it, I probably wouldn't stay up anyway.  Still, let me offer wishes to anyone who happens to read this:

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Ordinarily I wouldn't go see a family-friendly crowd-pleaser like We Bought A Zoo, but hey, it was Christmas, Janie and I wanted to go out and, frankly, if you're looking for a relaxing good time at the movies, there aren't many choices.

And really, it's not bad at all.  You can sense writer-director Cameron Crowe trying to put a more personal spin on the original script, by Aline Brosh McKenna, author of such by-the-numbers claptrap as Morning Glory and (ugh) 27 Dresses.  There are formulaic elements, but Crowe does his best to ignore them, aided immeasurably by Matt Damon's fine performance as a grieving widower trying to do right by his kids while still trying to sort out his own emotions.

So things happen--you might be surprised to learn that Damon buys a zoo--and the whole thing glides along nicely thanks to likeable actors and Rodrigo Prieto's shimmering cinematography.  There is, however, one serious flaw that makes the whole movie unwatchable, in my opinion.

The family owns a beagle.  There's an early, pre-zoo-buying scene in which Damon's adorable daughter is fixing a sandwich at the kitchen table while the dog just sleeps pleasantly in the other room.  I'm not saying that's impossible, but in my experience, any self-respecting beagle is going to be right there at the kid's feet, just in case any food drops onto the floor.

But where the movie just turns into some sort of alternate-universe science fiction crap is when they get to the zoo.  And the dog, again, just kind of sits on the porch, or otherwise completely ignores his surroundings.

I'm sorry, but this just isn't possible.  This is a scenting dog!  In a zoo!  He's going to be going nuts, chasing down all the assorted animal smells.  For crying out loud, there are foxes at this zoo, and he's a hunting dog.  That's a plot point just waiting to happen, and the movie inexplicably ignores it in favor of a wandering bear, a dying tiger and some manufactured fake suspense over whether or not the zoo can be brought up to code.

I realize the vast majority of people could care less about this sort of thing--when I ranted about this to my brother, he said, "I didn't realize beagle owners were even more self-righteous than Mac users"--but I think it should be a good rule of thumb for all filmmakers: If you're going to bring a beagle onscreen, you'd better find something for it to do.

Or at least give it a few more close-ups.

Monday, December 26, 2011


I take Isabella out for her morning walk, my mind racing through the list of things I have to do before I even go to work: Finish the laundry, wash dishes, plan the week's breakfasts and lunches.  Then there are things for later, like deciding which bills to pay first.

It's the day after Christmas, and life goes on.

Whether we mean to or not, we all invest too much in this particular holiday.  We carry some ideal of what it should be, or memories of a perfect past that can never be recaptured, and on some level, there is always disappointment.  But that feeling of melancholy--is that the right word?--never fully kicks in until the day after.

That's when we shuffle back to work, or return the disappointing gifts, or otherwise realize that our dreams once again didn't quite come true.  Nice things happen, good things, yes, but that elusive magic we recall from childhood just never quite reappears.  And it will be a whole year before we can reach for it again.

Ah, but we become more aware of our own mortality with each passing year, and more aware, too, that the perfection we seek will never happen.  Things are put in better perspective, a hard-won wisdom that tells us that our dreams and disappointments are both equally fleeting.  Things don't mean what they once did because they simply can't, there's no time to dwell on what might have been or what once was.  Life goes on regardless.

Isabella picks up a scent and pulls on the leash.  For her, there is only here and now.  That should be enough for anyone.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Back in the day--as recently as the mid-seventies--this thing used to pop up on local stations whenever their programming would run a couple minutes short.  And...well, yeah, okay, even as a kid I was prone to depression.  But honestly, is there any mood to be conjured by this other than overwhelming despair?

Is it the unaccompanied voices of the Norman Luboff Choir, apparently recorded in a public restroom?  Is it the cheap design and animation, which tries to conjure visions of an enchanted wonderland while suggesting nothing so much as a Christmas pageant performed by the residents of an underfunded mental hospital?

Or is it the song itself?  Specifically, Suzy's reminder that she hasn't long to stay?  "I'll be your best friend," she says, "but don't get too accustomed to me, don't let messy emotions get involved, don't love me, dear God, no, because soon I'll be gone, like a dream before the breaking dawn."

Why was this even produced?  Surely it was conceived with one purpose in mind: to introduce kids to the concept of mortality, as a plodding reminder that our time is brief, that all the wonders of creation are ultimately impermanent.

That's what they were going for, right?

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Sure, this is depressing on so many levels.

Made in 1964, this thing was still being played in theaters at least until the late seventies, these ads playing during every commercial break on local afternoon kids' shows. (I remember my brother and I trying to work the word "funtastic" into everyday conversation.) And even when I was a kid, I thought this thing looked like crap, and some part of me resented how the huckster creators of this thing used the goodwill of the holiday season as an excuse to peddle their shoddy goods, to take money from audiences while giving them absolutely nothing in return.

That was then, this is now.

And though this, too, seeks to exploit the good feelings of this time of year for a quick buck, it maybe seems at first to be a little less vile in intent. The audience being fleeced by this movie is at least made up of adults.

Except...the economy is still in the toilet. The vast majority of the country must think twice before spending their money. Sure, it's fun to go out to the movies, but if you're going to pony up the dough for not only the price of tickets, but also snacks, dinner before or after, parking, a baby sitter...well, you're talking a substantial investment. Which is fine, if the movie's any good. But come on...there's no way anybody involved in this thing thought they were making a good movie. They simply wanted to separate you from your money, money that could have been spent buying presents for loved ones or giving to charity. This movie is the work of millionaires who feel they aren't rich enough.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Haven't been around here much.  Life goes on, and sometimes gets in the way.  I gave some thought to posting a recollection of a particularly vivid dream I had the other night--it involved a right-wing cabal reanimating Bill Cullen's corpse to spearhead an incredibly misconceived bid for world dominance--but whenever I'd sit down to actually write, some distraction would raise its head.  (Those Wikipedia entries on Patrick Hernandez and Jeff Altman won't read themselves, y'know.)

So, um, yeah...I've got nothing.  Thus, lacking any real entertainment here, let me present an ad for what has to be the worst imaginable Christmas present.  Enjoy, I guess.

Friday, December 02, 2011


Mom's here, so I know it's a dream.  Still, I follow her as we go wherever it is we're going.  She moves quickly and without a walker through masses of people standing around or sitting at cheap tables--Is this Ryan's Steakhouse?--until we find a place in a corner.  "Finally," she says, sitting down.  "We have a few minutes to talk."

My eyes snap open.  Again.

I don't believe in messages from the other side or crap like that, but it's become a disturbing pattern that Mom will appear to me in dreams, announcing she has something to tell me, and I wake up before she gets a chance to talk.  It's the same every damn time, and the return to the waking world always comes with a tightness in my chest, a sense of loss so overpowering it seems nothing could heal it.

Right on cue, Staley appears. 

When she first came into my life, Staley seemed odd and a bit reserved, the exact opposite of a pet me-pet me cat.  She'd hide a lot, only occasionally appearing in corners of rooms, then venturing up onto the foot of the bed, or maybe sitting in chairs for a few minutes, only to disappear to whatever secret hiding place she'd chosen.

Lately, though, she seems to sense my moods, and is always there when I need her.  As I wake from this dream with a sense of emptiness, she burrows in close to my chest, purring loudly.  "You're not alone," she seems to be saying.  "I'm always here."  She stretches a front leg, the white toes on her otherwise gray paw gently stroke my open hand.

Most nights, I go to bed before Janie does, and Staley bounces in with me.  She's always wherever I go.  Cats aren't allowed up on my desk, but Staley is.  She follows me to the door when I leave for work, and Janie says she frequently yowls for a few minutes after I leave.

The tightness in my chest is gone.  I'm relaxed and feel myself drifting back to sleep, comforted to know that I have a fuzzy gray protector, that Staley's soul is here to give comfort to mine.