Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Do I Always Miss Out On The Good Stuff?

Lisa got her renewed passport in the mail just in time for our trip to the Bahamas, and it's chock full of awesome! Yet it reminds me all over again of how I always seem to miss out on the goodies in life. When I graduated high school, they installed brand new computers in the lab the very next semester. After finishing college, the undergrad campus got a major overhaul including brand spanking new library, new state-of-the-art science center, new Olympic-sized pool, and new student entertainment center.


About three years ago my passport expired, and I was assured I would be getting one of the new ones that had just been released by the State Dept. at the time to make it more difficult for terrorists and so forth. But when it came in the mail -- sorry sucker, same old design! No embedded computer ID chip. No swanky new colorful interior design with hyper-cool hologram technology. Nada! I had just missed the transition point by THIS much! Litterally, by a month.

But this one Lisa just received has all the bells and whistles and then some! There's even a patriotic miniature painting on the first page, depicting Francis Scott Key observing the flag flying over Fort McHenry. Makes my passport look downright plain and dowdy. I mean, DAMN! I'm going to have to wait until 2016 before I'm allowed in on this goodness. That's a helluva long time to have to walk around with a boring old pedestrian passport, while all the cool kids get the prettified new ones and wave them in my face. Hmph! The only consolation is that--MAYBE--they'll have an even better design by the time I renew for the third time. One can only hope!

Anyway, snarkiness and frustrations aside, Lisa's been confirmed as a citizen for another 10 years. Yay! She became one way back in 1998, and had to hand in her old Jamaican passport at the time. This was her first time renewing the U.S. passport, so she was a bit nervous.

But now that all that is settled, the only thing keeping us from a week of sun-filled fun and general beach-centered laziness is the calendar itself!

Can't wait, can't wait . . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Tip If You Find Yourself In An Action Movie . . .

. . . Don't hold hands with your love interest whilst trying to dodge giant robots! Or huge explosions. Or supercharged micro-ballistics. Or all of the above. Just, don't. For one, you'll run a lot faster. And maybe you'll look slightly more believable while doing it. Slightly.

We saw Transformers 2 last night, if you can't tell. While it wasn't the train wreck that the first movie was, and not nearly as bad as I had anticipated, it was still a hot mess of huge plot holes, dinky editing, and poorly chosen comic relief.

I'd say the most egregious problem I have with this entire franchise is the anthropomorphizing of the giant alien robots. Why, dear god, WHY? Do we really need to see a f'n set of dangling BALLS on the humongous pyramid-wrecking robot? Tell me, Michael Bay, what conceivable plausibility does that have in the grand scheme of things? Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst of it (oh wait, yes it was!). But giant robots sporting metallic walking sticks, giant robots affecting Cockney accents, giant robots crying liquid tears, giant robots shucking 'n' jiving . . . yeah, you get the point. Bleh!

Anyway, that being said, I was actually surprised that the movie wasn't worse than it should have been. I mean, to be honest, my attention really was focused the entire time! At 2:30 hours, I can say that it felt more like 1:45 due to the general breezy pace of the plot (holes and all). Unlike the first movie, which stunk in terms of narrative flow and suffered from a poor premise to boot. The MacGuffin this time around--and trust me, there's ALWAYS a MacGuffin in these types of movies--is no less plausible than the first, but is at least a lot more interesting. That's saying something.

Since this is a Michael Bay film, the action and 'splosions are really ratcheted up to somewhere around 17 (out of 10). But you know this going in so, as long as you prepare for it, things should be fine. The acting was poor, but no one goes to summer blockbusters for the acting. Or do they? Again, this you should already know before heading in.

Everything considered, however, it was in fact an entertaining movie. It goes without saying you must check your brain at the door first, but at least I can say that you'll have some very good popcorn FUN out of this flick. While I don't own the DVD of the first movie, I'd actually buy the one for the sequel when it comes out. And, who knows, maybe I'll purchase the first just to make it a complete set.

Oh, and Megan Fox was simply DIVINE! Holy Shadow Moses Island -- she was so damn FOINE!!! Not enough to raise my rating . . . but, er, she certainly raised other things (hint: blood pressure, get your mind out of the gutter!)

I don't usually get hot and bothered by celebrities, but I feel no shame in admitting this one lapse. I sure hope she evolves to other better and meatier roles in the near future. People bag on her acting, but actually I can see that she's going to be very good. It's not her fault that her director and scriptwriters are the lowest base denominator of cinema artists out there. With the right material and a few more years' maturity, I think she'll be a very successful actress if she wants to be. And not just based on her looks.

I saw things. Yeah, not just *those* . . . but things. You know. :)

If you somehow managed to like the first Transformers movie, you'll love the hell out of Revenge of the Fallen. If, like me, you despised the first one, then *maybe* you'll enjoy this one. I somewhat did, and I was a very tough customer going in. You'll just have to decide for yourself.

Rating: 6/10

The King Is Gone, Long Live The King!

I wasn't going to do one of these, because I think there are enough blogger tributes out there that mine won't be adding anything that hasn't already been said. But you know what? Screw it! I'm an 80s kid, and Michael was a huge, inseparable part of that era. If I had money, I would have a dedicated 80s room in my mansion -- complete with neon glow, Ms. Pac-man and Donkey Kong arcade cabinets, a pizza parlor . . . and MJ's Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad albums playing non-stop rotation through artfully set up boomboxes in Dolby Surround! I mean, YEAH!!!!

A lot of people consider Bad to be the better album, but not me. I remember listening to the title track off the Thriller album when I was just 6 years old, at a friend's birthday party that was more for the adults than the kids. The album had just released and, although I was so young, I remember being able to follow the lyrics and subsequently scaring the beejeebus out of myself! And to a 6 year old boy, that's just RAD, man!!!

There's not one song off the Thriller album I don't love. And while the same is almost true of both Off The Wall and Bad, to me Thriller most perfectly captures the pulse of the 80s -- a time period that has grown to almost mythic-quality in my nostalgia.

This is a sad, sad day for me. I feel sick to my stomach. RIP, Michael! You truly were an icon of your time.

I'll be listening to my specially designed MJ playlist all day today at work. If I can make it through without choking up, that is.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Faith Of The Heart

***WARNING -- This will be long!***

Yesterday I posted what some would consider a very loaded line of questioning regarding certain religious views. And while I seriously need to stress the rhetorical nature of that topic (I truly was playing Devil's Advocate for the sake of conversation, and in reaction to something I'd overheard) -- I thought maybe now might be a good time to express my own religious views (or lack thereof).

To be clear, this will not be an open attack on anyone's religion. I will shut down the comments section if anyone is disrespectful or using profanity. That being said, I'll not only accept but welcome differing views or challenges to anything I might say here. Open dialogue being, you know, the hallmark of enlightened society and all that.

That being said, where do I begin? How about, hey, at the beginning!

I grew up in a lax religious environment, in that my mother truly did not care whether we went to church or not. This was mostly due to her own hectic schedule trying to raise two boys on her own while making ends meet in the midst of crippling personal traumas. In such an environment, ironically, church came last. For most people, this is when they turn to religion the most, I know. But not for my mother. She had enough worrying about getting food on the table.

Still, eventually it dawned on her that perhaps her children's souls might be worth saving, so even though she could not drag herself out of bed on most Sunday mornings, she did provide for the local Sisters from St. Rita's to come by and, along with all the other neighborhood children, gather my brother and I up and march us to Mass (much to our chagrin).

In such a manner I became schooled in the dogma of the Catholic church. Since I was an avid reader, I devoured all the literature and sermons thrown my way. Because I was raised to trust adults almost unconditionally, I believed everything I heard/read in both Mass and Sunday school (which was actually held on Saturdays for us kids). I read the children's book of Bible stories, then eventually graduated to reading the actual Holy Bible. I was baptized at the age of 7, along with my brother, god-brother, and my newly born baby sister. I went through Communion and learned the Stations of the Cross. I even thought I might one day become a priest!

But even at this time I started to question certain aspects of the faith. For one, I could not reconcile with the fact that the Catholic church was clearly in the business of idol worship, though the 10 Commandments and certain other passages in Exodus expressly forbade this. Yet, all around me were statues of Jesus and Mary and various Saints being prayed to, and rosaries being rubbed like good luck charms. But even more troubling to me was seeing the same people I went to Mass with committing blatant sins of flesh, pride, and false witness during the rest of the week. The same people coming in and singing pious blessings as loud as they could on Sunday. It began to dawn on me that the Church was a great harboring ground of hypocrites.

And then my mother was murdered by my sister's father, and everything changed.

I didn't blame God for what happened, no. I was never so dense as to believe a higher power would be directly involved in such a thing. i knew exactly who did this, and the blame rests solely on him. But it did plant the seeds for a theory I would later cultivate called the "uncaring God" theory, in which I firmly believed that God existed, but was not as involved with humanity (at least, not on an individual level) as most people deluded themselves into thinking.

But I'm jumping ahead.

After my mother died, we moved in with her mother, our grandmother, whom we all loved very much. My grandmother, like my mother, is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Or, at least, she used to be. By the time we started to live under her roof, she had removed herself from any denomination--Anglican church or otherwise--and considered herself simply "Christian." She respected all the subdivided faiths under this encompassing banner, but did not trust too keenly the human-devised doctrines of these established churches. Although very devoutly Christian, she did not realize that this would only fuel my own departure from my relationship with Christ later on.

Although I did not blame God for my mother's death, I did eventually grow to resent the hypocrisies of the Catholic church and those who worshipped under its gilded ceilings. My grandmother insisted that we still attend our church, although she did not set foot inside. My brother and I still went to Mass and Sunday School, and still attended the church-sponsored summer youth camp each year. But eventually this all stopped. As we came into our pre-teen years, my brother and I eventually stopped going. And my grandmother no longer insisted that we keep it up. By now, my view of the Catholic church was a negative one, and even to this day I am strongly opposed to all that it represents.

Meanwhile, however, my grandmother taught us about God from home. We would have deep conversations long into the the late hours of the night on Christ, the Bible, and what it meant to be a good person in this time of great evil and suffering. Although I have since turned my back on certain aspects of religion, I still cherish these moments to this day. I know my grandmother certainly does.

Eventually, however, I took her distrust of organized religion to the extreme, as teenagers are wont to do. Instead of just shying away from the physical structure of Christianity, I decided to wage all out rebellion upon the faith as a whole. I became very angry, I stopped saying my morning and evening prayers, stopped reading the Bible, and became an all-around atheist asswipe. This is also when I came up with the "uncaring God" attitude -- that God is an absentee landlord, as Al Pacino so succinctly put it in the film "Devil's Advocate." In fact, I doubted He existed at all.

You see, atheism is fine if that's what you want to be. But there's a rational, informed way of going about it. And I was certainly not this. I was the typical teenager, full of know-it-all'ism and hubris. I thought I had it all figured out. Religion was for sheep; science held the keys to true enlightenment.

I would hold these views for a VERY long time. Certainly throughout high school and college, and most of my early twenties. However, as with most things in life, experience and maturity began to change my views yet again. I cannot point to any one specific influence, but perhaps my increased knowledge of the world and the many different cultures and religions that populated it informed this metamorphosis into a more accepting and inquisitive temperament.

Or maybe I just grew up!

This is not to say that I'm not left with some pretty radical notions on the matter. I'm listed as "agnostic" in my Facebook profile for a reason. Which is to say that I do believe there is a higher purpose to life, and that *maybe* there is a greater being out there who shapes and guide our souls. But, more importantly, it means that I'm still searching for (capital-K) "Knowledge". Of God, if there is one; what He might be; and what He specifically wants of us. That sort of thing.

Moreover, it has left me with a great deal of impatience regarding organized religions. By "organized" I mean the wholly man-made and humanly run money-making machines that are most denominations these days. Nor do I reserve this view solely for Western religions. Unlike some agnostics, I don't believe that Easterners got it right, either. I'm as much against Buddhism and Islam as I am Christianity. I'm of the belief that all of these faiths are idealistic and human-made, and are therefore fallible and most unreliable. I reject the Bible as just a collection of allegorical tales, the Koran as merely a beautiful tapestry of verse, and the Torah as simply a quaint moral guidebook of song. They have their place, and I would encourage my own children to study and respect these tomes completely. But not for purpose of spiritual enlightenment.

In other words, I believe it is only possible to know God through my own self-exploration. No book or high priest(ess) is qualified to to do this. Only me. In addition, I believe in living life as a good, honorable, morally centered individual. Not because God tells me so, or because I might burn in hellfire and damnation if I don't. But simply because it is reprehensible to live my life at the harm or expense of others' rights.

I will never tell another person that their beliefs are wrong. Such is not my concern. I can only be concerned with my own spirituality. The path to God is a personal one. Not even my wife or children may join unless they choose to believe in what I believe of their own volition. My wife is Catholic, for instance. Do I berate her and force her to abandon her beliefs? No. We each have our own path to take.

So there you go. A lengthy diatribe, sure. And if I've offended anyone, I didn't mean to. Just letting you know where I stand, and why despite my beliefs I'm completely open to any and all interpretations of spirituality being discussed here. Not that I ever want this blog to delve into such weighty matters on a consistent basis.

I didn't start this experiment to be one of *THOSE* type of bloggers (rolls eyes dramatically).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Random Thought Of The Day

If abortion is evil because God has a plan for every life, then wouldn't this way of thinking extend to artificial forms of reproduction as well? I mean, if the taking of an unborn life is against God, then shouldn't bringing life into this world unnaturally be just as much of an affront? Are not abortion and fertility clinics two sides of the same coin? Both seek to circumvent God by providing us with services to alter life in a manner deviated from the natural order of things.

I, of course, am playing Devil's Advocate here. Regardless of my true feelings on the subject, I just came to this line of questioning after hearing some religious conservative on the subway talk about the evils of abortion, and how she values life so much that she even went in for artificial insemination to have her little boy . . . because God wanted her to have children.

A bit heavy for morning commute conversation, no? But, hey, if you live and work in New York City, you've heard much worse.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Kewl Robert Charles Wilson Interview

In reading this month's issue of Locus magazine, I came across this too-cool and succinct quote by Robert Charles Wilson, a man who's work I've only recently had the pleasure of being introduced to:

". . .People have a set of default futures in their heads now, which is odd. Back in the '80s, a group of college students was asked, 'How do you see the world in 40 years?', and the answers were really pessimistic -- they tended toward nuclear wastelands patrolled by killer robots, that sort of thing. Then they were asked, 'Where do you see yourself in 40 years?' and the answers tended toward 'Well, I'll be ready for retirement.' So there's a cognitive disconnect, but I think it's because our culture is now pervaded with these default notions of the future derived from science fiction."

Isn't that fascinating? It shows how much science fiction really does invade the imaginations of even the most unsuspecting of people, sure. But even more interesting, it shows that when questions concerning the future turn from the abstract to the more personal, we shift behind a more practical, and maybe even more honest, lens.

What an insightful observation! And yet another example of why I love Locus mag's monthly interviews! One of the best subscriptions I've plunked down money for, I tell you.

My Totem Sci-Fi Writer

Took this quiz today to discover who my inner sci-fi writer is. See the result:

I am:
James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon)
In the 1970s she was perhaps the most memorable, and one of the most popular, short story writers. Her real life was as fantastic as her fiction.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Funny. I know the quiz skewed my answers towards this results based only on the one or two introspective choices I picked. But whatever, I'm honored! I've read a few James Tiptree, Jr. stories back when, like everyone else, I thought she was a man. Once the real identity of this amazingly gifted person came to light (can't believe she was once a SPOOK!), it was of course too late. Why do the best and most gifted have to leave us so soon?

I've been meaning to get around to reading the award-winning personal portrait written by Julie Phillips of the late great Alice B. Sheldon. It got the SF community in a buzz a couple of years back, I recall. Maybe I should take this as a sign to get cracking on that, and add it to my reading list.

Why don't you take the quiz and see which sci-fi writer you have slumming around in the dusty attic of your psyche?

Thanks go to my friend, Ashe, over at the Dragunz Den for making me aware of this.

3 Mini Movie Reviews

Through some rare time fluctuation where both our schedules sync'd for once (i.e., Lisa had the weekend off from the hospital), we were able to catch 3 flicks on Friday and Sunday. Ironically, none of these movies were films we were hoping to see -- Lisa wanted to see Pelham 123, and I wanted to see Moon, but neither of us wanted to see both. What we ended up seeing were three comedies instead.

Since I don't have the energy to write out full and detailed reviews of all three, here are just my quick impressions:

The Proposal: Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds were awesome as two people who hate each other yet grow to love one another. I totally bought their chemistry, and the comedic timing was excellent! They were truly a joy to watch together onscreen, and the film itself had some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. But the nice build-up of the plot doesn't pay off during the climax, and the film nosedives to a crash landing in the end. Very strange, but at least 2/3rds of the movie is worth watching. Rating: 6/10

Year One: I really like Jack Black and Michael Cera in their previous respective movies. And in this one, they were pretty good. Again, the comedic chemistry was for the most part on point between the two. And, of course, I got to feast my eyes on the lovely Olivia Wilde, who is just stunning in here despite the small role. But, I'm afraid there just wasn't enough funny to go around. Quite a few of the set-ups were drawn-out and lame -- particularly the scenes involving the Hunter-Gatherers at the beginning, and the Cain and Abel stuff. Unfortunately, the story goes nowhere and even the jokes dry up halfway through. Skip this one at all costs. Rating: 3/10

The Hangover: Finally, we have a winnar! I don't know how to describe this one, except that it's like the epitome of every road trip comedy you've ever seen -- but with BALLS! Both figuratively and, unfortunately . . . literally. I like even more the fact that none of the lead actors in here are big names. I mean, when Bradley Cooper is the top billing name on the credits, you know you're not dealing with Hollywood's A-list in the movie you're about to see. No offense to Mr. Cooper, who I actually do think is a great method actor. But yes, all I can say is to GO SEE THIS! Like, right now!! Oh, and I'm so glad my Vegas pre-wedding night didn't go anywhere near the territory this film treads. It takes the old Vegas adage to the limits! Rating: 8/10

Hope you all had a good weekend. If you've seen any of these movies and would like to add your own comments, please feel free to do so below.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First Date Movie

A few entries down, I wrote about the 15th anniversary of mine and Lisa's prom night on June 2, 1994. Well, yesterday was the anniversary of our actual first date. And, if you knew me, you know that would invariably mean going to the movies!

We went after taking our final exams of our high school careers, to see the only campy movie out on that Friday -- Wolf, starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer!

Of course, I barely remember the movie because...ahem...I had other things on my mind at the time. But the little bit I did commit to memory I liked. I would subsequently watch the movie on my own while in college and confirm that it was, indeed, pretty darn good (despite what the critics and moviegoers said), but of course the film holds an added special place in my heart since it was our first movie ever.

Coincidentally, the film that would later become OUR movie -- Forrest Gump -- was also playing at the theater. But we didn't get around to catching that until nearly a year later when it came out on VHS.

(wow, how dated does that technological reference now sound?)

Anyway, the date went well, despite the fact that we went with her friends...who luckily had the decency to leave us mostly alone in an opposite corner of the theater. Lisa was nervous, I could tell, and so I didn't push the issue. We were still kids, after all. And to me nothing seemed more casual and innocent than a quick flick after school. We had all summer and endless other opportunities to get serious and gaze longingly into each other's eyes. (heh, heh)

After the movies, I walked her to the place where she worked in the mall, and then took the bus and subway home alone. Don't remember the ride back, but I do recall we had a VERY long phone conversation after she got off work later that night.

Ah, young love!

What was your first date movie?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama Gets His Karate Kid On

I mean, I knew he had skillz...but damn!

My only comment: watch out Kim Jong Il. This is what you're up against, if you keep on the crazy. Just saying.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

High School Sweethearts

Last week marked 15 years since Lisa and I started dating. We were seniors at the time and shared most of the same classes, but we didn't really hit it off until the night of our senior prom. I asked her to dance with me, and she said yes! And the rest, as they say, was history. I remember coming home and being so dazed and overwhelmed with flooding emotions. Little did I know that I would end up marrying this girl!

These pictures were taken several months before we started seeing each other, and it's funny how innocent and veiled our comments written on the back were to each other. Just the usual polite stuff friends write to other friends, wishing them all the best in the future and eliciting a promise to "K.I.T." (keep in touch).

Lisa and I had been accepted into different colleges, so when we eventually did start to go out, I remember being extremely frustrated. Why, I asked of fate . . . why did you have to send her into my life NOW? What about all those previous angst-ridden high school years? Why now when I have to go away to college and away from New York for approx. 4 years?

We questioned whether it was a good idea to start a relationship that was only doomed to end by the end of the summer. Or, rather, I questioned it. I think Lisa knew all along what we would end up doing. She's smart like that.

By the end of the summer, we had grown a lot together as a couple. I know it sounds cheesy -- like typical teen romance crap -- but honestly, we had become extremely close. So close that, as my departure date arrived, my heart grew heavier and more anxious. Finally we had a long talk one night. About us. About how we should keep this going, despite the nearly 160 miles (and one state border) that separated our two colleges. And I felt so stupid for having worried all summer long. Because it never crossed my mind that we could still make it work despite being apart for months at a time.

But make it work we did. Some people say long distance relationships are doomed. Especially college ones. Well, we're living proof that, on the contrary, they sometimes work! The key is for both people to know themselves really well, and to have open communication at all time. And of course, to love one another unconditionally. Sometimes being alone really got to me while attending school in the frozen northern wilds of Vermont, but honestly I can't say it was all that difficult for us in the long run. We visited each other as much as we could. And of course we both came from the same hometown, so this meant holidays and summertime was OUR time to make up for being apart! :)

Anyway, looking at these two photos, it's amazing to think that we were ever so young. It no longer amazes me that we have been together for so long, however. Aside from those 4 years apart, we've been together every step of the way. Through thick and thin. We moved in together 2 years after graduating college, and got married less than 5 years after that. Our wedding anniversary has now supplanted our prom night anniversary. We don't even celebrate that date anymore. But every now and then we lie in bed together and reminisce about that summer of '94. It's all a blur, really. But certain moments stand out starkly. Our first movie. Our first kiss. Our first kiss in the rain.

These are memories I cherish to this day.

So here's to us darling. 15 years and I still don't annoy you (much)! Who'd a thunk it?

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...