Happy Birthday, You’re Now Officially Closer To The End

I’ve had a birthday every year since I turned 1. I don’t remember that one, but some of them are supposed to be milestones. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty, thirty, forty, and this year’s major occurrence, my fiftieth birthday. Fifty years old. God, that sounded so old when I was a kid. Fifty years old. People will tell you it’s not old at all. Usually these people are in their later fifties or their sixties or even seventies.

The thing I realized this morning as I turned fifty years old while working at my job, is that my life is already more than halfway over. Think about it. What’s the age of your oldest relative, or friend? What were the ages of the last three people whose funeral you attended? Was the average of any of these figures over 100? Heck, were any of the individual answers over 100. How about 95? 90? Even if the average is 90, although I suspect it’s probably closer to 80 or 85, I hit the halfway mark five years ago.

You know how when you’re reading a book and you hit that halfway point, everything starts gelling. All of the main characters have been introduced. The plot is usually fully revealed and the action is accelerating, forcing you to keep on reading to see how it all comes out. If you’re like me, you start calculating how many pages are left. Or maybe it’s a TV show and you know there will be three more commercial breaks. I’m not at that last commercial break yet, but I don’t need to worry about seeing Flo or the GEICO gecko more than another time or two.

I’m a little sad, mostly because I haven’t accomplished anything with my life other than the basics. I have a wife, a couple of grown kids, a granddaughter, a job, a car, and a house. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to have fans that I entertained with my next project. Nope. I have a dog that puts on an acrobatic act for me every time she thinks she’s getting to go for a walk, but that’s the extent of my fan club, and honestly as cute as it is watching the dog jump and spin and twist in midair, it makes it very difficult to attach her leash to her collar.

Maybe some third act miracle will happen and I’ll still get that fame I was dreaming of when I was a child of fifteen, twenty-one, or thirty-four. But the pages are getting flipped faster. The action is accelerating, and before you know it Time’s finger will be ready to flip that last page to see how it all wraps up…

Part of me imagines people happy and celebrating as they toss me in the ground. I’ve battled with depression all my life and low self-esteem issues as well. I know I’m a great person, but I can’t convince myself that I am. And I sure can’t convince anyone else, except for maybe my dog… and maybe my wife… maybe the kids… oh and some of my nieces and nephews and cousins and maybe my sisters and some other friends and family. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s more than enough.

Godzilla Gets Me Out To The Movies

I used to go to the movies all the time. As I’ve gotten older however, I find myself going less and less. For one thing I have less time and for another the prices are a little high in my mind. In the last three or four years I have only seen about five movies in the theater. I saw Avatar and Alice In Wonderland in 2010, The Avengers in 2012, This Is The End in 2013, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year. I’ve wanted to see numerous films during that time, but those were the only ones I actually got up and went out to see.

Tonight I decided to treat myself to Godzilla. I loved Godzilla as a child, and I passed that love on to my son who has taken it to new heights. He went opening weekend to catch the new Godzilla. I went two weeks later. I had initially planned to go see A Million Ways To Die In The West, but tonight was the last night for Godzilla in 3D, so the big lizard won out.

I took the family to the premiere of the 1998 Godzilla. In fact we got there early enough to catch Quest For Camelot first. When Godzilla 2000 hit, I took my son. This time I went alone. And I would have been alone in the theater as well were it not for one other couple that decided to take in Godzilla at the last minute. They arrived loudly during the previews and stayed loud throughout. They must have thought they were at home in their living room because they weren’t whispering. They were speaking in regular conversation voices. They were also smoking as well. In the course of the 2 hour movie they lit up at least twice as the smell drifted down to me and irritated my asthma and COPD.

But what about the actual movie? I guess Internet protocol states that I have to warn you there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Godzilla and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now. Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This is meant to be a more serious take on Godzilla. It is not as campy as the ones from my childhood and there is no humor in it. Another thing this Bryan Cranston starring Godzilla film was incredibly light on was Bryan Cranston and Godzilla. Cranston’s character is killed off in the first third of the movie and Godzilla doesn’t really surface until the final third. We get lots of the guy from Kick Ass, who doesn’t show much range of emotion. His whole story is trying to get home from Japan to his wife and son in San Francisco. He’s spent his whole life thinking his dad was a crackpot and when he learns his dad was right all along and the military has been covering things up, his reaction is essentially to shrug his shoulders and carry on. Elizabeth Olsen as his wife on the other hand seems to be constantly on the verge of tears. Tears of joy that her husband is back, tears of frustration because something happened in Japan and she can’t reach him to check on him, tears of desperation because in the midst of a giant monster slugfest her husband who is working with the military on an atomic bomb hasn’t managed to check in or arrive at their designated meeting point. And speaking of meeting points. Kick Ass finds out that the military is going to use a nuclear bomb off the coast of San Francisco to try and kill some giant monsters that eat radioactive material and tend to destroy any city they get close to. When he talks to his wife in San Francisco does he tell her to take their son and get the hell out of town? Go visit the biggest ball of twine up in the Northeast? No. He tells her to wait there at the hospital for him. The hospital in San Francisco right in the path of the monsters and near the possible nuclear bomb detonation point because nothing could possibly go wrong with a plan that involves nuclear weapons and giant freaking monsters. That’s like telling someone to go hide in the ocean because Jaws is coming. Think I’ll take my chances in the top of a skyscraper unless the weatherman is calling for sharknados.

The other major cast members include Ken Watanabe, who has mastered the art of staring out in the distance with a sorrowful concerned look, David Strathairn as an admiral that really doesn’t do a whole lot, and Sally Hawkins as Watanabe’s research partner. Hawkins is also under-utilized. In fact her role could have easily been combined with Watanabe’s if he didn’t need someone to stay focused on the here and now while he takes those long soulful stares out beyond the horizon.

As for the titular star, Godzilla, he looks better than ever except he’s put on a little weight. Actually it appears to be a larger chest area, so maybe he was working out and abusing steroids instead of gaining weight. It’s a long way away from the super sleek iguana of the ’98 version. The new monsters, a male and female MUTO looked much better than I expected. The toys made them look like an M shaped beastie with a claw on each long leg. They are much neater than that. They are nowhere near as messed up looking as Megalon or Gigan, but a little more dynamic than Rodan or Mothra.

I can’t say that I loved the movie. It’s not my favorite Godzilla movie by a long shot. It’s probably about number 4 or 5 out of the other five films I mentioned at the top. Definitely over Alice In Wonderland. Probably over This Is The End. Possibly over Avatar.

If Only Rev. Phelps Had A Beard

A&E networks has now shown us that if Rev. Phelps had a beard, the Westboro Baptist Church could have their own tv show right after Storage Wars as well. A while back Phil Robertson of A&E’s Duck Dynasty did an interview and decided to explain his thoughts on homosexuality. Like Rick Santorum before him, he decided to equate homosexuality with bestiality. He claimed his reason for doing so was because of his deeply held religious beliefs and love of God. We all know what God thinks of homosexuals, just ask Rev. Phelps and his crew. Of course it amazes me that if God hates gays so deeply why He hasn’t figured out a way to stop making them yet. If we went to a restaurant that screwed up our order that often, we’d be on social media screaming about it, but we wouldn’t be blaming the food.

Initially A&E suspended Phil from the show. That’s when those champions of free speech, the Conservatives, stepped up and started protesting. These are the same people who forced ABC to pull Bill Maher off the air after 9-11 for a remark he made. At the time White House press secretary Ari Fleischer even warned people need to watch what they say. And we also need to remember how committed these people were to free speech when Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke out against George W. Bush for invading Iraq during a concert in England. Where was their outrage when Alec Baldwin was suspended for possibly using a gay slur during a private altercation that happened to be caught on video. No, conservatives are only interested in protecting free speech when it’s speech they agree with coming from someone who shares their political views. The rest of the Robertson clan decided that they couldn’t imagine going on without Phil and so A&E, not wanting to lose their cash cow of a show, quickly reversed course and brought Phil back.

Personally, I am all for freedom of speech and don’t believe Phil should have been suspended for making his homophobic and racist comments and blaming them on God. I just think we need to find out if he is a hypocrite or not. He claims he makes these statements because of his staunch belief in the word of God (you know, kind of like the 9-11 terrorists and their belief in Allah and jihad which made killing all those people a-okay and religiously justified), so let’s see if he believes in everything the Bible says. The Bible mentions feeding the poor a whole bunch, so how about opening a string of Duck Commander homeless shelters and food pantries all across the country. The Bible says to love thy neighbor, so let’s see an episode where these Southern boys have a group of Muslims over for a duck hunt. How about some inner-city youths being brought in to share their home for the summer? And I think I know what would make the perfect Easter special. Since the Bible demands stoning for a multitude of sins from homosexual behavior, to blaspheming the name of the Lord, to being a “stubborn and rebellious” child, how about an all-star stoning special? They could probably wipe out the casts of half of Bravo’s shows in what would surely be a ratings bonanza. Of course the Bible also says that “thou shalt not kill”, and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and a whole bunch of other contradictory things that tend to indicate that maybe God doesn’t want His children killing each other even if it’s justified by the word of God.

But that’s the tricky thing about the Bible. Most people like to believe that it was written word for word by God Himself when in fact it was written by men. Men, who although divinely inspired, are human and thus flawed. Books have been left out of the Bible. The meaning of some words have changed over time. Some words or ideas may not translate well, and most of today’s translations were taken from previous translations which could also have errors. It’s also worth noting that some powerful men were not above using the Bible to force their desires upon the people. Since raw pork could make a person deathly sick, God said don’t eat pigs. Some genetic lines have shellfish allergies, so God said stay away from the shrimp as well. And since civilizations needed their citizens to produce offspring so that they would have more citizens to build things and fight wars, well is it so hard to believe that they would want to steer their people away from non-reproductive sex acts like homosexuality? Let’s face it, a law can tell people not to do something and they will ignore it and hope they don’t get caught. But have the church tell them that God said it was a no-no and thousands of years later people will still be trying to enforce it.

Forgotten Films of My Teenage Years

I love movies. You don’t have a collection of nearly 8000 DVDs without having a major affection for the world of cinema. One of the things that still amazes me, however, is how a film can almost completely disappear from the public’s memory. Just the other day I was thinking about several movies that I would love to see again, or better yet pick up on DVD or Blu-ray. Remember these weren’t silent films that were truly lost or destroyed. They weren’t films that were held back or banned by the talent involved or the courts either. None of these were huge hits, but they all got fairly wide releases as far as I could tell.

Partners starring Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt
So Fine also starring Ryan O’Neal
Coast To Coast starring Robert Blake and Dyan Cannon
If You Could See What I Hear starring Marc Singer
Nate & Hayes starring Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe
Die Laughing starring Robbie Benson
Americathon starring John Ritter

I would also love to once again see a couple of foreign films I saw at the old Plaza East Cinemas and one I saw at the old Capitol theater.

Shadowman
It’s Not The Size That Counts
Flatfoot

I think the Warner Archives may have a couple of these films and I actually found a region 2 DVD of Shadowman under its original title Nuits Rouges on Ebay recently but was unable to spare the money for it at the time. Of course I’m not saying that these films are impossible to track down. I managed to track down bootlegs of Beyond Westworld and National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver From Outer Space, so if I really wanted these films I’m sure I could find them. Heck some might even be on Netflix. But of those 10 films is there anyone else that remembers all 10 of them? Does anyone remember 5 of them? How about The Fantastic Animation Festival, 20th Century Oz, or The Legend of Hillbilly John?

Some studio spent thousands or millions on these films and now they are nearly forgotten. Well here is my salute to these forgotten if slightly flawed gems. And let’s just throw out Squeeze Play while we’re at it. Now if I could just remember the name of the film about the young girl working her summer at a British hotel…

What Do I Say Now?

I started this blog to talk about memories. As I get older and the world keeps getting faster and more demanding, I find myself losing more of the memories that I had. I thought this blog would be a good way to remember those things, but I soon had my mind occupied with my job and my health. I lost my will to write and had no time to write, so where does that leave me?

Recently I was in Goodwill looking at the items they had for sale when I ran into something odd. It was a tiny sculpture of a mountain range in wood with some little plastic sticks protruding out of it. On the front was a plaque commemorating the removal of the last party line by C&P Bell. I think the little plastic sticks may have been phone line poles at one point and the bars and wires had been cut or broken off years ago.

I got to thinking back to the old rotary phone my mom used to have. She had been on a party line prior to my birth because it was cheaper and my dad was always looking to save money. Once I was born and he died, my mom quickly had us switched to a private line. A party line was pretty common in the old days. Two or three families would actually share the same line and each family had a different ring for their calls. These weren’t ringtones mind you. Family A might have a ring that was three short bells, family B might have a ring that was one long bell, and family C might have a ring that was two medium bells. You listened for the phone to ring and then listened to hear which ring you actually heard. If you picked up the phone to make a call and someone was on the line, you were supposed to hang up and wait. Of course some nosey neighbors might forget about the hanging up part and just listen in on your calls.

My wife and I got to talking about some of the changes phone service had went through since our childhood. I mentioned person to person calling which she was not really familiar with. The way that worked was a person would place a call by dialing the operator and telling them that they wished to call a specific person at a certain number. The operator would dial the number and then ask for that person. If they were there, the operator would connect the call and you would be charged an additional fee for the call. If they were not there, then the operator would thank them, hang up and then inform you that your party was not there and there was no charge. People going on long trips often used this as a way to let someone back home know that they had arrived safely. They would make a person to person call but either the person on the receiving end would know that was the signal, or they would ask to speak to their self at that number which also signaled the other person that they had arrived safely. Collect calls were often used the same way.

The subject of collect calls brought up 1-800-COLLECT, 1-800-CALL ATT and other similar services. I don’t know if these companies are still in business. I’m also doubtful about the continued existence of the programs that used to have you dial a long string of numbers before you place your call to connect at a reduced rate.

Of course rotary phones are a thing or the past now as well. And unlike the old days when you leased your phone from Ms Bell because it was illegal for a person to actually own their own telephone, all phone service is digital and most of it is cellular. I remember my friend that got a car phone in the 80s. The thing had a case the size of a shoebox that had to be plugged in to the cigarette lighter for power and the car had to have a special antennae as well.

Of course with the proliferation of cell phones these days, the era of the payphone and phone booth are nearly at an end. I got to thinking back to a song by Garth Brooks called Baton Rouge. It’s about a trucker in love with a girl and he keeps “stopping ever hundred miles, calling Baton Rouge”. Nowadays he’d have his bluetooth in and they could talk the whole trip if they really wanted to.

I actually miss the old days of the tethered phone that weighed several pounds and required you to know or look up the number of anyone you wanted to call. And if you decided to leave town for the weekend, your phone calls didn’t follow you.

Let’s Talk About Racism

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have a new song out called Accidental Racist. I don’t know that the song is getting much airplay, but it is heating up the news channels. Race has been a hot button topic for a long time, but looking back to my youth there was one big difference to my mind. When I was a kid the “N word” was just another word. Most people wouldn’t think twice about saying it. The word was used extensively in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor used the word in several of his album titles and activist/author Dick Gregory used the word in the title of at least two of his books. You could even use the word freely on television. Yes, the word wasn’t supposed to be said by white people in racially mixed company, but even that happened from time to time. Sometimes there were fights because of this, but it just led to some fists flying and a whole lot more uses of the word in question. No one seemed to fear the word.

The word people tended to fear at least to my young eyes was one that started with an “F”. When someone said that word, you knew they meant business. It was never heard on television (at least until HBO came around). It was not used as frequently in the movies. It was never used as the title of a book or movie or record album to my knowledge. It was the Voldemort of words. Everyone knew the word, but most of us didn’t say it. Soldiers and sailors said the word, but mostly when fighting or surrounded by other soldiers and sailors. I was in second grade when I first came in contact with the word. It was written on the wall in one of my classrooms by a fellow student along with the word “ass”. Now I knew what “ass” meant, but this other word? I had no idea. One of the students said it was when two people “bumped their butts together”. Being an inquiring young boy thirsty for knowledge, I simply asked the teacher. She told me that it was a word only a very dirty person would know and didn’t provide me any sort of definition. I asked my mom when I got home and even she wouldn’t tell me what the word was supposed to mean.

Since the word was not used in Disney movies of the time, I was left to ponder the meaning of the strange word for several years before I finally got clued in as to its meaning. Or at least one of its meanings. The word had power back in the day. The other word, the one that started with an “N”… not so much. Over time the “N word” and the “F word” started changing places. HBO gave comedians, who apparently had been using the word quite successfully in their nightclub shows, a national stage on which to yell this little four lettered word at the top of their lungs. Films began using it more frequently (of course this might also be because I started seeing films like Animal House instead of 101 Dalmatians). The world didn’t end upon repeated utterances, but the word did start to lose its power. Once George Burns said it in Going In Style there was no fear left in the word. And yes, the scene where George Burns said the curse word to end all curse words did end up getting cut from the film, but just knowing that the man who played God had said this word was all it seemed to take. These days we don’t even call this word the “F word”. We call it the “F bomb”, even if it’s more like the “F firecracker” or “F sparkler” than an actual “F bomb”.

Songs started using the word. I remember the first time I heard Harry Nilson sing it in “You’re Breaking My Heart” I lost it. It was the early 80s by then and the “F” word was free. One of the highlights of going to the Roaring Twenties nightclub to dance was that point in the night when they would break out “The Rodeo Song” and watch the crowd go wild. But as this four letter term for fornication shed its trench coat and sunglasses, the “N word” picked them up and put them on. Social consciousness was sweeping the land; slowly in some places and not in all areas or interactions. And while activists would have a long road to travel before they would see a black man in certain neighborhoods in America, much less in the White House, one simple step that they all seemed to silently agree upon was that they would stop using the “N word”. White guilt or shame or perhaps just peer pressure slowly made the word less accessible. While the “F word” was starring in hit movies and waiting for the birth of the Internet where it would truly shine, the “N word” was becoming persona non gratis. White people were expected to have stopped using the word cold turkey. When we want to ask for one of those early Richard Pryor albums on CD our heads nearly explode. Even words that are close to the offending word give us trouble. Many of us listen as black people tell us that we are no longer allowed to use this word. Richard Roundtree’s blaxploitation western is now simply “Boss”. The last word in the title is missing and it won’t even show up on the side of a milk carton. (Do they still put missing children’s pictures on milk cartons?)

So the next step in the life of this word is for the black community to “take it back”. All of a sudden after a few years of the word being underground or in witness protection, it shows up as a term of affection used from one black person to another. Usually the last two letters have been replaced by a single letter “a”, but this is the equivalent of putting Groucho glasses on the Batman. You still know it’s the Batman, and if you say the wrong thing to Batman or about Batman, Batman is going to kick your ass. Now we have a word that is off-limits to a large segment of the population while simultaneously becoming heavily used by another segment. This creates a covetous attitude in many white people. Why can’t we say the word? Why is it okay if they say the word? I don’t like being denied my opportunity to sing along to Jay Z songs if I want to. Now the word has enormous power. If a white person says the word, he is almost always immediately branded as a racist (except for Quentin Tarantino, he seems to get a pass from much of the black community). The idea that a white person must never be allowed to utter this six letter word seems almost codified as national law which makes people who would normally never want to use the word, want to use it all the more. It’s like not smoking pot or obeying the speed limit. Even those that follow the law have thoughts about breaking it, and a lot of them will if they think no one is watching (or in this case listening).

Of course with blacks having their “off-limits to all but us” word, other groups hopped on board. Women despise the “C word” and gay people have fought to get their least favorite “F word” treated the same way that the “N word” is treated. They can say it. We can’t. So far they haven’t tried removing the last two letters and replacing them with the letter “A”. I really hadn’t noticed how much they had done to eradicate the use of this term until I was re-listening to an old Eddie Murphy stand up act and I realized how jarring it now seemed when he used the word in question. I couldn’t concentrate on the jokes any longer because I was trying to process how a comedian could get by with using this particular word these days. It couldn’t be done, but then this was an album from the early 80s.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I just write a blog because I enjoy sharing my thoughts in a printed format albeit an electronic one. I do know that we need to start talking to each other and explain the linguistic problems that we have. For example, to keep from offending the currently preferred racial label is African-American. Many don’t like to be called black and they certainly don’t like negro or colored, both of which conjure up more images of a less enlightened time. But America is not the only country with black people. Is Lenny Henry, the British comedian, an African-American? No. So is he an African Brit? What about Nelson Mandela? Is he an African-African? Black just feels like the most accurate and least racially insensitive term that can be used, but I’m open to ideas and enlightenment myself.

How Did We Know What Was Going On Back Then?

My wife and I were driving down the road today talking about various things when we got to discussing making a “junk journal” for the kids. I have a lot of crazy stuff that I have held onto through the years. Some of it looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but to those in the know, there are stories and history in these various items. I have an old pill tin that my dad carried around with him. I have a pocket knife that he won for my mom and that she carried around with her from then on. To my kids these items are just a small green tin and a pocket knife. They don’t understand the family history attached to these pieces. I also have books and toys that have a special place in my life or DVDs that are out of print and worth a pretty penny. These are things the kids need to know before boxing all this stuff up and taking it to Goodwill after they put me six feet under.

The fact of the matter is that none of them have the attention span to remember everything about all of this mess. There’s also the problem with me forgetting lots of details as well. For example, I can’t remember what it was that Dad used to carry in that tiny pill tin. I remember Mom telling me about it, but I can’t remember the full story. Since Mom passed away several years ago I can’t ask her any longer. My sister or my cousin might remember, but I need to get the facts down where the kids can find it when my time finally comes to an end. Of course they will also have to wait for my wife to pass before they truly get to run free with my things but never the less.

So in the midst of this conversation I mentioned to my wife about how certain toys were special to me growing up. The Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were some of my favorites. I had the full set of them and their accessories. Most of the expensive pieces were Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa or given to me by my Aunt EI. The actual figures however were ones that I got at Kmart and Murphy’s Mart and Hecks department stores. There were two waves of the action figures as I recall. The first batch was based on the movie. The second batch was based on the television series. I still remember playing at my Aunt Tress’ one day as a kid, and it just came to me that the new figures should be out. One of my cousins might have seen them and mentioned it or it might just have been a psychic premonition, but I begged me mom to stop on the way home. She agreed to stop and sure enough there they were.

When the Kenner Star Wars action figures actually came out (my mom refused to buy me the Early Bird IOU that was offered) we just ran into them in the store. I think the first ones we bought might have actually come from Krogers grocery store in Saint Albans. The thing was, I didn’t have the Internet to tell me these things were coming out. We didn’t have toy magazines to prepare us for new toys and toy lines. We found out the old-fashioned way; we bumped into them.

Sometimes I learned about new toys by ads in my comic books. I remember the big two page spread for the Haunted Mansion action model kids or the Strange Change models. I recall ads for Evel Knievel, the Six Million Dollar Man, and lots of different cars and bikes like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Today kids and collectors know exactly when each wave of the new action figures are going to start shipping. They know which figures are going to be hard to locate and eBay helps make that search easier as well. Some how this just doesn’t seem as exciting as going into the toy department and finding the new additions to the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kit line. Silly as it sounds, I think I liked our way best.