Chapters

07/10/2013

It is my intention to present the next several posts as chapters from my memory over the past 40 or so years. From my first memory to the memory I just had of typing “memory,” the events, people and things I’ve witnessed definitely fall into “chapters” of this life; they also seems dreamlike in their own way. I’ll make a sincere attempt at keeping each chapter brief, but there’s no guarantee. TL;DR may apply.

Anyway, this should be fun.


Buttercup

03/28/2012

Image

Sandy led the way through the maze of motor homes, dodging lounge chairs, barbecues, and septic hoses as we weaved our way toward the park. I petted the Andersons’ dog, Charlie, as we passed his blanket. The smell of brownies wafted from their screen door, and Sandy muttered, “Yummy.” Her voice was still magical to my ears, having met her just moments before; it tickled something in my head that I couldn’t quite define, it dazzled.

Once we got to the grassy area, away from the grown-ups and their bland doings, the girl in the yellow dress promptly sat down. I followed suit. I was aware of the sun drenching me in a moist warmth, the air like a caress to my soul.

“It’s nice out.” I said.

“Not a cloud in the sky.” she replied.

I started pulling on grass blades, trying to think of something else to say. While doing this, I noticed a small yellow flower nearby. A quick survey of the lawn revealed there were scores of these scattered across the green patch. Without any semblance of a plan, I plucked one and stretched it toward her. I felt simultaneously romantic and foolish, and told her, “A flower for you, madame.”

With a sweet, disarmingly beautiful smile, she reached out slowly and took the yellow gift from my hand. “It’s a buttercup.”

“No,” I said. “It’s a flower, silly.”

“You’re the silly one. It’s called the buttercup flower. Do you wanna know why?”

“Why?”

“Because,” She held the flower with the tips of her finger and thumb, and placed its petals directly under her chin. “When you hold it like so, it overflows with butter.”

I looked and could not believe my eyes. Her entire chin was a radiant golden hue, the sunlight apparently reflecting off of the buttercup. I was unable to look away from the warm glow of her skin, brought on by this trick of nature that somehow I had never been told about. It was a combination of immersion in the natural world, and having a dump truck unload a pile of unbridled desire into my head.

She held it up to my chin, and out poured the most beautiful laughter I had ever heard in my young life. Again I sensed that dazzle. I laughed as well, and we both started looking for other things to distract us from the awkward exchange. Something caught my eye, a white disc some ten yards away. I sprang to my feet and skipped over to it.

“Look! A Frisbee!” I shouted. “Wanna play?”

So we began tossing it back and forth; whenever I’d fail to catch it, I’d curse the harshest curse I knew from my father’s occasional slip-ups. I was positive this would impress upon Sandy how mature I was.

“Goddammit!” I barked as one sailed over my head, out of reach.

“You okay, there, Mark?” She asked. “Something wrong with your leg?”

Still basking in the sharp glow of hearing her say my name, I settled on a plan. It kind of all just fell out of the sky and into my head. I knew I had to tell her a tale. And it had to be believable.

“Can you keep a secret?” I asked, drawing near to her.

“Sure. Everyone who knows me knows I don’t give out secrets. You can trust me. What is it?”

“I mean I’m seriously not supposed to tell anyone about this, it’s just – it’s just that you seem so cool. So, if you promise me now not to tell anyone…”

“I promise.” She said, her eyes proving her verity.

I took a deep breath, stared off at a faraway point, and told her.

“I have bionics.”

She just stared.

“Do you know what bionics are?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, I had an operation on my leg and my arm, see? And they replaced the muscles and stuff in there with robotic machine parts. It was an operation that my parents signed me up for with the government.” I looked at her, and could see she was totally buying it. I backed off with the details, and offered up the slam dunk. “You ever seen that show “The Six Million Dollar Man?”

“Yes… so you’re like him?” She squinted a taste of disbelief at me.

“Well, yes and no. It’s a real technology, like in the show, but it doesn’t make me super strong like Steve Austin. It’s kinda cool, though. I am a bionic man.”

She was hooked. Her hand grabbed mine and she led me towards the treeline, near Canyon Creek. I wondered what was happening, blindly following this person I had just met at yet another horse show my parents indulged in. Every year a different friend, and this year’s friend was definitely different. I managed to ask her where she was taking us.

“The secret cave. You don’t know about it?” I told her no. “They say Lewis and Clark camped in it. Not very many people know how to find it, but I do. I want to show it to you, it’s really cool.”

I thought it was a remarkable idea, the mystique of being alone with her in such an intimate, historically relevant site shot the dazzle into the stratosphere of my mind.

Soon we came to a medium sized boulder, where she turned off the path, and we were walking through ferns, over rocks and tree roots so gnarled they seemed to be reaching for my feet, trying to trip me. We skirted the blackberry bushes as much as we could, but one or two thorns found their purchase on my arms. I felt the blood mix with my sweat and the sting subsided.

“We’re almost there, Mark the Bionic Man.” She giggled a little, and I wondered if she actually doubted my story. After we passed under a dark canopy of trees, we stopped and there was a hole in the rocky outcropping, a curtain of fern concealing most of it. She ducked in, and I followed.

Despite our small sizes, we had to stoop the first dozen steps so as not to bump our heads on the chaotic rock formations this cave revealed. The temperature dropped dramatically, and my sweaty skin was now a frigid terrain of goosebumps. The light faded as we came to the centerpiece of the hollow tunnel: a large, circular room tall enough to stand in. I could barely make out pieces of litter scattered around the edges; an empty 12-pack box, discarded cigarette packages, and other evidence of teenager partying. In the center was a fire pit, one charred fraction of a log sat there motionless.

“Sit down, and tell me what you think.” She said. I sat, and took it all in. The space seemed too large, unnatural and manufactured. The creek’s babble outside was barely audible.

“I like it, I think.” I offered.

Sandy grabbed an empty Budweiser can and mimed drinking. “Let’s pretend we’re teenagers. Ohh, me oh my, I’m so drunk!” She cackled. I wished I could see her face better, but the light…

“Hey, do you have any paper?”

“Sure,” She said, “I got tons of gum wrappers right here.” As she pulled out a wad of Doublemint sleeves, I dug in my jeans pocket for the book of matches I’d swiped from my mother. I shredded the wrappers and placed them in the fire pit, then lit the pile with one dazzling match.

Her face was now visible, observing me shrewdly in the bold new firelight. Smiling, she said, “Now we’re explorers. Treading through the Northwest with no maps, no safe harbor but what we make.”

“Like this cave.”

“Yes. The cave that was made to shelter the explorers.”

“It’s pretty cool, I guess. Lewis and Clark spent time right here. A long time ago.”

“Yeah, and they must have left their horses tied up right outside there. They could drink from the creek, and if there was wildlife, they could catch and eat things like rabbits.”

“The horses?”

“No, silly. Lewis and Clark. Horses can’t hunt.”

“Do they at least eat rabbits?”

She laughed, and this time there was patronizing tinge to its tone. “No! Are you serious?”

I spoke the first thing that came to mind.

“What do I know about horses? My family has some is all, not like I ride them. Just my sister. I hate horses, and people who ride them in these shows. It’s all such god damned bullshit.” She grew silent. “The events are boring, even the barrel race is dumb. Everyone gets pretty much the same time score. That’s not impressive.”

The fire had gone out. She stood up and dusted off the back of her dress, its color diminished in this space. Before I knew it, she was out of the room and heading down the tunnel back outside. After a while, I followed her out, but not before absorbing the cave’s aura a few moments more.

I had to run to catch up with her, and just like some damsel in a horror movie, I tripped over one of the tree roots. I heard a mind-bending crack as my knee landed on a jagged rock, and pain flared an orange-red across my vision. My anguished cry stopped her retreat, and turning to me, she looked sad, disappointed.

“I should be going now, Mark. I have a barrel race in a couple hours. Sorry it’s not impressive to you. Take care of yourself.”

She went back to the trail and sprinted away. My knee was broken, and my afternoon dream had become a nightmare. I supposed this is what it meant to be a grown-up. When the veils of childhood simplicity flutter away, when yearning for something so much more than idle playtime requires a whole new way of thinking, it is confusing at first. At the time, that truth didn’t quite occur to me, though, and I still dismiss the experience as my first at-bat in that most major of leagues.

I never did see Sandy again, and the time we spent was terribly short, but it remains as one of my most awakening relationships to date.

(Photo: Museum of Life + Science)


Resume Mistakes

11/14/2010

While chipping away at my resume, I did a little searching for tips and advice, and found this list of JobMob’s 150 Funniest Resume Mistakes. These are from actual resumes, and include such gems as:

  • “Skills: Strong Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Team Player, Self Motivated, Attention to Detail”
  • Experience: “Stalking, shipping & receiving”
  • Candidate’s hobbies included sitting on the levee at night watching alligators.
  • “Seeking a party-time position with potential for advancement.”
  • “I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.”
  • Objective: “I want to play a major part in watching a company advance.”
  • Experience: “I’m a hard worker, etc.”
  • Qualifications: “Twin sister has accounting degree.”
  • Accomplishments: “Brought in a balloon artist to entertain the team.”

Writing the perfect resume is hard work, and it’s easy to let typos slip through, but Wow, People.

More at the link, etc.

 


Inception: The Debate Continues

07/26/2010

Spoiler alert, again.

It’s been a long time since a film, a major Hollywood film at least, has sparked such a whirlwind of conversation about its meanings, its secrets, and trying to connect all the dots so as to traverse the maze like Christopher Nolan’s Inception has. I’ve wrangled with the details and rules set up by the movie, and it really is a maze. While debate rages on as to whether or not portions of the product are real, at this point I might as well say the whole movie is a story being played out in the mind of Amber Lamps.

NolanFans has a lot of us Totem Geeks asking, answering, and theorizing about it. As Anthony pointed out in the comments of my last post, there’s supposedly a distinction about Cobb that I’d missed, declaring distinction of dream state vs. reality.

There is one simple piece of information that proves this beyond a doubt. Cobb’s ring. Every time the movie presents Cobb as dreaming, he is wearing his ring. Every time he is presented as awake, he is not wearing his ring. This is something that Christopher Nolan did not just “Overlook”, this is actually the key to deciphering the true nature of the movie. The ring is Cobb’s true totem. And just for clarification, he is not wearing his ring when he gets off the plane until the end of the movie. Therefore the scene with his kids at the end is 100% real.

But, apparently his ring hand isn’t visible at the end. And I’d suggest that the reason it’s seen in dream states is because Cobb’s deepest subconscious feels like he’s still married. Not a totem, just a dead end in the maze. And then there’s the pleading from Mal and Grandpa for Cobb to come back to reality, not this crazy world where faceless corporate goons try (poorly) to gun him down.

Cinema Blend has had an open discussion of the questions raised, including one the commenters have yet to address:

Was Ariadne somehow aware of the numbers Fischer would come up with or did she change the hotel’s floor plan so that 491 would be below 528?
A: It seems impossible that they could have known in advance, they must have left a blank place in their design to be filled in with the numbers as they learned them. If anyone has any other theories on this, sound off in the comments!

At first blush, I’d argue that they needed Fischer to remember the numbers for the dream safe. But this, too is a dead end; Stage One Fischer uttered those numbers off the top of his head, and we never see Ariadne program Stage Two. Or does it go deeper?

There’s probably tons of blogs typing similar words right now, and understandable, as this movie has layers and figuring it all out is like navigating a plot maze, where everywhere you turn is a dead end. Saito, Limbo, Mal… the knowledge that Nolan leaves nothing to editorial chance, and therefore begs the structure of the first seconds through to Kyoto. I invite my readers to share their own ideas, even if you think it’s a straightforward dream heist movie.

Warner Bros.


The Secret of Inception

07/25/2010

There Be Spoilers Here. See the flick before reading.

In his insightful and detailed article, Never Wake Up: The Meaning and Secret of Inception, Devin Faraci explains the two things we must accept when considering Christopher Nolan’s film. The first thing is that the entire movie is a dream. Faraci points to the many clues that indicate Cobb as the dreamer, creating the entire fantasy in his subconscious. Take the scene of Mal’s death.

- note that when Cobb remembers her suicide she is, bizarrely, sitting on a ledge opposite the room they rented. You could do the logical gymnastics required to claim that Mal simply rented another room across the alleyway, but the more realistic notion here is that it’s a dream, with the gap between the two lovers being a metaphorical one made literal. When Mal jumps she leaves behind the top, and if she was right about the world being a dream, the fact that it spins or doesn’t spin is meaningless. It’s a dream construct anyway. There’s no way to use the top as a proof of reality.

Remember, the top is Mal’s totem, not Cobb’s.

After a second viewing for myself, I’m convinced of the argument… for the most part. I couldn’t spot any dead giveaways in the first act when they were supposedly awake, but they are peppered throughout the film. The ending was supposed to be real, right? Then what was Michael Caine doing there at the airport?

Faruci’s other point is the main thrust of his article; the whole stucture of Inception resembles the making of a movie, more precisely, a Christopher Nolan movie.

The heist team quite neatly maps to major players in a film production. Cobb is the director while Arthur, the guy who does the research and who sets up the places to sleep, is the producer. Ariadne, the dream architect, is the screenwriter – she creates the world that will be entered. Eames is the actor (this is so obvious that the character sits at an old fashioned mirrored vanity, the type which stage actors would use).

More deep thoughts about this unique film at CHUD.


One Last Job: One of Hollywood’s Most Repeated Plot Devices

05/30/2010

Universal Pictures

When writing your screenplay, keep in mind ways to make it marketable. Studios usually throw away submissions if it tends to be original, so there are some tried and true angles you can throw in to prevent this, and actually make them excited to read something familiar. One of these methods is the One Last Job.

It’s usually either a cop or a thief that makes it clear early on that they intend this job/case/score to be their last, and it always ends up being the biggest/craziest/most frustrating one of their career. Some examples are The Sting, The Killer, Unforgiven, Falling Down, Out of Sight, Entrapment, The Heist, Gone in 60 Seconds, and even Bottle Rocket taps that well a little.

But there’s one actor that gravitates to these roles more than any other, prominently featuring it in Heat (pictured above), The Score, and Midnight Run. Mr. Robert DeNiro. At about the 3:00 mark in this f-bomb filled clip he delivers the best line regarding this character gimmick… hands down.

(YouTube Link)

This works especially well if your name is Christopher Nolan, because as you see from the newest trailer for Inception, he uses it for DiCaprio’s character. “I think I’ve found a way home.” he says. “And this last job, that’s how I get there.” See, it even works when it is placed in a script that otherwise seems pretty original (if you don’t remember Dreamscape).

Warner Bros.

Click to biggify this, my favorite poster for the most anticipated movie of the summer.


Proclamation: I Hate My Kindle

04/25/2010

As this image from GottaBeMobile illustrates, there’s a lot backlash in the realm of book readers.

It was almost a year ago that I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon thinking one thing, while the other thing (that which shall be explained) never crossed my mind.

Until now. Well, not just now. I admit, I’ve been slow to my remorse. The strange occurence last year of Amazon deleting books by (no joke) George Orwell, including 1984, should have been a clue. But here I simply offer a meager list of reasons I liked the Kindle when I bought it, and then a list of reasons why, frankly, it sucks.

Why It Was Awesome:

1. The Cost. Being an avid reader, I could search the world over and not find books this cheap, and that means dollars in my pocket for more important things like stromboli and skydiving. A hardcover new release like Stephen King’s Under the Dome costs 25-30 dollars. $10 on Kindle. Over time, this savings, plus the gas money to drive to the bookstores, pays for the device.

2. The Download. 3G networks and the like are cutting edge technology, and it’s ultra-convenient to be anywhere, say your garage, or being dangled from a building by a mobster, and be able to order a book. Presto! It’s there, and ready for your perusal in seconds. That’s cool. It’s almost a magic feeling to have the power to make something appear before your eyes.

3. The Ease. I like to read while I’m eating. The Kindle was the answer to always having to find some impromptu weight to hold my book open so I can simultaneously digest Neil Gaiman while horking down a Spicy Italian. I hated getting mustard on my pages; now I’d just get a smudge on the Next Page button, and it wipes off easily!

4. The Free Stuff. Aside from having tons of free downloads available by indy writers and such, there’s the Preview feature in the Kindle Store. You can preview any book, usually the first chapter. It’s the reason I decided against buying The Lost Symbol.

Why It Sucks:

1. Well, that whole thing about them coming and taking books away from people after a sale was final… that’s messed up.

2. The Interface. Not as cool as it seems. the Off switch requires me to hold it for six seconds, the interface cursor is slow as hell, handling the tablet tends to result in inadvertent page turns, and the dictionary that’s built in doesn’t recognize the word “Facebook.” (Okay I made that last part up.)

3. Typographical Errors Galore. It’s terrible to be in the middle of a passage you really like, and then see a double “the,” or other wrenching editorial error a true publisher would hang somebody over. Most hilarious of this Kindle tendency is when I was reading Chuck Klosterman, and the whole chapter devoted to Rick Allen – of Def Leppard-  incorrectly spelled his last name as Alien.

4. The Feel of a BOOK. Yeah, one of the first people I bragged to about my purchase sang this true tune~ there’s just something about a book. The paging process that so happily engages the fingers and thumbs of millions daily. The ability to thumb back a few pages and easily find a passage you wanted to re-read. That’s like, yeah/no with a Kindle. And footnotes are a pain in the ass. If there is one thing to say about this aspect, it’s this: I can’t loan a Kindle book to a friend. Of course, I could loan my Kindle, but then I’d be without my whole library for however long it took them to read the book I loaned them.

5. The Future. I can’t imagine a young person growing up without some kind of bookshelf/collection that tells others who see it what this person’s reading. It’s a key and sublime element of our interaction. If everyone’s books were hidden behind clicks of buttons, and scrolling of wheels, that magic would be lost forever. I’d also like to defer to point #3 in the Awesome section, and call bullsh*t on myself. Reading should be enjoyable, yes, but if you put work into it, it’s even more rewarding. And I don’t mean work like trying to balance a tablet on your steering wheel while you drive.

6. Lifespan. What happens when the battery needs to be replaced? Besides, there’s another huge risk here; people drop stuff. Even the most careful and mindful people drop stuff from time to time. I made the mistake of momentarily setting my Kindle on the hood of my vehicle. It slid off, and although I was able to make a close enough grab to slow its descent, it ended up looking like this (the now-useless battery indicator is always there, taunting me.):

In Conclusion:

I’ll still use it for the freebies, and to research authors. But… sorry, trees… I’m going back to paper books for future purchases.


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