Friday, April 11, 2014
"And now, it's time to read my favorite book...
the next one."
This is very true. While there are a number of books that I could call my favorite, and they each have a special place in my mind, I have an insatiable hunger to keep reading, and keep experiencing new dimensions of literature.
I can credit this desire to expand my horizons to my brother Don. About 12 years ago, I was in a rut. Listening to the same albums, re-reading the same books and eating the same food from the same restaurants, over and over again, ad nauseum. He finally called me out on it. He told me that I wasn't getting anything new, and as such was not growing as a person.
I had to admit, he had a point. So I read 4 books he recommended, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I intentionally started listening to genres of music I had previously dismissed as "not for me." I went to the Bite of Seattle, and intentionally sought out new and unusual dishes I had never before considered letting pass my lips.
I like to think this has helped me to grow as a person, and know a bit more about the world. Not every new experience has been excellent (I don't think I'll be eating deep-fried alligator on a stick again,) but they have all been something new; I don't think that can really be considered bad.
Without this desire for the uncharted, I never would have tasted yak burgers at Country Cousin (a really excellent restaurant in Centralia.) I would not have started listening to Daft Punk or The Flaming Lips (I now love both of those groups.) And I can't even count the number of amazing books I never would have cracked open if I had not made the conscious decision to get out of my literary rut.
And so, having recently re-read a couple of really excellent books, I knew I wanted something new. Something challenging. Something I could be proud of. And then the idea hit me..
The Matilda Challenge.
For those of you who were not fortunate enough to have grown up reading the works of Roald Dahl, I will clarify. One of his books, (in my opinion, his masterpiece;) is titled Matilda. It tells the story of a young girl who is intelligent beyond her mere four years of age, who uses her awesome brain power to stand up to her bullying family, and eventually the cruel headmistress of her elementary school.
However, before she gets on with this, she expands her mind at the ideal location for mental challenge: the local library. Over the course of several weeks, she selects and devours several literary classics, some of which would challenge even the most avid bookworm.
Matilda lists these fourteen books. I have gone back and looked up this list (I had to use Google, as I happily gave my copy of Matilda to the wonderful young daughter of a friend, a few years ago.) I have already read four of the fourteen books on this list. I figure that if I can find the other ten, I may be able to live up to the challenge of finishing all of them. The list is as follows:
-Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Already read it)
-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardie
-Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
-Kim by Rudyard Kipling
-The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Already read it)
-The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Already read it)
-The Good Companions by J.B. Priestly
-Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
-Animal Farm by George Orwell (Already read it)
The first question I had for myself was: what kind of time frame should I set for myself? These are ten rather daunting novels I am setting myself up to attempt. I figure that I can break them up with other books in the meantime, but I should still keep a deadline in mind, just to make sure the fire lit under my ass is still kindled.
I figure that I should be done with this book list (whether through satisfied completion, bored resignation or utter frustration) by the end of this year. So, come January 1, 2015, I will know whether I am up to the Matilda Challenge.
Of course, the Snohomish County library system does not carry all ten of these titles; if I am unable to find a copy of every book, what am I to do then? I figure I may leave it up to you, my dear readers. If a book is unavailable, I will ask my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter to help me decide what more commonly available novel is an acceptable substitute for what cannot be found at the library or bookstore.
I am surprisingly excited at this new challenge I am undertaking. I'm not entirely certain I will be able or willing to complete the task I've set at hand for myself, but it feels good to metaphorically throw my hat over the wall and publicly accept this intellectual mission.
...Dear Lord, do I sound pompous when I talk like that.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Today is the anniversary of a very memorable day in my life. One year ago today, I was in a horrific roll-over accident that could easily have killed both me and my brother Don, who was riding shotgun. The fact that we are both alive today is nothing short of a miracle.
I figure that today, one year later, is as good a day as any (and better than most) to tell the full story of what happened. This story isn't going to be as funny as previous posts, but it's a tale that needs to be told.
Don and I volunteer every summer at Cub Scout Day Camp for the Aurora District of the BSA, Chief Seattle Council. I am the Chief of Staff for Day Camp, and Don is the Rangemaster (Archery instructor.) I also volunteer as Rangemaster at the annual Camporee (the District-wide camping trip) every May. In order to legally run an Archery range for the Scouts, we are required to have our BSA Shooting Sports licenses renewed every two years.
So Don was in town, and we went to the Lions' Club camp in Renton to sit through the same old lecture and get our credentials renewed. Afterward, Don invited me to join him and his girlfriend Heather for lunch at Mr. Gyros, a really awesome Greek restaurant in Greenwood. So we get in my SUV and get onto I-405 South.
Almost at the interchange where we will be getting onto I-5 North, we were traveling at a decent clip, keeping up with the flow of traffic. I glanced over my shoulder for maybe half a second, in order to change lanes to the left. When I looked back, the traffic in front of us was at a dead stop. I slammed on the brakes, and heard the tires screeching. I could tell by the feel of the car that we wouldn't be able to stop in time to avoid rear-ending the car in front of us, so I quickly tried to pull into the lane to our left, which had more room to stop.
We made it about halfway into the next lane when the SUV jackknifed to the left and went up onto its two right wheels, skidding sideways. I still remember the stuttering screech of the tires skidding on the asphalt. I think I said "Oh God, hold on!" as I felt the car tipping past the point of no return.
The next few seconds were a cacophony of crashing noises, as I saw the windshield in front of me shatter and felt myself being thrown about in my seat. After about 3 seconds, the crashing stopped and I saw that we were settled on the passenger's side of the car.
(Sidebar: I never was 100% comfortable driving that SUV. I had to practically relearn how to steer in that thing. It always felt unsteady and top-heavy. This SUV was the same wheelbase as my old Taurus, but was twice as tall, so the center of gravity was much higher. I always said I felt like a giraffe on a unicycle when I was driving in such a wobbly car.)
I heard the engine still running, so I turned off the ignition (I distinctly remember putting the car in Park before doing so, even though we were on our side.)
I looked down at Don, who was awake.
"Don! Are you all right?!"
"Yeah, I think so. Are you?"
"I'm okay. Call 911."
"Dude, I have no idea where my phone is. I think it flew out the window." (It did. It was later found on the road; its screen was smashed, but it still worked. Apple makes a tough cell phone.)
"Avery, there's a pool of blood by my head. Am I bleeding, or are you?"
"I think it's me, but I don't think it's bad."
"Wiggle your fingers and your toes. Do you still have full movement?"
"Yeah. Do you?"
That was when bystanders arrived and told us Emergency Services were on their way. The firefighters yanked the windshield out, cut Don's seatbelt, and he was able to crawl out the front window and stand under his own power. The firefighter asked me if my leg was pinned next to the wheel. I said "No, I just wedged it in there so I wouldn't fall over on my brother." I tugged my leg free, and got into a standing position, lying sideways across the front seats with my feet on the ground through the passenger window. They cut my seatbelt, and I carefully crouched onto my hands and knees, and crawled out the window.
On the paramedics' instruction, I crawled onto a body board, laid face-down on it and rolled myself over onto my back. They lifted the board up, and put me on a gurney, which they soon put into the back of an ambulance. I remember being asked questions to ascertain whether I was conscious and responsive. My name, the date, where I was, etc. Don told me he'd found my phone. No damage. (Samsung makes a *really* tough cell phone.)
While I was in the ambulance, being looked over, a State Trooper came in to question me. Had I been drinking? No. Any drugs in my system? No. Was I on my cell phone while driving? No. Finally, the Trooper tells me he's sorry to do this, but he has to issue me a citation for "Following too closely to avoid a collision."
Dude. REALLY?! I was strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance! Couldn't that maybe wait until later? And he actually handed me the damn ticket! He was literally adding insult to injury.
And for the record, I didn't actually crash into anyone, so technically, I was able to avoid a collision. But oh well, the ticket is long since paid.
Later on, I heard through Don that the guy in the car behind us saw the whole thing. We rolled 3 full times, across the guardrail into oncoming traffic on I-405 North. Thankfully, we didn't hit anybody, and nobody hit us. The paramedic who came up on the scene said he was sure there would be at least one fatality. Nope. Don and I are both fine.
The ambulance took me to Valley Medical Center, where they put me through a barrage of tests to make sure there were no injuries to my brain or spine. I was given x-rays and a head CT, they tested my reflexes and responses, and asked me if I had been drinking or using drugs. I told them the truth: no alcohol, no illegal drugs, and the only medication that may show up in my tests might be the muscle relaxants I had taken for the last time my back was thrown out; however, I had been off them for the last 5 days.
The final diagnosis? A scalp laceration where the moonroof had shattered and scraped my head, leaving shards of glass in my scalp; and a neck sprain, caused by my head getting mashed into my body like a Pez dispenser. The nurse was able to get almost all the chunks of glass out of my scalp, except for one I found and pulled out 3 weeks later. A few months of physical therapy and rehab exercises with my chiropractor took care of my neck problems. Thankfully, Don was just a little banged around; his leather jacket took most of the pounding for him.
I was treated and released less than 5 hours after the accident, and took the next week off work to recover. I am very aware that Don and I were incredibly lucky to have walked away from such a horrific accident that could easily have killed us both. The SUV was a total loss, but the insurance company was amazing in helping me get the treatment I needed and quickly getting me the money to help buy a new car.
I have learned a few things from this accident, and I hope I can impart the same lessons to my dear readers, just in case (God forbid) something like this happens to anyone else.
1. Seat belts save lives. They saved mine and my brother's. So BUCKLE UP.
2. Traffic around you can change speed and density without any warning. Keep constantly aware of your surroundings when you are driving. Tailgating is freaking stupid.
3. If you get hurt and need time off work, get your FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) forms filled out quickly, and make sure copies are faxed to the doctors who treated you, ASAP. This will make sure you don't rack up unexcused absences, and don't lose a paycheck.
And while I am grateful not to have been seriously hurt, I do wonder about the timing of totalling my car...2 months after I made the last payment on the damn thing! God help me, the title was barely out of the envelope!
Thursday, June 21, 2012
However, I like the idea of creating some cards, and giving them out to fellow members. It's kind of like the "school of life" or "school of hard knocks;" it may not be a real place, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from it.
The "Nothing Sacred" school of humor is built on a foundation of the following four rules:
1. Timing is everything. Any comedian will tell you this is true. If you tell a joke to quickly, too slowly, or even mess up the rhythm of the joke, its humor can be lost. You have then killed a perfectly good (or wonderfully bad) joke.
2. If you have to explain it, it's not funny. Have you ever told a joke, and it totally fell flat? No reaction from your audience, save the distant sound of crickets chirping and a lone tumbleweed drifting down a nearby road? Looks like that joke died, too. Don't try to resuscitate it by explaining why it's funny; you're just kicking the corpse. If you killed the joke, odds are it was lame anyway, and had to be put out of its misery. (Yes, I just compared jokes to horses. Ha! Beating a dead horse! Get it? Get it?)
3. Play to your audience. What is funny to one person may not be funny to another. A joke that gets full gut-laughs from your best friend may get a confused look from a family member, or may cause offense in someone you work with. Unemployment is rarely funny; even less so when it happens to you. With humor, one size definitely does not fit all.
4. Everything is fair game. George Carlin put it best when he said "I believe you can joke about anything; it's all in how you construct the joke." There is no topic you cannot turn into humor in some way or another. The trick is finding the right way to tell the joke, and the right person to tell it to. And don't let anybody censor you; that way lies the path of cutesy, milquetoast family fare that is only amusing to Ned Flanders. It's a slippery slope that has killed many comedic careers. Filter yourself, yes; but do not censor yourself. Either everything is acceptable to be joked about, or nothing is.
With these simple rules, it's not that hard to be funny. I'd like to get them printed up onto cards; then I could actually be a "card-carrying member."
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I saw "The Grey" (the new Liam Neeson movie where he fights off wolves in the Alaskan wilderness) over the weekend, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed it, for the most part. The acting was topnotch, the story was definitely engaging and I really felt for the characters. Liam Neeson, you remain one of the all-time most awesome badasses in cinema.
There is one sticking point that my mind kept going back to, all through the movie. Try as I might to ignore it, I can't seem to get past the fact that the main character, John Ottway, has obviously never taken a single survival class, and wouldn't be fit to lead a parade. There is one absolutely vital rule in any situation where you are lost in the wilderness...
STAY WHERE YOU ARE.
The plane is the only location where the survivors have any chance of surviving until the coming rescue. There are several arguments for this:
1. There are no reasons the forest would be better, and plenty of reasons it would be worse.
Ottway decides, entirely on his own, that the crashed wreckage of the plane is not a safe place to be, since it is obviously within the wolves' territory. He tells the other survivors that their best bet is to head for a forest, about a day's hard march through the blizzard. He also admits that he has no way of knowing where the wolves' hunting trails begin or end, and that their kill-zone is over 30 miles wide.
So of course, leaving a big metal structure and trekking across the tundra while hungry and injured is a brilliant freaking idea. Equally stellar is the notion that you'll be safer in a place where there is cover for these vicious predators to sneak up on you. Besides, that forest is just as likely to be part of their hunting grounds, as plenty of prey most likely lives there.
Dude. Any one of the other survivors would raise his hand at that point and say, "Um, shouldn't we maybe stay near the plane, which rescue crews are most likely to be looking for? You know, where the pilot was probably making frequent radio check-ins, and is along the pre-arranged flight path that the FAA knows?"
The plane also most likely has a GPS and an emergency signal transmitter in its Black Box (flight recorder,) which is designed to withstand a horrific crash. An airplane's flight recorder is specified to withstand an impact of 3400 Gs and temperatures of over 1,000 °C (1,832 °F.) The authorities are going to be looking for that signal first. It seems kind of stupid to make them search for 7 tiny little people in a big honkin' tundra, after they searched for and found a plane.
2. Burned-out fuselage may look depressing, but at least it has a roof. And walls.
That plane is the one place anybody lost in the snow would want to be. It may be within the wolves' kill-zone, but it's also the most easily defensible location. There is plenty of scrap material all around that can be carried over and used to fortify their position against a predatory attack. The best thing they can put between themselves and the creatures who want to eat them is distance, but do you know what's a close second?
Metal. Lots and lots of metal. And distance is kind of hard to come by when you're trudging along at 1 mph, putting the scent of blood into the air. The survivors are basically turning themselves into a slow buffet line by walking away from the only real shelter they have.
3. Food and fire kinda come in handy when you're hungry and cold.
There is no guarantee there will be anything to eat in the forest. There is sure to be a cache of emergency supplies in the plane, probably somewhere near the aforementioned Black Box. Besides, a human being can survive for up to 3 weeks without food. That same human being is unlikely to survive the teeth of a Yukon Wolf for 3 minutes.
And while there is plenty of wood to burn in those trees, there's plenty to burn in the crash site too. And it's easier to light a fire when you're protected from the wind and snow by those nice, big, metal walls. Plus, body heat will not dissipate as fast, and the heat of 7 men will keep that wreckage nice and toasty for a good long while.
Admittedly, a film about 7 guys hanging out at a crash site until they're rescued a week later wouldn't be nearly as thrilling. Nor is it even half as badass as seeing Liam Neeson use electrical tape and mini liquor bottles to Wolverine his fist. But still, this character would be far more believable if he showed the survival skills taught to the average Cub Scout.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I had a crystallizing moment today. I realized that I seem to be very single-minded when it comes to some of my friends. There are a number of people that I care about a great deal, who have certain aspects of their life that catch my attention. A couple of them are Jewish, some are gay, one or two have military experience and a good number of war stories. These are just a few examples of interesting parts of the interesting lives of the interesting people that I know and care about.
All of these parts of their lives are fascinating, and I have just realized that when I am with these friends, I tend to focus almost solely on these parts of their personality or history. Nearly my entire conversation with these people seems to center around one or two topics, usually related to these particular aspects.
When it comes to my Jewish friends, I always bring up topics about religion, Hebrew culture, and stories in the news about Israel or Anti-Semitism. With my gay friends, it becomes a discussion about gay rights, if and when they will be allowed to marry, and how the gay community is treated by certain groups. And with one particular friend who was a Navy SEAL, I always want to hear more epic tales about his time in the service.
The moment of clarity I had this morning has laid bare a fact about me that I'm not sure I like. I am single-minded. I tend to focus entirely on one topic, and proceed to beat it into the ground. This is not exclusive to what my friends have to say. When I want to tell people about a movie, band or book that I am into, I will completely canvas the entire subject, and talk about it ad nauseum. As a result, I will actually turn people off the topic I have brought up.
This is the exact opposite effect of what I would like to happen. I talk about things that interest me because I would like to get people interested in those same subjects. That is the typical goal of anyone. When you talk about something, it usually means a lot to you, and you would like it to mean a lot to others.
I now realize that this means I can tend to pigeonhole my friends into certain mindsets and labels. I don't like this. I need to realize, the people I care about are complex, multi-faceted people. They have many interwoven aspects to their lives that deserve my interest and attention.
So now, to any of my friends who have been on the receiving end of my one-note conversations, I would like to apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness. I want to know you as entire people, rather than just identifying you as one part of yourselves. So please, dear friends, let me know that there is more to you than what I focus on. I'll try in future to let our frienships be more encompassing. Thanks.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
It'll be good to hang out with some friends I haven't seen in a while. However, I'm sure this will be nothing like the bachelor parties you see on TV and in the movies. Of course, that's definitely a good thing. The impending party tonight has me thinking about one of the better movies from last year: The Hangover.
I went to see it because I figured I could stand to shut off my brain for a couple of hours, and I thought this would be something along the lines of Dude, Where's My Car? or SuperBad. I was pleasantly shocked to find that The Hangover is suprisingly smart, well-written and the acting is top-notch. Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms play off each other remarkably well, and keep the audience laughing and fascinated for the whole time.
Later, I realized that The Hangover is more than just a well-written and excellently performed buddy comedy about a bachelor party gone horribly, horribly wrong. I felt I'd seen this story somewhere before, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. Later, I realized where I'd seen it, and that made me laugh myself silly all over again...
The Hangover is a modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz.
Now bear with me, readers; I've given this a good deal of consideration. (This goes to show the weird places my mind goes to when I get lost in my own thoughts.) Anybody who hasn't seen The Hangover yet, be forewarned: spoilers ahead.
First we meet Alan, played brilliantly by Zach Galifianakis. He is the Scarecrow. Just listen to him talk for 30 seconds, and you will agree that he definitely needs a brain. Even his unkempt hair and beard look like the straw that is poking out everywhere in the Scarecrow's body.
Next, we go to a school where we encounter Phil, brought to life by Bradley Cooper acting like...well...Bradley Cooper. He is the Tin Man. You can hear in his smug, cynical ramblings that he needs a heart. He swipes his students' field trip money to add to his gambling funds, and refuses to help a kid who wants to ask him a question. Phil even jokes about leaving his wife and son, and never returning from Las Vegas. The silvery gray vest he wears symbolizes the Tin Man's hollow metal chest.
Third, we meet the hapless Stu, played by The Daily Show's Ed Helms. Stu is absolutely the Cowardly Lion. You can't help but feel bad for this poor schmuck, being picked apart by his soulless harpy of a girlfriend, Melissa. If anybody needed courage, it is Stu, who doesn't have the cojones to stand up to Melissa or dump her.
After a wild night, which nobody can remember at all, Stu wakes up to find, to his horror, that he is missing a tooth. This is a perfect metaphor for the Lion's lack of courage: he's toothless.
Doug, who is missing for most of the movie, is Dorothy. He just wants to get home.
After our reluctant heroes go through many trials and tribulations in Las Vegas, (what better location exists to portray the magical and terrifying land of Oz?) they are ordered to return a misplaced $80,000 to Mr. Chow, who apparently has Doug held hostage. The guys band together and hit the Blackjack tables to win the money. In true Hollywood fashion, they win big and give Mr. Chow the cash. He releases Doug, but there's one problem: it's the wrong Doug.
Mr. Chow is now revealed to be the Wizard of Oz: a supposedly powerful man who does not truly come through with what the heroes are expecting of him. But then, thanks to an offhand comment by the other Doug, the fellows realize that Doug was on the roof of the Caesar's Palace hotel, mere yards from where they slept, the whole time. This is even alluded to early in the movie, when we see the mattress that Doug threw off the roof, in an attempt to signal somebody on the ground.
After Doug (the original Doug) is rescued, everybody heads back home, and we realize that our heroes had everything they thought they needed, from the very beginning: Alan had the brains to count cards and take the Bellagio Casino for $80,000 at the Blackjack table; Phil has a heart when he realizes at the wedding just how much he missed his wife and son; Stu shows his courage when he finally mans up and dumps Melissa.
And as for Doug? Well, as Glinda the Good Witch said in The Wizard of Oz, "You had the power to go home all along!" Dorothy just had to click the heels of her Ruby Slippers together and say "There's no place like home." The Ruby Slippers are presented to us in The Hangover in the form of the silver 1969 Mercedes 280SE Convertible they borrowed from Doug's soon-to-be father in law. (In the original book of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy wore Silver Slippers, not Ruby Slippers.)
There are many more parallels to The Wizard of Oz that pop up in The Hangover, but I think this shows with plenty of certainty that there is a definite correlation between these two excellent movies. The next time you watch The Hangover, I hope you spot some of these similarities, and that it adds to your enjoyment of a very funny, clever and well-acted film. And to those of you who plan on going to Sin City, remember these two famous phrases:
"There's no place like home."
--Judy Garland as Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
"Remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes. That shit'll come back with you."
--Jeffrey Tambor as Sid, The Hangover