Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Comfortably Celebrating Independence

Photo courtesy of Disney
Here in the ever propagating city of Conglomeration, Texas the "feels like" temperature is 257 ° F and the humidity is approximately what it will be here when climate change makes the Gulf of Mexico deluge the state.

As a result only the most hard bitten patriots will dare to venture out to the fireworks tonight. Many will sacrifice their lives to do so, bursting stoically into flame (but being instantly put out by the humidity) as they salute the country.

My little family and I used to risk our lives in this way in order to teach our children that freedom isn't free and that America has some darn good patriotic songs. Fortunately we were saved at least once by a tumultuous rainstorm that lowered our body heat just below ignition temperature for spontaneous human combustion.

Nowadays though, being older, "wiser," and having taught the kids all the lessons we've got, we opt -- as we do for almost everything else -- to live vicariously by way of the Internet. Sitting in our comfortable chairs (several of which we bought on the Internet), cool, pre-conditioned air swirling gently about our heads, we plan to watch real, live fireworks streaming electronically into our home from somewhere. Hopefully it's cooler there.

"There" being Orlando, Florida -- so probably not. If you would like to share this experience Disney World will be livestreaming their famous fireworks show tonight for free! Please note: If you are reading this too much into the future I can't guarantee anything.

So how do you do it? According to Disney,
Join us minutes before the fireworks start at 9:00 p.m. ET to learn more about nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World Resort. How can you catch the live stream? Visit the Disney Parks Blog on July 4 and a fresh blog post containing the live stream feed will be ready and waiting at the top.

So we'll be at https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/   just before 8:00 PM Texas time tonight, corn dogs and ice cream at the ready, chromecasting the extravaganza onto our giant TV and reveling in nice, comfortable patriotism.

And if this doesn't work, I'll be right back here posting a grumpy blog post, as is my right.

UPDATE: Hey, it's working!

Click Here (unless it's over)!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father's Day & the Empty Chair

The Chair
Last year my father passed away and so this Father's Day will be the first one where he isn't sitting in The Chair. Actually, last year he probably sat mostly in his wheel chair since The Chair was somewhat difficult to get in and out of by then. But he was still with us and could have occupied The Chair if he so chose.

But this year it's an Empty Chair. And that feels a bit weird.

The Chair

My dad always had The Chair, though it appeared in several guises through the years. But it was always a recliner, and always leather -- or in the earlier days, when he wasn't earning a lot, Naugahyde. Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting in The (fake leather) Chair giving me a sip of his Coke out of a huge, icy glass.

None of us boys (there are three of us) ever sat in The Chair, unless we were deliberately provoking him to see what he'd do. It was quite definitely a symbol of authority. In a patriarchal way our entire family revolved around That Chair, even when we lived a thousand miles away. It's not that he sat there and hurled thunderbolts at anybody; he just had this constant, even, presupposition that all of us would do what he said and things would go the way he wanted them to. And he was usually correct about that.

What I Learned

The interesting thing I learned when he passed away was that he meant more to me than I ever suspected. I always loved him in my self-centered way and I never doubted that he loved me. But I was much more like my mother. Our interests were much more the same, we were both highly intuitive people, it was easier for me to talk to her, and we both liked staying up late into the night watching TV.

My father was far more business-like, more strictly logical, wasn't the most talkative person in the world, went to bed at 9:00 on the dot, and seemed to gain his greatest satisfaction from playing a good round of golf. My brothers loved golf too but I could never get into it, although I tried (a little). They had this camaraderie with him from playing countless games on the golf course that I did not.

He tried to reach out, reading Discover magazine and watching the Science Channel so he could talk about my nerdy interests. And I did get to spend more time with him when he was experiencing his final illnesses.

But I always assumed that my mother's death would have the biggest impact on me. And her passing did hurt excruciatingly. Dad asked me to give a "spiritual eulogy" at her funeral and it was so hard to get through.

I had to do the same thing at my dad's funeral and I remember thinking, "Well, at least this won't be as hard as mom's eulogy was." But it was at my father's funeral that I broke down. I barely made it through. I honestly didn't expect the emotion that welled up as I talked about him.


Since then there have been several times when waves of sadness, of missing him being in That Chair have hit me out of nowhere. Sometimes with no connection at all to what I'm actually doing. My belief is that to deal with grief I need to embrace it and let it happen. So when these waves hit I try to let them flow and just observe what is happening inside me.

Over time this has decreased. I don't think I've had a sudden onrush of emotion like that in months. But tomorrow will be Father's Day with the Empty Chair. It will be an interesting test.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Batman on Mars

Adam West tries to coax Mona the astro-monkey into eating
The late Adam West (Batman, that is) didn't just sear his portrayal of the Caped Crusader indelibly to the public psyche. He was in a lot of other movies and TV shows, including one of my all-time favorites Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Unfortunately for culture, many people react to that title in much the same way as they do to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which, interestingly, came out the same year -- 1964. But this film is much better, getting a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (Santa gets a measly 24%, FYI). In fact Robinson Crusoe on Mars is good enough that it's included in the Criterion Collection of swanky films, which is no mean feat.

Adam West on Mars

Two astronauts, Dan McReady (Adam West) and Kit Draper (Paul Mantee), along with handy experimental subject Mona the Monkey (Barney the Woolly Monkey), crash land on Mars. Two of them survive but unfortunately neither one is Col. McReady, so West doesn't get a lot of face time in this movie. But he seems very astronaut-like (both actors do, actually) and is a ringer for Neil Armstrong, although he -- like Adam West -- wasn't famous yet.

I notice that West's jaw muscles get very tight during scenes where he feeds Mona the Monkey and pulls her space helmet off. It makes me wonder if there was any actor/sharp-toothed monkey tension on the set.

Paul Mantee as Kit Draper
After burying their fellow astronaut, Kit and Mona head off into the rusty desert wilderness of Mars, doing their best to survive during adventures paralleling Robinson Crusoe's. Given the science of the time, long before we had probes and rovers everywhere on Mars, the way they portrayed the Red Planet's environment is pretty good. Most of it was filmed at Zabriskie Point near Death Valley, and with a reddish tint added in post-production the landscape is remarkably similar to photos beamed back by the Curiosity rover.

Few other movies of the time tried so hard to duplicate what science said Mars was like. Of course the rocks that burned like coal AND produced oxygen (one of Mona's insightful discoveries) were a stretch. And rescuing the alien slave Friday along with his supply of air pills was a happy accident. And by 1964 almost nobody thought Mars had canals filled with water anymore. And so on. But, as a bonus documentary the Criterion Collection includes on their DVD points out, Robinson Crusoe on Mars got a lot of things right, or at least as right as can be expected.

Side Note

A little over a year after this film debuted, Adam West would be rocketing to super-stardom as Batman. Meanwhile Paul Mantee, despite being the lead in Robinson Crusoe, never really got his "big break." Instead he did what Wikipedia articles on 2nd string actors frequently term "working steadily." This he did for decades before turning to writing in the late 1990s.

As an interesting side note, he appeared in an episode of his former co-star's show playing a henchman of Catwoman who wears a Batman costume to frame him for a crime. Maybe Adam West threw a little work his way for old time's sake?

Paul Mantee passed on in 2013. No word on the fate of Barney the Woolly Monkey.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

RIP Batman

RIP Adam West
This is the end of an era for me. This is the day that Batman died. And by Batman I mean Adam West, who just passed away at the age of 88.

During the psychedelic 60s when I was a 2nd grader in a flyspeck of a town in New Jersey, one of my favorite comic books suddenly came to life in brilliant color on television. Batman back then wasn't a dark and foreboding fellow riven with anger down in his batcave, brooding over the senseless deaths of his parents.

Instead, he was a detective (the world's greatest!) armed with gadgets who dressed in a blue, light grey, and yellow costume vaguely reminiscent of a bat. He was on good terms with the cops who were constantly calling him via bat-signal or beeping red bat-phone to solve the alarmingly frequent super-villain crimes of Gotham City. Batman at this point in his life wasn't scary or particularly mysterious (though no one knew who he was), just a colorful super-hero, like Superman over in Metropolis, who was probably his best friend. I owned quite a few of their comics.


Then one Wednesday night (January 12, 1966 to be precise) all of that world abruptly appeared in our TV.  Even the sound effect balloons -- POW!, ZAP! -- translated over, and the theme song was unforgettable. Batman and his trusty, even more colorful sidekick Robin were trying to stop the Riddler's perfidious crimes in this episode. And I sat there mesmerized. But then, at the very climax of the story, with Batman drunk (they spiked his orange juice) and Robin kidnapped and about to be operated on -- it ended!!  Instead we got this:






Whaaaat???  I suffered through the whole next day! Until finally, after the longest Thursday in history, we tuned in to find Robin not dissected after all (only used to make a rubber Robin mask for special guest star Jill St. John to wear) and Batman all sobered up. Naturally he goes on to win the day, although poor Jill St. John perishes in the Batcave's nuclear reactor.

Being 7 years old I took this all as straight adventure, never quite catching on that it was being played so deadly serious that it was hilarious to the adults. The utterly straight-arrow Batman played against the surreal atmosphere of the late 60's (which had a vibe even a kid could pick up on) was such a disjunction that Batman and Adam West became the hottest thing on television.

The Grey Ghost

Batman was such a vivid cultural event that, even though Bat-fever quickly drifted away like smoke, Adam West radiated it for the rest of his life. Try as he might he never really escaped the Bat. I remember reading in the 70s and 80s about how he raged against being typecast. But eventually he learned to embrace being the 1960s Batman, attending conferences and appearing with the super-cool 60s Batmobile.

In 1992, West appeared in an animated Batman episode called Beware the Grey Ghost, portraying an actor who once had great fame as a TV superhero, but now was unable to find work due to being typecast by the role. In the end he helps Batman defeat a criminal and gains a new-found popularity with a younger audience.

According to Wikipedia, the producers almost canceled the production because they felt it was uncomfortably close to Adam West's actual life. But West insisted on playing the character.

One has to wonder if it was a sort of catharsis for him.

Sunday, April 23, 2017