Sunday, May 04, 2008

Road Trip

This past weekend, I rode in my second MS150. The MS150 is an annual charity cycling ride that originated in Minnesota and raises funds for Multiple Sclerosis research. It has since spread nationally and there are 3 in Texas, though the Houston-to-Austin two-day April ride is now the most popular in the country. Registration, soft-capped at 13 thousand, opened in October and closed inside of two weeks, despite an increased minimum pledge of $500 ($100 due upfront). My father wanted me to join him in the event two years ago, and I did so with only 3 months preparation and a newly purchased road bike. Crash course.

In the time since, I’ve moved and started to bike commute to work each day along the Houston Bayou (paved) Trail. Almost 18 miles a day, everyday barring significant rain in the morning. I have a second, more rugged, bike for the commute and slapped on literally thousands of miles of experience on it. I started licking my chops for a rematch with the MS150.

I missed last year’s MS150 when registration capped and closed 2 months earlier than I registered the year prior. Not to be caught off guard this year, I hit the online registration site the hour it opened, as if I were trying to score Police tickets on Ticketmaster. Similar to that experience, the site crashed immediately and I wasn’t able to actually get registered until several hours later. It speaks volumes of the ride’s popularity when you have to try this hard to make sure you will be one of the thousands to give them hundreds of dollars in exchange for dehydration and a sore rear end.

At the time, I was still in training for my alleged final marathon that took place this past January. The gameplan would be that I would do the 26.2, take a couple weeks off, and then break out the higher-end road bike for long rides on alternate weekends. The Houston Greater area has a surplus of them from February through April, and this would give me opportunities to reacquaint myself with that bike. Bikes are like horses, you need to take the time to build a rapport before going out for long stretches. Unfortunately, week after week, life got in the way. My sister was married in West Texas in early Feb., then the wife ensured I celebrated on my birthday weekend, the bike took a while getting tuned up, my buddy called us out for an Austin weekend, I was sidelined hours before a morning race with out-of-the-blue back spasms, another Friday late night birthday celebration, and the next thing I knew, it was the final hour.

This left me with a midnight hour 63-miler “warm up” ride 6 days before the real thing. It was great, because it let me get all of the ‘went wrong’ out of the way. Took forever prepping the night before, including tire inflation troubles, too over-anxious to sleep well, etc. The ride took place close to the Gulf, and the winds were tough to cut through on much of the loop course. By the end, my cockiness was completely replaced with humility and a tough of uncertainty about the looming 150. Jacked up backs have a way of doing that to your self-efficacy. This settled the debate of whether I would be getting a deep tissue massage. In fact, what I pushed for and got might qualify as illegal interrogation tactics on my back.

Game time, Saturday morning pre-dawn. We head out with little incident and meet up with my dad at a ‘bandit’ start location off I-10. Leaving from the official (there are 3) starting lines isn’t something I’d recommend, as you would start in the midst of literally thousands of cyclists, all slowly sifting apart into natural paces and lines. It’s like trying to get out of parking lot following a major concert. We arrive a few minutes late to the bandit starting spot, which means I have to go double-time getting the bike off the rack and into my pedal shoes – Dad’s not waiting and I can’t blame him. The upside is, starting with a jolt of adrenaline beats hanging around waiting 10 times out of 10.

The start is decently chilly, but not so much that I would regret going out in short sleeves. I’m not wearing a standard cycling jersey, but a F.C. Bayern personalized (#25, Teufel) soccer jersey. Individuality and standing out is as much the point to jerseys as functionality. One of the many ways cycling is a lot like NASCAR. I like the soccer jerseys since they’re just as functional, a guarantee for uniqueness, and oftentimes a conversation starter. Sure enough, a guy starts riding next to me in the morning wanting to talk about Munich. Helps the time go by. Not as much chatting happens during a marathon, shockingly. I’m also killing the time with a bike-specific iPod mono-boombox. Like my jersey, it is popular amongst the riders around me. Clamps into a water bottle cage and blasts out surprisingly quality audio (remote is affixed to the handlebars). Every old-school running and cyclist frowns upon the use of iPods, usually because they don’t think you should be so laid back that you’d actually listen to tunes. They’re like a cranky parent in that way. Big difference between runners and cyclists, though, is that seasoned cyclists are very likely to curse out and throw a fit over the issue. That’s because a cyclist zoned out with headphones on is the equivalent of a cell-phone driver, and there’s nothing more infuriating than someone oblivious to riders trying to pass from behind or more dangerous than a wreck caused by someone being oblivious to their surroundings. And with clip-in shoes, no protective equipment past the helmet, and speeds exceeding 20 mph, a crash can be extremely serious on rides. You don’t have to know many big riders before finding someone with a broken collarbone or elbow.

That 20 mph mention didn’t make you gasp, did it? Allow me to expound, sticking with the cycling-driving analogy. In my estimation, every 2 mph on a bike is the equivalent of 5 mph for a car. Cars drifting in idle travel somewhere around 10 mph, so that’s 4 mph on a bike. Slow riding on a bike is 8-12 mph, which would be 20-30 mph in car terms. A good easy pace for me is typically 14-17 mph, which would be a suburban traffic-like 35-43 mph. 20 bike miles per hour would convert to 50 mph (makes the wrecking speed seem a little more serious, now, huh?), and 30 on the bike would be 75. 30, not coincidentally, is where you have to start watching yourself on the bike, because a pothole seen too late at that speed is going to ruin your day in a flash. My current high speed (flat sprint) is 34 mph (85) and my top downhill, braking some to my chagrin, is 46 (115). That was a speed that induced a healthy bit of fear to go with my main dish of thrill.

There are plenty of other biking/driving parallels. Staying to the right is a big deal and needs to be ingrained as habit. It’s more than annoying when abreast riders or a random slower-paced rider is eating up passing lines/lanes like a granny that figures going the limit in the far left lane is more than fast enough and you can just live with it, or worse, truckers eating the left lane. Your biggest issues tend not to be catching your breath or keeping your legs fresh as much as getting bored, getting stiff and sore, and having to pull over for quick pit stops, just like on a regular road trip. Just like on the highway, there are those that constantly play leapfrog (passing you only to slow below your speed) instead of maintaining an even pace, and those that get hypercompetitive if anyone passes them. There’s general etiquette for passing (stay right, call up to rider you’re about to pass, pass swiftly and bike decently ahead before going back to pace) that is ignored by far too many on the road. Lastly, cops will pull you over if they catch you pulling stunts (sneaking into a actual car lane to pass a crowd) and tear you a new one.

Back to the ride itself. The MS150 treks from Houston to Austin mainly so that the gulf winds are on the riders’ back. More than hills, heat, and gear, winds will define a ride. More than in running, wind drag can turn you into the Flash or turn your day into a nightmare. <8 mph are light to moderate, depending how they line up (direct, angled, or side), 9-15 mph winds are moderate to strong, 16-24 mph are strong, and above that – well, stay home if it’s a headwind. In a cruel twist, a front moved in days before the MS and reversed the winds, providing 11-15 mph direct headwinds over both days. BAD NEWS. Heading to Houston is on an incline with hills, and adding moderate to strong headwinds to them is a bad cocktail to drink. SAG (Support & Gear) vans are on the course, mainly to transport a rider and damaged bike to the next stop for repairs. This year, the conditions wiped out so many people that the SAG vans were overwhelmed with those bowing out to the extent that buses had to be called in to transport riders to the Day 1 finish area. I surprised myself, maintaining a good speed (17+) until I detoured to the ranch that Lori and I were staying with her cousins. I was hammered by a ruthless combination of strong winds and endless climbs, knocking my speed down to 8 mph and my effort through the roof. For comedy, ask Lori to recite the phone call I put in to her halfway through. If her cousins her it, let me say I no longer wish any of those things on your lives or home.

That evening was very relaxing and nice – nothing soothes like being done for the day and off the bike. Joyriding a golfcart across a ranch helps, too. The next trick? Recovering in time for day 2. As my friend once pointed out to me in regards to the Tour de France – it’s just not natural to kill yourself biking through hills all day and be able to just get up and do it again the next day (the point? They’re all doping. Had I learned the lesson, I would be using some EPO myself).

Alarms again at 5, stuff some bananas and aspirin down and off we go to the Day 2 bandit start. It’s a full 40 mins to get there, and of course I’m in need of a port-a-john before I can go. More than anything, you don’t need to ride with a swollen bladder. Of course, bandit starting points are short on port-a-johns, so off to the other side of the street I head for the shrubbery. Morning Two was much colder than Morning One (about 45 degrees). It’s tricky to be discreet taking care of your business when you’re producing smoke signals of steam. I’m braving it again without warm gear – with no place to stash layers, it’s the right choice. I do steal a pair of Lori’s socks and cut thumbholes to manufacture myself some makeshift mittens. At the first rest stop an hour later, my feet and hands are a touch numb, but it’s warming and won’t be a problem anymore.

Day Two is slightly shorter than Day One, but that’s because Day Two throws hills and climbs at you at several stretches. The course briefly splits, giving the choice of riding on a highway shoulder with cars buzzing you (not as fun as it sounds, and pretty loud) or going through a scenic park. Only that park is known as the Challenge Course – the toughest climbs on the ride make you pay for the wooded scenery. I’ve done the Challenge Course before and had to walk up a couple of the climbs off my bike; so, after yesterday’s murderous finish I conclude that I’ve fulfilled my “challenge” quota for the ride and opt for the highway. That path is far from flat, and with this wind, I am more than okay with my choice. The only real downside aside from the traffic noise is the high “New to This” vs “Experienced Rider” ratio – forget about people knowing how to keep lanes up for passing. Still, it’s a small price to pay and I find myself at the lunch stop at 10 am.

Like with driving and working, I’m very much a “head down, power through” type. I just want to be done and finished. I take most of the rest stops since it’s such a big help to get off the bike each hour, but I’m only there for 3-5 minutes before resuming. Ditto for lunch. Why hang around and let the heat and wind pick up even more? Sooner done, sooner a beer will be in hand. I take a few bites of my Subway sandwich and I’m gone. There’s 30-some more miles for me to get through, and a good number of stretches of direct head winds. Eventually, I cross under the first outer-Austin bypass and reach my final pit stop before the finish.

The finish takes you under I-35 and through the University of Texas, and smelling the end gives me all I need for the home stretch. Still, I grab a couple watermelon slices before getting on the bike one last time – you have to love a sport that lets you pull over and eat some fruit. I cross under highway 183 and get my first glimpse of the UT Tower. This, unfortunately, is followed up by a series of insult hills: steep drops and climbs that can break the spirit of anyone worn out from the day. You also have to be practiced with your gear shifting – gear up as your speed increases down the hill to maximize your momentum for the climb, and be able to gear down rapidly enough to “stay under” the climb. Gear down too slowly, and you won’t be able to maintain a minimum speed and the bike will stop. Gear down too quickly, and you run the risk of the chain slipping off the gears.

Finally, I across under I-35, and enter UT or, as I call it, Victory Lane. I burn through the campus at over 20 mph and hotdog a little bit to the finish line. There’s a very full crowd, and nothing in the world beats being finished. I dismount, find my wife, sister, and brother in law, and grab a complimentary celebratory beer courtesy of St. Arnold’s. Mission Accomplished. Next time though, I won’t mind having the gulf winds on my side.


A King Lost, cont.

In the first half of this informal essay, I put forth the argument that much of LOST appears to be derived from the Stephen King universe of fiction. I would like to further that here, but specifically to King’s Dark Tower series. The seven Tower books are King’s self-described magnum opus: an epic borne out of his youthful desire to pen a Lord of the Rings epic melded with the Man with No Name western film trilogy and Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” poem, as well as an ocean of other works and influences such as Arthurian legends and the Wizard of Oz. The project became too much for King at the beginning of his career, and the seven books were eventually written over a span of more than 25 years (published over a span of 22), with King abandoning and re-engaging the project multiple times.

The basic plot involves an other-worldly “gunslinger” Roland who bands together with 3 New Yorkers from different times of the 20th century while on his quest to reach The Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is a binding nexus of the multiverse; an infinite number of alternate dimensions or parallel Earths. The tower is in peril and should the tower fall, all of the multiverse would be snuffed out.

The Dark Tower’s relationship to LOST is apparent from a number of connections. The tower exists on each Earth in the form of a rose, and this rose gives of a sort of anti-radiation that draws people to it and conveys a healing touch. The rose extends the life of some and cures a minor character of cancer. In LOST, the Island displays a similar ability, suspending the paralysis of John Locke and, more interestingly, curing cancer in a character named Rose. Roland emphasizes the role of “ka” (fate) within his band of “ka-tet;” Locke is similarly convinced that fate and destiny have called and banded the castaways to the island. The Dark Tower is threatened by the actions of vague, shadowy corporations (North Central Positronics, Sombra) whose abandoned machinations are continually come across by Roland’s band; Dharma and the Hanso Corp. play a seemingly identical role on LOST. In the fifth book, Roland’s ka-tet encounter and seek to put an end to a series of raids on a village by mysterious bandits that kidnap somewhat psychic or gifted children and return them as mentally inert; in season two, the castaways on LOST suspect the Others of the same evil. The Dark Tower is held by 3 crossing beams anchored at 6 ends by portals named after mythological animals (The Portal of Shardik the Bear, for example); Locke discovers a map of the Island which shows the 6 hatches, including The Swan, laid out in a similar manner around the hatch later to be revealed as “The Pearl.”

As LOST rumbles into its 4th season, my theory on what the Island represents as become largely shaped by The Dark Tower. I believe that the holy grail of King’s epic became the template for Team LOST’s mystery. I call it the Pinhole/Snowglobe Nexus Theory.

I take the central core of the Dark Tower’s essence: it is a binding nexus and integral to the fabric of our world. Unlike the Tower, I do not believe it is a physical place (or object) on Earth, I believe that it sits outside as in a parallel dimension or whatever comic book geek label which would more accurately fit. Desmond tried to sail away from the Island for months (Michael made a similar attempt with Jin and Sawyer) only to keep arriving back at the Island. I believe that is because that is all there is to find; that the Island is its own world. Obviously, there are ways to leave and enter; I believe there are several (if not many) “pinhole portals” that are not visible to the naked eye that allow crossing between Earth and the Island.

In The Dark Tower, portals allowed Roland to travel between his world and ours (and other parallel Earths) but were in the form of magical doors. An interesting aspect of Tower’s portals is that time was not aligned between the worlds: a different portal opened up into a different time, and time on one world did not pass with the same speed that it did on another. As Roland eventually approaches the Tower itself, time slowed and eventually came to a halt. This becomes very interesting, as LOST has increasingly planted allusions to time, most pointedly with Daniel Faraday’s rocket experiment. The head of the freighter has the last name Minkowski, shared with the scientist who built upon Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to form his theory of the Space-Time Continuum. It is my impression that the Tunisian Dharma bear fossil indicates that the bear wandered through a portal and found itself transported not just through space (Island to Northern Africa) but also through time (hundreds of years, at least), and that the Island sits outside of our Space-Time Continuum, acting as a nexus point.

Entering the Island is reminiscent of the Bermuda Triangle, always a favorite sci-fi Twilight Zone-ish premise. Only, there may be numerous Bermuda Triangles from which to enter; a sub leaves Portland, a plane takes off from Sydney, and plane takes off from Africa, a ship sails in the Indian Ocean…all of which arrive at this same island. Once in the Island, exiting may lead to anywhere or anywhen, depending on what portal you take. At the end of season 3, it was revealed that Ben had been rigorously jamming radio transmissions, and it could be that this was to keep outsiders from gaining access to the Island. Rousseau claimed that the boat she was on followed a radio transmission of The Numbers to the Island, perhaps suggesting that radio frequencies can travel through the portals just like people, or planes. This leads to my snowglobe theory. I think of the Island’s world as a snowglobe, painted black, and sitting in a dark room rendering it invisible. The portals act as pinholes around the snowglobe. Should a light glow from within the snowglobe, you could see the pinholes, and the way to enter the globe. The radio transmissions may be acting as this sort of beacon, showing the Others or Dharma the way in. Ben presses on Michael to follow an exact bearing so that he may leave the island, and Faraday presses to Frank that he must follow the exact same path of entry when he exits. The entry and exit points are both particular and crucial. Coupled with the Rocket experiment (note that the rocket would not have approached the island in the same way his the helicopter), I am led to believe that you may also enter the island at different time points, depending on “where” you enter.

So if the Island is a non-world nexus of space and time, its appeal to scientists (and opportunists) becomes evident. The extraordinary properties of the Island, from the healing to the magnetism, are intriguing enough (we were enraptured with the moon, too), but the prospect of using the Island as a stepping stone through time and space makes it a marvel that wars would be fought over.

To go back to the Dark Tower theory, it is my assumption that exploitation of the Island by people endangers it and likely threatens not only its existence but could touch off apocalyptic effects upon Earth and the Space-Time Continuum. Metaphorically, it acts as a statement about our ecosystem: corporations set against nature-communing hippies.

Maybe I’m correct about this, maybe I’m completely off base. If I am wrong, I will say that the Stephen King connections (Jeff Fahey also played the lead role in Stephen King’s Lawnmower Man film adaptation!) are so numerous that this was the greatest Red Herring of all time. Time, and the remaining 46 episodes will tell.


Monday, February 18, 2008

A King Lost (Part I)

Trying to crack the nut that is LOST is a handful; any fan of the show can clue you in on that. Desperate Housewives doesn’t immediately send thousands to message boards following each show. One of the most time-consuming aspects of LOST decoding is sifting through the endless pile of hints, nods, winks, conspicuous lines, three-frame visual clues, and everything else crammed into the episodes by the producers to tease or illuminate. The team from CSI would need a few months to go through the mountain of details piled up over the course of the 70 shows already aired.

Making matters worse for LOST’s detective corps is that relevancy is a major concern. Viewers quickly caught on to the show’s endless “easter egg” plants, ranging from music nods (Mama Cass played on the Hatch’s record player; episode titles such as “White Rabbit”), book nods (Sawyer’s catalogue of beach reading material), film nods (Star Wars being the most popular), to the more intriguing ones. Any cameo by The Numbers sent the fan base into a frenzy well before the season one finale, and the producers became so aware of it that while they admitted that The Numbers weren’t “an answer,” they decided to keep tossing them out there for fan enjoyment. Point being, when Hurley runs past some soccer girls whose jersey numbers are The Numbers, fans may leap on it but aren’t actually being given anything to figure out the show’s puzzle. Though it stops a LOST apostle’s heart when it unexpectedly pops up, seeing another Dharma Logo or catching a glimpse of another coincidence amongst the backstories does not answer any questions. Some things are just superficial and warrant no more than a smile and nod. Charlotte Staples Lewis (C.S. Lewis) acts as such a superficial nod. Having said all of that, I do believe one recurring plant in the show has a deeper meaning that may in fact go a long way in theorizing what is at the heart of The Island’ mysteries. Stephen King.

The love affair between Stephen King and Team LOST (J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse) is not a secret. In his Entertainment Weekly column, King has made no attempt to hide his affection for the show, often referencing it or recommending it to television viewers. Likewise, the producers of LOST have cited King as an inspiration/influence on commentary in both the DVD box sets and their pod casts. In a significant show of mutual respect, King has given Abrams, Lindelof, and Cuse the greenlight to adapt his Dark Tower series to film. Besides all that affection, there are the numerous intersections between King’s works and LOST.

Starting with the superficial, Team LOST has cited The Stand as a key influence, and that is most readily seen in the sharp divide between the Castaways and The Others. But how original or profound is that? Good and evil, black and white; it’s been the most common play in story telling’s history. There are also the book plants: The Gunslinger, Carrie, and Hearts of Atlantis; there for the never-blinking eye, but may not be any more telling than when a Judy Blume showed up. There are also the dialogue plants: Carrie made the rounds in Juliette’s book club, possibly prompting Ben to ask Locke for some Stephen King reading material two months later. There are also graphic matches. In Season One, Locke and Boone dig away at The Hatch, which would be difficult not to connect with Bobbi Anderson’s backyard woods dig in The Tommyknockers. In Season Two, Henry Gale’s balloon carriage is scouted out by Sayid and Kate, it bears a few sponser logos on it, including one for Nozz-a-la Cola, an alternate dimension Earth soda encountered by The Dark Tower’s quartet in their travels. In On Writing, page 97, King describes, “a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. Inside the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes… On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.” In Season Three, Ben mentally cons and tortures Sawyer using this exact same #8 white rabbit.

There are other similarities, which could just be chalked up to great minds thinking alike (or one plagiarizing from the other). King has long loved to plug literary references into his books; it can be shocking how well-read some of his rural Maine characters turn out to be. LOST and King make common mention of Watership Down, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, the Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter (honest), Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, and several other novels. Both have used dreams as a device, with characters being either guided by them or receiving glimpses of their future. LOST also (seemingly) borrows on another King staple: Daddy Issues. Few, if any, on the Island had a harmonious two-parent upbringing. Neither did King, whose father left his wife and two sons while King was still a tot. In his books, King very often inserts dysfunctional or single-parent (or parent-figure) relationships: Jack and his mother in The Talisman; Ben, Eddie, and Beverly’s single parent families in IT; Roland and Jake in The Dark Tower; Clayton and his son as well as Clayton and Alice in Cell; Carrie and her mother in Carrie; and, Ben Mears and Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot. Danny Torrance from The Shining is a prime example of a character with an ongoing father issue, though I don’t believe anyone on LOST was chased around a hotel by their ax-wielding dad.

Then the parallels take on Kennedy-Lincoln level connections. LOST sees a plane crash land into a Twilight Zone-ish island, The Langoliers sees a plane cross into a Twilight Zone-ish Earth. Both LOST and The Stand have a young and pregnant character carrying to term without a father (Claire, Frannie). LOST’s two main male characters are Jack and Sawyer, and the protagonist of The Talisman and Black House is Jack Sawyer. Walt on LOST is a youth possibly endowed with psychic abilities, something seen in numerous King works (The Shining, Carrie, The Dark Tower, The Children of the Corn). Lost has Charlie struggling with substance abuse, and King often wrote similar such characters often modeled after himself (Jack from The Shining, Eddie Dean from The Dark Tower, Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot, Gard from The Tommyknockers, and Larry Underwood from The Stand, to name a few). The characters in LOST are dogged by a “monster” that assumes the appearance and memories of key people from their past to torment them or lead them to their deaths, this is also the modus operandi of Pennywise from IT.

Now, take any one of the previous examples, it’s reasonable to argue that it may just be a coincidence. Altogether? I suspect they’re as much coincidence as the intertwined backstories of the LOST castaways. I have also reached the conclusion that King’s Dark Tower series may offer LOST fans the biggest possible clues to what the Island is.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Deja Viewing

One of the toughest things about marathon training is the insane amount of time you have to run.  Sounds Yogi-ish, I know, but what I’m getting at is the time, not the running.  When you’re out there for over 4 hours, that’s a lot of time to pass.  Picture yourself sitting in a chair for 4 hours with no TV to watch or Hulk comics to read.  You’d go nuts.  It’s crucial when running to have something distracting you, beyond the boredom.  From the moment you start to the moment you finish, all you hear in the silence is “let’s just stop now, this sucks,” echoing within your skull.  It’s critical that you have something, anything, taking your mind off the actual running; it’s a big reason why marathons are 80% mental.  

I have some tricks.  I’ve found that starting the run a couple of hours before dawn leaves you in such a deliriously tired state that most of the time flies by.  The more awake you are, the more alert you are to the fact that you are in fact running and it’s not pleasant.  While running with my iPod, my imaginary band and I are throwing one heck of a concert.  We tend to open with ‘Standing on the Moon’ and close with a wicked ‘The End’ segueing into ‘Paint it Black,’ and it’s a good time.  I’ll go ahead and admit that Michelle Branch sometimes comes out for a number during our set break.  

Going into my 22.4 mi training run this past Saturday for the Austin marathon, my running support group mentor Rob suggested I go with one of his mainstays, coming up with a ranked list, in this case, for the most rewatchable movies.  Now, deep thinking tends to go out the window once I’m a few miles in as I become increasingly more loopy and fixated on the thought of being laid out on our sectional at home, but I figured I’d give it a go.  Here’s what I came up with.

First thing I wanted to do was clarify my definition of “most rewatchable” movie.  I didn’t want to let it meld into my list of favorite movies or my list of most highly regarded movies.  I realized the penultimate litmus qualifier was:
If I watched this movie yesterday, would I be game to watch it again with others today?

I think that bumps off a lot of great/cherished movies right off the bat.  I’ve never been able to watch the entire thing, but I can’t see even the most girly Gone With the Wind fans sitting through that behemoth twice in two days.  The first two Godfathers validate the cinematic medium as a form of art on their own, but back-to-back viewings wouldn’t be possible without a healthy amount of No-doze.  The time commitment is a factor; I’m less likely to plop and watch if I need to clear out 3+ hours to do so.  Major dead spots hurt - the final 40 minutes of Wedding Crashers got that one disqualified.  The date-movie scenes/subplots that I have to tolerate the first time around become crippling with repeat viewings (no Rocky).  Eye candy is certainly a bonus factor – there are more than a few movies where I’m not paying any attention to anything (audio or visual) that might make the movie unenjoyable thanks to effects, cinematography, or, you know, maybe an actress.  Another qualifier was: If in a conversation it comes to light that someone hasn’t seen movie X, how compelled would I be to slap them into the couch and watch movie X with them on the spot?  Similarly; how excited would I be to rewatch this movie right now?  

As a final rule, I only considered movies I’ve seen at least 4 times total and at least once in the past two years.  That helped me resist the temptation to add any ‘heart grows fonder’ pity cases into the mix.  I also only considered DVD-watching.  Seeing a movie as I flip through cable was taken out of the equation, for reasons I’ll explain later.  As a final disclaimer: this is not a ‘best movie ever’ list, it’s my personal list of movies I’d be most inclined to rewatch.  If you find yourself getting huffy looking through this, I’d (a) recommend you go with Trek bikes instead and (b) rather not hear about it.  

My Personal Top 25:
  1. Animal House

  2. Psycho

  3. Drop Dead Gorgeous

  4. From Russia with Love

  5. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones: Live @ the Quick*

  6. Arrested Development Season 2*

  7. The Office Season 1  (BBC)*

  8. Dazed and Confused

  9. Pulp Fiction

  10. The Blues Brothers

  11. Billy Madison

  12. This is Spinal Tap

  13. The Wizard of Oz

  14. Goldfinger

  15. The Empire Strikes Back

  16. Back to the Future

  17. Temple of Doom

  18. Raiders of the Lost Ark

  19. Mallrats

  20. Coming to America

  21. The Matrix

  22. A Few Good Men

  23. Tommy Boy

  24. MST3K: Pod People*

  25. Ricky Bobby**

Honorable Mention:
Austin Powers 2; The Wrath of Khan; The Princess Bride; Matrix Reloaded; A Christmas Story; Brahm Stoker’s Dracula; Gone in 60 Seconds; Goldeneye; Desparado; Chris Rock Bigger & Blacker; 10 Things I Hate About You; Vampires; Army of Darkness; Shrek 1&2; Trainspotting; Young Guns; Beverly Hills Cop 1&2; Kill Bill Volume 1; Jackie Brown

Missed the Cut:
These movies are close, but need at least some air between viewings before I’d sit through them a second time.  
The Godfather 1&2; Heat; the Lord of the Rings Trilogy; Top Gun; Swingers; Breakfast Club; Batman; Dusk til Dawn; Waynes World; Vacation and European Vacation; Clerks; Sixteen Candles; Ghostbusters; Usual Suspects; Goodfellas; Reservoir Dogs; Terminator 2; Ocean’s 11; Aliens; Old School; Wedding Crashers; Chasing Amy; Boogie Nights; Office Space; Austin Powers; Happy Gilmore; the Blade Trilogy

TV versus DVD:  
A trend I noticed when compiling the list was that guilty pleasure movies popped up a good deal.  Further, I realized I had to separate the movie watching into DVD and TV categories since what I’d be inclined to watch changed dramatically.  I can’t explain why, but I’m ten times more likely to watch a semi-bad movie over and over on cable than I am to rent or even own it.  I don’t know why, but it happens.  I think I’ve seen Blast From the Past almost a half-dozen times on cable and there’s no actual draw to it; even Alicia Silverstone is at her career low in it.  I can tell you right now there’s not a single thing that would get me to switch from Josie and the Pussycats if it aired on a Saturday afternoon, not even college football or March Madness.  Despite all that, this bizarre genre of movies wouldn’t cut it in my “proper” list above.  A few would get honorable mention, maybe, but nothing higher than that.  Maybe with some time and self-reflection I’ll be able to put forth a thesis on this crazy DVD-Cable movie phenomenon.  I promise, you’ll be the first to hear it.  Til then, go rent a movie from my list and enjoy!

* - That’s right.  I put two TV show box sets, a Mystery Science Theater 3000, and a concert DVD on there.  I’d watch any of them end to end sooner than The Breakfast Club (and I do!)
** - I want to put this much, much higher, but not enough time has passed for me to do so with a clean conscience.  

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunset Vs Sunrise: Which wins?

I always felt Grease 2 was just as good, if not better, than the original. You had Michelle Pheiffer, some fun songs, an enjoyable plot, and a cool rider. It held a place in my heart, you see, because I didn’t see the first movie until years later. We have a tendency to reset the bar for sequels, follow up albums, and later seasons following grand debuts in entertainment. Sometimes this prevents us from accepting (decently) good examples of media as anything but pale forms of their predecessors. Was Godfather 3 truly that unwatchable or did it just fail to stay in the same room with the rest of the trilogy? If he never enjoyed the Police era, wouldn’t Sting still have a decent solo career? If I started watching the Sopranos at or after season 3, would I notice or care about the heavy soap opera slant?

This is the question that’s boiling about for me as 24 returns for its 6th season. 24 debuted in the late fall following 9/11, and critical acclaim more than ratings (8.6 million viewers averaged for a #76 ranking) kept the show going. FOX made an ingenious move last year by slating all episodes to air as a single and continuous block across the first half of the year. As the most continuity-driven show in the most ADD-addled country on the planet, this worked out wonderfully for the network (13.8 million averaged for a #24 ranking). This has led to an interesting situation where a very large segment of the 24 fanbase consists of viewers that got hooked 4 seasons late. As I see and hear the most widespread mainstream excitement and acclaim over the show, the series seems to be on an obvious nosedive to myself and other longtime watchers.

The first 3 seasons of 24 were fantastic movies stretched out and cut up over 24 (17, if you cut the commercials out) hours. I don’t want to overstate the case – they had their fair share of blemishes, usually found in the subplots needed to round out the series and change the pace each episode. Tough-to-swallow romantic interludes and the intolerable Adventures of Kim Bauer (I can’t control my heart rate! There’s a live cougar about to pounce on me!) in particular kept me from ever nominating 24 as the best thing on television. Still, the first and third seasons have clearly stood above the rest of the series in my book. Both were well-written, well-acted, compelling, and were the most creative of the seasons.

The two seasons following and, at first glance, the current one have embraced the formula of the earlier seasons and seem to simply rotate through previously established scenarios (a mole in CTU! Jack disobeys an order and is arrested!) and confine themselves to the box (the terrorists are in Los Angeles, Jack must work as a member of CTU despite leaving it at the end of each ‘day’, you can travel anywhere within the greater LA area in the span of a commercial break, etc). Season 5 took the series to a low point; fully integrating Days of Our Lives writing, inserting overt political soapboxing (there was an instance in season 2 well), and becoming a film study course in shark jumping. In most movies or TV series, you can read the foreshadowing and figure out some major plot points when you want to (or if you read LOST spoiler boards). When the show has become so formulaic and transparently telegraphic that you’re groaning at the first contrived “subtle” give away, you’re treading on Robocop 3 ground. By the time it wrapped up in May, myself and 2 others that watched it live weekly took to simply giving it the MST3K treatment (call me Joel). The series, like James Bond’s Moonraker days and Michael Bay movies, realized that as long as the explosions and effects remained high quality, there was no need to worry about anything else.

In the first glimpses of the new season, it seems that the drop off has managed to become more pronounced. The soapboxing has become openly preachy to the point you would think it was a Lifetime Original movie. CTU’s human resources department has ordered a young models only staffing decree, terrorists haven’t learned that taunting Jack Bauer is akin to cutting off Bruce Banner in traffic, an ’86 Caprice Classic on LA streets can outrun military artillery coptors, and the weasley member of the President’s advisors and the annoyingly outspoken Palmer family member have been reincarnated yet again. Worse, the acting has become so shallow and the writing so stilted that I have to wonder if George Lucas is pulling the strings.

Just like America will fill the seats for Die Hard 4, they will watch 24 and not ask for anything higher. Since so many missed out on the earlier seasons, there isn’t a frustration concerning the drop off in the writing and ingenuity.

Let me revisit what I first mentioned – what is more important, my soured perspective of the series as a longtime viewer or the enthralled take of someone who just discovered it a year ago? I figure it doesn’t matter at all. It’s entertaining, and still in the top ten of current TV shows for what it delivers weekly. People like myself have the dilemma of the shared time slot with Heroes solved and still have the upcoming 24 film to look forward to for a shakeup to the formula that has staled for us. People that are eating up the show as it is are happy and loving it. Hey, I know I didn’t like it when people got on my case for liking The Color of Money when I had never seen The Hustler. I won’t mention anything about Return to Oz.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Run the Rock, by Rob W.

After completing my first marathon in November of ‘05, missing were the feelings of euphoria and elation that most runners indicate as the main motivation for the grueling 26.2.  My race crashed and burned like a Hindenburg into an oil tanker.  My calves started cramping at mile 16, forcing me to do the walk of runner’s shame for the last 10 miles.  In addition, the selection of the San Antonio marathon was an ill-fated one.  It was double out and back course (meaning you run 6.5 miles out, turn around and run back in, then rinse repeat) which forced you to pass the finish line 3 times before you actually crossed.  If I die and go to hell it might actually be a lifetime of running an endless marathon where I pass the finish line every few miles.  On that day, I crossed the finish line exasperated and angry and embarrassed.  I knew even before finishing that there was to be another marathon in my future.  Sunday was my redemption—my “remember the 5:13 at the Alamo.”

Training commenced in July.  I switched up my training routine from last year by adding an extra day of running and ramping up more quickly to long runs.  I also spaced said long runs out 2 weeks, with “shorter” long runs in between.  The first few months of training could not have gone better.  When I completed the first of 3 planned 20 milers, I called my running buddy and told him “I’m ready.  I only worry that I’m 6 weeks out and something screwy might happen.”  The following Thursday screwy happened as I woke up w/ some pretty significant pain in my right knee.  Exercising caution and playing it “safe,” I took what amounted to a week off sitting out a 3 miler, a 13 miler, and a 6 miler, respectively.  That proved to be a turning point as I struggled from that day out.  I completed another 20 miler on “dead” legs.  My third attempt at 20 resulted in me walking the last 7 miles.  I then attempted a 15 miler and had to walk the final 3.  The race was 2 weeks out, and I couldn’t have lacked more confidence.  After a grueling active release massage session, some serious stretching, and many plates of pasta, I was a day out and on the road to Dallas.    

I selected the Dallas White Rock Marathon for the sole reason that it was the antithesis of the San Antonio course.  It was a full loop course that was easy mentally to break up into segments:  9 miles from the start to lake, 10 miles around the lake, 7 miles to glory.  What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t have known, was how great the people of Dallas were in supporting this event.  Of the 16 non-lake miles, I’d say about 12 of them were through residential areas.  And oh how the neighbors came out in full support.  Front lawns were turned into tailgates, sidewalks into stages w/ bands, and a grueling activity into a fun, social event.  As a runner I felt appreciated, respected, and supported.  You couldn’t ask for more.  I definitely left town yesterday w/ a new found appreciation of the city and its people.

My favorite story from the day comes as a result of the residents’ support and humor.  Between mile 7 and 8 there was a group of guys standing on a lawn drinking beer.  They had placed a case of beer on a table w/ a huge sign saying “free beer for runners.”  I chuckled and thought “fat chance pal—maybe at mile 25.”  About a quarter of a mile past this table I run by an older gentleman who’s walking and drinking a beer.  As I pass I say “hey, you took them up on their offer, huh.”  He looked at me and replies “you never, ever pass up a free beer.”  Point well taken.

The race started at American Airlines Arena.  After the Star Spangled Banner and an inspiring F-16 flyover, we were off.  The first 10 miles were cake.  We wound through the streets of Dallas, through the “West End (?),” and into the aforementioned residential areas.  The route really highlighted the beauty of this city.  One thing I noticed is that while it’s definitely a “modern” or “new age” city, it manages to maintain an old town feel.  There’s history in this town and you definitely feel it as you wind through its streets.  At mile 7 I run into the tambourine lady and her husband.  They got an Ipod docking station playing what I later told is the theme from “chariots of fire.”  Unfortunately I can’t hear it due to my own Ipod and miss the opportunity to do the Clark Griswalk arm pumps.  They also have water (praise jesus) and a goo pack.  You definitely have to appreciate, and be humbled by, friends that will drive 4 hours to have at most 2 or 3 chances to spend about 30 seconds cheering for you.  

The first signs of trouble for me surfaced between mile 11 or 12.  The hamstrings were beginning to tighten up and the dead legs were coming.  I think the wall hit at about mile 14 or 15.  I had felt as though I had nothing left and starting at mile 16 I found myself searching for the next mile marker and counting em down in my head (it’s not bad, only 10 more miles left / you can do it, only 9 more miles / bloody hell, how can I freaking run 8 more miles).  The run around the lake was grueling as the crowd support thinned out a bit.  However, every time I thought I was about to fall over there’s a beautiful woman telling me I’m looking good (another neat thing about this marathon is they put your name on the bib—great great idea especially in a town w/ as much eye candy as Dallas), or a little kid holding their hand out for high fives, or a water station looming in the distance.  As they have a contest every year for the best water station, they go all out.  My favorite was obviously the Hooters water station.  Of course, it was a little de-motivating b/c I found myself with the sudden urge to eat some wings or perhaps curl up in a lap or two.  

The “Dolly Parton Hills” start at mile 19.  They are a series of gradual climbs culminating in a 140 foot incline at mile 20 through 21.  At 19, I start walking through the water stations and up hills.  I can’t feel my feet and my calves are a minute from cramping.  I also feel cramps creeping on in my hamstrings and my thighs are raw at this point.  My arms feel like I’ve been carrying 40 pound dumbbells all day and I swear there are knives sticking in my sides.  However, I somehow manage to run most of 19 and grab some water and orange slices at 20.  After walking about a quarter of a mile, Fredo helps out and cues up Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.”  This gets me to the top of the hill and to the 21 marker in full stride.  I pump my fist and search for my theme music who had planned on meeting me at the top, but apparently I had beaten them there.  

To say the last 5 miles were the hardest 5 miles of my life would be a gross understatement.  At this point, my run vs. walk ratio was probably about 60/40.  I feel like curling up in the middle of the street and taking a nap.  In moments like these, you get inspiration wherever you can.  I remember one shirt I read that said “at mile 18, you wonder why you do it.  At 26.2, it becomes clear.”  Mile 22.  I think of another, “I miss you every day mom.  Every step of this is for you.”  Mile 23.  Fredo helps out once again, ~what you see, what you see, what you see is human~  Mile 24.  I see 2 runners practically carrying a third who can barely walk.  Mile 25.  At this point, thinking I’m on a 4:45 pace I see the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen.  Like an angel, Maria the 4:15 pace girl runs by me.  I catch up to her, tail her for a bit, always keeping her in my sight.  So close, yet so miserably far.  I can’t run another step.  I need something.  Fredo steps up in a major way:    ~And now the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain…….  For what is a man, what has he got / If not himself, then he has naught.  The record shows, I took the blows, and did it MY WAY~   As Frank ends his crooning, I pass the 26 mile indicator already welling up.  I pull out the ear phones and try to take in as much of the last .2 as I could:  The crowd screaming, the finish line coming closer, that sweet race clock reading 4:18, the announcer saying “Rob Walter, Austin, TX.”  I cross the finish line, put my hands on my head and break down.  

A marathon is more than 26.2 miles.  It represents months of grueling training.  It represents months of focusing on one goal, on one objective.  You give up weekends, you give up happy hours, you give up trips.  You sit in ice, stretch endlessly, and live w/ pain constantly.  And you roll the dice.  When things go bad on race day, it’s as deflating as any non-tragic life circumstance.  After San Antonio, I didn’t even want to talk about the marathon.  Every “you finished” was a kick to my gut.  I buried that experience yesterday.  From the minute I crossed the finish to the time I put my head down on my pillow yesterday, I was purely happy.  I was completely satiated by a sense of accomplishment.  What’s in 26.2 miles?  In a word:  everything.  

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Putting Stock in Bond

I’m no Bond authority, but giving an opinion on the 007 series is a basic human right, especially in the wake of Daniel Craig’s debut. I find the history of the series to be fairly interesting, and without further ado, here’s my take:

Starting off, Never Say Never Again never happened. For good reason, this is often mentioned as the worst Bond ever, but it wasn’t an official (EON Productions) film. Let’s just wipe it off the list. I’ll also skip over Lazenby’s single stint; some say it would wear the best-ever crown had Connery stayed in the role and that it was unfairly panned since no one wanted a new, no-name Bond. Regardless, it was a mistake, and I’m not going to acknowledge it. In fact, I wouldn’t be against it being redone for the Daniel Craig era.

An interesting aspect of the franchise has been its faith in its directors, helping to maintain continuity. Of the first 27 years and 15 movies (excluding Majesty), only four directors were used: Terence Young (3 of the first 4); Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Diamonds, and the first two Moore outings); Lewis Gilbert (Only Live Twice, Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker); and John Glen (all five films from the ‘80’s). This, along with the 1996 loss of master producer Cubby Broccoli, changed with the four-movie Brosnan stretch. Another form of continuity was the regularity of releases: all movies came out within two years of one another until the franchise fell into turmoil at the close of the 1980s.

Because of the longevity of the series and its regular release schedule, it strikes me that each movie’s success largely depended on the popularity of the previous. Viewers would still have the previous installment fresh on their mind when the next was on the way (studio execs routinely keep sequels in the freezer if an installment bombs – see Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles 2; 5 years wouldn’t be enough to let the Vanilla Ice scars heal). When you follow admissions rather than gross, keeping an even playing field across the years, I feel this bares fruit. The first three Bond sequels with Connery each saw an average of 30 million more admissions than the film they followed, likely a carry-over from the buzz each film generated. I do not think that it is a coincidence that the first 3 Bond films (No, Russia, and Goldfinger) are on everyone’s best of Bond list. Thunderball (taking in the most admissions of any Bond films at 166 million) was probably the first 007 film that could not keep up with audience expectations. Thunderball, still an excellent film, would be hard pressed to live up to impossible hype. You Only Live Twice (Bond #5) probably paid the price for this initial letdown, as ticket sales dropped by more than half. It didn’t take more than one look at Dalton for audiences to make up their mind; his second Bond outing marked the fewest admissions of any from the franchise. New-Bond curiosity also seemed to have a substantial effect; the debut of every new actor aside from never-happened Lazenby was accompanied by admission increases versus the previous movie.

The most notable difference between the Bond films and novels is the Hollywood emphasis on gadgets and high speed chase scenes. As the films progress, the departure becomes increased as the films seem to try and top one another with wilder and wilder Q inventions and adrenaline scenes. In my opinion, this ultimately led to the campy lesser era in conjunction with the end of Fleming novels as the basis for screenplays. As an example of Bond gone awry, studio execs put off For Your Eyes Only in the wake of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, and other space sci-fi films in order to put together Moonraker, whose connection to the Fleming novel begins and ends with the title and the name of the villain. Instead of the ground-based plot involving Cold-War missiles, EON Productions slapped together a space-oriented rehash of previous ‘destroy the world’ 007 plots and recurring nemesis Jaws, who finishes the film as a lovable goof.

At this point, in my eyes, the Bond legacy had fallen into silliness and self-satire. Seemingly aware of how far from the Fleming origins they had gone and how the grosses were slipping as well, a pair of attempts to re-establish the franchise were made. Roger Moore’s final outing, A View to a Kill, bore little resemblance to his more campy films, and the Dalton experiment stood out for its more serious and real-world-based approach. However, audiences did not accept Dalton and License to Kill’s plot was so routine (Bond seeks vengence while tackling a drug lord) that it was difficult to identify as a 007 adventure. When the dust settled, the Dalton box-office disasters along with legal infighting nearly sank the franchise as the 1980s closed.

The Pierce Brosnan stint brought about original stories, fully divorcing the films from Fleming novels. The failed attempt to move away from campy movies led to a second correction and an increased Hollywood blockbuster feel for the movies: the budgets and effects soared and seemingly overshadowed the plots. A new director was brought in for each installment, recurring CIA operative Felix was removed, and the Brosnan era ended with an Ice Castle showdown that nearly matched Moonraker in the ridiculousness category. Bond embraced Hollywood glitz until Brosnan walked away in 2003.

At this point, a best/worst list would be redundant, assuming you’ve read the above. Which brings us to Casino Royale. I can’t say I fully buy Danial Craig as James Bond, but that’s mostly for superficial reasons. He’s a rock-solid actor; declining to go the easy route by transplanting his Layercake role into this one and managing to give a distinctive take on the character. What I enjoyed most about Royale was its return to Flemings’ vision. Royale is the first book in the Bond novel series, often regarded as the best, but was not used in the films until now because EON founder Cubby Broccoli did not want to disrupt the films’ continuity by returning to Bond’s origins. Following his death and the loss of Pierce Brosnan, the Bond franchise found itself in yet another crossroads and decided to push the ‘reset’ button. The new movie freed itself of past Bond traditions while still paying homage to most. The quips, effects shots, and gadgets are minimized (Q and Moneypenny are not included) in favor of a strong plot, faithfulness to the novel source, and nods to the Bond mythos (the Goldfinger Aston Martin, a return to a warm Thunderball locale, a Moneypenny line, and the origin and recipe of a certain martini, among others). It was a bold move, but executed perfectly. Director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) was brought in, the first returning director in over 15 years. A SPECTRE-esque criminal organization is alluded to as the film goes on, perhaps making another return to the original formula. All in all, this film only resembles the first two Connery (No, Russia) films, which is an extremely good thing in my personal opinion. It seems that Bond is in good hands.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Last Wednesday evening, after getting home from work, I headed upstairs to check a couple of things on the computer before hitting my post-bike commute shower.  I flicked on the TV to Vh1 for no particular reason and noticed they were showing “ 100 Greatest Songs of the 80s.”  Shows like this are notoriously terrible in that the rankings are horrendously off base.  I suppose no one would watch the first few installments (#’s 100-50) unless they swapped out a #18 to #81 here and there.  Great example was “Every Breath You Take” landing at #46 while Hall & Oates’ "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and “Come On Eileen” managed to land in the top 20.  These lists are always going to be flawed, which is partly why I refuse to do top 10 lists.  
     In any case, just before I flicked it off, Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” showed up, resulting in memory blocks falling like dominos.  “Push It,” in my childhood experience was the quintessential roller rink song, followed closely by Snap’s “I’ve Got the Power” and Scandal’s “The Warrior.”  The Fatboys also did well in that category.  Good times.  

     That nostalgia led to my thinking about how much of my childhood I’ve mostly forgotten about, which would otherwise be great guidance for my future fatherhood.  No, wifey’s not pregnant, but it’s only a matter of time.  We’ve got bunny duty pretty much down, but they tend to be a little more self-sufficient than children are rumored to be.  I’d like to really sit down and mull over the pluses and minuses of my little man career to hopefully make sure my kids have good youthful glory days.  

     Getting frustrated and yelling that I’ll send them to foster care?  Probably needs to be out.  Camping trips, especially backpacking into places like the Adirondacks, definitely in.  Year-round City Rec league sports (soccer, basketball, etc) is iron-clad, no matter how much chirping I get from the wife.  One I can’t fully decide on is day care.

     While imprisoned in Children’s World Penitentiary Center, I was unhappy about not being allowed to stay at home unattended (my sister and I had a nice afternoon sitter for a year or two, but she quit and Deadspin  has reported she had some sharp words about my character on the way out).  Humility is getting out of school and having to board the short bus with smiling suns and rainbows on it; you have to hang around someplace and dart onto it immediately once it arrives with your face in your chest.  Looking back on it all, there were positive and negative aspects of it, but a lot more positives than I could have recognized back then.

     Positive:  great social immersion.  Sitting at home or playing with a couple of buddies doesn’t teach you how to make friends or deal with social circles anywhere near as much as Kid Pen.  Don’t take that as only entailing the make-believe superhero adventures outside during recess, you also had to learn how to hold your own.  The Day Care adult-to-child ratio is anywhere from 5-10, but when everyone’s outside, it becomes one huddled and chit-chatting mass of 5 burnt-out adults to a half-ace of 30-45 kids.  Believe me, there are plenty of darkened back alleys in the afternoon because of this.  So I literally knocked teeth out here and there as I got older.  You had to be ready to go.  Going to the supervisors was always the wrong move in the long term, so was turning the other cheek.  Clearly, I can’t apply this literally to life today, but bursting the bubble on life conflicts has to happen sooner or later.  You shouldn’t wait until you’re halfway into a career to have Vito slap you across the face and tell you to act like a man.  

     Positive: takes you places.  Tons of great field trips, especially during the summer: the roller rinks, the movies, the zoo, NASA, science museums, etc.  Takes pressure off the parents to think of them all, and it’s a lot more fun when you’re with a pack of friends instead of just your parents.  

     Negatives: the shame, oh the shame.  Letting on that you’re in child care is never cool.  Even if you’re 6, you’ll be shamed by it.  At the latest, you need to get out by 6th grade.  It won’t be hard, because by that age, the staff will be helping to persuade your parents.  

     Hey, I survived.  I’m probably better for the experience: allowing me to kick back at home watching cartoons by myself probably wouldn’t have offered much benefit in my development.  We’ll have to see what I do when my demon seeds become school age.