Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part IV: The Last Months of My Life Pre-Star Wars

It's 1977! I'm only a few months old! In January, Apple Computer was incorporated, Gary Gilmore was executed, my favorite Stephen King novel was released (The Shining), one of David Bowie's best albums was released (Low), one of my favorite writers passed away (Anais Nin), the Spider-Man newspaper strip by Stan Lee and John Romita started (Romita drew the definitive Spidey, IMHO), Miami experienced snow for the only time in its history, and the Midwest experienced the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977.

And, according to my baby book, I took my first plane trip.

We went to Woodridge, Illinois, out in the west suburbs of Chicago, to see my grandparents, who lived in a new house on Wintergreen Court. This is kind of a trip, looking at this photo now, because we would soon live in that house ourselves. I don't think we ever changed that curtain. That's looking out into the backyard, with the detached garage in the background. Brings back so many memories. An look how pleased my Grandpa Sage is to see me.

Woodridge was a very new suburban area. It's built up so much in the years since that I don't even like to go there anymore. It doesn't feel like home--and anyway, my Mom and sister don't even live there anymore, or even in Illinois. Back then, there were still dirt roads and a lot of forest in places (including right by this house, down a hill and past a creek; I used to play in them as a kid, until 95% of it got knocked down to build more houses). The I-355 tollway goes through there now, but it wasn't there then. Back then, it was forest.

I remember telling my then-girlfriend's parents, back in 1994, just after they moved here from Indiana, that I remembered when the 355 was first built; it opened on Christmas Eve in 1989. I remember we rode from one end to the other, me and my Mom and sister Jayne, on Christmas Day. They couldn't believe it was less than 5 years old. I immediately disliked them in large part because they were just dismissive of that. And it turns out they were assholes, anyway, so no big loss.

Out of curiosity, I looked up my grandparents' home on Zillow, and it was built in 1975. So it was pretty damn new. I know my grandparents were the first people that ever lived in it. And it was a neat house, with a finished basement (wood paneling and track lighting, but it was also the room with the TV).

Me and my parents. I think by this time Dad had joined the Army and was about to go to Basic Training. Enjoying the last days of his long hair. It was never long like this again. He was still 21 in this picture. His birthday is in March.

That painting back there was something I always loved. I don't know how long my grandparents had that, but that painting always comforted me. It felt like home to me.

Here it is:

Solid Comfort by William Henry Lippincott

It’s a reproduction that was sold at Sears for a long time (20 years, or so, I think). I've looked it up in the past to get more information about it, and I see a lot of people asking if it has any value. Over the years, as I saw it more and more, it really comforted me and made me think of warmth and home. When we moved into their house, after my grandparents moved to Guam, they left it here and bought themselves another one.

I like having it so much that when I moved in 2001, I brought it with me, and it's still in my living room.

See?

I am kind of a homebody (even besides the agoraphobia and mood disorder), so I do tend to keep things that have a sentimental attachment. For example...

Still have my old baby blanket and my old Winnie the Pooh doll from the earliest days of my life. My blanket's just been in various drawers over the years. I wasn't really one of those security blanket kids, but I like that I still have it. The smell brings back a lot of old feelings. As for Pooh, it's just another thing I like having and don't want to part with. I think I thought maybe my own kid would have it one day, but that's not happening, so here it is.

I've always loved these pictures of me. This is from the same trip, still in my grandparents' living room. When they moved out, they left the piano. It was there my entire childhood. We even took it when we moved into our condominium in 1989. One of the regrets of my life--and I really do think this was stupid--was not learning how to play it. We had a piano right there! I tried to teach myself at various times, doing pretty well with lesson books, but, like so many things, I didn't keep up with it enough. I'd still love to learn the piano.

My baby book records that January 16 was the day I first crawled. According to my Mom, when I started to crawl, it was on all fours. On my hands and feet, never on my knees. “You were fast, like a spider,” she says. So when I started to pull myself up and stand, I guess I had all of that experience from my method of crawling. Must've strengthened my legs early.

The day before, January 15, was the first appearance of my favorite-ever Saturday Night Live cast member, Bill Murray. He ended up being a major influence on how I appreciated comedy. He's from Chicago (Evanston, really), and is so much like the other Chicagoans I grew up knowing, so Murray's always reminded me a lot of my Dad, who is similarly obnoxious. (And so am I, I inherited that.)

On January 20, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, saying in his speech "We have already found a high degree of personal liberty, and we are now struggling to enhance equality of opportunity. Our commitment to human rights must be absolute, our laws fair, our natural beauty preserved; the powerful must not persecute the weak, and human dignity must be enhanced."

January 22, Daryl Hall & John Oates released their first number one single, "Rich Girl." One of a number of Hall & Oates songs that, first off, are just really great pop music, but also make me feel instantly nostalgic, even though I wouldn't have been able to remember ever hearing it when it came out. I was six months old! My long-suffering wife does not like Hall & Oates, but she's just wrong.

The next day, Roots began airing. Obviously I wasn’t watching it then. The miniseries was a massive ratings hit; the finale is still the third highest-rated broadcast of all time. I briefly mentioned in a previous post in this series that the book had a profound affect on me when I first read it in high school. The miniseries also blew me away, and has always been a favorite of mine. It’s a powerful drama about human resilience and human cruelty. I like that most about it: it’s very human. It showcases the best and the worst of what we can be. It’s often about fighting for dignity in an environment where dignity is impossible. But it’s also about moments of love, warmth, caring, family, and courage.

Side note: did anyone watch the excellent remake that aired back in May? It was devastating. It had no desire to comfort white viewers the way the original did. So much brutality and pain, but so much humanity and emotion. It had a profound impact on me, too; the suffering and cruelty on display is hard to watch, but still so horribly relevant.

Damn, let's lighten things up a little. On January 29, one of my favorite Muppet Show segments aired: the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You," performed by a trio of ghosts. It was on the episode hosted by Vincent Price, which is one of my top five episodes.

Also, here's a commercial about getting stroked in the morning.


I have no idea how long we stayed in Woodridge before going back to Des Moines. I do know, because of my baby book, that I got my first tooth on February 11.

Uh-oh,,, look at that picture... now I can never run for President.

Also in February, one of my favorite movies (Dario Argento's Suspiria), one of my favorite songs ("Strawberry Letter 23" by the Brothers Johnson), the release of JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the unfortunate death of one of the great animators of all time (John Hubley), and this athletic picture of me:

Yeah. That's a future Panther Football player right there. Obviously, the most important thing that happened in February. Eh, it's a short month, and I was a short guy.

Anyway, March 1977. A few more fave movies (Ralph Bakhi's Wizards, Disney's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), a few more fave songs (Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," Iggy Pop's original version of "China Girl," Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams"--my Dad played the Rumours album a lot for pretty much a solid decade), and Rocky won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. On March 10, the rings of Uranus were discovered, pretty much accidentally.

On March 12, I stood up alone. On March 15, Three's Company premiered. Coincidence? Indeed!

April saw the start of one of my favorite comic books (American Splendor), another favorite movie (Annie Hall), and another favorite song, "Blank Generation" by Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Obviously, I was too little to appreciate punk. I sure did when I got a bit older, but by that time it was pretty mainstream and MTV had happened. In April, optical fibers were first used in telephone lines. This was also the month that the Dover Demon appeared in Massachusetts. That was the kind of cryptozoological stuff I ate up as a kid.

I also ate up McDonald's breakfasts...

When I was a kid and McDonald's was considered an occasional treat, I remember thinking that breakfast seemed especially... sophisticated. I know that sounds silly, but it seemed like a thing adults did. I remember when my Dad and Jayne and I would get up around 6am on a Saturday (which seemed REALLY early to be out when I was a lad) and we'd go over to the pond and go fishing together. After we were done, we got to go to McDonald's and get hotcakes. It was really special, even if it was just fishing and McDonald's. It was one of a number of things that felt more special because Dad was home, like going to the bank on Saturday mornings (they had coffee and donut holes and people were wearing suits!) or playing Dad's Beach Boys 8-track while he cooked pancakes.

The date on the back of this picture is April 29. My Mom had turned 20 in January, a few days before our trip to Woodridge. I have to say, I can't imagine having had a kid at that age. At 19, I could barely take care of myself, let alone a whole other life, and I probably would've been just as volatile as she could be. That doubt--that worry about continuing a cycle of abuse that goes back to my grandmother and her mother and probably way the hell back--is a big part of the reason I never had kids. I've just never had much control over my impatience and frustration, and the mental problems on top of that... I'm glad there's not some 21 year-old man or woman out there who has to deal with the affects of having had me as a parent, because I'm 40 and I'm still finding new ways that being treated the way I was a child has affected my self-worth, my ability to interact with people, the direction of my life (particularly in what I think I'm capable of), and the way I've withdrawn from family life. It's really kept me distant.

I like this picture. I love my Mom. I know she's sorry about a lot of things. I am, too. I'm a lot like her. She didn't mean to teach me to be the way I am now, but that combined with a lot of childhood bullying really did a number on me. I don't really hold a grudge against her, especially since she's validated how I feel now, because I think she just didn't know better and was probably surprised by how she acted sometimes. It's complicated. We live in different states, and I think the distance helps. Time helps, too.

My Dad was gone for 9 weeks for Basic Training. Obviously, I don't remember what it was like while he was gone, because I was still less than a year old. We're heading into May here, and I think it's time to close this entry. Obviously there's still a lot more to come. On May 8. I took my first step. So from now on, I'm walking into the future.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Muppet Monday

Kermit tries to tell us about the letter W on the first episode of Sesame Street in 1969.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Song of the Week: "Beast of Burden"

RIP Stanley Dural, Jr., aka Buckwheat Zydeco, another great musician who has left us.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015)
I've liked this series of movies, but it was time to end it. It's not an incredibly satisfying conclusion, and I found that explicitly seeing the computer-generated paranormal stuff this time worked against the handmade feel of the earlier films. It felt more fantastic and less immediate. I know there are always people who whine about needing everything shown and explained and blah boring blah, but I don't think it added much to the overall effect, and maybe detracted from it a little. It was never a great series of films, and it went on a little too long, but explaining the whole thing just takes all of the life out of it. **1/2

A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (2015)
Short documentary about an 18 year-old girl who survived an honor killing in Pakistan, when her father and uncle shot in the face and dumped her in the river after she married someone they didn't approve of. It's a pretty bleak look at a culture that condones honor killing; much of the film's immediacy comes from the dilemma she faces, that if she forgives her attempted murderers for what they did--something her village pressures her to do--the charges against them can be dropped and they can avoid prosecution. It's a vital documentary, but it's so harrowing. I found myself getting angry at the way human beings can be trapped by a culture that they themselves create, and then act as though they're powerless to stop doing things like, say, killing their own daughters for dishonoring the family. I'll never forget looking at her father in his jail cell, blaming his daughter, his daughter's husband, and his religion for everything that was happening, rather than himself. ****

SINISTER (2012)
Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into a home where an unsolved murder took place. In the attic, he discovers a series of super 8 films that show other gruesome murders, always of suburban families in their homes. What happens after is equal parts nonsensical and predictable, but the film really creates a creepy mood that caught me up in the whole thing (and made it weirdly fun to watch). Directed by Scott Derrickson; I enjoyed the overall atmosphere and creepiness more than his Deliver Us from Evil, which makes me more excited for Doctor Strange. ***

WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)
Fascinating, haunting film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and scripted by Kobo Abe from his novel. A teacher visiting sand dunes, collecting insects, stays too late and accepts an offer to spend the night at the home of a woman who lives at the bottom of a steep dune. She works all night digging up sand for the men of the area to collect; we're not immediately told why. In the morning, when he tries to leave, the man finds he is trapped. It's a slow burn, but it sets up a harrowing, illogical, but beautiful film about... well, what is it about? It's gorgeous-looking film, using the rich texture of the endless sand to create almost a tactile sense. There's a sexuality that is palpable. The man rebels against his captivity, but the woman has accepted hers. In the dune, there is just eating, working, and surviving. There's not enough information given to us to understand why things are happening. They just happen, and the woman accepts it and the man tries to fight against it. In its way, it's one of the best allegories I've seen in a film for the illogic of life itself. I was reading something that said the theme of the film is really man's desire to escape society, but I don't agree with that. I think it's about man's attempt to control his environment, the futility of that, and the way simply creating something can make you feel bigger than merely existing. But it's also about how, when the veneer of civilization is stripped away, it's very hard to hold on to your sense of self and all the things that are supposed to make you more than just a very intelligent animal. The man hopes to find an insect that will get his name into an entomology field guide as a form of immortality. In the end, he just wants to impress someone with his method for drawing water from the ground. In between, he is broken and rebuilt into something else. It's a masterpiece. ****