Saturday, April 06, 2013

Turkey in the Straw

Just a few minutes ago, I heard "Turkey in the Straw" on some commercial or other. It's not a song I hear every day--the ice cream truck doesn't really get over here--but hearing that music suddenly took me back to high school.

I've talked about the awfulness of that time in my life. I don't have a lot of great memories from it. By my junior year in high school, I was pretty used to having just a couple of people I could be friendly-ish with. Not many people were making it a point to run me down, although there were the usual bitches who had been bitches to me since fifth grade and who were still making a big show to each other of treating me like I was the worst thing oozing over the face of the planet.

So, you know, I didn't really talk to people. I especially didn't talk to girls. I rode the bus with my headphones in place and just tried to keep to myself throughout the day.

The summer of 1993 was pretty fantastic, and it rolled in early. There were a lot of warm days as the school year was winding down. This day I suddenly thought of was a beautiful, warm day but with a nice breeze. The kind of breeze that just blows pleasantly, on a day that's not humid or hot, but just really nice. It was the end of a long day, and the buses were running late picking us up. So a lot of people, myself included, were just standing around waiting for the buses so we could go home.

I would normally have been listening to my headphones, probably to a film score or a mix tape or my Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. I & Vol. II album (which got me through a lot of high school, actually), but that day my batteries had run out and I didn't even have the music to make me feel better. I don't think I was feeling particularly bad that day, really, but I was always anxious to just leave and be at home. I wanted my cat and my bed and my TV.

So I was waiting, a bit impatiently. And suddenly there was this girl standing there. She was on my bus; she and I actually got off at the same stop. She was a freshman, I think. You know how you just sort of get used to seeing the same faces in the same place for months? That's pretty much the only way I knew her. We probably didn't have any classes together. I don't actually even remember her name, but I remember her face really well. She was tall, and cute, and slender but not skinny. She was wearing a grey tank top--not a spaghetti-strap number, but what we used to just call tank tops, which really just meant that it had no sleeves and a modestly scooped neck--and light blue cut-off jean shorts. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was smiling. I remember she had brown eyes. She had a long neck and a round face and a pretty smile.

She was at that age where girls start to get obnoxious and really clique-y, and I knew from the bus that she could be kind of raucous and... not wild, exactly, but loud. She had a friend that she normally rode the bus with, but the friend wasn't there that day, and suddenly this girl just sort of starts talking to me. I don't even remember about what, but she just started talking and cracking jokes and even flirting a little bit, and it really made me feel... confused.

See, I had a couple of occasions in sixth grade and in junior high of girls trying to make me think that they liked me. That's how I characterize it, anyway. If a girl ever actually did like me, I wasn't taking it seriously. There were just too many times when people ganged up on me to humiliate me or hurt me or take advantage of me, and I was very, very guarded. I wasn't really open or friendly. I tried not to look at people too often when they might look back, or say anything. I wasn't easygoing. I didn't joke or let myself be enthusiastic, because I didn't want any attention. And I was already, at that point in my life, completely unable to imagine that anyone wanted to be around me, or hang out, or be in my company at all. That had been completely eradicated in sixth grade, and I'm still like that today. I have friends and family who really just think I'm completely selfish and unsociable because I don't reach out and ask if anyone wants to do anything or spend a holiday afternoon with me or anything like that, because why would I think anyone would ever want to? I just... I can't honestly conceive of that. Who would choose to spend time with me if they had the option of not spending time with me, and why would anyone ever actually miss me if I wasn't there? Who would actually do that? I try to imagine that happening, but I just can't, so I don't act like that's a thing.

So here's this cute freshman girl, and she's talking and cracking jokes and even flirting a little bit, and here's me being guarded and not saying much. And then, all of a sudden, the ice cream truck drives around the block nearby and it's playing "Turkey in the Straw," and she does a little dance and sings some made-up lyrics, and in spite of myself, I smile, because it's the cutest thing. It's adorable and funny, and I even chuckle a little bit.

And after a minute or two, the buses come, and I don't really remember what happened next. I know I didn't sit with her, and I don't think I ever spoke with her ever again. But it was a really nice little moment in time, and it obviously made an impression on me, because here it is almost exactly 20 years later, and suddenly it jumps into the front of my mind. And it makes me smile. And I've probably heard that song dozens and dozens of times since then, at least in Steamboat Willie alone, but she's never really been in my mind again. And there she is, dancing and wiggling and smiling at me, and it makes me smile and chuckle again. And I can see her face exactly. I could look in my yearbook and find her, probably, even though I never knew her name.

How strange, but lovely.

Twist 'em up a tune called 'Turkey in the Straw'...

Look Up


Friday, April 05, 2013

This Is Possibly the Greatest Thing I Have Ever Seen

Mindfulness: I Am

I am sitting on my zebra-print desk chair.

I am at my desk on my Acer laptop.

I am hearing the laptop running and the keys clicking as I type.

I am hearing sounds from outside. Birds chirping, a passing car with its stereo pulsing.

I am feeling my back as it aches dully.

I am hearing my refrigerator running.

I am hearing myself breathe through my mouth because my nose is stuffed up.

I am remembering to sit up straight.

I am waiting for my wife to get home from work.

I am taking a break from reading comics to do an exercise in being mindful like my therapist told me to do at least once a day.

I am cracking my neck.

I am feeling my head pound slightly.

I am remembering to breathe.

I am making a concerted effort to stay off of Tumblr today.

I am reevaluating certain relationships in my life because I am uncertain if they are relief from stress or sources of stress.

I am looking out at a sunny day. There are no trees on the leaves yet.

I can hear the sounds of the building. Creaking. TVs in other apartments, soft but present.

I am watching my rabbit as she naps.

I am thinking about how I need to trim my nails.

I am not allowing myself to worry about things in the past I cannot change, nor about problems in the future that may or may not happen.

I am hearing a car door slam.

I am not judging these things I see, hear, or feel.

I am remembering to breathe.

I am breathing.

I am looking at the Gizmo toy on my desk and it makes me smile.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Carmine Infantino 1925-2013

Damn it.

Roger Ebert 1942-2013

I've just now read that Roger Ebert died today at the age of 70. He had a long, tough battle with cancer, and just yesterday announced in a journal entry that the cancer was back in force. His entry seemed to be planning for the future, but it also seemed to be saying goodbye. And now here we are, saying goodbye.

I can remember watching Sneak Previews and At the Movies at a pretty early age. I loved the show, particularly Ebert, and I loved movies. Ebert's criticism is what taught me to think critically about movies and to have subjective opinions about them and state them boldly, even if I still get people on the internet who get upset with me for it. His show and his reviews fostered both my love of movies and my love of writing. He's one of my personal writing heroes. He also expanded the way I thought; he was the first one to show me how pop culture could be an indicator of society and politics rather than "just mindless entertainment."

It's been sad watching him decline the last several years, both in health and in his written output. The selfish part of me has really missed his criticism; the empathetic part of me hated seeing a man who inspired me so much, an icon and a fellow Midwesterner, deteriorate in health. If there's any consolation, it's that he can't suffer anymore.

Though there are other film critics I like or think are okay, Roger Ebert was the only one I ever sought out, and the only one whose opinion I really took seriously. We didn't always agree, of course, but more often than not I could see the validity of his opinion. His passing is a real loss to film journalism, and even the critics I think are decent at their job aren't really ever going to reach me on the level he did.

That final journal entry began with Ebert, unfailingly gracious to the last, simply saying "Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter.  However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for."

Thank you, sir.

30 Bad Movies

Total Film has a list up called 30 Movies That Aren't As Bad As You Remember. So I'll comment on it since I haven't commented on a list in a long time, but I have seen a lot of bad movies.

30. Twilight
Twilight is actually worse than I originally gave it credit for. And I was watching the RiffTrax version the second time! And still I was sitting thinking "Holy shit, this is a boring, poorly-made movie." New Moon was more enjoyable, if only because the Weitz Brothers tried to turn it into more of a supernatural adventure flick, even though none of it makes sense and all of it is like a teenager overreacting. Eclipse makes Twilight look like brilliant by comparison.

29. Spawn
I remember thinking it was pretty neat when I was 21, but it's actually really, really, really, really bad. Much like Todd McFarlane's art, actually; loved it when I was too young to know better, but in the harsh light of maturity, it's really not good at all.

28. Lady in the Water
I don't know, I remember it being pretty unwatchable. I've never seen it a second time because why the hell would you?

27. Cutthroat Island
I can't really defend it, but I've always liked this movie.

26. John Carter
If you haven't seen this yet and you get Starz, DVR it, because it's on all the time right now and it is wonderful. I feel like this movie can't really be "not as bad as you remember" because I know too few people who've actually even seen it.

25. Hudson Hawk
A slapstick adventure pretending to be a thriller. I've always found it fun. Stupid, but fun.

24. Spider-Man 3
I love this movie. I don't know what everyone's talking about with this movie, because it's fun as hell. Maybe it's not as great as the high bar set by the first two flicks, but it's damn good, and I still feel vaguely insulted by Sony for not getting Sam Rami's Spider-Man 4.

23. Miami Vice
Never seen it. It doesn't look appealing to me in any sense. I've actually also never seen the original television series.

22. Cowboys & Aliens
I saw this movie fairly recently on HBO and was bored out of my mind. I can't imagine wanting to watch this forgettable movie a second time.

21. Hook
Even for a Spielberg movie, this one is cloying, desperate to be loved, and poorly made. I've seen it over a dozen times, because I loved it when I was 14. There are still things in it that I think are very good: the way it weaves in JM Barrie's Peter Pan dialogue, Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins, the excellent score (one of my favorites of John Williams'), the pirate ship... but there's a lot I don't like about it, too, and that stuff just adds up and adds up until it becomes a movie I generally find tedious. Spielberg's made worse movies, and will probably continue to make them... this one somehow manages to be lavish and middling at the same time.

20. The Razor's Edge
I've still never seen this. I love Bill Murray, but I haven't really ever had the opportunity to see it.

19. Terminator: Salvation
I didn't see it. I hated Terminator 3. A lot.

18. Cars
Cars actually isn't that bad, but it's not exceptionally good, either. This was the first time I thought Pixar rested on being just cutesy and folksy in a way that just came across kind of smug. The production design and animation are exceptional, I just wish it wasn't wasted on what feels like an inconsequential direct to video flick.

17. Ishtar
The real problem with this movie isn't that it's terrible, it's that it just isn't funny. But, you know, I haven't seen it since I was in high school, so an 80s Revisited post is always a possibility if it shows up on cable.

16. Tron: Legacy
It's not bad so much as just dull and pointless. The original movie is the one that's really bad. (I know, I know, you love it, but I just never have and I never will, okay?)

15. Halloween
The Rob Zombie remake. And I never thought this was bad; I thought this was excellent.

14. The Matrix Reloaded
Frankly, I think they're all bad enough that I can't really pull one out and say that's the bad one, but this one was pretty lazy to me. It's just an hour-long truck chase surrounded by nonsense on either side. It didn't even make sense to me for The Matrix to have sequels.

13. The Phantom Menace
I've always loved it, but I'm pretty tired of talking about it with people.

12. Waterworld
I never thought this movie was bad, honestly. I always thought it was fun. I think a lot of people judged it by its insanely over-the-top budget for what's basically a B skiffy action flick. It's not anything more than what it is, but it's enjoyable.

11. Mystery Men
Does this movie have a bad reputation? I know so many people that love it. It's one of my favorite movies of all time.

10. Superman III
I caught this recently on The Hub and, yep, just as bad as I remember.

9. Grown Ups
Why would I even have seen this?

8. Hulk
The problem with Ang Lee's movie is that he didn't deliver the action flick people wanted. But I think it's profound in a lot of ways. And it was actually the movie that really got me to think for the first time in my life about my anger problems. I like it, but it's not a classic, I admit, and the end is pretty nonsensical. I mean, I get it, but I know a lot of people who didn't, and I think that's poor communication of the resolution about rage Lee's film comes to.

7. Speed Racer
I fucking love this movie. It's a silly live-action cartoon and it's fun as hell. Another movie I'm exhausted of talking about online.

6. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
I've never seen this or the TV series. I don't really have a concept of what people think of this movie in general.

5. The Exorcist III
I'm glad they put this on their list, because I actually like this movie. I don't like the other ones, actually, but I like this one.

4. Last Action Hero
I can't really defend this one, either, but I have always thought it was a fun flick.

3. Alien 3
I've been wanting to see this one again, lately, too, just to give it another chance. I didn't like it when I first saw it, but that was 20 years ago, so who knows? I know people with varying opinions.

2. Plan 9 from Outer Space
This movie is exactly as bad as I remember it. Whether you think it's bad in a charming way or not is up to the individual, but I've always found it boring.

1. Superman Returns
Yes, this movie is as bad as I remember. Really bad. Really, really bad. I've kicked it enough, and it was long enough ago that who cares, honestly, but yeah, not a fan at all.

Well, that was pointless, but it kept me busy.


Wrong way, honey.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Film Week

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

LOVE (1919)
Another fun Fatty Arbuckle movie. In this one, Arbuckle is a farmhand who wants to marry the farmer's daughter who loves him, but her family conspires to wed her to a man with considerable wealth. The plot is slight, but the gags are top notch, and I always enjoy Fatty's physical comedy. Very fun. ***1/2

LEAP YEAR (1921)
This film wasn't released in the US because the release would have coincided with the Virginia Rappe scandal and Fatty's ongoing court trials. It's not one of his better flicks, either, and at 60 minutes, it can often be downright tiresome. Still, a lot of the physical humor is great, and I liked some of the more self-aware gags with the characters (and even the title cards) deconstructing the romantic style of film they're in. ***

Earnest anti-war film starring Dean Stockwell as an orphan who one day wakes up with bright green hair. He's supposed to use the attention his hair brings to deliver an anti-war message to the world, but is also beset by peer pressure and societal norms to shave his head and get rid of the green hair. The symbolism is pretty obvious and unsubtle, which I concede seems to be part of the point. But the narrative never really caught my interest in full. Dean Stockwell is good as the titular boy, though, and the film's message is genuine. Didn't realize this is where the song "Nature Boy" originally came from; the score by Leigh Harline is quite good. ***

Interesting film about two single people (Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet in a bar, go to his place to spend the night, and spend the rest of the next day getting to know one another. Sort of. They're both holding themselves back from one another so hard that they have lots of problems connecting, even as they're clearly falling for one another and hoping for more. I found it surprisingly engrossing. She's had bad luck before and doesn't want to be lied to again; he doesn't want to appear too eager for fear of being the pushover he was in his previous relationship. We watch them tiptoe around one another, try to connect, and then pull back when they remember past times when it didn't work out. It's obviously New Wave inspired, though it doesn't have the same understanding of its premise the way a Godard film might (the two characters meet while discussing Godard's Week End, though they never say the name of the film or the director). It's a little tentative, and I'm not sure if that's a lack of nerve or part of the point of the film. But I like how, for one day, these two exist sort of cut off from the rest of the world, trying to exist with each other, but unable to keep their past and present commitments from sneaking in and jarring them. I found that pretty easy to relate to. ***1/2

Beautiful, short (45 minutes) anime about a girl who meets a man in a spirit-enchanted forest. He's not exactly a spirit, but is stuck between life and death. If he touches a human, he will discorporate and become nothing. The girl comes back to see him every summer, gradually falling in love with him, even though she knows they can never touch and, because he never ages, one day she will be older than him. It's a simple story, and very emotional, lovingly animated. ****

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Jane Henson 1934-2013

I am saddened to hear that Jane Henson died today. She was Jim Henson's widow, but she was also his first collaborator (all the way back to Afternoon with Inga, which pre-dates Sam and Friends), the second ever Muppeteer, and the founder of the Jim Henson Legacy (the organization that, among other things, is doing the Jim Henson's Fantastic World museum exhibit) and the Jane Henson Foundation. Her Muppet work has too often gone unsung, and her non-Muppet-related activity (including sponsoring school music programs) left a positive contribution to the world. You can read about her life on the Henson website's Celebrating Jane Henson page.

Thank you, Jane, for everything.

Always, Azizi Johari

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cookie Easter!

Health Report Update

11am Easter Sunday, quiet and relaxed, sipping coffee and listening to the Beach Boys, and I am stressed, exhausted, anxious, and on the verge of a panic attack, and I really have no idea why.

It was also bad last night, and the night before... I can feel myself on the edge of a panic attack and even if it doesn't fully develop, it takes hours to calm down.

This is something interesting. Friday my case manager diagnosed me with Panic Disorder, among other things, and ever since then, I feel more panicked. No, that's not accurate. It's that I'm much more aware of what processes through my body and how I react to things. I've never been so aware of it before, and it's kind of terrifying.

I asked Becca about it, and she said this is what I'm like every day: big reactions, obsessing over small things, worrying incessantly about what might happen. "You're like a big, raw, exposed nerve. I don't always know what you can handle because you have such big reactions."

I mean, it's a calm day. My Mom is coming over. I've got coffee and Pet Sounds. It's a beautiful day out. I should just be relaxed. But I'm not. I'm upset in some vague, unfocused way. I'm already tired. I'm grinding my teeth. I'm on edge. I feel all of this panicked energy building up in my body. I'm parsing things my friends say trying to figure out if they're mad at me. I'm taking everything the wrong way.

Jesus. If this is what I'm like every day, no wonder I'm so lazy and don't do anything: I'm freaking exhausted from this. I feel so exhausted from this.

This has got to be my biggest problem, and the emotional outbursts must be from not being able to manage this feeling.

I'm going to work so fucking hard in therapy because this is ruining my health and my life and I've got to figure this out.

Song of the Week: "Rabbit Fighter"

T. Rex, 1972.

Easter Beagle