Thursday, September 03, 2015

Don't Fall Asleep!

If he wasn't in the horror film business, it would have been a shame, but that's what Wes Craven chose to do. He did it like a champ right up until this past weekend when he passed away. Brain cancer got him, which begins to make me wonder about the nature of horror and horror movies. What is more horrifying: A horribly scarred ex-janitor with knives for fingers or having your own cells turning into vicious killers attacking you from the inside.
Inside your brain.
Kind of like the dreams that attacked the teenagers in Wes Craven's Nightmare On Elm Street series. More than thirty years ago, he decided to unleash Freddy Krueger on our collective unconscious. For three decades, moviegoers like myself knew that they were safe as long as they didn't fall asleep. Sure, it became a little more difficult over the years to devise new and different ways to chop teenagers up in to tiny bits, but that didn't slow him down. For that matter, each time Freddy was put through the mill or turned into dust, he popped back up again. Because of the gross. Not just the ticket sales, but because of the gross.
Wes started out in 1972 with a cult classic Last House On The Left. This is where he began working his not-so-subtle vision on the world. Along with Tobe Hooper a couple years later, Wes was pioneering a genre that would eventually become "the slasher film." Eventually, Mister Craven became so immersed and familiar with this brand of gore that he turned the camera back on itself and produced the Scream series. Once you knew and understood the rules, it was possible for teenagers to grow up and star in yet another series of films created by this master of splatter.
I always admired his work, at least for the first couple movies in a row, but then the formula would grow tired. To me. Wes didn't care. He knew there was always another kid waiting to see his first scary movie, and that was the ticket he wanted to sell.
I'll miss Wes Craven this Halloween, not just for the movies that he made, but for the number of Freddy Kruegers and Ghostface masks that haunt our playground year after year. Timeless. Aloha, Wes Craven, you really stomped on the Terra(fy).

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Permit Required

We were out to dinner, my family and I, and the conversation turned to college. This makes a lot of sense, since I know a kid who is about to head off to college. That would be my son. At some point, if we are together for more than twenty minutes, the talk will turn to tuition, or study time or parking permits. We have a couple weeks left to get every piece of advice and a bucket full of helpful hints out of our heads and into his. The clock is ticking. We can all feel it.
Still, when the smoke cleared and there was a pause in the action, we didn't stray too far from the topic at hand. For the first time that I can remember, my son asked his parents, "What did you major in?" This is coming from a kid who is about to unpack his bags in a school where he will be majoring in theater arts, essentially keeping his parents' liberal arts dream alive. My wife went into some great detail describing her own created major: Myth and the Western Mind. Her senior project was a comic book. Her journey through academia was as winding and circuitous as many I have encountered, including my own. When my son turned and asked me, "What did you major in, dad? Creative writing, right?"
He was right. Though the path to that eventual Bachelor's degree was not as direct as those two words would suggest: "Creative Writing." For the record, I didn't make that one up. It was the way out of school when I had spent nearly six years there. If I didn't graduate then, I might be there still. As a freshman, I enrolled at Colorado College as a studio art major. My faculty adviser was my Basic Studio professor. I took that class, and a whole bunch of Art History because somewhere in my mind I had a vision of going to work for Disney Studios.
That never happened. Before I finished off my freshman year, I had given up that particular dream and was leaning toward literature as a new focus. I moved on up the road to the University of Colorado, where things came in semesters instead of blocks, and I became one of thousands of undergraduates searching for direction. After a few years and a bunch of film classes, lit courses and creative writing workshops, I made m way to an academic adviser's office. He looked over my credits and told me that if I had an interest in graduating, I should stop taking film classes and lit courses and creative writing workshops. I needed a music theory class and some science to round out the scattered mess I had created. Then I could graduate with an English degree, with an emphasis on creative writing.
But first, I had to take a short detour by jumping out of a swing, postponing my summer school while I recovered from knee surgery and eventually crutched my way into the Fall semester where I took those two classes, passed them, and in December 1986 I commenced out of there with a diploma. You are currently reading the most apparent product of my degree. Writing. Creatively.
What awaits my son as he plunges into the waves of higher education? Time will tell. Hopefully, as the guy who is paying for the parking permit, it won't be too much time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Misspent Youth

I truly felt for my son. He was sitting on the back deck at our house with his friends, the ones with whom he will be very soon making the leap to the hyperspace that is college. They had spent an afternoon hanging around in the living room, dusting off Nintendo classics like Smash Bros. and Wii Sports. When I showed up, after a hard day of elementary school kid wrangling, it was refreshing to see a knot of teenagers hanging out together in a spirited but low-key fashion. I took a turn myself on Guitar Hero, reliving my own glory days on medium. Part of me wanted to play on, and hang with the kids in the living room, but I knew that my wife had just finished making dinner for everyone and I didn't want to be the one who kept us all from eating. I got a plate and headed to the deck, where there was no TV and it was ten degrees cooler than the video game hot zone.
Eventually, my son and his pals finished off their virtual manipulations of reality and got their own chicken, pasta and broccoli. They made their way outside to join my wife and I in a very pleasant and familiar way. It felt good to be sharing a meal with this group of kids we had seen grow up and graduate together, on the verge of the next great adventure.
At some point during the meal, conversation drifted from Wii to current events. Suddenly I was in the midst of a full blown, emerging adult discussion of the upcoming and ongoing presidential race. Somewhere in the flurry of opinions espoused by these incipient voters, one voice began to ring out against the generally left leaning views of the rest of the group. One of my son's friends, whether through commitment to the ideas or simply playing devil's advocate, was taking a modified libertarian stance. With courage and conviction, since his girlfriend was sitting squarely on the opposite side of the ideological fence, he worked himself and the rest of the group into a mildly tumultuous frenzy.
That is when my son's wheels fell off. It was reminiscent of many years gone by, at birthday parties where his fabulous plans for gatherings of his friends turned into the chaos that childhood allows. He could feel his job as cruise director slipping away. "Can't we all just go back inside and play Mario Kart?" Try as he might, there was no way for him to break through the rhetoric being tossed about our back yard that evening. He was stuck with these opinionated, newly-minted adults. Play time would have to wait until gun control and the Republican nomination strategy could be ironed out. My son finally retreated by himself to the living room where he took solace in the brightly colored images of his youth. Eventually, his proto-libertarian friend came and joined him, while the other two ideologues remained outside to hammer out the direction of their generation's plans for world reclamation.
I look forward to hearing stories about my son's first late-night bull session where he and his suite mates hammer out their feelings bout global warming and dorm food, but I hope there's a place he can go: a retreat. Something with lights and sound that reminds him of days gone by.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Who Watches Big Brother?

Having an older brother is a wonderful thing. Such a wonderful thing, in fact, that there is a national organization that attempts to generate this relationship for those less fortunate in the sibling department. I feel grateful on just about any day because I had someone out there in front of me, breaking the waves and stomping down a path. Precious little of my development as a youth was not at some level pioneered by my big brother. I went to the same preschool, elementary, junior and high school he did. When it came time to troop off to college, I thought I might try Santa Fe, or maybe Colorado Springs, but I ended up at the University of Colorado. I graduated. Just like my brother before me.
It could be argued that I strayed from the path laid out for me when I didn't end up in law enforcement, but by picking a career in public education I figure I made a pretty strong course correction toward serving my community. My sense of duty and dependability may have come from my parents, but it has been reinforced on a regular basis throughout the years by the dedication I witnessed in my big brother's commitment to his friends, family and jurisdiction.
And I never would have known what was really cool without my older brother around. Like the Beatles. He gave me my first Beatles records. And Pink Floyd. He gave me "Wish You Were Here" when I was thirteen. I was encouraged to listen to it through headphones. He's the one who drove me to my first concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater. He's the guy who taught me to "chug nachos" and then ride in the front car of Mister Twister. He's the guy who gave me my first car, his beloved red Toyota pickup. He's also the guy who didn't disown me when I dropped that red Toyota pickup off the side of a winding mountain road. He's the guy who had me stand with him on his wedding day and hold his daughter just hours after she was born.
He's the guy.
Today is his day. A moment to reflect, as he likes to remind us, of "another trip around the sun." Thanks for showing me the way. Thanks for making the path a little more clear. Having an older brother is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Us Instead Of Them

The headline read: Why the U.S. is No. 1 - In Mass Shootings. At last, I thought. An answer. Then I was struck by a Marilyn Manson lyric: "The death of one is a tragedy, but the death of a million is just a statistic." Not the most original concept, but certainly in the aftermath of his somewhat contrived connection with the Columbine High School massacre that serves as something of a jumping off point for this discussion, it rang through to me. I was moved at this point to try and discern what, for the purposes of any further discussion, what a "mass shooting" is. More than one victim? The always despicable murder/suicide would therefore be classified in this category, and catastrophes like the one sixteen years ago in Littleton, Colorado are the kind that get their own spot on the History Channel web site. The next link in that chain might possibly be the movie theater shooting in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. Or any of the other shootings that have taken place since 1966, the time frame that exceeded four deaths, the FBI's measure for what it considers "mass." The article discussed the findings of University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford's assertion that America's "exceptionalism" is what keeps us constantly in the lead in this particular category.
That and the guns. Of one hundred seventy-eight countries surveyed, the per capita number of guns in the United states was 88.8 firearms per one hundred people. Two hundred seventy million guns. Second place went to Yemen, with 54.8 per one hundred people. That means that in Yemen, if you wanted to shoot someone, you might have to wait a day until it was your turn to have a gun, then take your best shot. In the United States, you probably won't have to wait that long. Or at all.
America is generally proud of its first class status, but this is not a list at the top of which we should stand tall. I know: Blah blah blah Second Amendment blah blah blah cold dead hands. The problem continues to be those cold dead hands. To that end, Wal Mart is discontinuing the sale of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. Like the one purchased by James Holmes that jammed during his rampage through a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. Dark night indeed. Maybe if all the AR-15s purchased from Wal Mart or any other retailer would come pre-jammed, maybe a few more innocent lives could be spared. Maybe gun ownership is enough. Using them for mass killing isn't what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Live On The Air

Earlier this month, as Bay Area camera crews were deploying at Pier 14 to report on the tragic events of a month before that, when Kate Steinle was shot and killed while walking that peaceful bit of scenic San Francisco, a masked gunman rolled up and robbed the reporters and their camera operators. One of them was pistol whipped, and it all happened on live TV. This was not the first time that a news crew was attacked. While reporting on a Powerball winner whose ticket came from a local doughnut shop a different reporter and his cameraman were robbed of their equipment by two men in masks. Television news may not be the glamorous career it had first appeared to be.
Especially now. Across the country in Virginia, a pair of television journalists were shot and killed during a live broadcast. In this case, the shooter turned out to be a disgruntled former co-worker who then crashed his car and shot himself. But not before posting first person video of the event on his Facebook page. I suppose we should be happy to know that keeping the public informed was one of the last things that went through his head. Along with the bullet.
So it turns out that TV News isn't all the hype and glory that we might once have thought, after watching Network and Broadcast News. Somewhere along the line, things became a little more dangerous than Ted Baxter reading the headlines. It's now more on a par with Les Nessman covering the Turkey Drop for WKRP in Cincinnati. But that was radio. One might think that having live video on you at all times might keep you safe.
Unless you're a reporter covering Donald Trump. Donald's shots are currently of the "zinger" variety, but he isn't showing the fourth estate much respect at all. Seldom is the phrase "biting the hand that feeds you" seemed more apt. The Donald had Univision anchor Jorge Ramos removed from a campaign event in Iowa. This came after he told Mister Ramos repeatedly to sit down and "go back to Univision." Somehow, this makes slightly more sense than his attacks on Megyn Kelly, but at this point, maybe it would be good if we just turned off the cameras for a while and gave ourselves some rest.

Friday, August 28, 2015

In The Bottle

I am nothing if not a singular apologist for social media. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. I am not an apologist for social media. While I fully appreciate the way that technology has allowed humans to connect in ways that would have seemed ridiculous and obscure thirty years ago. Being able to share ideas and pen pal letters with classrooms across the globe with counterparts they have only encountered online is a genius thing. On the other hand, I do have to spend a certain amount of time, mandated time, each year explaining to children why we have to be extremely careful about with whom and where we share information. The cell phones in ten-year-olds' pockets that cost more than the computers in the lab are highly sophisticated machines that are designed with the idea of keeping the bearer of that technology in touch with the world. No worries there. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.
We should expect that with kids. We wouldn't send them out with a lighter and tell them to start up the gas grill without some very specific training and admonitions. Come to think of it, we probably wouldn't even give them the lighter. Matches, maybe.
What about adults?
"Life is short. Have an affair." That's the slogan of the networking site, Ashley Madison. This is a web site that actively promotes infidelity. As a proponent of technology (see above) this is just about the lowest form of in-your-face-what's-wrong-with-this-world-sign-of-the-coming-apocalypse moral decrepitude that makes people old and young wish that there was something wholesome left in this world. The Ashley Madison folks even had a "money back guarantee: "Your money back if your infidelity is not completely satisfying." What could go wrong?
July of this year, a group calling themselves "The Impact Group" hacked into the membership files of Ashley Madison. Whoops. No more discretion. Now that data was free to roam about Al Gore's Internet in ways that even Al might not have imagined. What were the human costs? So far, two people have committed suicide as a result of having their private lives being made very public. The door is currently kicked wide open for more extortion, scams and bad behavior brought on by what was probably a lark that turned into a twisted trail of broken hearts and dented dreams. Karma? Perhaps, but it brings to mind the image that a fellow teacher once suggested to me about ketchup in a bottle. If you don't want ketchup all over everything, don't take it out of the bottle. There is no clever way to get the ketchup back inside once it's out. In this case, your personal business is the ketchup, and the Internet is the paper plate that will now become covered in that ill-advised attempt at using far too much of a condiment. Messy. Ugly. Marriages and relationships ended because of poorly managed ketchup.
Keep it in the bottle.