Sunday, October 31, 2010

The ghost of Halloween past

I don't know about anyone else, but it seems like Halloween has been an all-weekend affair this year. I guess that's what you get when you have trick-or-treating on Friday night and Halloween doesn't actually happen till Sunday night. Surprisingly, we really weren't all that into Halloween this year. A lot of that had to do with the fact that October was an amazingly draining month so by the time we got to the end of it, we really lacked the ability to put something fantastic together. We had a few friends over, but we didn't even dress up this year which is VERY unlike us. So since there are no new pictures of a costumed us, I raided my hard drive and found a bunch of photos from Halloweens past.

This is from the first Halloween party we ever had. We lacked the space for it so Jeff hosted it with us at his place. We went as Gomez and Morticia Addams. My sister Wendy went as Wednesday Addams but I can't find the picture of the three of us. She killed it as Christina Ricci's version of Wednesday. We weren't too shabby ourselves.

1999 found us hosting our first Halloween party in our first house. We went as Dorothy and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. Heidi made our costumes and I do believe we pulled it of pretty well, even though we had to be a bespectacled Dorothy and Scarecrow.

Never to be outdone, Jeff came to that party as Joan Crawford accepting her Oscar in her nightgown. Jeff, you have a level of courage that I can only aspire toward.

My brother and sister were living in Iowa City that year, so they came to the party as well. On the right is Ryan doing his classic Unabomber costume which was based on the famous artist's composite sketch. My sister arrived as "the new Jan Brady" complete with blond hair sticking out from her black Afro wig. Perhaps two of my favorite costumes ever.

This is from 2002 - Anna's first Halloween. She was a ladybug that couldn't stop sucking on her pacifier.

In 2004, Anna had to wear the cat costume that was worn by Heidi and all her sisters at some point. So I decided since Anna was going as a cat, I'd go as a mouse. That thing hanging around my neck is a picture of cheese but it's flipped around so it just looks stupid.

2008 we started doing Halloween parties again in earnest. Anna was Princess Leia that year on a "diplomatic" mission to Alderaan.

That was also the same year that I shaved my beard and went as David Tennant as The Doctor. Heidi went as the scariest thing we could think of - President Sarah Palin. Looking back, my resemblance to the Doctor is only vague at best, but I had a good time.

Last year's Alien chestburster victim is the best costume I've ever done. It was a little bit technically difficult to rig up, but once I figured it out, the rest was easy. I got more comments on that costume than any other.

Heidi was a bit less inspired that year - going as the "H" Scrabble tile. Anna was Coraline from the movie version - complete with blue hair.

Jeff arrived in full Glinda regalia that year. I think that we both peaked in terms of costume ideas that year. No one does Halloween drag like Jeff. And it led to the very surreal picture below.

So yeah, although Anna dressed up this year, we didn't. Next year, we'll have to make up for it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


It's almost November which means only ONE thing around here - we're about to lose Heidi for a month. Monday starts the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) in which participants attempt to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Last year, Heidi wrote Double Blind during NaNoWriMo. This year, I think she's planning on writing the third book in the Special Delivery series so fans of that series, the wait is getting close to being over. There will be write-ins all over central Iowa for the next month and I'm sure I'll be at many of them providing moral support and drinking overpriced coffee.

Me, I'm not that ambitious. But what I AM planning on doing is participating in NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month. I did this unofficially last year but this year, I'm jumping in with both feet and have signed up on the web site. While it was originally developed as a counterpoint to NaNoWriMo, it no longer is just a once yearly event taking place in November. However, in honor of Heidi's attempt (and the attempts of all others in the Central Iowa Authors NaNo group), I'm choosing November and, according to the FAQ on the web site, it's still the most popular month for people to participate.

I can't promise something witty every day, but there will be new material at least once a day in November. Some days, it may be no more than a YouTube link with some sentences to go along with it, but I do hope for some longer posts as well. I know that blogging is ancient history, but my dogged determination to keep this space going is stronger than ever right now.

I have a few posts I've saved for November, but expect me to catch up on my book posts. But if last November is any indication, who knows what I'll get up to.

Year of 25 Books: #16 - Lips Unsealed: A Memoir

Although this is only entry 16 for the Year of 25 Books, I'll have you know that I'm all the way up to 20 as far as reading them goes. Clearly, I'm behind on blogging the books. Yes, I'm behind on reading as well. Only 8 weeks left in the year and 5 more to go. What can I say? The last half of the year has been a bit busier than I expected.

When I first heard about Belinda Carlisle's memoir, I knew that it would be a must read. The advent of Belinda's solo career coincided with my musical awakening which, in layman's terms means the point at which I stopped listening solely to Olivia Newton-John records. The Go-Gos actually predated me musically a little bit, although I was swift enough to figure out that she was the lead singer of the Go-Gos and "Our Lips Are Sealed" - the hit song from which the title of the book takes its name, was one of the first music videos I remember seeing (on HBO's Video Jukebox, no less.)

Belinda's solo work was such solid pop that I had no choice but to love it pretty much unconditionally. So the revelation in the book that she really is more of a punk rocker at heart was a bit of a surprise. The Go-Gos always seemed to flirt with punk, but they were grounded in such a pop sensibility that calling them punk would have certainly not been accurate. The book follows Belinda from her beginnings in southern California to the formation and break-up of the Go-Gos. It includes the years of her solo career which peaked in the late 80s with the album (and Dan favorite) Heaven on Earth only to see her fortunes fall steadily through the 90s. It is a pretty standard music autobiography - trials, tribulations, love, heartache and above all, drug use.

Belinda's drug use during the 80s is no secret. I remember reading or hearing somewhere (although now I am hard pressed to find the source) that there are some Go-Gos videos that she has absolutely no recollection of doing because she was so high on various drugs. Listening to Carlisle weave her tales of drug use in the 80s rock and roll scene makes me wonder how there were any drugs left in Los Angeles after she was done. The most amazing thing was that her drug use continued up until just a few years ago, although there were periods of sobriety, she's only been drug free for the last 5 years. And here I thought she'd left her drug habit in the dust 20 years ago! After reading the book, I think it's only her marriage and family that saved her from ending up dead from a drug overdose. In many ways, she's lucky to be alive (but not as lucky as Stevie Nicks - talk about someone that probably shouldn't have seen their 60s based upon the amount of drugs they did.)

The book is, like most rock-star memoirs, an incredibly easy read and I have no idea how much of it was ghost written, but it's very readable and entertaining. I have a love of biography because I am, by nature, just a bit of a snoop and just love to hear other people's life stories. And even though they are celebrities, they're still people. I think that's the thing that fascinates me the most. She does not, however, address the plastic surgery tragedy that is her face now.

I can't wait till Madonna gets around to writing her inevitable autobiography, but by then, will there be anything left to tell?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fish death

The fish just keep dying.

Anna has an aquarium in her room that was a birthday present a few years back. It was born out of her desire for "something alive" in her room (never mind the fact that we have 5 cats.) I nixed all talk of rabbits and guinea pigs and chinchilas and what not. I was NOT interested in cleaning up after one of those - litter boxes are already bad enough. So we settled on fish. We had fish growing up and my mom has a tank now.

One of the things I remember my dad saying to us as kids regarding fish tanks was "don't get attached to fish." They are, after all, the lowest form of vertebrate life on the planet. The ones living in her aquarium have a brain the size of a hangnail. Still, when we first started with fish, we named them and everything. My dad would just shake his head and repeat his mantra "don't get attached to fish."

Those of you that know Anna know that she gets attached to everything. Her first two goldfish that she had were named Kiki and Fifi. With the clear memory of my father's mantra in my head, I reminded Anna that fish were fragile creatures and not to be disappointed if they died. To our utter amazement, they lived for nearly a year. But then the great fish die off began. Replacement fish lasted a month at best. We switched to tetras and glowfish and one by one, they croaked too. It wouldn't be so bad except Anna gives them all these cute little names. Strawberry and Silvermist and Popcorn and Chocolate Chip and Fred. That's right, Fred. Fred and Al were both algae eaters. Both gone to the great fish beyond.

I got an e-mail from Heidi on Saturday night when I was in Kansas City about the death of Popcorn. Popcorn was a guppy that was yellow with little black speckles. He had just been purchased the day before and could have been returned to Petsmart, but heartbroken Anna wanted to bury him. Both algae eaters bit the dust last night - a fact I discovered when I came up to find Anna despondent and crying in her bedroom. Tonight, another glowfish had died. He was up against the filter and I don't even know what his name was.

Anna keeps this list on the back of her door. I know that I am overly sentimental about my child, but it breaks my heart.

I think I could handle fish death if it weren't for the cute names and the ever lengthening list of casualties. But I know that's how she's dealing with it. She told me once that it's how she remembers them, which I suppose is fair. It's just another example of how, as a parent, you want to shield your child from all pain. It's not only impossible, it's fucking stupid. I always say that if I had just learned how to deal with some of the shit I am learning to deal with now at an earlier age, it would have been SO much easier.

But for now, I would like the fish to stop dying. Pretty please?

(image via)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Frequent fliers

It's been a while since I've done an iPod data post. They are probably only interesting to me, but what the hell.

Top 25 Most Played Songs on my iPod (as of today)

1) I Put My Ring Back On / Mary Chapin Carpenter (63 plays)
2) Get Outta My Way / Kylie Minogue (41 plays)
3) Hormones / Tracey Thorn (37 plays)
4) It's Here / Kim Wilde (35 plays)
5) The Way I Feel / Mary Chapin Carpenter (30 plays)
6) Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love) / Kylie Minogue (29 plays)
7) Ain't No Son / Court Yard Hounds (27 plays)
8) Broken / Madonna (26 plays)
9) Oh No! / Marina & the Diamonds (26 plays)
10) Dear Anne Sexton / Vanessa Daou (26 plays)
11) The Age of Miracles / Mary Chapin Carpenter (25 plays)
12) Aphrodite / Kylie Minogue (24 plays)
13) Be My Lover / La Bouche (24 plays)
14) San Antonio Rose / Patsy Cline (23 plays)
15) Wheel Of Fortune (2009 Remix) / Ace of Base (22 plays)
16) Go Hard or Go Home / Kylie Minogue (22 plays)
17) I Was A Bird / Mary Chapin Carpenter (22 plays)
18) I Wanna Life / Goldfrapp (20 plays)
19) Better Than Love / Hurts (20 plays)
20) Something About You / Cary Brothers (19 plays)
21) Telephone / Lady Gaga & Beyonce (19 plays)
22) Naked to the Eye / Mary Chapin Carpenter (19 plays)
23) Heard It On The Radio / The Bird & The Bee (18 plays)
24) On Her Mind / Duncan Sheik (18 plays)
25) Free Man In Paris / Joni Mitchell (18 plays)

I just reset my iTunes play counts in April - right before the new Mary Chapin Carpenter album came out which is why it is so well represented there. It got off to an early head start and still holds the number one slot, although Kylie is coming up fast and furious. It also explains the relatively low play counts on this list. That's also because there's just so much music in my library it really takes a lot for something to get repeated and multiple plays.

It'll be interesting to see where this is in 6 months.

Look who's evil now!

Horror and comedy frequently go hand in hand. The Nightmare on Elm Street sequels prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. But the combination of horror, comedy and musical theater is a little bit rarer of a bird. Over the weekend I got a chance to finally see Evil Dead: The Musical at Kansas City's Off Center Theater with my friend Jason who had traveled from Boston to Kansas City for a conference. I'm not really sure where to start with this musical except that it was funny and campy as well as being a complete gross-out. So in other words, it was a total win.

Evil Dead: The Musical is based on the Sam Raimi films Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Both films deal with the summoning of demons by reading from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or The Book of the Dead. The musical cherry picks the best parts from each of the movies and creates its own plot line, punctuated by Broadway style show tunes that are as funny as they are profane. The five college students on their way to an old abandoned cabin in the woods have NO idea what what awaits them.

In addition to singing and dancing and very bad puns, there is a shit-ton of fake stage blood that gets used during this show. And not content to just let the players participate in the fun of being covered in blood and gore, each production of Evil Dead: The Musical designates the first several rows of the audience as the "splatter zone." Sit there at your own peril, because as the program said, they will do everything in their power to make sure that they get the blood on you. For the show we went to, there was a row of folding chairs right up by the stage and then the first 2 rows of permanent seating were covered in trash bags. I had heard about this and Jason and I both decided it would be better to NOT sit in the splatter zone. Unfortunately, I heard about the splatter zone AFTER I had ordered the tickets, so our seat in row B was clearly going to be splattered. I called the ticket office mid-September and got our seats changed to row C which they assured me would not be in the splatter zone. Well, imagine our surprise when we got there and there were trash bags over our seats. It all worked out - we talked to a manager and they seated us in house seats clear of the splatter zone (and also free of seats in front of us which is nice for two 6 foot tall people.) And it was a good thing - the people in the splatter zone were covered in blood. It looked like people had been murdered.

The cast was good and the songs were well sung. What I wasn't expecting was how much dancing there actually was! I'd have dropped over dead after the first number had I been in that cast. No wonder they were all in terrific shape. I was especially impressed with Sam Wright's performance as Ash - the physical stamina it must have taken for that role is a bit mind boggling. He is in virtually every scene of the show and sings in most of the songs. I was not as impressed with the guy who played Scott, which made the performance of what has always been my favorite song from the musical "What the Fuck Was That?" a bit of an anticlimax. He didn't sing it as much as he shouted it and after having listened to the cast recording of that song for the last 2 years, I was a bit let down.

We also found it very odd that the theater was in what was basically a mall, but it all worked out because we basically just hung out around Crown Center for most of the day while we waited for the show to start. It was a good venue for the show and the audience really ate it up.

The next morning, I e-mailed my friend Matt and told him that if there is ever another semi-local performance of this show, we must go. I would totally go again but this time, I think I want to sit in the splatter zone. They even had "I survived the Splatter Zone" t-shirts! I did buy a T-shirt at the show - my one souvenir from my trip to Kansas City this weekend. Here it is:

The one I really wanted had the hand making an "L" in the Evil Dead logo a la the Glee logo. The tag line was "Like Glee, only dead." The other one said "Evil Dead: The Musical - a fucking good time!" which I just didn't feel comfortable buying.

The show is not going to win Tonys but who says it has to. It was a bloody (pardon the pun) good time and really, what more can you wish for from something called Evil Dead: The Musical?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phair warning

I've said so on Twitter and Facebook this morning already, but I have found myself rather inexplicably listening to Liz Phair this morning despite my original plan to have a Kylie listening party before I go out and tackle the yard. Phair's re-emergence is entirely Amazon's fault. I head over to their digital downloads page pretty much every day to see what the deal of the day is and there's Liz in the new releases section with her album Funstyle. Well, I was powerless to resist so I clicked on it. I had no idea she was still releasing albums! Her last album Somebody's Miracle, in the words of Shania Twain, didn't impress me much. It had what I felt to be a boring and generic Sheryl Crow vibe - not the sound I was expecting from the woman who, on her previous album, was extolling the skin-moisturizing and hair-conditioning virtues of semen in the song "HWC" (for the uninitiated, I'll let you figure out what the letters stand for.)

To say that I am a Liz Phair fan would be grossly overstating it. My introduction to Phair was not with Exile in Guyville as it was for so many others. My first real exposure was on her self-titled 2003 album. Phair was vilified as a sell-out for making this poppy album when she had been an indie darling prior to this. But for me, Phair was finally making music that was accessible to me. To this day, I have still not heard all of Exile in Guyville. Indeed, only one song from that album is in my iTunes library, although I noticed that the re-issue is one of the $5.00 albums on Amazon this month. So while I like a handful of her songs, most of my love is reserved for the Liz Phair album. That said, I can understand why long time Liz Phair fans would be disappointed with the direction she started taking in 2003. Still, the whole thing reeked of pretension on the part of her long time fans. It speaks to me of the bias against pop music in general. Who says that something with a good melody and fun production is necessarily without a soul?

I listened to samples of Funstyle on eMusic to see if I would even be interested in it. Predictably, most of it didn't do much for me, although I ultimately puchased three songs from the album. But after listening to Liz Phair for the last 45 minutes, I'm ready to go re-evaluate my position on it. There is definitely an Indian sound to the album (one song is even called "Bollywood") and truthfully, it is kind of a mess. But my prediction is that by the time November gets here I'll have succumbed to it and the entire album will have been purchased a la carte from eMusic - hopefully before they institute their new pricing scheme which will make buying from eMusic feel less like stealing.

I remember how, when I first discovered Liz that Heidi wasn't quite sure what to think of her. She told me once that she alternated between being intrigued by her and by wanting to wash her mouth out with soap. I wonder how she would feel about her now, 6 years later. If I know her, her opinion probably has softened but she will still probably not be a fan of the music.

The Liz Phair listening will undoubtedly pass, but right now, I'm loving the fact that she's running neck-and-neck with Amy Grant for my most played artist of the last 7 days on my page. In the words of OMC, how bizarre.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pharmaceutical influence

This is National Hospital and Health-Systems Pharmacy Week, or as we like to refer to it Pharmacy Week. We're having a potluck at work tomorrow (which reminds me, I still need to hit the store for my contributions) and the techs at work all have t-shirts that they've gotten the approval of administration to wear through the week. I don't know if retail pharmacies are celebrating this week, but we are.

I've said it before that if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't change a thing (cue Kylie.) And it's true, I wouldn't. I can't imagine doing anything other than what I'm doing right now. Being a pharmacist is so much a part of who I am that doing any other job is just an alien concept to me. There are days that being a pharmacist makes me crazy, but I imagine that it's no different than any other profession - you have your good days and your bad days. But the simple fact of the matter is that I am well suited to this profession both because I am smart enough to do it competently and because it fits in with my personality quite nicely.

If you can believe it, there was a time that being a pharmacist wasn't even on my radar. For most of my high school career, I was interested in going to medical school. I was always pretty bright and I was interested in science so I figured why not dream big? That started to change in August before my senior year of high school started when I got a call from a local pharmacist offering me a job. He owned a small pharmacy that was attached to a medical clinic in the town I grew up in. Each year, he hired a high school senior to work in his pharmacy doing deliveries, waiting on customers, restocking. What it amounted to on the surface was performing rather menial tasks but it was also an opportunity for him to give back to the community as a local business owner. Unfortunately, I had already signed up for community college classes that were in the evening, so I turned him down. However, my folks encouraged me to call him back and see what it was all about. I did, and after a very informal interview, he hired me on the spot for $3.60 an hour. This man's name is Don Jones.

It's fairly safe to say that I wouldn't be a pharmacist today if it hadn't been for Don Jones. The more time I spent in his pharmacy, watching him do the job he did, the more I realized that this type of health care profession was really much more my speed than any other I could get into. I was fascinated by drugs and how they worked and learning what they treated. I remember taking package inserts off the bottles and putting them in a file folder at home so that I could learn more about the drugs I was stocking every day. Don nudged me along the road to choosing pharmacy as a career very subtly. When I finally spilled the beans and said I had changed my mind, I think he was a little bit surprised. After I graduated from high school, Don hired me back every summer and Christmas vacation (and some spring breaks) until 1995 when I finally graduated with my B.S. in Pharmacy and he sold his pharmacy and subsequently retired. It was his influence and quiet role as my first pharmacy mentor that really set me on the path that ended up with me becoming a pharmacist rather than a very unhappy M.D. It's quite possible I would have seen the light along the way, but because of him, I didn't have to do it that way.

If Don Jones is responsible for me becoming a pharmacist, then John Hamiel is the reason I'm the type of pharmacist that I am. John was my boss in my first "real job." Looking back, he was my boss, my colleague and my friend - a situation that required him to wear a lot of hats. He was also, oddly enough, one of my students when I T.A.'d the P4 parenterals lab at the U of Iowa College of Pharmacy when I was doing graduate work. This just goes to show you that you should be nice to everyone you meet along the way because you never know when they might become your co-worker or even your boss. This is doubly true in the small world of pharmacy.

Anyway, the notable thing about John is that he really took a chance on me when he hired me. Here I was, applying for a hospital job with zero hospital experience. My only real pharmacy experience was retail, which included the years I'd worked for Don Jones and my part-time job at Drug Town in Iowa City that I used to help pay the bills while I was getting my Pharm.D. But for some reason, I didn't want to do work at Hy-Vee my whole life and on the encouragement of my friend Dr. Lynette Iles, I applied for the hospital job where John was the soon-to-be director and Lynette was on the medical staff. Despite my lack of experience, I got the job.

I am fond of saying that retail pharmacists and hospital pharmacists may both be pharmacists, but they speak in totally different languages. The learning curve I experienced my first year in a hospital setting was a steep one, indeed. There were times that I didn't think I could do it. When you work in a hospital, there's a whole subset of drugs that you never see in community pharmacy. The patients are (naturally) sicker than they are in an outpatient setting, so learning that sometimes we can do everything right and still not save the patient was hard for me. It's still hard for me. I think if it isn't hard for you, you need to check and make sure you still have a pulse. But John was always supportive and helped me learn lessons not just about hospital pharmacy but in the politics of working that everyone needs to get at least a little bit good at. Both sets of lessons ended up being invaluable.

My practice style has been so influenced by John that sometimes I find myself saying things that he said, even saying them like he said them. In a lot of ways, he was kind of "future me" although I didn't realize it at the time. We got along well and shared a lot of the same geeky humor and interests that define some of the strongest friendships I have. It was hard to leave when it came time for our family to change our scenery and move to Ames. But I owe him a debt of gratitude. Because he took a chance on a 27 year-old newbie, I've learned more about pharmacy than I ever thought I would and have more knowledge in my periphery than I thought humanly possible.

So during this Pharmacy Week, I want to take this time to say thank you to both of these men who were friends and mentors to me. Their influence is palpable in my life and career.

And because we don't want to be too serious and because I still have a 12 year old boy in me somewhere, here's the Top 11 Reasons to Date a Pharmacist:
1. Pharmacists do it twice 3 times daily
2. You can see your pharmacist the night before the morning after.
3. Pharmacists have a long duration of action.
4. Pharmacists are Rx rated.
5. Pharmacists find new routes of administration.
6. Pharmacists do it over-the-counter.
7. Pharmacists are patient lovers.
8. Pharmacists accept 3rd parties.
9. Pharmacists have a quick reconstitution time.
10. Pharmacists do it without breaks.
11. You will want no substitution

Happy Pharmacy Week to all my pharmacist friends and colleagues!

(Hug your pharmacist today. Especially if that pharmacist is me.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The view from here

I've always been interested in the "cultural history" of AIDS. It fits in well with my interest in it as a health care professional and general science-head. Many readers will recall that one of my all time favorite books is And The Band Played On... by Randy Shilts, an exhaustive (if biased) account of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. For me, reading it encompasses equal parts fascination and horror. I'm fascinated by the history, but horrified by the inattention that history has received and especially by the inattention that the government at large paid while it was happening.

My friend Jason recommended the documentary Silverlake Life: The View From Here to me a while back based on my interest in AIDS history. He shows this documentary in his Queer Identity class that he teaches and it always ends up being shown right around the first part of December, coinciding with World AIDS Day. For most of his students, this movie (which came out in 1993) is ancient history. Most of them now were just in the process of being born when this movie was released. For them, AIDS has always been a manageable chronic illness. It's hard for them to imagine the time when young men died from this disease every day, often alone, mostly in the prime of their life.

Silverlake Life: The View From Here is the story of Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, two gay men whose 22 year relationship comes to an end in front of a camera for all to see because of AIDS. Having both been diagnosed with AIDS, Joslin (who also taught film at the college level) started to document what would be the end of his life as a sort of "video diary." It is fascinating and heartbreaking. The documentary starts with footage from 1989 and ends mid-1990 following Joslin's death. During that time, his decline is remarkable for its speed and magnitude. He starts the documentary out as a thin, frail looking man for whom most activities of daily living are exhausting, Massi, by contrast, appears relatively healthy, especially when compared to Joslin. But this is belied whenever he removes his shirt and reveals a body covered with Kaposi's sarcoma lesions.

We see them at doctor's appointments. We follow them to an herbalist who grinds up herbs to put in a tea to be consumed every 30 minutes. They consult energy therapists and other alternative medical treatments, all in an attempt to delay the inevitable. It's hard to remember that in 1990, we didn't have the bevy of treatment options we have now. Protease inhibitors were still 6 years off so FDA approved treatments were still pretty slim. But Joslin's decline continues in spite of all of this. When he ultimately succumbs to the disease, in what is probably the hardest scene of the whole documentary to watch, we see just how wasted is body had become, how the disease had ravaged an otherwise healthy body of a relatively young man. His ribs and spine are clearly visible, as is his pelvis. These images, combined with the clearly distraught Massi providing the voiceover on the video tape ripped me in two.

I am so glad that AIDS is not the death sentence that it used to be. It is, in many ways, a more manageable illness than it used to be. It does not inevitably and rapidly lead to death in the ways that it used to. Treatment, while cumbersome, does exist although at times it's a toss-up as to which is worse - the "cure" or the disease. I would never wish for a return to this time. As I (and others) have said innumerable times, a generation of gay men was nearly decimated by this disease. Andrew Holleran compares the AIDS epidemic in the 80s to a "very nice dinner party with friends, except some of them were taken out and shot while the rest of us were expected to go on eating." The improvement in survival and treatment is, however, a double edged sword, as I think it has led us to forget how devastating the disease can be and that prevention of infection should still be the goal.

Subsequent generations would be wise to remember this, lest they be destined to repeat it. Films like Silverlake Life: The View From Here provide us with a sobering reminder of a time gone by. But it also gives us a glimpse into the how AIDS shattered the lives of those touched by it.

I'd advise anyone that wants to watch this to watch it when they can handle the images they will see. No matter how ready you think you are, you aren't ready for this. But it's essential viewing, not just for those interested in the impact HIV/AIDS had on a generation of gay men, but also for those that question the commitment that gay couples can have for each other. You will walk away from it with a much different opinion than the one you went in with.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Devil inside

I've gotten to the point with M. Night Shyamalan that I simply don't trust him any longer. The Sixth Sense was great, Unbreakable less so and pretty much everything since then has been quite awful. I kind of liked The Happening in spite of myself - something about malevolent plants just really turns me on. So when I heard that Shyamalan's name was attached to the film Devil, I mostly just wanted to roll my eyes and move on without even dipping my toes in that pool. But last week it rolled into the dollar theater here in town and for $1.50, I couldn't resist.

Originally I was set to see this movie tomorrow night with a couple of other guys but one of them had another commitment and the other had the ironclad excuse of it being his wedding anniversary. So it looked like I was on my own for this one. That's okay - I'm not averse to going to movies by myself. I don't do it often and that's mostly because without the incentive of meeting a friend at the movie, I will usually give into inertia and just decide to skip the whole thing and stay home. For perspective, the last movie I went to on my own was Cloverfield.

But when I really want to see something, I can overcome that inertia and that's just what I did tonight. It helps that it's October and I was really in the mood to sit in a theater at a scary movie. Devil promised to deliver just the right amount of chills. The basic premise is quite simple. Five apparently random people end up trapped in an elevator in a downtown Philadelphia skyscraper. One of them just happens to be Satan himself. The set-up of the movie describes this as "the devil's meeting" - a South American legend in which the devil takes human form to punish a select group of people on Earth before claiming their souls. His entry into the world is always preceded by a suicide and so, naturally, Devil opens with someone falling out of a building and on to a delivery truck.

If I were only able to say one thing about Devil it would be that it plays like a long episode of The Twilight Zone. It never really delivers any true scares. There were a few jumps here and there, but, much like Paranormal Activity, it settled for creepy rather than scary. I felt like this was a good trade-off because with nearly all of the action taking place inside an elevator, it just wasn't a good set-up for honest to God scares. I found the story of "the devil's meeting" and the slow reveal of the components of the myth and their subsequent incorporation into the movie to be particularly well done. In addition to the events inside the elevator, there's an interesting side story of a Philadelphia police officer whose loss of his family to a hit-and-run driver nearly caused his own demise from alcoholism which fits like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

What I liked about Devil is that in this day and age of torture-porn horror films, it dared to be subtle and different. Yes, there is some gore, but most of the deaths occur off-screen which simultaneously heightens and lessens their impact. By doing this, it plays to one of the human brain's greatest strengths - the ability to imagine. What we come up with in our minds for what's happened when the lights go off in the elevator is much scarier than anything that could be put on film. It's refreshing to see a horror film that tries to scare with concepts and ideas, rather than gushing blood and decapitations.

Like I said, I didn't find Devil especially scary, but it did make me think which was not what I was expecting from a movie like this. I also had feelings for the characters, whether it be the people in the elevator that I mostly loathed because they were depraved human beings or the cop whose loss of his family affected me more than I thought it would.

This will be a movie that's shown on cable a zillion times. If late night TV were still running movies instead of infomercials, it'd be a new staple. It was definitely worth the $1.50 but then again, most movies are. The only movies I've ever seen there that were probably not worth the admission price were Silent Hill (people actually booed at the end of it) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It wasn't as good as the best horror movie I've seen for next-to-nothing (30 Days of Night) and had nothing on the fantastic-ness of Drag Me To Hell. However, if you're in the mood for a movie with its fair share of creepiness along with a little morality tale as well, Devil might just be the ticket.

I know it was for me tonight. And at 80 minutes, I felt like I was barely even at the movie. If I had paid full price for it, I'd have been pissed just based on that short running time!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Vacation reflections

It's the last day of vacation. Tomorrow, I head back to work and back into the real world. It's not quite going to be the real world until Heidi gets back sometime on Thursday, but it's the end of lazy days in front of the TV and yard work afternoons with my dad. No more staying up till 2:30 in the morning and sleeping late. I'm sad to see it end but I'm also ready for the return of my daily rhythm - well, as much rhythm as I can generate in a job that has rotating shifts.

I didn't blog nearly as much as I wanted to. I didn't get the bathroom recaulked but will try to do so this afternoon. I did get to meet up with Matt and Bess one day for lunch which was very fun and, as usual, full of unpredictable conversation topics. I was massively productive outside with the always appreciated help of my dad. I reconnected with my daughter - not that we were suffering this huge disconnect, but being her sole caregiver gives you a glimpse into the things that she usually splits between us. She missed her mom but learned that, as a certain Gloria Gaynor said, she will survive.

The thing I would excise from this past week if I could would be the unanticipated arrival of Operation: Keep Blair Alive Until Heidi Gets Home. After spending approximately 48 hours during which time we saw him exactly once, he is quarantined in my office where he is recovering from a respiratory infection brought on by his extremely low white blood cell count which is the direct result of his recently diagnosed multiple myeloma. He's on the mend - eating and drinking and getting stronger. Still, facing the very real possibility of having only three more months with him is a hard truth we're still coming to terms with. We do love him even though, as Heidi said, he is the fucking bitchiest cat that ever lived.

I feel ready to get back to it, even though I'm sure that I'll miss my free time the instant I get back to work. That's a natural reaction. I have had a lot of good times this week even though Heidi has been gone for the entirety of it. I have learned a few things over the last week though.

1) If I did nothing else, I could almost keep up with preventing the house from falling into complete disarray.

2) I can give Blair medication without the help of anyone as long as it is a liquid medicine with a total volume of 2 mL or less.

3) It helps to have an agenda. Otherwise, you can spend massive amounts of time at the computer accomplishing next to nothing.

4) It's amazing how the absence of one person can make the dishes so much more manageable.

5) There is such a thing as watching too much Hoarders.

I've been beyond lazy this morning. I got laundry put away but I can't motivate myself to do anything else. Even writing this blog post seemed like a Herculean effort. But I suppose that since this IS the last day of vacation I should cut myself some slack. The good thing is that there are fun things on the horizon. I'm headed down to Des Moines on Wednesday night with my mom to go see 9 to 5: The Musical while my father does Anna duty. And then on the weekend of the 22nd I'm headed to Kansas City to meet up with my friend Jason who will be in town for a conference. We'll be hitting Evil Dead: The Musical and I'm looking forward to just hanging out. We started planning this back in July and it seemed like forever away then. Hard to believe it's just around the corner now.

Today is also my 13th wedding anniversary. It's a little bit bittersweet because Heidi is not here. She is on her way to Austin today as she and Marie make their way back to Iowa. I love her so very very much and can't wait for her return.

But for now, I'm going to go see if I can find the caulk. Because there is caulking to be done on that upstairs tub. The caulk just looks terrible. We'll see if I can make the caulk look more appealing. And yes, those last four sentences are there specifically to make a certain reader laugh like a 12-year-old boy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #15 - "The Call of Cthulhu"

Including this short story in my yearlong challenge to ready 25 books is, admittedly, a bit of a cheat. After all, it IS a short story and not a novel. But I purchased a collection of H.P. Lovecraft's stories for the Kindle app on my Droid phone awhile back. 67 tales of Lovecraftian goodness without the heft of the physical book - what more could you ask for? Well, I've determined that it's going to take a millennium to finish all 67 stories because in the month since I bought it, I've finished exactly four, the most recent of which is "The Call of Cthulhu." (a word that I will never be able to spell for as long as I live.)

I've been interested in Lovecraft for a long time and appreciate his place in the canon of horror fiction, but had never really gotten around to reading him. A friend of mine in pharmacy school recommended Lovecraft to me during the summer of 1995. He was not a guy that I was close with by any means during pharmacy school, but he was one of the few people that remained in Iowa City after graduation, so he initiated me into films like Evil Dead and Reanimator. After watching Reanimator, I headed down to the Iowa City library and picked up a Lovecraft collection. I surrendered after half a story - a complete and utter fail.

Despite that, I'm still intrigued by the Lovecraft mythos and even though his writing is still as dense as I remember it being, I really wanted to cross "The Call of Cthulhu" off my to-be-read pile this year. It's an essential Lovecraft story and references to Cthulhu, a gigantic winged and tentacled beast from another world that is pure and unadulterated evil, populate the internet and pop culture in everything from web comics and plush toys to oven mitts and ukeleles. Since it seemed to be one of Lovecraft's more enduring tales, I figured it would be one of his best. After reading it, my verdict was "not so much."

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents" is the famous first line of "The Call of Cthulhu." I think my mind lacked the ability to correlate all the contents of "The Call of Cthulhu." I wanted to like this, I really did. But I just kept thinking about how I liked the three stories that I read prior to "The Call of Cthulhu" so much better than this one. I felt like Lovecraft's prose was more obtuse than usual and for being a horror story, it was really not all that scary. Creepy in places, yes but scary? Not by a mile.

I will keep plugging through the 67 Lovecraft stories that are on my phone. I figure if nothing else, there will always be reading material with me. But I've determined that I really do appreciate Lovecraft more than I enjoy him. And I'll still think that anything Cthulhu related that I find on the Internet is cool - the more tongue-in-cheek, the better - even though I'm resigned to the fact that I'll never completely get it.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #14 - Strawberries for Dessert

Full disclosure: The author of this book is a family friend and all around cool person.

I'm not sure why I'm still calling this the Year of 25 Books. It's becoming painfully obvious to me that I'm going to fall short of my goal. Oh well, there's always next year. Until December 31st, we're going to see how close I can get. I have two books I've finished but haven't blogged and my vacation is only half over so who knows.

In honor of Heidi's road trip with her friend and fellow m/m author Marie Sexton, which has been dubbed Heidi and Marie's Excellent Manlove Adventure (or HAMEMA for short), I decided to pick up her most recent book, Strawberries for Dessert. Heidi had raved about it and I'd seen the paperback sitting around the house for so long that I figured why the hell not? It's the first m/m book I've read in a while that was not written by my wife. I always like to see how other authors approach this genre because there are as many ways to tell these stories as there are authors out there. Some are very good and others are pure crap. Fortunately, Strawberries for Dessert is one of the former and I'm not just saying that because I know Marie will be reading this!

Strawberries for Dessert features two very real main characters that couldn't be more different. Jon Ketcher is a career driven, Type A personality guy that let his last serious relationship wither and die. While not a man's man in the traditional sense, he's definitely more of one than Cole Fenton who is flamboyantly out there in ways that make Jon very uncomfortable. They're set up on a blind date by mutual friends and it doesn't go well. Jon's cell phone keeps ringing at dinner and what's worse, Cole is embarrassing to Jonathan. Normally, this would be the end of it, but they give it another try despite Cole not being Jon's "type."

I would offer this book up as evidence to those that argue that all m/m fiction is thinly veiled porn. There is excellent character development in not just Cole and Jon but also in secondary characters, most notably Jon's widowed father. Some characters we don't see enough of for them to get beyond stock, but it's really okay. It doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the book. Additionally, the sex in this book is not very graphic so those that usually shy away from books like this due to the sexual content will find this more their speed. There is sex, no doubt (moreso than in Libby Drew's State of Mind which I also really enjoyed) but I would classify it as more the sensual type.

As usual, my litmus test for these kinds of books is whether or not the guys really act like guys. Nothing annoys me more than seeing the men in these books NOT acting like men. Fortunately, Sexton knows her way around these characters and makes them both very emotionally honest to the levels where I would expect them. Sometimes, Jon and Cole are as dumb as mud posts, especially when it comes to their relationship. However, it fits in because the set up is so good. The behavior naturally flows from the set up to the conclusion. In the end, it all makes sense.

I heartily recommend Strawberries for Dessert to fans of m/m fiction and to those that enjoy a good love story.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Tape needs - satisfied!

According to my dad, my mother has the house torn apart, cleaning every little nook and cranny. In the process, she is uncovering tons of crap that apparently would have been lost to time had this deep clean not occurred. Last week, when he came over to Ames to pick up my mom's computer from Best Buy (after a couple of months, it STILL wasn't ready), he showed up at my door and announced that he was going to start clearing weeds in the backyard. More about that in a blog post later this week, but he brought some stuff my mom had found that she thought I might want. That or she was just trying to transfer some of the tonnage from their house to mine.

I mentioned in my Toni Childs post how, during high school, I had "tape needs." Well, I think that all of these were tape needs at one point or another.

Now what in the world am I going to do with cassette tapes in the day and age of mp3s and iPods? I wondered the same thing (after I got over the excitement of seeing them again.) I mean, how awesome is it that it's the ORIGINAL cover of Taylor Dayne's Tell It To My Heart? I tell you, I totally loved that album. I remember buying it on the Carroll High Jazz Band's trip to State in 1988. Everyone mocked me for buying it, but those hypocrites were probably dancing their asses off to "Tell It To My Heart" at 80s night at their favorite college bar not 5 years later, so the joke's on them. And the two Madonna ones? You know, they were the only two Madonna albums I ever bought on cassette. Everything before You Can Dance and Who's That Girl I bought on vinyl and everything post-Like A Prayer, I bought on CD. And the Grease soundtrack? Shit, that was probably the most purchased album in our house during my childhood and adolescence. That sucker didn't sell 28 million copies worldwide for no reason.

So back to the original question, what am I going to do with cassette tapes in 2010? Well, my truck has only a cassette player. I usually hook my iPod up to it via a cassette adapter, but I put all four of those tapes out in my truck. We listened to Tell It To My Heart this morning when I took Anna to school, leading her to say "Dad, she sounds kinda like Cher." And she kinda does.

Here's my favorite song from that album and what you might hear coming from the open windows of my truck in for the next few days.

(Too bad her last album was so bad I couldn't even listen to one song!)