Friday, December 20, 2019

The end of a saga

The first movie I remember being excited to see was Return of the Jedi. I remember seeing Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back in the theatre. But RotJ was the first movie I couldn’t wait to see. Now 37 years later I am sitting in an empty theatre waiting for the final chapter of the Skywalker saga to begin. 

Star Wars was a huge part of my youth. The toys, the movies, the waiting in a long line at MGM studios to go on the Star Tours ride or even the bedding. It was everything. It was part of our family fabric. I’m sitting in the same theatre (the historic Midway theatre) that my mom brought us to see RotJ all those years earlier. 
My young adulthood was filled with Star Wars special editions and prequels. And I thank a certain someone for humoring me as we sat in theaters all over the city to watch them multiple times. 

I was happy as a dad I was able to share Star Wars with my kids. I can’t count how many lightsabers I bought over the years. One year I went trick or treating with Luke and Leia. And I knew that the next generation was on the right track. 

This movie starts in about twenty minutes. And I come into it with no preconceived notions. I’ll accept any ending. And be thankful for all the men and women who made a truly American fairytale. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

My heart broke a little bit today

You get to a certain age and you get sentimental about things, people and places. This morning I got up early-ish and ran some errands. I got a much-needed haircut and took a long walk before stopping for coffee. I decided today would be the day I stopped at the new coffee shop in Ridgewood.

In the past decade or so we have had an influx of new coffee shops. Which has been great? But I have been hesitant to come to Porcelain. Mostly because for decades I used to come to this space every Friday night for my weekly scout meetings.

The former butcher shop on the corner of Catalpa and Woodward Avenues was home to Troop 327 for decades. Probably about a decade ago we outgrew to space and started meeting exclusively in the school building. But that building was always referred to as the scout office. I grew up in this room (well it used to be two rooms). Some of my best memories happened here. And now I’m enjoying a very buttery apple and pear tart in what was the Catalpa side window where Mr.Dowd always wanted to install a LED recruiting sign. Feet away from where a future Naval Commander and a national guard director would go crashing through a plane glass window. I’m sitting here drinking a way too expensive and way too ordinary cup of coffee and listening to what I can only imagine is Brazilian music.

I know the church sold this building. And eventually, the new owners would turn it into something else. And a coffee shop is a great choice (it was also a set for some scenes in The Irishman starring Robert DeNiro). But I can’t help remembering meetings here. Lugging up equipment before and after camping trips. I became Scoutmaster in the room (weirdly enough I also stopped down as Scoutmasters in this room during a committee meeting).

They didn’t fix the ceiling, change the floors or the iconic aluminum door (where the totem pole lived behind) but this is not my place anymore.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tom Terrific and my Abuelo

As I drove into work this evening I was listening to Mike Francesca on WFAN. The big story of the day wasn’t the LeBron James led Lakers clinging to slim playoff hopes, or what the Giants and Jets would be doing in the upcoming NFL draft, or even about the Phillies Bryce Harper potentially tampering, it was about the furthering decline of a winemaker from California

Ok that winemaker is baseball hall of famer and Mets great Tom Seaver, and today his family announced that the 74 year old would be retiring from public life due to dementia associated with Alzheimer's Disease. While Seaver pitched most of his career before I was a fan, he is a beloved name in Mets lore. He is on our Mount Rushmore, our Babe Ruth.

But this news reminds me of someone who also loved baseball but had a about 311 less major league wins, my grandfather who also about 13 years ago succumbed to Alzheimer's. The same disease that will one day kill Tom Seaver.

I think there is a lot written about the horrors of cancer. It is a horrible disease that destroys your body from within, and the medicine that fights it is also destroying you. Your family gets to watch your body wither away. It's terrible. I was too young to see that happen to my father, but I stood by and watched it happen to my father in law. But even to the end he was still himself.

On the other hand Alzheimer's destroys a person’s soul. Their essence. It is equally as painful watching a basically healthy person who doesn’t remember the names of their children or grandchildren, as someone who is too weak to drink water on their own.

Every summer when we would go to Puerto Rico to visit our grandparents. Abuelo was ready for us, almost as if he was waiting all year until we got back. Before we arrived he bought cases of Coke, Old Colony Uva and Orange Crush for us to enjoy while we were there.

He would take us all around town, his Little Big Boy and Big Little Boy. Being obsessed with baseball, and not able to read Spanish he would help me translate baseball stores in the newspapers. By default he became a Mets fan, Howard Johnson was his favorite. We watched the major league all star game together every summer.

Then we all got older. My brother and I stayed in New York during the summers. Eventually Abuelo moved to Connecticut with my aunts. He was now only an hour drive away. But I was busy. Either with school, or with a certain special lady, or the beginning of my career, life. As he aged he became more and more forgetful, he was just taking off and then not knowing where he was. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he moved into a really great nursing home. We would go visit him, and the man sitting there in a sweat suit looked like my grandfather, smiled like him and sounded like him. But it wasn't him. You could see it in his eyes. That wasn’t Jose Nieves anymore.

He was like that for several years. We were just strangers who sort of looked like the pictures on his wall. He smiled and was pleasant. The rides back home were always worse than being there.

I remember it clear as day, Ani and I were taking our newly leased car on a impromptu road trip to get cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. When my mom called, Abuelo had fallen and broke his hip. She was heading to New Haven via train, we turned around at the next exit and headed there as well. Over the next weeks in the hospital as will happen with 90 somethings, other things started happening. He developed pneumonia and passed away. It was terribly sad, for us. But I like to think that it was a huge relief for him to finally be unlocked from his shell.

This disease doesn't discriminate, it destroys soft spoken accountants and three time cy young award winners alike. I hate to say that the Seaver’s are facing a horrible few years.

Alzheimer's is a terrible disease both for the victim and for everyone who gets to watch someone they love forget them.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Tales of the Rockabilly Rambler

In the history of pop culture, the United States has there ever been a more influential or important figure than The King himself Elvis Presley. Even 41 years after his “death” Elvis is still a pop culture icon.

While the world was obsessed with music, curled lip, and swinging hips, Elvis was obsessed with law enforcement. He had asked then President Nixon to deputize him as a federal drug enforcement agent (Nixon gave him a specially made Bureau of Narcotics badge), he was also an honorary captain in the Denver police department, and among his most prized possessions was a collection of police badges from departments all across the nation.

During a trip to Graceland, artist and publisher Aaron Allen found himself looking at a turquoise handled colt 45 pistol, in a display about Elvis and law enforcement and he was “All shook up”* and it came to him.

“What if Elvis had pursued that life? Why not create short fictional stories of his time as a police officer?”
Allen recruited 9 writers and 9 artists to create an anthology of stories about Elvis in law enforcement. The nine stories which make up the Tales of the Rockabilly Rambler take the tale of the king in all sorts of directions. We see the king, reimagined as a ninja bashing badass, a gun-slinging sheriff, a femme fatale, a supernatural demon hunter, and more. The book is a really fun read, some of the artwork is really stunning and if I'm being honest some is not my cup of tea. Then again some people like quaaludes and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and others don’t. To each his own.

The publishers are currently running a Kickstarter to bring Tales of the Rockabilly Rambler to comic book stores everywhere in a beautiful hardcover edition. So far so good on their campaign, but they are looking to get over the finish line and bring this great book out to the masses. 

NOTE: While I was given a copy of the book to review, I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.

* How can you do a review of something Elvis related without at least one reference to a song lyric. 
As an aside to this aside, If you don’t like a sprinkling of song lyrics this might not be the comic anthology for you. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs - Chuck Klosterman 

My ten year old daughter has probably read 20 books in 2019. When I bought her a new book during a recent visit, she mentioned another book she wanted. Ironically it was the book I didn't choose at the store. So I ordered it for her. I wish I could read as fast as she does, but I don’t I finally finished my first book of the year. Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs*.

This book which I had bought at a second-hand store many years ago, is a collection of short essays that seemingly have no through line, except that no pop culture exists in a vacuum. And the idea that after you read a
book of essays about pop culture you should have a list of things you want to watch, read, and listen to, even if it won’t be your first time consuming it.

Set up like a playlist. Klosterman jumps from stories about Guns n Roses cover bands and the Real World Seattle (the one where the girl with lupus gets slapped as she’s driving away in a cab) to the Zodiac killer. With short interludes in between.

What is great about this book is it is almost a time machine back to a more innocent time, of pop culture before the responsibility of post young adult adulthood.

*A low culture manifesto

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Time Breaker

When I found out that I was going to have a free (non-traveling) Saturday, I texted one of my buddies to see if he and his wife were doing anything. They were free, and when we were figuring out what we were going to do, I mentioned I had a new game. All of a sudden we had a plan.

We were going to try out Time Breaker from Looney Labs . It's no secret that Looney Labs is my favorite game publisher. Fluxx was my first foray into modern gaming, Zendo is one of the best games I've played in the last few years, and you can’t beat the vast array of games you can play using Looney Pyramids.

So Time Breaker which will be released at the end of February is both simple and extremely complicated all at the same time. Which is kind of the Looney Way? In the game, you need to capture a criminal and bring it back to the Time Repair Agency. Easy enough right? No. In addition to the other players also trying the capture the criminal, there is also the time traveling element.

Did I not mention the time traveling. Yeah, there is time traveling. There are no straight lines back to the TRA. You and your captive need to jump from the past (age of dinosaurs) to the recent past (moon landing) to the distant future (World Peace) and beyond and before.

It's the kind of game where you look at your cards and you see your path to victory. Only to watch one of your “Friends” do something to mess up your best laid out plans. The game is for 2-5 players, 8 and up, and can take ten minutes or a lot longer depending on how quickly the players catch on and the level of strategizing they are capable of.

The game is really easy to learn, there is virtually no set up, has high replay value and it is compact enough that you can carry it around in a backpack so a game can break out where ever ... or more accurately whenever.

NOTE: While I did receive a copy of Time Breaker to facilitate this review, there was no further compensation and all the thoughts and opinions are my own.