Saturday, March 31, 2007

Good men.

I saw The Lives of Others (Leber der Anderen, Das) at The Art last night. Next to The Last King of Scotland, this is the best film I've seen in the last 12 months. The story is almost an opera of sorts that takes place against the backdrop of communist East Germany in the late 70's. And by opera I don't mean melodramatic, but that it speaks to and about the deepest human longings.

It's about an East German Stasi officer who is thoroughly committed to protecting the Party ideals. His commitment has left him almost entirely devoid of any humanity and, more significantly, very much alone. He is assigned the job of spying on a famous playwright by a Party bigwig who has designs on the playwright's girlfriend. His mission? "Find something." Anything that the Party official can use to denounce the author and get him out of the way. The author is respected throughout the DDR by the highest Party officials, and is recognized by everyone as a good man. A simple denunciation will not do. The bigwig would need something concrete to take this guy down, hence the 24 hour surveillance.

That's all I'll tell you about the movie, which is not much more than you'll find in an IMDB synopsis. My wish is that you all get to see the story unfold as I did, with few preconceptions. And if you can, see it at The Art or any local theater in your town that supports great cinema, but see it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Claim to Fame

Driven by boredom and/or a pathetic need for validation I decided to see which celebrities in IMDB shared my birthday. Oldest to youngest, here are the ones I thought were interesting:

Charles Baudelaire--French poet and consummate sour puss.

Efrem Zimbalist Sr.--Daddy to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Airport 75, Wait Until Dark, Hotel, The FBI) and grandad to Stephanie Zimbalist (Remington Steele).

Ward Bond--One of my favorite character actors and authentic badass (Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Quiet Man, Hondo). A contemporary of The Duke.

King Faisal I of Saudi Arabia

Hugh Hefner

Cheeta--Chimp from 1930's Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller.

Marty Krofft--Produced Land of the Lost, HR Pufnstuff, Bugaloos, Donnie and Marie and more.

Hal Ketchum--Country music artist/troubadour.

Dennis Quaid--Not as cool as his brother Randy, but cool.

Joe Scarborough--Former Florida congressman, now news show host.

Lisa Guerrero--Tuff sidelines correspondent of Monday Night Football fame.

Mark "Where's the Money" Pellegrino--Prolific character actor who's appeared in numerous movies (Spartan, Capote, Big Lebowski) and TV shows (The Unit, NYPD Blue, CSI, Dexter). You'll recognize him when you see him.

Paulina Porizkova--Aside from being the 80's hottest supermodel, she's the reason Rick Ocaseck knows there is a God.

Cynthia Nixon--Miranda from Sex and the City.

Jay Chandrasekhar--Member of the Broken Lizard comedy team (Super Troopers, Beerfest).

Jenna Jameson--I have no idea who this is. Honest honey.

Keshia Knigt Pulliam--Of course, Rudy Huxtable's all growns up now.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What Would a Free Man Do?

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and saw 300 last night. It was far better and more poignant than I expected. More on that later. I prepped myself by reading a review or two and watching the 1962 adaptation of the story, The 300 Spartans. The 1962 version was probably closer to historical accounts, from what little knowledge I have of the Battle of Thermopalye, but it was far less engaging than 300. Oddly enough, I think 300 actually did a better job of communicating the historical significance of that battle.

If Xerxes had not been slowed by the Spartans at Thermopalye we would be living in a very different world today. It is quite conceivable that democracy would have died right there on the island of Greece. Needless to say, I'm anxious to learn more about it, which means buying more books I will probably never read. At least not for another year or two.

On a more personal level, I found 300 to be a wake up call of sorts. I know what some of you are thinking, "Great. Here comes the political crap." No, I will spare you my views on this part. Frankly, I think 300 is more of a Rorschach test than any specific political statement. You'll see what you want to see in regards to that. What I'm referring to is my personal life.

For one, the Spartan ethic, as portrayed in the movie, of being willing to endure pain to gain something far greater was particularly challenging to me and my waistline. Hence, this morning I've reinstituted the 15 min workout. If I could just have Leonidas as my trainer, I'd be ripped before long. Or, killed. In either case, I wouldn't be whining about being out of shape any more.

The other thing that really stuck with me was the scene in which the horribly deformed Ephialtes comes before Xerxes seeking significance by giving up his countrymen. It's what Xerxes says to him that really got to me, "Cruel Leonidas demanded that you stand. I require only that you kneel." This was particualary challenging to me in my spiritual life. So many times I've knelt to temptations and self-destructive behavior that would have been easily defeated if I had only stood up to them a little bit longer. It might have hurt for a while, denying the self is always painful, but it wouldn't have killed me. The thing I so often forget is that as a Christian, the battle has already been won for me. I just need to claim the victory and stand.

Enough church. I'll be honest, I don't know how many of you read regularly, but I try to treat this blog as a conversation in public. I try not to talk about or say anything that I wouldn't say to people I think are reading unless I thought they really wanted to hear it. For the most part it remains a way for me to just keep in touch with friends and let you all know what's going on with me. Not that I won't ever touch on religion or politics, but I'll try to keep both to a modest amount. Maybe I'll start another blog devoted solely to those topics.

Time for work.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Domo Arigato If I Got To

I harbored ambitions of flying somewhere today, but laziness and sketchy weather forecasts have kept me grounded. Still, it's kind of nice to veg. I'm currently listening to the late Brad Delp singing about peace of mind, while drinking Coors Light and wearing house slippers. It's all very comforting. Speaking of rock nirvana, I experienced a little last Wednesday night with my brother and Tolemite. We went and saw Clutch at the Metro in Chicago. This was Luke's first live Clutch experience and I was as excited about that as I was about seeing the band itself. The openers were Five Horse Johnson and Dub Trio.

Five Horse is a straight ahead blues-rock quintet that has clearly been influenced by R.L. Burnside. Their riffs carry more than a little of the heavy electric delta blues sound of which Burnside was the master. The lead singer played a harmonica and reminded me alot of Donal Logue (Tao of Steve) if he was a homeless guy. Alot of head bobbing went on during their numbers.

Dub Trio is, surprise, a trio from Brooklyn that blends punk/metal fury, reggae rhythyms and lots of echo effects in an instrumental mish mash that is fairly mesmerizing. I don't smoke pot, but if I did, I'd listen to Dub Trio every time I sparked up. Toler said the drummer looked like Sid Haig (Devil's Rejects). He had the bald head and full beard thing going on, but not the acne scarred face. Up close the resemblance was even more uncanny. When I looked Dub Trio up on iTunes I found just two albums. New Heavy was the most recent and from the samples I listed to, that's what they were pulling from for their show. I may pick up a copy for when I need to zone-out distractions at work.

About 11:30 or so Clutch hit the stage and delivered the knock out blow. Five Horse Johnson and Dub Trio had softened us up pretty good, so when they launched into Big News I the audience was ripe. As I'd hoped, Luke was as awestruck as I had been my first Clutch show. We were on the main floor in front of the stage just on the edge of the mosh pit. Close enough we could dive in when we wanted to, but far enough out we could escape easily when our mid-30's bodies needed a reprieve. One of the things that's great about a Clutch crowd is they love to rock but they're not violent. So even in the mosh pit you're among friends. I did have a couple of interesting encounters though.

During the Five Horse Johnson set this guy that reminded me an awful lot of Doug Jarvis with a soul patch grabbed my arm and said, "Hey, isn't it sad about Kurt?" I gave a confused look and said, "I'm sorry, I think you've mistaken me for someone else. I don't know a Kurt." He responded by jabbing his finger into the logo on the Split Lip Rayfield shirt I was wearing. "Oh, Kurt! The guitarist. What happened?" Turns out he succumbed to cancer about two weeks ago. The guy said he saw my shirt and thought I knew. Guess I don't pass as a die-hard Split Lip fan, still I really am bummed about Kurt. He was an immensely talented musician.

The other incident took place during the lull between Dub Trio and Clutch. A kid that looked like what I imagine a freshman Chicken looked like stumbled up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and slurred, "Heeey maaan. Are you the guy from the Days Inn?" When I said no he got this very confused look on his face. "Are yoou sure? You look just like this guy me and my friends saw at the Days Inn. He's following Clutch around on spring break." He pointed to his drunken crew across the room who were all looking at me and making "you rock" gestures. When I quit laughing, I told him if I was still in school I might have done something that cool, but I was from Champaign and had to go to work the next day. With a look of lingering doubt on his face, he said, "Sorry man. You look just like the guy." He then attempted to give me high five, failed miserably and stumbled to the bar. Up to that moment I was feeling slightly out of place among the predominantly college aged crowd. Knowing that I apparently could still pass for a slacker on spring break was strangely encouraging.

And finally, I am happy to report things seem to be progressing rapidly on the house. Not two weeks ago it seems they had just dug the hole. Now the foundation is poured and 2/3 of the structure is framed. I guess that shouldn't be terribly surprising since the framers are Amish and, if Witness is accurate, can build a barn in a day. For all the details see Laurie's blog, here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Home Sweet Hole

As Laurie has reported on her blog, construction of our future abode has begun with the digging of a hole. With ground broken, a chain of events has now been set in motion that, if all goes as planned, will end with us moving into a house on the corner of Dropseed and Tickseed sometime in June or July. That's not that far away.

The whole thing is exciting and sobering all at once. Exciting in that we'll finally be in a home that is truly ours. One that won't have any history that does not include us both. The prospect of more living space along with a private patch of earth is fun to think about, too. The sobering aspects almost exclusively revolve around finances. Not that we'll be house rich and cash poor, but we'll be shelling out a lot more than we've been accustomed to. And we'll be 100% responsible for anything that breaks. Owning a condo first was a nice way to transition from renting to full-blown homeownership. I gained valuable experience searching for and buying real estate, along with some tax benefits, but have been spared the rigors of lawn care and exterior maintenance.

Needless to say, this isn't the last you're going to hear about this. I expect we'll have pictures of the pouring of the foundation before long. And then the framing and so on. Speaking of the framing, our builder uses Amish carpenters for all his framing work. He cautioned us about taking pictures when they're at work. We need to make sure they're not in frame when we do, otherwise they'll ask us to erase the image. I think this has something to do with their interpretation of the 2nd commandment (You shall not make for yourself any graven image . . .) and nothing to do with a fear of having their souls stolen. When he told us, I kind of laughed because I immediately thought of Amish Harrison Ford in Witness, threatening to strangle some tourist with her bra if she snapped his picture. Alas, YouTube didn't have that clip but they had this one, which I'll leave you with. It's Amish Harry putting the smackdown on some white trash: