Monday, February 25, 2008

Mosquito Bites

A few random thoughts and observations from the last month or so…

Election 2008: I think the Republican Party is chucking in the towel on the 2008 Presidential Election. How else can you explain how on one week the party can be criticized for failing to narrow a field of six candidates, then in one fell swoop the only man left standing is John McCain? Seriously, in order to lock up the White House for four more years, they are going to have to convince the general populace that in spite of the difficulties of the last eight years (earned or not), they have a fresh new face who will merit them another chance. And that face is…John McCain?

Super Bowl: For that reason and others, I get the feeling that I’ll be conducing my vote the same way I cheered for the Super Bowl: not that I wanted the Giants to win, more that I wanted the Patriots to lose. I can’t remember a time I’ve enjoyed a game so much just for seeing a team lose. Just for fun, here’s a link to the catch that made it happen: the one that is going to go down for the ages.

Night of the Living Dead: I have become a walking experiment in sleep deprivation. Years ago there was an episode of the X-Files where the government had run a secret program to develop a super-soldier who never had to sleep. Turns out all they had to do was give them jobs in morning television. Two months ago, in preparation for my new job producing the KJZZ CafĂ©, I switched over to a 1-10AM work shift, with the idea that I would sleep during the day. Not so. My body still thinks I’m on a regular shift, so when I come home, I sleep for three hours or so then wake up. In the last two months I’ve averaged about four hours of sleep per day during the week. A month ago I went on a date and had to stop to pick up some Visine on the way so my date wouldn’t think I was high, drunk, or about to run the car into a ditch. Even now as I’m sitting here typing (11:14AM Monday), I have been awake since 7:30AM on Sunday.

Night of the Napping Dead: One rare exception to this trend came on Valentine’s day, where after a full shift and broadcast in the morning, I came home, ate lunch (is it still considered lunch if it’s the meal I eat before bed?), and went to bed around 2PM. I didn’t wake up until 10:30. I slept through Valentine’s Day. Now THAT’S how to spend Valentine’s Day if you’re single. It stands as my second favorite VD day ever next to the time I played the USU dance with the Neil Diamond cover band.

(Does anyone else find it funny that Valentine’s Day can be shortened to VD?)

Retro Juice: Tab is one of the most foul, disgusting drinks to ever pass my lips. Last weekend, as part of an 80’s themed party my roommates and I threw—the “Super Fun Happy Pat Morita Memorial Kung-Fu Party Event”—we served some vintage 80’s beverages. I provided some bottled Orange Crush (inspired by the REM song), and my roommate Mark scored some Tab from a grocery store in Orem. That stuff was completely repulsive. It tasted worse than Diet Coke. No wonder it struggled to get out of the 80’s.

(Here’s another reason: check out this vintage Tab commercial. I just wish I could have been in the ad executive room when this thing was dreamed up.)

Method to the Madness (?): After reading my sister’s post on Love, and thinking about her “Love Triangle” theory, I may have come up with a comparable theory to account for the male perspective. Or at least my perspective. Now I just need to decide whether I have enough guts to actually post the thing.

Five-Dollar Word of the Day—“Dichotomy”: The above theory and my current circumstances combine to create a very bizarre dichotomy in my life right now. Even though I am a thirty-one-year-old television producer with an advanced college degree, my choice of ward and my single status enable me to relate closely to TV shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and movies like “The Karate Kid”. Not in a, “I remember how hard high school was,” way, more in a “hey, I’m still dealing with that!” kind of way. In at least one sense, I’m still living in teenage wasteland.

Wrapped Around His Finger: On a more positive musical note, thanks to the diligent effort of two longtime friends, I will be seeing Jonathan Richman, Elvis Costello, and The Police over the next five months.

Impulse Buy: I almost dropped $30,000 on a red sports car. Maybe Teenage Wasteland as an adult is really a mid-life crisis, or more accurately (according to John Mayer) a “quarter-life” crisis. Either way, a week ago I came very close to buying a red convertible Honda S2000 on a whim. What was scary was that I probably could have gotten away with it, too.

Funeral Post-Mortem: Since my grandmother’s was my first funeral, I couldn’t help but constantly refer to the most complete funeral reference I had throughout the entire proceeding: the opening sequence to “The Big Chill”. The one where all of Kevin Costner’s old hippie friends leave the chapel and drive in a big caravan while “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays on the soundtrack. Maybe that’s why I played “Shine a Light” off the Exile On Main Street album when I drove over to pick up my parents that morning, and maybe that’s why I’ve thought of my grandmother every time I’ve heard the song since then.

2008 has been a gut-check of a year so far. I’ll try to do a better job of sharing it with you.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Oh, to be a suburbanite...

Three stars out of Four

It’s a bad time to live in midtown Manhattan. First we get Will Smith and a killer super-virus in “I Am Legend” wiping out New York, now we get “Cloverfield”…

The feedback I heard on “Cloverfield” before seeing it Saturday night fell into two camps:

1. It’s awesome.
2. It totally stinks.

After seeing it myself, I can only assume the people who took stance #2 fall within the following categories:

1. People that are very sensitive to motion, as in really sensitive.
2. People that don’t like semi-ambiguous endings.
3. People who just don’t have taste.

I went in thinking that there would be a fourth category, “People who don’t like monster movies where you don’t see the monster”, but they show it plenty. I won’t tell you what it looks like, but I will tell you that it doesn’t look like Godzilla. Or King Kong.

So I can forgive category number one, but not two and three. “Cloverfield” was awesome. The concept was original, the acting was believable, the story was simple but interesting, and the special effects were blended wonderfully.

So here’s the skinny: “Cloverfield” is “Godzilla” without the omniscient point-of-view. Instead of spending two hours watching a CGI monster destroy New York while thinly drawn characters run around and act dumb, you spend 90 minutes experiencing the whole event on the ground with those characters. The only thing you know that the characters don’t is that the movie poster shows the Statue of Liberty with its head missing.

It’s a concept that has been tried before. Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” followed Tom Cruise through the apocalyptic stand-off, and never let you get too far outside of his range of scope. But there were still plenty of birds-eye view shots and other omniscient cuts that gave you a larger view of what was going on. But every shot in “Cloverfield” is taken through a video camera held by one of the main actors (hence the constant motion), so you literally only see what they see. In fact, you kind of see less.

Of course, this requires a little suspension of disbelief in order to buy into the film, but you should already have done that when you decided to go pay eight bucks to see a monster movie. You can make little arguments about realism problems and why the military would be so fully deployed within hours of the monster coming ashore, but the truth of the matter is that this is a film that is trying to ask what it would be like to actually live through one of the crazy monster movies we saw growing up. And it does a great job of answering that question.

A lot of people have been comparing this movie to “The Blair Witch Project”, so I’d feel like even more of a second-rate critic if I didn’t mention it. I can only assume they’re right, because I have never seen “The Blair Witch Project”. I am a second-rate film critic.

“Cloverfield” is the brainchild of J. J. Abrams, who gave us “Lost” and “Mission Impossible: III”, so if you’re a fan of those, you’ll probably dig this one, too. I love “Lost”, and “MI:III” featured Jimmy Cliff on the soundtrack (plus “How do you like me now that I’m crazy?” Tom Cruise), so I figured I was pretty safe going into this one.

I wasn’t disappointed.

“Cloverfield” is rated PG-13 for lots of epic destruction and some profanity, but it doesn’t have the obligatory F-Bomb or Strip Club Scene a lot of PG-13 movies have, so that’s pretty cool. There is this really painful scene where the cameraman is trying to meet this girl he’s into, but other than that it’s all good.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The First Funeral

It took thirty-one years to get me to my first funeral. Geography, poverty, and old-fashioned good luck kept me out of funeral homes for a long time, but this weekend the streak came to an end. At the same time thousands of people were tuned in watching President Hinckley’s funeral on TV yesterday, a much smaller group was gathered in a chapel in Farmington to say goodbye to my grandmother.

The following is an adaptation of the address I gave yesterday afternoon:

If a guest ever attended one of our family meals on Christmas or Thanksgiving, they would probably assume that one member of our family was serving in the military, or had died a premature death, because there was always one place setting at the table that never got used. That is because in over sixty years of marriage, my grandmother never sat at a family dinner table for more than thirty seconds at a time. She was always far too busy managing the operation like a field general in the heat of battle, a sharp-eyed hawk that dealt in casseroles instead of claws.

I always tried to keep busy with my food, because I knew that if I ever paused for more than 3.5 seconds, Grandma would zero in on me like a cruise missile.

“Do you need something, Josh?”

“No, I’m fine, Grandma.”

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

“No, really, I’m fine…”

“Do you want me to make you a baked potato?”

“It’s ok…”

“I’ve got fourteen different kinds of pies in the kitchen…”

“No, no, I’m fine, really…”

Grandpa always did his best to get her involved in the actual meal, but even though his efforts were always genuine at first, they eventually morphed into a kind of obligatory mantra for a cause he knew was lost.

“Mother, sit down.”

“Mother, sit down.”

“Mother, sit down...”

This was the Grandma that I knew as a child. The one that prepared gourmet meals for family gatherings. The one that went out of her way to get generous gifts for all her grandchildren on their birthdays and on Christmas, and the one that would apologize if the cards were a day late. The one that worked so hard to serve the young women in her ward, the students at the Davis County School District, or the guests at the Tracy Club up in Island Park. It was never about her. It was always about someone else. She was more of a force of nature than a relative.

Then something special happened. Sometime several years ago, I got to step behind the curtain and see what happened behind the scenes to create the elaborate production I had seen as a child. My grandmother became more than a great cook, more than a relative, more than just my Grandma. She became my friend.

Maybe it was because after reading two years worth of the letters she wrote to me in Chicago, I was finally mature enough to understand her, or maybe it was just because I was old enough to actually pay attention to all her stories instead of rushing off to coerce my cousins into playing football with me in the backyard. But sometime in the last few years I really began to appreciate who my grandmother is. Our conversations became more frequent and personal, and as I began to open up more about what was happening in my life, she began to open up as well. I began to recognize her strength and her testimony of the Gospel. I began to sense her frustrations and hopes, and she became a confidant instead of just a great cook.

About three years ago she asked me to help her with a family history project. Her mother was a prolific writer and historian, and had typed up extensive personal histories for many of her family members. Grandma wanted me to type up all these histories onto the computer so we could preserve them in a comprehensive record. As I did, and as I read through the stories, I began to understand how Grandma became the kind of person she was. I began to see how she learned important Christ-like principles of faith and sacrifice and hard work, and above all, selflessness. Ironically, she never managed to put together a history for herself. We’d ask her to work on it, and sometimes she’d share little anecdotes from her past, but most of the time the stories were about someone else. Her attention was always on other people.

One story she did tell that always stuck out in my mind was the story of how she and my Grandpa decided to get married. They were only casual friends at first, but when he returned from serving in the Pacific during World War II, he talked her into driving him to Salt Lake so he could make his report to Elder Harold B. Lee, who was an apostle at the time. Somehow she wound up in the actual meeting with Elder Lee, and even though they vehemently denied any serious interest in each other, he suggested they go think things over.

Outside in the car, my grandparents-to-be had the 1940’s equivalent of a DTR, which I can only assume didn’t involve text messaging.

It didn’t involve a lot of romance, either. As the enormity of what they were considering washed over them, my Grandpa couldn’t do anything but tell the simple truth:

“I don’t know that I love you, but I know you’re the kind of woman I want to raise my children.”

You want to know why I’m not married? Genetics.

Luckily my grandmother knew better than to be dissuaded by that gem, probably because she didn’t know if she loved him either. But after some more discussion and a few days to think things over, the two of them decided to take a leap of faith that I’ll always be grateful for.

Over sixty years later, my grandparents were very much in love, and had grown so close that you’d swear they were sharing the same soul. If one of them broke a hip, the other would run the ship. If one of them suffered a stroke, the other would step up again, no matter their previous condition.

I saw this over and over again for years, and saw it again this summer after my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. My grandmother had been on dialysis for nearly three years, and I started going over on Mondays to hang out with Grandpa while she was gone. But in spite of his own struggle, he was still determined to make sure she got to her bus in the morning. One Monday while they were waiting for her ride, I took a quiet photograph of him as he peeked out the front door, keeping watch while my grandmother waited patiently on the stairs.

As the summer drew on, my grandmother’s condition worsened, and by the time I had to end my Monday visits and start a new full-time job at KJZZ, she was more or less gone. So while the experience of seeing her pass on has been sad, I am happy to see her released from the pain she was suffering, and I have never doubted that I will get to see her again. When my dad and I gave her a priesthood blessing a week before she died, it wasn’t with a sense of mourning or grief, but a sense of gratitude for all she had given. She had fulfilled every task she was sent to do in mortality, and then some. When I looked at her resting at the viewing Friday night, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for the life she completed, and feel that if I can give a fraction of the service she rendered in her time in mortality, I will be in good company. Her life is truly something to be celebrated, and I look forward to talking to her about that again, even if she’s more interested in hearing about what’s going on in my life.