Where We Were When The Towers Fell

Note: Originally Published 9-11-06

Five years ago on this day I was teaching at East Gaston High School in North Carolina, just outside Charlotte.  I was 24 years old at that time.

We taught on something called the block schedule, which, in our case, meant I had four 90 minute periods a day, one of which was a prep period. 

I had just finished teaching 1st period and stood in the hall keeping track of things.  A teacher came up to me and told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.  Of course, I said something to the effect of it must have been a prop plane that had somehow gotten off course.

I had a television in my classroom propped from the wall and so I turned it on to see the news coverage.  I was shocked when I saw the first tower that had been hit in smoke and flames.  I realized then that it had not been a mere prop plane that had struck it.

Reports soon informed me that it had been a passenger plane that had smashed into the side of it.  The cause of the impact had yet to be determined, but I know I assumed it had to be a terrible, terrible accident.

When I saw the second plane strike the second tower live on television, I knew it was no accident, and I think most people knew it as well.

I sat at a desk in my empty classroom completely shocked.  When the first tower fell, and then the second, I moved into whatever realm exists beyond shock.

When 3rd period started, I had students ushering in and I had a choice: teach my lesson planned for that day or discuss what was happening at that very moment.  Of course, the decision was an easy one and we talked at length about the terrible loss of life and the fact that people were dying even as we spoke.  We all were very emotional at that prospect and we watched the television in a respectful silence, as did all my classes for the rest of that school day.

Of course, when I got home to my empty rental house I turned on the TV and remained glued to it for the rest of the night.  I had just come off a bad breakup and wanted nothing more than to move back to Illinois, but I knew I had eight more months to go before I could do that.  As I sat there, alone in the dark, watching the events unfolding and thinking about how long it would be before I got back to what I considered my home, I really and truly couldn’t imagine what it would be like for the people in those towers and on those planes who would never get to go home again.  They would never hold their child, their husband or wife, their friends or family, ever again.  I thought of the loved ones of those victims and what a horrible, horrible reality they now faced.  I thought of the brave men and women rushing to rescue anyone they could, and I wondered if I could ever have that sort of selflessness and courage.

Over the next few days I started hearing names I’d never heard of before in my life.  Names that now are part of are national vernacular.  Names like Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.  I discovered that terrorists had attacked us, and I remember thinking to myself, “Why?”  At that moment, most terrorism I knew of were from names like McVeigh and Kaczynski.

I also remember the incredible amount of patriotism that flooded our great nation.  Everything took on an esteemed importance, as though we realized that every moment of life was not to be trifled away and wasted.  We were proud of our nation and we were proud of our heroes. 

Five years later things have not turned out exactly as we probably had planned.  I won’t go the route of cynicism, but I wish the patriotism that resulted from that terrible day still existed.  I have mixed feelings on virtually every aspect of our current political climate, but I don’t have any mixed feelings on the importance of patriotism.  We are a great nation.  Those willing to stand up to oppression centuries ago forged who we are today and we’ve always fought oppression throughout our history.  Granted, sometimes we took longer to fight it than we should have, and the fight continues on many fronts even to this day, both at home and abroad, but we are a great nation because the people that make our nation up have the potential to be true heroes. 

My parents’ generation always talks about how they remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot.  I think my generation will always remember where we were when the towers fell.

Tommy, You’re Not Fooling Anyone

Note: Originally Posted 8-23-06

So as most of you know, I am a big fan of the CBS show Rock Star.  I loved it last season with INXS.  I thought I would love it this season also as a new “super” group composed of Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke, and Tommy Lee searched for their lead singer.

I was wrong.

The main reason I am not enjoying Rock Star: Supernova is because of Tommy Lee.  Tommy’s been through a lot of ups and downs during his career, and he’s survived them all.  And before this show, I actually liked Tommy Lee quite a bit.  I accepted him for what he was and appreciated the music he produced.

However, Tommy is guilty of insulting both the contestants and the viewers of his television show.  There are a few attractive women competing for the job of lead singer.  Tommy, at this point, invariably makes a sexual comment to them after their performance.  For instance, last night, after Storm Large gave her rendition of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” Tommy’s objective criticism went something like, “I want to see you without any clothes on.”  Sure, this may have been funny if it was just a one-time thing.  He’s a rock star, after all.  But, he’s doing this, particularly to Storm, now on a regular basis.  Unacceptable.  

It bothers me because Tommy is sending both Storm (who is a talented singer) and the viewing audience a message that he absolutely does not take her seriously.  And because Storm is one of the top two female singers in the competition, that tells us that he is not taking females seriously for the potential role of lead singer.

We all know Tommy is a sexual guy.  We all know Tommy likes the ladies.  Unfortunately, what he’s doing is at best condescending and at worst sexual harassment.  I mean, are we seriously supposed to think that Tommy is going to hire a woman he wants to see naked as his lead singer?  Are we supposed to believe Tommy can play in a band with a woman he wants to see naked and not wind up doing something that could split up the band? 

Gilby Clarke and Jason Newsted seem like classy guys, relatively speaking, and I think I sense them writhing in discomfort when Tommy hits on Storm.  I believe they see the writing on the wall, and Jason and Gilby have been through too much with, respectively, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses to let Tommy ruin Supernova before it has really gotten off the ground.

So what is the lesson here?  The lesson is that Supernova is not taking the females seriously, which means the last month and a half have been a joke.  If you want your lead singer to be a dude from the start, guys, then don’t make it open to females! 

Furthermore, do the ladies, all of whom seem to be taking their musical career very seriously, really want to join a band where they’re going to be treated like a piece of meat by one of the members and apparently hit on non-stop? 

I would hope the answer is no.

When You’re Cool Like Me

Note: Originally Posted 7-14-06

When you’re cool like me, you’ve got this insatiable urge to write a review on every book you read.  I don’t know if it’s because book reports were my strongest subject during my formative years or what, but I’ve just got to do it.  It’s like Dracula and blood, Tommy Lee and sex, Paris Hilton and tastelessness; it can’t be fought.

So, other than my “official” website, I like to post my book reports, uh, that is, my book reviews on Amazon.com.  Only the coolest people on planet Earth do that.  Now you may or may not know this, but people can actually vote on whether they found your review helpful or not. 

Cool as I am, I’m no scientist.  That being said, I’ve discovered a trend, something on the scale of Ivan Pavlov . . . when you post a positive review, people vote on it as very helpful.  But, when you write a negative review, people vote that you weren’t helpful at all.  By the way, I have no idea if the Pavlov reference was accurate.  Run with me people, run with me.

Anyway, I happen to think that my reviews are always helpful, you know, because I’ve got a healthy ego.  Just because I write a bad review on a book, that doesn’t mean the review wasn’t helpful.  I simply point out what didn’t work for me.  I think people that read my reviews are so smitten with the author they’re looking at, they can’t fathom said author could ever write a book that wasn’t God’s gift.  I’ve got news for you folks, some writers can produce real stink bombs.  Myself excluded, of course.

So there we go.  I will now quote Forest Gump on the subject with, “That’s about all I have to say about that.”

Was this slightly tongue-in-cheek article helpful to you?  YES    NO    (Report this)

The Inexplicableness Of My Movie Predilections

Note: Originally Published 7-23-06

I like to post reviews of movies I’ve watched.  I do it because I want to help you.  I know you enter the local movie rental place and pace for hours upon hours, searching for that perfect movie.  Your time is far too valuable for that.  That’s where I come in.  I give you the nuts and bolts, the peanut butter and jelly, the Sigfried and Roy.  I give you what I liked and/or what I didn’t like.  That way, you can go into the local movie rental place armed with the most valuable weapon of all-knowledge! 

So, over the last few days, some have brought it to my attention that my movie reviews are inconsistent at best.  I scoff at some critically acclaimed flicks and love some supposed stinkers.  What can I say people?  I don’t dance for the man!

When I watch a movie I’m judging it with three things:

1)  Does it have a good, original story?  If the answer is yes, no matter what the subject matter, I’ll like it.  If it’s compelling and well crafted, it’s good.  It’s that simple in my world.

2)  How’s the acting and cinematography?  Was the director trying to do something unique?  Were the actors giving it their best shot or just phoning it in?  I’ve seen high caliber actors in prestigious films sleepwalking, and I’ve seen no-names in largely unrecognized flicks knock it out of the park, so you never know! 

3)  Finally, even if the above two are a no-go, is the movie at least entertaining?  Did I at least         enjoy myself?  Even if it didn’t change me on an intellectual or emotional level, even if it didn’t make me re-evaluate my perspective on a topic, did it make me smile?  (Smiling does not equate laughter, for the record.)  Did I find myself enjoying it for some inconceivable reason, be it due to the charisma of the actors, or the costumes, or the direction?  If any of the above is a yes, then the movie’s got a shot!

Ultimately, I want you to know that I love movies.  Typically a movie will have to be pretty indistinguishable to get a bad review from me.  As you can see, my criteria are fairly broad.  Anyway, I hope this has helped explain my tastes in movies.  Somehow I think this may have been more confusing than clarifying…

And You Call Yourself A Planet …

Note: Originally Posted 8-24-06

In an amazing and historical event, 424 astronomers (which is less than five percent of the global astronomer community) voted Pluto out of its esteemed title of “Pluto: Planet.”  Now Pluto is embarrassed to have to introduce himself as “Pluto: Dwarf Planet.”   Come on guys, Pluto knew he was the teeniest of planets, but to demote him as an official dwarf planet…isn’t that just a little mean-spirited?

When asked for comment, the other planets didn’t really care much that Pluto has been kicked out of their club.  Many of them described Pluto as, “cold,” “distant,” and “really, really small.” 

Neptune, Pluto’s closest friend, went so far as to say, “I barely ever saw the guy around.  I’m not going to miss him.”  Uranus seemed relieved and offered, “At least I don’t have to listen to his stupid jokes about my name anymore.”

One planet who asked to remain anonymous in case Pluto ever gets readmitted into the Planet Club said, “You know, nine planets was such an odd number.  With eight planets, we don’t have to have a sub anymore when we play a game of pick up b-ball.”

Oh, Pluto.  I will miss you so.  No matter what those less-than-five-percent-of-global-astronomers say, you’ll always be a planet in my book.  Good luck with wherever your travels take you-I’m guessing still around the sun.

When King Is Being King, He Is Flawless

Note: Originally Published 9-9-06

So I’ve been reading a lot of “high brow” books lately and while I learned a great deal from them, I was ready to get back to a book that I wanted to read purely for the pleasure of it.  Since Chabon doesn’t have anything out at the moment, I decided to go to my Stephen King pile that I haven’t yet gotten to.  I’ve read about 18 Stephen King books and have absolutely loved about 10 of them.  While I’ve enjoyed them all, I wouldn’t say that most of his work from the 90s on have really compared to his earlier work., excluding his masterpiece Dark Tower series.  Sure, there a few exceptions, but for the most part, he hasn’t been the same Stephen King who gave us Carrie, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot.  Granted, even at 75%, he’s still better than most, myself included, but I yearn for the old style that bequeathed us such great stories.

Okay, I got way off track there.  My point is, I have about four Stephen King short story collections that I received several years ago and have never gotten around to reading them.  Because I wanted to just relax when reading and enjoy myself, I picked up one of those short story collections called Night Shift.

I’m only about 25% through it, and this is vintage King-literally.  I believe this collection was published somewhere between ’76 and ’78, and it is utterly compelling.  Eerily engaging, wildly imaginative, this is the King I know and love.

Life Imitates Art

Note: Originally Published 10-1-06

This is kind of old news, but, heck, you might just enjoy it anyway…

A few weeks ago I returned to my hometown of Beardstown, IL.  The Beardstown Houston Memorial Public Library found it in their hearts to invite me along with several other local authors to take part in a short talk and book signing, and I could not have been more excited to touch base with old friends and promote my latest short story collection, The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

The signing was to be held on Sunday, September 17th, and so my lovely wife and I drove down to B-town Saturday afternoon so we could visit with my parents and try out the new Mexican restaurant.  (New to my wife and me, at least.  Pretty good food, by the way.) 

After dinner we returned to Mom and Dad’s house and were discussing what I should talk about during my allotted time the following day.  Many, many ideas were being thrown out faster than a cat with its tail on fire when my wife, let’s just call her Kristen (because it’s her name), asked us what was the day’s date.

“September 16th,” we answered.

At that moment Kristen reminded me that one of my stories took place on a critical date-you guessed it-September 16th!

I freaked out.

Now, you’re saying to yourself, “So what?  It’s just a happy coincidence, like when you make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets before you do laundry and find a twenty dollar bill.”

I would agree with you normally, as we’re both fairly agreeable people, but you need to know a bit more information before you dismiss that date so readily.

You see, growing up, there existed many a legend in my hometown of Beardstown.  One such legend claimed that if you went out to a certain cemetery at a certain time of night, there stood an old Civil War statue what would wave its arms and its eyes would glow red.  Me being the brave soul that I am never tempted fate as I’m fairly certain seeing something like that would turn my thick and lustrous dark brown hair stark white. 

However, those small town myths stuck to me and when I began writing the short story entitled “The Legend of Josiah Mibb,” found in my latest short story collection The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II, that supposed Civil War statue served as the basis of my disturbing tale.  

I can feel your curiosity through my keyboard, so let me give you the gist of “The Legend of Josiah Mibb.”  In it, a small town has been dishonored for over a century because their soldiers who took part in the Civil War revolted against their commanding officer, Josiah Mibb, doing horrible, terrible things to him.  The town was so ashamed, they erected a statue in Mibb’s honor, but it did little to ease their humiliation.  It did nothing to settle Mibb’s anger, either, as once a year, even to this very day, the statue of Josiah Mibb comes to life and if you’re caught near it, you will soon find yourself dismembered, just as he was by the mutinous soldiers. 

A young man and his wife return to town to visit the his parents, and when his wife learns of this tale and that the very date the statue was due to come to life was on the very day they were visiting, well, her inquisitiveness could not be satisfied unless she tempted fate and visited the statue.

As all husbands must, her husband gave in against his better judgment and they found themselves confronted with the statue at the very time it was to come to life.  What happens next, you ask?  Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find the answer to that, my friends, but let me tell you this: The legend of Josiah Mibb is not all that it seems, as our young husband and wife discover.

But, back to the original purpose of this growing-by-the-second-entry, the date in which the statue of Josiah Mibb was to come to life proved to be the exact date Kristen and I sat in my parents’ house-September 16th!  And, much like the wife in my short story, Kristen insisted we try to find the real Civil War statue my story was based upon.

I reluctantly gave in, and so, faster than you can say, “Boy, maybe we shouldn’t tempt a possibly haunted statue,” Kristen, Mom, Dad, even Carlee: The Foley Mascot, and I loaded into the Rendezvous.

Keep in mind that I didn’t even know the location of this statue!  I thought it was in one, but my mom thought it was in another, so we went with what Mom thought.  We drove across town and got on Chandlerville Road, pulled into the cemetery just outside of town, and, within no time at all, there we saw it!

We parked in front of it and my wife and I both experienced an extremely surreal moment.  The dang thing looked exactly as we had imagined it!  Weird, weird, weird, WEIRD!  The statue was surrounded by many Civil War era headstones and, upon closely inspecting each and every one of them, I was greatly relieved to find not one had a name in common with any characters from my story.  My wife, on the other hand, was just a tad disappointed that the coincidences had apparently ceased.

Thank the stars the statue’s eyes didn’t start glowing red like in my story.  I would’ve thrown in the towel had that happened, for sure.

My New Favorite TV Shows

Note: Originally Posted 10-18-06

If you know me personally, you already know I’m perpetually behind the curve when it comes to all things, “cool” in the world of television and music.  Because I don’t have time to write a twenty-page entry, we’ll focus on TV today. Take LOST for instance.  It was well into its second season before I got hooked.  Same thing with Arrested Development

Well, keeping with my trend, I’ve recently discovered two new shows that I LOVE (new to me, that is).

The first is the HBO original series, Rome.  I love Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, so this one is right up my alley.  My wife is a big history nut, so it fits nicely into her tastes as well.  The show highlights Caesar’s rise to power while focusing on all the power players of the time period as well as the daily lives of two Roman soldiers.  It truly is a fascinating show as it gives us glimpses into what history may have been and the drama of lives purely imagined.  As you may have heard, the costumes are incredible, the acting is very well done, and each episode feels like a mini-movie, which makes sense on a network called Home Box Office.  My wife and I were stunned at the level of nudity and sex in the first two episodes (even for HBO, it was very graphic), but that quickly tapered off and the meat of the storyline got rolling with episodes three through five.  I personally think that they included all the sex and full frontal for the causal viewer who couldn’t care less about Caesar or Rome in order to get them hooked on the actual story as it took place between sex scenes.  We haven’t finished the entire season yet on DVD so I can’t comment on how it ends.  I don’t believe the second season has started yet.  It will be interesting to see if they merely take it up to Caesar’s assassination (don’t tell me I spoiled it for you, you’ve been in World History), or if they will take it all the way through the aftermath of his murder as did Shakespeare.

My other new favorite show that I’m way behind the curve on is Entourage.  It’s just plain funny.  There’s no other way to say it.  The characters are completely hilarious and charismatic.  The show has that something that makes it hard to resist.  If you’re not familiar with it, it is also a show on HBO that follows a young up-and-coming actor in Hollywood with his two friends and older brother.  One of his friends is the responsible pseudo-manager, the other friend is the wanna-be ladies man gopher, and the older brother (my favorite character) is a washed-up actor living vicariously through his younger brother and picking up any scrap parts he can manage.  The young actor’s agent is completely a scum sucking jerk and side-splittingly funny.  I’ll admit it, this show is kind of a guilty pleasure.  If you give it a shot, beware.  The F-Bombs drop like they’re going out of style. 

So there you go.  My new favorite shows.  I’m well on my way to becoming a TV junkie.  Crap.

Theh Wrath Of a Righteous Writer: Redux

Note: Originally Published 10-24-06

Today I was in Barnes and Noble doing my responsible duty as a citizen of the World of Pop Culture and buying Stephen King’s latest novel (released today).  Of course, I had to get a coffee from the little mom and pop coffee store called Starbucks and so I found myself wandering aimlessly about as I sipped on my coffee and clutched my King novel as though it were a happily discovered treasure (ironically, I would describe King’s latest novels as anything but a treasure). 

Some of you may remember a self-righteous rant I rambled out almost a year ago when I discovered Nicole Richie (and I don’t even care if I misspelled her name) had been signed to write a book.  It really frustrates me when people like Nicole Richie get book deals off of their name alone, because let’s face it, in a lot of cases, your name sells your book (um, but that’s not the case with King . . . <ahem!>). 

I eventually got over my anger until today, when sipping on my Café Mocha I happened across a book by none other than . . . wait for it . . . here it comes . . . the suspense is unbearable . . . SNOOP DOGG!  This is a hardcover edition with Snoop Dogg getting the credit as author (with a smaller name below it, probably the REAL writer).  I tell you what, if I had ever been doused with gamma radiation, that would have been an instance in which I would have turned big and green, no doubt. 

I’m sure Dogg’s book will shortly be on the best seller list, while I continue to linger in obscurity. 

I know I’m being negative and it’s unbecoming, but c’mon, let me rant!  I need to get it out of my system.

Okay.  I’m better now.  Thanks for listening (er, I mean reading).