Saturday, March 24, 2012

Aiming with Accuracy

I’m watching the local ten o’clock news the other night, and somewhere in the middle of the broadcast they run a story about a man by the name of Jeff Fabry.  Jeff Fabry is a world champion archer who happens to have only one leg and one arm.  He shoots from a wheelchair, holding the bow with the one arm.  To pull the string back, he bites a piece of dog collar material that’s been wrapped around the bowstring.  He is astonishingly accurate.  In the interview, he explains that he lost his right arm and leg as the result of a motorcycle accident at the age of 15.  He talked about how, after the accident, he didn’t like having to stay home while his friends went hunting, so he “figured out a way to shoot. I didn’t let anything get in my way.  And I think having that state of mind is what led me where I am today, because I don’t give up.”

Those words resonated deeply with me, because I had just been pondering the same thought.  Not learning to shoot a bow and arrow, despite the influence of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games; no, I’m talking about the ‘figuring out a way’ part.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Ballad of Boba Fett

Boba Fett is arguably one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe.  His reputation as a steely, inscrutable intergalactic soldier of fortune has earned him a special place in the vast coterie of characters from the films.  I was a fan from the beginning, when he first appeared as part of the infamous Christmas Special in 1978.  I raged at his apparent and appalling demise in Return of the Jedi.  I suffered through the garbled course of events that attempted to explain his origin in the second trilogy.  But my connection to the character remained. 

With an equal balance of love and those above-referenced injustices in mind, I’d like to present my latest creation, The Ballad of Boba Fett.  I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. 

For those of you who might be interested, “Behind The Ballad of Boba Fett” contains further musings on my complex relationship to this enigmatic character.  It immediately follows the poem.

The Ballad of Boba Fett

In a galaxy far, far away
I’m talkin’ way, way back in the day
Audiences encountered 
An ace bounty hunter
Called by the French Boba Fett.
(note:  rhyme Fett to "away" and "day":  i.e. "Fay")

The rest of us are willing to bet
That his name is pronounced Boba Fett
Which just goes to show 
The French don’t know
Good consonant etiquette

Either way, though, doesn’t matter
-Call it crepe or pancake batter-
The dread name of Fett 
Once said, ‘twas met
By footsteps as wanted men scattered

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The George Bush Bet - Part Four

The fourth and final part of "The George Bush Bet" picks up with Sandy and I at the St. James Library in London.  We are there to resolve a bet concerning the first George Bush's early political career (To find out how that happened, you really need to start here).  We located the reference section, and an enormous book called Who's Who in Politics.  At stake is 100 pounds, and potential embarrassment on a multinational scale... 

It was a big book, and I doubted it would only include British politicians, unless it went back to Roman times.  I quickly jumped to the ‘B’s’ and scanned through the pages until I reached the ‘Bu’s.’   And then I saw the name ‘Bush, George Herbert Walker,’ and the entry that followed:

Like his father, Prescott Bush, who was elected a Senator from Connecticut in 1952, George became interested in public service and politics. He served two terms as a Representative to Congress from Texas. Twice he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. Then he was appointed to a series of high-level positions: Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the U. S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

“I don’t believe it,” I said, sagging against the bookcase, instantly deflated.
“What?” Sandy said, trying to read over my shoulder.  I handed the book over to him with a finger pointing to the spot of defeat.  “Well,” he said, grinning broadly, but not smugly, “It looks like you were wrong, doesn’t it?  How can that be?  You said you were sure.”

“I don’t know,” I said vacantly.  My mind spun madly but in vain, as I tried to remember anyone ever saying anything about George Bush Sr. serving in the House of Representatives.

Sandy began to chuckle.  “I really thought you would win the bet,” he said, handing the book back to me.  I reread the brief passage again.  My stomach sank lower and lower.  Now I was going to have to explain a two hundred dollar expense with nothing to show for it to my wife.  I was suddenly unsure if she would even believe the story I was going to tell her.  I thought about the things, or rather the only thing I could think of,  that you could spend two-hundred dollars on in London without having at least a T-shirt or at least something to show for it.  My stomach crawled into a spider-hole.  I wished the rest of me could join it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Happens in Vegas...

It’s no secret people do crazy things when they go to Las Vegas.  For some it’s wearing a costume, like the dude we saw dressed up as Bumblebee from the Transformers movies in an incredibly detailed, perfectly scaled-down, complete-with-working-lights outfit that easily cost thousands, apparently all for the purpose of taking pictures with tourists for tips.  

For others, many of them women, it was wearing dresses that must have been as  painful to wear as they were to see being worn, along with heels that, if they were used on fur-bearing animals, would have PETA protesting their cruelty with a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.  Still others paid money to see Carrot Top perform.  

Yes, in Vegas it’s all too easy to end up doing something you would never do otherwise.    

We drove to Vegas recently, to meet and reconnect with some close friends who live in Idaho.  Elizabeth and I left the girls with my folks; this was to be 48 hours of pure adult concentrate, to be mixed only with alcohol, not juice boxes.  Upon our arrival at the Excalibur, we drank a little, ate, talked, laughed, and drank a little more.  Then, following the advice of shampoo bottles everywhere, we repeated the process as needed.  The first night we were there we absorbed the various sensations of unadulterated hedonism by walking the Strip, where the only apparent concession to restraint is the confinement of sex to business cards handed out by men dressed like Seattle fishmongers on both sides of every street corner. 

The next day, we ruled a domain that incorporated everything from the Excalibur to the Mandalay Bay.  We lived like royalty for a day:  we ate like royalty, we drank like royalty, we spent unconscionable gobs of cash like royalty.   The only difference was that, unlike royalty, we had no one we could oppress to replenish our monetary reserves.  That night, we were invited to cut the line and duck into a night club (the Cathouse at the Luxor) without paying a cover (Four middle-aged, middle-class, semi-fashion-conscious bourgeoisie – hmmm, what could they have been thinking?).  We thought we had pulled one over on them, until we got the $50 bar tab for four drinks.  Our response was to scoff at the exorbitant prices, drain those blankety-blank drinks, and then take our revenge on their dance floor, causing at least that much in damage to their prestige, if not the actual floor.   We danced the night away, more of it at any rate than Elizabeth and I have seen in years, finally keeling over in bed at 3:30 a.m. 

Much later that morning, true to the Las Vegas ethic, we left without saying goodbye.

Needless to say, we had a grand time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Earthquakes and Heartbreaks

When the earthquakes hit Japan last March, I was still teaching.  Many of us had been given smartboards in our classrooms just a few months before, smartboards being these high-tech devices that are part whiteboard, part projector and part computer.  As a result, I was able to show my classes almost real-time images of the devastation occurring on the other side of the Pacific.  I knew that for most of them, it would be difficult to appreciate the magnitude of the tragedy; hell, I couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of the tragedy, and still can’t, and hopefully (and I say this with all due respect) never will.  

Somehow it felt right to experience the geographically distant catastrophe with the community of my students.   We didn’t talk much about it; we didn’t know much beyond what we were seeing.  We just looked at the horrible, impossible images together, and drew a little closer together as people in the classroom.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The George Bush Bet - Part Three

In Part Two of "The George Bush Bet," Sandy proposed a bet in the amount of 100 pounds centered on the question of whether George Bush Senior ever served as a US senator, representative, or governor prior to  becoming president.  I said none of the above, and Sandy took the field.  Part Three picks up with our search through the streets of London for the answer to this perplexing question.      

Sandy and I turned around and headed back towards the intersection we had crossed just a few minutes before.  The light was in our favor, so we crossed over to the corner on which Big Ben stood.  We passed beneath its towering presence, walking alongside the Parliament building towards the next light.  “You know, I’m a Free Mason,” he said, continuing his interesting habit of broad-jumping off into a new category of conversation for no apparent reason.  “Do you know what the Free Masons are?”  I told him I did, and that I had long been curious about the mysterious society and in particular, the illustriousness of their membership, which included Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, among many others.  I told him that my wife and I had gone into the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia once, but we had just missed the tour.  “You know, you’d make a good Mason.  I can tell about you that you’re a good man who’s interested in helping others.  What’s your religious affiliation, if you don’t mind my asking?” 

I have to admit, there were several moments where I got the distinct impression  he was conning me, this being one of them, but the simple sincerity with which he said things seemed difficult to fake.  I squinted, scrutinizing his face for any sign of contrivance.  He was looking at me expectantly, awaiting a response.  If Sandy was conning me, I decided, he was earning every penny with his performance. 

“Well, I was raised Catholic,” I replied, leaning subtly on the word ‘raised.’  I waited, as I always did, to see if the other person picked up on the nuance of the statement. 

“Oh,” he replied.  “In that case I suppose you would join the Knights of Columbus.”  I guess nuance doesn’t always translate well, even when it’s in the same language.

But I was persistent.  “You know, I really don’t see that happening,” I replied.  I smiled slyly and trotted out a favorite line I had appropriated from one of my friends.  “I’m more of a roaming Catholic.” I purposely added extra emphasis to the ‘ing,’ especially the ‘g’ sound, trying to ensure that he didn’t skip right over it, assuming I said ‘Roman.’  He gave no indication that he appreciated, or even noticed, the play on words.  I gave up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Remembering Ralph McQuarrie

Note: this article has been updated with links to other sites with more examples of Mr. McQuarrie's work.

Ralph McQuarrie died on March 3rd at the age of 82.

Not sure who Ralph McQuarrie is?  Ask your resident Star Wars nut; if they’re worth their weight in Wookiees, they’ll know.

Don’t know a Star Wars nut?  C’mon, really?  Not to worry; I’ll be happy to play the part.   

Mr. McQuarrie was a Korean War veteran from Montana who attended the Art Center School in LA.  After cutting his teeth drawing dental instruments and, well, teeth for a dentistry firm, he did technical illustrations for Boeing, and later, worked on animations used in CBS’s coverage of the Apollo moon missions.  Some mutual friends introduced him to George Lucas in 1974 as he was pitching his sci-fi film project Star Wars

The story goes that Lucas was having trouble selling his movie proposal to the studios.  He had been shot down by United Artists and Universal because he hadn’t been able to adequately communicate his radical vision of a new space epic.  The green-light executives he needed to convince couldn’t, or wouldn’t, buy the Star Wars that Lucas was trying to describe verbally.  Lucas asked McQuarrie to create some conceptual illustrations that would help the studios visualize the galaxy far, far away of George’s imagination.  

The amazing images McQuarrie produced helped secure the support of 20th Century Fox’s Alan Ladd, Jr., and the rest, so they like to say, is history.  It’s entirely possible that without McQuarrie’s stylized depictions of Lucas’ fantasy, the movies might not have been made at all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The George Bush Bet - Part Two

The story of the George Bush bet continues.  While in London in 2004, I met Sandy, an Australian antique dealer.  He struck up an apparently innocent conversation with me about the Cenotaph, a British monument in the heart of the city, and then informed me that he had just won a bunch of money at a casino somewhere.  The conversation now turns, naturally, to the topic of the George Bushes, the current (in 2004) and former American presidents...  

“I can tell you’re a man who knows a great deal.  I have a question for you,” Sandy said as we resumed walking, “Tell me about this president of yours.  How did this George Bush get to be President of your country?  What did he do before he was President?  His father was President too, wasn’t he?” 

Although I was taken aback by the abrupt shift in topics, I have to admit it generated an immediate warm spark of kinship.  After all, I had been going around London asking cab drivers, subway passengers, ticket-takers and anyone else I thought might sit still for the question how they felt about Tony Blair and whether they thought he would survive the current surge of discontent over his commitment to the war in Iraq.  I was also soliciting opinions regarding a smaller tempest occurring simultaneously over Blair’s proposal to charge tuition to the state universities.  I did this because I am naturally curious about the opinions and attitudes of other people, but also because I felt a certain obligation to play against the stereotype of Americans as being comatose when it comes to the political affairs of other countries.    

In response to Sandy’s question, I explained that George Bush was the governor of Texas prior to being elected President, and mentioned that governors had a record of doing pretty well in presidential elections over the recent past.  For some reason, Sandy found this hard to believe.  “But what about your Senate and your . . . your . . . oh, what do you call them?”  He abruptly stopped short, his face suddenly scrunching into a painful grimace, and for a moment I thought he might be having a kidney stone attack.  I fleetingly wondered whether there was a British equivalent for ‘911.’  That led to a follow up thought, almost as fleeting, in which I had a mental image of the TV show Cops, except it was a British version called Bobbies, where round-hatted officers pursued their suspects by walking swiftly, Charlie Chaplin-style, swinging their nightsticks and calling out after their targets, “Pardon me, sir?  I don’t want to trouble you, but we’ve had this report of a triple homicide, you see, and the combination of blood and human remains on your clothes there is rather suspicious.  It wouldn’t be too much trouble to slow down for a moment, and let us have a look, would it?”  This thought so amused me that I almost forgot that my new friend was still in a state of mental anguish.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The George Bush Bet - Part One

Elizabeth, Jessica, my older sister Kristie and I took a trip to London in the early spring of 2004.  We were there for about a week, and had a great time exploring the city, at least as much as can be seen with a two-year-old in tow.  The following story relates an incident that is really just a sidebar to the overall trip, but it's interesting for being one of the more bizarre (and expensive) casual encounters I've had.  I wrote the whole thing down shortly after returning home, so unlike the tale of Uncle Day Weekend, this one won't be dragged out over the course of many weeks, but will be posted in four parts in an orderly and timely fashion.  Promise.   

The George Bush Bet - Part One

Let me say right upfront that I am not a gambler by nature.  I just don’t have the personality for it; I get no adrenaline rush from the idea of making or losing money on the outcome of a game of chance. 

It’s not that I’ve never known the pleasures to be found in lady luck’s boudoir. The first money bet I ever made was for twenty dollars when I was in the eighth grade.  That was almost a weeks’ worth of profits from the collection receipts on my paper route.  The bet was on an NFL game in ‘81, and happened to be one where the 49’ers came back from behind to win at the end and, more importantly, cover the spread.  I remember the intense emotional roller coaster I went through during that game:  the wrenching impact of every handoff, the agonizing anticipation of every five-step drop, the life-and-death implications of every third and long.  My dad had never seen me so involved in a sporting event before, and I think it made him happy, or at least a little relieved. 

I remember feeling the hopeless despair when it looked like the game was over and I was going to somehow have to pay off this bet and pay for the newspapers this week as well.  I couldn’t believe I was so stupid as to bet all my money on a football game. 

But it wasn’t over yet.  There was the flickering glimmer of hope, building with each completed pass by Montana as the Niners moved down the field, and then – miracle of miracles! – the touchdown, and the game was over!  I knew in that moment the thrill of victory that ABC always talked about.  It was electrifying, heady stuff, and instantly addictive, at least until I lost a bet a few games later.  Somehow, the cold sobriety of losing killed any further desire to taste the intoxicating bubbles of winning.