Friday, April 15, 2005

Terrible Lizards, in High Definition.

I find myself watching one of the many dinosaur-simulation shows on Discovery HD TV, arguably the finest of my high-definition channels.

I love dinosaurs. I could visit the Museum of Natural History every weekend, I think.

I love watching shows about dinosaurs - and other animals.

Which might seem strange, because I don't like pets. But I love stories about dinosaurs and ocean life.

In fact, if there's something at the Museum of Natural History I love more than the dinosaurs, it's the Hall of Ocean Life. The one with the giant blue whale and all the cool dioramas.

I love dioramas.

One of the coolest things I got to see at the Museum of Natural History was the fighting dinosaurs exhibit. It was extra money and there was a line, but it was well worth the wait. This thing was on loan from some Asian country, and they'd dug it up in the desert somewhere and immediately realized they had a scientific find.

Now, at a distance, it was a bit like the Mona Lisa - not nearly as big as you'd expect, especially considering the crowd.

But there it was, sort of coffee-table sized: The fighting dinosaurs, a near-complete fossil of two little critters caught up in a duel to the death. One was a raptor/bird-type, with a wicked claw in what would have been the belly of the other, one of those armored tank-types, which was in the process of breaking the other one's neck with his mouth.

And just like that, in mid-round, the fight had somehow been preserved for all time.

The little film nearby speculated that they had been socked by a mudslide just after they started fighting. It seems as good an explanation as any to this would-be geneticist who couldn't make it out of Bio 101 despite two tries.

It may not seem like much in this post, but this was one of the coolest things I've ever seen, these two little dinosaurs (so small the film actually made them seem kind of cute) locked in mortal combat. (Mortal Kombat! Test your might!)

But if I get a kick out of the giant skeletons, and secretly long for a day when I can take a trip to Jurassic Park, my real joy at the museum is the ocean life room.

When it closed for like a year and change for renovation, I was both crushed and elated. Crushed because I couldn't go for what felt like ages (having already suffered the disappointment of one of my favorite dioramas being dismantled to make room for a handicapped-accessible elevator). And elated because that meant a new and improved ocean life hall.

And sure enough, it was worth the wait, as I made a bee-line back as soon as it reopened and I had a free weekend.

It's still got most of the great dioramas, plus some new, cool features, and of course, it was totally refurbished.

I dream of learning to scuba dive, a goal that feels closer and closer even as the years roll by. This year's aim of working out is at least partly inspired by the decision that I intend to be diving by next summer at the latest. No, I'm probably never going to stand on the Andrea Doria, diving's Mount Everest, but I'd love to go back to Key West, or go to Hawaii someday, and dive the reefs.

When I'm not reading books about the Civil War, some of my favorite nonfiction is stories of diving adventures (and tragic misadventures), plus stories of whaling-era trips around the world by ship. And to think, I got seasick once, something my father will never let me live down. I'd like to go deep-sea fishing, too, someday. It's on that list I have of things I want to do before I die. I'm told I'll get seasick then, too, but that it's OK because everyone does.

But I digress, as usual.

By the way, among the many books on diving the Doria and other wrecks, one of the best books I've read in recent years hit the best-seller list last year: "Shadow Divers," about the quest to find the identity of a U-boat discovered off the Jersey coast. This quest plays a major role in a best-seller from a few years earlier, called "The Last Dive," about a father and son who lost their lives diving that same submarine. "Shadow Divers" is just incredible, and even a bit inspiring for me, since the divers are not only diving off the Shore, they're from my part of Jersey. If they can become world famous, I can at least get certified.

(I once actually considered quitting copy editing and going to the Diver's Institute of Technology to learn to become a professional diver. There I'd be, in a world I can only imagine like that in "The Abyss." Or "Deepstar Six." That's what happens when you watch one too many late-night infomercials and harbor one too many unfulfilled dreams.)

Of course, I'm convinced when I finally do reach my scuba diving goal, something's going to eat me.

This is my other fascination/fear of ocean life: Sharks.

I saw "Jaws" and "Jaws 2" back-to-back at a legend-in-my-own-mind slumber/birthday party when I was 10 years old. My mother spent all those years trying to shelter me, and in one evening of decadence with some 11-year-old friends, I saw "Terminator," "Creepshow" and both "Jaws" flicks all in one night.

I still love "Terminator," I went to college where they filmed part of "Creepshow," and I didn't go swimming again for two freakin' years.

Don't think a movie can have an effect on a still-developing psyche? I still shower quickly, and thanks to some other long-forgotten horror movie, the first thing I do whenever I go into any bathroom is open the damn shower curtain. You never know what might be back there.

And yes, I look in the back seat of my car before I get in, even though I know damn well no self-respecting monster of any sort could fit back there. It's a sports car, for crying out loud.

You don't think that birthday party influenced my life (it wasn't even my birthday!), do you? May I remind you, I review horror DVDs. And I wrote a horror movie. And my latest purchase from Amazon wasn't a Civil War book, it was a book on the "Friday the 13th" movies. There's another one coming out later in the year, and I'm buying that one, too.

Now I've wandered far afield. I was talking about sharks, wasn't I?

You know, the ones with teeth. Peter Benchley has a Jersey connection, you know, and one of the things that influenced him to write the rather lurid pulp novel upon which the movie (voted #1 in a recent horror movie poll, or so I heard) is based was the first major shark attacks in the United States.

Where? Yup, right off that same Jersey shore. In fact, two of the four kills in two weeks that summer back in the early 1900s took place INLAND, up the Matawan Creek. Two books came out on the incident in the same summer a couple of years ago, and I eagerly read both. Of the two, I preferred "Twelve Days of Terror," by Richard Fernicola, because he took a more scientific approach to the subject - the other book was more novel-like, told with more flair but with less information. I, faced with the choice, prefer the information. I have a vivid enough imagination on my own. Of course, the best books give you both the description and the information - and that applies to these Civil War books I'm reading, too.

All in all, I'd say I love the ocean more than any bad swimmer in history. I mean, I'm petrified of going into the ocean, but that's because A) I can't see; B) I'm wearing a pair of shorts; and C) there are big, giant creatures out there with sharp teeth or tentacles or other such nightmarish and deadly natural weaponry, whereas all I have are bad knees and a worse haircut.

The good news is, I've learned you can get prescription goggles! And I intend to. Because I think a lot of my fear of the water will go away when I can actually see what's trying to eat me. And if I learn to scuba dive, I'll have a wetsuit and tanks and other such reassuring-by-presence equipment.

Oh, and a very, very large dive knife. A co-worker who scuba dives pooh-poohed the idea of carrying a knife, but believe me, I'm buying one before I find out what happens when you pee in a wetsuit. It probably won't do much good against a megalodon, but that's a whole 'nothing book.

And I should add, it's not just the diving and the predators. I love ocean life in general. I could spend all day at an aquarium. Especially a big one like Baltimore's. I once drove something like four hours in traffic and the rain to Connecticut to go to the Maritime Aquarium there. Of course, that was because they had the much hyped, cool-yet-disappointing robot zoo. A ROBOT ZOO! How could any self-respecting inner child not want to see that? But it wasn't nearly as good as I'd hoped. On the other hand, I got to see them feed the seals, and that more or less made up for it.

Someday, when I have more money than I know what to do with, I'm going to turn this weird spot in my kitchen alongside the stairs, currently occupied with wooden bannister-style dowels, into a custom fish tank. I'm not sure how, but I'm going to hire a professional. So it's pretty far down the list, unless I discover sunken treasure scuba diving.

Have I mentioned my other odd goal? Learning a trade.

I've often thought that it would be nice to have a skill so when the revolution comes, they won't just line me up against a wall with the other journalists. A long time ago, my Uncle Leo suggested I become a plumber, after getting the bill for some bathroom renovations. But I've got a general aversion to the concept of dealing in shit for a living (no offense, plumbers!) and I've got a similar aversion to major-league power tools. My junior high school shop teacher (rest his soul) didn't even have all 10 fingers, so what are my chances of making it through a carpentry course intact? I type for a living, I need all 10, ya know? Anyway, after a while, I discovered the trade for me: Locksmithing. And after some discussion and agreement with my now former co-worker, Andy Obermueller, I have found you can become a trained, certified locksmith by mail. That's right, one of those Sally Struthers kind of deals. And one of these days, I'm signing up for that course. For less than a week's paycheck, I could learn a trade that can make me upwards of $50 an hour! (Or so they say. And, while that's more than I make now, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to spend all day, every day driving around in a van, getting people back into their cars.)

I know it sounds strange, but I've spent more money on dumber things, and hey, if you've ever seen somebody locked out of their car, you know, I'd like to be able to say, "Hey, let me help you out," instead of, "Bummer, dude." On one of my trips to Maryland, I stopped at a rest stop (drink a lot of Coke, make a lot of stops) and found myself (along with several others) trying to help some poor guy from Florida slim-jim his way back into his car. This is in the middle of the night, along the Jersey Turnpike.

I wish I could've said, hey, hang on a sec, jogged back to my car for my pistol-pick (free gift with paid application!) and popped that puppy open. Instead, I gave it a whack with the slim-jim, but unlike the time I got into Dr. Thompson's car with a coat hanger faster than the Triple A guy with his slim-jim, I couldn't get the door on this one. Those darn child-proof locks.

I don't know if you keep a list in your head (or your sock drawer) like I do, of all the great things you can say you've done, and all the great things you want to do before you die. But that's one of the few things I've stuck with, that idea of keeping score. And now you know some of the things on the right-hand column of that list, the one labeled "To do."

You've probably gotten an idea of some of the ones on the left-hand side, the ones with checkmarks beside them. The latest, of course, is writing something that gets published. Or at least, made into a movie.

Falling in love. That's on there, and that's one I've done.

I've been to the NFL Draft. And I found out today it looks like I'll be going again.

I've written a front-page article for a daily newspaper.

Been to a Raiders game, in Oakland. Years later, covered one, in Indianapolis.

I was at the '94 baseball All-Star game in Pittsburgh.

And saw the Wolf Pack raise the Calder Cup in 2000.

I saw Roger Clemens' first try for his 300th win, in Wrigley Field, against strikeout whiz Kerry Wood.

I got engaged. And that's still a feeling that can't be beat.

Not even by the deviant sex I'll spare you the details of.

I've been to the baseball Hall of Fame with my father, the man who taught me everything I know about the game.

I've seen St. John's hoops at the Garden, and the Argos play the Ticats at Skydome.

My hair's blond, or red, or blue, just for the hell of it.

I stood in the Pittsburgh Penguins' locker room and stuck my tape recorder at Mario Lemieux. After he hung five points on the Caps. After recovering from Hodgkin's.

I held a girl I loved while Depeche Mode played "Somebody" at Starlake.

I made it to the big leagues of journalism. And missed the Pulitzer Prize announcement. Twice.

My jaw hit the floor at Cirque De Soleil. In Vegas, where I shared a $300 bottle of wine with a friend.

I took part in the greatest Dungeons & Dragons fight of 22 years RPGing, and my character lived to tell the tale.

I went to Mardi Gras for my 30th birthday and drank a test-tube shot out of a girl's pants.

I bought a house, a sports car and a big-screen TV.

I have a friend who calls me "brother," and parents who love me.

And there's that glorious moment, after "An Inspector Calls," when I explained something symbolic in the play that my father hadn't understood. Now THAT was a day.

Listen, I'm not saying all of this (and thinking about all the stuff I didn't list) to brag. I'm saying it because I want to share a joy, want to share a passion for life with you. I want to inspire you to make your own list. To celebrate the great things you've done, even if they're small to everyone else. To become even more determined to do the things you haven't, no matter how wild, no matter how silly.

Someday, I'm taking a sports car out on a highway somewhere in the Midwest, late at night, and I'm dropping the hammer. Insurance-be-damned, I want to know what it's like to drive 100 miles per hour, and I've read some highways out there don't have speed limits.

Someday, I'll get promoted. To anything.

Someday, I'll fire a gun. And learn hand-to-hand combat.

Someday, I'll cook something that doesn't come in a box.

Someday, I'll see the Grand Canyon.

If I'm lucky, someday I'll see outer space.

If I'm really lucky, someday I'll stand at the top of the aisle and watch the love of my life walk down it in white.

And someday, I'll die. And I hope and pray I'll have lived well enough the column on the right is almost empty and the one on the left is almost full.

Life is kind of like the ocean, boundless and full of mystery. Sure, there's plenty of things out there that could eat you, but there's so much to see, to explore, to dream about.

I've gotten a new lease on life and I want to make the most of it. You should, too.

Discover HD Theater
The Museum of Natural History
An old page about the fighting dinosaurs
The Andrea Doria
And the U-869
Divers Institute of Technology
A nice "Jaws" page
The Maritime Aquarium
The Robot Zoo
Foley-Belsaw locksmith training

"We're gonna need a bigger blog."


Stewie said...

You should get a skill.

Girls like guys with skills.

And stop bragging. :-p

Ace said...

That would be the bit about locksmithing, Stewie, or didn't you read all the way to the end?

Anonymous said...

I saw Roger Clemens' first try for his 300th win, in Wrigley Field, against strikeout whiz Kerry Wood.
.... Me too !!

By 'eck mate thou does babble on a bit.

But how come there's still no cricket ?

Keep it up

Stewie said...

I was providing encouragement and making a joke at the same time.

It may have gone better if I wrote...

"You should get a skill."

I will never give you encouragement again because it is obviously not appreciated.


Ace said...

To borrow a quote:

"What? Was that a joke?"

"Wish it were..."