Tuesday, May 31, 2005

By way of explaining my smile

I keep mentioning this "second chance" I've gotten, so I suppose I have some explaining to do.

Well, I'm not going to get into the gross details, no need to frighten my poor parents, but I'll try to give you, my faithful readers, a general overview of why I'm just so darn happy today, despite yesterday's disappointment and the general state of world affairs.

I guess the bottom line is this: My whole life, or at least it feels that way sometimes, I've battled demons inside my head. I don't know if it's something that changed with puberty or what, but I went from being a happy child to a tormented teen and that didn't change with adulthood, love, college or anything else. I just found new ways to fight, new ways to ease the pain.

As Bon Jovi said, you live for the fight when it's all that you've got.

I pride myself on being a tough guy. I'm a hockey player. I'll drop the gloves with anyone. But sometimes, you're in a fight you can't win, or you feel like you can't win.

And sometimes, for me, it became overwhelming. Even disastrous.

I've tried suicide. I've hurt people I loved. I've failed when I should have succeeded. And every time, the guilt was overwhelming, the pressure snowballed, and everything got worse.

So when I turned 29, and then 30, I've tried to do a lot of re-evaluating. And I decided I'm tired of fighting something I can't beat. And I got help. And, at least for now, it seems to be working.

I guess you could sort of say I'm born again, but without the annoying Jesus fetish.

Anyway, today is a beautiful day, and the sun was out, the sky was blue, and I could kick back and pop the sunroof on the car, roll the window down, turn the radio up and cruise.

Lord knows, that's why I bought a car with 200 horses, to cruise.

I bought a salad I dig, I heard an '80s song I haven't heard in ages on the radio, I talked with my best friend for the first time in a while, and I just generally feel good.

(It helps that I think my allergy season is finally over so I wasn't sneezing like a fiend every few minutes.)

I even practiced a couple of random acts of kindness.

I told one of my friends today, I didn't get anything I wanted to get done this weekend done, I got some bad news from a buddy of mine, I got dropped like a hot rock by a girl, and yet, I still had a great weekend and woke up today feeling good.

I had a nice drive and I'm looking forward to stopping at my favorite bar after work.

And no, I'm not so stupid that I don't wonder if this isn't at least slightly unnatural.

But I'd rather be a crazy, happy fool than a crazy, depressed one.

And I love waking up in the morning and feeling good. I can't remember the last time I felt that way.

The point is, I really feel like I've got a new lease on life, freedom to enjoy every day. It's not that I don't worry about responsibilities, or consequences, I just put them in the proper perspective. I stop and smell the roses, rather than worrying about the thorns, I guess.

It's hard to explain, but I hope you can understand. I've still got moods, and I'm sure I'll rant and spaz enough to keep y'all entertained.

But if I'm going to share when I feel rotten, I think you deserve for me to share when I feel good, too.

The weight of the world is off my shoulders, and I can stand up straighter because of it. And smile. It's like I forgot what it was like to be happy and now I've rediscovered it and it feels wonderful.

I can't think of a single link to put here. Deal.

(See, I'm still me. Just happier.)

Something I absolutely hate

OK, tonight I'm going to rant about women.

Or more specifically, something women say.

To me.

If you've got a problem with that, well, tough.

I don't hate women. In fact, I love women. I'd love them so much I'm trying to find one of my very own.

I went out on a few dates with this girl, and we had a really great time, but things just didn't work out.

I can live with that. I really can. She's excellent, and she wanted to stay friends, and I really think once I get over the disappointment of not being more - hey, I really dug her, you know? - we'll be friends.

This isn't about her. It's about something she said when giving me the bad news.

It wasn't even the bad news that bugged me. I've gotten plenty of bad news in my life. And I'm at a point where shockingly little bugs me.

What bugged me was that she said the magic words.

This isn't about her, or her saying them, she was just the last straw.

I've stayed friends with a lot of girls I've been interested in, and they've all said the magic words, and every time, it's pissed me off. Hell, I've heard it from girls I'm friends with who I haven't been interested in. I've just had enough. It's got nothing to do with them. They're my friends and I love them. I hope this particular girl will still be my friend. She's too cool not to be.

But they all said the magic words, and that's just set me off tonight. I've had enough. So ladies, if you haven't written me off as a chauvenistic pig or a complete jackass by now, pay attention. You might learn something.

You might learn that the magic words do NOT heal. They don't make things better, and they don't ease any pain or make you look any better. They are pure, 100 percent, Grade-A bullshit. So don't waste my time, or the time of other guys like me by saying them. Just be honest, if you don't think it's going to work, say so. That's fine. But don't say the magic words.

Ready for 'em? Have you guessed 'em already? Well, here they are if you haven't:

"You're a nice guy and I'm sure you'll find a nice girl."

What goes unsaid, of course, is the "Just not me."

I can't even begin to explain how much those magic words just PISS ME OFF.

I guess I am a nice guy. Most of my friends would probably tell you so. I'm not THAT nice. I'm not perfect and I can be kind of a jackass sometimes. But generally, yeah, I suppose I'm a nice guy.

And therefore, empirically, I'm well on my way to proving nice guys finish last.

Ladies, you don't have to remind me.

After all, if you're shooting me down, clearly, you're not making a convincing argument that I will, in fact, find a nice girl. I mean, by the time I worked up the nerve to ask you out and/or date you, I'm pretty well sold you're a nice girl.

I've had plenty of first dates with nice girls.

I've had one second date.

And on the third date, I heard the magic words.

Look, I'm honest, I'm objective, I know I'm not the best catch in the world, but I think I'm a pretty decent one. You like the way I look, you like the things I like, we can talk, we can get along, I'd probably really like to get to know you. So I guess I'm a simple guy, too. So you don't like me, tell me so. You want to be friends, tell me so. You never want to see me again, tell me that, too. I can handle all that.

But what I can't handle, what just sticks a goddamn knife in my gut, is hearing someone tell me that I'm so goddamn wonderful when they don't want to date me.

The kicker is, of course, it's always the girls who actually seem to appreciate that I'm a nice guy who say it. You know, the ones who stay my friends. They wouldn't be my friends if I were an asshole.

Evidently, nice girls want to find OTHER nice guys.

And this is the kind of thing that makes me figure I just don't understand women.

I joined one of those online dating services, at the recommendation of someone I know. Serves me right for trusting someone I don't know that well.

But I've reached the conclusion, reading profiles of women on these things, that women want three things: a sense of humor, honesty and loyalty.

Or they're all lying.

I believe in chemistry. I understand you have to feel something for someone. I can live with a date not feeling it with me. Hell, I've been on dates where I haven't felt it with them.

But since I have a good sense of humor, I'm honest to a fault, and if I have one characteristic in life, it's loyalty, I've reached the inevitable conclusion that one of two things should happen:

1. I'll eventually find that nice girl, purely by mathematical odds. Or,
2. I'm cursed. But that's another blog, and I don't feel like getting into it. I'm feeling lousy enough right now.

So I suppose I'll stay optimistic and keep looking for Miss Right.

And I guess that means the chances are good, I'll keep hearing what a nice guy I am.

Maybe, if I hear it enough, it'll piss me off enough that I'll cease to be a nice guy. Maybe then I'll find a girl.

But then, she'll probably think I'm an asshole.

And I probably won't be able to live with myself anyway.

Well, this worked. I'm not really upset anymore. Just kind of sad and resigned.

But I'm not depressed. So life can't be that bad. I swear to God, I'm still going to make the most of this second chance.

And hey, if you're reading this, and you know any nice girls who actually want to find THIS nice guy, help me out, huh?


Believe it or not, I've gotten enough dates out of these services that I'm almost (but not quite) convinced it's worth the money and embarrassment. What can I say? I work at night, I need some help finding girls... and I'll take help anywhere I can get it.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Memorial Day, more than just a long weekend

If I understand correctly, Memorial Day is technically a day to honor the American military dead, while Veterans Day is a day to honor the living.

But, since I don't feel like waiting until Veterans Day to honor the living, I'm going to honor both with this post.

American troops, past, present and future, have and will always have a dear place in my heart. I'm from Vietnam, a war orphan, and I've said this before and I'll say it again - there is very little I have in my life that is not due, at least in some small part, to the sacrifices of brave men and women who fought in that unappreciated war.

And by extension, there is very little we as Americans have in our lives that is not due, at least in some small part, to the sacrifices of brave men and women who fought in wars long before that, from the Revolution that made us a free nation, to the Civil War that freed the slaves, to the World Wars that opposed tyranny and (in the case of the Nazis) pure evil. And so forth.

Of course, with troops overseas fighting and dying far from home and loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's tough to merely pay tribute to those who have fallen and not those who still serve or who were lucky or strong enough to survive.

God bless those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America. And by America, I mean you, dear reader, and me. And God bless their families, because the dead may not know any more pain, but those they've left behind certainly do.

And God bless our troops, too, may you all return safe home someday to those you love.

Living or dead, to these American heroes, I'm proud of you, I salute you and I'm thinking of you, this day, Veterans Day and every day.

Memorial Day information
Veterans Day information
Vietnam Veterans of America
And finally, a salute I wrote to Vietnam veterans in The Morning Call in 1999, reprinted via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Don Blankenship's fine RiverVet page (please note, I take no responsibility for anything else on the page; I think it's terrific and moving, generally, but our politics and opinions don't always match). Please don't think it's vanity to cite myself here, it's just I've never found a better way to say how I feel than this piece.

Two asides:

First, yes, police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, etc., are heroes, too. And on a personal level, certainly people such as Betty Tisdale and the Babylift folks deserve more than their fair share of applause. But it's Memorial Day. This one's for the troops.

And second, yes, if you're not from America, you can probably disregard much of this post. But at least try and think about those who have sacrificed so you have the life you do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Vote Hypocrite in 2006!

Today's topic of irritation is hypocrisy.

Not that kind of hypocrisy that has a guy who can't cook or use tools watching the Food Network and "While You Were Out."

I'm talking about political hypocrisy.

Now, normally, I stick to slightly less deep subjects, like how many obscene words I can use before my mother yells at me, or humorous stories about my life. (Remind me to tell you the story about my friend shopping for a German car with me, the Jew.)

But today, political hypocrisy is bugging me, and frankly, I can't think of anything else to write about right now.

The inspiration was the political compromise on Senate fillibustering and President Bush's judicial nominees.

Now, for the record, I'm a Democrat, so I'll probably bash the GOP a little more than my own party, but there's plenty of ranting to go around, so don't worry.

(One odd thing about my Civil War book kick: Back in the 1860s, the Republicans were the Democrats, and the Democrats were the Republicans. You know, the Republicans were progressive and the Democrats liked things just the way they were.)

But let us lead off with the issue of "activist judges," which the archconservative Republicans use as a euphemism for "judges who don't rule the way we like." Meanwhile, of course, the president is putting forth judges who are every bit as radical and political, they just happen to rule the other way. So the Democrats are complaining about judicial activism in the fillibuster mess.

Now, when it comes to standing by your guns, let's keep this in mind: This is a president who is racking up a major league budget deficit to fuel his war in Iraq (hang on, we'll get back to that). And he belongs to a party who, not that long ago, wanted to pass not just a law, but a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget - because a "free spending liberal" president, Bill Clinton, was in office.

But hey, now that the GOP's in charge, it's spend-spend-spend. This from the party of small, stay-out-of-your-life government. You know, the guys who wanted a law forcing one particular woman's family to keep her alive despite her being, well, a vegetable.

Hey, people say, it's a culture of life. Right, Mr. Bush? That would be the guy who executed prisoners in Texas like they were having a going-out-of-business sale at the San Antonio House of Lethal Injection Drugs. Oh, and who, as the "Daily Show" pointed out, passed a law saying hospitals could pull the plug on vegetables when they could no longer pay. And let's not forget, we're bombing the living shit out of two different countries' populations. Quite possibly deservedly so, but I'm pretty sure shooting people with SAW guns isn't part of the culture of life.

Just wait, I haven't even gotten to Tom DeLay yet, I'm just warming up.

Oh, and speaking of shooting people with SAW guns, let's remember, we're in Iraq because they have weapons of mass destruction. Right? Oh, wait, I meant, we're in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a bad man who deserved to be toppled from power. Sure, he did, let's not deny that (that would be hypocrisy), but let's remember, he's been a bad man for many, many, many years. Including the last time we attacked him. When we left him in power. When President Bush's father left him in power.

(Ever see "Red Dawn," remember the priceless scene where Jed and Matty's father is screaming "Avenge me!" to his guerrilla sons? I imagine something like that involving the Bushes, just before we started bombing.)

So the question is, did President Bush lie about the weapons of mass destruction? Well, technically, it was bad intelligence.

Remember when we impeached Bill Clinton for lying about Monica Lewinsky? Well, if you believe today's high school "virgins," blow jobs aren't really sex. So it was more a matter of semantics.

Yeah, that bullshit didn't fly like the semen, so why is Bush's bullshit flying like our bombers?

Speaking of war, Bill Maher's in trouble again, as I read today some congressman wants HBO to dump him for saying our troops are the bottom of the barrel. Congressman Southerner believes that's treason, mocking Lynndie England.

I'm willing to bet he defends the Second Amendment with all the fervor with which he's ignoring the First one.

And hey, to borrow a phrase, Bill Maher didn't make Lynndie England the butt of jokes. God did. (By the way, how did that Graner fellow find time to torture prisoners? He knocked up one fellow soldier and married another. You'd think he was too busy playing naked Twister to get the Iraqis involved.)

Now, to kick a party when it's down, let's get back to Tom DeLay. Let me see if I understand this correctly: He ran afoul of ethics rules, so rather than, say apologize without admitting guilt, like companies get to do with the NASD, he wants to change the rules so he's really not afoul of them.

Evidently those vigilantes down in Arizona trying to keep out the Mexicans are waving the morons on through the HOV lane.

He broke the rules. Will he be a man and let Congress put him in time-out? No. He wants to change the rules.

Imagine if life worked that way for the rest of us. I think I'd rob a bank, then pass a law making bank robbery legal in New Jersey. Ex post facto. Yeah, screw getting free golfing trips. I'd be jacking sports car dealerships.

Now, I promised you Republicans I'd explain the symbolism of the Democratic jackass, and you've waded through all this anti-GOP fervor, no doubt reporting me to the FBI and CIA and Department of Homeland Security. So now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

Wait, first let me make fun of that doofus John Bolton a bit. Here's a guy who said he didn't believe the United Nations needed to exist. Now he wants to be ambassador to the United Nations. And Senators aren't sitting up and tearing that stupid mismatched moustache off and bitch-slapping him with it? Why don't we make him ambassador to something else he doesn't think should exist, like a Just For Men factory. Hey, he's not all bad. He tried to fire an analyst who wouldn't support his stance on something. Because we all know that A) that's how the current administration works, it sees what it wants to see; and B) that's the scientific method, making your research support your thesis.

What? It's not? Well, OK, um, er...

Did I mention President Bush was in charge when 9/11 took place? How does he get away with saying we're safer under him? The biggest terrorist attack on American soil, and, well, thank God that Al Gore wasn't president, because, you know, he went to Vietnam and might have some idea how to fight a war. Like John Kerry. All those wimpy Democrats who served their country while Dubya was skipping flight duty in Alabama. But he's a wartime president. Last time we had a war, he was hiding under his bed. At least his father was a real man, a genuine war hero. But boy, does Dubya look good in a flight suit.

Another reason the Army might be having trouble recruiting? How about the Pat Tillman factor? Tillman, who quit the NFL to become a Ranger, then was killed in Afghanistan, was hailed as a hero and posthumously awarded a Silver Star for heroism. And God bless him for giving his life for his country. That's not the point. The point is, it turns out Tillman, even more tragically, was killed by friendly fire. And we're only finding that out now, a year later, because, well, the Army lied.

I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to lie in the military. I've watched enough "J*A*G" to be pretty sure of that. But what do you do when the entire freakin' Army lies?

Near as I can tell, you bust a bunch of women and a sociopath for Abu Ghraib and leave Don Rumsfeld in charge of the Department of Defense. What ever happened to the good old days of honorably falling on your sword for your president? Evidently, you don't have to in the Administration of No Accountability.

Sorry. I know, you're waiting for the hypocrisy of the liberals. What can I say? I got distracted watching the wrapped-in-the-Constitution guys blatantly ignoring what it says.

Well, here's what bugs me about the Democrats: They sit around bitching that the Republicans stole the last two presidential elections (oh yeah, those activist Supreme Court justices weren't so bad when they were ruling for Bush in that hanging-chad situation, were they?) and yet, they don't play to win. If the Republicans are going to lie, cheat and steal, why don't the Democrats fight fire with fire? Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser. With Bush ripe for the taking in '04, they put up a half-assed candidate who wouldn't stand up for himself and say, hey, as someone said on Maher's show, how many Purple Hearts do you need before you're more of a man than a male cheerleader?

That's not really hypocrisy, is it? It's more like chronic wussitude. But there's something that fundamentally bugs me about a bunch of guys sitting around bitching and not doing anything about it.

But if it's any consolation, here's some bipartisan hypocrisy: It's not just the conservative Republicans who are opposed to gay marriage (yet another amendment they want!) or who are willing to limit gay rights. After all, this is about the sanctity of marriage as a sacred institution.

If I were in Congress, and I heard that, I'd stand up and say, "Listen, all of you who have never fucked your interns or gotten divorced or cheated on your wives, you can lecture me about the sanctity of marriage. The rest of you can sit the hell down and shut the hell up." Well, you probably can't drop the f-bomb in Congress. Unless you're Dick Cheney.

Point is, I think it's that Jesus fellow all the religious types love so much who said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And when it comes to gay marriage, there's a lot of sinners throwing rocks. Because if a fat redneck can get laid just because he's President of the United States, I'm pretty sure there's some pretty congressmen who are primarily worried about the sacred institution that is their libido.

That ranks up there with zealots blowing people up in the name of a religion that preaches loving thy fellow man.

And copy editors who don't worry about the grammar in their blogs.

As Val Kilmer says, playing Doc Holliday in "Tombstone," it appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds after all.

The Food Network
TLC's "While You Were Out"
The Republican National Committee page, featuring Democrat Zell Miller
The Democratic National Committee page, featuring Republican Tom DeLay
"The Pelican Brief," where they kill the judges right upfront
The Balanced Budget Amendment page, evidently last updated in 1997
The M249 SAW machine gun
A vaguely intellectual, if negative, "Red Dawn" review
The Starr Report, like Penthouse Forum, but with cigars
An article about Lynndie England and, as a bonus, Jessica Lynch
The Minuteman Project, which apparently doesn't guard the Canadian border
• Stop John Bolton, not quite as funny, but more current than Fire John Shoop
• American hero Pat Tillman, may he rest in peace
My tribute to Pat Tillman, from Raiderfans.net
Hara-kiri, taking "fall on your sword" literally
An article defending gay marriage

I could probably throw a bunch more links up there, but I think I've provided a wide range of off-blog entertainment for y'all. And if the links have a liberal slant, well, hell, the Republicans stopped reading about 15 graphs ago.

But, because I couldn't resist, one more: Weapons of Ass Destruction hot sauce.

It was link to that, or the porno.

(Aside, thanks to Stewie, my links now open in their own window, meaning you can keep reading my blog, and they can feel special.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Blood and Beauty

No, this isn't a post about the lovely ladies in my movie.

It's about my vacation.

And I've already lost this post once, so stream of consciousness is turning into stream of obscenities, but here we go again.

So I just got back from touring four Civil War battle sites: Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

And my return to Antietam and Gettysburg reinforced something I've wondered about for years: How death and destruction take place at some of the world's most beautiful spots. Or, possibly, how beautiful spots attract death and destruction.

This is something I first started wondering about in high school. I went to France with the French club (and before you say, "Duh!" I might point out some people went to France with the Spanish club) a couple of times, and the first time, one of the stops was the D-Day memorials at Normandy.

The beach at Normandy, once you get past the unfortunate tourist-generated litter, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. And I've seen many beautiful places, in many beautiful countries.

But it's tough to beat Normandy. On a blue-sky, white-cloud kind of day, this is a perfect beach. White sand. Blue water.

And standing there, 15 years old, I couldn't imagine what that place looked like running red with blood.

Years later, watching "Saving Private Ryan," I figured the opening D-Day scenes are as close as I'll ever get to knowing. And even then, I couldn't reconcile what I was watching in that horrific opening with the beach I stood on in the early '90s.

So I always sort of marveled at how this truly breathtaking place could be the site of so much horror and tragedy.

And going back to the two main Northern Civil War battle sites just reinforced that mystery.

The Antietam battlefield, outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, is beautiful. Rolling hills, green grass, farmland. It was another beautiful day, and you stand on the hill behind the visitors center, listening to the ranger talk about artillery, and you just can't see it. It's just beautiful.

And then you go on the driving tour and you're standing at the bloody cornfield, and you're looking at a now-empty field about the size of maybe a couple of football fields, and you're thinking about Stephen Sears' book and how 10,000 people died in that little stretch of land in about five hours. Antietam was the bloodiest day in American military history. In about 12 hours, 25,000 men were killed, wounded or captured. The Confederates sat at one end of the cornfield, watching the stalks wave, and when the Union line stepped out of the waving corn, they fired en masse. Then charged. Then the Union counter-charged. And so forth.

John Bell Hood, whom I've mentioned, was asked after the fighting where his Texas brigade was. "Dead on the field," he replied. Wait until his next command charges the Devil's Den at Gettysburg. And wait until the Army of Tennessee charges Franklin.

So after a rainy, foggy day in Virginia, eating a bad, bad breakfast at Denny's and trying desperately to cram four battlefields into five hours (the driving tours total about nine hours if I'd bought them), I got to two of the four. It's OK, I haven't read the books on the other two yet, anyway, and now I have an excuse to go back.

But that night, Stewie and I headed for Gettysburg, and we spent the next day touring the battlefield, after eating a decent breakfast.

Aside, the best breakfast I had was at the lovely Jacob Rohrbach Inn, a b&b I stayed at in Sharpsburg. I haven't had a home-cooked breakfast in ages, and that French toast hit the spot. I heartily recommend the b&b, possibly haunted, and not too expensive at all.

(Strangest moment: sitting in the "Clara Barton Room" of this historic inn, done up in full-blown period mode, and noticing a little card pointing out the free wireless Internet.)

Back to Gettysburg. Steve's interested, but hadn't been up there, whereas, of course, I'm currently battling a serious addiction. So I knew from the past how lovely some of the area around Gettysburg is.

And of course, that's where the worst fighting is.

I'm trying to explain Pickett's charge, and basically what it comes down to is, it's a lovely day and we're looking at this lovely grassy field rising gently to a copse of trees. And I'm telling Stewie how basically 10,000 guys marched up this beautiful field, about a mile, toward that pretty stone wall and nice little stand of trees, and toward a whole bunch of guys with guns just waiting for them.

On a sunny day, like today, so many places on the battlefield, full of grass and giant boulders and green trees, are places that would almost make you feel good... if you didn't know what happened there.

The monuments kind of ruin that feel-good look. You know, the big stone edifices - beautiful in an artistic sense, don't get me wrong at all - that serve as reminders that for guys like Strong Vincent (one of the best Union names, but that's an earlier post) and Lewis Armistead and Henry Burgwyn, there was no happy ending. Just a bullet or two, glory and a monument.

You'd like to think they thought about the beauty of this Adams County 'burgh as they died. But I'm looking at an empty field and listening to a CD in Stewie's truck. There was no artillery barrage. There weren't bullets whipping by, there weren't men screaming and bleeding and dying around us. There wasn't smoke to hide the sun, there wasn't death everywhere.

And so many of the men who fought and died at Gettysburg were younger than me, the tourist, passing through, admiring the craftsmanship of a monument that put a positive spin on the idea that a generation of Virginians and North Carolinians hurled itself into the teeth of the guns to die.

(I might mention, Ambrose Burnside was villified as incompetent for sending his men charging up a hill at a Confederate army intrenched behind a stone wall at Fredericksburg. Robert E. Lee did the exact same thing at Gettysburg, took the blame, and is still deified down South.)

It's hard to reconcile the blood and the beauty. I'm happy to be a hawk when it comes to talking about war in a political sense, Israeli and American alike, at least insofar as supporting the troops is concerned. And I mean, if you're going to play, play to win.

But on days like this, seeing these sites and hearing about, reading about, what young men faced, it's pretty easy to see how war is sometimes viewed as the greatest evil of all.

Sometimes I think it should be mandatory that any president who wants to wage a war (yeah, Dubya, I'm talking to you) should have to go to a place like Gettysburg and really think about what war means. It means young men, dying - whether for a just cause or not. Those Southerners believed they were right. And that powered their legs up that rise. And those Northerners believed they were right. And they gunned the Rebels down.

Fifty thousand men, dead, wounded or captured, in one weekend. And not 50,000 Iraqis or Afghanis or other people no one in America really gives a shit about (fair or not). That's 50,000 Americans. Fifty thousand husbands, sons, fathers, brothers.

That's a small city worth of people. Gone. In three days.

William Dorsey Pender, a major general at 29. Killed by a shell.

James Keith Marshall, leading a brigade at 24. Shot dead during Pickett's charge.

Union Gen. Stephen Weed, 29, was shot down on Little Round Top. While artilleryman Charles Hazlett bent over the dying general to hear his last words, he himself was shot and killed.

The list goes on and on and on.

And you stand there, on the hills and in the valleys of Gettysburg, on a bright May Saturday, and you can't help but think how beautiful everything is.

As Galadriel says in "Lord of the Rings," beautiful... and terrible.

It boggles the mind. It really does.

(Should I mention I also saw "Revenge of the Sith" while on vacation, and was pleasantly, shockingly impressed? Very good movie. It really feels like a "Star Wars" movie, unlike the first two episodes, and it almost makes up for how godawful those two were. Good company, too, seeing it with Justin Timpane (whom I've mentioned), several members of his family, Daniel Ross and others.)

Antietam, America's bloodiest day
Four Virginia battlefields, NPS style
Read this, knowing the NPS people cheerfully sent me on the Sunken Road tour anyway
Gettysburg in all its glory and tragedy
From the "Oh, dear God" Dept., the grim details of Pickett's charge
The American cemetery at Normandy, with a picture that includes the beach
The Historic Jacob Rohrbach Inn, Joanne and Paul Breitenbach, proprietors
The inn's "Clara Barton Room," where I stayed (but didn't use the Internet)
French toast recipes, b&b style
Starwars.com's official "Revenge of the Sith" page

Oh, yeah, and Stewie rightly pointed out I missed a nickname. On the set, Joe Ripple started calling me "Oddjob," partly because I was doing all kinds of stuff (holding the boom, feeding lines, etc.) and mostly because he's always wanted an Asian manservant, and I'm as close as he's ever going to get.

(Aside, we will attempt to resume (almost) daily updates this week. That's the royal "we.")

(Also aside, I'm going to put bullets on the links from now on, because I like writing longer descriptions, but I can't figure out how to widen the template, and I think it looks weird and confusing when the links break onto a second line.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Well, It's Better Than "Hey You"

So today, I thought I'd write about nicknames.

I probably should write about my love of the "Friday the 13th" movie series, since it's Friday the 13th, but instead, I think I'll write about this.

I don't really have a nickname, beyond "Hey You," and a variety of obscenities.

I've had several, but none have ever really stuck. There's no obvious shortening of "Eric," which is my first name, since it's two syllables and generally speaking, nicknames have to be shorter than the name itself, or it kind of defeats the purpose.

And my last name is basically one big syllable, so no help there, either.

The first real nickname I had was "Sushi," hung on me by the guys on my rather politically incorrect high school soccer team before freshman year or so - of which, at the time, I was the only Asian member.

One small problem... I'm Vietnamese, not Japanese.

So once they'd figured that bit of geography out, I became "Hochi," or "Hoch." That's a long "o," As in "Ho Chi Minh." My efforts to explain that I was from South Vietnam, and not North Vietnam, didn't go over so well.

Before you ponder what I'm sure you're thinking is the inherent bigotry of my high school soccer team, let me point out that most of the guys with nicknames had them as a sign they at least vaguely belonged, and since I spent more time on injured reserve than on the field, it was nice to feel like I belonged, at least to some degree.

And hey, one of the guys, they called "Pubie," because he had short, curly hair. So remember, it can ALWAYS be worse.

So Hochi wasn't as cool as say, Dingo or Turbo or even Whitey (which was because of a last name, not a skin color, an exception to the rule that nicknames should be shorter than the names they replace), but it was better than being ignored. I think.

Hochi came to an end when another Vietnamese kid, with the unfortunate name of Tung Ho, moved to the school and joined the team. (OK, Tung Ho isn't as unfortunate as his brother, Dat Ho, but still. And no, I swear, I'm not making these names up.) Now, Tung didn't speak English especially well, and he played left wing on the JV, while I was playing left mid. (I was a backup varsity fullback, but I got hurt in preseason and lost my spot.) So about the second time we collided going for a pass because he couldn't tell "Hoch" from "Ho," that had to change.

That was junior year.

So, senior year, I wound up being called "Cougar," by at least a couple of my friends, one of whom was going through a "Top Gun" phase and had dubbed a variety of drama-club folks with such movie-related call signs. I drove a Mercury Cougar, so thus, my nickname. It was probably also vaguely symbolic, as Cougar, you may recall, is the pilot from "Maverick's" carrier who's supposed to go to Top Gun, except he freaks out and blows his chance. Story of my underachieving life, I suppose.

But outside of Kori Beamer occasionally shrieking, "Cougar!" in the halls of the school when she saw me, this didn't stick, either, at least not after I went off to college.

In college, on the other hand, I acquired three nicknames of various sorts, plus the pledge name at my fraternity, which didn't stick, primarily because there were two Erics in my class, and I got his name. Which was fortunate, because his was much, much worse, and probably made up on the spot by our drunken pledge marshal when he realized he'd screwed something up but didn't know what.

So for most of college, actually, I was called by my last name, because the other Eric and I were good friends and we even roomed together one semester just to confuse people. My girlfriend called me Eric, and him by his last name, while his girlfriend called him Eric and me by my last name, and I think in the end, he was more popular and more active at the house than I was, so he got most of the first-name treatment from the brothers, or the lazy folks just called us both by our last names. I don't know what it says that there was one Erik when we got there, but they never pledged another one after us.

My two actual nicknames both came about because of the same guy, my later-years roommate, Ed Hayes. Ed's buddies all called him "Juice," basically because, despite being white, he has the exact same hair as O.J. Simpson, who was in the news back then for all the wrong reasons, involving his wife, a Ford Bronco, a knife, etc.

Now, out at school, because of the living hell I was going through with my suburbanite girl, I had my car. So whenever Ed had to go anywhere, I drove him. So all his buddies dubbed me "A.C." Like Al Cowlings, who drove O.J. on that Bronco ride. Not really politically correct, either, but a step up from "Hochi," methinks.

My other nickname, which kind of stuck, was "Hitman." It originates from the pro wrestler Bret "Hitman" Hart, because on a video game Ed and I played all the time, I was always the Hitman. Plus, it sounds cool. Plus, in college, I had the nasty tendency to punch walls, doors and anything else that got in my way when I got riled up or liquored up, which was fairly often in those hot-headed days.

And in some circles, such as the horror DVD reviewing world, I still go by "the Hitman."

But after college, I needed an e-mail address, since my college one went away after I graduated. I got my first job (and only senior-year job offer) by answering a job ad looking for "ace rim rats," with a rim editor being a kind of copy editor.

So, as you can tell from the URL of this blog, I incorporated "ace rim rat" into my e-mail. I use it a lot as my screen name on forums and such (cool names like "Hitman" and "Eric" are often taken), and so I've ended up being "Ace," in a lot of those places. ("Aces go places!" for you Asian action movie fans...)

So when you look for my writing online, look for Ace, or look for the Hitman.

And if you can think of a cooler nickname, I'm all ears. Well, really, I'm all shoulders and bad haircut, but you know what I mean.

HorrorTalk, where I'm the Hitman
Raiderfans.net, where I'm Ace
Sushi, which isn't bad as raw fish goes
Ho Chi Minh, who conquered my people
John Stockwell, who played Cougar in "Top Gun"
The world's slowest police chase, with Al Cowlings driving
Bret "Hitman" Hart, the Excellence of Execution
ACES, appropriately enough, the American Copy Editors Society
How a copy desk works, including rim editors and slot editors

I can't think of a witty remark for here today.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Kill 'Em All, and Let God Sort 'Em Out

I know, I've been slacking lately.

Sorry, been working on a review, and sometimes I get in one writing zone, and the other one slides off, you know?

Anyway, today I thought I'd write about something that's all the rage these days (pun intended): The murder of those poor little girls in Illinois.

Well, as you probably know, if you've seen any news or read any newspaper recently, this ex-con with anger management issues, Jerry Hobbs, wound up confessing that he killed his little daughter, Laura, and her friend, Krystal Tobias, both less than 10 years old, basically because Laura was out when she shouldn't have been.

Now, OK, disclaimer, he hasn't been convicted yet, so he's only an alleged murderer.

But he confessed, so for the purposes of this post, he killed them. Allegedly.

Either way, what I'm going to say, you can apply to the guilty party, whoever he is. There, have I covered my ass enough, legally?

Moving on...

Now, apparently Illinois hasn't used the death penalty in a number of years. I don't know why. I don't live there. But there are people out there suggesting it's high time they give this guy the gas, or whatever they're supposed to be using.

OK, now let's put one thing on the record: My parents, who raised me with their values, generally, are liberal Democratic types. And many of my political stances are what I'd call moderately liberal.

But I get conservative sometimes. And the death penalty is one of those places where I'm with the red state crowd.

Hey, I figure, I'm in favor of a woman's right to choose and the death penalty, so at least I'm consistent, unlike the sanctimonious conservatives who want to preserve some kinds of "life," and not others.

Anyway, my thinking is this: For a loser who kills his own 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old best friend, I think we can waive the Eighth Amendment and use cruel and unusual punishment.

And I'm a horror movie writer, remember? I can think of some seriously cruel and unusual punishments.

But seriously, I don't understand why we can't take a dirtbag like this and hang him in the town square under a sign that says, "You murder children, this is what happens."

This guy can't get shiv-ed in prison soon enough for me.

I guess I'm one of those blue-collar Democrats, tough on crime, tough on defense, but generally socially liberal.

But I mean, instead of letting the NYPD and LAPD do all that stuff to innocent people like beat 'em with a stick, sodomize 'em with a broom, shoot 'em 78 times, why can't we let them get their aggression out on sick bastards like this guy from Illinois, or the priests who molested dozens of boys, or serial rapists?

I mean, in the realm of "an eye for an eye," this guy stabbed his own freakin' daughter through the eyes. A little girl. I think they ought to execute him even if he pleads guilty.

(Off topic: Why is it, if you plead guilty to murder, admitting you did it, you get life in prison, but if you plead not guilty, and get convicted, you get executed? Does that make any sense? I mean, shouldn't we kill the people who admit to the crime, and maybe let the ones who don't sit around in jail, in case they turn out to be right?)

I don't have any kids, so I asked two co-workers who have children of similar age to the victims what they'd do if their child broke curfew or whatever. Sure, there was discipline and punishment involved.

But neither of them saw "stab her to death" as a viable option. Look, "time outs" may be contributing to the pussification of America, and a good spanking has its place, but you know, I think even one stab wound would probably be too many, much less 21 or whatever it was.

I was raised that parents are supposed to love their children more than anything. I don't understand how anyone could do that to any child, much less their own.

And if somebody did that to my child, God help them, because I'd hunt that fucker to the ends of the earth, and nothing in this world or the next would stop me from tearing their heart out.

Yet, this guy kills his own kid. And somebody else's. 'Cause he's pissed off. I get pissed off all the time, I don't kill anyone. Everybody I know gets pissed off. They don't kill anyone (that I know of).

If a dog killed a little girl, they'd put him down. Why should a man be any different?

I do wonder, though: One of the grandparents was talking about how hurtful it was that their granddaughter was dead. I wonder how they felt when the killer turned out to be their son, or son-in-law, or whatever. I think when it comes to the cold-blooded murder of a grandchild, that bit above about loving your kid more than anything ceases to apply.

Let's not forget, it's a terrible tragedy, for two families.

But that doesn't mean we can't make this guy suffer all the way to hell. He's going to burn for eternity, why hasten him on the way, when we can make him linger a little.

Let the folks from Abu Ghraib have him, maybe. Give Lynndie England another asshole to point at, and step on, and kick in the nuts or whatever. (I might point out, I'm not necessarily against ignoring the rules of warfare when fighting those who ignored them first.)

Men like that don't deserve to live. They don't even deserve to be called men. And they sure as shit don't deserve a swifter, more humane death than the one they inflicted on a child they were supposed to protect.

I'm really a nice guy. Most people who know me will tell you so. But stuff like this just infuriates me. It's not how life is supposed to be. And if God won't be merciful and protect little girls from madmen, I don't see why we need to take his word about us being merciful, either.

The latest news on the case
In the interests of fairness...
The Constitutional amendments
"NYPD means I will Nock Yo' Punk-ass Down"
Torture, U.S. military-style

A word of warning for my regular readers. I'm on vacation next week, so I may not have regular access to the Net. So that "(almost) daily" may become "when I'm around" for the week.

Here's a bonus link to make up for it: Charlize Theron, another hottie for y'all (and one who knows something of familial tragedy).

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Memories to Last a Lifetime

I work with a guy named Peter Ambush. He's an extremely talented artist, specializing in portraits. Anyway, he's leaving the paper we work at, to pursue a career as both a full-time artist and musician.

It's bittersweet, because of course, I'm happy for Petey, as I'm always happy for people who chase their dreams. But I'm sad, too, because Petey is a friend, and I'll miss him.

But no matter what happens in Petey's life, and in my life, for that matter, Peter Ambush will always have a place in my heart, because of some work he did for me (and at a discount, no less!).

My parents' 35th anniversary was a couple of years ago, and I wanted to do something special. My parents don't really need anything, and I'm anything but a party planner, but I was too young to do anything for their 25th, so I wanted to do something special for this anniversary.

So here's what I did: I hired Petey.

I stole my parents' wedding album under false pretenses (I gave it back; what kind of dipshit you think I am? don't answer that.) and I gave it to him. Then I gave him some photos I'd taken of them just the previous holidays, a few months before.

And Peter painted a masterpiece.

In the foreground is a picture of my parents, today, together, smiling, in bright color. In the background, in sepia tone, is my parents, together on their wedding day. Petey combined two pictures from the wedding album, and made them into one beautiful portrait. So in sum, the portrait is my parents on their wedding day in 1967, and 35 years later, showing how they may look a little different, but their love stayed the same.

Of all the things I might inherit someday from my parents, that may be the most important to me. I couldn't believe how it turned out, and I'll never forget what Peter did for my parents, for me, for my family. (He went on to paint portraits of both my sets of grandparents, and they're beautiful, too.)

The other painting I'll remember, though, has nothing to do with my immediate family.

My best friend, David Steinruck, and his wife, Jennifer, had their first child in 2002, after something of a struggle (which I can relate to, as my parents didn't have any children of their own, finally adopting me). Their son, Benjamin, who I lovingly think of as my nephew (Dave and I are ketchup brothers, but that's a story for another day), was eventually joined by twin sisters, Charlotte and Gabrielle, but back at Christmas 2002, it was just Ben.

That fall, Dave, a die-hard Flyers fan, got the monthly picture of Ben in a Flyers jersey, and unbeknownst to him or Jenni, I took that photo to Petey.

And Petey painted a lovely portrait of Ben, adding an "02" to his jersey and putting him in full hockey gear.

So I wrapped it up and gave it to them for Christmas.

What I'll never forget is that, when Jenni opened the package, she did it so the back was facing her. She knew it was a picture of some kind, but when the wrapper came off, I wish I had a camera to capture Dave's face.

She didn't know how to take it, he was so shocked, and I think she was afraid to turn it around, lest I (just about his only friend who didn't marry one of her friends) have given them the gift of porn or something.

But of course, when she saw the front, she was just as stunned and delighted.

The point isn't that I give good gifts. Lord knows, I try, but I certainly don't always succeed.

The point is, one of the wonders of art is that it can have meaning far beyond a lovely portrait. I'll never forget Peter Ambush, and I'll recommend him to anyone, because not only does he do fabulous work, he does work that transcends art and becomes part of your life, part of your memories, part of the things you cherish.

When I think of the good things in my life, those are two of the moments that stand out, and I couldn't have done it without Petey. My God, the wonder of art. It chokes me up just thinking about those pictures, those moments, those memories.

I highly recommend you give it a try for your family. Photos are nice, but a beautiful portrait truly defines "work of art." And if you do give it a try, get in touch with Petey. He'll do ya right. Take my word for it.

Petey doesn't have a Web site. E-mail him at pambush@mac.com if you want him to do some work for ya! (Yes, he gave me permission to put his e-mail here. No, I don't have a clue how to make an e-mail link. It's worth typing it yourself.)
I found a picture by Petey online, so here's a sample of his work
The Philadelphia Flyers, Dave's favorite team

My "Contender" addiction came to a head this weekend, when I hauled ass to get home from Maryland in time to see the show, only to see my favorite fighter, Anthony "The Bullet" Bonsante, get decked by Jesse Brinkley in a fight he had won until he walked into a knockout shot. I can only hope Bonsante snares a spot on the undercard of the "Contender" title fight later this month. He deserves it. You gotta admire a 30-something single dad who wears his "#1 Daddy" hat in a house full of macho young guys and talks about his "real" job, and openly cries when he talks about raising his kids. And you gotta love a fighter who's just an animal in the ring. This guy cries when his little kids come to see him, and then in the ring he has the look of a complete and utter sociopath. He just comes out swinging and doesn't stop, and that's good TV - even if it cost him in the end. The show won't be the same without him, even if the final four really are probably the best fighters in the bunch. Joey Gilbert and Bonsante made for some top-notch reality TV. So, hey, if you want to do something for me, go to the Contender site and vote for Bonsante in the fan-favorite poll. It'll be good TV.

(How'd you like that attempt to put links into text, huh?)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Why Horror Beats Humor

So I'm out with my buddies the other night, having a great time, and of course, I wind up making a jackass out of myself.

See, I'm the kind of guy who will do anything to make people laugh; I'm always cracking jokes and shooting off one-liners and so forth.

(Remember, women always say they want a man with a sense of humor. So why don't I have one? But anyway...)

So my buddy and I are always busting each other's balls about something. And I started giving him a hard time about something - I'm joking, mind you - and I guess he didn't see the humor in it.

Only, I thought when he got snarky, he was playing along. So I egged him on. You can see where this is going.

Anyway, the next day, he (metaphorically) smacked me upside the head, and I apologized and we laughed and moved on. We're buds, we're smart-asses, these things happen. So, my bad.

And that rather ham-handedly segues into my main point, which is that the problem with being a perpetual wise-ass is that humor tends to be subjective.

For instance, when I thought I was laughing WITH my buddy, he thought I was laughing AT him. Not true at all, but you see how it can go the wrong way.

And in this litigious society, with political correctness running rampant and everyone having to worry about what they say and when they say it, you can see how the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan, and sometimes over something thoroughly innocuous. Did I spell that right? No editing, remember? It's one of those words I can never spell, but that's a copy-editor-geek post for another day.

Back to humor being subjective.

This is the thing: I like horror movies. And action movies. A lot of my friends like horror movies, and action movies.

And when you talk with a horror fan about horror movies, generally speaking, everyone agrees on things. Same with action movies. I mean, sure, there are some disagreements, but I'm talking in a general sense.

Everybody who likes horror likes "Jaws." Everybody regards "Halloween" as either a classic, or overrated, but agrees it's a seminal slasher. Nobody's scared by "Friday the 13th," but it's a true favorite of fans of a certain age (like me).

Every action fan likes "Predator." And "The Terminator," and every other Schwarzenegger movie. Except the one where he's pregnant. Every alpha-male action fan loves "Tombstone," may director George P. Cosmatos rest in peace.

And so on. I mean, think about it. Good horror and good action are shared tastes and easy to define. "Aliens." "Dawn of the Dead." OK, so there's plenty of debate on the remake, but any honest fan will say it's pretty good for what it is. And so forth.

But comedy, now comedy is subjective.

Think about it. Who's your favorite comedian? No matter how funny you think he/she is, ask your best friend if he/she thinks said comedian is funny. Now ask a couple of other friends. You're going to find at least one who can take or leave said comedian, and at least one other who won't even watch a movie with that star. Hell, you might find some who like one movie with the comedian, and don't like another.

Take Bill Murray, for instance. I love "Ghostbusters," and I think I love "Groundhog Day" more. But I don't like "Stripes," and I really don't like "Caddyshack." My best friend would find that blasphemy.

Some people think the "American Pie" type of film is funny, you know, like "Road Trip" and "Euro Trip," and so forth. I gotta say, they crack me up, despite myself.

On the other hand, I don't get Will Ferrell. Most everyone I know really thinks he's great. Outside of his Dubya act on SNL, I just don't get it. Not one bit.

Once, again, that's an example of how humor is subjective even with the same subject. I laugh at most Tim Allen movies ("Santa Clause," "Joe Somebody," etc.), which I'm not sure anyone else thinks are funny. But lots of people watched "Home Improvement," and I could never get into it, even though, from what I understand, Tim Allen plays the same guy in the movies.

I like "Tommy Boy." I love "Tommy Boy." I really don't think anything else the late Chris Farley made is even remotely funny, and I can't stand David Spade. But "Tommy Boy" is magic.

Think about it. No matter how much homosexual overtone you find in them, 99 percent of the world likes "Top Gun" and the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

But how many people like "Hollywood Homicide"? Not many, if box office means anything.

I could watch that film all day. Every day. It cracks me up.

I could go on and on, but I'm pretty sure the horse is dead, so I see no reason to keep hitting it with my hockey stick.

You get the point. And that's why I don't like comedy, despite my penchant for humor. Sometimes, like the other night with my buddy, I'm just not funny. But I usually think I am, so I crack the joke.

And every once in a while, I'm greeted with that stony silence that says, "nope, that one didn't fly."

Funny, did you ever think somebody would call horror "safe"?

But when it comes to shared taste in films, that's just what it is.

Laughing Colors, whose lead singer we saw last night
The late George P. Cosmatos
A random Bill Murray fan site
Will Ferrell on SNL
Tim Allen's official site
The Chris Farley Foundation

And, randomly and grotesquely, a picture of people beating a dead horse.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Know Your Role

OK, I just got home from watching the brilliant "Sin City," the first movie that's gotten me into a theater in ages.

I can't say enough good things about this flick. Just brilliant. Go see it, if you love noir, if you love graphic novels, if you love movies. This is top notch.

There is one thing about it that bugs me, though. It's a pet peeve I have as a movie fan, and not unique to "Sin City," by any means.

In "Sin City," Jessica Alba plays a stripper. And she never takes her clothes off, not even while dancing. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a horndog who's at a movie to see a celebrity naked. That's what the Internet is for. And there is plenty of nudity in "Sin City."

But the thing is, if you're playing a stripper, or a hooker, in a movie... Take off your damn clothes!

Now, I know it's tough enough being a celebrity without figuring if you do a nude scene your tits will be all over the Net and the tabloids and God knows where else. But the thing is, don't take a role as a stripper if you're not willing to strip. Don't play a hooker if you're not willing to do the sex scene. It's part of the role.

Strippers, at least at the strip clubs I've been to, strip.

Now, I've never been with a hooker, but from what I can tell from that HBO special, they have sex from time to time. And that means they've got to remove at least some of their clothes.

But Hollywood has what I call the "Pretty Woman" rule. "Pretty Woman" is a movie about a hooker. And yet the only tits you see in the entire movie belong to Richard Gere. Now, if you look real close, I'm sure you can see some part of Julia Roberts if you try, but generally speaking, she remains mostly clothed throughout a movie in which she has at least three sex scenes.

The thing is, this doesn't bother me because she's not nude, it bothers me because it takes me out of the element of the movie, as a viewer. How many films have you seen with a strip club scene where the famous actress never wears less than her bikini? And have you said, "Wait a minute, that's not right"?

I've got nothing against actresses who don't want to do nudity. That's their right, and it's certainly not a necessary part of any actress's career. But if you don't want to do nudity, you shouldn't be playing a stripper. Because it's obvious when an actress won't do the nudity - and it breaks the wall of the scene.

So in "Sin City," after seeing several name actresses partly nude, when Jessica Alba's character hits the stripper pole in a bikini, I'm not thinking that's "Nancy," I'm thinking, well of course, that's Jessica Alba, she's not going to be nude. It distracts.

It's one thing to not want to do gratuitous nudity or sex, again, that's an actress's prerogative. But when playing the role of a woman whose job is to take off her clothes, that's not gratuitous. That's part of the role.

Of course, there's hypocrisy plenty out there. Halle Berry famously refused to do nudity, until she found a role, in "Swordfish," where she said she felt the nudity was necessary to the role. And if I've ever seen a completely gratuitous and unnecessary nude scene, it's the one in "Swordfish." On the other hand, Berry's far more extensive nudity in "Monster's Ball" was thoroughly appropriate, and I wouldn't have blinked twice if she'd claimed that was the "necessary" time to make her first nude appearance on screen.

I don't have to see celebrities naked. I'm old enough to buy porn if I want to see naked women in movies.

But it's the principle of it. Jody Foster played a rape victim in "The Accused," and was brilliant, of course. She also is partly nude during the (very unsexy) violent rape scene. That was part of the role. If she hadn't been willing to do nudity, she wouldn't have taken the film. And the film would have suffered if she hadn't had her clothes torn off, part of the violence of the rape. A necessary part for the emotional power the scene and the film required.

Conversely, there's a dreadful movie like "Showgirls." But you know what, the girls are strippers, and they take off their clothes. And the authentic look of the strip club in "Showgirls" is probably one of the only things that doesn't go wrong in that mess of a film.

And if you're wondering, I feel the same way about actors who play male prostitutes, etc. I may be far less interested in seeing them nude, but again, it's the principle of the thing. Don't take a role you won't play right.

I read there was some controversy about Natalie Portman in "Closer," which I haven't seen. She played a stripper, and apparently the director cut out some (or all) of her nudity, to protect the young actress. On one hand, I completely understand the decision. A young woman with a world of talent doesn't need to be a download-pinup girl. On the other hand, it seems like she took the role and filmed the scenes, so she must have been aware of what might happen. So in a way, the director risks detracting from his own film. Again, I haven't seen it, so I don't know if the lack of nudity is a distraction or not.

It's a question of appropriateness. I'm not endorsing gratuitous nudity.

No, I am. I'm all in favor of gratuitous nudity.

But I can understand an actress who doesn't want to do a gratuitous nude scene. I can respect that. That doesn't bother me, as a viewer, as a critic, as a fan.

What bothers me is when the nudity is appropriate, and then not done. It's a disservice to the film, and that puts the "I" in "team," if you ask me.

Look, Jessica Alba is terrific in "Sin City," don't get me wrong. Just about everyone is terrific in "Sin City." But in a movie that works its tail off to build an atmosphere that envelops the audience and the film, even the slightest moment of distraction is like a screaming neon sign.

And when a stripper does more than two turns around the pole without taking anything off, that gets you thinking. And when you're thinking, you're out of the atmosphere of the film. It's costly.

"Sin City," the official site
Mr. Skin, the reason actresses don't do nudity
"Pretty Woman," which started this rant
"Showgirls," both gratuitous and grotesque

Off topic, for those who wondered if I was OK after the other night's "Mental Breakdown," I'm fine now, and thanks for asking. Nice to know my audience is listening, and cares. Really.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Mental Breakdown

Some days, life feels like it's spinning out of control.

This was one of those days.

One of those days where nothing goes right, where insult follows injury, where every event is frustrating, if not necessarily bad.

Everything was going so well and now it's coming unglued.

I once had a girlfriend who told me I had a dark side that she knew I had, but never wanted to see.

And some days I wonder if I'm just lying to myself about my life. This big, swaggering tough guy, cocky, confident, skilled...

Is it all a lie?

Am I neurotic, jealous, traumatized by something I don't remember and can't understand?

I have a good life. I say that all the time. And some days, I'm scared to death that it's one of those things where I've said it enough, I'm starting to believe it.

I spent most of my day trying not to scream, trying not to cry. I punched a wall for the first time in months. I kicked a metal recycling bin as hard as I could, just to make the noise.

It's agony.

And yet I feel so stupid sometimes. What do I have to complain about?

But alone, in the darkness, on days like this, I can't find my way. I'm lost. I'm alone, and no one I can talk to, no one I know, can help me. Can save me from something wrong inside my mind.

And sometimes, when the demons come, I see only one thing clearly, and that's how tired I am of fighting. I've fought too long, too hard, for too many wrong causes.

On nights like this, I despair. But I so badly want to believe life is better than this. Am I brave to face my fears, or a coward for fearing them at all?

I don't know. I want to say I don't care. But it hurts too much. I can't not care.

Happiness seems so far away.

And I'm just a small, scared little munkee, hiding in a corner in the dark. At least, I feel that way. I want to pull the covers over my eyes so I can't see the shadows play along the wall, so I can't see the shifting darkness of my life.

Won't somebody help me?

Or can only I help myself?

(I can't imagine what kind of links I'd put here.)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Purity Testing

I scored
on the classic 400 Point Purity Test!
Take the test here!

So Stewie put this up on his blog, and I can't resist a challenge. My % was lower, by the way.

Stewie's blog
Take the test yourself (or click on the pic above)