30 August 2009

Thank You John Hughes: Mr. Mom

John Hughes, celebrated writer/director of many important movies of my youth, recently passed away. Here, I pay a little tribute.

So this was one that I didn't know was part of the Hughes oeuvre. It wasn't focused on teens, it wasn't about high school...but it was kind of about a misfit trying to fit in to his new world, which is often central to Hughes' plotlines.

This movie took an unimaginable premise -- that a MAN would actually stay home with his CHILDREN while the wife was the main breadwinner for the fam. I mean, can you imagine this? So progressive for the early 80's.

I remember watching this at home when I was younger (my parents must have watched it)...but I also remember watching it about 10 times during my freshman year of high school. For some reason, the substitute we always had for our Christian Sexuality class (yes, I realize that can sound strange, that they were teaching us this...but it was perhaps the most comprehensive sex education class we could have had, way moreso than any that I have heard my friends speak of. anyway...) felt that Mr. Mom was the perfect movie for us to watch every time he subbed. We didn't really care much...the guys in the class did whatever it was that guys do, while the girls drooled over Mr. Magnini.

So now when I watch Mr. Mom, I think not of the theme of fitting in, or of kids adjusting to changes, or the vacuum eating Kenny's woobie, but of our substitute teacher. Who, in a way, as a full time substitute, also had to try to fit in...right?

26 August 2009

Mixed Feelings: Wicked, the Novel

I have been lucky enough to see Wicked, the play, twice since it debuted here in San Francisco earlier this year. So of course, being me, I needed to read the source material to find out how they matched up.

After finishing Wicked, the Novel, the first thing that is apparent is that the book influenced the play, and I could see where certain plot points came from, but beyond that...they weren't much alike.

I think had I not seen the play, I may like the book more. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I really wanted to find out what happened next. It was very dark, very twisted, but also really hard to follow at times. I feel like certain plot points -- specifically, the impending extinction of the Animals -- were very, very underdeveloped (and this, surprisingly, was something a little more developed in the play). The connection between the Witch and the Wizard was also a little ambiguous.

And, really...I did not like the Wizard, and had a hard time reconciling him with my image from the Wizard of Oz movie. And, also from what I remember from the original book, which I did read a long time ago (along with Return to Oz, which was super creepy). I feel like in this book, Maguire wanted to satisfy his own agenda, rather than truly develop further what we know of the existing characters.

Overall, I am really conflicted about this book. Considering Wicked, the play, has become one of my favorites, it is hard for me to stomach some the plot points in this book. It was also really tough for me not to bust out in song every time the Wizard was mentioned ("when I meeettt the Wiiizzaardd..."). And I feel like Maguire could have made more sense of some of the issues he was trying to exploit.

That said...I think had I read it before seeing the play, I may have enjoyed it more. I could have enjoyed the dark twistyness a little more.

20 August 2009

Thank You John Hughes: Some Kind of Wonderful

John Hughes, celebrated writer/director of many important movies of my youth, recently passed away. Here, I pay a little tribute.

Some Kind of Wonderful
is one of the first movies I remember seeing in the theater. I am not sure who I went with -- maybe my aunt? -- but I do remember that I saw it.

Lea Thompson, it felt, was the "it" girl at the time, having been in Back to the Future, Space Camp, and, of course, Howard the Duck. Eric Stoltz was clearly trying to move past his "Mask" image and into the hearthrob role, and Mary Stuart Masterson was a somewhat newbie on her way to becoming, incomprehensibly, a female lead in many films over the following few years.

This movie followed a typical Hughes format -- non-popular person is in love with popular person, and, somehow, that popular person finally noticed the non-popular. And, in the wings, the non-popular person had a friend who was in love with him/her (also seen in Pretty in Pink).

What I remember the most about seeing this movie was really identifying with Watts. I mean, really, truly feeling like I knew what she was going through, feeling pushed aside by your best guy friend chasing some chick, but knowing deep down that he should be with you. Common, I am sure...but this movie came out in 1987...I was 11 years old. What the hell did I know about being pushed aside? Who was my best friend that I felt shunned me? And I wonder if he also drew pictures of his dream girl and listened to music about her name...

Over the years, this has stuck with me. I get giddy when this movie comes on. As I got older, I identified more with Watts -- a girl on the outside looking in -- but I think many of us did (after all, can we really identify with Amanda Jones? Not the majority of us.). And I think this is what Hughes did best. Stereotypes are born from something common, and while this movie was totally stereotypical, so is the high school experience. High school is formulaic, it is about having outsiders and fringe, and it is about making decisions that seem so important in the moment, that will hindsight you see aren't.

It is about wasting your whole life savings on diamond earrings for your Amanda Jones, and realizing that, if you are going to spend that much, it would be better spent on your Watts.

18 August 2009

From the Vault: Catalano vs. Krakow

My So-Called Life was a most excellent show that aired in the early/mid-90s, about a girl, Angela Chase, and the burden that is being a teenager. While I was already in college when this first aired, a freshman, I believe, I totally related to Angela. I think it was because, in the very first show I watched, Angela & her mom got into a fight EXACTLY like the ones my mom & I frequently got in -- Patty, the mom, was getting ready for a party, stressed out, and yelling at Angela, who wanted to do what her mom was asking on her own terms and in her own time (is there any other kind of fight between mother/daughter?). This show definitely had its own sense of perfection...and I hadn't thought about it in a while, until I saw this NPR post.

So, because these are the type of things I spend my time pondering upon, I started thinking about Angela's two "love" interests -- Brian Krakow, the guy who was really interested in loving Angela, and Jordan Catalano, the guy who Angela was really interested in loving. While these two characters were total stereotypes, the nerd and the hottie bad boy, they were written so well and deeply that they felt like more than that.

Jordan Catalano, played by a young Jared Leto pre-makeup/anorexia/weirdness, was the guy every high school girl dreams of, even when they say they don't. He was a bad boy who would break you by looking at you, turn you into a puddle by acknowledging your presence, twist your tongue the minute he said hi to you. To you, he was complex, tortured, and in need of someone who would listen. You could change him, you could show in the way.

Brian Krakow, played by a wild-haired Devon Gummersall, was the geek. He was the boy who pined after you, but who you only used for help with your homework (or, in desperation, to DO your homework for you). He was only as complex, you thought, as the plaid shirt he wore, and he would do anything for you. Because of this, you wanted nothing to do with him, because, what high school girl wants someone who is good for them?

This made total sense to my teenage mind. Who WOULDN'T want Jordan Catalano (and, yes, you always have to say his FULL name. a.l.w.a.y.s.)? And Krakow, he wasn't even cute, though I felt bad when Angela totally dissed him on his bike to go off in the car (swoon) with Jordan Catalano.

Looking back through slightly more "adult" eyes, I can do more than imagine what these two boys are like. Jordan Catalano, while still hot, has turned into the quasi-loser who never went far, selling high-end electronics...impressing you long enough for a session of smooching at the class reunion with the thought that, HA, even though he notices you now, you are so much better than him. While Krakow, he has turned into the one you want. The slightly awkward teen who's turned into a slightly less-awkward adult, still a little shy, but way more successful than even he thought he'd be, and way funnier and more endearing you remember.

Does the bad boy love ever truly fade? Not entirely. There is always that desire to save someone, to take care. But I do think you realize everyone maybe has that bad boy side, even Krakow, and that sometimes the good needs to outweigh the bad.

14 August 2009

This Should Make You Angry

There is a lot of talk these days about the President's health care plan. One of his biggest goals, and, I think, his biggest challenge, is to reform the health care system in the United States.

Necessary? Absolutely. Possible? I hope so. Is this the right plan? I don't know yet.

When Clinton was a candidate, she said that every American should get health care, and that everyone should be able to afford it. I remember thinking to myself, the problem isn't always that we can't afford healthcare, it is that it is denied to us. Take me, for example. I left my job in early 2008, and took a contract position at another company. This meant either no healthcare -- COBRA is way too expensive at over 300$/month-- or getting my own plan. I was relatively healthy, hadn't gone to a doctor but once in a year or so because of an illness (only physicals and the like), and kept most things under control with acupuncture.

I was denied. I was denied because I had marked "yes" to history of headaches, because I had stress in my life, and had once had a prescription of Ambien because I was having trouble sleeping. Therefore, they would not insure me.

I was so angry. Both at myself -- why was I so stupid to TELL THE TRUTH on my history profile -- and at the company...who doesn't have stress?! They couldn't even give me an alternative, or a slightly higher premium? They were just going to leave me flailing.

To me, this is the inherent problem with health care -- that insurance is unregulated and out of control. And this makes me angry. I keep reading stories of people being dropped from their plans, of families not being able to get coverage because of BS reasons.

Then I listened to this episode of This American Life, Fine Print. I recommend you do, too. Fast forward to Act III, where congress discusses health care with some insurance giants. The lack of ethics by these companies will make you angry. It SHOULD make you angry. It should make you want to go out read the health care plan that is circulating through the House and Senate, and then write your representative in agreement, or with another alternative.

I listened to this over a week ago, and I am still angry. Angry on behalf of the woman in the story who was told, a day before her breast cancer surgery that she couldn't have it because she had a skin problem years before that MAY be a pre-existing condition. Angry on behalf of the people you know with insurance who are struggling to pay for care for their own cancer treatments, or their child's rehabilitative care. And angry on behalf of yourself, because it could be you in any of these situations, and you have been lured into safety thinking you have insurance.

This may be one of the most important issues we face during the course of our lifetimes. We'll all get sick. We all deserve the best care. And we all deserve not to go broke to get that care.

11 August 2009

This Time, It was Better

The last time I was in Santa Cruz, or, at least, the last time I remember, things did not go so well. I was there for the Western States Lacrosse tournament, a huge two-day affair. At this tournament, there was also a president's meeting, and, since I was a co-pres at the time, I attended. When I left, I realized I did not have my keys. It was night, everyone was gone, and I had no way to enter the car that was sitting there, all alone, in the parking lot. With all the dirty uniforms in it, no less, because I had committed to doing the laundry at my parent's house.

Keep in mind, this was pre-cell phone days. First I called AAA, thinking I perhaps left the keys in my car. They came, and there were no keys. Then I called my parents, crying, I'm sure, asking if they could please please come pick me up. I wasn't quite sure where I was on campus, so trying to describe this location to my father was tough. Then I told campus police, who monitored the parking lot every once in a while, as I sat in my car, exhausted and crying. My dad finally showed up, I am sure he either yelled at me or didn't speak to me (which was worse), and we headed home.

The next day, I found out that I had left the keys on the table at the tshirt stand. Go figure.

So that was my last experience in Santa Cruz, at least as far as I remember. This time, some friends and I rented a place there for the weekend, with the main point of the weekend being to run the Wharf to Wharf 10K race. Our home for the weekend was just a few blocks from the beach, and we descended upon it with 8 humans and 4 pooches, ranging from 4 to 80+ pounds. We were quite a motley crew!

On Saturday I got up early (shocking, I know) and took Luca for a nice, long walk. I had never been to this part of Santa Cruz -- as children we mainly went to the Boardwalk and surrounding areas -- and it was cool to see all the homes and summer cabins dotting the streets. It was foggy, but I could see the sun breaking on the ocean, which is always a cool thing to see, and one of the things I love about fog. Soon I arrived back, and a little while later, the house began waking up. They cooked breakfast, I made mimosas.

The day was lazy...a trip to the beach, a nap here and there, and then a bike ride to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This was particularly eye-opening...was it always so dirty? And so scary? As we approached, there was a guy being questioned by the police, and then he decided to just take off. How stupid! And, not what you want to see when you are approaching a family hangout. Post-Boardwalk, we headed downtown, and eventually home in the darkness. (Mom, skip this part)...we had two bike lights between four of us, so we rode with one in the front and one in the back, and, let's say we were all grateful we made it back in one piece.

The highlight: seeing a man walking a cat. Yes, walking a cat, with a harness, and on a leash.

Sunday we woke up to a fog covered coastline, and headed down to the start of the race. Shortly after we arrived, the gun sounded, and the 6 of us, along with 14,994 other people took off towards Capitola. It was crowded, but, wow, it was awesome. The fog was tickling the curves of the race, and in front of it stood bands of all kinds. First, there was a drum band of some sort, getting us going with a very peppy beat. Then, right around the bend, a bagpipe troop. Of course, the sounds of bagpipes made me all teary.

At that point, we were going at about an 11 minute/mile pace. Then it was up the hill and around a few bends towards the water. As I was rounding a corner, I saw a familiar face, once I hadn't seen in over 10 years -- my old pal and coworker Pollywog from day camp. A quick stop, hello, and hug to him, and then I sprinted to catch back up with my friends. A sprint, in the middle of a 10K, smart, eh? Again up another hill, and then the first water stop...where I promptly lost my friends.

No clue whether they were in front of or behind me, so I just kept running. Feeling good, and going at a good clip, I listened to even more bands...this time a windpipe trio of middle-aged women, a rock band of middle-aged men, and a punk/emo group of pre-teens. It was so cool. There were new bands every few hundred feet, so there was never a dull moment, or need to put on my headphones. Soon I was at mile 5, nearing the end of my race, and still feeling good! Then, suddenly, I caught a glimpse of my friend's ponytail. Hooray!

Again I sprinted to catch up to them, and finally caught them. At that point, I couldn't slow down. I said hi, chatted a moment, and kept going. I couldn't catch my breath, but there was no way I could stop. Mile 6 rolled around, and I knew I had this one. I wasn't quite sure where the finish was, but soon we were on a downhill, getting our pictures taken for posterity. I was flailing down the hill, trying not to run into people but not succeeding. I couldn't speak to say I'm sorry, couldn't breath, but was determined not to stop. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line with a 1.02 finish.

1 hour, 2 minutes. This means I averaged a 10 minute mile. It also meant I had shaved about 6 minutes off my last best time. I was shocked, and so, so happy.

It's been a few weeks, but I am still thrilled. And, am even more happy that this time, my visit to Santa Cruz was better.

03 August 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Bug!

Today, Luca turns 4!

Now, I know...he's a rescue and thus we're not exactly sure when he was born...but when I got him, they told me he was 1.5 years old. I picked a date 6 months after that and called it his birthday.

It is also a very special day in our family for another reason...the day my parents got married! Happy 35th Anniversary Mom & Dad!!