Saturday, April 27, 2013

Random Notes, April 2013

Varying thoughts on current events:

+ The state of South Carolina has a memory as long as their political rhetoric leans right. With that said, the state GOP's nomination of disgraced ex-governor Mark Sanford for a vacated U.S. House seat is more confusing than amnemonic. A recent stunt where Sanford "debated" a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi evoked memories of Clint Eastwood at last year's RNC, and he is failing to gain ground on his opponent, moderate-left Democrat and celebrity sibling Elizabeth Colbert Busch. The anamoly of a liberal congressman in an unabashedly conservative state doesn't seem as much of a reach now. Busch doesn't come across as a rising star, so I would blame her imminent victory on the usual Republican hubris. And they say an elephant never forgets.

+ The unexpected rise in former President Bush's approval rating can be attributed to the passage of time and his relative silence since leaving office four-plus years ago, not a reconsideration of his presidency. Any positive vibes sent toward the opening of his presidential library this past week were based upon goodwill and little else. Just for fun, here's a quick refresher on Bush 43's flawed presidency.

+ Family Update: My father's brain surgery was postponed until May 11th; the surgeon came down with the flu, so it was pushed back three weeks. Here's hoping the growth hasn't spread in the interim. Meanwhile, three months after having her gallbladder removed, my mom seems to have a recurring stomach virus. She was already in the hospital about two weeks ago after having an allergic reaction to her antibiotics, so her medications were switched out. Hopefully, this remedies her situation. Again, please send good vibes.

+ Improv Update: This weekend I'll be finishing Level 4 of the esteemed Second City Conservatory program, with Level 5 beginning next week. For those of you who are in or near Chicago or will be between now and September, I'll keep you posted on future student shows.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

America and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing at my temp job on Monday afternoon. I was nowhere near a TV and my internet connection was the phone in my desk drawer. I overheard someone in an adjacent cube discussing a bombing that only paid half-attention to the gruesome details. It wasn't until my afternoon break that I glanced at my Palm Pre and realized the seriousness of these explosions. The personal achievement of finishing a marathon was tainted by a senseless, cowardly act.

When a tragedy like this occurs, my great irrational fear is that the suspects and conspirators will never be found or captured, like D.B. Cooper or the anthrax guy from late 2001. Within five days one suspect had been gunned down by authorities, while the other was captured after a remarkably quick manhunt. The surviving suspect is breathing through a tube and responding sporadically, but he deserves no sympathy for his agony.

A few days ago, I felt compelled to dedicate my entire blog this week to the marathon bombing.  Unfortunately, the tragedy in Boston proved to be the indirect catalyst of a really terrible week. Two days later, a fertilizer factory combusted in McLennan County, Texas. A day after that, record levels of rain rocked the Midwest, drenching my hometown and turning major streets and parkways into rivers. The gunfight in Watertown, MA on Thursday night --where a campus police officer was slain by one of the Tsarnaev brothers-- brought everything full circle in the most appalling, disheartening way possible. A year's worth of tumultuous events occurred in the span of five days. Here's hoping next week is not so eventful.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Mind Over Matter

Next Friday, my father will be having brain surgery.

It feels surreal and discomforting to write those words, and it goes without saying that this is scary to think about. Granted, my father has never been the model of perfect health --he's been at least 40 pounds overweight for as long as I can remember, he's worn trifocals since his early 30s, and above all he's a pre-diabetic with gout-- but compared to my mother he's always been relatively stable. Where my maternal grandfather was already in a nursing home by age 75, my father will be 76 in October and still has nearly all of his capacities.

To get into specifics: about six weeks ago, my father battled some dizzy spells and complained about some bluriness in his left eye. After a series of tests, a neurologist found a growth about the size of a nickel between his brain and his skull. They caught the growth early, and so far it has not metastasized. There is an 80% chance my father will make a full recovery, though it won't happen overnight. He'll be in the hospital anywhere from five days to a week. I'm probably worrying more than I should, but at the same time there is nothing guaranteed with this procedure.

Friends and relatives are inclined to tell me that I resemble my mother but I think and act like my father. As my parents age their physical flaws become more transparent, and over the last few months I've grown concerned about what maladies will strike me in my old age. I'm already quite nearsighted --nearly all my relatives wear glasses-- and hypertension and bad knees also run in the family. When one of my cousins died of complications from obesity two years ago, I bought a gym membership. When a stage one subluxation was found in my lower back, I started going to a chiropractor on a regular basis. Part of me would like to grow old gracefully.

As with past family medical crises, please send your thoughts and goodwill.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thumbs on the Pulse

In the mid-to-late 1990s, if the Allard family was at home for dinner on a Saturday night, I made sure we watched "Siskel & Ebert." Under the half-hearted protest of my bored younger sister, I habitually watched these two Chicago-bred film critics debate the merits of new movies. I even remember hearing of Gene Siskel's passing less than 30 minutes before their show aired (the show was taped days earlier; Tom Shales filled in). The show soldiered on for another seven or eight years, first with a rotation of other critics --Michael Wilmington, Siskel's successor at the Chicago Tribune, appeared to be drunk in his sole TV appearance-- than with Ebert's Sun-Times cohort Richard Roeper.

Where Siskel and Ebert were rivals that did their best to be as professional as possible on-screen, Roeper and Ebert had more of a mentor/mentee relationship. When Ebert took a medical leave of absence in mid-2006, the same sick leave that resulted in the removal of his jaw, vocal cords, and ability to eat and drink, Roeper was joined by a second parade of guest movie critics. The show languished without Roger, I grew too busy to watch, and eventually Roeper and a still-rehabing Ebert were squeezed out by their own producers. Roeper continues to post clips of his reviews online, and Ebert (with a computerized voice) tried to relaunch his show on PBS, but it wasn't the same. In spite of his physical deformities, Ebert maintained a strong presence in social media, arguing about cinema and current events with fans around the world.

I never had the opportunity to meet Roger Ebert, but I considered him an influence in my writing. If we were ever in the same room I would have shrieked like a fanboy, but now that time has come and gone. My pipe dream of reviewing movies for a living didn't totally pan out, but Ebert made writing a compelling career.  Even if film criticism belongs in its own category, Ebert was a quinessentially Chicagoan writer in the mold of Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and Studs Terkel. He was literate and verbose but never high-strung or patronizing; he was witty without being mean-spirited; he deconstructed art films and popcorn flicks with equal aplomb. Roger Ebert was the face and spirit of modern film criticism and there will never be another one like him.

Other notes:

+ The ten-year anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom went by without much fanfare. In all likelihood, the mere mention of the invasion of Iraq would have reopened old wounds. The debate as to whether invading was justified, long dormant, would rise again as shrill as it was in 2003. I can understand why some people minced words.

I remember the invasion vividly for two reasons. It was the first "cause" that I ever got myself caught up in. Second, it was the first American war to be captured by a 24-hour news cycle gone amok, the three-headed hydra of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News running phrases like "Breaking News" and "Alert" into the ground.

One decade on, the pros and cons of Operation Enduring Freedom nearly negate each other.  The expense of the war contributed to the financial situation that cripples our country right now, and even though we successfully removed Saddam Hussein from power, the "Arab Spring" of 2011 suggested that his downfall could've happened more organically. On the other hand, every war has its casualties, and I am convinced our troops did not die in vain; they fought with unparagoned honor and grace.