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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Top 10 Movies

In response to fellow blogger Sean's list of top 10 movies (see HERE), here's my own.  Note that the relative order isn't all that important, as they are all really good.

1.  2001: A Space Odessey.  Forget the beginning part; outside of the dawn of man, this is simply a great movie.  The effects still hold up, 50 years later.  The movie also reminds me of the sense of hope and wonder that the space program brought the nation in the late 60's/early 70's, only to be squandered by a lack of vision and funding.  "Open the pod bay doors, Hal." "I'm afraid I can't do that Dave."

2.  Star Wars, Episode IV:  A New Hope.  The original and still the best.  It's still entertaining, even as I've watched it a dozen times.  Terrific in part because of its simplicity; too many of the other Star Wars movies were overly (and needlessly) complex in terms of plot and characters.  "May the force be with you, always."

3.  The Goodbye Girl I love the original movie version, starring Richard Dreyfus (who won an Oscar for his performance).  This movie so reminds me of the 1970's.  I also love the fact that it has a happy ending.  Call it my version of Sleepless in Seattle.  "You were never four and a half, you were born 26."

4.  Aliens.  The second movie of the series, and in my estimation, the best.  Non-stop action, terrific effects and (what we thought was) a happy ending.  The movie is like a freight train charging ahead, and the fact that the lead actor is a bad-ass woman makes it all the better.  As an added bonus, I really dislike the most of the characters played by actor Paul Reiser; in this movie, his Burke character is a great example of why.  "Express elevator to Hell...going down!"

5.  Help!  The best movie as a vehicle for music ever made.  I find it very funny and obviously love the music.  Watch Paul McCartney playing his Hofner bass during the song The Night Before and tell me you're not impressed.  For the record, this is the first of two movies on this list that my wife thinks is, well, stupid.  "You're a failure Scientist!"

6.  Being There.  Funny and touching.  Peter Sellers is simply a genius.  I've read where it was something of a personal crusade on Sellers' part to get this picture made.  If you like Peter Sellers this is a must watch.  "This is just like television only you can see much further."

7.  The GodfatherI'll call this an umbrella listing for both the first and second parts.  This created the modern gangster movie.  Another movie that I can watch again and again.  "You can act like a man!"

8.  Lincoln The word acting doesn't adequately describe what Daniel Day-Lewis did in this movie.  I feel as if I am actually watching Abraham Lincoln on the screen.  This is a profoundly interesting movie.  "Buzzards guts man!  I am the President of the United States of America!  Clothed in immense power!  You will procure me these votes."

9.  Rocky I and II.  Sorry, but another package deal.  Both movies make me feel good.  I'm reasonably sure that Rocky was one of the inspirations behind my late brother Chris wanting to be a boxer.  "He's all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives."

10. Love and Death I know, he married his wife's adopted daughter and is a scumbag as a result.  That noted I love the movie Love and Death.  For the uninitiated, it's a parody of Russian literature.  This is the second movie on this list that my wife thinks is stupid.  "You're the greatest lover I've ever had!" "Well, I practice a lot when I am alone."  

As a bonus, I would add...

11. Virtually Anything with Christopher Walken.  I know, I'm cheating, but we're talking about Christopher Walken.  The guy can make any character interesting, mostly because you always think "that how Christopher Walken really is" when he's on the screen.  From the Deer Hunter to A View to a Kill and countless others.  I'll watch a Walken movie any day.  

As an extra added bonus, I offer the following three movies as examples of "memorable, but too damn disturbing to be a favorite".

1.  A Clockwork OrangeI saw this on HBO when I was in my early teens.  Just what a 13-year-old should never ever be watching"Food alright? Try the wine!" 

2.  Event Horizon A damn scary movie.  In fact, I'd call it the best horror/sci-fi movie ever made by anyone.  "What are you telling me, that this ship is alive?"

3.  The Exorcist.  While the effects seem a bit dated, I defy anyone to, for example, watch the outtake crabwalk scene and not be thoroughly creeped out.  "Your mother's in here Karras..."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Zen and the Art of Bush Removal

When Ms. Rivers and I purchased our current home, along with four bedrooms and one and a half (soon to be two and a half) bathrooms we also got about 60 or so feet of hedges.  Now I thoroughly enjoy yard work, so I thought nothing of keeping the row of edges neatly chopped.  As the years worn on though, bush removal became a thing.

First, there were the rather straggly looking bushes by our Maple tree, toward the back of the property.  The more I looked at them, the more it became apparent they did nothing for anyone.  So off they went.  In that particular case, "off" meant cutting them off to about a foot off the ground then using a pickaxe (technically, I used a Mattock) to dig the roots out.  Sweaty, buggy and incredibly dirty describes the basic process.  I took me about three weeks to take out about 20 feet of disjointed shrubbery.

After that, we basically left a fairly healthy section of hedges intact. 

Then came the realization that having about 40 feet of hedges that were against a 6-foot high privacy fence (belonging to the neighbors) just looked rather stupid.  What to do?  Two words:  Truck + Chains.

Most of the 40 feet of remaining hedge were pulled out by me using a long chain connected to the hitch of my Chevy Silverado.  It's an interesting process to watch.  While it's also a fairly dirty affair, it requires far less effort than slamming away on deep roots using a Mattock.  I'll also cop to the fact that it's, well, kind of fun pulling things out using the truck.  That's the 2.3% of my genetic make-up that "23 and Me" says hails from a not so far off land called "Redneck".

A portion, by the way, of the hedges could not be pulled out via Silverado due to other things being in the way.  That will need to be dug up the old-fashioned way, using grime and determination.  I'm not looking forward to it.

Replacing the hedges will be a series of perennial flowering plants, about 2/3rds of which have yet to be purchased. 

I know, most of what's written above is, well, kind of stupid.  Maybe mildly amusing (the "Redneck" part) at best.  But in an odd sort of way, it's a good backhanded way to describing myself.  I always have to be tinkering with something.  I always need some kind of project in my life, the accomplishment of which is almost always far less interesting than the effort.  It's as if I just can't actually seem to take a weekend and do nothing.  If I did, well, I suspect I'd end up feeling guilty or some similar thought.

Maybe one day my body will simply give out on me, forcing a rest.  I already know I don't have the stamina I once had, even five years ago.  Then I have arthritis in my feet to contend with.  Oh, and let's not forget the fact that flying bugs seem to love me more than my wife and children combined.  Hence, by the way, the newly purchased bug hat...
...which is a great concept, but flawed in the sense that it basically turns your head into a slightly ventilated sweat-steam sauna.  Emphasis on "slightly".  But it does keep the bugs away.

On a final note, I keep thinking that I should write more about politics, after all, someone needs to (since Gort doesn't write much and Andy Palumbo prefers posts about Marywood and Cats).  However, every time I think about it I simply get disgusted.  The President doesn't have this stage he has believers...and that's more sad than interesting.  Try arguing religion with a Mormon missionary and you'll know what I mean.  On a local level, there are just so many times you can write about the incompetence and the Scranton School District, and Scranton Mayor Courtright actually seems to be doing a decent job (Tom Borthwick paid me $5 to write that...just kidding...).  Maybe the fun will come back one day...when my feet really give out on me and I don't have anything else to do.

Monday, June 18, 2018

5 Questions To Ask Your Dad On Fathers Day

I found this interesting article on Fathers Day, the key point being:

* * * * * *

5 Questions To Ask Your Dad On Fathers Day

Father’s Day is the day to celebrate your dad, of course. But this year, it’s also your chance to make it something more. You can use this day to not only celebrate your dad but to also further your connection with him.
  1. What was your favorite thing about your childhood?
  2. What was something you did not like about your childhood?
  3. What were you like when you were 21?
  4. In hindsight, is there anything in life that you didn’t try, but wish you had?
  5. What’s the greatest hope you have for your future?
* * * * * *

Since I got nearly heat-stroked twice over the past two days (mostly by doing stupid things outdoors), now is as good a time as any to take up this (indoor) challenge.

Q:  What was your favorite thing about your childhood?
A:  In hindsight, two things stand out:  1) The fact that the "Albert Boys" were basically a gang in and of ourselves.  I never really appreciated that all that much...or thought about it for that matter...until after my brother Chris passed away.  2) Riding my bike.  I loved riding my bike.  It was liberating and I could do it alone, which for me was a big deal.  While on my bike it felt as if the rest of the world didn't matter.

Q:  What was something you did not like about your childhood?
A:  I really and truly wish I would have had a father.  There was simply so much I missed in that regard, so many things I had to learn in my 20's & 30's that should have been a part of my upbringing.  There were no discussions in my childhood about what a man is supposed to do or be like; I had no template.  Maybe that's why being a Dad is so important to me.

Q:  What were you like when you were 21?
A:  The short answer is stupid.  But that describes many 21-year-olds.  I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life; so many decisions back then I made out of fear...moving away from things instead of moving towards things.  In retrospect though, where I am now is a direct result of where I was then, so while the road may have been long and bumpy, the destination has been worth it.

Q:  In hindsight, is there anything in life that you didn't try, but wish you had?
A:  One of the life lessons I've learned...mostly since my mid-40's to not have regrets.  Those kinds of thoughts serve no purpose.  That noted, if anything, it would have been nice if I were a bit more adventurous when it comes to eating.  I'm sincerely trying to eat new things from time to time, even though, for the most part, it usually doesn't end well.

Q:  What's the greatest hope you have for your future?
A:   My greatest hope for my future is that I can stop running.  It feels like for most of my adult life I have been running.  Running to catch up to people who were being promoted before me at work.  Racing to be a better parent because I felt guilty for not doing or providing enough.  Running headlong to try and help others solve their problems while mostly ignoring my own.  It feels like, maybe, I can now slow down a bit.  It's time to now take in the scenery.  Learn new things.  Worry less.  Read more. 


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018, on the Border

There's a certain irony to the fact that, on Father's Day, the United States is right at this very moment taking innocent children away from their parents.   

Now the Trump supporters I know are good people. None of them, I want to believe, would ever think that taking children away from their parents is in any way a good policy or even morally defensible. None of them could personally participate in this kind of activity. Yet some just seem to buy into the rhetoric coming out of the President's camp; for that, well I feel sorry for them...but not as sorry as I do for the children who are frightened beyond all belief because they simply just want their Mom and Dad.

The fact is this: The President can, right now, simply tell A.G. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to simply STOP doing this. There is no law requiring that children be separated from their parents. Taking children away from their parents (let that sink in...taking children away from their parents) is the result of a choice made by the administration to charge those crossing at the border as criminals, simply by virtue of trying to cross into the United States, instead of as asylum seekers. What's happening now is that these frightened children are being used as pawns to goad Congressional Democrats to fund a border wall. A border wall that is more about the President's legacy and ego than it is about actual border security. 

Yes, children have been weaponized, which is both cruel and wrong.

As I noted in a Facebook posting, I simply don't care about the politics of this issue.  I also don't care whether others disagree with me.  In fact, I'll go one better:  If you disagree with my position on this issue then, well, please don't tell me that, because it will forever change my opinion of you, and not for the better.  Again, I want to believe that all of us can agree that the forcible separation of children from their parents...parents who are simply seeking wrong.  In every circumstance.  

Coming back to my original premise, if you were working on the border, could you take children away from their parents?  I sincerely hope that the answer would be no.

More on this issue can be found HERE.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Week of Degrees

It was what I would call a bad week.  Simply bad.  There was bad news...two suicides of public folks who seemingly had everything going for them.  There were bad body my case a left foot that impeded my ability to walk for much of the week.  There are stressful times at work.  This was one of those weeks where you look back and wonder just how you were able to somehow get by.

I confess to spending more time than I will actually account reading about the late designer Kate Spade.  As noted in another posting (HERE), I had not actually heard of her until this week.  My ability to intellectualize just about anything happening in the world was thrown asunder by the notion that this smart, incredibly successful...both financially and personally...and attractive person would end her life.  It just doesn't make sense, and that bothers me on some deep level.

For the record, I fully understand that mental health issues, in general, don't play well in a purely rational-thought driven world.  Like most feelings, well, they are best simply felt, not intellectually disassembled and analyzed like oh so many parts to a machine.  However, I am personally terrible at the former and pretty good at the later.  Feelings are hard.

By the time the news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide came to light, my ability to try and intellectually understand the intellectually un-understandable had been overloaded.  Too many feelings to understand, too many horrible past memories being dredged up.  It was just too much.

As noted above, I was also facing some physical challenges.  Thanks to a terrific family doctor, the problem with my foot was diagnosed as being an arthritis flair-up.  I had known about having arthritis in my right foot (big toe bones, to be precise), but the left foot was a new one.  The whole thing is a part of the price some of us pay for managing to get this old.  In any event, the foot is actually feeling better.

Adding to the mix is a series of challenges at work.  As I am learning, the notion of control is important to me.  I am at my best when I feel as if I have things under control.  I am at my worst when I feel the opposite.  One of the reasons why I struggle with delegation is because I don't feel comfortable relinquishing control over something.  That's not about the competence of the people I work with (all of whom are extraordinarily competent, for the record); no, that's about how I was raised and the notion that so much of that time in my life left out of control.  Anyway, at work right now there is a lot going on and I simply can't control everything.  It's not humanly possible.  Those two seemingly in conflict things drive my personal anxiety levels to the point where it's no wonder...maybe...that something like arthritis decides to make its presence known.

The seemingly final exclamation mark to my week happened Saturday morning when I had to assist my youngest brother.  He's a wonderful person, but like so many, technologically challenged.  After this past week, I had about...

...patience left.  Technical issues were solved, but it felt as if I had gotten hit by a club.  Again.

Then I came home, and a tube from Villanova Universtiy was waiting by our mailbox.  It was as if somehow I was being reminded that, even in the midst of dark chaos, sometimes good things happen

I had opted out of actually participating in the commencement activities at Villanova.  Despite the urgings of my wife and youngest daughter, I just didn't want to go through all the ceremony, etc.  More than anything else, I was just glad that school was over with and I could spend more time doing the things I enjoy.  "Studying HR stuff" is not one of the things I enjoy.  At age 54, I think I've earned the right to be less encumbered.

I will note that, after actually receiving my degree, I am left wondering "why" and "what's next".  I didn't start my graduate degree with the notion that it would directly benefit that which I laughingly call my career.  No, I think it was more about trying to prove to myself that I was smart enough to do it.  Yes, I do have doubts in that regard from time to time.  Now I have a piece of paper, waiting to be framed, that says those doubt might be wrong.  Sometimes.

Speaking of my piece of paper, I've managed to convince my wife that we should get both of our Master's degrees framed.  Her degree was successfully salvaged from another location last year in a clandestine operation that could be described as "Mission Impossible meets Hoarders".  My wife, being the truly smart person she is, earned her MBA from Wilkes University shortly after earning her Bachelor's degree.  Now I just have to drag her to the framing store and find a place to hang these wonderful documents.

Call it God or call it karma or call it random change.  Whatever it is, sometimes life as a knack for reminding us to keep things in perspective.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I Don't Know Anything About Kate Spade

Reference article HERE.

Prior to a few days ago I had never heard of Kate Spade.  Her brother in law?  Sure.  But the fashion designer?  Not in the least.

Now I am admittedly an idiot when it comes to fashion.  I think the very concept of fashion...that there are these uber-cool folks who can tell you what you should wear and then you'll be ridiculous.  I think the best clothes are the most comfortable.  Enough said.

Kate Spade apparently felt the opposite way about fashion.

That's about the only thing I now know for sure about Kate Spade, well outside of the fact that she apparently committed suicide.

I do know something about suicide; in point of fact, I know too much about suicide.  Not from having attempted it myself, but suffice to say that it's something that's touched my life on more than one occasion.  I know what the family of Kate Spade must be going through, and I can only hope that they eventually find some peace after this horrible event.

This is the part where I am supposed to say that Kate Spade's suicide will hopefully spark a national discussion about mental health, etc.  In today's society though, that discussion, like much of our collective attention span, will likely be short-lived.  

The moral of the story here, to the extent there can be one, is that this isn't about national debates and trendy discussions over Starbucks.  Rather, it's about the gritty reality that each of us has people in our lives who may be suffering, sometimes in silence.  It's about the fact that we all struggle to one extent or another with discussions on the inside, but for some, that inner dialogue takes a decidedly dark turn.  This isn't something that happens "over there" or to "him" or to "her".  This is something can be happening right now to you or to me or to our brother or sister, wife or parent.  Sadly, sometimes we find out about this after the fact.

I don't know the big solution here, and life is only going to get even more complicated; for some, that means the dark inner voice is only going to get louder.  

What I do know is the small solution:  Keep those you care about close.  Let them know you care.  Be the voice that maybe interrupts the decidedly dark inner dialogue in someone's head. 

Sometimes the best solutions come in the smallest packages.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


No matter how I feel, and despite rumors to the contrary, I "feel" a lot, music has this almost magical power to transform me.  I suspect that's true for others.  If it's not true for you, well, you have my sympathy.

Growing up I wasn't exactly surrounded by music.  My Mom had about a dozen vinyl records, a collection that included the soundtrack for West Side Story (I still know most of the words to "Gee, Officer Krupke"1), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Carly Simon's Greatest Hits, Simon and Garfunkle's Greatest Hits, and a few other's I've long since forgotten.  As kids, my brothers and I would seemingly play these albums far more than my Mom ever did.  In fact, I don't ever recall my Mom playing any of these.  To say that my musical pallet was limited is like saying "I think the President may be using tan-in-a-bottle".  Let that last point sink in for a bit.

Further limiting my musical exposure was that fact that I really didn't listen to the radio all that much as a kid, well other than when there was a snowstorm and we would listen to local station WARM(2), hoping that "Scranton School District" would be mentioned.  An outcome of this was the fact that, for much of my childhood, I had no real sense as to what was considered popular music.  Well, in a spirit of complete honesty, I still don't have much of a sense as to what constitutes popular music.  Anway, in grade school, I recall a fellow student having a Kiss sticker on a notebook which I simply stared at one day, trying to figure out just what in the heck I was looking at.  Hindsight being 20/20, well, let's just say I wasn't missing much.

As I grew older I did make some attempts at expanding my musical sensibilities.  Earning money as a kid meant that I could afford to actually purchase music and devices from which said music could be played.  The first album I ever purchased was Parallel Lines by Blondie.  My first 8-track tape was ABBA's Greatest Hits.  While the 8-track thing died out quickly as the 1970's began to come to an end, I did end up buying a lot more albums over the years.  I'll note there was also an attempt on my part, through my junior high school education, to learn to play an instrument.  In my case, the instrument was the French Horn, and I failed miserably.  As in I was horrible.  As in the sounds I produced from the instrument bore no resemblance to actual music.  As I literally didn't know what I was doing.  How bad was I?  Well, I was so bad that I was taken off of the brass and moved to percussion, where I was better to handle the more basic instruction of "bang it now".  Ironically, all these years later I have a sister-in-law who plays the French Horn in an orchestra, providing me with an opportunity to hear what the instrument is supposed to sound like when one actually knows what one is doing.

Throughout adulthood, from young to "fast approaching older", I've found that music became more important to me.  While methods and modes of delivery have changed...yesterdays 8-track tapes that were replaced by vinyl albums have now been replaced by digital files(3)...I couldn't ever see my life without music.  In fact, I almost always have a song tucked away in the back of my head, a kind song of the day if you will.

My adult musical tastes run the gamut of styles and time-frames, and I'm constantly adding new songs.  While there are songs I've probably played on a few times, there are many that I play often.  I don't think that I have favorite songs, as that implies some kind of ranking system that I just don't think should apply to something like art.  If I were to pick one or two that seem to have a special meaning for me, I'd list the following:

Regarding #9 Dream, I read an interview with John Lennon where he noted that this song had no particular meaning, other than the fact that it was based, in part, on an actual dream.  For me?  The song just simply blows me away.  I consider it be beautiful and deep in a way I really can't explain.

As for Goodbye Girl, well, I just happen to think it's an incredibly beautiful song.  Simple and yet for me evocative.  David Gates is incredible...a highly under-rated songwriter and performer.  It was also part of a terrific movie(4).

So, that's music.  May all of us enjoy a wonderful soundtrack for our lives.

* * * * * *

(1) In case you are curious, click HERE.

(2) You can find a blog dedicated to WARM Radio HERE.

(3) I have over 2,328 songs in my digital music collection; I say "over" because I'm not counting those that are just on the Amazon cloud (and I'm simply too lazy to count them at the moment).

(4) Details HERE.  Richard Dryfuss  won an academy award for his work in the movie.