Showing posts with label Amy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amy. Show all posts

16 May 2010

Fear Friday

For a variety of reasons, mostly involving neglect, disinterest, and sheer laziness, I do not have TV service at home.

What I do have is a 20-year-old 19-inch TV that I use to watch my DVDs on.

Recently I am thinking that this has got to change.

One of the reasons I can state in two words. Fear Friday.

On many Fridays, I go down to Littleton to spend the afternoon and evening with my stepmother, Amy. We'll do errands and go out to eat, then come home and inevitably watch some TV.

So, these Fridays are my only real TV viewing time for the week. I'm devoted to the rantings on The McLaughlin report. We'll usually watch the local news at 10 pm.

Amy will nod and drift off and fall asleep on one end of the couch as I sit flipping channels on the other. She'll stay dozing there for quite a while before she wakes up just enough to decide to go to bed. She always tells me to stay as long as I like.

I used to leave just shortly after Amy went to bed.

But a few times I stayed and channel-surfed through the dreck of her Utterly Basic Cable, which she got really just so she could continue to receive the local channels. And sometime about a year ago I chanced upon it: Fear Friday.

Of course, as of yet I didn't know what Fear Friday was. Nor did I have any devotion to it. All I knew was that they were showing the original classic Night of the Living Dead, and I couldn't resist watching the last 45 minutes or so of the ur-zombie movie. Then, I noticed, the station followed it with another, highly inferior, zombie flick. I watched just a little bit of that one and hit the road.

But there was something fun about being up in the middle of the night here in the family room at one end of the darkened house while Amy slept at the other end, watching the beloved low-budget film that launched the whole zombie cult. In between the ads I saw AMC's promos for upcoming film series, tied together always with their new slogan "Story Matters Here." And always just before the movie itself was firing up again, the words FEAR FRIDAY jerkily staggering around the screen and finally aligning themselves in lurid black on red. (Or maybe white on red?)

I didn't think anything of it, never crossed my mind, until maybe a couple or three weeks later, when the end of a Friday of errands and dinner with Amy found me once more settling down on the couch to see what a little channel surfing might turn up.

And this time it was both the old and the new versions of The Fly, back-to-back! I got sucked in again, this time just in time to watch the disgusting, unlikely, horrifying and somehow hilarious climax of David Cronenberg's The Fly, with the creature that used to be Jeff Goldblum sliming up his laboratory and Geena Davis, who finally blasts him to pieces with a shotgun. Really a tour-de-force of disturbing imagery, that film! Wow. I either missed or purposely left without seeing the Vincent Price version, which has a few joys of its own.

But Fear Friday had bit me again.

After two or three chance run-ins with the show like this, I began to realize that it was a show. The facts started to coalesce in my brain like so many zombies converging on the big white house where the still-living are holed up.

Fear Friday is a Friday night horror movie festival on AMC. They show two or maybe three horror films in a row, often connected thematically.

Part of the fun of the presentation, for me at least, comes with AMC's plugs for the week's upcoming (non-horror) film series. They throw films together under an umbrella theme, and the little ads feature well-edited film clips of a bunch of disparate movies. The fun lies partly in trying to ldentify all these films from just a shot here and a shot there. And the promos reveal progressively a little more each time. It is a clever promotion. Fun to watch and it keeps you guessing.

So now I knew just what Fear Friday was, and approximately when it comes on. But I wasn't obsessed with it.


I didn't yet look forward to the next Friday night's selection, wonder what they might be showing. I didn't yet talk at length to people at work about it. I hadn't yet even really spoken the words "Fear Friday."

But I would. I would.

In recent weeks, some of the joys offered up by AMC on Fear Friday have been:

Poltergeist - Utterly ridiculous fun which could be described in TV Guide as: "Suburban family is menaced by over-the-top self-indulgent state-of-the-art special effects!" But the film's core and its germ, I'm sure, and its worthy, lasting place in American culture, is that it enshrines the now-lost-but-not-forgotten eerie moment when the TV stations go off in the middle of the night, abandoning you to the existential challenge of snow and white noise. The first thing you hear in Poltergeist is the Star-Spangled Banner, signalling, you soon find out, the horrifying end of another broadcast day.

The Amityville Horror - Creepy film from an older era, before special effects took over. I kept seeing parallels between this evil-house-that-caused-previous-owner-to-kill-his-entire-family film and Stanley Kubrick's masterful The Shining. Was Kubrick. . .or possibly Stephen King. . .influenced by this film? The creepiness here revolves mostly around everyday things, like flies and toilets backing up and unsettled dogs. But these items are put together in odd ways, exaggerated, played up. As in The Shining, one child has an evil imaginary friend. And then there's the great performance by Rod Steiger, as a priest who is brought in to bless the house, and whom the house progressively takes apart, blinds, and ruins. Fun film. Terrible ending.

The Shining - We were sitting there on the couch, Amy and I, when I chanced to tune in to the baseball bat scene in this terrific film. What an amazing scene, in how it develops and how long it goes on, and the escalating dialogue as Jack Nicholson threatens the pleading Shelley Duvall across the lobby, eventually backing her up the stairs as she swipes at the air pathetically, ineffectually with the bat! The scene is sustained for unbelievably long! The actors are so well-matched here, Nicholson sarcastic and terrifying and insane, and Duvall's Wendy beaten down and whimpering but fiercely protecting her son. Jack keeps cajoling her, "Give me the bat, Wendy!" and eventually, she does. She gives it to him. Right in the side of the head.

I appreciated that film more than ever viewing it that night. It is so wildly over-the-top, so fiercely hilarious! I cackle with laughter as Nicholson sails off the deep end!

Then there was the great double-billing of Bram Stoker's Dracula and the original Bela Lugosi classic. This was inspired. The Frances Ford Coppola film, so deliciously lush and visually inventive, contains so many self-conscious hat-tips to its 1931 inspiration. Gary Oldman intones lines that we all know from Bela's delivery of them: "I am Dracula. I bid you wel-come!" Playing the two films back-to-back like this really showed how excellent they both are, and what a worthy successor the Coppola film is to the original.

So now Fear Friday's got me.

I might just have to buy a TV.

08 August 2009

What My Father Said

In December of 2000, my father was in the hospital. He was there for nearly the entire month, accompanied the whole time by his devoted second wife, Amy. I visited nearly every day after work.

Those were to be some of the last weeks of his life.

One afternoon, during this time, my dad said something I will never forget. It was a broken-brained formulation of a short-circuited head, and it was absolutely brilliant.

My dad was living with a couple of kinds of cancer. He had, in fact, been diagnosed with prostate cancer over ten years earlier, so, according to the statistics, he had beat that disease. But, after the bypass surgery he'd managed to avoid for 30 years, with his immune system compromised, things began to pop up. A small mark on his leg, next to the scar where the cardiac surgeons removed the vein, turned out to be melanoma.

What really sent him to the hospital there near the end, though, was a cerebral hemorrhage. He had been driving with Amy one day, when, suddenly as he turned left at an intersection, he complained of being disoriented.

The disorientation continued at home, and eventually he was taken to the hospital.

It took some time to determine the cause of his problem. There were many things going wrong with him at this time. He was actively taking a regimen of chemotherapy for the cancer. And it was a question, should he continue the chemo, now that he was in the hospital for something quite else?

I remember standing by his bed as his oncologist asked this very question. I remember being amazed when Dad confidently and cheerily insisted that the chemo should continue.

At this time, and for weeks, his affect was disarmingly sunny, enthusiastic, attentive, and quite normal. His blue eyes were bright and sharply focused. If anything, he was happier than normal.

He had the TV on in his room most of the times I visited. He loved watching Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And we all viewed with disquiet and jokes and growing alarm the election news that grew stranger and more tangled each day.

For this was December of 2000, and the presidential election of over a month before was still up for grabs. The two sides faced off across an unbridgeable constitutional canyon. New nomenclature clogged the airwaves, tutoring us in the differences between hanging, dimpled, and pregnant chads.

Dad had been a lifelong Republican, but the events of recent years had sometimes severely tested his political faith. He had a hard, pragmatic side much stronger than any mere political affiliation and, in the right circumstances, he'd look toward Washington and label the entire crew there a pack of scoundrels.

I visited him every day, if I could, at least for a short time. Amy, bless her heart forever, was essentially living at the hospital, so that eventually the staff offered her a bed of her own to sleep in so she would not have to crash out every night on the room's recliner.

And for a while it was hard to tell that there was anything really wrong with my father. As I said, he seemed bright and chipper, following conversation and his TV game shows with alertness and seemingly normal humor. And his eye seemed just as jaundiced and cynical as ever when the interminable election news wrangled on and on.

I first discovered that things were not as they should be on one visit when Dad wanted to talk about some household business. As long as I was talking to him, as I said, he seemed at ease and attentive. It was when he had to speak to me that he had problems. Big problems. The concepts were there, but he could not find the words. He would stop in mid-sentence. He'd twist his hands in the air in a frustrated search. He'd hold his head, as if the effort hurt him. If Amy or I prompted him with words ("Treasury bills", "file folders", "interest,") his eyes would light up and he would leap on it, his whole being saying "yes, that's it!" But when he tried to formulate these concepts into words himself, it was a big struggle. There was something terribly wrong.

And he knew there was something terribly wrong, and would express it by saying something like "Oh, I am in big trouble now!" He knew his brain was having problems when it came to finding words, and he was understandably scared.

That his ability to turn ideas and pictures in his head into words was badly impaired became more and more obvious now with each visit. It was especially true in the case of more abstract notions. But even concrete nouns, like the Treasury Bills he was desperate to tell us about, were elusive. As soon as Amy or I supplied the word for him, he would say "Yeah!" with a rising inflection that carried a heartbreaking combination of embarassment and bemused anger at himself: "well of course! I know that. Isn't that obvious!"

The more I visited, day after day, the more I saw that my father's brain was deeply affected by what the doctors by this time labeled a cerebral hemorrhage. His problem with words began to seem simple and easily definable compared to other, stranger manifestations.

For instance, I began to think that Dad's brain was often carrying two concepts together at once in a way that the rest of us would find either an effort of will or a scary intrusion. I thought about those times that our brains are slipping into sleep or rising from sleep to full daytime consciousness that psychologists call hypnagogia or threshold consciousness.

We all have experienced--and might even experience nightly--these strange states of mind. For me, they often overlay or blend two types of thought: first, a mechanical operation, like enumerating, or sorting by colors, or making a list, or the like. But at the same time, the colored beads I am sliding along wires, say, are also people's feelings, or worries about tasks left undone, or maybe things I have to do in a certain order before getting out of bed. I often feel frustrated, sliding those beads around, knowing I can never really get them in the right order.

It began to seem, or I began to imagine, that my father's head as he lay there in his hospital bed, was locked in such a state of double-mindedness. Things he said sometimes pointed toward this. He would connect an abstract concept with a concrete one in an alarming shift.

It was during this time when he came out with a statement that still amazes me and fills me with a strange joy.

I had arrived for my daily visit just on the tail end of Dad's meal time. He still had dessert to come, and wanted to see if he could share some with me. Both Amy and he had ordered pieces of pie, and they quickly decided to offer me a piece, instead. I would get Amy's slice.

"Have a piece of apple pie!" said Dad. The pie had not arrived yet. Amy said it was cherry, not apple.

Up in the corner of the room, the TV news was a tangle of move and counter-move in the election crisis. Recounts proposed and challenged, chads flying every which way, lawyers and politicos squaring off.

Dad was gazing at it and shaking his head.

"Those so-n-sos!" he exclaimed.

An orderly arrived with two pieces of cherry pie in styrofoam bowls.

"What. . .chicanery!" Dad continued. Such an interesting word came out of his mouth. It wasn't one I would think of. I looked closely at him.

Dad made a fuss of offering me some "apple pie," handing me one of the bowls as he held the other. He kept looking back up at the TV while fussing with the pie.

"Apple pie!. . .apple pie!" he urged, pushing it at me.

"Chicanery?" I asked, still delighted with the word.

"Yeah!" said my father, gesturing up at the TV with his fork, "Apple pie chicanery!" And laughed.

I laughed too.

I looked at him with wonder, and laughed! He had come out with this amazing statement, this piece of crack-brained poetry, and it delighted me. But had he known what he had said, really?

As if reading my mind, he repeated, "Yeah! Apple Pie Chicanery!"

It was the last, best thing I heard my father say.

01 November 2008

Halloween Visitors: A List

Spent Halloween at my stepmother Amy's place.

For the first time in many years, I got to see some trick-or-treaters. I even got to give out the candy. I had a blood-red glass bowl filled with a mixture of "fun size" Snickers, Nestle's Crunch, Kit Kats, and Hershey's kisses.

I expected the little little kids to be coming around with their parents quite early, around 4:30 or so. But really, the first visitors, a small girl devil with her demon mother, came by just before 6:30.

The kids started out very small, like the amazing elfin Spiderman I opened the door to find next, and got bigger as the evening's modest parade went on. In the middle were the middle-school kids, too cool to wear costumes (unless those "cool" outfits they were wearing were their costumes!) They got taller and edgier toward the end, like the young man who announced himself as "a dead skateboarder," and who, indeed, had a full-sized skateboard right through his body!

Four days before Election Day, many of the older kids heartily approved of my "Obama/Biden" t-shirt.

For what it's worth, here is the modest list of trick-or-treaters at Amy's house in suburban Littleton:

- 1 small devil (1 accompanying parent)

-1 small Spiderman
-1 spider baby (in mom's chest harness)
-(2 parents)

-2 slightly older cute witches

-3 young teens, 1 dog. (too cool for costumes. small fluffy dog carried like a baby under a blanket)

-2 small Transformers
-1 self-confessed "homicidal murderer"
-1 girl genie
-(1 parent)

-1 dead skateboarder
-1 Jason

-1 female duck
-1 vampiress
(arrived after 9:00, after we had given up and closed the front door)

-7 assorted older teens: vampires, "a black man," hockey goalie, etc.

04 October 2008

Another Spider

Down at Amy's yesterday afternoon.

Standing in her kitchen, I chanced to look out the window. Up under her eaves and silhouetted against the sky I saw a big, dark blob.

A spider. A spider! An amazingly big spider!

If I stood at the right angle and looked at it against the neighbor's house, I could also see the spider's incredibly intricate, large circular web. The web was over a foot in diameter and beautifully constructed. I wondered aloud how long it took this creature to make such a web.

I was thinking back to that other spider, the one on Amy's porch. You may remember, in "The Spider on Amy's Porch," how, in blind ignorance and the stupidity of the moment, I obliterated a jumping spider, Phidippus Audax, using Amy's tiny shoe.

Well, as I stood there looking at this spider, maybe the largest spider I had ever seen "in the wild," it felt like a second chance.

That was, of course, simplistic and unfair, since I had killed that other spider. Nothing would bring that spider back. But this was a second chance for me, at least. I was determined not to make the same mistake. I would not kill this spider. I would not let Amy kill this spider.

Amy was standing there talking about how she used to be tall enough to stand on the back steps and brush off cobwebs under the eaves with a broom. She asked if she should go get a broom.

"Spiders are good, Amy," I said. "They kill a lot of flies." I used this utilitarian argument because Amy does hate the flies, moths, and other bugs that congregate around her front porch light. Also, I didn't want to get into the deeper issues. And besides, Amy understood. She remembered that other spider as much as I did.

But backlit against the afternoon sky, this was one amazing, angular chunk of a spider. As I stood there in awe, Amy said, " Too bad you can't get a picture of it."

This, I think, was Amy's sly way of saying, "Why don't you get a picture of it?"

Of course!! Why not?!

Instead of killing it, this time I could photograph it.

I whipped my new cell phone out of my pocket and tried a few shots. I knew that, whatever kind of pictures I did get, they would have to be severely enlarged to see any detail of the spider at all. So I took a couple pictures, with the spider barely visible as a speck against the sky, right at the center of the frame. I went through the manipulations of blowing them up in the camera.

But, backlit as they were, the pictures came out as dramatic but entirely dark forms, with no detail.

I decided to go out on the back steps, to see what I could see from there.

When I looked up at the spider, I was thrilled! I could see all kinds of detail from this angle.

The spider was not dark at all, but rather beige, as if he was constructed out of old parchment. And he had interesting markings, light and dark dots, all over his legs and his body. Wow!

And how big was he, really? This is a tough question, since I spent lots of time taking pictures of him and later enlarging them to get good big images. I'm guessing his body alone was around half an inch long, and with his legs added he filled up most of an inch, maybe.

In all the time, some ten or fifteen minutes or so, that I spent gazing at the creature, he seemed to be posing for me. He didn't move much, just swaying a little as the afternoon gusts moved his web. I tried picture after picture, knowing that most of them would come out blurry when blown up enough to see the beast. Eventually I braced the cell phone camera against the brick of the house to keep it steady.

That's how I got the picture you see above.

Definitely the biggest spider I have ever seen.

I'll go further than that: It was the best spider experience I have ever had.

30 June 2008

One or Two Porch Time Stories

I was down at Amy's last Friday evening, enjoying some porch time.

She remembered something she wanted to tell me, but didn't remember it exactly, just mostly. It was a question on Jeopardy!, she said. It had to do with presidents and their mothers, specifically their mothers voting for them.

Well, after discussing this for a bit she realized that no, it wasn't Jeopardy!, it was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, since there were 4 choices. Something about a president's mother voting for him. Which one was it?

The answer, as it turned out, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Putting the pieces together then and since, I've figured out that the question was which president was the first president whose mother was eligible to vote for him. And thinking more, I realized, of course, that the basis of the question is women's suffrage. It is difficult to realize that women did not have the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

1920, sheesh!! Sometimes the shameful history of this country just jaw drops me.

When it got too dark out on the porch and time for me to go home anyway, since I worked early the next morning, Amy remembered that she had something for me.

We went inside. Amy went off looking for the item in question. I brought in my water glass and gathered up my stuff, ready to leave.

Then, in a little ceremony in the kitchen, Amy presented me with a battered black book. She said, in fact, that when she saw it on the shelf, she thought it was an old Bible.

It was a holy book of sorts.

It was my father's old crossword puzzle dictionary!

Many an evening in his later years I would see him at the kitchen table working the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, and consulting his precious dictionary and some other books.

And here was this book, now battered, falling apart at the spine and taped up multiple times, pages soft with thumbing and somewhat dirty, and with my dad's additons written in where he considered them lacking.

This was such a special thing for Amy to give me. She knows that I love to do a crossword puzzle or three with Larry after work. And while we might call it "cheating," we will definitely consult sources when the frustration level gets too high.

But much more than that was just the fact of the thing. This book that still held and projected a feeling of my father, that he used every day, that his dirt and his markings decorated and perfumed.

I let the book open in my hands, riffling through it a bit. It opened to page 91.

Page 91 showed the beginning of the alphabetical 'F' lisitings.

There, in column two, my eyes fell on the first entry under 'F'

"F.D.R.'s mother.....................SARA"

10 June 2008

The Spider on Amy's Porch

This past Friday I was sitting on Amy's front porch, enjoying some early summer porch time.

Amy is my 85-year-old stepmother, and since my father's death in 2001, she has slowly woken to the joy to be had by sitting in the cool--or for her more often the hot--of the summer on her very small suburban front porch. This is something she never allowed herself time for when my father was alive.

Amy is a wiry and diminutive Italian Roman Catholic. She is a great observer of people, a shrewd judge of character. She has no good words to say about President Bush. And she keeps her suburban 70s ranch house absolutely immaculate, putting in more work each day than I am capable of in a week.

And, these days, she loves her porch time.

I like it, too.

It is so pleasant to sit out there with a glass of water or iced tea on the circular table between us and just chat and enjoy the day. We can spy and comment on the comings and goings at the perennial garage sale held by her neighbor across the street. We enjoy the calls of house finches and chattering house sparrows issuing from inside the gargantuan blue spruce trees my father planted in the front yard. Robins pouring liquid notes toward evening.

So, there we were just after noon this past Friday. We were chatting away when suddenly I noticed, on the table between us, a spider. Not a black widow, certainly. Not one of those typical little brown spiders you see. No. In the words of Woody Allen, this was a "major spider"!

It was big, hairy, black. It had some white spots on the back of its body. It stood up high from the table, maybe as tall as the thickness of my little finger. Including legs and all it would have fit nicely on top of a quarter. It was horrible and fascinating and utterly beautiful.

I thought.

I pointed it out to Amy and we both watched it walk under the fake flower in a basket on the glass-topped table. It disappeared into the plant.

I thought it odd that a big healthy spider would want to hang out in an artificial flower. Amy worried that it would "make a nest in there." This gave me the image of hundreds, thousands of tiny black hairy spiders flowing like liquid from all sides of the fake flower basket. But no, my mind said. It would never last in there. It would have an aesthetic aversion to the artificial flower. It would come back out.

We continued to enjoy the afternoon and to chat. From time to time the black spider would appear on one of the flower's silk leaves. I would point it out. It would flit back into the darkness between the leaves and disappear.

After some time, Amy decided she had had enough of this visitor to her porch. The spider, not me.

My attitude was that he was not doing anyone any harm.

Besides, I was fascinated with the creature. When he was on the table top, before starting his exploration of the fake flower in the basket, I got a good view of him. I could see these incredible green eyes made of a million facets. And I could see his jaws moving, crunch-crunching.

Ok, ok, I have to admit that this fascination was tinged with unreasoning fear. I wasn't going to let him crawl on my skin, for instance. I was going to keep quite aware of where he was. He was furry and complex and solid and magnificent in his spiderness. He knew what he wanted to be and to do. He was his own spider.

Amy was saying she wanted to kill him. Or "it." At the same time, she didn't really want to, or knew that she really shouldn't kill one of God's creatures. But she knew where to draw the line. She did not want this particular creature in her house. And that was that.

Amy stood up and lifted the basket a few times by its handle and let it drop. But if the spider were still in there, he was clinging tightly.

We forgot the spider for a bit in the pleasure of the afternoon's porch time.

Then it happened all at once.

The spider dropped from the basket onto the table and started crawlling away. He got to the house wall, easily scaling it and crawled along. Toward me.

Amy and I are both on our feet now.

I have my blue bandana out. Amy is behind me.

"Not with your good handkerchief!" she says. "Here, let me get him with my shoe!"

The spider is right on the house's artificial siding in front of me and Amy is holding out her tiny shoe.

The cordless phone starts ringing.

I take Amy's shoe. She answers the phone. It is my brother calling from Germany.

The spider is on the wall in front of me and I take Amy's tiny shoe and smash the plastic sole down on the spider and I feel its body collapse in a crunch. I smash it around to make sure. I take Amy's shoe away and there is a smear of yellowish-brown goo on the wall and some black spider pieces.

I thrust Amy's shoe back at her. She takes it and I sit down hard on my front porch chair. A big sob rips through me. I can't believe what I have done.

I cover my face with my hands like one of the damned.

Amy narrates the whole scene to my brother in Germany. "Jimmy killed a spider for me and now he's upset. I think he's mad at me. Now he's turning his back on me. Uh-oh."

I can't believe it and yet I did it. I did not have to do it and yet I did. That magnificent creature. That powerful, black, scary beast.

My brain says over and over: I killed the spider! I killed the spider! I killed the spider!

I killed it.

EPILOGUE: Having killed this spider, he's got a hold on me. After some internet searching, I think I've found what kind he was. He was, I believe, one of the commonly called Jumping Spiders. In fact, I think he was Phidippus Audax, the Bold or Daring Jumping Spider.

Keep in mind that he was really quite small compared to these pictures. But these convey a bit of the majesty I saw in him.

I now know that the two iridescent green parts I took to be the creature's eyes are actually his mouth parts, known as chelicerae. At the end of these long protuberances are his fangs.