"Oh, not just one wish. A whole hat full!
"Mary, I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow and the next day and next year and the year after that. I'm gonna shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world! Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum...
"And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields. I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high! I'm gonna build bridges a mile long!"
--Jimmy Stewart as young George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life
Yes, you heard me correctly. We dragged ourselves out of bed at six in the morning on a Saturday, walked to PW Market for a Power Bar and a banana, waited an hour for the sake of digestion, and then began our run from the corner of Vasco and Scenic. The first three miles took us to the base of Brushy Peak, beginning through residential neighborhoods and after that, winding between farms and ranches.
I paused briefly after the second mile to say hello to a beautiful black horse, scratching his nose with one hand and wiping the sweat from my brow with the other. Then I had to hurry to catch up with my sweetie. Every couple of miles we would take a quick walking break, but only for a 100 yards or so before we were at the running again.
Somewhere around mile six, I hit a zone like none I've ever experienced before. My breathing and my heart rate and my stride all evened into a steady thrum. I was gliding down the frontage road near 580 West, eyes on the next turn, about a third of a mile away. I couldn't hear anything, couldn't think about anything. The blankness was a welcome change for me. As we rounded that turn, we slowed to a walk again so that we could refuel for the final mile and a half.
This must all sound very strange, especially those of you who know that I have stuck rigidly to the claim that I am not "a runner" and have never been one. But, much like the way I claimed not to be "a math person" in school as a youngster, I have discovered that such claims are self-defeating. In seventh grade, it wasn't that I wasn't a math person. Rather, math was the one subject which actually challenged me. So, as the easy out, I opted to let myself rely on the vague, deceptive comfort that some people just can't do math, no matter how hard they try (never mind that I wasn't trying terribly hard). And my math struggles were compounded later on because of that early pessimism. Even if I'd wanted to know and enjoy math later, missing the opportunity of building a foundation of mathematical knowledge at the same rate as my peers crippled me for life. Today I still have issues with basic algebra.
What is this tightness at my throat? If I was a man in a gray flannel suit, I'd wait for a particularly intense boardroom meeting and then grasp the knot of the tie at my throat and yank down, wrenching it away from me.
But I'm no man, there's no tie, no noose. And life, really, is grand.
Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize winner, penned a memoir entitled All Over But The Shoutin'. Man, I loved that book. Read it to pieces. Cover to cover until the covers came off, tattered the way teenagers believe real love should leave you.
The stories he weaves are imperfect but impeccable. They are songs of the South, throaty odes to football, fried chicken, even poverty. My favorite part though, is the crimson undercurrent. Bitterness, pride, valor, blood. And the red bird.
As a boy, Bragg watched a red bird fling itself at the rearview mirror of a car. Again and again, smashing its face and body into the glass until a spiderweb of cracks bloomed from the center of the mirror. I can hear the strained sound of splitting glass, feel the heat pulsing above the blacktop like waves of water.
Bragg turned to an old man and asked why the bird acted that way. The old man replied, "I guess it's just its nature."
Nature is a powerful force, heavy handed. Is there any arguing with Nature, her hands on her hips and stomping straight at you?
I imagine the bird finally fell to the asphault, exhausted by the mission it felt was inevitable, bent on its own destruction because it knew no other way. I hope that, after it could no longer see its reflection, it spread its bloody wings and flew away.
Sometimes I dream that bird. I dream it, scarlet feathers and all. I dream its passion and its fury. And I wake from those dreams ready to sprint as far and as fast as possible from any mirror in the world.
That's right. The man is standing at a cutting board chopping ears of corn in half so that they will fit in our smallish pot of water (we don't own a big one). Pork chops are searing on the stove and will soon be whisked into the oven to bake.
I caught a glimps of some kind of bread crumb coating on the chops as they sizzled on the stove, but I didn't dare go closer.
Until tonight, I didn't realize that pork chops could be dipped in bread crumbs and seared. Sad, right?
What I should explain is that I'm not dumb, I just haven't really spent any quality time considering the many possible methods by which I might prepare pork chops. Or steaks. Or chicken breasts. Or anything for that matter.
It Happened One Night, 1934
When you've got somewhere to go, but you ain't got money for a bus fare (or you've been kicked off the bus after threatening to kill somebody... intrigued?), you must hitch hike. If only there was a guide to hitchhiking. Let's ask Clark Gable what to do! Or, better yet, ask Claudette Colbert...
The Best Years of Our Lives
Probably No. 1 on my personal list, though No. 37 on the AFI's list. After the end of WWII, the saga of American GIs and their return to civilianhood was part of everyday life. This phenomenal film follows three men, each from a different military branch, each returning to a different moment on life's timeline. This moment, the 'First Stop' for the men coming home, is one of my favorite parts.
There are many others on the list which I would LOVE to highlight here, but YouTube is sorely lacking clips for some of the better films... Bringing Up Baby, Sullivan's Travels, Yankee Doodle Dandy, All About Eve, etc. But you can find the full version of John Ford's masterpiece The Searchers (probably one of John Wayne's best movies) divided into 13 parts.
Oh, wait, I should add a clip from a movie that may top the Worst 100 Movies of all time, one I should watched again the other night and prompted Jonathan to inquire, "What is the difference, exactly, between this movie and an episode of Scooby Doo?"
Ladies and Gentlemen... and my friends, too... I am excited to present Muscle Beach Party, a spicy 1964 tidbit starring the incomparable Frankie Avalon alongside the voluptuous Annette Funicello. (Beware: It is completely devoid of plot... and the only saving grace is that this film introduced "Little Stevie Wonder.")
To close, I'll leave you with this Frankie Avalon quote:
"I was not a trained actor."
(No kidding. How positively kooky!)
Right. Millions of Cats.
The premise: An elderly couple, slightly lonely, wants to adopt of kitten. Who doesn't? So, the old man goes to pick out a cat from the valley of cats (apparently). And every cat he sees is so cute, just too cute to leave behind. Eventually has has ALL of them following him home. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats. The gray one and the black one and the big one and the spotted one. You get the idea.
Anyway, that's how I am with books. I am a shameless book hussy. I'll read almost anything (as long as it hasn't been recommended by Dr. Hill... haha).
For example, consider my bedside table. I'm fairly certain that there is or was a lamp on it at some point, but it's long been blocked from my view by piles of books. Each one with a different makeshift bookmark or a bent page at some mid-point. Most have scribbled thoughts or smileys or underlines in them, all shades of ink, all impressions of my reading. And I love them all.
At first you may recoil at the sight, succumbing to the childlike fear of ghosts and ghouls and zombies, a reluctant-to-depart spirit haunting the blank, dark pockets which once housed eyes. Then you give yourself a shake. There is nothing to fear, you think, and the thought whirls in your brain, setting the synapses firing and triggering memory and emotion.
It's hard not to remember that the cranium of the object on the table once shielded a brain, too.
This is ridiculous! The thing in front of you is white, lifeless. Ruthless and sharp, perhaps. But dead. Very much dead. And available for study.
So, you move around the skull, taking calculated steps and copious notes. You are overwhelmed by the bones, the sheer number and intricacy of them. Parietal, Occipital, Temporal, Zygomatic. (Zygomatic, you think, is a funny, hardcore word for "cheeks.") Or perhaps the erratic sutures that fuse the back of the skull, winding canyons in the bone, like miniature Amazons and Niles, give you a thrill. Lamdoidal, Saggital.
There is poetry in the orb of the skull. It is the moon rising, the round howl of the Werewolf, simplicity, the egg of conception and birth.
It's the technology they fear. The brightness of my LCD laptop screen, the forensic science, the elegant blood spatter, the alcohol, the senseless banter of an afternoon sitcom. Can you blame my thoughts for curling up in the fetal position on the damp, gray floor of my brain? The world is too much with us these days.
Edward Abbey escaped to the desert. He watched cloud formations for days, let himself melt into the sand and the slabs of red rock until he was one of the crows, the lizards, the cacti. When he sat down to write himself a letter (in preparation for writing his elegy to the Arches of Utah, Desert Solitaire), the simple hum of the generator was enough to disturb his thoughts. Silence was his most effective fuel.