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Adventures in "It takes a village"

THE KID IS OKAY. There, a disclaimer so there's no suspense:

Earlier, I was at the coffee shop across from Mt. Scott Park and Community Center, chatting with someone who works there when she looked out the window and said "Toddler! Toddler!" A toddler was on his own on the sidewalk, walking towards the intersection of 72nd and Harold Street. I and other people sprang into action: I jogged to that side of the road; someone in an SUV slowed down then stopped on Harold, so no one headed eastbound could sneak up on the kid. The kid, luckily, stayed on the sidewalk and then turned back toward the community center. I stayed near him, trying not to spook him, and was relieved when he opened a door to go into the center. "Need help with that?" I called ahead. More good luck: a friend of his mother was inside. She recognized him and told him "Looking for your mom? Let's find your mom." She walked with him back out into the park, where his mom was relieved to see him. He'd gotten away from her: "I thought he'd go left, he went right," his mom said.

Team effort! And we were able to make sure the kid was okay.
Since my shoes are new, I've been breaking them in, i.e. walking as much as I usually do anyway but hoping that the shoes are getting used to their job on my feet. (You know I walk a lot.) I'd been noticing that, unlike when I got then, they seemed not to fit as well as I'd like.

Recent thought I really had:

Oh, yeah, Chris, you were tying the shoelaces too tight.

GUESS WHAT FIT BETTER NOW.

Layers of time

I visited parts of Portland yesterday that I hadn't been to in years. It was a beautiful, comfortable day, good for a walk, so I committed to that: first a walk to and through the Woodstock neighborhood, then boarding the bus in front of Reed College, riding the bus through the Moreland and Brooklyn neighborhoods (including past the apartment building where I lived from 2002 to 2014) and across the Ross Island Bridge into SW.

I got off the bus at Portland State University. I did one class there for one term, in fall 1996, to earn one last credit I needed to officially graduate college. I didn't really connect to the campus, back then. I wandered it yesterday, getting to some unexpected corners (like the greenhouse on the southwest edge of campus) and wondering what was there that I'd missed back then and what's been added in the 20-plus years since that term. I peeked into the Peter Stott Center, the basketball arena that was there back then (built 1966) but recently remodeled.

After some time at the Central Branch Library (built 1913, hugely remodeled 1997), where I got online and where I also picked up the books The Season (William Goldman's non-fiction account of Broadway in the late 1960s) and Anne Brönte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I walked again, backtracking slightly to the Goose Hollow neighborhood. I poked my head into the longtime restaurant Goose Hollow Inn (owned by Bud Clark, Portland's mayor in the Eighties, since 1967), then went around the block to go past the house on SW Madison where, if my information is correct, my Grandma Jean lived in her youth. That house was built in 1906. There's a park block across from it; I thought It probably wasn't a park block when Jean lived there. What's been at that spot?

Nearby at Providence Park (originally Multnomah Field in 1893, becoming Multnomah Stadium in 1926, then Civic Stadium, PGE Park and Jeld-Wen Field before getting its current name in 2014), the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer were preparing for their game against the NYCFC (New York City Football Club), and I went by to soak up the ambience of 20,000 soccer fans preparing for, they hoped, a beautiful game on a beautiful day. I didn't have a ticket, but I will again one of these days. Instead I zig-zagged through downtown, got on another bus, and rode it to Beulahland (opened in 1997, four years before I became a Portland resident) to watch the game on TV. After that (yay 3-0 win for the Timbers!), I walked over to the Hawthorne Fred Meyer (at its current location since the 1950s) to buy groceries before heading home.

I was trying to feel the history in Portland. There's a reasonable amount of it, by Western U.S. standards.

Another Spring

Eventually, I called it "my Trial By Water."

In September 1992, I flew from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles Airport to Portland, stayed briefly with grandparents, then rode with my stuff down to Eugene to begin my first term at the University of Oregon. Plenty was in my future at that point — like voting for the first time and my almost immediate First College Crush, on a fellow dorm mate named Lori (nothing happened, I never asked her out and she dated someone else in the dorm and the day in spring '93 when I figured out that nothing would happen beyond her and I being friends is its own story) — and that included winter. As I closed out that first term, then flew to Virginia for Christmas and came back to Oregon for the next term, the weather started to turn. To turn, specifically, rainy.

I mean rainy.

No, I mean rainy.

Winter 1992-93 in northwestern Oregon was, even by northwestern Oregon standards, wet. It was thick-clouded, so it seemed darker than usual, too. I walked and bicycled around campus and, to an extent, Eugene, bundling myself well to keep from getting too wet. Occasionally I wore boots, feeling like the assassins walking in their magnetic boots through the disabled Klingon ship in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. (I wasn't used to wearing boots.)

So. Wet and cold. I'd gotten used to the often bone-dry winters Virginia can have, where there's so little moisture relative to the rest of the year that snowfall was only rarely an issue. (If Virginia had as much moisture in the air during the winter as it has in its humid summers, snow would regularly be a few feet, not a few inches, deep.) Before that, I'd lived in Southern California, where winter is sometimes just a rumor. And that winter in Eugene felt long. Longer than it really was.

When we started to climb into spring in 1993, I quietly rejoiced. Finally. FINALLY. And I told myself That was a wetter winter than normal. If I can handle that, I can handle Oregon. That's been true. And in 1993-94, when it was a much drier winter in northwestern Oregon than normal, I knew it and felt it.

This week, though winter here (relative to this winter in other parts of the country). Portland finally started to feel consistently like it's reached spring. Thank goodness.

Where I've been

First, an update: I didn't get the job I interviewed for last week. (It was a file clerk position for a law firm downtown.)

So I'm still looking, and, meanwhile, still eating, still reading, and still trying to get out.

That included going out Wednesday, starting in the afternoon and going into the night. It was a comfortable day, too, finally (FINALLY) starting to warm up and stay sunny. I visited two of the comics shops I frequent, first Books With Pictures on SE Division and Bridge City Comics on N Mississippi.

Bridge City that evening hosted a signing for a new graphic novel called My Boyfriend is a Bear; local artist Cat Farris*, whom I'm acquainted with, drew, colored, and painted the book for author Pamela Ribon. I'm looking forward to reading this: people I trust say it's a surprising and gentle comedy-drama, with a touch of satire on modern dating, because the main character is a woman who falls for a brown bear. A bunch of people attended the signing, AS YOU HOPE PEOPLE DO, giving Farris support. (At the same time Farris and the book's publisher, Oni Press here in Portland, were dealing with a Diamond distribution snafu that kept other comic book shops from getting My Boyfriend is a Bear Wednesday as they were supposed to; that is frustrating, and won't be rectified until early next month. The book has gotten to bookstores like Powell's and Barnes & Noble, however, as different companies handle bookstore distribution.) An enthusiastic group in an enthusiastic store — meaning, the people who own and run Bridge City Comics are enthusiastic. A good group; a good reason to get out.

After that, I had dinner at a new ramen place (plus a couple of pieces of sushi; I hadn't had sushi in a while; mmmm) then, wanting to get more use from the TriMet day pass, bussed and MAXed over to the Glisan St. Fred Meyer to get a few basic groceries.



* Farris has also contributed to Disney's Moana and the forthcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet. Her husband and fellow artist Ron Chan does the Dark Horse comic Plants Vs. Zombies.

Short, and worth saying:

Things will work out.

One way or another, things will work out.

I remind myself of this sometimes.

It's a moment.

I'm here.

I'm, as always, thinking.

What I'm thinking isn't leading to thoughts I want to write in the blog.

But, at least, I can say: I'm here.

I got my money's worth out of the bus.

Thursday, I knew I'd be using a TriMet day pass. I wanted to be sure I made it count.

A $2.50 pass gets you two-and-a-half hours to board buses or MAX trains; a $5 pass gets you a full day of it. On and off, I rode buses from morning to night.

The big reason to ride them was to get to a job interview — I feel like saying too much about the interview might jinx things, sorry I'm being superstitious — that afternoon. So first, I took a bus in the morning to the 82nd and Powell Tik Tok; I'd been in the mood for a breakfast steak, and I wanted to get the day off to a good start. Maybe it'll be a good luck steak, I thought. So I had my diner breakfast, reading Dashiell Hammett while doing it (Red Harvest, his first novel), then I bussed home.

Later I changed into dressier clothes and headed out again, this time to downtown (umbrella in hand because rain was sporadic, and I'd rather not get drenched while in the nicer clothes). I hung out at [downtown building — maybe I'll be more specific later] then went up for my interview. We'll see what results.

Not on a set schedule after that, I wandered downtown. I happened past the Oregon Historical Society and for the first time attended: Multnomah County residents get free admission. I skimmed the museum; I appreciated the museum, and though I didn't look too deeply in there I know I can come back and look more. Then I spent time at the Central Branch of the library, as I often do, then headed back to the house.

It was night by the time I headed out again: one reusable bag's worth of groceries from the Hawthorne Fred Meyer. I timed my trip so that I wouldn't have to, say, wait an hour for the return bus; as the inbound bus neared SE Cesár Chavez and Hawthorne, I called the TriMet tracker to see when the next outbound buses would get to that intersection. One was due in 4 minutes (obviously I'm not taking that one), one was due in 27 minutes. I had my window, and my (short) shopping list. Getting that done felt like an accomplishment.

Today, I'm off to a slow start. I didn't sleep well last night, so I'm easing into the day. I probably won't need to use the bus today, but I have fare in case I do...
Here's a change. Change is inevitable, right?

The Laurelhurst, a 1920s-era movie house that became a second-run/repertory theater in 2000, is going back to being a first-run theater. The owners, who restored the theater 19 years ago, crunched the numbers and recently announced Our attendance has dropped for six years, and with more films being released for home viewing sooner than we can get them second-run, we're likely to lose more viewers without a change. Tomorrow will be the first day since one in 1979 that the Laurelhurst will show anything that's still first-run. (The first week's films are The Death of Stalin, A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs, and Chappaquidick.)

Ticket prices are up starting tomorrow, too, no longer $4 for evening shows or $3 for matinees, though they're competitive with Portland's other independent first-run theaters and definitely better than multiplex prices (with $6 matinees and a "Terrific Tuesday" plan where all screenings are $6). The owners have said they're committed to keeping concessions reasonable, and I'm glad: it's good food and drink, decently priced. They also hope to return soon to holding repertory screenings again, though the prices would have to be the same as for first-run films.

The Laurelhurst has been a comfortable, reliable place for me since I first visited in fall 2000, before I'd even moved here. I drove out from Dundee to the airport to sit with cousins about to fly out — back before 9/11 when people who weren't flying could go farther into airports — then drove back into town to try a revival showing of Wes Anderson's 1996 feature debut Bottle Rocket. That was the first of — I checked — at least 54 films I've seen there. The last two, on the same day recently, were Pixar's Coco followed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Also, in early 2002, the Laurelhurst opened one of its largest auditoriums for free so people could watch Super Bowl XXXVI. With beer and pizza, of course, the theater still needs to make money.

I've always liked its decor, some of it goofy like the painting of the owners as Bob and Doug McKenzie saying "Good movie, eh?" Vintage posters cover the tables in front. The chalkboard signs announcing each film are cleverly drawn. There's a disco ball. A cardboard standee of Leonard Nimoy as Spock, I recently noticed, looks out from one projection booth. I don't know this firsthand, of course, but recently the woman's restroom got a chandelier. There's still a ticket booth, basic by early-20th-century movie theater standards but still a special vault where someone gives you your ticket. And neon: nice, nice neon.

How will the Laurelhurst feel to me when I go there next? (It's my blog, I'm allowed to make this About Me.) Maybe not that different, I kind of hope. It could still feel scrappy and eccentric, especially since it's owned by two guys, not a corporation. Corporate-owned movie theaters can still be eclectic, well-run and worth visiting simply as A Place To Experience...

...but, speaking of places like that, I keep thinking about The Bagdad. I also first went to that McMenamins-owned theater in 2000, when it was a second-run/revival screening place (I first saw the South Park movie). And the Bagdad was really eclectic in both the older films it booked and its non-movie events: comedy shows, author talks, special football games, the Atomic Arts troupe performing one-night-only stage versions of their wonderful Trek in the Park shows, and — especially this — the Cort Webber- and Bobby Roberts-hosted TV show screenings and late-night films that were a big part of my life from 2007 to 2012. A Battlestar Galactica showing with special guest writer Mark Verheiden; another BSG with special guest actor Katee Sackhoff (where a cute young woman dressed like Sackhoff's Starbuck told her "You're frackin' hot, So Say We All"); viewers losing their minds over the final episodes of Lost; 600 people hooting, cheering and clapping when we all saw the first Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice ad, one of the best reactions I've ever seen to a commercial; and dozens of movies, revisited with audiences both raucous and respectful. Since 2013, the Bagdad's also been first-run. This cut down on special events there. The crowd is far different. I'm simply not as drawn to it, and as it's a place I used to attend over a dozen times a year, I miss that. The Bagdad is still great, with a larger screen than before and better sound than it used to have, but...it's now less likely to happily surprise me.

The Laurelhurst still could. I will still support it. I want to help it stay around and stay interesting.

Recently, as a memory exercise, I made the following list. It's an as-complete-as-possible list of each film I've seen at the Laurelhurst. I may be missing some. This seems like a good time to share it, just before the theater changes...at least changes a bit.

Here is that list.Collapse )

Tags:

Look out below! (A moment while walking)

During that walk to start breaking in my new pair of shoes, I reached Kern Park. It's between SE 66th and 67th, and right off of Center. I heard a noise I'm still getting used to: the noise from drone engines, because a drone hit the pavement in the SE Center-67th intersection. A driver stopped when she saw the crashed drone, then she carefully steered around it. As she drove away to the north, I stood in the intersection, checking that no other cars were on their way. The man who'd been piloting the drone while also running his dog walked over, climbed over the park fence, and thanked me for standing vigil, as it were. He also apologized for flying it while also playing out for his dog: that was probably Too Much Multitasking, I'm guessing. He picked it up and returned to the park and his dog.

This is the closest I've come to getting dive-bombed by a drone.

Nu Shooz

I wear out shoes. I wear out almost anything I put on my feet. In the past two years I literally taped my slippers shut when their fronts split open. Eventually I threw out those slippers and replaced them with a retired pair of hard shoes, retired because one shoe had a small hole in it. The boots I had until recently — you don't want to know, but they're gone.

In late 2016 I bought what were my most recent pair of hard shoes. They weren't particularly good shoes and were slightly too small (though at least they were relatively cheap), but they served. But recently the fronts of those shoes opened, too. My long walk on Thursday made it clear they needed to be retired.

On Monday, I got nu shooz. I am doing my due diligence as a Portlander by calling them Nu Shooz. (Remember Nu Shooz? They're still around!) Another relatively cheap pair of dark, hard shoes, to serve for now.

Yesterday afternoon, after clouds broke and rain in town had stopped, I took my first long walk in the new shoes, to start to break them in. Foster up to Powell then to a park between Powell and Holgate, where I sat and read while people ran their dogs, then back to the house. I feel slightly taller. Also, as I'd been doing with limited success with the just-retired hard shoes, I stayed very conscious of how I walked. If I'm not careful, I walk on the insides of my feet, which wears down my soles until the shoes slope inward. Ideally I'd get shoe inserts to counteract that, as I once got many pairs of shoes ago, but that will probably wait for the next pairs of shoes.

I'll never be a shoe-horse, collecting many pairs, but it's good to have a variety of shoes and boots. The rule of thumb I once heard is to have at least three pairs of day-to-day shoes that you rotate use of; it gives the shoes more time to air out and they ultimately last longer than if you'd bought each pair one at a time. And one thing I've discovered this decade: I do like wearing boots, on top of boots being useful for the amount of walking I do and the weather my part of Oregon gets.

Anyway, nu shooz. Nu Shooz. NU SHOOZ.

Today was better than that.

A lot of my days lately have been odd. Weird. Things can feel a little "off." Today I'm waiting for something to happen that I thought would happen today, and if doesn't happen tomorrow morning, I'll email someone to say Hi, [x] was supposed to happen so... This is a potentially good thing, though for now I'll be vague. Sorry.

This afternoon, while thinking about [x], I ran errands (mailing off a bill and buying an emergency pair of shoes) at Eastport Plaza on SE 82nd. Since I was out, I went out to early dinner, at a place across 82nd called Gyro House. I'd eaten in this building once before, over 13 years ago, when it was a Quizno's sub shop.

I got thinking about that day, because I remember it well. It was in late October 2004, and that day was challenging and frustrating, and it ended with a phone message that I cried about. The message waiting for me when I got home that night was from my then-temp agency, telling me I was fired from a job that was supposed to last for three months. I'd been at that job, at a small call center in Milwaukie, for three days.

Before getting home to that message, here's how that day in 2004 had gone: I'd driven to the call center for what I didn't know would be my last day there, then drove home, then headed to the bus to run an errand. My parents had flown that day to start a vacation, and they'd arranged for me to pick up their car at PDX and hold onto it while they were away.

I did a stupid thing on that errand. Back then, TriMet had a zone system; my transit pass let me travel in two zones, basically the core of the Metro area, and I needed to upgrade to a 3-Zone trip to go to PDX. Stupidly, I didn't, even though all I'd needed to do was pay a little more when boarding the bus I'd taken at the start. Penny-wise, pound-foolish, because I was almost caught by TriMet employees who were checking fares on a Max train I'd boarded. They boarded at Gateway Transit Center. Sheepishly, I stepped off the train at the Parkrose station before those employees had reached me to check my fare, and there I bought a full 3-Zone fare. If I'd been caught, I would have had to pay a large fine, and it would have been entirely my fault. So I wasn't happy with myself.

The day got more frustrating. After picking up the car and heading for home in heavy night traffic, I almost got sideswiped by another car. I didn't, but it was close. And I stopped for dinner at the aforementioned Quizno's, and here's why that was frustrating: a family was loudly complaining to the owner about how badly they'd been treated at the shop and that they would get in touch with Quizno's management. The shop owner was, to his credit, staying patient as the family harangued him, loudly and sarcastically, while I kept my head down and ate my sandwich. Oy.

At least with food in me, I then got home. To that message. And, low on cope right then, I cried. It was another frustration in what had been, overall, a frustrating year. (Back at the start of 2004, dealing with both a death in my family and getting downsized from the job I'd had since 2001, I was having such trouble sleeping that I went for a checkup. Diagnosis: stress, doing weird things to my body. Otherwise I was healthy. I briefly took prescription sleep aids. That's its own story.)

I am very glad that today's visit to that same building, to once again eat, went better. And that today, even being weird, was better than That Day in 2004.

It always can be better.

Let the Sunshine Win

...I'm writing this mainly so I can use that title.

Weather in Western Oregon was, over the weekend, dramatic. High wind. Lots of rain. Especially on the Coast, though I wasn't there (but I know someone who is, and is having a blast. Metaphorically speaking. Metaphorical). Wind *can* get plenty strong over the Pacific, huh?

The rain ended in Portland yesterday, for now (FOR NOW), so I got outside for a bit (taking this set of pictures), but the clouds didn't seriously break until late afternoon. When I was in my bedroom, doors closed and window shade drawn, finally watching last week's amazing live TV performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. My bedroom is near the west side of the house, and when a door opened (passive voice intentional: I don't write about who else lives here without them giving their OK), and more sunlight than I'd expected came in through the crack under one of my doors.

Oh, there's sun? I thought.

And I paused the show to get up and confirm that yes, we were getting a clear sunset, which was nice.

It's sunny today in Portland after a cloudy start. The rain will be back tomorrow, though, so, in the meantime, if I want sun, I CAN GET OUT IN IT.

A cocooned day

I was a little surprised how tired I was.

Even considering I'd covered a lot of ground, literally, on Thursday — walked from home to the Hawthorne Bridge and downtown, going to a restaurant I like called Bridge City Café, getting online at the Central Library, quickly ducking into Target and then Powell's Books, then spending a few hours at an art show for an artist I know before bussing home (stopping along the way at Fred Meyer to pick up the DVD of The Last Jedi) — I felt more tired on Friday than I'd expected to feel. I planned vaguely to get out during the day, for a walk or a coffee shop visit, but as the day got later I felt less inclined. I rested, read, and heard music instead. And, still, tired. On a quiet day when no one else was home, so I could simply be by myself.

(I rent a room in a house, from the owners, who live here as well. I don't blog about anything related to them or the house: I told myself that I'd only do so if I got permission from both of them to bring up anything particular here. I've yet to do so. Don't ask for anything more specific.)

I should have gotten out. Friday was a comfortable, sunny day, almost warm. Today is going to be, um, wilder: lots of rain on and off and A LOT of wind, also on and off. Just now I stepped away from my tablet for a moment to watch and appreciate a cloud break letting some sunshine in for us. Nice.

Was Friday too easy an "easy day"? Maybe. It meant I didn't get out when it would have been easy to do so.

Sometimes I cocoon. I know this. Sometimes it's an effort to get out. I know this. I still can. Ideally, by the next time I blog, I'll have gotten out.

A Lap Whale

I wanted to preserve this image.

At one point in last night's dream, I was standing in shallow water — warm water, thankfully — holding and massaging a very small whale. A baby gray whale. Far smaller than baby gray whales are at birth: they're born at 12 to 14 feet in length, on their way to reaching 44 to 50 feet when fully grown. But this impossible whale stayed in the water next to me, letting me massage and, apparently, help it. The baby trusted me; presumably its mother trusted me.

I felt relieved.

Tags:

The chutzpah

I walk carefully. I'd better: I do it a lot, there's eventually traffic, and there are lots of potential ways to get hurt or killed while walking. I'm vigilant. Occasionally over-vigilant: I'll think things like what if a car goes the wrong way, or drives onto the sidewalk, or (I'm only slightly exaggerating here) falls from the sky? Situational awareness. I have it.

So I'm still shaking my head at the guy I saw yesterday at SE 52nd and Woodstock, waiting to cross 52nd then just thinking fuck it and crossing against traffic, causing a southbound car driver to honk at him and, I noticed, his dog (his unleashed dog) and acting like the driver was doing the wrong thing, when DUDE. YOU STEPPED INTO TRAFFIC.

I have a huge certainty that if I'd done that, I wouldn't be here typing this blog entry.

To add a walloping dollop of WTF to this, the guy walked towards me and held out his hand, where he had what looked like the tip of a ballpoint pen, talking to me about how it was a bullet point. Or maybe he said it could be made into a bullet point, I'm not sure. I said in reply, "That's from a pen." And then I said, again, "That's from a pen." And then I started avoiding him and his dog, though luckily they continued down Woodstock, the way I'd come. And I got away.

A sky, easier to handle

Today was hazy. Different amounts of clouds layered Portland, varying the amount of light the city was getting. Not much blue, but also the clouds mostly were thin enough to leave the sun only somewhat diffused, making its presence known through the haze.

This morning I looked eastward at that haze-filtered sun, and thanked the haze for not being a haze caused by smoke.

So it made me think of last September's fires. The leaden, wrong-colored skies we lived with for days and days, due to too much of the Columbia River Gorge burning. The smells, the difficulty breathing: none of that is here now. I am relieved about that.

It turned out to be good walking weather. This afternoon I walked to the Woodstock neighborhood and then to the south of it before heading back to Woodstock, reading Patton Oswalt's second memoir Silver Screen Fiend. I also made two trips to the Woodstock library, for some indoor sitting-and-reading time, plus some time online.

And all in clear, clean air. This is a gift.
In 2001: a Space Odyssey, we never see aliens.

There was a chance we would. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, over the course of the four years they spent creating the story, considered having an alien character interact with the man-apes on prehistoric Earth: Clarke wrote a draft of the novel with one. Carl Sagan said that Kubrick and Clarke asked his opinion on depicting aliens; Sagan said that would be a bad idea, because the aliens you're imagining would likely have evolved so differently from us that we might not even recognize them as living creatures.. (Notice that neither his novel nor the film Contact ever show an alien.) The slit-screen effects used to create the Stargate in the sequence "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" were also used in tests to create patterns that might look like aliens; this was nixed. In the last year of production, as another test, Kubrick had dancer Douglas Richter move and contort in a dot-covered suit in front of a dot-filled backdrop, thinking that maybe the footage could be manipulated to look like something alien and alive, but it looked ridiculous.

So. No aliens on-screen in that movie. Except for fellow geeks I've known who apparently know the film better than Kubrick and Clarke did.

Years ago, I mentioned online that I'd had a dream involving 2001 where my dream-self had been told There's an alien in it if you know where to look. My dream-self saw one, but clearly a fake, pictured on a monitor on the space station. My dream-self was disappointed. I mentioned the dream, and someone replied There are aliens you see, though. Really. Here.


He pointed out that shot, from the Stargate sequence. The shapes in the upper half of the shot? Aliens.

Except no. THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED THE FRICKIN' FILM SAID "no aliens." (That's in lower case because they almost certainly didn't yell.) They said so repeatedly, in many venues, whenever it came up. But considering that people think Kubrick faked the moon landings, a conspiracy that only works if something like one million Americans were in on it and never ever spilled the beans, Kubrick and Clarke's word wouldn't be good enough, right?

How often are we completely certain we are right when we're wrong? My fellow geeks can be really, really bad about that. (I'm focusing on geeks at the moment because I've had plenty of experience as one.) People: AMBIGUITY IS OFTEN NOT A BAD THING. We can interpret what those shapes might be; Kubrick and Clarke didn't mind that. But, focus on the "might."

We don't need to explain everything.

We don't need to codify everything.

We don't need to be certain about everything.

It can be tempting to want to; we like Knowing Stuff. We like Having Special Knowledge ("What you DIDN'T KNOW about the Back to the Future pine trees!"). We like Pontificating. We like interpreting, and we like being right, even though "interpreting" and "being right" are separate goals. At most, they overlap a bit, Venn-like.

It's easy to convince ourselves we're right. Probably too easy.

...maybe those nonexistent aliens in 2001 know what's right.

"Dune"

A much better audience. Thank everything, I had a better audience at the Academy Theater's Friday matinee showing of the 1984 film Dune than I had at the Tuesday night Flash Gordon at the same place. Dune would be easy to ruin with a bad audience; the film might baffle even good audiences. It was a notorious flop upon release, rumored to be hugely over-budget, partly aimed at a younger audience that almost certainly would not have understood it (toys? ACTIVITY BOOKS?), and is at times bonkers.

But I was grinning and/or in awe for much of the film, as I finally saw it on the big screen after first seeing it on cable in the later Eighties. Turns out Dune was the second David Lynch work I'd seen, and the first I'd known to be his; years before on cable, I'd run into his earlier film The Elephant Man, back when I was too young to recognize a filmmaker name that wasn't George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. Speaking of Lucas, Lynch had turned down directing Return of the Jedi to write and direct Dune, distilling Frank Herbert's huge science fiction novel. Herbert himself was happy with Lynch's film, but the overall 1984 reaction to it was "Huh?" Still, I am very impressed with this story, its visuals, and how the environments seem to be both impossible (those buildings and structures are that big?) and lived-in. I became a Lynch fan because of Twin Peaks, but Dune helped lay the foundation.

And so much of what Lynch would do later is evident in how he handles Dune: the importance of dream imagery, and the heightened acting that's still emotionally true. As weird as David Lynch's works get, the emotions in them are often very direct.

The pace is measured but almost never slow. Unlike the thrilling battles of, say, most Star Wars films, the big battle midway through Dune is wrenching and awful...and far easier to follow on a big screen. (A shot that's almost impossible to grasp on a TV, where the evil Harkonnen attackers wipe out an entire airfield of Atreides spaceships in seconds, has an almost you-are-there immediacy on film. A very well-done special effect.) And it's epic and mythic in its own way, befitting the world-changing and likely universe-changing events of this story. The final battle is so uniquely Dune-oriented, you haven't really seen a battle like it.

Parts of this film are troubling and questionable, and almost certainly would not be done in a film version today (as Denis Villeneuve hopes to do). I can't speak well towards this, but people I trust find disturbing AIDS symbolism here, from when AIDS was considered by most Americans to be exclusively a disease you'd get if you were gay. The evil Baron Harkonnen is also the only character to be coded — meaning, shown to be without the film explicitly telling us — as gay, whereas non-hetero sexuality is barely even hinted at for any other characters so there is an apparent undercurrent of "non-straight = bad." The Baron is covered in what look like AIDS sores. The film has other, weirder signs of Harkonnen corruption (those painful-looking body mods; the Baron bathing in raw oil; whatever device Jack Nance's character is using on the Baron; LOOK AT WHAT RABBAN DID TO THAT COW), but the AIDS imagery is disturbingly specific for the era. And I would have completely missed it back then, sheltered as I was.

Still, I am so glad Dune the film exists, and that I finally could see it big and loud. Now I want to re-read the original novel, which I read around 1990, and perhaps finally read Frank Herbert's sequels.

More than meets the YEAOUCH

Randomly wondered today: could a Transformer get a cramp? Say, halfway through transformation, Optimus Prime gets a Charley Horse and goes down on his half-transformed knee? Seems like a Family Guy gag: "Ow," Prime says in that deep Peter Cullen voice, "ow. Ow."

I have never written Transformers. I probably won't.

(Though I like that almost to a person, writers who have written those characters have said how much fun they had writing them.)

Thank you for attending my TED Talk.