Pages

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Two Sun-soaked Tombstones

It's been a rough couple of weeks. Like really rough. To the point where Sal and I pass each other in the house like two ghosts. We're on autopilot, just trying to make it to imaginary finish lines.

Grandpa John Hickle passed away a few weeks ago.

He was this weird mythological patriarch of the Hickle family that I never got to know.

I met him about 12 years ago. Sal and I had been dating for about a year and went went to their house for Easter. I don't remember actually having a conversation with John at the time. The Hickle women seemed far more interested in me. (Honestly, the first interaction I remember having with John was Thanksgiving after Sal and I were married when he asked when we were going to give him a grand child. It would not be the last time we were asked this.)

He always tended to enjoy events through the lens of his camera rather than actually attend the event.

When he was engaged with the event, it was often the same questions discussed a previous time, rarely deviating from the script. I'd get that John Hickle smile, he'd say, "Dan, that's some good chili." And I'd see him again at the next event.

The most human conversation I had with John was actually Thanksgiving 2018. His camera was in the room, but packed away. He sat in the big leather chair (his former chair actually), in the company of a dozen strangers and family members, and he was engaged. He was witty, laughing, smiling, telling us tales of the Navy. Stories that he was pleasantly surprised when people made call backs to them later in the night.

Thanksgiving to today is a tragically long time between seeing John, but I'm glad it's my last memory of him. It matches the stories I heard countless times from his family and friends all weekend. John, this prankster with a sly smile, sometimes with a short fuse, but generally always with good intent.

The day I arrived in Rolla for the funeral, I unfortunately got a text from my brother that a long time family friend has passed away on Friday night.

Jeff Wilson randomly found me on StlPunk late one night, (a precursor to Facebook in the St. Louis area) probably around 2004 or 2005 when I was living in Columbia. I had written a post on the New Speedway Kings band page about my Uncle Mike and how he continued to influence my entire family years beyond his death.

For the next several weeks, Jeff and I sent stories and memories back and forth.

Then one random summer day, I came home to my empty apartment after work and had a package with a ton of New Speedway Kings stickers and patches as well as the unreleased demo that my brother's witnessed the recording of, but never got to hear it.

Jeff became a sort of surrogate cool uncle. He was still friends with a lot of bands my uncle toured with in St. Louis. We'd often get introduced to these 35 year old skater guys that toured Europe with Mike and would tell wild stories that if I didn't hear so often, I would never believe.

Jeff was also an indy comic book artist in the St. Louis area, which in it's own right was a very cool thing. It was what I wanted to do as a kid and was only talked out of it because I was told there's no money in comic books. (I'd love to show my art teachers how much money these Marvel movies are making now) He didn't make a living doing it, but between comics and his odd jobs, he did just fine for himself.

Every time a punk band would come to St. Louis, Jeff would text and ask if I was coming in. If so, we'd meet somewhere (usually with Nick) for some food. He'd regale us with tales of how he talked on the phone with Les Claypool of Primus or passed off a remix of an Against Me! song to the singer. He'd show us new artwork or a preview of the next issue of Sap.

I had Jeff design both my shoulder tattoos.

And life happened.

Jeff always dealt with depression, but he seemed happy. He had a family, a little kid. He would joke about selling out and joining the 9-5 to support them. But he really did seem happy.

The last time I saw him was just sort of a weird and sad state. He and his wife were having issues. He wasn't living with them and was having some sobriety issues. But he was happy to be around us. It felt like maybe we could reconnect, "once he got some of his shit together."

And then life happened.

He'd pop up on my Facebook every now and then, we'd exchange some pleasantries, always talk about how we needed to get together once our schedules sort of opened up.

And then death happened.

I haven't really been able to just think about this yet. We're still in survival mode.

I have a feeling there's going to be a late spring night with that perfect combination of river humidity and brewery smell in the air. My car, with the windows down, will catch the aura just right, and I'll be taken back to Mississippi Nights. Sweaty, and in the pit, with Jeff standing on the edge of the floor, smiling as if he were a proud older brother.

And I'll start uncontrollably crying, completely freaking out the person next to me that has no reference of where my mind went. And I'll swallow hard, gather myself, and just say, "I was thinking of a good time with a friend of mine."

And life will go on.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Romance of a Great Film

I love film. I don't think that's a secret.

I love entering a theater, heavy with the smell of stale popcorn and spilled soda, watching the advertisements in anticipation of the theater jingle and the lights going low. For the next two hours I can't get emails. I can't learn of what our idiot president did. For two hours, outside problems do not exist.

When I'm in hotels, if they have Turner Classic Movies, I watch, full attention on the screen.

Film Struck was a streaming service I wanted to support. It was a streaming service for people that loved cinema, old and new. It wasn't meant to be a conduit for spoon feeding the newest Avengers or Transformers film, it was for people that got excited about the 4k reprint of Night of the Living Dead. People that appreciate Michel Gondry pulling off a 20 minute uncut scene using practical effects. Fans that are in awe by Casablanca having the best written script of all time.

Unfortunately, while I was in Japan last year, Film Struck was shutdown.

Criterion, those film loving people that bring you gorgeous DVDs of older films with documentaries attached to them, is going to launch a streaming service and I signed up to be a part of it from the beginning. I'm incredibly excited to expand my understanding of film based on tightly curated collection for film buffs, from film buffs.

Hell, about $8,000 of my student loans went to a film studies minor.

I want to try to see every best picture winner in history. Below is the complete list. I bolded films I've seen.

I'm not putting a time limit on when I need to complete this, but I want to make major progress this year.

I've seen 40 of 90 films. It's not a bad start, but there are a lot of films I've never even heard of and that's a problem. I need to round this out better.
  • 2018 - ???
  • 2017 - "The Shape of Water"
  • 2016 - "Moonlight"
  • 2015 - "Spotlight"
  • 2014 - "Birdman"
  • 2013 - "12 Years a Slave"
  • 2012 - "Argo"
  • 2011 - "The Artist"
  • 2010 - "The King's Speech"
  • 2009 - "The Hurt Locker"
  • 2008 - "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • 2007 - "No Country for Old Men"
  • 2006 - "The Departed"
  • 2005 - "Crash"
  • 2004 - "Million Dollar Baby"
  • 2003 - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
  • 2002 - "Chicago"
  • 2001 - "A Beautiful Mind"
  • 2000 - "Gladiator"

  • 1999 - "American Beauty"
  • 1998 - "Shakespeare in Love"
  • 1997 - "Titanic"
  • 1996 - "The English Patient"
  • 1995 - "Braveheart"
  • 1994 - "Forrest Gump"
  • 1993 - "Schindler’s List"
  • 1992 - "Unforgiven"
  • 1991 - "The Silence of the Lambs"
  • 1990 - "Dances With Wolves"

  • 1989 - "Driving Miss Daisy"
  • 1988 - "Rain Man"
  • 1987 - "The Last Emperor"
  • 1986 - "Platoon"
  • 1985 - "Out of Africa"
  • 1984 - "Amadeus"
  • 1983 - "Terms of Endearment"
  • 1982 - "Gandhi"
  • 1981 - "Chariots of Fire"
  • 1980 - "Ordinary People"
  • 1979 - "Kramer vs. Kramer"
  • 1978 - "The Deer Hunter"
  • 1977 - "Annie Hall"
  • 1976 - "Rocky"
  • 1975 - "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"
  • 1974 - "The Godfather Part II"
  • 1973 - "The Sting"
  • 1972 - "The Godfather"
  • 1971 - "The French Connection"
  • 1970 - "Patton"

  • 1969 - "Midnight Cowboy"
  • 1968 - "Oliver!"
  • 1967 - "In the Heat of the Night"
  • 1966 - "A Man for All Seasons"
  • 1965 - "The Sound of Music"
  • 1964 - "My Fair Lady"
  • 1963 - "Tom Jones"
  • 1962 - "Lawrence of Arabia"
  • 1961 - "West Side Story"
  • 1960 - "The Apartment"

  • 1959 - "Ben-Hur"
  • 1958 - "Gigi"
  • 1957 - "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
  • 1956 - "Around the World in 80 Days"
  • 1955 - "Marty"
  • 1954 - "On the Waterfront"
  • 1953 - "From Here to Eternity"
  • 1952 - "The Greatest Show on Earth"
  • 1951 - "An American in Paris"
  • 1950 - "All About Eve"

  • 1949 - "All the Kings Men"
  • 1948 - "Hamlet"
  • 1947 - "Gentleman's Agreement"
  • 1946 - "The Best Years of Our Lives"
  • 1945 - "The Lost Weekend"
  • 1944 - "Going My Way"
  • 1943 - "Casablanca"
  • 1942 - "Mrs. Miniver"
  • 1941 - "How Green Was My Valley"
  • 1940 - "Rebecca"

  • 1939 - "Gone with the Wind"
  • 1938 - "You Can't Take It with You"
  • 1937 - "The Life of Emile Zola"
  • 1936 - "The Great Ziegfeld"
  • 1935 - "Mutiny on the Bounty"
  • 1934 - "It Happened One Night"
  • 1932/1933 - "Cavalcade"
  • 1931/1932 - "Grand Hotel"
  • 1930/1931 - "Cimarron"
  • 1929/1930 - "All Quiet on the Western Front"
  • 1928/1929 - "The Broadway Melody"
  • 1927/1928 - "Wings"

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Crowded Lonely Place

In about 32 hours, I will wake in my rented bed at the airport Hilton. I'll sleepily pull my pants on, climb aboard the 24 hour shuttle while the pre-dawn cold burns my face.

I'll groggily turn my bags over to the Delta rep, point out that my digital ticket once again does not have my Global Entry stamp, take my new printed ticket.

I'm now on auto-pilot as I navigate through TSA, gawking at everyone that didn't pay $100 for Global Entry pulling out their laptops and taking off their belts. I wander up and down terminal one, trying to get steps until I board my plane at 5:35 AM.

I will listen to a podcast for the 1 hour and 47 minute flight to Minnesota. The family of five in front of me will annoy me as they unload dozens of carry-on bags, holding up the back 2/3rds of the plane from departing.

I will then spend the next 5 hours trying to stay awake, wandering the massive Minnesota airport. I'll pass by the massage stand a half dozen times thinking, "that could be nice." I'll pass by the 24 hour bar, looking at the taps thinking, "that could be nice." But ultimately, I won't stop. Comfort means sleep, I have to torture myself until a very specific time.

Messages start going off on my phone. The plane from Madison must have arrived with my three teammates. They are starting their 3 hour layover. I ignore the messages coming from them, wondering if I want to meet up before the flight. I don't. I will be spending a week huddled next to you on subways, in small rooms, in taxis, in alleyway tempura joints. This is my time and I need it.

About 3 hours in, I'm sitting in the Chipotle in Minneapolis airport, taking in my last moments of solitude. I've ordered the largest burrito I can, with a side of chips. My plan is to eat as large of a meal now and attempt to make it through the 13 hour flight without eating the airline food. The salted and dairy filled microwave food wrecks my body more than a night of binge drinking. I've turned my podcasts off, instead ease-dropping on the last English conversations I will hear that do not involve work somehow. This burrito is my food, these conversations are my nutrition.

I get an alert from the Delta app saying my plane is boarding. It'll take nearly an hour to load all 291 passengers into the Boeing 777-200. I gather my jacket and my backpack and meet up with my comrades.

We make small talk. Everyone looks miserable. Everyone is tired and pissed they are losing a weekend with their families. But next time we're asked to come, we'll do it again, because this is professional America for my generation and we're stuck in perpetual hell.

I board the plane. We wait for the announcements in English first, then Japanese. There are constant interruptions. People wanting to get into the middle seat. People hovering over you while stacking bags in the overhead bin. I read.

An hour into the flight, we're brought drinks. I take a Sprite just in case air sickness hits me. It's doesn't usually on planes this size. I wash down a Melatonin, turn on my noise machine to Calming Creek, drift into a light and uncomfortable sleep for a few hours, wake up, go to the rest room, wash down a second Melatonin and sleep for another 90 minutes. I've burned 4-5 hours of the flight at best.

I watch several billion dollar Hollywood blockbusters on the five inch screen in the back of the seat in front of me. I get up and stretch every hour or so and look over the people unlucky enough to fly economy class, crammed into their seats like cattle because some number cruncher found if you eliminated another 2.3 inches of leg room from each each, you can fit one more row into the insanely crowded plane. It's seems so much desperately worse when a third of the passengers are wearing masks for health reasons. This is the apocalypse and I want out. 

I swallow a panic attack wanting to leave the plane about 11 hours in. We're flying over the very eastern part of Russia according to the map.

We land. I left on a Saturday morning and I'm on the ground Sunday afternoon. It's not fair is it? Time, that is.

I have travel grim on me. And again, I'm blocked by people that somehow seem calm and slow getting off the plane.

I stand in a tight line until finally it's my turn to get a stamp on my passport. I answer a few questions, give my thumb prints, and take a picture. I meet up with my teammates while waiting for our luggage. We then stand in another line where when asked who I'm working with, I mimic a zipper to represent the thing my Japanese peers are known for.

It's then a 45 minute taxi ride to our hotel. I check in, and set my suitcase down in the only spot barely large enough to fit it. For the next few weeks, I live in a fish tank.

I shower, I iron my clothes, I stay awake, I meet up with my co-workers, we debate where to eat, I try to stay awake. We eat ramen. It's very good ramen. The best I've had. I try to stay awake. We walk the neighborhood, stop for a beer, I try to stay awake.

We're handed a hand written receipt filled with kanji. I'm the only one that doesn't read the language. Someone will hand over a credit card, it will be denied as we are told this is cash only, and then we'll all reach into our pockets until we can combine enough yen to pay for the meal.

Tokyo is the only place where I've been surrounded by millions of people and have felt so alone at the same time. I'm already tired of feeling inadequate. Pointing at pictures, spouting off one of three Japanese phrases I know, unable to read street signs, unable to sit comfortably in any furniture. I'm a toddler here. I'm already homesick, and I've only been here four hours.

I've made it, it's 8:30 PM. I go to the hotel room, already desperate to hear something comfortable. I put on the Office on Netflix and slide into a coma somewhere into the first episode.

I have somewhere between 7 and 12 days left in this country. It's up to the Japanese if they will have mercy on me and allow me to return on my wedding anniversary. I will likely miss it and stay the full 12 days.