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The Motions

Aug. 6th, 2010 | 08:42 pm
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

TV shows rarely make me cry. There are a few exceptions (the last episode of "The Paper Chase" on Showtime, the M*A*S*H episode where Col. Henry Blake died). I really didn't expect to tear up watching "Locked Up Abroad".
"Locked Up Abroad" (on National Geographic Channel) is my guilty pleasure.
By my estimate, about 90% of the episodes consist of people recounting how they had tried to beat the odds (or the system) by smuggling drugs from one country to another. Of course, they always get caught -- it wouldn't be very entertaining if they didn't -- and are jailed for various periods of time. (One woman was still in prison when the episode was filmed.) I'm interested in their stories, partly to see what life in other countries is like (having only travelled outside the US to Mexico and Canada). But it's also fun to count how many opportunities the person had, leading up to their arrest, to give themselves a reality check: "What am I thinking? This will never work. I'm going home." (I usually yell variations of this at the TV during the show.) Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But they all are changed by their experience, and usually turn their lives around for the better.
However, the other 10% of the stories are the true gems. People who are in other countries for legitimate purposes -- for business or vacation, or while travelling the world -- and for whatever reason end up being detained by terrorists or gangs or paramilitary groups. How they deal with their situation, and how they survive, absolutely fascinates me.
This was the case in "Locked Up Abroad - Panama", which aired this week.
Mark Wedeven was born in Columbia, and at two months of age was adopted by a US couple, and moved to the States. In his early 20s he decided to take a personal journey back to Columbia, to "complete the circle". He decided not to just fly to Bogota, like most of us would have done. He decided to travel by land, backpacking and hitching rides. But "the road" only goes so far -- it dead ends in Panama, in a place called the Darien Gap. It's 100 miles of jungle between Panama and Columbia, with narrow trails mostly used by drug traffickers and guerillas. It was the latter group that he encountered on his trip. I won't give all the details -- you can watch it on NatGeo or their website. But while Mark was recounting his story, I realized this was a very special young man.
I'm usually pretty hard on GenX-ers. A lot of them (some, NOT ALL) are unmotivated, even lazy, and they seem to think the world owes them something.
Not Mark.
He struck me as being very insightful about his life, his desires, his emotions, and his... soul, for lack of a better word. He is genuinely moved by his experience and the experiences of the others involved in the story (even his captors). When he is finally released and taken to the US Embassy in Bogota, a nurse asks him, "Are you ok?" And after all the days of being forced to march through the jungle at gunpoint, he finally breaks down and weeps. He admits this on camera, unashamed. He questions his life, and how it affected the people he encountered. And he seems to reach a peace about the experience.
At this point in most episodes, they usually show the person in their current life, with their family or friends, and how they have adjusted after their experience.
But on this episode, the screen went to black, and a message stated that in June 2010, Mark Wedeven was killed in an avalance while climbing Mt. Rainier. The episode was dedicated to his memory.
I was shocked. Here was a young man who had a true spirit of adventure, as well as a very promising future. I believe he could have changed the world, in his own way. I went on the internet to learn more about him.
I was bowled over by what I found out.
He was a carpenter, activist, and father. He taught English as a Second Language to immigrants and volunteered at a homeless shelter.
He first climbed Mt. Rainier when he was 13. Thirteen.
He didn't even own a TV. He and his 5-year old son would check out books from the library. They would go camping and hiking together.
He once outran an avalanche. He even told his mom, "If I die on the mountain, it's ok."  Talk about insight.
And he told his mother recently that he was a Christian.
He was 29.

I was crying as I read the accounts of his life, and his death. It's so sad when a young person dies, but especially such an intelligent, caring, passionate young man.  
I started to think about my life. Lately, my life has pretty much been... an existence. I get up, go to work, come home, watch tv, go to bed, repeat. I sometimes go to church on Sundays, but rarely go to the social gatherings anymore. My only other connection with the outside world is through the computer or The New Yorker.
That's a "life"? 
Mark did more in his 29 years than I've done in 51.

Admittedly, it's been a tough year. Losing Dad has rocked my world. I'm now an orphan. I have no "home". That's the kind of thing that changes you.  I look at my future, and see ... nothing. Earlier this year, I considered ending it all.

So, what is my purpose? Why am I here?

I think of the song that played on KSBJ this afternoon.
It's by a singer/songwriter named Matthew West who underwent surgery on his vocal cord:
I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything?
Instead of going through the motions

Maybe Mark Wedeven didn't die in vain.
Maybe, in his death, there's a message for me about my life.

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Cornelius Harry Snell, Jr., 1919-2010

Jan. 27th, 2010 | 02:09 pm
mood: sadsad

Rest in peace, Dad.
I love you.

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Before the Storm

Jan. 2nd, 2010 | 10:12 am
mood: blankStuck in Neutral

My dad has refused to eat since Christmas. He is drinking water, but, as my stepmother Mary Jane says, dad has "signed off" -- he is waiting to die. I can't say that I blame him. Since his stroke and kidney failure in September, he's recovered a lot but is very frail, and sleeps about 18 to 20 hours a day, and few conversations range beyond "yep" and "nope". (When I talked to him at Christmas, he was quite lucid, and said "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, if anyone can be happy in Houston." That's Dad.... smile.) 
So I've known since September that his situation was not going to improve. Well, let's face it: I've always known he would die someday, as we all will. The fact that he made it to 90 is somewhat of a miracle, considering he considers prime rib, yorkshire pudding and scotch to be a well-balanced meal. (I once asked him, years ago when they lived on the Palos Verdes peninsula, why he didn't join Mary Jane on her hikes around the neighborhood. He replied, "All that walking isn't good for me, honey.") And I was there when the visiting nurse explained to Mary Jane that, when the time came, they would transition dad from "health care" to "hospice care": they would stop all of his medications, and give him morphine to ease his pain until he died. I remember the look on Mary Jane's face when it sunk in. This is a woman who was a nursing supervisor on an oncology ward. She faced death every day. But  they were talking about her husband of 30 years. It totally blindsided her.

But for me, knowing that Dad will die someday is different from knowing he will die soon, in days not weeks.  And, as Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. I know he's not going to be in pain, but right now, we're all in this limbo: we can't mourn (yet), and yet we can't go on as if we don't know that very soon the world won't have Harry Snell in it.

In talking to Mary Jane yesterday, I realized that the idea of Dad dying is similar to how I felt, waiting for Hurricane Ike:
When I moved here, I knew that hurricanes are a fact of life in the Gulf states, just like I knew that death is a part of life.
And throughout my life in Houston, hurricanes would enter the Gulf, and I would watch the news to see if we were in the "cone of uncertainty" (I kid you not, that's what they call it.)
When Dad had his stroke, I knew I was in that "cone of uncertainty": Dad's death went from a possibility to a probability.
When I knew for sure that Ike was headed this way, I tried to prepare. But let's face it: can you really be totally prepared for when the storm hits? No. You can try to guess, based on past experiences and the experiences of those around you, but you really can't know when or how bad it will be.
But I've learned that the worst part of the hurricane is waiting for it. Once you know for sure it's coming your way, the waiting will drive you nuts. The sky is clear, the world goes on, time ticks by, but you know that very soon, the chaos of the storm will hit.
And that's where I am right now. 

I keep thinking of John Irving's book, The World According to Garp. Garp's youngest child, Walt, would walk along the shore at their beach house, and his mother would call from the porch, "Watch out for the under tow!" But what Walt heard was "Watch out for the Under Toad!" Irving writes, "...all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad." 
I wonder if that's how Dad feels, laying in his bed, not wanting to communicate with anyone. (As Mary Jane said, "You want to say goodbye to one person who is going to die. But imagine your Dad, thinking he'll have to say goodbye to everyone he knows.") 
He's never been very religious. I'm guessing that he believes in God, but whether he has grown closer to Him since he's been sick, I don't know. I pray he has, so that Dad can feel some comfort right now.

I don't know how to end this, so I'm going to post some links to videos of Dad, made in November of 2008. It shows the Dad I remember. I'll warn you, some of his stories are a bit... risque.
This one is his memories from the 1929 Yale vs. Army game (Dad was 10).
This one is his memories from the 1936 World Series.
This one is his Willie Mays story.
This one is his WWII story.
And this one is my favorite. (It won't make much sense at the beginning but you'll understand at the end.)  



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It was 20 years ago today...

Oct. 17th, 2009 | 05:22 pm

No, not Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, silly.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake (sometimes incorrectly called the "San Francisco Earthquake" or the "Bay Series Quake".


5:04 p.m., October 17th 1989.

If you want a sense of how it felt and the panic it caused, look here.
Or, read on.

I was married at the time, living in a townhouse in Campbell, a small town halfway between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
I had stayed home sick that day. I had fallen asleep in our recliner downstairs. I woke up suddenly when the chair started shaking. I thought our dog, Sheba, was leaning against the chair scratching a flea. But when I realized the whole room was shaking, I ran out the back doors in time to see telephone poles wobbling at 30 degree angles, like palm trees in a hurricane.
So, what does a mature, responsible woman do during such a crisis?
I screamed like Dominique Dunne in "Poltergeist": "WHAAAAT'S HAPPPENNNNINGGG?!?!?!?!"
Yeah, calm, cool and collected, that's me.

When the ground stopped shaking for a moment, I went inside, got Sheba on a leash and went out the front door. Gradually my neighbors started to gather in front of the row of townhouses. We sat on the curb, watching the ground. The upstairs windows were reflecting the sun onto the driveway, and I remember that the reflection never stopped moving, because the ground was shaking even though we couldn't feel it. The phones were dead, so I couldn't call Stewart, my husband, at the office to find out if he was ok. He had driven the motor scooter to work, and I was worried that he would have trouble navigating traffic. I remember just wanting him HOME; if only he were here, everything would be okay.
I retrieved my Sony Watchman from the house, and we all huddled around the 2" screen. We couldn't hear it very well. The news helicopter kept showing a freeway somewhere, and finally someone said, "Didn't that used to be two levels?" We watched in stunned silence. I was afraid to go into my townhouse; it was a two-story, with one room supported over carport by a post, and a staircase against one wall. Finally a neighbor offered to go with me. Upstairs, a small bookcase in the hallway had toppled over, breaking several things on it. And I couldn't get into the upstairs den, because two huge bookcases had fallen over and blocked the door. The master bedroom seemed relatively unscathed. Downstairs, we had a cathedral ceiling in the kitchen where we had displayed some pottery, and all of it had fallen and broken on the floor. (Apparently, Sheba had seen these falling, and for months after that, she would not set paw in the kitchen.)
I went back outside to wait. And wait. And wait... for Stewart.

Eventually, a red compact car rounded the corner. I didn't recognize it as a neighbor's car (we only had 7 units, so we knew everyone). When the passenger door opened, Stewart stepped out. His coworker had given him a ride. I practically knocked him over, I was crying so hard. In one instance, all of the precious possessions in our house became just ... stuff. The most important thing was, we had survived.
(It turned out, Stewart had been in a conference room getting his evaluation at 5:04 pm. Instead of rushing out of the building, he and his boss ran up and down the aisles of HP, turning off computers so that when the power surged back on, the computers wouldn't be fried. That's dedication for you.)
When we went inside our townhouse, we discovered that our phone was working. We tried to get through to my mother in Southern California, but the lines were jammed. We tried calling his mother and stepfather in Sacramento -- same problem. So we called his father and stepmother in Alabama, and got through. They were very relieved to hear from us. From the way the mass media had described it, they were certain we were all dead. They offered to call my mom and his mom and let them know we were ok. (Apparently the phone lines inside the state were jammed, so it was easier to get through to California from outside the state).
Since it was the only working phone in our complex, we invited the neighbors in to call their families. They came over, toting bottles of wine and vodka, and we all sat around talking into the night (something we had never done before, except at homeowners meetings!) When Sheba needed to go out, Stewart and I walked her around the cul-de-sac. People from the neighboring apartments approached us: "Are you OK? Do you need food? Help yourself. If you need a safe place to rest, we have chaise lounges by the pool." This was the beginning of my lesson in The True Nature of Humans.
Some examples:
-The local Walgreen's had no power, and had sustained damage inside. But they propped open their sliding glass doors, put a table in front of it, and if you needed your prescription, they went and got it for you. If you needed batteries or other essentials, they went and got them for you. If you could pay, fine. If you couldn't pay, fine. You still got what you needed.
-We had a collection of lithographs, from the artist Robert Marble, that were in odd-sized frames (about 1' x 3'). In a few of our lithographs, the glass had broken. At the next art show, we asked his distributor if we could by some replacement glass. He said "Sure." We asked how much they were. He said $5 each. Our jaws dropped, and we stared at him. I told him that couldn't be right; that was probably below his cost. He looked me in the eye and said, "Why would I want to profit from such a terrible thing?" I've never forgotten that.
These are just a couple of the occurences that stood out in my mind. There are probably a lot more. (Ken? Anyone else? Feel free to comment.)

But something else that stood out in my mind: the true nature of the American Red Cross.
Want some history? Read here. People donated to the Red Cross believing their funds would go to San Francisco earthquake victims. They were wrong. According to this timeline, it took Mayor Agnos over 5 months to get the earthquake relief funds the Red Cross had collected in the name of the Loma Prieta quake.
They will be ice skating in Hades before I donate to the American Red Cross again. The Salvation Army gets my money. (And I'm not the only one who feels this way. Check out this WSJ article that compares the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army in the way they spend donated money.)

For more Loma Prieta quake history, click here.

And if reading this essay doesn't make you want to hug your loved ones extra tight tonight, you need to read it again. :)

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Amusing Factoid

Jul. 8th, 2009 | 09:16 pm
mood: amusedamused

A lady in the choir works at one of the hospitals in the suburb where I live.
She mentioned that last month the hospital had a record number of births  -- 402.
Why such a large number?


Well, 9 months ago was ...


Hurricane Ike.

Hmmm. I guess when there's no work, no TV, and no lights, some of us find creative ways to fill those loooong nights...


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Gone Too Soon

Jun. 26th, 2009 | 07:24 pm
mood: hopefulhopeful

It's a strange feeling when someone dies that's my age. Not that it happens a lot (I'm not that old!), but when it does, it makes me sit up and take notice. So forgive me for being a little melancholy today, and for discussing something that The Entire World is already discussing. 
I found myself seeking out MTV tonight. Keep in mind, I haven't watched MTV since... hmmm...  probably for the world premiere of "Thriller". (It's even enshrined on videotape somewhere on my dusty 'media bookcase'.) But as I bounced back and forth between the MTV stations (there are a lot more of them now, 20+ years hence) and the VH1 stations (ditto), I was amazed.

Say what you want about his personality, appearance, lifestyle choices, and other quirks: the man could dance.
Seriously, he was a really good dancer.
He had the kind of talent Fred Astaire had, the spirit that "Billy Elliot" embodies -- the kind of gift you are born with and can't fake. Notice I say "you" because I have no such talent or gift when it comes to dancing, so I can recognize it easily in those who do. And, he had it. Just watch the "Panther Dance" at the end of "Black or White." For several minutes, there's no music, he just ... dances.

I was never really into the Jackson's much growing up. Chalk it up to being a little too close in age to Michael, so he was more of a annoyance to me than an idol. But I remember watching the "Thriller" video all those years ago, and wondering if this was the future of music, dance, and even our culture. Watching his subsequent videos today on TV, I realized it was true. The videos were about loneliness, starvation, zombies, ecology, cultural icons (from Ryan White to Lech Walesa),gangs, hope... mostly hope.

It takes a lot to change the world, but if anything can make you believe it's possible for one person to change the world, Michael Jackson's videos could.

That's not a bad legacy to leave behind for only being on the planet 50 years.

UPDATE: What is this, Pick On 50-Year-Olds week?! Now I find out Billy Mays has died, also at the ripe old age of 5-0 (honestly, he looked younger to me). Man, maybe this is God's way of saying, "Time to shape up, Juls...."  
Ya think?

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The Wayback Machine

Jun. 5th, 2009 | 07:39 pm
mood: geekygeeky

I'm not sure if it's a sign of the sad state of television (thousands of channels and nothing to watch) or a sign that it's the summer rerun season, but the top three shows on my DVR schedule are the daily episodes of "Hawaii 5-0", "MacGyver" and "Quantum Leap". (Yes, I am a nerd. Deal with it.)

I think you all know about my affinity for Hawaii 5-0 (specifically The Adonis That Is Jack Lord), but only those who have known me a long time know of my secret passion for Scott Bakula and Richard Dean Anderson (especially when he wore a tank top ... *drool*). (Side note: Back when I was married, my husband knew that there were a handful of men in the world who would only have to whisper, "Come away with me!" in my ear, and I would have walked out on him in a heartbeat. Keith Hamilton Cobb, Michael Douglas, Arthur Kent (the "Scud Stud" of the first Gulf War), Jean LeClerc, and Michael E. Knight are a few of the other studmuffins who topped the list, but I'm sure I could come up with another half-dozen if I some thought into it.)
ANYWAY, when I had U-Verse installed a few weeks ago (it's great - get it), I found I now had a boatload of channels I had been missing on Comcast. Plus, thanks to having AT&T as my ISP, I can easily search for programs on my computer -- and even schedule them to record -- without having to use the annoyingly small buttons on the remote. So I started searching and found my old buddies Mac and Sam. (Jack was already programmed in, trust me.) So now when I come home I have three hours of GOOD entertainment lined up (or I save them for the weekend).

But that's not why I brought it up.

You see, ever since "MacGyver" first appeared on TV years ago, I've used the term "MacGyverism" to describe an ingenious way to fix a problem. However, after the show ended and the years passed, fewer and fewer people understood the reference. Just last weekend, when I was having my new garage doors installed (the old ones were only 27 years old; I don't know why the Yard Nazis wanted me to replace them), the young man who installed them came up with quick and innovative way to solve a problem, and I told him, "Wow, you're like MacGyver!"
Blank stare.
"You know, from TV."
Blank stare, headshake.
"OOOOkaaaay.... um, good job. (uncomfortable silence) How bout them Astros?" 

So I was convinced that no one younger than, oh, 40 would know the reference.

Until last night, when I was watching the new USA show "Royal Pains". The ER doctor is making a housecall (I didn't say the show was based in reality) and needed to do emergency surgery. He asked the teenaged girl to go get him a bunch of strange stuff -- vodka, a sharp knife, a baggie, duct tape.... And the teenager says, "Who are you, MacGyver?"

I almost threw the remote at the TV.

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Happy Bearthday, Bear!

May. 14th, 2009 | 09:31 pm
mood: happyhappy

Two years ago today, I adopted you, Bear.
I don't know how I would have survived without you.
This was Gypsy's birthday, too. So today we celebrate her spirit, and yours.

Love you, buddy.

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Another reason I love "Hawaii Five-O"...

Apr. 27th, 2009 | 05:28 pm
mood: amusedamused

... The dialog.

From the episode titled "The Burning Ice".

McGarrett is working late.
Chin Ho Kelly enters (what a great name!), carrying takeout containers.

Chin: Japanese chicken noodle soup from Uncle Lee's all night joint.

McGarrett: Thanks, Chin. I thought your uncle is Chinese?

Chin: Oh, he is, but his joint is in a Japanese neighborhood, so he's passing!

I replayed that three times and laughed my ass off each time.

God bless those writers!


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This makes me happy

Apr. 12th, 2009 | 09:05 pm
mood: jubilantjubilant

One of my favorite movie scenes is the "Twist and Shout" dance scene in "Ferris Bueller".

This video is better: it's REAL.

love the expressions of joy on the faces of the dancers, and on the crowd watching.

Right now, as I listen to the news that Captain Phillips is safe, tears are streaming down my face, and I feel like dancing myself.

Joy, welcome back into my life. It's been awhile.

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