Ultimate League 2019 Commish’s Draft Grades

1 – Running on Empty – A (Y = B)

Great draft with overall talent at all levels. Bench is solid.

2 – Putin on the Ritz – A (Y = C+)

Maybe a little old, but all solid and will over perform. RB depth is concern.

3 – The Vonstars – A or D (Y = A)

I am rating Doug on potential. He either has the best team or the second worst team. 

4 – The Stuff – B (Y = C)

Great core, weak bench. Injuries would derail an otherwise stellar pass catching unit.

5 – Chariot Chariots – B (Y = C)

Can this team stay healthy? Solid core, but plenty of injury prone guys and a weaker bench.

6 – Operation Doomsday – B- (Y = C)

Very strong core and potential RB domination, but will Lamar Jackson be good enough?

7 – Pipe Hitters – B- (Y = B)

Amazing QB depth, potentially great RBs. Best K and DEF combo. Uncertain bench.

8 – Giants Will Continue – B- (Y = B)

Great looking roster starters. Limited bench. Will Brown do stuff and will RBs get enough attention?

9 – Padawans – C+ (Y = B)

Brees and Thomas will be fun, but the rest of the team isn’t eye catching. Solid depth but RBs thin.

10 – Ditka Did It – C (Y = B-)

Betting a lot on Kyler Murray, but has excellent RBs. Needs some #2 options on teams to over perform.

11 – Penguin All Stars – C- (Y = C+)

Great QB and TE and DEF depth. Lots of role players though who need to over perform.

12 – BatFavre Returns – F stands for Favre (Y = C+)

May be the most Roger team ever. Lots of boom or bust WR and RB options to trade if they all work out, but he can only start 5.

Immigration, Faux-compassion, and #FakeChristian

Sometimes I make the mistake of diving into comment threads or trending topics on social media. Then my head and heart hurt. Tonight’s foray into the pointless was the #FakeChristian hashtag.

Make whatever you will of the situation at the southern border, but the fact is our country and both political parties have failed to address this for well over 30 years. And make no mistake why: it is about politics, economics, and future voters. Republicans were afraid to alienate the Hispanic vote and businesses who profit on cheap labor. Democrats want as many people fleeing failed socialist and despotic governments as possible because the vote of these new immigrants is going to probably break their way by at least 2:1 since the Democrats platform sits closest to their cultural experience in their countries. Add enough, the Democrats will have unfettered control over all elections. There are plenty of people who are legitimately upset for the well being of these people fleeing failed states from both sides of the aisle, but the political parties and hyper-ideologues are not those people. They both benefit from the influx of chaos and not solving the problem.

My head got pretty scrambled by the #FakeChristian stuff, as it is purely hyper politicized because Trump/Pence are the elected parties who must be defeated no matter the cost and this is the next weapon to do so. When much of what is going on started well before Obama left office, the outcry wasn’t this vitriolic. Why? Because it is a mortal sin for Democrats to speak ill of their party, much the same way it is for Republicans. The party is perfectly right and all sin must be spun, lest voters abandon their façade of perfection.

Nothing grinds my gears in social media as much as non-Christians and Christians alike being biblically illiterate trying to cherry pick passages from the Bible out of context to make Christians look bad or good. The #FakeChristian stuff tonight exemplifies that greatly. Most of it is strawman stuff too, expanded to broad generalizations. The same God who they claim said the Jews must protect everyone coming into their land in the Old Testament also asked the wandering Hebrews to conquer the already occupied promised land and wage war on and off again against bordering peoples. The temple had a wall, the Jewish people had armies, and had to fight invaders and neighbors alike. Oh, and God let the Israelites get consumed by their enemies time to time too, even being exiled. Compassion and care is not without systems, and the landscape of the Old Testament was brutal, far more brutal than everyone just singing songs together in harmony. A single person seeking refuge may be one thing. Millions seeking refuge is another. Israel would have had problems with great numbers of people migrating, especially if they didn’t want to follow the Jewish theocracy, as would any country then or now. Context matters.

Up until Trump, the Republicans were afraid to try to fix the border. Trump is hardly compassionate and is certainly morally bankrupt in many ways, but it isn’t like either party in Congress has passed legislation to fix the border and the border has been a growing problem for decades. The Democrats hope enough people scramble across the border so that an epidemic can then be solved by them, with amnesty to tens of millions with instant voter rights and benefits. Again, as to coax them to vote Democrat, thus forever changing the landscape of the country. Would the Democrats allow a compromise for amnesty for all here illegally under current law with the single provision that they cannot ever vote? I doubt it. It isn’t about compassion, it is about defeating Republicans and controlling the country. These immigrants are pawns in this game.

Which gets to my main and final point: the faux-compassion and outrage over the treatment of the people crossing the border that pre-dates Trump while trying to blame it all on Trump. The United States has no infrastructure to handle thousands and millions of people coming in short order. Children can be brought here without their actual parents and people may come with zero documentation or way to verify their identity and relationship. Some way to verify and safely handle everything has to exist, but we haven’t put infrastructure in place to handle it safely for all parties. We are not marching these people to gas chambers after forcefully displacing them from their homes. No one passed legislation that organized, funded, or built more compassionate ways to house people as the verification happens. So it is a mess, but America is not Nazi Germany, and to intimate as much is hyperbole and political weaponization.

Mass border crossing is a symptom of greater problems: countries that fail their people. The Democrats often turn a blind eye to the atrocity around the world, and they are only willing to “help” those who risk everything to get to the border. Why are they not outraged over the conditions in these countries the people are fleeing, and doing everything they can to fix those countries? Do they not care about those who are too poor or are physically unable to make a several thousand mile trek to the promised land? Why do a few lucky ones get the luxury of getting America? Why not take America to them if millions are in exodus from particular failed states? That smells of imperialism of course, and I am not personally advocating this position, but the reason is simple: future control of America by mass changing of the demographics and culture. Trump used more colorful language, but there are failed countries around the world and larger percentages of bad elements thriving in those nations. Any country who fails to systematically control immigration will fall, or at the very least, dramatically transform to an entirely new country, unrecognizable with all established tradition and culture lost. I know some actively want that level of change, and this is a tool to help that happen.

The simple truth is America cannot solve the world’s problems. We couldn’t unite Korea. We couldn’t save Vietnam from communism. We couldn’t change Iraq or fix Afghanistan. No matter how many billions we may give in aid, countries will still struggle. There will always be poverty. There will always be unhappiness somewhere. Government will not bring utopia, because utopia is a place absent of sin. Humanity will never be absent of sin on this earth. Problems existed before America and problems will exist after America. The only sin we could try to correct in this discussion is to protect our borders and have an organized way for people to seek citizenship or asylum and have the proper infrastructure to handle them as they come. Which should include denying access to those who truly don’t deserve to be here and have clear rules for how people can come here without violently changing American culture, heritage, and tradition. For all Trump’s warts and indecency, he at least started the conversation neither party wants to have, because it doesn’t suit their political interests to solve it.

The Twilight Zone (2019) Problem

I love the original Twilight Zone anthology series. I love it not because I grew up when it aired or have some longing sense of nostalgia. I am in the millennial generation. I discovered The Twilight Zone on the Sci-Fi channel marathons in the late 1990s and grew to love it in the early 2000s. I bought the entire series on DVD in 2008. I bought and read through bits of The Twilight Zone Companion book by Marc Scott Zicree as I watched through the entire series on DVD. Not many black and white TV shows from the 50s and 60s get two day long marathons for over two decades on cable TV 60 years after it originally aired.

I was not aware enough of the series to catch the previous two reboot incarnations when those aired in the 1980s or early 2000s. So I cannot speak to past attempts to bring the show to a new era. I can however start to speak toward the CBS All Access reboot that started airing in 2019. And I see a lot of problems with this current incarnation.

The first problem is the target audience and objective. CBS wants to get into the Netflix game. I personally find their streaming service decent enough, with a variety of options of current and past shows. The content library is not really big enough to justify hanging around very long, hence the push for original content. The Twilight Zone is a beloved and timeless franchise, much like Star Trek, hence why those are two flagship programs to try to get into the streaming game and build an audience paying month to month. The primary problem though is they have made mature the content of the show needlessly. Forced expletives and adult content  are decidedly wedged into a show that never needed them to succeed. The family-friendly Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disney Hollywood Studios obviously doesn’t mesh here, let alone all iterations that came before this 2019 version. So tonally, this explains the first big complaint many have: why isn’t this on broadcast TV? Because it is R rated / TV-MA in content.

I suspect the adult push is to try to capture the audience that latched onto Black Mirror. Black Mirror is wildly inconsistent to me in quality and intelligence, but it has some things that stick in your mind. I only checked it out after learning about the choose your own adventure movie that they created, which seemed like an interesting innovation for TV entertainment. Black Mirror can have messages that speak to current events and culture, but it is done so more intelligently and through the lens of the pervasiveness of technology in our life. The Twilight Zone took another approach, but is clearly geared at a mature audience. It also serves as an outlet for CBS to produce content under their name that you’d never see on their broadcasts to this particular audience. Racy/controversial stuff always sells and creates buzz. I am sure they succeeded in bringing in a lot of new subscriptions.

Either way for the commoner, you’ve alienated a good chunk of people who identify with The Twilight Zone brand as something more accessible to all ages capable of more complex thought (pre-teens to adults). I think the same sort  of brand deviation compared to expectation is why the Muppet’s recent TV show that tried to parody the Office failed. I know Henson wanted to push some lines and make puppets not just for kids throughout his life, but whatever they tried to piece together there was just tonally off the market’s expectations. And it just wasn’t good, interesting, or well written. The Muppets were mostly mean and unlikable.

The next major problem with The Twilight Zone is the heavy handedness of the stories, that often end flat and with no payoff. Let’s run down what I mean:

  • Episode 1: Stuck between the overly long episode about a comedian’s newly discovered secret power is a bad joke narrative he wants to lead with about the 2nd amendment in exclusively negative light.
  • Episode 3:  White cops will go out of their way to slaughter innocent black men no matter how many times you try to change the story and do the right thing.
  • Episode 5: The president is a petulant child who should never have been elected and will do whatever he wants to whoever he wants.
  • Episode 7: Men will terrorize women with violence and sex because something has infected their nature and brought out their true character.
  • Episode 8: We are all immigrants, and immigrants are all  peaceful, productive people. How dare they get removed from their place of existence by a governmental force against their will.

I don’t mention episodes 2, 4, or 6.  Here is mostly why:

  • Episode 2: A retelling and reimagining of terror at 20,000 feet with Shatner and the gremlin, with new twists and ideas and no gremlin on the wing.
  • Episode 4: There was something veiled here but the episode was too long and bland to hold my attention. It tried to be more classic Twilight Zone.
  • Episode 6: Astronauts blast off Earth as nuclear war begins. This is pretty classic concept from things in the 1950s and 60s, with a modern twist. I was underwhelmed though.

You can take IMDB ratings for what they are, but episode 2, 4, and 6 rank as three of the four highest rated episodes for this season. Why? Utter lack of subtly and abrupt, unsatisfying endings exist in all the others. The only episode I really got engaged with was episode 2. It is the highest rated episode and the only to score 7 or higher. I think I’d agree that it is the most polished and captivating of the new series.

The problem here is that the bulk of the bad episodes play to an audience that likes R rated material and exclusively the liberal world view. There really isn’t anything timeless here. There are not really lessons that speak to greater truths about the human existence. They just speak to the news and political culture of the late 2010s. The episodes do not really do well with any sci-fi or supernatural elements either, despite them being in the episodes are minor plot devices. Twists are weak, uninteresting, or just not there when they could have been. The narrative that has taken shape is pretty much this: everything about American culture is bad, on the decline, and, if you lean in any way to the right, you are immoral.

Now, I am not going to trivialize the importance of some of these discussions. Excessive police action against non-whites is unacceptable. We see enough real stories in the news to know it is a thing in some pockets of the police culture. Not all those altercations are as cut and dry as the initial media reports would have you believe though; the police are not always acting out of correct procedure or protocol in every altercation between the police and non-whites. And that is where the Twilight Zone has failed: no subtly, no nuance, just a sledgehammer to crack open the walnut of the week. And with a plot device as a rewind your life camera, the twist I was waiting for never came. Episode 3 simply stated that white cops will hunt the black college student down for no reason forever. I am sure many black / African American people legitimately worry about the police and have had far too many negative altercations. I don’t think it is as bad as the 1960s though; progress has been made, and this episode was full of hyperbole. This was so heavy handed that it just felt forced beyond belief. Something like the movie Get Out handled racial issues with a bit more nuance and potential truth in my mind.

Episode 1 mostly fails because it is too long and too explicit with language, but the 2nd amendment thing is an eye roller that shouldn’t have been uttered more than once. Episode 5 is as much a shot at Trump as it is a re-envisioning of It’s a Good Life and a tyrannical Billy Mumy. Episode 7 feeds into the #MeToo movement and general disdain of machoism floating around the culture. Episode 8 tells an unfortunate story about the peaceful immigrant we should probably value for their contributions while ignoring  the gang, criminal drug smuggling elements that do also exist and get protected in certain pockets of the country alongside those who actually do contribute. Where there needs to be nuance in the discussion and a realization that there are truths from both perspectives, only one perspective is allowed to win out in most of these episodes with great amounts of hyperbole.

The twists and ironies that would follow most classic Twilight Zone classics are missing here. A camera that can rewind time and escape the racist cop leads to nothing but exaggeration of reality, where probably 95% of police officer’s hearts are not like that cop or his buddies who show up at the end. Trump is not a man of great political decorum or character, but it is apparent what is said here, and there is no real worth to the ending of the story of his political consultant he destroys in the end.  Men being the cause of all hardship when something unleashes their true nature, over simplifying the darkness of truly abused women and mostly just there to say that men are animals in their heart.

I don’t really know that CBS will grow its audience outside those who gravitate to their own political biases or expletive excesses. If you are going to tell a good political story, you need nuance to crack open that walnut and for it to truly make you think. All CBS has done is hand a sledgehammer over to those who wish to smash the current cultural state out of enraged anger. In 10 years, this is a series no one will be watching with any fondness as far as I can tell. They may still be watching the genius of the original Twilight Zone though…

Attrition of Alzheimer’s

Countless people watch disease ravage those they care about daily. The human body is finite. For some, the anguish begins early in life. For others, it is felt well into the future. Yet all our bodies will fail us. A question probably becomes, is it harder to suffer yourself, or watch those you love suffer?

My grandmother on my mom’s side was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. I only got to see some of the early effects as a young child. I heard second hand stories from aunts and uncles. Some things you couldn’t help but chuckle about at times, but if you see the reality on a daily basis, it becomes a war of attrition. Not only for the loved one suffering, but for those taking care.

As a young adult, it became clear something was off with my mother as she entered the middle of her 60s. She had always feared that she would be impacted in the way her mother was. Unfortunately, her fears were realized.  Perhaps the lone difference for my mom is that she wasn’t living alone. Dad was still around. And I was only a few miles away. Until I moved home as well. The ability to stay at home is extended by comparison.

What you witness with Alzheimer’s is incredibly dark. A person who was once self-sufficient and capable of doing amazing things loses ability. It is rarely a dramatic jump. It is gradual. It is a war of attrition for them and for you.

The first time a frozen dinner is melted in the microwave, you think it is a mistake anyone could make if their attention gets lost and the timer miskeyed. When it happens a couple of more times in the future, it becomes a pattern. The microwave is no longer an option. The curling iron gets left plugged in and left on. The curling iron has to go away. Makeup is put on in the wrong places. The makeup goes away. Driving to the store becomes an incompletable maze. The car goes away. Draw strings or belts on pants become difficult to understand, the pants become replaced with elastics waistbands. Clothes get put on backwards, inside out, or in double. Assistance with  dressing and undressing is required.

Personalities can change. The meek and mild can be replaced by the frustrated, angry outbursts of one lacking social sensitivities.  It can happen in public or in private. The uninitiated to the new personality can be put off by it. Others understand and try to be kind. The person you love and care for is there in the flesh, but somewhere behind the eyes the very soul can feel absent.

There are occasional moments of intense clarity. The cognizance to put more complex thoughts together. But as the attrition of Alzheimer’s continues, those moments become fewer. Memories are lost. Memories are confused. Delusions are born. Mistakes are made. Questions repeated 20 times in 30 minutes. The bad moments and days grow. Sometimes the sufferer can make sense of the fact that they are in fact struggling with a disease. Other times, they forget the disease entirely and will die on a hill when correction of a mistaken behavior is attempted. For them, the actions and behaviors are rational and right.

It is a difficult walk for the caregiver. Being as kind and loving as possible is interrupted time to time with flare ups of frustration and misunderstanding.  You often just have to walk away from the verbal discussion that has turned into an unintelligible chaos for the emotional betterment of everyone. You learn when to let things go, but  no one is perfect. Everyone can have something get under their skin. The victim doesn’t understand this all the time, but the caregiver must try to diffuse broken paths of communication as quickly as possible without getting angry. Anger only makes things worse.

Alzheimer’s is the definition of a losing battle today. The sufferer will not  find victory in this temporal existence.  There is no cure. Some drugs and medication may  slow the enemy as it closes around, encircling everyone in the battle. But Alzheimer’s will not rest until it has run its course.

Pray for the loved ones who are being assaulted by this disease. Pray daily for the doctors working toward a preventative cure for the dementia diseases. Pray for the future restored soul in God’s presence for the victims of the onslaught who desperately need peace. Pray for the caregivers who struggle to keep things going as long as possible before more permanent care options are needed. Pray for the strangers who have yet to encounter the sufferer, who may lack the appropriate sensitivities to function in public.

Most of all, approach each moment out of love and understanding in the midst of the un-understandable. The battle will not be won, but you can at least fight as valiantly as possible to make the years count. To make them feel loved and cared for before they forget everything and fade from the Earth. My God touch everyone in this battle, to know His love, and each others love, are more powerful than this disease.

Prompt Series #9 – If you had an extra room in your house, what would you use it for?

QuestionIf you had an extra room in your house, what would you use it for?

This may be the easiest and shortest prompt yet. I have always wanted a game room / activity space. We are talking about that room with the pool table, ping pong table, and some other activities.  I cannot claim to be particularly good at these activities, but it would be great to have them.  If the room was large enough, I’d have a basic TV setup. I would definitely have some sort of sound system, or very nice Bluetooth speaker to place music.

If the extra room would be outdoors, I’d love to have a large enough yard to have a half-court with basketball hoop. The space would need to be big enough and distant enough to not have to deal with traffic, like when I shot hoops in front of the house in middle and high school. If I were beyond wealthy, I’d go for a half-court gym.

Why would I want these spaces? I like to think when I do activities alone. Shooting hoops, for example, was more than just shooting hoops. It was thinking about life. Praying to God. Letting frustrations seep out into the air. Occasionally you’d visualize you winning the game at the last second. But for me, it became later in life about helping clear the mind to think about life while exercising the body.

I’d love to have these spaces. I may never get them, but they would let me have a place to retreat and do things for mind, body, and soul.

Short Story Series #1 – The Sunset Lake

The following is a short story / story introductory exercise, written spontaneously without prompting.

The sky was transitioning and the cooling breeze had begun. No longer was the bright blue ceiling shifting into a diluted white, as the sun had dropped below the  point of refraction necessary to reveal more intimate hues. The pale yellow had revealed itself around the white orb once more, bleeding out between the cracks in the stubborn clouds. The diffusion of an orange horizon was growing deeper, below the darkening heavens.  Distant objects began to lose their detail, fading to low definition shadows of black.

The blades of green grass twitched in the mild wind. At least those not covered by the thin, gold blanket. Wrinkles fractured the smooth surface of the blanket, getting more dramatic as it rose to twin spires resting upright in its center. For there sat Jerome and  Miranda, leaning into each other at their sides, shoulders and heads touching.

The two figures’ eyes were affixed forward. An image entranced them, as the serene waters of a small lake imitated the sunset sky. On top of the horizon, a pristine photograph of the setting sun. Below the horizon, an impressionists take on an inverted sunrise, distorted and wavy from the minimized disturbances pushing north and south across the aqua canvas.  The north of the  horizon  was broken by a patchwork of trees, whose distinction had gone the way of shadow. Shadow only broken by rays of deepening  orange.

Miranda’s small left hand found itself moving to clasp Jerome’s right. The sensation of skin brushing against his knuckles caused him to turn his head toward the source. His eyes met hers, and the fading sun had all but disappeared. The  concentric circles of white, tan, and black was all Jerome could see. The black circles enlarged, as if opening the windows to the soul even wider to let him in.  In the center of the widening void, a reflection of the fading light, becoming semi-circular at the horizon. And so Jerome leaned closer, focused on the departing star gleaming in the black until his  vision  closed and all sense of surroundings were lost in a sea of tranquility.

Jerome opened his eyes. It was dark now. Turning his head left, the false amber luminescence grew brighter from low in his visual field. Silhouettes of  hard edges  blocked the source of light at points. Jerome sat up,  blinking into self awareness.  His subconscious  mind had lost itself again in the dream. The dream all men have: to look into the windows of the soul and fall into the supreme place of comfort, contentment, and peace. To chase the star in the dark void, no matter how difficult it may be as the light of opportunity fades, and rescue it before it is lost forever. Yet as the reality of the rectangular room came into focus, Jerome felt haunted by the dream.  Where was the star to chase in the dark void?

Prompt Series #8 – When you think of California, what comes to mind?

Question: When you think of California, what comes to mind?

I lived in southern California for over seven years. In that span, I lived in four houses and went to three schools.  On an old New York Times or USA Today dialect test, my dialect was clearly Californian.  Others, including my parents who grew up in slightly different regions of the country, showed their dialect closely tied to where they grew up as well. The test seemed accurate and tied to our childhoods. So my time in California was probably  during what I’d consider my core formative years. Though psychologists would probably debate exactly when formative years take place for a person.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of images that come to mind. Probably the most striking are the San Gabriel mountains. We lived fairly close to their base, in the foothills I suppose. In the winter, you’d occasionally see the snow lining the top. When the wild fires came, you’d see them ablaze in the dark of night, flickering in shades of yellow, orange, and red.  Always you could see the trees, tiny as if stubble on  one’s chin toward the top. They always pointed the way north. It was hard to get lost with the mountains in view, even when you’d fly into the valley and see it bathed in dense, brown smog from your birds eye view.

Another striking thing I recall is the flooding of the road my final elementary school was on when it would rain hard in the winter. Being a constant slope down toward the valley, all the mountain trapped rain would flow south, gaining momentum as if an avalanche propelled by gravity. The rapids raged, sometimes knee deep. I recall some making paper boats, which would usually get thrashed in the waves upon launch. If they floated, they would travel too fast to keep up with. At least too fast for the small legs of the elementary school child. The rain would eventually find its way into the aqueduct system. I recall exploring that area once near one of our houses during a summer day. It was a graveyard of debris. The half broken toys always drew my attention.

A thing that has become even more distinct to me is the architecture of the suburbs. Watching a lot of TV programs and films that were filmed in the greater Los Angeles area today reminds me of great times with friends in the neighborhoods. I am instantly warmed with the nostalgia of a more innocent time. A time that may no longer exist, given we played safely in the streets daily and had many unsupervised adventures.

I never had the same friends for more than a couple of years, due in large part to moving so much. I was never lonely as I recall, as being taller than everyone else must have made me a protective magnet in some more instinctual sense. I don’t ever recall being bullied and always had a good group of friends. I like to think I was generally a well balanced young person in emotion and behavior, though I was not perfect, I was also never cruel as far as I remember. I never felt disliked. More mature than those my age may have also played a roll in all these things. It is probably why I spent 5th grade in a hybrid 5th + 6th grade experimental course, with the more mature, self-sufficient 5th graders having half a 5th and 6th grade curriculum.

I remember a sense of community. Unlike where I live in Florida, it felt like the town cared about itself. It had a history longer than Disney and its own traditions to bring people together. It had organized sports and opportunity. Myself playing  baseball, soccer, and football at every possible opportunity. Parents playing in tennis leagues and taking me to parks while they dueled across the net on courts of colored concrete. The only downside was the smog, high cost of living, and general boom of population. Let alone, if you ever had to actually traverse west, you’d get stuck in traffic for days. I didn’t understand those factors as much then, but I did later in life. Other than those rather negative factors, it was not a bad place to grow up at all. I certainly cherish the memories that come back to me from California.

 

Prompt Series #7 – Write about a song and the memories or feelings it evokes in you.

PromptWrite about a song and the memories or feelings it evokes in you.

This is going to be a very different answer than most would give. The song: “Carbon Freeze; Darth Vader’s Trap; Departure of Boba Fett” from The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack release in 1997 alongside the special editions coming to theatres.

Up until middle school, I wasn’t much of a music listener.  The first album I ever had was a cassette of Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures, which featured his award winning and  iconic song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. There are other songs I like better on that album… as well as McFerrin’s overall body of work. I think my second album was the soundtrack to the Lion King. Due in large part to my love of the Star Wars movies, and playing the Shadows of the Empire video game, I was drawn to get this music. I believe it was sometime during 7th grade when I landed this soundtrack, perhaps for my birthday.  The other Star Wars soundtracks followed, with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi during 8th grade. Shadows of the Empire was sometime toward the end of 8th grade at a Borders bookstore, around the time The Phantom Menace came out which I got immediately after seeing the movie at FYE.

The point of that narrative is to explain how I became obsessed with this music during a rather interesting time in my life. I took songs from all the Star Wars movies and eventually arranged them to fit story points in my own life. It was a way of connecting the amazing music and emotion of my life and give it some kind of soundtrack. Middle school was a turbulent time for most, and it wasn’t any different for me. Star Wars themes of heroism, struggle, darkness, and light all fit nicely for the seven years ending with high school graduation.

The song I listed is  the portion of The Empire Strikes Back where Luke lands on Bespin,  Leia watches Han get frozen, Luke starts to wander the halls of Bespin, followed by the start of his duel with Vader while Leia, Chewie, Lando, and C-3PO make a break to find Boba Fett, albeit, unsuccessfully. This is essentially the beginning of the climax of the movie. This track ultimately played overlay in my own personal soundtrack to a certain week in 8th grade.

I am not going to go into great detail, but the week in question involved my interest in a girl, how others decided to pry that secret out of me and then spill the beans very loudly before a class began to the entire class, in which she was also present. I was awkward throughout the situation and helped contribute to the rumor mill to some degree. I ultimately became deeply depressed for several days. Not because interest wasn’t mutual, but more so because I wasn’t the one to convey my own feelings. I felt somewhat violated in a way, cheated by friends and acquaintances, from going on my own path to success or failure. The piece of music conveys intense dramatic elements, shattered love, dark themes, and Boba Fett’s motif plays three times which I always paralleled to me walking down the halls for the three days during that short week in school trying not to attract attention to myself since I felt eyes burning through my soul. The track ends with a heroic piece, signifying the end of the dark three days, as I eventually came out of my broken mood. The entire event was probably absorbed too seriously on my part, but middle school is that kind of era in the heart, soul, and emotions of a  young teen.

I could probably write an entry like this for nearly every Star Wars soundtrack released through 2005, conveying how I associated a musical element from John Williams’s master pieces as a backdrop to my own life and key events throughout. This one stands out though, because it was really at the start of my intense obsession with all things Star Wars, especially with a new movie coming out  in a couple of months. The music helped me absorb the emotion of the time and make sense of the cruel worlds of middle and high school, while also cheering me on to victory in many other ways along the way.

The last thing I will say is that it is a real shame that The Empire Strikes Back didn’t win the Oscar for best original music/soundtrack. The music is the pinnacle  achievement (I think) for Williams with Star Wars overall. I still rank that score as my favorite of all time and could listen to it in full endlessly. I am kind of bummed that iTunes and iPod’s didn’t exist back then. I’d love to know just how many times I actually listened to that soundtrack. Especially on my old CD player as I sat in the backseat of my parents car, trekking to basketball games or weekend shopping experiences.  The music got me pumped for those basketball games too… so many stories for other times, and   a Star Wars track to accompany it.

Prompt Series #6 – What is your favorite TV series?

Question: What is your favorite TV series?

It really depends on the era of my life. I will write about each era briefly. I am answering the question  of each era respective to what was aired during that time period live. See honorable mentions for some others I loved outside of eras because they were already fully produced shows.

Elementary School Era

Nickelodeon was  the channel. There are so many great programs to pick from as a 90s kid. I would probably gravitate toward Doug or The Secret World of Alex Mack. Rugrats was fun for a time, but something about it bothered me as the show went along. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a good anthology series, and was one of the first “ooh, kids are encouraged to stay up late” to watch something maybe a little darker and edgier than daytime TV.

Having re-watched chunks of these programs though in the last decade to indulge nostalgia, I feel Doug probably holds up the best. I can definitely identify with Doug’s constant catastrophizing at every small event, blowing it up bigger than it would be. The array of characters and interesting storylines simply made it one of the most relatable cartoons of the 90s. The art style was also fun, much in the vein of the Simpsons, but even more extreme given the varying skin tones and outfits. It basically is a garish mish mash of colors that only the 90s can appreciate.  I should qualify that once Disney acquired Doug and made more episodes, the show was very different and not my cup of tea. I was older, so I didn’t really engage with it anyway.

The Secret World of Alex Mack was just an incredibly entertaining live action show, and one of the few serialized (sort of) shows I watched growing up. For its time, you hadn’t seen special effects presented in a kid’s show like it was here, as Alex’s powers made for a unique visual experience.  You can identify with Alex as she and her close friends go through the usual awkward middle school years and trying to figure one’s self out. Alex is being hunted down by the chemical plant that gave her the powers in an accident. So there is a whole dynamic of trying to use the powers for good while not getting caught and turned into a lab experiment.  It all plays well into the mindset of the middle schooler, unsure what to be truthful about or not with others. Can you be real to who you are?

Either way, it was great to grow up in what I suppose would be the golden age of Nickelodeon. Before Sponge Bob was basically their whole shtick.

Middle and High School Era

There is a clear cut winner here: The Pretender.

The Pretender was very  engrossing for its protagonist, the bad guys chasing him, and the ever complex and deepening mythology that stitched it all together. Jarod was a boy, a genius, taken from his parents as a child by an evil think tank known as The Centre. He has the ability to learn things rapidly, thus he can take on a role in almost any profession or scenario after some study.  The Centre had him do various “pretends” during their research. He thought it was being used for good, but almost always, The Centre used his research for ill.  Some thirty years after he was abducted, he escapes, after he learned the truth of his existence.  Thus he begins to live his life on the run, searching for his past and answers to his identity.

Every episode  features Jarod in one or more professions and jobs. He seeks to help those wronged by society. So one week, he is a doctor. The next a racecar driver. How about a stunt man? A safe cracker? A photographer? A firefighter? Jarod did it all. Jarod displays the naïve innocence as he discovers something new each week, be it ice cream, Spider-Man, fake dog poop, silly putty, etc. But he also displays a dark vengeance, usually bringing the bad guys of the week to justice in an ironic way, which parallels exactly how they wronged the victim originally.

Jarod is chased though each episode. A team from The Centre are tasked with capturing him. They are hot on his trail every episode. The show follows this formula for most of its run, but the 20% serialized part of the show mostly revolved around Jarod trying to find out who he was. As a parallel to Jarod, Ms. Parker, in charge of capturing him, learns about all sorts of things at The Centre and her own complicated past. Her key partners in Sydney and Broots are always there, but often don’t feel like bad guys as they help or heavily sympathize with Jarod. Let alone, The Centre doesn’t let you leave their employment alive, so they have no choice but to walk narrow lines at times. The leadership of The Centre, run by Ms. Parker’s father and the evil Mr. Raines, constantly put pressure on them to find Jarod. But more and more of the Parker’s story evolves throughout the show along with Jarod, and it deepens their connection and the entire mythology of the show. There are twists and turns here, and the season finales are some of the best TV I’ve ever watched.

Essentially, you can dive into this late 90s / early 00s to get a feel for the culture at the time. You can enjoy the incredible performance by Michael T. Weiss as Jarod  as he becomes someone new every episode. And you can get lost in the overarching mythology about Jarod, and especially The Centre itself. The show has no true ending, but it is a wild ride between the four seasons and two TV movies that heavily influenced me during this key stage of life. I just wish it had a proper ending.

I’d also say, the music in this show is among my favorites for any media. It is very hard to acquire this soundtrack, but it is an incredibly diverse musical treat that really made the show special to me.

College Era

College is hard to pick a show. I got heavily reinvested in The Pretender thanks to re-runs and DVD releases. A friend and I showed each other shows we liked, as a lot of things had started to get released to DVD. I introduced him to The Pretender, The Dead Zone, 24, and others. He showed me Smallville, The A-Team, and others.  I picked up on Smallville and got hooked the summer of my junior  (or was it senior?) year of college. 24 was also must watch television for most of college. Outside of that, I was mostly watching a lot of procedural crime dramas as I wasted time on reruns.  All flavors of Law and Order, CSI, etc. USA Network was a good source for original programming, as The Dead Zone, Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice were all solid.

I’d probably throw Smallville up there with Psych in the end. 24 would be up there too, but it seemed to have less compelling content after season 5, which is why I’d drop it. Psych got a lot better as it progressed. Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster (not Bruton Gaster) made for a wild comedic experience, throwing in nostalgia and parody of much of the programming on at that time. Fake psychic detective and a reluctant partner with lots of hijinks? Doesn’t sound like it would work, but it is great.  It was almost a parody of Law and Order, Monk, and The Dead Zone all in one. The most important thing is both Smallville and Psych ended well in their original runs. Cannot say the same for most of the others.

Early Career Era

This is another era with a clear cut winner: Person of Interest.

As an IT person, technology fascinates me. Security and AI is a growing in interest as well. Person of Interest has a potentially realistic look at where our technology and security are leading us. Both for the good it can do, and the abject horror it could produce.

Person of Interest starts out fairly formulaic.  A surveillance system, known as The Machine, was created by a reclusive tech genius billionaire. This system helps prevent terrorist attacks with its intelligence gathering by all means of cameras, microphones, etc. The Machine doesn’t get help from law enforcement to stop the lesser crimes and events though, even though it is keenly aware that something is about to happen. Instead, it sends a social security number to our tech genius, Harold Finch, when it detects something is about to happen that revolves around the weekly person of interest. Harold recruits in the first episode a down, depressed, and homeless ex-special forces operative named John Reese. Together, they look into the social security number received to stop whatever is going to happen. You don’t know if you are dealing with a victim or perpetrator. So the show naturally has twists and turns within each story as they unravel the mystery.

Person of Interest had a little bit of The Pretender’s flare for unique stories, as John and Harold frequently have to insinuate themselves into other roles, jobs, professions, etc. as part of unraveling the weekly mystery. But the thing that drew me to this show was just how serious it generally took itself. There were very few filler episodes and the stories were almost always engaging. The series also becomes far more serialized by its third season, and is almost exclusively serialized by its end. There are other supporting and main cast characters as the show advances and it had some incredibly intelligent writing. There are recurring story arcs  and villains which gives the show a lot of depth. I think the show ended itself pretty well. If you are fascinated by the duality of technology’s impact on society, privacy, safety, and behaviors, this show is a good one to get lost in for five solid seasons.

I’d also like to add, the music for this show was incredible. Pick it up and give it a go with the three releases. covering the first four seasons.

The Middle Career Era?

I’ve really wandered away from the TV in recent years. Since Person of Interest concluded, I really am not watching much programming now. When the Big Bang Theory ends, there really isn’t going to be anything I watch regularly. I’d say YouTube videos are taking up a lot more of my time. Some are educational and theological in nature. Others are all over Star Wars. The point being, I don’t know what is going to catch my eye. I like serialized stories more than anything, and I like serious stories that are well written and produced. The push to reality TV and bland binge programming from streaming services isn’t doing it for me.

Other Honorable Mention

I basically just want to show some love to the original Twilight Zone. The incredible anthology series from the  1950s and 60s is as thought provoking and timeless as anything produced in this media. I didn’t really get introduced to this in earnest until the late 1990s. You’d think a teenager 40 years after the fact wouldn’t care about black and white programs from years gone by, but this is some of the best television ever produced. The current modernization of the concept pales in comparison and lacks the subtly and timelessness that the original possessed. Let alone, all the other prior remakes that didn’t last very long are not worth much by comparison either. It really took me about 20 years to fully get through this whole series, between the marathons each year on New Years and then finally buying the entire series on DVD a decade ago. So of all the shows, this one is the one that spans time and eras.

Prompt Series #5 – You have magic soap. What does it wash away?

QuestionYou have magic soap. What does it wash away?

For the purposes of illustrating the magic soap in this ridiculous prompt, as an actual object I’ve seen, we will call it the Christmas gift found in a grocery store titled “Irish Soap on a Rope”. More specifically, it was a go-back item that kept returning itself to the go-backs. What is a go-back? A product a customer decided to not purchase, or, something found out of place. The lowly bagger, or courtesy clerk, will then be tasked with  putting it back where it belongs. That magic soap on a rope must have returned to the go-backs a dozen times. However, because it kept manifesting itself to me, I will only assume it is the magic soap of which this prompt speaks.

So what does the magic soap on a rope  wash away? Love bugs from the face of existence.

I woke up early Saturday, got the hot water running with the soap for the car. Got the hose connected. Scrubbed down the car with two different sponges.  Then dried it off with rather ineffective towels. It looked great. The splattered remains of the insects were gone. Then I take mom to lunch and shopping. The insects brothers and sisters, in the course of their never ending mating flight, exploded all over the front of the car again. Drive to church and then home today, realize the horror of the murders I had committed with the charred remains of even more conjoined lovers.

Love Bugs
The twice a year terror of conjoined lovers.

The magic soap would be very helpful in cleaning up the vehicular slaughter. Could save me the trouble of having to wash the car so intently next week. Save me a couple of hours.  But I’d rather the magic soap inflict genocide on the population of annoying 12 legged, two headed, four winged demons. Perhaps that is cruel. Perhaps we should just relocate them  north a thousand miles. But anyone who has driven through the everglades or other heavy bush areas with an interstate bisecting the wild would tell you these are a true villain to Florida, and maybe some other southern states. Once you’ve gone through the swarm, you may as well buy a new car. They have won their war against the machines driven by the bipeds.  They are legion. Save us magic soap on a rope.