Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mourning Mike Seeger

I am thinking tonight of Pete Seeger's brother, Mike, who passed away in 2009.  For some reason, while listening to a guy play the saw on Prairie Home Companion this evening, my wife and I got into a discussion about instruments that almost seem to require perfect pitch in order to play them well.  That got me thinking.  Back in 1974 I had the great pleasure of meeting Mike at a music workshop he conducted when he came to play a gig at the University of Virginia.  Mike taught me, among other things, how to play the Jew's Harp, or, as it is more politically correctly known today, the Jaw Harp.  Mike turned me on to his supplier, a blacksmith in Virginia who made pretty much perfect harps -- I have two -- and taught me how to hold and play the thing without chipping a tooth.  I don't know about perfect pitch -- I sure don't have it -- but you have to have a decent sense of the scale, at least, in order to make music with the harp.  If you don't hold your mouth in just the right shape for a particular note, it can sound pretty awful.

Mike was just about the nicest man I have ever met.  He was gentle, and funny, and patient with all of us at the workshop.  He was generous with both his time and his talent, something I have always tried to be ever since.  I'm not always as successful in that as I would like to be, but I surely have a great example to keep inspiring me.  I have never had the pleasure of meeting his more famous brother, Pete.  There are a lot of accounts on the internet about Pete's famous temper, notably when he wanted to take an axe to the power cord (probably apocryphal) when Dylan first played electric guitar at a big ol' folk music concert because he thought the music was too damned loud.  I can't imagine Mike doing anything other than going along with the flow.

The guy playing the saw was very, very good, and if he didn't have perfect pitch, I sure couldn't tell.  I have no idea whether or not he is generous with his time, but he seemed a gentle souls when Keillor interviewed him a bit after he played.  I know that because of him I'm thinking once again of one of the purely nicest human beings I have ever met, and I'm grateful to him for that, if nothing else.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Citizen of Oa

As the year progresses, I can't help but get more and more excited by the upcoming Green Lantern film.  At first I was less than thrilled with the casting, but as I see more and more snippets of the film I have been coming around to the idea of casting Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, Earth's Green Lantern.  In my heart of hearts I always wanted Nathan Fillion to play the role, but I think that Reynolds will do just fine.  Likewise Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, the owner of the aircraft company for whom Hal works as a test pilot.  The only thing I'm still not crazy about is the redesign of the costume, but I do understand that to put Reynolds in spandex would look silly.  It's why Smallville still works; Tom Welling has stayed out of the damned spandex tights.

It looks like the special effects team actually read the source material:  most of the alien members of the Green Lantern Corps look pretty accurately represented, especially Hal's nearest neighbor, Tomar Re of Space Sector 2815.  (We, of course, live in Space Sector 2814.)  Tomar Re looks just like he did in Gil Kane's original design, a fin-headed alien fish/bird hybrid.  Likewise ultimately-evil Sinestro, GL drill sergeant Kilowog, etc., etc.

If you don't read the comics, you will have no idea what I'm talking about.  If you came to this blog because you know what the title means, I'm preaching to the proverbial choir.

I want to recommend that you read Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver.  It's available in trade paperback form, and I understand you can even borrow it from many libraries.  It's well worth it, even if you've never read a comic book before in your life.

And yes, I refuse to use the pretentious convention of calling it a "graphic novel" or "sequential art."  It is both of those things, but never mind.  At the end of the day, it's a comic book.

And a great one.

By the end of it, even if you can't tell Batman from Superman, you will understand who Green Lantern is, what he represents, and in what kind of universe he lives.  And if you do have some passing familiarity with the character of Green Lantern, you will be delighted by all of the care that went into crafting this story.  I grew up reading about Hal Jordan, the fearless test pilot who was chosen by a dying alien to take over the ring and the green glowing battery that charges it with the power to create anything he can imagine -- for 24 hours.  It had all the elements an 8-year-old kid could want -- aliens, crooks, black and white morality, and lots and lots of action.  It was written largely by unsung writers Gardner Fox and Bill Finger, but sci-fi greats such as Alfred Bester and Edmond Hamilton all had turns with the character.  Then in the eighties and nineties, things soured.  The powers that be at DC comics decided to shake things up and replace the old heroes with new guys in their masks.  They made Hal a villain, gave the ring to a new kid named Kyle Rayner, and a lot of us stopped reading.

Green Lantern: Rebirth gives us back Hal.  It recaps his history, explains and excuses his turn to the dark side, and even explains the dumbest conventions from the 1960's stories (things like the fact that Hal's ring wouldn't work on anything colored yellow.  I know.)  Rebirth features most of the great heroes of the DC Universe -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman -- and puts Green Lantern right up there with them.  If you give it a look before the movie comes out later this spring, I think it will add a lot to your appreciation of the movie.  Even if it's a turkey, which I hope will not turn out to be the case.

Seriously, go check out this book!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Some Improvements

Things have improved, somewhat.  On the home front, we have a new furnace.  It made a significant dent in our savings, but the manufacturer did something rather nice, as did our installers:  when the furnace we were sold turned out to be unavailable, they upgraded us to the next better furnace at no additional cost.  So we now have a variable-speed multi-stage gas furnace which, in theory, will pay for itself in gas savings over our previous furnace in about five years.

On a more personal front, my dental issues are being addressed.  It's been ten days since my oral surgery.  Bone grafts seem to be doing well, but I am in a lot more pain than I probably should be.  I suspect some infection still going on, which my wife tells me would not be unusual since the kind of extraction that was performed often releases a lot of bacteria into the surrounding tissues.  Friday I couldn't even touch near the area of the surgery, and that was eight days after the fact.  Today it's still very tender, but improved.  So I may have to be in touch with my dentist tomorrow regarding possible intermediate treatment.  Considering how Crohn's Disease and its treatment has damaged my immune system over the years, mucking around with an infection is probably unwise.

And finally, on a purely trivial front, I had some disappointing news about the new Green Lantern movie.  There was much rejoicing among fans and collectors when, right after Christmas, Toys'R'Us announced a special adult-collector "early bird" action figure of Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern.  The figure was limited to 2,814 in number, in honor of the space sector, number 2814, which is Green Lantern's "beat" as our local space cop.  The figure was especially exciting because it appeared to come with a replica Green Lantern ring much like the one that Warner Brothers sent out to a number of celebrities to promote the film.  The replica ring is, as you can imagine, an object of considerable desire among GL fans, and this looked like a great "consolation prize:"

Alas, I received an e-mail from Toys'R'Us last night, cancelling my order.  EVERYONE had their order cancelled.  All that has been announced is that the manufacturer, Mattel, was experiencing "production difficulties."  Will the figure be re-issued?  No idea.  Was the replica ring made of lead?  No idea.  Was the container ship sunk on its way to the USA and the figures will be washing up on the shores of Mexico some time in 2012?  No idea.  A very frustrating situation for all concerned.  I can take or leave the toy, but I love that ring!

And speaking of Green Lantern's movie ring -- here is the one that WB sent out to various celebrities a few weeks ago to help promote the picture.  It even came in a nifty green-lit display box, along with a hat, a t-shirt and a goodie box designed to look as though it came from Green Lantern's "civilian" employer, Ferris Aircraft.  If any of you have it and are feeling generous, or mercenary, I'm open to talks!

Like I said, I love that ring!

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011. 10 Days In and It Already Sucks!

A couple of days ago, for the first time in a very long time, the entire family was sick with some kind of intestinal bug.  We were all running fevers as well as running to the bathroom, and for once nobody was even well enough to fill the role of Designated Tea Maker.  It was the first time we have ever truly needed every bathroom in the house.  We are all feeling a bit better today, well enough that Megan is back at work.  Although my wife is so dedicated to her patients, bless her, that she has to brought low indeed to cancel her work day.  In any event, that crisis seems to be passing.  What you have NOT heard about yet is that we woke up Sunday morning to a freezing cold house for the second time in a week.  Last Tuesday when it happened, the HVAC tech who came out said that the control board had failed in our gas furnace and needed to be replaced to the tune of around $335.  An "ouch" of a bill, but not unexpected when you own a home.  When a (different) technician finally made it out to us on Sunday afternoon, he determined that the board had failed again, but this time he discovered why -- the heat exchanger in our furnace has cracked and failed.  Essentially this means that heat from the furnace had fried the new part -- just like it fried the old one -- and that we need a new furnace.  The heat exchanger is apparently the heart of the furnace and is so expensive to replace (unless it's under warranty) that it's better to get a new furnace.  Ours is NOT under warranty; it had a 10-year warranty and the furnace is 21 years old.  So we are heating with space heaters and barely managing to keep the house at around 55 degrees.  I get to start furnace-shopping in about 20 minutes.

No idea how long we will have to live like this, but I imagine that it will be for a while.  Meanwhile, keep us in your (warm!) thoughts, and if you have any advice to offer regarding chimney-vented gas furnaces, please don't hesitate to be in touch!

2011.  Only ten days in, and I already dislike the way things are going.  Intensely.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Start the New Year Right!

Unfortunately, I don't have any essays ready to start off the new year. I have simply been too wrapped up in everyday banalities to give much thought to anything of depth or substance. After a lot of wrangling with the health insurance company I finally was able to begin treatment of a tooth that first became abscessed last November. After going on antibiotics for a second time, I got the thing extracted earlier today.

The left side of my face feels like a huge bee sting.

And I just posted elsewhere that the damage from the multiple infections was so widespread that I had to have bone grafts of tissue from cadavers implanted. I AM THE WALKING DEAD.

Not really. But I'll be two months healing before I can begin with an implant or a bridge.

Always floss, kids. Always floss.

Off to try to get some sleep despite the jaw pain and the ongoing GI fallout from all the antibiotics. Tomorrow I try to talk my gastroenterologist into deliberately infecting me with hookworm -- the next crazy cure for Crohn's Disease that I want to try.

Hell, I have to come up with a winner one of these days.