Chris

Chris

Real, raw reporting direct from the trenches that documents, dissects, and discusses culturally important events from the past, present, and future. Sure, it's a lot to consider. But welcome to Everything Under Review.

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One Year Later and a Father’s Day Memory

I winked out of existence more than two months ago, consumed by a fever dream brought on by the LOST craze and personal pressure to finish a side project long in the making, and now I’m back in time to observe the anniversary post of this humble blog. Look! I made it a year and it wasn’t completely awful, though I realize the highlight reel is rather lackluster. My most trafficked posts to date are the most practical; the kind of posts that show up in Google results when someone needs answers to relatively obscure questions, like how to replace a toilet tank lid or what to do when you burn your eyes with Clear Care. I occasionally get hits for my rant about eMusic, but most of those I chalk up to image requests for The Antlers. Michael Jackson fans stumble onto the Making of Moonwalker post now and again, which is some small comfort. I imagine them reading with rapt attention, the oddity of Moonwalker and Michael combined to form a tantalizing and nearly indecipherable untruth. Did he really want to make all those changes to the video game? Yes. Yes he did.

This blog has remained serviceable over the year despite the ebb and flow of post frequency, and I intend to continue to post about nothing and everything. I recently started a run of daily writing over at 750words.com in an effort to keep my brain-juice simmering, and so far that has been a welcome repository for creative and analytical offal. Take this, as an example:

I have to say that I have a certain contempt for sitting in front of a machine, day in and day out, missing important moments in the lives of others. Missing important moments in the life I might otherwise lead. I’m missing you. Hold your hand up to my face and press it to my cheek. Let the tears of guilt and shame race down and run between your fingers. Brush those same tears away with your hand and slap me across the face for being so damned ignorant of it all. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I couldn’t crawl away from the tortuous light, the screens, their glare and their grip on me. I am a ghost now, a phantom that has upturned the bedclothes while you were away.

As you can see, my sub-conscious is a dramatic 16-year-old writer of love notes and woe-is-me prose that is overtly committed to emotional extremes. The point is, 750words helps you put to page whatever is bottled in your head, even if it’s just an exercise in dramatics and wordplay. I highly recommend it, even if you aren’t the journaling type. The heart of the above quote holds some truth, too—I have decided to spend less time in front of a machine and make the time I do spend sitting here more productive. If I’m at the computer, I want it to be a willful choice and not my modus operandi. There is too much in this world to be missed, otherwise.

A Thing My Dad Did Some Years Ago That Was Good

This blog was launched on Father’s Day last year with a phone call from Luke to Darth Vader, and this year I thought I’d add an anecdote about my dad in honor of all the other great dads that I know and love. Being a dad (or a father, or a pop, or an Old Man) is a tough job. The male, by tradition and usually in practice, is the not-very-soft sex—particularly when it comes to the father-son dynamic. Father’s are not often known for their tenderness, their eagerness to hug and dote and fawn over a son, their long emotional sit-downs or their proclivity to cry. In spite of their hardened sensibilities, father’s will, from time to time, show you that they love you, that they support you, that they care for you, and they will do it in their own special way.

Dad and me on the 4 wheeler

Me and my dad, keeping it real in King Salmon, Alaska.

When I was about fourteen, I was a relatively minor terror. I wasn’t cracking open bottles from the bar at a friend’s house or smoking dime bags of weed in the woods, but I was hoarding M80s to blow up fish in the reservoir, shooting BB guns at friends in cardboard “armor,” stealing porno tapes from friends’ parents, performing ill-advised stunts on bikes and skates, and mixing all manner of accelerants in an effort to generate some kind of totally awesome explosion. Typical middle-class teenage male behavior to be sure, but it gave my parents all kinds of reasons to ground me, to throw up their hands in frustration, to keep me locked away from friends and the dangers of the world. I was aimless and ungrateful and beginning to despise my parents’ stranglehold on my freedoms, man. I felt like a prisoner in my own home, a young man devoid of privacy or rights, and I wondered whether my parents would ever understand. (Will Smith had officially declared that parents just don’t understand some years prior).

I remember my dad coming up to my room shortly after I was sent there for performing yet another bone-headed stunt. I was undoubtedly sulking and stewing in my state of parental loathing, but this rare visit from my dad sobered me up for the moment—he only handled the Really Serious Shit, and I was sure this particular stunt hadn’t been all that serious. He walked in and told me to follow him down to the shop, which was household code for the cramped basement room on the backside of the house where my dad kept an impressive collection of tools, woodworking equipment, maintenance supplies and whatever project he happened to be working on at the time. It was, in the parlance of our times, a man cave, and it was not a space that entertained invited guests. It was the one space in our house that was generally off-limits to anyone that wasn’t my dad.

If You Build It, They Will Come Together

I joined him there in that long and narrow space, built-in workbenches running the length of the room on both sides, the tops set at waist height and covered in wood scraps, clamps, tools, and all manner of hardware neatly organized into metal cabinets with small, clear-plastic drawers. He motioned to a stack of 2x4s, said, “We’re building you a box,” and that’s precisely what we set about doing for the afternoon. We sketched out the specifications on paper, took some measurements, and cut the wood to size. We set the hinges and routed out a lip for the lid. This was no ordinary box: it had a routed lid with hinges! We hammered and clamped and finished the project, and before the afternoon was out I had myself a two-foot-by-one-and-a-half-foot box that stood about 16″ off the ground. It was an admirable piece of carpentry for the cost of an afternoon.

As I surveyed my work, Dad bent to rummage through a box below one of the workbenches and after a moment he produced a latch and a padlock. “One more piece,” he said as he dug out a couple of nails from one of the clear-plastic drawers. He hammered on the latch and handed me the padlock and key. “It’s yours, and you can do what you want with it. I know you’ve been looking for some privacy and I want you to know that your mom and I trust you. Be smart, alright?” It was a very simple and powerful expression of love and trust—one of the very few times my dad invited me to build something with him, the first explicit acknowledgement that I was growing up and in need of my own space, the leap of faith implicit in the act of giving me my own lockbox. It was transformative, a sudden balancing of power, and I was instantly filled with gratitude and humbled by the solemn acceptance of my parents’ trust.

Knowing is Half the Battle

I slipped the lock onto the clasp, rushed the box to my room, and pushed it into my closet where it sat for much of its time in that house, untended and empty. I tossed a few things in there now and again, but the box was much more than a place to store crap I didn’t want my parents to see—for me, that box was a symbol of my independence, a symbol of my parents’ trust, a physical confirmation of the fact that I had respect in my house and that my parents did, on some level, understand. The memory and experience of building that box with my dad, the thrill that ran through my teenaged bones when I realized that I had secured a modicum of freedom, and the desire to maintain and respect my parents’ trust kept me from doing a lot of dumb things.

The Box

The Box, resting comfortably on my porch here in Chicago.

So I dressed that box up over the years with stickers and photos and shlepped it from one house to the next, on to college and here to Chicago where it now sits on my back porch. It’s starting to warp from outdoor exposure, but it still leads a noble life as a seat during parties, as a container for grill gear—suitably manly contents, I think—and as a reminder of years past, of freedom, independence, and trust, and of a father’s love for his son.

Happy Father’s Day to one and all!

Posted on June 20th, 2010

The Outsider’s Guide to Lost’s Last Season: Final Mysteries Revealed, Questions Answered

The mysteries of Lost have been solved

The Lost Theory Map: @datatat.

This is the real shit, people. I am posting this from the future. I DO NOT HAVE MUCH TIME THE WHITE LIGHT IS COMI—

Posted on April 7th, 2010

The Outsider’s Guide to Lost’s Last Season: Episode Nine

The Cast of Lost

To the cast of Lost and its creators: Thanks for the memories!

We’ve done it again, folks—another Tuesday in the bag and one more Lost episode to digest. I’m chewing over the minutiae like a boy who’s been tasked with finishing an extra stalk of broccoli before he can leave the table. Tonight’s episode was filled with new conflicts and what are sure to be the final series of character arcs before this whole damned party comes to an end in another few weeks. The stage is set for the third and final act, and yet…I can’t help but feel as though it’s time for me to take my leave of the Lost world. The novelty of my personal viewing adventure is worn, my spirits are flagging, the ship is grinding towards shore. “I don’t feel anything,” says Sayid at the start of tonight’s episode, “not anger, pain, or happiness.” I share that sentiment, although it’s not entirely true for me. I do feel something, and that’s a small amount of disappointment in myself and my inability to remain curious and committed to this show.

I’ve tried! My god, how I’ve tried! You’ve seen it; you know. I’m nine episodes into the last season of one of the most convoluted stories ever told on television. I parachuted into the party, a cad wearing street clothes at a fancy masquerade ball, and I tried to have a good time. That’s a terrible metaphor, but the point I’m making is this: a show of this scope was never meant to be entertainment for a casual interloper. There are layers here, and depth, and relationships that were built on years of nuance that no outsider could possibly pick up on. Sure, I’ve had my fun—but this is a fool’s errand! I checked the clock twice during the last twenty minutes of tonight’s show, and that’s no way to spend what should be an otherwise enjoyable Tuesday evening of television.

So, I’m putting my coverage on pause for the moment. I may return to the game in an episode or two, or I may just wait until the grand finale to see how it all comes together. Popping my head into a world that is more or less walled off to the uninvested was a gamble, but I’m happy to say that it was an enjoyable experience and I’m proud to have kept my inner cynic at bay (for the most part). At the very least, this little experiment has been a great exercise in writing regularly. I hope to continue the pattern of posting at least once a week, even if I’m no longer covering the mysteries of Lost’s last season. The everyday world has enough of its own mysteries, after all.

Posted on March 31st, 2010

The Outsider’s Guide to Lost’s Last Season: Episode Eight

I wonder if Lost’s creators sit down to watch the episodes as they air. I imagine the two of them sitting together—there’s two of them, right?—on a sagging couch in the dark somewhere, the light from the TV illuminating their lumpy bodies. They watch the recap of the previous week’s episode and joke about the number of times they had to re-shoot a particular scene. One of them pours out a bottle of wine and they both settle back into their seats, the cushions adjusting to comfortably fit what has become their own special Tuesday night ritual.

But tonight, it’s different. Tonight, they are electric. They’ve waited so long for this episode to air! They are pitched forward, their hip bones barely connected to the front edge of the couch cushions. They are giddy with the thought of Lost’s faithful finally learning the darkest and oldest secrets of The Island! They exchange elated sidelong glances as they quickly sip their wine and wait.

Welcome to Hell

The episode begins! Richard sits with the rest of Jacob’s Candidates huddled around a fire on the beach, each of them in quiet repose. They are contemplating what to do next, though Richard is of little help. Jack implores him, and Richard berates him back:

Richard

Richard

You’re dead, Jack. We’re all dead. Welcome to Hell. This island? It’s hell. And I’m going to find the man who can help me get off of it.

Cut to commercial! I can practically hear the exultant cries and the clinking of glass coming from the creators’ couch somewhere out there in the world. The episode comes back from commercial and we have traveled some hundreds of years back in time to meet Ricardo, Richard’s prior self, who tries desperately to care for his deathly ill wife. Ricardo rides half a day to a doctor who refuses him help. In his rage and desperation he kills the doctor, returning with the medicine to find his wife already gone on to the great ship in the sky. He crumples to the floor and is soon cast into jail for his crime.

Feasting on the Bones of Richard’s Backstory

“Feast, you hungry throng! Feast on the meaty bones of Richard’s backstory. Feast until your maw is slick with the juices of Richard’s despair and regret!” The creators are swept up in their work, hooting and cheering and spilling cheap wine on an already soiled carpet. The episode is a film unto itself! An hour’s worth of storytelling that could easily stand on its own as a tale of tragic loss and devilish games. They are proud, and rightly so.

The episode continues with Ricardo granted reprieve by an opportunistic priest who sells him into slavery and puts him on a ship to The New World. It isn’t long before the ship is caught in a storm at sea and is shipwrecked on The Island. The shipwrecked crew kills what’s left of the slaves before coming to Ricardo, who stands shackled to the ship and unable to save himself. It is then that the Smoke Monster attacks, killing everyone on the ship but saving Ricardo for unspoken reasons.

Lost’s creators have opened a second bottle by now, and they are becoming overly complimentary of one another. They high-five with fervor as the episode then spins into a series of drowsy scene fades that mimic Ricardo’s lapses in and out of consciousness. He wakes and tries to carve his shackles away from the wall of the ship. He wakes again to find a boar shoving his snout into the rotted belly of the dead man next to him. He wakes once more to find Isabella, his dead wife, there to take care of him. She is soon eaten by the Smoke Monster, and he cries out in helplessness before he succumbs once more to his body’s thirst, hunger, and pain. He finally wakes to find a man dressed in black, a man who—like Zombie John—is possessed by the Black Smoke. He is, in other words, evil incarnate. El Diablo de The Island. But he denies as much, and sends Ricardo out on a mission to stab a man through the chest with an elaborate dagger. This, he says, is the only way for Richard to reach salvation and find his way back to Isabella.

Jacob and the Devil from Lost

Jacob and El Diablo de The Island kick it on the beach.

The man he seeks is Jacob, and after a fight on the beach they befriend one another and Jacob lets him in on The Island’s greatest secret. The Island, he says, is like a bottle of wine filled with the most evil of spirits. Jacob, by comparison, is the cork that keeps all of that evil from spilling out into the world. He is the yin to the devil’s yang, the white stone on the balanced scale of good and evil. And he needs help—Ricardo’s help, to be specific. He cannot promise the return of Isabella, he cannot absolve him of his sins, but he can grant him eternal life and a special role in the guardianship of The Island. A deal is struck, and the devil is disappointed.

The Players, the Pawns, and the Playing Field

The creators are so stoked, man. They are so psyched right now! The entire microcosmic purpose of The Island played out in this, the turning point of Richard’s backstory! The choice between good and evil, an element of free will and personal incentive, and The Island, the blank canvas upon which it all plays out. Jacob joins The Man in Black on a hillside after Richard has made his choice, and they regard each other with the same formality shared by master-class chess players. Jacob hands The Man in Black—El Diablo de The Island—a flask of wine. “Enjoy it,” he says, “while you pass the time.” Jacob leaves, and The Man in Black smashes the wine flask against a tree, a not-so-subtle nod to the coming war between The Candidates and Zombie John’s army of followers.

The episode ends with Richard—modern-day Richard—crashing through the jungle and unearthing Isabella’s necklace that he buried there as Ricardo some hundreds of years before. He calls out to El Diablo de The Island, promising his services in exchange for passage out of hell and off The Island. But Hurley arrives and does his best impression of Oda Mae Brown by channeling a Ghost-like reunion between Isabella and Richard. Richard is renewed, and returns to Zombie Jacob’s fold.

Two bottles of wine consumed, the episode at a close, and the creators lean back on their couch with the contentment reserved for men who have accomplished great feats. This was the story within the story, a tale that might stand on its own were it not such a critical linchpin for the rest of the slowly unraveling epic. We have now reached the halfway mark for this final season, and if the water cooler talk around my place of work is indicative of Lost’s followers and their waning enthusiasm, this episode provided a much-needed jolt and gave the series’ creators a collective sigh of relief and a rightfully-earned clink of the wine glass.

Posted on March 24th, 2010