Sunday, July 31, 2005

The loss of a good friend always hurts. My friend, Gary, is moving to Tennessee this week. Johnny and I went to visit him one last time today before he left.

Gary was one of my first friends when I moved to Florida 11 years ago. We worked together at a print shop and quickly found our common interests in movies and TV. He can be opinioniated, elitist, arrogant and stubborn. He can also be witty, intelligent, caring and funny. He has been one of my best friends. He called my mother for me one time when I was in trouble; not something you can ask just any friend to do.

Yes, it is the 21st century and we will keep in touch. Somehow, it just won't be the same. We could have some of the best debates when we strongly disagreed about something. That's when, I think we had the most fun together.

I have seen some changes in him in the last year or so due to some personal problems and he has become a better person because of them.

Here's to you, Gary. I'll miss you, pal.

Friday, July 29, 2005

I'm caught in a bout of a moral dilemma. The recent bombings in London and yesterday's announcement of the IRA giving up on armed conflicts caused a bit of conflict in my own mind which I am having a tough time reconciling.

Of course, as an American, I am outraged and upset by the Al Queida bombings in London. They are as cowardly and barbaric as the 9/11 attack, Lisbon and all other terrorist activity tied in with this group. My blood boils and my heart goes out to the families of those affected.

I am pleased to finally see the possibility of a political rather than military end to the centuries old problems in Ireland. If they can finally lay down arms and come to a peaceful settlement and return Ireland to the Irish I would dance in the streets.

However, my issue comes in that I have never had a problem with the military actions of the IRA. Yes, they are unfortunate and it is regrettable that civilians have had to die on both sides but nothing else would ever seem to make a dent in the British resolve. Maybe it is because I see a moral right in the Republican movement while I view the war in Iraq and all fallout from it to be so wrong.

When I look at it closer though there is an odd similarity. The Irish were taking action against an occupying force. Isn't that, basically, what the terrorists are doing? Don't get me wrong, I am totally against the administrations handling of the "War on Terror". It's just when I stopped and thought about it in the past few days I had to wonder how I could separate the two.

I guess it's much like how a person can be for the death penalty but against abortion. They are both, at the root, the same thing; but one can feel so terribly wrong and the other so terribly right.

I am wearing my Sinn Fein t-shirt today in hopes that a peaceful solution in Ireland can finally be found. If there is a heaven, I am sure Michael Collins and Sean Downs are smiling at the thought.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Actor Ford Rainey passed away yesterday at 93. He worked for years as a very good character actor; you've probably seen his face all over the place if you're in my age range. For my TV generation he may best be remembered as Jamie Austin's father in "The Bionic Woman". I had the pleasure of seeing him play Willie Loman in a production of "Death of a Salesman" at Providence's Trinity Rep in the late 70's. And he ROCKED.

OK, so the material helped. In film everything begins and ends with "Citizen Kane". In theater it's "Death of a Salesman". I had seen stage productions before that high school English class trip. I had even been in a few and knew I had a budding talent. But when the life, decaying dreams and frustrations of Willie Loman's life exploded from that 2nd floor stage I felt as if I had never seen something different.

I was captivated by the raw emotion. As I watched all of Willie's delusions about his life be stripped away I was brought down with him. For a while I saw things through the same rose colored glasses he did and when that was taken away I was just as devastated.

And Rainey ruled that stage. He was mezmerizing. I had seen other actors perform before but this guy owned the stage. The anger and desperation of Loman jumped off the stage at you and dared you to keep up. He even looked the part. Dustin Hoffman's TV performance was pristine, yes. While I am sorry I was not born early enough to have seen Lee J Cobb originate the part on Broadway, I always felt his towering stature was too much for the part. Being in Florida kept me from seeing Brian Denehey's revival a few years ago. For me, Ford Rainey will always bee Willie Loman.

Again, it's that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that acting is something I am supposed to be doing instead of shilling geriatric medications. Watching Rainey was one of the first times I felt that gnaw. It's been over 25 years since then and I still feel than gnaw.

Thanks, Mr. Rainey. You still rock!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

It is amazing how, after almost two years, my body still is reacting and recovering from gastric bypass surgery. Thursday I was downing some Spanish peanuts at work. This doesn't sound like much, and usually I have no problem eating nuts of any kind. Apparently, Spanish peanuts are not on that list. I had the most horrendous pains as the little bastards passed out of my stomach. I could barely walk and was sweating bullets. I ended up going home for about an hours as my body recovered.

Or, so I thought.

Later that night, as I was eating a hamburger, the pain returned. I'm hoping the hamburger helped clear out what ever was left of the peanuts. Damn, it hurt like hell. Even worse, it seemed to tap all of my strength. I was exhausted the next morning when it came time to go to work. That quickly turned into calling out sick to work. I slept almost all of Friday and most of yesterday. I started eating scrambled eggs and some baked beans. It seemed soft enough food to move through my sensitive stomach.

I have gained about twenty pounds back over the past year, which really pisses me off. Once the cooler weather comes around I plan on getting back into a regime of walking a lot. That seemed to certainly help the weight loss. The biggest difference, other than the oppressive Florida weather, is having the van. I simply don't walk as much.

Still, I take solace in the fact that I an still down over 200 pounds from when I laid down on that operating table. The next 60 or so pounds will be a little tougher to overcome, but I still know I will eventually.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Jimmy Doohan. He was a sweetheart of a man. He was always fun to listen to as a guest at a convention. He was bashing Shatner before it was the thing to do.

My favorite memory was at I-Con back in the late 80's. This is a con run at SUNY, Stonybrook. At the time, I was President of the Boston Star Trek Association. Dave Ryan, Howard Cronson, Dawn Yasharis and myself were having one of our best weekends at this convention. We had tried a number of times during the weekend to get together privately with Jimmy, but his convention duties kept him pretty busy. He remembered us from his visits to Boston and really seemed to want to get together.

"Why don't you cone and get me at my hotel tomorrow morning at 7AM? We can go to breakfast." He smiled.

"Jim, are you sure? 7AM is kind of early."

"Sure, no problem. I'll be ready and waiting."

The next morning we were all loaded in our car on time and strode into the lobby of his hotel exactly at 7AM. Being the top dog, I was the one to call Jimmy and let him know we were there and ready to start the day.

The phone rang in his room.


And again.

When the receiver was picked up I had expected to hear the deep melodic Canadian voice on the other end, instead I was greeted with something which sounded like a belching monster from a Japanese monster movie.

"H-h-h-eeeeeeee-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o." he groaned, deep and painful.

"Ah, Jimmy, It's Jack. We're here for breakfast."

"What? Breakfast? What time is it?"

"7AM. Just like you told us."

"Oh, shit. I'm sorry I got in really late from the party and......" he sort of trailed off from there.

As I looked for a rock under which I could fit, "That's OK, Jim, we'll see you at the convention a little later."

"Yeah, yeah...."

The convention was held on campus and the main hall had a large gathering area. Two hours later is was filled with conventioneers. Then, in walked a wide awake Jimmy Doohan.

"THOSE PEOPLE", at the top of his lungs for all to hear and point ing directly at us; no questions asked, "are the people who woke me out of a sound sleep this morning!"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Just saw "Charley and the Chocolate Factory" and it's kinda like getting a piece of Hershey when you really wanted Godiva. It was nice but not nearly as good. Visually and in some of the directions he took the story Burton did create a different vision.

However, he seemed to suffer from the same problem George Lucas did with Episode II; just because something can be done with CGI doesn't mean it really should be. The transition of Violet into a big blueberry was neat at first but then turned into a laughable CGI blob on the screen. We also get to see what happened to Mike TeeVee after the Taffy Pulling Room with an effect that would have looked bad in "Space Jam".

The Ommpa Loompas were, at first, entertaining. This was the best use of CGI in the film as the entire populations of the ultra-mini people were all the same person duplicated over and over again. That all fell apart when ever they sang. The songs were over-produced and the lyrics were unintelligible. While the remainder of the movie was not necessarily a musical these attempts at song stuck out like a sore thumb.

I did my best not to compare this film to the original. That was easy to do because, simply on its own, this was a slow and tedious film which never took off. Satire needs a rhythm and this laid flat. Humor works best with surprise; a punchline is basically a twist to the story or reality which shocks and makes you laugh. Most times, the "jokes" in this film came and went leaving you laughing after the fact saying, "Oh, well....that was cute, but....."
One leftover from the trip to Shore Leave was seeing "Fantastic Four". This movie rocked. OK, so it was no "Spiderman", but it captured the flavor of the original material. The relationships between the four main characters were prefect. Well, yes, the "love triangle" was a bit contrived, but the interplay between Ben and Johnny was hilarious, Sue and Johnny bickered like real siblings and Reed was a geek.

Michael Chicklis was wonderful as The Thing. You really believed he was living rock and not just a rubber suit. Johnny Storm's transitions into the Human Torn were seamless. Sure, Reed Richard's stretching looked goofy at time but, admit it, they looked goofy in the original comic book as well.

My only grip with the picture was Dr. Doom. While the costume was cool his being a "Donald Trump on acid" was disappointing. I can see why they went that way with the story they told but to leave any mention of Latveria to the last few minutes of the film was disappointing. And, I'm sorry, but Doom should have an accent almost as deep as Schwarzenegger.

If you go in to this movie expecting to see a comic book brought to life, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sunday at Shore Leave is always the downer. You sleep late and end up saying goodbye to everyone and realize you eventually have to return to real life. But, it's still fun.

My son made me proud in an unexpected way. Joanie Winston is alongd standing guest at Shore Leave. If you're a Trek fan and don't know who Joan is, you should be ashamed. If you're not a Trek fan, it would take too long to explain. Suffice to say, I had met this woman when I was John's age and she still remembered me almost 30 years later. We ran into her in the hall and I introduced her to John. She is now 73 and after I told him how I met her she went off on a tangent. My son did the perfect "polite listening" thing. He looked directly at her as if he was really interesting in what she was saying while on the inside he was wishing he were a thousand miles away. You don't see that often in a 14 year old.

The play was a Harry Potter theme. This was a let down after last year's play written by Peter David. There were a few laughs but only slightly entertaining.

We hit the road out of Hunt Valley by 11AM and rode until we got to Beaufort, SC for an overnight stay. We have found this trip easier to take with these stops along the way. There is some talk about flying next year. That could make for a whole different set of experiences with this crew.

John and I went for a late night swim which I find always helps after being confined to a car for 9 hours. We were back home by 3PM Tuesday afternoon. Back to work the next day despite lingering exhaustion. Being there again cramped into a cubicle reminded of more of my desire to do voice over work. My friend, Lee Stringer, is going to be teaching at a computer animation school in Orlando for the next three months and I will be visiting. I hope to make an in with some students to do work on their student projects as a way of getting my foot in the door.

I got a few extra days with John which is always good. I gave him a cake for his birthday a week early. I really hated sending him back after having him with me for so long and all of the deep talks we had this time. Only a few weeks and he's here again for a whole week before he starts High School. He continues to amaze me. He is turning into a wonderful young man. Now that he's a little older we were all a little looser with our language and joke and he played right along with us. You could see in his eyes how he enjoyed being treated like one of the crowd and not a little kid.

So now we start making the plans and saving the pennies for next year. There is talk of Shore Leave being the location for the 20th Anniversary for the USS McAuliffe. I love the idea and really hope it happens. Hell, I'll be there anyway! I hope my little travel log gives you an glimpse of how much fun this weekend is and why it is a priority every year. I have been going since the 80's and have only missed a handful; and those were for severe health and financial reasons. I love the fact that Johnny looks forward to it as much as I do and hope we can continue these weekends long after he is on his own.

Friday, July 15, 2005

As promised here's more of my Shore Leave report.

After a full night of sleep in a comfy Marriott bed we headed out Friday morning for the Smithsonian annex at Dulles Airport. Inside they house the original space shuttle Enterprise, an SST, the Enola Gay and piles of other full size pieces of aerospace history.

The morning there was fun; getting back wasn't. One little turn onto the wrong highway had us lost and ending up in Chevy Chase, MD adding an hour onto our excursion. This also threw us off of my planned stop at John Eaton Elementary School in DC. We probably could have done it but once we hit the beltway we were stuck in a bumper to bumper traffic due to a sinkhole on the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Lucky me, knowing the area, gets to be the one to drive in that traffic. At least it was while driving the Hemi, so it wasn't all bad. My friends, of course, are never going to let me forget I was the one driving while we got lost.

When we returned to the hotel the convention had started up. We registered and went looking for Lisa Stuckey and her friends from upstate New York. We checked with con registration and they had picked up their memberships so we headed to the front desk to see if they were in their rooms. The desk clerk said to me, "I have her as a no-show for yesterday. She doesn't have a room here." After that, everything was a red-hot blur. The major problem, other than my friend had been shut out of a room, was that my debit card was going to be charged a full room night for what they considered a "no-show". The shocked look from my travel companions as I peppered the lobby with language which would make a sailor blush. Ah, the joy of having a tight budget! Oh, and did I mention the nice brass trash can near the elevator with the indentation of my foot as I tried to punt it across the hallway? My friend Jim calmed me down and we returned to play good cop/bad cop. Actually, it was mostly Jim doing all the reasoning and talking and me standing there looking like Charlie Manson ready to pounce. We did get them to reverse the charge but Lisa and her friends still ended up 20 minuets away from the hotel and spending more money than planned.

Across the street from the hotel in what used to be the Hunt Valley Mall is now an open air market place of about a dozen high scale stores and restaurants; perfect for dinner. The first one we tried was Noodles and Company. Superb and CHEAP! For $5 you get a heaping pile of pasta; John and I had a spicy oriental dish. Afterwards we went to see "Fantastic 4". I'll review it in another blog other than to say it was great; don't listen to the critics.

Saturday was when the bulk of the events happened. I started off by commissioning the chapter USS Top Gun at the Starfleet meeting. I had been corralled into playing a practical joke on the new CO. The night before I went into the Starfleet database and removed the majority of the crew to another chapter. Unless you’re in SFI, this doesn’t sound very funny, but trust me…it was great. There are regulations as to the number of members a chapter has to have to be commissioned and it can mean all kinds of headaches if a chapter falls beneath a minimum. Add to that a rocky history for this chapter and a CO who seems a perfect target for practical jokes and I’m right there.

There was really only one guest I wanted to meet this year and it turned out to be something of a disappointment. I had watched William Windom in “My World and Welcome To It” before I remember watching Star Trek. I can remember my father and I would watch it together and laughing at the veiled story about James Thurber. Now, he’s a very old 83 year old man with a mind which is slowly leaving. He had recently done a Trek fan film but doesn’t even remember doing it. It was nice to tell him how much the show had meant to me and to shake his hand. Meeting him like that made me value my friendship with George Takei all that much more.

As mentioned in an earlier post; there is the tradition at Shore Leave of calling someone who had to stay home from the hotel. The other is showing up unannounced when everyone expects that you couldn’t make it. This year, my friend Bill managed to do both. Saturday afternoon Jim tells me he had a message from Bismo saying he was “in a bar watching the Red Sox game and suggested I go to the Paddock and we could watch together”. Could he mean that he was actually downstairs waiting for me? I had to find out and sure enough, there he was. The bastard! It made the weekend complete.

I have to admit, I did the same kind of thing back in ’94, so I understand how much fun it can be to pull this on other people.

I have said before that one of the best perks of being a high muckey-muck in Starfleet is that people will buy me lots of alcohol and this was true again this weekend. Between settling a Superbowl bet with my friend Ann and other friends from the local area I didn’t spend a penny on drinks that night and did get myself very “relaxed”.

I surprised John with a beautiful ghost busters hockey jersey for his birthday. You would have thought I’d given him the keys to a Jaguar. He loved it! The past few years the trip itself was his “gift” so it was even better to be able to actually give him something that special to him.

I had the chance to meet up with author Peter David and fill him in on the fundraising we did for a teacher in Florida he had hooked us up with. Peter had posted on his blog about this teacher who was planning a course on comic books. Our chapter raised $100 for him thought a yard sale. Peter seemed grateful for not only being a regular reader of his blog but that what he had out there ended up helping someone.

The Masquerade is always a highlight to the weekend. Even though this years was slightly lame it was still better than we usually see at a Vulkon. The killers of the evening were “Spongborg Cubepants”; a Borg-ified Spongebob and “Sporkman”; a superhero with sporks for hands and a giant spork for a mask sporting a 2 foot tall handle sticking up over his head. It had to be seen to really appreciate. Peter David’s family won Best in Show with a collection of Johnny Depp characters singing “In the Navy”. Again, you really had to be there; but it was cool.

I’ll follow up tomorrow with Sunday’s activities and the ride home. I know there are no really rules for the length of a post, but I feel as if I’m running off at the mouth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Home again, home again, jiggety, jig.

Another successful trip to Shore Leave. I'll post details after I've had a good night's sleep and a chance to gather my thoughts. Next year we are looking at flying as a way of saving time and our poor aging bodies. There is something, though, to the whole road trip that I would miss.

The best part of the whole thing is the time spent with my son. He and I took the after con "walk about" where we walk through the hotel after everything from the convention is packed away and the place returns to normal. Rooms which were packed with dealers are now stripped bare, hallways are empty of people and a hush falls over the entire building.

I think he got a kick out of my including him in that tradition. We talked about the weekend and sat and talked about personal things for a while. It was one of those moments with him about which I've always day dreamed. Talking with him and sharing thoughts and emotions on a one on one, grown person to grown person level.

That's a lot of what this trip to Hunt Valley is always about for me. Sure, there's a great convention going on but it is also a chance to reconnect with friends. I could almost certainly go to the hotel and not buy a membership for the con and come away with the same feeling. This is now a place where my friendships from New England can mesh with those from Florida. Where I hug friends I only see this one weekend in July with the same gusto I hug those I see all the time. Where my son and I can share time together and grow stronger bonds.

Well, my own bed is calling and I have to get back to work tomorrow, much as I'd rather still be in the Jacuzzi or a barstool in the Paddock Bar.

But there's always next year...........

Thursday, July 07, 2005

We've made it to the Hunt Valley. And we've made it in style. We ended up renting a fantastic Dodge Magnum. WOW! With a Hemi engine. This things moves like a bat outta hell. It ride like a dream; even getting stuck in Beltway rush hour traffic was enjoyable. Well, relatively enjoyable.

We got out of St Lucie County by 2 PM and thanks to the Hemi engine were able to keep a brisk 90 MPH average. We got to South of the Border by almost 10 PM. After checking into the room John and I headed to the pool. It sits under a domed ceiling and has a bar, kiddie pool and jacuzzi. It is the perfect way to relax after a long ride.

The walls at SOB are not quite perfectly soundproofed and I had to have the help of a Tylenol PM to drown out the singing people in the room next to us. We were up bright and early again the next morning and off to a local Sonic for breakfast. The ride through the metro DC area was slowed because of a major chemical spill which has a 5 mile stretch of 95 closed down. Add to that we hit the beltway at 3:30, just at the start of rush hour. Somehow, the Magnum made it a nicer ride.

Now we are setteled in the comfort of the Marriott. I immediately called my friend Bill, who was unable to make it this year. It is a continuation of a tradition to call and bust the chops of those who stay behind. My friends and I are all having a wonderful time.

John, as well, seems to be having a good time. He and I slept in the same bed at SOB last night. At one point I just laid there listening to him breathe. I even got to the point of matching my breathing rhythm to his. It is amazing to me that I had a part in creating him. He is becoming a full blown grown person right before my eyes. He joins in on jokes and keeps up with the rest of us. He enjoys being included with the adults and treated as one. And I love watching him doing all of that. This weekend is another I hope to add to the list of memories he'll carry with him forever.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

One quick story before I head out of town.

The closing ceremonies for the International Conference went on a little longer than expected so my plans on visiting the Alamo seemed to be disappearing. I couldn't give up though. At the last minuet I jumped in a van with some friends and headed downtown. The plan was to drive there, visit the Alamo, and then take a cab to the airport. It was still 3:15 and I should have enough time to get to the airport within an hour and 20 minutes. My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:35, so I had to allow the hour for security and boarding.

I seemed good at first.

The van was a passenger van which had no air conditioning or seats for the eight of us sprawled on the floor. We all know how it feels to be an illegal alien being smuggeled across the border.

Time was still on my side. Traffic was light and we made it downtown in perfect time. Everything was working perfectly. Until we tried parking our van in a garage. We were too tall. Then when we tried an open lot it seems we were also too wide for what they had to offer. We circled twice when I noticed it was now ten minutes before 4. I decided to have them drop me off a nearby street corner an go on my own to the Alamo while they continued the search for parking.

Of course sitting on a hard steel floor for 35 minutes will do one little wonderful thing; make you leg go to sleep. Picture, if you will, me limping my way down Commerce St, dragging my suitcase and sweating the scorching Texas sun. I love traveling!

I made it to the Alamo at exactly 4PM. Which was also perfect because I had arranged with my son to watch for me on a nearby live web cam which streamed live images 24 hours a day of the Alamo. I rushed up to the curb across from where I figured the camera to be. I was an interesting sight standing on the sidewalk waving to an empty building.

I turned from there and got closer to the Alamo and had a fellow tourist take my picture to prove I had been there. That done I rushed to the curb to find a cab. My other friends had shown up and yelled goodbyes to me from across the square. Not a single cab stopped so I walked two blocks over to a hotel to get a cab and made it to the airport in perfect time.

Not quite a Fodors recommended trip plan, but it worked!

Monday, July 04, 2005

What a weekend I just had. Next year I hope to have a laptop so I will be able to blog from the road.

There were no real problems in flying to and from San Antonio; although I did have a 2 hour delay on the way there. I don't know what the problem people have with Atlanta International Airport. Yes, it is big and there was a delay, but it is comfortable, easy to get around and plenty of places to eat and relax. I swear the voice announcing the tram is that of Robby the Robot. If you travel and go through that airport listen carefully the next time you're getting on the train.

International Conference was a wonderful experience. My first Executive Committee and Admiratly Board meeting went well. I asked around and my report was received well and there was actual discussion and progress made on something from my department. It was a different experience being at one of these now being one of the officers of Starfleet.

One of the most rewarding moments was when a woman approached me and thanked me for responding to a notice about her being in a car accident. It meant so much to her that someone from HQ had not only read the report and took note of something personal like that but that I had taken the time to respond privately and share my concern about her. Just a product of my raising, I guess. It seemed the natural thing to do.

It was good to finally put some faces to the names on the rest of HQ staff and the regional coordinators with whom I have only had an internet relationship. They all seem like a good bunch of nuts, just like me, who enjoy doing the jobs we have.

And DAMN......can they party!

There were two nights of outrageous partying which included my intake of this absolute vile Chinese alcohol. It was the nastiest thing going down but the after affect was most enjoyable. At one of the parties I decided to just lie on the bed in stead of fighting the inebriation. While I will save some of the stories from being shared on the net I will say the highlight was actor Vaughn Armstrong joined me in the bed. While I always say I am a devout heterosexual, the sight of him lying with me was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time!

The one moment I do regret from the weekend was upsetting a friend. Sauna's Dolan and I got into a contest getting each other in and out of the Klingon Jail. This is where the Klingon would arrest you based on a warrant someone would pay for. You could then either pay your bail, raise the money to be bailed out or do your time. Just when she was going to get herself bailed out I made a big deal of keeping her in longer. Her fragile 14 year old ego could only take so much and she proceeded to cry. In the end, it was a good lesson for her in giving and receiving a practical joke and, in the long run, I think she has learned from it. How our mutual "revenge" goes from here will tell.

I've got John here with me as we prepare to head to Shore Leave on Wednesday. We had our chapter cookout today and that was its usual success. John and I went to the top of the Roosevelt Bridge to watch fireworks. We had time to talk as we waited and was another moment I'll add a a great father son moment.

The next week will be sparse for blogging. If I have time and can think of other moments from the weekend worth sharing I will post tomorrow. Other than that, there will probably not be a blog for another week after we return from Maryland.