Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ghost Post: Psycho Analyzed

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Psycho Analyzed
Date of original composition April 5, 2013

Well, Thursday night was a pretty strange night, as they go for me.

Around 9:30 I picked up a young couple from Harry's, a bar in downtown Arlington Heights. The woman came out of the bar first and waited for her boyfriend to pay their tab. I wanted to comment to her that she resembled Mare Winningham in her prime — as I don't know how Ms. Winningham is looking these days —

(Mare Winningham)

but 1) she's too young to know who the hell Mare Winningham is and 2) she was too drunk to care if I said she looked like Steven Tyler.

(Steven Tyler)

A few minutes later her boyfriend got in the taxi seeming a little more sober, and talkative.

I entered their destination address into my GPS and drove off. On the way the boyfriend asked if I could go a certain way so that he could stop at a liquor store to pick up a six-pack of beer, as he was going to continue to watch the Chicago Blackhawks hockey game at home. I obliged.

The girlfriend made herself comfortable by lying down, to boyfriend's protests. She responded, saying, "I'm not gonna do anything," which made me wonder what she though he thought she might do. There. In the back seat of my dark taxi.

It was only a small chatter of words, but I began to think this girl was maybe a bit on the wild side.

We arrived at the liquor store, and boyfriend said, "I'll pop in and pop right back out."

Girlfriend started scooting across the seat to go out the door with him. "I'll pop right in, too. I have to pee."

"No!" said boyfriend. "You can't go pee." Of course he meant that the store management wouldn't let her use the bathroom, but girlfriend apparently heard a challenge.

As soon as boyfriend closed the door, girlfriend said aloud — but, apparently, not to me — "I can too go to the bathroom. You'll pop right out that door, and I'll pop right out this one..." She opened the left rear door and got out. I had first assumed she was just going to enter the liquor store defiantly and press her luck with the clerk, but no. She stepped to the rear of the taxi, hiking her skirt up along the way. I got a shocked glimpse of her bare ass cheeks around her thongy panties as she disappeared into a squat behind the car!

Yup. The wild side.
Psycho Analyzed

About three hours later I received a dispatch to pick up at a local Red Roof Inn. The order indicated that it was a party of 1, but two people came out and got into my car. Mitch and Charli wanted to go to Dick's River Road House, hoping it would only cost them around 15 dollars. They asked me how much it would cost, but I couldn't give them an accurate answer, as I don't know the address of the place (which would allow me to get the mileage from my GPS, which would, in turn, help me figure out the fare). Then Mitch said he needed to stop at an ATM so he could pay me.

They had gotten into the car in reverse order to what Mitch needed in order to use the drive-up ATM, so he opted to walk to the machine, leaving me and Charli alone for a couple minutes. Did I mention she was drunk? She asked me my name, then asked if I spell it with a 'Y' or an 'I,' and then explained that she spells her name with an 'I,' so that's how I know. She told me she's originally from southern Indiana.

I asked her what brought her up here.

"Well, mainly," she drawled mildly, "all the men there are gray."

I pictured her being chased around by a bunch of 60-ish men and getting frustrated.

"But the men here are black and white, you know what I mean?"

I don't, I nodded.

She pointed past the windshield at her man. "Like him! He's black and white. That's my Mitch. I'm gonna marry him!"

Mitch got back in the car and we headed toward Dick's, about a 15-minute ride. They chatted privately for a few minutes. "The machine wouldn't let me get a thousand," said Mitch. "I punched in a thousand, but it wouldn't do it. So I could only get five-hundred."

Yup. And he wanted the ride to cost only fifteen dollars, like they're strapped for cash.

Then they started talking to me. Individually. Two separate conversations. Simultaneously. Charli was right behind me and closer to my ears, so I mainly heard her side of our conversation.

She hit me with a fusillade of questions: when's my birthday, what's my mother's maiden name (I had to double check to make sure they didn't have my wallet!), did I have any sisters, what are their names... She claimed — and Mitch confirmed — that she could "read" me, so all these questions came from that.

This was actually the second time in a week that I had been "read" by a woman, the first ending in the assessment that since all Virgos are assholes, that I'm an asshole. So I had low expectations for myself this time.

Then Charli made a few fairly accurate assessments — one easily deduced: I'm in a sucky job and it affects my attitude. The second: my attitude defeats my ability to get women. Not entirely accurate... my entire being defeats my ability to get women, but okay, I give her half a point. Then she asked me what it was when I was a kid that I liked to do most; what was my passion. I came up with a couple of snarky answers that I didn't voice, and then she said, "Was it sports?" No. "Was it music — do you play an instrument?" No. "Comedy?" Holy shit!

There was a period of my life that I wanted to be a standup comedian, but I was thwarted by a serious disability: I'm really not very funny. But, WOW. That one hit close!

I didn't acknowledge Charli's accuracy — I couldn't get a word in edgewise —



Ghost Post: Road Rage, a Short Story

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

a short story
by Tony Gasbarro

(November 25, 2013)

The light was red. Victor Trachtman saw in his side mirror the man from the other car approaching him, anger hunching his shoulders and squeezing his fists. Vic's foot trembled on the brake pedal. His window was open. Panic seized his mind as it replayed the earlier few seconds of his life, and froze his hands from closing the window.

Vic had signaled his intent to change lanes as he waited for the white Dodge minivan to pass on his right. He had checked the right lane in his right-side mirror. All had been clear. The minivan had cleared Vic's front bumper, and he had accelerated slightly and leaned his steering wheel to the right to take the lane. A sudden screaming horn had startled Vic, and in a brief spastic moment he had punched his brake pedal, jerked his steering wheel to the left, and seen in his right-side mirror the sleek grey Lexus — its headlights flashing and its horn blaring — rapidly closing in on his rear bumper.

The man pounded his fist on the trunk lid of Vic's car as he closed the distance to Vic's open window. Vic could feel his heart's rapid beating in his throat.

Vic's first instinct had been to swerve back into the left lane, but in the split second before doing so, he saw that his acceleration had carried him past the rear bumper of the Yellow VW Beetle. So he had accelerated more and eclipsed the speeding Lexus. To make matters worse, the white minivan had then slowed to turn right, into a shopping center parking lot, and Vic had braked hard in order not to collide with the van, thus causing the Lexus to nearly crash into him from behind.

The man was now in his window, in Vic's face, screaming profane insults at him, his own face nearly purple with rage. Vic heard the man's voice, but the throbbing in Vic's ears garbled the man's words. At first, all he knew was the man's rage, and that the man's mouth was inches from Vic's ear.

And then the words started to catch hold onto Vic's psyche. "...cking moron! Didn't you see me in the lane, you stupid motherfucker? HAH? You need a fucking telegram before you move your stupid piece of shit car in front of someone's fucking way?"

Vic's panic began to give way to anger. The lane had been clear. He had signaled his intent. The Lexus had come seemingly out of nowhere. "I had my blinker on," Vic said, his voice tentative at first. With his next breath Vic felt his own rage rise. "You knew I was changing lanes. You need to slow the fuck down, pal!"

In an instant, the man from the Lexus flipped from rage to insanity. "The fuck...!" He reached a hand in and grabbed at Vic's face. "You don't tell me what to do, motherfucker!"

Vic's own hands went up to fend off the man's grappling at his face and shirt collar.

The man pulled one hand free and started pounding at Vic's face and neck, and screaming. "I'll fucking kill you! I'll fucking kill you!"

Vic threw his arms up to cover his head, and reached out to push the man away from him, shoving at his face. He felt the man seize his arm and start pulling at it, and alternately landing fists on Vic's neck and jaw. "Get out the car, motherfucker! GET OUT THE CAR!" Vic pulled back, gripping his steering wheel with his right hand for leverage while his fastened seat belt anchored him to his car.

Each time the man pulled on his arm, Vic's other hand yanked on the steering wheel to pull back, and deep inside Vic's survival instinct was a calm area experiencing a mild frustration with the steering wheel turning under Vic's fight to stay in the car. A slow reasoning started to build that Vic was going to lose this fight under the raging man's terms. The man had the advantage and all the leverage, with his legs beneath him and his feet on the ground. Soon, the solution to Vic's problem became clear in his mind: he must knock the man off his feet.

In a frantic moment, as danger for his life felt imminent, Vic's right hand pulled the top of the steering wheel to the left and around again until he felt it stop at its limit. Then he slipped his foot off of the brake pedal and onto the accelerator, and his car lurched to the left, knocking the man from the Lexus off balance. The startled man now gripped Vic's arm for leverage rather than advantage, but released it all together as he fell under the heaving automobile.

Flight was all Vic could think of, now, and the sensation of the car riding up, and the sickening yelp of the man's voice as its tire rolled over him only came back to Vic when his senses returned to him while he sat in his car in his garage at home.

"Oh, shit, what have I done?" Vic said aloud. He began to tremble Every sense in his body told him he should call the police, turn himself in. "But HE attacked ME!" Vic said, again aloud, but this time in response to an imaginary interrogator.

His mind's eye pictured, as though a third-person eyewitness, his car running over the man from the Lexus, its tires riding up over the man's hips. He feared the man would never walk again. Or was he dead?

"Maybe," Vic thought aloud, "nobody saw it. Maybe," he hoped, as he realized that it was a busy intersection — EVERYBODY saw it — "they saw what an asshole he was, and nobody reported it."

Vic knew that the right thing — the only thing — was to go to the police station and turn himself in. "But how do I explain to them why I ran away? Or — shit! — why I ran him over?!"

"Somebody must have taken down my license plate number. They'll find me."

He waited for nearly an hour in his garage, waited to hear a knock on his door, or to see the door fly open as the police kicked it in, or used one of those battering rams he had seen used in those reality cop shows on TV. But nothing happened. Not even in the next hour.

Vic left his car and went in the house. His fine house. What would happen to it if he went to prison for running over the man from the Lexus?

In the bathroom, in the mirror, he saw some bruises forming on his jaw where the man's fists had landed. There was a small cut on his neck. Vic trembled again as he relived in a second the whole incident. "What's going on there right now?" he asked his reflection. "Do the police have crime scene tape blocking the corner? Do they do that only if it's a murder?"

Vic vehemently deflected thought of going back there to see. "The suspect always returns to the scene of the crime." Crime?! Was he a suspect? "Oh, Christ! WHY did I run away?!"

The news. "The news will know." He looked at the clock. The evening news was on when he ran over the man from the Lexus. That was three hours ago. The nighttime newscasts wouldn't be on for another hour.

He couldn't eat. He didn't want a drink. "I'll just wait."

The phone rang. He stared at it on the wall for several seconds. Its ring seemed surreal, as though its meaning was detached from the phone. He picked it up. He put it to his ear.


A hollow silence on the other end. Vic had never hoped for a telemarketer before, but if the caller was selling something, Vic vowed in that moment he would buy it.

"Yes," said the deep voice on the other end. "I'm trying to reach a Victor Trachtman?" He pronounced the "ch" like in "church" instead of the correct "k" sound.

"Speaking," Vic said slowly, his mouth dry.

"I'm Detective Bob Gonzales, Bradley PD, Metro division."

Vic closed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh.


Ghost Post: English Seeking

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

English Seeking
Originally composed January 30, 2013

Last summer I made grand announcements on Facebook of an impending change of direction, of the start of a new chapter in my life and yada, yada whatever other cliché phrases one can conjure to imply an attempt to crawl out of a rut.

On July 9, 2012, I began a 12-week, part-time course at Australia-based SEA English Academy to acquire a Certificate IV in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). After a week or two of my classes — in which I was the only student — the course administrators sat down with me and told me that they were going to accelerate my pace to catch up with the class that had started a couple weeks earlier. They felt I could handle it. I already felt slightly overwhelmed because I hadn't been in any kind of a classroom environment for quite a few years, and it seemed my ability to retain the information they were imparting to me was quite rusty. However, the quizzes and tests bore out their assessment that I was having little to no problem grasping the concepts.

Through mid-August and into the first week of September I got the feel of teaching real English students — non-English-speaking adult and elderly immigrants who were attending free classes in their communities (because, honestly, who would want to pay bumbling, fumbling teachers to throw vaguely coherent lessons at them?) I went from serious stage fright — which, going on 35 years as a ham actor, I hadn't felt in years — to a genuine feeling of "HEY! I can do this!!"

After the last practicum teaching session there was a graduation ceremony, and then it was time to start assembling "papers" — renewing my passport, submitting my fingerprints to FBI for a background check, revising my résumé to reflect my English teaching in the foreground of my experience — and to start sending out applications.

I want to go to Western Europe. I have wanted to live there for quite some time, now, inspired by my time in Germany while I was enlisted in the US Air Force.

My list of desired places, in order of preference:





Czech Republic

There's a problem, though. As I have been told and — even more importantly — as I am learning on my own, Western Europe is pretty much closed off to job-seekers without European Union passports or without some sort of "in" to a company or school already.

Europe is a beautiful, epically historic place. I recommend to anyone who has never been there to visit soon. But in the summer months. Not in winter. Europe is a bitch in winter. Except in the southern reaches of France, Spain and Italy, I guess.

But I'm a Chicagoan. I'm used to that which Mother Nature can dish out along these latitudes. Europe is the goal.

But, what to do to get there?

Fall back and punt. Common theory is to find somewhere else to go, to teach, to get some good experience under my belt, and then, perhaps, work my way closer to where I wish to go. I have no desire to go to the Far East, to places like China, Taiwan or South Korea. Nor do I care to go to the Middle East, to places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or UAE. Paradoxically, those are the places with the most readily available jobs. Go figure.

Through most of the first decade of this century I had a job for which I traveled extensively, and one of those destinations several times was Hawaii. I don't know of any American mainlander who has gone there and not thought — even if only briefly — "I want to live here!" I admit the thought crossed my mind.

But they already speak English in Hawaii.

So, my plan: I'm willing to take what Western Europe can dish out because that's where I want to be. But if I can't be where I want to be, then I'll try to go to a "paradise" destination and tough it out there until I can worm my way into Europe!

In the past few weeks I have been researching the countries of Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, places I never cared to go before. I have found job listings only for schools in Thailand and Indonesia, though I do need to use more search resources that may offer a wider view.

I do still keep my eyes open for, and send applications off to opportunities in Europe, because you just never know when someone may think I'm the bee's knees. So far I've been turned down by companies/schools in central Germany and Paris, France.

I received a regrets message from a school in Thailand last week.

But today I received a nibble from a school in Jakarta, Indonesia! In response to my application, they wish to set up a Skype interview. I've sent word to SEA English Academy for advice or insight to both the school which has responded, and to the city of Jakarta or the nation of Indonesia as a whole, to see if there are any red flags there or in the wording of the application.

It's a first nibble. It may not pan out, or I may ultimately not be interested, but I think it calls for some excitement...which I've expended on writing this post.


Obviously, the life arc has changed. More on that later....


Ghost Post: Gun Control

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Gun Control
Originally composed January 14, 2013

There is no other way around it: something needs to be done about gun violence in this country. I don't believe an all-out ban on guns is the answer, as a gun can be a useful tool — yes, weapon — in skilled, responsible hands. That doesn't mean everyone should be allowed to own one. There are people — and not just the mentally unstable — who should not own a gun.

In the "gun control" debate, I have heard several people clamor for parity with proposed gun control. "Cars kill more people every year than guns! I want car control!"

We have car control. One needs a license to legally drive a vehicle; licensing requires a specified number of hours of training; the license can be revoked for repeated infractions or for single egregious ones. The government regulates driving with imposed speed limits, turning restrictions, lane demarkations, one-way streets, and laws to enforce the proper use of them all. The automobile industry makes new strides every year to make cars safer and smarter, and doesn't resist at every turn new pushes by the government or the public to make them even safer. The gun industry provides for woefully few such safety measures to reduce death and injury to gun users and the people around them.

Still, people die in car wrecks or car/pedestrian collisions every day. Yes, some of those deaths are intentional; the human mind is resourceful and inventive, and can find ways to weaponize just about anything when focused on harming another human being. The major difference in the argument that "cars kill people, too," is that they're not designed as weapons, they're not designed to kill. Weigh the annual road death toll against the use of cars. I don't have statistics to quote, but I believe it's safe to say that there are upwards of 150 million cars driven on US roads every day, cars used for their intended purpose. Some of those cars will be involved in wrecks, and in some of those wrecks some of the cars' occupants will die. The ratio of road deaths per car in use is dramatically low.

Guns, on the other hand, are generally not used every day. Most are tucked away in cabinets or drawers, or behind retail counters, or in holsters for the relatively unlikely event of a holdup or robbery. Perhaps as many are safely locked away in dedicated gun storage cabinets, and used only for hunting during certain periods of the year.

It is all too prominent a statistic that there are many accidental shooting deaths each year, though I would wager that the ratio of accidental shooting deaths is much lower compared to deaths by intentional use. My point, though, is the ratio of deaths by gun to number of guns in use is much, much higher than the deaths per use ratio for cars.

A car in the hands of one bent on doing so can be used as a weapon to kill people, though its intended purpose is safe, peaceful transportation. A gun that is fired, resulting in the death of a human being — whether accidental or intentional — has fulfilled its intended purpose.

But how many of the most horrendous mass murders of the last thirty years were facilitated with a car? Only one, and the vehicle — a truck in this case — was used to deliver a payload of explosives — which did the actual destructive work — to the Alfred R. Murrah government building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

No. When bent on massive casualties, the would-be murderer defaults to firearms.


Ghost Post: Pure Atheist

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here begins a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Pure Atheist
Originally composed May 24, 2012 (or that's the most recent update to the file since writing it...)

I wish I was a pure atheist, one who never knew what it's like to have felt a duty to a god or a church and their corresponding patterns of behavior. Because those things have left a mark on me, on my cerebral cortex, my instinctive brain. I often call religious indoctrination "brainwashing," and this is why; the trained instinct of belief. It's brainwashing because - despite the rational, reasoned thought that tells me there's no magical, invisible entity holding the universe in the palm of his hand, who knows my every thought and that of every other thinking being in the universe - in unguarded moments I still catch myself thinking of my mother "in heaven," or my father "looking down on me" and approving or disapproving. It's brainwashing because - despite years - decades, now - of consciously brushing off those ideas into the dust-pile of fairly tale - I still can't unthink the thoughts that swim up from the depths of my childhood indoctrination.

Yes, to be free of that ready, instinctive compulsion to regard an active, populous spirit world would be refreshing. To have never felt beholden to a god, a prophet and that guy behind the screen every Sunday would be liberating. But those childhood memories are also responsible for the warm feelings I still get at Christmas time, for the anticipation for Christmas day, when it seems as though the world goes quiet; for the warmth I feel when I hear the songs - reverent or secular (one has to admit, whether a believer or not, that the concept of the nativity of Jesus Christ has inspired some great songs!); for the comfort of the closeness of family and the anticipation of the great food and lively conversation in their proximity.

I guess it's pointless to wish for the things I'll never have, or to be what I can't be, for they're things done that can't be undone. Not without a frontal lobotomy, anyway. And, now that I think of it, I guess I've had the best of both worlds; to a kid - the kid I was - the magic, the fantasy, is real. With age, reason ruled out, and I'd hate to imagine myself a slave to that kind of doctrine, but, with a head still full of those magic moments, looking back has a magic all its own.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Huge, Self-Effacing, Public Apology To Netflix...

...If Only They Would Navigate to My Blog and Read It

Over the past several months I've been having a terrible time with Blu-Ray discs on loan from Netflix. Many of them have had a tendency to glitch during the main movie — never in the previews or during the credits, for some reason — and ruining my mood for watching. Several weeks ago I called their customer service number and complained mightily to the person who answered the phone. She was polite enough, and she immediately offered to send me two extra selections from my DVD queue — I have the maximum program, at three discs out at one time — which would put five discs in my possession. I told her that extra discs wasn't going to solve my problem; I'm spending nearly 30 dollars a month for movies I have to send back because they don't play properly, and if I don't get some answers, I'm going to cancel my Netflix subscription! She suggested that, perhaps, my Blu-Ray player was in need of a firmware update. I told her that, according to the Samsung website, my firmware was up to date.

Granted, what I told her was actually information about a year old. The last time I had checked prior to the phone call, I did see that the most recent Samsung firmware update was dated 2011, which was when I last updated my player. But, in my defense, the only firmware-related issues I had ever seen with my player was when a certain Blu-Ray disc wouldn't load due to out of date firmware. Playing one-third of the way into a film and then breaking down into hiccups and glitches seemed more of a crappy quality-control issue — the discs were leaving the Netflix distribution centers with scratches and schmutz on them, and it was affecting my viewing pleasure.

So, the pleasant woman on the phone assured me that she would pass my complaint along to the Department of Those Who Could Do Something About It, and wished me well in whatever I decided about cancelling my subscription or not.

It didn't help Netflix's case when the two bonus discs they shipped arrived to me broken, and I called back with my hair on fire (I know. It's only a manner of speech. (Yes. I know I'm writing)). They assured me they would have a discussion with the US Postal Service about the handling of their property, and that two replacement discs were already on their way.

A week or two later, after the replacement discs had come (one of them gave me fits anyway, and it just so happened that the film was available for download on the Netflix "Instant Queue" feature) and gone, I decided to look once again at the Samsung website to see if maybe there was a more recent firmware update for my Blu-Ray player, circa 2009. After a sufficient amount of clicking and hunting, I determined that the latest update was the last one I had loaded in 2011. It would appear that my five-year-old Blu-Ray player had been rendered obsolete by its manufacturer sometime within the past three years.

I still refused to believe that simple, seemingly random glitches in playback could have anything to do with the machine's playback software, but rather that there must be some kind of flaw in the playback surface of the discs I was receiving. After all, they pass through hundreds of hands each month, right? I mean, some of the discs I've received appeared to have had someone's lunch served on them! But doubt crept in.

Then, last week I suffered from the frustration of two consecutive discs failing for me, first with Abduction, and then with Cowboys & Aliens, the second of which caused a minor meltdown during which I signed up for AmazonPrime, their premium online streaming service. Netflix was DONE.

But I like Netflix. Their DVD-by-mail service is top-notch, and they have obscure films no one else offers. Their streaming selection SUCKS, though.

SO, I elected to conduct a potentially expensive experiment. I decided last Friday to make a weekend run to Best Buy to pick up a new Samsung Blu-Ray player to see if it could get through Cowboys & Aliens, the defective disc of which I had not yet sent back. Expecting to deepen the debt wound by a couple hundred dollars Saturday, I was very pleased to discover that Blu-Ray players are frightfully close to "dime-a-dozen" territory! (Five years driving a taxi, being poor, and not buying shit does that to you.) I returned home that evening, went through some wiring contortions, got the new, TINY by comparison player talking to the other Samsung components, and loaded Cowboys & Aliens. It rolled right up to the point in the program where it had glitched in my older player ...and ...nothing.

It played flawlessly right through the section in question.

So... imsorrynetflixiwaswrong.

There. Done.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abduction ...Of My Precious Time!

Abduction (2011, Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins)

Ugghh. It becomes apparent from very early on that this film by director John Singleton is aimed squarely at the teen set, what with supposed heartthrob Lautner — of the Twilight series fame — starring as a high school senior with troubles. But please! Give the world's teens a little more credit to appreciate real dialog and plot! From the first scene the film is about as flat as a sheet of plywood, and Lautner's performance is even less interesting. His facial expression — through the discovery of the real identity of his parents, to witnessing their murders, to escaping his would-be captors, to facing his foes — never waivers from a mild sense of confusion and having just caught a whiff of an unpleasant odor.

Lautner portrays Nathan, a privileged teen with no apparent problems, even though the script alludes to some that Lautner's perpetually blank expression doesn't convey. He has a seemingly brutal father who routinely (it would seem) kicks the crap out of him in full-contact style boxing bouts, but who also seems like a swell guy. Nathan discovers a web site that causes him to suspect that he may have been abducted as a toddler, and that his parents really aren't his parents. Suddenly people show up and kill his parents, and Nathan is on the run with his across-the-street neighbor and would-be girlfriend, Karen (Collins). Nathan is eventually surrounded by — and surrenders (albeit momentarily) to — a cadre of CIA agents, led by Agent Burton (Alfred Molina), and cleverly listens to Burton spell out every detail about Nathan's surrogate parents, about his birth parents, and about why so many people are after him. Then, in a subsequent moment of astounding clarity, Nathan realizes aloud to Karen that his father, in duking it out with him regularly, was preparing him for the situation in which he finds himself. Hello. We were there 35 minutes ago, Nathan. Another moment of brilliance, in a later search for his birth mother, Nathan deduces, since the directions to the address he has for her have led them to a cemetery, that she is dead. As Nathan is chased by two sets of spies vying for information they think he possesses, the plot reaches its height(?) at a Pittsburgh Pirates home game at PNC Park. If that's not ironic metaphor for lameness in film making, then no such thing exists.

The plot is about as clever as a coloring book maze, with dialogue seemingly written for the "Dick and Jane" set. Even veteran actress Sigourney Weaver — whose casting here suggests she must have lost a bet — as Nathan's therapist (or IS she...?), delivers her lines so deliberately that recent stroke victims would be shouting at her to spit it out.

Michael Nyqvist, who also portrayed affable good-guy Michael Blomqvist in the excellent, original, Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film trilogy, shoots himself in the foot as the villain Kozlow. Perhaps he earned too warm a spot in this film goer's heart as Tattoo's Blomqvist, but he is neither convincing nor fearsome in this effort.

Nothing in this film appears to have been done by anyone who was trying very hard. The editing appears as though done by someone in an extreme hurry, perhaps to move on to his next film while quietly forgetting to include this one on his résumé.

In fact, the only thing this film actually earns is its rating of 2.0 on the Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale.* Even if it's free, spend money on something that might actually be worth your time, instead.

*The Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale of zero to ten: a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of zero indicates such a disregard for the film that one could get up to go to the bathroom at any point without worry of missing anything exciting or important; a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of ten indicates there is no way one would get up and leave, save for a distinct tearing of bladder tissue.


As Though Back From the Dead....

Yes, it has been a while. No point in belaboring the fact; I'll just get down to business....


Monday, May 13, 2013

Kindness Activates Reward Miles Ahead

Sunday morning
The bright arrival of the new day brought me a fare to pick up at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. A heavy-set woman got in the back seat, and I said, “Good morning! How are you today?”

“Not very good,” replied the woman. I figured, since she was coming out of the hospital, that maybe she had just been in for some kind of care. “I think I’m having a miscarriage.”

Oh, jeez!

She asked me to take her to Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, about a 20-minute ride from Arlington Heights. She was visiting her mother at NCH when she had started experiencing severe cramps and bleeding, and when she went to the ER at NCH, they told her that, since her doctor wasn’t on staff there, she needed to go to Lutheran General, where her doctor is on staff. My guess is that, since the woman’s condition wasn’t threatening her life, then there was no need for emergency transport to the other hospital.

So, I sped only as much as I dared while the woman spoke on her mobile phone with her doctor — or, at least I think she spoke to her doctor — telling of all the things she had felt going on inside her body for the prior two hours.

We arrived at Lutheran General, and the woman handed me her debit card to pay the 23 dollar fare. The credit card system declined the card. She threw a small fit, which is pointless because I didn’t decline it, technology did. I can’t make the system un-decline it. She said she didn’t have any other way to pay.

So I let her go. “Just go,” I said.

“Really? It’s okay?”

“No, it’s not okay,” I said, “but I’m not gonna be the guy who strong-arms a woman who might be having a miscarriage!”

A short while later, a little pissed off about the situation because I felt that I may have been played like a little tin flute by the miscarrying woman, I mentioned it to one of the waitresses at Mac’s, the restaurant with the best corned beef hash breakfast in America. When I got to the part about feeling I may have been hoodwinked, she said, “No. You did a good thing. It’ll come back to you.”

I rolled my eyes at her.

Monday morning
3:00 am. I had worked through the night, and I was sleepy. I still had several hours to go, and it was the dead hour, so I pulled into my favorite dark parking lot intent on taking a 30 to 40 minute nap… not to mention the nuisance fare I wanted to avoid that fires off every weekday morning at 3:30! I had just shifted the car into “PARK” when the dispatch computer sounded off, indicating I was being offered a fare. I resisted the temptation to ignore it, and I accepted it. Though it was rather early for such a fare, it was to bring someone to O’Hare, a ride worth 28 dollars, minimum. Good call, Tony!

The young man was waiting and eager to get started on his trip to Florida. I could tell by his enthusiastic greeting that he had been up all night packing and/or lying awake in excited anticipation for this trip. We chatted about travel, the weather in Florida, his mother, whom he was headed down to visit. I mentioned the trip to Las Vegas I’m taking in two weeks for a reunion with some of the guys I was stationed with in Germany back in the mid-1980s. My passenger seemed quite thrilled for me, and then equally thrilled and inquisitive about my military service. He asked, and I told him about the job I did in Germany.

We pulled up to the doors at Spirit Airways, and I said, “Twenty-eight dollars.”

I heard the rustle of paper in the relative darkness behind me, a good sign that he was counting out cash with which to pay me.

“Here you go,” he said, and at the side of my vision I could see his extended arm. “That’s for your Vegas trip.”

I took the bill and looked down. In my hand I clutched a 100-dollar bill!

“WHOA!” I sputtered. He was already stepping out of the car. “Sir,” I called, thinking he had in the darkness inside the car pulled out the wrong bill, “this is a hundred-dollar bill!”

“I know!” he called back! “Enjoy!”

“You’re CRAZY!” I shouted back.

He slammed the door. He didn’t look back at me. He entered the terminal. Tampa bound.

Karma. Fewer than 24 hours later. I hope her baby is okay.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Obstinate Arrogance

Imagine this wildy ridiculous plot line for a film: a single mother's nine-year-old son mysteriously disappears when she has to leave him home alone for a day. Her life goes on pause for two weeks while she deals with the search, and then with the sad realization that the police can't find him. While continuing at her job, she never stops searching for her son...until she receives word from the police — five months after his disappearance — that they've found him!

She rushes to greet him, but when the police present the boy to her, she is stunned to discover that the boy is not her son. Despite her insistence that the boy is not hers, the police captain in charge of the case insists the boy is hers, suggests that he has changed so much in the time he was missing that she just doesn't recognize him, and intimidates her into taking the boy.

She continues to insist that the boy isn't hers, and the police captain, fed up with her tenacity and fearful of the negative publicity she could bring down on the police department, has her apprehended and committed to an insane asylum.

In Changeling (2008), directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie, that is exactly the far-fetched and unbelievable plot.

In a minor departure from the usual Eastwood auto-fellatio, the director seems to have managed to resist the urge to also star in this film. However, the musical score in this Depression-era period piece, a woefully ill-fitting smooth-jazz theme (music by Clint Eastwood), occasionally displaces the film from its era. The rest of it, however, appears properly in place. Set in Los Angeles, there are still locations in the City of Angels left over from the late 1920s and early '30s that, with a little adjustment, could be rendered believably back into the period. The costumes were superb; the hairstyles never jarred me back into the 21st century.

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, the mother of Walter Collins, the boy abducted while Christine is away. Admittedly, I am not an Angelina Jolie fan. Before viewing Changeling, I can't recall ever seeing a Jolie film which has required her to act, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with her turn here. Aside from a few clearly admiring close-ups of Jolie's face, the film does a good job reminding itself that it isn't about her bombshell beauty, but about a regular, work-a-day woman and the search for her boy.

Also well executed is the feeling of horrific absurdity at the police department's refusal to listen to Christine Collins as she insists they've brought her the wrong boy, as well as the uncertainty the film plants in the viewer's mind over whether this boy is or is not Walter. After he goes missing, we never see Walter's face again to compare with the boy that is presented to Collins, so we are left with the decision either to side with Collins — who has on her side only a mother's intuition — or to doubt her.

In what seems a nod to a cliché of the more recent turn of the century, the film paints a dark picture of the Los Angeles Police Department as a deeply corrupt organization that operates more for its own benefit than that of the public, outfitting as many thugs in its uniform as there are out running the streets, and terrorizing as many citizens as criminals. When Christine Collins's story reaches the ears and the radio airwaves of anti-LAPD corruption crusader Rev. Gustav Briegleb, portrayed by John Malkovich, she finally has an ally who brings her an army of supporters and additional heat on the LAPD.

The LAPD's response — individually by Captain J. J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) — rather than reexamine their procedures in finding this boy, is to apprehend Christine and commit her to an insane asylum under a "code 12," a blanket tactic for getting rid of problem cases without arrest or trial. On the outside, an LAPD detective working on an otherwise unrelated immigration case stumbles upon some evidence that, along with Rev. Briegleb's army, throws the whole case out into the light of day.

The film works its way to its end with several climaxes, some satisfying and others not so.

Ultimately this far-fetched film is just sad. With its unbelievable plot and its impossibly arrogant police department executives refusing to listen to a woman desperate to find her son, the film is so terribly sad because all of it is true. It really happened.

The story of Christine Collins and her missing son, Walter, was a big story in Los Angeles when the boy went missing in 1928. The police department, suffering a public relations nightmare for its corrupt activities, seized on an opportunity for positive press when they found a homeless boy matching the description of Walter in DeKalb, Illinois. They sincerely believed he was Walter, as the boy they found somehow knew of the story of Walter Collins, and claimed to be him. When Christine Collins told the police that the boy was not her son, rather than admit their mistake, the police intimidated Collins and tried to shame her into admitting the boy was her son, and eventually committed her to an asylum because of her refusal.

Despite the case working itself out in the newspapers and city council hearings, it likely fell into obscurity with the fall of the stock markets in 1929. Changeling's screen writer, J. Michael Straczynski, was made aware of the case by a Los Angeles city worker tasked with examining ancient city files slated for destruction. It becomes apparent that the corruption apparently rampant in today's Los Angeles Police Department is part of a long, shameful legacy reaching further back than anyone realized.

The lengths some people will go — at the expense of the innocent and of those truly in need — to preserve their fragile egos or positions of title... it boggles the mind.

Changeling (2008) A Numb Butt Cheeks® rating of 7.5* At Clint Eastwood's helm the film has an almost lackadaisical pace, more of what I would expect of a Depression-era film set in New Orleans...or perhaps that is the influence of the Eastwood-penned smooth-jazz soundtrack. Over all, it's a very moving film, with a solid performance by star Angelina Jolie, and the realization that, not only could this happen in the United States, it did happen.

*The Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale of zero to ten: a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of zero indicates such a disregard for the film that one could get up to go to the bathroom at any point without worry of missing anything exciting or important; a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of ten indicates there is no way one would get up and leave, save for a distinct tearing of bladder tissue.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Karma Is a Sweet, Sweet Old Lady

Sometime back in January or February I related a story on my Facebook page about an elderly female passenger who had lost a cherished family heirloom ring in my taxi. She wasn't absolutely certain she had lost it there, but had asked the Lost and Found department at 303 Taxi to help her find it. Since the lady — Pat is her name — had scheduled her pickup through the reservation service, the Lost and Found department was able to determine that I was the taxi who had transported her from the WalMart store in Rolling Meadows to her home at the senior living center just down the road.

Lost and Found contacted me, telling me that a passenger had lost "an engagement ring" in my car. I pulled the back seat out and found a ring — as well as a man's driver's license and a child's toy car/Transformer character. Though it didn't look like a typical engagement ring — it had the image of a flower engraved and painted into the metal, covered by what looked like glass — it certainly looked very well made. I called Lost and Found and described the ring, and a few hours later they called me back and said that it was indeed the ring Pat was looking for. They forwarded her phone number to me, and I called her right away.

I brought the ring to Pat at the senior home, and she shunted me off to a corner where there was some sort of lectern or high table of some sort, and she asked me my full name. She pulled out a checkbook and leaned on the lectern to write, and I told her that she did not have to give me any money. Pat explained that the ring had been her great-great grandmother's engagement ring, made in 1868! Pat had cried all through the night before because she thought it was lost forever. There was nothing I could say to stop her writing the check. She made it out for 100 dollars.

Through my Facebook page I shared my agonizing over whether I should cash the check or just forget about it. The majority of my friends encouraged me to accept Pat's generosity and cash the check...and so I did. ...never mind the fact that I really, really needed the money!


Early on the Monday morning of March 25th — some would consider it Sunday night — I accepted a fare in Palatine, the Chicago northwest suburb adjacent and to the northwest of Arlington Heights, where I usually work. By the zone displayed on my in-car computer, the fare was waiting in the north end of Palatine, but the GPS led me to downtown Palatine. The zone displayed on the computer was incorrect. Had it displayed the correct zone for the downtown area, I would not have accepted the fare, as I do not possess the required chauffeur and taxicab business licenses for Palatine, and picking up fares downtown is an extremely risky business. Also, it has been my experience in the past that, when a fare is offered at 2:30am for a customer waiting in downtown Palatine, it's almost always at a huge bar there called Durty Nellie's, and by the time I get there, it's almost always a no-show, meaning the customer has found another taxi standing by, and gotten into it.

Hoodwinked by a dispatcher's error, I found myself waiting outside the front door of — you guessed it — Durty Nellie's. And sure enough, from behind me rolled up one of Palatine's Finest who briefly quizzed me as to why I was there, and why I was trying to pick up a passenger even though I don't have the required Palatine licenses. Unable to provide him a satisfactory answer, I then had to cancel the fare and wait for him to issue me two tickets — one for each missing license — each carrying a fine of 200 dollars.

I looked up the ordinances, and this morning I consulted the lawyer on staff at 303 Taxi, and he told me that the wording of the ordinances is pretty broad, and I will likely be unable to escape having to pay the fines.


This afternoon I accepted a fare to pick up at the Meijer store in Rolling Meadows. The name on the order: Pat!

She got in the car and I could tell pretty quickly that she didn't recognize me. I didn't let it bother me, and we cruised on toward the senior living community she calls home. On the way our brief conversation landed on a local news story I had not heard about in which a gas station/convenience store in nearby Streamwood had been robbed one late night a few weeks ago, and the lone clerk there had been stabbed to death. I was shocked because, for a time, I had frequented that particular gas station, and I had probably transacted business with the victim.

Then Pat told me about her son-in-law who is a police detective, and who has been burning the candle at both ends on this murder case. Is her son-in-law in the police department in Streamwood? No.


Despite the sad reality of the murder in Streamwood, I laughed and told Pat the story of my Palatine ticket woes, and asked her if her son-in-law might be able to make my Palatine tickets disappear.

"Oh, I don't know," she hemmed and hawed. "I suppose I could ask him. He's busy with this awful murder..."

I turned to face her. "I am the guy who found your ring..."

"OH MY GOSH!" Pat blurted. "It is you!"

She then told me again about how much she had cried that night thinking the ring was lost, and how happy she was when she heard I had found it, and how sorry she was that she couldn't write the check for "ten times more" than she had. She also mentioned that she was worried when she saw that I hadn't cashed it right away, confirming the fears I had expressed were I not to have cashed it.

Pat asked me my name and phone number again, and the date the tickets were issued. I wrote them down for her.

"I will definitely talk to my son-in-law about this!"

I have no doubt Pat will talk to her son-in-law about my tickets. I have little confidence, however, that anything can or will be done about them.

But isn't this a phenomenal coincidence!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Changing Landscape

Tuesday afternoon I had a passenger in my taxi — a young, very beautiful Indian woman — for a longish ride from Schaumburg to Rosemont, and we engaged in easy conversation most of the way.

As anyone who knows me is already aware, I often make lame jokes in just about any situation. It’s not that I aim to make lame jokes, but rather that I aim to make people laugh. I like to make people laugh. I always have.

Tuesday’s opportunity was no exception. Fear not, for I didn’t harangue her with incessant jokes or absurdities; I don’t work that way. We talked mostly about her time living in the United States: she first moved to California where she lived for two years, and then she moved to Chicago about a year ago. She’s a consultant at a Chicago firm with a client in Schaumburg. She’s from a city the name of which I don’t remember about two hours from Mumbai.

As we neared the Rosemont Blue Line CTA train station, I asked, “Do you have a husband? Children?”

“ both,” she replied.

I paused for a few extra seconds, and then I said, “Neither do I.”

She laughed tentatively, catching the incongruity of my equal but opposite comment. It was intentional on my part, but her hesitant laugh seemed to say to me that she wasn’t sure if I had made a joke or if I had really overlooked my wording.

I gave her permission to laugh. “I don’t have a husband and children, either.”

She laughed.

But then it occurred to me: my made-up scenario isn’t a joke any more. As things progress, as things have progressed in several states of our union, the scenario of a man stating that he has or doesn’t have a husband — or a woman a wife — is no longer absurd. It is becoming a statement of plain fact.

The landscape is forever changing, forever evolving. We’re moving toward acceptance and away from resistance.

But damn if marriage equality isn’t taking away some good lame joke fodder!