Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bookwhore Chronicles: Favorite Reads of 2007

Time once again for lists of favorite things from 2007. So why not begin with what I like best? Well, yes CM is what I like best. But for runner-up, I enjoy my books, and after combing through the titles of the nearly 60 books completed during the past 12 months, I present my favorite reads of 2007!!

  1. Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas
  2. Out of Time by Paula Martinac
  3. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  4. Hotel de Dream by Edmund White
  5. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
  6. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall
  7. Dawn by Elie Wiesel
  8. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
  9. The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Now get out there and read!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Sweeney Christmas

My family gathered on Monday night to celebrate the holidays by unwrapping dozens of presents, stuffing ourselves with pork and corn tamales, and watching the Chargers trounce the Broncos, all in the spaciousness of my Aunt and Uncle's home in Huntington Beach. Tuesday morning, I drove to my parents' home in Laguna for breakfast with my Grandmother, and we delighted in watching her open her gifts. Her memory seemed to be okay, recognizing faces and names, but my Mother told me that only a few days ago she didn't know her own daughters, wouldn't wear her eyeglasses because they belonged to someone else, believed another resident at her group home was stealing her clothes. Thankfully on Christmas morning, she was in good spirits, enjoying breakfast with us.

But prior to the holiday celebrating, CM and I caught a twilight showing of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, one of our must-see movies before the year finished. We were both eager to see the film after watching the previews of it, listening to bits of the soundtrack and even catching an infomercial about it on some cable channel. So with high expectations, we found our seats and settled in for the ride.
>Neither of us was disappointed. Johnny Depp became Sweeney Todd, filled with a dark need for revenge, wielded the razors as if he had always used them, and sang impeccably. Helena Bonham Carter was a perfect choice for Mrs. Lovett, bringing the scheming dingy pie matron a certain charm and humor to temper Sweeney, and her singing voice fit the character perfectly. Even Sacha Baron Cohen surprised us with his singing and oily charm as Signor Adolfo Pirelli. In fact, everyone sang and performed admirably. What I think surprised us both even more was Tim Burton -- the man can direct a musical! Granted the subject matter was very dark and twisted, but his approach proved to be the right one to bring this tale to the screen. At some points, though, the music dragged, slowing the pacing of the film a bit, but since the music was originally written for the stage, I think that's a very minor thing. A great moviegoing experience overall.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Pieces of Ain't

We round the turn, parents pointing out the skeletal pirates to their kids, the animatronic crabs snapping claws at each other on the water's edge. "I'm going to do it," Jim whispers to me.

I grunt, continuing to watch ahead as another skeleton steered a shipwreck in stormy seas. Same story with Jim, always saying he's going to do it, but never following through.

"I mean it, this time."

"What about the video cameras?" I drag my finger through the cold water, still not looking at him.

"I'm not worried about those. Maybe I could ask for a copy of the video to post on MySpace." I hear the smirk and finally turn to him.

"Jim, you're not going to do it. You know it. I know it."

"But--"

"So just drop it." I lean forward to glance past him at the bedchamber. Someone added a moldy cobwebbed wig along with a longcoat of faded purple velvet. The dingy pirate captain staring through his magnifying glass while a ghostly harpsichord chimed in a Yo ho, yo ho. The perched parrot skeleton is a nice new touch. We pass into the treasure chamber, the ground covered with gold dubloons, crowns, tapestries, treasure chests and another skeleton seated atop a mound of jewels, dripping fiber optic sparkles from its hand.

Jim moves in a blur and before I can stop him, jumps the small span between boat and ground. "Get back here, Jim!" I grab the sides of the rocking boat. A little girl two rows up points at Jim, some goth-types laugh and shout way to go! I steady myself. "You're going to get us both thrown out!"

"Man, this is awesome!" he responds, ignoring me as he carefully wends his way among the treasures.

"Jim, you've got to get back in the boat!" He bends as the boat slowly floats away, inching toward a dark cave. I climb over the last two rows, kneeling on the short shelf at the back of the boat, frantically waving to get his attention. "Now, Jim! C'mon!"

I watch one of his hands slam onto a pile of dubloons. "What?! No! No way!" He grabs at a jeweled goblet, shouts and curses as the boat rounds the corner, disappears behind a concrete wall made to resemble cave rock. His voice echoes in the dark. "Dammit! Everything's glued down!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Finally! Disney Pictures!

I finally dowloaded and spruced up my pictures from Disneyland and California Adventure. Click here to see them all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Straight No Chaser

I don't post too many YouTube videos, but something about this one just made me smile.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Even CGI Characters Have Better Abs Than Me!

The usual Tuesday Night Book Group hasn't met since the week of Thanksgiving -- mostly due to the holidays, doctor appointments, and life in general butting in. But CS and I managed to meet last night not to discuss books, but to grab a bite to eat, do a little last-minute Christmas shopping, maybe catch a movie. The cold rain put a damper on the shopping so we opted for just dinner at the Alcatraz Brewing Co. followed by the digital 3D version of Beowulf

Dinner was good, and I devoured my Turkey Burger (grilled turkey patty topped with sliced deli turkey and buffalo mozzarella) and fries. CS enjoyed his Big Island Burger (with jack cheese, pineapple and a hoisin BBQ glaze) though his "medium well" seemed more "medium rare". (I'm sure he would rather have had our waiter -- spiky blond, glasses, trying to deepen his voice for our benefit -- between the burger buns, but we needed to head out for the movie.)

We found seats almost as the previews began and were forced to sit through a lighting mishap which turned the screen pink with green shadows throughout most of the previews. Management took its time correcting the problem, but we were soon told to put on our 3D glasses, sit back and enjoy the film.
In Beowulf, the Danish King Hrothgar's people are set upon by a creature known as Grendel, a deformed monstrosity that is easily disturbed by the loud noises coming from Heorot, the King's new meade hall. After Grendel destroys and kills most of the revelers at Heorot, the King sends out a plea for a hero to rid his kingdom of the cruel beast. Soon afterwards, Beowulf arrives with his men and decides to spend the night in Heorot, vowing to kill the monster. Grendel appears once again to destroy the revelry and is almost destroyed by Beowulf, ripping off Grendel's arm in the process and hanging it above the door to the meade hall. Grendel struggles back to his cave where he tells his mother, a water demon, the name of the man who hurt him. Vowing vengeance, the water demon tricks Beowulf to her cave, seducing him with promises of wealth and long life -- as long as he gives her a son and allows her to keep a golden dragon chalice.

Years later, a servant finds the chalice in a deserted part of the moors, and Beowulf reasons that the water demon has ended their pact, placing himself and the kingdom in jeopardy. With the help of his trusted friend Wiglaf, he sets out to destroy the dragon -- his son by the water demon -- that has been loosed upon the kingdom.

A great story adaptation by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, which is definitely complimented by the motion capture animation, giving the characters not only a more realistic appearance than other CGI films, but also allowing them to perform much more than a human actor could ever do. Swinging through the air while chained to a dragon; a sexy water demon slowly rising from the water as liquid gold runs and clings to her body; the hideous monster Grendel with gigantic head and almost no skin covering his severely thin frame. The animators also captured the faces of the voice actors so the animated King Hrothgar looked like Anthony Hopkins, Unferth looked like John Malkovich, Grendel's Mother looked like Angelina Jolie. While they came incredibly close to imitating live actors, they animation still had hints that kept telling me that I was watching animation: the subtleties of the human face and mouth, body movements that were somewhat stiff and animatronic. But that didn't matter much, as the action and story kept me quite enthralled. As did seeing the film in 3D. Only a few sight gags, but the 3D enhanced the depth of flying through he treetops, the immensity of Grendel's cave and the dizzying views from the top of the meade hall or falling toward the castle.

And what struck both CS and myself as interesting was the detail to Beowulf. Talk about an amazing body! And throughout a good portion of the film, the animated character is either naked or wearing solely a loincloth. At one point, the queen Wealthow caught him undressing and almost faints at the size of his manhood. Though we never get to see it, thanks to some strategically and comically placed tables, characters, swords and smoke.

Is it wrong to be jealous of an animated character?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Crowns On, One To Go

I sat in the dentist chair while she grabbed the temporaries with a thin set of what can I only call pliers. A rough grab onto the tooth, a few careful upward wiggles and off popped the first one. She probed it cautiously, removing any remnants of the cement (and causing a few winces as metal touched nerve), swabbed the open area then jammed the permanent crown into place. "Bite down...rub the teeth...open." She pulled the permanent away, allowing the cool air to send mini-electrical jolts along the tooth. The drill ground away, reshaping the porcelaine to accomodate my mouth, and she tried the crown again.

Repeated for each remaining crown until she cemented the bottom two into place. "The top crown is showing metal so I'm sending it back top have porcelaine added." Damn! I wanted this over and done with! "You need to come back in about a week." She pushed another temporary with an odd, mint tea-flavored cement onto the upper tooth, holding it in place for a few minutes with her thumb. "This cement should dry in about 30 minutes. Go ahead and rinse."

We finished in 30 minutes. And not one needle of novocaine!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Disney at Night


Spent the day snapping pics of Disney during the holidays. More pics to come....

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bookwhore Chronicles: Hotel de Dream

Most bookstores don't offer a separate gay/lesbian section. If they do, the lone shelf is usually filled with non-fiction discussion of sexuality or dating and very few novels. Most gay authors and their works are mixed with the general population of books, usually between the Psychology and Religion sections, not allowing someone like me to simply browse, find new titles and new gay/lesbian authors. Same with libraries: while they will separate Westerns from Sci-Fi and Romance from Mystery, anyone would be hard pressed to find a separate gay/lesbian section. When I'm at a bookstore or library, if I recognize the name of an author and know he or she is gay or writes fiction geared toward gay/lesbian fiction (yes, I do read lesbian fiction; get over it), I will giddily remove it from the shelf, read a few pages, carry it around and eventually buy it or check it out.
Such was the case a few weeks ago. I returned a few books to the library and roamed through the cases, looking for something to pique my interest. While skimming the titles in the "New Books" section, I came across Hotel de Dream which sounded intriguing, so I slid it from the shelf and discovered the author, Edmund White. (I can hear a few of you wondering out loud why I didn't simply check the spine for the author. The local library likes to place its inventory tags over half the spine so all I saw was the title.) I quickly skimmed the dust jacket and gripped the book tightly until ready to check out.

In the novel, author Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage) lives with his common-law wife Cora in England, having moved there because the critics and public in general seem to have more appreciation of his work than the Americans and because he's in the last stages of tuberculosis. As he suffers through bouts of pain and fever, the idea to write one last story becomes first and foremost in his thoughts, and he dictates to Cora the twists and turns of a novel called The Painted Boy. Faithfully, Cora writes Stephen's words even as they travel across the Channel to one last health retreat in Germany.

But that's just one part of the story. Through what begins as recollections, Crane tells of a young boy he once befriended in New York, who introduced him to the underground homosexual world of the city, his reporter's eye making notes to possibly use in a future novel. But the recollections quickly morph into the story itself, leaving the reader to wonder how much is memory as Crane inserts himself as a character, how much imagined. Just how much of that hidden world did Crane see, what is he creating?

I found both stories in the novel equally compelling, that of the dying author and of the "fictional" Elliott, and they intermixed well, giving me a glimpse of the creative process, how a story takes shape, what an author draws from to create. The real world (where Henry James visits Crane on his death bed) and the fictional world of Elliott and his lover Theodore Koch are presented with great detail, offering a clear look at the world at the dawning of the twentieth century, both in terms of how the world looks and how society at the time reacts to homosexuality.

And it's interesting how much society has changed since then. At the end of the book, Henry James is given the only copy of the manuscript, to finish and polish per Crane's instructions. But societal pressures and perceived notions bring an unexpected turn of events which would be less likely to happen today, thanks to authors such as White, Armistead Maupin, Rita Mae Brown, Patricia Nell Warren and many others. A novel dealing openly and honestly with homosexuality has more of a chance now to find a readership rather than be shunned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No Country for Tired Men

We both tried to sleep in Sunday morning. But my internal clock refused to allow me the chance of savoring the warmth of our electric blanket so I lumbered from bed shortly after 8am and sat on the couch watching Evan Farmer in a home improvement re-run and reading during the commercials. An hour later, CM stumbled groggily into the living room, stared and blinked at me, then stumbled back to bed. I followed and slipped in beside him, but couldn't get back to sleep. I decided to dress and drag my sorry ass to the gym -- which I had neglected for most of the week.

I returned an hour and a half later, then we both cleaned up, bought a newspaper and worked on the Sunday crossword together like always. We finished most of it, too, without resorting to the internet! We watched a little TV then gathered our gifts for M&L's twins and headed out for a bite to eat and a movie, No Country for Old Men.
While out hunting deer in the Texan desert, Llewelyn Moss accidentally comes across a violent scene: a shootout which killed almost everyone, including the pit bulls. He carefully scouts the seen, finding a truck bed filled with Mexican brown, and a trail of blood leading into the desert. Following the trail, he spies a dead man sitting beneath a tree and next to him, a case of money wrapped in packs of $10K. Llewelyn takes the money and runs. The Mexican drug runners have sent one of their own, Anton Chigurh, a merciless crazed intelligent killing machine, to retrieve the money. With the unique weapon of a can of compressed air connect via rubber hose to a gun of sorts, he sets out to find the money and the man who stole it.

I rooted for both of them, wanting one to somehow get away with the money free and clear or the other to capture his prey after a well-run chase, but precisely because they played the cat-and-mouse game well. Both Llewelyn and Chigurh are intelligent, Llewelyn with his cowboy sensibility managing to stay one step ahead of Chigurh all the way into Mexico.

This is a quiet movie. The background music doesn't intrude or force us into feeling. The tension builds when Sheriff Bell hesitates to enter a motel room because he sees signs that Chigurh has been there. Or may still be there. The camera cuts back and forth between the two -- one hesitant, the other waiting -- and the audience tightly grips the edges of their seats because in the real world, there is no soundtrack. The silence, the quick edits, allow us to sense what's about to happen and makes the movie that much more enjoyable. And to me, that's in keeping with Cormac McCarthy's writing, in which the actions of his characters speak more volumes about them than what they have to say.

Perfect casting helps, too. Javier Bardem as Chigurh is the ultimate killer, pale-faced, quiet, always thinking, always toying with people, thinking himself above them. Josh Brolin shines as the quiet Llewelyn who sees and opportunity and takes it, knowing the dangers to both him and his wife, trying to keep her safe while on the run from a killer. Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who's seen too much in his life and tries to protect Llewelyn with his own sense of duty and a wisdom tempered by his years in law enforcement. Beth Grant provided some much-needed levity in her short scenes as Llewelyn's mother-in-law.

We both enjoyed the experience, chatting about this or that scene all the way to M&L's where we presented the twins with their very first holiday ornaments -- a light blue baby Mickey on a rocking horse and a light pink baby Minnie with alphabet block, both atop similar colored glass bulbs -- and a plushy dreidl. (L is Catholic; M, Jewish). Little Riley rocked away in his jungle musical chair while Jackie giggled as she swung in her chair, not paying much attention to our gifts, but enjoying being the centers of attention. So we stayed and played and wore ourselves out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Broadway Barhopping

Five of us gathered around 7PM at Chen's on Broadway to devour heaping platesfull of Chinese food while celebrating the NNth birthday of RG. (I would list his age, but it's simply not right to make fun of the elderly.) We each ordered the dinner combo with a choice of entrée which the waitress set round an enormous lazy susan at the center of the table. The dishes spun past with a soft constant murmur of wood against metal bearings and the occasional clatter of servings spoons scraping to capture the most cashew chicken or almond barbeque pork. Conversation never flagged, mutating from dentists to movies to politics to dating and so on. We would have stayed much longer, but when the waiters began turning off the lights and vacuuming the carpet, we caught the hint that it was time to go.

Our lesbian friend couldn't stay with us the rest of the night (due to an assumed booty call, though she insisted it was no such thing), and after we watched her taillights disappear down Cherry Ave., the four of us -- RG, CS, CM and myself -- headed for the first stop on our birthday barhopping extravaganza: The Paradise.

Soft red light glowed as we passed the dining room windows, and once we opened the entrance doors, loud voices singing along to Rudy de la Mor's yuletide piano exploded into our ears. Roughly fifty people squeezed into the tiny space surrounding the bar and the baby grand, shouting across the mini tables to one another, hugging singing, fighting their way to either the restroom or the smokers' patio. We wormed our way through the crowded tiny room, Rudy calling CS' name and waving as we passed, and settled in at the end of the bar. Many disco balls of varying sizes and colors hung from the ceiling, with traditional glass ornamaments and garland mixed in between around the bar and over the Naval eagle, giving the room a warm Christmassy feel. Or perhaps it was the two almost-twin bartenders with the dark hair cut short on the sides and dippitydoo'ed to a mock crew cut, wearing identical sleeveless t-shirts, identical facial scruff and identical biceps who heated the room. We toasted the evening with a vodka and tonic (light on the tonic) for the birthday boy, a bottle of water for me, and a glass of white wine for CM then joined in the caroling as best we could. Though it sounded more like shouting than singing.

RG lamented the fact that he was getting older. "NN is so old!!" The three of us not having a birthday imagined daggers flying from our eyes and piercing him, but instead of letting that show, I rolled my eyes while CM shook his head. RG set his drink on the bar then reached for his phone, heading outside to take a call. He returned just as Rudy finished his set for the evening and stopped by to say hello. "You should have told me it was your friend's birthday! We would have sung happy birthday and made him wear one of my special chapeux!" I doubted he would have enjoyed that, but what good is a birthday for if you can't embarrass the birthday boy? RG decided instead to move to the next bar down the street: The Brit.

We dashed through the drizzle and the cold, almost tumbling up the sloped floor into the bar. RG led the way, swerving around the youngish men at the tall tables, all staring at us as we passed. The lights were dimmed, yet everything inside the bar glowed a dull green - from the carpet to the neon signs mounted behind the alcohol to the green checkered wallpaper. We walked up to the bar and RG ordered vodka and Red Bull for CS and himself whil CM and I sipped from bottles of water. The husky, thick-moustached bartender chatted with us as if we were regulars and even talked RG and CM into doing shots: tequila for RG and the bartender's special which smelled of butterscotch for CM. What a difference from The Paradise, almost friendlier, homier. WE felt more at ease, enjoyed chatting with both bartenders, sliding dollar bills into the internet jukebox to hear Fire and Ice and Slave To the Rhythm and Like A Virgin. People laughed, chatted happily, and even the bartenders got into the music, dancing and lyp syncing like professionals. We would have stayed longer, but a few obnoxious twenty-somethings wobbled in, obviously drunk and mouthing off to everyone in the bar.

The last stop of our barhopping extravaganza was Mineshaft. We hurried along the sidewalk in the cold, teeth chattering, hugging our jackets tighter around us to keep warm. A straight couple was leaving so, being somewhat of a gentleman, I reached for the door to hold it open and wound up jabbing a piece of wire from a whitish garland into my right thumb about a quarter of an inch. CM pushed me in, leading me across the wooden planks of a floor to the bartender, asking for a bandage. With that in hand, I found the bathroom and cleaned my thumb with hot water and soap, wondering if I should get a tetanus shot.

With the bandage in place, I rejoined the gang as they stood by the snack machine. RG ordered another drink -- no one was sure just what, exactly, and I didn't believe RG was in any state to remember, either. We didn't stay too long. CS had to work the next morning -- or rather, that morning since it was well past 1AM -- and RG needed a ride back home to Huntington Beach so we took our leve, hading into the cold once more to walk back to CS' car. When they finally disappeared down Broadway, CM and I slowly strolled home, both of us yawning the entire way.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Will the Fun Never Stop?!

Last Saturday, while walking to the MOLAA, my tooth began to throb. The one that the dentist tried three times to numb without any success. Once back at the apartment, I ran to the restroom and popped two Motrin and waited until the pain subsided before digging into the pizza CM picked up on the way home. And since Saturday, the throbbing returned at fairly regular intervals.

I left a voicemail for the dentist on Wednesday regarding the tooth, after having been shocked awake at 1:30am with the searing throb, and when I finally spoke with her yesterday, she mentioned the two words I feared the most: root canal. "The filling we replaced was very deep. And with the pain coming on its own, without biting or hot and cold, you probably need a root canal." I winced at those words. "The nerves probably have much damage to them. Do you want to come in tomorrow?" The day of my office holiday party? A numbed mouth dribbling iced tea down my chin didn't sound too tempting so I told her that I'd been managing the pain with Motrin and that I could hold off until time to get my permanent crowns. "That's a long wait. You can manage for another ten days?" I said yes. "Okay then. Call my office immediately if the pain becomes too much."

So far today, the throb hasn't reared its ugly head. The Motrin's working, and I think I can manage until the 17th. Keep your fingers crossed!


Update (12/10/07): The permanents arrived today so I'm heading in after work to get my teeth all prettified. So much for waiting until the 17th! I figured, why manage the pain for another week if she can fix things now. The dentist promised to check out the tooth before placing the permanent crown to make sure no root canal was needed.

Update II (12/10/07): Well, one of the machines broke down at the dentist's so it appears I must wait until next Monday at my regularly scheduled time. :-(

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bookwhore Chronicles: The Stone Raft
In the town of Cerbère in the Eastern Pyrenées, Joana Carda finds a branch of elm and draws a line on the ground. The once silent dogs of the town begin a tremendous barking that frightens the townsfolk. At the same moment: Joaquim Sassa, tossing stones into the Atlantic, manages to heft a stone almost his own weight far into the ocean; a swarm of starlings follows an unwilling José Anaiço wherever he roams across Portugal; Maria Guavaira finds a small woolen blue sock and unravels more yarn than seems possible; and in Spain, Pedro Orce feels the ground beneath his feet tremble though nothing registers on any seismograph, not even when a crack forms along the Pyrenées and the Iberian Peninsula separates from the rest of Europe to drift across the ocean.

People attempt to flee the peninsula by plane and by boat, the rich being able to make a hasty exit while the less fortunate resign themselves to their situation. The Spanish and Portuguese governments debate how to handle the potential humanitarian crisis without ever resolving anything. All the while the major governments of the world work to diffuse the situation, to determine how to gain from such extraordinary circumstances. Yet in this turmoil, the five people are drawn together to try to discover what happened, if their actions caused such a mysterious change of geography, learning about love, about themselves, and about just allowing things to run their course while around them the countries of Spain and Portugal fall into a panic.

José Saramago's imaginative novel is filled with magnificent imagery, with such descriptions as the breaking of the Pyrenées, and offers a great picture of the ruralness of both Spain and Portugal through the travels of the five people across both countries. And in amongst all the talk of love and spirituality, he manages to sneak glimpses of what happens to governments confronted with the unknown. One scene in particular, when a boat adrift in the Atlantic finds itself in a seemingly evacuated port town, the consequences of an irrational government really come to light.

I liked the contrast Saramago used when talking about the five travelers compared to the actions of the rest of the world. Their descriptions were sharp, detailed, allowing me to feel and to understand them, whereas the the rest of the world is discussed in generalities, at times almost comical. Perhaps Saramago wanted to get the point across that our own actions are more important, that we need to understand what drives us rather than spend untold amounts of time trying to understand something larger than ourselves.

(I would have failed miserably trying to write a college paper about this book!!)

And, this is my final book for the Armchair Traveler Challenge!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wolrd AIDS Day Recap

While CM trudged off to the gym, I wrote that last post about my wonderful dental experiences then sat down to watch a DVD that we rented back in August from Blockbuster: 3 Needles. We hadn't planned on keeping the disc for such a lengthy amount of time, but other DVDs, books and life events pushed this particular disc to the end of the list. And I, feeling guilty for having it so long, decided that Saturday would be the day to watch.
3 Needles tells three stories of how AIDS is affecting different cultures by focusing on three individuals. In the first story, Jin Ping (Lucy Liu) sets up a mobile blood unit in a remote village of China, bringing much needed money to the poor villagers. When rice farmer Tong Sam (Tanabadee Chokpikultong) attempts to sell his blood, he is told that he's too ill due to the flu that he has so he convinces one of the workers to take his daughter's blood. After a few months, both his wife and daughter become mysteriously ill and die, as do the other villagers. He sets off across the province to the government, hoping to discover what happened to his family and the other villagers, but is ultimately met with indifference. Upon his return, Jin Ping and her blood unit have disappeared, leaving Tong to help the villagers as best as he can on his own.

The second story follows Denys (Shawn Ashmore) who lives with his mother Olive (Stockard Channing) and dying father and helps with the family finances by working as a porn actor, unbeknownst to Olive. He also is HIV positive but manages to bypass the mandatory monthly tests by substituting his father's blood for his own so that he can continue working. When the truth finally comes out about Denys' status, Olive takes drastic measures to ensure that they have some kind of income.

The final story follows Clara (Chloë Sevigny), a Novice with the Mission for the Propagation of the Faithful, working at a clinic in South Africa. When one of the villagers dies of an AIDS-related illness, leaving her five children as orphans, Clara takes the children under her wing to raise them, along with the help of two other sisters, Sister Hilde Franics (Olympia Dukakis) and Sister Mary (Sandra Oh). When she discovers the two of the children picking through the garbage taking the used needles from the clinic and resealing them in bags to be re-used, she strikes a difficult bargain with an Afrikaans plantation owner, Mr. Hallyday, to take care of the children.

After the movie ended, CM and I gussied up to attend a World AIDS Day function at the Museum of Latin American Art just down the street. The quick walk in the cold caused my teeth to hurt and throb so we didn't stay too long at the event. Which was probably just as well as it seemed very disorganized. The performers and speakers had to contend with a sound system that shut off mics or constantly played too-loud music or showed a malfunctioning presentation on the three screens behind them. At one point we were told that we had to find a seat, that we couldn't stand at the back of the full-to-capacity room or the fire marshal would shut the program down so we wandered into the museum, under the impression that we would be able to wander among the exhibits (as it said on one of the event flyers). A security guard informed us that they were closing the museum in 5 minutes and then almost locked us inside by a Botero painting. We were almost reluctantly allowed back into the program room to find that no one had attempted to correct the sound system. Muffled voices or no a person on stage holding a microphone with no sound but hip hop music through the speakers. A woman complained loudly that she couldn't get her kids in as more people filed in through a side door to take up any remaining space. I honestly felt bad for the speakers and dancers trying to get an important message across but being thwarted by the sound system. We finally had to leave.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Drill Down

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving went off with only a slight hitch. I sat in the charir while the dentist swabbed the inside of my right cheek and around the gum line with a minty cherry ointment. Once the tingling started, she grabbed the long needle from the instrument tray and pinched my lip, slowly inserting the needle at various points inside my mouth. The local anesthetic did little good as I still cringed and squeezed shut my eyes at the tiny pinprick and push of the metal. "I'm going to give the novocaine some time to numb you before starting to work, okay?" She smiled and her heels clicked away along the wood floor.

Her assistant sat and chatted while the upper right side of my face slowly lost all feeling. The lower half, however, felt as it did before the injection, and this surprised both the dentist and her assistant. I knew this would happen, though, as it always did. My lower jaw usually required at least a second needle before the numbing would begin so the dentist pushed in the needle. And a jolt of electric warmth coursed through my teeth and gums, causing me to jump. "Ah, looks like we got the nerve his time." She withdrew the needle and wiped the saliva from my chin. "You should start feeling the thickness quickly."

What a glorious feeling that was, that numb thickening of my cheek and jaw, because the next hour was filled with drilling to replace two old fillings which were apparently causing a third tooth between them to hurt, and a deep cleaning (or scaling). I barely felt the scraping tool as it dug beneath the gumline to remove the plaque. The dentist placed all her strentgh behind the scraping, and at times, I wondered if she were trying to extract all the teeth rather than clean them.

I rinsed my mouth as best I could, the red-tinted water dribbling along my chin into the sink. "I want you to use this flouride rinse once a day, after you've brushed and flossed. Before bedtime would probably be best." An extra $20, but I will say that my teeth and gums have never felt as good since the first rinse. "Next week, I'll do the fillings on the left side and prep the others for the crowns. It's going to be a lot of work so expect to be here for a few hours."

--

Sitting in the same chair as last Wednesday, the dentist went through the same routine on the left side: the mint cherry ointment, the long needle and the re-injection on the lower jaw. While waiting for the lower jaw to numb, she started work on the uppers cleaning under the gumline until she reached a tooth near the front. I winced at the metal scraping the surface but forged ahead. The drill spun to life, and she quickly pressed it against that tooth, digging in to remove the old filling. I almost screamed as a sharp hot jolt filled the enire tooth; my left hand shot into the air, a sign to the dentist that I was in pain. "You felt that?" I grunted a yes. She reached for the needle and injected the gum just above the tooth. "While that's working, I'm going to take care of the lower teeth, okay? If you feel anything, just raise your left hand."

Talk about a smooth process! Molds of the bottom teeth were made for the crowns, the scraping completed, the temporaries placed without any problems. The only pain I experienced was from keeping my jaw stretched open.

"Ready for the uppers?" she asked through her mask, and once again I grunted. The drill dug into that tooth and again, my left arm shot into the air as another white-hot jolt of pain replaced the tooth. "Still with the pain?" I heard the drill clink onto the instrument tray, to be replaced once again with the needle. "I'm going to inject the novocaine from a different angle. We don't normally like doing it this way, but the tooth should be numb by now." The needle approached my mouth. "This is going to hurt, alright?" The railroad spike jammed into the roof of my mouth just above the tooth. The second worse pain in my life! I'm surprised she didn't need to replace the upholstery on the arms of the chair from my nails gripping so hard. The tears flowed freely, and the assistant genlty wiped them away, apologizing for the pain.

After 10 minutes, the dentist started work again on the upper teeth, and again I felt a small jolt of heat as she worked on that one particular tooth. But I kept my left hand in check, deciding to deal with the discomfort rather than another round of novocaine. She eventually finished, fit the temporary on and helped me to rinse my mouth. "The molds have been sent to a lab so we should have the permanent crowns in about two weeks." I immediately thought of more needles and said as much. "No, this time, we should be able to just wiggle the temporaries off without any needles. You'll be fine, okay?"

I followed her to the front, walking slowly like a zombie. The left side of my face numb from the lower jaw to my lip across my nose and just under my left eye. But the sensastion of drool running down my chin wouldn't disappear. I constantly tried to wipe it away, though no dampness appeared on the paper towel. After setting the follow-up, the dentist suggested that I use the restroom and wash up so I ambled down the hall, flipped on the light and saw the white spots of dental cement on my cheek and chin. Five minutes of scratching with a towel, warm water and soap removed only a fraciton of the white, and I finally told myself to forget it.

See what happens when you avoid the dentist for six years?