Well...on Wednesday, my Mom called to say that she's finally had a date set for her hysterectomy. After a month of waiting!! So I set about getting my manipulated work schedule approved so I would be able to be with her and Dad on the day of the operation.
Then last night, she broke the news.
"The hospital called after I went in for my pre-op. "We're sorry, but your surgery's been cancelled.' I almost dropped the phone!"
According to the hospital, the doctor who was to perform the surgery didn't have privileges to do so at their facility. "He can only deliver babies there," my Mom said with just a hint of sarcasm. "Neither does he have those surgical privileges at the other hospital in the network. So the insurance located another doctor who wouldn't be able to see me for my 'initial' visit until March 24th. Can you believe it?!
"I told the woman, 'No. He's gong to see me much sooner. I've been waiting for over a month already and have gone through pre-op twice. I will not wait another month just to meet the doctor. He's going to see me asap.'
"So I'm being seen on the 6th."
Isn't the American health care system grand?
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
A Curious Question about Authors
I remember way back in high school when I read Faulkner's As I lay Dying, telling everyone how fantastic it was. I loved that each chapter represented a different character, that one of the characters happened to be speaking from her coffin, that just one sentence about a fish could reveal so much about a character's thought process. Almost immediately, I picked up a second Faulkner book, The Sound and the Fury, and went through a very similar love affair with it. Then, Faulkner dropped off my radar until well after college when I finally decided to try reading A Fable, an allegory set in WWI.
What a nightmare of a read that was! I spent a good sixth months fighting my way through the confusing dialogue, the sentences which stretched on into paragraphs and muddled descriptions, but I did finish it. At the time, I thought my struggles with it were because I hadn't read anything by him in such a long time. So I found another book, almost as obscure, called Pylons. Set at an air race in the 1930s, I gave up after trudging through only a third of the pages. Like A Fable, I couldn't get past the confusing dialogue, the sentences and the descriptions and wound up selling the book on Amazon without finishing.
I tried once more with a Faulkner book, skimming through a few pages of Absalom, Absalom! at a bookstore, but quickly re-shelved it.
My question to you: what authors, if any, have given you a similar turnaround. You remember fondly reading a novel or two, but now, the author's words make you wonder what the hell you were thinking?
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Last year, I started playing computer games once again. Within a few months, I worked my way through Mysts III, IV and V and would up using some of my rebate check to purchase a Nintendo DS solely because they released the original Myst for it. Since then, I've been trying to find games for both my DS and my Mac that fit into the non-violent, puzzle-solving arena. (Let me just say that almost no one makes games for Macs so I will never be able to play the sixth incarnation of Myst nor Lost's Via Domus, and it frustrates me to no end!!) A few weeks ago, I finally found such a game for my DS called Syberia.
Kate Walker, an attorney for a major New York law firm, finds herself in Valadilene, a French alpine town, to close the deal on a toy factory. But not just any toy factory -- the Voralberg automatons are some of the most complex mechanisms in the industry. Upon her arrival, Kate witnesses the automatons in action as they carry a coffin through the large iron gates of the Voralberg estate. She soon learns that Anna Voralberg, with whom she was to close the deal on the toy factory has died, but according to the notary, her brother Hans, long believed to have died at the age of 18, may still be alive. In order to finish her assignment for the law firm, Kate must locate the mysterious Hans, a search which takes her across Europe and into the cold climes of Russia, meeting automatons and characters from Hans' past along the way.
Only after finishing Syberia did I learn it was a PC game, modified much as Myst was to fit the confines of a DS system. Like the Myst series, this game relies on a point-and-click style of movement to access objects, to maneuver around the environment and to speak with characters. At times, though, I had to tap on the exact spot for Kate to move into another room or through a door. On the plus side, one of the menu items -- the eyeball -- could be dragged across the screen and changed into an arrow to show where Kate could walk, or into a hand if Kate could add a book or tool to her inventory, or even into a gear if a lever needed to be pulled or a punch card slid into the back of an automaton. The puzzles themselves seemed more intuitive and easier to figure out, even after those times when I became frustrated and set the game aside for a day or two. I also liked that after completing key actions, a brief film played, taken directly from the PC game, such as a huge dirigible lifting from a cosmodrome station and flying high over the mountains or an aging chanteuse singing a Russian folk song to an admiring madman. The environments themselves were beautifully rendered, adding much to the enjoyability of the game.
On the downside, the text translations definitely needed some work. Toward the beginning of the game, the occasional misspelling or word choice didn't matter, but as the game progressed, the errors increased in frequency and started picking away at the gameplay. And, as I mentioned earlier, in order to move to the next scene, I had to tap on the exact spot, never varying a few spots up or down, otherwise, Kate would stare off into space.
Despite those few flaws, I most certainly enjoyed Syberia for the DS and happily recommend it.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The doctor determined that her bladder was damaged due to the prolapse so more surgery will be necessary. Now comes the waiting game as the two docotrs -- one for the bladder, the other for the prolapse -- coordinate their schedules for her operation, hopefully sometime this coming week. For now, she's putting up with the pain, and I think she'll be fine.
A big THANK YOU to everyone for your kind thoughts!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Book Reviews: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft
Lately, I've noticed that keys seem to be referenced in mudch of my recent day to day activites. From the 9 keys on my key ring to the Disney keys we had made for the apartment a few weeks ago, I can't seem to get away from them. Yesterday, I found an extra set of keys in my work bag that I think fit the locks at RG's house. And even in the last movie CM and I saw at the theater, the Beldam (or Other Mother) wanted a special key for the mysterious tiny door connecting Coraline's house to the Other World.
And then, of course, keys have worked their way into my reading.
Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is a collection of the first 6 comics of the Locke & Key series from author Joe Hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez. The Locke children -- Tyler, Kinsey and Bode -- and their mother Nina move into the old family home known as Keyhouse after witnessing their father's murder by one of his students. While exploring the family house, young Bode finds a black key with a skull and, after a quick search, a doorknob with a matching skull. He unlocks the door and steps through, only to find himself changed into a ghost. After wandering around Keyhouse and spying on his family, Bode returns to his body and begins exploring the rest of the house. He discovers an old well, and the voice in the well, whome he calls Echo, wants his help to find the Anywhere Key which turns any door into a portal to anywhere.
Joe Hill's creepy story of a mysterious house, magical doors, and a mysterious, evil spirit on its own was enough to send chills up and down my spine. But Gabriel Rodriguez's intricate, and sometimes bloody, illustrations enhanced the tale, making me inspect each pane carefully for some clue, some little detail because I didn't want to miss anything. Also, both their efforts allowed me to get to know the characters: I felt the sadness and anger the both Ty and Kinsey felt, the wonder and surprise that Bode experienced exploring the house and stepping through that first door.
Thankfully, the story doesn't end with Welcome to Lovecraft. In fact, I've already read the first two comics of the second series, Head Games, and am definitely intrigued as to what they keys and the doors of Keyhouse are hiding. For fans of horror, this is a great comic book series to capture your imagination.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Be Careful What You Wish For
After driving to the comic book store (Buffy for CM; Locke & Key: Head Games for me), we took a detour on the way back to catch a movie: the new, stop motion animation film Coraline. This was the first "must see" movie of the year for me; I recently finished the graphic novel (creepy and fantastic) upon which the film was based and couldn't wait to see what Henry Selick would do with the material. After all, his direction of The Nightmare Before Christmas still reigns as one of the best stop motion films around.
We bought tickets for the last matinée showing -- still $12.25 each because of the digital 3D -- and headed for a bite to eat at the shopping center's food court, thinking we had plenty of time before the 2PM show. Silly us. We finished eating at 1:30 and walked by the ticket taker only to find a line of about 100 people slowly moving single file into the theater. We joined the end of the line and once inside had to scramble for seats near the upper left wall of theater. (All the large groups of children had commandeered the center section with the best views of the screen.) And still people poured through the doors, filling every available seat including the neck craning ones near the front.
Fortunately, the lights quickly dimmed and the movie flickered onto the screen....
Coraline Jones moves into a big pink apartment house with her Mom and Dad -- two writers more focused on their work than they are on their little girl. The one thing Coraline loves to do is to explore, and she immediately sets off in search of an abandoned well rumored to be somewhere in the forest. During her search, she runs into Wybie Lovat who lives just over the hill who later on gives her a strange doll that looks just like her only with black buttons for eyes. He says it was his Grandmother's and thought Coraline might like it.
The next day, a downpour prevents Coraline from exploring outside so after bugging her parents, her Father suggests she explore the house, count how many doors and windows there are. She reluctantly agrees. While looking at the boring painting of a boy who dropped his ice cream cone which hung in the living room, she finds a mysterious tiny door hidden behind a mattress which was leaning against the wall. She pesters her Mother into opening the door with an old key found in the kitchen, but her excitement quickly disappears when they discover a brick wall behind the door.
Later that evening, after a disgusting dinner cooked by her Father, Coraline heads for bed...only to be awoken in the middle of the night by tiny scampering feet. She follows the small rat through the hall down the stairs into the living and watches it vanish behind the small door. She quickly races to the door and opens it, marveling at the colorful tunnel that used to be a brick wall. After a quick hesitation, she plunges headlong into the tunnel and finds herself back in the old pink house. Only something's different. Someone's humming, and the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen would never be found at her real house. And the woman in the kitchen looks exactly like her Mother, well, except for the black buttons where her eyes should be. She introduces herself as Coraline's Other Mother, promising to love her, to give her everything she's always wanted, a real dream come true.
Or is it? Soon Coraline must find a way to save not only herself but her real parents before she becomes part of the Other world, with black buttons sown over her own eyes.
The animation is Coraline is stunning. Everything from the magical garden to both versions of the house to the forest and characters just looks so magical and inviting and real. And the 3D helped by adding to the depth of the images rather than forcing us to watch the same tired old "coming out of the screen" effects. I liked the choice of voice actors --- Dakota Fanning as Coraline, Teri Hatcher as Mother/Other Mother, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, Ian McShane as Mr. Bobinsky, Keith David as the Cat. And I also liked that the story stuck closely to the original novel by Neil Gaiman. A few changes here and there, but they added to the tale and made it a bit more kid friendly.
Coraline is a fun film and can be scary at times. Neither CM nor I think young children would like it, but older kids -- even those of us over 25 -- most definitely.
Monday, February 16, 2009
A Valentine with Minsky
This year for Valentine's Day, we decided to forego our traditional ordering of take-out from Lucille's Smokehouse and watching a DVD or TV show, and instead we drove to the Ahmanson for a little bit of culture.
Set during the 1930's, Minsky's tells the tale of Billy Minksy, owner and operator of one of the biggest burlesque shows in the U.S., trying to keep his theater afloat during the Great Depression. The house is no longer as full as it once was, thanks to heavy competition from Ziegfeld's, and fears abound that burlesque is heading the way of vaudeville. And, to top things off, Congressman Randolph Sumner is doing everything he can to rid the city of smut and filth like what goes on at Minsky's. In the midst of all the turmoil of getting a new show ready, Billy Minsky unexpectedly falls in love with Sumner's daughter, and he must do all he can to save both his show and his budding romance.
Minsky's turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The laughter started almost immediately and continued until the very end, with lots of one liners, old vaudevillian-style jokes, many visual jokes (pies in the face, cross-dressing, a blind man and a revolving door) and smart, catchy music by Charles Strouse and Susan Birkenhead that fit well into the time period. Christopher Fitzgerald was wonderful as Billy Minsky, and much of his supporting cast could also take credit for making this a fun-filled evening -- Beth Leavel as Minsky's right hand Maisie, Paul Vogt as Boris, Rachel Dratch as the drab Beula, John Cariani as Minsky's nerdy accountant Jason Simpkin, and George Wendt as Randolph Sumner.
I had some difficulty hearing a few of the actors. I'm still not certain if it was due to our seats being near the back of the theater, microphones not working, or actors needing to project when singing. And CM found a few of the jokes/routines went on a bit long. He mentioned something about a "Rule of Three" for comedy: if the joke or bit goes for more than three times, then the comedy starts to grow stale. For example, a pie in the face is very funny. A second pie is still funny, as is a third pie, but not quite as funny as the first two. Comes the fourth pie, and the audience is ready to move on to something new.
In spite of that, we both enjoyed the show and wish everyone involved much success when it heads to Broadway.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Instead of having the bladder test on Tuesday, she had some other test which lasted about 30 minutes and left her in much discomfort. Only afterwards did the doctor say that she needed to return for two more tests -- one of which would be the filling of the bladder -- before determining which type of surgery she would need. Thursday, she suffered through the bladder test, and this coming Thursday she will endure the final one. The surgery has definitely been pushed back until either late February or early March, leaving my Mom in much discomfort. She sounds cheery enough on the phone, but I can tell she just wants to get the hysterectomy and whatever else over and done.
On a good note, she and my Dad are going to enjoy a Valentine's lunch at Red Robin. Free e-coupons are a good thing.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
it's an updated world, after all
I've never considered myself a Disneyland purist. Sure, I grew up a mere 15 minutes from the park and have enjoyed an annual pass for the past 13 years, but change at Disneyland always seemed to bring exciting things: the updated Tomorrowland, Videopolis, Disney's California Adventure. And while this change also brought about the demise of some favorite attractions such as the Skyway, the Peoplemover and Adventures Through Innerspace, I still saw it as a good thing.
Until the talk of revamping "it's a small world". For some reason, the proposed changes to this boat ride with the mind-numbingly infectious song struck a bad nerve with many people, and, sad to say, I was among them. Those little boys and girls had been singing their hearts out since 1964, and now the Imagineers wanted to change the colorful children's view of the world, to make it more Disneyfied by adding classic movie characters to the country displays. Screams of Commercialism! echoed throughout many of the diehard Disney fans, most fearing that Mary Blair's designs would be forever ruined. Then, word about the possible removal of the New Guinea rainforest section popped up, and the jokes and snarky comments about clearcutting quickly spread.
I finally had my chance to check out the upgrades and updates last Sunday. The first change I noted was the boats. The substituted the dirty and worn fiberglass vessels from the 1970s with newer, more colorful boats that even felt lighter than the old ones. And the flume through which they traveled had been widened. Which, for me, was a fantastic change because the last time I rode in one of those boats was a Gay Day event about two years ago. With a large group of bears. The boat lodged every few feet -- not to mention all the water that poured in during the initial turn when the boat started to capsize -- so what normally would have been a 15-minute ride, lasted 45 minutes. I'm sure there's a video somewhere of our group grabbing the sides of the flume to pull us through the entire attraction. (We'll see what happens this year....)
>As for the insertion of Disney characters, well, that turned out to be a bit underwhelming. Thankfully, they didn't add the actual characters. Instead, the Imagineers dressed certain dolls/children as Alice in Wonderland or Mulan or Ariel (from The Little Mermaid). Quaint and unobtrusive, in my opinion. They also piped in fragments of those films' scores, blending nicely with the "it's a small world" theme. For other characters, they inserted odd, distorted versions of them, like a flat Pinocchio or an overly pastel Timon and Pumbaa. The Imagineers also added an American section -- finally! Though the three immobile Children of the Corn in front of a flat farmhouse on one side and the stereotypical cowboy twirling a lasso while three Indian maidens "danced" on the other was a bit underwhelming. But the rainforest was saved by moving it into the Pacific Islands area.
So I'm very indifferent to all the changes. Nothing seemed as exciting as when Disneyland first updated The Haunted Mansion for Hallowe'en, but I realized that the changes weren't made to impress me. "it's a small world" is about children. Back when it first opened, way back in 1964, many of the Disney characters we know today didn't exist. Kids today know those characters because they've grown up with them and probably associate them with those countries represented in the attraction. Let them be the ones to decide if the revamping was bad or good. And from what I saw and heard on Sunday, kids loved it.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Book Review: Hater
An ordinary workday morning. Hundreds of people mobbing the sidewalks trying to get from here to there. Until one man suddenly stops when he sees the old woman. Some instinct tells him that she's not what she seems, that he must do something and quickly. He rushes her, throws here against a building, and much more before the angry crowd finally manages to stop the terrified man.
At least, he looks terrified to Danny McCoyne, just one of the crowd. He doesn't stop to think about it, running late for a job that he hates and having to return to he wife and three kids after a crappy day at the office. Just like every day. But the world as he knows it is about to change. Dozens of reports spring up on the news about "Haters" -- seemingly normal people who suddenly and without warning commit random acts of violence against neighbors, strangers, members of their own families. As the violence increases, Danny, like so many others, begins to wonder who will be the next to change -- the man sitting at the front of the bus who won't make eye contact, his wife Lizzie or one of the children, himself?
David Moody's Hater took fear and paranoia, and distorted them into something dark and violent: knowing that at any moment someone could change -- that you could change -- into a killing machine and that nothing could stop it. I empathized with Danny McCoyne, the "hero", as he tried to figure out what was going on in order to protect his family, wondering where and when the government was finally going to step in, and felt his fear and distrust grow with each turn of the page when he realized that they were on their own. By the end, I began to question who really were the Haters -- the ones who changed or the ones who didn't.
I didn't want to put this book down once I started, and very easily could have finished it in one sitting. A marvelous first novel and a welcome addition to the horror genre.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Book Review: Funny Boy
Arjie Chelvaratnam enjoys his spend-the-days at the home of his grandparents in Colombo, Sri Lanka. While the older boys try to beat each other at cricket or other sports, he spends the time playing bride-bride with the girls, somehow always managing to be the bride in a beautiful white sari. Then his cousin Tanuja arrives -- nicknamed "Her Fatness" -- and soon she reveals to the entire family just wht Arjie's up to. After that, his parents force him to do more manly things to prevent him from becoming "funny", like switching schools to the more sadistic Queen Victoria Academy.
But school's aren't the only thing changing in Arjie's world. Through a series of events involving everyone in his family -- his favorite dark skinned Radha Aunty finally home from America; a former lover of his mother's showing up unexpectedly to research the growing anti-Tamil climate in Sri Lanka; his father hiring a former Tamil Tiger to work as a supervisor at his hotel in predominantly Sinhalese country -- Arjie realizes how society's perception of differences can have a severe impact, especially during the climax of Funny Boy which acts as a moment by moment account of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots that racked the country.
What begins as a simple coming out tale turns into a portrait of a country at war, seen through the eyes of a young boy as he tries to deal with his budding sexuality amidst a volatile climate.
Friday, February 06, 2009
I spoke with my Mom last night. Sometime either this week or next, she will have a hysterectomy to repair the damage from the earlier prolapse. And as excited as she is about that, today, she is scheduled to have her bladder filled with water to determine if it requires repair, as well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the test returns with good results.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Book Review: Seeing
On election day in an unnamed capital city, rain pours down beginning in the early morning hours and continues well into the afternoon, a cause of concern for those working at the polls. Will anyone bother to show up during the deluge? Should the election be postponed? Under the orders of the government, the polls remain open, and finally, toward late afternoon, hundreds of people throng to the polling stations and cast their ballots. The government should be happy with the unprecedented show of national pride, but when the ballots are counted, more than 70% are blank.
In their bewilderment, the government does everything it can to figure out what's happening: sending spies out among the citizens, questioning and imprisoning those who case blank ballots, declaring a state of siege, imposing a curfew. When nothing seems to work, the government pulls up stakes and flees the city.
But in their determination to lay blame on someone for this show of rebellion, the prime minister learns of a woman who, during a mysterious bout of blindness which affected the entire country, somehow managed not to suffer the same blindness. She must be behind the mass blank balloting, and the prime minister sets out to discredit her.
When I first picked up this sequel to José Saramago's Blindness, I wondered if it was necessary to have read Blindness in order to follow along in Seeing. The story in the latter took place four years after the plague of white blindness, but only vague references were made to that first story. Yet, about two-thirds through, the main group of characters -- the survivors -- all appear, switching the focus of the story. But, surprisingly, I didn't think it necessary to have read the first book. The majority of characters in Seeing who may have been present during the blindness of the first book, don't know what happened to the group of survivors, and this "blindness" of sorts allows the reader understand the government's motives a bit more.
At it's most effective, Seeing tells a tale of how humans react to change. On one end of the spectrum, Saramago provides a satirical view of a government taking things to the extreme, of overreacting to a possible change of public opinion rather than attempting to understand what caused the change. The fear of losing control overrides logic, as in the case of the prime minister who needs to find a single person to blame for something out of his control -- in this case, resulting in very dire circumstances. At the opposite end, those remaining in the capital go on with their lives. A strike by the street cleaners is thwarted by the many housewives who take to the street with brooms to clean their own patches of the city. When those who didn't cast blank ballots are forced into returning to the capital, believing that their apartments and omes have been looted (thanks to government broadcasts), they are welcomed back by those who remained in the city and shown that everything is as they left it. Two very different reactions and outcomes to the same events: fear on the one hand, which doesn't allow for moving forward, and acceptance on the other.
I've now read three novels by Nobel laureate José Saramago, and two things stand out in each of them. First, one paragraph may last for four to five pages, mixing dialogue from more than two people and throwing in the author's own commentary. Surprisingly, it sounds more daunting than it actually is. I did find myself paying closer attention to the words in order to determine who was speaking, but looking back, I remember more of the story. Maybe it's just me....
Second, something mysterious seems to spark the story into action, and the origins are never explained. In Blindness -- the novel preceeding Seeing -- the entire country develops a strange white blindness; in The Stone Raft, the Iberian Peninsula mysteriously separates from the rest of Europe and floats away. for those two novels, the mysterous works because those events aren't the main focus of the stories; the stories are more about how the characters react and survive under unknown circumstances. In Seeing, it's almost the same thing with the populace suddenly arriving en masse to vote, the procession of unmanned houselights that follows the government as it leaves the city. Even members of the government comment that something unnatural maybe happening, but by the end of the story, it's never explained. And to me, this was the one story in which that explanation felt necessary because it was alluded to so much by many characters.
Seeing is a fine book to read, and I highly recommend both it and its precursor, Blindness.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Under the Knife
When we took my parents to the Five Crowns for their birthdays, my Mom was in a bit of pain. Something unexpected had happened earlier that day, and the urgent care doctor told her that she would have to rest, to move around a little as possible until her regular doctor could see her in a few days. And yet, she decided to go ahead with the dinner and kept her spirits up as best she could.
She saw her doctor, and a device was fitted into place with the hope that that would take care of the problem. She sounded wonderful on the phone, all cheery and smiling, and I decided to stop by on Saturday for her birthday.
On Saturday, she walked around the house cautiously, grimacing every so often. "The device isn't working," she said through gritted teeth. "I'm going back to the doctor on Monday."
I spoke with her this afternoon. Surgery is to be scheduled sometime within the next 10 days, and she has a few medical visits in between to discuss the operation and to go over the before and after details.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Weekend in Brief