out on the road today I saw a deadhead sticker on a cadillac

But seasons must be challenged or they totter
Into a chiming quarter
Where, punctual as death, we ring the stars

– Dylan Thomas, “I See the Boys of Summer”

For as long as I can consciously remember I’ve feared death. But I’ve also feared aging just as much. At least in death you’re asleep for the bad parts, whereas old age just stays with you. Your hands get weak and palsied; your sharp mind starts to slip at the corners. Everything becomes slower and harder and duller.

I do find hope, though. Once in a rare while I’ll see an old person do something awesome.

I should stress that when I’m talking about old people doing awesome things, I don’t mean Grandma baking you a cake that spells out your name in frosting for your 21st birthday. I don’t mean Grandpa reminiscing over the awesome things he used to do, back in Normandy or Korea. I mean Jack Palance doing one-armed pushups onstage at the Oscars. I mean Dorothy Parker still wielding a razor pen, even in her later years. I mean old guys who drag their grandchildren by the collar rather than spoil them. I mean old women who don’t take shit from anyone.

Things like that give me hope that old age won’t mean twilight.

During belt tests in jiu-jitsu, like the one our school had last night, the black belts stand in the back – partly to supervise the proceedings, partly to look dignified and supportive. Several students of all ranks demonstrate at once, peeling off and sitting down as their techniques are finished. Finally we just had two: Anthony and Mussal.

Mussal worked with Rob, one of the bigger students in our class. He would cock his head to get instructions repeated to him; our head instructor, Nick, tends to speak a little fast. He would start each technique with slow precision, but then whip on the final momentum. Several of the black belts nodded approvingly at his shodan wrist locks: excellent lead, enough to get a bigger man on the tips of his toes.

We ended the test by surrounding Anthony and Mussal, one at a time, and firing attacks at them in rapid succession. Nick called out an o-goshi hip throw, one of the staples of judo. I took an overhand swing at Mussal. He blocked it, stepped inside, popped me up on his hip, and flipped me over. “Too light,” he called out; everyone laughed.

Finally, we’d all attacked him and Nick called an end to the test. The class broke out in applause. Nick came over to shake his hand, but Mussal waved him off. “Where’s the other one?” he asked, his Moroccan accent thick but legible.

“You mean Vlad?” Vlad’s one of the senior brown belts, a few months away from joining the ranks of senseis. He’s built like a duffel bag full of bricks and he moves like three cats. In martial arts parlance, we would say that he has exceptional ki – good control of his breath and balance that results in good movement. I cannot consistently throw him.

Mussal wrapped up Vlad’s lead arm, pulled him off balance, dropped his hips, and tossed him on his first try.

At the end of the test, every promoting student kneels in the front and removes their old belt. Sensei Nick ties on each new belt in turn. He reached Mussal at the end of the line and leaned in close to ask him something. “Can I?” Mussal nodded.

“Mussal,” Nick told the class, “is turning sixty in 45 days. And I think all the black belts here would agree that that wasn’t just a good test ‘for someone his age’ – that was a phenomenal test, period.”

“Thank you for not giving up on me,” Mussal said.

“All of us get tired,” Nick continued. “We get injured, we get stresses in other parts of our lives. We get old. But it’s how you react to those obstacles that makes you a true martial artist.”

I know, realistically, that not every aspect of aging lies in my hands. I could still fall victim to some illness, some lingering disorder or early dementia. But to the extent that my age is under my control – in attitude, in outlook and in the way I react to the world – I don’t intend to give up yet. Or ever. I may still be scared of death, but I’m not going to start dying early by letting life pass me by. I’m dancing on my sixtieth birthday: that’s a promise.

There’s no one in here but the fighters.



in an octopus’ garden, in the shade

Hey lovers: check out my latest post on Overthinking It: The Myth of Atlantis: Atlas Shrugged and BioShock. It’s a comparison of one of the most acclaimed video games of 2007 and the novel that inspired it.

(It’s a fairly light take on Rand’s philosophy, for those who were hoping for a rigorous defense or deconstruction. Go read it anyway)

they all play on penny whistles; you can hear them blow

Since my iPod has gone on the fritz, MTV.com has become my preferred source for listening to 80s and 90s music online. The RIAA has cracked down on YouTube, and the sound quality tends to be a little better. I just roll up a playlist of favorites, minimize the browser (since I’d rather hear Lindsay Buckingham sing “Big Love” than watch him), and crank through a spreadsheet.

Yesterday I saw MTV promoting the latest My Chemical Romance video, “Desolation Row.” Hmm. Well, all right. I liked “Famous Last Words.” Let’s give it a listen.

My thoughts, in rough chronological order:

  • As far as screamo covers of Bob Dylan songs go, it’s not bad. I can tap my toes to it.

  • You know, it’s funny. This song first entered my consciousness as the title heading of Chapter 1 of Watchmen. “At midnight, all the agents …” etc.

  • Now that I think about it, this video has an awful lot of cops-in-riot-gear imagery.

  • And the marquee at the start of the video said My Chemical Romance was opening for a band called “Pale Horse.”

  • And Zach Snyder‘s the director?! Wait a second …

So Watchmen audiences can expect a My Chemical Romance cover on the soundtrack. I don’t know if this disappoints me or entertains me; I offer it without comment.

you don’t need no money with a face like that, do ya honey?

My iPod – the fourth generation model, 40 GB, no color display – had been freezing about once a week and requiring a hard reset. Last Friday it finally died while charging, giving me the iPod frown.

I’ll take it to the Geniuses to see if they can salvage it, naturally, but I had been thinking about upgrading my portable music solution anyway. So I turn to you, Internet, for advice.

Two questions:

  • First, if I do go iPod again, as I most likely will, which model should I get? I like the slim convenience of the Shuffle, but I don’t know if 500+ songs that I can’t choose from will be enough variety for me. Music controls my moods in a powerful way. I like to have lots of different playlists depending on what I’m going for – quiet reflection, pumped-up energy, just feeling like a cool cat, etc.

    So if I decide storage space trumps convenience, I may go for the Classic (80 GB). It’s more expensive, but I can experiment with watching videos on the train. Like the cool kids do.

    I’m not likely to go all the way for the iPod Touch, but you’re welcome to give feedback if you have one and love it.

  • Second, if I don’t go iPod, what non-Sony product would you recommend? CNet speaks well of the Sony NWZ-S738F, the Archos 605 and the (hyurrrech!) Zune. The folks at Consumer Reports like SanDisk and Creative. Your thoughts?

strapped in the chair of the city’s gas chamber; why I’m here I can’t quite remember

Weekend adventures included:

  • Drinking at the Davis Square VFW in a benefit concert for the upcoming Avon walk for breast cancer research. Attendees too numerous to list: essentially, the entire Davis Square community on LiveJournal. I had plenty of beer and cheap gin – there’s no cheaper drinking than VFW drinking, let me tell you – and watched Provocateur do their usual electro-pop dance spectacular. Pictures available on Facebook.

  • Shouted myself hoarse over the soundtrack at The Field while drinking with Hawver, Fraley, Dave G., Melissa and Katie H. Hawver and I debated which country would become the next world superpower after oil took another price spike (my vote: Canada; his vote: nobody). The conversation wound its way to rock music, at which point we all listed our five essential rock albums. We all agreed on Appetite for Destruction.

    This gave me the opportunity to recount my favorite Axl Rose anecdote, as told by Sebastian Bach:

    I had just finished shooting Supergroup for VH1. It was on TV in America while we were gallivanting across Europe. We had a beautiful dinner at some incredible Italian restaurant. We are sitting there and I go, “Dude, I just shot this reality show for VH1 and they paid me this amount of money, man. It was fucking easy. It was only like two weeks. It was hilarious. Axl, if they paid me this amount of money, they’d pay you like a million bucks for 10 days of some shit.” He’s looking at me with this look on his face and he’s all quiet and he goes, “Sebastian, you don’t understand.” I go, “What?” He goes, “I will pay VH1 $2 million to leave me the fuck alone!”

  • Beating BioShock. Maybe I’ve missed out on some key developments in FPSs over the last five years, but the level design in BioShock seemed a little repetitive. You get within three feet of a goal in the first 10 minutes of the level, then some arbitrary wall is thrown in your path. So you have to backtrack through the level to get MacGuffins A, B and C, then you can advance the remaining 50 feet and fight the boss. Plus, the game would arbitrarily make the standard mooks that you run into more challenging at various points. I don’t mind facing harder enemies and having to upgrade my gear – I just mind when it comes without warning.

    That being said, it was rewardingly challenging, opulent in both graphic design and original score, and the rare type of video game that makes you think about the human social order. Expect more on that later.

  • Jiu-jitsu on Sunday. While my work schedule stays crazy, I’m taking advantage of the new open classes on Sundays. Aside from some initial cardio there’s no fixed format – you work on what you like for as long as you like. I’ve learned and practiced some pretty exciting wrist locks these past two weeks. Plus it gives me an active cornerstone to what might otherwise be a lazy day.

if this doesn’t make you see, it doesn’t mean you’re blind

Two things!

(1) I have another post up on Overthinking It, regarding Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There are two significant plot holes regarding Ceti Alpha V – the planet that Chekov and Terrell find Khan stranded on – and I (over)think they cast an entirely different light on the real villains of the movie.

I’m particularly proud of this one; please check it out.

(2) I got tagged to write about 25 albums that are important to me on Facebook. But I’m doing it here, so I can give a short blurb as to why each entry is important.

Continue reading

pick me up around my knees

If I can’t write content of my own, I’ll link to people who do:

  • Zabeth has a tumblr blog based on the reliable concept of finding interesting bits of media and commenting on them. What makes hers different, however, is that she’s a professional funny person and that she lives in L.A. – a perpetual source of comedy.

  • If the bracing, apolitical cynicism of IOZ or Whatever It Is I’m Against It turns you on as much as it does me, you might like Dear Leader as well. He also does trenchant reviews of movies and TV from time to time.

  • The House Next Door: TV and film commentary of all sorts. Literate and accessible.