TBT: State Champs!

I don’t always do the Throwback Thursday thing, but when I do, I usually try to embarrass myself (or someone else whom I know can take it).

Usually.

But this time, as I was digging through boxes and envelopes and picking out some juicy possibilities – my sister came very close to being the target this week – as I was digging and shuffling, I came across this one tucked away in an old photo album.

State Champs!

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Back in the ’80s, good ol’ Pittsford-Mendon High School was the king of the soccer pitch – both the boys’ and the girls’ teams. Our football team, which I played on, wasn’t the greatest by any stretch of the imagination, but our soccer teams kicked much butt.

Most of the girls here I still recognize, and I’ve even touched base with a few of them a time or two over on Facebook. But nowhere in my memory do I ever remember them being as happy and as beautiful as they all are in this moment. Look at the smiles! Arm in arm in excitement and joy. The culmination of hard work and the acquisition of a dream.

Thanks, girls. For a while there, you were our heroes – the folks we (yes, even the boys – and especially the football team!) wanted to be.

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Book Review: Reamde

steph-n_reamdeTitle: Reamde
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 1044

First Line: Richard kept his head down.

This book is a beast. What’s more, it’s a joyously ridiculous beast. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Anathem (nor will it, I suspect, stick with me as long as the brilliantly mind-numbing Anathem), but it’s a surprisingly fast-paced read for such a huge book.

Most often, I thought of the book as a satire of the “big book” phenomenon that is sweeping though so many genres these days. For while the storylines are tightly woven, still they sprawl – not just from chapter to chapter, but also around the globe. The plot twists and turns are engrossing yet ridiculous, the characterizations enjoyable yet laughable. The story itself is a romp and seems to mock itself – mock not just what it is, but also what it isn’t.

Which isn’t what I was expecting at all, so it took me a good while to make the adjustment. I’m used to Stephenson’s ultra-intelligent examinations of social and technical constructs. Reamde, however, seems to be rooted in how ludicrous the whole thing is. The vast majority of characters are static stereotypes – tropes that are easily identifiable and, somewhat fascinatingly, just as easily relatable.

As usual, it takes about 200 pages for Stephenson to really get things moving, but when he does it’s virtually a non-stop game of cat and mouse as characters chase one another (or try to escape from one another) from the US to China to Canada and a host of other international locations. With several different (but closely related and/or intertwined) storylines going on at the same time, Stepehson has plenty to work with to keep the reader cruising along at a good clip. His handling of the pacing is one of the main strengths of the book.

The weakness, for me at any rate, is that this just isn’t that “smart” a story – not in the traditional Stephenson-sense, anyway. Even though I ended up reading it as a satire, I still couldn’t get past just how “stupid” it all felt – how the story just didn’t seem to work, how plot twists never felt quite honest, how character decisions and actions often didn’t feel quite justified.

At the end of the day, when I finally turned that 1044th page, I was glad to be shut of it. I didn’t want to read any more about these characters or their absurd situations. It’s a decent read, and I recommend it to fans of Stephenson, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who has never read him before.

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TBT: Striking Point

Found a couple of pics from my struggling actor days. These are from a film shot in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the fall of 1995 titled Striking Point. We didn’t win any awards that I know of, but I’m proud of this little film. We accomplished a lot on a shoestring budget of, if I remember correctly, $32,000. The writer/director, Thomas Fenton, was rather ingenious in what he was able to pull off with such limited finances.

SP1Here’s me, relaxing in between shots. My character was a Russian terrorist, and I got to shoot lots and lots of guns. It was awesome, though evidently Russian terrorists are the worst marksmen in the history of marksmen.

The 2nd pic is my gang. They were all from the Dallas area, as were most of the crew. The main players in the film were from LA or Cleveland (where the production company was based), but pretty much everyone else was local.

I had a blast working this particular project. Folks worked extremely hard for little to no financial compensation. It’s one of the strange things about the film and theatre industries (and probably music, as well, but I have no SP2experience in that arena)… those starting out – the ones that are living paycheck to paycheck (if they are lucky) from jobs that have nothing to do with film or theatre – those just starting out are the hardest workers I have ever come across.

During the 10 or so year stretch as a starving actor, I was actually pretty lucky when it came to work. I got paid for Striking Point and some other film projects, and I got paid for a few theatre gigs. To make ends meet, I worked inside the industry with craft service and as a carpenter, and I worked outside the industry as a telemarketer, security guard, bartender, and a host of other jobs before I settled into long-term gigs at Saban Entertainment and Disney Interactive.

It’s a tough and sometimes lonely road to follow – though I worked semi-consistently, there were days when I went hungry. I ate a lot of rice back then, and to this day I can’t bring myself to eat anything with tuna in it. I sat alone in my apartment on most Friday nights, scribbling poetry and screenplays in cheap notebooks because I couldn’t afford to go out. I sold my CDs, cassettes, and VHS tapes to help pay for rent and utilities. I never missed a payment, but I missed out on a few other things.

And yes, there are days even now, some 15 years after leaving LA, that I miss that kind of life – that kind of dedication to craft and the willingness to sacrifice. I miss it all. And I’m tempted to do it all over again – to get back in the creative saddle, dedicate myself to the journey, and make sacrifices for the ride I want to take.

So if you know a starving artist, take them out for lunch now and then. Make them order a salad and a milkshake, maybe a steak. Pick up the check. It’s probably the biggest favor you can do for them.

 


“Get your facts first, then you may distort them as you please.”
~Mark Twain


 

 

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Tunesday!

I’m still riding high from the Springsteen concert a few weeks ago. Specifically, I’ve been listening to the Nebraska album, easily my favorite of his and one of my all-time faves.

So what’s my favorite song off my favorite Springsteen album? Tough to say… The entire album is so damn powerful. More than one of the tunes bring me near to tears even now, 32 years after Nebraska‘s release. At the moment, though, it’s probably “Highway Patrolman”:

 

Also of note is  Johnny Cash’s cover of “Highway Patrolman” on his 1983 album Johnny 99 (a song also covered from Springsteen’s Nebraska album).

 


I am the literary EQUIVALENT of a big mac and fries
~Stephen King


 

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Sometimes, you don’t even know when a dream is coming true

Growing up, I think I had 2 “heroes” whom I admired more than anyone else. These “hereos” were the stuff of legend for me. They were men I wanted to “be”.

In the construction area behind the high school, I would tear along the dirt roads on my Huffy Apollo Racer. In my head I heard the announcer telling of my courage as I jumped over barrels, and I heard the chant of the crowd – “Evil! Evil! Evil!”

In my backyard, it was 4th and 20. I dropped back, wearing the #12 blue home jersey, and let one fly to my dad (who was really Ahmad Rashad). Or I handed off to my friend Sean or Sandy or John (who were all really OJ Simpson) and watched as they ran around the dogwood bush and scored the winning touchdown against those damnable Dolphins. And I chose the number 12 when I started my own quarterback career in 3rd grade with the Pittsford Lions – not for Terry or Roger who were the more famous of the number 12 wearers, but for Joe.

What I never dared do, though, was actually dream to ever meet one of these men.

Today, what was never a dream actually came true. I sat down in Rogers, Arkansas and had brunch with one of my childhood heroes – Joe Ferguson (QB of the Buffalo Bills from ’73 to ’84). It was awesome.

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So yeah… I’ve been smiling for the last 6 hours. I don’t see that changing for the next week or so.

Thanks to Nick and Erin for making a dream that I didn’t even know was a dream come true!

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