Twenty-Six Times

“Have fun watching your Santa Fe movies,” my daughter said to me at the end of our conversation Sunday, although I stuck with Albert Brooks.

These two films came up last month, when I was in the Land of Enchantment (maybe best state motto ever; part Southwest serenity, part Hogwart’s). One I’ve mentioned a few times, a favorite, “Off The Map,” Campbell Scott’s 2003 film about a gridless life in New Mexico in the 1970s, with Sam Elliott and Joan Allen. I watched it again when I came home, and even though there’s nothing Santa Fe specific in it (I get the impression it’s set in the northern part of the state, though, and there’s a SF art gallery at the end), it’s probably the most beautiful representation of that part of the county in any film I’ve seen.

The other one is “Late For Dinner (1991),” which is bookended by Santa Fe, although in two different eras and for a very strange reason.

I won’t call it a guilty pleasure, because I’m not guilty about liking this movie a lot. My eyes are wide open, though — if it’s obscure (and I think it is) then it’s also not a secret gem. I can get all critical. There are big holes in it, unremarkable acting, a cheesy feel sometimes. That has nothing to do with it, or me. I like the idea of “Late for Dinner.”

Two guys, both Movie Good Guys, uncomplicated and sweet. One is desperately, passionately in love with his wife and young daughter. The other is Movie Disabled With Heart Of Gold Guy (nice but sorta slooooow. Also with renal insufficiency, for flavor).

These guys, played by Peter Berg and Brian Wimmer, get into trouble in 1962, not their fault but the fault of Movie Corporate Bad Guy (Peter Gallagher). They leave the house in Santa Fe one afternoon and keep going, avoiding the law, and getting back real late for dinner.


On the run, they make it to California, where they meet Movie Quirky Scientist, who’s experimenting with cryogenics. He persuades them to hide from trouble in the freezer, and so on.

Yeah. They get sort of forgotten for 30 years until a handy deus ex machina shows up to thaw them out. They’re pretty cold. They head back to Santa Fe, amazed at hamburger prices, ATMs, etc.

As I said. Maybe a little cheesy.

It has yet (and maybe never will be) to be released on DVD, although I’ve waited patiently (probably not worth the music rights, which are pop and period). So I ordered a VHS copy from Amazon, finally. For my birthday.

I haven’t watched it all yet. Just a few scenes. I just wanted to have it. Maybe tonight.

I got married 26 years ago today, in the hills overlooking Sedona, red rocks and folks from work, mostly. It was quick; we had a show that night, and it was going to rain anyway.

And in two weeks I head for Santa Fe again, this time for the wedding of my daughter. I can make this as symmetrical as you want.

I have no big thoughts on marriage, not for you, not for my daughter. She’s on top of it. I mostly bounce around the sidelines for this one, observing and trying to stay out of trouble. I have nothing much to offer; I am an expert on my marriage only, and you could make some arguments about that one, too.

Oh, I could say stuff about habits, and perseverance. About loyalty, and inertia, and having your own space, etc. Meh.

I could tell you about rough times. More meh.

I could tell you about this past year, one that might make professionals shudder a little, thinking about the fragility of relationships faced with catastrophe and terror, how thin bonds might actually be, what might actually result.

I think I’ll just tell you about the end of the movie.


That’s the best part, anyway, way too short. Willie brushes off the ice and wants to go home. Go home to Joy (his wife, Marcia Gay Harden). To hell with hundreds of miles and three decades. He wants to go home, and he does, too. That’s a great scene, by the way. His 20-something bride is now a business owner, mid-50s, solid and professional, moved on, disconnected from early passion. Until she turns around, anyway. Love that scene.


You go back, is all. Twenty-six years is a long time, in real life as well as the movies. Lots of things change. Some things are unfair. Particularly when you’re married to a 54-year-old woman who looks about 35 on a bad day. You think I do all these push-ups for my health? Just trying to stay in the game.

But for me, anyway, with all my demons and depression and bad choices and badder behavior, good times, bad times, grief and joy and all in between, that’s what I think you do. What I do, anyway. Brush off the chill, drive across the desert, screw the years, come back for love. That’s how you win, and I won, at least for today, I won.

n620290994_1538212_261(July 30, 1983)

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In My Own Defense

Well, obviously sleep is out of the question. It’s warmish here and one can only remove so many clothes without alarming the animals.

Not that I don’t try.

I also remove my clothes when I step on the scale in the morning, which I do pretty much every day. My attempt to have some control over a chaotic life, and also to sort of make amends. I broke a lot of appointments with the scale for a lot of years, made promises I never kept, so this is the least I can do. Step on the damn thing once a day. Pay attention. Try to do better.

I bought a new scale for my birthday, although that’s less literally true than a state of mind. I have difficulty in uncertain times spending more than $30 on anything, so it’s not like I’m going to do something extravagant. Mostly I like birthdays, and I like mine in particular, and when it gets close I start pretending, even if I’m just buying blueberries.

“I’m buying these blueberries as a present for myself,” I say. Not out loud.

So I bought this scale for 30 bucks, although my old one was fine (but old). This one measured pounds by the tenths, though, and I can never get enough decimals. I also was curious; it seemed as though I’d dropped 10 pounds in the past month, somehow, including nearly 5 when I was traveling across the country, so maybe the old scale wasn’t working properly.

No. I just wanted a birthday present. Sorry. I shouldn’t lie.

I also bought a few lottery tickets, about 10 bucks’ worth, because that’s a birthday ritual. I have no gambling tendencies; it makes me a little nauseated, really, and the last time I was in a casino (and the first time in 25 years) it depressed me for about a day. I’m not comfortable with lousy odds, and the people there looked like grayed-out icons, drinking and smoking and pulling levers without passion. It looked like a purgatory where nothing gets learned, habit masquerading as hope, and I do believe I spent some time in a place like that, oh boy. No thanks.

But I buy my tickets on my birthday, sometimes, and I don’t win and I leave the lottery for another year. Superstition, something.

And I watch “Defending Your Life.”

Not every year, you understand; when I say “ritual,” I mostly think that it would be fun to have a routine but I don’t take it all that seriously. Still, I watched that movie on my birthday a few years back and decided that it was a great birthday film, so sometimes I try to watch it.

It starts off with a birthday, actually; Albert Brooks, playing his usual self-absorbed, neurotic, materialistic, sarcastic and witty and hugely unhappy yuppie type, has a birthday, gives a little speech at the beginning at a work party, where his gift is a “compact disk player” (1991, sheesh; I love that part. Compact disk).

Then he gets a new car. Then he gets squished by a bus. Then the opening credits roll.

In case you’re not familiar — “Defending Your Life” is about Brooks’ trip to Judgment City, a way station in the afterlife where people justify their previous existence on earth to see if they’re ready to move on to a higher plane. If not, they go back for another shot at it. Like professional baseball, in other words, so much so that I’m not even going there.

And yeah, mostly it’s watching Albert Brooks kvetch around Not-Yet Heaven, although it’s got Rip Torn (a part that jump-started his new career when it had been in limbo, BTW) and Meryl Streep, who hasn’t got much of a character so obviously just decided to be luminous. Nice.

I dunno. Just like to watch it on my birthday, sometimes. Maybe because I don’t have to defend my life quite yet, thank God, or maybe just because I really like Albert Brooks. And luminosity.

And maybe because the theory, as much as there is one, in this film is that until we get over fear, we can’t experience joy and learn and grow. Which makes it less a birthday film than a recovery one, although I only thought of that this year.

I have no fear of birthdays, anyway, and no fear of scales, either, but I’m staying away from casinos and seriously? Lottery tickets once a year, no more.

defend(Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks checking out Judgment City, “Defending Your Life,” 1991)

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Insert Tennessee Williams Here

So. We are having some heat in Puget Sound.

As it turns out, this room I have the computer in (John and Julie have taken to referring to it as my “office,” which makes sense given that I work in here and it’s primarily my space, but I avoid using that word. Odd. For years, though, my “office” was downstairs, in the basement, and so was I. Not good times. Words can be powerful. I refer to this mostly as “the room,” then) is the hottest place in the house.

There’s a good reason for this — it’s a corner room, above the garage and lacking in anything even an extremely optimistic person could call shade. Not that it usually matters, and by “usually” I mean “always except today.”

Yesterday too, actually. And tomorrow doesn’t look good.

Oh, tell me something about relativity I don’t know. (Really. I’d like to learn.) We’re in the midst of a drought here in the Northwest, which is a dry spell measured in weeks, not decades as in other parts of the country. And we’re now having something of a heat wave, which means that our high temps will correspond about exactly to the lows in Phoenix. So.

Still, they’re predicting mid-90s today for my neighborhood (which is going to be cooler than Seattle proper) and a possible record for the Emerald City tomorrow (talking 102 — I believe the all-time, history-of-the-world high here is 100. I also believe I remember equaling that record at some point in the 1980s. Once again, the folks in Death Valley don’t need to worry).

But the majority of residents here don’t have air conditioning, which would be past luxury and into the realm of indulgent (for the 4-5 days a year it might be useful), so give us a few days even in the 80s and these houses heat up real good. This room in particular.

Anyway. I had a nice birthday, thanks to all for your wishes, and then a horrendous day yesterday, which eventually I’ll write about but not today. And now we’re hot, and I need to move while it’s cool, so time to strap on my shoes and head for the road while it’s still in the 70s.

And if you’re interested at all in the peculiar weather that is the Pacific Northwest, there’s no better source than Cliff Mass. His blog is a regular read if, like me, sometimes you go outside. Even if your outside is somewhere really hot.

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Area 51

New column is up:

This one is anticlimactic, although then I could say that about my life in general. Still, 51 has less of a ring than last year’s round number, accompanied as these things are by loud noise and lots of insults from people claiming to be my friends.

As it turned out, I left my 40s much calmer than I entered them, and in better shape in so many ways. It wasn’t climactic at all, actually, and that’s fine with me. I intend to be sedate and serene from now on; I don’t care how many films Adam Sandler makes to annoy me with.

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The Truth About Fats And Gods


I bought the above fine product yesterday at the opening of our new neighborhood drug store. It wasn’t the first time, either.

The first was in Payson a few weeks ago, when my mom brought a can home from the store, on a whim. They looked spicy, and I like spicy. They were nuts, and I was in a nut mood.

I don’t normally eat nuts, although I think nuts are great and, as I say, I’m a particular fan of the above. It’s just that over the past couple of years, as I’ve chipped away at the lipodeposits that apparently elves have been gluing onto my body while I sleep at night, I’ve stayed away from food that contains a lot of energy and that I can eat in gigantic handfuls in a matter of seconds. Just on principle.

By “energy,” of course, I mean “calories,” but God forbid I say that out loud. Although maybe I just did.

People get crazy about calories, do a collective shudder when they hear the word, put their hands over their ears and humhumhum. The latest move to once again consider regulating chain restaurants and mandate public posting of calorie counts has inspired all sorts of people to become instant libertarians, railing against the nanny state when really, you know. It’s humming.

Most of us this side of looneytunes and Ron Paul (those are actually synonyms for me but I can be strange, pay no attention) probably agree, whatever our philosophy, that there are some things a government agency does better than the private sector, and food is right up there. We need some sort of ostensibly uninterested (heh) party to give us assurance that our drugs are relatively unpoisonous and our dinner doesn’t contain rodent parts, although life certainly isn’t fair and then there are issues of protein wherever you can find it.

But no. Post calorie counts? In full view? Actually tell us what our food contains in terms of energy so maybe we can decide if we need that much energy? Fascism.


Elizabeth Kolbert recently wrote a piece in the New Yorker, reviewing some recent books on our eating habits and some science (hum hum) behind it, fascinating stuff. It’s a good read with lots of interesting ideas, but if I took only one idea from it, that would be this: We don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t wanna, either.

This is crazy, of course. Guy walks into an accountant’s office. “Hey,” he says, “I keep bouncing checks at the end of the month. Help me.” Accountant asks a few questions.

“How much do you bring home every two weeks?” Guys says two-thousand bucks, on the nose, first and 15th.

“OK, how much do you spend” Guy looks at his checkbook, does some mental math, thinks hard. “Right around $5000.”

Accountant nods. “I can help, but I’m going to need to be paid up front. In cash.”

Most of us, I suspect, not only don’t know how much we eat, but we don’t know how much we need, either. In other words, to pound this metaphor into a ground beef, we don’t know what we earn and don’t know what we spend. All we know is, we go to the ATM and sometimes it gives us good news and sometimes it doesn’t, until it becomes less of an appliance and more of an icon, a magic machine that dispenses cash by whim, depending on whether it’s pleased with us or maybe if we make the appropriate sacrifice. Whole religions are begun this way.

The ATM is the bathroom scale in this case. You knew that. Never mind.

Anyway, I’ll stop. I just wanted to say that I really like those nuts (thanks Mom!) but I’m careful. You don’t want to mess around with that much energy unless you know what you’re doing. Seriously, if someone asked me how to gain weight, I’d tell them to eat nuts or candy. You could pack it on pretty easily that way. Big things come in small packages sometimes.

Not that I know anyone who wants to gain weight. Although there must be some, somewhere. The Law of Large Numbers and all that. They just probably don’t read this blog.

And wouldn’t it be great if there was a product that contained both nuts AND candy? Someone should invent that, call it an energy bar, something.

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Looking Up

I celebrated July last night with sushi and green tea, sitting in an almost-empty restaurant on First Hill, just off Broadway, shorts and summer and all Seattleish. I was only missing a Mariners cap and a good book, maybe a mountain bike.

But there was a mountain, oh yeah.

Mount Rainier is indescribable on these evenings but people try. And we’re not the only place on earth where nature intimidates a grown-up city, but pictures won’t do it and I’m not really going to try. I’ll just say that it’s so big, so impressive, so lovely and so there that it messes with you.

Here’s how much: You can be driving in the opposite direction, heading north and west, and suddenly Mount Rainier will appear in the distance through the windshield, mocking geography. It’s hard not to slam on the brakes and wonder where you are, when you know, you have to.

So i enjoyed the mountain, and the company and the food, waiting for Julie’s flight to come in, and I had some iced green tea. I turn 51 next week and maybe it’s time to start drinking green tea. I hear it’s good for you. I find it tasteless but hey, it’s not disgusting like lima beans. Maybe I’ll go green, one more positive step, staving off the ultimate degradation one leaf at a time.

I’m 51 (nearly) and in the best physical shape of my life, which I’ve said before and which sounds like hyperbole but only sort of is. Two years ago I was round and content, but stepping on the scale it said 272 and that seemed a bit much. It said 172 the other day, probably an anomaly but still, that was a nice round number for July.

And I walk a lot, and breathe a lot, and lately read more science fiction. Three months ago I started doing push-ups on a whim and still do. Not sure what good it does but it feels right, and most days I clock over 200 of them, maybe 20 at a time throughout the day.

Keep moving, waving your arms, smirking at 51, that’s my motto, and my daughter said a couple of weeks ago that I should buy one of those chin-up bars and start a new exercise. You know, they fit in the doorway. Why not?

Ten bucks at Target. I put it up today. It took me a while, but eventually I had it ready. I tested it, slowly hung my body weight underneath and wished really, really hard that nothing bad would happen. Like my shoulders would escape their sockets, which occurred to me at the last minute, having had rotator cuff surgery a couple of years ago. Can’t be too careful. But we’re good, shoulders all jointed correctly.

I hung there for about 30 seconds, actually, coming to the conclusion that new stuff is good, change is good, exercise is good, looking up at that bar, wondering how it is that a guy who does 200 push-ups a day can’t do even one chin-up. Not even close.

So I’m either out 10 bucks or I have my work cut out for me, but then. Tell me something I don’t know. I’m going to hang around a while, anyway.


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