The Rising

Tribute In Lights

I wrote this three years ago for an earlier version of D6. I don’t think I could ever sum this up as eloquently as I did then. This is still one of the pieces of writing I’m most proud of.

I was sound asleep. I was a 20 year old college student on that Tuesday morning, still living at home. I didn’t have class until that afternoon. I didn’t work that day. So I was in bed like a normal 20 year old college kid. I remember being woken up because I heard my mother in the house. She was crying. To this day, I will never forget coming downstairs, asking her what was wrong, and the total feeling of disbelief that engulfed me when she told me what happened. I remember the surreal feeling that set in the rest of the day just watching TV as a rescue operation turned into a salvage operation turned into a smoldering, smoking wound in the heart of our city. After that Tuesday, I will always understand what people mean when they say they always remember exactly where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed or John F. Kennedy was shot.

I’d only been to the World Trade Center once, way back in 1997, with my grandparents and my uncle. I remember going on the roof and how you could see so far out to everywhere. I think I took a whole roll’s worth of pictures that day. I wish I knew where they are today. That view was utterly breathtaking.

There’s a point when you’re driving up Rt 1-9 northbound between Woodbridge and Rahway, just when you cross over the NJ Coast railroad tracks where, on a clear day, you could always see the twin towers standing tall over the NYC skyline. I always remember that from driving through there growing up with my family, and later with just myself. After the attacks, that view was… empty, devoid of its centerpiece. It sat like that for years. Tonight, as we were driving home over that very same stretch of road, we could see the annual tribute in lights shining into the night’s sky, right next to the gleaming phoenix of the new 1WTC tower, finally rising defiantly to reclaim the southern Manhattan sky.

Photo Credit: quintanomedia on Flickr with a CC by 2.0 license.



On the right in this picture is my friend Jen. On the left is her wife Molly. In 2013, Nadine and I had the privilege of attending their wedding in Washington DC. They had to get married in DC, because their home state of Ohio would not recognize same-sex marriage. In fact, it was one of the states covered by the Sixth Circuit ruling that led to Obergefell being argued in front of the Supreme Court. Finally, after today’s ruling, they get to be recognized as an actual married couple in the eyes of the law in their home.

I’ve known Jen for almost 20 years at this point (it’s scary that either of us is old enough to say that). We’ve shared plenty of highs and plenty of lows together. Jen is a pretty amazing person and an even better friend.

So why does this matter so much to me? It’s really super simple. I’ve never seen one person make another person as happy and Molly makes Jen. If there are two people in this world who just belong together, it would be them. I know it sounds syrupy as all hell, but it’s completely true. Yet, for two years they’ve had to navigate a rocky road at home, with the legal challenges that arise from their home state not considering their union a legal one. Now, they don’t have to have that anymore.

So, yeah, if you’re stuck in the 30,000 ft worldview of this thing, or have doubts about why it’s the right call, just look at these two. These are two people who love each other greatly. And it’s wonderful to report that the law has finally caught up to where they are.


I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing


What follows contains all manners of spoilers about the finale of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched it already, don’t read.

Overall, I thought the Mad Men finale offered a lot more fan service than I expected. Matt Weiner is like David Chase in the regards that I don’t think he really cares what fans think, he’s going to tell the story the way he wants it (his paranoia about spoilers and leaks, though, is unmatched). That’s been obvious throughout most of this season, as we’ve watched Don go after yet another conquest and frankly cost two or three episodes that could have been spent exploring other things. Despite this, the finale tried to deliver for the fans. Our core group of people all got resolution to their stories, and an ending, even if we might not have liked each one. Even Meredith, Don’s ditzy on the surface (but obviously a lot smarter than she looks underneath) secretary got a nice send off. That’s a lot more than a lot of shows will offer. I’m good with how Joan, Roger, and Peggy ended up, even if some of the endings were a bit saccharine (although the Peggy and Stan thing feels right. She has the job and the man and the man understands her love of the job. Could she ask for more?).

Here’s my problem with the damn Coke commercial and the obvious insinuation fact that Don’s whole takeaway from the time at the retreat thing was a better way to sell fizzy sugar water. When you look at it that way, I feel like it invalidates what they were building to this entire season with Don’s actions, the pursuit of the damn waitress, and etc. When you simply look at it as “Don’s done it again! It’s the next Carousel”, why did we bother with anything? Let’s just skip to the usual refrain. Don is unhappy being one in a sea of many. He runs away, because he’s fucking Don Draper and Don Draper always runs away. He magically comes back and wows the world with some new fake nonsense from his fake life. End of show.

If you instead look at Don’s epiphany, or whatever you want to call it, as finally accepting who he is and that he has personal value, things are so much more interesting. Then the Waitress story makes sense. Here is Don, doing Don things like always. And it ends poorly, like all of his other conquests do. Except, this one isn’t the same. Don can’t let go. Maybe he saw a little too much of himself in her. Maybe there’s a pang of remorse about everything. Maybe the fact that he’s just a cog at McCann is weighing on him. Whatever it is, Don watches that airplane flying through the sky and realizes that he needs to find… something. Maybe this waitress to fulfill those Don Draper things he needs. Maybe something else.

Cut to Don on the road. He doesn’t find the waitress. But he finds something else. The courage to tell the truth about the real Don Draper to a bunch of vets. The desire to try and turn that young con artist’s life around before he becomes the next Don Draper. The need to try and help Stephanie, misguided as most of Don’s attempts to help are. And so on. And it all culminates in his experiences at the retreat place. For most of this, this is Don being Don. He can’t relate to the old woman in the one session. He’s clearly skeptical of everything and can’t believe he’s there. He’s pissed when Stephanie takes off with the car and strands him. He’s sticking out like a sore thumb. But he’s not the same. The weight of his calls with Sally and Betty are weighing heavily on him (and can we discuss how those two still are in love with each other in spite of all the terribleness that they endured together?). He breaks down on the phone with Peggy, perhaps the person he has the greatest hopes for. He’s left sitting in front of the phone in an almost catatonic state when that seminar leader pulls him into that class, and he sees that schlub guy break down, talking about how unlovable he is. And you see that look of recognition on Don’s face. That guy is him, the Dick Whitman he has spent years burying under his Don Draper facade. Suddenly, this whole season of nonsense has paid off. Maybe Don can become a new man, an honest man.

And when we get to him doing yoga on that cliffside, it certainly looks that way. But no, same fucking bullshit from another show creator who thinks that he’s way smarter than us. An empty payoff. If we were just going to get this, why not just let it be Don being Don at this place and then he comes back and says “I know how to market this staid beverage to these young people.” That would have felt way more honest about things. Or, even better, why not let Don keep his moment of enlightenment and come back to New York and see Peggy, his protege and one of the very few people he actually respects in this world, and tell her about his experiences and let her go off and do the damn song. That would have felt honest and vindicating, because while the show may have been about Don, it’s often felt like the show has secretly been about Peggy, and her trip up the ladder in the 60s. Tell me those outcomes would not have been way more satisfying.

Overall, still a good ending, and I didn’t have to worry that the cable went out like I thought during The Sopranos finale. Still, sometimes it pays to stop thinking that you’re the smartest guy in the room and see the big picture. Just saying. Ommm.

Lemon Crush

The Hulkbuster

So the girlfriend and I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron over this past weekend. In short, this is what I thought of it:

  • Not enough of the stuff I liked: character development, conversations between characters, motivations for why they do what they do, etc.
  • Too much of what I don’t: Giant action set pieces, destroying whole cities with little or no consequences, and good luck keeping track of who everyone is and what they’re doing.

Let me break this down a bit more, because I think this highlights a lot of the problems that we’re experiencing with comic book movies as they become more and more popular and lucrative.

The too much of what I don’t is pretty easy to figure out. It’s become a growing (pun not intended) problem with these movies as they progress. Too much time spent on these action pieces that are almost indecipherable sometimes. Can you really keep up with all these different people fighting through a whole city? I didn’t think so either. And it’s not just this movie that’s guilty of it. Putting aside the fact that Zach Snider really has no idea whatsoever about what Superman is really about, does anyone really think that there would not be repercussions for most of Metropolis basically  being leveled at the end of The Man of Steel? And putting aside the fact that Christopher Nolan turned one of the best superheroes ever written into a one super dour note guy by the time we got to The Dark Knight Returns, they more or less turned all of Gotham into a prison! In the real world, no government would have let that happen.

There are plenty of reasons we could look at for why this happens. A lot of it has to due with international audiences, I’m sure. Stuff doesn’t always translate away from English all that well, but everyone speaks the language of explosions. That’s part of it, but I think the fanboys are the real reason we’re here today.

People forget this by now, but when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 film, the fanboys were angry as hell about it. They’re letting the guy who did fucking Mr. Mom be the Caped Crusader? What the hell is that shit?? Yet, the 1989 Batman movie was a revelation that picked up the baton that the Superman franchise had dropped and pushed comic book films into the stratosphere. If that wasn’t bad enough, fan boys are still angry about the retconning of the Joker’s back story. They dared change an iota of Bruce Wayne’s backstory? That’s fucking heresy. Forget that the change made the whole thing more compelling, not less. I think you get what I’m saying.

I understand the desire for some fanboy service in these movies. If you don’t do that, you end up with Batman & Robin and George Clooney is the caped crusader with BatNipples in his Batsuit. I’ll never understand the thought that went into those meetings, but I think everyone involved with that movie wishes it had never been made. The problem is when you surrender completely to the fanboys and offer up some sort of orthodoxy that these kinds of movies cannot really sustain. Even when you go with a mostly original story like they did in Age of Ultron, fanboy service must be met and it changes the tone and effect of the movie.

Instead of tearing up a whole town, give me more of the interactions between the characters. That scene where all of the Avengers, plus Falcon and War Machine are at the party trying to lift up Thor’s hammer? Give me 45 more minutes of it. I would have loved to hear more of the banter that would have surrounded that. Playful insults and injokes and innuendo. That would have made for great fun. After all, it could be you and your friends sitting around a table joking around, except that there’s a Norse god, a billionaire, a 100+ year old super solider who still looks under 30, and a few other interesting characters involved. Tell me that would not have been better than the appearance of the Hulkbuster and demolishing half of a city just to more or less say that they got the Hulkbuster into one of these movies? I thought so.

While we’re at it, give me more of that Banner/Romanov… uh… whatever that was. They could have done so much more with it, but didn’t. Maybe it’s because fanboys are scared of girls and fear romance? Who knows.

More than anything, give me tons more of Tony Stark’s broken psyche. There’s a lot of fertile ground there. The actual Iron Man films did a decent job exploring some of this (including daddy issues in the 2nd one; if my daddy was Roger Sterling, I might have some issues as well), and there are some scenes here where we can tell that Tony was very affected by what happened at the end of the first Avengers. That’s super interesting stuff in the right hands! And Joss Whedon was those hands! But, still, nope, need to make room for another robot being blown up super easily.

I think it may be time for comic book movies to rein it back in a bit. Take on smaller stories and let the characters shine through. I say this because both a good superhero and a good villain are more defined by their internal shortcomings and fallacies than just oh look I’m the bad guy, and he’s the good guy.

In the end, though, these movies keep making obscene amounts of money, which will make studio heads decide there is more and more need for bigger set pieces and more action. And it is only we, the fans, who end up losing out the most in the end.