October 31, 2004

Horror: Art imitates life (sort of)...

My tribute to Bela Lugosi, done when I was 17 (from 'Murders in the Rue Morgue')
I watched the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" tonight. (Martin Landau's portrayal of Bela Lugosi is absolutely first-class.)

In the movie, it is Halloween, and Bela Lugosi answers the front door of his little suburban house in full Dracula costume, scaring all the little kids away, except for one little boy. "You're not Dracula", the little gaffer says cynically. "Those fangs aren't real." Bela is disappointed, but Ed Wood whips out his bridgework and says "These are!" and the little kid runs away shrieking.

Bela's signature character is too old school for the little boy, who is a product of television and the atomic age. The message here is that people in the late forties and early fifties are afraid of war, the bomb and nuclear mutations, not men with funny European accents and crazy eyes.

Bela calls Ed Wood in the middle of the night. "Eddie - help me..." Ed gets to Bela's house to find the furniture strewn around and Bela rambling drunkenly.

"Eddie. I'm broke. I can't pay my rent."

Bela is despondent and puts a small revolver to his temple, intent on ending it all. "Come with me Eddie. It will be beautiful!" Ed talks him out of it, and embraces him. Bela says he's sorry and begins to sob. In this scene, Martin Landau's Lugosi is a frail, despondent, drug addicted old man who has lost everything, including his dignity and fighting spirit. Lugosi's signature character and more importantly, Lugosi the man, have been largely forgotten and discarded. Ed Wood, practically destitute himself, still believes in his friend and is there to help him even when nobody else will. The helpless despondency of the old man, and the loving, compassionate hopefulness of the young man. Like the relationship of a son and his father.

* * * * * *

Eventually, Bela checks himself into a hospital to get help with his drug addiction. We watch Bela strapped in a hospital bed, shrieking and shaking - terrified and struggling with painful withdrawal symptoms.

A powerful scene for me; I watched my Mother go through it too. She was admitted for a hip operation and in recovery, she suffered severe withdrawal from the regime of medication given her as a long-term resident at Riverview mental hospital.

In "Ed Wood", Bela Lugosi's withdrawal screams are presented as part of the horror of the real world. We see a little old man screaming his head off, strapped to a hospital bed, as the camera watches him through a small window in the door. This resonated big time with me.

My mother, usually distant and uncommunicative from alcoholism-related brain damage (or medication or both) was strapped to a hospital bed, shaking it, her muscles and tendons rock solid, her face wide-eyed and screaming. After a few spasms like this, she would collapse back onto the mattress and rest.

"Are you scared Mum?" I didn't know what the hell else to say. I felt like an idiotic master of the obvious.

"Yes!" she yelled. She was so wound up, and god, she was terrified. That was a moment of real-world horror for me.

I love iconic horror figures like Dracula, but real life can be much more frightening.

October 30, 2004

A sense of fun...

At work, I usually tend to stay in my office a lot, working away at some web maintenance task and using deferred forms of communication such as email or ICQ to ask quick questions of my coworkers without needing actual human interaction.

I tell myself "I can't help it. I like email, and I prefer it to the telephone or face-to-face, at least for the little things". But underneath it all, I know that there is this little kid who really enjoyed being cloistered away in his bedroom listening to the radio and reading comic books for hours on end. I guess solitude has been a long-time companion of mine, if that doesn't sound too cheesy ;) (Christ - what a "drama boy")

However, every once in a while, something happens that throws that "I prefer solitude" self-model on its ear. Like today at work: I had volunteered to help the Activities Coordinators at our ESL school set up for a student Halloween party. I'm not the volunteering type, but this time I said yes, and was happy to pitch in. I figured I might be setting up chairs or hanging some lights or decorations - you know, helpy stuff like that, and then I'd be out and back to my workload in 30 or 40 minutes.

When the time came for me to pitch in, it turned out that I was asked to man a table in the "Haunted Room" (do I hear wolves howling?). This was Vancouver English Centre's version of a haunted house. The lights would be out and students could go from table to table trying out various (non)scary experiences. We had a Tarot card reading (although I thought it was supposed to be a Blackjack table), a Oiuja Board, a mysterious box thing, where you put you hand through one of six holes and maybe it gets grabbed by something inside (wooooo... creepy) and last but not least, me, with the "Goo Grab" table: a big salad bowl full of wet spaghetti and peeled grapes. (Maybe if one were blind and unprepared, you might momentarily be tricked into thinking it was a bowl of entrails with two scoops of eyeballs. Yum.)

Embedded deep in the bowels (eww) of my bowl were a number of white, red and black striped ping pong balls. If someone filched out a red ball, they got a big calculator. A black ball earned them the ultimate prize: an ESL grammar book. White balls were common, and resulted in a pick from the little candy basket.

Cut to the chase: I had a long line of students interested mainly in black balls and the resulting grammar books, and I had a blast encouraging them to submerge their mitts and try their luck. Wearing a black cape and some light-up deely-bobbers, I felt a bit like some kind of cheap Transylvanian carnival barker.

But, I had a great time, a hoot! And I don't mean getting some kind of thrill from watching people grope through cold pasta looking for small round items. (In fact, I never knew I liked that until just this afternoon. Who knew?)

I'm talking about the pure, simple joy of being social and having a small crowd of happy people to talk to and entertain with my witty banter and enthusiasm. It was fun and even a little exhilarating. I can honestly say that it brought out a side of me that I don't see as often as I should: that guy known as "extroverted, social, entertaining John". Maybe I need to see that guy more often. "Fussy, techie John" is certainly getting enough time in the spotlight. Maybe he should take five once in a while and let the other guy have a go.

October 29, 2004

A sense of family...

Lots of family and social themes came across my mind today.

I have been reminded of my parents - they're in my mind and heart daily; a sense of love, a sense of loss and sorrow, and every once in a while, an incredible moment of recognition of a pure feeling, like realizing that I used to feel safe and secure with my Dad, or how proud I was when my Mum dressed up in her finest clothes and mink coat.

These are like crystal clear musical notes that rarely resonate; strings plucked by some old, resurfaced association. I'm glad of them: they're the antidote to the sadness or bitter memories that are the flipside of my nostalgia.

Parents are frail. Parents love you and then sometimes hurt themselves or hurt you. Parents are humans who make mistakes. Now, the more I look back on the mistakes of their lives and how they affected me, I feel ever more compassion for two people who's struggles and mistakes shaped my early outlook.

October 21, 2004

We're number 12!

Wait a minute... We're number 12?

I just read in the Globe and Mail that Canada was judged the 12th least corrupt country by Transparency International, a Berlin organization that researches bribery and government corruption among public officials in 146 countries.

Finland, New Zealand, and Denmark are the top three. Haiti and Bangladesh are tied for last place. The USA is 17th. Iraq is waaaaay down there at 129.

Canada used to rank as high as fifth, but I guess we slipped a bit somewhere. (Can you say sponsorship scandal? I knew that you could.) Apparently, this is our worst ranking in 10 years.

Dang. Why can't we have high morals AND a strong dollar?

October 17, 2004

On the death of a super man: Christopher Reeve, 1952 - 2004

Christopher Reeve: 1952 - 2004
Christopher Reeve, the actor best known as Superman, passed away on Sunday, October 10, 2004.

Since I was a little kid, I have been inspired by Superman, whether in comic books or in the 1950s TV series. Actually, compared to the somewhat cheesy production values of the '50s TV series, the Superman of the comics much seemed more exciting and (literally) more colourful. (Sorry to you George Reeves fans, that is just my personal opinion.)

But for me, and many other fans of my generation I'm sure, Christopher Reeve was the definitive portrayal of Superman. Next to "Star Wars", 1978's "Superman: The Motion Picture" was probably the most inspiring cinematic experience I had enjoyed as a 12 year old boy. In a number of ways, the big red "S" was so much bigger than Luke Skywalker and the Star Wars world. It really resonated for me, probably due in no small part to the fact that the character was already such a huge part of our culture over the previous 39 years up until the time when the movie came out.

The theme of a young demi-god landing on Earth and living with and helping his human co-inhabitants is as old as the Hercules of Greek legend. The line uttered by Jor-El (Marlon Brando) that said "That is why I sent you, my only son..." has an obvious Biblical reference. I think these dramatic aspects, combined with the huge scope and beautiful production quality of the original film made it practically a modern masterpiece that still holds up today.

Back in 1978, after seeing the movie at the Capitol Six Theatre with my friend Curtis, we had to run to catch our bus home. As we darted through the crowds of Granville Mall towards the bus stop, I heard John Williams' Superman theme music in my head and felt high as a kite with some kind of inexplicable elation. I felt like I could run faster than the bus if I really tried. It was so inspiring to believe in a hero again! I think I really wanted to believe that Superman could fly.

The way Mr. Reeve survived his tragic accident and paralysis, and struggled for almost 10 years to heal and to reach out and inspire others with spinal chord injuries, he reminded me of that inspiration again as an adult. I wanted to believe that Christopher Reeve could walk again.

Christopher Reeve Links:
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation
Christopher Reeve: 1952 - 2004
blogcritics.org: "Why did Christopher Reeve die?"

Other Superman Links:

October 06, 2004

Personal web presence of E. John Love - www.ejohnlove.com

The personal web presence of E. John Love - www.ejohnlove.com

Personal web presence of E. John Love - www.ejohnlove.com

It's back after a brief hiatus...

For my site visitors:

My web server was down for a week or two, getting repaired. It's all good now. Please visit my web site again. I love you all.

For the Geeks:

My old 66 mHz '486 Linux box finally succumbed to old age (after putting in fairly reliable duty for about 6 years!) and it has now been replaced by a newer, faster, quieter and cooler (physically cooler) machine running a recent version of Mandrake.

October 05, 2004

"This was your past, but not anymore. Now go away."

Trying to revisit the past doesn't always work out

A number of years ago, my wife and I were driving and we found ouselves on the Fraser Highway in Langley. Looking at some street signs, I realized that we were actually very close to where I had lived when I was in Grades 2 and 3. I became excited and said "let's follow 248th and see if we can find my old place!"

Right before 248th crossed over the Highway Number 1, I saw a familiar narrow gravel driveway with a rusted mailbox.

"That's it! Turn down here! Turn down here!"

"But it says 'No Trespassing'" my wife pointed out rightly, but we went down anyway.

The narrow gravel road curved down to a level about 30 lower than the main road, and ended at a gated access road leading into what was like a small, green valley. My wife said "John, we should go" but I wasn't listening. Stepping out of the car, I walked ahead to the locked steel fence (with a "No Trespassing" sign) and sighed as I reoriented myself with the fields and trees that had once been part of my backyard.

This property was originally 77 acres, owned by a bunch of doctors. Back when I lived there, it was mostly dirt and low-lying scrub brush - an unfinished, industrial-looking place. It was also the transmitter site for my Dad's employer, CJJC Radio AM 800. There used to be six high-voltage radio antennas stretching 100 feet into the air, but they were long since dismantled after the radio station shut down.

The story I had heard from my Dad was that after we left, the son of the radio station owner had lived in the trailer which had been our home for two years. Unfortunately, he accidentally burned it down. Now, the acreage was covered in green, and the properties that fronted onto 248th looked like they extended farther down onto the acreage, giving their livestock (horses, cows and bulls) all the more room to graze. It was extremely peaceful and beautiful little valley now.

Behind us, I heard a voice yell "This is private property!" I turned to see a man holding a rifle, walking towards us with a Doberman Pinscher at each side. I stammered something about how we were just leaving. We hopped back into the car and left and I have never been back.

* * * * * * *

A few weeks ago, my sister phoned to tell me that she had located another place we had briefly stayed at as children: The Blue Star Motel, also near the Fraser Highway, outside of Langley. We had stayed here maybe only a few nights until our Dad managed to find us the little trailer on the transmitter site.

My memory of the Blue Star was that it was very bright and clean, and had nicely trimmed green lawns.

Oh my god, but was I ever in for a surprise as my sister and I drove up to this dingy, faded and overgrown place, which looked like it was now condemned. The same sign was still up, but the drapes were drawn at the manager's office and a few people gathered around a car with the hood up, about 100 feet back towards the rear of the lot. It looked like a total dump now, and I didn't really want to see much more.

There's a saying that goes "You can never go home again". It means that part of what makes a place home is your connection to it, and that this can be lost with the passage of time, and the natural changes of life.

But scary people, guns, and guard dogs can have a big impact too.

"This was your home, but not anymore. Now go away."