Friday, August 31, 2012

Skywriting and Trail Walking

There are few places in the world where you can truly experience freedom.  Away from technology,  other people, all the social restraints and mental hangups we all have about most everything.  No financial issues, no cars screaming to get gas, your eyes constantly on the arrow pointing dangerously close to "E," hoping that it'll get you home and back to a gas station by the time you get paid again.  There are very few places in this world where all that goes away, leaving us with our own two feet  and our minds.  One thing I know, there's nothing like the grocery store parking lot.

Back a couple decades ago, when Walmarts didn't dot the Conyers countryside, when there was a Richway, and a Big Star, and the building behind Arby's was actually a movie theater, there was a 16 year old boy just beginning work as a Bagger at Bruno's Finer Foods.  I was the fastest bagger there, and second fastest cashier.  But late at night, when the other baggers would rather be in the back pretending to put the fruits and herbs back in the refrigerator, I'd go get buggies out of the parking lot.  And there was total freedom away from most everything.  It was in the early nineties, so the only music available was that in my head.  And I sang those songs while gathering carts.  Only 5 at a time, for safety reasons (I think I was the only one to follow that, it was so "manly" to get 12 carts and push them all in at once).  My favorite song to sing out there was "Skywriter" by Art Garfunkel and Jimmy Webb.  Simply wonderful.  That was freedom.

 I'm reminded of this as I walk through the trails in Rockdale       County.  There are no people around, no financial pressures, just the ticking of time keeping pace with my walking staff.  So a week ago, I parked on the north side of the Rockdale River Trail (you can find it on Google Maps by looking up Daniels Bridge Rd, off Union Church Rd.) and walked to the clearing where the power lines stretched north to the power station.  I started south, trudging up the hill, higher and higher, until just before the top I looked over and saw Stone Mountain over the horizon to the north.  Don't think I've ever seen Stone Mountain from Rockdale.

Over the top of the hill, underneath the giant towers of flowing electricity, and continuing, there's a valley of green flora, weeds and insects.  Grasshoppers flying away from the trail, the cicadas rubbing their legs together in the hot Georgia summer.  To the right, a couple of houses are far off into the adjacent forest, and one has a rooster, so it crows, not knowing the time
of day.  This path would take me into a valley and up another hill to East Fairview Road, but I had already been that way.  This time, I turned east and climbed another steep hill to a grassy area.  On the left, a large granite outcrop grew out of the forest like some ancient ruins.  I climbed to the top of the rocks and looked around at the beauty of the trees, the grass, the sounds of life all around me.  Around the grass, dirt had been mounded together to make ramps for motorcycles, mopeds, and the like.  I wondered, as I listened to everything, why people on motorcycles would so freely roam this area, filling up the valleys with noise and not caring about everything that surrounds them.  I wondered how many people on foot had climbed those hills, reached the top on their own, and saw everything that Rockdale County had to offer.

Then I reached the gazebo overlooking the paved trail far below, next to the South River.  It reminded me of Stonehenge, some structure built long ago to watch over everything.  Turns out, it was an Eagle Scout project made by a neighbor of mine, Keith Asher, and his troop.  The gazebo had been pulled off it's original foundation by those same moped riders, but it was still very secure and well built.  I felt like I had made it to some end goal, standing atop some mountaintop, and it was good.

There are other trails I have followed where each dirt path had imprinted on it the hooves of horses (and honestly, I had to watch where I stepped).  Again, the trails were filled with sights that you just don't see going about your daily chores, a loan tree towering above the rest, plants I had never seen with soft, furry leaves, the cooler breezes going through the forest as the sun began to set.  And while I respect the people who traverse this area on their horses, I still think that these areas would be better enjoyed on foot.   There are similar trails at the Georgia International Horse Park, but according to the map, the trails are divided between bike paths and horse trails.  Would that we be able to walk any square inch of this Earth with our own two feet.  Just to walk, we should be able to go anywhere, but the fences and the signs and the obstacles that our laws put in place keep us in tight quarters.  Walking costs nothing except time, harms nothing, wears nothing out save the soles of our shoes.  It takes no maintenance, no oil changes, no cleaning of waste products.  It is marvelous and wonderful and if we could rid ourselves of the wheels and machines that walk for us, we would be in control of where we went.

A car can only go on streets, the width restricts us, the gas limits us.  But if we could walk to everywhere we needed, we would be totally free to explore and expand indefinitely.  There is nothing to keep our legs from traveling anywhere we wanted.  That is freedom.  You will not find true freedom cruising along the highways of America, although it certainly is tempting.  In my opinion, you will find the open freedom that I seek only on your own two feet, walking up hills and through valleys to places unknown.  May I never run out of trails to travel, nor miles to walk.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The reviews I read (that I agree with) said that you have to approach the movie without any cynicism whatsoever, which is extremely hard to do.  It also was obviously cut short, with many good moments left on the cutting room floor.  I keep wondering how it would have worked with a novel, written by someone who could pull it off.  The best part of the movie is the actors.  It could have been atrocious, but the actors pulled off a very barren script and made it worth watching.  The same cannot be said for, say, the latest Star Wars movies,  (and no, I'm not gonna pick on Jake Lloyd here).  C.J. Adams carries the whole movie on his shoulders, and does it with every inflection, every raise of the eyebrow.  He's the Haley Joel Osment of this decade.  Let's hope he doesn't mess it up like HJO did. Joel Edgerton and the other supporting cast did a likewise magnificent job.  Also, the music score was great.  I wish I would have listened to the soundtrack before I went to see the movie.  I did that with Where the Wild Things Are, and it was amazing!

Ahmet Zappa, who wrote the script, obviously is highly intelligent, using references to literature all throughout.  For instance, the story takes place around a pencil factory.  Henry David Thoreau worked at a pencil factory early on, who famously wrote in Walden about "marching to the beat of a different drum."  Timothy Green certainly does that.  He's also very much a naturalist, working with his girl friend (Odeya Rush) to make the leaf palace.  Also, the Pencil theme is famous because of an essay by Leonard Reed, (a prior blog goes into that) who goes into all the people who make a single pencil, all the individual jobs that go into constructing the eraser, the wood, the graphite. It is a magnificent essay of the free-market world, with each worker supporting the other.  And while the movie has a decidedly anti-capitalist tone, the idea that individuals, working together, can support and lift up each other, creating, as it were, a better mouse trap, is a wonderful message for today's world.

The main criticism I have is the framed effect they use with the Adoption Office.  I wonder how it would have changed to leave that part out.  It gives away the ending, right at the start.  You know what will happen all throughout, and it puts a sad tug the whole time (probably intended.)

Speaking of that sad tug, I walked out of the movie feeling much like I did when I saw Pay it Forward. I probably would have cried at some point, but I didn't have time to.  I had to go to work afterwards, and there just wasn't time.  And that got me to thinking, we just don't have the time to experience all the emotions that come with our lives.  We're too busy living at 45 when we should be at 33 and1/3.  Try playing a 33 record at 45 on a turntable.  The singers sound like chipmunks, and you lose so much of the emotional pull of the music involved.  Barry White would become very un-Barry Whitish, if you get my meaning.  Sometimes it's best to be like Thoreau, to watch the ants go back and forth.

In the end, I would put this movie in the same category with Pay it Forward, A.I., Where the Wild Things Are, (all underrated movies that are some of my most favorite) which are movies about kids, but definitely not for kids.  Disney's commercials  for the movie on their own channel are actually misleading in how "supernatural" CJ Adams character actually is. In fact, he's just a normal kid, with leaves growing out of his legs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Blahs

Only a few hours left before the start of the NFL preseason starts, and our month long wait for anything football will end.  Being football fans, games, analysis, talking ESPN heads droning on and on about what Tim Tebow has done or how Darth Vaderish Bill Belicheck is, anything like that is better than what's on television currently.  Most shows on now serve only to lower the IQ of most Americans by several points each year.  But that's not what I want to talk about right now.

Currently, you turn on the TV and hit any NBC owned station and you'll find coverage of the 30th Summer Olympiad from London.  I love the Olympics; I really do.  The theme music is yet another work of brilliance by John Williams, and Brian Costas usually does a great job of covering the two-week competition. Watching all the sports, seeing the perfection of the human body, in form, in function (don't I sound like Hamlet?), with what skill they move and bend and perform, as if some orchestra shared with my ears a cacophony of sound exalting the human spirit.  To watch the Olympics is to witness human beings at their physical best.

But this time, I've been consistently bored with the broadcasting of the Games.  It's fantastic that America has performed so well, earned so many medals, but this time I'm just not excited about it.  And there are a ton of reasons why I think this Olympiad is among the most banal games ever broadcast.

When Football season begins again (soon, and very soon), I know for a fact that Touchdowns are worth 6 points (plus the PAT), and Field Goals are worth 3. In baseball, you run around the track and it's worth 1.  Simple scoring procedures.  Even Golf (when they don't decide to mess with it) is easy to follow.  So when I watch the Olympics, I want a simple scoring system that anyone can  understand.  It was like that in 1984, when Mary Lou Retton scored a 10 to win Gold for the Americans.  The diving competitions do it that way.  Jumps are worth a maximum of whatever score, 8.5, 9, 10...etc... and then deducts are done from there.  And while gymnastics is sort-of that way, it changes every single year.  If only the judges would hold up paper signs of their scores like they do in cartoons.  NBC tried to make it easier by using a color code for good, so-so, and bad scores, but it didn't help.

And while we're on the subject of judges.... let's get to know them.  I mean, we all know who Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Sharon Osborne are.  They need to introduce the judges for the Olympic sports.  Let us know why they are judging the competition, why they are qualified. Let's know the nationalities of them, and give a run down of how they score different things.  If not, they should just let computers scan the performances, find irregularities, and spit out a score.  The computers, like the current judges, would be omnipotent and invisible.  It's a human sport.  Let's make everyone human.

Speaking of humans... When we watch our favorite sports, football for instance, we have a clear cut reason for routing for certain teams.  I want the Oklahoma Sooners to win all their games. I love seeing Steve Spurrier lose (because he throws his hat off in disgust).  But why should I care who wins the Men's shotput? Or Women's 1000m relay?  The answer is, of course, the human interest story.  It's what made NBC's coverage of past Olympics so watchable.  We looked into the days and lives of the athletes from all over the world.  What was a common day like for the underdog Romanian gymnast? How did the Ugandan Marathon runner train for his sport, and was he running away from enemies in the country?  The athletes aren't just superbly toned bodies, they are human beings with human stories.  There was none of that this time.  We saw the USA girl gymnasts in modeling poses, and, outside of Gabby Douglas, we saw nothing about where the others come from.  Sports were broadcast with no switch-over, with no warning, and in prime-time, they filled the time slot with as many USA performances as possible, without worrying about who they were or who they were competing against. They might as well have been robots out there.

And let's face it, NBC had the ability to film years of human interest stories and show them on any number of channels.  The biggest mess up that NBC/Comcast did was to not use the NBC Sports Channel in the way that ESPN has.  While the Olympics were going on, the NBC Sports Channel had Poker on.  I never saw Olympic stuff on that channel.  They could have used that station to show recaps, human interest stories, analysis...etc... much like ESPN uses SportsCenter.  I could keep SportsCenter on all day.  I keep up with all the sports, at least in a glancing mode, all year round.  That way I can talk intelligently about baseball or basketball or hock...well, maybe not that, any time I need to.  The Olympics should have had the same thing.  An information source to keep everyone educated about what was going on.

Honestly, I thought the Olympics would be a welcome distraction from everything else that's on TV right now.  Nothing.  Nada. Zip.  Endless "reality" shows, sit-coms that are anything but funny, reruns of game shows, like Wheel of Fortune, where I can guess the puzzles cause I've seen them before, or, if the networks aren't exciting, we can always watch hours of political analysts shouting at one another ad nauseum. But this time, I think the rest of television actually brought down the games.  My expectations of the Olympics were lower because I have no expectations for anything else NBC or any other network shows.  It might have even started with the scandal about the USA uniforms for the Opening Ceremonies not being made in America. It was obvious that the television stations cared only about scandal and division than the unifying celebration the Olympics were supposed to be.  I gave up watching actual television a long time ago.  If it's not on Disney/Nick... I'm probably not going to watch it.  It's all just garbage.

I left out the whole argument about time zones and time-delay programming, because I don't think that really mattered that much.  Even editing was okay (as Golf is edited all the time and is enjoyable), it's what they showed and what they edited that was the problem, along with everything else above.  How social media affected the games, I'm not sure.  I have no problem knowing who won before watching it.  I have a problem not knowing who I'm watching.  It'll be up to those at NBC to know how to use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Hulu...etc... to their best advantage.  They have 2 years to figure it all out.  Integration of the all medias, as well as a clear, concise way of letting people know the schedule, is imperative before they get to Russia and Rio. The Olympic Games are a global, international event.  I hope that given the global media, NBC can figure out how to make individual athletes matter as much as the medal count for entire nations.  It has nothing to do with USA vs. China.  It has everything to do with the ability of the athletes to perform at the ultimate level of human achievement.  That is what will inspire people to become the best they can be at whatever they're good at.  It gives people a goal to achieve, a common one, a goal that will unite, not divide people and nations.