Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Slide

Here we go, again. It is another September 30th. It seems that ever since I became a parent, approaching 14 years, now (that's 98 in dog years), I've become acutely aware of this date. Today is the eve of what I like to refer as The Slide. That is, the cosmic phenomenon of the beginning of the end for whatever year you or I happen to be living through. You know the one where the space/time continuum accelerates to the point that the year is suddenly over. And, all of those things that happen between now and the end of the Rose Parade are just a blur. A fleeting memory. October 1st... January 2nd.

You are aware of all this, yes?

No?

Okay. Maybe it's just me (and old age). But, between the kids' Autumn birthdays (and whatever celebrations they enable), school (and school holidays/breaks the administrators gleefully schedule), the candy coma of Halloween, the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, decorating the house with Christmas lights, tree and ornaments, Christmas vacation, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the accompanying and inevitable Christmas celebration mental breakdown, and New Year's Eve, the-year-is-already-over. And then it's,
Thank you, sir! May I have another?
So, before all of this starts up, there's some end of the month housecleaning to be done.


Blogosphere

There's a reason I follow the people I do. Whether they specialize in books, movies, the arts, or life, they are all never boring and very often exceedingly creative and exceptional. And September was one of those kind of months. Of the first three, none other than author Sophie Littlefield happened to say about them (because I name-drop so shamelessly) in an email reply to me [wife: "You can be a pest... you know that."]:
Must say, you run with a great crowd. Those three friends you mention are all delightful and have been really kind to me.
Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts has been building an extraordinary collection of memoirs from well known mystery and detective authors (and other very interesting people) this entire year. But what makes it quite so special, though, is that the collection includes just six words from each. Who can get away with that? This blogger, for one. For almost every week of this year, it's what I look forward to from this blogger. And today was no exception. And since I've met her in person earlier this year, I consider myself pretty lucky to call her my friend.

Same goes to the one known as the Pop Cultured Nerd. (PCN for short) She follows and comments on many aspects of the popular arts, and like Jen, consumes and covers an extraordinary amount of books and authors. I'm constantly amazed at the things both of these women do, and the amount of ground they cover (but then again, they are networking wonders). And yesterday she published a piece on the National Book Festival in D.C., and it was fantastic. Reason: her young nieces (8 and 11) did the reporting. It was an outstanding post that elicited the simultaneous reactions in me of feeling old and hopeful of the future because of the likes of these scary smart, amazing kids. [just as long as she or their mother keeps them out of my current field of work, says the insecure one]

Corey of The Drowning Machine also had an exceptional month. Though he began the Watery Grave Invitational in late August, it bloomed nicely come September. This unique contest of e-short stories (that the ol' Buckeye came up with) proved to be something that had great and unexpected results. [I say unexpected only because he had doubts - "I have this awful sinking feeling in the pit of the old tum-tum." I never did, of course (says the boastful one)] And with the top three including the likes of Hilary Davidson, Sophie Littlefield, and Keith Rawson, I highly recommend that people read the wonderful content that came out of this event.

Switching gears, this month also saw exceptional content from the movie bloggers Dennis Cozzalio, John Kenneth Muir, and J.D. These gentlemen cover so much great stuff in popular cinema. It's one of my favorite subjects [wife: "Obession is the better word for it."] From Dennis adding his own answers to one of his now famous movie quizzes that bring so much fun in follower participation, to the ongoing and insightful reflections by author JKM on film and TV (one of my favorites being a recent post on the best horror remakes so far), and finally the unforgettable look back by J.D. at 9/11 through the lens of Paul Greengrass' United 93, it was an uncommon month of wonderful output from a set of guys who make a habit of producing great stuff.

And finally, kudos go to Bev, Jen, and Corey for mentioning Banned Books Week in their blogs. One can't minimize this in our day and age.


Music

I don't know if it's schizophrenia setting in, but these were the last three music tracks I added to my iTunes library this month:
What the H-E-double hockey sticks does this mean?

And I can't forget the generous Moondancer when it comes to music. She's the one who sends me props for my musical blips (but hers are ones that are worth following), and I thank her for it.

As well, since this was the month I did my annual Kill Bill fest (Vol. 1 & 2), I thought it would be a good idea to remind those that care that the much rumored Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair still remains missing in action. However, the good news is the DVD may finally be in the offing. And if you're a fan of the music used by Mr. Tarantino on his soundtracks, the song Urami Bushi (sung by Meiko Kaji of Lady Snowblood fame) has special meaning for fans of both films. So, if you don't understand Japanese, here are the translated (noirish) lyrics for that song (aka The Grudge Blues):

You're beautiful, you're the flower, he praises you.
But if you bloom, he will get you scattered.
Stupid. So stupid.
I go so stupid singin' my grudge blues.

You can accept your pitiful fate.
But when you cry, he'll make you cry more.
Women, oh women,
It's women's tears that makes my grudge blues.

I hate you. Full of regret, never forgiven.

Try to erase my memory, but cannot forget you.
It never ends, never,
It never ends, 'cause that's my grudge blues.

They say it's a dream, embers of one-sided attachment,

laughing at you.
So you decide to wake up, but fear to be fully awake.
Women, oh women,
Women's soul beats on my grudge blues.

Crimson roses have its sharp thorns.

Don't wanna hurt you, but have to stab you with my thorn.
Burning, it's burning,
It keeps on burning within my grudge blues.

No flower would bloom on my dead body.

So I will live along hanging on my grudge.
Women, oh women,
My woman's life belongs to my grudge blues.



Family

I know I'm going to hear it for putting this down in the order, but did I happen to mention that I love my wife? Not only is she the mother of two of the most beautiful children I know, but she gives the absolutely best belated birthday presents that I know of. And with the exception of a few gray hairs (which she is justly proud of, I might add), she is the same beautiful woman I married more than 20 years ago - and which still garners me envious looks from a bunch of guys around town :-p


Miscellaneous

Author Sophie Littlefield (there she is again in this post? Stalker Alert!) is someone I've been hoping to meet over the summer when she was book touring for A Bad Day for Sorry. Jen, PCN, and Corey all spoke highly of her breakthrough debut of said novel. Naturally, I missed every single one of her southland appearances. Luckily, the West Hollywood Book Fair (where the heck did this come from?) is going to bail me out this weekend. She'll be in town to attend the Take Back The Night: Feminism and Powerful Women in Fiction panel. And did I happen to mention authors Gregg Hurwitz and Charlie Huston will also be there? Makes for not a bad set of content covers, huh?




"Now... where was I?"



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Monday, September 28, 2009

Well Worth the Wait: Big City Bad Blood in Audiobook!

First off, having just finished author Sean Chercover's excellent debut novel, Big City Bad Blood, I can finally see what all of the fuss was about. No wonder my friend (and book blogger) Corey has mentioned the author for over a year in various posts. And when reviewers start throwing the likes of Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, and Dennis Lehane about in their pieces and blog posts in regard to crime fiction entrances when talking about SC's inaugural tale, it tends to draw attention. Or, dubious stares from us jaundiced ones. Perhaps, I'm late to this party... but I'm old, have young kids to chase around and have to work till I drop dead to pay for them, so I have an excuse. But, I'm finally there with what this former Chicago P.I./writer brings to the genre and the readers who appreciate a great hardboiled thrown down. Although, I'm also one of those who really appreciates a well produced audiobook (because I have no time to actually read a book due to said age and kids). In my case, this book was well worth the wait till the audio form of this work (and his second novel, Trigger City) arrived.

Luckily, I am an Audible member and could download this great production - though it would be nice if others who aren't members had alternative purchase channels to obtain this audiobook. I know Audible regularly licenses and distributes various audiobooks (via the download route to their members using their proprietary file design) from other audio publishers (who also sell those works in CD, cassette, or MP3 formats). Perchance, Audible will start producing their own productions to other media that they could also sell? I sure hope so. And yes, I realize that it's available through Amazon's site, too. [and now: Sean Chercover] But, you still have to have an MP3 player, iPod, or computer to play it - or take the extra steps to burn it to disc. It's a small (but real) criticism due to that added limitation. And I say this because what the Audible studio managers produced in regard to Mr. Chercover's first book turned out to be one of the best audiobooks I've heard all year. And IMO, it needs wider avenues of distribution because it's that good. I think I've made myself clear in the past to this point: when an audio publisher perfectly matches up a quality and talented narrator to a finely written work of fiction (of any genre), and tops it off with the right bit of direction and production values, it can breathe not just sound but real life into the words of an author. It is simply lightning in a bottle for those of us audiobook enthusiasts. And they did it here [see why I think it shouldn't just be exclusive to Audible members (or iTunes addicts like myself)?].

Narrator Joe Barrett turned in an awesome performance in this production. He made the character of Ray Dudgeon his own. It'll be hard for me to associate anyone else's voice to that particular introspective Chicago P.I. other than this speaker. Much like blogger Jen (and I) can't see anyone else voicing author Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series other than George Guidall, or Jen's Mark Hammer not being the essence of James Lee Burke's Dave Robichheaux, Barrett is Dudgeon. The narrator was pitch perfect in his interpretation of the material. His use of intonation and dialect in his vocal characterizations were spot on, especially in the Chicago and L.A. settings of the book (so sayeth this native Angeleno). Whoever the studio manager was at Audible who came up with this casting should get a medal, IMHO. As well, Audible is to be commended for now offering the higher quality, Enhanced sound option for their audiobook distributions. It is a nice touch and a solid improvement for fans of the form. And when all of this is matched with an author who can really convey not only the landscape of a great city (along with personalities and story), but its gritty heart in words [very much like what the great film director (and fellow Chicagoan) Michael Mann did for The Windy City (Thief) and L.A. (Heat, Collateral)], the reader (or the listener) has another fantastic character in the book to become involved with. This was some combination to come together, and I was lucky enough to catch it. More thanks to my friends and book bloggers for steering it my way. And now I'm off to find and read One Serving of Bad Luck before teeing up the Trigger City audiobook.

And for said author Chercover, who gave his protagonist some excellent, smoking jazz/blues musicians and tracks to keep Ray Dudgeon company (wonderfully cited throughout) in his debut novel, here's a tip of the old hat (in my case a well worn golf cap) to you, my friend. This Dodger fan can't root for the Cubs, but you and the city of Chicago have a new fan.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 5

Continuation of the series--see Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4:

When The Moment Comes...

In my last post in this series, I mentioned my recent interview with my younger brother (who was the senior projectionist at the time I began working at the Huntington Park Warner Theater). Now that we are both in our 50's, and married with children, it was interesting to note his experiences working there and how clear and vivid his reflections were toward that short stint in his (work) life. As well, it was striking to realize the parallels in our two (short) projectionist careers. Previously, I thought he worked there a good while, especially before I arrived. In fact, it only seemed long. But, he only started working there the year before I did (1975).

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: Transitions (Part 6)
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Friday, September 25, 2009

What Do These Pairs Have in Common?

(This post is inspired by my beautiful and fierce daughter)

First Pair:



Next pair:



Answer:

Click to Display



Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and my daughter were all born on the same day of the month in November. John Lennon, Guillermo del Toro, and my son were all born on the same day of the month in October. Naturally, I think all of them are pretty great. Thank you for the post idea, mija.


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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thief - That Toddlin' Town

Lately, it seems I'm in a Chicago frame of mind. And even though I have relatives there, I've never been there in my entire life. [note to self: must fix that some day] This is likely due my current enjoyment of author Sean Chercover's debut novel, Big City Bad Blood (finally available in audio form--more on that after I'm done with it). However, that one novel is not the sole impetus. Right before this, I had just finished Jason Kerten's very good true story work, The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter, and Eric Larson's wonderful (and also non-fiction) The Devil in the White City from a couple of months back. So you see, The Second City is occupying some space in the front of my mind. And if you're counting, the Chercover and Larson books came by way of blogger Corey Wilde's recommendations. [your thanks is in the mail, you ol' Buckeye].

Add to this, one of my favorite directors came out this summer with another of his fine films, Public Enemies. Besides being its own distinct character in these literary and film works, Chicago is also the birthplace of said filmmaker, Michael Mann. So in honor of him and Chi-town, I'm resurrecting and dusting off a review of mine for Mann's inaugural film (and where again, the city of big shoulders is more than just a location). I hope you enjoy.



(dictionary definition)

thief |θēf|
noun ( pl. thieves |θēvz| )
a person who steals another person's property, esp. by stealth and without using force or violence.

For a major theatrical motion picture, director Michael Mann could not have asked for a better one in a movie debut. The year was 1981 when he brought us the spellbinding film, Thief, starring James Cann. And, it has always been a favorite of Mann afficionados (include me in that group), and a foretelling of things to come. Not only did this signal the arrival of a talented director-writer-producer, it changed the look, feel, and texture of the crime drama genre from that point forward. And though it's approaching the 30 year mark, it remains an enthralling examination of a world few had explored as thoroughly as this new filmmaker. The film incorporated a solid cast, with more than one actor making their own screen debuts. It's a gritty, authentic story - one that has a mesmerizing atmosphere and soundtrack in tune with this director's now trademark visual style.

Though it is now considered the talent pool to draw from for motion pictures, Mann (like another great director, Ridley Scott) did his prerequisite work in TV commercials. Both were the vanguard for today's directors. However, though Michael's gift for stunning, even artistic, visuals developed there, it really blossomed once he started directing and producing movies. I include the great TV movie The Jericho Mile here (another film that truly demands a good U.S. Region 1 DVD release - especially if you don't have access to a region-less disc player). But, Michael Mann has always been underrated in his ability to tell a story and develop characters. Many of his films were also written for the screen and executive-produced by him. He is in that rarified air of directors who are also great screenwriters and film producers in their own right.

Public Enemies UK Premiere - Michael Mann intr...Image by Craig Grobler via Flickr


Veteran actor James Caan was in his 'street' element when he undertook the role of Frank, the movie title's high-line, independent thief. And, he's as hard a individual as the diamonds he steals. The character of Frank is somewhat a throwback to the pantheon of 70's film anti-heroes. A flawed, dangerous man who draws the audience to him as he attempts to play catch-up from a prison-shortened life. Caan wonderfully portrays him as a man, though expert and skilled in his illegal trade, self-taught and woefully unprepared for any kind of normal (family) life on the outside. His directness (with his collage postcard as a less than adequate roadmap) is one of not wanting to waste any more of the time he has to construct a normalcy he's never experienced. He's a nihilist incongruently trying to meld (fulfill) his dreams of a life wished upon him by his prison mentor/father-figure. Unfortunately, Frank's dreams become his downfall (and another remnant example of a 70's protagonist).

Cover of Cover of Thief


Being state-raised (by the prison system) and with little to no parenting to bolster himself on, Frank's nature is gravitationally pulled toward father-figures. Easily, the other stirring character performances in the film are from them: the too-little seen Willie Nelson as Okla, and especially, Robert Prosky as the displacing entity, Leo. In a remarkable screen debut, Prosky is startling as the syndicate leader seeking to tempt Frank with a Faustian deal. His paternal stalking and entrapment of Frank (and the audience) is hypnotic. And when it's realized, he gives one of the most chilling and vile culminating speeches spoken on film, ever (and all of this by a sweet looking old man, at that). The other very touching performance is by Tuesday Weld as Frank's love interest, Jessie. Hers is one that makes Frank's decisions late in the film that much more heartbreaking. The supporting cast members are more than solid, with Jim Belushi (in his first prominent role), retired cop Dennis Farina, and John Santucci (in another debut) standing out in their minor roles.

For those who've yet to have seen one, if there's another earmark of a Michael Mann film, it is in its authenticity of story and trade craft. The basis for the story is the 1975 book, The Home Invaders, by Frank Hohimer. Thief also makes use of real-life thieves as technical advisors (and as cast members). In fact, real-life Chicago cops also dot the cast and lend their experience in the proceedings (and makes one wonder what it was like with that mix on those sets and shooting locations). The terms and dialogue, tools and techniques used in the film ring true because they are (and director Mann wouldn't have it any other way). The safes disected up on the screen are real, too (no props here). All of the tools and guns are genuine (and have real histories). Another point is the combat pistol craft on display, especially by Caan's Frank character. Nothing here is Hollywood fake or flash. All of this adds to the undisputed credibility in the film and only enhances the direction and actor's performances.

heat1Image by le0pard13 via Flickr


Michael Mann created a memorable major film and directorial debut that's brimming with visuals and technique that would be copied throughout the 80's by others. But, besides its style and atmosphere, it's a more character-driven movie than many give it credit. And, as Amazon's Jim Gay writes, beautifully photographed by Donald Thorin and enhanced by the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. This DVD is the director's cut, not the theatrical version shown on screens in '81. It has some minor scene additions to the theatrical release. I'm also in complete agreement with other reviewers and bloggers that this was the precursor to Mann's more realized film, 1995's Heat (which I touched on earlier in the year). In fact, if you listen to the very fun commentary track by Mann and James Caan (which was probably done for the earlier laser disc release of the film), you'll learn it was recorded while the director was filming that later, great work. They are both worthy and remarkable films for each of their decades, and their fans (like me).


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Verus Fabula

Once Upon a Time in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

I worked as a medical transporter. I started the job while finishing my college stint ('77) on a part time basis (a few months after I left projecting movies behind). Most of the time, I was just transporting hospital inpatients to X-Ray procedures.

It wasn't a bad gig, and was somewhat rewarding in that I was making a (very) small contribution toward the benefit and care of a human being/patient. To be clear, in no way was it a clinical job. But, I did manage to become acquainted with a portion of the medical nomenclature in the performance of my duties. Throughout the work day, I gathered the patients from their hospital room, in a wheelchair or gurney, and brought them to their procedure (or returned them). And like the military (or us tech-heads), medicine loves its use of acronyms. The one you need to know for this decades old tale is NPO:

NPO - latin abbreviation (Nil [or Non] Per Os) for nothing by mouth

For some medical procedures (or surgery), the patient shouldn't have any solid food or drink for some hours prior. And this can make some patients uncomfortable. Back then, the floor nurses at the hospital would place an approximately 4 - 5 inch square magnetic NPO placard on the patient's door as part of their procedures/safeguards (similar to the one pictured below).



So, on the day in question I came to pick up a spry, elderly woman with a gurney for an X-ray procedure that required her to be NPO. Around the same time, a surgery tech (a separate group of workers who always wore surgical scrubs and transported patients to and from the suites) was picking up a similarly aged woman two doors away for her operation that morning. Almost in unison, as we transporters were backing our now patient-loaded gurneys out of their respective rooms, the surgical patient spotted the NPO placard on her door. She then asked out loud, "N-P-O. What does NPO mean?" And before the nurse standing nearby could answer, the spirited woman I was moving piped up:
Oh. It means no panties on!
True story. Really. You can't make these things up.



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Friday, September 11, 2009

Yes... It's Catalina


After a particularly stressful morning trying to get all out of the house and on the road to Long Beach to meet a helicopter (me and boats have a sad, sad chronicle) and a catamaran (wife and kids), we've made it to Santa Catalina Island. Here to attend a nephew's wedding this weekend on a tiny strip of sand along Avalon Harbor, it's the first time for the kids and I. My wife used to come regularly for work when she was at USC so we have a guide, of sorts. Important note: I've been assured by she-who-must-be-obeyed that the ceremony and reception will be over by 5 PM PDT (so we can catch the kickoff for the USC vs. Ohio State game in Columbus).

Needless to say, I had to include this particular tune. And though the old song has an interesting history, when it says 26 Miles across the sea, it's actually just under 23 (but hey, that's not very catchy and who's counting, anyway). And after being here a morning and an afternoon, I can now safely attest it's definitely a unique location and has a way more laid back atmosphere than the rest of L.A. County.





But then again, there are still those quirky SoCal touches:







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Heading Up & Out

I'm riding in one of these this morning. Where, you ask? First clue:
it is still within Los Angeles County. Anyone? Okay, second clue: I
can only get there on this, or by sea. The answer arrives after I
do ;-).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Coming Together On This Day

Santa Monica PierImage by szeke via Flickr

09-09-09

It seems this is the magical date for the year - last year it was the start of the Summer Olympic Games (in which opening ceremonies began on 08/08/08 at 8 seconds, 8 minutes past 8 PM local time in Beijing). Nine is no slouch, though, in Chinese culture:

The number 9 (九, Pinyin: jiŭ, jyutping: gau2), being the greatest of single-digit numbers, was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children.

Moreover, the number 9 is a homophone of the word for "longlasting" (久), and as such is often used in weddings.

For us, now, this date includes the re-release of The Beatles remastered library on CD. And yes, I am very much looking forward to this (being a long time Beatle fan - since childhood).



However, that's not it for this day. The other Apple (computer) is doing a related music event this morning, too. That ties together nicely with the boys from Liverpool. Besides all of that, today is also a special one for us that live here in L.A. It is the 100th anniversary of the famed Santa Monica Pier. It remains, after all these years, one of the most loved places among those that live or visit here. Its history is a fascinating trip down memory lane. I was taken there a few times as a child, only to keep going back many times during each decade since (along with my kids - especially over the summer during their camps). Before I married, when I actually lived in Santa Monica, I'd get up at o-dark-thirty to make the Pier's sunrise fireworks display on the 4th of July. Unfortunately, the city of Santa Monica ceased that practice after I married - likely in mourning to the fact I was no longer single [wife: "Dream on."].

Anyway... Happy Birthday to The Pier.







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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where Did The Summer Go?

As I come to the sobering assessment that this is the last holiday for the summer, where did it all go?!? Heck, my oldest will be on to his third week of school come Tuesday - and his sister starts her new semester on Wednesday. It's all going too fast. Before we know it, we 're into the Fall--and we all know what that means when we get into that part of the year ~ October 1st... January 2nd! So as this season comes to an end, I'm just going to kick back and enjoy what's left with the appropriate music--plus, you're invited to add your own to the (Margarita) mix:















And since I'm from the left coast, this last one is for those of you who enjoy some surf and sand - especially during the waning days of the summer season. Enjoy:



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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 4

Continuation of the series--see Intro, part 1, part 2, part 3:

Amateur Night

As I return to this series, months later now (where did the time fly?), I need to explore that most unique detail of my tenure there. That of Amateur Night. For me to recollect and get it straight these many years later, I had to call upon and interview my only brother (the very one I've been mentioning throughout the series). His answers to some of my questions I've incorporated into this post below - and into the remaining segments in the series, whenever possible.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: When The Moment Comes... (Part 5)

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Life According to Book Titles

The one blog I follow on a regular basis for news and opinion of the popular arts is Pop Culture Nerd. Besides her wonderful taste in books and films, I was lucky enough to actually meet the blogger in person earlier this summer. And she's as great an individual as her blog is fun to read. Anyway, it seems she's distracted me from work and transcription (interview) with a meme she ran into at Reactions to Reading. It goes like this:

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

PCN has "re-worded some of the sentences, skipped a couple (she) had absolutely no relevant answer for, and added one of (her) own." And since she threw down the challenge, I'm game, and I'll take a similar flexible approach. Here goes.


I feel like: Outliers

Describe where you currently live: Chapterhouse Dune

If I could go anywhere, I would go to: The Bridge at Dong Ha

Your favorite form of transport: The Langoliers

Your best friend is: Devil in a Blue Dress

My friends and I are: Phantoms

What's the weather like: Ice Station (ha!)

What is life to you: Whirlwind


I know: We Know

Best advice I can give: Everything Matters!

Thought for the Day: Angels & Demons

How I would like to die: The Last Good Kiss

My soul's present condition: Fifty Grand [or you can make your best offer ;-)]

You all are invited to keep this going.


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We Could Only Go So Far... Songs for my Children

The first song is by way of author Harlan Coben and Twitter, and the others are those that remind me of my children:





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