Saturday, November 29, 2008

High School Reunion

Cherry Hill High School East Class of 1988. Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

Went to my 20th high school reunion last night for the Cherry Hill High School East Class of 1988.
The feeling of walking into the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom and seeing people I haven’t seen in two decades was surreal, like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone where you look into a funhouse mirror and see an older version of yourself and your friends. Yet it wasn’t some oddball illusion. It was really us, 20 years later and a little greyer, more jaded and grounded.
I never really understood the fascination with high school reunions until I attended mine. Talking to people about their life experiences, jobs, families and where they settled down made me reflect upon my own choices and framed things clearer for me.
There we were, one of the last graduating classes of the Reagan era, 20 years later, awkwardly milling about and asking each other what we’ve been up to. Conversations touched on family, occupations and reflections about high school and life.
Common misperceptions about high school reunions are plentiful: the jocks get fat, the ugly girls get beautiful and the hot girls are now homely and have 17 kids. Another misperception about reunions is that only the successful people attend because they’re not embarrassed to brag about their lives. Not true, because the people who attended my reunion weren’t boastful at all; they were curious about other people than focused on touting their resumes and trotting out the trophy wives/husbands.
The night resembled Desperate Housewives meets The O.C. meets Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Many of the women were extremely thin and dolled up, while the men who kept their hair were still a bit gray but distinguished and professional. All in all, we looked fabulous.
I learned my classmates weren’t the Gen X slackers the media branded us in the 1990s. We’ve been extremely busy in our chosen vocations.
I lost touch with my classmates after graduation, so I wanted to catch up. I spoke to an engineer with Lockheed Martin, an electrical designer, court stenographer, owner of a cleaning business, a software engineer, a medical writer, a university golf instructor, a former television weatherman, a nurse, an employee with the Environmental Protection Agency, a sports magazine publisher and a member of the U.S. Army who works at the Pentagon. Add to the list several others who toil and work in private practice, governmental positions and regular nine to five jobs.
The whole experience reminded me of the song The Class of ’57 by The Statler Brothers:

Tommy's selling used cars, Nancy's fixing hair,
Harvey runs a grocery store and Margaret doesn't care.
Jerry drives a truck for Sears and Charlotte's on the make,
And Paul sells life insurance and part time real estate.

Helen is a hostess, Frank works at the mill,
Janet teaches grade school and prob'ly always will.
Bob works for the city and Jack's in lab research,
And Peggy plays organ at the Presbyterian Church.

And the class of '57 had its dreams,
We all thought we'd change the world with our great works and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of '57 had its dreams.

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy's on an insane ward and Mary's on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie's wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody's bet.
Linda married Sonny, Brenda married me,
And the class of all of us is just a part of history.

And the class of '57 had its dreams,
But living life day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of '57 had its dreams.
Oh, the class of '57 had its dreams.

So here we are, Gen X: married, divorced, with kids or without, paying mortgages, living our dreams or doing the best we can.
The hired DJ cranked up the nostalgia factor and played pop music from the 1980s. Pop music then was like the songs from the 1950s: meaningless, repetitive but fun ear candy. We heard Duran Duran, the Thompson Twins, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Eurythmics. And just when you thought we’d drown in the sullen youth-driven lyrics of Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark or the synthesized assaults by A Flock Of Seagulls, the DJ played Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that came out in 1991 and signaled the dawn of Generation X’s angst-ridden malaise against everything corporate and stupid. It was then, as Kurt Cobain’s voice blared about the idiocy of pop entertainment and the guitar solo that signaled mosh pit after endless mosh pit blared, did I look around the room and realized how far we as a generation have come.
For the teens of the 1980s were raised under the Cold War and bullshit of Reagan and corporate America. We liked the cotton candy feel-good music as teenagers, but in our twenties, we changed. The Soviet Union fell apart, the United States started swaggering and by the early 1990s, we left home and saw the world for what it really was: an eye-opening horrific jungle where it’s eat or be eaten.
Someone at the reunion said, “Why couldn’t we be this nice to each other when we were in high school?”
I think it’s because once we got out into the real world, away from the confinement of school and parental protection and cliques, life bitch slapped us. We matured with experience and suddenly cliques, popularity or our peers’ opinions were irrelevant. What mattered was raw, primitive survival, and with it happiness and personal satisfaction based upon finding something we wanted to do. Our regimented lives gave way to freedom, and with it opportunities. This led to humility.
It’s been said you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. While I don’t usually subscribe to that fortune cookie wisdom, I think it applies here. What the reunion forced me to do was reflect on the past 20 years and where I’ve been and how I’ve grown. It’s been a wild ride from the awkward teenager who roamed the halls of Cherry Hill High School East and wrote for the student newspaper. Now I’m an award-winning journalist with over 15 years of experience. I dug in, never let go and rode the sucker like a bucking bronco high on speed.
After the reunion, an old high school friend and I went to a nearby bar and had a drink. We talked about absent friends, people we knew who didn’t show up to the reunion and about our lives in general. At the bar we met a few more alumni and talked about life.
The people I connected with turned out okay, which didn’t surprise me. My fellow high school students had the drive and ambition to do anything and I’m proud of my graduating class. Some would dismiss high school reunions as nostalgic reflection and a chance to re-connect with a past reality that no longer exists. Yet there was an energy in that room, a buzzing cacophony of dozens of conversations. Old friendships rekindled and new ones bloomed. The chance for us to put our lives on pause and hit the rewind button for a few hours and remember, perhaps with longing, when we were all in the same boat together.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Life Movie

Your result for The Director Who Films Your Life Test...

Woody Allen

Your film will be 60% romantic, 42% comedy, 19% complex plot, and a $ 25 million budget.

Be prepared to have your life story shot entirely in New York City -- though lately Woody's been loving shooting in London. Also, your music soundtrack is all jazz from before 1949. Filmography: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Everyone Says I Love You, Match Point, Scoop, etc. Woody has released one film per year consistently for the past 35 years. For the past 15 years he's been trying to make films like his older, funnier ones, just like characters in his Stardust Memories film suggest throughout. Scarlett Johansson will star.

Take The Director Who Films Your Life Test
at HelloQuizzy

Really? I take a test and it comes up Woody Allen. Guess that makes sense. I am a fan...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Philcon 2008

Went to Philcon this weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill. Attendance was down this year, mostly I think due to the economy but also a new location - way outside Philly. Armed with a copy of Ravaged Earth, I was ready to talk about the game, only to discover that the gaming track, which the con held for many years - was cancelled. Thanks to a nice guy named Michael Ryan, and some lobbying on my part, we held an informal gaming panel on Saturday.
I attended a reading by science fiction author Keith R. A. DeCandido, who read his comic book scripts from Farscape and Star Trek. I also snagged a copy of Keith's book Dragon Precinct and had him autograph it.
Panels I attended included Science Fiction and Romance, a LiveJournal Meetup, Multi-Genre Erotica, and a Meet The Editors panel.
My only panel, about the popularity of Robert E. Howard, was on Sunday. Howard was a literary genius who died too young, but left behind a treasure trove of amazing work.
I also went to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America party and talked to some really great people in the industry. All in all, a pretty good Philcon experience.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marketing Mediocrity

Imagine my utter astonishment when I was shopping and discovered High School Musical Cereal.
I repeat: Kellogg's made High School Musical Cereal.
What the fuck?
This is what our civilization has produced? A breakfast cereal named after an annoying show developed for tweens?
Listen, America. We need to talk. I understand capitalism is the lifeblood of our system. I know making money through hard work and effort is a glorious testament to life. I get this. What I don't get is how low corporations will sink to market and sell a movie as merchandise, as food and as a theme park.
Now I've never seen High School Musical, probably because I'm not 15, don't have kids or am not a pedophile, so my exposure to this drek masquerading as wholesome family entertainment is limited.
But, seriously; a cereal? Is that the best you could do? I know there are cereals based on movies and cartoon characters, but come on! High School Musical?!
Kellogg's, what's going on? Are Frosted Flakes sales that poor that you have to whore yourself out to Disney, or did Disney steal your souls, too?
And what is High School Musical cereal? Does it have marshmallows shaped like teenage dancers? Is it so sugary sweet it could kill a diabetic if they look at a bowl? Is there a free nude photo of Vanessa Hudgens in every box?
Things like this exist for one reason: to get kids to ask their parents to spend money on it. There's no artistic value to this at all, and much like most of American culture, it is just a hollow indicator of how low we've sunk.
What's next? High School Musical disposable enema kit? High School Musical tampons? High School Musical ribbed condoms?
I want the executives who dreamt up this nightmare to eat box after box of this cereal until they puke a rainbow of mediocrity.
Then they could market that as High School Musical Barf In A Bucket.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Back Story

About a month ago I had this really bad backache, with pain radiating down my right leg. I mean thermonuclear red hot knives hurting like Hell pain. I went to the emergency room and they prescribed Vicodin, and was told I had sciatica. After a visit to the doctor, an X-ray and an MRI of my back, I learned I am the owner of two herniated discs in my spine that has bulged through and touched the nerve in my back causing the sciatica. I really hate growing old.
Yesterday I had my first session of physical therapy. I haven't felt the kind of pain I felt in October, but I'm not out of the woods yet by any stretch.
Basically, I have to monitor any discomfort in my leg and back and continue with the physical therapy.
So I won't be running in any marathons in the foreseeable future.
I've had intermittent back pain throughout my life, but nothing this serious. What I don't want is back surgery or anything like that, but I was advised to talk to a neurologist if the pain returns.
Guess my dream of being an Olympic weight lifter is over.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Barack Obama is now the president-elect, proving the system works.
I've read posts from conservative bloggers dismissive about last night's election results. They claim the voters were duped, that Obama squeaked by and that he doesn't have a mandate.
To which I say to them:
What fucking election were you watching?
Because not only did Obama clearly have a mandate last night, garnering 52 percent (62,419,768) to McCain's 47 percent (55,363,122), but he captured 349 electoral votes compared to McCain's 163 with 26 electoral votes remaining as of this morning. Obama won Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, and Indiana - states that were heavily contested. Voter turnout was the highest in this nation's history. This was a watershed election; one with great significance to many Americans.
For Democrats, it was the Super Bowl and World Series and Olympics rolled into one. Not only did they capture the presidency, but the House and Senate, with 252 in the House and 56 in the Senate, giving them a clear majority.
Now I know this might make many Republicans bristle, but change was needed.
The American people, after eight years of muddled policies and indifference from the Bush administration chose someone so out of the mainstream, so unlikely to be president, that Hollywood screenwriters couldn't have dreamed this plot up.
And that's what makes America great. We can finally be proud and say that it doesn't matter the color of your skin or family background, but if you work hard and persevere, that you can do anything in America.
Four years ago Democrats were slitting their wrists and reaching for the sleeping pills. Last night was a vindication of their hard work in re-energizing their party and reaching out to independents and conservatives.
It's an end of the politics of old and stated, of cunning sophistry and mired partisan inaction. Last night the voters spoke clearly and loudly that they didn't want the same policies.
Is it a risk? Is America gambling with its future?
Yeah, but that's the great thing about the American people - they'll surprise you. If change is needed, they'll risk everything and work for it, and labor to make their country better. They know it's time for America to mutate and evolve.
Last night was also a bittersweet moment for American blacks. There was much invoking of MLK, of the struggles and inequality blacks faced in this country. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey openly cried in that Chicago crowd, which consisted of people of all races - together - cheering for Obama. And you know what? I teared up, too. I got a tad emotional because here we were, in the early 21st century and a black man was elected president of the United States with a clear majority. For months I skeptically thought Americans were closeted racists, that the disparity between black and whites in this country was a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon, that there's no way Obama could win. How happy I was to be proven wrong. What a hopeful revelation that is, that the voters transcended race and background and put Obama over the top.
The nasty sniping of the McCain campaign, the choice of Sarah Palin as veep and the rudderless direction of the Republican Party contributed to McCain's downfall. Now their grumbling is all sour grapes. The racist threats, the pronouncements of Obama's middle name, the doomsday scenarios that he's a socialist all now are static in the background, mere discontent from the groundlings.
Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Like Rosa Parks, MLK and others that have gone before him, he's a pioneer. He's an inspiration. Americans made history, not just electing a black man president, but by electing such an inclusive and unifying person to lead us for the next four years. It's an immense responsibility, but we're given the right leaders at the right time for a reason.
Now it's Barack Obama's time.
It's his mandate.
And in America, things just got a lot brighter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

From my cell phone, inside the voting booth, seconds from voting. Feel the excitement...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Unfathomable Juggernaut of Patriotic Destiny

The election is nigh. The stars are aligned. The maniacs are out in full force, boots stomping and signs waving. Soon it will all be over. Soon, my beloved, we shall rest peacefully.
The chaotic zoo of the 2008 presidential election will be cast in stone and etched in history in a few days. Everything we've heard, from the idiot talking head pundits to the partisan toadies to the polished candidates themselves and bullshit rhetoric will all be a memory. The seething and venom and frothing at the mouth will be replaced by a concrete reality - one where a candidate and a mandate will shape the destiny of the country for the next four years. All the dumb comedy bits, burned-out hippie terrorists and Joe the Plumbers won't change shit.
The nation would have crossed its Rubicon and cast its lot with either John McCain or Barack Obama.
And for the foreseeable future, America will still endure.
Because, boys and girls, nothing that's happened in this election really matters. What matters is what will happen after Nov. 4. The rancor and insults at Sarah Palin rallies, the hucksterism of Obama, the lunacy of McCain during the debates is only prologue. Now descends the time of decision, a time when the voters invest in the country's future.
The online tirades, e-mails and doomsday scenarios if either Obama or McCain are elected are just parlor game, childish pastimes forged by the hysterical and indignant.
And the slogans - those blessed wonderful slogans - from "Drill Baby, Drill" to "Yes We Can" to the universally accepted mantra both camps are chanting now: "Change".
The accusations - that Obama is a terrorist, that he pals around with terrorists, that he's a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, un-American and foreign - and that McCain has a violent temper, is an adulterer, is as old as Methuselah and is as crazy as a shithouse rat.
And punditry, taken to new levels of shame and histrionics: the dramatic hissy fit Keith Olbermann had after the creepy fear-laced video about 9/11 shown at the Republican National Convention and testy Sean Hannity crucifying Obama and Palin not being able to name a single newspaper she reads. All of it theater - dramatic, insane and meaningless.
The media proved it is the Democrat's bitch on a leash, with more negative news skewing towards McCain than Obama. Did the mainstream media fear it might get the boot from Obama's airplane? Is this bias the reason why McCain didn't grant many interviews? Could the media have covered the election better, with more focus on the issues instead of personalities?
The vengeful attack ads, the psychopathic partisans, the flame wars online. Tina Fey's Palin impersonation, a prank call with Montreal disc jockeys and Obama dancing on Oprah. Politics transcended the realm of stoic lawmakers and entered popular culture and mass consumption. Now they become the idiots on the idiot box, singing and dancing for public attention. In the age of cable TV and 24-hour news cycles, it's the current way to campaign.
But all of this will be trivial after the election.
Because after Nov. 4, we enter another phase before Inauguration Day - the blame game, the Monday morning quarterbacking and the woulda-coulda-shouldas.
And so it has come to pass. The voters will set the tone.