Carefree Debris

I saw an article the other day on The Conversation website with the headline, “Mars Is Littered With Space Junk.” The person who wrote it, Cagri Kilic, is a postdoctoral research fellow who has been studying ways to track Mars and Moon rovers. Not that this is Mars-shattering news, but debris on Mars according to Kilic comes from three main sources…discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.

Taking the last scenario first, sometimes even while surviving the long journey there, descent to the planet’s surface is where things go horribly wrong. Splat. Trash.

The first scenario describes the planned discharge of parts while descent is taking place like heat shields, foam, netting, and parachutes. Don’t need these anymore. We’re good. Trash.

In the middle scenario, we have all of the spacecraft which have landed successfully, served their tour of duty before running out of juice, and have signed off for the final time. Thank you for your service. Trash.

Kilic has run the numbers and determined there is 15,694 pounds of Earth’s junk on Mars. That’s not so much on the surface (see what I did there?). Then again, that’s really easy for me to say. I don’t live on Mars.

However, while Earthlings never had a plan to do anything other than litter debris across Mars, we have now realized a plan needs to be in place for knowing where all this trash is. As part of its daily activities, NASA’s active rover Perseverance – using its Ingenuity helicopter – is helping engineers document all the junk it comes across. The space agency indicated their Curiosity rover was able to identify some of its own debris during its earlier mission.

There is a concern at NASA some trash might contaminate or skew samples the Perseverance rover is currently collecting. While the risk is judged to be quite low, the rover’s ability to roam at all might even be hindered.

I remember watching Americans walk on the Moon and thinking in my lifetime we would definitely establish a colony there. That was 1969. The last American to walk on the Moon did so three years later.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict we won’t see any Americans living on the Moon in my lifetime.

By the way, there’s an estimated 400,000 pounds of our junk on the Moon.

Mars and the Moon are both better off if we don’t ever try to live on them anyway, since we’ve already done a stellar job of junking up Earth.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with NASA as I have gotten older. While I know space exploration has led to some great innovations and discoveries which have positively impacted other industries, I wonder if we’re still really getting that same return on investment today. I know NASA’s budget is fairly small potatoes in the big picture, but money is money. Resources are resources. The fact we didn’t do more with the Moon once landing there in 1969, and the fact NASA has now indicated they actually want to circle back to the Moon, gives me the impression they are as an organization quite the rudderless spaceship.

In doing due diligence for this post, your space-y reporter was also curious about all space debris in orbit (for now, at least). One interesting tidbit I came across claimed a tiny, ten-centimeter-long piece of spacecraft trash could cause as much damage as twenty-five sticks of dynamite…that even a piece between one and ten centimeters can do damage to most spacecraft.

Between the U.S., Russia, and China, at the beginning of this year there were approximately 15,000 trackable pieces of debris – larger than 10 centimeters across – in space. For the record, most of China’s came from the time they used a “kinetic kill vehicle” to deliberately destroy a defunct weather satellite in an anti-satellite weapons test back in 2007.

Of course, the U.S. simply couldn’t help themselves from doing the exact same thing just a year later, deliberately destroying a non-functioning satellite with a “heavily-modified missile.”

Those events provide us with the definitive, gold standard answer to the question of whether Earthlings care where space junk goes. No.

And…just last month we had NASA’s much-publicized course correction of an asteroid (minding its own business, mind you) courtesy of a “kinetic impactor.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the allegedly successful asteroid diversion, “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”

It seems to me we’re throwing way more at the universe than it’s throwing at us.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Being Chill

The above greeted me when I walked into our Acme grocery store a couple of days ago.  The gentleman pictured is none other than Jalen Hurts, who is the quarterback for the only undefeated team in the National Football League, our hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Before I entered the store, I had no earthly idea a company named Lemon Perfect even existed, let alone they had a product described as Hydrating Lemon Water.

But I immediately wanted to try it.

Sales and marketing to consumers….some is subtle, some is subliminal, some is a punch in the face. All are designed to separate our money from our wallet. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, I also know I sometimes get an immediate desire to acquire based on the advertising alone. Not just for what the product is, but for what feeling I’m supposedly going to experience from using it.

Now, just because Hurts is pictured with a bottle of hydrating water, I’m not instantly inclined to buy it. But of course, it doesn’t hurt.

The primary reason I immediately became fascinated with this product is because of lemons. I love lemons. If I come across something with lemon represented to be in it, there’s a sort of invisible, irresistible magnetic beam which inevitably draws me to it. Even if it’s something I don’t need, ever wanted before now…you get it.

Because I was in a bit of a time crunch at that point, I only had time to procure the milk, bread, and eggs we really needed…but Lemon Perfect Hydrating Lemon Water is now atop the grocery list for the next stop. While I remain highly skeptical of how much more hydrated this product will really make me than plain old H2O…if this tastes like real lemons it could be a “need.”

Later in the same day, I saw a TV spot for a product called Honey Lemon Chill Vicks VapoCOOL Severe Cough Drops.

You know where this is going, don’t you? These are already in the medicine cabinet. I don’t have a cough, but I am all for preventive medicine so I’ve already sampled this product. Not bad at all – enjoyed the lemon taste.

What you don’t know yet is the marketing on this product wasn’t just attractive to me because it was represented to be lemon-y, but because of the use of the words “cool” (VapoCOOL!) and “chill.” And this is where I pivot from what’s supposedly in the product…to how it will be received by my sensory receptors. Cool and chill are very much purchase trigger words for me by themselves…more so when used together.

I already use a product because it is “arctic”…

Now, I don’t know exactly where this all began. I’ve liked Winter for as long as I can remember, but when a food or beverage product is marketed as arctic, ice, cool, cold, chill, etc. it creates an emotional response within me which often leads to me buying and trying the product. I have the exact opposite buying emotion when it comes to products marketed with descriptions including words like tropical, sun, warm, hot, heat, etc.

Yeah, it probably IS a Winter thing.

Putting lemon, cool, and chill together in the same description made it just a matter of time before I bought those cough drops. If Vicks had advertised them with the lead ingredient as horseradish instead of honey, I would still have bought a bag.

I will confess neither the Vicks cough drops or the Altoids mints made me feel cool or chill or in the arctic while using them. I remained at 98.6 F. In the instance of the word chill, maybe the sales and marketing folks are just using it like cool kids use it these days?

No matter. It’s cool. I’m chill.

While thinking about ad-driven purchases, I also remembered another item I buy that falls into this brisk category…caramel cold brew coffee. You know by now they had me at “cold” brew, right? Be advised, I also love me some caramel…as much as lemons. If someone ever successfully grows a caramel lemon tree, I’m purchasing it.

While I know there is a defined, unique process to creating cold brew coffee, I really have no idea if my local Dunkin’ strictly adheres to it all the time because they are super-busy all day long. Hell, with the three pumps of caramel I get added to each order for all I know it’s just yesterday’s regular coffee not reheated. Regardless, it helps get me going in the morning. It’s definitely cold…and it’s positively caramel.

It also should be noted here our local Dunkin’ franchises are huge Philadelphia Eagles supporters. (Did I mention the Eagles are undefeated?)

The sales and marketing gurus got me once again yesterday…when I noticed a food article online. It was about a product that won’t even be on store shelves until February, 2023…M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew Candy.

I sprained my wrists getting to the M&M’s website.

I’ll admit to being skeptical these will be colder than other M&M’s. No matter. The website asked if I’d like to be notified when this new item will become available. Yes, please. However, I am taking no chances. Once the calendar flips to 2023, I’ll be pro-actively calling around asking stores ”DID YOU GET THEM YET?”

Sales and marketing pros look to connect with consumers any way they can, not only promoting what their products are all about, but also by creating an expectation of how we will feel using them. This new M&M candy is a perfect example of this. According to M&M’s, the Caramel Cold Brew Candy will be represented by the new Purple M&M, which they note is distinguished by her authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence.

Who wouldn’t feel good buying Caramel Cold Brew Candy from that spokescandy? There’s a legitimate potential when this product comes out…it might just sell out.

Maybe I’ll start calling around in December…

 

Pictures Courtesy Proctor & Gamble/Mars Incorporated

Modern Love

Recently, I read a blog whose author indicated right off the bat the post to follow was more for them than for the reader. Reading that reminded me of a post rattling around in my brain which never got out into the Ether until now.

This site you are reading. My space. Am I blogging primarily for those of you who read it…or am I really, honestly creating first and foremost for myself?

Neil Gaiman, a legend in the land of comic books and who possesses the brilliant mind behind “The Sandman” , was interviewed earlier this year by the New York Times before the Sandman adaptation series debuted on Netflix. I thought he provided a very interesting take on what audiences want, and how a writer makes a decision to write for oneself, or one’s audience.

“Sandman has been huge, but it was never huge when it was coming out. Since then it has gone on to become this ridiculous steady seller because new people are always finding it when they’re 16, 18, 22 years old. They find it, and it’s their comic. It’s their story. I didn’t get to that by going, “I will please my audience.” But audiences do want more of the last thing that they liked. That’s how audiences work. They say, “Hey, I love this strawberry ice cream. Can I have more?” In response to that, I can do one of two things. I can give them more strawberry ice cream. If I do that, I am doomed to give them strawberry ice cream for as long as I do this thing, and I will hate myself. Or I can go, “Nobody is clamoring for chocolate ice cream. Nobody even knows they like chocolate ice cream. However, I want to do chocolate ice cream next. So why don’t I do chocolate ice cream and keep my own interest up?” It’s how the entirety of my writing career has gone.”

Gaiman went on…“I’ll use another analogy. Years ago, my friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden said some authors are dolphins, and some are otters. You can train a dolphin. Give a dolphin a fish if it does a trick, and it will do that trick again. Otters are untrainable. They’ll do something, and you give them a fish, and then they’ll do something else. Because, why would they do the thing they already did? I tend to be an otter.”

One of the things I hope readers like is when you see there’s a new post here you’ll wonder what I’ve written about this time around. Subjects come to my mind from multiple, unpredictable directions.  In the context of Gaiman’s observations above, I think I am very much Team Otter. My writing is true to my nature, and I am very much creating what I want. Of course, I also hope each of you thinks your time is well-spent…and you’ll enjoy what you find. That’s a cherished bonus.

However, one scenario where I lean into Team Dolphin is with regard to any sports-related posts. I believe a number of readers here have little or no interest in sports. Hell, over the years I’VE started to care less about sports which I never, ever thought I’d type out. But when I do write something about sports these days, I admittedly do try to craft those posts in such a way they will also be amusing and/or informative and/or entertaining to non-sports fans.

A new documentary on the life and times of the late music legend David Bowie is currently playing in theatres titled “Moonage Daydream,” directed by Brett Morgen. Madison Bloom from the website Pitchfork wrote about one segment of this film where Bowie reveals how he felt about the time he had his most lucrative success, following the release of his 1983 album “Let’s Dance.”

“At one point, Morgen slips in early footage of Ziggy Stardust (Bowie) singing “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.” He then splices it with ‘80’s stadium tour footage and clips from Bowie’s Pepsi commercial with Tina Turner, which turned “Modern Love” into an embarrassing jingle for the soft drink. The director is formally commenting on the gross commercial excess of the era, if not foreshadowing Bowie’s hindsight on it. “Even though it was enormously successful, there was no growth going on at all,” Bowie says later in voiceover, admitting that he was confining himself to “what I perceived people wanted.” It is the film’s most honest moment…hearing Bowie confess that he’d betrayed his artistic nature is disarming. Knowing that this resulted in his most lucrative phase is its own meta commentary on art and commerce.”

You have to appreciate the honesty. Bowie is admitting to creating work based on what he believed audiences wanted and in doing so, felt stagnant as an artist. When Bowie released that album…writing most of the songs on it including “Modern Love”…I just assumed back then he had a natural curiosity and passion to write songs and create music within a brand-new space. In reality, it sounds like he was way more invested in writing and creating what he felt others wanted him to do.

These quotes from Gaiman and Bowie made me stop and think for a moment. Do I most often create and write for myself here…or for what I think readers would best respond to…or maybe it’s usually a little of both?

As for “Modern Love,” I hope David Bowie at least got some satisfaction knowing many people enjoyed it…regardless of his motivation.

 

Picture Courtesy Pinstripe Hourglass

Crossing Pumpkins

We won’t be putting out pumpkins on the front porch this October. Two years ago, we went outside one crisp, early October morning to find our three pumpkins in various states of distress and eaten-ness. Our squirrels apparently decided there weren’t enough nuts out there in the world to nosh on, so they turned their attention to our vulnerable decorations. It was not a fair fight. It was not a pretty sight.

The irony is those three pumpkins may have been doomed from the start anyway. They barely survived the trip home.

We have a Wegmans grocery store nearby, where we bought those three pumpkins. If you have a Wegmans in your area, you know how ginormous they are. Many people are coming and going, with a front entrance that goes on forever. After we checked out a handful of groceries and the three pumpkins, we headed out the front doors and headed for the relative safety of the crosswalk. I say relative because everyone gets a little crazy whether they are coming or going from the Wegmans, driving by or walking to and from their cars, etc. And at the crosswalk, you can clearly see many drivers glaring at you as they reluctantly stop for the foot traffic to proceed.

I went to put my sunglasses on just as we got to the crosswalk…while awaiting those not-very-compassionate drivers to stop in both directions… so we could get to the parking lot. Two hands on the sunglasses. No hands on the cart. We were on a slope at that point, and I didn’t compensate for the additional weight of the pumpkins we had with us that day.

The shopping cart started to cross the crosswalk…without…me.

My wife gasped as I executed an impromptu jog to catch up to the cart. By the grace of the Holy Great Pumpkin himself, there were no cars immediately in the vicinity of the crosswalk and I regained control of the wayward cart. Little did we know the pumpkins wouldn’t be as lucky crossing paths again with the Grim Reaper just a couple of days later.

Ah yes, October. Days are getting noticeably shorter (am I the only person who likes that?). Leaves start to fall (they usually all wind up in our yard even though we have no trees). Air feels crisper (the air where I live, at least).

The following represents a handful of entertainment items I’ve noticed are on the way in October. As always, please share your comments on these (good or bad – this is a safe space!), and most definitely let me know anything you might be looking forward to.

October 3 – The Good Doctor returns on ABC – My wife is always down for watching medical shows. I’m not a big fan of them, in part because of the great lengths shows like this now go to show as close to an actual surgery as possible. It’s very hard for me to sleep after being deep inside a chest cavity late at night.

October 4 – The First To Die At The End is released – A prequel to the best-selling They Both Die At The End, Adam Silvera writes a new tale regarding the new app named Death-Cast, which promises it can predict the date of your death. When strangers meet, their lives are forever altered when one gets the call from Death-Cast…the other doesn’t. Didn’t read the first book, but might give both a read now. The biggest complaint I have heard about the original novel was they both died at the end.

October 5 – Reginald The Vampire debuts on Syfy – My wife and I are suckers for anything Syfy puts out there, aside from the relatively-new Chucky series and reruns of their “classic” Sharknado movies. I myself have never connected with the Chucky vibe, and my wife would rather be married to Chucky than watch shark movies. Sharks are her kryptonite. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t real sharks. Trust me, it doesn’t matter.

October 6 – Walker returns on The CW – We are huge, fanatical fans of The CW’s recently-concluded Supernatural series and Jared Padalecki, who played Sam Winchester on that show, is the lead character on Walker. This show is similar to Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger in name only. I like Padalecki, but I’m not sure yet if I like his acting choice-post Supernatural.

October 6 – Walker: Independence debuts on The CW – Even my wife agrees the last show that needed a prequel was the above-mentioned Walker. It’s only been on for two freakin’ seasons. I will say this show will feature a good leading lady in Katherine McNamara, a star on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, as well as a co-star on The CW’s Arrow when that show was winding down. I’ll watch the first episode and see what kind of world-building they do.

October 7 – Amsterdam debuts in the theatres – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Robert De Niro. Yes, please. Loosely based on a true story, it follows three friends in the 1930’s who saw a murder, got framed for it, and now are the prime suspects. With this cast, I am all in.

October 7 – MLB Playoffs start…NHL Regular Season starts – I remember as a little kid coming home from school as soon as possible to watch playoff games, especially when they involved my favorite childhood team (aside from the Phillies), the Oakland Athletics. Not a bad team at all to be rooting for as a child, as they won three straight World Championships from 1972-74. The Phillies may yet find their way into the playoffs this year (courtesy of Major League Baseball adding an extra Wild Card berth). The chances for the Flyers to win a Stanley Cup this year? None. Playoffs? None. We won the Cup back in 1973-74 and 1974-75. I went into Center City for both of the massive parades honoring the team. Who knew they’d be the only parades? Sigh.

October 9 – Full Moon – Called the Full Hunter’s or Harvest Moon. I always pause to check out the Full Moon. The Moon has always fascinated me, and it’s hard to believe we landed on it in 1969 and still no one lives there. Then again, it’s even harder to believe we’re now going to spend a gazillion dollars to start going there again. I think my fascination with the Moon goes back to when I was a kid and somehow the Moon wound up representing Heaven to me. At least I got the direction right.

October 11 – The Winchesters debuts on The CW – You’ll recall I mentioned the TV series Supernatural earlier. That show ran for 327 episodes…a whopping 15 seasons. Now THIS is a show you can have a prequel for. It will tell the early stories of John & Mary Winchester, the parents of Sam & Dean, who Supernatural was all about. Jensen Ackles, who played Dean is – along with his wife – an executive producer of this new series. Jensen will also be narrating this show. His time invested behind the scenes and his active participation on the show has we fans of Supernatural very hopeful the spirit of the original series will be honored and extended within this prequel.

October 14 – Halloween Ends debuts in the theatres and on Peacock – The 1978 original film for me is a cinematic classic. The director, John Carpenter, is one of my all-time favorites. In 2018, a reboot of the Halloween franchise (for the umpteenth time) provided the first film of a promised trilogy. I thought that movie modestly captured the spirit which made the first film successful, and I was ok with it being made. It was good enough I thought they should just forget the idea of making the next two movies and just call it a day. Unfortunately, the second film released last year was a complete and utter failure for me. I think it is an embarrassment to the franchise. I do hope that – as this new release is named – Halloween Ends.

October 18 – The Last Chairlift is released – John Irving’s first novel in seven years deals with a skier who becomes pregnant after competing in the National Championships in Aspen. She returns to New England and becomes a ski instructor, raising her son Adam in an unusual manner. As an adult, Adam travels to Aspen looking for answers in the hotel he was conceived within. The main themes here are sexual politics, a love story…and a ghost story.

October 19 – NBA Regular Season starts – Our 76ers will most definitely make the playoffs again this season, but it is hard to see them winning the Eastern Conference and getting to the Finals. That being said, I don’t have an opinion yet who will be the last teams standing at season’s end. Do however keep an eye on those Cleveland Cavaliers. No, they did not get Lebron back again. They’re going to be just fine without him. My sleeper team in the NBA this season.

October 21 – Black Adam debuts in the theatres – Dwayne Johnson is as big (literally) a movie star there is, but will he be believable and welcomed as a DC Comics mega-superhero? We shall see. I like Dwayne a lot and am hoping he and this film do great things. The Peacemaker series with John Cena recently turned out well for DC. Maybe the Black Adam movie will do the same.

October 21 – Taylor Swift’s Midnights drops – I am not a Swiftie (even though she’s from nearby Reading PA), but I will take note if any notes on this new release resonate with me. I will tell you her ten minute song and short film All Too Well is one of the very best musical concoctions I have heard and seen in the past year. She performed it on Saturday Night Live last Fall and just crushed it.

October 21 – Hallmark Christmas 2022 Readers here may recall my admitted weakness for having Hallmark Christmas movies on as we begin Christmas prep. I’ll be honest, I more often steer towards their older films made before the Hallmark “formula” became a standard for all their movies…which some folks legitimately can find repetitive. Some of the earlier entries took a much bigger creative swing and were a bit less predictable. Hey, Hallmark storylines and families aren’t anything like I’ve ever experienced, but I guess that’s the appeal.

October 22 – World Cup Alpine Skiing begins – This sport may have to rethink its locations as snow continues to disappear around the globe and man-made snow becomes ever more challenging to maintain. I never learned how to ski, but I always wanted to (still do, but the wife just shakes her head). As a kid I loved taking in skiing during the Winter Olympics, and have been hooked on watching it ever since.

October 30 – The White Lotus returns on HBO and HBO Max – The first season of this series had a super-great cast, but to me came across as slow and plodding. And then the finale came and it was – wait for it – slow and plodding. This show has garnered wide critical acclaim, but to me Season 1 was just a slow burn of a show that never got hot, and its finale left me ice cold.

October 31 – Halloween – Loved this holiday as a kid, and I do appreciate it even more as an adult. It’s great to see what characters come up to the front door for their treats. In addition, my wife does not enforce the cut-off number Mom did on candy consumption Halloween Night.

Happy October!

 

Pictures Courtesy City of Salisbury MD/The CW

Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

You can’t write a post about James Richard Steinman without mentioning Meat Loaf…so now that we’ve done that…let’s get back to Jim.

Steinman passed away in April 2021 at the age of 73. In his legendary musical career, among other things he was a composer, arranger, lyricist, producer, and performer.

While in school at Amherst College, Jim created a musical which got the attention of one Joseph Papp, he of the New York Shakespeare Festival. After Steinman graduated, Papp hired him to help compose a musical called “More Than You Deserve.” And that is where Jim Steinman met one Marvin Lee Aday aka Meat Loaf, who was in the musical’s cast. It was the beginning of a relationship which lasted over four decades.

Jim wrote big, bombastic, theatric, over-the-top orchestrations which aligned perfectly with Meat Loaf’s desire to not just be a singer on stage, but an actor as well. Steinman wrote mini-operas, not just songs. In an era of disco and punk, no major recording companies wanted any part of the Steinman-Meat Loaf collaboration which eventually became “Bat Out Of Hell,” one of the biggest selling albums in history. The opening, title track is almost ten minutes long. Seven songs in all…all heavily influenced by opera, one of Jim’s boyhood passions. Just a few years ago, Steinman’s vision of “Bat Out Of Hell” becoming a stage musical was finally realized, and remains on tour to this day.

When I met my wife, I learned she was a fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie which Meat Loaf co-starred in. She also introduced me to “Bat Out Of Hell,” and that’s how I became a fan of both Meat and Jim. We wound up seeing Meat Loaf in concert on multiple occasions before he passed away in January of this year at the age of 74. My wife and I even got to meet Meat once. The best thing about his performances was you could easily see he was giving everything he had each time out.

We unfortunately never got to meet Jim Steinman. His career has certainly always been tied to Meat Loaf’s, but below is a sampling of Jim’s better-known works, some of which he also performed himself:

“Bat Out Of Hell” (Meat Loaf)

“Dead Ringer” (Meat Loaf with Cher)

“Heaven Can Wait” (Karla DeVito, Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf)

“Holding Out For A Hero” (Bonnie Tyler)

“I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (Meat Loaf)

“It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” (Celine Dion, Meat Loaf with Marion Raven)

“Left In The Dark” (Barbra Streisand, Meat Loaf)

“Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” (Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler with Matt Petrin)

“More Than You Deserve” (Meat Loaf)

“Paradise By The Dashboard Light” (Meat Loaf with Ellen Foley)

“Read ‘Em & Weep” (Barry Manilow, Meat Loaf)

“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (Meat Loaf)

“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (Bonnie Tyler, Nicki French, Tori Amos)

“Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” (Bonnie Tyler, Todd Rundgren, Olivia Newton-John, Meat Loaf)

“You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” (Meat Loaf)

Yet, when I thought of Jim Steinman recently it was in reference to two songs in a largely ignored 1984 Walter Hill film, “Streets Of Fire.” The songs were performed under the name Fire Inc. even though such a band never actually existed. The two songs, “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” respectively open and close the film.

“Streets Of Fire” stars include Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Madigan, Bill Paxton, and Rick Moranis. The tagline for the movie is “A Rock and Roll Fable.” It’s a story of an unlikely group of heroes who set out to rescue pop star Ellen Aim (Lane) from the Bombers biker gang led by Raven (Dafoe).

“Nowhere Fast” sets the pace, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” brings down the curtain. There’s an interesting story behind the latter. Originally, the movie was to close with Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets Of Fire” but negotiations for the rights took too long and the movie had to make its release date, so the producers of the film asked Steinman to write a song to finish the film with.

In just two days, Jim turned in “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young.” The producers were so blown away by his song they commissioned a million-dollar reshoot of the final concert scene so the performers could be seen singing it. I believe that reshoot resulted in one of the better film finales you will ever see. “Streets Of Fire” is certainly not for everyone. It is different. Yet, no matter what one’s overall takeaway of the film is, I am confident most who have seen it find the end scene satisfying.

Tres Dean of Vulture best describes the film and its ending:

“Streets Of Fire is very much a cult film, which is to say that it will not work for everyone. But if you are one of the people it was made for, those seven minutes will break your heart and, moments later, stitch it back together.”

 

Picture Courtesy Wikipedia

Scream A Little Scream Of Me

It is one of those moments that mark the unofficial start of Fall around these parts. Their brochures arrive like clockwork this time of year in all of the convenience stores. Yes, the Field of Screams in Mountville PA has once again begun their latest chapter in terrorizing young and old alike nightly through the middle of November. It is located about forty miles from where I live, but I have never gotten around to visiting it. This year, I am more intrigued than ever to go spend an evening there.

There are actually four main, separate haunted attractions involved at the Field of Screams which require separate admissions, but the cost structure is designed for attendees to secure a “Scream Pass” which gains you entry to each one.

Here are excerpts from their brochure with some immediate thoughts I have:

NOCTURNAL WASTELAND “As you walk along the narrow, winding paths through the dense overgrown vegetation, you will come face-to-face with the mutant creatures of this fear-filled forest. New for 2022 – You will be forced to make your way through the Deadwood Cemetery and encounter the Tree of Death!”

It sounds like trying to make your way through a very trying jungle. I have never done that, but I suppose it is something like those Black Friday sales I used to go to. I’ve certainly been to cemeteries before, but never at night. Their “Tree of Death” has me wondering how the hell they got ahold of the cherry tree we used to have in the front yard?

HAUNTED HAYRIDE “There is no turning back as the tractor-pulled wagons take you on a horrifying hayride into the depths of our dark and sinister cornfield. Feel the cold night air send shivers down your spine as you are attacked from all angles by the maniacal creatures who call this cornfield home.”

I remember when I was a little kid who hadn’t quite taken possession of common sense yet, a bunch of us hid out in a cornfield the night before Halloween and tossed handfuls of corn at passing cars. Mind you, this was a suburban back street where the top speed was approximately 2 mph, so it wasn’t as heinous as it initially sounds. However, during this Mischief Night adventure when the kernels hit one car, the driver hit the brakes and opened their car door. My friend Mikey may still be running.

Also, if I am ever attacked by creatures from all angles my current spine isn’t going to just be feeling the cold night air. That will be nerve damage.

DEN OF DARKNESS “Three stories of sheer terror await as you creep through the dismal passageways and maddening mazes of this 170-year-old original barn. New for 2022 – You will explore the Gory Greenhouse, the Putrid Pantry, and the Rotting Flesh Kitchen.”

I’m thinking if the barn is 170 years old…yes, that would be an original. Three floors? I’m not so much worried about passageways and mazes as much as whether or not the structure will support visitors. I’ll probably be ok with the “Gory Greenhouse” since we had no rain for two months this summer and our gardens provided their fair share of frightening scenes. As for that “Putrid Pantry” and “Rotting Flesh Kitchen,” they sound like dead ringers for when myself and three other guys rented a house for the summer.

FRIGHTMARE ASYLUM “Become a part of the bone-chilling madness as you explore four floors of the demented and the deranged! Feel the fear as you meet the disturbed doctors and nightmarish nurses who have taken up residence here! New for 2022 – You will get to meet the posse of Psycho Clowns as they unleash their vengeance on you.”

Four floors? (please see above “Den of Darkness” concerns about stability) As for their “Psycho Clowns,” that may very well be the most redundant title I’ve ever seen. EVERY clown is a psycho.

So, while pondering the main attractions offered, I noticed one additional section in the bottom right corner of the brochure…

EXTREME BLACKOUT – ONE NIGHT ONLY – NOVEMBER 11TH – LAST NIGHT OF THE SEASON “All four attractions will be darker, more intense, and hands-on! You will be subjected to new methods of torture, physical restraint, and isolation that are not a part of our regular season show. Extreme scare tactics and fear-inducing techniques will be incorporated as part of your Extreme Blackout experience. Not all will survive. Release waivers must be signed in order to participate!”

OK, this does NOT sound OK. Is it really breaking news you have to sign a waiver to participate in this?

I did take note in the fine print there is also a VIP Upgrade available at an additional cost. I can only assume that’s for life insurance.

My wife is not into the horror performance art thing at all. She told me when we first met that in the autumns of her youth, her youth group would always manage each year to find their way to haunted hayrides and houses. She reminded me when I mentioned possibly going here this year she has been sufficiently traumatized for life, thank you.

Me, I’m thinking this could be a bucket list event. I never did anything like this when I was younger and if not now, when? I love a well-done horror movie – providing really good scares – as much as the next guy. But, do I really want to immerse myself in an experience like this?

The “Extreme Blackout” sounds like quite the near-Death experience, but since I’m on the backside of life I probably don’t need to edge any closer to Death, so that’s a hard pass.

It does sound like I could pull off the main attractions…but I do have a concern about the close-proximity performers who might jump out and grab at me while my senses are in a heightened, frightened state. I am legitimately concerned I might instinctively knock them out…then you’ve got real blood mixing with the fake…getting lawyers involved, etc. I think I’d have to recruit at least one other person to accompany me, if for nothing else than to serve as a potential witness for police reports.

If you’ve ever been to something like this, I am curious to know what your experience was. If not, would you dare go there for scares?

 

Picture Courtesy Haunted Pennsylvania

 

TMI

Even after all these years, it is still one of those life events I can recall fairly easily.

And after all these years, the event isn’t over just yet.

In August of 1978, I started attending Penn State University’s Capitol Campus (now known as Penn State-Harrisburg) in Middletown PA for my junior year of college. I was majoring in a specific degree program there for Humanities-Communications.

Capitol Campus served at that time as an alternative for juniors, seniors, and graduate students who either did not want to attend PSU’s State College PA Campus (which you know as simply Penn State), or who wanted to attain one of the specific degree programs the Capitol Campus offered. The campus (to this day) resides less than ten miles from Harrisburg, the state capitol. It is located on the site of the decommissioned Olmsted Air Force Base, of which many buildings were ready-made for becoming part of a collegiate setting when it first opened for business in 1966.

But more importantly, its location while I was there was near an Arby’s restaurant, which stayed open late night to accommodate its proximity to starving college students. A true win-win.

Wednesday March 28, 1979

Classes were set to resume the following week after the school’s spring break. I was waiting at the Harrisburg train station at 6:30 am, listening to my car radio while waiting to pick up my friend John. John had gone home to Western PA for the break, and needed someone to take him back to campus as he did not have a car at the time.

I heard the local radio DJ announce there was a “site emergency” at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant but it was under control. He read it between songs matter-of-factly much like an update on traffic or weather. It literally went in one ear and out the other.

Capitol Campus sits only about three miles from TMI, whose “smokestacks” you can easily see from several parts of the campus. Its proximity to where I going to continue my education didn’t even register in my mind when I first went to visit the campus…certainly not like that Arby’s did.

I picked up John shortly after the radio announcement and we returned to campus. I didn’t even mention it on the way back. As the day went on, periodic reports on both radio and television were now waffling a bit as to whether or not any actual radiation had gotten out, but the main takeaway continued to be everything was just fine.

Which was quite fine with those of us already back at school, because we were in full-on chill mode since the first classes were not for a few more days.

Thursday March 29, 1979

Spades is a card game of which I am told is somewhat of a “descendant” of Bridge (which I have never played). The object is to bid your hand as accurately as you can, with trump cards being from the suit of Spades.

Our dorms played a LOT of Spades that year, and when the weather favored it, we liked to drag out a folding table and chairs to play outside. We even established a Spades league and kept track of win-loss records, overall points, etc. Regardless of our card-playing venue, adult beverages often made an appearance as well, which may have impacted some performances from time to time now that I think of it.

This Spring day was perfect for enjoying the outdoors and playing some Spades. We had a blast, and thoughts of being so close to Three Mile Island were miles away. Toward evening however, when watching local television reports it seemed to me there was still some major confusion between the operators of the plant (Met Ed), the state authorities, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Federal government. There were many views as to what the actual status of the plant was.

I called my mother, asking her what she was seeing and hearing from our home just a couple hours east of Middletown. I told her we were experiencing some reporting confusion at our end. The term meltdown had started to be thrown around as what could have happened if the operators had not already gotten control of the situation. So, we all started to try to figure out what a meltdown was.  I can say those of us in the dorms started to have a few more conversations about TMI, and whether or not anyone knew the exact situation, wasn’t telling us the exact situation…a bit of suspicion and worrying had started.

Friday March 30, 1979

It was almost 11 am, and I was in class with about 30 other students. A woman came to the doorway, interrupted our class, and started to advise us the Governor had requested everyone stay in the building and close the windows.

It seemed like we arose from our desks as one, and walked right by her on our way out of the building. God bless that woman. She was just doing her job.

Most students I knew went back to the dorms and started watching television again, eventually seeing the Governor issuing an “advisory” for pregnant women and pre-school age children to evacuate within a five-mile radius of the plant, with evacuation centers to be set up. Schools were ordered to close.

Some of us by then had decided enough was enough, and if we lived close enough, we were going to go home for the weekend. There were a couple of students on our floor who were from out of state, but they decided to ride it out in the dorms. John was on the floor below me, and he decided to stick around also. I gathered up some things and left for home at around 1 pm.

Driving through Middletown to get out of town, I saw some folks outside their homes packing up their families as quickly as they could. That’s when it really hit me. As I turned onto the Interstate for the drive back, the gravity and seriousness of the situation was finally realized…from an admittedly selfish perspective at first. Would I EVER be able to go back there? What if I had to go elsewhere to continue my education? What of the friendships with those in the dorms?

And eventually, my concern widened to include everyone else involved. Heck, we only lived a couple of hours away. My thoughts turned to…would my friends and family at home even be far enough away from whatever this was?

After a weekend of sitting on pins and needles, it seemed like all the players in this saga eventually got back on the same page, and any potential disaster had been avoided. We returned to class a week or so later.

Several weeks after returning, we had a couple of residents whose farms sit within a couple miles of the plant visit one of my classes to discuss their experiences post-TMI. They indicated health issues for both their families and their livestock. Around the same time, the state of Pennsylvania and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission set up a trailer in Middletown. They invited anyone who was within three miles of the plant to be tested for radiation exposure. Since we “qualified,” five of us got together and went down to be tested. The test was simple in execution…you took off your shoes and any metallic items, and got into what I would call an eight-foot long steel-like bathtub. An arm above the tub scanned your body up and down a couple of times…and that was that. We were told we’d get our results in the mail in a few weeks.

The school year was over and I remember getting the envelope when it arrived at my home. It was a certificate from both the state and the NRC indicating the test found I had no elevated levels of radiation.

That being said, the two spaces assigned for signatures from each entity were both unsigned.

It was and continues to be my real life X-Files. A situation where I didn’t know who to believe then, and I still don’t now. There are still books being written and documentaries being made. Last week, the current owners of Three Mile Island applied to the NRC to take the “next step” towards decommissioning the reactor which failed us all back in 1979.

It has been 43 years and there is still “clean-up” to be done.

I’ll never feel sure about what the true story is regarding how bad it could have been at TMI.

Nor do I know if this story will ever end.

 

Pictures Courtesy Penn State-Harrisburg/Smithsonian Magazine

The Drop Shot

In honor of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament returning to New York City this week – one of my all-time favorite sporting events to watch – I thought I’d take this opportunity to post about a significant tennis moment in my life. The “anniversary” of this event is coming up, but it really feels like it only happened yesterday. Unfortunately.

My wife and I have not played tennis since.

The incident if ever recounted, is done so in hushed tones.

The wife and I were playing tennis at least once a week. Never in a competitive way, mind you. We simply went out for an hour or so sticking to the baselines, volleying back and forth.

That is…until “The Drop Shot.”

It was an early weeknight when we took to the court. The temperature was 70F. No wind to speak of. No one playing on the court next to us…although there were a couple of guys playing on the court one removed from where we were, so periodically we had to serve as ball persons for each other’s play. Otherwise, absolutely perfect conditions for twilight tennis on a well-kept, public court.

We were about a half-hour into play when it occurred. Mind you, we always kept score even though our shared goal was to extend points, get some good exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.

My wife, a pretty good field hockey player back in her day, was actually beating me in this particular game. She had just returned my shot from deep in her far corner when I executed “The Drop Shot.”

To this day, my wife insists it was because I was losing and consciously wanted to win the point by hitting my shot to land just over the net. My claim to this day is my competitive mind and muscles simply converged in the moment, and I subconsciously went for a winning shot. It was without a doubt the greatest drop shot I’ve ever hit.

It was also my last.

My wife, reacting to my shortened stroke and immediately setting aside our mutual goal to take things easy, attempted to sprint all the way from the back court in a spectacularly athletic yet predictably futile fashion to reach the ball in time.

Futile intersected with fall.

My wife went down several feet from the net in a full-on, concrete face plant.

I thought she was dead.

Mind you I was gratified to have won the point, but I decided to check on my wife first before retrieving the ball. As I got to her, she was rolling onto her side and making low, unintelligible sounds…which indicated she was, a) alive and, b) able to move.

“You OK? What hurts?

“My hand.”

“Just your hand. Great!”

“Great? No, not great. It hurts. A lot. I think I BROKE it.”

This is when I switched into ultra-positive mode. Knowing my wife as I do, it would be important to assure her she was OK, and that hand of hers would be fine with some rest and TLC. She’s as tough a trooper as I know, but in accident situations with anyone I always feel it is important to deflate any thoughts of potentially more serious injuries. Getting stressed about what may or may be wrong certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

It did seem like her hand did take the brunt of the impact with the court. This was a good thing, because her head was next in line if that hand had not been extended to break her fall. The question now…was the hand actually BROKEN?

I quickly got her to her feet and into our car so, if nothing else, to reassure those guys playing nearby a hearse would indeed not be required. There was some concern on my part they might have seen my wife’s plunge.

I drove her to a Wawa convenience store (one we don’t normally frequent) to get some much-needed ice for her injury. I left her in the car briefly, returning as quickly as I could with an ice-cold drink for her, ice for her hand…and a TV Guide.

“You thought about the TV Guide during THIS?”

“It’s next week’s edition. I got it early!”

Uh-oh. She’s not laughing anymore.

Moments later, as I was getting her cooled down and set-up in a more comfortable position for the drive home, I was trying to adjust the angle of her seat to make her a bit more comfortable…when I almost made her horizontal as the seat control got away from me.

She actually managed a laugh about that, watching me being flustered getting the seat corrected.

Good sign. Laughter really IS the best medicine.

Until the next day of course, when her hand looked like one of those cartoon character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Off to the doctor. Then the hospital. Multiple X-rays. No break. Bad sprain. Two weeks of rest.

Since then…conversations of “The Drop Shot” usually go like this:

“You know you hit that shot on purpose.”

“I did not. I just reacted in the moment. It was simply instinct. You were so far away, and the shot was there for the taking. I never thought you’d actually try to go get it. I didn’t mean to almost kill you.”

“Well, you almost did.”

“Again, I’m sorry. You know, I really thought you were dead for a second there. I’ll never forget that sight. It was awful.”

“I still can’t believe you bought that TV Guide.”

“I got it early!”

“Idiot.”

🎾

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Sounds Of NFL 2022

The above image is a copy of a newspaper ad for a concert I was fortunate enough to have attended back in 1978. The site of the concert, JFK Stadium, hosted many great artists over the years, including the American portion of Live Aid just seven summers after this event.

When I pulled in the image for this post, I noticed something I didn’t take note of back then. Sanford & Townsend is spelled incorrectly, instead reading as Townsand. Their big hit back then was “Smoke From A Distant Fire.” Perhaps someone was smoking “something” when they made that error. As I recall there was a LOT of smoking the day of the concert…

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Every time I hear it, I’m transported back in time. Which as we all know, is one of the most magical things about music. Time travel made easy.

On to the Chessboard’s NFL 2022 Power Rankings. The self-imposed rule here was to sum up each team’s outlook in conjunction with a song title off my heavy-rotation playlist. This way you get to see my expectations for each squad, as well as a sampling of my musical leanings.

(If you have any newly-released music you have on “repeat” these days please let me know. I’m always looking to sample sound suggestions…)

Buffalo Bills (1) – “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. QB Josh Allen’s offense and LB Von Miller’s defense should both be dynamite this season. This should be their year. With regards to their Super Bowl history, the fifth time is the charm for the Bills. Enough said.

Kansas City Chiefs (2) – “Levitating” by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby. Even without departed WR Tyreek Hill, QB Patrick Mahomes will once again be levitating above and around opposing defenses. The defense…we’ll see. With the Chiefs, that’s always a moving target…sometimes moving in the wrong direction. They are always a rollercoaster ride.

Green Bay Packers (3) – “Feeling Good” by Sofi Tukker. – QB Aaron Rodgers recently opened up about his use of a hallucinogenic drug, which supposedly had him feeling good and playing his very best football. Whatever, Aaron. Whatever. The Packers defense is really good. They do have to replace departed WR Davante Adams, which they should be able to do with a combined effort.

Baltimore Ravens (4) – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. QB Lamar Jackson is indeed “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy,” a lyric from this song. Yet, he must push his offense to score early and often to take more pressure off their D, especially the iffy secondary. The arrival of former Saints S Marcus Williams should help also. The Ravens defense just has to stay out of the trainer’s room this year.

Los Angeles Rams (5) – “Butter” by BTS. QB Matthew Stafford made the big move from Detroit as smooth as butter. WR Cooper Kupp had a season for the ages. And if the team doesn’t have a Super Bowl hangover and stays hungry, they could easily be back defending their crown. WR Allen Robinson arrived from the Bears, with LB Bobby Wagner in from the Seahawks. Two good pieces to add on to an already strong team. Their best move in the post-season…getting DT Aaron Donald to commit to two more seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers (6) – “Sooner Or Later” by The Grass Roots. Every year I think this team is going to take the next step. I often overrate them, and may be doing it again. Sooner or later I’m going to be right. The concern is a more competitive AFC West, but the Chargers defense might be able to rise to the occasion with former Bears LB Khalil Mack and Patriots CB J.C. Jackson. QB Justin Herbert should be better with another year of experience. Hopefully, HC Brandon Staley will also. His uber-aggressiveness last year was silly at times.

Cincinnati Bengals (7) – “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC. I always knock the Super Bowl runner-up’s down a few notches. That’s just how I shoot. However, QB Joe Burrow is a thrilling difference-maker with a lot of weapons. (When I saw he had a recent appendectomy, I admittedly started to think “Bengals Super Bowl loser curse” again). If the defense plays like last year, Cincinnati should be in good shape. Hopefully, Burrow will be also.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8) – “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. A toast is in order to QB Tom Brady as he continues his GOAT career. The Buccaneers look solid enough on both sides of the ball to keep him racking up more W’s than L’s. The defense will have to give the offense some time to recalibrate, especially if WR Chris Godwin isn’t fully recovered from last December’s torn ACL. Former Falcons WR Russell Gage is a solid add.

San Francisco 49ers (9) – “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister. QB Trey Lance will have the handcuffs removed and be handed the keys to this 49ers offense. I think his breakout stardom is not far off and if nothing else, just get the ball into WR Deebo Samuel’s hands. In Trey and Deebo I trust. The San Francisco defense looks rock-solid…except perhaps in the secondary.

Indianapolis Colts (10) – “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. RB Jonathan Taylor is as good as anyone at that position, and former Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be handing off quite a bit. It will be a run-first offense for the Colts as it should be. The Indianapolis defense will be more aggressive under new DC Gus Bradley. They were already pretty good to begin with.

Philadelphia Eagles (11) – “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty. If QB Jalen Hurts is running less and throwing accurately, the dream of him being the Eagles franchise quarterback will be realized. Former Titans WR A.J. Brown, WR DeVonta Smith, and TE Dallas Goedert are all ready to make this team pass-heavy…but they will run the ball well if Hurts struggles. Look for the Philadelphia defense to take huge strides led by former Panthers LB Haason Reddick rushing throws, with former Giants CB James Bradberry defending them.

New Orleans Saints (12) – “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. I just happen to think the Superdome looks like a UFO…I just do. Anyway…the Saints defense is the real deal. No issues there. The two offensive questions are, 1) Will RB Alvin Kamara be sidelined by his battery case?…and, 2) Will QB Jameis Winston continue the new-found momentum of throwing to his teammates rather than the other team?

Dallas Cowboys (13) – “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd. America’s Team always has those bright, blinding lights upon them, and this year certainly is no exception. If QB Dak Prescott is going to elevate the Cowboys to a higher level, WR CeeDee Lamb will need to be a catching machine. The Dallas defense, led by LB Micah Parsons and CB Trevon Diggs, will be just fine thank you. Then again, with HC Mike McCarthy likely being a dead man walking even if they win it all…who the hell knows?

New England Patriots (14) – “When You Were Young” by The Killers. HC Bill Belichick is still chasing trophies after all these years, but he looked old indeed when Buffalo pounded the Patriots defense in last year’s playoffs. QB Mac Jones will continue to improve if he gets to throw the ball more often this season…and he might have to if Bill’s running back by committee stuff doesn’t jell. The New England defense definitely must play like Belichick teams of old.

Denver Broncos (15) – “Better Now” by Collective Soul. QB Russell Wilson is now cookin’ in the Rockies, and he has some weapons at the skill positions making Denver a better squad. He may need to run for his life to get those throws off, but opposing team QB’s will be doing the same against a strong Denver D. The Broncos secondary led by Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and Justin Simmons is rockie-solid (see what I did there?).

Las Vegas Raiders (16) – “Caught Up In You” by 38 Special. Former Packers WR Davante Adams is the big catch everyone is talking about. It remains to be seen if new HC Josh McDaniels can chart the same success like he did as a coordinator in New England. Former Cardinals DE Chandler Jones will help make opposing QB’s miserable, teaming up with DE Maxx Crosby to provide a stellar pass rush…which the Raiders will need to stay in games.

Minnesota Vikings (17) – “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry. This team always seems to be operating either very hot or very cold. With new HC Kevin O’Connell’s arrival, his main focus will be to put QB Kirk Cousins in better position to get the ball to WR’s Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. If the aerial attack clicks, RB Dalvin Cook might just get through a whole year in one piece. The Vikings defense needs to stay healthy this season. They will also need that offense to be hitting on all cylinders.

Detroit Lions (18) – “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart. HBO’s current Hard Knocks team certainly looks inspired enough by unorthodox HC Dan Campbell to play like very big cats in 2022. They should definitely score more points as long as QB Jared Goff remains steady, but they will find themselves having to score a lot if the Lions defense doesn’t improve a ton. Rookie DE Aidan Hutchinson certainly is a step in the right direction.

Tennessee Titans (19) – “Breakdown Dead Ahead” by Boz Scaggs. RB Derrick Henry is inevitably gonna breakdown completely from all his usage, and opposing defenses now have even more reason to key on him with WR’s A.J. Brown and Julio Jones gone. QB Ryan Tannehill is on shaky ground, as he always is. The Titans defense will probably keep them in a few games, as will HC Mike Vrabel.

Miami Dolphins (20) – “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande. At some point in every game I see in Miami, it always seems to rain. QB Tua Tagovailoa is from Hawaii, so at least he’s used to the rain. He’ll be getting used to another address if he fails to impress this season with new acquisition WR Tyreek Hill on hand. This franchise had a good HC in Brian Flores but fired him nonetheless…likely because he would not throw games at the direction of shady Owner Stephen Ross, who also managed to lose the Dolphins’ first-round pick next season…so there’s that.

Pittsburgh Steelers (21) – “Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” by Meat Loaf. HC Mike Tomlin stayed with Big Ben Roethlisberger too long… and here we are. RB Najee Harris may be carrying the ball all four downs. LB T.J. Watt will head a Steelers defense that while good, will be under too much pressure if the offense can’t move the ball. Tomlin is a wizard, but I’m not sure he’s gonna work any magic with this team…this season.

Washington Commanders (22) – “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall & John Oates. Abusive Owner Dan Snyder doesn’t even deserve to still have a team, which also doesn’t deserve that nickname. This will be the last audition for QB Carson Wentz, but at least he has WR’s Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson to throw to. Star DE Chase Young will start the season on the injured list. That’s unfortunate, but the Washington defense should still have some merit if they play like they can…not play like last year’s group.

Arizona Cardinals (23) – “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. QB Tyler Murray wants to prepare for games his own way, which apparently is heavy on video games and light on film study. I am totally unimpressed with HC Kliff Kingsbury. WR DeAndre Hopkins will be out for the first six games. The Cardinals defense lost its best pass rusher (DE Chandler Jones) to free agency. Oops.

Carolina Panthers (24) – “Level Of Concern” by twenty one pilots. I still think HC Matt Rhule can coach winning football, but he better have a level of concern about his future in Carolina. We’ll see if the newly-acquired Baker Mayfield can help save his job. Will RB Christian McCaffrey be able to stay on the field? I don’t know, but I drafted him #1 on one of my fantasy teams last year and I still haven’t stopped cursing. The Panthers defense looks to very much be a work-in-progress.

Cleveland Browns (25) – “God Was Never On Your Side” by Motorhead. They went out and acquired QB Deshaun Watson. Everyone deserves a second chance. I strongly believe that. Twenty-four chances? Nope. I have a friend who is a big Cleveland sports fan. He was just getting over their baseball team being renamed the Guardians…and now this. The defense should be fine if they don’t have to stay out on the field all day. We’ll see about the offense, which surely will now be a run-first squad at least for the first half of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars (26) – “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I love new HC Doug Pederson, in no small part because he guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. He never should have been fired from here, and I hope he rocks out in J-Ville. That being said, he is living on a prayer down there in Year One. The prayer is QB Trevor Lawrence can become a top-notch signal caller. The Jaguars defensive outlook? Make that two prayers…

New York Jets (27) – “Used To The Darkness” by Des Rocs. This may be the most apt song title of all-time for Jets fans. Their QB is already on the injured list. Do I have to go on? Don’t make me, but I will say they are starting to get some pieces in place for…next year.

Seattle Seahawks (28) – “Long Way Down” by The Goo Goo Dolls. HC Pete Carroll should buckle his seat belt, because it is going to be a l-o-n-g way down for the Seahawks. This will be his last year, whether he wants it to be or not…and he very well may not even finish it.

New York Giants (29) – “Broken” by lovelytheband. Rookie DE Kayvon Thibodeaux already has a sprained MCL, and QB Daniel Jones just revealed he had off-season neck surgery. Um, ok. Toss in whether or not RB Saquon Barkley even makes it through a few games. The Giants appear to be already broken.

Chicago Bears (30) – “Dammit” by blink-182. I think it is safe to say the word “dammit” is in every Bears fan’s vocabulary, and is used quite often at that. QB Justin Fields will be running for his life again this season, which probably gives Chicago the best chance to win games…as long as no one catches up to him.

Houston Texans (31) – “Forget Me Too” by Machine Gun Kelly & Halsey. The Texans hosted the fiasco that became Deshaun Watson. Let’s not forget that. Newly-promoted HC Lovie Smith may have an easy first year if the marching orders are to win as few games as possible.

Atlanta Falcons (32) – “Doom And Gloom” by The Rolling Stones. When QB Matt Ryan flew off to Indianapolis I knew this song title would represent the Falcons this year. This franchise has endured one long Super Bowl runner-up’s hangover, as they have never been the same since they let the Patriots steal Super Bowl LI. That game was in Houston, and I do believe the Texans and the Falcons will be neck-and-neck this year when it comes to losing games.

 

Picture Courtesy Concert Archives

Adapting To Death – Neil Gaiman Brings The Sandman To Netflix

In this age of “social” media, offering a review or opinion of just about anything creative can yield comments and responses supporting your take, but more often than not you’ll also generate opinions which are not only the polar opposite, but served up with a heaping side of snark and venom.

It is also a time that when creative works are adapted into different mediums, that fact alone can inspire an outpouring of fiery anger and hatred.

I find it ironic whenever a baby boomer guy like myself complains about something, we’re designated as “the old man on the porch,” supposedly resistant to change and complaining just for the sake of complaining. Yet, it seems to me people now learn at a very early age to come for and declare war on anyone who doesn’t completely agree with their views…or wants to mess with something they love.

When I was in college, I took a course on Film Criticism. One of the takeaways I still abide by is to not only be tolerant but inquisitive when someone views films/series/plays/books/art differently than I. My feeling is reviews and opinions of creative work are subjective in every way (unless or course the company that employs you also owns the creative property you’re reviewing but I digress). Further, you might actually learn something from differing viewpoints which could lead to your modifying or even changing your thoughts about the work. Finally, creative forms or mediums provide vastly different experiences, even if the subject matter is essentially the same.

I recently saw the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing,” based on a best-selling book by Delia Owens. I never read the novel, but was drawn to seeing the film because of the book’s overwhelming success. For a number of reasons, I did not enjoy the movie. However, in leaving the theatre with my wife I mentioned it probably made for a very good book. While I didn’t like the way it was portrayed on the big screen, I considered what I saw as it might have played out in written form – in other medium – and could see where it might well be a most compelling novel. In fact, my suspicion in the instance of “Where The Crawdads Sing” was and is the filmmakers stayed quite true to those written words…which may be why I felt it wasn’t a very good watch.

I later read reviews which highly praised the movie, but I didn’t feel there were any opinions or observations that altered my feelings about it. Yet, I did do that personal due diligence and seek out positive reviews to see what those folks had taken away from the film, what experiences they had. And in my comments back to those reviewers, I was respectful of their opinions while expressing mine.

The release of the Netflix series “The Sandman” has garnered much reaction on social media over the past couple of weeks. For decades, this distinguished work in the world of comics languished in development hell until its creator, Neil Gaiman, found just the right folks to help bring his adaptation to the screen. Yet, even though Gaiman was fully immersed in developing this project, there were those who began tirades the moment it came out saying the comic is still great, but the TV adaptation is rubbish, and don’t even give it a look. You would have thought they owned the property themselves and hadn’t gotten paid for it. Of course, there were others who absolutely loved the series and they raved about it, heaping over-the-top, God-like praise upon it. Indeed, yet another social media flexing of the extremes had broken out. People these days can’t just calmly state they like or dislike creative work, and sometimes can’t even remain civil when opposite opinions appear.

Fandom on social media seems to me to be fairly toxic most of the time. If you don’t like something someone else does, you’re right and they’re wrong. The actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, who lends his voice to the character Raven in “The Sandman,” had this to say to IndieWire regarding current fan culture:

“This happens with everything, including sports and music. There are fans out there who unfortunately look at everything they love as showing the person how much they love them by hating other things. If I express hatred toward the thing that’s not them, that shows them how much I love them. It’s a sad and ugly way to show how you love things, but unfortunately that’s how a lot of people are being taught and how people are being modeled by our leaders now, which sucks.”

Oswalt also had this to say regarding the priorities of people in our world today versus being opposed against any adaptation of “The Sandman”:

“If you can look out your window and this is what you’re mad about, then you have way bigger pathologies to deal with than I can handle. If you are looking at the headlines and going, “I am planting my flag on the hill of “don’t fuck with The Sandman” well then, you’ve got some really serious problems. You’ll love this show, especially Episode Six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which is so goddamn beautiful.” (Do hold that thought about Episode Six…I’ll circle back to that in a moment…)

The following is an excerpt from The Nerdist where Michael Walsh wrote about why adaptations are done in the first place:

“Why does anyone bother making or watching adaptations of great stories? If we already love something, why do we need to experience it in a different medium? Especially, when adaptations so often disappoint the people who care about the source material the most. “The Sandman’s” sixth episode, “The Sound of Her Wings,” is why. The Netflix series did more than introduce new fans to the beauty of Neil Gaiman’s Death. “The Sandman” gave old fans new ways to appreciate a beloved character with an episode and performance that exemplifies the best of what adaptations can and should be.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Netflix’s “The Sandman.” I didn’t find it perfect in every way, but to me it’s a very high-quality production. I am only diving into the source material now, but I was already aware there were several significant changes from the comics which were made in bringing this to the screen. Why? Because it’s a completely different medium, designed for a global streaming audience.

And for fans of Gaiman’s original comics, considering they surely knew he was involved in every aspect of this television project, why would they not be thrilled which the fact millions of more folks now get exposure to his stories, his characters?

Since I recently asked readers to give “Evil” a watch, knowing everyone has thousands of entertainment options these days, it’s downright obscene of me so soon thereafter to now suggest you give this series a look if you weren’t otherwise inclined…but before I wrap this up I must give Episode Six of “The Sandman” its due.

It is one of the most moving episodes of television I have ever experienced. It’s about dying and Death, but equal measures of dignity, faith, and hope are baked in as well. Here’s another excerpt from Walsh regarding that particular episode, and how seeing scenes play out is such a different dynamic than reading them:

“Dying doesn’t seem as terrifying when you imagine this Death will be by your side. The act of dying on “The Sandman” – whether in old age doing what you love, or alone in an alleyway far too young – certainly wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t defined by sadness or anger, nor even by the finality of life. Instead, it was about the comfort of holding a hand and the soft sound of wings. And seeing and hearing all of that in “The Sandman” was powerful in a way than reading about them isn’t. Not better or worse, just different. Because while no TV show or movie can ever fully capture every aspect of what makes a book or comic great, live-action adaptations bring elements the written word or a static illustration inherently can’t.”

“The existence of Netflix’s “The Sandman” will never change the existence of Neil Gaiman’s comic book. Nor will Netflix’s Death change how you think about the version you first met on the page. All that’s changed is that we now have two versions of Death to appreciate, each in a different medium that offer elements the other one can’t. The two aren’t competing with each other or for our admiration, either. They complement one another, and in doing each elevates their counterpart. That’s the best you can hope from any adaptation of a great story. That’s the reason adaptations are worth attempting even if they so often disappoint us. When done right, they give us something new to love while reminding us why we loved the original in the first place. And you can’t do that better than “The Sound of Her Wings.”

We all die. We all have our own ideas about the moment life will end. One thought on that subject is offered in “The Sandman,” and it is one worth considering.

In any medium.

 

Picture Courtesy Netflix