Earthquakes and Tsunamis and Self-Loathing — oh my.

I was just about to go to bed last night when my Twitter feed informed me that an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan. Naturally I flipped over to CNN right away. For the next five or six hours the only detectable movement on my body was my thumb guiding the TV remote from one news network to the next as I watched image after horrifying image of fire, flooding, and general devastation rock the northern areas of Japan.

As a rule, I find that I personally often feel sort of helpless. It’s a byproduct of succumbing to one’s own limitations. What I mean is that I recognize that I’m not a wealthy person at the moment, so when I really feel the itch to golf an amazing course somewhere, I feel helpless. I simply can’t make it happen. Perhaps that’s less a feeling of helplessness than it is of longing. But either way, it’s a feeling of not being able to do something I’d like to do based on materialistic desires.

But the thing is, if I can’t afford to go golfing, or if I can’t break family plans to go see an Elton John concert or something, at least I don’t feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Right now that’s how I feel. I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all, in fact.

The question is clear though: why now? Why this disaster? I didn’t feel the need to drive to New Orleans and help when Katrina hit. I didn’t feel like loading up my car with supplies and heading to New York City after 9/11 occurred. Why this time?

My only guess can be that it goes back to the idea of dealing with one’s limitations. I’ve been living my life lately with a feeling of self-sympathy. I’m out of work and financial problems have forced me to live with my parents again. For months I think I’ve basically been feeling sorry for myself for letting my situation develop like this. I thought I’ve been feeling helpless.

But last night I watched a landscape literally being altered on live television. What kind of helplessness must a person feel when they’re trying to outrun a 25-foot wall of water?

So why do I feel such a stronger sense of desire to help relieve this disaster than I did in the past? It’s because I need to make up for the days I’ve spent sitting around feeling sorry for myself and feeling bad for my living situation and basically feeling like the world owes me better than I’m getting. Because no one owes me a damn thing.

The worst part of it is the simple fact that I know this feeling will pass. Of course, we’ll remember the big Japanese earthquake/tsunami of 2011, and we’ll all hope everyone is okay, sure. But speaking for myself, I know that eventually I’ll go back to feeling shitty about my life again and the world will continue to be self-absorbed — as it probably should be. And in a few months or years there’ll be another disaster and we’ll all do it all over again. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if I’m back to normal by nightfall. This is why I want to get on a plane right now and help. Commit while the feeling is strong.

But I won’t. I’ll make myself a sandwich and I’ll be pissed off that we’re out of pickles. I hate myself sometimes.

If you are able and willing to donate, this link will help you out.


Britney Spears & Anna Nicole Smith – The Modern American Tragedy

I’m not one who normally gets into celebrity gossip, but there are some things that are just impossible to ignore. We all knew that Britney Spears was just a little bit crazy for a long time. But we’re all a little bit crazy, aren’t we? So there’s no harm in that. The problem is that this poor girl was thrust into show business at a super young age. She never had a chance. Some child actors/performers manage to adjust to life as a normal adult, but I think a majority do not. I’m certainly not expounding any information that’s new here. But think about how hard it is to grow up as a non-celebrity. It’s hard enough to adjust to the world as just a normal kid, let alone having to live your life as a Mouseketeer, of all things! And then to transition from that to the spotlight in the way that she did, on an absolutely enormous level, must be impossible to comprehend.

She was essentially born into a role not unlike that of a royal family. I mean she wasn’t literally born a star, but she started at a young enough age, that it was essentially all she knew. She had an agent at age 8. At age 8 I did star as Hector the Mouse in our class production of “The Cat Came Back.” Mrs. Arnoff recognized at an early age that I possessed unique skills that would best be nurtured on the stage. That, and the fact that before I turned into the quiet, shy, introspective person I am today, I was a handful in the classroom and Mrs. Arnoff hoped I’d release my energetic tendencies and need for attention by being awarded large roles in school plays. As it happened, my desk spent more time in the corner of the classroom than it did amongst my peers’ desks. But I digress.

The problem that Britney faces is that I doubt she was ever really helped along in acclimating to her process of achieving stardom. I don’t think it would be very farfetched to assume that her education was relatively incomplete. And I can only assume that she grew up spoiled with few, if any, people around her to help keep her grounded.

Now she’s on a suicide watch, she’s making death lists of people she wants revenge on, and she’s suffering from acute anxiety and horrible bouts of paranoia. She’s convinced that there are recording devices in her room at the rehab facility she’s in and she’s constant battling a feeling that she’s being watched. But can you blame her!? She is being watched! She’s American royalty. The only difference is that she isn’t revered like Princess Di was or Prince William is. And she certainly wasn’t groomed to the degree that the young Princes of Wales have been. (Granted that episode where one of the two princes – can’t remember which – wore a Nazi uniform as a halloween costume was a bit out of line for an heir to the throne of England.) Britney likely didn’t have a regimented program of tutors, teachers, mentors, and manner police watching over her like children of the crown do.

I get the feeling that I’m sort of rambling all over the place here. But what I’m really getting at, is that I actually feel sorry for Britney. Sure she’s richer than I’ll probably ever be. Sure she probably brought a lot of her problems on herself due to drugs and booze. And more and more facts about her drug usage are coming to light everyday. But I happen to be a person who knows a little bit about anxiety. I’m certainly not suffering from the levels of paranoia that she is, but I know what it feels like to be out somewhere only to be completely overwhelmed with a completely inexplicable sense of dread. On more than one occasion I’ve fled bars, clubs, and restaurants for reasons I didn’t fully understand. It’s about as scary a feeling as there is. And it’s one that is next to impossible to control at the moment it happens.

So what it comes down to is the fact that all these amazing events of Britney’s life have finally come to a head (no pun intended when considering her recent haircut). Actually, her haircut is a pretty good indication of what’s going wrong with her. She lost her hair, yes, by choice, but I also happen to think that she’s losing her mind. I wonder if it isn’t such a far-fetched notion to think that she knows she’s losing her mind, and shaving her head was her subconscious way of showing us this. “Look, my hair is gone. You can see the outside of my scalp, beneath which is my skull, encased in which is my brain. And there’s something wrong with it!”

I joked not long ago with various friends that the perfect move for Britney and her career would be for her to join Slazenger 7 (the band of which I’m a member, for those unaware). And actually, it probably would. She could have been the lead singer of a band that has no fame, very little, if any, following. If she would become a member of the group, she would be just that, a member. It it wouldn’t have been her band. It wouldn’t be just her out on stage with a bunch of backup potential husbands. She simply would have been the face of of a band that played light-hearted, irreverent, rock ‘n’ roll songs. No crazy dance routines. No constant appearances on MTV. Just a chance to hang out, sing songs, play some clubs, and have fun. Granted, her being who she is would probably have prevented this from being like that, but still. Her public appearances would be as part of a group. Not just her. But if you go back and look at the beginning of this paragraph, you’ll see I began it by suggesting my thoughts what would be good for her career. I think that’s the problem. Since she’s been eight years old, people have been worried about what would be good for Brittney’s career. Who’s been worried about Britney?

Besides me that is.

Now Anna Nicole is a slightly different story only in that she was older when she got famous. I think she was a girl who totally expected to live her whole life in her small Texas town. She had a one year old son when she moved to Houston where she got a job at Walmart before becoming a waitress at Red Lobster. Finally, she moved to exotic dancing in order to support herself and her child, where she was eventually discovered and groomed for Playboy.

The tragedy here lies in the fact that she wasn’t prepared for the jump to fame and riches like that. One second she’s stripping in front of a bunch of boozed up strangers for dollars, the next she’s on the cover of one of the most famous magazines in the world and pulling in millions of dollars. She didn’t go to modeling school or have ambitions to be the Guess Jean girl. It just fell in her lap, and she didn’t know how to behave afterwards.

Here’s one of the things I think may be similar between Anna Nicole and Britney. Anna Nicole failed her freshman year of high school and dropped out as a sophomore. I’m assuming that Britney finished high school, but I’m also assuming that it wasn’t a priority in her life, what with being a 17-year old pop star phenom. Is it terribly presumptuous for me to correlate these unfortunate life-path similarities down roads paved with drugs and alcohol with a simple lack of education? I’m sure it is. But I have little doubt that it’s at least somewhat of a factor.

I’m not saying these two women are/were dumb. But isn’t it possible to look at the vast numbers of child stars who’s lives turned to crap and associate the fact that many of them were home-schooled or schooled on the set of their respective mediums with the fact that they were ill-equipped to handle what life was going to present them?

Leonardo DiCaprio was a child actor. Granted, not necessarily a star, but he’s well-adjusted today. But he’s also a well-educated individual. I can’t help but wonder if either Anna Nicole Smith or Britney Spears grew up in an environment such as he did, how they might have fared.

I’m not blaming parents or anything, necessarily, but I think it’s really easy for the general public to look at the lives of these celebrities and mock them simply because their famous. Personally, I feel sorry for them. Anna Nicole’s death was tragic. I guess we’re still not sure what her cause of death was, but clearly she wasn’t right in the head for a good portion of her final years. Mostly due to drug use. But I think drug use is often used as a coping mechanism for people who simply can’t adjust to a lifestyle that includes being uber-famous. Yes, I know I’ll probably win the award for obvious statement of the year for that last sentence, but that doesn’t make it any less true. But when the pictures broke showing how Britney tripped while carrying her baby, you’d have thought she held a gun to the kid’s head. I have little doubt that there are plenty of parents who are well respected pillars of their community who have actually dropped their kids due to clumsiness. All she’s guilty of is being human.

But I guesss we don’t want our celebrities to be human.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up by saying that I already sometimes think I’m going crazy. So I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have photographers following my every move. Britney, if you read this, I’m sorry but we’ve already found a girl lead singer, but if you want to join the band I’m sure we can work something out.

And don’t worry about the going crazy thing. We all go a little bit nuts every once in awhile. I usually do a couple times a day. Call me, we’ll hang out.

Mark David Chapman movie – WTF?

I read this today and my stomach sort of got tied up in knots. This guy is planning on making a movie about John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.

Chapman is the man responsible for one of my earliest childhood traumas.

But it’s not like the movie is going to glorify him, how could it? And who knows, perhaps it might even be interesting. But it seems to me that this is something that almost doesn’t need to be explored. I mean it’s pretty much a clear cut case of a fan becoming so obsessive that in his own mind, the only way he could express his adoration was to take the life belonging to the focus of his fanaticism.

But then again, is it? I’ve been doing some reading of transcripts of interviews and parole hearings of Chapman’s and one thing is clear, his actions were absolutely premeditated. In fact, he had made the trip to New York City months earlier to do the same thing, but couldn’t go through with it. As time passed, however, his mind got the better of him and he heard a voice say, “Just do it.”

He claims to have been inspired by J.D. Salinger’s novel, “The Catcher In the Rye.” Holden Caulfield is a character, as described in the link above, that hates phonies. And perhaps Chapman did think that Lennon was a phony, but he was also a documented fan. His belief that Lennon is a phony is, in my mind, a self-serving device used to justify his increasingly obsessive infatuation with the man. I believe it got to the point where he wanted so badly to become part of John Lennon’s world so badly, that it was almost as if he wanted to be him. And since actually becoming him is an impossibility, being the person to end him might be the next best thing.

I don’t know. I can’t decide if I’m indifferent to this or what. One thing it does do is give Chapman another level of fame. It will introduce him to a group of people to whom his name is not known. At the time of the killing, this was one of his motivations. To acheive fame and noteriety. He says as much in his parole hearing.

I guess that by even writing this right now, I’m betraying the emotions within me that think the making of this movie is preposterous. In otherwords, I’m giving him additional face time. But I also haven’t necessarily formed an opinion. I’m curious to know what others think.

The thing about the film is that they’re introducing a fictional teenage, female character that will serve as the conduit that allows the movie-goer to get into his head. I suppose this will help the Chapman character reveal himself more naturally in the film. Frankly, I’m not sure that any screenwriter could get to the bottom of Chapman’s paranoid schitzophrenic tendencies well enough to do a recreation of this. Therefore I think that I’m of the opinion that it should be let go.

There are a lot of messed up people out there who do a lot of messed up things. This one just happened to do it to one of (if not the) biggest icons in the world. John Lennon had a presence that we haven’t seen since. He wasn’t far off when he said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. To many people, he was Jesus.

There was an interesting part of the Chapman parole hearing where he talks about whether or not he thinks John Lennon would want him to go free. Chapman said that he thought about this for a long time, but he thinks he would want him to be set free. Chapman pointed out that John Lennon was a liberal and that setting him free would go along with his beliefs. But to his credit, Chapman did say that he himself was a conservative and actually thinks that he has no right to even be alive considering what he did.

I, for one, hope he never gets out. I don’t even necessarily want to lock myself in a cell with him with the intention of causing him harm. What good would that do? He already knows that there’s a world full of people who’d like that opportunity.

I just don’t know if opening this wound by producing a movie about the guy who inflicted pain onto so many through an act so thought out would accomplish anything.

I don’t know. I also feel that this whole post is a little jumbled. It’s always hard for me to write about things that are so close to my heart, know what I mean? For whatever reason, John Lennon was a hero to me. Maybe it’s only because of the dramatic way in which he was killed while I was still so young and impressionable; maybe it’s because of the fact that I used to lay on the sofa in the living room listening to Beatle records and pretend to fall asleep so that my dad would let me lay there until the records were over; maybe it’s because I feel I can relate to him in some unknown way. Who knows.

Sorry for my rant. But I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this as well.


Chapman Parole transcript
Interview where he discusses his time in police custody

Walking with the Homeless. (Or, Assaulted By Pickles)

On Saturday morning I took part in one of the many Memory Walks organized by the Alzheimer’s Association. Each year several hundred people gather to walk in memory of those who have died or are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve already written about my grandmother who has the disease, so I won’t go back into that. Instead, I’d like to talk about the walk itself.

The walk my family and I took part in is a three mile hike through the streets of Rockford, Illinois. That’s right, Rockford, Illinois. Birthplace of not only yours truly, but also the home to Rock ‘n’ Roll legends, Cheap Trick.

Before the walk begins, everyone gathers in a park situated on the banks of the Rock River. Directly across from the gathering park stands a giant house. There are several houses there, actually, but one large one inparticular stands out because on the grassy sloped embankment, the name “Karen” is spelled out with rocks. This has been there for the four years we’ve been taking part in the walk and it’s been the source of much debate. Okay, so no one’s actually debated it but in my head I wonder about it. I wonder if it’s the name of the person who lives in that house. Or could it be the long lost love of the owner of the house. And if the owner is married to someone else, perhaps named Lola or Samantha or Phyllis, is she jealous of this faceless Karen to whom a beckoning has been sent.

Or perhaps Karen is the name of a dead pet. A cockatoo, maybe? Or could it be that this person was just a tremendous fan of the Carpenters, and still mourns for the loss of Karen Carpenter. Or perhaps it was there when the current owner bought the house. It’s possible I will never know the answer to this question.

Anyway, as we’re all milling about waiting for the walk to begin, there are some announcements made by local Rockford celebrities. Namely, people from the local news. They thank us for taking part in such a great event and remind us of what a great thing we’re doing. Then they encourage us to stretch before beginning the walk. What they really need is a bloody mary bar. Because a little hair-of-the-dog might’ve been a pretty good thing for this walker that day.

Nonetheless, people stretched led by the mascot of the Rockford Lightning, Freddie Flash. Freddie appears to be some sort of raccoon/panther/frog type mix. Perhaps he’s the result of what would happen if you put a bunch of forest creatures in a box and the box were hit by lightning.

Assisting Freddie Flash in the pre-walk stretching was Pickles the Clown. My Uncle Jimmy pointed out that he knew Pickles when she was just a Cucumber. I’ve never been one of those people who gets freaked out by clowns, but do you ever have the feeling that there are certain clowns who don’t take off the make-up? They just sit around the house in their clown outfit. Well I can see Pickles being one of those kind of clowns. You might run into Pickles in the laundry room of your apartment complex. “Here you go, I’m done with this dryer. Lemme just grab my big frilly neck thingy here. Okay. All yours.” Natrually she’d have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, too.

The stretching is finished and we’re ready to embark. The walk itself is relatively uneventful. You just walk. We’re led by a trio of bagpipers who take us the first 50 feet of the journey. Pickles is there assaulting everyone with stickers. (This year’s sticker was of a smiley face. Last year she gave out stickers that said “I met a clown today.” I liked last year’s stickers better. It was amazing how often that thing came in handy. Every time I’d have a conversation with someone I didn’t care for, I’d slap that baby right on my shirt after parting company. There are clowns all around us, my friends, most just don’t wear the make-up.)

The walk begins down a stretch of road flanked by industrial businesses and such. We passed a bar called Mary’s, I believe, but regrettably, that was closed. As we wind around the town we cross a bridge over the Rock River and end up through a little riverfront pathway. The walk begins around 9:30 am on a Saturday, so the homeless guys who use this portion of the park as their sleeping quarters are still on their benches. This year a couple of them were just waking up to face their day as we passed them. They slapped my Uncle Bob and my dad a high five. Thankfully I was on the opposite side of the path and out of reach of their encouraging gestures. (Understand that we’re not sure where their hands had been all night. I mean it probably got a little cold and they had to keep them warm somehow.)

After the walk turns away from the river we head through what I believe to be downtown Rockrford. On a Saturday morning this part of town is about as active as the Kelsey Grammer fan club. There are very few people out.

We cruised the final mile of the walk back over the upper portion of the bridge we crossed the first time and down and around to the spot we started in the first place. The throngs of waiting admirers must have been given the wrong date and time, because the only people waiting for us were the same people who were there in the first place.

Pickles was no where to be seen. It’s my guess that she either had an afternoon birthday party to attend to or she had some vacuuming to do around the apartment.

But as a family we raised close to $2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. Not too shabby. I’m not sure what the total take for the event was, but it had to be over ten grand. So it was certainly a successful event.

As I said, this is the fourth year we’ve done this as a family and despite the fact that I like to make fun of it a little bit, it really is a great event and one which I do enjoy taking part in. If I’m going to have to hang out with all my Aunts and Uncles and cousins for a full day like that, at least I can take solace in the fact that we’re raising money for a good cause. Before I wrap this up though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my cousin Cathy, who is a regular medal winner in the Special Olympics, finished the walk this year in record time. Naturally, we’re all particularly proud of her.

Once again, if you’d like to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, you can call 1.800.272.3900. Or, to make a donation by mail, send a check to Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7633

Forget me not.

A couple of Thanksgiving’s ago, my parents hosted my dad’s family for dinner. My grandmother on that side of the family suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. If I’m not mistaken, she’s had it for close to five years now. I don’t remember exactly when she was first diagnosed. It actually might be even longer than that.

Regardless, as time passes, she deteriorates. It’s horrible. So sad. I don’t handle these sort of things well, so I always feel tremendously awkward when around her. I want to talk to her, but she doesn’t know who I am anymore. She does, however, know that I’m tall.

Actually, this is sort of weird, but ever since the day I showed up to my grandmother’s house and was taller than her, not a visit went by where she didn’t talk about how tall I am. Literally every single visit, “Hoo, my. Michael, you just keep growing.” “I can’t get over how tall you are.” “Goodness. What happened to little Michael?” The thing is, I’ve been the same height now since I was about 17 years old, but this wouldn’t stop her from gasping at the sight of me well into my twenties.

I tried to come up with new things to say to her in an attempt to explain my lanky physique, but there’s only so much you can do. But the funny thing is that even now, though she doesn’t seem to know who I am, she does have that look of recognition in her eyes because of my height. She’ll look up and sort of smile shyly and look away as she mumbles something like, “boy…tall…whoo.”

For the record, I’m only 6’3″. That’s really not that tall. But I guess it did make me the tallest on that side of the family.

Anyway, getting back to that Thanksgiving a couple/few years ago. We were all sitting around the living room and my grandmother was in there. A few of us were eating dinner there as the dining room table was full. But I’d notice my grandmother staring at me. So I’d smile at her and look away to engage someone in conversation or watch TV. Then I’d look back at her and she’d be sort of staring at me again. So I’d smile.

This sort of went on for awhile through out the afternoon/evening. I didn’t think anything of it. Until, that is, much later when she and my grandfather were on their way out. My grandfather was leading her by the hand and he’d stopped to say goodbye to someone. My proximity to them was such that my grandmother was now standing directly to my right as I sat on the sofa. She looked down at me, almost umcomfortably and with what seemed like disapproval.

“I’ve seen you watching me today,” she said in a half whisper. “But you should know that this is my husband.”

It took a moment for my brain to register the assumption that my grandmother’s corroded mind had made.

“Grandma!” I said. “I know who that is.”

But that’s all I could say. She looked away from me, then back at me, almost as if giving me a warning. I smiled at her again. Then they left.

It took a little while before I could confess to my dad that his mother had basically accused me of hitting on her. Just the mere thought of it was disturbing on several levels. First and foremost: that’s just gross. But secondly, it was an indication of just how sick she is.

But there’s little that one can do when a family member is faced with this condition. You can only try to make them comfortable really. As they sort of regress to a more childlike state of mind, you can’t help but be amused by them in the same way we’re amused by young children who are learning and discovering things for the first time.

Anyway, in a few weeks my family and I will be participating in one of the many annual Alheimer’s Memory Walks. This is an event meant to serve as a means to raise money for research to find out more about Alzheimer’s.

I know many of us have been donating to relief funds supporting those who have lost everything to Katrina, so it’s hard to even consider asking for support for something else, but here I am. I guess I’d like to get this thing figured out. So, I’ll just post the Alzheimer’s Association address and if you think you might be capable of helping out, please, please do. And feel free to make your donations in the name of Fran Fertig, my grandmother.

If I happen to know you, and you’d like to help out, feel free to give me your checks personally. Make them out to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Memory Walk takes place on the 24th of September, so there’s time. And I’ll put your donation with the others I’ve already received.

Otherwise, to make a donation by phone, please call 1.800.272.3900. To make a donation by mail, send a check to Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7633.

There are a lot of things I don’t want to forget when I’m older, so help out if you can.