Friday, November 27, 2015

Creed is good

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone
Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone view Philadelphia from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art near the end of Creed.
It is Wednesday, December 1, 1976 and the Complete and Total Loser is a teenager with a house to himself because his parents are out of town. He has school the next day, and he should be studying, but instead of that, he decides to go to a movie that's gotten good press before its opening from critics the Loser likes and trusts. The movie is Rocky, and one review the Loser's read of it calls it a "gritty fairy tale." He likes that. Also, the movie was shot in Philadelphia, not far from the Loser's suburban home, although he's too afraid to visit it often. 
sylvester stallone rocky
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in the original Rocky.

Movies then opened on Wednesdays. Years later, they switched to Fridays. A good thing about Wednesday night was that there would be few people at the show, which is at a small theater near the Loser that has a decent screen. The Loser, a film snob even at that age, prefers small audiences. He doesn't eat popcorn while watching movies—too crass—and he sits in the fifth row, from which the screen fills the frames of his tortoise-shell glasses. He sits, leans back, and waits for Rocky to begin.
It started with the word "Rocky," huge, from top to bottom, scrolling from left to right, with the brassy opening bars of the theme, Gonna Fly Now. The Loser, a cripple, dislikes sports of all kinds and he's never thrown a punch in his life, but he loves this movie and defends it to this day. 
The sequels were abysmal. The second was a less a sequel than a remake of the first. The only memorable characters in the subsequent ones were Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Drago (Dolf Lundgren), both cartoonish and played for laughs. Stallone over chiseled his body and seemed to be catering to a gay audience.
These movies existed only to give the masses more of what they'd liked in the first. They were fabrications, corporate-made movies with no heart or soul and with a poor ear for real dialogue. The plotting was obvious, childish and redundant. 
Now there is Creed, which opened Wednesday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Again, the Loser heard good things about it prior to its release. The magic words to him were that it was neither written nor directed by Sylvester Stallone. 
Again, the Loser had money and a car. He did not have school the next day. His parents are away because they're dead. The theater that he saw Rocky in closed years ago. The Loser went to see Creed on Thursday before going to a relative's for Thanksgiving. There were no more than eight others in the theater. 
The magic is back. It's a very good movie. No movie will have the surprise that Rocky had for the Loser, but that would be like expecting an orgasm to feel as good as the first one he had at age fourteen did. But it comes as close as any other movie with similar themes ever will.
sylvester stallone rocky
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky pounds beef for practice.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


For the first time in his life, the Complete and Total Loser has spent an entire November 22 without seeing any mention anywhere of the fact that this date is the one on which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman in Dallas, in 1963. 
President John F. Kennedy in motorcade November 22 1963
President John F. Kennedy in his motorcade on November 22, 1963.

Hired, for now

stack of books
A stack of books, some of which the Loser will actually read one day.
The Complete and Total Loser was hired two days ago for a retail job at a book store that will last through the coming holidays. After a sixteen-month gap, the money and activity will be welcome to him, though the fact that it is at a far lower level than the low-level job he was laid off from in July of 2014 does remind him of what an utter failure he is now and has always been.
Oh well.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Future letter

november 13 2015 paris attack

March 3, 2018

Dear Janice, 
I know, I know—a handwritten letter on paper in an envelope. What the hell. I was just in a mood to see something on hard copy, as they used to (?) call it. Besides, as much fun as it is to be able to write and send photos at the speed of light (the novelty hasn't worn off on me although it should have long ago—I'll turn sixty this year), it's cool to think about this physical item going from Philadelphia to Eugene. One little envelope traveling by truck, plane, truck again and finally, a human hand putting it in a box. All this done for under a dollar by people who don't even know me. If we're going to correspond only a few times a year, there's no rush, right? I hope you don't toss this out with the junk mail.
I've been looking at your daughters' Facebook pages. Even though you're the one who told me to do that and provided the links, I still feel a little creepy doing it because I've never met them. Me, the never married dirty old man. They are wonderful young women. A lot more active than I was at their age, or any age, come to think of it, and I see a lot of you in them. That sunny charisma of yours was passed down to them. 
Isn't is weird how close to normal everything seems despite the event of three months ago? Everyone knew it was inevitable that terrorists would eventually go nuclear, and Paris was always the prime target in Europe, though why I have no idea. It was always a tolerant city more welcoming of outsiders than most parts of the U.S. 
Over a million killed in seconds. I know I'm not the only one who has a hard time grasping this. It's hard to believe I don't know any of the dead, though that's indicative of the size of my circle of friends. 
I had wanted to visit Paris in a few years, after my Social Security kicks in and I can say I'm retired instead of semi-employed, which is a stretch, by the way. Obviously, that will never happen now. I don't even know when I'll get to New York again. No matter how you get there now it takes forever to get through all the checks.
OK, enough grim talk. Onward and upward. What's spring like in Oregon? Lots of rain? Here it's the usual weeks of cold mud and dusty days, but fresh, wet green things poking up from the ground remind us that summer is ahead. Or is it? The forecasts on what the bomb's effects on the weather will be are all over the place. I guess the weather will be its usual, capricious self.
Love ya!

Friday, November 13, 2015


Two days ago, the Complete and Total Loser met with two friends and, among other things, had a drink and shared a plate of nachos with them. 
At one point, during a lull in the conversation, the Loser said, brightly, "I saw The Martian." 
Neither of his friends responded to this or acknowledged in any way that they'd heard him, which they had, they later confirmed. Instead, one brought up a different topic and they talked about that. 
This is typical for the Loser
Matt Damon the Martian
Matt Damon waits for rescue in The Martian.

Saying things more forcefully or louder doesn't help; people just regard the Loser as angry or troubled. There is something about the Loser's personality that often renders him invisible in social situations. He's used to it to such a degree that at times he continues conversations he's started with himself, filling in others' parts. This amuses him, but eventually, they notice this and ask the Loser what the hell is wrong with him.
A positive aspect of being invisible, the Loser has decided, is that it will one day make his death a smooth transition.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Women Want

what women want mel gibson helen huntThe Complete and Total Loser gave this movie to a female friend lately. (He bought it for a dollar at a thrift shop.) 
Afterward, he thought it would have been funny to take out the original disc and put in a pornographic DVD instead.
Will the Loser never mature?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

His type

woman on train with bike
A woman rides a train with her bicycle.
Oh, nerd girl, with your big book and your little fold-up bike on the train, you wear your helmet even now! You will get a master's degree in something and work for a non-profit organization where you will be much appreciated. You will marry a burly man with an unkempt beard who wears sweaters well. The apartments and then houses you share will feature much wood and weavings and be comfortable places for you and visitors. Your children will have unconventional names and learn more from you and your husband than they do in school. Yours will be a good life.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Self checkout

woman and man shopping at grocery store self checkout
A man and a woman tally their purchases at a supermarket.
The Complete and Total Loser has mixed feelings about self checkout lines.

The bad:
  • They rob him of an opportunity to interact with another person. (The Loser is unemployed and friendless, and he goes days at a time without speaking to a soul.) Aren't there enough things already that diminish or obviate human contact? 
  • They allow one person do the work of four, thus putting people out of work
  • They seldom work properly. The Loser brings his own bag to supermarkets and touches the part of the screen that says "I'm using my own bag" when prompted, but it freezes anyway, requiring the help of the one person in charge of the four to six stations.
The good:
  • The Loser lives in a haze of self-conscious guilt, certain that others are judging him and rightly deeming him a loser. Self checkout allows him to purchase embarrassing items a man his age shouldn't be buying, like candy and powdered donuts, both which he buys hoping the sweetness will counter the sour loneliness of his meaningless life for a few moments.
  • They are for express customers and therefore, the lines are shorter. The Loser can get his pathetic, single serving items relatively quickly.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The winter of 2013–2014, west of Philadelphia

man bicycling in snow philadelphia
A man rides his bike after a snowstorm in Philadelphia, Pa.
People have tried to foretell the weather for millennia. They’ve read tea leaves, observed animals, consulted aching joints, and fired up supercomputers. The results have always been about as good as flipping a coin.
In October of 2013, AccuWeather, the private forecasting firm, predicted that people in the eastern United States would enjoy a mild 2013–2014 winter and would probably have to wait until February to see a substantial amount of snow. They also said California would get enough precipitation to make its drought worries a thing of the past.
Hardly. The West Coast drought would continue unabated and the northeast would endure a season deemed the most disruptive in 130 years.
On December 8, with the winter solstice still nearly two weeks away, the nation watched the hosting Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Detroit Lions 34–20 during a blinding snowstorm that covered the field with eight inches of snow by game’s end as 70,000 football fans shivered in the stadium. The amount was more than in all of the previous winter and twice that of 2010–2011. It was the first of four snowfalls of eight inches or more the season would see in a city that had never recorded more than three storms of six inches or more in one season.
Winter arrived, the storms and cold continued, and Americans began hearing a phrase new to most of them: polar vortex. The phrase refers to the conditions in the Arctic that usually keep most of the extremely cold air there. With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, however, its ice and snow cover has diminished. That, scientists theorize, has weakened the polar vortex, letting freezing air masses escape and head south, leading to a greater number of extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes. Europe’s bitter winters of previous years made them aware of the phenomenon before Americans.
The cold air masses helped generate the season’s heavy snows. Fifteen inches fell January 21, followed by severely cold temperatures rivaling the lowest of the season, which was 4 degrees on January 7. Interspersed among the large storms that winter were numerous “nuisance storms” featuring snowfalls of a few inches, enough to slow down daily life and make cautious school administrators cancel school. The weather in December and January slowed businesses too, but it was nothing Philadelphia’s western suburbs hadn’t seen before.
Then came February 5.
On the afternoon of the third, the National Weather Service had issued a winter storm watch for several counties in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Less than twelve hours later, the watch was upgraded to a warning to counties in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The service tracked an area of low pressure from the Tennessee Valley on February 4 and said it would arrive in this region the next day. Meanwhile, a cold air mass from the north had settled over the surface of the Interstate 95 corridor. With the warmer air mass moving in above it, an icing event of some magnitude was predicted to hit at least a portion of the area.
Some schools and business closed in advance of the storm, but it turned out not to be widespread, and most of the warnings and advisories were cancelled. Most, but not all. The mid-thirties temperatures meant that instead of snow, the areas north and west of Philadelphia and Trenton got rain. That rain fell on snow from a recent storm still on roadways and tree branches. It froze as it landed. It was an ice storm, and a big one.
hanger outside after ice storm
A hanger left outside during an ice storm shows the effects.

From late in the morning throughout the afternoon, that Wednesday’s silence was punctured by the dull, thick crack of branches and trees succumbing to the weight of ice as thick as half an inch. Many of those branches and trees fell on power lines already burdened with ice, lines that, unlike those in most advanced nations, have not been buried underground due to the excessive costs cited by power companies. (Since the late-sixties, developments in America feature underground power lines thanks to policies initiated under the Johnson Administration.) The ice caused a high number of trips to emergency rooms thanks to slip and falls and car accidents, shortages of rock salt, school and business closings, and mass transit delays and cancellations. But it was the falling trees that had the most dramatic effect.
In addition to damaging houses and cars, they knocked out power for over 822,000, more than the nearly 640,000 in the 1993–1994 season, and nearly as many as the 850,000 customers who lost power during Superstorm Sandy in October of 2012. For as long as a week, many residents in Philadelphia's western suburbs lived like their 19th-century ancestors, reading by candlelight and warming their houses by burning wood. The romance of that wore off soon, however, as houses chilled and freezing pipes became a concern. Line workers came from far away states to rewire neighborhoods. The buzz of chainsaws and wood chippers went on day and night. PECO’s phone line infuriated thousands as the energy company taunted them with a recorded message that unfailingly vowed that power would be restored by 11 p.m. the day of the call for the duration of the outage, an issue PECO later promised to address. Some homeowners fled to the guest rooms of friends or to hotels. Others stayed put, fearing that opportunistic burglars would rob their darkened houses. Gas-powered generators chugged through the days and nights of some homeowners, keeping the lights and the furnace on, but at the high cost that comes with burning eight to twenty gallons of gas a day.
The power came back in pieces, dividing neighborhoods. On one side of a street, a family with power cooked large meals in brightly lit kitchens, took hot showers, watched television and snuggled under electric blankets in warm rooms. On the other side of the same street, a family without power bumped around in the dark, ate out, and went to bed early and unwashed under piles of cold blankets and bedspreads. Television and internet service often took longer to come back as their providers dealt with their own scheduling problems.
The impact of the eleven days of storms lasted beyond the season. Arborists serviced private clients at least well into the following fall. Gardens needed replanting, lawns reseeding. Beloved shrubs had been murdered by the cold, reinforcing the idea that autumn is the wrong time to prune. The roads were in terrible condition thanks to the 157,000 tons of salt they’d been subjected to (PennDot officials said reserves had been pushed to a crisis-low level) and the later freeze-thaw conditions that produce pot holes. It took almost 16,000 tons of patching material to get the state’s roads back in shape, twice the amount used in the two previous years combined.
The implacable winter left, but it took its time doing so. On March 27, Philadelphia reported a low of 23 degrees. As late as April 16, the city had a sub-freezing low. But as always, spring arrived, with its usual April showers and May flowers. April 30 was the wettest day of the year with a torrential 4.5 inches. Summer and fall were unremarkable.
In early February of 2015, as area residents watched temperatures dip into single digits during a season that would again be severe, albeit without the crippling storms of the winter before, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization released its findings for the previous year. Globally, 2014 was, by less than one degree, the hottest year ever in a historical record dating from 1880. The finding echoed that of an announcement released in January by two American scientific agencies and one in Japan. Although those on the East Coast know their chosen region makes up only a fraction of the world’s total land mass, few would blame them for believing that the planet’s thermostat was set low, not high, just as those who had broiled in other lands might have doubted accounts of strong trees felled by ice. As with any extreme event, you had to be there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Too close

two deer in yard
Two deer in the Loser's back yard.
Last night, during a short highway drive, the Complete and Total Loser came just feet from hitting a deer as it ran across the road from the Loser's left to right. The Loser had a hard time believing he didn't hit it, it was so close, and drove for several minutes afterward with a stupid, slack-jawed look on his unattractive face. 
Today, the Loser saw a dead cat on another road, the victim of a car. It made him think about how and why it tugged at his heartstrings—it was probably someone's pet—yet it had no more or less personality than a deer. The Loser can see personality differences in the deer that enter his back yard. Some are bolder than others, some of the young ones are more playful than their peers.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The reading room

bathroom with standing lamp
A bathroom featuring a standing lamp.
Because the Complete and Total Loser's bathroom got weirdly humid during a recent rainstorm, he put a space heater in it to dry it out. That cause a wire to go kablooey and the need for an electrician to repair it. In the meantime, the Loser put a standing lamp in the bathroom so he could shower, brush and floss his teeth and the other usual ablutions he performs on a daily basis. 
This gave the bathroom an odd look. Cozy, in a room that isn't.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The makeshift memorial

Years ago, the Complete and Total Loser failed at journalism. During his last year in the field he worked for a large news agency. The writers shared a common space and the Loser, a lowly, middle-aged assistant, sat within earshot of all of them. One day, they discussed how tired they were of the phrase "makeshift memorial," which refers to commemorations of those who die in a specific place by somehow adorning the place. They were stymied, however, when it came to thinking of an alternative phrase that described such sites as well and succinctly and, apparently, other writers are too. 
makeshift memorial
A makeshift memorial at the location of a teenage boy's suicide.
The phrase remains.
The photo here is of one such site and was taken where a teenage boy who had nothing but a bright future killed himself earlier this month by jumping off a small bridge onto a road where he was hit by a truck. It features flowers, a copy of the program from the boy's funeral service, and a letter from his older brother to the boy. The letter is written as if the boy will read it and mentions that the flowers were the best ones Wegmans had available. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

I've been working out, I'm huge

arnold schwarzenegger flexing
Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes an arm while in his prime.
After he swims, the Complete and Total Loser goes to the weight room at the college sports facility he visits three times a week and lifts weights a little. He's lifted weights off and on since he was in high school, but fell away from it for years until now.
The Loser is so dumb that he recently thought he'd gained muscle because when he bends his arms he feels a tightness he didn't feel two months ago. He realized, finally, that the tightness had nothing to do with increased muscle mass in his sagging arms but was because he's wearing two shirts instead of one to deal with the colder weather. The Loser is such an idiot sometimes. Not sometimes. Always.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In a strange bed, last day

examining room cabinet
Feel like shit. All I want to do is sleep. I'm in a hospital. My liver's crapping out on me. Cirrhosis. What the hell does the liver do, anyway?

I need a drink, but I doubt I'll get one here.

The TV's on. Sports channel. How many games have I seen in my life? More than I can count. I'm fifty-eight now and started watching when I was ten. So that's ... a lot of games. I can't remember more than a few incidents from all of them, and even those aren't clear. They were always drinking times.

Let me alone. Shit. Every five minutes women are coming in and bugging me. They pull me up higher in the bed. Why? One takes measurements, one takes blood, one looks at the machines I'm hooked up to. Another tests my swallowing to see if well enough to eat. I hear her say I'm not. Will I be soon? I've been catheterized. I'm glad I wasn't awake when it was going in. I'm not going to look at it.

These women speak loudly to me and use my name a lot. It hurts to hear them. It makes me frown. I have tubes in my nose, for oxygen. I try to remember to inhale deeply through my nose. That should help me feel better. I do it, but it doesn't.

There's a girl here. I'm not sure who she is. She's nice. She's not wearing a uniform and doesn't talk like the other women, but she helps me do things. Who the hell is she? There's something about her face. Wait. She's holding my hand. Wait. She just called me Dad. That can't be right. I haven't seen daughters for years. No, scratch that. I have seen one of them. The oldest. Her name is ... now why can't I remember her name? I think it's her.

More women are here. It just never stops. Christ. There are two of them. And my daughter. The two are speaking to me, loud, and asking me things. I keep hearing the word "up." They want me to get up. Now? Shit. They're swinging my legs over the side of the bed and lifting me into a sitting position. The one of the two who seems to be in charge is kneeling in front of me and telling me to open my eyes. I do. She's so young. I can tell she doesn't take any crap from anybody. She's pretty. I lean forward and put my hands on her shoulders. They're firm, taut. "You want to hold on to me?" she says. There's a walker behind her. What am I, ninety-five?

I try to get up, but the thought's not getting to the body. I feel my left side give up, and sag. "You want to lie down?" the woman says. I try to say yes but it comes out as a grunt. The two help me lie down and cover me up again.

More people, more stuff going on around me. They're all doing lots, but I feel worse and worse every hour anyway. Doctors and others ask me questions. Do I know where I am? Do I know my birthday? The TV is off. My daughter's holding my hand. I can hear her. I want to open my eyes and look at her, but I feel so awful I can't. When can I go home? 

It's dark. No one's here, but the door's open and I can hear people doing things across the hall. I hear talking, laughing, fingers rattling on computer keyboards, phone calls being made, carts wheeling down the hall. I feel worse. Everything hurts. Two women come in. Different from the ones I saw during the day. One is teaching the other how to do something. I try to tell them how bad I feel, but words aren't coming. I moan. I moan again. They say things to me. The one teaching the other goes to one of the machines. I hear her telling the new one how to adjust the drip. Adjust the drip. I don't know what that means, but soon after she does it, I feel OK and go back to sleep.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A friend's father is dying*

Even big hospital rooms often can't hold the number of visitors dying people get without some having to cram themselves into corners or sit on radiators.
This is not true with the father of a friend of the Complete and Total Loser. There's plenty of room there.
The man is 58, a year older than the Loser, and is dying thanks to a life misspent. Cirrhosis. The Loser spent several hours with his friend yesterday, and therefore her father, who he had met briefly just once before. He slept for most of it.

When he woke, it was for the succession of hospital employees who came by, none with good results. 
The swallowing therapist determined that he would be unable to eat without aspirating, so food was out. A physical therapist tried to get him out of bed but he could barely manage sitting up with his feet over the side. 
People, all of them women, came by to tug him up on the bed and clean him and change his gown and sheets, or take vital signs. They spoke to him with clear, loud voices that penetrated his stupor enough for him to mumble responses.
The Loser's friend, is 25 years old and is great with him, speaking to him in comforting tones a little like one would to a child, which may seem wrong but his cognitive abilities are impaired enough that it's suitable. He wasn't sure of who she was and couldn't recall her name, calling her "Dad" at one point, which makes some sense as that's what she call him. He was defining her as the woman who calls him "Dad."
He has had little to do with his daughter and her sister for many years, having divorced her mother and remarried long ago. Before this time, she referred to him as her mother's "sperm donor." 
Now she has said that while visiting him last August she wanted to take a picture of the two of them together but didn't and regrets it. 

*He died October 13.