To All the Dragons I’ve Loved Before

Having always loved the fantasy genre of film and television, my heart has always belonged to dragons. Evil ones, good ones, and rogue agents with no such allegiances. I caught the film Dragonslayer (1981) the other day on Amazon Prime Instant Video and it really brought up a bucket from the well of memory. I mean, how awesome are these creatures? Total and complete bad asses. No one wants to mess with them.

This led me to host a contest for Best Dragons from my childhood experience:

Maleficent from from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959)

maleficentWhile technically not a dragon (at least most of the time), this was probably one of the scariest cartoon draconians I remember. Mostly, I was afraid of her because I had never heard such foul language uttered in a Disney movie until I saw Sleeping Beauty. Case in point: “Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of Hell!” Who cast such a potty mouth? Anyway, Maleficent was actually an evil fairy godmother with the ability to change into a dragon, and ultimately, the world’s most famous anti-cupid with her desperate attempts to keep Princess Aurora and Prince Philip apart. And all because she never got an Evite to Aurora’s baptism. Jeez, petty much? I think a more effective punishment on the kingdom would’ve been a curse on all the chamber pots.

Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer (1981)

vermithraxShe was 400 years old, slept in a lake of fire, and her kids were slaughtered by a bumbling magician’s apprentice – so the chip on her shoulder may be justified. Apparently, she accepted two virgins per year from the local kingdom to leave crops and villages alone, so she doesn’t seem to be completely unreasonable at the negotiation table. She has the added benefit of a weird but pretty cool name: Vermithrax Pejorative which in Latin translates to “The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse.” She was also nominated for an Academy Award (ok, well the special effects were), and she has some wicked bat-like wings. Who needs aerial drone strikes when you got Miss Pejorative on your side?

Granamyr from the He-Man & The Masters of the Universe television series (1983)

GranamyrNot as famous as some other dragons, but pretty damn powerful and the oldest of the Dragons of Darksmoke on the planet of Eternia. Granamyr had a bigger ego than Kanye West, but perhaps rightfully so, as even the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull admitted being afraid of his wrath. When He-Man asked where to find him, the Sorceress was like, “Bitch, I ain’t telling you! I don’t need those dragons puttin’ my castle on blast. Go look it up in the library.” (paraphrased but true – just go watch the He-Man episode, “The Dragon’s Gift”). Granamyr was a double threat: not just a fearsome dragon but a sorcerer as well. Unlike most dragons, however, he had a hint of compassion for human beings. He places a high value on loyalty, keeping your word, and courage. In short, the Big G was a very honorable reptile.

Tiamat from the Dungeons & Dragons television series (1983)

tiamatOk, this hardcore Dragon Queen wasn’t scared of anybody. She also had five heads and each one shot some nasty-ass projectile vomit – fire, lightning, poisonous gas, freezing ice, and acid. A tad bit of talent overkill, to say the least. Like Granamyr, Tiamat had magical abilities and was able to teleport at will. She lived in an outer space graveyard, and conspired to help some teenage kids commit murder (see D&D episode 20, “The Dragon’s Graveyard”). She had a scary ass voice too – somewhere between a hiss and a vocodered Cher singing “Do you believe in life after love?” Good thing she was a dragon, for a career in telemarketing was not to be.

Falkor from The Neverending Story (1984)
falkorThis dragon is an honorable mention. I found him to lack a certain edge that I like my dragons to possess. Plus, he looks as if he belongs on dog food packaging. Still, the term luck dragon became part of my vernacular after seeing this film, and he does bring a certain sense of optimism and cheer to a fantasy role usually reserved for terrifying monsters. In this case, Falkor broke some new ground and delivered something unexpected to my childhood view of what a dragon should be. Still, you have to wonder if he had to get any rabies shots or if his contract required payment in Milk Bones.

 

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Today I Wept Over a Sandwich

Today, I cried over food…

Not because I was starving…

Not because it cost too much…

But because it was a perfect sandwich, and it made me happy every time my incisors dived into its delicate brioche surface…

But now, it shall be no more.

There is a magic in food of certain flavors; that combination of notes activating your senses and coloring your memory. And this was mine…the sweet apple, the sherry dijon-dashed arugula, and the bite of a fiesty cheddar (I love a good savory punch after some heavy-handed treacle). On my most terrible of days, I could wander into this specialty café and the wonderful young women there would whip up this monument to the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. Alas, this establishment will close tomorrow afternoon and with it, my sandwich days there will have come to pass.

However, like the little whisper of hope that left Pandora’s box of evils – all is not lost: One of the lovely workers scratched down the name of the bakery where I could get the bread, the types of cheddar, apple, and mayo to use, and a small heart symbol with a peace sign. I now possess the secret alchemy to try my own hand at sandwich perfection.

My last Turkey Apple Cheddar sandwich at my favorite café.

My last Turkey Apple Cheddar sandwich at my favorite café. Sad, and drooling.

A Fond Farewell to 2013

If my year was a movie
Playing on the big screen
Here would be the plot points of 2013…

My career path was corrected
Goals brought into focus were finally seen
Prince, P!NK and the Postal Service
Were my musical caffeine

In Portland for birthday 39
With friends as fierce as wolverines
They fought a lot but Mount St. Helens taught
Even old volcanoes turn back to green

A class reunion long over due
Took me back in a time machine
But we had some laughs (and Casey’s General Store escaped my wrath)
On our mnemonic trampolines

I experienced magic in Montréal
A welcome break in my routine
Many thanks to Jay who saved the day
A friend-turned-tour guide reigns supreme

Saw the film “Gravity” which made me cry
And for the lonely this was your theme:
You must give your best to pass the test
And remember Endurance (your best vaccine)

So keep what has value and sever the rest
But make sure that your cut is clean
Because you can’t do it over – there is no magic clover
And bring on 2014

Fresh Urinal, Hold the Pube Salad

I’m not sure which is more rare… a unicorn or a clean mens’ room.
The Lexicon Ninja Guide to Wisdom

As a precocious (but not ‘out’) gay school boy, I remember my female friends sneaking me into the girls’ locker room for lunch hour. There we would sit and laugh over our standard meal of Saltine crackers and Hi-C juice boxes. The one thing that still stands out in my memory was that the place was immaculate. It smelled like a wrestling match between Secret underarm deodorant and AquaNet. The lockers were decorated with colorful stickers, and the showers were filled with bottles of fruity lotion and flower-scented body wash. It was probably the least offensive smelling bathroom I had experienced in my teenage universe.

By contrast, the boys’ locker room smelled like rotting flesh. There were walls filled with crusty boogers and toilet paper (some used) was strewn everywhere. Add a few mangroves to the floor and it would’ve looked like the bed of a drained swamp. I dreaded changing for P.E. class in this “chamber of death”. Upon entering, tears would well up in my eyes from emotion – but also (no doubt) from the gaseous breakdown of various hydrocarbons and bacteria. The whole scene was basically a crime against humanity.

urinal

Luckily those days are long behind me. However, I often get a surprise flash from the past when I enter a public restroom for the gentlemen. Lately, at work I’ve been noticing that someone is leaving a “pube salad” in the urinal. It’s revolting, and as a dude, I really don’t care to have it staring back up at me while I do my business. It’s like looking into the Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi where certain death awaits as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was in high school, I saw a film recommended by my older sister. It was called Point of No Return and it starred Bridget Fonda as a street junkie who commits a random murder and is sentenced to death by lethal injection. The authorities fake her execution and the U.S. government secretly rehabilitates her. She is then trained to be a deadly assassin taking out diplomats and other pre-selected targets. It was based on a French film called, La Femme Nikita.

MSDPOOF EC049What I remember most about this movie is not the constant killing or disposal of bodies in bath tubs of acid, but a single line quoted in the first act: An elegant but sinister Anne Bancroft is tasked with teaching students at the assassin school how to function with manners and grace, especially since they will need to attend embassy dinners with upper crust politicians and arms dealers before they blow their heads off. In her first scene with Bridget Fonda’s character, she says:

“Do you know what ‘nature’s first green is gold’ means?”

She goes on to explain that the line means “that the first is best, that youth is better than old age.”

I don’t know why that line found residence in my high school brain. I am sure most of us feel like fragments of movie dialogue and song lyrics become stuck in our psyches like flies to fly paper. It must have had a lot of resonance for me to remember it this long though.

Being struck by the sentence, I eventually found the source – which was a poem by Robert Frost called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It’s actually quite famous in poetry circles, and when I read it, I recalled a conversation I once had with a friend somewhat older than me. I was telling him that as I aged, it was getting harder to find things that felt like “brand new” experiences. He basically gave me the less flowery version of Frost’s eight lines of rhyme: “Well duh, you only fall in love for the first time ONCE, you only attend high school ONCE, you only travel to Europe for the first time ONCE. That’s life, buddy. You can always try to repeat things, but nothing will ever feel like the first time again.”

It was a depressing (but refreshing) reality check. It made me think, “Hmmm…I wonder if there is life beyond death or other lives we’ve had, and we simply chose to forget them as to experience the new all over again?”

I miss the new.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

I traveled back to Iowa this past week to attend my 20 year high school reunion. It was preceded by feelings of both dread and excitement, but those hot and cold systems joined to form a most interesting weather pattern within my psyche when all was said and done.

"Cereal Mascot Reunion" by Rob Sheridan

“Cereal Mascot Reunion” by Rob Sheridan

Upon my arrival in the Hawkeye State, I dropped in on my mother – who was working at a retail outlet – to surprise her. The first thing she said to me wasn’t an exclamation of surprise or joy, but rather a subdued:

“Let me measure your neck.”

She then pulled out a tape measure from an adjacent cashier’s drawer and did just that. There was some rhyme to her reason, however, as she does work in a mens’ clothing store and wants to fit me for that damn suit I have to be buried in. The hugs and happiness came after the business transaction. How could anyone not love this woman?

After that abrupt but hilarious welcome, I proceeded to plot my strategy for the weekend gathering of old, but memorable, faces: Would there be the same bullshit from back in the day? Should I prepare for the inevitable tip-toeing around my sexuality? Would people have matured at all? Would anyone be dead or on their fourth marriage? My inquiring mind wanted to know.

As it turns out, pretty much all of the above, minus the death and marriage part.

I met up with a handful of my peeps the night before the reunion. We sort of came together organically at the high school Homecoming football game and then flocked to a bonfire afterward. Libations were had and in the chill of not knowing what to expect, I found a very warm group of people. Open and interesting. Jokes were told, histories revealed and a sense of belonging (at least from my perspective) formed a shield around us. I had a very enjoyable time and I looked forward to the real reunion the next night.

In the expanded group of the actual reunion, there was a little more formality and slightly more posturing. However, I still found the evening to be time well spent. I do not think that feeling was shared by some people and I felt bad that some of them were not finding a connection to the night’s glistening bath of memories. A few left early and I barely had a chance to catch up with them. I was certainly lucky to have a built-in portion of the crowd in my corner pocket – as I see them every time I return to the Iowa prairie. It reminded me how fortunate I was to have those solid friendships in place.

The night closed with a friend requesting Prince’s “Pussy Control” from our born-again-Christian classmate who was the DJ. He accepted our song choice good-naturedly, and we danced……badly.

The subsequent day was dichotomously emotional as I reflected on how grateful I was to have escaped the Midwest for a better life, but also have known such unique, and gifted people. I suspect we will not be doing another reunion as this was our first one in two decades. However, I will attempt to remain optimistic that I will see more than a handful before my ultimate demise from vodka and honey mustard.

Mother/Son Bonding Over Deadly Aliens and Burning People Alive

I have a very unique relationship with my mother when it comes to film. We have nearly identical taste in science fiction and horror movies.

I can remember when I was but a wee child, maybe 8 or 9, and the the film Alien was being shown on network television for the first time. Granted, most of the scariest stuff was cut from the film for obvious reasons, but I remember my father being mortified that I planned to watch it. My mother actually defied my dad and said, “My son and I are watching this movie whether you like it or not.” I think he just walked away saying, “You deal with his nightmares then.” So we gleefully made popcorn and wrapped up in blankets on the couch to watch Lt. Ellen Ripley run for her life on a claustrophobic space freighter.

ALIEN

“Alien” (1979)

Of course I was completely terrified, even by an edited version. However, in my later years I came to appreciate what a fantastic film Alien was and how it has stood the test of time. It feels so visceral and real. It’s gritty and unpolished, and the obsidian alien itself is truly a cinematic virus of nightmares.

Tonight, I called my mom and in our discussion I mentioned I would probably be seeing the film Riddick this weekend. We saw the first film of that character’s anthology, Pitch Black, before I moved to Seattle years ago, and we both loved it. And from that mnemonic lily pad she made the leap back to the Alien film where our mutual love of dark, twisted sci-fi was first born. “Wasn’t that a great movie?” she asked, and then added, “Did you ever see the special edition with all the scenes that were cut…like when Ripley finds that captain cocooned and he asks her to kill him so she burns him up with that flamethrower? That was so creepy.”

“Yes, mom, it was creepy.”

But in that moment of reflection with her, the memory didn’t feel creepy at all. It felt like being wrapped up in blankets with your mother experiencing terror together but knowing it’s not real. Just a moment that you got to share together, and one I will no doubt continue to cherish after she’s gone. And as strange or twisted as it sounds, it is curated in my brain like a valuable artifact.

An Angel Came to Me In the Shape of an Air Conditioner

I’m in the mood for a blanket statement today:
Seattle residents are a sensitive people.

We’re currently smack in the middle of a beautiful summer and I am hearing from a lot of people how hot it is compared to previous years. There are countless Facebook posts of stuffy apartments and escaping one’s home to the heavily cooled movie theaters or supermarkets for relief. Now, it’s not really super hot (I don’t believe we’ve broke the 100°F barrier yet), but for a city where most dwellings are built without A/C, one could understand the dilemmas of trying to sleep in this kindergarten version of Hell.

Growing up in Iowa, it was routine to apply cold wash clothes to your face and arms every July and August and sleep in front of a rusted-out old fan. The summers there were both hot and humid offering the worst set of twins from Mother Nature’s menstrual cycle. I will admit that I secretly used to enjoy the first 20 seconds of getting into a parked car in the middle of the afternoon on a scorching day; the heat would envelop you just like the lava of Mount Doom took Gollum in The Lord of the Rings – slurping you up in one swallow. In some sick way, I would think, “This must be what blueberry muffins feel like in the oven.” Of course, after 20 seconds I was clamoring for the air conditioning buttons because who wants to sit in an instant bath of one’s own sweat?

Since moving to Seattle years ago, I have often roughed it – sweltering through the brutal night while my concrete building radiated all the solar heat it had collected that day. Fortunately, this year some angels from Everett loaned me a portable air conditioner so that I can strip down to my boxer briefs and pile the blankets on my body at night. It is a true gift to be able to sleep in a frost-fingered cave (a magma chamber previously known as my apartment). I’ve christened the A/C unit –  Metatron – after the mighty Guardian of the Tree of Life (as written in the Zohar).

Metatron seems to function best at 67°F.

 

metatron

 

Prince

On the late evening of April 19, I had a most wondrous experience…

I saw the artist that I’ve always known as Prince perform live in Seattle at a small club tucked into the pocket of Pike Place Market. It was an intimate venue that barely holds 1,200 people, but it was filled to the brim and the air was heavy with humidity and expectation.

I never thought I would see a massive musical legend from my childhood in such close proximity. Capturing glances of his smirks, his ominous stares, and his serious side turning to smiles when the crowd reacted to his amazing musicality and off-the-cuff commentary. It was a dream come true, and although he mostly played newer material which I did not recognize, his dedication and versatility were nothing short of jaw-dropping. Flitting from guitar, to microphone, to keyboards like a humming bird sampling all varieties of melodic nectar, he showcased the wide range of talents which first catapulted him to stardom in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He wore a scarlet and gold ensemble (with matching headband) that strongly invoked the memory of Jimi Hendrix – particularly during the vast guitar solos which reached out far and wide like dragon wings.

PrinceLOL

Then, the powerful stage lights dimmed, and a back-lit Prince sang “Purple Rain” through a lavender haze created by two stage columns that doubled as fog machines. He dedicated the song to the memory of those lost during the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this week. The ballad united the room and everyone sang along like a heavenly choir bound to the Earth by gravity alone. He extended the coda several times and the experience seemed to last almost 15 minutes. Shortly after, he teased the crowd with snippets of hits that would not be seen tonight, including 10 seconds of  the introduction to “I Would Die 4 U” which elicited a roar of excitement. However, once I heard the opening chords of “When Doves Cry” – that violent scribble of guitar – I prayed that he would play the entire song. I never thought I would get to sing a long with a live Prince to the lyrics:

Dream if you can a courtyard, an ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses, they feel the heat, the heat between me and you…

But I did. And my friends and I danced like witch doctors purging a poison from our bodies. It was celebration in its purest and most primal form.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of music and its ability to alter emotional states and invoke memories. Tonight, however, brought it to a higher octave of understanding: It brought me back to my youth when I would watch Prince on Friday Night Videos while perched on the carpet of our living room floor. It put me back into the car rides to school when his songs would be on the radio and my sister would be driving with her fingerless gloves and the frost of the Iowa winter decorated the windshield with frozen spirals. It recalled school dances, the summer county fair, and every other event cataloged by my mind where Prince was the soundtrack of the moment.

It made me appreciate the gift of someone sharing their talent with the world. A talent which gave me some of the most beautiful bookmarks for my memory.

My Prison Is Made of Full Spectrum Sunlight

All my life I’ve been a nocturnal creature. As I unravel my memory, I can look back and recall that I have always loved the night with its palpable silence and soft, velveteen darkness.

Rousseau

“La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy)”
by Henri Rousseau. 1897.

Most of my friends were overjoyed for me when I accepted a daytime position in 2011, however I often feel as though I regret that decision. They said my dating life would improve and my social calendar would expand, but they really haven’t. I can certainly now attend more “happy hours” after work, but I often feel too tired to fully engage with people at these events, and most of the time I am watching the clock so I can get home and go to bed at a reasonable hour. It’s like subjecting myself to a government-imposed curfew – as if I live in a police state.

Although I cannot specify exactly what it is about the night that I find so alluring, I can definitely speculate…

I do know I enjoy the fact that planet feels a little bit more mine; I don’t have to share as many things like road space, grocery store lines, or internet bandwidth. I can open my windows without the constant droning of Seattle’s snarled traffic or the occasional ambulance wail. When driving, I can hit all the green lights if I time it just right. No stopping. No waiting. The quietness of each shadow is a balm and I can hear my thoughts like greedy dwarves working deep in the mines. The absence of light relaxes my tired eyes, whereas the daggers of sun feel like blasts of hot sand. After midnight, I feel like my mind is fully ripe – pregnant with mental juices and surreal visions for illustration or forging on my word anvil.

There isn’t much company, save for the moon: a friendly nightwatchman perched in the sky. Sometimes he’s wrapped in a gauze of clouds like a harmless drop of sun tucked in a cotton ball. On nights when the overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest hang like a ghostly ceiling over this city, the ambient light of the power grid echos off of it like an old electric blanket.

Yes, I miss the night. It feels like a beautiful language I once knew by heart but have now forgotten thanks to the processes of age and evaporation. Nowadays, I feel forced to sleep through its dark magnificence like a parent who has to work two full-time jobs to raise a family, and while honoring those commitments never gets to see their children grow-up into amazing human beings.

I often feel the best things in life pass us by while we are living by the rules of others.

A chain that runs from 8 to 5 can end up binding an entire life.