Wednesday, January 30, 2019

My 2018 Books and Movies

In 2018, I finished 31 books and watched 79 movies.

My favorite fiction book from last year was Fatherland, by Robert Harris. It's crime-fiction set in a Germany that won World War II. I enjoyed the pace and the voice of the detective protagonist, Xavier March. Other favorites deserving mention: Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker and Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera.

For non-fiction, I very much liked Skyfaring, by Mark Vanhoenacker, and Dreamland, by Sam Quinones. Skyfaring is a soaring, evocative meditation about air travel by a commercial pilot. Dreamland is a deep look at the heroin crisis in the United States.

79 movies is a lot for me. For whatever reason I dug deep into Netflix and Amazon Prime Movies from November onwards. From the movies I rated a 10 the standouts I recommend: Get Out (2017), Her (2013), and What Happened to Monday (2017).

Monday, December 31, 2018

Thoughts From My Lay Off

I was laid off in mid-January 2018, and it took me about a month and a half to find another job. It was a harrowing start to the year, but instructive nonetheless. I think about it now because I'm nearing both the one year anniversary of that event, and the one year anniversary of my current job.

I have been laid off two other times in my career. The two previous times that I've been let go was voluntary. I was offered transitional roles in both situations: the first one for 3-6 months and the second one for almost 9 months. In my first lay off in 2001, I completed the full transitional period and received the severance/bonus. In my second lay off in 2011, I found a job during the transitional period and it felt like a normal job change.

In these past situations, I was well aware of impending job loss, and ramped up my job search accordingly. This year, the lay off was unexpected, though of course, with hindsight, the signs were there. I was let go in the morning ("gather yourself"), and after a few hours of shock, I had to crank up my job searching machine, which in this analogy was gathering dust in my basement.

I think it's easy to be caught unawares, or to ignore possible signs for impending doom. We just want to get through our day, and collect our paycheck every two weeks. Keeping track of the bigger picture is reserved for water-cooler talk, or the occasional work lunch. There's nothing like an invigorating, unplanned job search to remind you not to take things for granted and to be prepared. At my age (nifty fifty), even more so.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

I'm still in the sway of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, the generous and loving bio-pic of the band Queen and Freddie Mercury, its lead singer.

Rami Malek had the great responsibility of performing as the larger-than-life Freddie Mercury, and he succeeds in every way. Malek's mannerisms, his accent, and his singing (lip-syncing) seemed spot-on, but what elevated the movie was his emotion, which shimmered through the screen. When he telephones his wife Mary (Lucy Boynton), and asks her to have a drink over the phone, my heart ached seeing the hope in his eyes. When he finally figures out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody ("I don't want to die; I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all"), the surprise and wonder on his face says everything about creativity.

The rest of the band is ably portrayed: lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello). They each had moments of humor and drama. The movie reinforces what I've learned about big rock bands: it's a unique bond and brotherhood; it's a repetitive, burn-out inducing job, with confrontations and infighting heightened by the glare of adulation and the pressure of giving people what they want.

Much has been made about the rocky production (two directors, changes to the lead actor, multiple scripts). Much has also been made of the film's liberal use of dramatic license. I chose not to let these detract from my enjoyment. It probably helped that I wasn't well-versed on the band's real history. A movie like this is a myth-maker. It's a rock-and-roll myth with Queen and Freddie Mercury. For some this will be all they know about Queen, and their music. For others the movie will increase their curiosity to learn more about this great band.

The end result for me is a movie that left me spellbound, and deeply satisfied. Being reintroduced to all their great songs was invigorating. I loved it so much I saw it again the following weekend with my daughter. I'm grateful to her for making us see it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Few Favorite Tweets

I have liked over 330 tweets on Twitter. I think a majority of them are sports-related. Of late, more and more of my favorites are images or video clips. Still, there are a few text-based ones that I favorited, though some are over the original 140 character limit. I share them here.

Literary prizes can give the impression that art is a competition. Take it from a ferociously competitive person: Art is anti-competitive. Art is a long, unending conversation between generations. @legoff

Until you have left your apartment at 5:15 for a 6 o’clock flight you have not truly earned the title "expert traveler." @tedalexandro

sometimes. the human gets sad. and i don’t know why. but if i jump. in their lap. and stay there. i can usually fix it @dog_feelings

The glass is never half-empty for dogs. It's never even empty when nothing's in it, if it's once been full. @rodriguez_linda

Tweet! Ha ha. @BigBird

Trying things is important because it shapes the idea itself and gives it more clarity. Some things work well; others don't. They iterate. @sarahmei

I like to think of my time sheets as, "inspired by actual events." @RoloDMonkey

*Lady rolls down her car window at 181st street* "congrats on HAMLET!" Me: "I WISH I wrote Hamlet!" Lady: "Yay HAMLET!" *drives away* #myday @Lin_Manuel

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Poker

Earlier in the month, I was playing Texas Hold 'Em poker after work when I made a classic beginner's blunder. All of us were chatting and joking, amongst the betting and folding, when the table slowly got quiet. I smiled, and pondered the cards I had. I didn't know what the delay was, when suddenly I had a thought: "Is it on me?" "Yes!" they exclaimed. I folded my cards at once and someone joked "Was that the most difficult decision of your life right there?" It was all in good fun at my expense.

I started playing poker in 2006. The place where I worked held a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, styled like the popular poker tournaments seen in movies and television. Poker was in its boom days then and I gravitated to it, thanks to movies like "Rounders" and "Quiz Show" ("too rich for my blood", says Dick Goodwin to Charles Van Doren, in that movie's memorable poker scene).

Since all my poker experience has come from after-work events, my poker face is not the smoothest. One of things I did to learn poker was to play online, but that doesn't compare with playing at a real table, holding real cards and stacking real chips. There's a popular poker saying that if you can't recognize the sucker at a poker table, then you're probably that sucker, and I have been that poker rube many times.

When I talk to more experienced players, nearly all of them spent time playing casually in high school or college. I'll never have that much experience, but experience only helps so much. Poker is still about the draw of the deck, and even I have won some big hands. In the end, I'm glad I have a chance to play this fun and fascinating game. I just have to remember when it's my turn to bet.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Push-Ups

When I was in high school, one professional athlete that caught my attention was Herschel Walker. He was a marquee football player for the New Jersey Generals (of the now-defunct USFL). What I remember most was that his physique didn't come from weight-lifting, but rather from a regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. He would do 750 to 1500 push-ups daily! This greatly appealed to me. You didn't need to lift weights or use specialized equipment: just do push-ups!

I quickly followed suit. I remember being able to do 100 push-ups at a time. (OK, maybe it was closer to 80.) I did these in one arduous set. Over time I varied my push-ups: clapping between each push; doing them with one arm (my hand planted near the middle of my chest); propping my feet on a chair, to affect an inclined push-up; balling my hands into fists. I never got close to 1000 push-ups a day, but I felt athletic all the same.

A few years ago I resumed the habit of daily push-ups, after decades of not doing this. I started with just 10. Now, on good days, I'll do 50 in two sets of 25. On other days, I'll do 20 or 25. I makes me feel good to do this. Doing this imparts a feeling of strength. I wish I did more exercise, but at least I do this. The habit of this simple daily push-ups started with Herschel Walker.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

My Favorite Vacations

Summer time is vacation time. In rough chronological order, here are the memorable vacations from my life.

Philippines - When I was 10 my family and I spent a month in the Philippines. My father's family is from Bulacan (near Manila), and my mother's family is from Maasin (in Southern Leyte). I mostly remember cultural overload. I embraced reading Filipino comics, but I also remember thinking "where's the air conditioning around here?" I embraced riding bicycles and swimming nearly every day, but I also missed cheeseburgers. This trip brought me face to face with my roots and it was eye-opening.

Cross-Country USA - One summer my family embarked on an epic multi-week trip across the United States. We spent many nights "camping" in a Kampgrounds of America (KOA). We crossed many states of course. Most impressive to me: a boat tour of Lake Tahoe, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, seeing herds and herds of cattle in Texas, and being mesmerized by the cornfields of Iowa.

Key West - In the winter of my senior year of college, me and two of my Jersey City friends visited Miami and drove to Key West. We spent our days eating cheaply, hanging on the beaches, driving in a rental car and wearing out Combat Rock (the 1982 album by The Clash). We stayed at youth hostels, and pretended we knew what we were doing. The feeling of independence coupled with youth makes it a very fond vacation memory.

Paris - My wife and I went to Paris, France for our fifth anniversary. I was in awe of this beautiful and romantic city. My high school French grew passable with each day but it still lead to the usual hilarity of missed translations. We ate incredibly well, and soaked in its culture as best as we could. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and visited The Louvre. The city easily blended charm, sophistication, history and modernity. A truly great city and a truly great vacation.

York Beach, Maine - This is a bustling little beach town less than two hours from Boston, and it is a regular family vacation for us. My favorite part is jumping into the ocean for a few minutes, and swimming out as far as I can go. Our days are utterly slow, focused on eating, sitting by the pool or on the beach, and reading. We laugh and love one another even more when we visit this happy place.