Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Matt's Favorite Movies of 2009

Well, here we are after another long year. And what a year it's been. I'm not going to indulge in a lot of retrospective 'this is what I did all year' BS, because if people wanted those kind of updates they could just follow me on twitter and get it all as it happens.

Instead, I'd like to offer you something a little more substantial. Anyone who knows me knows that my really hobby, the thing I probably dump the most time into outside of work and sleep, is movies. And 2009 was surprisingly a pretty good year for movies, all told. So today I'm going to present my top 10 and change for the year, the things that really set my world aflame and I think are most definitely worth checking out.

This list isn't really in any sort of order based on quality or anything. They're all good, and picking a favorite is next to impossible. And I'll admit that I've hardly seen every major, notable release for 2009. If those films are truly amazing, there will likely be an edit to this list once I get a hold of them. Or I'll roll them into the Top 2010 films. Depends on how good a year 2010 is.

Anyway, enough of that. We're off. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments. And if you have your list of movies, feel free to offer me a link. The always radiant Elizabeth Ditty has her own list here, and it's a good one (though I still grumble about Star Trek). I'd love to hear what you felt belonged on here and didn't make it, or what you thought of the movies listed here. At the end of the day, it's all opinion anyway, and so long as we're watching movies, we're bound to be better people on the other side.

My Favorite Films of 2009

Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue is probably the first movie I knew would be on this list, way back in the beginning of the year when I had heard enough of Elizabeth Ditty talking about it and went to find it for myself. And man, I am so glad that I did, because Easy Virtue belongs on this list. It grabbed its position and held on for dear life during what was a pretty awesome year.

What is Easy Virtue? It is the story of a young man and a young girl who fall in love and get married. But the boy is British and the girl American, and when the boy brings the girl home to his traditional British family all hell breaks loose.

The best part of Easy Virtue is that it plays on two levels. There are many of the Americans-versus-Brits comedy of errors sorts of scenes, and those are truly well and good, but the film is also an exaggerated parody of those films. The characters each represent the archetypes of this subgenre, but together it becomes a farce about both sides, and a film about the journey that the characters take as living, breathing people as a result of what is at heart a trivial clash of personality.

What really set my heart on Easy Virtue was the amazing performance by Colin Firth as the burnt-out war veteran patriarch of the family, a man drifting through life and trying to hold onto a shadow of his former self. I single him out because I had forgotten about Colin Firth before that movie, and was soundly reminded of his brilliance. But he's not the only great performance in the movie. The film received a pretty small, limited release in the US, but I would recommend it to anybody without hesitation.

Drag Me To Hell

Sam Raimi is good at one thing, and that thing is slapstick horror. The kind of horror that's kind of dumb, full of cliche and genre love, but is at times the best physical comedy outside of WB cartoons and other times some of the most genuinely tense stuff (usually despite his efforts). Spiderman be damned, this is what he's good at. But you know that, because you've seen Evil Dead 2, right? Right.

Drag Me to Hell isn't quite the masterpiece that Evil Dead 2 is, but it's got its own charms. The story of a young girl who falls under a gypsy curse, it is your typical morality tale of the genre told through the ridiculous veil of Raimi at the top of his game. Unlike the Evil Dead series, this movie isn't constrained by no budget, and it shows. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it feels much more like a slick, modern Hollywood horror film at the start, with people you kind of know from other things playing humdrum, upper-middle class young people.

That's when the shit goes down. And boy, does it ever. Raimi is a master of timing, and the comic and the horrific is sometimes only a matter of a few seconds one way or another. Raimi is perfect when it comes to that and his talents are on full display here. Not only that, but the film plays fast and loose enough with the narrative that what on the surface seems to be a typical horror film story can be interpreted much deeper. I've heard more than one compelling argument that the movie is actually about anorexia. It's that kind of ambiguity that sets Drag Me to Hell apart, as a film that's greater than Raimi's typical, superficially entertain fare, to something worthy of inclusion on this list.

Food Inc

This is kind of an oddball choice, I know. I'm hardly a green, organic-buying, tree-hugging hippy about anything, much less my choice in food. That said, I continue to watch the food documentaries, things like Super Size Me, King Corn, Fast Food Nation, and the ilk. For what reason, I don't know. Masochism, perhaps. Those movies always make me long for a cheeseburger after all that shock photography and grassroots, heavy-handed moralizing. And that's what I expected to get out of Food, Inc.

But Food, Inc. is not that kind of movie. Instead, it's a movie of facts. Sure, there's a scene in a chicken farm that's not exactly easy to watch, but at the same time there is a scene of organic chicken farmers doing things the old fashioned way and it's just as disgusting, though in a different way.

And that's really what I found so powerful about Food. Inc. It's certainly a documentary about the evils of big, corporate farming and what it means for our society. But it presents it at all levels, from the scares of contaminated meat to the death of the farmer to the organic movement and its broad selling out to big food companies to the patenting of seeds and the damage from corn subsidies. As someone who lives in an agriculture state, these are things I've grown up seeing play out in the local news, and the movie presents a truth that is multifaceted and has no easy answer. Even the knee-jerk, down with the big guy response is shown to be a too simple-minded response.

In short, this is a documentary doing what it's supposed to. It has an agenda, but it lays out the facts and lets you make the next step if you feel the need for action. Instead of propaganda, it presents stories and information, and the conclusions drawn aren't laid out in a moralistic way, just in a blunt reality sort of fashion that I found refreshing for this subset of docs. In short, it's the kind of film that can change your mind. And I find that a powerful thing, worthy of acknowledgment.


There was a lot of great sci-fi in 2009. But among all the big, tent pole entries with huge budgets and a heavy reliance on special effects was Moon, standing tall among the giants. Moon isn't an ambitious film. It is the tale of a lone astronaut and an AI at the end of a multi-year stay on a moon mining facility. It in a small, intimate tale, with claustrophobic sets and two actors interacting for the entirety of its run time.

If this sounds suspiciously like 2001: A Space Odyssey, then I'm glad you were paying attention. Moon takes a lot of things from Kubrick's epic, but it is a much smaller film with an entry level to match. While 2001 is nearly indecipherable to anyone going in, the tale Moon tells is immediate and human and relate-able. It is one man trying to remain sane alone, the discovery that perhaps the reality he's accepted is not what it seems, and the prices to be paid for that truth.

The film takes quite a number of twists and turns, but it's never as difficult to follow as something like Primer or even Pi, indie sci-fi movies that used confusion as a part of the plot. The movie is clear and concise, as cold as the vacuum of space in presenting an intimate tale, and it's the juxtaposition of the grandness of the setting and the microcosm that the story inhabits that makes the film something really special.

The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom was a movie that I went into thinking I wasn't going to like. In fact, I was determined that it was going to be a huge disappointment. The trailer looked fun in a campy, frolicking sort of way (the way the better Oceans movies rode on at times) but I've never exactly been overflowing with love for Adrian Brody.

Thankfully, I was convinced to give it a shot on DVD after completely overshooting it in the theaters. Which was an amazing move, as The Brothers Bloom is a truly fantastic film. Part heist film and part crime comedy, the movie breezes in with a single mindedness and sense of fun that truly sets it apart. The story of two con men, one who wants out and one who wants to live the dream brings them into contact with Rachel Weisz, who plays an idealistic heiress wrapped up in all of the intrigue of the titular Bloom brothers' last big score.

The Brothers Bloom is a lot of things, but above all else it is incisive, with a sense of genre that embraces conventions even as it knocks them down and sends them up. The characters are both archetypes, playing against the norm, and living and breathing people with the kind of heightened reality of films like Amelie or the works of Wes Anderson. I was worried that Rian Johnson's herculean effort in making Brick (a brilliant film in its own right) wouldn't be repeated, but The Brothers Bloom is a testament to a director who can play the conventions of cinema as vehicle to explore new, interesting ground.

All that, and it's still hilarious.

District 9

District 9 is an epic. And I mean that in the old-fashioned, huge-scope, this film is going to take you on a journey way that is so rarely utilized these days. This film isn't just big (though it does become very big) but it is exhausting and powerful and vast in presenting a story that tells a singular message, a message of humanity writ in the metaphor of aliens. Like all the greatest sci-fi tales, the other is simply a mirror to show us ourselves.

The story of a bureaucratic effort to relocate aliens who landed and settled on earth is widely known to be an extended metaphor for apartheid. But in reality, it's much more than that. An examination of the use of force and the predilection to remove the weak in order to assuage the will of the strong ("You mean Avatar didn't invent that story?" No, Jimmy, tis an ancient tale.). A look at the officious, well-meaning face of evil on a level not seen since Brazil. It's the US storming into Iraq, it's 1984, it is about prejudice and apathy and the evils of both. It's a big scope, and the film handles it all with heart and brains to match.

The film isn't without its faults. I feel the finale goes a little too big and action-heavy for its own good, but the first half is so pitch-perfect that it's hard to hold a misstep or two against it. A film that had no business going as big as it did really set the bar high for spectacle sci-fi, and it's amazing what a scrappy movie with a relatively small budget and no-name actors can pull off.


Ponyo is a difficult film to write about. Either you already know the majesty of Hayao Miyazaki's films, or you don't, and trying to tell someone why they're awesome is hard. If you don't know who he is, go see his work right now.Spirited Away is his best, Kiki's Delivery Service or Laputa: Castle in the Sky are easier entry-level films. Ponyo is his latest movie and it too joins the ranks of instant animated masterpieces.

A retelling of the Little Mermaid story with a decidedly Japanese bent, Ponyo is the story of a young boy, Sousuke, who meets a young goldfish named Ponyo. Ponyo is a princess of the Ocean, but develops a sense of young love for Sousuke and thus uses her magic to turn herself into a girl. Unfortunately, her actions bring about an imbalance in nature that threatens to destroy the world.

Ponyo is a film of wonder, animated in a beautiful style, with watercolor-esque scenes and a landscape of windswept island chains and huge seas a la The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. But it's also an emotional tale about childhood and dawning responsibility and the awakening of greater emotions. Miyazaki handles it all wonderfully, with an eye for the careful juxtaposition between the mundane human world Sousuke inhabits and the alien awe-inspiring unreality of the magical undersea kingdom and inhabitants.

It is hard not to gush about Miyazaki, but the elderly director is still perhaps the greatest single force in animation. Ponyo will go down with the rest of his work as not only some of the best animated movies of all time, but of legitimate, amazing movies against the wider field of all of cinema.

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino's long-in-coming World War II epic comes pretty quickly on the heels of Death Proof, a masterpiece that was swallowed up by the general indifference to the joy of Grindhouse by the masses. And with one bold move Tarantino regains his lost ground with interest, creating what is quite possibly his greatest movie, and certainly one of his boldest.

Inglourious Basterds doesn't pull any punches. It is the sweet blending of the spaghetti western, the war film, and the revenge flick. There is intrigue, there is violence, and there are genuine laughs and cheers to be mined from the material. Tarantino's fairytale take on WWII is the stuff that cinema history is made out of, the notes of exploitation film and arthouse romantic drama working in much the same way that the low humor and high aspirations of Shakespeare provided enduring entertainment to all walks of life.

That's not to say the film is without the Tarantino quirks. The chapter framing of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill returns. The violence isn't nearly as cartoony as Kill Bill, instead relying more heavily on the slow buildup and quick, brutal release of 70s American cinema and the Spaghetti Western. It's powerful, heady stuff. But the payoff is incredibly, with a sense of exhilaration the likes of which is rarely felt on screen.


Once upon a time, Zombie Comedies as a genre began and ended with Shaun of the Dead. And it was good. But then, lo and behold, there came upon the world Zombieland, and the gauntlet was thrown down, and the two titans strove for the title of greatest. And though the outcome of that battle is lost to the ages, many talk of the power of both combatants to this day.

Okay, enough waxing poetic. You can't talk about Zombieland without mentioning Shaun of the Dead, which really helped in reigniting zombie fervor and is a fantastic film in its own right. Let me come right out and say it--I feel Zombieland is the superior of the two films. Shaun of the Dead is much more innovative, but Zombieland is much more dedicated to its themes and goes further with them.

You know the drill by now. Zombie outbreak. Band of survivors from various walks of life meet, try to survive together, and all learn something about being human. In between, there are clever scenes of practicality, excess, and the wild dream of living in a world without constraints. This film is devoted to that framework set down so long ago by Romero, but it is also a smart, fast-paced comedy about American life.

As much as Shaun of the Dead is about the UK, Zombieland is about the America of 2009, about the rednecks and the hopeful and the nerdy and the broken, people who live on pop culture and a heated dislike for people who are not like them. They are violent, volatile, emotional, and more than a little lost. The zombie apocalypse is more a catalyst for bringing people together than anything else, a tableaux for the convergence of all these lives missing something vital. For survivors, none of the cast is particularly well adjusted. But who is, these days? Zombieland is us, and we are Zombieland, as the best films of the genre should be.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is not my favorite Wes Anderson movie (that title rests firmly upon The Royal Tenenbaums) but it is, in my opinion, the best of them. Wes Anderson has always had a lyrical, hand-crafted feel to his movies. The sets look like doll houses, the characters like something out of a story. It is a natural extension, then, to remove the meat of physical actors from the equation and simply use some of the most painstakingly high-quality stop motion around (I'd say of the year, but Coraline was also an amazing achievement).

The storybook quality is even more reminiscent here, with everything made miniature or constructed to be the whimsical playground of the fantastic models used. Of course, the voice work is superb, with Wes Anderson's typical cast of characters being lead by the commanding tones of George Clooney. But the two come together in a lyrical, impressionistic way that brings it all home. Clooney's Mr. Fox is a suave poseur of a criminal, aspiring to the upper class, but the snarling animal nature that takes over from time to time punctuates the inherent absurdity of the hopes and dreams of the animals, and the animation that accompanies it is charming and hilarious.

The general whimsy of Anderson is on full force here, going full speed into the stratosphere of his personal style. I feel like Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first time he's really been free to just throw it all out there as perfectly as he sees it in his head, and it's an impressive, spellbinding vision.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Nicholas Cage is the kind of actor that will raise a man's blood pressure. He goes from great movies to shit on celluloid seemingly at random, veering to and fro with the kind of chaos one might expect from a natural disaster. Which makes watching one of his movies a little like playing Russian Roulette with your afternoon. Which is why Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is probably the best movie Nicholas Cage will ever make.

Port of Call is not a great film. In fact, it tries very hard to be a bad film. It is a bad film in the way that only a great director or a complete fuck-up can make. The narrative veers wildly from Cop-Who-Doesn't-Play-By-The-Rules drama to police procedural to a drug film (both pro and con) to a man-on-the-edge film to a film about race relations to a revenge flick to outright comedy. The story of a cop with good intentions, chronic pain, and a habit for loose women, hard drugs, and big gambling, Port of Call is the kind of train wreck that gets off on being wild and raucous, even when on screen it's being muted and reflective. I assure you, that's only for decoration. No morals are to be found here.

And Cage takes to it like a fish to water. One minute he is the seedy, slimy Nicholas Cage from most of his best obscure roles, next he's tripping out wildly seeing (or imagining? it's never made clear) reptiles as hard as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing, and then he's waving around a massive magnum and spouting one liners like the days when he flirted with being an action star. Even his performance goes from manic to static between cuts, his delivery slurring one minute and sharp the next. It's entrancing, and the world around it is as ridiculous and uneven as the actor and director, wheeling around and around the lip of ruin but never quite falling in.

The poster I've included with this is an unused one from early in the production. It perfectly captures the tone of the movie, and is one of the best scenes of the movie, where our hero pulls a gun on two innocent, well-meaning old women. But apparently the MPAA feels that a picture of someone pointing a gun at another person, even fictionally, is too much for the public at large to handle. Which is why I use it, despite its obvious watermarks. This film is simply too much for the public at large to handle.


And so ends the list for 2009. I know that I've been kind of negligent of the blog this year, but I'm hoping to change that in 2010. I'll be starting up the movie reviews again, though don't expect me to go on at length like this. I'm aiming for sub-50 words on most of the films I've seen, just to try to formalize my thoughts in sketch form .

Also, because these days I watch far too many films. I'd be spending days on the reviews. I don't have days. Too much to watch. ;)

See you in 2010.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just Visiting #fridayflash

Terrance wanted to go out to play, but it was raining outside. Here it was, bright and colorful outside, when the trees looked like their leaves were on fire, and Mother said that he had to stay in. It was raining she said. Too cold, she said. He had a coat. He had rainboots. He could put them on and be fine. Water and cold couldn't get to him. That's why he had those clothes.

There wasn't much to here, either. This house was stupid. They had come here to clean up after Grandpa went away. All this old junk, dusty and boring and not-to-be-touched. There weren't any of his friends here. There wasn't any TV, either. Just the rain on the window and this old house with its funny smells and his parents coming in and out taking care of things.

The few toys that Terrance had with him didn't hold his interest for long, and he began to explore the house. There wasn't much here. Well, there was a lot of stuff. But nothing he found very interesting. The first few rooms his parents had gone through already. They were cleaned out, empty shells with a fresh smell of cleaner and the windows thrown open. Then there was the room where they were working. There was the faint sound of people rummaging and talking to each other. He passed them by, he didn't want to talk to his parents right now.

Instead, he headed further down the hall, to the other rooms they hadn't had a chance to look at yet. Each door he peeked into was another room packed full of shelves of books. It made him feel like he was in some sort of library, with the old worn titles fuzzy and indistinct in the dim grey light of the day outside. He wasn't sure what he Grandpa did, but he obviously needed a lot of stuff.

Terrance slowly climbed the stairs to the second floor. Here there was no air moving and his parents voices faded into nothing. It was warmer up here and felt dustier and older. Terrance looked around uneasily. All the rooms on this floor were closed and he wasn't sure what to expect in any of them. His parents had told him not to play around up here. Maybe they were just full of valuables.

He opened the first door he came across to find another room full of books. Unlike the other rooms, though, these books were big and thick and didn't have any titles. They were unlike any books he had ever seen. Carefully, he crept into the room, looking around at the shelves. There weren't nearly as many here, and they all seemed pretty old.

In the middle of the room was a small, low table, with a few books on it. That must have been what his Grandpa was reading before he went away. Terrance wondered whether it was anything interesting. He was still learning how to read in school, but he enjoyed books with pictures. He knew the small serious looking books downstairs wouldn't be any help, but the big books up here reminded him of the photography books his father had at home.

The books on the table, though, were filled with tight lines of cursive. Terrance couldn't read that, for sure. It wasn't even a proper book. It was something his Grandpa must have been writing it. He flipped through it really quick to make sure, but there was nothing but pages and pages of writing and some sketches of things he didn't understand. He put the book down on the table where he found it and left the room.

The next two doors were locked. He tried fiddling with them, but no matter what they wouldn't open and the doorknobs were big and heavy and metal and alien. Whatever was behind them, he wasn't supposed to be able to get at them. He sighed and went to the next door. This one opened easily.

Inside this room was a bunch of junk. He wasn't sure what it all was, but it was everywhere. There were figurines and statues and knickknacks of every kind. The shelves were jammed full of it. There were larger displays of vases and paintings and weird devices that looked like spyglasses or hourglasses, but he was sure they were neither. They looked valuable, though, so he didn't touch them.

Instead, on one of the shelves he spotted what appeared to be a toy car. He grabbed it and looked at it. It was metal, big and heavy and oblong-shaped. He wasn't sure what kind of car looked like that, but it was pretty cool otherwise. He set the car on the top of one of the dressers and rolled it along. One of the wheels squeaked but it rolled just fine. He picked it up and walked out of the room before his parents could catch him.

As he left the room he noticed one of the other rooms at the end of the hall had yellow tape over the front of it. He wasn't sure why, but he walked towards it and tried to read what the tape said. He could read the letters just fine, a C and an A and a U and a T and an I and an O and an N, but he didn't know the word they made. He tried to sound it out, but it didn't sound familiar.

He turned the knob behind the tape and pushed the door open. There wasn't anything special behind the tape, though, just an old bathroom like the one downstairs. This one, though, was stark white without any of the rugs or mats or shower curtains. It was just tile and a white bathtub and a toilet. Even the mirror above the sink seemed to be gone, though Terrence noticed bits of the mirror left in the frame.

He closed that door and was about to go downstairs to play with his new car when he noticed that the door at the end of the hall was cracked open. He walked over to it and pushed it open. The room it opened onto, though, seemed to be empty. It was just a room, narrow and long and going to the big window on the front of the house.

He walked inside the room, curious about it. It didn't look as if his parents had touched it. There were cobwebs in one of the corners and a layer of dust on the floor. But it was completely empty otherwise. The ceiling was tilted funny, one side coming in at an angle. He wasn't sure if his parents would be able to even stand up straight in this room. The light from the big window made everything feel grey and dreamy, even if the room was the same boring wood and beige as the rest of the house.

Terrance sat down in the middle of the room and began to play with his car. This was a big open space, perfect for the car to roll around. But as he was doing it, he noticed that the car didn't seem to go straight very well. If he put it on the side of the room with the slanted ceiling, it kept rolling to the edge of the room, as if the floor were slanted. He crawled over to where the car kept going off its path and looked at the floor. It looked normal at first, but when he brushed the dust off of the floorboards he noticed one of them had a small hole where someone could maybe put a finger in and pull it up.

He looked around, worried that his parents were going to burst in. But there was nobody and the entire upstairs remained silent. He reached into the hole with his finger and curled it around the floorboard. It was a tight fit, but it was enough to get a grip. When he pulled, at first nothing happened but then the board came up, a cloud of dust kicking up. Terrance coughed and dropped the board, rubbing his eyes with the front of his shirt.

Inside the board was a small, slender box. Terrance picked it up and set it on the floor. It was only about an inch or two high, but wide on each side. He looked at the front where there was a small lock. It was one of the turning numbers locks, like his father's briefcase.

The top of the box was glass and he peered inside. At first it seemed to be just black inside, probably empty, but as he looked at it he noticed that the black inside seemed to be swimming. Whatever was inside was moving around like smoke or ink. He paused for a second, unsure what he should do with the box. Then he turned the numbers a few times, trying combinations. Nothing seemed to work.

Frustrated, he hit the top of the box with his fist. "Open, you stupid box," he said aloud.

At the top of the box, the black swirls seemed to slow, then stop. The top of the box was still, but suddenly letters appeared out of the swirl. They were white and wispy, like they were made out of smoke too, but they were clear enough for Terrance to read.


"Whoa," Terrance said to himself. This was just like the Magic 8 Balls he saw at the store. Though way cooler looking. Especially since he could read what it said. "Um ... my name is Terrance. Who're you?"


Terrance tried to sound that out. "Al ... alas ... Alastor... that's a funny name."


Terrance sat the box in his lap and looked down at it. This was easily the coolest thing he had seen since coming here. Maybe even cooler than the TV Blake down the street got the other week. "So ... what were you doing in the floor?"


"Who would do a thing like that?"


Terrance was surprised to recognize the name. "My Grandpa? Did you know my Grandpa?"


"He's gone now," Terrance said. "Mom says he went away. Dad says we have to get rid of all his stuff. I get the week off of school, at least. But this place is boring. Or was, until I found you."


Terrance shook his head without realizing it. "I don't know the combination. Besides, it looks like you'd spill out everywhere."

There was a long moment where the black churned under the lid before the words floated to the top.


Terrance didn't understand all of that. But he did read GOOD and FRIENDS. Still, there was the problem of the lock. "I still don't know the code."


Terrance turned the numbers to 6 and 1 and 6 and popped the lock. The clasp flipped up and the letters instantly disappeared from the blackness underneath the lid. Terrance hesitated for a moment, then slowly pried up the lid. There was nothing inside.

Just blackness. Nothingness.

It was oblivion in there.


Melody Patterson walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. She pulled one down from the cupboard and filled it and was drinking it, staring out the window and trying to figure out how they'd get everything taken care of in a week. She barely noticed Terrance at the table until she turned around. He was being unusually quiet, sitting at the table looked down at the newspaper.

"Wha'cha doin', honey?"

"Looking at the paper," Terrance said quickly. "How long are we going to be here?"

"Not too long," Melody said. "A few more days."

"I don't like this place very much."

"I know, sweetie, but you won't be here for much longer."

"It feels like I've been here forever," Terrance said, not looking up at her. She would have scolded him for whining, but they did drag him out here away from everything he knew. If he was a bit petulant, what would it hurt to let him be for now?

"Don't worry, we'll find something for you to do tomorrow. Maybe we'll hook up a TV and go to the video store. Just be patient." She put the cup in the sink and walked back to the room where she and John were cleaning. He looked over at her as she came in and smiled. "How's Terry holding up?"

"About as well as you might expect, considering," she said. "He was reading the paper, probably bored out of his mind."

"Reading the paper? I don't remember him ever doing that before. Besides, he can't really read all that well."

Melody thought back to what he was doing in the kitchen, but the memory was fuzzy. Was he reading the paper? Surely not. John was right. Terrance had enough trouble with books for kids his age. "Yeah, he must have been looking at comics or something. What else is there for him to do in a house like this? We've kept him away from everything else."

"For good reason. Who knows what kind of scary crap Dad had in here. You know how he was. I don't want to have to drag my kid to therapy until he's an adult."

Melody rolled her eyes and filled another box with dozens of books, from the ridiculous to the classic, and other titles in languages she couldn't even read. Terrance was quickly forgotten, in favor of the herculean task at hand. There was simply too much to do and things like that tended to fall through the cracks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

shadows ( A Short Story )

This is something I wrote in the dim mists of time several years ago. Back then, I was a writer with half a first draft to my name, no job and a lot of fire and passion for writing that I couldn't be bothered to actually do. In those dim recesses, when I was trying to gain some sort of writing habit for the first time, I was charged with writing a short story by a mentor of sorts at the time.

I believe the prompt was to write a short story that dealt with some form of historical event. I'm pretty sure this doesn't exactly qualify, but it appeared nearly fully formed and I committed it to paper where it remains one of my favorite short stories I've ever written (admittedly not a huge claim).

It's not much like anything I'd write today, but I figured I'd share it in its original form. I did little more than excise nearly a hundred misused commas. More likely remain. My comma use is decreasing over time, but they're still the zerg rush of puncutation that I just can't seem to shake.

I hope you enjoy it! And next week, you'll get a proper FridayFlash of original fiction like you all deserve.

~ Matt



The sun shone down upon the lone figures walking along the beaten path. The rains had not come for weeks and the men left clouds of dust in their wake. The figures moved slowly and the wind blew from behind them. If they were not careful, they could choke on their own dust. Yet these men were not careful.

“With this dust, we will breathe in the anguish of the world,” the eldest of the men said. He was a shriveled thing, no more than a shambling corpse. The words that came from him could have been the wind through the barren trees.

“As we choke and spit up this dust, we spit up our anguish and return it to the world,” the youngest of them replied. He was not as thin as the old man, but he was also shriveled and malnourished. What would have been a handsome young man in normal circumstances was no more than a slowly decaying shell.

“Returning our anguish to the world, we cleanse ourselves of it, and the dust does not find us,” said the third member. He was not so young as the young man, but he was not old. Like them, he was thin and worn. Yet, unlike them, he did not walk with a bent back or the air of a broken spirit--he held his head high. He tread the path ahead of them with a subtle confidence and the other two men were satisfied to follow.

This was a day like any other day. The three men made their way in the wilderness. They had all forsaken towns as cesspools of human suffering. Out here, so close to the earth, it was more possible to face your suffering head on. Here, you could easily find it and cut it away from you.

At least, that was the theory. The third man was tired of walking. They had been walking since before the sun had risen, and they would continue until the stars were clear in the night sky. It was just now past the height of the day, and yet his feet were sore and his mind was troubled. For him, it was an all too common occurrence as of late.

“Siddhartha,” the old man spoke sharply. “What troubles your mind? You stray from the group.”

“It is nothing, revered one,” Siddhartha answered.

“Do not lie to me. I know your thoughts when they are mindful and I know your thoughts when they are not. You are troubled by them. You are running from it. You cannot do that. You must embrace your pain. You must relish it and use it to scour your sins from you.”

“Yes, revered one,” Siddhartha answered.

“Good, good. When you scour your sins away with the pain of them, you will be cleansed. You will be holy. Only then, will you experience rapture.”

“Yes, revered one,” Siddhartha answered for the final time.

The men walked in silence once more. Siddhartha tried to focus on the suffering of the world. It was not difficult. All about him was suffering; his past had been strewn with visions of suffering. For years, he had walked among the poor and the afflicted. The old and the sick and the wounded and the dying—all of these had been subjects of study. Study in the abject pain of humanity that he had taken to with vigor.

As he walked, he tried to use his knowledge of human suffering to cleanse his spirit. To use the pain it caused to scour his own suffering from him. The hope was that by subjecting the body to such physical and mental exhaustion and suffering, it would be possible to burn away the impurities and leave only what was good and happy. That bliss came to those who subjected themselves to the worst deprivation.

The three men continued along the path, chanting together. It had been days since they had seen another person. They were out away from villages. Here was just fields and fields, with only a few farms interspersed between them. When they found a farm, they steered clear away from it. They did not need to poison their pure acts with the common, petty suffering of everyday life.

Now that it was afternoon, they foraged for their meal. The season had been dry and each day brought about a struggle to find food. Today providence had provided, as they found themselves coming upon a grove of wild fig trees.

The three men looked up into the boughs. Branches creaked in the wind. The leaves were mostly shriveled and discolored. These trees were dying. Yet perhaps they still bore fruit. One last act to continue to exist, if only through offspring. Siddhartha wondered to himself if perhaps it was not too farfetched that the trees and people were so different.

“This is a wonderful lesson,” the older man said. “These trees stand here, suffering. In fact, they are suffering, not just experiencing it. Living beings who cannot survive, existing together in their pain. Even the wasps who come to create the fruits we are about to consume have all fled. It is worth taking to heart. We take from their suffering, we eat what they offer us, so that we may continue on our own path. They are here to add to our suffering. We should add their pain to ours.”

The men searched the trees and found several figs. They were small and dry and hard, but there was enough to keep them going. Each of them had two figs and they sat there under the trees to eat and reflect on their lesson. Siddhartha ate his figs slowly, looking up at the trees. These beings would soon be devoid of life, after what looked to be a long and torturous fight. Once that had happened, no more would their be any fruit for wayfarers along this path. The grove would die and fall into the dust and there would be nothing left.

Yet here they were, parasites consuming the last hopes of this grove. Their fruits would end up in their stomachs and the trees would die. Suddenly, Siddhartha felt loathing for himself and his companions. Without their presence, perhaps the trees would have dropped their fruit. Perhaps new trees would have been born out of the rains that would come before too long. But now there would be nothing. In trying to devour suffering, they had devoured all the life of this place.

While the other men sat and meditated, Siddhartha looked down at his remaining fig. This would be all he would be able to eat until they found their next meal, probably the next day. And yet, as he looked upon the tiny fruit sitting in his palm, he could not imagine himself living with having eaten the fig.

He stood up and walked away from the others. They all typically indulged in walking meditations, so there was no question raised. He wandered the grove, looking for a suitable spot. Finding a patch of soil that wasn’t strangled with roots, he cleared a hole and set the fig into the ground, scooping up soil and covering the fruit. “You will suffer, but you may live yet. That is what is important,” he whispered to himself as he buried the fruit. That done, he dusted the soil from his hands and returned to his companions.

The other men were ready. “Siddhartha,” the youngest spoke. “We are ready to be off. Are you satisfied?”

Siddhartha nodded, looking up at the trees above him. His stomach protested, but he smiled. “Indeed, I am. Let us resume our journey.”

The men made their way along the dusty path once more. Some hours later, as the sun was nearing the horizon, they found a river. It was slow and shallow, but it was enough. The older man looked at it and up at the sky. “There are rains in the mountains in the north. Perhaps they will come here. But we should take this opportunity to wash the dust from us. Then we can rest.”

The men all agreed and set to bathing in the river. The water lazily made its way across the land. It was not deep, perhaps waist high at its deepest point. As Siddhartha waded out to this point to bathe, he saw the land on either side that had made up the riverbed when the rains had been strong and the water flowed freely.

As he washed, his thoughts drifted. The water reminded him of his life before. Before all the suffering he had seen. He remembered the water flowing from great stone fountains in the palace of the rainy season his father had built for him. The palace was built to hold the water, with small streams of it carved into the stone, falling from the roof on decorated spouts into lagoons in the main courtyard.

He remembered bathing in pools of scented water, back when his clothing was fine and his hair clean and fresh. When his body had been strong and full and his mind carefree. That was before his eyes were opened. Before he had become mindful of pain and suffering. Siddhartha remembered those days with a bitter fondness. The attendants, all young and healthy. His life, sheltered and structured to keep him free of pain. It had been ideal; a perfect life.

Aside from the fact it was not true.

He had been a full adult when he finally discovered the truth. His own will had taken him out into the world. And there, the suffering of all things rushed upon him like a storm. Until that point, he had never laid eyes upon an old person before. Yet among his eventual subjects were hundreds of them. The horror of their existence had torn his life forever from his eyes.

Siddhartha smiled to himself as he bathed. It had been some time since he had thought of his life before. There was so little in common between that luxury and his existence now that it seemed as thought it had been a story happening to someone else. There was no more proof of who he was upon his person. He was a man without a past, a man of the present, suffering like all the other followers suffered.

It was as he was remembering his life that he forgot himself. In that moment his body betrayed him. He could not say after whether it was the soft river sediment or his legs weak from his observations of the rules of his path. But before he knew it, he no longer had his footing and his legs buckled from underneath him.

He fell into the water and as he struggled to right himself he found that he could not muster the energy to. He flailed about but his mind had been unprepared and he panicked in this moment. The water was above him and though he could reach down and touch the bottom and reach up and crest the surface of the water, he could not find the strength to stand upon his own feet and raise his head above the water.

His breath had failed him and he inhaled the water into his lungs. As he did so, his mind seemed to sharpen though the edges of his thought were fuzzy and dark. He saw the sun shining on the water above him. He saw the water around him, the sediment kicked up by his struggles. Yet he also saw his life before him.

He saw the days of his youth, with the finest things around him and his head full of bliss and ignorance. It was ideal, it was happy, yet it was not true. Now that he knew more of the truth, he knew that it would never be his again. Never again could a man who has seen be content with blindness.

He saw the years of walking among the suffering. He absorbed their pain, catching up on years of learning about a kind of life that he had never seen before. Aging. Sickness. Death. Violence. Suffering. It was all terrible, all horrifying. Yet many of these people were still happy. Many of these people carried on with their lives regardless of their afflictions.

He saw his life now. The life of an ascetic. The years of begging for his food, existing through the good will of others. He observed every regulation of the path. He owned nothing. He survived only on what fate provided him. He lived a life of suffering, depriving himself of all things. When he contributed to the suffering of the world in a way unbefitting his existence, he punished himself as he should.

It was with the vision of himself as a decrepit old man, skeletal and broken by the weight of years, that he was hauled from the water and laid upon the shore. Hands pressed at him, trying to push the water out of him. He was detached from it and for a moment weighed whether or not he would bother expelling the water from his lungs. Perhaps it would be easier to simply allow fate to take its course. There would be no more suffering, no more quest for truth. All the truth he would ever need would swallow him into nothingness.

It was a recent memory that struck him, then. He planted the fig into the soil. The rains were coming. The fig would suffer, but it would live. He had commanded it to live, despite its pain. If the fig would live, so should he, despite the suffering he might face.

He coughed water up, his body shaking and heaving with the effort. The men before him looked relieved as they watched Siddhartha slowly regain his breath. He lay there, staring up at the sky as the stars slowly emerged in the dome of the sky. His chest was full of pain, the blood in his body pounding a heavy rhythm. Yet he was breathing. He breathed in and smelled the truth of the world around him. He breathed out and he was himself again, alone in the world as he had always been.

The men said nothing of this event and soon they continued on their quest for purification. Finally, the lack of things to forage for drove them to the next village by their most dire need. Here, they would ask for what dried bread and clean water the people could spare. And the people, either through pity of the men or fear of denying men holier than themselves, always opened their hearts and offered far more than the men would accept.

It was as they wandered the town to look for food that a young girl came up to Siddhartha. The other men had decided to spend the morning meditating in the middle of the town, making a display of their deep piety. However, Siddhartha’s mind and eye were full of wanderlust and he would rather see if he could find some other thing to focus on than the same meditations he had been doing in the featureless wilds.

He noticed the girl only as he finally realized she was approaching him. She was young and her arms were laden with a bowl and a pitcher. When he realized that yes, it was to him she was coming, he stopped and looked at her. When she realized she had his attention, she hesitated before coming towards him.

“Excuse me, but I hoped you would appreciate my offering,” the young girl said.

Siddhartha was taken aback. “For what do I owe the offering?”

“I made my wish, as I was supposed to, and it is said that a spirit would come and make the wish come true. My wish is true and I had hoped you would remain so I could thank you with an offering, spirit. This is the best I could do, I hope it is sufficient.”

It took some moments of reflection before he realized that it was his extreme appearance that had prompted the girl to mistake him for a spirit. But he was not surprised. He was rail-thin and worn to the bone, but he knew a vigor that the other ascetic scorned. Siddhartha looked at what she had brought. In the pitcher was milk, white and pure and thick. And in her other container was some sort of pudding, pale and creamy and sweet looking. The smell wafting up from the food made Siddhartha delirious. His stomach ached to look upon the food. His body yearned for it. Yet his mind again tried to hold fast to its current path.

“I’m afraid I cannot accept this,” he said slowly.

The girl looked up at him, with tears in her eyes. “But … but you must. I have to thank those who do undeserved good towards me. That is the law. You helped me, spirit, when I didn’t do anything to deserve your kindness. I must thank you, or it will come ill of me. Please, I know it is not much, but please accept this.”

Siddhartha finally nodded and took the offering. Why he took it, he could not be sure. Perhaps because fate had provided it. Perhaps because he could not inflict the pain of his refusal on the girl. Perhaps because he simply wanted a good meal, despite his devotion to his path. Yet when he sat down and ate and drank from what she had brought, it was as though a whole new world had opened up for him.

For those minutes that he ate and drank, he only tasted the sweetness of the food. He only smelled the thick smell of the meal. He drank the milk and it renewed his strength. He had been unaware he had been so weak until he felt vigor returning to his limbs. During that meal, he thought nothing of suffering. The world was the world, he was Siddhartha, and he felt a satisfaction in the simple act of eating a peasant meal such that he had never known.

For the sparsest moment, he had a glimpse of some truth. Something that seemed to him to feel so utterly right that he stopped eating. He stood up, and his mind reeling to try to recapture his thoughts, he walked away from the girl. The thought that this might disappoint her did not occur to him, such was his mindset. The girl, though, looked into his face and was satisfied that she had done her duty. She collected the uneaten food and returned home.

Siddhartha was troubled when he returned to his companions. He did not tell them of what had happened. They would have looked down upon his indulgence as going against the path. Yet, what he had felt in that moment … had he really been in the wrong? The thought of it gnawed at him for the rest of the day.

His thoughts were still troubled when they finally departed for the town. They continued, yet the other men could sense Siddhartha’s disquiet. The old man scolded him for his unmindfulness, but Siddhartha paid him no mind. He cared not for the rote ritual of the ascetic, that morning. His own thoughts kept him occupied.

As they walked, they happened upon a Bo tree next to their path. The men decided to sit and meditate under it. As they did so, Siddhartha looked up into its leaves. The tree was healthy, and flourishing. Yet, it was old and bent, and Siddhartha could see the years of pain and suffering writ into its very trunk.

The men focused inward, trying to purge themselves of suffering, but Siddhartha focused his attention fully on what was before him. Here was a tree that had lived longer than he and had experienced much worse deprivations in its lifetime. Yet, here it stood, it’s leaves full and green. The wind blew the boughs and the tree rustled with a joy that Siddhartha was astonished by. This tree existed in the world of suffering, but sitting under it, Siddhartha felt as though the tree was happy despite its existence.

Again he grasped at the thought that had barely escaped him as he ate the meal in the village. He felt a great truth, just out of reach. If only he could lean further than before, if only his grasp was longer, perhaps he could take a hold of that truth and bring it into himself. Here, he felt that truth again. There was something that he was missing, some great thought that would put everything into perspective. He only had to find it.

It was like catching a fly in the dark. It danced about his head, so close and yet impossible for him to find.

In time the men were ready to move on, but Siddhartha remained unmoving. When they looked at him, they saw a man they barely recognized. Siddhartha looked deep in thought, yet his face was full of an emotion they did not recognize.

“Siddhartha,” the old man said. “Come away. It is time we resumed.”

Siddhartha shook his head. “I cannot. I feel that I am discovering something, some truth that I cannot ignore. Here, under this tree, I feel a thought swelling in my mind. How can I leave now?”

“What are you speaking of? Nonsense. Come away. We will walk and you can consider your truth. What can you hope to gain sitting here under the same tree?”

Siddhartha breathed in and out steadily, but said nothing. The men were uneasy. Here was their companion, acting completely different than he ever had. The old man pushed him further.

“Siddhartha, please. Do not fall into this path. To sit forever and contemplate is a way of madness. How can you hope to cleanse yourself when you do not take the world’s suffering and pain as a vehicle to purity?”

Siddhartha smiled. “I am not sure that I wish to do that anymore. I do not need to take the world’s suffering into myself.”

“What are you speaking of? Come, Siddhartha, follow us. This path you are on leads only to delusions. It is the wrong way. You are lost. We shall help you find your way.”

Siddhartha opened his eyes and looked upon them, and saw them as they were, and found himself moved to pity by the sight. “I told you, I cannot. You may curse me for a heretic if you will, but I must have my truth. It is important to me. I will sit here. I will think. The shade helps me concentrate. When I find my truth, only then will I stop and return to what I was doing, taking my truth with me. You are free to wait and you are free to go. You are not held to me.”

“If you take this path, you will walk alone. I will not sully our efforts with your disregard for our belief,” the old man shook with what could have been fury or could just as easily have been fear.

“Then I will sit alone,” Siddhartha said.

The men argued amongst themselves, but they said nothing more to Siddhartha and he said nothing more to them. He simply sat and watched as they finally gave up their struggle to bring him with them and decided to continue on without him. As they returned to their path, Siddhartha watched them go. They were empty, moving but already dead, continuing their funeral chant as the dust blew up around them once more. They were like ghosts, moaning to validate their existence as they shuffled along. But there was nothing to them.

Then they were gone and Siddhartha was alone. He sat and closed his eyes. He breathed in. There was the tree. The tree that had seen suffering for years. The tree that still laughed when the wind blew through it. It was of the world, and still itself. It was a thing of wonder to contemplate.

Siddhartha breathed out and he was himself. There was Siddhartha, of the world and still himself. Apart, to be sure, but still a part. It was a thing of wonder to see.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The One With the Waggly Tail

The clerk sighed as the customer approached the counter. "You again? How many times are we going to do this?"

The customer shrugged, trying not to look too chagrined to be there. "They keep dying on me. I can't help that, they're old when I get them!"

The clerk leaned closer and spoke softly over the din of people laughing and talking around the viewing enclosures and cages. "You know, if you're having problems taking care of them, you shouldn't be buying them. They can put you away for that, you know. There are laws against cruelty and mistreatment."

The customer recoiled in horror. "Look, I'm not some sort of monster! The last one had liver problems. I couldn't pay for the surgery. Nobody would, really. Not when the old girl was that close to death. So I just let her go peacefully. You're telling me nobody else comes back here?"

"Oh, they do, but not nearly as often," the customer said. "I suppose you do look to adopt the older ones, though. Fine. But if you're in here again in six months I'm going to have to notify my supervisor. We can't be going through that much stock for one person. We could get in trouble, too."

"I understand," the customer said. "Don't worry. I really do take my best to be the best caretaker. They have beds and food and things to play with. I put on music that they like. I take them out for walks, don't let them wander the streets."

"I believe you," the clerk said. "You seem on the up and up. You leave a lot of broken hearts when you finally walk out of here."

"They'll all find loving homes, I'm sure," the customer said. "Everyone needs something in their life. Without a sense of responsibility, taking care of a living creature, nourishing them, building that companionship... well, what person doesn't like that?"

The clerk smiled. "Exactly right. I hope you enjoy your selection. Have a nice day."


The customer let his new acquisition into the passenger's seat of the car, then got behind the wheel. You were supposed to keep them contained until you got home, but that seemed a little inhumane to the customer. How could you wait to set them free?

When he sat down in the drivers seat, he looked over. "Don't worry. It'll be all right. I'm your new owner. I'll take care of you. We'll be the best of friends."

The woman in the passenger's seat looked at him, eyes bright and hopeful amid a deep set of wrinkles. "I sure hope so."

"What's your name?" the customer asked.

"Hazel," the old woman replied, reaching over and putting on her seat belt.

"Hazel." The customer thought for a moment, committing it to memory. "Pretty name. I'll probably call you Gran. I hope that's okay."

"Of course!"

"I'm glad," the customer said, smiling. "All right. Let's go. I'll show you my place, and then we'll get some food in you."

"Oh, lovely. Antiques Roadshow is on later, too. If you don't mind..."

"No, of course not," the customer said. "I love that show."

Together, bonding over talk of knickknacks, the two pulled out from the parking lot and headed towards home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ships Passing - fridayflash

Not much to say about this one. I felt really empowered by all the positive comments on last week's #fridayflash and thus I'm here again laying down another one. I was hoping for something a little less moody, but a foggy day and a Zoe Keating song determined what I was writing this week. Hope you enjoy, and see you all next week!


He sat parked in his car along one side of the street. It was dark, the empty isolated kind of dark where dawn is only a few hours off but still being kept at bay. Not that you could tell. There were only the sparse glow of street lights and an all-encompassing fog that had settled over the city that night.

He was buzzed but not drunk. A gathering with old friends as he was passing through was enough to get him wistful and reflective. But they all had jobs or kids or both now and they weren't open to staying out until dawn talking like they had been back in the day. Hell, he wasn't sure he was open to that idea anymore, either. So instead he came here, the only other place in the whole city he could think of.

At this time of night, the street was the only thing in the universe. The well-worn pavement was the only thing holding him up from a fall into oblivion. The fog didn't cut off his universe, it seemed to define it, a world smaller than a block in size, lit from the faint, hazy suns of the street lamps.

He knew that eventually the real sun would come and the universe would expand again. He knew that on either side of this single street were simple two story houses like the kind found in any third year old suburbia in this part of the country. He knew each house like he knew his teachers growing up. He might still be able to name half the neighbors. This wasn't a place people typically moved out from.

Except him, of course.

His head lolled forward and he let out a long sigh. He wasn't sure why he came here. There was nothing but memories, some of them good to be sure but all of them painful. After going so long and so far to get away from this place, here he was again--sitting in a car on this street wishing that life could be .... different.

But it wasn't. Instead it was the same old street with the same old lights and the same old fog that could come down this time of year and really mess with a person. He had always loved this fog in the days of his youth. It was a fog of magic and concealment. A fog that asked for people to come together as close as they could to stave off the isolation.

He sat and stared out at the street as his head slowly cleared. The thoughts in his mind were just a vicious circle of memories and futile ruminations on why life was the way life was. He wished one of his old friends had come along. But he wasn't sure that the conversation they would have had would have been any more fulfilling. It was a lost cause all around. You couldn't go home again.

He started up his car, sitting and waiting and trying to savor the moment one last time. It was late and he was tired now, but who knew when he'd be back through here? As he took it in, tried to get a feel for this one small, insignificant place that meant so much, he noticed a light in the distance. It wasn't the halo of a lamp, but a single tongue of flame off in the darkness, followed by a small glowing dot. Someone was out here, smoking.

He put the car in gear and slowly began to roll forward. As his headlights swept over the fog, he saw that the ember belonged to a person sitting in one of the parked cars on the opposite side of the street. That gave him pause. His reverie had been intruded on by this stranger sitting in their own vehicle thinking thoughts that were probably vastly different than his own. The whole venture out here suddenly felt cheap and self-indulgent.

Still, he didn't want to look like some sort of thief scoping out the neighborhood. Whoever it was had been there before he got there. He suddenly felt like he owed them some sort of explanation. So he slowed as he neared the car, pulling up next to the open window. The smoke drifting out the window was quickly swallowed up by the greedy fog, but it made him feel like this person was a part of the atmosphere, cutting everything off from the reality he remembered and making this night something other.

Their facing windows were open, and he waved as casually as he could as he got close. "I'm sorry for bothering you, I was just driving through. I used to live here. Was in town, figured I'd stop and look at the old neighborhood, get a feel for it again."

The figure leaned forward, a female shape. As she came closer to the window and into the light, he recognized her. For a moment, he almost cried out in surprise. But he just remained rigid as she blew up another thin stream of smoke. "Not much to see on a night like this."

She was looking at him, but she didn't seem to recognize him. It took him a second, but then he remembered how different he looked from back in the day, how much he had changed in the twenty years since he had been here. She hadn't changed, though. Older, a bit more careworn, but still the same.

"Yeah ..." he said slowly. He wasn't going to announce himself if she didn't realize who it was. He hadn't spoken to her in two decades and he wasn't even sure where he'd begin if he had to. Instead, she was just a woman on the street where he used to live. "Well, it's still the same. I remember nights like this. A kid could get into a lot of trouble on a night like this."

She smiled, a thin smile that felt as tired and melancholy as he had felt sitting here. What was she doing here? The same thing he was? He had no idea what she was doing anymore. Maybe she lived here. Maybe she was just passing through like he was. His imagination reeled with the possibilities.

"Yeah, one certainly could," she said. "Still, it's not the same. Back then, it felt so full of possibilities. Now it's just a single tiny street in a city full of them. In a country full of cities. Nothing special."

"I tend to think of it the other way around," he answered her without thinking. "Back then, I was always looking for something more. Something bigger and better. This place was just a stepping stone to adventures. But just seeing the road, as beat up and worn down as it is, and knowing that it's this place above all places ... it's special to me. There's nowhere else I could go to relive the memories I have here."

"You must have some good memories, to be here now," she answered him casually. She didn't seem that interested, just making conversation.

"Some, sure," he answered. "Not all. But even so, I couldn't just let them go. No matter how hard I try or how far I go, they're still with me. And when I was in town, I came here as sure as birds fly south. I figure it's just ... fate."

"Maybe so," she answered, taking another long drag of her cigarette and neatly flicking ash out the window. "I hope you enjoyed coming back, if only for a little while."

"It's been something else," he answered truthfully. "But I certainly don't regret it." He looked at the clock, realizing he had a flight out in only four hours. He could sleep on the plane, but he had to get ready. "You have a good night. And don't be too hard on this whole place. In the morning, it'll go about its business with a bunch of people living their lives, and none of this memory will exist anymore. It'll burn away with the fog. Might as well enjoy it now."

She nodded, though this time she didn't smile. "Have a good night. Drive safe. It's dangerous out there."

"You too," he said, as he rolled up his window to keep out the chill and began to pull away. The streetlights loomed up out of the darkness, one after another, keeping this contained universe the same size and shape even as he moved inside of it. But the car and its occupant disappeared behind him into the darkness, little more than a memory.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reflect - fridayflash

At the urging of one Elizabeth Ditty, I decided to participate in this week's #fridayflash. I'm suffering under the worst ear infection ever, so I'm not really in any condition to elaborate on anything. But I hope you enjoy the story, at least.



He stood at the window and peered out into the twinkling sea of lights in the city. His apartment was high above the rest of the world, a luxurious penthouse far above the squallor of the city. But tonight he stared out longingly through the huge windows, peering through the reflection of his own face distorted by the darkened glass.

He stepped back from the brink of the city unfolding below and looked at himself in the glass. He was naked from the waist up, the dark room warm in the summer heat.

On the other side of the window was his reflection, pale and slender. He looked down at himself. His skin nearly glowed in the darkness. His chest was narrow and flat, a faint dusting of feeble hair across the middle of it. He frowned, rubbing his hand across it. A hundred memories of being mocked for his bird-chested figure crossed his face, his lips pulling tight and his eyes narrowing. It wasn't an unfair comparison.

He looked up at the reflection in the mirror, reaching up with his free hand and brushing a wild strand of hair from his eyes. The reflection before him mimicked the action, but instead of a wispy lock of hair it pulled back a long, straight length.

The figure on the other side of the window was equally slender and equally pale, but it wasn't nearly as emaciated or weak. The twig-like torso was expanded into subtle curves. The hollow chest had filled out with two small but graceful looking breasts. The detestable tuft of hair was gone.

He looked into the face in the reflection, afraid to see his hollowed cheeks. But instead there was a rounded face that was beautiful and feminine and utterly alien. Yet when he looked into the eyes, the eyes that looked back were his own.

His hand reached up and touched the glass, and the woman on the other side reached up and touched the glass from the other side. Her fingers were slender and artful, beautiful in comparison to his own hand, with hairy, over sized knuckles.

He pressed harder against the glass, trying to reach the figure on the other side. The reflection seemed to strain to reach out to him, too, muscles in her arm flexing. He stared into the eyes of the other person, seeing her yearning to come across just as strong as his yearning to pull her through the window and into the reality of the room.

He sighed and relaxed his hand, realizing that nothing would get the reflection to come through the other side. She was forever opposite him, floating like an angel above the myriad lights of the city. And there she would remain for as long as he stood there staring out into the darkness, yearning for the impossible.

His other hand came up and pressed the barrel of the gun in his hand against his temple. On the other side, the reflection did the same thing, her slender feminine arm rising up against her head. The reflection of the gun was dark, though. So dark that he couldn't even see it against the night sky.

"I'll never see you again, but ... maybe that's for the best," he said, pressing the muzzle tightly against his temple. He closed his eyes, hoping that the reflection would continue to mimic him. He didn't want her to see this. She was too perfect to be sullied by the gross reality of his existence. His finger tightened on the trigger.

The noise of the gunshot was loud, but brief. This was a luxurious apartment, and noise was swallowed up quickly. There was only the darkness, and a body slumped against the ground, hand still outstretched towards the window, grasping in vain.

There was silence that settled in the apartment. The city continued to shine below, oblivious. But in that silence, with no eyes watching, two slender feet stepped between the splayed legs of the man lying there on the carpet, a hole in his head and a blood stain like an oil spill on the hardwood floor.

The female figure stood there, arms crossed over her bare chest, looking down at the man lying on the floor. She stared at him as though he was possibly familiar, but then shook her head as if clearing away the last remnants of a bad dream.

On a nearby chair was a dress shirt that she pulled on and buttoned up. She approached the window, stepping over the body, and looked at her reflection in the mirror. The reflection was of a man, thin and sickly and disgusting looking. But it didn't seem to bother her as she adjusted the shirt in the mirror, seemingly ignorant of the aberrant reflection staring back at her.

The shirt adjusted so that it didn't look too out of place, the woman turned and walked out of the apartment. At the window, the reflection of the man remained. He stared at the woman living where he had once lived, beginning where he had ended. He pressed his hand to the glass. There was just him and the body lying on the other side inside the apartment.

Slowly, the man faded from the window. The body remained, backlit by the hustle and bustle of the city, but it was alone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Movie Rundown - This Past Weekend

Here you go, part two of the movie extravaganza, this time detailing the movies seen from Friday through to Sunday. Hope you're still with me. Like most second acts, it's a dark and dreary road.

Halloween II (**)
Probably the worst Rob Zombie film, and that's saying something (I adore House of 1000 Corpses, but I'll freely admit it's a trainwreck of a movie). The problem isn't that Zombie has no good ideas. In fact, there are lots of good ideas here. A realistic look at what horror movie survival can do to a heroine, a solid amount of gore, and an incredibly well-used Malcolm McDowell. That said, the film is so horribly put together and has so many OTHER ideas that are simply garbage that I will recommend this one to the hardcore only.

Indie Sex (****)
A fantastic four-part documentary about sex in film, from the beginnings of cinema to the modern cutting edge of envelope-pushing art films. This one's a great tribute to a lesser-known line of films, from the incredibly influential to the extremely obscure, but treated with the proper thoughtful discourse that our culture so often lacks when it comes to such things.

If you're a film person? This is a must-see. For everyone else, I would simply say that if the subject matter interests you, there's little that's not covered here.

Anchors Aweigh (**)
An incredibly flawed musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. As much as I like Gene Kelly, and as famous as the sequence of him dancing with Jerry the Mouse is, the movie's too long and too lacking in musical bits to really grab me. It just feels terribly bloated and self-important. I would suggest looking up the musical bits on youtube, and letting this one pass by the wayside.

La Vie en Rose (***)
A beautiful film about French singer Edith Piaf, this movie is ... frustrating. The character is well-acted, but is so terribly unlikable that I spent the first two thirds of the movie wishing I were doing something else. I don't know how accurate it is, but it's very off putting. That said, I think that it ends pretty well and the music and cinematography are second to none. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it, but then, I rarely think biopics scream recommendation.

What A Way to Go! (****)
A great dark comedy starring Shirley MacLaine and a bunch of leading men (Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, etc.) about her continued efforts to land a man who appreciates the simple life and her curse of them all trying to gain huge fortunes and dying. The movie is goofy, but one of the best things about it is that each of the men she goes through has a genre of film spoofed about their relationship. It's a neat touch, and the film itself is clever and light and everything it needs to be. A comedy that still works as much as the day it came out, a rare treat.

Les Paul: Chasing Sound (****)
A documentary about the life and accomplishments of Les Paul. It's good. I learned a lot. If you like music or interesting people, it's well worth watching. That is all.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Movie Rundown - Catching up, honest!

Okay, ladies and gents. It's been WEEKS since we've done this, because I kind of fell out of my movie watching habits aside from the odd new release, and ... well, to be honest, I didn't feel like writing about one movie at a time. Unfortunately, it's added up, and become a list so lengthy that trying to go through them all would be nigh impossible.

So you're getting three installments. First, we'll catch up to this past weekend. On Wednesday, we'll cover the weekend proper. And on Thursday, we'll talk about the movie marathon that saw me through Labor Day. I was going to make this one big tome of a thing, but a certain Miss Ditty, Esquire decided it would be best if I split it up and she generally knows what she's talking about.

So, here you go. The long road to the present!

Clerks 2 (****)
Clerks 2 was the end of this summer's Kevin Smith project, and has become tied with Chasing Amy as my favorite of his films. Things of note? Musical sequences, a great cap on the universe that's come from all of the other films, and Rosario Dawson being amazing (as she always is). I think that Kevin Smith's best watched in order, but if you've seen Clerks at least and enjoyed it, you owe it to yourself to see this brilliant, brilliant movie.

Nosferatu (***)
The original vampire movie. Like most silent films, it's nearly impossible for me to judge the quality. I thought it was okay, with the plus of atmosphere and an amazingly haunting portrayal of Nosferatu himself coupled with the fault that it ends rather abruptly with what I can only call a cop out. Still, for fans of horror movies or film in general, it's a must see.

(500) Days of Summer (***)
I really loved this movie a lot as I left the theater, and it struck a chord with me. There were parts of it that seemed taken exactly out of my experience. If I had written this then, it would have easily garnered four stars. That said, weeks have passed, and my feelings have cooled significantly. My problem with this movie is that it simply tries too hard to appeal to the hipster 20-something crowd. While watching it, I didn't notice as much, but it's most decidedly built to make everybody of a certain age think it's written about them. That touching personal nature instead started to feel like calculated demographic-targeted writing, from the quirky girl to the guy who talks about philosophy over a table arcade game to the Top 20 offbeat musicians that make up its soundtrack. It's nothing special, but if you're of the right age, I bet you'll walk out feeling like it touched you in some way. I just ... am not sure the intentions were correct.

Ponyo (*****)
Ponyo. Miyazaki. Either you know of the genius of Hayao Miyazaki or you know nothing of film. This isn't his best movie, but it's a brilliant movie, as just about everything he does is. This movie needs to be seen by everyone, as far as I'm concerned. It is, like all of his movies, magical.

District 9 (****)
Great movie, though the first half is FAR better than the second half. That said, it's the second best sci fi movie of the year so far (behind MOON) and is well worth people's time.

Inglourious Basterds (****)
Tarantino going back to the kind of noiry post-modern cinematic mashups that he did prior to Kill Bill. Fantastic movie. I ended up wishing that many of the characters had films about them. That's always a great sign. It's not going to win over anyone who hates Tarantino (those sad, misguided souls) but for everybody else ... I wouldn't be surprised to see this movie on my best of 2009 list.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Imbibers One Hundred (I got 39!)


1) Copy this list into your blog, with instructions.
2) Bold all the drinks you’ve imbibed.
3) Cross out any items that you won’t touch
4) Post a comment here and link to your results.


If you don’t have a blog, just count the ones you’ve tried and post the number in the comments section.

List of Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

  1. Manhattan Cocktail
  2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)
  3. French / Swiss Absinthe
  4. Rootbeer
  5. Gin Martini
  6. Sauternes
  7. Whole Milk
  8. Tequila (100% Agave)
  9. XO Cognac
  10. Espresso
  11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)
  12. Gin & Tonic
  13. Mead
  14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale
  15. Chateau d’Yquem
  16. Budweiser
  17. Maraschino Liqueur
  18. Mojito
  19. Orgeat
  20. Grand Marnier
  21. Mai Tai (original)
  22. Ice Wine (Canadian)
  23. Red Bull
  24. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
  25. Bubble Tea
  26. Tokaji
  27. Chicory
  28. Islay Scotch
  29. Pusser’s Navy Rum
  30. Fernet Branca
  31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
  32. Bourbon
  33. Australian Shiraz
  34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup
  35. Orange Bitters
  36. Margarita (classic recipe)
  37. Molasses & Milk
  38. Chimay Blue
  39. Wine of Pines (Tepache)
  40. Green Tea
  41. Daiginjo Sake
  42. Chai Tea
  43. Vodka (chilled, straight)
  44. Coca-Cola
  45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)
  46. Barley Wine
  47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)
  48. Pisco Sour
  49. Lemonade
  50. Speyside Single Malt
  51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
  52. Champagne (Vintage)
  53. Rosé (French)
  54. Bellini
  55. Caipirinha
  56. White Zinfandel (Blush)
  57. Coconut Water
  58. Cerveza
  59. Cafe au Lait
  60. Ice Tea
  61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
  62. Vintage Port
  63. Hot Chocolate
  64. German Riesling
  65. Pina Colada
  66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum
  67. Chartreuse
  68. Greek Wine
  69. Negroni
  70. Jägermeister
  71. Chicha
  72. Guiness
  73. Rhum Agricole
  74. Palm Wine
  75. Soju
  76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)
  77. Belgian Lambic
  78. Mongolian Airag
  79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran
  80. Sugarcane Juice
  81. Ramos Gin Fizz
  82. Singapore Sling
  83. Mint Julep
  84. Old Fashioned
  85. Perique
  86. Jenever (Holland Gin)
  87. Chocolate Milkshake
  88. Traditional Italian Barolo
  89. Pulque
  90. Natural Sparkling Water
  91. Cuban Rum
  92. Asti Spumante
  93. Irish Whiskey
  94. Château Margaux
  95. Two Buck Chuck
  96. Screech
  97. Akvavit
  98. Rye Whisky
  99. German Weissbier
  100. Daiquiri (classic)

Reposted from artofdrink.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Omnivores 100 (I got 41!)

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food – but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake