Yes…questions…

There are surprises, and then there are some surprises that stop you dead in your tracks, and make your hair stand on end. I had one of those a few nights ago, after opening a package from Amazon, of the new edition of the book Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner, by author Paul M. Sammon.

I’m a very big fan of Blade Runner, have been since I first saw it on its release back in 1982. I saw it in a theatre in Manhattan, on a NYC late spring, early summer night, when it was rainy and a bit foggy. The movie itself, while not well received on its release (mixed reviews, some outright hostile), has since been recognized as a sci-fi masterpiece, and rightly so. The imagery, and dark nature of it has been likened to film noir. Like many of Ridley Scott’s films, it is highly layered visually. It created a dystopian society so intense, and has influenced so many other films that came after it (think The Matrix, The Fifth Element, Ghost In The Shell), and helped to spawn the sub-genre of science fiction known as “cyberpunk.” In short, Blade Runner set the standard for just about anything you see in science fiction today.

Upon first viewing, like many other people I was left shell shocked. What did I just see? I was trying to make sense of it, and then I stepped into the that hot Manhattan night and looked around. NYC at that time was not a fun place. The city was in a financial mess. it was incredibly dirty, run down and outright dangerous. Between the rain, fog, and pollution that hung over Manhattan, the realization hit me that I didn’t just watch a movie about a dystopian society: I was living it in many respects. With the exception of the flying cars (“Spinners,” as they were called), and the humanoid “replicant” robots, the environment was eerily similar.

It would take a couple of more viewings, and even then, not until it was released on video did its themes begin to really click into place for me. The overriding one I always thought was the main question it was asking: What does it mean to be human?

Flash forward about a decade or so. The internet has taken off, the web makes its grand appearance, and the world changes. I got into the home computer game late, but once being thrown into the deep end of the pool, I learned to swim in it pretty quickly. Before MySpace, before Facebook, there was Usenet. It was a subset of the internet, and part of it was dedicated to so-called, “newsgroups,” which were places where people with like minded interests could commiserate, share stories, ideas, even computer files. And yes, there were arguments, insults, and all the same things that you can find today. One group caught my interest almost immediately, “alt.fan.blade-runner.”

It was a very active group, and the conversations ranged from discussing the themes of the movie, to the imagery, to the props involved. How the movie was made, and the task that was undertaken for it was a major discussion point. Also, the one recurring discussion was, “Was Deckard (Harrison Ford’s main character) a replicant or not?” Believe it or not, it’s an argument that continues to this day (The sequel coming out next month is supposed to settle that question..yeah, right!). The group eventually migrated over to Facebook, pretty much intact from its Usenet iteration.

I met many good people from literally all over the world in that group, several of whom I’m still friends with today, though many I’ve never met face-to-face. One of the founders of the group was a gentleman by the name of Lukas Mariman, from Belgium. Sadly, we lost Lukas last year at the all too young age of 43. He died just about two weeks after I came home from the hospital following my liver transplant. His death hit us all like a hammer.

Among the people in the group was/is Paul M. Sammon. Paul is a writer, whose contributions were found in several film magazines, many dedicated to science fiction and film in general. He’s also a script writer, director, and film aficionado. His seminal work however is the book mention at the beginning of this post, Future Noir. It is considered the “bible of Blade Runner,” and is a firsthand account of the making of the movie. Paul was on set throughout the entire film shoot, chronicling the dynamics of what was considered, and this is putting it mildly, a very difficult shoot. It was also the start of an almost four decades long obsession (by Paul’s own admission) with this film.

The first printing of the book was released in 1996, with one update after that, and now, the most recent update  which was released last week. Many of us in the group got to know Paul, mostly through group conversations, though some were fortunate enough to meet him face-to-face. I’m hoping to be able to do that some day.

I’ve been a fairly regular contributor to the group, and Paul was very kind and supportive to me during my own battle with illness, and transplant. What I simply didn’t expect was what I read when I opened the new edition Future Noir (FN for short). There towards  the beginning of the book in the Acknowledgements section, in addition to the big names associated with the movie (Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, among others),  were some of us from the newsgroup. My name was among them.

I couldn’t believe it. In the grand scheme of this big book, it was a small thing, but I have to be honest that I felt a rush of pride. I never in a million years expected that I made any sort of contribution that would have merited even a small mention like this, but there it was. I immediately posted a huge thank you to Paul in the group, as did others whose names were featured in the same section. I also suggested to Paul (privately) if he could send a signed copy of the book to Lukas’ parents, as they are still in great grief over the loss of their son. They have come to realize how much their son had an impact on so many over the world, and Paul agreed with me, and is sending them a special copy of the book.

So yes, I am encouraging others with any interest in the movie, or in filmmaking in general to buy this book. It’s on Amazon, for a very reasonable price.

“Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders, burning with the fires of Orc….Yes…questions.”

 

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All gave some….

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been 16 years since that awful Tuesday morning, when the world came to a screeching halt. On this day, like the 15 previous ones, we stop to remember those who perished in three acts of terrorism, in NYC, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. We talk of the victims, and of the heroes. The heroes who gave their lives trying to save others, those who lived to tell the tales, and those who have perished since, who were taken by the lingering effects of the toxins that floated through the air for weeks afterward.

There are however, other heroes from that day that get left behind. In New York, they were the ones that, kept the remainder of the city safe, while all was going to hell in a hand basket in lower Manhattan. Since I was in EMS for so many years, I’ll stick with them, though they weren’t the only ones.

New York City is a big place. While that might seem painfully obvious, many people don’t realize that it is more than simply Manhattan. There are four other boroughs that make up the patchwork of the largest city in the U.S. All of it is covered by FDNY-EMS, with help from contracted hospitals that turn out EMS units to fill the voids in the system.

Even in other parts of Manhattan, people were still getting sick. Car accidents still occurred in Queens. Cardiac arrests still happened. People still called 9-1-1, on 9/11 for all the usual things that are called for the other 364 days of the year. And EMS still responded to them. In the midst of an unspeakable nightmare, others took up the duty. My brother Philip, was one of them. This was prior to him being promoted to the rank of Lt., when he was a paramedic in the South Bronx. He had just gotten off of his overnight shift, when he was called back in to his station. He was kept in the Bronx – much to the relief of our family – and was one of those who kept the rest of the city safe. They all deserve our thanks. They are all equally heroes, though if you ask them, they were just doing what needed to be done.

Life eventually returned to normal, though it wasn’t quite the same normal. We continue to bury colleagues all these years later. Others have retired. Many still deal with the nightmares that haunt them to this day. And then there are those that are still out there, helping those in need who call 9-1-1, and hear “What’s your emergency?”

 

Joy and thunder.

Carl was a man to admire. It was not his physical stature, nor any great and noble deed that he performed. The admiration that came to him from his friends and others was in how he lived his life, at full throttle. Carl had both physical and health challenges that would have stopped a lesser person in their tracks. At just maybe 5’0″, one still always looked up to Carl. On stage or on film, he was a giant of a man. His was a presence to be reckoned with, and while I never knew him as well as others did, I respected his talent. I never had the opportunity to act with him, and that is something I regret.

Two days ago, it was the first anniversary of his death. At 37 years-old, he was taken far too young.

Carl faced health challenges his whole life. Cardiac issues from the time of his birth. Last year, time caught up with him, but with the same fierceness he brought to his acting, he fought against what would eventually claim his life right up to the moment of his death. I saw him a little over a week prior, in the Neuro ICU at Strong Hospital in Rochester. He had suffered a stroke, a brain bleed. I ran into Katharine, his closest friend, and also met his mother and some other family members.

Walking into his room, he was dozing some. He woke up, recognized me, and in a halting, slightly warbling voice, said hello. It was obvious that there had been some deficit that was affecting his speech, but he also still managed a smile. Then, of all things, he asked me how I was doing, and told me I looked well. He had been very supportive of me during my own health crisis, offering words of encouragement. Now it was my turn. I kept my stay brief, as I knew all too well what an effort it was for him to even just speak. I told him that if I could beat what had tried to take me, he could do the same. Deep inside however, my instincts from being a paramedic, and having faced the possibility of my own death were gnawing at me. I somehow knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat this thing.

I so wish I had been wrong.

His death triggered an outpouring of grief in the Rochester theatre community. Being of both French Canadian and Mexican heritage, he was often lovingly called “the Frexican,” by some of his closest friends. I suspect it was a moniker he wore proudly. Here, on the first anniversary of his death, it again triggered an outpouring of both grief, and wonderful memories.

Just about two days prior to the anniversary of his death, or maybe even a little less, another acting cohort, and a friend of Carl’s, would receive something he had been waiting a long time for; Getting his life back.

Like Carl, Andy has also faced his share of physical and health challenges. Like Carl, he is short in stature, but large in presence on stage. He also has faced whatever life has thrown at him, and pushed through the barriers that might have stopped others.

Saddled with a form of chronic kidney disease, he has been tied to a dialysis machine multiple times a week for at least the last 8 years, while he waited on a list for a new kidney that could allow him to resume something of a normal life. I’ve acted with Andy in the past, and and also like Carl, he throws himself into his roles.

Then, it finally happened: just before the first anniversary of Carl’s death, Andy got “the call.” A kidney had been found for him. Two days after his surgery, I went to see him at Strong, on the transplant unit, where I spent so much of my own life over the past two years. We talked about Carl, about life in general, and I gave him some tips on what to expect now, especially since many of the transplant medications he will take will be identical to mine.

You could see in his eyes that he was ready to get back to living as soon as he could. He was already up and walking, a very good sign indeed.

One life taken, another returned. If Carl were here, I know he would be rejoicing in Andy’s good fortune, as many of us in the theatre community in Rochester are doing for Andy now. Both men, lived and living their lives full out, not letting the small things get in the way of who and what they chose to be.

“It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder”
– R.E.M.

…and something continues.

While that was being taken care of, a CT scan, MRI and ultrasound found that there was a small narrowing in my portal vein, one of the two main vessels in the liver. It wasn’t impeding blood flow, or causing a problem with the liver function, but my surgeon felt it would be good to place a stent in it to ward off any future complications. They didn’t know if it was something that happened as a result of the surgery, or something that was an anatomical abnormality. In either case, a week after my discharge, I headed back to Rochester to have the stent put in.

I was told that I would be there for 24 hours, which turned into 72 hours. There were some small blood clots around the stent (actually two stents), and they started me on a regimen of Coumadin, a “blood thinner.” So, now I’m home, and dealing with the side effects of this medication, of which tiredness is one of them. It reminds me too much of the fatigue I experienced from my liver disease, though I’m told that it will pass. I hope so, as it’s a little unnerving, to say the least.

It’s always something…

The first year post transplant. One big “shit happens” moment, and it did last week. Somehow, somewhere, I picked up both a bacterial and viral infection that landed me in the hospital for close to a week. A few weeks beforehand, my liver enzymes began creeping up, and as it happened, corresponded to when they reduced my immunosuppresion medications. It’s normal to do this, but it’s not an exact science. I thought for sure I was headed for rejection, which actually happened before, during my first transplant back in 2002 (I was transplanted in 1997).

I felt fine at first, no symptoms whatsoever. then about ten days ago, out of nowhere started the chills, but initially no fever. I called my transplant coordinate and it was decided that I should make the trip down the Thruway to Strong as a precaution. Fortunately, I was directly admitted as opposed to spending an interminable amount of time in the ED. By the time I got in there, my fever was registering at 102F, and I was feeling pretty lousy. Twenty-four hours later, all that changed.

I was connected to an IV and given IV antibiotics, one in particular, Daptomycin, is a new class of them, and is akin to an atomic bomb to bacteria. It has no known resistance (yet), and works quickly and efficiently…

 

To be continued…

 

 

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution.

I’m going to catch hell for this, I know it, but I’m afraid I can’t help expressing my opinion on the idea of gender blind casting in the theatre. In short, while it can work in some cases, in many others, it simply doesn’t. Case in point: The latest Broadway smash  musical Hamilton, is looking to cast women in some key roles:

http://flavorwire.com/564160/philadelphia-production-of-hamilton-looking-to-cast-women-as-washington-and-burr

Washington and Burr as portrayed by women? Am I the only one that sees a problem with this idea? We’re not talking fictional characters here, such as in The Odd Couple, which has cast women in the roles of Felix and Oscar. In Hamilton, we’re dealing with people that really existed. Big difference as I see it. While gender bending is nothing new, just because it can be done doesn’t always mean that it should be done. I think that many an audience member would have trouble accepting the idea of both Washington and Burr being portrayed by women, especially in Washington’s case. Every time you pull a dollar bill out of your pocket, there is his image staring back right at you. Burr might not be as recognizable a figure as Washington (his main claim to fame was killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel), but it’s still plenty obvious that in the annals of history, he was a man, as was Washington.

Some have pointed out that in Shakespeare’s time, men played the roles of women on stage. This however was an unfair comparison, as in that day and age women were forbidden from performing on stage. It was considered unseemly, and acting as a profession in general was not held in high regard a sit were. In our day and age however, as this is no longer an issue, the idea of either gender playing any role seems to be paramount. Even in film, sometimes characters can be written with no particular gender in mind This was the case in the landmark science fiction masterpiece, Alien. The character of Ripley, which vaulted Sigourney Weaver into stardom, was originally written with no gender in mind.

Hamilton however, would do a disservice to reality by casting women in roles that clearly were meant to be portrayed by men. You can’t simply toss aside history for the sake of art, at least not in this case.

The other question that bears asking is, why? Why do it? Will it serve the story better in any way? Will it make a point in some way? What about the playwright’s intentions? In his own words words, Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda stated that,

“I’m totally open to women playing founding fathers once this goes into the world. I can’t wait to see kick-ass women Jeffersons and kickass women Hamiltons once this gets to schools,” (See article link above for a further explanation.)

I’m sorry if this sounds somewhat chauvinistic, but why would he want to confuse kids into thinking that the Founders were actually women, and not men? It’s a simple historical fact, and not some kind of value judgment. I guess as I read more and more about that era in history, I became more convinced that facts need to be told correctly, even if it is a musical theatrical production.

Maybe however, I’m just getting older, and less tolerant of change for change’s sake.

hamilton-01-800

You don’t have to thank me. You have to pay me.

“You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.”Jim Rohn
There was a recent article that I came across on Facebook, via Freelancers Union, that quoted a Huffington Post editor as saying that he doesn’t pay his writers because:

“When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

I call bullshit. While it’s very noble to volunteer your writing skills, when it becomes your primary source of income then getting paid is an essentially part of your craft. As some of the comments pointed out, does this editor get paid for his services? Most likely, which brands him a hypocrite. It’s hard enough for freelance writers to et paid for their services at at reasonable rate, and on time, without having editors like this making it even tougher on us.

Yes, when I first started writing, I did a lot of it for free, in order to establish a portfolio of work. However, once I made the decision to make a go as a freelancer for a career, that changed. I may not have gotten paid a lot sometimes, but at least I did get paid. Now that I’m planning on resuming freelancing again once I’m recuperated fully, you can bet that I’ll be demanding pay for what I write. I don’t want to stay on SSD forever, as much as it has helped tremendously.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin
Here’s to the restart of my writing career, and here’s the link to the article in question