Thursday, July 28, 2016

Star Trek Beyond -- A Review

Star Trek! 

Let me just start this review with what they did right.

James Tiberius Kirk played by Chris Pine -- a little preachy, a lot earnest -- check.

Spock, Zachary Quinto -- quite attractive, appropriately serious, just a dash of delightful naivete, maybe a shade too much emotion but then he's romantically involved in this film -- I'll give him a Yes!

Uniforms -- also a Yes! A bit Michael Jackson if he'd ever worn denim and I did question those chain-suspendery things. Looked too much like really big, beer can pop tops. But hey, I'm into repurposing as much as anybody.

Makeup -- Excellent. The new girl especially.

Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah, a brash, competent, beautiful alien who has the coolest special effects in the film. She does this hologram-multiplication trick that is spectacular.
  And the bad guy, Idris Elba as Krall. I like the little LEDs along his ridges.

The opening scene gets a Yes! Captain Kirk is presenting what he thinks is a precious symbol of peace, a gift to the gargoyle-ish Teenaxi from their arch enemies the Fenopians. It's a typical Kirk scene. It reminded both my husband and me of our bad cat Kocka.

(For those of you who don't know about Kocka, he's a fluffy grey cat who's more than a little prickly. I have scars.)

And the space station Yorktown is bright and beautiful which is exactly how I imagine the future to be.

I've been a dedicated Star Trek fan since Gene Roddenberry took us on that first five-year mission of the Star Ship Enterprise into Space, the final frontier to explore new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. (Can't you hear the music welling in the background?)

That was in 1966. The shows were filled with humor and new ideas and people and creatures who didn't look like everybody else on TV.

The wit and wisdom has been replaced by shock and awe. Where we used to have characters with dialogue, they give us explosions and the tinkling of broken glass. So, okay, I like 3D. I like XD. I like flashing lights and loud noises. I mean I've been to a Jefferson Starship concert where I could hold my hands against my chest and FEEL the music. My ears rang for days.

But Good Grief! Enough is enough. And the celebration of modern movie technological marvels should not replace wit and wisdom. I mean the best lines were from Scotty, played by Simon Pegg -- not surprisingly one of the screen writers.

I love science fiction. I write science fiction. Check out Murder on Ceres.

But this is the last Star Trek movie I'll spend my time on. I actually fell asleep watching it. How could it be so boring with all that noise and bother?

Maybe I have entered my curmudgeon-hood. Now "Get off my lawn!"

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 23, 2016 -- Nonfiction

This was my father on July 20, 2016. It was taken his first morning at New Dawn Memory Care. He had had a good night and looked better than I'd seen him in some time. And he was lucid. We had a conversation.

Daddy has dementia. I don't know if it's vascular dementia or Alzheimer's. It doesn't matter. Both lead to death by a circuitous and often torturous road.

He had been living in a residential care home, but he had started exhibiting aggressive behaviors -- pushing, lashing out physically -- and they asked us to move him because they were not set up to take care of patients like him. 

My father had never been aggressive in his life, as far as I knew. He didn't drink. I'd never heard him use profanity. The most violent thing I'd ever seen him do was many years ago when I was in high school.

My mother, brother, and I were at the breakfast table with Daddy. And Daddy lost his temper with Momma. Now, you've got to understand that my mother who was an interesting, brilliant, and passionate woman could be the most frustrating person on the planet. But Daddy just never seemed to get mad at her. That morning we were having pancakes and there was a stick of butter still in its wrapper sitting on the table. He got so angry he snatched up that stick of butter and hurled it to the floor right next to his chair. 

I don't remember what Momma was going on about, but I can guarantee you that we all hushed up.

Daddy still doesn't use profanity, but, and I've never witnessed it myself, his care givers have said he's pushed them, struck out at them, and held them by their wrists and wouldn't let go. These are caring women, but they are small. Daddy, though not large compared to most of my family, is about 5'9" 152 pounds and physically quite strong.

He has minor to moderate hearing loss compounded by the dementia. Because he is slow to comprehend speech and then formulate the appropriate response, people think he doesn't hear them. They talk louder, literally raising their voice. When we lose our hearing, it often presents in the loss of the higher tones. So he hears less that is recognizable and feels that he is being shouted at which leads to agitation. 

The caregivers were not native English speakers and had strong accents. One of the symptoms of his dementia involved frightening hallucinations so you add to that being spoken to in an English he didn't understand and I think he felt threatened and was trying to protect himself.

He was wheelchair-bound so it was pretty easy for them to keep him corralled, but finding a regular nursing home that would accept him was impossible because of the aggressive behavior. I thought if we could just get his medications adjusted, his agitation and aggression could be controlled.  The homes I talked to were not prepared to take on that responsibility. And I understand that. 

I want Daddy to be safe and comfortable. I also want the people who care for him to be safe.

One of the nursing homes I talked to called me back and suggested that Daddy go to a memory care facility long enough to get his meds adjusted and then he could move into a nursing home.

Memory care facilities are very expensive and the ones I had talked to do not take Medicare/Medicaid. Daddy's current financial situation will pay for his care for a while, but it can take a long time for a person with dementia to die. It certainly is not beyond imagining that he will outlive his money. So I've got to make his money go as far as it will and then we will have to tap into whatever benefits we can. Including Medicare/Medicaid.

With dementia there are good days and bad days. Often there are good moments and bad moments. That first night at New Dawn was a good one. That next day when this picture was taken was a good one.

His second day there I resumed my preferred manner of life -- a walk, then my Silver Sneakers exercise class. I had been spending time each morning with Daddy because he was calm while I was there. We had a private care giver come in every afternoon except holidays when the cost doubled. I covered those afternoons. 

It hadn't been bad. Much of the time we talked about old times, went for walks when it wasn't too hot, played catch with a big ball, or just sat quietly waiting for lunch.

That second day while I was walking and exercising, Daddy fell twice. The first time was at breakfast. He dropped his spoon on the floor and was leaning over to pick it up. They called while I was walking, but assured me he was fine.

Before I arrived for my afternoon visit, he had fallen out of his chair again. They didn't know exactly how it happened, but I knew from experience that Daddy often thinks he sees things on the floor and will try to pick them up. The second fall had caused injuries to his right shoulder and ribs. 

When I got there he was in a big easy chair listing far to his right, propped on a pillow, and extremely confused. Any movement caused him a great deal of pain. I had to decide. To transport to a hospital or not to transport.

They could and would do x-rays there at New Dawn. So we could determine if anything was broken without transporting. They could and would get pain meds prescribed by their physician. Okay.

But to determine whether or not he'd had a stroke would require a CT scan at a hospital.

I tried to get Daddy to smile. One of the symptoms of stroke is drooping on one side of the face, easily noticeable when a patient smiles. There was maybe a little drooping. One eye seemed slightly more dilated than the other, but when the nurse used a pen light, both eyes reacted appropriately.

Then the question was, if he had had a stroke how would he be treated differently at a hospital than where he was. At New Dawn they have a registered nurse 24 hours a day. They have a doctor on call 24 hours a day. And we had long ago, along with a capable Daddy, decided we would take no heroic, life-saving actions. 

So we decided not to transport, and I fed him his supper in the chair where he sat listing to his right.

The nurse asked me to consider applying for hospice care. For some families that's a frightening suggestion, but not for me. We had had hospice with my mother during her last days. And one of the ladies at the residential care facility had just graduated from hospice. That means she had stabilized and was not likely to die in the near future. So I did not take the nurse's suggestion as an indicator that she was announcing a death sentence for Daddy.

My only experience with hospice had been a good one. My sister-in-law is a hospice nurse. I have never heard of a bad hospice. The next morning I met with a Compassus intake worker. She examined Daddy and his records and signed us up. They will provide the supplies and equipment he will need. They will help us find a nursing home when he's ready for the move. And they will follow him. They will be a second set of eyes and minds working with whatever facility he's in. They will give me the information I will need to make whatever decisions I will need to make. I can't tell you what a weight that has taken off my shoulders.

So come the next morning I walked with my walking group at Main Reservoir. I was not worried about Daddy and it was a beautiful day. There was a white pelican on the water. And cormorants, and duck families. People were fishing or just sharing the shade. We met or were passed by other walkers, each as friendly as the ones before and after.

A small backwater on the north side of the lake.
See the line of algae across the middle of the picture?
It looks as though it's floating in the air.

Some of us walked to the Starbucks by the lake for coffee and whatever. I know. I know. Walking like this will do nothing good for your waistline, but the companionship will sooth the soul.

After lunch, the hospice nurse called to tell me that Daddy was doing less well. She had increased his pain medication and changed his diet to pureed food and thickened liquids. Choking is a real risk for patients who can't sit upright to eat and drink. Not so much because they'll choke to the point of not being able to breathe, but aspiration of anything into the lungs can cause pneumonia which would be one more danger and discomfort for Daddy.

I shouldn't have been surprised to see what condition Daddy was in, but I was. He's now pretty much bedridden. He didn't know me.

I live in metropolitan Denver. We are in the High Plains Desert which means we usually measure rainfall in tenths or even hundredths of inches and we are glad to get whatever we can. The sun here is fierce so clouds are a joy both for the immediate relief of summer heat and the promise of precipitation to come. 

 This is what I saw on my way home.

In the distance are the Foothills of the
Front Range Mountains. The light here
is ever a wonder. If you look closely
you can see shafts of sunlight alternating with
the dark of what could be either rain or virga.

And closer to home
That bald rounded hill in the distance is my Green Mountain. Because it doesn't have trees to speak of and rises almost alone from the prairie I can recognize it from anywhere in the Denver area and I know home is that way. A good anchor in the world when you don't know if tomorrow will be a good day or a bad one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Dream from His Youth -- Flash Fiction

Tom woke, face down in the sand. His head muzzy. As difficult as sitting was, standing would be impossible. Where was he?

He kept his eyes closed. Using both hands, he pushed hair away from his face. At least he still had hair. Most of it anyway. The one loss he didn't have to face.

Ken shaved his head, the fashionable method of dealing with baldness. But he was a good guy, Ken was. Gave him a way back after everything. A job. A ticket to the coast.

They'd been pals all through high school. Both made the team. Had plenty of girls. Went to college. Lots of parties. Probably drank too much then, too.

Then they married. That's when they began to lose touch with each other. Ken married Alice, moved to California, and started his own business.

Tom married Marybeth and went to work for her father. Selling Real Estate. He should have known better. His dad warned him about the job and the drinking. He did pretty well at first, but he wasn't a born salesman. Then the kids came, two beautiful daughters. They needed things. They wanted things. Things he wanted to give them. But Marybeth's father did things. Business things, personal things that Tom couldn't go along with. Drinking made it easier. For a while. Then it all went to hell.

"Come out to the coast," Ken said. "Remember when we were kids and used to talk about living on the beach. Surfing from dawn to dusk."

He did remember. They'd get an old woody, load surf boards on top, and hit the beach.

"I got a job for you. I need an accountant. My guy's retiring," Ken said. "Man, I need someone I can trust and that's what you went to school for. You're a numbers guy, not a damn salesman."

So he did. He quit drinking. Moved to California. Went to meetings. Hadn't touched a drop in two hundred eight-three days. Until last night. He held his throbbing head in his hands. Oh God, what was he thinking?

Ken trusted him. With his car. With his daughter.

His mouth tasted like dirty gym socks. His hands came away from his head sandy with a smudge of red. Lipstick? Ken's daughter didn't wear red lipstick. None of the teens did. Had he been so drunk he didn't remember picking up some woman? Gentle probing discovered a gash over his right eyebrow. He needed a drink.

Ah, yes. Ken's daughter -- a beautiful beach blonde teenager who drank too much, too. At least last night she did. Tom was supposed to drive her and her boyfriend to the prom and to an after party, then deliver them home, put the car in the garage, and enjoy the rest of the weekend. No big deal. He had a book to read while he waited for the kids.

"Hah!" Oh, that hurt. He'd better be quiet.

The after party had turned into several with the kids disappearing at the third one. They took off with friends, leaving him parked in the circle drive of a spacious two-story Mediterranean estate with x-number of bathrooms, a four-car garage, a pool, and palm trees. Two million and change, no doubt.

Okay, so he'd lost Ken's daughter. What could he have done? Like she pointed out, he wasn't her father. He couldn't make her do anything.

At least he still had the car. The car, a 1936 Phantom II Woody Estate Wagon with a luggage rack on top -- £240,000.00, that's 343,200 American dollars. There it sat right beside him on the beach. A magnificent machine. Talk about a beautiful woman inspiring lust. That ultimate dream of a ride did it for him.

At least he hadn't lost that. He looked at it's roof. No surf board to mar the paint. Well, that was good. He could be glad there wasn't a surf shop open in the middle of the night.

Right now, he wished there hadn't been a liquor store open either. Too bad the kind proprietor had broken the law and sold him booze. He guessed that, technically, he'd broken the law too since it's illegal to buy liquor between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Gentle waves touched him as he sat there. How near the water was he? The tide must be coming in. He'd better move the car. He checked his pockets for the keys then realized he must have left them in the car. Yes, he could see them, still in the ignition. Thank goodness for that.

He pulled on the door handle. It was locked.

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 The News -- Nonfiction


Things are wrong in our world. But it's getting better. I'm getting better.

When I was a child, black people were not allowed in the amusement parks in our city. Or the "public" swimming pools. They weren't allowed to eat in the cafes in our town. They weren't allowed to be in our town after dark. At some point it occurred to me to wonder how a parent explained to their child why. How do you explain to your child that they've done nothing wrong, that they were just flat out born wrong?

I didn't realize that I, too, was just flat out born wrong. My white advantage gave me a distorted view of the world and my place in it. The white world I was born into set me up to be afraid, afraid of people who were "unfortunate" enough to be different from me. I didn't understand that that was my misfortune as well.

I didn't meet a Jew until Girl Scout Camp the summer after the 6th grade. I've still not been inside a mosque or a Hindu temple. I do not personally know a woman who wears a hijab.

I certainly never had trouble understanding the anxiety of a police officer's mother about whether her child would survive the job. Police work is dangerous. They deal with dangerous people in dangerous situations. Not people like "us."

We want to believe and want our children to believe that police officers are here to protect and serve. The truth is I find them frightening when I encounter them doing their duty. Like during a traffic stop. They have the gun. They have the power.

In light of our ongoing history, I must consider the anxiety of a black man's mother. She knows her son may not survive going to the grocery store. To the baseball game with his friends. Stopping at a convenience store for a six-pack. And if that black man happens to be big like my own son . . ..

The talk? Yes, we had the talk with my white son. "Be courteous. Say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir,'" we told him. If he was treated rudely or unfairly, we would complain and seek redress later. There is a proper and safe time and place to speak truth to power. It is not on the street. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white.

In my comfortable world, I'm not afraid of the sheriff's deputy who lives next door. I know him. He has two young children. Their brightly colored beach balls occasionally end up on our side of the fence. He works in his yard and barbecues. I hardly ever think about him being a cop. Except when I happen to see him going to work in his uniform. Or when something terrible happens to policemen somewhere. Then I think about him and realize just how much I appreciate what he does and I'm aware of how much I want him to come home safe at the end of his tour each day.

That old hometown of mine is better now.

You can visit amusement parks no matter what color you are. And "public" swimming pools are truly public. You can eat in any restaurant in that town and live in that town without regard to the color of your skin. (Maybe because of its disgraceful history, it never developed a "black side of town.")

There is a mosque in that town, but the town is still pretty white. The town I live in now is even whiter, so, if I don't watch the news, it's easy to forget the troubles in this country. It's easy to dismiss my passive complicity in these troubles.

Truth is I don't have to watch the news. I get called out by Bill Nye, the Science Guy. "Change the world," he says. "If you don't believe you can, then why the heck are you here?"

Why the heck, indeed. Starting with me.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Elie Wiesel -- In Gratitude

Image result for elie wiesel quotes

This kind of silence hurts the bystander and allows the oppressor to harm himself. Elie Wiesel spoke up. We don't need a holocaust or a cross burning or a riot downtown for us to speak up.

When a beloved family member reverts to bigotry we can speak up. A simple "That's not right" will be enough.

When a friend says something ugly about another friend. "That's not right" will be enough.

When someone, bullies someone in the school hallway, an offer to walk with the one being bullied will be enough, whether we know them or not. And if we do know them, our intervention will mean even more.

We can speak up in our own lives, in our own corner of the world, and in our own time in history.

When I heard that Elie Wiesel had died I felt no sadness, only gratitude that he had lived and that he spoke up.