Found while organizing old files: an audio piece from a few winters ago on Mr. Ash, owner of a charming little magic shop in Chicago. Recorded serviceably on a Belkin iPod mic.
I saw my first Miyazaki film on Cartoon Network in a hotel room. It was the spring of 2007, though I can’t recall which city my family and I were in or why we were on the road at all. But I do remember watching Derrick Rose in the basketball state championship game on TV — so we must have been close to home — while waiting for the shower. Flipping through channels after the game, I stumbled onto Spirited Away.
Since then, I’ve seen just about every Miyazaki film. I ordered Princess Mononoke on DVD later that year, and a couple summers ago I went through every film of his the library had.
I own a fair number of them now, and every birthday a few more get added to the collection. My Neighbor Totoro was a gift in the fall, one I’d seen only once, during that summer binge.
A few days ago, I finally watched it again. That it took so long says a lot.
There’s plenty to like: it’s lovely to look at, and there’s no shortage of tender moments or imagination.
But it never felt like a movie for me, a childless 20-something, and that’s why I hadn’t revisited it. I felt both too old for it and not old enough. Never would I pull it from the shelf over, say, Mononoke or Nausicaa, films so much larger, so much more narratively complex. That’s not a knock on Totoro; it’s simply a reflection of what most resonates with me at this point in my life.
So it is what it is: A very fine film, just not one made for me.
“Yo, you remember that vegan protestor from last week?”
“Oh yeah, sure. She looked kind of hungry, so I took a taco salad out to her. She gave me this appalled look at first and was gonna slap me with her ANIMALS DON’T EAT US (NOT VERY OFTEN ANYWAY) sign, but when I told her almost all our stuff is ‘clean,’ she understood. She screams at people outside KFC now.”
“What if she’s right? About being a vegan or vegetarian, I mean.”
“Dude, man has been eating animals for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s totally natural. What’s so wrong about that?”
“But what if some aliens came to Earth—”
“It’s possible to do that eardrum-popping palm slap thing to yourself, right? We’ll find out shortly, in any case.”
“No, listen, really. What if some aliens came to Earth and started harvesting us? Like, if our species became a new intergalactic delicacy that these super-advanced alien races couldn’t get enough of. And so their ships set up in the atmosphere and drop down these, like, vacuum cleaner things. Suck up thousands of people an hour. It’s like Deadliest Catch, but we’re the crabs.”
“At least you’d survive. They throw back the scrawny unappetizing ones, right?”
“Hardy-har-har. I’m being serious here. How is that different from us eating animals? We catch them and eat them, whether they’re happy about it or not. Maybe cows are saying, ‘Please don’t eat me, I really rather like living, kind sir, so just put down the cleaver and we’ll discuss this quarrel of yours like civilized folk, really I mean it, no, don’t, please, oh heavens, THINK OF MY CHILDREN!’ when they moo. How do we know?”
“You’re reaching, man. They’re just animals, there for the taking. Dumb and practically mindless, all of them. They eat and poop and squeeze out babies once in a while. There’s nothing special about ‘em.”
“But, like, it’s all relative. A super-advanced alien race could say the same about us. To galaxy-touring aliens, we’re closer to amoebas than to them.”
“Look, there’s a cutoff, though. Once you reach a certain level of intelligence, it’d just be wrong to harvest a species like that. You’d hope the aliens would have super-advanced morals, too.”
“And humans are conveniently above the threshold, while other animals are not.”
“Well, sure. Pigs didn’t build the frickin’ iPad, yo, that thing is so slick.”
“But is it, like, fair to judge an animal by human standards?”
“Does your head hurt too?”
“Couldn’t these aliens just clone us or grow our tissue on a stick or something?”
“My guess is that the alien corporate bigwigs got it banned, to keep supply scarce and prices real high. It is a delicacy, after all. Plus the yuppies that buy the stuff would never tolerate anything less than all-natural, free-range, totally-happy human.”
“Why do you even care about all this? You’re not a vegan.”
“I tried to give it up, but meat just tastes so good, you know?”
“I’ll try to remember that while the aliens eat me. A point of pride, even. ‘Can’t blame you,’ I’ll say while one nibbles on my leg. ‘If I’d known I was this delicious, I’d have eaten me, too.’ Hey, you think there’s ever been a suicide by cannibalism?”
“That’s sort of what death by starvation is, when you think about it. Happens all the time.”
“Yeah, well, just be thankful and eat the rest of that chalupa before I do.”
I heard him, just barely, calling from amid a pile of the dead. His legs were gone, his arms in tatters, and he had not even the strength to open his eyes.
Clutching the trembling remains of a hand, I leaned in close. There was nothing to be done but provide a little comfort and carry on the final words of this dying warrior.
They came slowly, the words, raspy and desiccated between woeful moans.
“We have dealt a terrible blow, but … there is …” — whispers now — “another … crystal shard.”
And then death took him, and it would soon claim our world as well, unless someone among us could find the shard and restore THE DARK CRYSTAL.
My head’s full of lots of really goofy ideas, little scraps of whimsy and wild hypothetical that pop into my head throughout the day and, most commonly, as I drift off to sleep. I always keep a pen and notebook near me to capture them, no matter how dumb. (See: some recent tweets.)
So I decided to do something with those scraps. Every weekday (most, anyway) since April I’ve set aside 30 minutes to write something silly. Most of my daily tales aren’t great, but sometimes I write something clever. And it’s a fun writing exercise, if nothing else. Rather than let the good ones collect figurative dust on my hard drive, I’m going to start posting them here, maybe weekly.
Expect the first peek into my Daily Tale project tomorrow.
I came across the name of a Cubs minor leaguer in a newspaper article last week, and I’d never heard of him. Not even in a fuzzy, didn’t-he-get-drafted-like-three-years-ago kind of way. A totally foreign figure. That hasn’t happened to me in years.
I haven’t followed the Cubs closely for a while now. I still read the stories and monitor the standings, but gone is the rabidity of my middle- and high-school years, when I’d inhale a dozen Cubs blogs a day and stay up way too late composing entries of my own. The Cubs were my life.
But I got burned out, I think. Maybe being so invested emotionally in the team in the 2000s did it. The club was so good for a few of those years (best record in the NL in 2008, several division titles, and then there was 2003…) that believing in a World Series run was actually rational for a change. So each time the team degenerated into a collection of spine- and brainless amoebas when it mattered most, a part of my soul blackened and withered. I don’t read any Cubs blogs now, much less write one. I can’t muster that old enthusiasm anymore.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve surely noticed that I often tweet about the Chicago Bulls these days, with the Cubs making only occasional appearances. It’s a kind of reversion to the pre-1998 me, when the Cubs were abysmal and the Bulls were, well, the Bulls of the ’90s. You can guess which team I, along with every other young kid in Chicagoland, gave my attention to. It was only after M.J. retired and Sammy Sosa made the Cubs relevant again that I really started following pro baseball.
Predictably, my attention has swung back the other way more than a decade later. The Cubs are in a fallow period, and suddenly, after years of floundering, the Bulls are championship contenders again. Derrick Rose — who entered the NBA as the Cubs began their downward swing and with whom I’ve always felt that weird we’re-the-same-age kinship — is an MVP candidate, leading the Bulls to (as I write this) the best record in the East. Plus there’s the nostalgia overload that was last Saturday’s ‘90-91 title anniversary event. I’ve been sucked all the way back in.
So when I hadn’t heard of that minor-league Cub, it startled me for a second, but no longer. I can name every Bull, something I can only mostly do for the Cubs, and that’s fine by me. So it is with interest and passion, beyond just sports teams. And who knows? Ten years from now I might be a whacked-out Bears fan or something.
I’ll always hate the Sox, though, no matter how bad the rest of Chicago’s teams. You’ve got to have some standards, you know.
I never saw Ron Santo play; by the time I was born he was already long-retired. But for every year I can remember, he was behind the mic for Cubs games on WGN Radio, letting his Cubbie-blue blood on the air 162 days a year. Ron’s resolve was unparalleled, and if he could suffer through so many years of losing and misfortune, on the field and in the booth, through all the devastating Hall of Fame snubs, through the diabetes that took his legs, through the cancer that took his life, and still, after all that battering, radiate hope for the Cubs and the future, then certainly, no matter how dark the day, I could keep going, too.
I’ll always remember Ron, not because he was always insightful or witty on the air, because he wasn’t often either. No, I’ll remember his humanity, his wide-open heart, his unflinching courage, and his boundless faith in his beloved ball club.
A greater Cubs fan there never was.
I spend a good amount of time each day in front of my laptop, reading. For news and blog posts, the computer’s great, but for long reads it’s a terrible pain. Poor design and backlit screens wear on the eyes, and distractions abound. The result: I’d send many stories to Instapaper, but read few of them. In the evenings I’d reach for the book beside my bed, not my laptop.
Until the Kindle.
A recent birthday gift, the Kindle finally gives me the means to read the web’s bounty of long-form journalism, which I love so dearly, without wanting to gouge out my eyes afterwards. I can sit in bed with this tiny thing and have access to anything I want to read—be it books or Instapaper’ed articles—on a screen that looks awfully similar to a printed page. At last I can read whatever, whenever and wherever I want. That still seems like sorcery to me.
In the last few months, I’ve read more great stories than over any other span I can remember. And with so many Kindles, iOS devices and other reading machines now in the hands of consumers, I know I’m not alone. That bodes well for journalism and publishing, and a more promising future for both I can’t imagine.
Witness the crush of people in front of the 10-foot-wide window into Wrigley Field. Where they congregated before 2006, when the knothole in the outfield wall was carved, I do not know. But they are together now.
A friend and I went to the Cubs’ home opener a few years ago. We had no tickets and no plan, just too much time on a cool, spring afternoon and a desire to be there. We jogged to the Purple Line and got to Wrigley soon after the first pitch. The oscillating hum of 40,000 hopeful fans flooded our ears. We circled the ballpark, past the Waveland ballhawks perched on their folding chairs, and, in the distance on Sheffield, there they were.
I counted a dozen as we took our place behind them. Like us, they were ticketless and wanted only to catch a glimpse of their heroes, their fleet-footed gods, through the chain-link fence. They crowded around the knothole, peering into right field with faces pressed close, and chattered about the game and their lives. Most were probably homeless. A tall, thin man sporting Cubs hat and unkempt beard alternated between bites of a McDonald’s burger and swigs of something pungent from a bottle swaddled in a paper bag. An older woman, silver-streaked hair in disarray, held a small battery-powered radio to her ear, listening intently to WGN’s Ron Santo and Pat Hughes. Another, a rotund man with twinkling eyes, crooned softly in his hoarse baritone, the songs absurdist and surely of his own devising. No one seemed to mind.
When a Cub swatted a hit, fanned a batter or did something similarly momentous, the onlookers traded celebratory high-fives and exclamations, even with us. We edged closer every inning, sucked in by their charm. When a Brewer drove a ball into the corner and against our gate, we all spasmed in excitement as Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs’ rightfielder, ran toward us to retrieve the ball. We could hear the thunder of his feet on the warning track dirt, the grunt that escaped his lips as he threw the ball toward the infield with an audible whoosh of the arm. We were captivated; we were one.
Fukudome, a Japanese import playing his first game at Wrigley, stepped to the plate in the last of the ninth with two runners on and the Cubs down by three. The crowd roared and we rattled our fence, tingling from the electricity in the air. A home run was too much to ask for, we knew. Just get on base somehow, we prayed. Don’t let this end. The pitch hurtled toward home. Fukudome swung and the ball leapt from his bat, climbing high and toward the part of the outfield our little window would not allow us to see. It flew out of sight.
Then the crowd erupted. He had tied it! As Fukudome trotted around the bases, my friend and I celebrated with these eccentric strangers-turned-comrades, several of them dancing odd jigs, united by a brief but fantastic moment in time. One young man insisted on sharing a chest bump with everyone.
The game went into extra innings, but we had to leave before the conclusion. I had an evening lab and, the quarter having just started, I couldn’t miss the first class. We waved goodbye and walked to the El, still buzzing. The Cubs would lose a heartbreaker as I rode back to school, and the ballpark was surely filled with pained wails and moans. But for a few moments that day at the knothole, the Cubs brought us all pure, collective joy—and nary a bit of fatigue.
A great Western, and very funny, too.
Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges are getting plenty of well-deserved accolades, but the brief performances from a smattering of actors—like Ed Corbin, Joe Stevens and Barry Pepper—really made the movie for me.