Saturday, September 10, 2016

Clifford John Raymond

My wife took this photo. It perfectly captures Dad's good humor
and impishness.
July 27, 1932 - September 6, 2016

My father passed away unexpectedly this past Tuesday. He had been in and out of hospitals a lot lately. He'd gladly tell you he'd been hospitalized 23 times in 24 months. Every time he experienced anything happening in his body that didn't feel right, he'd call my step-sister or his brother Bruce if he was in Florida, or an ambulance and off to the hospital he'd go. Dad was far from being a hypochondriac, but he knew he was in his 80s, lived alone, and didn't want to die of self-neglect. 

Each time the facility would run its battery of tests, give him a clean bill of health, and kick him loose two days later. This visit was no different, in the beginning. Dad went into ER on Labor Day with a bad case of chills and fatigue that wound up being a pneumonia that had set in deeply over the weekend. But then we were told that an underlying lung disease was complicating things. Shockingly, it was the first time anyone in the family - including Dad - had learned he had a lung disease. 

In the end, nothing would bring his blood-oxygen up to survivable levels, and his body shut down very quickly. I was sitting with him in the hospital, talking to him clearly and easily at 11:30 Monday night. Just before 7:30 Tuesday morning, he was gone.

The blessing is that it was quick. The curse is that it caught us all by total surprise, tripling our grief. 

Here, for the record and for anyone who couldn't be at the funeral, is my eulogy. I feel like I failed to do justice to the man, missing any childhood anecdotes completely, but Dad never really talked about his life growing up. So I worked with what I had.

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Dad, circa 1945.
Believe it or not, there was a time in his life when Cliff Raymond had hair. This young, redheaded, freckle-faced boy the entire town of Marion called “Sonny” loved to play and loved to eat. He tried to join the Army more than once during World War 2 and again when the Korean Conflict arrived, but was always turned down due to a childhood illness that punctured both of his eardrums.

He wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Jane, and they moved away from Marion and struck out on their own life and adventures. The man you know as a devout lay minister with a passion to live and preach the Gospel wasn’t always this way. Christ was an afterthought early in their lives. Dad smoked, swore freely, and both Mom and Dad liked to drink more than they should at one of the local watering holes.

The problem was that they would drink too much and when that happened, well … Jane got a little flirty and Cliff got jealous. It was a bad combination. There were never any barroom brawls, but there was plenty of fighting with each other once they got home. Dad confided in me just recently that if Jane hadn’t died at 33, they probably would have divorced.

Cliff and Jane tried to have children. Oh, how they tried. If everything had worked like it was supposed to work, I would have been one of six siblings … all brothers! But Mom suffered from Juvenile Diabetes (what they now call Type 1), and it made pregnancies extremely difficult. She had one miscarriage, two of my brothers were stillborn, and two others lived for just a few days. They are buried next to her in the Marion Cemetery.

So they tried to adopt. They went through all the applications, all the background checks, all the rigorous agency interviews, and at the final step, they were denied. Jane was livid. Violence was about to ensue when Dad, who had been clued in on the reason, simply told Mom, “I’ll tell you later,” and got  her out of there. They had been turned down for adoption at the very end because the doctor doing the physical on Mom’s diabetic condition told the agency she would be dead within five years.

The fam, early in my life. I inherited
that gap in Mom's teeth.
Well, the joke was on that doctor. Jane lived for *10* more years and gave birth to me. I was born on a Friday morning – just in time for Captain Kangaroo – and taken directly to church on Sunday to be dedicated. Because Mom and Dad were Baptists; had been all their lives. And Baptists – despite the name – don’t baptize babies. We could only be dedicated to the Lord until we were old enough to make our own decision about baptism.

Soon after, Mom and Dad became more serious about their faith. And Dad found a steady job as a “Storekeeper” with the State of Michigan. He worked with office supplies, inventory, and requisitions for every government office in the State. He created new inventory and reorder systems … that other people took credit for. But eventually he became the Head Storekeeper and the job offered enough benefits and pay that we were able to move to a better home, even while Jane’s health failed. We moved to the house that Dad would spend the rest of his life in, and Jane passed away in September of 1969.

Dad and I did everything together over the next year. He took me to my first baseball game (the Tigers lost to the Royals), and we would “rough it” in a camper that fit on the bed of a pickup truck. As we’d drive, a bug would splat on the windshield and Dad would call out in a challenging voice, “I bet you won’t have the guts to do *that* again!” I’m pretty sure that’s where I picked up my love of puns. 

One day we had stopped at a roadside park overlooking Lake Michigan, and there was a sign posted that said, “Danger: Overhanging Cliff.” Dad couldn’t resist. Somehow he managed to climb up to the top of that sign, leaned over it, and mugged a menacing look while I snapped the photo. It was a fantastic picture and a beautiful, spontaneous moment.

And then we left that camera on the bumper of the pickup as we drove away. Never saw it again. But I still have that picture (in my mind).

Dad loved cooking on the grill. One night I brought a friend from school home unexpectedly and asked if he could stay for dinner. Dad said, “Sure!” and threw another steak on the grill. He definitely enjoyed using his gift of hospitality. Later his “chicken on the grill” became something of a legend among us family members. Colonel Sanders had nothing on Pop’s finger lickin’ chicken.

Finally, feeling so alone I would find him crying late at night, Dad began to date again and before too long remarried a widow, Hazel Dast, in February of 1971. Widow women were to become an important part of his life, later.

Mom Hazel and Dad, circa 2008.
Hazel became the great love of his life. Dad doted on her. Mom gave Dad a sense of stability, a profoundly delicious set of meals each night, and a circle of friends he never had and he gave her everything he could. Dad loved Hazel’s cooking. Her banana bread recipe was so good she had to make extra and freeze them for friends, and no one in the family has yet been able to duplicate that taste. 

When Mom had made a particularly good meal, Pop would sit back and utter a phrase that I’m sure many of you have heard. He was “sufficiently suffoncified,” but I’ll bet many of you don’t know the whole phrase, which Dad would pronounce to signify such a good meal he’d have to go sleep it off: “I am sufficiently suffoncified so that any further intake would be offensive to my most fastidious tastes.”

Cliff and Hazel loved to travel. They went to Hawaii with their best friends, and went camping a lot, almost everywhere across the U.S., really – turning that tiny pickup bed camper into a 24-foot fifth-wheeler, one upgrade at a time. They loved camping, fishing, deer hunting, and nature in general.

When Dad retired from his job with the State of Michigan, Hazel and Cliff rented a campsite in Texas and began to winter there, eventually selling that fifth wheel camper and buying an actual retirement home in the Country Palms RV Park in McAllen, Texas. They loved the people of the park. They loved crossing into Mexico - just an hour away - for cheap vanilla and would always bring home several bottles for friends. They loved the park “jam sessions” and Dad would often play his harmonica and sing. He became known for his outspoken faith, and eventually the park asked him if he would become the “Park Pastor,” which he gladly accepted. He and Mom would visit shut-ins, make the rounds of the park so they knew everyone, and Dad would get to preach on Sundays.

That desire to care for people continued when they decided to stop going to Texas and returned to Michigan for good – of course even before this part of their life Cliff and Hazel had become great Sunday School teachers here at Judson and would often hold card parties at their home. And they continued to visit shut-ins. Eventually a young pastor named Zachary Bartels was hired to serve here and he brought Cliff alongside him in many of the church ministries, the two becoming good friends. Soon Dad was offered a “license to preach” as a Lay Minister in the American Baptist denomination.  How Dad enjoyed that honor! He occasionally filled the pulpit here, and would preach periodically at a homeless shelter, and he loved loved loved every minute of it.

Then, in late Spring of 2006, something happened that would change the lives of Cliff and Hazel forever. A convertible full of teenagers pulled out directly in front of Mom and Dad like they weren’t even there. Dad T-Boned the car at 50 miles per hour. Guardian angels must have been heavily in abundance that day as no one was killed, though bones were broken and lives were imperiled. 

Neither Cliff nor Hazel were ever the same again. Hazel eventually became housebound, and Dad became her 24-hour caregiver. For five years they led a sheltered, slowly declining life, until Hazel received her promotion to Heaven in midsummer of 2011.

Dad had come to the Internet late in life. He didn’t even own a computer until he was in his 60s, and took the leap onto the Internet at age 70. Well, it was dialup so maybe it was just a small hop. After Mom passed, Dad discovered “chat rooms.” He fell in with a bunch of beautiful people online who loved gardening, God, and gabbing about what was going on in their lives. Every day Dad would send this group of “e-friends” a Scripture verse and a joke, then he’d post a photo he’d taken of something pretty. He loved the comments he got, and I think those people saved my Dad’s life, giving him something to look forward to doing every day.

Dad with his "harem."
About this time he also began to hang out with his other “widow women” whom he and others laughingly referred to as his “harem.” You know who you are – Jean, Jerre, Jeanie, and Donna – and I need to tell you that not only did Dad depend upon you for comfort and company, but he always looked forward to helping take you places, clearing up your “honey-do” lists, and the card parties. He loved the food you'd make for him, and loved that you gave him the comfort and space to lay down and take naps in the middle of your get-togethers.

Dad was never a social person, never a joiner; but he fiercely loved spending time with his family and friends.

Dad told me that Mom wanted him to travel after she passed. She said he should go see the places the two of them would never get to. The year that Mom passed Dad and I took a cruise to Alaska, and soon after I took an early retirement from the Postal Service, Dad and I began to travel in earnest. We went back to Alaska … we drove down to Florida, all the way
Our road trip to Key West.
to the Keys, and back home. We drove all the way across the northeast U.S., into Canada’s New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia, including Prince Edward Island where we shopped at the “Anne of Green Gables” store. Eventually we went to Ireland together in the Spring of 2014.

Ironically, we were in Ireland.
That was his favorite trip, and he took SO MANY pictures. We had rented a car and I was driving – from the right hand side of the vehicle, on the left hand side of the road -- which made him extremely nervous -- and I kept hearing Dad gasp at how beautiful the countryside was, followed quickly by him saying, “Don’t look! Keep your eyes on the road!” We always talked about that trip, and about maybe going back one day.

I always told Dad that we had a symbiotic relationship. He couldn’t travel without my help, and I couldn’t travel without his money.

Dad, of course, was not perfect. He had his flaws.  The word “saw” was a tool in his workshop, and not the past tense of “to see.” If he wanted to tell you about something he saw, it was always, “Oh yeah, I seen that the other day.” But that wasn’t his only crime against grammar. The man never met an apostrophe he couldn’t use inappropriately.  Plurals became possessives, and possessives became plurals.

And he bore the cultural prejudices of growing up in the 30s and 40s … always barely disguising a mistrust of those with a different skin color, especially if you owned a motel and were charging more than he thought you should. But he was also trying to get past that with help from others. He knew better. And he knew that he needed to do better.

Dad at my son's wedding last August.
And Dad loved attention. Oh, let us not deny that. If you were a stranger and met Cliff, you’d know his entire health history, where he’d traveled, and what he’d seen for the last two years within five minutes. He and I had several arguments about the proper way to meet new people. “It’s really not all about you, Dad. Not yet.”

Dad should have sold insurance, because in most everything he did, there was a “backup plan.” He carried TWO wallets. He wore a belt *and* suspenders. He would put Downy fabric softener in the washing machine, and a Bounce dryer sheet in the dryer. He had a digital clock on his DVR and an old analog clock with a battery sitting right next to it in case the power went out.  

He went to bed about 7:30 at night. He’d be back up at midnight checking his email and Facebook. That’s right, Dad joined Facebook and proceeded to violate nearly every social convention you could think of. He posted terribly intimate personal details … on status updates of people he didn’t even know because he saw you had left a comment and he wanted you to know about his thing. Dad hijacked more status updates than an air marshal could stop. For him, Facebook was just a different version of eMail. And he never understood that the entire world could see what he was writing. If he did understand, he just didn’t care.

He’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, and if you weren’t ready to eat by 6am, he began setting the table for breakfast – LOUDLY. He’d bang the pots and pans while he heated the water for coffee. He's not using pots and pans to heat water for coffee, but he'd bang them. Then he’d apologize and ask if he woke you when you came out of the bedroom.

Dad was always a creative type. He went to Ferris State University to study art but dropped
Dad and I in 2013.
out because he couldn’t afford it. I have a lovely charcoal drawing of a still life with fruit in my home. Throughout his life, he would create stuff. He took some surplus telephone wire he’d found and made tiny animal sculptures with it. He took horseshoe nails and turned them into cross necklaces. Some of you may have one. The bolo tie you saw him wearing today was one of his own creations. He made his own greeting cards on a computer program; some of you received those. 

He was well known for giving new life to old mechanical items, salvaging them for another few years of use. His fixes tended to be ugly and look cheap, but the stuff worked and kept on working and he hardly ever charged for the repairs.

Dad once wrote a novel. I bet most of you didn’t know that. It was a Cowboys and Indians story. He only showed it to me once, and he never tried to have it published.

Both Dad and Mom loved to read. Mom would read romance novels, Dad would read westerns and historical fiction. He has pretty much the entire library of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey at home. In fact, he pretty much has an entire library. There are bookshelves overstuffed in almost every room and if the house ever caught fire, it would burn for days.

Dad, in one of the last pictures
ever taken of him, with newest
great-granddaughter, Bailey.
I cannot wrap this up without mentioning his love of a bargain. Getting quality merchandise for cheap “pleases me old Scottish ancestors,” he would say. This led to his love of yard sales. He and Mom held some doozies in their day. He got to be so good at setting up and organizing yard sales that he told me lately he could have made a second career out of being a consultant for that. And it didn’t matter where you were going or what time you had to be there, if he saw a sign advertising a yard sale, you betcha he was going to stop.

I think he and Mom furnished at least two rooms of their home with yard sale merchandise; if not furnished, at least heavily decorated. “Yard Sale-ing” was one of his favorite hobbies and one which age and time could not diminish. If there’s a yard sale on the way to the cemetery, be ready to stop for a few minutes.

Toward the end of his life, he became more impetuous in his decision-making. Perhaps he knew he didn’t have many years left. Three years ago, he calls me up on a Tuesday late in September and says, “I’m tired of winter in Michigan. I’m ready to be a snowbird again; this time in Florida. Could you see if you can find a place for me?”

On Thursday I get a call: “I think I found a place. Could you look it over and see what you think?”

On Saturday, the call comes in: “So I made an offer on the place.” Monday we make travel reservations, fly to Florida on Thursday, buy a mobile home in Zephyrhills on Friday.

A year later, I get an email: “If I buy a second trailer here, would you move in?” Before I can even talk seriously to my wife about this, I get a second email the next day: “So I bought the place.” (insert gesture of frustration)

But my Dad was perhaps most famous for being early. If you asked him to arrive at 10 a.m., he’d be there by 9:15. If he said he would pick you up at 7 o’clock, you had better be ready by 6:30. The man was notorious for this. Even in death. His doctor told him his health was good enough he wouldn’t die for another 8-10 years. We should have known; Dad arrived early.


Let me close by saying that if Cliff were standing here, looking back on his life, he would say he was “sufficiently suffoncified.”
In Waterford, Ireland.
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Dad's obituary can be read here.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. There are never any endings, only beginnings in disguise.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

R.I.P, Muhammad Ali

Cassius Marcellus Clay, Junior was born in January of 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He began training to become a professional boxer at age 12. At age 22, he defeated Sonny Liston in a stunning upset to become the world heavyweight champion. Shortly afterward, he joined the nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He was convicted as a draft dodger in 1967, when he refused to enter the military as a conscript, citing his new religious beliefs. It took four years, but his case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned. 

He fathered nine children, won three heavyweight boxing titles, and won an Olympic Gold Medal for boxing in 1960. He nicknamed himself "The Greatest," and was not afraid to talk openly about being a black man in a white man's world as well as other racial and religious issues. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1984 and he passed away in Arizona this past Friday, June 3. 

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THE WIT and WISDOM OF MUHAMMAD ALI

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

Monday, February 08, 2016

Super Bowl 50: My Favorite Ads

So once again the good people over at Ad Meter (affiliated with USA Today) asked me to be on their panel and rate the 60+ commercials running on this year's Super Bowl telecast.

You can see which ones were voted the best over at the Ad Meter site. This year the panel and I were in fairly close agreement, though only one of the two I thought earned top marks (as opposed to four last year) ended up in the Top Ten. The other was in the top fifteen, however.

By the way, you can see how I rated last year's commercials in this old post.

Of the 63 ads I rated, two were perfect 10's, knocking the ball out of the park with creativity, pathos, identification, product memory, and just sheer quality. To earn a perfect score, the commercial had to move me in some way - let me clarify, some *positive* way - be creative and be produced with quality, and it had to leave me with a good feeling (and a clear image) of the company that made the product.

Four others received "Honorable Mentions" from me, rating a "9" on my scale and lacking only one detail that kept it from being perfect. Nine other ads I was able to rate an "8" and I'm happy to say that of those 15 commercials I thought were the best of the bunch, 13 of them wound up in the top 20 over at the Ad Meter results page (listed above).

Here, then, are my Top 5:

#5: Budweiser's "Simply Put" featuring Helen Mirren

This was one of those commercials that popped up all over social media several days before the game and the weight of its viral release nearly took it under for me, but I'm a sucker for a good actress with a British dialect and a large vocabulary. Hopefully it will bring the word "pillock" (a stupid person, but don't ask about the etymology) back into common use. And Budweiser has promised to donate $1 toward designated driver programs each time the hashtag #GiveADamn is used in promoting an end to drunk driving.

#4: Hyundai's "First Date" featuring Kevin Hart

Personally, I find Kevin Hart's comic persona a little too abrasive but here he dials it back just enough to connect with me and I love the way the commercial ends. Couldn't give it a perfect score because I couldn't remember the name of the car (or even the manufacturer). The storyline overshadowed the feature it was trying to promote. But it came out as #1 overall so Hyundai did something right.

#3: Honda's "A New Truck to Love" featuring music by Queen

It's got the cute factor, killer music by Queen, and a nice little twist at the end. Ad Age Magazine says the ad agency studied the facial muscles of the sheep to more perfectly form their special effect singing. The little detail that kept me from scoring it perfectly was I couldn't remember the name of the truck. It's Honda's new Ridgeline brand, by the way.

#2: Jeep's "Portraits"

There seems to be that one commercial in every Super Bowl that tugs at your patriotic heartstrings. One that makes you proud you live in America. Jeep holds that title this year, marking their 75th anniversary as both a company and an American icon. It's shot in gorgeous black and white with extreme close ups that immediately engage you and make it impossible to look away. I gave it a Perfect Ten.

#1: Audi's "Commander" featuring music by David Bowie

Maybe it's the fact I have an 83-year old father. Maybe I'm still in mourning over David Bowie's death. Maybe it's the glorious production values and juxtaposition of memories over real time experience. Maybe it's that I'll never drive a $116,000 sports car. I dunno. But this ad hit all the right notes for me. I've given you the extended version here to fully appreciate it.

I can't sign off without confessing I also had a real soft spot for the rewritten lyrics of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" in this Super Bowl Babies NFL promo spot. And the extended version of the Avocado commercial.

And just because someone will want to know, the worst Super Bowl ad was so bad I won't link to it, but let me just say three words: Puppy Monkey Baby. 

I will never be able to unsee that. Woof.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I also greatly enjoyed "Ryanville" and the "Walken Closet" ads.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mark at the Movies: Kingsman - The Secret Service

Plot: In two opening scenes, we see two British government agents dispatched in two separate incidents, one heroically and one horrifically. The film then sets about on two tracks - one follows the recruitment and training of two new agents, the other a larger story about a megalomaniac tech genius out to wipe most of humanity from the face of the Earth. But hey, it's okay because he's got a good motive - he's trying to cure climate change issues. Global warming is likened to a body's fever, which is only a symptom of the illness - the underlying virus. He sees humanity as that virus. In fact, in one scene the bad guy compares himself and his scheme to God and Noah saving the Earth by wiping out the rest of the population. Into both of these storylines comes our hero - Harry Hart (codename: Galahad, all the agents have Camelot aliases) - who sets out to redeem a mistake that got the first agent above killed (by sponsoring his son - "Eggsy" - as a possible new replacement agent) and when he's not encouraging Eggsy, he's investigating the circumstances surrounding the second agent's death, which will lead him to cross paths with Valentine the Villain. One key plot point is that Valentine insures the loyalty of his accomplices by implanting them with a microchip that causes their heads to explode should they betray him.

Players: Colin Firth is nearly pitch-perfect as the Mr. Darcy-like Galahad, Samuel L. Jackson plays Valentine with whimsy, a lisp, and an unsettled stomach around bloodshed. Hardly the picture of evil you'd expect, which makes his plans all the more chilling. Taron Egerton, a fairly new Hollywood face, portrays Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, the son of the heroic Kingsman agent, who grew up in a rough neighborhood and is hardly the clean cut high class social elite type of trainee against whom he competes. Sofia Boutella, a former dancer with this her first big film, gets quite a bit of screen time as Valentine's chief henchperson, Gazelle. From the calf down, her legs and feet have been replaced with razor-sharp prosthetics which she wields to deadly (and quite graphic) precision. Mark Strong ("Merlin") is on hand as the Kingsman's tech expert, logistics expert, training expert, pilot, and man Friday. He acquits himself well in the role. Michael Caine brings his respectable skills to a smaller part as the head of the Kingsman Agency - "Arthur," of course - and clearly thinks little of young Eggsy's effort to qualify. Finally, an unrecognizable Mark Hamill has a brief early role as Professor Arnold, whom Valentine relies upon for climate change information.

Pilot: The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who has an X-Men movie and both "Kick Ass" movies to his credit and he is also helming the reboot of the Fantastic Four series. So, lots of experience in directing real life versions of comic book characters and stories. Kingsman: The Secret Service also began life as a comic book. There is, at the bottom of all the blood, mayhem, and in-your-face gore a decent message to the movie (see below), but I just cannot get past some of the directing choices he made. Here's hoping the FF reboot due out in August fares better.

Point: The film takes pains to express the thought, "Manners Maketh Man." This phrase was originally written by William Horman - an English Prep School Master in the late 1400s and early 1500s - in his book, Vulgaria, which was mainly Latin translations of common ("vulgar" would have been the word then) English phrases. The thought expresses an attitude of civility, respect, honor, and chivalry to which all men should aspire, and which Horman taught. And, in the end, that is the journey of transformation that "Eggsy" makes, though it is clear he came from good, honest, loyal and compassionate stock in the first place. So, like all good films, a principal character has his heart and life changed by the events of the film. That much, at least, they got right.

Particulars: The film starts out feeling very much like a parody of the "gentleman spy" popular during Sean Connery's early years as James Bond (and, indeed, that's the way the previews and the movie poster above spin it), but when a man's body is split in two - *vertically* - and you watch one half begin to slide away from the other you realize the movie has much more in common with the graphic violence, killing, maiming, bloodletting, and gore of The Walking Dead. At least in that show you know the zombies are dead already. Not so here. Some of the violence and mayhem you could call "stylized" - especially at the end of the movie when Valentine's implants are triggered - and some is clearly and intentionally "over the top"  (Monty Python's Black Knight scene comes to mind) but there is so much of it and it is so often shoved in your face that you could, quite literally, gag on it. In fact, one man in the film does. Directly at the camera. There is one extended and traumatically brutal scene in a church, where a congregation is shot, impaled, bludgeoned, axed, stabbed, and otherwise murdered. We're allowed to see the congregation (as a stand-in) for Fred Phelphs' Westboro Baptist Church, filled with hate, prejudice, and racism - but that simply does not justify the carnage Vaughn chose to spend precious minutes of his movie upon. And - I was just talking about this with a friend the other day - there is a heavily-influenced European sensibility and comfort with cursing, profanity, and crudities. The "F-Bomb" is dropped more than 110 times! In a 129-minute movie (less 9 minutes for the closing/opening credits), that's nearly once every 60 seconds. And finally, at the end of the movie, a captive woman who promises an agent anal sex if he frees her and saves the world is seen rolling over, revealing her bare backside.

Raymond's Rating: Out of four stars, I give this film ... one-half of one star. And only because I have to give it something. If you want to wake up feeling good about yourself in the morning, stay home. As I told my wife, my brain is still cowering in the corner, hours after witnessing it.



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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. 1 Star=A Waste of Time; 2 Stars=Average to Poor; 3 Stars=Good and Possibly Quite Good; 4 Stars=Worth full price. 'Nuff said.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Favorite Super Bowl Spots

61. That's the number of home runs Roger Maris hit for the New York Yankees in 1961. It's also the number of Super Bowl Commercials I viewed and rated for USA Today's Ad Meter, a consumer rating and ranking of those ads.

But only four made my list of "home runs." They scored a perfect "10" on my list. They moved me in some way, made me remember the advertiser, and even raised my respect for the company and/or product a notch or two.

A few - such as the Snickers "Brady Bunch" commercial, came with too much pre-game hype and while it was definitely a quality spot, it had been so over-exposed it didn't move me enough to bump it up to the "10" range.

There were a number of commercials that I consider to have earned an Honorable Mention by ranking a "9" on my scorecard. Like this very fine work by NoMore.Org, a group dedicated to stopping domestic violence:

Why did I give it a "9"? The website - which is the key piece of information you need to see in that ad - is all the way at the end of a sentence that is left on the screen for an all too short a time at the very end of the spot. That address should have been up front, and that kept it from perfection.

Mindy Kaling's "Invisible" ad is another one I ranked a "9" ... I thoroughly enjoyed the commercial but it didn't make a "10" because I couldn't remember who the sponsor was or what the product was. And I loved the self-parodies Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson did for Kia and the Clash of the Clans tablet/phone app, respectively. Very well done, funny, and memorable ... just not moving. They didn't make me want to go out and buy a Kia or start playing the game. By the way, here are some links to those ads.
Mindy: http://youtu.be/Yrq8ruhmCX0
Pierce: http://youtu.be/SPZXuJiWsf0
Liam: http://youtu.be/R2zWUX9diVw

The Kim Kardashian self-parody for T-Mobile simply reminded me that no one really knows why she's a celebrity. Hated it.

But you didn't come here to read about the runner-ups. Here, then, are the four ads I picked as having "knocked it out of the park" in terms of hitting all the right emotional notes, memorability, and persuasiveness.

#4: Fiat's Blue Pill

It was funny, it was whimsical, it was full of impossible physics, and the ending brought it back full circle, with a perfect little epilogue. And all throughout, the little blue Fiat logo (not coincidental, I assure you) hid up in the right corner, letting us know this was all about a car. Loved it.

#3: Budweiser's Lost Dog

This is actually another one that received a lot of media attention prior to the game, but I loved it, anyway. The Anheuser-Busch ad agency started a story last Super Bowl (called "Puppy Love") about an unlikely dog-horse best friendship. And it worked. Still does. I'm raising a glass to you, Budweiser, and I love your Clydesdales. P.S. - *hated* all your other commercials this year. P.S.S. - the band behind that beautiful cover of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is called Sleeping At Last.

#2: McDonald's Pay With Lovin'

I recently read that McDonald's hired a new CEO to restore the company's failing reputation. If this is his first salvo toward renovating that storied franchise, I'm excited about what might yet be coming. The spot was creative, affirming, and made me want to go eat there again.

#1: Always' Like A Girl

I'll tell you what, I am thoroughly a man, but this commercial makes me want to go out and buy their feminine hygiene products just to support the flippin' company. For me, it was the most impressive ad of the evening.

So there you have it. And in case any of you were wondering, my pick for worst commercial of this year's Super Bowl (and possibly the entire decade) was the one created for LocTite Glue. It was so bad I won't even link to it.

You can see all 62 commercials (apparently I missed one), at the Ad Meter site.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I also greatly enjoyed Mophie's "All Powerless" and the two Esurance spots.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Living with Pop, or My Non-Travels with Dad (Part the First)

Dad and I in the Poison Garden of Blarney Castle, Ireland.
So sometime in late September, my father calls to say he's thinking about buying some property in Florida and once again taking up a "Snowbird" lifestyle, which he and Mom laid aside when they sold their winter retreat in Texas over a decade ago. Last year's harsh winter here in Michigan used up just about all the patience he had for dealing with snow, cold, ice, and miserable conditions. (Mine, too, actually, but he's in a position where he can actually do something about it.)

That was on a Thursday or Friday. He asks me to check the Internet for some possibilities and lays out some search parameters for me. On Monday he calls to tell me he thinks he found a place, and would I look into it. On Tuesday he calls to tell me he put in an offer for the place and later that day he lets me know that, after a little dickering, his offer was accepted. On Thursday we fly down to Florida for the onsite inspection before the actual purchase, but he's impressed with the place. Papers are signed, money changes hands, and he is now the proud owner of *two* homesteads. It was a whirlwind purchase, but like Game of Thrones, "winter is coming" and he's ready to bolt from Michigan's "Winter Wonderland" to Florida's "Sunshine State." Plans are made to move in early November and because I can - what with my own retirement upon me these days - we make plans for me to help him with the move and get settled in over the course of about three weeks together.

And therein begins my tale. After several trips together, many of which were documented here in this blog (note: click the label "Travels with Dad" to read about them), my father and I have finally figured out how to travel well together. What we have not necessarily figured out yet is how to *not* travel together. 

We have - just like any other parent/child relationship, I suppose - almost completely different tastes in music, art, literature, entertainment, hobbies, and general lifestyles. We are both a product and a reflection of the respective cultural soups in which we grew up and currently swim. He likes "classic" country music, I like anything but. (Well, okay, I can also live quite happily without most rap, hip-hop, heavy metal, and electronica. Which means the "oldies" preset on my car radio gets pushed a lot.) He reads westerns, I read science fiction. He hasn't been to a movie theater in years, I go once every couple of weeks. He watches news, documentaries, history, and travel on the television. I watch prime time TV shows on the networks and cable (hardly ever live, though; when I watch TV, it's usually something we've recorded on the DVR -- can't stand commercials). He has zero interest in sports, I am a passionate baseball fan. He wades in the Internet ocean, I spend much of my time submerged in it. He is usually in bed by 8:00 p.m. and up by 5:00 a.m. ... I'm usually up into the wee hours of the morning and sleep in with my wife (who works second shift) until around 10:00 a.m., when my schedule allows.

I won't lie to you, these differences made spending any length of time together problematic, at first. Those early days on the road with each other were tough. But we finally learned how to compromise. Dad compromised by not expecting me to live on his time schedule. I compromised by doing my best to live on that very schedule. And somewhere in the middle we learned how to extend grace to each other, something that was surely only possible because of the grace we've both experienced from Christ Jesus.

On the road, when we have a common agenda, a common destination, and a common delight in discovering new places, we now click together and run like a well-oiled machine. This past month -  spending three weeks together without those commonalities - well, our differences were magnified. The incompatibilities were not muted by a common purpose. And that leads me to "Part the Second...."


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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Above I said my father "wades" in the Internet ... he just went in up to his knees when, a few days ago, he established a Twitter account. Follow @oldgeezer82fla.

Monday, November 03, 2014

R.I.P. Big Red

A facsimile of "Big Red"
Back in the day, when I was a Rock Star for the Postal Service (well, at least in my own mind), I was on the road a lot; very familiar with airports and baggage carousels. 

I remember one fateful trip, waiting for my suitcase to come sliding down the chute at Reagan National in DC, when I see a crumpled, broken suitcase take the carousel turn, and I wonder who the unlucky chump was that had his tiger-print underwear on display for the whole world.

Turns out it was me.

Gathering up what I could, I carried my bag to the nearest accessories kiosk, purchased a bungee cord, and wrapped the thing up as well as I could for the trip to my hotel. The next afternoon, as soon as I left work, it was off to find some kind of mall or department store that sold luggage. Thank goodness DC has a good mass transportation system. My travel stipend in no way included a rental car or any extra cab fare.

To make a long story well, even longer, I found one that set me back less than $100, which was still a lot of money in those days. And now, having witnessed the - literally - thousands of unassuming black suitcases that all looked like they were trying to be the twin of every other black suitcase in the cargo hold, I wanted to get something different. Something that would, at the very least, stand out a little bit as it traveled the carousels and quietly proclaimed it was NOT like those other run-of-the-mill black suitcases. That was when I bought "Big Red."

It was the largest piece of luggage I had ever owned. And it was, I think, the first piece of luggage I ever purchased with wheels. What an idea *that* was. I don't know who it was, but someone once quipped, "How is it we put a man on the moon before we figured out that putting wheels on luggage was a good idea?"

Big Red, folks, has seen a lot. It's been to Alaska three times, Chicago twice, Nova Scotia, Ireland, California, Oklahoma, all over Florida and, of course, Washington DC. He's been in cars, on cruise ships, on trains, and on more airplanes and jets than I can count. And at nearly every stop, when Big Red and I were reunited after having traveled separately, he would return to me with a shiny new piece of adhesive: a big red or bright blue tag warning, "HEAVY."

There was, you see, a reason I call him "Big Red."

Well, tonight, as my father and I are once more sojourning forth on the road from Michigan to Florida (where he has purchased some "snowbird" property and we are moving him in), Big Red's zipper failed him. Can't get it open at one end anymore. The teeth have separated and the zipper itself has pulled away from the rest of the luggage. I can get at my stuff, but only like you'd clean out a pumpkin: from the top, reaching in and pulling out all the inside bits.

So tomorrow, when we arrive at my Dad's new place, Big Red will be emptied one final time, and I will say some grateful words while giving him an appreciative pat, and I will leave him at the curb with the rest of the trash.

Acquired: Washington DC, mid-1990s.
Passed Away: Bowling Green, Kentucky, 2014.
Buried: Somewhere in Zephyrhills, Florida **

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. ** Unless, of course, some scavenger who drives around on trash pickup days trolling for things that may still have some shelf life (or could, with a little TLC) finds Big Red first.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mark at the Movies: The Judge

Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall
Plot: Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.), a highly successful if decidedly amoral defense attorney and estranged son of Judge Joseph Palmer, returns from the big city to his small town roots when his mother passes away. There he must deal with an angry and unforgiving father (Duvall) as well as his two brothers, who have their own history with Hank. Intending to stay just the one night for the funeral, his time at home is extended when his father is accused of murder the next morning. The balance of the movie is a riveting mix of trial testimony, dysfunctional family dynamics, and back stories that ultimately portray a deep story of forgiveness and family.

Players: Robert Downey, Jr. plumbs familiar character ground as Hank. Robert Duvall is his usual gem as the titular Judge. Vincent D'Onofrio plays brother Glen with a quiet pain and grace. Vera Farmiga is Hank's old flame, Samantha Powell, now owner of a local tavern. Jeremy Strong gives an understated performance (and serves as mild comic relief) as Hank's mentally-challenged brother, Dale. Billy Bob Thornton is on hand in his slick corporate guise as the prosecuting attorney, with Ken Howard as the judge presiding over the murder trial and Emma Trembley is Hank's daughter, Lauren. Finally, Dax Shepard also lends some light comedy as naive and part-time attorney C.P. Kennedy.

Pilot: David Dobkin directed and co-wrote the story with main screenwriter Nick Schenk. Schenk was also the main writer of Gran Torino, so he is experienced at writing complicated drama and relationships. Dobkin previously directed Wedding Crashers, The Change-Up, and Shanghai Knights, all comedies and action comedies. This appears to be his first effort at helming a straight-up drama.

Performance: The thing that stands out right away is that Robert Downey, Jr. is either completely incapable of portraying a "Joe Everyday" character, or is brilliantly using his well-known (and well-worn) cinema persona of a rich, smart, compassionate, snarky and often condescending jerk and making it work in a real-world setting (as opposed to the Marvel or Arthur Conan Doyle Universes). This is a Robert Downey, Jr. we all know and, mostly, love. It works in counterpoint to the small Midwest town (a fictional Carlinville, Indiana) in which the movie is set, but it was hardly breaking new ground for the actor. Duvall, on the other hand, has gotten crusty old codgers down to a "t" and while his, too, is a character we've seen before, he plays it with such integrity and nuance that it's like seeing an old friend. The heart of the movie is the relationship between these two and in the end, you respect them both. This is not an action movie, it is an actor's movie.

Point: I very nearly felt that this movie was a complicated and mixed retelling of the Gospel's Prodigal Son story, if the bitter brother who stayed home and the forgiving father traded places. In the end, it is a movie and a message that is life-affirming, family strong (but not family-friendly), and reminds us that no matter how far we go, there's always a place called home, filled with the people who know us and love us best.

Particulars: The film earns its "R" rating through its language - including more than two dozen "f-bombs" - with a liberal use of vulgarities and reflects a people who don't spend much time in church. There is one quite uncomfortable scene in which Hank is helping his father deal with the after-effects of a medical treatment, and it's not pretty. Both Hank and his second, C.P. Kennedy, throw up on the courtroom lawn several times before entering. And while sex is talked about and a couple of frank (but not graphic) makeout sessions occur, there is no nudity.

Raymond's Rating: I give The Judge three out of four stars. If the language had been toned down even a little, and had Downey produced a character other than an angry and petulant Tony Stark, I would have gone the whole four. At two hours and twenty-two minutes, it's a long film but there was so much story to be told - all of it intricate to understanding the relationships involved - that I didn't mind.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. "I choose you." You'll see.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Diabetics: We Can Rebuild You

Image courtesy of HuffPo Healthy Living
What I saw today around the world and the web:

Medicine has now given those with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus a fighting chance to not obsess over their disease. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a combination of an under-the-skin glucometer, a hard-wired bionic pancreas, and an iPhone - of all things - can be used in combination to effectively lift most of the burden of the disease. The original article is here and a more reader-friendly version is here.

In a nutshell, the glucometer constantly monitors your blood-sugars and sends a wireless signal to the iPhone, which then tells the bionic pancreas - which consists of both insulin for when sugars go too high and glucagon for when they dip too low - which component to send into the bloodstream. No more finger pricks, no more insulin needles, no more worry about crashing after a workout at the gym or a brisk walk or going too long in between meals.

I'm sure it will be some time before the product becomes commercially viable, affordable, and/or covered by insurance ... but it's good to know there is hope for my fellow diabetics.

I've always felt that diabetes was, in some respects, like cancer. There is no cure for it, only treatments, and in the end it will kill you just as surely. We know enough about it and have fairly good treatments that it does not need to define who we are, and for sure it doesn't carry the stigma and emotional weight of The Big C, but it is becoming a larger and larger problem in the world - especially for Americans and our consumptive lifestyles.

THIRD WORLD PROBLEMS

While folks here in the U.S. worry about which venue they will use to watch the U.S. Soccer team take on Ghana in the World Cup. Cable television? Online? Smartphone? Meanwhile, folks in Ghana are worrying about if their country will have enough electricity to power enough televisions to watch the contest. Apparently most of the electrical power in the country comes from hydroelectric plants and there has been a water shortage recently.

If this doesn't clearly define the difference between "First World Problems" and "Third World Problems," I don't know what will.

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Mark's Musings is published on a semi-periodical basis that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. Facebook link is over there to the right. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Just a couple of little things today.