Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Book:
My youngest son, Reed, first told me about this book last summer.  It is one of the best books he has ever read.  Let me just put it to you this way.  He is extremely well read for a soon to be 20 year old.  We share the love of great literature.  "Mom, it WILL make you cry," he assured me, "It even made me feel like crying.  Oh, and, when you read it...whatever you do...don't read ahead.  It will totally spoil it," he added.

So I read it.  From page one til the end.  During the first part of the book, I was confused.  "Who is Thomas?" I asked.  "You'll find out.  Keep reading," he coached.  Slowly, but surely, I began to fall in love with a little boy named Oskar Schell who lost his dad on 9-11.  The story isn't really about 9-11.  It's about the journey of a boy who is trying to make sense of it all.

Oskar is what we used to call "terminally gifted" when I taught in a GT program.  Terminally gifted kids are so amazingly deep and creative that they have trouble fitting in with the rest of us regular people.  They are artists and writers and dreamers.  The colors they see are more vivid.  The music they hear is more exquisite.  The things they can see are more interesting.  We didn't have many terminally gifted kids come through our doors.  The one or two I was privileged enough to teach over the years were simply fascinating.  I was jealous of their technicolored ideas and thoughts.

Oskar's thoughts on hearing each other's hearts:
"What about little microphones?  What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls?...One weird this is, I wonder if everyone's hearts would start to beat at the same time..."

Oskar's idea for ambulances (borrowed from "were-cat on Tumblr"):

“An ambulance drove down the street between us, and I imagined who it was carrying, and what had happened to him. Did he break an ankle from attempting a hard trick on his skateboard? Or maybe he was dying from third-degree burns on ninety percent of his body? Was there any chance that I knew him? Did anyone see the ambulance and wonder if it was me inside? What about a device that knew everyone you knew? So when an ambulance went down the street, a big sign on the roof could flash
if the sick person’s device didn’t detect the device of someone he knew nearby. And if the device did detect the device of someone he knew, the ambulance could flash the name of the person in the ambulance, and either 
or, if it was something major, 
And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the device of the person in the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person who loved him the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash
One thing that’s nice to think about is someone who was the first person on lots of people’s lists, so that when he was dying, and his ambulance went down the streets to the hospital, the whole time it would flash

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not just a book.  It's an experience.  Each word and picture is put on the pages like the pieces of a big Oskar puzzle.  There are pages with no words that shout louder than most pages with.  There are pages with pictures that seem to have no meaning.

This Christmas, I bought the book in hardback for Reed with the inscription that told him that his most treasured books should always be hardback copies.  I need to find a hardback for my library as well.

The Movie:
I was nervous about going to see the movie.  If you've read the book, you probably shared my misgivings.  The book is art.  How could a movie possibly create the feelings that the book so strongly provokes?  The answer:  very well, thank you.

Thomas Horn who plays Oskar is amazing.  He IS Oskar Schell.  There are two scenes in the movie that I think should put in squarely in first place as Best Actor.  The first is the scene where he is playing back some phone messages for "the renter."  The second is when he meets Abby Black's husband.  The script is complicated.  The words fly fast.  The emotion is high pitched.  He nails it.

I love movies that make me FEEL something.  The ones that stay in my thoughts for days.  Something's Gotta Give made me laugh hysterically.  Philadelphia made me feel sad and angry.  The Iron Lady....nuttin.  Descendants...meh.  

This movie will stay with me for a long, long time.  I'm thinking about going to a matinee this week for a second look at amazing Oskar Schell.  Wanna go with?

Should you see it?
Comparing my movie-going experience to my husband's, I would say that reading the book first is best.  Alan got a bit bored during the first 2/3's of the movie.  According to him, the last 1/3 of the movie was excellent.  If you haven't read the book, you should probably go ahead and see the movie, because it probably won't have a long run in your local theatre.

Final Thoughts.
There are few books or movies that have made such an impact on me.  I think that as we look back on 911, reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close should become part of life's curriculum.  

I leave you with one more insight of Oskar's (also borrowed from whoever typed it out on Tumblr).  "Heavy boots" is a term that Oskar's dad used for "heavy hearts.":

In bed that night, I invented a special drain that would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go into the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York was in heavy boots. And when something really terrible happened - like a nuclear bomb, or at least a biological weapon attack - an extremely loud siren would go off, telling everyone to get to Central Park to put up sandbags around the reservoir.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bad Ski Day

Alas, the snow in Colorado is quite lacking this year.  That is the excuse I'm giving for all of the debacles that follow.

The week after the New Year dawned, we drove to Telluride for a "Ski Holiday," as the Europeans would say.  It's a short 12 hour drive door to door.  We West Texans take long drives in stride because we are 5 hours from everything it seems.  This year the drive was a peace of cake compared to last year when we had to pull over several times so that Bryce could "froak up" on the side of the highway.  That drive was followed by the Worst Ski Week Ever.

Of the 5 ski days, I skied just two.  (My stack of new Christmas gift novels and some Telluride shopping took up the other days.)  Although I have been skiing for about 18 years, my skill level can be described as "advanced beginner" at best.  I love tearing up the green runs.  In Telluride they have runs designed just for the likes of me - double greens!  The fine print under the designation says "advanced beginner."  Ahhh, yes.  

Ski Day 1.
I was a ski warrior.  I flew down those double greens with the wind whistling past my ears!  Of course, the boys easily flew past me during the few runs they politely skiied with me.  Alan always stays pretty close.  I think that he's figured out that if I fall, he doesn't want to have to trudge very far up mountain to help me up.  Anyhoo...the snow was well-groomed, the slopes were pretty deserted, and I was on the top of my game.  Guess how many times I wiped out.  OK.  I'll tell you.  Zip.  Zilch. Zero.  Nunca.  My feet didn't hurt.  My legs didn't burn.  Hurray for Advanced Beginner me!

Ski Day 2.
Reed and I decided to laze around reading that morning.  We joined Bryce and Alan on mountain at lunch.  After lunch, as I was walking towards my skis I dropped my gloves not one but three times.  Reaching down to pick up anything while you're wearing ski boots is rather irritating.  Heck.  I can't touch my toes standing barefoot.  Add ski boots into the mix, and I come up panting.  The third time I dropped my gloves I turned to Alan and said, "I'm pretty sure that dropping your gloves 3 times is a bad omen."  I was wrong.  Dropping my gloves three times was a message from God.  "HEAD BACK TO THE HOUSE!  READ A BOOK!  STAY OFF OF THE MOUNTAIN!  THOU SHALT NOT SKI TODAY!"  Did I heed the warning?  Nope.  Do I regret not heeding the warning.  Yes, oh, yes.

Gloves on.  Skis on.  Goggles on.  Alan and I headed towards my beloved double green runs.  I could tell that I was off to a rough start.  My feet began to complain.  I couldn't make my turns very smoothly.  It was almost like I forgot how to ski - a phenomenon which occurs quite regularly when you're me.  With all of the beautiful sunshine and the lack of snowfall, the snow had become rather icy.

I skiied the first run rather sloppily.  During this run Alan said what he often says at times like these, "You know...it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to take a 1/2 day lesson every year."  Don't even get me started.  I have had many 1/2 day lessons in my time -private and small classes.  The German guy with the ponytail at one resort will tell you to step on your left toe to turn left.  The French guy with the good teeth at another will tell you to bend just so and "apply pressure" with your left foot.  "Laft foooot.  A-ply presh-air!"  

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I replied to Big Al, "I had a great ski day on Tuesday.  I KNOW how to ski.  It's just that the snow is icy.  I can see little patches of grass."

Fall 1.
After the first run, I told Alan that I wanted to go down a plain old green run with all of the beginners so that I could get my "ski legs" back.  That was one of the few times that Alan zoomed down the run out of sight.  I was schussing along tentatively building up speed when all of a sudden I lost control.  I somehow spun around backwards and fell face down in the snow with my skis pointing downhill crossed in a big ugly "X."  As I lay there spitting snow, little 4 year olds zoomed past me.  I kept waiting for some instructor to warn them, "Don't ever do what that lady did!"

Fall 2.  
After the first fall, I insisted that Alan join the boys on runs named things like Polar Queen Express and Boomerang.  I, on the other hand, was going to laze around on my beloved Galloping Goose and Double Cabin.  It was actually on my favorite run, Bridges, that I had my foretold 2nd wipeout.  There was some rolling involved along with some grunts and groans.    I came down really hard on my right knee.  I laid there a bit trying to decide whether or not I needed a ski patrol rescue.  It was there coated in snow with my skis and poles scattered around me that I began to sniffle.  My car keys had been ejected from my ski jacket pocket upon impact and were splayed out in the sparkling snow just out of my reach.  "Yes, LORD.  I see the car keys.  I'm listening to you now."  My eyes swelled with tears as my left ski rejected my left boot the first 5 times I tried to snap them together.  I was panting.  Crying.  Missing my novels.  I gathered myself up and began to oh-so-slowly ski down to the lift.

Fall 3.
I was so relieved when I finally reached the crest of the gentle slope that lead to the lift.  I began making a left turn as I made my way down when suddenly my right ski came off.  I mean it went flying in another direction.  The same ski that I had been skiing on since Fall 2.  This fall included some "Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!"-s and some rolling accompanied by "Ouch!"-s each time I whacked my right knee.  Oh, the tears began to flow down my face.  I  had to lift my goggles and use my neck gator to wipe them away.  I pulled myself up, gathered up my gear, and began to limp down to the lift.  A cute college boy skiied up and asked me if I would like for him to take my skis down to the lift for me promising that he wouldn't run off with them.  "Thank you.  Yes, that would be great.  And, you can HAVE my skis."  With a wink and a grin he was off.  My hero.

I had to put my skis back on to ride the lift towards freedom.  I figured that if they came off while I was on the lift or when I got off it would be hunky dory with me.  A man behind me in line said, "Ma'am, did you know that your Camelback (backpack) is unzipped and seems to be filled with snow?"  "I figured as much.  Can you zip it for me," I replied.  I wanted to add, "And, can you carry my skis to the car and help me get these stinkin' boots off?  A cup of hot chocolate would be nice."

The Grand Debacle of the Day.  (Yes.  There's more.)
I had parked the car in a lot by a particular lift earlier in the day.  Sloppily carrying my skis and poles, I cried with wild abandon in the deserted parking lot.  I could feel my knee swelling.  I ached from head to toe.  Once I reached the Suburban, I propped my skis on the side of it and fumbled to find my keys in one of my million coat pockets.  I opened the back, threw my gloves, gator, goggles, and poles in hully-gully-get-out-of-my-life disgust.  Then, I commenced to take off my ski boots.  My cozy Uggs were lying before me whispering sighs of sweet comfort.  The struggle with my boots turned ugly when I realized that I was pretty much incapacitated by my ever-swelling knee.  I think that it was then that I actually said "dammit." 

My weeping crescendoed kinda like this: 

Alan called me on my cell a couple of times during my slow exit from the mountain.  But at that moment when I heard his ringtone (the theme from Superman), I began to wail. "Do you need me to come help you?" he asked sympathetically.  "No......I don't want you to have to leave the boys when you're having fun,"  I hiccuped.  ""You SUUUURE?" he asked knowingly.  "I want you to come help me!!!!!!" I cried.  "Just sit in the car and wait for me.  I'll be right there," he said trying to soothe my hysteria.

So, I climbed up into the Suburban in the deserted parking lot and cried to my heart's content.  After a few minutes, I decided that it would make Alan's trek to the car easier if I carefully drove to a different part of the parking lot.  Testing my ability to step on the brake and gas pedals to see if I could operate them in boots, I decided that I most certainly could ease the car to the other side of the lot.

I slowly pulled out of the parking space.  As I pulled out, my back tires ran over something. I figured that it wasn't a small child because the parking lot was empty.  "Hmm.  Must be a speed bump," I reasoned.  I put the car in drive and pulled forward.  Again, bump-bump.  I pulled up further and looked in my rearview mirror.  There on the pavement lay my skis.  I had run over them not once...but twice.  (See video clip above.)

Oh, I could tell you about how hard I cried when I told Alan that I had run over my very expensive 3 year old skis.  I could tell you that the boys and Alan examined them and could find nothing broken.  I could tell you how hard it was to get out of my ski pants with my bum knee.  But, I'll just say that I will not be needing a new kneecap.  And, I lived to see the Cotton Bowl game that night.

Will I ever ski again?  Yup.  Will I buy a helmet?  Yup.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Meems Turns 86...or 87

The Meems marked a milestone last week.  She turned 86 on the 9th.  

Me:  "So, how do you want to celebrate your birthday, Mom?  Eat out?  You want me to cook up something?"

Mom:  "Eat out."

Me:  "Name the place!"

Mom:  "Cracker Barrel.  It's my favorite."  (Oh, Cracker Barrel.  Thou art the home of bacon and eggs and chicken and dumplings.)

Me:  "You sure?  We can go anywhere you want!"

Mom:  "I'm sure."  [pause]  "Can I invite some friends?"

Me [grinning inside because I remember asking the same thing when I was a little girl]:  "Of course you can!  Who would you like to invite?!"

Little did Mom know that she was in for a big surprise on her birthday.  She received what she has declared to be "The Best Birthday Present EVER."  And, she wants the same gift every year for all the rest of her birthdays.

Aunt Wanda is one of her favorite people on Planet Earth.  When they both lived in Waco, they talked on the phone twice every day.  Mom liked to call Wanda to chat over morning coffee.  Precious Aunt Wanda listened intently to Mom's dreams..."Then, I was being chased by..."  In the evening, they would chat about the TV lineup for the night.  They loved going to Starbucks for coffee and scones before movies (so that Mom wouldn't fall asleep during the movie).  Then, they would go to dinner after the movie.  

After Mom moved to Lubbock, Wanda moved from Waco to the Houston area to be near her sister.  Wanda and Mom hadn't seen each other for a year and a half.

I had promised Mom that I would come over the afternoon of her birthday to take down all of her Christmas decorations.  Here is how the surprise went down:  (Please pardon the poor quality of the video.  Also, Mom has bedhead because she was recovering from a bout of bronchitis.)  

I love the little pats.

At Cracker Barrel that night, we celebrated with Meems, Wanda, Leonard and Mark.  Meems ordered her favorite - chicken and dumplings with greens and baked apples ("Pack the apples to-go please.")  What I loved the most was that she ordered chocolate milk.

Fashion Tip:  French berets hide bedhead.
The Best Birthday Present Ever

After dinner, we returned to Mom's apartment for her All-Time Favorite Birthday Cake:  Alan's White Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Icing.  The Meems was one happy princess that evening.

Happy 86th Birthday, Meems!

Mom's ID, social security card, and passport have mysteriously gone missing over the past few months.  I found an ancient driver's license of hers then armed myself with her birth certificate and every official looking scrap of paper I could find with her name on it a couple of days ago, and off we went to the DMV.  The lady who checked us in took a look at Mom's birth certificate and then at the old driver's license and said, "These birth dates don't match!"  The birth certificate proclaimed 1926 as her birthday.  The drivers license said 1925.

Mom [snapping her head in my direction]:  "Well, which one is it?  '25 or '26!"  [Like I would know.]

Me:  "Ummm, Mom.  I'm pretty sure that a certified copy of your birth certificate trumps a driver's license."

Mom:  "Oh."  [pause]  "So, how old am I?"

Me:  "86."

Mom:  "Are you sure I'm not 87, because it's OK if I am."

During the hour-long wait for her turn to get the ID, she asked me no less than 4 times, "Am I 86 or 87?"  The journey continues.


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...