A Good Dog

I’m warning you, if you cry easily you may want to skip this one. I’ve been writing this post in my heart all week, putting it down in fits and starts. The screen keeps blurring, you see, and I have to stop typing to wipe my tears.

Jack 01

This is Jack. Jack died today. Before we get to Jack, and we will, I would like to take a moment and talk about this dog.

Sophie

This was Sophie.

Sophie was my family’s dog for a good chunk of my later childhood. We got her as a puppy from our neighbor down the street as soon as she was weaned. He had a female Shepherd and bred her, no idea really why, and my sister fell in love with the idea of having a dog when she saw the litter of squirming puppies and picked one who’d become ours.

My father? He wasn’t so sure and expressed his point of view with “If we get a dog, I’m moving out!”

But like water flowing over a stone my father was worn down and in a surprisingly short amount of time we had a dog (and my dad did not move out). I’m pretty sure it didn’t help that Sophie was your typical, super-adorable German Shepherd puppy with the humongously over-sized feet, floppy ears, and a happy, bright personality. She was also very smart, learning commands quickly so that my mother house trained her fast. My father, eventually, fell in love with her too and still speaks well of her. They still have her favorite bone in their backyard even though she’s been gone almost ten years.

And while she might’ve been the family’s dog, really I’ve always seen her as mine. It was my room she’d come racing up to after getting back inside from her morning potty break, to jump on my bed to make sure I was awake, and out of my siblings I think I walked her the most. She was an incredible dog and I missed her when I went to college.

As is usual with large dogs, Sophie developed problems. Thanks to a surgery early in her life she didn’t get the hip dysplasia that most Shepherds do but she did get arthritis very severely. She went deaf and was going blind among other more serious issues and, unfortunately, I learned after the fact when my parents had her put down. I try not to live my life with any regrets but not being there when they did that is one of the very few I have. My mother insists that it was something they had to do that day when the vet saw her, that she was in pain, but I would’ve left work and done the drive to Sacramento, breaking all manner of traffic laws, in a heartbeat if I’d known. I hate that I wasn’t there for her in her final moments.

So that’s why there wasn’t anything that was going to keep me from being there when it was Jack’s time.

Jack 02Jack 03

I got Jack, along with his sister Maggie, when Michelle came into my life. Jack’s not “breed typical”. First off, as you can see, he was forty pounds of dog (even though we didn’t over feed him) when Bichons typically weigh less than half that. He had skin conditions, a lazy eye, his nose wasn’t uniformly black, skin tags, and was starting to go blind in the last year or two. But he was so full of love. I’ve never, even with Sophie, had a more good-natured, gentle, simply happy dog. He’d do this hopping thing whenever it was time for dinner, his tongue flopping out of the side of his mouth, and it always reminded of me when Chris Farley would get excited about something. When he wanted pets, which was often, he’d just come up to you, burrow his face into your thigh, and flop his fat body down next to you and demand them. And he bonded with me after a short time, probably out of some kind of male solidarity.

Back at the end of February we noticed he was peeing more in the house and we thought it was just that he was being lazy since it was intermittent, but soon it was becoming more frequent and, in March, I noticed blood in his urine. I took him in to the vet and they ran tests, kidney function was good, no sign of bladder stones on x-rays, no bladder infection, and the doctor thought that it might be Cushing’s Disease (which would explain his size) but the cost to test it was high and the treatment for it was kind of terrible for dogs. The vet kind of shrugged and said that if things got worse, bring him in, but without a clear idea of why he was having these symptoms there wasn’t much they could do, so they put him on a general antibiotic and that was it.

Things continued, we moved into our new house, and then there was a day in late June when I came back into the rest of the house from having a shower and found that he’d had an accident and there was more blood than urine, a lot more. Back to the vet we went, more tests were run, and while the mix of urine to blood returned to “normal”, all the tests came back inconclusive, so they referred us to another vet for an ultrasound in July.

It was bladder cancer. If a pregnant woman had shown you the ultrasound you might’ve been tempted to congratulate her on the size of her child but for Jack most of his bladder was filled with a tumor, which meant that while he still had the water needs of an older adult, forty pound dog, his bladder didn’t have the capacity to hold that much urine, which was why he was peeing all the time. The blood in his urine was from the tumor. The type of cancer it was, the doctor was sure, was not any kind that was ever going to get better. On the ultrasound I was looking at the death of my dog.

Jack, however, did get lucky in one thing at least. The tumor was located pretty much in the middle of his bladder, which meant that his kidneys could still do their thing and his ability to urinate wasn’t blocked. The doctor said he maybe had six months, probably less, and gave me some treatment options that might give us more time which Michelle and I decided to pass on; they wouldn’t have made him better, they would’ve just given us more time that would’ve been miserable for him, which meant we would’ve been prolonging his suffering simply for our benefit.

Which, to be blunt, would’ve been fucked up.

So we decided to take him home and simply love him as much as we could, agreeing that when we saw that he was starting to get worse or was noticeably in pain that we’d take the final step. That point was reached two weeks ago and we made the call, scheduling an appointment with a traveling vet. Last Sunday, to celebrate our fat boy, we had Jack Day.

Jack 07Jack 06

Jack Day was where we took our dogs to spend most of the day in the park. We invited some friends who knew Jack and loved him so he could get all the pets he wanted, eat all the people food he could gulp down, played fetch a little (though running and walking much wasn’t his thing). We wanted to spend one last, perfect day with our boy before the end and, thankfully, the summer played along and gave us a gently warm day with a nice, cool breeze. It was all we could’ve asked for.

Today we said goodbye to our fat Jacker dog. The vet has come, done her thing, I carried him out to her car, and she took him away. For only being a small dog, our house feels so much more empty for his absence. I know we made the right decision, there’s no doubt at all, but that’s not a balm to my heart.

Jack 04Jack 07

Dogs break our hearts. They enter our lives and they bring such joy and happiness to us, even when at times they pee on the rug or do something else to annoy you. We love them, care for them, and for a few short years they’re family and then they are gone, leaving us with our memories and our grief.

Dogs break our hearts and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Good bye, Jacker, you were a very good dog.

Jack 08

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Another Boatride Around the Sun and a Movie Review: Ant-Man

Yesterday marked the thirty-fifth anniversary since I was unceremoniously sucked into this world by a doctor with a vacuum (no, really, after fifty-four hours of labor the doctor had had enough and used one of those old, and now thankfully no longer used, baby vacuums for removing stubborn little shits like me). I gloriously spent it having breakfast with my guys, playing video games, reading good books, eating sushi with my wife (after dropping my son off with a friend for the night), and watching Ant-Man.

2014-2015 was not an easy year. It was full of of challenges. We lost friends, loved ones, and people we admired to cancer. There were definitely some learning experiences, a few that were the “You done screwed up MAJORLY, do not do this again” variety. I also lost a job I had literally dreamed about and desired for years due to a layoff.

But, still, there were many more good things if you care to look at it from a balance-sheet sort of perspective. I met some awesome people I’m happy to have in my life, relationships have grown and broadened, I love my wife and kid more than I can express, I’m a home-owner now, I got a new car, and, for the most part, I’ve been healthy (though there was a period in November when I was knocked on my ass). If it weren’t for losing my job and the pain in the neck it’s been working to get a new one then I’d say life is pretty much perfect.

Today will finish up my “birthday” stuff. Michelle’s wrapping up some work and in a bit we’ll be heading out to grab lunch before seeing Jurassic World and, later, playing Cthulhu Wars and picking up the kid. In the next year we’ll be going back to Kauai, going camping with friends, and, hopefully, there will be a new job.

But now Ant-Man.

Ant-Man is the story of Scott Lang, a good man who has a tendency toward being a criminal when down on his luck. He gets out of San Quentin after pulling a Robin Hood-esque heist from his former employer (who had been funneling money from their clients to their own pockets, he returned that money and exposed it to the media but was charged with hacking and corporate espionage) and, more than anything else, wants to be able to connect to his daughter whose life he’s largely missed due to his incarceration. Life isn’t cooperating, it’s hard for a con to get a job, and so he agrees to do a heist with some criminal (but likeable) friends of his. Only what he doesn’t know is that the heist is, in fact, a test by one Frank Pym who used to be the Anti-Man, a super hero that fought alongside SHIELD in the ’70’s and ’80’s and had the power to change his size at will, thanks to the hand-wavy Pym Particle, and communicate with/control ants.

Pym wants Scott to do a heist because Pym’s former protege, a man named Darren Cross, is very close to discovering the process to make the Pym Particle in a desire to essentially weaponize and mass-produce the Ant-Man suit. This would allow any government in the world to own an army of minute, nearly-invisible assassins to bring chaos to the world over. Working alongside Scott and Pym is Hope, Pym’s somewhat estranged daughter. That’s all of the plot I’m going to give you because anything more would be spoilers.

So, honestly, I’m of two-minds with this movie.

I certainly enjoyed myself and, from the standpoint of a comic book movie, it’s not a bad adaptation; there have certainly been worse. The action scenes were well done, especially the work with the ants, the use of the suit was cool to see, Scott is a funny and easy to like character. There are some genuine shots of great humor in this film, though I think Guardians was a funnier film overall. There are hints that he’ll do more in future MCU films (made more evident by the “ANT-MAN WILL RETURN” splash we get after the after-credits scene).

But I do think I’m having to agree with another review that, in the sense of the MCU as a whole, I’m finding this to be kind of a pointless film. While introducing two more characters to the MCU (that’s part of the spoilers I mentioned), really this movie could’ve not been done as it does nothing to really lead up to CA3:Civil War or push the current MCU, Infinity Stone plot line. Are there ways that Scott, Pym, and Hope could be used more in the MCU? Sure, but we’re going to have Black Panther (and I’m sure other, secondary characters in that), Inhumans, and Captain Marvel soon (not to mention Spider-Man, what with the Sony-Marvel deal having been reached). I worry that we’re going to have Spider-Man 3’s “too many villains” problem, but with main characters.

Additionally, Hope is, yet again, a wasted female character to add to the list of so many others like Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2, someone who is introduced as both competent and kind of a bad ass in her own right but who does almost nothing of consequence in this film except get the hero ready to be a hero. This point is driven home over and over again in Ant-Man by her stated desire to do more, to be more of an active hand in the scheme, and her father’s seemingly reasonless refusal. Scott does puzzle out a reason of why Pym doesn’t want her to wear the suit and do more, and it makes sense in a way when Pym reveals some details about other spoiler-iffic stuff, but, still, Hope feels like a wasted opportunity.

Do I recommend seeing this film? Yes, but, unlike the other MCU films, I think this one could wait for home viewing.

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Something that is simply good.

If you are having a bad day, watch this video and feel better.

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Memories of the 4th

The first Fourth of July I can remember I must’ve been around eight or so. I remember that we went to a demonstration in the East Bay up near San Ramon, that we had dinner with my grandparents and I think they came with us. My memory gets a little fuzzy if we parked the station wagon with the back facing up the hill, the rear door open and the kids laying inside looking up at the display, or if we were out on the hilltop, sitting in my father’s old, yellow folding chairs. But I do remember that it was probably the latest I’d been allowed to stay up at that point in my life and I sleepily, but still with amazement, watched the explosions in the sky.

Many years later in Santa Cruz, Mick, Daniel, and I were standing in our kitchen when the first explosion rang out, rattling the windows in their panes. With mad grins Daniel and I left the house and walked down Pearl toward the river’s embankment. The fireworks were so low above the Boardwalk that the small ones were setting off car alarms all over the Beach Flats, the big ones were like getting punched in the chest. We sat above the “river” and enjoyed a full sensory experience, the sound of the explosions, feeling the force of them, seeing the flashes, smelling the powder. It was amazing and no other display has really felt that visceral.

Then there was tonight. The plan had been to spend the day with Gary and his daughter, swimming in their complex’s pool, then head to downtown San Jose to watch the show. The plan went smoothly until dinner when her jet lag, and having been up at 3am dealing with a nightmare of Connor’s, caught up to Michelle and she was pretty much done. She tried to explain to Connor that we were going to go home and he started to cry. He’d had his heart set on seeing the fireworks.

“Could we drop you off?” Connor asked. Michelle looked at me.

“Up to you, you ok with that?” I asked her and she nodded, so we did.

Downtown San Jose was a zoo. Streets blocked off. People driving with the courtesy that you’d expect the Hatfields might give the McCoys, but eventually I decided we’d gotten as close to where Gary and his daughter were set up as we were going to get, found a public parking lot, paid the stupid fee, and went walking.

It took a while. We waited on the grassy median of a blocked off section of road, surrounded by other people waiting for the show as well. All around us we could hear other fireworks, see them go off through the trees or far distant at other places. I could feel Connor starting to get disappointed.

Then it started. Pretty much right above us.

The next twenty-five minutes I spent laying on my back on our blanket, Connor laying on his back on my chest, my arms around his middle, as we watched the show. These were some good fireworks this year, many different kinds including some that shot geometric patterns and some hearts, a few big ones whose explosions I could feel in my teeth. Finally the finale went up, a barrage of red, white, and blue, and then it was over. We stood up, folded our blanket quickly, said our goodbyes to Gary and his daughter. I picked him up and with that we dove into the crowd to hike back to our car.

“Was that good, buddy?”

“Yeah, Daddy, it was.”

“Are you happy that we came?”

“I’m really happy that we saw the fireworks, but I’m sad mommy was too tired.”

“Yeah, but she wanted to be here, she just needed sleep.”

“I know.” He paused as we wove through the crowd and then gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“What was the kiss for, Connor?”

“Because I love you, Daddy.”

If there’s one thing I want my son to never doubt, it’s that I love him, and hopefully tonight was the first of many Fourth of July memories for him.

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Shared Joy is Multiplied

Today I woke up, looked at my phone, and began to cry.

While I don’t talk politics or religion here very often, I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m a liberal from the few times I do, and today I got to witness one of the greatest triumphs of a cause near and dear to my heart, the right for same sex couples to marry.

I’ve talked about on here about my own wedding to Michelle. I could go on about the weather or the fact it was Halloween, the decorations. I could go on about the venue or the people who were there. All of that helped make it a singular day, a truly special one, but none of that made a wedding.

The truly incredible part was where I watched my wife walk down the aisle to me and we stood before nearly everyone in the world that we loved and made a vow to each other that, no matter what, we were committing to each other, even through the apocalypse (zombie, vampire, man-made or otherwise), we would fight and die by each others side. No joke, and it was Michelle who wanted that to be part of the vows. And once that was done and after we were pronounced husband and wife, we stepped off into something fantastic.

I’m not going to lie, marriage isn’t easy and it’s not always happy, but there is something fundamental to being married that wasn’t there before when Michelle and I were just dating or even when we made the step to live together. There’s a weight there, a significance. There are those words said in front of a gazebo before all of our friends echoing forward through time that remind me during all the times, good and bad, that this woman, this incredible, beautiful, sometimes infuriating woman, is my wife and if I’m a man of my word the only wife I’ll ever have, so don’t fuck it up.

Leslie Light, who I’ve mentioned here before, officiated out wedding and has said multiple times that she loves weddings because, in part, they remind her of her own and I know that to be true because that has been the case for Michelle and I. We sit in the audience and hold hands, watching other people say their own words, and hearing ours in the back of our minds. We see the goofy, loving smiles and remember our own. I’ve looked around at the other people attending those weddings and I’ve seen the same thing there reflected on other people’s faces.

After today more people will get to know that. After today there will be more people who will be able to share other people’s joy, who will know from their own experience, feeling the weight of and hearing their own words, the happiness of others.

This will not be the end. Just as Loving v. Virginia wasn’t the end of bigotry toward two people of different skin tones getting married, this decision will not end hate. But it’s a damn fine start because, with today, there’s just a little more joy in the world.

And while it’s from a satire account, this is my new headcannon:

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Christopher Lee

One of my favorite stories about Christopher Lee comes from when he was filming one of his final scenes as Sarumon. Peter Jackson was getting frustrated with how the scene where Wormtongue stabs Sarumon in the back was going, particularly with the noise that Christopher was making when “stabbed.” When Peter expressed this frustration, Christopher Lee looked at him and said something to the effect of, “Peter, while I cannot give you certain details due to the National Secrets Act, I can assure you that I know what sound a man makes when stabbed in the spine.”

Supposedly Peter stopped, thought about it for a moment, and kept the next take.

Christopher Lee, you see, was a member of Special Operations Executive, also known as The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. During WWII they were many things but primarily intelligence officers (which Lee was) and the trainers of saboteurs and resistance fighters. Lee spent most of his military career in Africa and southern Europe before spending some time hunting Nazis.

He was a god damn Nazi hunter.

Christopher Lee was also a Tolkien scholar, supposedly reading Tolkien’s works once a year and was fluent in Elvish. He was proud of having met Dr. Tolkien before his passing and, if stories are correct, pretty much demanded a role when LotR was announced.

Christopher Lee would go on to have one of the most (until his death he was the most prolific, living actor, not sure how he stacks up with other dead actors now) busy acting careers of anyone.

He played both Dracula and Frankenstein.
He was both Holmes brothers.
He was Death and Lucifer and a Bond villain which might as well be the first two combined.
He brought Lord Summerisle to life.
He was a Sith Lord.

He produced death metal albums about Charlemagne at 89.

How many people can say that?

Only one.

Rest in peace, sir.

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BayCon 2015

So Saturday I went back to BayCon, the local, (nominally) science-fiction writers’ convention in the Bay Area.

Two years back I wrote It’s not you, it’s me…ok, it is a little you, but it’s also a little me, a post about the state of BayCon as it applied to me.

In that post I said that BayCon would probably be my last and, really, it more or less was. I didn’t do 2014 because I had other plans at the time and 2013 had left a fairly sour taste in my mouth (no one, especially volunteers, should have to pay to work). The only reason why I came back to BayCon this year was that I was begged by my friend Louis of FLARE that they needed bodies and he would appreciate it ever so much if I came back. My resistance to his puppy dog eyes failing, I agreed and picked up a swing shift on Saturday night.

More or less my opinions from 2013 haven’t changed.

First, let me say that also includes my opinions regarding the hard working staff of BayCon. This year BC was chaired by my long-time friend Sally Rose and Kathleen (who I don’t know) and the theme was Women of Wonder. Bill Hay, someone long-involved with BC, made some pretty kick ass decorations around the hotel with these stations dedicated to Women of X, whether that’s aviation, science in general, military, cinema, science fiction/fantasy, whatever, with pictures of notable women and brief snippets of why they were cool. I have heard rumors that there were some staffing hiccups that did make things more difficult but I thought they all did a good job.

I also didn’t have to pay to work, so that was a nice change.

That being said, there need to be some major changes at BayCon.

While I did see some younger kids there, the overwhelming majority of people seemed to be 30+. The con needs to get in the younger kids for all the reasons I mentioned in the other post.

Similarly, the attendance seemed low. I don’t know if it was low or if the hotel they were at is just bad for that image (it’s a big hotel with lots of convention space so people seemed even more thinned out).

Not just me but lots of other people have said that the con needs to do a couple of things:
1. Change location. The venue isn’t favorable to the kind of con that BayCon is. The size of the hotel makes everything more spread out which means its harder to build a sense of connectedness (that you’re actually AT a con). Lots of people have complained within earshot of me that this hotel isn’t that good for parties. I have to wonder how much of that is viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses but if people are complaining then it isn’t meeting their needs.

2. Change the date. Honestly, BayCon won’t be able to compete with the other two big cons that weekend, Fanime and Kublacon, at this point. They’ll never be able to steal back the people that find those cons more intriguing because they’ll never be able to play at that level; both of those cons pretty much specialize and cater to their demographic in a way BayCon never would be able to. Throw in Clockwork Alchemy nabbing the steampunk crowd (however big that is) and you’re left with a much smaller slice of the young person pie. Which also sounds like something that Dr. Lecter might cook up to cap off a dinner party.

A sub-note to this, many people have complained that if BayCon changed weekends they’d lose a day of con. This year BayCon effectively lost a day due to the hotel’s scheduling and contractual obligations and I have to wonder just how many of those people are really missing the small amount of programming that happened on Monday.

3. Programming. I have no idea of how the panels were so I won’t comment on that but I will comment on a discussion that was going on shortly before the start of con. The tl;dr is that there was a charity event at BayCon, a “slave auction” held by Klingons, that was a long-standing staple of the con that was asked to not happen this year because, unsurprisingly, selling primarily women, even for charity, doesn’t really jive with the whole trying to honor and recognize women of wonder theme. Of course people lost their minds. I was not one of them; even if you’re acting sketchy for charity, you’re still being sketchy, and when the MC complains that without the slave auction he’s going to have no where to be skeezy at, the sketchiness kind of outweighs the charity aspect IMO.

Regardless, several people made the comment that BayCon has lost a lot of staples that made it what it was and they haven’t been replaced. Years ago BayCon had a thriving costuming community and did a Masquerade/costume contest that was well-attended and had a lot of participants. That’s gone (although it was replaced with a variety show this year which seemed well-attended). Slave auction (however you feel about it), was gone and (IMO) I wouldn’t be sad to see it stay gone. Several of the very popular parties, while not done by the con, are also gone.

The con needs to figure out a way to integrate with the attendees to help create “after-hours” programming/events that people would enjoy. The con also needs to start, I think, directly interacting with the attendees to find out what they want. One of the people on the BoD mentioned that another Bay Area con, PantheaCon, sends/sent out surveys to attendees to find out their feelings on the con. Maybe BayCon needs to do that.

That’s pretty much it. I will say this, there is a LOT of talk about how people can save BayCon and that says two things:
1. That people know, or at least fear, that it is in need of saving. Never a good thing.
2. That people want BayCon. That they care enough to speak up about it (whether they then do anything more than that is a different thing entire) and that’s something.

Whether or not that happens I don’t know. With the same people, ultimately, in leadership who have always been there I don’t know how much change will actually come about.

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