February 28, 2012

The Third Clue

Here's your third clue to the plot of the next Simon Rip adventure:

February 21, 2012

The Dark Behind Her Eyes

On the 8th of this month, I had to take Maria back up to Indy to see the eye specialist. The problems with her sighted eye have worsened. Not only does she still have the problem with floaters, but her “good” eye has become fairly sensitive to light and her vision has deteriorated to the point where she finds it difficult to see anything written on the television screen.

When things like that happen, it’s funny how your brain latches on to minor and inconsequential observations...we used to go out of our way to watch anime subtitled rather than dubbed. In the last month, it’s the other way around. I’ve come to recognize Funimation’s pool of dub talent by the sound and cadence of their voices, regardless of how much they try to mask themselves.

The last time I wrote about this, I mentioned there was some fear of the culprit being Behcet’s Disease. Thankfully, that proved to not be the case. However, as comforting as it is to have Behcet’s eliminated from the list of possible culprits, I wish the specialist could have given us better news. The last battery of tests all came back negative, leaving us with two possible causes.

The first was a long medical term—sympathetic something or other—which is what happens when you suffer trauma in one eye and your body gets confused, causing it to mistakenly attack the other eye. For that, they drew yet more blood and sent it off for testing.

The other possibility was an infection inside her eyeball, within the vitreous humor. For that they squirted her eye full of numbing drops, then swabbed it with a dark looking stain before leaving us to wait in the quiet and the gloom. When they returned, they placed a clamp on her eyelid—just like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, I kept thinking. Just like Alex. The doctor then inserted a syringe into the far corner of her eye. He held it there while his nurse pulled the plunger. Afterward, he wrote her a prescription for an antibiotic eye drop and patched her eye, leaving her blind for the two-hour-long drive home.

As we sat in rush hour traffic, my mind ran through all the things that had brought us to this moment, all the things we had already been through...

Not only was Maria’s mother physically abusive, but she was a terrible and vile woman who shredded my wife's sense of self with a constant spew of insults and hateful esteem-shattering proclamations: you’re ugly, you’re stupid, no one loves you, you ruined my life, you’ll never amount to anything. After such a loathsome upbringing, her mother topped it off by dying, robbing my wife of the chance to willingly erase her from her life and claim her own self-determined sense of closure.

Her father wasn’t much better.

I remember shortly after her mother’s funeral we got a call from him out of the blue. In his thickly-accented English, he said he was in town and wanted to meet us for lunch. Maria, despite having not seen the man in years, was hopeful—which is another thing that makes having awful people as parents so terrible. Even if they are loathsome human beings, who doesn’t want their mommy and their daddy?

Going there was a mistake. The only reason he wanted to see her was to make sure she knew, since her mother was dead, he didn’t “owe” anyone child support and would not be paying anyone child support.

A year later, he was dead too.

Being an orphan in her early-20s fucked Maria up good, but she came out the other side and we thought she had beaten it until about a year ago the panic attacks started. She’s been in therapy since then and now this...

When we finally made it back to Highway 37, I remember thinking that this is not fair. This is not fair. Not fair... which is the most pointless thought you can think, because life is not fair. It never has been. It never will. Terrible things happen all the time. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. The innocent are punished and the guilty are rewarded.

I have not believed in the notion of a higher power up in the sky who visits suffering upon us to teach us some lesson, to test our faith, to bring us closer to some sort of terrible grace, for a long time. Life just is. It doesn’t plot and it doesn’t scheme. It simply happens and it will always simply happen. Suffering comes from our hunger for continuity and the rigid attachments we sculpt from fear and ego and even knowledge—like the realization that someday we will die. To exist in the now, in this moment, in this instant, with right thought and right action—that’s what frees us.

But still..I don’t think anything has ever felt this wrong.

Why now? Why now when everything seemed to be going so well? When I finally have a decent job with a, mostly, livable wage and benefits? When we own a home and aren’t paying rent for a shitty apartment in a shitty building full of strippers and drug dealers ? When we started talking about having a child and the notion didn’t shrivel my balls? When writing is finally beginning to click? And when Maria is finally confronting the monsters that come for her in the dark behind her eyes.

February 11, 2012

Black Review #1

This is my copy of Black Review #1, edited by Mel Watkins. It includes Shane Stevens’ social commentary essay, “The White Niggers of the Seventies.” It’s not incredibly difficult to track down, though you’re probably looking at 15 or 20 bucks for this slim paperback. It’s worth it for Shane’s essay alone. Not only does he deliver some some sharp insights into race relations, but he offers a few hints at his own life.

Thanks to Stevens’ essay, I discovered another literary feud (see post on Ishmael Reed) and tracked down the letters that were exchanged back and forth. Again, if I can raise the cash for my research trip, I suspect I might unearth more details. After reading the letters, I have a hard time believing that it ended there.

February 3, 2012


While waiting for the U.S. release of The Raid, I again streamed Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais’ first film,
Merantau. The movie takes its name from a traditional Mingangkabu rite of passage, a journey a young man undertakes to prove his worth before returning home and starting the next phase of adult life. If I understand it correctly, it’s not so much about going out and making money as it is gathering life experience and discovering your moral identity—what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and what’s evil. It’s a theme that adds Merantau to the list of films I recommend to people when they dismiss “chop-socky flicks” as a mindless stream of fights.

Yuda (Iko Uwais) leaves his rural village for the city, hoping to open a school teaching Silat. Unfortunately, he discovers the address in Jakarta he had been given for a place to stay has been demolished, forcing him to spend his nights sleeping in a construction site and his days wandering the streets looking for work. When Adit (Yusuf Aulia) steals his wallet, Yuda has no choice but to chase him down and retrieve his last bit of cash. The pursuit inadvertently leads Yuda to the street kid’s sister,  Astri (Sisca Jessica), and puts the young Silat Master on a collision course with a pair of twisted European brothers, Ratger (Mads Koudal) and Luc (Laurent Buson), running a human trafficking ring.

Merantau is beautifully written and directed by Gareth Evans. A lot of care went into this film and it shows. The beginning and ending scenes of the Sumatran countryside are expansive, lush and colorful, while the cityscape of Jakarta is closed, sparse and drab. It’s full of haunting images and visually interesting shots, but thankfully, for martial arts fans, unlike a lot of western directors—who are fixated on ruining fight scenes with medium shots, close-ups, and constant camera cuts—Evans knows how to shoot unarmed combat. He understands the importance of proper distance and the dynamic appeal of the long take to showcase what’s actually going on.

Iko Uwais is great martial artist and I think poised to become an international action star (especially once wider audiences get a chance to see The Raid). He’s fresh faced and likeable with an easy screen presence. The very cute Sisca Jessica pulls off the rough innocent/streetwise combo very well. And I’m always pleased to see Laurent Buson (sometimes billed as “Lohan”—as is the Shaolin Kung Fu term, not Lindsay’s last name).

Merantau is a film obviously made by a group of people who like and care about martial arts films. That’s probably its greatest strength and its biggest problem. Regretably, I don’t think it ever fully manages to step out of the fearsome shadow of Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak. The fight scenes don’t really find their stride until the confrontation on the footbridge. Once the movie hits that point, we’re golden. The confrontation in the elevator is exciting and dramatic and manages to hit those same heart-wrenching, dramatic moments of violence I loved in John Woo’s The Killer. The showdown on the docks is one of the best I’ve ever seen from the one man versus the horde to the final two on one fight against the villainous brothers.

Even with the gorgeous cinematography and tight script, the problem is, from a martial arts standpoint, a large portion of the beginning feels like Ong Bak—without the jaw-dropping gymnastics and parkour. I think the Jackie Chanisms fall a little flat too and probably should have been avoided all together. Instead, I would have liked to have seen more interesting fight choreography from the very beginning and more of an emphasis on what makes Silat—a martial art most Americans have never seen—different.

Nevertheless, it’s a great film and easily makes my list of favorites. If I’m correct, I think all the mistakes of Merantau will be corrected with The Raid and we’ll see an explosion of quality martial arts films from Indonesia.
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