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“This is Us” (NBC show) November 5, 2016

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I’m breaking tradition since I always put reviews of television or film on my companion blog, “Popcorn in the Dark.” However, this new show on NBC merits more than a simple review.

Maybe by the time you reach my age, one feels like you’ve witnessed almost every kind of storytelling and you desperately want something fresh. Granted, opinions are as wide and diverse as the country itself, and that’s a good thing, insuring there is entertainment for every taste. The kind of flavor each of us enjoys tends to alter with age, and sometimes I look back at shows I watched in my youth and ask myself why I found them so entertaining at the time?

My wife is guilty of introducing me to “The West Wing,” and I never in my life thought I would enjoy that show so much. The first four seasons shine over the rest as they were penned by Aaron Sorkin, who has gone on to write such brilliant works as “The Social Network, Moneyball, The Newsroom,” and the woefully underrated, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

“The West Wing” has stood the test of time and is still a fabulous piece of television. The series took the twisted inner workings of The Presidency and gave it personality behind the facade we see through the media. The characters that held the various White House staff positions brought heartfelt emotion, real-life problems, drama on both a personal and professional level, and managed to do it all with just the right splash of humor. If there is one thing I love about Sorkin, it’s his ability to script witty, snappy dialogue, and this show seldom failed in that regard.

Generally, when a show is written by a staff of writers and directed by multiple talents, elements can become irregular and lose the cohesive character strands that hold them together. “This is Us,” doesn’t just break that mold, it smashes those notions with a twenty-pound sledgehammer. Click this IMDB link to see just a glimpse of the list of people responsible for creating this exceptional show and you’ll see what I mean.

The premise of the show seems simple enough but the manner in which the story is told is far from conventional. I have often told friends when recommending an intricate story, “This is not popcorn; don’t go to the bathroom, don’t play with your phone, or chat with anyone else because there isn’t a single scene that is irrelevant. “This is Us” jumps back and forth through time just as we do in our minds. Every time we recall a memory from childhood or some pivotal moment in our lives, we mentally jump back in time, and this show does exactly that with masterful direction.

The core characters are three siblings; two brothers and a sister, with one of the boys being adopted. We see the mother deliver triplets, but complications claim the life of the third child. On that same day, an orphaned infant is brought to the hospital by the fire department and the newly minted father sees this as a twist of fate. The orphaned infant is black, but the young white family adopt him as their own and we slowly see all the hurdles that new family must clear to make a life ahead.

We also see the three siblings as adults, and the very different directions their lives have taken, the clash of their personalities, and the different perspective each of them has on the family they grew up in. This vision into the past of each person and how it plays out in very real, modern-day problems gives this show a suspension of disbelief from the very first episode.

For all the well-deserved praise I will heap on this show, I must also confess it is difficult to watch because not an episode has gone by without leaving my face stained with tears. From heart touching moments of caring and compassion to the gut-wrenching pain of loss and sorrow, “This is Us” makes every episode not only an event to remember, but a glimpse of the roller-coaster of emotions life can deliver without warning.

How many of us know someone that has dealt with the trials of adoption, searching for an unknown biological parent, unexpected pregnancy, the specter of terminal disease, the misfit dilemma of being a different race, physical size, or intelligence level, and the never-ending challenges of parenting, family members, and the dizzying maze of romance.

These are just the tip of the iceberg as the show finds a way to dive deep into the soul of each of its characters. I find this show so hard to watch because it is so relate-able to many things I have experienced myself. Maybe not under the exact circumstances depicted, but close enough to find those tender places tucked into our memories. While I say it’s difficult to watch, let me be clear that even with impending tears waiting at every turn, this is a show I don’t want to miss…ever. “This is Us” is the kind of superior quality entertainment that makes every reality show ever made seem pointless and incomplete.

While it’s true I know this is scripted, acted and directed, there is a pure truth to this show that the actors deliver with such zeal that it cannot be denied. My hat is off to all the fine people who have worked so hard to bring each hour into our homes, and I applaud the obvious care with which they craft each scene. If you haven’t seen this show, you OWE it to yourself to share it with someone you love. Yes, it’s THAT good. How good? You’ll want to be a better person after watching this show, a better parent, step-parent, sister, brother, spouse, etc, because you’ll see your own flaws in their faces, and that is storytelling at its best. Don’t just watch “This is Us,” dare to open yourself up and live it right along with them.

A box of tissues is highly recommended, or even better, a shoulder to cry on.

– T. August Green

Can You Hear Me, Dad? October 30, 2016

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driverseat

I know it would be just as easy for me to sit here and say the words out loud, or better still, kneel down and pray, but here at the keyboard I can do both. I feel for you at times like this and I can only imagine all those night you spent in the hospital where those deep hours were just you and your thoughts.

I know you lost your father young, just like I lost you, and years later, your mother. Despite being surrounded by those you held most dear in your life, did you still feel alone? It’s a hard sensation to describe, but when the rest of the world sleeps, the memories and thoughts in your head just won’t be silent.

An old legend says if you can’t sleep it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream. I have no clue if there is any truth to that but the veil between the spirit world feels a lot thinner this time of night. Maybe my wife or one of my kids is dreaming, but whatever the case, I hear the voices of you and Mom a lot more often these days.

I honestly thought after I left the plant and wasn’t forced to be sleep deprived that much of this would fade, but in the effort to make life a little less hectic or stressful, the voices come calling more often it seems. Maybe it’s because on my new job I keep coming in contact with older people that remind of you in subtle ways, and I can’t help wondering what you would have been like had you lived to old age.

The flip side of that coin also haunts me sometime, wondering if the specter of unknown disease will rear its head without warning, slapping a blatant finish line to life when you least expect it, or just when dreams might be in sight. I have very clear memories of the tears wept by both you and Mom when those days were on the doorstep.

Every time I spend a few hours enjoying a drive in my convertible, I inevitably wander down a rural two lane road, passing mile after mile of farmland. Never have I done so without the thought of you crossing my mind, picturing an unknown memory of North Carolina tobacco fields during the Great Depression.

I remember how often you were away at work, passing the long hours earning a living to provide for us back home. Those memories became my own life as countless days and years of overtime passed by under the relentless hands of the clock. It was a humbling education, and so often then I felt the same odd isolation. There you were, in the dead of night, rolling away the miles behind the wheel of a bus, and even though it was filled with people, it remained a solitary experience.

You told me once there must be sixteen yards of bitterness for every inch of sweet, and that math has certainly held true. After many hours of work I return home, I see my wife, hear the caring tone of her voice and hold her close for what always seems far too brief a moment. In those moments, life has purpose and all else falls into place and priority. I look around at the pictures on the walls and I see the path behind me with all its forks in the road. I see the legacy of my life in my kids and how their lives are marching in their own direction.

Did you ever question what great purpose or responsibility there was left to accomplish? Are these the words you breathe to me through the quiet voice in my head? Those voices only seem to have volume in the limbo of fatigue that lives before my brain finally gives up and shuts down for a few hours?

I find it odd that my job these days is to help other people get a good night’s sleep. Yet I often wonder, will there ever be a mattress that can calm the brain enough to let the body rest. Maybe that’s why I hear you now in ways I never did before. You shed the mortal bonds that held you here and made you suffer, and in doing so, opened doors to speak in ways you couldn’t do in life. I know there was part of you that cared deeply for us, and other parts that made communicating those things much more difficult.

Maybe it’s high time we both got some rest. I’ve said it many times but I’ll write it here for the records that may one day survive us both. I know you had your flaws, just as I have mine, but I forgive you for anything that may haunt you from your past life. I know you did what you thought best under the circumstances, and even then we still manage to fall on our noses more than once.

While I certainly remember the things I disliked, I also remember all the things you taught me that were good, the things that have continued to be of golden value every day, and for those gifts I am forever grateful. Yes, I was a “Momma’s Boy,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t live and breathe parts of you every day of my life.

Be at peace, Dad, for your mighty efforts, for better or worse, were not in vain. More each day I realize what a monumental task it is to be a father, to be a man, and to be a husband. None are easy, but they were never meant to be, and none will ever be finished until the last mile is behind us. Now it’s me in that driver’s seat, and the bus is filled with those I love, but in the wee hours it’s still a quiet, solitary job.

But I was well trained.

Good night, Dad. I’ve got the wheel.

T. August Green

First Impressions October 22, 2016

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In the summer of 1971, I was 12 years old, and in the previous year I often watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Coverage of the Can-Am Series races had been part of the show, and at that time I couldn’t begin to tell you what Can-Am was. All I knew was watching wedge-shaped cars with bold wings simply looked cool and I wanted Hot Wheels replicas of them to go with my collection. “Collection” is a term I can use today, but back then it was my nifty carry case full of my cars. I suppose you could say those where the first cars I counted as my possessions, and I was fiercely protective of them.

McLaren-M8D

One of the Can-Am cars that struck my imagination deeply was the McLaren M8D. While many other cars on the track boasted large aluminum wings, the M8D seemed to flow from nose to tail, and it wasn’t until later in life that I learned the testing of this sleek design was what claimed the life of the legendary Bruce McLaren. To this day, I have longed to see one of these cars in person, because in my view it is the epitome of an open cockpit sports car. I have a lovely diecast replica that I cherish, but I fear it will be a close as I ever come to seeing one…and actually driving one would only be a fantasy.

While the McLaren and other Can-Am cars certainly had their impact on me, the summer of 1971 was when my Dad hauled the family out to the drive-in to see “Le Mans.” I knew nothing of the daring race across the French countryside, but one thing was certain, the howling Porsche 917 etched itself into my very soul. The sound and look of that car at speed was intoxicating and those images have never left my mind.

porsche917

At that age, I had already been fascinated by WWII aircraft, both fighters and bombers, and I gobbled down all manner of literature and movies about them. To this day I am still enthralled with powerful military aircraft, and I assume it has its linkage with the ethereal man and machine connection.

Maybe this was the connection between the two, as “Le Mans” depicted a dogfight of sorts with men and machines battling for victory. I have read a great number of texts telling of how post-WWII, many former pilots found their places in racing machines, and many fans regarded them with the same kind of daring and bravery.

All of this reflection came roaring back this morning as I watched a short documentary about the Porsche 918 hybrid supercar. The 919h (hybrid) racer was developed from the same concepts, and it was the car that returned Porsche to the top step of the podium at the Circuit de La Sarthe. While the 919 comes nowhere close to the 917 in sleek beauty, one cannot deny the technological marvel the car represents. However, to harness that technology and put it into a car capable of being driven every day is nothing short of miraculous.

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber

Supercars like the 918 have always been produced in notoriously small numbers, and with prices approaching (and sometimes exceeding) a million dollars it’s easy to understand why. So when Porsche announced they would build 918 copies of their shiny new toy, many in the industry thought them mad.

porsche918w

Of course, history has proven Porsche made the smart move, but let’s give them credit where it’s due, because if the 918 were not such an amazing machine those numbers never would have been reached.

Just a few of its highlights include; a 600hp naturally aspirated 4.6L V8 engine that weighs no more than the turbo six in the vaunted 911 Carrera. Three electric motors that can add up to 397 more horsepower if needed. A car equipped with the creature comforts of a/c, sound system, and a not-so-barren interior still only tips the scale at 3600lbs. A battery pack that can propel the car up to 90mph for 19 miles, but is constantly regenerating every time your foot is off the power, effectively stretching that range until the engine automatically comes on to charge the battery while still in electric mode. A plug-in feature allowing home charging on either 110v or 220v systems, all combining to give a supercar a 70mpg e-rating.

Supercars were never intended to be practical, but Porsche has reached beyond those limits. I learned long ago the race at Le Mans is far more than a motorsports event. The race has challenged automakers of every stripe to push technology in order to build a machine to survive the brutal pounding of 3000 miles of racing non-stop, to withstand the weather conditions, and cross the finish line in victory. Those are no small feats, and automakers quickly learned what survives at Le Mans is potent research for production vehicles.

porsche918m

Today, there are many places across the country where you can go and pay the price to drive exotic sports cars for a day. I have yet to experience this but its most certainly on my Bucket List. While I doubt the Porsche 918 will ever be one of the choices to select at such locations, the modern interpretation of Porsche racing heritage will join my fantasy garage of cars I dream of driving someday.

Bravo, Porsche, for never giving up.

T. August Green.

The Road Ahead… October 21, 2016

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Almost a year ago, I set the wheels in motion for one of the biggest decisions of my life, and that was to retire from my industrial job. My time there of 38 years carried me through all the major phases of adulthood, from nineteen years old when I began, to getting married, having children, raising a family and the struggles that entails, to divorce and starting over. It saw me through the rebuilding process, finding love once again, creating volumes of new memories, and reaching for dreams so long kept at bay. Then came the time it finally felt right to step away, but to say it was without its fears would be a blatant lie.

When I follow a road on a map there is always a sense of direction, a series of choices, and ultimately a destination. I’ve often used the analogy of “Life is a Highway”, but life has some very real differences, chief of which is unpredictability. In life, the end of the road is the end of the mortal journey and none of us knows exactly when or where that will be. One thing is certain, as the years advance it becomes evident the road ahead is shorter than the miles behind you. Many call this facing your own mortality, but I can tell you without hesitation that it is also something that doesn’t come without its fears. Suddenly, when you look around and see other people whom age has taken its relentless toll upon and you wonder, were they just like me not so very long ago?

I’ve spoken with elderly people and the dreams they still have are just as vibrant as my own, but they have resigned themselves to the regrets that dreams will stay just where they are because either health or monetary status stands firmly in their way. For some, monetary issues are not the problem but the limitations of age and health present very real barriers that money simply cannot overcome.

A few days ago, I washed and shined my car as I have done countless times but the soreness I felt the next day made me wonder how much longer will it be before that simple task is beyond my reach? I have already noted I don’t spend nearly as much time as I used to pondering over which car I might want to strive for next. Instead, I see the finite number of years I have until retirement or medical restrictions may make those things impossible. Is this the early warning signs of the death of a car guy?

I have been told in semi-jest many times by several members of my family that they rue the day when someone is forced to ask me to hand over my keys to my car. My son told me he might want to be in the next state when that day comes, but I have to wonder if my zeal will fade before that day ever arrives? Once again, the destination is uncertain.

The job I took when I made the jump from industrial shift work has been in steady transition almost from day one. Mergers and acquisitions have become commonplace words these days and with it ever more uncertainty. One cannot cry over burned bridges, and in honesty, I have no desire to go back from whence I came, but even though I’m working fewer hours, my writing time has become almost non-existent in the face of learning new job skills.

I poured years of time, research and effort into writing Moonracer, and I was elated when I held the first printed copy in my hands, but I have since learned many hard truths about the realm of books and people who buy them. Those who love racing don’t tend to be avid readers, and those who are readers don’t tend to be fans of racing. The fact that the story is centered on the human conflict and aspiration doesn’t matter if those who browse the shelves aren’t interested enough to pick it up. Another hard fact is over seventy percent of the book-buying public are women, and romance novels outsell everything else by a wide margin. So, if you aren’t writing in that genre, your chances aren’t very strong from the start. I’m sure I’ll keep plucking away at my imagination but the prospect of making a living at it doesn’t look rosy. But I know I’m not in unfamiliar company, and I think about that every time I pass a bin of “dollar books” and I realize those people gave just as much effort as I did.

The loss of my mother still weighs heavily on me at the most unexpected times, and early this year my wife lost her mother as well. We lean on each other as we are now both “parentless” and that presents its own image of mortality. I see my children growing and facing the same difficult trials I faced at their age, and my memory of those struggles is all too vivid. I still see my granddaughter occasionally and she is growing so fast its almost as though she is a new person each time that I need to get to know all over again.

They say change is the only constant in the universe and that we should embrace change as the doorway to our future. I believe there is a great deal of truth in that statement, but sometimes the change we are forced to embrace is the loss of the things we leave behind. That isn’t all bad and it makes the colorful story of life, but there few who savor running out of paint when the canvas isn’t finished.

The road ahead is still full of turns and hills with an end not yet in sight. I can only hope it isn’t around the next corner. The full realization of dreams is promised to no one, we can only hope and keep moving each day. Hope is what fuels the machine that we are, and luckily that isn’t a finite resource.

Finally, there is love, and if you have that one person you share your life with, the one you miss when you’re apart, the one you can’t imagine living without, then the road ahead, however uncertain, will be filled with things to be shared, savored, and cherished. Only love can do that, and I count myself fortunate to have a wife that fills that role and so much more. Here’s hoping what’s left of the journey is long, winding, and filled with beautiful things to behold.

T. August Green

What the heck is a Shooting Brake? September 27, 2016

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We’ve all heard the term “two door coupe” and “four door sedan,” but what the devil is a “shooting brake?” It’s a bizarre term for a car of any sort so let’s cover a bit of background.

At one time, the only other version of a car besides a coupe or sedan was a wagon, otherwise known as the “station wagon.” Anything outside of these three basic designs was a truck, but modern automotive technology has blurred those lines significantly.

American designers love to mimic European style but at the same time try to pay homage to our own heritage, which isn’t a bad notion until they get too deep in a rut. In Europe, the wagon was known as the “estate car” or the vehicle that could carry both people and luggage from the estate to the train station. This is where American automakers derived the term, “station wagon.”

46fordwoodie

Post WWII, the Ford “woodie wagon” became popular with the young surfer community because it could carry several ‘dudes and boards’ with ease. They were bought cheap and inevitably, gearheads turned some into hot rods. American automakers romanticized this trend with both real and fake wood affixed to virtually every wagon they produced. It was also a styling cue they couldn’t seem to let go of until they became hideous vinyl decals almost everyone hated. Today, just mentioning the term “station wagon” or even “wagon” conjures images of fake wooden-clad land barges, which in turn makes customers ill and repulsed. Oddly enough, the modern SUV is essentially a wagon but few are willing to admit the similarity.

Wind the clock back in Europe where a heavy wooden wagon used to break horses was called a “brake.” Some say it was a variation of the Dutch word, “brik,” but this later evolved into a wagon that could carry a hunting party along with their gear. This sporting conveyance was called the “shooting brake.”

After the horse gave way to the automobile, coachbuilders converted high-end cars such as Rolls Royce and Bentley into estate cars capable of carrying similar groups and gear. Society progressed to the point where large vehicles became limousines and sports cars became the status symbols. But even people who can afford lavish sports cars occasionally still want to carry more than two seats worth of people.     I mean what silly man would want to take both his wife AND child to the beach for the weekend? (Along with a few luggage items.)

So, in the modern car landscape of the last half-century, the “shooting brake” evolved into a sporting two-door wagon. The form has been played with on different levels but its recent lineage has been largely avoided by most car-makers. Only the exotic versions get this unique touch, but it isn’t as though the idea hasn’t been toyed with on our shores.

Probably the earliest example aimed for production owes credit to Mr. Harley Earl. For those unfamiliar with the name, he was the father of both the concept car and what we now know today as the new car auto show. Earl was the first to sculpt designs in clay before going to prototype, a time-honored process still in use today. One of Harley Earl’s concepts was the 1954 Chevrolet Nomad.

54nomad

The Nomad Concept was styled to resemble the new Corvette but had a back seat and carry space, hence it was probably the first American shooting brake. However, as many already know, GM chose to utilize the design into their Bel Air series and the most famous two door wagon ever domestically produced was born.

55nomad

The 55-57 Nomad is still one of the most sought after classic cars to date, and while still technically a shooting brake style, falls far short of being a sports or grand touring car.

1968-lamborghini-espada-3

Across the pond, Italian automaker Lamborghini didn’t ignore the style and built a true four-seat grand tourer complete with v-12 power. The Espada holds many of the shooting brake traits but still fell into the realm of exotic, as in not easily attainable.

Volkswagen created a similar movement when it produced its Golf model in a two-door hatch, blessed it with a zippy 16-valve engine and the GTi was born. The GTi is credited with being the origin of the “hot hatchback” craze, which still carries on today even though most models have given way to four-door practicality. Volkswagen briefly sent another model to our shores called the Scirocco,but it was eventually dropped from the US lineup. In 2008, they attached the nameplate to a stylish new coupe that many say possesses the panache of the shooting brake. Sadly, there are no plans to bring the new Scirocco back to our market, and that’s too bad because it shames the Golf in the pizzazz department.

05-2014-vw-scirocco-r-fd-1

This has always made me scratch my head at why this style hasn’t found a home in the USA? So many of us look at sporty cars, and would love to have one, even a V6 model, but we swear them off for woeful back seat room and lousy trunk space. They just aren’t usable for real world duties. Today the craze is for CUVs, SUVs, or Crossovers, and some new models are so small they are nothing more than tall hatchbacks. People still swoon over the Camaros, Mustangs, and Challengers but eschew them for their drawbacks. But what if they didn’t have some of those downsides? What if you could have a Camaro with a back seat fit for actual humans and carry space to boot? Maybe like this?

camarobrake

This rendering shows the possibility of a Camaro shooting brake. Not exotic, not insanely expensive, and just as usable as a hot hatchback. But why stop with the Camaro?

stangbrake

Personally, I think this Mustang rendering could use a slightly higher roofline, but the fact remains its ultimately doable, and sharp looking as well. Don’t think so? True, the initial shock of the car looking different from what you may be used to is there, but look at the hot-selling model from Hyundai…the Veloster.

2012-hyundai-veloster

I think this car sells for the exact same reason cited above, because it blends a sporty coupe nature with a level of practicality. But I also believe either the Camaro or Mustang shooting brake is a far better looking car.

challengerbrake

The Dodge Challenger is already the most spacious of the three domestic sporting models so a shooting brake version makes the most sense here. Granted, I think this rendering desperately needs a roof/hatch spoiler but outside of that is a real winner. This is no Ferrari Lusso but it would be a fraction of the cost and incredibly useful.

72runnershootbrake

All these renderings made me reach back to a favorite body style of mine from 1972 and I toyed with the shooting brake idea. This 72 Plymouth Roadrunner was already a spacious car with a roomy trunk but the extended roofline turns it into a hot two-door wagon.           I stack this up against a Nomad any day, and while it isn’t a corner-carving sports car it proves the best versions of the useful wagon style have been left untouched far too long.

image23

Kia is putting this Sportwagon version of their popular Optima sedan into production, but once again only for Europe and Australia. Its terribly sad such good looking, usable machines fail to make it here in lieu of more SUVs. Even if this car isn’t a shooting brake it still proves a wagon can be both practical, sporting, and nice to look at in your driveway.

gtc4lussoblu

The shooting brake remains an awkward name for a style of car, but it still holds a tight grip on the dreams of most gearheads because it gives us the driving experience we relish with more than two seats and pitiful luggage space. Now if the American market could just catch up with the rest of the world instead of being choked by the bean-counters, we might actually see the dreams become reality. But thank you, Ferrari for actually building such a fine example to inspire us all.

  • T. August Green

 

The Fuzzy Creature Syndrome September 14, 2016

Posted by T. August Green in cats, Uncategorized.
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dog-n-cat

A recent survey showed more North American households owned a dog than any other pet. While the number of homes with a cat comes in second, it’s also noted most cat owners have more than one. There are other pets people choose, but most have one thing in common; they are covered in fur.

Easily one of the most popular episodes of the original Star Trek series was, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  Sci-fi writer David Gerrold penned the script for the episode and I have often wondered if his house was overrun with pets. The genius of the story is the Tribble being a non-descript ball of fur with no specific attribute other than the soft purring sound when it was held. While dogs wag their tails the purring sound was most certainly derived from cats, and the nature of owners to cuddle with their pets lures us into a level of insanity when it comes to other creatures.

Nowhere do I see this on display more often than when I visit a zoo. I have taken the tour of more than a few animal parks in my time, and without fail people step up to cages that hold large cats, eyes wide with wonder, followed by something like, “Oh, he’s SO pretty! I just want to hug him!”

tiger

Obviously, most of these people have never watched any kind of nature documentary. You know the kind where the tiger pounces on a gazelle, ripping it down with its claws, bites through the spine or crushes the throat before making dinner out of fleshy internal organs? Oh no, these nice zoo animals wouldn’t possibly do that, would they?

Whenever I look through the barrier between me and one of these beasts, I am grateful for engineering prowess because I don’t think I look like a visitor to this magnificent creature. I look like dinner.

Granted, Walt Disney animators have brought to life such benevolent things like an Arabian princess with a pet tiger who understands her and a little boy lost in the woods with a furry dragon the size of a dinosaur, all of which feeds our fantasy of having such a thing for a pet of our very own.

I don’t mean to sound as if I’m criticizing others because I am absolutely guilty in my own right. We recently visited a zoo where I saw a Red Panda up close for the first time, and I was completely taken with how adorable they appear to be. They grow to about the size of a large Maine Coon cat (which is a bloody big feline) and their bushy tails along with a raccoon-like face make for unabashed cuteness.

red-panda-outside

Then you read the placard (I wonder how many people skip this part) and you take note of the claws and teeth that tear apart bamboo for food. Have you ever tried tearing apart bamboo, much less eating it? Why yes, I thought I’d nibble on a little knotty pine after dinner! No, wait, I mean I’m having knotty pine for dinner!

My living room furniture already has a plethora of tiny nicks and pulls courtesy of our furry co-inhabitants. I can only imagine the shredded chunks of sofa arms, missing table legs, and gouged sheet rock leading a path to the cute little Red Panda hanging from the ceiling fan. Maybe? Not so much.

The Ring-tailed Lemur was another critter that looked like it belonged on the plush rack in the gift shop. I found it interesting that lemurs are sometimes used as service animals, although not surprising given their articulate hands and feet. The large orange eyes lend the image of a spooky Halloween figure you place in the window, but then our yellow-eyed black cat can be just as creepy. The lemur is also equipped with serious claws, ones used to clear away tree bark in order to find its chosen diet of bugs. (yuck)

ring-tailed-lemur

I can just see myself strolling into the pet store now, “Excuse me, but where can I find the five pound bag of assorted insects? My lemur has been a very good boy today.”

There could also be a variation on the carpet-covered kitty condo, “You know those oddly arranged geometric towers the cat never uses? Yes, but I’d like one without the carpet, preferably still covered in bark and natural greenery.”

“I’m sorry, sir. That’s called a tree.” (Anyone who has ever worked in retail can relate to that answer.)

There are lots of reasons certain animals make it to the pet store and others go to the zoo. I have to feel confident some poor soul has paid the price of learning which animals adapt to domestic environments and others, shall we say, have their drawbacks. Then again, I’ve seen more than a few animals in pet stores I wouldn’t dream of bringing home, but that’s another story.

My last example was a furry creature made lovingly popular by Coca-Cola. Who doesn’t think the Polar Bear isn’t a large, white, fluffy teddy bear after seeing those commercials? The truth is, even in person, they are white, and maybe even fluffy, but 1500 pounds is enough to make even a stuffed animal look scary. There is still a lovable quality on the outside but the size of one of his paws makes a print I can stand in with room to spare. “Hey, Fluffy, let’s run around the back yard and make craters to plant trees in later!”

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There was an amazing statue nearby in the form of a dancing polar bear. If you run an image search online for “dancing polar bear” you will get dozens of examples of hand carved, Native Inuit art that showcases their belief in reincarnation. The Inuit revere the polar bear as the predator at the top of the food chain, therefore, to return in the next life as one of these beasts is considered a great gift. When they see polar bears acting playfully with each other it is cause to dance and celebrate, believing they could be past ancestors reborn.

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When you look at this statue you can’t help but smile, and it did make me think that when bears look at you, they seem to be curious while a tiger or leopard has a cold, deadly stare. I do have a hard time picturing some of my ancestors as dancing bears, but after seeing “The Jungle Book” maybe it isn’t so far fetched after all.

In the grand scheme of things I’ll stick with our cats. They may be plenty dumb, especially the one who can figure out how to push the door open to enter a room, but is completely stumped on how to pull it the opposite direction in order to exit, but they can still be lovable without the danger of lethal bloodshed. My shoes, on the other hand, might be killed without warning.

T. August Green

Beautifully Practical September 8, 2016

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carmags

I feel I owe a great debt to automotive magazines. I never discovered the ‘joy of reading’ when I was a child. I did my required assignments in school, and some of those turned out to be both interesting and entertaining, but it was car magazines that opened a whole new world. A lot of guys would grab car magazines in the library at high school, but most would leaf through looking at pictures, but reading the articles turned into my obsession. Those articles taught me a wealth of knowledge, not just about automotive technology, but how to convey those thoughts and information in an entertaining way.

When my children were young they would often hear my laughter when I sat down to read, and my first wife was forever puzzled at what could possibly be so funny. These people always possessed what I felt was the dream job, to drive some of the greatest cars in the world and then attempt to capture that experience for the rest of us to enjoy. To explain to someone else how you feel when you drive an exciting machine is no easy feat, but the creative ways these journalists came up with never ceased to amaze me.

Driving a high performance machine around a track is a tsunami of emotions unlike any I’ve ever experienced. My respect for the professional racing driver grows exponentially every time I turn a lap or attack a challenging road. Anyone who thinks a pro driver is not a ‘real athlete’ is someone who has never had a brush with the true experience. I’ve seen more than a few people step out of a ride-along at the track, and they do so sweating, gasping for breath, and quivering all over from the adrenaline rush. These are after effects of riding, not actually turning a wheel in anger, so imagine turning that intensity level all-the-way-up! I’ve never been sky-diving, but I can’t imagine anyone calmly jumping out of an airplane for the first few times…unless you have a death wish.

The truly talented automotive journalist finds brilliant new analogies and adjectives in every paragraph to convey these experiences onto the page, and to this day I find that ability fascinating. A recent case in point is the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, a car bred from racing technology but blessed with the attributes to function in the real world.

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Enzo Ferrari cared about one thing…winning races. The Grand Prix Team that bears his name was his central focus, and he only began producing sports cars for sale to the public to finance his racing team efforts. Given that knowledge it comes as no surprise that most cars wearing the Prancing Horse Shield have little use except a pure driving experience. The halo cars produced in Maranello employ technology taken directly from the Formula 1 Team, and as such are basically racing machines tamed for street legal use.

Sergio Marchionne, current CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which in turn owns Ferrari, has made the statement that it was not in their DNA for Ferrari to ever build a crossover or SUV. The number of Ferraris produced with a back seat is severely limited, but at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show the company unveiled the “FF” marking the first Ferrari ever produced with four-wheel drive. The FF also boasted seating for four adults and storage space for luggage under its hatchback design. The shooting brake body style of two doors and an estate-like body didn’t prevent the car from keeping with Ferrari’s signature sleek looks.

While Marchionne certainly kept his word of not producing a SUV, they came as close as possible while still building a sports car. The FF had its growing pains with its unusual 4WD system which utilized a gearbox on both ends of the engine in order to keep the hood and overall height low.

With almost every other premium car brand now producing a crossover/SUV, Ferrari has remained true to its heritage by updating the FF into the “GTC4Lusso.” This new version improves on the FF in many ways, but to me, the biggest leap is the staunch resolve to stay the course rather than buckling under to the latest trend.

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Crossovers and SUVs have a lot to offer but they still fly in the face of basic rules for a sporting machine. A tall roofline means wind drag and high ground clearance raises the center of gravity, both hurt mileage, performance, and handling. Modern engineering and electronics have made huge strides in taming the inherent side effects of the basic SUV, but the Lusso proves there is an enticing compromise to be struck.

An estate car need not be a land barge, nor does it need to seat seven people. It has NO need of any manner of carpentry on its outer panels, and it need not be shaped like a shoebox. Granted, the Ferrari costs $250k, but it also has four wheel steering, streaks to 60mph in under 4 seconds, and packs a muscular 680 horsepower from its screaming 6.2L V-12 engine.

For me, the Lusso stands as an exotic example that practicality need not be ugly. A Ferrari should possess this level of performance and style but a similar domestic version could be produced for a fraction of the cost. A 300 horsepower/30mpg, coupe/shooting brake could easily find a place in the market, and the quirky, quasi-homely Hyundai Veloster is blatant proof of that.

Sports coupes like the Camaro and Mustang are passed over every day in favor of a crossover simply because a couple has a child, or they occasionally carry a friend, neither of which is practical in either car. A machine as beautiful as the Lusso selling for the price of a Mustang would be heaven sent for many a new car shopper.

In a society that relentlessly pursues the concept of “having your cake and eating it too,” I’m amazed a car like the Lusso isn’t already on the showroom floor. Ferrari is showing the way if any one of them would dare to be beautifully practical.

  • T. August Green

Fifteen Years Ago September 7, 2016

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twintowers

Time waits for no one…

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

We’ve all heard these words before, but this year, the weekend of 9/11 strikes close to home, and it is not without deep reflection.

My wife is a Bruce Springsteen fan, and seeing him in concert was a bucket list event for her. Back in June, I discovered The Boss was going to be playing Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. I was able to secure decent tickets and get the time off from work, but it wasn’t until I started searching for hotel reservations that it hit me…the concert is on 9/11.

While I don’t feel as if some eerie karma is attached, taking a road trip on the 9/11 weekend does bring on a flood of memories. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, in 2001 my bride-to-be was still living on Staten Island, her native New York City home.

I came to visit her about once a month as my work schedule allowed, and Monday, September 10th was a beautiful late summer day. We had lunch at the Cargo Café, overlooking the harbor as the Twin Towers rose majestically above the skyline and we wistfully soaked in the moment before I departed for Virginia once again. I returned to work the next morning at 8am and was stunned, along with the rest of the world, at the events unfolding with each passing minute. I frantically tried to call her but phone lines were jammed. Cell service wasn’t what it is today so that was no help but I finally got through late that afternoon and the harrowing sound of her crying was even more desperate than I already felt.

The months that followed were like tending an open wound and I’ll never forget when ferry service was restored to Lower Manhattan. I ventured over with her and her daughter and we stepped off the boat into a surreal version of New York none of us had ever seen before. Thick gray dust clung to everything, streets were devoid of cars, taxicabs, or buses, all replaced with utility trucks and various city service vehicles. Remnants of office equipment, paper, and fragments of furniture lay in the oddest of places while posters of missing people occupied almost any flat surface.

Once we were close enough to see Ground Zero, the impact was overwhelming. I have never been to war, never trodden the streets of a city or town bombed beyond recognition, but I could only imagine it must have looked similar in appearance. To have stood in the shadow of these phenomenal feats of engineering and construction, to have strolled the courtyard, stepped inside to view the top of the world, and browsed through the multi-level complex that lived below the street, only to see it reduced to smoldering rubble was devastating.

Yet to me, the most impactful sight of that day was the people. Those who stood near us, wept beside us, and cried out in pain, but they did so with no regard to their differences. People in suits or street clothes, different races and gender, and I can only assume various religious faiths, all stood side by side, leaning on each other, holding each other, and offering comfort. In the months that followed, the outpouring of humanity in the city was an inspiring sight, and it was living, breathing proof that deep down, we are all human. We all bleed the same color, we all know loss and pain, and we all are capable of holding each other up in times of need.

The rebuilding process in Manhattan still marches on, and they continue to prove they can overcome virtually any obstacle. We still make the trip back as often as we can, and with each visit we see and touch the diligent work that many hands have labored to create. All shiny and new, but still with thoughtful, caring reminders of the sacrifices paid in dearest flesh and bone.

In the passing years, September 10th has been good to us, with new things to show us and prove that life still brings joy despite our downfalls. My precious granddaughter was born on 9/10/11, so my wife and I will always have reason to find happiness on the day before 9/11. This year, our Springsteen road trip affords us the chance to visit the Flight 93 Memorial on our way home and I know we will stand together, looking out over that grassy field and remembering how far we’ve come.

In the years ahead, I’m sure the day will arrive when someone will ask me about living through those dark days. While I can certainly share my personal experience, I’ll be just as happy to relate how many rose to the challenge in the aftermath. How so many gave so much when it was needed most, but more than that is the truth that time alone doesn’t heal all wounds. No, time is required but it’s how much we love and care that soothes the pain. It’s how much we do with the time granted to us that makes all the difference.

Time marches on, but don’t stand by and watch. Get on board and enjoy the ride. You’ll make wonderful memories that way.

  • T. August Green

The Specter of Doubt July 10, 2016

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Doubts

 

(‘doubt’ /noun/ a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.)

I can’t imagine a human being that has gone through life and never experienced some kind of doubt. To be honest, it’s a daily occurrence for me, and while I think it can be healthy in some circumstances, in others it can be downright frustrating.

We all grow up learning as we go, and we face uncertainty as teens when we must deal with more mature situations in our relationships, but then we are faced with the decisions about the direction of our lives, our jobs, our education, and how to achieve any of those goals. In some cases, decisions are thrust upon us and we must deal with them the best way we can, but vague and unforeseen outcomes are always daunting.

When we cross that line into parenthood, the level of doubt becomes phenomenal. The problem is always twofold in that we haven’t been a parent before and each child is as individual as a snowflake. We can soak in advice in massive amounts but in the end we must sift through that advice to find the pieces that work for each of us…today.

If there is one constant in the universe it’s that children will seldom react the same under given conditions, especially if we want them to. My children are grown in their thirties and they still find ways to surprise me, so I assume that factor will forever remain.

In August 2015, I published my first novel, “Moonracer: The Long Shadow,” and after four long years of research, writing, editing, and re-writing, to say I had my doubts would be an enormous understatement. It’s easy to love something that is your own creation, especially after devoting so much time and effort to bring it to fruition. When someone else reads and enjoys your work, the feeling is truly wonderful but that’s a far cry from public acceptance.

I recall a line of dialogue from a television show, and shame on me for not remembering the title, but the son of an accomplished author was enjoying the success of a best-selling book. The father spoke in a condescending tone over a glass of wine, “Everyone has one book in them, but the proof of you being a true author is what you do next.”

I have found a great deal of truth in not only that line but many other words of advice spoken by real-life, accomplished authors. The world of books is a brutal business and the hugely successful authors are as rare as lottery winners. I think of this often when I roam the aisles of one of my local book stores. Every book on the shelves, stacked on tables, and filling the bargain bin was written and published by someone. Someone who probably worked as hard as I did but here was their result, languishing in a two dollar bargain bin.

You don’t have to look far to find stories from best-selling authors about how many times their work was rejected. I read one saying to paper your office walls with rejection letters in the promise you will be accepted before you ran out of wall space. I have to admire that level of optimism, but that’s also the reason for the recent migration to self-publishing.

While it’s true a publisher is probably a well-seasoned judge of what makes good writing, the author is also at the mercy of what the publisher deems marketable. Literary giants like Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling were turned away by many because their work wasn’t mainstream popular at the time, but even Anne Rice admitted she wrote what she loved, not caring what publishers thought. She also added that every book has an audience, but finding that group of people is the most difficult challenge.

All of the doubts I have over the quality of my work, the lack of sales, a couple negative, lukewarm reviews, and the cost of advertising with little return all compound themselves to make you feel your time at the keyboard is wasted. But under all of that is the smallest glimmer of desperate hope, fighting its way to into the light.

The essence of that ray of hope asks the most pointed of questions. The still, small voice that whispers from deep inside, cutting into your soul, “Why did you write your story? Was it to make money and be successful? Was it to find a new career? Was it to gain recognition or fame? If any of those reasons are yours then you are doomed to fail. A prostitute screws people for money without passion or soul. Is that the kind of writing you want to do?”

Then as quickly as that mythical blade stabs home, the same voice reminds you of the powerful truth that outweighs all else, “We write because there is a story to tell, and that’s what we do. We craft imagination, we conjure worlds, and we mold characters from memories and emotions as we reach into the dark places of fear and pain. We chisel out heroes and give them demons to grapple against, we revel in victory and spill the torment of defeat, and we forever spin the yarns of love, loss, and bitter revenge. We make hearts race with suspense and eyes weep with both joy and pain, but in the end it’s all because there is a story that must be told.”

Any writer wants the success of being a top-selling author. Why wouldn’t we? But none of that matters as much as the words on the page, because without those words we use to paint that image in your mind or that voice in your heart, they will forever remain in that ethereal place known as the back of our minds.

What a shame that would be.

T. August Green

Dear Mom, May 8, 2016

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HeartPuzzleSunset

Dear Mom,

I remember you saying in the hospital, “You got to be tough if you want to live.”

Greater truth has seldom been spoken and I find myself more and more often embroiled in personal struggle. I miss our phone calls, even if they never accomplished much it was comforting to know we could commiserate about our diverse problems. I know there are others who miss your voice as well, and while I don’t mean to sound selfish, it’s your voice I hear in those wee hours of the night when sleep escapes me.

I knew life would be harder without you, even though I fervently prayed for your suffering to end. I knew I needed to step forward into a new chapter of my life but it might be easier if the obstacles were physical ones to move. I still weep when I think of all the things you wanted to do but never accomplished, however simple they may have been. There are times I curse myself for not making them more a priority.

I try to find solace in the fact that you are once again in the company of those you loved so dear. I’ll never forget holding your hand in the hospital as you shed tears over how badly you missed your father. To hear you lament over “I haven’t seen Daddy in so long. I miss him and love him so much..”

Needless to say I felt helpless and no amount of spoken sympathy could soothe that pain. Each day I understand more and more what that feels like, and a tiny piece of me fades with each moment it happens. I find my passion for things we shared has begun to fade as well, which I noticed most recently attending cruise night and that child-like charm simply isn’t what it used to be.

Making the big step in retiring from the plant was spooky all on its own, but I have found my new job to be a new source of daily challenge. I suppose I never considered the emotional impact and wear of a sales job before but it never ceases to amaze me how people put forth so many of their worst qualities when you try to help them. The insults both subtle and blatant can be startling, and it’s difficult to breathe deeply and walk away. All of the above being compounded by the shit-slinging clown circus that comes to town every election year.

Mother’s Day keeps getting harder each passing year, and while I am insanely proud of my daughter and her precious family, there is a vacancy that will remain so for the rest of my days. I relish every memory I have of you and the times we shared. Those gemstones are safely held within me and cannot be erased save God see fit to wither my mind away. Maybe you didn’t realize the impact your life carried while you were here, but each of us holds fast to the threads that bound us to you.

Lacey’s mom recently passed away and the mark it left was unexpectedly hard to fathom. We held each other and wept as we now both fell into the category of children with no surviving parents, and it brings a unique kind of loneliness that is hard to describe. We know there are others to be thankful for, and still others that we love so dear, but it’s like a beautiful puzzle laid out that is missing a piece that cannot be replaced.

To say at this point that I love you and miss you is a drastic understatement, but I know you suffered through this very same dilemma and now so must I. The sound of your voice singing la-la-la along with certain songs still makes me break down, and the exaggerated moves of playing the imaginary piano still wave in my mind like a conductor in front of an orchestra.

I will never be able to express the quantity of all you poured into my life, and to say I’m grateful falls desperately short, but if there is one thing that can possibly come close to saying it all its two simple words that I would shout from the rooftops. Two words that I would defy any and all to say to me with disdain. Two words that I will never be more proud to stand as an example of, so let them be written and placed alongside my very name with pride…

“Momma’s Boy”

Godspeed Mom, until we meet again.

-T. August Green