When It Rains...

Tonya and I loaded up our two boys and hit the open road for Houston a few days ago. Our trip had several levels.

On one level, we were on our way to admit Aaron, our oldest, for surgery at the Shriner's Hospital. The Shriners' organization perform medical procedures free of charge to qualifying families. Tonya has taken Aaron there since he was a wee little knipper. Most recently, we took him there for a procedure to remove some metal hardware from his hip. The following surgery would then correct the alignment of his left leg (which turns inward due to his cerebral palsy). To make a long story short, he was scheduled for surgery on the 27th.

Part two of our trip consisted of taking Terrance, our youngest, to the airport for his summer visit to Arkansas. It also marked a first for Terrance- his first plane ride -a fact that we were reminded of for several weeks, nearly every two to three hours.

Tonya quit her job in preparations for the three weeks she and Aaron would stay for rest and rehabilitation. During that time, I had prepared to work overtime and edit my film. Terrance would arrive in the middle of the month just in time for school.

Our plans had been firmly set in stone.

Part I: Pressure
Tonya has been dreading this surgery for Aaron. The procedure is scheduled to take 3 hours and is wrought with a bit of peril for Aaron. Since he has the use of only one lung (and not a complete lung at that) anything that requires anesthesia is dangerous. He must be kept under constant supervision by physicians who understand his condition and the pitfalls that it creates. It seems unless there's a "Doctor" in front of your name, most physicians won't really listen to anything you have to say regarding the condition of YOUR OWN CHILD. Nevermind the fact that she's gone to school for respiratory therapy. Nevermind that she's made it a point to ask the questions and understand the answers to all of the things that happen to Aaron. Her statements in regards to his condition have been met with some hostility and have fallen on deaf ears. Needless to say, there's been a lot of pressure building in our home.

Terrance is like any normal teenager. Filled with angst. Plagued with deafness. And afflicted with an attention span of a squirrel on speed. But when his mind locks in on something he really wants, he ain't afraid to let you hear about it. I don't know how many questions I've answered about air travel. And how many times I've heard how great his grandma's cooking is and how he listens to her better than us because she's nicer. While I've had her cooking and agree that it is very good, I don't think she'd be anywhere near as nice if she had to live with our son. His grandmother, Donna, went above and beyond and bought Terrance a ticket on Southwest, to and from. She didn't want to have me driving to Houston and then to Sherman to meet her and her husband, BJ. That was an awesome thing to do.

With Tonya having quit her job, our concerns were raised further with my job. As a temporary employee, I wasn't sure if I had any sick days or if any of the days I had to be absent for Aaron's surgery were covered. This would put a strain on us, financially, if the days weren't paid. We didn't really think of that until the time crept up on us to travel to Houston.

At the end, there's my film. I actually did what I set out to do: I finished on time and on schedule. Well, almost. I fucked up the internal mailbox scene twice. And I'd forgotten to record Luis' narration for THE ENTIRE FUCKING FILM. I had to find a way to get done what I had to do before I left. Luis would be gone before I returned and if that happened, the film would be incomplete. I also promised Tonya that I wouldn't talk about the film while we were en route and in Houston. That would be a tall order.

Did I mention that our cell phones were cut off a day before we left for Houston? I didn't mention that, did I? Yes. They were cut off. Tonya and I share a plan with my mother and father on T-Mobile. Apparently, a month or so ago, someone in Dallas opened an account with all of my father's information and then ran up a huge bill. My father has since been in a struggle to obtain information from T-Mobile, who has essentially washed their hands of the entire episode and the incredibly rude collection agency, which has also been less than forthcoming with information on this bogus account.

PART II: On The Road Again
Tonya figured it would be a great idea if we left early Wednesday morning, the 26th. This was good for several reasons. Most importantly, the heat is incredibly bad for Aaron. Secondarily, it would keep all of us cooler to drive in the dark. We also planned to stop for breakfast just before Houston at this place the Shriners' drivers take Tonya and Aaron each time they go to Houston. We left a little later than we planned, 3am, but we were on the road and making good time. Until the rain started. We tried to keep the windows down a little, since the windshield was getting foggy from all the body heat and breathing. Fortunately, the rain wasn't hard and it wasn't constant. Unfortunately, neither was my energy level. I was twice as tired after our breakfast stop and was becoming quite irritable. My condition and the weather, didn't improve much when we finally made it to Houston. Traffic on I-10 West was crawling. There were six or so wrecks on all the highways and byways leading into Houston. I had just enough juice to get us to the hospital.

Upon admittance, Aaron has to go through a few tests (blood, urine, etc) before he can be green lit for surgery. Just as these tests were to begin, the anesthesiologist came and the discussion about Aaron's pulmonary condition began. Tonya tried to explain to them what they would later find out, but there was no doing. They postponed the surgery and scheduled Aaron with a pulmonologist for exams. Knowing we don't currently have insurance, they footed the bill for all of that. And for a hotel for two nights. And for a few meals.

Tonya was angry and rightfully so. Still, we let them do their song and dance, trying to figure our between ourselves how we'd handle the next surgery date. With my job not being secure, we agreed she'd have to come up with Aaron, alone. That's a prospect I didn't want her to have to contend with, but Terrance would also be returning about the same time and his school would then begin.

Somewhere along the way, Tonya strained a muscle on her back. She hobbled around, from place to place in real pain. I had to buy her some back pain meds to help her sleep, but the concrete block beds at the La Quinta didn't help it at all. She was horribly unhappy. It was a chore for her to even get in and out of the car.

We waited for Friday to come so that we could put Terrance on his flight and make our way home.

Part III: People Suck
The ride back would be a trying one. After sending Terrance on his way, we had to make the journey back home. So far, we'd adjusted for all the changes and all the things that had gone wrong. We knew it would be hot and we knew it would be trying as Hell for Aaron. We made our way out of town, hitting a bit of traffic, but feeling confident that once we left Houston our troubles were over.

We stopped a few times and took restroom breaks and got cold water and snacks. After a couple of 20oz Lipton Green Tea's, I had to stop a few more times than I cared to. It was a stop in Weimar, Texas, that broke the camel's back for this trip.

I had to stop and go to the bathroom. Tonya figured it would be good for all of us to do so and get something else to drink. We pulled into a small, non-descript Shell station. After we did our business, we noticed that the store boasted a lot of Pick 5 and scratch-off winners. Tonya thought maybe we'd try our luck and get a scratch off ticket. We won nothing. On the way out, I grabbed another ticket and another tea and got in the car. I took off my Docs and wore my flip flops for the rest of the ride home. After getting in the car and starting towards the highway, we began to hear a very distinctive sound. I knew the sound very well.

Tonya: What's that noise?
Me: A flat. That sounds like a flat.
Tonya: I think you're right.

When we pulled over, I got out to inspect the tire. What I found was nothing more than the most infuriating thing in the world.

If you have children reading over your shoulder, you should have them go to their rooms at this point.

I looked down to see the rear, driver's side tire flat. I thought maybe I'd picked up nail or a piece of glass, but those assumptions quickly left me as I noticed the SIX PUNCTURE MARKS that went around the tire. Six. Some lousy, piece of shit, mother fucking, son of a bitch slashed my tire. Some sorry fuck neck took the time to punch large holes into my tire, not once, not twice, but SIX FUCKING TIMES. And for what? What good would that kind of vandalism do? It's not like spray painting a wall or setting a building on fire or stealing money. All those things might be considered a statement. No, this sorry fuckhead decided that his statement for the day would be to slash MY FUCKING TIRE. His act of rebelliousness would be to ruin an otherwise good tire. To ruin someone else's property. For what? FOR WHAT?!?!?

I was coming undone. And the situation felt as though it got worse. I really didn't, but at that point, a fly could have pushed me over the edge. As I tried to change the tire, the heavy traffic flew by and shook me and the car. Tonya played lookout while I started the process. Some people would move over to the far lane. Other people would try, but traffic would prevent them from doing so. Still others didn't give a shit and would just ride that line and zoom past me and my wife. No one bothered to stop nor did the police or highway patrol pay us a visit. All these things further reinforced what I've always felt about the majority of people: they are no good.

After some struggle with the tire, I managed to get the donut on and we drove into the next gas station to make sure it was properly inflated. We then spent the next couple of hours driving around 50MPH all the way home.

Epilogue: Be It Ever So Humble
Tonya and I were never so glad to see our house. Not to mention our bed. I saw a couple of other people with tire troubles, but there was just no way for me to stop and help them. I thought about it. In the back of my mind, I'd hope that someone had thought about me as they drove by, knowing that might bring some solace to my plight.

We were so happy to be home after such a trying few days. Now we await for Shriner's to let us know if and when Aaron will have his surgery. We've got bills to pay and things we need to do and it just seems like they've asked us to place everything on hold. While I know their service is so valuable to us and that they do such a noble thing by offering it free of charge, I feel like it comes with a few strings. Strings that we must deal with and smile.

In the end, all that's important is that Aaron have the best quality of life possible. With the surgery or without.

And despite how bad the trip was, I was with my wife and my kids. I can't ask for a better gift than that.


Ronald McDonald Must Die

We had day 6 of shooting on my film, "A Matter of Time", today and we went right down to the wire. I had hardly any time to get myself ready for work or to grab something to eat.

I took my son, Terrance, to the store to pick up some pizzas for he and his brother. While there, I figured I'd grab a coupe of those little, double cheeseburgers that McDonalds has on their Dollar Menu.

First, let me just say that I've seen Super Size Me. And I've sort of, kind of, felt the after effects of too much Mickey-D's. Lately, I've been using these little burgers as a substitute for a real meal. They're cheap, they have two paties of what appears to be meat and they can be eaten on the go.

I left my son at the Wal Mart near the house with money to pay for the pizzas, stopped and got those greasy little burgers and made my way. I always get two with no pickles and no onions. They always compensate by adding far too much ketchup. Not to mention that they're greasy as all Hell. They'd slide right out of your hand if it wasn't for the McWrapper. And the fact that the processed McCheese is stuck to the McWrapper.

As I got in my truck and drove away, the smell from the burgers started to make me sick. I mean, I became physically ill. I felt like I might toss my cookies right there in the truck. Just typing this out I have to drink some water and resist the urge to hurl.

But I need to eat something, I thought. My wife gets after me when I don't eat and I get those hunger headaches. I unwrapped a burger, rearranged the McWrapper so I could eat the greasy morsel and took a big bite. I took three before I had to put the thing away. I was going to get on the freeway. I didn't want this to be what the cops told my wife:

Police: Ma'am. I have bad news.
Tonya: (shaken) What's wrong?
Police: Your husband was involved in a collision on the 410. He's dead.
Tonya: (Crying) NO!!!
Police: Ma'am it gets worse.
Tonya: (still crying) How could this be worse?!?!?!?
Police: When we were able to peel him from the steering wheel, he had two McDonalds' 99 cent hamburgers squished against his face. I think it was suicide.

I could feel my arteries hardening as I chewed. In fact, I could feel the grease running through my veins.

When I arrived at the company parking lot and got out of my truck, I figured I needed to finish what I started. I took the bitten burger out, fired it down with great remorse and uttered to myself, "This is the last double cheeseburger I'm going to have." As I passed an alley, I saw a bum sitting the warm shade of a building. I called out to him.

Me: Hey, bub, you want this?
Bum: What is it?

Now, this immediately drew my ire, so I thought, 'Oh, you really deserve this now.'

Me: Food.
The bum thought about it. Bum: Okay.

He just sat there. And since this directly conflicts with how I feel about some homeless people, I launched it at him. It fell near him and he reached out and took it.

Bum: Thanks.

When I got to my desk, I quickly chugged down the remainder of my "sparkling water beverage" which was "mandarin orange" flavored in hopes of washing out what remained of the grease bomb.

If we kill Roland McDonald, could anyone really prosecute us?


The Big Picture

I lifted this straight from IMBD.com. I think it's from Reuters Wire Service.

Poll Shows Moviegoers Are Big DVD Buyers
A poll of moviegoers indicates that 83 percent of those who see ten or more movies per year in theaters also "frequently" or "sometimes" buy the DVD of many of the same movies, the New York Times reported today (Monday). The study, conducted by Nielsen Entertainment, concluded that seeing movies in the theater and at home "are not mutually exclusive occurrences" and appears to boost arguments by theater owners that they would be harmed significantly if movies were released in theaters and on DVD simultaneously. Thirty-six percent said they would skip the multiplex if that were to occur.


What the fuck? These theatre owners are getting their panties in a bunch because if people are given an option of dropping $20-$25 on a brand spankin' new movie or dropping $80 for the same movie they only get to see once and then have to buy all the marked up concession stand crap, people will most likely take the $20-route. Does that logic fail to register?

Listen, I'll be the first to say, I love the movies. I loved them when I was a kid and they were $1.25 for a brand new release. I even loved them when they were $3.75. And loved them when they went up to $6. But at $8 a pop, I have to shell out nearly $40 to take my family to the movies. Then there's the food. A bucket of popcorn is almost $5. Drinks start at $3.25. And there's the overpriced candy. Let's do some math:

Aaron: soda ($3.25/sm), candy ($4/split with Terrance)
Terrance: soda ($3.25/sm)
Tonya: soda ($4/lg)
Me: soda ($4/lg)
Family: popcorn ($4/w/refills)

With tickets and tax added, I'll drop nearly $60 on a night at the movies. SIXTY FUCKING DOLLARS. I'm not saying my family isn't worth the expense. I love them. If I could afford to drop that much at a time, I would do it with a big fat grin. But the key here is AFFORD TO DO IT.

While nothing compares with the feeling of watching something like "Superman Returns" on the big screen, if the prices continue to go up and I'm given the option to buy the movie (which I most likely will anyway), I'll grab the DVD and run.

I know why I go to the movies. It's not the same reason most people go. I go because I'm a film buff. There's nothing that compares quite like watching "Army of Darkness" or "Apocalypse Now" on the big screen. Or some sweeping epic. A western. "Die Hard" was awesome on the big screen. I should know. I saw it 12 times. 8 of those times I paid full price ($3.75).

And you can't always wait for the print to head to Cinemark's Dollar Theatres. There's nothing worse than sitting in those crappy seats, your shoes stick to the floor and the print is worn and wonky. Not to mention the fact that people who go to the Dollar Movies go and pretend that it's THEIR LIVING ROOM. They kick their feet up on the seats, talk on their cell phones and cut up with their friends. Just shitty.

With the advent of better special effects, bigger budgets and two-studio pictures, I've seen the prices of tickets rise by 50 cents every couple of years. And the concessions go up three fold. Before long, you'll have to take out a loan to go to the movies.

It's all a game of numbers. Is Tom Hanks worth $20 mil a film? No, I don't believe so. If less money changes his desire to act better, then he needs to find a different career. Because last I remember, he said that he loved acting because "he got to pretend to be different people." He never said he loved getting bags full of money. Everything a studio does, from working their people till all ends of the night to paying an actor, AN ACTOR, millions of dollars translates to higher ticket prices.

When I was a kid, my Dad would take the family to the movies pretty often. I doubt that they go to the movies at all now. But back then, we were guaranteed to see a new release movie, $1.25 for the late show, then we'd go have pizza. It was only at the movies that I got to have some pop. Dad discouraged soda at home. I'd get my own and a bag of popcorn. I remember the feeling of the theatres then. I got excited when the lights went down and the trailers started. To this day, I hate being late the movies because I love the trailers so.

I'll never stop loving movies. Never. But if I'm given a choice as to where I want to enjoy the movie, I'll pick at home with my wife and my kids any day. Theatres don't have a pause button.


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