marty, our man on the moon

“well, it’s 1999.”
“yup.”
“shouldn’t martin landau be on the moon now, or something?”
– from the 1/1/1999 comic strip
Foxtrot

by Bill Amend.

Anybody else remember Space: 1999, the Gerry Anderson TV series from the 1970’s with Martin Landau and his wife, Barbara Bain? I used to be a fairly avid watcher of the series when it was first on and had some of the memorabilia. I remember getting a plastic model kit for an Eagle transporter for Christmas when I was in the first grade (though I actually got it for Eastern Orthodox Christmas on January 7 because it was the item to have that year). I also remember getting the “larger” toy Eagle that disassembled and came with action figures a year or two later. I never had the lunch box… but oh well. Space: 1999 had become rather passe by that point and I had moved on to other TV shows, like say, Battlestar Galactica.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen any of the series in years. I know that the Sci-Fi Channel took a stab at running the show for a while in the mid 1990’s before it was carried by my local cable provider. I also got to see a snippet or two on a local PBS station in the early 1990’s — in highly edited versions that were released as movies in Europe.

So, there was some curiousity on my part to see the series again when I discovered last year that it available on DVD. Thanks to my Amazon wish list, I just got Set 1 and Set 2 of the series for Christmas and my birthday. I have been happily watching parts of the first 12 episodes of the adventures of denizens of Moonbase Alpha ever since.

Seeing the series again evokes mixed feelings. Here are just a few bullet points describing why:

  • The visual effects, especially in terms of model work, are still pretty damn good, even by today’s standards almost 30 years later.
  • The show was generally staffed by fine actors, both in terms of the cast “regulars” and the weekly guest stars.
  • The episode plots generally attempted to tackle some interesting premises relating to metaphysics, politics, etc (in a very 70’s way.)
  • Character development on the show was awful. Other, more recent efforts at science fiction television have had the good sense to give individual characters well-defined personal story arcs in order to illustrate who they are. No such thing here; characters often tend to be plastic, ill defined, and exist solely to serve then needs of that week’s episode plot.
  • Use (or abuse) of science and technology on the show is equally awful. Other shows have since taken the effort to have some sort of “science consultant” on staff to keep the use of scientific and technological jargon vaguely correct. No such help here. Re-writes to the laws of physics are frequent and abyssmal.
  • Little is said about what the world and culture of the fictional 1999 was/is really like. There is, therefore, nothing to describe the protocol of how the different characters are to interact, their relationship with technology, their political ideas, etc. This further reinforces the notion that characters and their actions merely serve episode plots.

Yet, I cannot completely give up on the show. It’s like the bad, 1970’s science fiction equivalent of crack cocaine. It is oh-so-bad for me in so many ways, but I can’t shake it completely. Oh well. Just six more DVD sets to go…

a christmas message

Ah, it has been a glorious Christmas Eve with all the happy domestic chaos and pandemonium that such a statement entails. Funny foods — pieroghis, lentil soup, mushroom soup, bread with buckwheat honey with pickled herring, pickled eggs and beets, and beets and horseradish thrown in as new additions for good measure. Yet another pinochle game played while sipping 16 year old Lagavulin single malt. My cousin’s young children, A. and J.R., running about everywhere, playing hide and seek, and saying “you dirty rats” while kibbitz-ing at cards. My sister S. 7.5 months pregnant, and very much looking it. My brother-in-law M. at once hopeful about the new job offer he just got, but also fretting in his New York City way that it is all happening too fast and at once, and he won’t have the lead time to prepare for his new employment position. In all, a continuing chapter in the Norman Rockwell-esque tendencies that reflect my life from its earliest days.

Yet, I find myself being somewhat philosophical during this most special evening. I returned here to the land of my birth last weekend looking forward to the forms and traditions of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is Fiancee S.’s first Christmas with my family, and I wanted to reach back in time to touch all the Christmases in my past to show her what the holiday means to me. You can come home, of course, but you cannot go back… and it left everthing feeling fulfilling, yet simultaneously slightly hollow.

Being an adult seems to make you party to so many negotiations and obligations around the holiday, not to mention stress. I have been feeling all of that this week… especially as I ran out today to get some Christmas cards for my dear, dear family in what was the absolute LAST of my Christmas shopping this year. As a child, Christmas is something that is more or less done for you. An adult is more about pulling the levers behind the curtain that says “nothing to see here.” This makes Christmas different in some fundamental way than it once was to me.

Amid all of this, I finally achieved some clarity. It is all really so simple that I occasionally need to remind myself about what it is really all about. It is about being with my loved ones, all trying to celebrate together. It is about the love and concern that makes us care for and about one another. It is about playing with children, and talking with adults. It is more about the process of preparing the food, wrapping the presents, and decorating the tree, all these things done together, rather than any ritual formula reproducing holidays past. It is the feeling that makes the experience full and worthy of note.

I am very much feeling the love in all of this on this holiday evening, my gentle readers. I hope you find it as well… either in big groups or small, with those who relate to you by blood, or those kindred souls you have found to share your life. Feel the love of those around you. Merry Christmas!

notes from a yuletide visit

I write today from my parents home in the land of my birth. FianceeS. and I are here for the week to enjoy Christmas with my family. Itis December 22 already. Where has the month gone? It seems like onlylast week that I got sick on our trip following Thanksgiving. Work isthe likely culprit. I had a programming deadline last Friday, andthat coupled with the lingering effects of the virus I contracted onthe aforementioned trip, kept me wandering from work to home like azombie. The good news about all that is that much of the work I needto complete is finished and tested. The bad news is that not all ofit is complete, and it awaits me on my return. That, however, is aworry for another day. The present is more concerned with catching upon much needed sleep and enjoying time spent with family.

Our visit so far has been largely uneventful. The trip here wasrelatively routine, except for the fact that United Airlines lost our luggage forabout 24 hours. That didn’t worry me too much, as I am staying withfamily, except for the brief period on Sunday when a call to Unitedabout the status of our bags only revealed that our “bags cannotcurrently be located, but, a priority trace has been started to findthem.” Thankfully, they were delivered about four hours later.

The rest of Sunday was devoted to more mundane activities. We visiteda Christmas tree farm, where we found and cut down an 8.5′ spruce treethat currently sits in my parents’ living room. We also got to meetmy future Goddaughter for the first time — she is cute, quiet,unfussy child… at least so far. We also had a belated birthdaycelebration for me with my family. Dinner was at The Olive Garden, achain restaurant that does not serve the most monumentally innovativeItalian cuisine, but, does provide servicable Italian fare. Afterthat, we adjourned to my parents home where the evening concluded witha family game of pinochle while my cousin Jim, my Dad, and I sampledwhiskies from a sampler from United Distilleries.

Monday was spent winding down from the nervous energy that has beenkeeping me on my feet through the last few weeks. The day concludedserenely with a visit to a local Catholic hospital (where I was born)to hear my Mom and my Aunt sing Christmas carols with a local choirgroup. Being part of this group myself in the distant past, it wasgood to see some old familar faces, and hear a capella four partharmony. A party followed. The host being an old acquaintance and anexcellent friend to my parents, gave me the keys to his home andinvited me and Fiancee S. to go there and make myself at home, whilethe group sang carols in the halls throughout the hospital to bringgood cheer. (I would have gone with them, except for the fact that mythroat is still occasionally irritable following a bout oflaryngitis brought on by the virus of three weeks past.)

The party was excellent. My cousin Jim brought a bottle of CaskStrength Macallan, which we enthusiastically shared with our hosts.There was also excellent food: a lovely beef stew, an Italian styleantipasto tray full of marinated vegitables and cured meats, a mostexcellent quiche, a fine Caesar salad, and much more edibles that Ican probably remember at this moment. We got to talk to our host andhis wife as well as several of my parents’ choral friends, and FianceeS. charmed them all. I also got to chat with an attorney in trainingwith interest in intellectual property law. A highlight of theevening was hearing her say that the patent and copyright system inthis country is about to experience a sea change, and that it is verywell messed up.

There has also been news regarding our wedding while we are here, morespecifically our guest list. It seems that at least six people who wefelt sure would not show are enthusiastic about coming, and willattend if schedule allows. This includes my Aunt R. and Uncle B. whodid attend my parents’ wedding or my sister’s. Aunt R. is a verydevout and ethusiastic Catholic and I half joked with my parents thatshe is attending this time because there will actually be a weddingMass (my parents were married in an Orthodox Church, and my sister ina Unitarian church). I wasn’t entirely serious about this, but, myMom later told me that it made more sense the more she thought aboutit.

Today was largely consumed with the making of pieroghis. One of thefew lasting traditions of my Eastern European heritage that my familycelebrates is a Christmas Eve meal. It consists of pieroghis, severalsoups made with primarily dried mushrooms, beans, and fruits, homemadebread with buckwheat honey, and several other dishes that generallyinvolve lots of dough and butterfat. Today involved food prep. I’vebeen making pieroghis with friends off and on for the last few yearswhere I currently reside (my Mom said that my Grandmother was smilingin her grave when I called home for the recipe). We’ve been able tomake an innovation or two in the pieroghi making process. This primarilyincludes using a crank-type pasta maker to roll out the dough insteadof the old way of using a rolling pin. My Dad liked this innovationwhen he first heard it a couple years ago, but, it hadn’t been able toget a “fair hearing” from others here until today. He purchased anappropriate Kitchen Aid attachment some time back, and it was put toits first successful use in pieroghi making today. Fiancee S. said Iwas grinning like a fool at my contribution all afternoon. I don’tknow about that… maybe it was that or the 16 year old Lagavulin thatmy cousin Jim poured as we made the pieroghis.

All this whisky drinking has reminded me of an old joke I heard onceas a mock news announcement: “The Scottish distilleries and theBritish soap makers today announced plans to collaborate on anew type of disinfectectant that will kill 99% of all germs and leavethe other one so drunk that it won’t be a bother to anyone.” I hopethat all this whisky has a similar effect on whatever it is thatinhabits my throat. Three weeks is long enough. I am reliably toldthat warm Irish whiskey is an old traditional remedy on that lovelyisle. Perhaps it’s time for some Bushmills next.

something there is about a Christmas party

One of the things I like about the holiday season is a good Christmas party, held in a fine, venerable house. It is a chance to get away from the largely used furniture that Fiancee S. and still live on. There are hardwood floors, area rugs, and tasteful art on the walls. There is also usually a hardwood fire burning in the fireplace. It is also a chance to break out of my usual circle of young professionals and fellow computer geeks, and meet people more established in their careers.

I’m not sure what the attraction is. I think it has to do with my aspirations. I want to move away from renting yet another aparment with the off-white textured walls, the camel-colored wall-to-wall carpet, and the “cottage cheese” textured ceiling. I would love to move to a house, preferably something in the Victorian, or Arts & Crafts styles. Someplace where the carpets can be different colors, and there can be wall paper. I want solid wood doors and the odd built-in bit of shelving. True, such houses often don’t have a level line or square corner in them and there is always something to fix… but that is “personality”.

In this case, Fiancee S. took me her sorority alumnae Christmas party last night. It was held in a lovely three story house in a very posh part of town. It was a potluck — we brought a couple baguettes of good sourdough bread and some camembert and baked garlic spread that I whipped up yesterday afternoon. Mostly though, Fiancee S. wanted to show me off and let the sisterhood meet me (at least those that hadn’t met me already.) We had a very pleasant time, and I got my “Christmas party in a nice old house” jones taken care of for this year.

… then comes the baby in the baby carriage

I was reading today’s Since You Asked… advice column over at Salon.com when I got to thinking about how constructions and expectations surrounding adult behavior have changed in the last 50 or so years. The column, entitled “To breed or not to breed” discussed the plight of a couple, he 41 and she 39, who agreed that they wouldn’t have kids when they got married, but, she had a recent change of heart. Now he is wondering what will happen to their marriage and if it can survive.

After finishing the article, I felt odd about it and it took a minute to realize why. Back in some corner of my mind, I looked at the example of my parents and why they got married. To them, being part of a generation born before World War II, the reason you got married was to have children. That was just the way it was done; you reached a certain age and if you weren’t married and working on having babies, you risked classifications like “confimed bachelor” and “old maid” that seemed innocent enough, but actually implied that somehow something was wrong with you.

Now, to all those out there who have difficulty with the thought of marriage, I agree that it’s a stifling set of expectations. There is one trajectory, toward marriage, a house, and children. And I understand how that seemingly benign set of circumstances (at least benign to some) can seem like hell incarnate based on childhood experience.

At the same time, I find myself thinking about the different sort of lifestyle that has evolved since the mid-20th Century. Perhaps one way to truly mark the development of a life is to examine the major transitions. There is some shallow part of me (as I am sure I have mentioned before) that looks and sees nothing but an extended “Ally McBeal-esque” adolescence — an almost neurotic search for companionship as one ages combined with a chase after the sweet freedom of youth. This, it seems, is a life without major transitions and more about being forever young and forever childish.

This is not to say that I necessarily eschew the permanently single life. There are more meaningful alternatives to pursue, without a doubt. Instead one can devote a life to career, intellectual discovery, education, or community service; such endevors are not things to be ashamed of.

This last point reminds me of a conversation that I had in the mid-90’s with C., a history and engineering dual major I knew then. I was commenting to her about a TV news magazine piece the previous night about women in their 50’s who devoted their lives solely to their careers. I thought that C.’s initial reaction to my description of the piece was telling. She pointed out the inequality of piece by noting that it would be completely unworthy of national air time if it wasn’t about men. True equality of the sexes, she commented, will mean that (like a man) a woman giving up the chance to have a family and reproduce in favor of her career will not elicit social comment and mean nothing. To this day, I wonder how many women who ardently pursue careers look at it this way. More than once, I have heard a woman say “it’s hard to work in this field because I cannot work the necessary hours to get established and eventually have a family” as if the possibility of not having children was a ever real option to her.

(I recognize that one could once say that men never had to deal with the choice; men can have their career and their family, however absent at home they may really be. I think the skyrocketing divorce rate in the 1970’s showed how that does not work. No, I think a man has to more carefully take the family vs. career dynamic into account today. Ironically, it is the older, divorced woman who more often realizes that really she has a choice between the two, and pursues a second career without thought to needing with a man again.)

So where does this leave me? I don’t know. Surprised that some people consider marriage without children who probably shouldn’t? Surprised that other people don’t consider marriage without children who should? It’s a bit of both really. It’s more about social responsibility. When you do a good job raising a child, that’s an act of social responsibility. When you write a book, start a company, become a professor, and not get married or not have kids, that’s an act of social responsibility. Being single or married just to buy better toys and treat the world as your sand box, well, that just seems likes like playtime. I think a considered life should about more than playtime. It should be about growing up.

Christmas used to be easier.

Christmas used to be easier. I’ve been forced to deal with Christmas in the full on, adult way for the last few years — Christmas parties, holiday cooking, in addition to the purchase of gifts and preparation of Christmas cards — and it does increase my stress level during the last month of the year. But then again, this year has been very full of things to do and decide… and Christmas is just one more thing to add to the list.

I know pretty much when Christmas changed for me — when I left graduate school. Graduate school is an experience that can often raise the blood pressure all by itself, but, it does have one great virtue: once you finish Fall term, there is usually a long break before the Winter or Spring term starts where you have nothing to do. In the case of my particular graduate school, this was especially true. Final exams for the Fall term would generally fall right about now, and then there would be three weeks off. The first ten days or so of that time would be glorious for Christmas shopping. Living the student life, I also generally went back to the land of my birth for Christmas, and didn’t necessarily have to worry about buying trees, decorating, etc… unless I was also in a position when I could sleep late and nap at least once a day. Ah, those were the days.

Now I must cram nearly everything around a 40+ hour work week, and struggle through the checkout lines at consumer emporiums with everyone else. Yet, Christmas is still a special time. Hopefully it will be a fairly stress-free time this year…

Of course, the fact that my computer at home (Frankencomputer) has not yet reformed its ways and has melted down yet again is NOT helping. The disk that gave me trouble before was exchanged under warranty. Alas, it was not exchanged for a new one — rather, the manufacturer sent me a “factory reconditioned” model. This replacement disk operated flawlessly for about two weeks, but I fear that it is dying as well (for different reasons)… and now must be exchanged for a third disk. Oh well. At least everything is still backed up.