Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It goes on and on and on and on . . .

According to a reliable news source, James Gandolfini has been shot by a fan seeking to bring closure to "The Sopranos." Geez, just when I thought I was over that cut to black . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Surfing Jesus?

Anybody else watching "John From Cincinnati?" Three episodes in, and I think I finally have some idea what this show is about. I think the main plotline is based on the story of John the Baptist and Jesus, and there are assorted oddball characters who seem unusually protective of a famous but rather unnlikeable family of surfers. It's a weird show, but oddly compelling.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Daily Zen

Cease practice based
On intellectual understanding,
Pursuing words and
Following after speech.
Learn the backward
Step that turns
Your light inward
To illuminate within.
Body and mind of themselves
Will drop away
And your original face will be manifest.

- Dogen (1200-1253)

So why does the search term "Zen" generate 80,090 results in the "books" category on

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hillary Rodham Soprano?

Hillary Clinton does a spoof of the final scene of "The Sopranos," in which she takes the place of Tony, meaning that Bill takes the place of Carmela. One of my favorite characters from the show--the late John "Johnny Sack" Sacramoni of the New York family--appears in the ad with Bill and Hillary. I've got to admit it's kind of cute. Hmmm. Hillary Clinton as Tony Soprano. I wonder if we'll hear her utter the words, "pain and truth? Come on, I'm a fat fucking crook from New Jersey." Probably not, would be my guess.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Woke up this morning: got yourself a camera

I thought it might be fun on Saturday to take a camera along with my oldest son and make a photographic social story of his day, then put it in an album for him to look over. I hope to get the album put together later this week and take it to him early next week when we have an event to attend in Alexandria.

I like my new camera in part because I can catch great photo opportunities before the moment disappears. My oldest son next to Tony and Carmela Soprano in the checkout line at Target struck me as hilarious, so I took a picture of it. Whatcha gonna do?

T. played in the backyard swimming pool over the weekend, and was obsessed with shopping carts and French fries. I began to wonder whether he was recreating his Alexandria visit routine (hotel swimming pool, parents drawing pictures, WalMart, McDonald's) ad infinitum. I will be a little concerned about that kind of mental rigidity if it continues. However, he was having sinus problems all weekend, and he clearly didn't feel well yesterday, so he may have just been in a default mode as far as deciding what he wanted to do. It was kinda like, "well, I have to do something, so I'll just do this." It also could be that we're seeing a bit of a relaxation now that a rather intense school year has come to an end and T. is on a more relaxed routine involving horseback riding, swimming, computer play, and more free play time. We're going to come up with some fun, alternative activities for T's next home visit to test his adaptability a little.

I found myself feeling very sad about T. most of the day Saturday, and during the ride back to Alexandria yesterday--pretty damn depressed, actually. He is aware that other kids his age engage in activities that he can't understand or figure out how to do. He spent a few minutes on Saturday watching kids select football helmets and baseball bats--I didn't observe any emotion, just something akin to a recognition that "I can't do that." Also, he is ever so so close to being able to draw, but just can't make himself put pencil to paper. That frustrates the hell out of me. T. has always been like that. He watches and waits until he suddenly leaps into whatever it is he wants to do. A few problems I see are 1) he doesn't understand language sufficiently to follow complex instructions; 2) he doesn't understand that most activities are broken down into discrete acts, each of which must be learned to participate fully in the larger activity; and 3) he doesn't have the patience to deal with no. 2 when he does recognize that issue. I see all three of these problems with the gazillion educationally oriented toys he has requested and we have bought. I know that the autism center at St. Mary's is working with all three of those issues, and with the same kind of toys. I can only hope to see something click.

One thing I was happy to see is T.'s growing ability to discriminate among local stores when requesting where to go. T's shorthand for "take me to the store" is "cart!" I could never tell whether he wanted Target or WalMart until I got to one or the other and he refused to get out of the car. Several weeks ago, I began calling WalMart "blue cart" and Target "red cart." T. picked up on that pretty quickly. Saturday, I added "green cart" for A&P Sav-A-Center, which has a different type of shopping cart that fascinates T. He picked up on that immediately. So now we have "blue cart!" "red cart!" and "green cart!" Also, he has started discriminating between McDonald's and Burger King as sources of French fries, pretty much by name ("Donalds," "Burgers"). I've tried for years to get T. to make choices and discriminate among alternatives, so I guess this is a pretty big deal.

Zen and Picasso

Last Sunday, I attended the local Japan Fest at the N.O. Museum of Art. I was there with my Zen group. We had a small meditation dojo set up in the modern art section, and I made a point of bowing to a Picasso during one of the sittings.

I was taken by surprise when I ran into the former bishop of the local LDS congregation, who just happened to be showing two of his children around the museum. I haven't darkened the door of the church in something like six years, and the former bishop in question is a friend and a cool guy who isn't the kind to get bent out of shape about nice Mormon boys being involved in other metaphysical traditions. He was genuinely curious about what goes on during a sitting. Nevertheless, I felt a little awkward for the first few minutes of the conversation. I suppose that awkwardness came from the Zen compartment of my mind coming directly into contact with the Mormon compartment of my mind.

That encounter led me to think about my personal history with Zen and Buddhism generally. I took up the practice of meditation sua sponte by ordering a course on CD, when things were pretty wacky in my home in late 2003. I picked up a copy of the Dalai Lama's "An Open Heart," and, for the first time, thought, "wow! This Four Noble Truths thing is my own private truth." It really hit home. I went to the local Zen temple to see how I was doing with my meditation posture, and I liked my experience there enough to hang around. Zazen meditation opens my mind and lets the negativity, pain, and sorrow, float away, if only for a few minutes at a time. I've had a few fleeting momens during which I felt no boundaries and somehow an interconnectness with the larger universe around me. Also, there is no preaching, doctrine, or dogma--and the anxiety, guilt and shame sometimes resulting from those (for me, anyway)--involved in the practice at the local temple--instead, it's all about the practice, which is all about posture and breathing. Whether one holds any particular theological beliefs is completely irrelevant to the endeavor. I like the radical simplicity of that approach to metaphysics. Anyway, it works for me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Death Spiral: Brilliant Ending or Big Bowl of Nothing

I didn't think "The Sopranos" needed any particular ending, but any ending would have been better than this one was. Watch it here. In the midst of a family conversation at a local restaurant, and during Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the screen just went blank. Given past symbolism--a suspicious looking man walking into the bathroom ("The Test Dream," "Godfather I," "Pulp Fiction") and three African-American men entering the restaurant ("Unidentified Black Males")--and a conversation between Bobby and Tony earlier this season about not hearing it coming when you get whacked, it could be that the screen went blank when Tony was shot, but we'll never know for sure. OTOH, the only person whom we know wanted Tony whacked had already been whacked himself, so the Tony-is-dead scenario may a little shaky. Not to mention that the hit would be taking place in a crowded diner, meaning that the entire Soprano family likely would have to be taken out. So I don't know. On second viewing of the ending, I couldn't decide whether anybody got whacked. It could have been a depiction of life from Tony's point of view, paranoid that this, that, or the other person might be the one who delivers the fatal gunshot. Or it could have been a "pick your own ending" kinda deal. Or it could be that the audience got whacked and didn't hear it coming. Given the symbolism, I'm leaning towards someone getting whacked, whether it was Tony or the audience or both.

I can get the ending; I just didn't like it. What we do know is that Tony is facing indictment on charges that could expose him to life imprisonment or maybe even the death penalty--the lawyer mentioned murder as a possible charge, after all. With testimony from inside the remnants of the Soprano hierarchy, Tony would either be convicted or would take a plea. Agent Harris, now in counterterrorism and not in the OC division, wouldn't be in a position to help him out much there, either, without exposing himself to criminal liability. BTW, an agent on the Colombo Squad in the 1980s actually did take sides in a mob war and blurt out, "we're going to win this thing!" inside the FBI field office.

But there was more wrong with the episode than just the non-ending. The sudden changes in A.J. and Agent Harris were so unconvincing that I was griping well before the family entered the diner. And Meadow being considered for a $170,000 job at a law firm before she even enters law school? I'll leave it to this blog's gentle readers in law school to comment on that.

I liked a few things about the episode. Senile, old Uncle Junior and comatose Silvio were pretty good metaphors for the state of the Mob and the Soprano Family in particular. I liked that neither A.J. nor Meadow managed to escape from Tony's grip, and that his family and his Family were pretty much one and the same at the end. Depressing, but predictable, given that they are Carmela's children. And I loved the cat, whatever it signified. Initially, I thought the cat was there to sniff out rats (Carlo, and, more ominously, Christopher and Paulie), but someone on TWoP suggested that some superstitious people (i.e., Paulie) see cats as symbolic of death.

But we'll never know for sure.

ETA: Critic Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Tribune--which has an extensive online section devoted to the show--neatly summarized the two most likely explanations for the ending:

Theory No. 1 (and the one I prefer): Chase is using the final scene to place the viewer into Tony's mind-set. This is how he sees the world: Every open door, every person walking past him could be coming to kill him or arrest him or otherwise harm him or his family. This is his life, even though the paranoia's rarely justified. We end without knowing what Tony's looking at because he never knows what's coming next.

Theory No. 2: In the scene on the boat in "Soprano Home Movies," repeated again last week, Bobby Bacala suggested that when you get killed, you don't see it coming. Certainly, our man in the Members Only jacket could have gone to the men's room to prepare for killing Tony (shades of the first "Godfather"), and the picture and sound cut out because Tony's life just did. (Or because we, as viewers, got whacked from our life with the show.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Death Spiral: "The Sopranos" meets "Thomas the Tank Engine"

The train literally came off the rails on last night's pentultimate episode of "The Sopranos." Tony's brother-in-law Bobby was murdered inside a model train store, and his body fell atop a model train display. The shooters kept firing, even after he was down. Bobby's corpse broke the track, and the model train came off the rails in front of a model building with the word "Newark" on it. The little model people reminded me of the people in the live action "Thomas the Tank Engine" videos. The scene was staged and edited fabulously.

"The Sopranos" is like the train wreck that we can't help but look at. Also, I got the impression that the tiny model people in the train set represented us, the viewers of the show, getting our vicarious thrill watching violent, Mafia-oriented entertainment. I got the same impression from a later scene in which a large group of people emerges from the Bada Bing in reaction to gunshots being fired.

The long-awaited New York/New Jersey bloodbath commenced last night. Phil Leotardo and ordered the decapitation of the Soprano crime family, namely, Tony, Bobby, and Silvio. Tony, forewarned by the FBI's Agent Harris, tried to hit first, but his imported Italian killers murdered the wrong people. Bobby is dead; Silvio is in a coma; and Tony, and Phil both are in hiding. Patsy Parisi managed to get away when Phil's hitmen came for him and Silvio; that may or may not be significant next week, depending on whether or not he runs into the open arms of the FBI. Carmela and Meadow fled the mansion on Tony's orders, but we didn't see A.J. leave, not even after Tony drained the pool. Those ducks won't have anywhere to return to.

Something very bad may happen to one of Tony's immediate family members in the final episode. Phil was bitching about how the New Jersey family doesn't adhere to formal initiation etiquette or otherwise respect this Thing. Tony tried to calm Carmela by saying that families are untouchable. I sense doom for A.J. or Meadow. The show has always been filled with irony when it comes to the Mafia code of honor. I suppose that code of honor is like most rules--they're useful when someone else violates them, but irrelevant when you do.

Something bad could happen to Dr. Melfi now that her own therapist has outed her as Tony Soprano's shrink, but I suspect that her bitchy tirade at Tony is the last we'll see of her. There's too much to cram into the final episode to throw her into the mix in any significant way. Melfi's tirade may foreshadow Carmela's final break with her husband, I don't know. I do think that Melfi--like the model train people and the crowd at the Bing--is a sort of stand-in for the viewers of the show. Melfi was fascinated by Tony, but, ultimately, she decided he was beyond redemption, and she rejected him. The irony of that is that therapy was the only time Tony was pretty much honest and on-the-level. However, psychiatry didn't do a whole hell of a lot for him.

I loved Carm's line about A.J.'s stay in the psych ward: "One more week of this . . ." Hee! First thing next Sunday, methinks, we'll have the final dream sequence of the show. Last night's episode ended with Tony falling asleep, watching the closed door at the foot of his bed. The "Cleaver" poster seems to dominate the office at the Bing, so a dream related to Christopher's crappy movie would make sense. Finally, what to make of A.J.'s obsession with terrorism in the Middle East. Are we going to see a car-bombing or something, or is A.J.'s interest a subtle commentary on who are the real terrorists on this show?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Diving into the Subconscious?

Surface, smooth as glass
Calm, organized, rational
"He has depth," they say,
but I don't see it

Some pull on the anchor line
descending slowly
I plop in and sink down faster
seeking out the dark depth

Underneath, chaotic struggle
Shark eats fish eats fish
On the floor, a cloud of sand
ruins visibility

I move through the cloud
compass, computer to guide
Must be near the anchor line
How much air do I have?