In the blink of an eye…

January 2019: brand new Nissan Murano Platinum

The woman above smiles from ear to ear. She’s worked all her life, sacrificed much to raise a family. It is now her time; and she is blessed to have the means to purchase a brand new luxury car all for herself.

For the first time in her life she is enveloped by premium sound, panoramic moon roofs, electronics galore, and roomy interior space. The ride is quiet and gentle, it feels like she’s floating down roads and byways, coddled by leather seats that if desired, either cools or warms. It’s the epitome of quality and comfort and in appreciation, she keeps it pristine.

Imagine you are this woman…peacefully living your life, minding your own business, enjoying the ride.

Without warning, cosmic fingers SNAP! and life as you know it, is hijacked into unknown realms of trouble and mayhem. You are powerless, disoriented, confused, traumatized. Current plans are derailed; and your confidence in tomorrow is shaken as you stare into a murky future.

This is what happens when you are the victim of a violent car crash and live to tell the tale. Its effects then ripple onto close family, friends, colleagues. Innocent lives, adversely impacted — all because a distracted driver chose to wield their Ford F-150 Lariat pickup truck like a weapon.

From physical injuries to property loss, emotional chaos to mental fatigue, lives are forcibly changed and time is stolen. This may sound melodramatic but think about it.

You prepare everything the night before so that early in the morning, you are all set to drive your darling to scheduled surgery. The moment has finally arrived. Weeks of waiting is about to be over and you anxiously look ahead to normal life resuming, cancer-free.

The day is clear. It’s just a ten – fifteen minute drive to reach the Interstate. You and your darling are enjoying the comfortable ride in your luxury SUV. Pleasing music buoys you and your darling, thanks to the premium Bose speakers, and you are both looking forward to getting the surgery over and done with.

Up ahead, you see road construction and various vehicles stopped at a traffic light. You move into the turning lane for the on-ramp to the Interstate and check your rear view mirror. It’s empty. After a full stop, you turn right-on-red into the one lane on-ramp and see three tractor trailers parked on the side shoulder, but the one closest to you has its directional blinking and pulls out into the lane. It’s a very big truck that is moving slowly in its attempt to gain highway speed. You are forced to slow down and brake to a complete stop. The tractor trailer blocks the whole lane and the other two remain parked on the shoulder.

One breath, two breaths, three breaths — WHAM!!!!

The sound of exploding glass fills your ears and you’re violently slammed into the back of your seat, then thrust forward again. Ears ringing, hands shaking, you watch the back of the tractor trailer still moving forward along the on-ramp. You think, ‘he didn’t even stop’, and realize he probably couldn’t see you. For some reason the windshield wipers are activated. Must’ve happened when your hands were ripped from the steering wheel. You’ll feel the pain of those pulled muscles for several days.

Your darling is yelling for you to get the vehicle onto the shoulder. Later you’ll learn he feared more collisions might follow. You can hear him calling 911 as he exits your formerly beautiful, luxury SUV to check the welfare of the folks who carelessly rear-ended you at 45 mph.

You worry. How are you going to get your darling to his surgery appointment…taxi? No. Call a friend? You check your watch. No time. You dial the doctor’s phone and leave a voicemail message explaining the situation. Your darling’s cancer will have to wait.

There are no skid marks on the road. She didn’t even attempt to break. Later you’ll learn she was distracted, rushing to get her kids to “school”. Thankfully they were in car seats and no one needed medical attention.

That’s most important.

Distracted Driver’s 2016 Ford F-150 Lariat Pickup Truck

The next three hours are spent roadside, attending to necessities as best you can, stressed out and aching, amazed there are no ambulance-worthy injuries. You struggle to absorb all the information being thrown at you: damage assessments, police reports, insurance claims, collision centers, tow truck drivers, rental cars. It’s hard but you also have to deal with the other driver and her family who had rushed to the scene.

Four hours later, you’re in the tow truck heading to the collision center, still on the phone with your insurance company. Exhaustion sets in and you feel numb. Five hours later, you arrive home in a rented mini-van. The world seems surreal as shock sets in.

Your shoulder and neck muscles hurt. You can’t sleep. The sound of exploding glass fills your ears as your mind replays the moment of impact, that violent THUD! – over, and over, and over.

All professionals determine the rear-ender was at fault, your vehicle is ‘totaled’ and their insurance will pay, but so what? It won’t be enough money to replace the vehicle you already had…and now you spend days searching automobile dealerships, dismayed at current costs and the thousands of additional dollars you’ll be out of pocket, during a nationwide “chip” shortage and dwindling stock. You discover local dealerships have little to choose from and your stress compounds.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum

Luckily – this story has a happy ending. After two hellish weeks, a brand new Murano was purchased, all aches and pains healed, and cancer surgery was rescheduled. Life is slowly returning to normalcy; although there is a lingering fear of driving in congested traffic, a hyper-sensitivity to the large volume of irresponsible drivers tail-gating, zipping in and out, staring at cell phones.

But this story could’ve had a very different ending. Think about that same Ford F-150 Lariat pickup truck rear-ending a little commuter car… May it serve as a warning to all.

DON’T be a distracted driver! We’re all guilty of this to a minor degree; it’s so easy to take your eyes off the road, a split-second risk. But real distractions can – in the blink of an eye – end up totaling someone else’s vehicle and perhaps even their life, not to mention your own. SO… If you need to settle squabbling kids – pull over and do it. If you need to check your email – pull over and do it. Want to fiddle with your tunes – pull over and do it. There are no excuses for threatening the lives and livelihoods of innocent bystanders because of your personal distractions. In some cases, it may even be considered criminal.

BEWARE of the distracted driver! They are out there in ever-increasing numbers and are “out to get you”. It’s always wise to drive defensively but as in the above story, what happens when there is no bailout point? What happens when you can’t see it coming? Best to be driving a car with a 5-star safety rating like the Nissan Murano’s. It could save your life, too.

Safety or Freedom

“The basic dilemma of the modern world is where do you want to live, in the jungle, or in the zoo?”

I was perusing the satellite TV channels yesterday and next on the list was a production entitled “Valmont”. Not being familiar, I searched the Internet to find its premise but instead I discovered something of greater interest.

In a 1989 movie review, Roger Ebert interviewed Milos Forman, “a movie director from Czechoslovakia who has been making films in the West for 20 years. His credits include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” … [and had] fled Czechoslovakia as Russian tanks rolled across the border.”

What made this article so interesting was Ebert’s attitude, his realization that Europeans and Americans have differing viewpoints on such things as love, romance, and the “modern world” which more importantly in my mind, demonstrates how the same story and the same set of events can hold multiple interpretations depending on one’s outlook.

I think this is a universal truth; that perception shapes a person’s reality. Facts and events don’t change – it’s our interpretation of such that’s open to speculation.

“As Forman explained his theories of women, love and romance, I was reminded that I was, after all, speaking with a European. It’s possible that Americans are more idealistic on romantic subjects, or like to pretend they are. His views, which I found cynical, he found merely realistic. If there is a basic difference in sensibility between Americans and Europeans, and in many ways there probably is, I wondered how Forman had been able to find such enormous success after moving to America, while other European directors often foundered in Hollywood.”

Roger ebert, November 12, 1989

Now I don’t mean to suggest that Milo speaks for all Europeans and vice versa with Roger for Americans, but isn’t history an interesting thing? In this case, opinions and views from just a little over 30 years ago…

Then Ebert asked Forman about his world views, and it was his answer that motivated me to write this post. *Note – Forman immigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1975.

When Ebert asked Forman what “…he thinks when he reads the papers these days [1989], with their incredible reports of Gorbachev’s dismantling of Russia’s satellite system”, he told him this parable:

“The basic dilemma of the modern world is,” he said, “where do you want to live, in the jungle, or in the zoo?

“And you will be surprised how many people are more comfortable to live in the zoo, because you get your piece of fruit every day. It’s true, you have to eat what they give you. But if you are a rabbit, the lion will not eat you up, because you are protected. It’s true, you are protected by the cage, you are inside the cage, and the lion is also inside its cage, but nothing will happen to you. If you want to go for a walk, yes, sure, you have this 10-by-10-foot space, and there you can walk.

“If you live in the jungle, it’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous, you are free to go where you want, sleep wherever you want, eat whatever you find or manage to catch – but the snake can bite you, the lion can bite you , you can fall into a ravine, you can die of cold. But you are free.

“So! What we are seeing in this century [1989] is that those who established the zoo are now trying to make it look a little like the jungle. That’s what I think is happening now with Gorbachev. But it doesn’t work that way.

“Here in America, yes, this is a jungle, where everybody is for himself, but people say, let’s please do something like in a zoo, some protections here and there. Well, it’s possible that will not work, either.”

Milos Forman, November 12, 1989

This is the best description of differing ” -isms” I’ve heard in a long time.

Now, 32 years later, we’re seeing droves of Americans forfeiting their freedom in a mad dash to live in a zoo. And that would be fine, nothing wrong about living in the zoo, except they are also demanding that the jungle be burnt down to create that zoo.

“Well, it’s possible that will not work, either.”

Let us not forget about the droves of Americans who want to live in a jungle. Their opinions and rights count too. But then again — it’s all a matter of perspective.

“I don’t think these things change in human relationships. As it was 1,000 years ago, so it will be 1,000 years from now. I don’t think that these people are any better or any worse than we are.” [Forman]

You think that people lie and deceive, and do things for the satisfaction of their vanity, and only talk about what high standards they have? [Ebert]

“Yes. Yes, I do, actually.” [Forman]

In other words — times may change, but human nature never does. I need to keep this in mind when I’m creating fictional characters telling ‘their’ story, and how they react to someone else’s.

Tribute to The Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera is a gothic horror story told to us through a musical score so rich with emotion that it strikes a chord uncomfortably close to home, a veritable showcase for humanity’s darkness and innocence betrayed.

The Phantom of the Opera is a 1986 musical later adapted to film…its central plot revolves around a beautiful soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Paris Opéra House.[1]

Recently, I find myself overly identifying with the Phantom. Minus all the murder and mayhem, of course. Perhaps our government mandated isolation has given me too much time to think.

I can understand the Opera Ghost’s emotions, his agony of heartbreak and anger, of care being repaid with denial, all so brilliantly and beautifully expressed by Gerard Butler in his performance of the Phantom in Joel Schumacher’s 2004 movie adaptation.

Abused, abandoned, betrayed. Rejected. Sorrow turns to anger. Defeat brings back sorrow. An infamous loop of pain. Poor Phantom.

This song is one of my favorite scenes.

Powerful, right?

Here’s another one. This song speaks of painful memory — of loss and regret, naïve confusion, of wanting to release the past for something new, and praying for the strength to say goodbye.

Too many years
Fighting back tears
Why can’t the past
Just die?

No more memories
No more silent tears
No more gazing across
The wasted years
Help me say
Goodbye

Thank goodness February has now ended – the darkest, coldest, dreariest month of the year and coincidently my birth month. Let the March winds blow! Let them clear away the cobwebs in my mind. May the April rains wash everything clean once more.

Spring can’t come soon enough…

My spirit will soar upon the arrival of birdsong. I will watch the trees unfurl their tender young leaves as we stand together, smiling in warm sunshine under a blue, cloudless sky.

Peace out.

Don’t you know you can’t go home again?

 “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”       

~You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

Given the state of U.S. politics, and the outrageous use of China’s virus to subjugate our population, I became wistful for the days of my youth, when telephones connected people, not data, and television programs ended at midnight. I longed to return to that time in U.S. history before technology — the Internet — enticed us into drug-like dependencies that turned a free-thinking public into easy prey for unscrupulous power-mongers, effectively changing our socio-economic landscapes forevermore.

Of course I didn’t realize this at first. Every morning after listening to the news, I switched the smart-TV to my DVR menu of satellite recordings for a few calming episodes of Father Knows Best, an American sitcom televised from 1954-1960.

I told myself I needed to escape the daily dose of modern trauma for just a little while, escape “back home” to a poignant past when family meant love and guidance and safety, when patriotism for one’s country was lauded, when people were well-mannered and treated each other with respect, when folks dressed in tailored clothing… The escapes of Time and Memory hold limitless lists.

Such is the way of illusions.

But I didn’t dwell on these thoughts. I was having too much fun searching through dusty storage boxes and reviving my mother’s hand-me-down formal dinnerware c. 1955. I hand washed sink fulls of cut crystal and fine china, and polished silver until my fingers stained black. I resurrected old recipes of complex dishes long forgotten and experimented with a few new ones; then I hosted festive dinner parties like the days of old.

The more dire the news reports became, the more I delved into baking fancy treats and cooking elaborate meals. I didn’t realize that I was in fact trying to go home again, to that place of time and memory, to “…old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting.”

It wasn’t until I attended a dinner party with friends who share my love of social graces and a table beautifully set, that I had an epiphany.

We had been talking about favorite television shows, and when I voiced my reasoning for a daily dose of Father Knows Best, our dinner host kindly reminded me of the terrible political struggles of 1954 – 1960 that caused major societal and economic upheavals, in addition to the obvious cultural issues of the time.

The truth is, there’s plenty of trauma in every part of American history and it is only when we look back through time with rose-colored glasses, or try to “run back home to the escapes of Time and Memory”, that nostalgia competes with history.

I would never want to revive 1950’s America! But I do hate to ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’.

So for now, I’ll continue to enjoy nostalgic fine dining with good friends and family. It’s one way to cope during these troubled times, when civil liberties are disappearing as fast as civility.

I’ll also take the good parts of TV fantasy-land, such as in the “Thanksgiving Day” episode of Father Knows Best that I watched this morning, when the Anderson family gathers together at the dinner table. They clasp hands and bow their heads as Father recites this blessing:

“Oh Lord, we give these thanks from the depths of our humble hearts, for all the blessings thou has seen fit to bestow upon us.

We thank thee for the food which graces our table, and the roof which covers our head.

We thank thee for the privilege of living as free men in a country which respects our freedoms, and our personal right to worship and think and speak as we choose.

We thank thee for making us a family, for giving us sincerity and understanding.

But most of all, dear Lord, we thank thee for giving us the greatest gift a family may know — the gift of love for one another.

Amen.”

~Father Knows Best, S1 E8 “Thanksgiving Day” (1954)