Category Archives: commentary

Only One Star?


There are certain books that simply have to exist in order for me to be me.  I couldn’t be the person I am without The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  These are all books that have an allegorical element, a trans-formative effect, that shapes how you think and how you live after reading them. Some of these books have not been made into a movie.  Some probably still can’t be.  Others have not been made into an effective movie.  But, then, Disney in 2018 makes a movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that makes me relive the primary experience of the book all over again.


I was disappointed to see the critics being harsh about the movie.  I had high hopes before going to see it.  Yet, you couldn’t miss the one star rating on the box office rating system of the ticket and show time site I was using.  But my daughter and I went to see it yesterday anyway.  It was far above my highest expectations.


You see, the novel itself is magical.  The essential characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which have to be witch-like, super-real incarnations of inter-dimensional beings.  It is the view of them with open-minded childlike eyes that makes the complex relationships of this story to reality apparent to anyone who thinks clearly like a child.  It is the reason why this book is a young adult novel, written primarily for children, even though the concept of a tesseract is wholly mind-bending in a Stephen Hawking sort of way.  It is the wonder with which the director of this movie lensed the dimension-tessering time witches that makes this movie the best version.  Not like that failed attempt in 2003.  That was almost there, but not quite by half.

MV5BMjEyNjc0NDgzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjYwMjcyMQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_ Strangely enough, the things that the critics seem to hate about this version of the movie are precisely the things that I think make it miraculous.

Critics don’t like some of the special effects and the color schemes of some scenes.  Many things about the final battle with evil are seen by them as inexplicably bizarre.  They don’t like the over-use of extreme close-ups on the faces of characters.  And they think the performances of some of the child actors are too wooden and unreal to carry off the story.

I wholeheartedly disagree.


This is a story that takes place in the heads of the people involved, including the viewer of the movie.  The extreme close-ups pull you into the personal feelings and struggles of the main characters.  Particularly Storm Reid as Meg.  The story is about her struggle as an adolescent to be at peace with her own flaws and self-image while at the same time being responsible for finding and saving her father, as he has completely lost his way on his quest to “shake hands with the universe”.  Meg undergoes a challenge to her self image as she is cruelly bullied by another girl in school.  She has to come to terms with loving her super-genius little brother Charles Wallace.  And she has to weather the changes that occur when she encounters a potential first love in Calvin.  It is a coming of age story that really smart kids can relate to directly from their own personal experience.

This one-star movie with only a 40% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a far better movie than the critics would have you believe.  It is doing quite well at the box office.  Kids seem to love it.  And in my wacky opinion, it is the best movie version of the book to date.  I love this movie.

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Filed under art criticism, commentary, magic, movie review, science fiction

A Mr. Holland Moment

Life is making music.  We hum, we sing to ourselves, movie music plays in our head as the soundtrack to our daily life. At least, it does if we stop for a moment and dare to listen.   We make music in many different ways.  Some play guitar.  Some are piano players.  And some of us are only player pianos.  Some of us make music by writing a themed paragraph like this one.  Others make an engine sing in the automotive shop.  Still others plant gardens and make flowers or tomatoes grow.  I chose teaching kids to read and write.  The music still swells in my ears four years after retiring.

The 1995 movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is about a musician who thinks he is going to write a magnificent classical orchestra opus while teaching music at a public high school to bring in money and allow him time to compose and be with his young wife as they start a new family.

But teaching is not, of course, what he thought it was.  He has to learn the hard way that it is not an easy thing to open up the closed little clam shells that are the minds of students and put music in.  You have to learn who they are as people first.  You have to learn to care about what goes on in their lives, and how the world around them makes them feel… and react to what you have to teach.  Mr. Holland has to learn to pull them into music appreciation using rock and roll and music they like to listen to, teaching them to understand the sparkles and beats and elements that make it up and can be found in all music throughout their lives.  They can even begin to find those things in classical music, and appreciate why it has taken hold of our attention for centuries.

And teaching is not easy.  You have to make sacrifices.  Big dreams, such as a magnum opus called “An American Symphony”, have to be put on the shelf until later.  You have children, and you find that parenting isn’t easy either.  Mr. Holland’s son is deaf and can never actually hear the music that his father writes from the center of his soul.  And the issue of the importance of what you have to teach becomes something you have to fight for.  Budget cuts and lack of funding cripples teachers in every field, especially if you teach the arts.  Principals don’t often appreciate the value of the life lessons you have to give.  Being in high school band doesn’t get you a high paying job later.

But in the end, at the climax of the movie, the students all come back to honor Mr. Holland.  They provide a public performance of his magnum opus, his life’s work.  And the movie ends with a feeling that it was all worth it, because what he built was eternal, and will be there long after the last note of his music is completely forgotten.  It is in the lives and loves and memories of his students, and they will pass it on.

But this post isn’t a movie review.  This post is about my movie, my music.  I was a teacher in the same way Mr. Holland was.  I learned the same lessons about being a teacher as he did.  I had the same struggles to learn to reach kids.  And my Mr. Holland moment wasn’t anywhere near as big and as loud as Mr. Holland’s.  His was performed on a stage in front of the whole school and alumni.  His won Richard Dreyfus an Academy Award for Best Actor.  But his was only fictional.

Mine was real.  It happened in a portable building on the Naaman Forest High School campus.  The students and the teacher in the classroom next door threw a surprise party for me.  They made a lot of food to share, almost all of which I couldn’t eat because of diabetes.  And they told me how much they would miss me, and that they would never forget me.  And I had promised myself I would never cry about having to retire.  But I broke my promise.  In fact, I am crying now four years later.  But they are not tears of sadness.  My masterwork has now reached its last, bitter-sweet notes.  The crescendos have all faded.  But the music of our lives will still keep playing.  And not even death can silence it completely.



Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, happiness, insight, kids, movie review, teaching

Messing Up With Mickey


The way I handle the computer tends to be the way I handle life as a whole.  Thirteen tabs open at the same time, eleven of them not responding, and me cussing the machine for not working properly.

Spring has come.  In fact, Spring Break has come.  My daughter the Princess and I were planning to plant flowers in the yard where the pool used to be.  We started work yesterday spreading compost on the flower bed and churning the soil.  But we should’ve done it sooner.  It was too much for tired muscles to finish yesterday.  Then the rains came last night.  It would’ve been perfect to plant the seeds yesterday, then have God water them naturally at night.  But plans don’t go anywhere near perfectly.  Thirteen tabs are open and twelve are not responding.

Torry2 (640x480)

In my novel, The Baby Werewolf, the murderer is now unmasked and he has started on his final killing spree.  But as I was supposed to write the next Canto the last two nights, I found myself overwhelmed and overtired.  I got no further writing done.  I vowed to do it tonight, but the time change has left me no less tired and overwhelmed.  Thirteen tabs not responding.

So here I sit, paralyzed by entropy and worriedly contemplating the eventual heat death of the universe.  What to do?  What to do?

Mickey’s inevitable answer… Mickey opens a new tab and keeps on writing.  Did you think he had an actual plan for the rest of his life?  Of course not.  He planned on retiring from teaching and writing for about three years, and then dropping dead from one of his six incurable diseases.  Guess what?  This June will be four complete years.  Who knows how many more?


Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, daughters, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney

Uber Dooby Doo


Yes, I am an Uber driver.   I have combined passenger fares and meal deliveries 118 times in the 4 months I have been doing this.   I have made a few hundred dollars in that time that have at least temporarily allowed me to continue to buy food for my family as I try to pay off my bankruptcy debts.

And there is absolutely no way to explain why anybody in their right mind would ever want to do such a job, so I won’t try that.  I will, instead, try to explain why someone like me who taught middle school long enough to get brain damage actually kinda enjoys it.

You see, a teacher does his job each day by standing in front of a motley mob of hormone-crazed immature higher primates and talking to them with the insane hope that they might actually listen, and even more insanely believe that they will learn something from it.  And as a side benefit, you get to listen to them talking to each other and to you.  You learn about who they are, come to appreciate them as unique individuals, and sometimes even love them (though never in a way that will get you thrown in prison; rather, only through Christian agape-type love).

Driving Uber is the same thing with all the responsibilities and consequences greatly reduced.  You take somebody somewhere, talk to them if they want to talk, don’t talk to them if they are giving off “Shut-up!” radiation, or just deliver food to them, and then Uber gives you money… like magic.

I can effectively Uber drive because I spent seven years driving all the way to Garland, Texas from Carrollton in order to do my teaching job.  Forty-five stop lights and a thirty-five-minute to three-hour commute.  That’s a lot of city driving for practice.  And of course it is driving experience in Texas where any idiot who can get behind the wheel is allowed to drive, and many of them have guns.  I have learned how to do defensive driving pro-actively and aggressively.


I have put up with paying passengers who are backseat drivers and complain about every passing motorist and lane change. I have experienced an Uber navigator app that sends you to the wrong location routinely and sometimes advises you to make a u-turn in the middle of a major highway intersection.  I have had to juggle two meal deliveries at once on opposite sides of the city.  I have also driven drunks to liquor stores to buy more crazy sauce.  (You wouldn’t believe what kind of wild stories you can hear from drunk guys.)  And restaurant managers that I’ve worked for more than once are often relieved to see me rather some of the drivers they have to deal with.

So here’s my assessment of life as an Uber driver.  I don’t make much money, but I can make enough.  The hours are good because I can drive at any time of day or night and for as long as I feel like doing it.  I don’t have to do it at all if I don’t want to.  So it is practically a perfect job for retired and sickly crazy old me.

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Filed under commentary, humor, Paffooney

Blue Waves, Blue Birds, and Red Hope


My political opinions are worth about as much as the intestinal gas they are made of.   That being said, at least I don’t light them on fire in the manner my conservative friends with Tea Party hemorrhoids do.  Living in the Red State of Texas and being mildly liberal has forced me to listen to incessant streams of flaming insults and invective.  It seems “liberal” is a bad word in Texas.  We are apparently the primary cause of everything that’s wrong with the world.  If you just have more conservative views, like having gleeful titter-fits over tax cuts for rich folks no matter how much they will hurt the working poor in the long run, then you are a good person, and Jesus loves you, and we forgive your three divorces, unpaid alimony and child support, and that Mexican-American you killed with your concealed carry because of the Stand-Your-Ground law.

But, my intestinal gas is bubbling after yesterday’s primary elections in Texas.   Huffines lost the Republican primary to Paxton.  Why is this significant, you may ask?  Because the most corrupt and richest candidate did not win.  Texas tradition is totally upended.  And while both of them campaigned with lots of mud and bad words (yes, they actually called each other “liberals”), one of them is against both higher property taxes and reduced funding of education (which is the primary cause of higher property taxes).   Paxton at least sounds like she is for spending more money on public education (heresy to the traditional Republican view of education).  So there are signs of change in the Republican landscape.

And it appears that things are changing color in the reddest of Red States.  Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat, solidified his chances in November by becoming the Democratic Party victor in the primary.  And so far his small-donor contributions have come in waves, giving him a fund-raising lead over the Republican Party’s most hated lizard-man Senator.  There is a feeling of a rising blue tide coming to sweep away Republican anchor stakes like Cruz and Pete Sessions.  Democrats may actually win despite Republican cheating through voter suppression, gerrymandering, and corrupt dark money.

Blue birds

But the point of this whole long intestinal-gas-fueled display of political insight is not that I want the Red State of Texas to turn completely blue.  I think that too many liberals is just as much of a problem and a breeding ground for corruption as too many conservatives.  The biggest problem has been that the blue donkeys and the red elephants haven’t done much but hate each other and call each other names for too long.

We need two sides to have a decent debate that can hammer out the kind of decently balanced solutions that solves problems for everybody.  Texas Republicans have been in complete control for too long.  They ignore problems like equitable school funding, racial problems in law enforcement, and income inequality.  They give all their attention to smoothing the way for corporations and money-making interests.  As long as the rich guys are happy, the world is good for Republicans.  We need to balance the Republicans again with more moderate policies and beliefs.  If you look at the political platform of the Republican Eisenhower Presidency and compare that to the Democratic Obama Presidency, you can see that they are very much the same.  I think the chaos that the current Presidency has brought to the Republican Party has already produced some hopeful signs of the reversal of some of their most hostile and heartless positions.  The high priests of greed and corruption that have taken over the Republicans since Nixon are beginning to experience rebellion among their acolytes.  Republican pundits, thinkers, and operatives whom I actually respect are turning away from Trumpism and denouncing it in the mass media.  Some of them have even left the party.

But I am not hoping for the death of the Republican Party.  I am hoping for a fundamental change in who they are and what they support.  I think recent election results are strengthening that hope.  We need them to renounce their Gordon Gecko religion of “Greed is good!”  We need them to turn away from the corruption, anger, and intractable stupidity of the Tea Party.  We need decent moderate Republicans to return to prominence once again.


Filed under angry rant, birds, commentary, humor, insight, Paffooney, politics

Black Panther


I have been a comic book lover for practically all of my life.  In childhood in the 1960’s I became a Black Panther fan in the barbershop in Rowan, Iowa.  While waiting for the inevitable butch haircut which I didn’t actually want, I picked up the issue of the Avengers comic book that featured the original encounter with the Vision.  And at that point, the Panther was already a member of the Avengers, battling against the threat of Ultron.  He had previously entered the Marvel Comics world in an issue of the Fantastic Four which I had never read, and I hadn’t ever encountered the character in my comic book reading before that barbershop reading session.  I spent an hour waiting for farmer haircuts reading and rereading that comic book.


I was thrilled to have Marvel make a movie about one of my all-time favorite Avengers.  I would’ve loved the movie even if Wesley Snipes had succeeded in making it in the 1990’s.  I was predestined, as the uncritical critic, to love this movie no matter what.


But then they made a movie that was so far beyond my expectations that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the hero all over again.  It was simply the best movie Marvel has made so far in the Super Hero genre.  I know I said this about other movies they have made, but they keep doing better and better.  It was the best example of character development and powerful story-telling that they have done so far.


The villain Killmonger is the most finely developed villain Marvel has created to date.  The portrayal was sensitive, sympathetic, and totally gut-twisting while you grudgingly had to condemn the villain because he was obviously threatening to destroy everything that was good as a reaction to the wrong that was done to him.


Of course, you expect a total love-gush of a movie review from an uncritical movie critic like me.  I don’t review movies I didn’t love.  But there are definitely people out there who don’t like this movie (in spite of a 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes).  Some point out that the government of Wakanda has no banks or colleges or research centers (other than the king’s sister’s own) to support the science they are supposedly using.  The science is portrayed as being just as miraculous and magical as that in Dr. Strange.  Some rather wrong-headed people have criticized the movie for being racially charged and political.  But how is an overwhelmingly black cast and production racially charged if both heroes and villains in the story are the same race?  Surely Bilbo Baggins and Gollum don’t turn the tide against this movie.  Not only are they in the minority, but they are balanced.  One good, one evil.  So I am willing to summarily dismiss any objections others have to this wonderful movie.  I don’t even need to think about that.

I saw the Black Panther movie this weekend.  I loved it.  I knew I would since the moment they first announced they would make it.  Now I can’t wait for the next one.


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Filed under comic book heroes, commentary, humor, movie review, science fiction

Cranky Old Coots Complain and Don’t Care


Yes, I am a coot.  I became a coot in 2014 when I retired. I have the hair in the ears to prove it.  I sometimes forget to wear pants.  The dog is learning to hide from me on days when my arthritis makes me cranky.

So I am a practicer of the ancient art of being a cranky old coot.  I have opinions.  I share them with others foolishly. And I am summarily told to, “Shut up, you danged old coot!”  And, of course, I don’t shut up because that would be a violation of number five in the by-laws of cootism.  Obnoxiousness is our only reason for still being alive.

Lately, my group of coots on Facebook (who call themselves a “pack” like wolves, but, in truth, a group of coots is called an “idiocy”) are talking about politics… very loudly salted with firmly held opinions, beliefs, and bad words in several languages.  I mean, it’s texting each other on memes we disagree about, but we do it LOUDLY, like that, in all caps.  We also do it in such an infuriating manner because, if no one ever bothers to tell us to “Shut the hell up!”  we will begin to suspect we have actually died and gone to purgatory where we are still being obnoxious, but nobody knows we are doing it.  That is rubbing coot fur in the wrong direction.

The radical right (otherwise known as coot paradise) have been cooting up a storm about school shootings and gun control of late.  They have more or less turned their ire on me because, knowing I was a school teacher, they have seized on the Coot in Chief’s notion of arming teachers to protect schools.  Obviously a majority of old coots agree that requiring a few “volunteer” teachers to conceal carry and learn how to handle a school shooter crisis situation with a gun instead of the way teachers are actually trained and practiced on handling such a situation, is the only economical way to defend schools from crazed lunatics with assault weapons.  Of course, it is definitely more economical than hiring full time police officers to handle security because “volunteer” teachers does not mean that they are necessarily willing to do it, but rather that they are doing it without pay.  And of course they shout at me things like, “Why don’t you just admit that you are too scared and unpatriotic to carry a gun as a teacher, and cowardly allow some female teacher with a big pistol to step in and do the job for you?”  That is a very coot thing to say, and is hard to adequately counter, because if you try to argue using logic other than coot-logic, like the notion that since a majority of teachers in this country are female, you are asking women who are fierce enough to do the job (and I have known more than a few who would take it on no matter how hopeless their prospects) to take a handgun that the principal bought at Walmart with money from the Coke machine in the hall and face down a suicidal maniac with an assault rifle, you will not even be heard over the cacophony of coot braying and chest-thumping, let alone be understood.

And, for some reason, coots love Trump.  Maybe because they feel he is truly one of them.  He is older than dirt.  He has an epicly bad comb-over to hide his bald spot.  He says bad words very loudly in front of women, children, and everybody.  He says, “Believe me,” a lot, especially when telling lies.  And he’s not afraid to fart in public and blame it on the dog.  I admit to insulting Trump in front of them only because I like to see coot faces fold up in extra wrinkles, and coot heads turn various shades of angry red and apoplectic purple.

So, yes.  I am a coot.  Not proud to be one… that I can remember, but a coot never-the-less.

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, goofy thoughts, grumpiness, gun control, humor, Liberal ideas, oldies, Paffooney, teaching