Friday, December 16, 2016

Unexpected Serendipity By Chance

Over an entire lifetime, you will lose things and stuff. Some, if not most, of it will not detrimentally matter beyond interim vexation over the loss. They are nothing more than dust-collecting knickknacks and other junk, absent for whatever reason. Other items, however, might be precious keepsakes, accidentally discarded or misplaced. At some point, an inconsequential candle, in the form of a witch, disappeared during my childhood. No one in my family knows the exact moment of the confounded absconding, but one would guess the occurrence happened around Halloween. Yep, solid detective work on our part. Did it, opportunely, return to a shadowy coven to congregate with other witch candles? Did it, literally, get burned for its waxy curses? Did one of the family dogs, plausibly, ingest it? Whatever course fate navigated for its demise, it has become a pointed joke whenever something goes missing. “Guess it’s with the witch candle,” we will say when an object is unaccounted for and cannot be located.

Pumpkins weren't letting the cat out of the bag on what they knew...

My maternal grandfather, having served during the First World War, received a purple heart and several other commemorative medals for his service. Like the candle, they vanished at some indeterminate date on the calendar. Unlike the former, this instance was not a joke; rather, it was devastating. An incomparable piece of family history was gone. Before my dad passed away, he occasionally scoured the house looking for them. We knew that they had moved with us from our previous residence. While moving out a few years later after his death, my mom, sisters and I again thoroughly searched as we emptied the house of its contents. Literally, we looked in every plausible and unfathomable nook and cranny before vacating the premises. No luck. They were distressingly lost, undoubtedly relegated to the witch candle’s realm. 

For someone who once had been a meticulous and well-kept secretary, my mom was not the most organized person at home. Although she occasionally attempted to maintain the surface illusion of orderliness, her dresser drawers and other storage areas in her bedroom oftentimes were cluttered and disarrayed. While dad had been a restrained “pack rat” - mainly of newspapers and magazines - mom was, in modern-day vernacular, a profuse “hoarder.” Not anything nearly disastrous or debilitating that warranted professional intervention, but still an appropriate label. Unworn clothing, aforementioned curios, craft supplies and, for good measure, greeting cards kept for posterity, to name a few. Due to an oppositely spartan tidiness, I volunteered one lazy weekend afternoon to organize a brass trunk chaotically filled with the latter. 

Combing through the trunk, about halfway down, I came across a large manila envelope. Having fairly substantial, yet odd weight to it, these were no greeting cards. Cautiously opening the envelope, mindful in drawing out its contents, my eyes immediately widened with overwhelming exuberance and recognition: my grandfather’s medals, pinned to a piece of cardboard wrapped in plastic, returned from the abyss. Stunned by their astonishing, if not miraculous, restoration, I could not move. Instead, I stared at them in shocked awe and excitement. When I eventually came out of my trance, I hastily ran to show them to mom. Understandably, she was overcome with disbelieving joy at the sight of her dad’s recovered medals. Obviously, they inadvertently had been tossed into the chest years before, buried underneath the miscellany and forgotten.

While some frivolous things and stuff may be forever irretrievable, the cherished ones that hold special meaning and matter the most eventually, and opportunely, will find their way back.

©2016 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Inward Significance For Imagination’s Sake

Honestly, I do not understand what people are expecting when they attend a movie or tune into television. For me, while I want to be engaged and perhaps given thought-provoking material, I also want to be entertained. Criticisms of the latest Star Wars offering, The Force Awakens, center around its supposed similarity to A New Hope; I love South Park too, and understand their nostalgia-fueled critique. Is it not enough, though, simply to appreciate that Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker once again graced our screens played by the original actors - even more, as an integral part rather than in glorified cameos - in an age of reboots? In a few weeks, we even will get another highly-anticipated prequel, Rogue One, to the original movie, as well as a Han Solo prequel movie in the near future. Given, in my opinion, George Lucas’ previous prequel abominations, I never could have imagined any more movies in the franchise. Wrong.

Nowhere is this more relevant than with cinematic and televised comic book adaptations. When I was a kid, I never dreamed of seeing the Batman, Captain America or Iron Man whose adventures that I poured over on the colorful pages in any kind of live-action format. Guess what? That happened in our lifetime - first with Michael Keaton’s Batman, followed by Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. Now, it is difficult to imagine any of those characters without thinking of their fantastic portrayals. And while we still need to see more of his version of Batman, Ben Affleck - full disclosure, of whom I have never been a fan - has won me over as quite possibly the most genuine portrayal of the iconic character. Agents of SHIELD, Avengers and Justice League live-action? Forget about it, never would happen. Wrong.

Granted, there have been some misses among the hits. Nicolas Cage’s Ghost Rider, Thomas Jane’s Punisher and Ryan Reynold's Green Lantern come to mind. But you know what? Even as maligned as they might be, each of those versions are still entertaining. While Ghost Rider and Punisher have found successful new life on the small screen, perhaps the same fate awaits Hal Jordan on the big one. Yes, Hal Jordan. The other Green Lanterns - namely, John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner - easily could show up in part two of the Justice League movies...thus, perhaps initiating a spin-off Green Lantern Corps movie franchise? You listening DC Comics?

Then along comes Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. I mean, how could anyone replace Lynda Carter’s 1970s version? Not a chance, right? Yep, wrong again! As if the lasso of truth itself has wrangled around our collective minds, I have never been more excited for a movie. From her performance in the wrongly criticized Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the trailers, this solo movie looks not only to be an epic comic book adaptation but also one of the period piece variety. Call it sexist if you want, but the majority sentiment that Gal is hot in the part is undeniable. You know what else? From the footage so far, she also embodies the very essence of Diana from Themyscira, aka “Diana Prince,” as envisioned in the comic books since her creation by William Moulton Marston in 1941:  god-like strength but compassionate warrior; preference for peace and love over war and violence; symbol of female empowerment and independence.

DC Comics and The CW Network just finished an epic and fun crossover among their television shows, Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the much-anticipated Defenders and Punisher series are riding high. Yet, by all accounts, both companies have much more planned for future development. What, are you kidding???!! We are living in a golden age of live-action comic book adaptations...get over yourselves, stop complaining and enjoy the entertainment!

©2016 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rhinestone Cowboy On the Road

July 1976. The bicentennial of the United States. As we occasionally did during the summer, we vacationed in Florida. Not only to visit our paternal grandparents, but also Disney World. We would make the trip numerous times over subsequent years. Our Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon loaded, we piled into our usual seats. Dad at the helm, mom in shotgun, my sisters in the middle row; I took up position in the back well among the suitcases. Seatbelts? Who needed seatbelts? I was protected by a hard plastic wall of American Tourister! Thus, I settled into my makeshift fort. My cavalry, breaking camp from our previous destination, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, would soon follow “riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”
    Our mission was to find Holly. That is, Holly Hobbie.

Horse Soldiers II:  The Holly Hobbie Raid

    Wait, hold on…now that I recall, the Olds CC and Williamsburg was the ’78 trip; we drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass on the ’76 trip. The Holly mission indeed was the ’76 trip, because I recall sitting between my sisters in the backseat. Either way, on one evening, we ate dinner at Top of the World in Disney World. “Gloria,” a singer by training and daytime soap opera actress, was the entertainment. During her performance, she came over to our table. Turning her attention my way, she began singing to me. At a pause, she said I reminded her of her little boy. She winked, I blushed. We had a moment.
    Yes, it was definitely 1976. A very good year.

1970s version of a safe space

    The following year, 1977, we were flying into Dallas, Texas. Dad, working for American Family Insurance, was heading to Brownsville to recover a stolen car, which we then would use to drive back to St. Louis. Thus, this was both a business trip and family vacation. To lovely Brownsville - a place very much remote and hostile, straight out of a classic Western movie - and other points along the way, like old cowboys “ridin’ out one dark and windy day.” When we stopped at a gas station because dad had gone the wrong way - toward the Mexican border rather than our overnight destination of Corpus Christi - “a bolt of fear went through” mom that dad would be shot and the rest of us kidnapped never to be seen again. Fun for the whole family!
    First, we had to survive the landing into Dallas.
    As we circled the airport, the airplane chaotically banked and turned as it went “a ploughin’ through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw.” Although only five years old at the time, I questioned the ability of the flight crew.
    “Does this pilot know what he’s doing?” I incredulously asked, more out of frustration than fright.
    Little did I realize, but people sitting around us heard my exclamation. Immediately, they burst out in both laughter and applause. For me, the incident sparked a future, albeit unrealized, interest in attending Annapolis toward a career as a naval aviator. Ironically, it also heightened an inherent fear of flying. I wouldn’t fly on an airplane again for decades - to attend a friend’s wedding - choosing instead the preferable road trip even if “that's takin' the long way.” When we later dined in Corpus Christi, my one sister would have instilled in her the lifelong nightmare of being served a whole fish - particularly, Lutjanus campechanus, otherwise known as Northern Red Snapper - complete with gaping eyes, floppy fins and rough scales. Yes indeed, fun for the whole family!
    Flash forward 11 years to 1988. Summer, before the start of my sophomore year in high school. My parents and I go on a weekend road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee, my sisters preferring to stay home. Along the way, we would visit Louisville, Lexington, Fort Knox, Nashville (and Vanderbilt University) and, lastly, Kentucky Lake before returning to St. Louis. Driving past Vanderbilt on our way to dinner, I admired the southern scenery and charm...of its coeds. The campus seemed nice too. As such, I placed it on my growing list of potential college applications, alongside Alabama, Colorado and, my future alma mater, Missouri. Arriving at Kentucky Lake mid-afternoon, my dad and I rented a boat. Mom chose to stay ashore, relaxing in the comforts of the air-conditioned lodge.

By air, land or sea...we'll rescue Holly Hobbie!

    Motoring around and exploring the lake for a few, fun-filled hours, we got stuck in mud at one point in an unmarked shallow cove. Of course, I was the one manning the wheel at the time. However, dad felt guilty, if not embarrassed, for not realizing the deceptive depth of the water. Reluctant and fearing what might lurk in the murky waters, I nonetheless volunteered to give us a push. Feeling around for the propeller to ascertain its location for safety reasons, I took up position on the boat’s stern and gave it several heaves. Meanwhile, I unpleasantly felt numerous fish swimming about and brushing against my bare legs, which was unsettling and increased the anxiety of the situation. After several attempts to dislodge the craft as dad gunned the engine, we eventually escaped the predicament and made our way back to the dock.
    Our enjoyable day on the lake had come to an end, and so had our weekend of adventurous travel. Piling back into the car after cleaning up, we set a course “on the road to [our] horizon” back toward home.
    Yippie i ay, Yippie i oh!

[Read similar stories and much more in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life -]

©2016 Steve Sagarra