Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part I

So, after the embarrassment and incomprehensible folly that was "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince", a movie that on its own was a very fine film, but in comparison to the book, was a travesty of magical justice the likes of which should land you in an Azkiban type institution for screenwriting failures, I was apprehensive when the first part of the final movie of the Harry Potter saga was being released to the theaters.

Melanie Z and I had planned for months to join our families and see this movie all together, so when the weekend approached , I conferred with my own boss (aka The Lovely Steph Leann) and she conferred with her subordinate (aka her husband) and her servant team (aka the Z Children) and we agreed to skip the opening night and go to the Rave Motion Picture Theater on Saturday night, November 20th, for the 5pm show.  And at 415, I joined the Z Family in their seats, with The Lovely Steph Leann joining us a bit later.

And the movie began.  I could wax poetic about what they missed and what they screwed up, and believe me, the last movie deserved every criticism.  But "Deathly Hallows" was different.

First and foremost, it holds a huge, huge advantage over any of the previous six films, and that is simply that this movie covers only half the book.  The reason "Goblet of Fire" and "Order of the Phoenix" cut out almost half of their respective books is simply a time factor... you would have a six hour movie to cover everything ("Goblet of Fire" skipped the S.P.E.W. subplot, and was one of the few things I enjoyed about the movie versions over the books).

Essentially, the film version, at least Part I, of "The Deathly Hallows", is a little like a table of contents.  You see a live action snippet of each scene that is fully fleshed out in the book itself,  something is allowable because the 140 minutes of the movie covers only about 300 pages, not 500 pages.  

The Following Review is Spoiler Free, Assuming You Haven't Read the Book:
So, the movie starts out by showing each of the main three, Ron, Hermione and Harry, in their separate summer dwellings.  Each know what is coming, and each know the mission they are on, that being to find the "horcruxes" spelled out by Dumbledore in "Half-Blood Prince". 

Harry, of course, is staying at his aunt and uncle's house until his 17th birthday, when a wizard "comes of age", which leads to one heck of a daring escape involving Hermione, Ron, the Weasley Twins, Mr. Weasley and a host of others, including new characters unseen in the films, Bill Weasley and Mundungus Fletcher, and 7, count 'em, 7 Harry Potters. 

You know he escapes, otherwise the movie would be a little shorter than the 2 and a half hour running time, and from the escape starts the journey made by Ron, Hermione and Harry, to fulfill Dumbledore's mission.  There are great fight scenes, a few tense moments, a few emotional moments and one whacked out shot of Ron's imagination coming to life, featuring Harry and Hermione in a crazy make out session, sort of covered in grayish silvery body paint and... well, I'm not positive they have shirts on.

There are a few slower moments as well, integral to the plot, but a good chance to go to the restroom.  More familiar characters pop in and out, including Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy and my favorite character in the movies, Luna Lovegood. 

Prepare for a brutal ending to this first chapter, as its no secret that the penultimate film of the Harry Potter series sees much tragedy.  And when it stops, it stops--you can almost feel it coming as the scene builds.  And the screen goes black and that's it. 

Very light language, some violence, though its all due to wizards fighting with wands, and there are some tense moments. 

Bottom line?  The best of the seven movies by far.


I'm now going to dive into the Harry Potter seventh film, and I'm going to discuss things that you may not know if you haven't read the books. 


I'm going to discuss deaths, some of the differences in the movie and the book, and further discuss my thoughts on the movie.


If you don't want to know this stuff, just stop reading now.  Scroll up, or click on something else.  How about a good Christmas story? 

You ready for the spoiler stuff?  Here goes.

Overall, this movie was extremely well done, and done probably as best as could be done.   The book opens up with Snape meeting up with all the bad guys, including Voldemort, and continues onto the escape from the Dursleys home.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are just tossing their stuff in the vehicle, and Vernon says, "We have to leave because its not safe for people like us!"  It skims over one of my favorite parts in the entire series--the Order of the Phoenix sends over a few people to help escort the Dursleys out of the house, and Dudley looks around confused, trying to understand why Harry isn't coming with them.  Its funny, yet at the same time, sentimental.

The Order of the Phoenix arrives, and it was really nice to put an acting face to Bill Weasley.  The Seven Potter scene is particularly funny as Fleur, now having turned into Harry via Polyjuice Potion, is still wearing her bra and skirt.

And in all the movies, we have yet to see a full scale wizarding battle... the ministry scene in "Order of the Phoenix" comes close, but only for a brief minute or two.  The battle amongst the Order and the Death Eaters in the skies of London, however, whets the appetite for what's to come.

We know in the sixth film, they neglected to show the battle of Hogwarts, with producers saying that they wanted the full scale battle to be featured in the final installment of the films... which means we have to wait. 

Bill Nighy makes an excellent Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic, and the guy who takes Scrimgeour's place, Pius Thicknesse, is played by an actor who looks nothing like I thought the character would look like--but it still fits perfectly.  Of course, the wedding of Bill and Fleur takes place as it does in the book, only Harry goes as himself in the movie rather than a Weasley cousin, and our three heroes make their escape when the Death Eaters crash the party.  Viktor Krum is nowhere to be seen.

The movie then follows the book fairly closely... like I mentioned, each scene is but a fraction of length and depth that's shown in the book, but again, the book has the power of being written page by page, not acted out minute by minute. 

There are few subtle changes, but nothing worth getting in a fuss over, and Ron's exit from Harry and Hermione is just... well, I don't want to say "heartbreaking", but it does tear at you.  Harry and Hermione go on to Godric's Hollow, and meet up with what ends up being Nagini the snake, and end up back in the woods again, Harry with a broken wand.  And in the midst of their isolation, Harry turns on the radio and has a great swing dance with Hermione... and for a split second, they look at each other, as if there are sparks there, then Hermione walks away.  Its a little odd, definitely not in the book...as a matter of fact, in the sixth film, Dumbledore asks Harry if there is something up with that Granger girl, and Harry defiantly says "no way".  Seems as if this movie wants to reaffirm that point.

Ron reappears, saves the day, saves Harry from drowning and helps to destroy the locket Horcrux--which, in the book, literally fights back, talking to Ron Weasley and goading his paranoia about being second to Harry in everything, and how Hermione truly doesn't like him.  And in the movie, it does a brilliant job of bringing this to life--the locket opens, and this huge cloud erupts, talking loudly to Ron about how he will never equal Harry, and how Hermione could never love him--and then, out of the locket, pops this image of Harry and Hermione making out.  And they look... well, the image only shows from the waist up, but they look naked, covered in silver body paint.  Kinda weird.

The three take a visit to the Lovegood household, with Rhys Ifans playing Xenophelius, Luna's father, and The Tale of the Three Brothers is told in simple, yet effective and fantastic animation.  Then we get to the Malfoy Manor, where they meet up with Luna, Mr. Ollivander and Griphook the Goblin.  Now, remember, in the book, Luna (and Dean Thomas, who is absent from this movie altogether) greets Ron and Harry when they are tossed into the dungeon, but Ollivander and Griphook are on death's door. 

Wormtail appears, but doesn't die in the movie, or at least doesn't seem too--in the book, he's bound by a spell to kill himself after the events in "Prisoner of Azkiban"--and Dobby comes out of nowhere to save all the good guys... taking a knife in the chest in the process, thrown by Bellatrix Lestrange, played so brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter. 

So, two things bother me about this scene... nothing too big, but its worth mentioning.  First, in the book, Griphook and Ollivander can barely move.  They are so weak and beaten down, when Griphook is taken upstairs, he's literally dragged.  Harry has to convince Griphook to tell the bad guys that the sword in question is a fake... which he does.  In the movie, Griphook and Ollivander are wandering around the dungeon, healthy and spry.  When Griphook is retrieved, Harry says nary a word about the sword, but somehow, Griphook knows what to say.

Secondly, Dobby's burial.  In the book, Harry holds Dobby while Dobby succumbs to the knife injury.  And he wants to bury him, without use of magic, just with shovels.  He even has his response ready when someone asks him why he's not using magic, but no one asks.  Instead, Harry, blistered, hot and sweaty from digging the hard ground, is joined by Bill, Ron and Dean who, wielding shovels of their own, help Harry dig.  There's someone tender and meaningful in this passage, and its glazed over by the movie, with Harry and Ron being the only ones doing anything with Dobby.  Bill and Fleur don't even show up.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the film, and have intentions on seeing it again.  I said before my favorite movie character is Luna, but my favorite book character is Ginny Weasley... but I'm not sure I dig Bonnie Wright.  I also think Fenrir Greybeck is fantastic in the book, but in the movie he's so marginalized and relegated to a second tier character.

Go see the movie, irregardless of whether you've read the book. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Red Robin (and other thoughts)

Four Random Thoughts

1. Melanie Names a Car
After purchasing the KIA Soul on Friday night, I was able to drive it off the lot... I love love love driving this car, no stinkin' joke.  Its such a great ride.  The issue was that Toni Rocki Honda was still sitting the garage of The Cabana. 

Red Robin's front end
The Lovely Steph Leann had a Creative Memories Open House on Saturday--by the way, have you seen the books that The Lovely Steph Leann does?  You give her pictures and an idea of what you want, she creates this incredible yearbook type book with your pics and your notes and memories.  Her email is StephDollarCM@gmail.com, so make sure you let her know you need her services....

...So, she was out of pocket.  I call upon someone who is always willing to help, that would be Melanie Z.  She agrees to drive with me out to Center Point to drop off Toni Rocki Honda, and get a few of my questions answered, that being "Where is the hood propper upper?", "Can I get some washer fluid?" and "The owners manual shows you need a special KIA adapter for the iPod auxiliary jack, so I need to get one of those."

Melanie Z and her oldest, Jay Z, arrive, and they both love the KIA Soul.  I give Melanie Z the directions to Serra KIA "Up 280, down 459, back on 59, right on Roebuck Parkway which becomes Center Point Parkway..." then I ask her, "Do you want to drive the Honda?"  The fact that she stared at me with a "Are you freakin' kidding me?" look and then proceeded to get into the vehicle itself told me that she was, in fact, driving the KIA Soul.  Then I called out, "Hey Jay Z, you wanna ride with me?" which was also answered by the fact he jumped into the passenger seat of the Soul.  Melanie Z laughed and said, "Uh... what do you think he wants to do?"

Red Robin's back end
We drive out to Center Point, and I get my questions answered, that being "the propper upper is on the underside of the hood, not the engine", "parts department is closed" and "no problem, we will get it ordered for you".  I gave over the key to Toni Rocki Honda to an older guy named David, and that was that.  I nodded my goodbye to Toni Rocki, and walked back to the KIA Soul, with Melanie Z still sitting in the driver's seat.

"Alright, time to go," says me.
"Okay, hop in," Melanie Z replies.
"Um..." I start, waiting for her to get out of the drivers seat. "You like the car?  Like driving the car?"
"Yeah, I love it!" she laughs.  "So, get in."
"I'm driving, Melanie," I say.
"Fine," she grunts.  As Jay Z starts to say, "Mom!  I'm riding in front!" Melanie Z cuts him off... "Get in the backseat!"
"Mooooom!!!!' he stammers, as he gets out and climbs in the back.

By the way, the KIA Soul didn't have a name yet... The Honda was, as I've oft mentioned, Toni Rocki Honda, named for a combination of Toni Braxton and Pulp Fiction, and the Mercury Sable before it was my 1999 Pezochit, named because it was... well, you get it.

I share this with Melanie Z on the way back, and how I had mentioned to The Lovely Steph Leann that I thought of "The Hamster", for the commericals... though I wasn't sold on calling my car "Hamster" for the next four or five years.  She pops up with, "What about... Red Robin?  You know, like the burger place.  Reeeeeed Robin!" 

And as soon as she says it, it clicks.  Red Robin it is.

2.  d$ Gets a Seatbelt
I guess I should share one last Toni Rocki Honda story.

On the way back from Starbucks last week, after working a 12 hour day and doing Christmas set up, which is always a major undertaking, I just wanted to get home.  I had my iPod, hooked onto my belt, and was just finishing Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (I zipped through Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in the weeks leading up to the movie) and while driving, I was a bit irritated by the way the seatbelt buckle was sitting on the iPod on my waist.

First... I don't always wear my seatbelt.  Well, I didn't always wear it, now I do, but that's later.  I know, I know, you can give me a hundred stories of people who didn't want to wear their seatbelts and are now dead, paralyzed or have killer hangnails because of it.  I get it, its safety, its secure, its nothing you can tell me that The Lovely Steph Leann doesn't tell me a thousand times.  Cause she loves me, that one does.

So, I get it, don't innundate me reasons why I should always wear my seatbelt.

Anyway, that night, I WAS wearing it.  I pulled up to the red light, in the double turn lane from Hwy 280 to turn onto Valleydale Road.  I unbuckled my seatbelt, tossed off my shoulder strap, and then took the iPod off my belt, and placed it in the console.  I didn't see the police cruiser pull up beside me.

The light turned green, so I moved forward, and didn't buckle the belt.  I chose to wait until I was out of the turn of the major intersection, and when I was moving forward, straight onto Valleydale Road, I buckled my belt again... and thats when I saw the blue lights behind me. 

I quickly glanced down at my speedometer, and I was going about 35 in the 45, because I was still accelerating.  I thought quickly to things that had derailed me before, including my tag (it was fine), my license (I had it renewed three months ago) and any outstanding tickets (none, thankfully). 

There was a car ahead of me who I saw had immediately applied the brake lights.  The car turned onto  Inverness Center Drive, which is the road you travel down about a half mile to get to my subdivision, and I follwed.  The police pulled behind me, and as I pulled over, the cop did as well.  The car ahead of me floored it, and zoomed away.  I would have done the same.

I grabbed my license out of my pocket, and placed it on the dash.  The bright spotlight behind me kept me from seeing the officer approaching my car.  He shone his flashlight in my car, in my face, and asked for my license.  I reached up on the dash and handed it to him.

"Mr. d$, I don't know if you just put that belt on or what, but when I pulled up beside you, you didn't have it on."
"Yes sir," I sighed.  I opened my mouth to tell him that I had it on, and I had taken it off for a second, just long enough for him to pull up and see me with out it on, but I figured that's just like a speeder saying that he'd done the speed limit except for those 100 yards when he was doing 70. 
"Don't know if you were aware of it, but there was a major accident in Chelsea this weekend where three people were killed... two of them wasn't wearing their seatbelts, Mr d$."
"I didn't know that sir," I sighed.  Again, I opened my mouth to say something smart like, "Well was the third person wearing their seatbelt", but quickly closed it again.
"Can I see your insurance information?"
"Yes sir, its in my console here," I said, turning around and opening up the middle compartment, pulling out the little piece of paper and handing it to the officer.

He walked away and I just sat there waiting, in silence.  The officer came back, handing me a ticket, telling me that I had until December 15th to pay it... in Columbiana.  Its already been documented that I'm not a fan of The Glorious Road to Colombiana, so I had a feeling I would be sending this in, either by mail or online.  I asked him how much the ticket is, and he said, "Well, I know it was $10, but I think they recently raised it to $31". 

Of course they did.

So I got my ticket and drove about 200 feet to my subdivision's entrance. 

By the way, I totally wear my seatbelt now, in Red Robin, if for no other reason than that ding ding ding ding noise is really annoying when you start the car and don't buckle in.

3. The Laptop Gets a Cold
My laptop is down.  I'm using The Lovely Steph Leann's own laptop, and am cool with it for now, except I can't update my iPod, which is maddening. 

I've gone through three audiobooks--Harry Potter 5, 6 and 7--and have doubled back and am now listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkibahn.  Its a little strange, though, because I just got done hearing about the heroics of Sirius Black and how Harry dominates the Dementors, and in this book, Sirius is the villian and Harry cowers in front of the Azkibahn guards.

I hope my laptop gets better.  I really want to hear my podcasts.

4.  Starz Gets Some Color
Here's what I love about the channel Starz in Black... if you make a film that has like, one black dude in the background, your film is eligible for appearing on Starz in Black.  Right now, the Bruce Willis movie "Surrogates" is on.  There aren't a whole lot of black people in this film.  Coming up later tonight, a movie called "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", starring Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn and Michael Douglas, three very white people.  Seems like Orlando Jones is representin'...

Of course, also coming up later, is a movie called "Life is Hot in Cracktown", and judging from the cast list, they are overcompensating.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Don't Tell Dave Ramsey

Toni Rocki Honda is showing her age. I guess its expected, as she's fifteen years old now--I've only had over a little over 2 years, and she's only got 123K on her, but at fifteen, part after part is needing to be replaced, little by little, she's costing us a fortune.

My air conditioner went out on me in late August, as I was driving home to Samson for the day. It was working fine until I got to somewhere past Clanton. I stopped at a Hardee's, and after getting my food and getting back in, I heard a small pop of some sort when I started the car. And suddenly, Toni Rocki Honda was just blowing... air. Not cold air. Not cool air. Just air.

Its going to cost close to a grand to get everything fixed in the air, the compressor, the hoses and belts, whatever else. So The Lovely Steph Leann and I have gone back and forth--do we get it fixed, and then hope nothing else breaks, or do we make a plunge and go ahead and get something else... I've never had a new car. Matter of fact, every car I've owned has been nothing but a mechanic's dream--lots of maintenance. I feel like I've had not just a lemon, but a grove.  A new car?  Wow, that would be amazing.

Anyway, the Mizzus was in Pensacola Thursday night, for work, her time of the month. For the trip, I mean. So I headed on my own to do some reconnaissance work at two places we had discussed... the local Kia dealership and the local Hyundai. I know, I know, there are some people out there now that who hear the word "KIA" and "HYUNDAI" and shiver, and automatically think I'm in the welfare line... they give me the guv'mint Land O'Lakes, the guv'mint Kraft slices and the guv'mint Honda... and ten years ago, absolutely.

I remember some retreat I was involved in around 99 or 2000, and the speaker told a joke that a KIA Sportage is a combo of "Sports" and "Garbage".... but I did some looking on the interweb and it seems that both cars are much more reliable now. Plus, I know people who have newer models of both, and they love them.

So I stopped at Riverchase KIA over on Highway 31, and walked around. After a few minutes, a pleasant guy named Ken came out, shook my hand, and we chatted for a while. He wasn't pushy, he wasn't invasive, he built up KIA while not trashing other brands, telling me that Hondas and Hyundais are good cars, but (of course) he thinks the KIAs are better deals. And one I really liked was the KIA Soul... its a far less gay version of the Mini-Cooper. It might be a little out of my price range, but still...

The 2011 Elantra Touring
I left Ken and KIA and drove over to Tameron Hyundai. Tameron is the dealership that sold The Lovely Steph Leann the Honda she drives, and though I've never had a problem with Tameron, and they have always been nice enough, I don't know that Tameron Honda is where I want to go--likewise, Tameron Hyundai isn't where I'll probably buy a car, but I did want to look at some models, like the Elantra, the Accent and the Santa Fe SUV. I was all about the Hyundai Elantra Touring, a station wagon, but much, much cooler looking. Again, probably out of my price range, but we shall see...

The point of this little anecdote, though, was that at KIA, the guy came out after about ten minutes, which was fine with me. At Tameron Hyundai, I was there over 30 minutes, and not one single person came out to talk to me. Its not that I wanted a bunch of pushy salesman around, but seriously, nobody?  Really? 

So Friday rolls around, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I make plans to head out to just east of Birmingham, to the Roebuck/Center Point area--not the safest place to travel once night falls, but it was early in the evening, just after five pm. 

Serra is a name attached to four or five dealerships along a stretch of Centerpoint Parkway, right next to each other--Serra Chevrolet, Serra Hyundai, Serra Kia, Serra everything else--and our plan was to go by Serra Hyundai.  We have both been hearing on the radio "NEW HYUNDAIS FOR $8,000!  WE HAVE TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE 2011s!  GET A NEW HYUNDAI ACCENT FOR $7000!  A NEW ELANTRA FOR $8000!" so we wanted to check it out... now, we are both realists, and we know that it cannot be quite simply "New Car for $8000", but it never hurts to investigate. 

Worst case scenario, we come home with no new car, just the paid for cars we already own.  Best cast scenario, we plop down $8 grand and I drive home with a brand new Hyunda Elantra.  Its possible, even probable, that they were base models, so I told The Lovely Steph Leann we'd have to spend a little more on a radio... what is important to me is an iPod auxiliary jack.  I want to be able to plug in my iPod or my iPhone and listen to it, be it a Harry Potter audiobook or Sara Bareilles' new CD, through the car speakers.  Yes, I could toss in the CD into the CD player, provided it has one, but that's not the point.

Let's keep in mind, I haven't eaten yet.  When I say that, I tell you that I've been at Starbucks at work from about 415am to about 130ish, and on my lunch break, I had to do two things--get tickets for Harry Potter (going the following night), get Melanie something (I told her I would grab her lunch) and get myself something.  I had 30 minutes.  I zipped down to Chick-fila to grab lunch, but realized I didn't have time to eat.  When I eat Chick-fila, I have to doctor up my own sandwich, which takes about five minutes, which I had no time to spare, so I grabbed Melanie's food and then zipped down to the Rave to get tickets, which I did.  And after I got off work, I had some errands to run and some other stuff to get done (Translation: I don't remember exactly what I did--it was two days ago) and when The Lovely Steph Leann got home, we jumped in the vehicle, her vehicle, and headed to Center Point.  She had a late lunch, so she's not hungry.  I'm getting kinda hungry.

Up 280, down I-450, onto I-59, then off to Roebuck Parkway, which turns into Center Point Parkway.  The median length forces us to drive past Serra Hyundai, Serra Chevy and Serra KIA, but as I turn around the median, I told The Lovely Steph Leann I wanted to pull into KIA.  She asked why, and I told her I wanted to look around.  I mentioned that we could walk down to the Hyundai dealership, which is still our original destination.  We stop, park, and start looking around.  The Forte, the Optima, the Sorrento, the Rio and... The KIA Soul.  A cherry red KIA Soul sitting on the end of the row.  There was a white one there too, but it was white.  And not red. 

Its the commercials with the hamsters.  Honestly, I remember the hamsters, but didn't connect it was a KIA commercial--or a car commercial, for that matter--until the sales guy mentioned in.  Just sayin'.

A salesman comes out, introduces himself as Gene, and begins to tell us whats on sale.  We do some looking around, ask some questions, answer some questions, and then the big question gets asked... whats our price range?  Ah, that is the query, isn't it.

We look at a KIA Rio, which is a small, tiny four door car that I kinda like, and will do if need be.  We take it for a test drive, it drives nice, but there are a few things I'm not excited about.  The arm rest for instance--there is no middle console armrest, one that has a lid that you can put stuff in.  There is an iPod auxiliary jack, but that's all the radio has to offer.  The car is tiny.  Of course, when we make it down to Serra Hyundai, the Accent and possibly the Elantra will be not much bigger, so I guess if I don't like the KIA Rio... well...

I will say the Rio drives fine.  Its a good little car, it picked up quickly, it was comfy and I'm okay with small cars, because good gas mileage is important to me.  With Toni Rocki Honda, I fill up once about every three weeks, though it helps that I live 3 miles from the store and also that we usually take The Lovely Steph Leann's Honda because its a more comfy ride. 

We pulled back in and Gene asked us to run some numbers.  He did the whole "Now, you don't have to commit to anything, I just want to see what I can do for you."  The Serra salesman sell cars across all three dealerships, so he filled us in on the Hyundai $8000 deal... you have to buy two.  And that was in the fine print, of course.   Yeah, he could have been feeding us some Bantha Poodoo, but makes sense.

Finally, I ask to test drive the KIA Soul.  He goes and gets the keys, and we pull out of the lot, a car with 31 miles on it.  Its... its just cool.  Its just fun.  Its bright red, a color that I usually associate with 21 year old guys in Mustangs or convertibles to pick up chicks, and higher insurance rates, so I ask about other colors, and am assured that if I want this car, they'll get me whatever color I want.  Of course they will, its a car dealership.

I've already done some research on the KIA Soul, and have liked what I'd seen... its quite safe, it holds appreciation well, its sporty, its not too expensive, its roomier than most cars of its kind and so on.  And in driving it... its fun.  I like this car.  And this is not good, because this thing is brand new!   This thing is costly!  There's no way we're going to be driving away with a KIA Soul.  The Lovely Steph Leann won't allow such a mockery of Dave Ramsey Justice!  Right?  Right?

I noticed something as we walked around a little afterwards... the KIA Rio is about $1200 more than the KIA Soul.  So... if we wanted to get the Rio, which The Lovely Steph Leann liked, then... wouldn't the Soul make more sense?  Its bigger... and cheaper?

Smashcut to a half hour later... we are sitting in Gene's little cubicle and he's in front of us, hands clasped, elbows on table, telling us that he wants us to drive off the lot in a new car.  Of course he does.  This is a car dealership.

The Lovely Steph Leann and I listen to his pitch, and both simply tell him, "No".  It was too much.  Too much down, too much in car payments, car payments that we were trying to avoid all together.  He had written down the details on a piece of paper, and they only would pay $500 for Toni Rocki Honda, which was a travesty in my own mind.  Sure, she needs a $1000 repair in air conditioning, but I am pretty sure I could get a grand for her on Craigslist or even the paper, but $500?

And I watch the car salesmen tricks unfold... "Okay, what if I do this?  What if [crossing out the number 500 and writing in pen] we give you a $1000 [writing the number 1-0-0-0] for your Honda?"  We say "No".  "Okay, well what if I say you don't have to put this much down [crosses out the amount down] and you only put this much down [writes down another number] and we say "No".

He says, "Okay, let me go run some more numbers", and runs off to do a credit check, leaving The Lovely Steph Leann and I alone.  We start chatting quietly about what we are going to do, and suddenly, getting a new car, the bright red KIA Soul, is a distinct possibility.  A real possibility.

The Lovely Steph Leann is the budgeter in our family, the "Nerd", is Ramsey speak.  I am the "Free Spirit", the one who spends a little more than he should, so I'm leaning on her, my wife, heavily to help me through this (isn't that the way it should be, really?).  She says one single "No way, we can't do this", then I'm not going to fight her for it.  I tell her straight up that there is a certain threshold of savings I want to keep in there, and no matter what, we don't go below that.  She tells me what the reality is of our budget. 

Gene comes back with another set of details and agreements.  I smile and simply say, "Okay, man, listen... this is a great deal.  We have talked about it, and we agree this is a great deal, but we just don't think we can do it.  We weren't looking for car payments, we don't want to kill our savings and really, if we have to say yes or no at this very moment, we'd have to say 'no'."  Gene tells us, "I understand.  But let me just tell ya, we haven't sold a car today.  I'm going to do what it takes to get you into this car."  He gets up and runs out.

Gene comes back in, with the same piece of paper, folded over, with words written in Sharpie at the top, saying "XMAS COMES EARLY HO HO HO", with some details on the bottom. And the details are great.  I ask Gene to give us a minute to discuss, and he agrees and leaves.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I then go to work.

The questions begin... "Can we do it?"... "Do we want to take on a car payment, even for just a little while?"... "We can do it, but do we want to do it?"... "How will this affect how we live?"... "What do we do about Disney World in February, and for that matter, in two weeks?"  We talk for about fifteen minutes or so, and The Lovely Steph Leann leans her head back, puts her hands in her hair and just say, "Aarrgghh... this is like buying the house all over again!"

I smile and say, "We either do it or we don't.  I like the car, quite a bit.  But I'm not bothered if we walk out of here without it.  We deal with my Honda for a while, and then we can decide how much money to put into it.  Or, we take the plunge, deal with it for a while, and have a reliable car for a long, long time.  What do you think?"

Again, she says, "Aaargghh!" and then laughs uncomfortably.  Gene comes back in and asks what we think, holding out the paper with a line on the bottom.  Without saying much, The Lovely Steph Leann just leans over and signs the paper. 

We just bought a car.  Its an awesome car.  Its a 2011 KIA Soul, complete with a bright red exterior, four doors, a hatchback, Sirius Radio, an iPod auxiliary jack, 31 miles when I drove it off the lot and, unfortunately, for the first time in over three years since we have been debt free, a car payment.  Just don't tell Dave Ramsey.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Celebrating National Un-Friend Day

There is someone on Facebook--I wont say who--who, every time she updates her status, she capitalizes each word. So, rather than saying:

I took my son to the doctor today, but he's alright! Looks like God is watching out for us, and Junior just has one of those kid things that he'll get over...

...which is a fine status, right? Tells us what's going on, the kid okay, propz to Big Papa up there, I can dig it. However, Offending Facebook Chick would instead say it this way:

I Took My Son To The Doctor Today, But He's Alright! Looks Like God Is Watching Out For Us, And Junior Just Has One Of Those Kid Things That He'll Get Over.

Can I just say... this drives me nuts? I mean, it shouldn't, but it does. Drives me up the wall Every Time I See A Facebook Status Written Like This. Oh, I know what you are going to say--why not just de-friend her?

(opening new browser page... logging onto Facebook... finding offending status-leaver...)

Yeah, good idea. Solved that problem.

Speaking of un-friending...
I remember when I was a small child, living in Austin, TX, apartment 320 of The Villa Rio Apartments on Airport Boulevard. I was maybe 5 or so, and there were two chicks in the complex that I talked to. One was named Janet, a year older than me, and I was jealous because she got to go to kindergarten and I stayed at home. The other was Danielle, a tall girl, also a year older than me, who had a slight limp. One of her feet was turned inward for some reason--not that this mattered, I mean, I was 5 and was friends with anyone and everyone (except for that creepy guy in the white car who stopped and offered me candy to get in while I was walking back from the 7-11 with the latest issue of Mad Magazine--I didn't like that guy).

Well, Danielle and Janet and I were friends and we played as 5 and 6 year olds do, but every now and then, one of them would make the other mad and then that one would come to me and tell me not to be friends with other one. "Don't be her friend anymore! She did this to me... " and then they would lay out the crime that had been committed upon their youth. And for a day or so, I'd try not to be their friend, but I'd end up being their friend anyway... and of course, I'm sure Janet would tell Danielle not to be d$'s friend (actually, my last name then was Creech. No, I'm being dead serious. Did I ever tell you guys I was adopted?) and that would explain one of them, or both of them, not talking to me for a whole day.

That was real un-friending? Now... its a low tactic of secret disassociation. Admit it... sometimes it at least makes you wonder, if not drives you nuts to see your friend total end on the number "8" one day, and "7" the next... its not a big deal, that's fine if you don't want to be my friend, but at least tell me why, right?
So, yesterday, November 17th, was in fact "National Un-Friend Day", according to talk show host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel. There is a fascinating opinion piece on HuffPo about this (I know, I know, most of HuffPo's political opinions are worth about as much as used paper following a big plate of Nachos Bell Grande at the Bell, but sometimes they do have good stuff to say on things that aren't political), where the author jokingly suggests that Facebook give you a template to make the unfriending of someone a bit easier...

Jason Kitchens writes:  Dear Timmy: you've been unfriended by Billy due to the fact that, despite only meeting on one occasion during the Carter Administration, you insist on sending those insufferable invitations to assist you in building a make-believe pigpen for your virtual farm. You do so incessantly and without regard for societal norms that exist in real life (a world you might consider visiting from time-to-time). Therefore, you are officially no longer deemed "friends" with Billy. Grievance counseling is available for those with health insurance via the following link..."

And in the spirit of the Kimmel-created day, I did my own scanning down the list of friends. Understand, I have a lot of friends in the real world, many of which do not have FB accounts, or check them much if they do. And I have a lot of "friends" on Facebook as well... some of which... well, I don't really know how they have access to my page. I'm one of those, close up the page, hide the pics unless you are my friend kind of guys, so for those of you who are on my "friend" list, you have a smorgasbord of information, pictures and other meaningless propaganda that the other 5,999,999,050 people do not have. Consider it an honor.

"Remember how, five years ago, when no one was on Facebook and you didn't know what the guy you took high school biology with was having for lunch?  Remember how that was... fine?"
But in scanning, how do decide to who chunk, and who to keep? Surely, I don't talk to 975 people on weekly, even monthly basis. The list of people that I talk to daily runs about two deep. I live with and am married to one--The Lovely Steph Leann--and see the other six, if not seven days a week, am close to and work with, that being Melanie Z. Doesn't hurt that both are highly, highly attractive people.

The list of people I talk to weekly runs, I dunno, forty, fifty, if I had to throw out a ballpark number... people like JustFish, Emmy Turnbow, C'ray and S'ray, J Taylor, etc, but if I don't go to church that week, that number drops dramatically.

But that still leaves a number of people who don't fall into either category... so how to decide who to keep and who to punt?

Well.. here's who stays:
  • People I know well... heck, this would encompass the above two categories for the most part.
  • People I used to know well, and still like to keep up with. My friend Michelle Carr, who spends her life doing missions, is one example. Spivey, who used to be a close buddy of mine, is another.
  • People I used to know well, don't keep up with very well, but still like knowing I can say "hey" when I want to: This would include most fraternity brothers, most BCM Members at Troy and much of Samson High School... say what you want, but if you are from a small town like Samson, then everyone who is from that town thinks they should be friends with everyone else from that town. Not true, and I've proven that by the number of requests I've ignored because... well, frankly, I have no idea who you are, despite the fact you lived two blocks over from my house and knew my mom.
  • People I don't know very well, but have communicated with in the past and want to keep that line open. Stephen Crews comes to mind, as does Brock Parker. Never met either one of them personally, but have had good conversations with them online and look forward to more.
  • People with whom I want to keep a connection with, if only for selfish reasons. Ambre Lake, Brooke from The Bachelor, several radio personalities that I know. Who knows when I'll need a favor from them?
  • People I've tagged in pictures: I hate not having pictures tagged, especially if I have a lot of certain people. People like Pam Yau, Wendy Alexander, Michael Knowles--I mean, I cannot remember the last conversation I had with them, don't know when I'll talk to them again, but darn it, I've got pics of them online.
  • People who I know, and think, read my website. Looking at my stats, I know about 30% of referrals come from the link I post on Facebook... so if you've commented on a post, or on the site, or whatever, then I know you read it--or if you "like" Clouds in My Coffee on Facebook, chances are, I'm keeping you around for a while longer, anyway.
I'll be completely honest--were it not for my desire for readership on what I write, I'd probably whittle my entire list down to about 400 people or less.  But, as it stands, I know that link in my status is worth something to my page loads.  So there it is--I'm a narcissist.

I would say most of my "friends" on Facebook fall into those above listings. However, about 50 people did not. And... well, they got booted on National Un-Friend Day.  This is going to sound so, so mean, but let's be honest with ourselves--I am sure that when I am unfriended, its much of the same thought processes...

Just about anyone that, if I saw in the supermarket, I might walk an extra aisle over to avoid--not that I don't like them or anything, its just the whole "hey how are you, I'm good, how is life, yadda yadda" that we'll forget the next day.  People who I don't know well, or used to know well and aren't really all that concerned with keeping up with, or will serve me no purpose in the future, or I have no pics of, or I am pretty sure don't ever look at Clouds.  Oh, and if you don't even smile or wave at me when I see you in church or around town, you are outta there.  And, if I see you on FB chat and it takes me longer than ten seconds to figure out who you are?  Gone. 

There is a safe list, of course... people who I'd never dream of dropping on FB.  And some of you, I'm sure, want to be on that list, some of you probably don't care either way--but to be on it, then make sure you are my real friend, not just my virtual friend.  Otherwise, come November 17th, 2011, I might trim more FB Fat. 

Oh, And It Doesn't Help If Your Status Reads Like This.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Forgiving Dad

Many readers of this blog know me really well, because they are close to me, and I "let them in", so to say, to that inner circle of myself that many people don't see--The Lovely Steph Leann, natch, but also a few people like MZ, Mikey, The Good Rever'n Ty, and a few select others.  Many more know me from Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), and just know my name or my face, or read the blog and keep up with me there.  And still more just know the name, and that I have a blog.  (to all of you, thanks for reading)...

Anyway, the ones that know me really well know that I'm dealing with the probability that I will lose my mom in a few weeks... months... who knows.  She's not doing well, and every time the phone rings, in those seconds it takes me to pick it up and see who is calling, my mind goes through an entire scenario of my sister calling, tell me the worst.  And so far, it hasn't been like that... its The Lovely Steph Leann asking about our upcoming Disney trip, or MZ asking me about picking up some white mocha, or Mikey calling me about a movie at the ghetto theater, or MZ asking me to pick up some grande cups, or... you get the point.  Its never my sister.  But one day, it will be.

And with the loss of my mom, the inevitable, I will have lost both of my parents.  I'm sure that will be a blog for another day. 

This past August marks 10 years since my father passed.  As the years rolls by, I remember him, but maybe a little less and less... not to say I'll forget John H. Dollar, but its like, your life keeps going.  You keep a little piece of him tucked away, your favorite parts, like when we used to do the "Question of the Day" (as a kid, I would write down a question like "Who painted the Mona Lisa?" or "How do airplanes stay in the air?", and he would write down a response later), or when he would take me to get my haircuts as a small kid.  I mostly forget the bad stuff, though I'm sure if I thought about it hard, I could come up with something--so I try not to worry about that too much.

John Dollar served in World War II, and in Korea as an airplane mechanic.  I've always had the utmost respect not just for veterans, especially in today's conflicts when war is unlike anything we've ever faced, but my feeling towards WWII guys (and gals) is quite simply, they saved the world.  Not everything was perfect, not everyone agreed, and our country then--like now--did some dumb stuff, but my father was part of a military that stopped an ever-growing movement of hatred and power, one that was taking country by country.   And I'm not even sure we'll ever be successful in such an endeavor again, not with today's culture and society.  Just sayin'.

They had a military funeral for my dad.  It was one of the most beautiful, powerful things I've ever seen--he was in the Air Force, and a group of Air Force soldiers performed the service, including one of the... well, I hate saying "coolest", but that's what it was... things I've ever seen, that being the flag folding.  Taps played.  A soldier got on one knee in front of my broken mom, and handed the flag to her, saying, "We present this flag to you on behalf of the Air Force, and the United States of America, and we thank him for his service to our country."   Then, a 21-gun salute.  Unbelievable. 

Today is Veteran's Day.  Usually, I save my patriotism for a July 4th post, and I always do something for 9/11, but I thought I would post something I wrote in 2000, discussing my father and myself. 

From September 1st, 2000....

My father and I have never had a perfect relationship. As a matter of fact, I've spent the last few years kind of harboring a slight grudge against the man. I know he loved me, he had to of to put up with me for 18 years but the problem was I never really heard it from him. I would always hear it from my mother "You know your dad loves you". Sure, he wasn't the kind of person who expressed it a whole lot in words, but in my mind, his actions never showed it either. He didn't come to my graduation or my Eagle Scout ceremony, along with a few other things that were really important to me, and for some reason, I used those as reasons to be a little bitter.

The last year or so, he's been from the nursing home to the hospital to the nursing home to the hospital, back and forth. Nothing specific, he was just getting older. And older and older. In the 18 months or so he's been away, I've probably seen him maybe five or six times. I think I subliminally used the distance from Birmingham to there as a reason not to go see him, when really it was I wasn't ready to forgive for anything. I've never had a problem with forgiveness, unless it had to do with my very own dad. Imagine that.

This past Monday, my sister calls me at work, and says those words I'd been expecting to hear for a while "You need to come home and see him. He's not doing so well." I had originally planned to take the Labor Day weekend and come see him, and thoughts of doing so still lingered, but I felt the Spirit prodding me "Go on. Its time."

Tuesday, I drove from Birmingham in my new-to-me Blazer and went straight to the nursing home. Once upon a time, my father stood 6'4, topped 220, big strong muscles, a beer in one hand, a remote in the other. Now, he lay curled up, looking about 130 or so, a blank look on his face. Not the man I remember growing up. Suddenly it occurred to me how wrong I had been to wait this long.

I think God had ordained my visit this particular day, because there was no one around. The distractions were gone. And my courage was there. I sat down beside the bed and began to speak. My first words were "Daddy... I forgive you." Not knowing, and still not knowing now, if he could even hear me, I began to tell him of the things I had harbored. The things I had held against him. Stuff that seemed probably stupid to the outside world, but stuff that was really important to me. He just stared at me. Not a sound, not a grumble. Just a slightly open mouth, and a gaze.

Then, I began to tell of the most important part. "Daddy... God loves you. More than you'll ever know, God loves you. And you can spend forever with him, all you have to do is be forgiven and you'll be saved." I used the same words over and over... "All you have to do is think it, not even say it. Forgive me, and save me." I said those words over and over, praying that he would hear me.

And, tonight, while I was at Bible Study, my father passed away. About 8:45 or so. I'm quite sad, actually, but I praise God that I talked to him. I can never say for sure... well, not until I reach Heaven myself... if he understood a word I was saying, but the main thing was that I said what needed to be said.

Now... here's your encouragement.... say it. Don’t hold grudges. Not to rehash the old Life is Short adage, but in a way, that’s right on the money. Don’t wait. Find those people you are angry with, find those people you have a misunderstanding with, and clear it up. The Bible commands us to not let the sun go down on our anger... and I waited many suns... almost too many.

Back to 2010, hope I didn't bring the mood down too much... thanks for reading...

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Fans of FAN Day

Sometimes our church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), has some bad ideas.  Sometimes they throw some things out there, and we all sit back and say, "Wow.  That didn't work, did it?"

And then again, sometimes our church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), has some great ideas.  Some ideas, that when put forth are just knocked out of the ballpark.  And FAN Day was one of them...

FAN stands for "Friends And Neighbors" Day, where we could invite... well, our friends and neighbors... to come out to our church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), get to know us, get to know our pastor, and see what we have to offer... namely, Jesus, but there's more too.

Siran Stacy spoke at our church.  He's a former star for the University of Alabama--incidentally, they have 13 national championships, just in case you didn't know--in the years '89 to '91, and hails from Geneva, Alabama, which is 8 miles from my own home in Samson, Alabama.

In late 2007, he was driving a van with his wife and kids, and was struck by a drunk driver.  The drunk driver was killed, as was Stacy's wife, and four of his five children.   Stacy and his daughter Shelley survived, after both spent time in a coma.

When Siran Stacy hit that stage, you knew Jesus was up in this hizzy.  I mean, Siran brought it.  Let's be clear, I like Calvin Kelly... he's been my pastor for 12 years, really the only true pastor I've ever known--mine own church history is another blog for another day--but every now and then, a little color on our stage is great.  Maybe once a month or two, toss up some Antjuan Marsh, or let's catch Voddie Bochum as he's coming through town...

Anyway, Siran was a dynamic speaker, preaching on how God dealt with Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and relating it to how he dealt with his own losses.

And afterwards, we all went out to our tailgate parties.  Each Sunday School Life Connection had a little parcel of the parking lot, and each was responsible for grilling and serving up their own food, putting out their own chairs and tables, and making it as tailgatey as possible. 

I told one of the higher ups in our church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), that next year we need to present a trophy to the best tailgate presentation, maybe keep that trophy in the church with class names engraved on it year after year.  And of course, I only say that because of what we had....

We had Justin Fisher, about seven grills, a bunch of experienced grillers grilling on those grills, banana pudding, some little chocolate brownie balls that I had about fourteen of, all 9 of Chad & Amanda Campbell's kids, a tent, cornhole, Willis in a green The U shirt, an RV and Heather Whitley.  We win.

Here are some pictures from FAN Day.

Here is Mr. Steven Ray's Day and Mrs. Steven Ray's Mom, helping set up the big, fat buffet of cholesterol, sugar and high fructose corn syrup, along with the ribs and lettuce.  We rule.

Sitting and waiting to eat, The Freckled (re)Becca.  Her beau, Bobowen, is around here somewhere.

Jonathan Taylor, preparing the roast beast, the roast beast for the Valleydale Church
(an sbc fellowship) Tailgate feast.

The Lovely Steph Leann and our friend Heather, who's husband is away this weekend on drill and keeping our
country safe.  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

Tootie Watkins, with his gloves on, cooking up some burgers, while others, including
Steven Ray, gnaws on some ribs

I'm sure that the pastors and leaders of the church stopped by several booths, but we had a ton of people who
aren't in our own Life Connection class stop by ours.   Again, this lends to the assumption that we, in fact, had
the best set up.  I will say there was a circus tent that had a "JESUS FOR HEISMAN" sign, but in order to one-up
them, we went out and got Alissa Thornell.  We win again.

When Justin Fisher rolls down the halls of Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), little Will Fisher will run
out to meet him, and he will yell, and I quote, "Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!"  I can only
hope that Campbell Isaiah will dig his dad as much as Will Fisher digs his old man.  Little Will puts his hand
on Daddy JustFish's chair, and this is how they roll.

Calah Ray, correctly pronounced Cah-lah Rah, shows the excitement, yet exhaustion of the day

Jon Taylor and Heather Whitley view the food options, while again, Steven Ray looks on in the background.  I
think he was searching out the camera.

Emmy Turnbow, making a Not Emmy Turnbow Safe Face of Disapproval at her maler half, Jason

If you are on Facebook, you can search me up and look at all the pictures from FAN Day... I'm keeping them available for "Everyone" to see for a few days, then I'll take 'em down to "Friends Only" viewing.  Then you'll have to be my friend to see them... Membership has its privileges.