Some Catching Up To Do

Seems like it’s been a dog’s age since I offered a proper update of things.  I suppose I could actually go back into my blog and see for myself when that was, but sometimes — rarely, but sometimes — the fugue state is actually welcome.  It makes me feel a little more human.

On the repair front, the final repairs to the pipes and foundation were finished on the 5th, just I previously reported.  That wasn’t the end of the story.  The plumber stopped by a few days later to get me to sign off on the final statement, which he’d neglected to have me do.  No more money, just confirmation of the work done.  Not a big deal.  But then he asked me if I’d had any further problems.  I told him that since turning off my water and turning it back on, the flow in the kitchen faucet was only about half pressure, certainly not enough to actually be productive.  So he took a look at it.  By that, I mean he disassembled the faucet, and in the process of that informed me I’d need a new faucet in the near future because this one was on its last legs.  He made some recommendations and continued to pull it apart.  Confirming the lines were clear and everything worked, he did some jiggery-pokery that I can’t explain and put it together again.  The good news: the water flow increased.  The bad news: it only partially increased, was inconsistent at best, and the faucet now had to be violently slammed into on or off positions to get either such setting to work.  “It’ll work itself loose in a couple of days.  Not to worry.”  Yeah, bullshit.  I cussed him out and kicked him out of my house.  And then I promptly went to Home Depot to attain a new faucet.  Yay, more money spent.  The further problem: I don’t have the first clue what I’m doing on an install, so I see about bribing dear old Dad once more because I really don’t want to call a plumber.  And at first he agrees to the bribe.  Then a few days later he makes the suggestion that perhaps I could get instruction from YouTube videos.

Anyone who knows me instantly knows this is a bad idea.  Having had multiple instances in the past where I’ve proven my mechanical inclinations to screw up anything, I politely reminded Dad that such a thing would inevitably result in a rejected script for I Love Lucy.  I’m content with learning and continuing my efforts to improve myself on all fronts, but unsupervised construction or repair involving any kind of tools is just not a good fit.  So he came up yesterday, and the install proceeded.  In what I can only describe as proof of karmic claims, the repair required both of us to be jammed under the kitchen sink, cussing at vague instructions and at “universal” parts that were anything but.  Two trips to Home Depot and an angry call to the faucet manufacturer’s customer service department later, we finally achieved functionality.  And Dad conceded that YouTube would have been a bad idea.

Following our first trip to Home Depot, because we couldn’t have known how much more time would be spent on this repair, we stopped off for lunch.  During lunch, he starts telling me about this history book he’s reading.  It’s called America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie.  And he starts going on and on about the sheer amount of intimate detail in this book.  “I’ve never read a history book with this kind of minutiae in it.  They really get granular about the details.”  Sounds like a red flag to me.  So I ask him, is it a history book, or is it a novel?  He stops to think about it and begrudgingly admits that he doesn’t really know.  I am gobsmacked, to put it mildly.  This is the man who got me interested to read history in the first place, admittedly largely in direct response to debunking his BS, but there was also a lot of common interest there too.  The fact that he can’t spot an historical fiction novel is just beyond amusing to me.  I can’t express how funny I think this is.  But I’m diplomatic and hold my composure.  After all, he’s still helping me fix my kitchen at this point.

After the repair and before he leaves yesterday, more book talk ensues.  He tells me more about this book he’s reading, and the more and more he tells me, the more I’m convinced it’s historical fiction.  I’ve since confirmed this is the case.  More than that, it’s historical fiction romance, so this is just beyond funny to me now.  I think what happened is that he got used to a line of narrative histories, so the line blurred for him somewhere, but how he got sucked into a romance novel, I’ll never know.  Even so, it’s still funny to me, and it does support the claim I’ve been making for a number of years now about how it’s dangerous to learn history from fiction.  This sort of spotlights the problem, because I can’t tell you the number of people who seem to think that Philippa Gregory’s works are true accounts of anything.  I pretty much hold her up as one of the worst examples out there, someone who clearly knows their history when asked at point blank about it, but then who also clearly abuses and twists that knowledge to her own dramatic ends in the final result.  I don’t see this as indicative of the genre, but it sets a dangerous standard when others try to duplicate her success.  That said, and it bears repeating, historical fiction does offer many positive points.  It’s a more accessible in-road to those wishing to learn the flavor of a time period (providing the author does their homework), it’s a wonderful thought exercise for exploring those bits of history still shrouded by too many questions, and it offers some great escapism for those of us who like time travel with a safety net.

The other point of book talk was me doing the fanboy flail about this recent Star Trek novel I read, The Face of the Unknown.  Dad doesn’t do much fiction on the whole these days outside of some generic techno-thrillers, but Star Trek has always been his favorite series.  And since this is the man who first put a Trek novel in my hand way back when, I figured he’d want to know about it.  As I was telling him about it, he said something that made me do a double take.  He said, “Well, you haven’t steered me wrong yet, so send me an email about so I don’t forget what it’s called.”  Wait, what?  A day later, I’m still processing this.  The man who fact checks every little thing I say on Google is confirming my credibility on something?  Did I cross into a parallel universe?  I’ve chosen not to point this out or to look the gift horse in the mouth.  Instead, I’m filing this away and hoping to build on this.  At some point, I fear, I’ll have to use this as supporting evidence against something else.  Sad, I know, but true.  Still, hope springs eternal, and there’s a glimmer of it.  *raises coffee mug*  To little victories!

In other news, my deep dive into Disney has had some interesting results.  I made the realization somewhere along the way that while I knew more about the earlier Disney films, the ones released in my own lifetime are somewhat nebulous.  Specifically, the ones from the 1980s.  I’ve seen them all, but it’s been too long.  I confirmed this last night in my double-feature viewing of The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company.  It was a bit like déjà vu, because I knew I’d seen them before, but it’d been so long it was like seeing them for the first time.

With The Great Mouse Detective, a handful of things immediately stood out for me.  Ratigan is  voiced by the late, great Vincent Price!  Did I simply not know this the first time around?  Why was I not informed?  I certainly knew who that was since before this film was released, having grown up watching this man’s films.  He’s part of the Great Hammer Trifecta with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  How could I not know he did this film?  And then to learn the music is done by Henry Mancini?  OMG, I’m geeking out on all kinds of levels here!  Of course, this is essentially a Sherlock Holmes story, which is always awesome when done right, and as a subtle nod, Holmes himself has a cameo voiced by none other than Basil Rathbone.  How much geekdom can possibly be contained in a single movie?  But then the technical geekery ensues.  The clock tower sequence in the finale is immediately recognizable to me as early computer graphics.  It’s not something hand-drawn animation can achieve.  What I didn’t know, but have since learned, is that the computer physically drew the clockwork onto the frames with a pencil, and then the animation team put the characters in and painted it all, this giving it the seamless effect.  It made me really consider how far things have come since then, and how quickly.  We’re only seven years away from Toy Story at this point.

Oliver and Company was likewise a bit of a geekfest.  Having grown up with the music of Billy Joel and Huey Lewis, and having seen them both in concert, having them do their thing at the same time in a Disney film is just fun.  And while I’m not the biggest fan of Bette Midler, I tend to respect her work as well, and her contributions rounded this picture out quite nicely.  I was a little more familiar with the movie precisely for these reasons because some things just stick with you for inexplicable reasons, but all the same it’s been nearly 30 years since I last saw this one when it was first released in the theaters.  Again, I’m spotting the early computer animation in here, doing things that traditional hand animation can’t do.  The Disney animators are experimenting with this tool — and that’s all it is, just one more tool in their toolbox — to pull off effects otherwise beyond human ability to achieve.  And unlike the overt and sloppy attempts to do this in the 90s on a great many cartoons of the era, the effect is still more or less seamless.  They’re aware of achieving a holistic effect that doesn’t call attention to itself.

What makes me a bit sad is that I’ve learned neither one of these films has an available soundtrack album.  They had one back in the day, but they number among a pile of movies that has not since had a re-release.  As I’ve been finally completing my catalog of Disney animated movies slowly but surely, I’ve been trying to fill the gaps on the soundtrack front too.  The disparity between album releases has really got my attention now.  My recently acquired Legacy Collection soundtrack releases have me spoiled.  There are only 12 of these, and they are the absolute best soundtrack album releases I’ve ever acquired for any films.  By that, I mean they are compiled and arranged with care, they are complete, or very nearly so, using rare tracks and even demo versions, and they are of the highest sound quality.  In the midst of this, other Disney album releases have been treated better with digital remastering, but not quite presented to this level of quality.  The older films have really benefitted on this front.  Some albums I’m glad I never got the re-releases.  For example, Aladdin still bugs me that they changed the lyrics in the opening number following the theatrical run, so I’m glad the original album release is of high quality.  But now to learn that movies like The Great Mouse Detective or Oliver and Company just don’t seem to have easily accessible soundtracks… it bothers me.  My fear is that, being released just before the Disney Renaissance, these films might actually be looked at in their original light as “not princess movies” and “not money makers,” thus prompting a possible misunderstanding that perhaps these films are not worthy of a soundtrack re-release.  I hope I’m wrong about this.  I fully intend to touch base with Walt Disney Records about this and see if they have plans to fill this gap.  It may also simply be that I’m just wrong, in which case, I will hunt down these albums accordingly.

My personal Disney Renaissance has had one other positive side effect come up.  Periodically I will spend time lamenting my lost drawing skills.  Like anything else, you only retain a skill by practice, and it’s been a lot of years since I learned to draw.  I don’t pick up that pencil very often anymore, usually because it’s disheartening to have visual and instant proof of a personal degeneration of skills.  It’s a surreal thing to dig up drawings you did over 20 years ago and know that you couldn’t do that today.  But I found myself being inspired to draw again last night while watching those films.  Even at the top of my game, I was never that good at it.  I could physically look at something and give you a close approximation, but I never really developed my own drawing style, and I certainly never got good at cartooning.  Thing is, you can’t saturate yourself in megadoses of a specific style of entertainment and not be inspired by it.  That’s the source of Disney magic: it seeps into your pores and gets at things you thought were long forgotten.  Add to that, one of the things about fighting depression is that you need a dog in the fight to keep you going.  It’s a way to overcome the problem through something that can give you a framework for focus as well as a means by which you can fairly assess your progress.  The advantages far outweigh anything that might be perceived as a negative.  And it’s good to have something to work at in this age of instant gratification.  It also justifies having all those art supplies that have gone otherwise neglected over the years.  It’s not the first time I’ve tried to get back into this game, so I’m approaching this with this awareness.  Still, I’d like to make an honest go at this.  As they say, time will tell.

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