Alone In The Shade

I wanna get paid
But I can’t get hired
I wanna get laid
But I’m just not desired
I’m growing dismayed
Frustrated and tired
I’m not making the grade
And I’m feeling more wired

I’m fed up with being played
I’d rather be inspired
It’s so much easier to evade
Let this anxiety be retired
They just aren’t swayed
Even after I enquired
They want me to fade
Has my luck finally expired?

Alone in the shade
Shaken and perspired
Execution stayed
But too late to be rewired
How do I persuade
While hopelessly mired
I thought I had it made
Now I don’t know what’s required

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 10, 2017
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on March 10, 2017 at 4:04 am  Leave a Comment  

25 Years After Seeing Back To The Future Part III In A Theatre, I’d Much Rather Watch Movies On DVD

I used to love going to the movies.  It used to be so much fun.

When I was little, my parents alternated between taking me to the latest action blockbusters, animated features and live action family films at various theatres around the city.  Battlestar Galactica was the first film I ever saw in the summer of 1978.  I was 3.  (I need to rescreen it because I don’t remember it at all.)  After that, it was all Disney & Warner Bros. cartoons, Muppet movies, the first Ghostbusters, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Superman II, Back To The Future and Star Wars sequels.  It was heaven.

By my early teens, when I wasn’t seeing the odd film with mom or dad I was going to the show with friends from school.  To be on our own without adult accompaniment was liberating.  It helped that most of us lived within walking distance of a single-seater and an eight-screen multiplex, both gone now, sadly.  We didn’t go often in the summer but when we did, it was always fun.  Lots of laughs and tomfoolery aplenty.

In the beginning, I was just a casual observer, a film fan who wasn’t all that critical and simply enjoyed getting out to see a much anticipated new release while having a good time with friends and family.

But in the summer of 1990, something shifted.

It was a Friday morning just before 11 o’clock.  The scene:  second period Grade 9 science glass.  While Mr. Petlura was rambling on about something we were supposed to be paying attention to, I overheard a couple of friends engaged in private conversation.  Back To The Future Part III was opening later that night and they were making plans to go see it.  Having loved the first two (I must’ve seen Back To The Future a half dozen times in the 80s), I wanted to go, too.  I was in as long as I had the money and was willing to stand in line for 90 minutes or so.  No problem.

After school ended that afternoon, I asked my mom for the money.  She gave me a 10.  At 5:30, two pals came to my house and we were off.

You might be thinking why in the hell did we show up at the closed theatre one hour and 45 minutes before showtime?  Simple.  We figured cinema eight was going to be packed that night and we wanted to guarantee ourselves three seats.  Curiously, when we arrived just a few minutes after leaving my house together, we noticed a dozen or so people were already waiting.  As we wasted time chatting and being silly, more and more moviegoers arrived, waiting right behind us.

At one point, we talked about a certain employee of the theatre, a tough, blond woman who charged teens the full adult price for admission which was, if I’m remembering correctly, $7.50.  We all wanted to get in for the child’s fare:  $4.  If she was there and she asked us our age, I think we all agreed to say we were 13.  If she knew we were 14, we’d have to cough up the extra $3.50 a piece.  (In my case, it didn’t really matter.  I was covered either way.)

As the theatre prepared to open its doors, the nerdy, bespectacled manager suddenly got on the loudspeaker to inform those of us who were hoping to see the first showing of Back To The Future Part III that there was a little bitty problem.  The film hadn’t actually arrived yet.

We were dumbfounded.  You could hear the collective groaning of the already impatient crowd.  As the manager told everybody else they could go in and buy their tickets for any of the other 7 films playing that night, we had to keep waiting outside like pariahs.

Every few minutes or so, he would get back on the loudspeaker to announce that yes, the film was still not there yet.  He must have done this at least 3 or 4 times altogether.  It got annoying after a while.

7:15 p.m. came and went and still no word on the arrival of the film.  Then, the big announcement.  The print was finally there.  Unfortunately, there was now a new problem.  They were having problems setting it up in the projector.

By this point, my friends and I had been standing outside for nearly 2 hours.  Thank goodness we were young, it was a warm Spring evening, we had plenty to talk about and we were dying to see this movie.  Otherwise, we probably would’ve just gone home.

Just before 7:30, the manager made his final announcement.  They sorted out all the issues with the projector and they would now admit people into the theatre to see the movie.  Thanks to all this needless nonsense, the screening would finally take place sometime before 8 o’clock.  Thank goodness I ate supper before I left.

Upon entering the building, we all shuddered as we saw the blonde employee seated inside the ticket counter.  We knew what to do.  One by one, she asked us our age after we requested our tickets.  And one by one, we persuaded her we did not have to pay the full $7.50.  That hurdle cleared, we had our tickets ripped by a pimpled usher and we finally took our seats inside cinema eight.

Over the next 2 hours, I was riveted.  Little did I know, this night would change my life.

That summer, I would go on to see 24 additional films at two different multiplexes with and without friends.  (The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first film I ever saw alone.)  By the fall of 1990, as I prepared to enter Grade 10, I went into my first meeting of the school newspaper knowing what I would be writing from that point forward.  I was going to be “The Movie Critic”.

For the rest of my time in high school and my entire three years of college, I went to the cinema as often as I could, mostly alone because my friends did not want to see everything I wanted to see and writing a whole bunch of reviews for student publications in the process.  I was bummed at first by the constant rejection (I remember crying into my pillow over one particular incident) but then, I realized it was better to see them alone.  I wasn’t interrupted by farting, burping, incessant giggling, ear flicking, loud eating, annoying slurping and distracting whispers.  I could better concentrate on the film I was watching.  It was glorious.

Sometime in the mid-90s, however, I started to lose confidence and in subsequent years became more anxious and uncertain.  To this day, I don’t know where all these doubts were coming from but by 1997, it was no longer fun (nor affordable) going to the movies full-time, so I stopped.  I would occasionally go with my best friend on birthdays and other special occasions, off and on, for the next two decades (the last trip was last November), and while I always enjoying hanging with him, no matter what, because I enjoy his company it’s just not the same.  The confident, happy go lucky guy I was when I was a teen disappeared a long time ago.

In 2000, there was a slight theatregoing revival for me.  Despite now suffering from panic attacks and heart palpitations, I managed to see about a dozen or so first-run films before my local multiplex shut down for good in October 2001.  Thankfully, over time, my severe anxiety would be greatly reduced, the palps would cease and later screenings were far less stressful.

But in the last decade or so, it’s been way more fun watching films on DVD and videotape.  Honestly, how can it not be?  I now have access to closed captioning (I’ve become a lazy listener), I can pause, rewind and restart as much as I want (I do this way too often because of my insecurities and doubt), I have volume control and, when I get hungry, thirsty or have to piddle, I can take breaks.

At the theatre, there is no pausing, there is no rewinding and there are no restarts.  While sound effects, particularly for action pictures, can be excruciatingly ear-splitting, sometimes the dialogue is so quiet or so swiftly spoken you can barely hear it.  You only get one shot to catch it, so if you miss it, tough shit.  And if you have to put one in the bowl right this second, no projectionist is going to immediately stop the film so you can take care of business.

I remember going to see The Phantom Menace at my local multiplex with a bladder that never seemed to be empty.  After several pre-show tinkles (including the numerous ones I had at home before I left), during the actual movie I held out an hour before running like The Flash to make yet another ginormous yellow deposit.  Also not helping was Jar Jar Bings’ indecipherable patois.  Thanks to a much calmer screening on widescreen VHS with subtitles a few years later, although I still didn’t care for the film at least I understood what he was saying.  My bladder was thankfully more agreeable that day.  Far fewer tinkles.

It’s experiences like that one that now make me more irritatingly obsessive about having a full bladder during a movie.  (It’s why I try to drink as little as possible beforehand.  Not recommended, by the way.)  The longer the feature, the more concerned I am about being distracted about having to piss like a geyser.  It sounds silly, I know, but that’s my reality.  (I give letter grades to every film I see and sometimes write full reviews in this space.)  At least during a DVD screening at home, I can pause and pee as much as I like.  It drags out the running time of the film but at least I’m comfortable.

I feel for anyone today who loves movies like I do but chooses to go see them during their theatrical release.  The high ticket prices alone (over 10 dollars now, even during matinees) are enough to make you want to wait for the DVD every single time.  (Thank goodness my Costanza period gives me an excuse not to go on my own any more.)  My friend, a good and generous guy, often treats me the rare occasions we go to the cinema and while it’s always appreciated (like I said, we always have fun together), I miss the days when we just had pizza and played Xbox games on his giant home theatre screen.  With my 40th birthday just two weeks away, God knows I’ve been spoiled enough in my life.

On May 25, 1990, when I enjoyed seeing Back To The Future Part III for the first time at my local multiplex with him and an old schoolmate, I had no idea how life changing that experience would be.  I have always loved movies but four months after that screening, I started writing reviews for my school paper which made me love the good ones even more.  Despite a three-year break in the late 90s, I’m still writing them here today.

Part III hasn’t held up (I saw it on DVD last year and give it a marginal thumbs down with affection) but the first two Back To The Futures most certainly do (although I enjoyed the first one a lot more as a kid).  Throughout my life, of the approximately 2000 movies I’ve seen overall, about 1600 or so have been given letter grades.  (I hope to rescreen & grade the rest down the road.)  Many of them were seen in a theatre while the rest were viewed on videotape and DVD.

As I prepare to enter middle age (Jesus, I’m old), from this point forward, I’ll continue to get caught up with the history of cinema from the comfort of home.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 25, 2015
11:58 p.m.

Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 11:58 pm  Comments (1)  

Fearful Lens

I dreaded the days I would encounter your hate
You so rattled my senses I couldn’t think straight
You invaded my space and pushed me around
It was next to impossible to stand my ground

You made me feel resigned instead of empowered
It was never comfortable being a coward
You enjoyed stabbing my reputation with lies
Until the truth bled out and blinded your eyes

You took advantage of my physical limitations
You made me feel low with your withering imitations
In your heartless mind I was worthless scum
Thank goodness we all discovered you’re incredibly dumb

You used to be the epitome of all my fears
Until that day you wore plasticine on both your ears
You were making headphones that got seriously stuck
Everyone was laughing, you ignorant fuck

Remember that time you stole my hat
And threw it over a fence in seconds flat?
Or that time you stuffed snow in my brand new toque
I came down with such a fever I couldn’t help but puke

No matter how many times you were told to stop
You wouldn’t relent, you were like a crooked cop
I only survived with my dignity intact
When I changed schools as a matter of fact

The last time I saw you was in the checkout line
A moment of terror briefly crossed my mind
But you were oblivious to my presence there
And I wasn’t about to attract it with a frozen stare

Decades have passed since your tyrannical reign
I wonder how you function with such a tiny brain
I doubt you would ever offer to make amends
I no longer view you through a fearful lens

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, May 24, 2015
7:04 p.m.

Published in: on May 24, 2015 at 7:04 pm  Comments (1)  

A.F.

My big crush on you lasted a full seven years
When it ended I didn’t collapse into tears
You fell from the heavens right into my life
My ridiculous plan was to make you my wife

I was thin and short, goofy and weird
Accepting your rejection is what I always feared
So I never asked you directly for a single date
Mere contemplation would make me hesitate

I knew deep down I was wasting my time
An unworthy suitor for a human so sublime
I hoped to stand out from the admiring flock
Instead of just smiling when you chose to mock

I stupidly declared we were already one
You corrected the record by stating we were none
Your anger didn’t scare me, it gave me a thrill
Finally, a conversation and I couldn’t keep still

You told me to stop spreading this pitiful lie
We would only be together when pigs learn to fly
Your untouched beauty drowned out these cruel sounds
I danced with delusion for several more rounds

Up to a point, you were friendly and polite
You waved in my direction when I saw you out at night
But beyond this convention, I was expecting too much
Clinging to false hope became a childhood crutch

Then came the dumbest decision of all
Writing you a letter sometime in the fall
I emptied the contents of my vulnerable heart
But claimed intimidation and it all fell apart

We were rivals in class fighting for the top
I was usually second, you were the cream of the crop
You cleaned up the awards and I took a bath
Except that one time I claimed victory in math

No matter how hard I tried to pretend
There was no attraction and you would not bend
We had little in common and no reason to mingle
I lacked the physicality that would’ve made you tingle

To athletes and jocks, I could never compare
If only they were generous and had confidence to spare
I never felt whole, I never felt enough
Every single time, you saw right through my bluff

When I finally realized these feelings had died
I felt a strange resurgence of my long lost pride
There was no longer a need to seek your approval
If I pushed even harder, you would’ve ordered my removal

The last time I saw you I was thankfully invisible
Your bond with your son was clearly indivisible
I hope you found love, peace and joy
You were hot as fuck when I was a boy

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, May 24, 2015
4:07 p.m.

Published in: on May 24, 2015 at 4:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Lena Dunham & The Importance Of Childhood Boundaries

30 years ago, I attended a birthday party.  It was for my best friend at the time who was a classmate in primary school.  We were inseparable, often going to each other’s houses to enjoy each other’s company.  We laughed & fought often as young kids our age are bound to do.

She was turning either 8 or 9 at the time.  Of the dozen or so classmates who were invited to come celebrate with her and her lovely parents, I was the only boy.

After we scarfed down some delicious pizza at a local restaurant, we went back to her family home.  Before she opened her gifts in the living room, we all ran up the stairs to her tiny bedroom to kill time.  In the middle of incessant giggling & chattering, one of the girls (not my best friend) suddenly asked a provocative question:

“Anybody wanna see my vagina?”

The specific details about what happened next are difficult to perfectly recall.  All I remember is that someone turned out the lights & when they came back on, this girl wasn’t wearing any bottoms.  All the other girls screamed as we all stared.  It was very uncomfortable for me.  And it was about to be even more so.

After she proudly put her underwear and bottoms back on, every girl in that room then demanded I give them a peek, as well.  I could feel the collective intensity of their gazes.  I started to sweat.  I said no.  They insisted.  I still said no.  For the first time in my young life, I felt immense pressure to do something I did not want to do.

Knowing full well they would not stop pushing me, I made a compromise.  I would show them my penis briefly but only with the lights out.  They accepted.  In the dark, I reluctantly pulled down my pants, my long johns and my briefs.  (It was winter time.)  I will never forget the screams.  It was one of the most mortifying experiences of my entire life, let alone my childhood.

I was only exposed for a few seconds but it felt like years.  The humiliation was palpable.  Anyone could’ve read it on my face, even in the darkness of that confining space.  I felt so dirty and ashamed.

As I immediately pulled up my underwear (which somehow got twisted backwards), my long johns and corduroy jeans, I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the evening.  In fact, I don’t remember anything else that happened afterwards.  I don’t even know what I got my friend for her birthday.  (My Mom bought the gift.)

When I came home, my parents noticed how strangely I was acting.  Mom started asking questions.  I confessed the bare minimum.  She actually stifled a laugh.  She told Dad.  He laughed, too.  I was humiliated all over again.

Curiously, as the years progressed, I would start laughing as well.  I transformed a terribly traumatic event into a humourous anecdote (mainly by exaggerating the vagina flashing & completely downplaying my own emotional devastation).  Or so I thought until 20 years later when one woman I recounted the story to over the phone didn’t find it all that amusing.  In fact, she felt bad for me.  She was saddened by what I went through.

Her reaction jolted me.  How could she not find this funny?, I wondered.  But she really didn’t.  The way she talked about it made me feel like I was a victim.

All of these years later, I finally realized she was right.  The blinders are off and my denial has disappeared for good.  I didn’t “enthusiastically consent” to the idea of flashing my female classmates at that party.  I simply gave in to their relentless demands.  I submitted.  I compromised.  And I felt horrible the entire time.

So, why did I spend the next couple of decades reframing this painful story as something comedic?

Because it made it less painful.  Unfortunately, it also made it less honest, as well.  Stripped to its vulnerable core, this dark, personal trauma really wasn’t funny at all.

And it wasn’t a harmless experience, either.  It had lingering consequences.

In the years that followed, I barely dated.  How could I when I lacked true self-confidence.  At times, I was the walking definition of awkward and I wasn’t always respectful to girls, either.  (As a stupid, insecure teen, I remember grabbing or touching a couple of girls’ asses without their permission.  (They weren’t pleased.)  I haven’t done that since, thank goodness.)  Due to deep physical and mental inadequacies, I always felt less than all the other guys in my classes who were much bigger, even though I had friends, participated in a number of extracurricular activities and was a very good student.  It didn’t help matters that many of the girls I crushed on didn’t reciprocate my feelings.  Looking back, I can’t exactly blame them.  I didn’t have my shit together.

Already fearful of getting someone pregnant and/or catching some incurable STD (I’m allergic to penicillin), I didn’t end up losing my virginity until I was 29.  (My ex was the only woman I’ve ever been intimate with, as of this writing.)  I’ve always had body issues.  (I’m nearly 6 feet tall now but still only weigh about 125 pounds.  I should be 150 but with all my numerous food intolerances (and the fact that getting to that ideal weight would involve having Ryback’s appetite), I’m permanently underweight.)  Most painfully, because of what happened that cold winter night, for more than 20 years afterwards, I had always felt woefully inadequate down below.

I’ve been reflecting about all of this while following the latest Lena Dunham controversy.

The Girls creator recently put out a much anticipated collection of personal essays called Not Your Kind Of Girl.  In a recent National Review article (picked up by a conservative blog), there are passages in the book where Dunham reveals that at age 7 she touched her baby sister’s vagina when she was 1 & when they were a little older she tried to bribe her with candy so she could kiss her.

All of this has led to heated debates online & in the press between her growing detractors and stubborn supporters.  I wish those conversations focused on one key point here:  the willful, unrepentant violation of another child’s personal boundaries.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened here.  Dunham openly calls herself an “unreliable narrator” which isn’t exactly helpful.  What bothers me about what she did write is not only her creepy interactions with her younger sister but also the lack of contrition she feels today for being completely inappropriate with her when they were kids.  Like all those years I tried to make a painful childhood memory amusing to myself and others, the lighthearted tone she uses to recount these stories feels like a major disconnect from the truth.  Dunham portrays all of this as weird but innocently goofy curiosity but that’s not how it comes off to the reader, at least not to me.  Whatever her intentions, she had no right to bother her sister in the manner that she did.  Children being curious about each other’s bodies & touching them without their permission are not the same thing.  Surely, she wasn’t too young to know the difference then and she’s old enough to know better now.

At first, when the revelation of all this caught fire on social media (it was curiously not mentioned in the media prior to the National Review posting), she lashed out rather defensively in what she deemed a “rage spiral”.

Days after calming down, however, she offered this public statement to Time.  Did she apologize for violating her baby sister’s boundaries?  No.  Did she express even a sliver of regret for what she did?  No.  “…I want to be very clear that I do not condone any kind of abuse under any circumstances,” she said.  Her own misconduct not included.

Instead, she apologized for “the comic use of the term ‘child predator'” which she belatedly acknowledged was “insensitive”.  And she said “sorry…[I]f the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read…that was never my intention.”

Unbeknownst to me until recently, Dunham is a divisive figure in the feminist movement.  (The “child predator” remark wasn’t the first time she’s been accused of being “insensitive”.)  And perhaps, it’s no surprise that a number of prominent, mostly white feminists are defending her recent controversy.  (As they are so fond of saying to everybody else, “Check your privilege, ladies.”)  A certain Cosmo writer lamely dismissed it on Twitter as the result of  “Lena Derangement Syndrome” caused by “the right wing”.  Tell that to numerous minority feminists (along with a number of dissenting white ones) who are rightly angry about these revelations, as well.

As much as Dunham’s die hard sisters-in-arms want to downplay, misrepresent or outright ignore what she wrote and did, there’s no escaping two basic truths.  When she was a child, she touched her baby sister’s private parts without her permission and when she was older she tried to coerce her into being kissed by offering her candy.  Today, it’s comic fodder for a book.  How is any of that defensible?

A year or so before I was victimized at my then-best friend’s birthday party, I was in a school bathroom when a classmate, a weird boy in glasses who was always crying about something and constantly getting into trouble, suddenly groped me.  He grabbed my genitals over my cords.  It was simultaneously painful & peculiar.  I remember looking at him with a puzzled look on my face.  I can’t recall now if I shoved him off or if he let go voluntarily.  But once he did let go of his firm grip, that was it.  He left and it never happened again.  In fact, he would eventually leave the school we attended altogether.  I was 7.  He may have been a year older, I’m not sure now.

Again, this isn’t about mere childhood curiosity.  It’s about disrespecting someone else’s physical autonomy.  The young Lena Dunham didn’t care what her sister thought when she decided to do these creepy things.  She just went ahead and did them anyway.  And judging by what she wrote & how she’s reacted to the criticism, she still doesn’t care.  It’s all just fodder for punchlines in a book.  Hilarious.

But what exactly is funny about her stories or mine, for that matter?  Absolutely nothing.

In fact, they’re quite distressing.  If Dunham had written these stories with the intent of cleansing her conscience or even just to express regret for her actions, no reasonable person would have had a problem with that, including me.  Honestly, it would’ve been great if she had done that.  But her agenda was getting laughs, not making peace with childhood mistakes.

21 years after my humiliation at my friend’s birthday party, I was in the park with my then-girlfriend.  It was our first date.  There was a definite, unmistakable attraction.  After having many sexually charged conversations with her online and on the phone for months off and on, it was time for us to embrace the heat.  After some inevitable awkwardness (I was a little antsy and she wasn’t quite ready for that), we moved from a picnic table to a spot beside a giant tree.  In the midst of what turned out to be my very first French kiss (she had to teach me how to do it), she showed me one of her breasts (I think it was the one with the nipple piercing).  Hot.  I returned the favour by voluntarily unzipping my jeans, then pulling them & my underwear down slightly.

She didn’t scream.  She didn’t laugh.  Instead, she looked very pleased.  (I imagined her thinking, “I can work with this.”)  The resuming makeout session got a lot more exciting after that.

For the first time ever, I didn’t feel inadequate or ashamed.  I felt attractive and wanted.  Eight days later at her place, she deflowered me.  It was glorious.  (Too bad the relationship didn’t work out.  After many more conversations & 3 more dates, we broke up two months later.  Despite more online entanglements with several other women, I’ve not had any other real-life physical encounters since.)

I’m not that terrified 9-year-old child any more (although I am, by no means, 100% confident and secure as a man approaching 40) and now I’m far more respectful of people’s personal spaces, especially when it comes to women.  Now that she’s an adult like me, here’s hoping Lena Dunham has finally learned to respect the boundaries of others, as well.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, November 6, 2014
12:56 a.m.

Published in: on November 6, 2014 at 12:56 am  Comments (1)  

What I’ve Been Up To Lately

I know what you’re thinking.  Where the hell have I been these last couple of weeks?  Let me explain.

Back in May, I returned to a personal project I’d been dying to finish for years:  cleaning up the family attic.  Because of so many extremely humid days and its absolutely deplorable condition I had to pace myself.  I quickly learned that it just wasn’t possible to work up there on a daily basis.  Too hot (stinging sweat routinely dripped into my eyes) and too gross (hello endless rat turds!).  So I went up there every so often (when I could stand it) while doing other things.

At some point, I came up with the bright idea of bringing some of this long forgotten junk down to my room which was a bit cooler to operate in.  That way, I wouldn’t feel so rushed cataloguing and trashing in a brutal environment.  (The less time I spent in the attic, the better.)  In the end, most of the rest of the boxes of clutter were thankfully dealt with down here rather than up there.

Unfortunately, the always entertaining Summer Olympics slowed me down and I lost a couple of weeks.  The continually humid weather ate up even more precious time.  But when things calmed down, I more than made up for it.  In fact, I’m happy to report that after four months of on-again, off-again working, the attic clean-up is now complete, well, the first phase, anyway. 

Over 700 items have been catalogued while at least 20 bags of trash have been taken away by the city (and several more placed in sidewalk bins on the street).  Truth be told, I probably could’ve gotten rid of even more stuff but that’s where the second phase comes in.  Since most of this crap belongs to my parents, it’s up to them what they want to do about all of this now that we all know what’s still up there.  God knows I won’t miss any of it.

While I was able to find time to write in the midst of this earlier on in the process, it’s been a bit more difficult lately.  It also hasn’t helped that I screened several terrible horror movies not at all worthy of a print review.  (Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, Shark Night, The Roommate, Hostel and especially the overrated remake of Piranha.  Every one of them is awful.)

Anyway, now that I’m not so distracted, it will hopefully be a lot easier to put together some new items for this website soon.  In the meantime, let me direct your attention to the right side of my home page.  In case you haven’t noticed, some long overdue changes have been made with regards to links.

Originally, I had a blogroll with about ten different sites listed.  Considering the fact that only a few were actually blogs it was a stupid title to use.  Unintentionally false advertising on my part.  Which is why I’ve renamed the list, Worthwhile Websites.  Much better.  Anyway, a few links have been dropped to make way for some newer entries I hope you will check out. 

I’m a big supporter of Glenn Greenwald who recently moved from Salon to The Guardian, the well-regarded British daily.  He continues to do typically stellar work being one of the few professional American writers more than willing to viscerally criticize both Republicans and Democrats when warranted.  I’ve linked to both his Guardian columns (as well as the paper’s homepage) and his archived Salon blog.  Those who wonder why I’m so critical of President Obama need only sample his work.  It’s a big influence on my political poetry.

I’ve also added another link section called Blogger Pals which features both active and inactive sites run by writers I’ve been friendly online with (and either commented on or submitted entries to) over the years.  Considering how much they’ve supported me both publicly and privately since this website’s beginnings, linking to them is the easiest way to say thanks.  And yes, I do at least check the active ones from time to time.  You should, too.

Finally, I’ve decided to include links to all my CD and film reviews on MonkeyBiz.ca.  I’ve been a volunteer contributor for three years and am very proud of all the work I’ve done for them.  It’s a challenge condensing your opinions to just a few hundred words per review.  Your natural impulse is to be as thorough as possible.  (Or longwinded, for that matter.)  So, when you are able to sum up your feelings much more succinctly than usual it’s a personal triumph.  At any rate, you can find all of these critiques linked under MonkeyBiz Reviews (it’s right under the Blogger Pals section).

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately.  By the way, I hope to offer new pieces very soon.  In the meantime, feel free to peruse any of my archived writings.  There’s more than 650 to choose from.  Looking for something in particular?  Don’t forget to use my search engine.  And if you don’t want to miss out on any of my latest works you can become a follower.

Remember, you can always drop me a line at the email address at the top of this page or simply leave a comment on any of the entries.  That’s all for now.  I hope to be back with new stuff very soon.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 21, 2012
3:17 a.m.

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 3:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Breaking The Extended Silence

How do you express frustration without sounding unappreciative for all the good things in your life?  How do you convey disappointment without letting it swallow you whole?  Quite simply, how do you just put out there what’s really bothering you?

For the past three weeks, this website has been silent.  There have been no new entries of any kind since May 5th (not counting an update to The Very Foolish Sarah Tressler on May 11th).  One problem has been my mood.  It’s been quite sour at times over the past month.  (I have this uncanny ability to allow negativity to dominate my thinking.  It’s a very difficult trait to let go of.)

Here’s the deal.  I’m a 36-year-old man with no job, no girlfriend and no place of my own.  I still live with my parents, my maternal grandmother and her cat.  I’ve often joked about this current situation being my Costanza period as a way of coping.  But truthfully, I’ve never been happy about any of this.

This wasn’t how I envisioned my life when I was much younger.  I was supposed to have a special someone, a great career as a creative person and an independent life.  None of that has happened.  Part of that is my fault for giving up too much too easily when I get discouraged but the rest of the time, I’m not really given a fair shake.  With my 37th birthday coming up in the next little while, it’s impossible to deny this reality any longer.  Something has to change.  I want to be a happier person.

Although my mood has thankfully improved recently (mostly because of the warmer weather and a lot of sympathetic music), I’ve not been terribly inspired to write, another problem I’ve been experiencing of late.  It’s funny.  You can assemble several decent pieces in a row over a considerable amount of time without any fear of losing momentum and then, just as suddenly, your creativity goes on vacation and loses all contact with you.  Regular readers will find this refrain quite familiar.

One somewhat welcome distraction from all of this has been the family attic.  When we moved into our current residence almost 30 years ago, a whole bunch of boxes crammed with assorted possessions went right up there where they quickly became forgotten (with the exception of Christmas decorations which, for many years, came down for the holiday season then were put back up in the new year).  As I grew up, even more junk was relocated to the highest floor in the house.  Nothing up there ever seemed destined to be thrown away.  The pile of crap just kept growing.

In 2004, the nephew of my then-living chiropractor (she died in 2009), who had been recommended to us for the purpose of transforming my mom’s old dance studio into an apartment for my grandmother in 1997 and had worked on numerous home improvement projects since then, talked my dad into “finishing” the attic.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be a terrible idea.

The one-room floor, which was never properly renovated when we settled here in 1984, was artificially transformed into two incomplete spaces.  With my regrettable assistance, the handyman had drywalled one-half of the room (making it feel much smaller) and created a cubbyhole which stored all our crap.  A make-shift door was made out of a sawed off piece of drywall.  Only a screw placed in a hole on the front in the top middle keeps it in place.

Once the door is removed and put to the side, unless you’re Peter Dinklage you have to crouch through the unlit area (there was supposed to be a light fixture installed) using a flashlight in order to keep track of your surroundings.  The confining space is not terribly easy to traverse through.  There are wooden floor beams you have to watch out for or you’ll trip.

Needless to say, my parents were not thrilled with the handyman’s work.  After my mom got into a heated argument with him one uncomfortable summer afternoon over what he was charging us for a deeply flawed project (more than 20 dollars an hour, if my memory is good), he was promptly fired.  He’s not been back since.

About a month or so later, I took it upon myself to begin the thankless task of going through our voluminous attic possessions in order to find suitable material for my former church’s rummage sale in early October 2004.  (I’ve been an atheist since 1996.  Mom still goes.)  I would estimate between 45 and 50 boxes of stuff existed up there at that time.  Over the next three summers, even more items would be removed reducing the overall total considerably.  (Despite initially being upset at me for doing this, my mom eventually got on board.)

A few years ago, the attic became a second home for mice.  You could often hear them carrying on through the walls in numerous rooms in the house, particularly at night.  Ultimately, my dad started buying these little bags of poison that come in a cereal-sized box.  You open up the bags, lay them strategically on the floor where the mice tend to congregate and they’re supposed to mistake them for food.  (The poison is concealed in these little, colourful pellets.)

Because of this annoying development, I stayed as far away from the attic as you can imagine.  But on May 13 this year, the sabbatical ended.  Instead of wanting a purchased gift, my mom wanted me to perform a good deed for her on Mother’s Day.  She asked me to clear everything out of the cubbyhole and bring down all those dead electronics we’d been needlessly hanging on to so they can be eventually taken away by a company that specializes in removing such materials.  (That day can’t come soon enough.)

It was a particularly warm afternoon to be spending any amount of time in the attic of an old home.  Based on past experiences, I was used to that (except sweat dripping into my eye which happened on a follow-up trip).

What I wasn’t anticipating was all that mouse shit.  It was everywhere.  On the main room carpet, in some of the boxes, near a pipe (where my dad had literally seen a few rodents shoot down years earlier) and most especially on the floor of the cubbyhole.  I should’ve worn a mask.

Thankfully, there were no critters to keep an eye on me.  However, there were disintegrated remnants of them in parts of that main room.  The poison worked.

It was overwhelming and disgusting but I had a job to do and by God (how’s that for irony?), I did the best I could under the deeply disturbing circumstances.  (I was also a bit tired from not having a great night’s sleep.)  With the exception of scattered bits of wood, a bag of insulation, some shingles, three boxes of additional wood and another box filled with sawdust and other garbage, all of our possessions were safely placed in the main room.  (The flimsy boxes were too heavy to move and I didn’t know where to place the scattered bits.)  And quite a number of dead electronics found their way to the front porch.

Ever since then, I’ve made two additional journeys upstairs where I’ve discovered more useless equipment (like a very long ghettoblaster covered in old paint drips and drywall crumbs) and have managed to fill and remove at least two full bags of trash.  (Not a pleasant job, by any means.  Sadly, only some of the rat shit was removed.)  But there’s still between 15 and 20 boxes of stuff (among other unboxed items) left to peruse and assess.  (May 30 UPDATE:  After clearing out three more bags of garbage this afternoon, I specifically counted a little more than 30 boxes.  Ugh.)  More than ever, I’m determined to finish the job I started eight years ago.  It will not be easy.

As helpful as this on-again, off-again process has been for me personally (a massive clean-up job really can improve your focus and temperament), it’s also been a complete pain in the ass.  I shouldn’t have to be the one to do this at this point in my life (not that I’m not appreciative of having something to do while my life is on hold).  I shouldn’t be dealing with useless junk that no one else wants to deal with, much of which isn’t mine.  (And this is only one room we’re talking about.)  But because I’m not getting paid for my writing, I’m not dating and I’m still at home, at least I have some useful purpose.  But I’m growing tired of not progressing beyond this stage of my life.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.  The attic clean-up will most likely continue when this stream of hot weather passes us by in a couple of days.  Because it’s much more bearable on cooler afternoons, this process will probably drag on and off for the next several months until the next church rummage sale in September.  (I’m hoping it doesn’t take nearly that long.)  As long as I have a clear objective of how to proceed, the most disgusting room in the house will gradually become slightly more inhabitable and fewer boxes of junk will live up there.

But beyond that, all my other problems remain.  How does a late-blooming, shy person still living at home resurrect a long dormant love life?  How does a blogger expand a readership to the point of attracting the publishing and broadcasting industries’ attention?  And how does a mama’s boy finally grow up to become a man?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 28, 2012
1:01 a.m.

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 1:01 am  Comments (1)  

Elaine Loring’s Public Battle With Breast Cancer

It was March 28th when I got the news.  My friend of four years is battling breast cancer.  She got the official diagnosis almost three weeks earlier, a dreaded revelation if ever there was one.  It was a hard message to read.

It was April 23rd, 2007, when I first heard from her.  She sent me a very nice email complimenting my website.  She also had a request.  Did I know Bill Brioux’s new email address?  The one she had was defunct.  (She found my site through a Google search and The Toronto Sun Family Blog which had kindly noted some of my pieces.)

Little did I know at the time, they’re old friends.  I passed her request on to The Canadian Press TV Critic and he gave her what she was looking for.  I wrote her a reply thanking her and much to my surprise, she wrote me back.  We’ve been exchanging messages here and there ever since.  Thoroughness is a common trait we share.

All this time I’ve learned what many others have known for a long time:   Elaine Loring is one cool lady.  Lovely, smart, funny, sweet, gracious, compassionate and endlessly energetic.  To have her in your corner means you matter. 

Now it’s time to return the favour.  Shellshocked by her surprising diagnosis, Elaine had been going back and forth on the idea of putting together a blog that would publicly document her battle with her disease, warts and all.  She asked friends and family what they thought.  Most, like myself, felt it was a great idea. 

When she turned to old pal Bruce Kirschbaum for advice, however, he convinced her once and for all to go for it.   The Emmy-winning writer noted that while her struggle with cancer would be the initial focus, her site “could be a platform to go into very wide-ranging terrain”.  Personally, I can’t get enough of her stories about being a Global TV reporter and would love to read more of that stuff.  Anything involving her late colleague Bob MacAdorey would be gold, too.  (Check out this 1996 interview she conducted with her longtime celebrity crush, Bobby Sherman, here.)

After only privately informing family and a few friends of her condition, Elaine finally went public on her Facebook page yesterday.  Lain’s Log, inspired by James T. Kirk’s Captain’s Log (she’s a longtime Shatner fan but curiously isn’t a Trekker), covers the entire history thus far of her cancer from that fateful February morning when she felt a lump in her right breast to all the testing for it through the shocking diagnosis and the overwhelming emotions of fear, anger and sadness resulting from this life-changing experience.

Others going through the same medical crisis will find much to relate to here like the torturous waiting of results, the second guessing of lifestyle choices possibly contributing to her condition, the sense of uncertainty and anguish as well as the ground swell of support from friends and family.  And even for those of us who don’t know what it’s like to feel so mortal in situations like this, the journal-style entries give you a strong sense of being in the room with Elaine as she deals with doctors and nurses and receptionists, all the while trying to make sense of an unfair dilemma.

Although this is very personal stuff, Elaine is very much in reportorial mode here as she describes in vivid detail the process of combating this horrible disease.  Her story on her MRI is particularly fascinating.

To fully appreciate Lain’s Log, you need go right to the beginning.  Click on the February 2011 archives, scroll down and work your way up.  The background on her cancer journey is equally important to the journey itself.

And if that’s not enough to keep you interested, the former Sunshine Girl has posted some awesome bikini shots, as well.  “Hey now!” as Hank Kingsley would say.

With the results of her MRI pending, all of her supporters will be eager to know what’s next for her recovery.  Based on what she’s written so far, she’s in great hands and because detection came early, her prospects for remission are hopefully very strong. 

In the meantime, check out Lain’s Log and offer her some support. 

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
3:27 a.m.

A Tribute To The Departing Windows Live Spaces

Tomorrow, it’s all over.  What began in 2004 comes to a surprising end in 2011.

What am I talking about?  The end of Windows Live Spaces.

Late last September, Spaces users signed into their sites and found an interesting message.  Microsoft was planning to shut them all down.

That was the bad news.  As it turns out, there was good news, as well.  Spaces users had nearly six months to decide if they wanted to continue sharing cute pictures of their kitties and blog about their daily lives to the global village.  How was this possible?  By joining WordPress.

In early October, when I learned of Microsoft’s plan, I rejoiced.  I was coming out of a dismal period of inactivity and needed something, anything to reignite the spark I initially felt for blogging way back in 2006.  A move to a new location was all I needed to get back on track.

So, after announcing on Windows Live that The Writings Of Dennis Earl was leaving, I began the rather easy process of transferring four and a half years of content and feedback to the new place.  I’m very happy I did.  Despite experiencing some frustration during a period where I was cleaning up a good number of old pieces, it’s been smooth sailing.  Looking back, had I known about WordPress when I was investigating blogging services five years ago, I’d like to think this would’ve been my first choice.

Spacers had until the first week of 2011 to add new content to their existing sites.  After that, their sites would essentially be online museum exhibits, untouchable shrines that could never be updated. 

And now comes the final phase of Microsoft’s plan:  the shutdown.  Anybody who still has an area of their own on Windows Live has until tomorrow to make a decision.  Make the move to WordPress or kiss your website good-bye.

If you don’t want to continue blogging but don’t want to lose your stuff, do what I did.  Download your Windows Live Space.  Word of caution, however:  your lists, guestbook and photo albums aren’t part of the deal.  Just your blog entries and comments.  So if you want to keep that other stuff, cut and paste into a processor and save to disc before making a final decision on your site.

Even though I had occasional problems with Windows Live (the weird, thankfully brief incident where my content turned invisible, the period when my site was freezing, and the disappointment over revenue streams that didn’t produce a cent), I will be always be thankful for being on there as long as I was.  Whenever I addressed an issue directly to Microsoft, someone from their Support Team would always get back to me and with one exception, solved my dilemmas which was always appreciated. 

When I commemorated the third anniversary of The Writings Of Dennis Earl, I got a nice congratulatory comment from one of their staffers.  I was never asked to censor myself nor did I arouse any anger in the company when I was critical.  (I doubt I was even on their radar, come to think of it.)  Despite its flaws, Windows Live Spaces was a great place to express oneself through writing.  I enjoyed tremendous freedom (much like I do now on WordPress) and I never felt pressured to be something I’m not.

When the whole program began in December 2004, it was originally known as MSN Spaces and it replaced the standard Hotmail/MSN Messenger profile.  Almost two years later, it was renamed Windows Live Spaces as part of a rebranding campaign incorporating other similiarly named services.

And now, it’s on the verge of death.

On the eve of its demise, one can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic for the program.  So much good came from my four and a half years on Windows Live.  Old friendships renewed and new ones established through the discovery of the site, opportunities to write for other outlets, a surprising sense of importance upon learning that professional journalists were reading certain pieces and a regular outlet to voice anything I felt like sharing.

An ex-girlfriend played a major role in inspiring my decision to blog in the first place.  But it was my choice alone in selecting Windows Live Spaces as the intial home for The Writings Of Dennis Earl.  I have no regrets about that.

So, thank you, Microsoft, for creating this service in the first place.  My life would be so different today if it never existed.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
10:58 p.m.

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm  Comments (1)  

The Fifth Anniversary

So, how did it all begin?  How did a 30-year-old stay-at-home son with no job and no woman suddenly decide to blog? 

It was February 2006.  My Mom was concerned that I wasn’t moving forward in my life.  There were no prospects for employment nor romance.  With one exception, I had lost touch with all of my friends.  I was a master in the art of hibernation.

That had to change.  As I was thinking about what to do to make that happen, I remembered my ex.  We had met through Yahoo Messenger of all things in the fall of 2004.  We talked online and on the phone for three weeks and then we stopped.  There was another guy in the picture.

Despite being incredibly angry, I held out hope that we would somehow still meet off-line.  I obsessively checked her MSN Profile page every day for three months.  (I couldn’t look at her Yahoo page at all.  Too upsetting.)  Surely, she would indicate on there when she was single again. 

And then it happened.  March 14, 2005.  No more mention of him.  For the first time since December 2004, I examined her Yahoo page, the place where I first learned about this other guy.  All references to him were mysteriously erased.  Hmm.  Was it truly over between them?

On Yahoo, she had four links.  One led to her blog.  Poring over every entry, the evidence was overwhelming.  I could get her back.

Three decisions were made.  I would forgive her for what happened.  I would add her to MSN Messenger and reconnect with her.  And I would try to convince her to meet with me in person.

But there was a problem and I’m sad to say, it involved the Police Academy franchise.

Sometime in early 2005, the public library had put all 7 of those movies on order.  I reserved my copy of each and by late February/early March, they started arriving at my local branch.

Unfortunately, by the time I went to pick them up, only 6 of them were available for borrowing.  The third chapter, Back In Training, was conspiciously absent.  A little upset that I wouldn’t be able to do them in order, I did something incredibly brave.  After screening the first two titles in the series, I skipped ahead to Citizens On Patrol (number four) and worked my way through to Mission To Moscow (which, contrary to popular belief, did get a theatrical release).

The same day I learned that my ex had broken up with him, Police Academy 3: Back In Training finally arrived at the library.  Despite the indisputable fact that this is the worst comedy franchise in cinematic history (you can count all the laughs on one hand), I wanted to see that last title. 

Feeling quite strongly that my ex would somehow be a distraction to this private, solitary film screening, one last decision was made.  Yes, I would talk to her again.  Yes, I would forgive her for not telling me about him and yes, I would explain why I wanted to meet her in person.  But if I didn’t watch Back In Training first, I would never get another chance.

Besides, I needed another day to sort out my feelings. 

Like all the others, Police Academy 3 was horrid, a stinking turd of a sequel.  No laughs, no joy, no brains, no point.  Seeing it after Mission To Moscow instead of following Their First Assignment made no difference at all, much to my relief.  And my feelings about my ex hadn’t changed.

We reconnected on March 15.  At some point, she tried to convince me to join her on Xanga.com.  However, her little slice of the web was quite personal.  She enjoyed writing about her daily life and felt it would be a good idea for me to do the same. 

Out of the question.  I had no interest in baring my soul in quite the same manner that she had been doing for months.  I didn’t feel comfortable making this lovely development in my private life public.  (On the other hand, I had no problem with her writing about me.  I found it flattering.)  Nothing she said would change my mind.

Long story short, after nearly two months of online chats and phone calls, we finally met.  There was a strong physical chemistry between us, much to my relief, and she became my first lover in May 2005.  We got together four times and always had fun.

Sadly, she never did get over him.  The day after Canada Day, I was left with little option.  When asked to choose who she preferred to be with, she refused to pick.  It was over.  Because she didn’t want to deal with this in person, I had to end it over the phone.  We haven’t spoken since.

Six months later, I remembered that chat session we had about her blog and her request for me to join her on Xanga to blab about our relationship.  Dismissing the idea of posting such personal material in such a public manner, I nonetheless reconsidered the overall blogging concept.

I asked myself a question:  What if I had a website that resembled a series of newspaper columns?  The concept was appealing.  There would only be one writer, one critic, one poet, one reporter, and most importantly, one editor.  I would answer only to me.  The possibilities were seemingly limitless.

It was an exciting idea and soon, the search was on for a suitable place to pursue it.  Not knowing at the time that there quite a few options open to me, I only looked at two sites (Xanga was never a serious contender). 

Myspace.com wasn’t writer-friendly, so I quickly dismissed it.  Then, I checked out MSN Spaces.  There was a bit more flexibility in terms of the layout and it was glaringly obvious that it was a blog-centric service.  Whatever I wrote would get a nice showcase right on the home page.  You wouldn’t have to click a link to read my latest thoughts right away.

Despite being a wee bit squeamish about going through with this, I decided to take a chance anyway and see what would happen.  (If it wasn’t clicking, I could easily cut my losses and delete everything.  No harm done.)  But first, I needed a name.

I’d like to say I went through hundreds of suggestions agonizing over each one before settling on a winner.  But the truth is far more mundane.  The Writings Of Dennis Earl was the first and only title that popped into my head.  I liked the sound of it, the simplicity, the honesty and that’s what I chose.

With a URL selected and a brown film theme downloaded, it was time to start writing.

And so, on February 19, 2006, exactly five years ago today, I announced my intentions and began posting like a madman.  Almost 500 pieces later, here we are in a new location in a much calmer state of mind.  Over the years, this website has followed the decline of Sun Media, assessed the merits of various films, TV shows, and albums, offered original poetry, and yes, even stories about my personal life.  (My ex got her way after all.)  I’ve made predictions about sporting events, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies and the Academy Awards.  I’ve reached out to beautiful women recently single and bemoaned others becoming unavailable to me.  There have been political rants, entertainment history pieces and memories of being a wrestling fan.  All in all, an eclectic batch of material.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And to think, none of this would’ve been possible were it not for a beautiful young woman who changed my life in more ways than one.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 19, 2011
6:11 p.m.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment