Category ArchiveFamily life
Family life 21 Nov 2013 10:16 pm
Tilt head up. Tilt head down. Repeat for the rest of your natural life.
These aren’t the directions that came with my new glasses, but they should. For the first time, I am wearing progressive lenses, which is the nice way of saying “bifocals” for those who are sensitive to such things.
It’s not like I haven’t seen it coming. (Of course, if I’d seen it coming, I wouldn’t need glasses.) A few years back my eye doctor told me that bifocals progressive lenses were a distinct possibility, but his workaround (likely in response to my look of abject horror) was to have me wear a disposable contact in my right eye and none in my left.
This cyclopean solution would have worked well enough if the lens stayed in my eye. Instead, it popped out at the most inopportune moments, including once when I was zipping up at the urinal. I chalked that one up to experience.
More often, I would look down just in time to spot a lens parachuting onto my desk or my arm, where it proceeded to shrivel up like a vampire in the sun or a Republican in a soup kitchen.
After a few months of this, I just gave up on contact lenses — and glasses, too, for that matter. Instead, I just walked around squinting, fancying myself a modern age Popeye the Sailor. Eventually, though, every seaman has to come into port, where his landlubbing optometrist awaits.
The plus side of bifocals progressive lenses is that I can now actually see students in the back of the room. Prior to this, they were just animated lumps in hoodies and T-shirts whose features I could make out only when I squinted, which happened only when boredom overtook them and their heads collapsed with audible thumps upon their desks. (This happens more often than you might imagine.)
The negative side is that when I wear the glasses to read or work on the computer, I must restrict my vision to the lower third of the lenses in order for letters to appear sharply in focus. Otherwise, everything looks like somebody has smeared Vaseline on the lenses. (This happens, again, more often than you might imagine.)
Hence, the constant tilting of my head up and down, until my forehead is almost parallel with the ceiling and my wife asks me if I am performing some type of transcendental meditation while I read. Sometimes, I will fool her by intoning “Ohm! Ohm!” over and over until she tiptoes away.
They tell me — they being the first 100 people in the phone book — that after a while the dizziness and disorientation from the bifocals progressive lenses will disappear, that wearing them will become as natural as riding a bike.
A couple things about that analogy bothers me. One is that it took me a ridiculous amount of time to learn to ride a bike. Long after my friends were pedaling happily down the street, I was still clutching the handlebars in a death grip and ricocheting off trees and fence posts. (My parents didn’t trust me to learn on the road, so I smashed into objects in the backyard instead.)
Secondly, I don’t sit on a bike every waking second of every day, but I should wear my new glasses with that frequency. If I follow the learning-to-ride analogy, I’ll park my glasses in the garage for months at a time and return to them only when I’m truly desperate.
Which is kind of what I’m doing, anyway. (Minus the parking in the garage.) I’m not wearing my new bifocals progressive lenses as I type these words; they’ve been in their case since last night, when I last drove. I might wear them again a little bit tomorrow, as I’ve grown accustomed to seeing some of the students in the back row. (They’re actually pretty nice.)
But I need to progress slowly to all-day, everyday status. All this up, down, up, down stuff is literally a pain in the neck.
cschillig on Twitter
Halloween is one holiday where my traditions aren’t firmly established.
For previous Beggars’ Nights, I’ve decorated the house with pumpkins and with abandon, but not this year. The spirits are willing, but the flesh is weak. Or lazy, to be more exact.
Nor will I be hiding beneath a pile of leaves in the front yard, waiting to scare the bejesus out of passing princesses or cowboys. The last time I seriously contemplated this was the same year I herniated a disc in my neck, putting a literal crimp in my plans.
Since then, I’ve erred on the side of caution and left the scares to younger folks, like a family in the neighborhood who erected a mock graveyard, complete with a seated figure of Death that gave me a good jolt one dark morning when I saw it from the corner of my eye.
On Halloweens past, I’ve run marathons of classic Universal Studios horror movies (”Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Bride of Frankenstein” and their ilk). Sadly, the monsters have to stay in cold storage this season, brought low by my poor time management.
The best I’ve done this year is a collection of “scary snippets,” excerpts from classic fright films that I show to my Advanced Placement class. They then analyze, in writing, the elements that make each clip effective. (Yeah, I know, an English teacher can drain fun from an assignment quicker than a vampire drains blood.)
Most years, my wife and I hand out candy on Halloween. But sometimes, like this year, our schedules won’t permit it.
When that’s happened in the past, I’ve put a bowl of candy on the front porch under the watchful gaze of a life-sized Creature from the Black Lagoon cardboard cutout, along with a sign that reads, “Honor System: Take One Piece.”
Like Montresor, the mad narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado,” I know enough about human nature to realize that a handful of hungry ghouls gets the biggest portion of the Schillig loot.
Montresor needs an empty house to commit murder, so he orders his servants not to leave the premises while he’s gone on business. It is an edict sufficient, he knows, “to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as (his) back was turned.”
My motives haven’t been as sinister, but the results are likely similar: People doing the exact opposite of what they’re asked.
This year, though, my wife is absconding with the candy for a kids’ party elsewhere, so the Creature will stay in the attic and no porch light will blaze. I guess I’ve become the Halloween grinch.
One tradition, however, is immutable: my annual reading of “The Hallo-Wiener” by Dav — no “e” — Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series.
The story of Oscar, a wiener dog whose mom dresses him as a frankfurter for Halloween, eliciting howls of laughter from his canine pals, was a perpetual hit with my daughter when she was younger, so much so that we kept reading it together long after we’d both memorized all the words and long after most dads stop reading to their kids.
A few years ago, I recorded myself narrating it and mailed a CD and a copy of the book to her at college. Now that she’s in grad school and just as busy as her old man — cue “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin — we often enjoy the book asynchronously. This is a fancy word thrown around online education circles that means “not at the same time.”
This year, though, maybe I’ll surprise her by phone, and we can enjoy Oscar’s travails simultaneously, through the magic of Ma Bell. Or Ma iPhone.
Because any book that features lines like “Farewell, my little Vienna sausage!” and “Help! We’re being attacked by a giant frankfurter!” is too good to be left on the shelf.
Happy Halloween. May all your frights be pleasant ones.
What is the secret of a successful marriage?
If you said whiskey and a bullet to bite down on, go to the back of the line. You’ll soon be joined by weepy-eyed men who answered “man cave,” “separate houses” and “dead mothers-in-law.”
Stephen King had a character in one of his books say that silence is the secret. The idea of talking about problems — advocated by folks like Dr. Phil, who deals with dueling partners in one-hour increments before sending them back home with a copy of his latest self-help book with which to strike each other over the head — usually leads to one or both parties saying the wrong thing, which risks further aggravation and estrangement. “Estrangement,” as defined by Merriam-Webster’s, is “the state or condition of sleeping on the couch or in garage for two or more nights simultaneously.”
If you keep quiet, you’ll never say the wrong thing, except in those situations where silence is exactly the wrong thing to say. (If you don’t understand that last line, you’ve never been married.)
I’ve found that compromise — defined by some cynics as a situation where both parties lose — is the best state of affairs for matrimonial bliss. My wife agrees, as long as she always wins the compromise.
We compromise a lot, especially when it comes to movie selection. In the past, we’ve had an agreement where she picks movies on any day of the week that ends with “y.” This is because on our second date — back in the time before surround sound and stadium seating, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth — I took her to see “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” which I find as life-affirming and beautiful as some people find “The Sound of Music.” She’s never let me forget it.
Because of this decades-old lapse in taste, I usually must wait until the movies I want to see come out on home video, where she sleeps or texts through them on the couch.
Lately, however, in a rare admission of compromise on her part, we’ve been taking turns, which is how I saw “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in theaters over the summer.
Her recent choices include “The Heat,” “We’re the Millers” and “The Internship,” all of which were fairly good, except for “The Internship,” which was so bad I barely remember seeing it. This rare admission of enjoyment is how these things go in our marriage. If I say I liked one of her choices, it suddenly becomes one of my choices, meaning she gets to pick the next one. I apply the same reasoning to the few selections of mine that she admits are bearable, which aren’t many.
(For a brief time, I refused to see any of her selections after she tricked me into watching “Magic Mike,” a movie about male strippers. I detailed that little imbroglio in a column last year. Email me if you’d like a refresher copy — of the column, not “Magic Mike.”)
Oddly enough, just as some longtime couples start to resemble one another, our tastes in movies are starting to merge. How else to explain that “Mud,” a movie starring Matthew McConaughey, one of my wife’s favorite actors (especially when he appears without a shirt, which seems to be a contractual requirement), was my choice, while “White House Down,” a big, dumb action flick starring Channing Tatum about terrorists blowing up the White House and the Capitol building, was hers. (And yes, both McConaughey and Tatum were in “Magic Mike,” which is just rank coincidence.)
Could we be heading toward a time when she selects titles like “Nightmare on Elm Street Part XXVII” and I’m agitating for “Matilda” or “Confessions of a Shopaholic”?
Doubtful. She drew a line in the sand and said no to “The Lone Ranger” this summer, and she’s already said that I’ll be watching “Thor: The Dark World” by my lonesome. The only compromise in these cases will be whether going to the movies solo counts as my “turn,” meaning she gets to pick the next one.
I think I know the answer, and while I’d like to argue the case, in this situation, again, Stephen King is right and Dr. Phil is wrong.
In the past, I’ve written this column on legal pads, iPads, and once on a smartphone, tapping out my deathless — my wife says “deathly” — prose with both thumbs.
I don’t share this information with readers because, really, what’s more boring than going behind the scenes with a writer? It’s not like the “making of” features on Blu-rays and DVDs where viewers learn cool secrets about special effects and costume malfunctions.
No, in the words of Gene Fowler, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” My technique is pretty much the same, except I don’t use paper and I try to finish before blood appears. I just sit down and do it.
But that’s what makes this week’s method so unique: I’m not sitting down, I’m standing up! (And there goes the one exclamation point I allow myself every six months. If the world ends before Feb. 1, I will have to type “World Ends.” with a period. Watch me.)
Anyway, I’m standing up while writing because of an article in the August issue of Runner’s World called “Is Sitting the New Smoking?,” a title that pretty well sums up what it’s about.
I like when an article’s title tells you everything you need to know because it means I can talk intelligently about the piece without having to read it.
Like the guy who wrote “Love in the Time of Cholera.” That title’s a godsend. When people ask what the book is about, you can just look at them real seriously and say, “It’s about this couple that falls in love, you know, in a time of cholera.”
If you’re talking to some smarty-pants, they might want to know what cholera is or what time it was that cholera was around for people to fall in love to. In which case you can tell them that you don’t want to ruin their enjoyment of the book, which again saves you from reading it.
I wish I were smart enough to take my own advice. By the time I realized that “Love in the Time of Cholera” was about exactly that, I had already read the book. All 348 pages of it. In teeny, tiny print, like the publisher knew that the market would support only such-and-such a price point for romantic novels about cholera, and that price point was exceeded at 349 pages.
In the book, a doctor dies when he falls off a ladder while trying to catch his parrot. That’s in the first chapter. I should have stopped there because of how stupid that is. Everybody knows you stand on ottomans to catch stray parrots.
But I soldiered on. This dead doctor’s wife has a former boyfriend who has been pining away for her for, like, 50 years. Actually, it’s 51 years, nine months and four days. He counts. While he’s counting, though, he also has lots of affairs, kind of like Anthony Weiner, except this is before the invention of sexting so he has to do it the old-fashioned way. (Note to guys: Women don’t want steamy photos of your junk. Really.)
He — the character, not Weiner, although come to think of it, maybe Weiner, too — has hundreds of liaisons in dozens of places with women of every conceivable age, size and shape, all to forget about this former girlfriend who’s now married to a doctor who dies chasing a bird.
By this time, you’re probably asking, “Where the heck is the cholera?” and my answer is, “I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the book.”
But back to the Runner’s World article. Apparently, sitting increases our chances of disease and death. Research says that if you factor out regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people and couch potatoes sit about the same amount of time — 64 hours a week.
That’s a bummer to people like me, who like to run or at least like to pretend they like to run. When I come home from a long run and collapse on the couch and don’t move for 51 hours, nine minutes and four seconds, I’m not really doing myself any favors, am I?
So now I’m experimenting with eating standing up, but only at breakfast because I’m the only person in my family who eats that meal. When I tried to eat dinner standing up, I ended up with spaghetti all down my shirt because I forgot that I had to hold the plate and not leave it all the way down there on the table. Plus, everybody else who was sitting around the table was at eye level with my crotch. Just like Anthony Weiner’s lady friends.
You’re probably waiting for some eloquent statement that will tie together cholera, Weiner and the dangers of premature death from sitting.
If you are, forget it, because I’ve been typing for what feels like 51 years, nine months and four days and my feet are killing me and that’s not sweat on my forehead, it’s blood.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Aug. 1, 2013 in The Alliance Review.
We had bad news from our veterinarian last month.
Crossing his arms and rubbing his chin, he did his best Marcus Welby as he groped for a way to deliver the message sensitively.
He nodded toward our 2-year-old golden retriever. Cooper, he said, his voice assuming the gravity of Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments,” was “tending toward the point of obesity.”
“It’s OK, Doc,” I replied. “We can take it. Just tell us he’s fat.”
He said Cooper wasn’t fat — not yet — but could stand to lose 15 to 20 pounds.
When 15 to 20 pounds represents between 13 to 18 percent of an animal’s weight, that’s fat, at least to my layperson’s way of thinking. Maybe not morbidly obese, but definitely in the I’m-no-longer-a-supermodel category.
The vet rattled off a litany of health problems that can plague fat (excuse me, tending-toward-the-point-of-obesity) dogs: joint pain, hip dysplasia, heart problems and diabetes.
(Diabetes, by the way, must be pronounced the way Wilford Brimley does in those commercials for free testing supplies: die-uh-BEAT-us.)
My wife, always the loving mother, rationalized faster than a chocoholic at a Weight Watchers meeting. “He’s just big-boned,” she said. Yeah, and denial is just a river in Egypt.
“And he likes his treats,” she continued, referring to the economy-sized box of dog bones that we refill every week or two. “When he’s a good boy, he gets a bone.”
My wife’s definition of “good boy” was synonymous with “breathing boy.” Whatever the dog did, he got a bone — go outside, bark at cats, look at her adorably, jump on furniture after we told him to get down. He received a bone when she left for work in the morning (to quell separation anxiety, she said) and another when she came home (to celebrate a joyous reunion).
In retrospect, his weight gain should have been obvious. Just a week before, we’d ordered a custom-made harness when his no longer fit. “Custom-made” reminds me of the pair of Levi’s with a size 76 waist that hung in a downtown clothing store for so many years.
Poor Cooper, it seems, has joined the ranks of the 36.7 million dogs in this country — a fur-bristling 52.5 percent — who are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. (And just the existence of such an organization might say all that needs to be said about America.)
APOP believes the causes of pet obesity are the same as the causes of human obesity: More calories coming in than going out. We eat too much junk (or maybe too much, period) and don’t exercise enough. Our animals do the same.
But fixing a dog’s obesity is much easier than fixing a person’s, especially since a dog doesn’t have opposable thumbs to open a cookie jar, can’t make a late night run to Taco Bell for Fourth Meal and can’t break the padlock off a refrigerator door.
It’s a simple prescription: If your dog’s fat, stop feeding him so much and take him around the block a few times a day.
In the weeks since we learned Cooper was “tending toward the point of obesity,” we’ve virtually eliminated treats (my wife still has to give him a bone when she leaves for work — it’s practically a tradition). We’ve also cut out the little ice cream cones from Dairy Queen, pizza crusts and any other “people” food.
Now that the weather’s nicer, we’re walking him farther than just the stop sign on the corner, going instead to the park and putting some miles on those pork-chop legs. He comes home exhausted, but guess what? He’s losing weight faster than Obama’s losing credibility.
Maybe Cooper’s not quite ready for an American Kennel Club photo shoot, but at least he’s stopped waddling and jiggling like a Walmart shopper in pajama pants.
“It’s been rough,” he says over the fence to the neighbor dog, a rail-thin Great Dane. “But at least I’m not a statistic anymore. Did you know that 62.7 percent of golden retrievers surveyed were overweight? It’s an epidemic.”
Like most empty nesters, my wife and I expend far too much time and energy creating a rich fantasy world where our dog watches TV, checks email, makes phone calls and talks like a baby.
Pathetic, isn’t it?
Almost as sad as a world where a dog’s weight has to be spoken of in euphemisms, for fear we’ll offend.
“Tending toward the point of obesity,” indeed.
@cschillig on Twitter
If there were lyrics to “Pomp and Circumstance” for parents of the college graduate set, they might go something like this:
You’re moving your stuff home,
Bringing all that junk back,
Load up that old futon
Get ready to pack.
Or maybe, depending on how the sheepskin was financed, parents could sing:
Your degree cost me thousands
In tuition and fees,
Now you will have no job
With a degree in art history.
No education, of course, is ever wasted, especially when acquiring it involves four years of late-night bull sessions, greasy pizza and liquid calories, at least if what we see in “Animal House” is true. And, of course, Hollywood is always scrupulous in its accurate portrayal of university life, just as it is with police work and domestic issues.
Higher education has been uppermost in my mind recently because my daughter graduated Sunday. I enjoyed the ceremony and her success, yet my back kept twinging. Maybe it was because of three hours spent in bleacher seats, but more likely it was due to all the boxes and furniture I hauled up and down stairs a few days before.
My wife says I have no reason to complain. After all, she took two days off work to help pack and unpack. All I did was show up two afternoons to serve as cart horse for larger items.
Once upon a time, going to college involved just a few milk cartons — borrowed from behind your favorite grocery store, despite the stenciled warning “Thou Shalt Not Steal” — filled with books, sweatshirts and jeans, plus a halfway decent stereo system. You’d live in a dorm room about the size of a closet, with all the aesthetic appeal of a stairwell — cinder blocks, a small window that would be the envy of only the Prisoner of Zenda, and a shower shared by dozens of people, at least one of whom had ringworm.
Today, young adults live better in many college dorms than they will in the first few years after college (unless they move back home and wait five to 10 years for the economy to improve), when those initial apartments look more the way dorms did a few decades ago. Colleges and universities now build student housing to resemble Soho studio lofts, and students enthusiastically cart in enough junk to fill the extra space.
And if a student (like my daughter) moves off campus into a situation that offers even more livable space (she and three friends shared a house), plan on those two milk cartons to morph into 50 or 100, enough to turn a misdemeanor into grand larceny.
Bringing my daughter home was akin to moving a Romanian princess back from exile and involved five car loads and one pickup truck, all filled to bursting. We carried boxes of books, lamps, two TVs, a computer, Ramen noodles, a desk, two chairs, a bed, a dresser, bagels, a Keurig, clothes, shoes, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, GRE flashcards, curtains, shoes, potato chips, clothes, rice mixes, over-the-counter medications, pots, pans, clothes and shoes.
Oh, and some clothes and shoes. (Imelda Marcos, eat your heart out.)
And as if further proof is needed that nature abhors a vacuum (although I hear it tolerates a Dyson), most of these collected treasures found a home in my newly cleaned garage, which — for two nights only — was capable of containing a car.
Today, the garage looks like the aftermath of a tornado at a flea market and will remain that way until we trek off with all these treasures again for graduate school in a few months.
In the meantime, though, let us raise our glasses to members of the Class of 2013, who face an exciting future secure in the knowledge that they have already contributed to a financial boom in two key growth areas: construction and medicine.
Self-storage rentals and Doan’s pills sales are through the roof.
@cschillig on Twitter
Family life 04 Apr 2013 08:01 pm
Wondering what to do with all those leftover marshmallow peeps that many people buy but few people like?
Try peep jousting.
Take two sugary peeps, preferably of different colors, and place them on a microwave-safe dish. Poke toothpicks into each so that the points face the other peep, like two Jedi knights. Place them in the microwave and nuke on high. The first peep deflated by its opponent’s toothpick is the loser.
An enterprising Advanced Placement student — hi, Donny! — informed me of the sport last week, and I instantly knew this was the excitement my family’s Easter Sunday needed. I invested in about three packages of peeps, the first time I’ve ever bought the things, and a box of toothpicks, and then sent out taunting text messages to family members about the supremacy of my squishy soldiers.
Surprisingly, my mom agreed that her microwave could serve as the arena for peep skirmishes. I wouldn’t have offered my microwave for fear that a peep would explode, causing an Easter trip to the store to replace it. (The microwave, not the peep.)
Maybe Mom was set at ease by the YouTube videos I forwarded showing peeps melting like the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” or Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” instead of exploding like Marvin’s head in “Pulp Fiction.” Or maybe she was vying for a new microwave.
In any event, no microwaves were harmed in the tournament, but plenty of peeps went home to their maker. And no, I don’t mean Just Born Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa., which manufactures the candy.
If you’d like to watch a preview trailer and actual footage of the Schillig peep wars, go to cschillig.blogspot.com and prepare to see too many pictures of a middle-aged bald man with nothing better to do mugging at the camera.
If the sight of scorched peeps disturbs you, however, then I’d advise staying far away.
In other Easter news, Google inspired the ire of some users when it chose to honor not God, Jesus, bunnies or ducks last Sunday but instead featured an image of Cesar Chavez on its search engine home page.
While Fox News unsurprisingly dubbed the late Chavez a “leftist icon,” it’s probably more fair to describe him as a tireless promoter of the rights of working people everywhere, specifically farm workers. A former migrant worker himself, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which eventually became the United Farm Workers.
His methods of protest were decidedly nonviolent, including hunger strikes, marches and boycotts. That last is probably enough to earn him the ire of Fox News, which crusades tirelessly on behalf of downtrodden millionaires who have had to lay off half their domestic staffs and cut back to just four vacations a year because of the downturn in the economy.
There really is no secret why Google chose Chavez to honor on March 31: It was his birthday, a holiday in three states.
Internet users who switched over to Bing because that search engine featured a more Easter-themed page may be surprised to learn that brightly colored eggs have about as much to do with the spiritual message of the holiday as peep jousting in a microwave.
And for those poor, deluded souls who confused Cesar Chavez with Hugo Chavez — the late, not-much-lamented president of Venezuela — and who used the occasion to advance a conspiracy theory involving Google, Hugo and President Obama — well, they’d be better off educating themselves via Google searches than blasting the company for ignoring Easter.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published April 4, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
By the time you read this, Mount Union Theatre will almost certainly be history.
The digital reader board was the first to go, scooped out of the original marquee and relocated to West State Street, where it still provides news about speakers and events on campus. Next was the box office, removed to parts unknown. When I drove by last week, the front doors were gone and a dump truck had been backed inside the front lobby.
I almost parked and made an illegal sortie inside to take one more look at the building and try to catch a faint whiff of buttery popcorn or an echo of Clark Gable telling Vivien Leigh that frankly, my dear, he didn’t give a damn. Maybe tomorrow, I thought, but the next day a fence had been erected — probably because a lot of other drivers had the same attack of nostalgia — and that was that.
Like many people in Alliance, I have fond memories of Mount Union Theatre. I first saw “Star Wars” there back in the 1970s, igniting a passion that still burns to this day. It’s the theater where I watched my first R-rated film, “Dracula” starring Frank Langella, a concession by my parents because of my love of monster movies and vampires.
When the theater reopened in the early ’80s after a few years of dormancy, I was a freshman in high school, and my Friday- and Saturday-night dance card was filled with revivals of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Altered States,” “A Man for All Seasons,” one or more of the “Rocky” films, and many more.
In those days, at the cusp of the home video era, the theater was a buzzing, vibrant destination, an inexpensive way to enjoyably fill a few hours. Movies there were second-run, but still new enough that they hadn’t been released onto VHS, so demand was high.
Mount Union Theatre was the place where I almost took my first date, except I was too afraid to ask her and ended up going with a friend instead. It’s the place where my daughter saw her first movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” and where we would take her to see many more, including practically the entire Disney animated catalog. It’s the place where my wife and I both fell asleep during the first Harry Potter film, when we realized the franchise was not for us.
The venue itself, to be honest, was no great shakes. The seats were uncomfortable, the screen was small in comparison to modern movie houses, and the sound system left something to be desired. When I was a kid, I remember the Powers That Be announcing the closing of the snack bar in the second half of the movie, blaring out a last call for popcorn and sodas right overtop the film.
But there was something about Mount Union Theatre that transcended its flaws. Maybe it was the well-chosen Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny shorts before the main feature, or the text-heavy descriptions of each movie in the newspaper ads that gave it a more historic slant, or the fact that you could — and did — run into friends and neighbors willing to share a common experience for a few hours in the same dark room.
By the early 2000s, attendance on Friday and Saturday nights had slowed to a trickle — too many other entertainment options and a much smaller window between theatrical and home video release took a toll on ticket sales.
The last movie I saw there was, appropriately enough, “King Kong,” my all-time favorite, in July 2004. Only a few dozen people were in attendance. Two years later, college brass brought the curtain down on weekend movies, and since then the building has been used only occasionally. My last visit, although I didn’t know it at the time, was to hear One Book One Community author Chitra Divakaruni speak about her novel, “One Amazing Thing,” last year. The theater looked pretty shabby then, a poor cousin to the more opulent Palace in downtown Canton. If Mount Union had more aesthetic appeal than a saltine cracker box, maybe more people would have campaigned to keep it.
But let’s face it: Nostalgia, however enjoyable, isn’t a viable long-term financial strategy, for a university or for individuals. The college and the community will be better served by a new science facility than by another vacant building, no matter how beloved.
Meanwhile, the one part of the theater that will survive the wrecking ball (besides the digital marquee) are the memories of so many evenings spent in the dark, staring at the silver screen and willingly surrendering their troubles for a few hours.
Like Bogie told Bergman, we’ll always have Paris. And Alliance-area movie fans will always have memories of Mount Union Theatre, even after the building itself has faded to black.
@cschillig on Twitter
Share theater memories #MUTheatre on Twitter
We have unusual dinner conversations.
If ever a family is the polar opposite of the traditional sit-down-to-eat type of Americana popularized by Norman Rockwell on Saturday Evening Post covers, it is mine. Even for major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is normal for us to gather in blue jeans and sweatshirts, blithely ignore the social norms of which fork to use with what course (even the idea of “courses” is alien, as we usually just throw everything onto the table and dig in), and engage in conversations more suited to the locker room than the dining room.
Admittedly, I’m often the catalyst for these discussions. In recent years, I’ve started holiday dinner table debates about what the shape of many well-known monuments says about the self-esteem and … uh, inadequacies of earlier generations of architects and politicians, and defended my long-held belief that people’s interior organs are not located in fixed positions but rather vary greatly from body to body.
Out of respect for the nature of a family newspaper, I’ll avoid saying anything else about the former and concentrate on the latter.
Somewhere, I once read a quote that said if individual facial features — eyes, ears, nose, and so on — were spaced as differently as interior organs, we’d have a hard time recognizing one another as human. This isn’t to say that some people’s hearts are located where their appendix should be, just that there are certain differences in our interior anatomies that are more extreme than many people might guess.
I have performed no research to back this up, and my Google searches haven’t been very helpful. When you type “How far can my liver move?” into a Web browser, you get some crazy answers, believe me. But it sounds like something that might be true, which is my only litmus test for dinner table conversation, so I threw it out there next to the Easter ham and dinner rolls just to see what people would say.
The three nurses in the family — my wife, sister and brother-in-law — openly mocked me. My mom, who had just passed a plate of yams that looked suspiciously like chopped-up intestines, looked appalled. But none of them could entirely refute my claim, at least not to my satisfaction. (When people started turning green, we changed the topic.)
I vowed to seek out opinions from surgeons and gastroenterologists to prove everybody wrong, but I’ve been too busy playing Words With Friends and reading Donald Duck comics to make any phone calls. Yet.
Another unusual conversation happened last weekend. As my wife, daughter and I enjoyed a restaurant meal, the subject turned to longevity and left-handedness. A study from the ’90s says that left-handed people, on average, die seven years earlier than right-handers, a trend variously attributed to a higher rate of accidents, the stress of living in a right-handed world, and certain diseases more common to those who use the “sinister” hand.
I’m a leftie, and while I’m not accident prone, I remember feeling stressed in various college classes when I was limited to a few left-handed desks shoved in the back of a classroom, and I still get bummed when I drag a shirtsleeve through wet ink. But is this enough to erase seven years? I don’t know.
On the positive side comes news that vegetarians — a tribe I’ve belonged to for 38 days (provided I don’t backslide between the time I write this and the time you read it) — are 32 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than their meat-eating peers.
I was heartened by this research, and by a 2011 study that says happy people die earlier than unhappy people. I wouldn’t call myself unhappy, but I’m certainly not the Pollyannaish, foppish type who thinks everything is wonderful! wonderful! wonderful! either.
I’d call it a wash — the seven years I lose for left handedness is made up by the time I gain from cynicism and a healthy heart, even if said heart is located closer to where my appendix should be.
I can’t wait to bring all this up around the dinner table the next time everybody gets together for a holiday meal. No matter what they think of my theory of interior organs, I bet they will prefer it to more photos of the Washington Monument.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Feb. 7, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
I have a lifelong love/hate relationship with stocking caps.
Like many petulant 6-year-olds, I spent my formative years fighting headwear, especially the Dickensian kind with the ball on the end. Perfectly acceptable hats (to anyone but an image-conscious kid) were accidentally-on-purpose left on buses, stuck on snowmen at a friend’s house or buried unceremoniously in the bottom of the garbage.
Unfortunately, I had a mother with an endless supply of stocking caps, each more grotesque and unflattering than the last. Like “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” every time I got rid of one, another took its place — sometimes brown and orange for the sports team I was supposed to promote, sometimes orange and black for my future alma mater, sometimes affixed with a label for a grain or horse-food company from my dad’s job. Hats were everywhere in Casa Schillig — except on my head.
Mom even resorted to an unethical appeal to authority to coerce my compliance. At times when I was especially uncooperative — usually any day that ended in a “y” — she picked up the phone and dialed her accomplice.
“Hello, Time and Temperature? Yes, this is Chris’s mom. Should he wear a hat today? Uh-huh. Yes, it IS very cold. OK, I’ll tell him. Goodbye.”
“What did he say? What did he say?”
“He said to wear a hat. Do you want to call back and ask him yourself?”
I never did. It didn’t occur to me that Mom would lie — or that time and temperature was a pre-recorded message with nothing to say about headwear preferences of gullible children.
So much for hat hate. Later in life, I reversed myself and started wearing one, maybe about the same time that I switched from Republican to Democrat, a decision that some say proves my head was unprotected for too many years.
Key to this change of heart (hat, not political party) is the often-repeated assertion that 70 percent of body heat escapes through the head.
So when I take the dog for his morning and evening winter constitutional, my uniform includes a blue stocking cap pulled down so far that it practically blocks my vision, making me the Arch Avenue equivalent of Nanook of the North. When I go to work or run errands, I likewise don my headgear.
My niece, who works at Dunkin Donuts, says the hat makes me look like a thug in the drive-thru; my wife says it, coupled with my scraggly beard, makes me a candidate for post-office bulletin boards. Yet I persist because I like looking vaguely unsavory and because I want to support the U.S. mail system.
So imagine my chagrin when a study out of the University of Michigan said the 70-percent statistic is a myth. According to Andrew Maynard, whose research was summarized in a Huffington Post article, you lose no more heat through your noggin than through any other body part.
I tried to forget Maynard’s research as soon as possible, but no such luck: The next day, as the dog pulled me along unshoveled walks (the unofficial status symbol of Alliance winter), I felt colder, as though that 70 percent body heat had been held inside by force of my belief. The next day, I stopped wearing the hat.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. As I was writing this column, I reread Maynard’s research, which has something to do with how much warmer a stocking cap makes you when you dance naked in the snow. (Ah, these academics and their tax-funded research.)
Apparently, escaping body heat has everything to do with how much skin is exposed. Those nude dancers have hats that cover about 10 percent of their body, meaning they are 10 percent warmer than those who dance naked without hats.
For a guy like me who doesn’t dance naked in the snow — at least not while walking the dog — it means that if my head is the only exposed part, then that’s where my most significant body-heat loss will occur, so the hat really does help, just not at the 70-percent level.
This clarification turned the mental trick, because when I walked the dog after reading it, I felt warmer with my hat than I did when I thought it wasn’t helping.
Which proves that warmth has less to do with what’s on our heads than what’s in them, something Mom must have known when she made those bogus calls to time and temperature.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 10, 2013 in The Alliance Review.