Scintillating

I’ve only been knocked out once in my life. I was maybe 19 or 20 and was playing tackle football with some friends. I'm no athlete but I'm really hard to knock over so, with three guys hanging off of me already, a fourth gets his arm around my neck and brings me down. I remember falling, but I don't remember the impact.

The next thing I do remember is looking up at the sky with my friends standing over me in a circle. Nothing hurt, I didn't feel dizzy, and I felt fine the rest of the weekend. But something weird happened with my vision for the first time.


Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as:Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.orBy Mikael Häggström, used with permission. [CC0]

Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as:Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.orBy Mikael Häggström, used with permission. [CC0]

Imagine, for a moment, that you start seeing a bright spot in your vision—like what you’d see if you stared too long at an intense light source. But it doesn't fade over time; rather, it persists and grows, tracing an arc around your field of view. And then you realize that it’s not just a bright spot, but you can't even see anything behind it. It looks the same whether you have either one or both eyes open. You wave your hands in front of you and it’s as if they disappear as they pass behind a sparkly obstruction floating in the air. Then after about twenty minutes it just kinda fades away.

The first time I experienced this vision impairment was the very day I was knocked out. Later in the day I was talking to somebody when it started and, as it progressed, I became a little alarmed. I tried to make sense of what I was...partially...seeing, but I was able to piece together all the details in the short time it lasted. Of course as a stupid college kid I didn't think about it after it went away, and I never visited a doctor for a consultation. I connected the experience to my injury, but otherwise had no clue what was going on.


You know those wacky, spider-like head massager thingies? They look kinda like those Maman sculptures by Louise Bourgeois but with thin copper wires that spread open as you push the massager over somebody's (or your own) head.

Cropped from a photo by Kevin Cho, licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Cropped from a photo by Kevin Cho, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

You know this fella give that dingus a five-star review on  Amazon …

You know this fella give that dingus a five-star review on Amazon

I was at the mall in my mid-20s with my wife and some friends, and as we passed by a kiosk one of the friends stopped and grabbed a massager dingus.

"You ever see one of these things? They're scalp massagers, and they make your head tingle."

And without missing a beat she plopped it down over that back of my skull. I kind of shivered and felt goosebumps from head to toe, like my whole body convulsed at once. On the way back to the car, I noticed that strange visual anomaly creeping in, and I was glad my wife was driving instead of me.


Six? Maybe seven times all together in the past 17-18 years. This visual weirdness doesn't happen too often. The frequency hasn't increased, the severity hasn't increased, and I’ve never experienced any pain, nausea, or other discomfort/impairment when it happens. The most recent occurrence was just last week at the coffee shop. On the drive over, some intense reflections of the sun off of some windows caught me in the eyes. As I was sitting down to enjoy my espresso, what I thought were merely persistent bright spots spread out into my old surreal, annoying friend.

I'm not one to self-diagnose, but since I’ve historically been lazy about visiting physicians, I have done some research about this condition. It’s called a scintillating scotoma, or migraine aura. It happens when electrical impulses start to spread over the surface of the visual cortex of the brain, which is at the back of the skull. Most folks experience this condition preceding a migraine headache, and while there may be pain, dizziness, nausea, or speech trouble before the headache takes over, it’s possible for people to simply experience the vision problem. Some folks, like me, never get a headache afterward. I'm given to understand that common optical migraine triggers can also trigger the scotoma.

I’ve never had a migraine headache in my life (to date...knock on wood), but I’ve had these visual migraine precursors. I'm fairly certain that head injury in college is the root cause since I landed on the back of my head. The scalp massager seems like a clear trigger based on the overstimulating input at the back of my skull. And the most recent incident involved a common migraine trigger: intense light.

These days I do have a primary care physician. Migraine aura doesn't worry me all that much, but since this all seems to stem from a head injury back in the day, I might as well tell my doctor about it at my next visit.

Unexpected Guest

Today, while helping my mother-in-law with a word processor problem, she just casually drops some anecdote about her childhood friend's older sister Judy. "You know, the woman who wrote Ordinary People?"

Oh, just ol' Judy? Just the author of one of the best novels I read in high school that was adapted to cinema four years after publication for a Best Picture Oscar? I’ve heard most of my mother-in-law's stories dozens of times, but this was the first time I found out she spent part of her childhood playing with Judith Guest's younger sister...that she attended the author's wedding as a kid.

Her stories from Ripon College about young "Harry Ford" are practically on a loop, but this was a new one.

Notes from a mostly sleepless night camping with my kid

10:30 PM - contemplated how lovely the weather was for sleeping outside

10:35 PM - realized that no spot on the ground is ever as flat as I think it is

10:45 PM - wondered how long I would be awake before my body gave up and fell asleep

11:05 PM - realized that the periodic thwacking sounds in the distance were dads in another campsite playing cornhole a few campsites over

11:58 PM - wondered if I could, undetected, slash the tires on the trucks belonging to the inconsiderate dads still playing cornhole and cheering loudly late into the night

01:30 AM - my body, wondering why I'm still awake, decides this is when I need to leave the tent to use the bathroom

03:00 AM - got to see/hear my daughter laugh in her sleep

04:00 AM - realized my bet against needing the rain fly on my tent was wrong

04:05 AM - realized I could put the rain fly on the tent by myself in about 60 seconds

04:07 AM - rain intensifies, making the early morning interruption worthwhile

06:40 AM - woke up stiff and bleary-eyed to a beautiful, cool morning that made up for most of the night

Wishlist

  1. Bosch PS31-2A cordless power drill
  2. Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck
  3. Tank, regulator, tubing and other parts necessary to make my own beverage carbonator
  4. A week of somebody else watching my kids so my wife and I can get a real vacation
  5. Time to walk around and make photographs during the day, in the middle of the week, when the weather is actually pleasant
  6. A little less conversation, a little more action, please
  7. A guarantee. No more attempts on my father's life.
  8. Zigzag ha
  9. A french fry robot
  10. A tactical string trimmer
  11. No regrets
  12. Something like a superpower that lets me know, intuitively, how to cook anything
  13. Maybe also the ability to find rest in a nap
  14. And no more allergies emerging during middle-age
  15. My own private Idaho
  16. 200 school buses
  17. An easy way out

I Did a Stupid

Back in January, having seen ads in my Instagram feed for a while, I caved in and ordered one of these totally sweet (okay, totally tacky) jackets in gray:

"Ice Cold Lemonade", it turns out, is probably some shell company reselling cheap goods from China at a profitable markup. No big deal, I guess. I didn't pay much for this jacket at the time. I got my tracking number and waited a few weeks for the jacket to make its way through China's postal service and into the USA.

When the USPS tracking system told me it was delivered to my front door, I was pretty upset to discover that it wasn't actually there. I don't have a history of package theft in my neighborhood, but in recent months, I’ve had some occasionally crummy mail delivery service. Judging by the number of mail pieces delivered to my house for an address with a similar number or one block over with the same number, I assumed the same may have happened with my package. The best USPS could do was to "open up a case", which was effectively a dead end. By late February I’d written it off as a loss.

But I still occasionally saw marketing emails from the seller advertising the jacket, and I still really liked it. So this past week I did the unthinkable—something I never do—and bought it a second time. Order confirmed on Thursday, tracking number from China's mail system on Friday morning. I even remarked to a coworker on Friday about how unlike me it was to repurchase a lost item.

SO OF COURSE I get home on Friday to find that, nearly four months after the original order (and the day the new order has already shipped and can therefore no longer be cancelled), a weathered package from China has been left on one of my porch chairs. This thing looked like it had sat on an unknown neighbor's porch the entire time it was missing, but the contents inside were unsullied. So yeah, I felt pretty stupid right away, but I was also excited to finally receive the original order.

I tore open the package and things got weird before hitting me squarely with the stupid stick once more. I'm a big dude, so I ordered this jacked in the largest available size: 3XL. A puffy-cut windbreaker-style jacket of that size should have been just fine. Why, then, did the tag inside this garment say 5XL? I wrote it off as a difference in sizing between countries. I tried it on, and I'll tell you that this jacket may not have fit me when I was wearing XL garments in my youth.

I felt bad enough when the missing package showed up the very day my replacement order shipped. I felt extra stupid when I realized the redundant jacket won't even fit me when it gets here.

This whole experience has been deeply humiliating, but I figure I might as well share the story publicly so that I can move past it. I think I'll eventually laugh about it; not so much the wasted money and poor decision making as the crazy timing—the when and how I discovered my folly.

Sometimes the Old Ways

I'm a "come here" in Richmond, Virginia, even though I’ve now lived in this city for over half my life. And so I have an outsider's perspective on some of the Old Richmond traditions in a way that outsiders to any community do. I don't think most folks outside of my birth state of New Jersey know what a proper hard roll is, and they probably wouldn't understand why I care so much if they ate one. They don't have years of life experience, family memories, and community nostalgia to support what might be an otherwise unremarkable thing.


Sidebar: the “hard roll” (not to be confused with the similar kaiser roll) seems to be so intimately linked to the pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich that I find it nearly impossible to find a useful link to explain them. Nearly everything I see from the past few years are worthless Pinterest lists or forum postings about Jersey natives lamenting the disappearance of our favorite breakfast bread. Some things can’t even be preserved on the Internet, it would seem!


I similarly don't see much to celebrate around The Dairy Bar or Legendary Santa. I mean, I get why they're special for people who have shared milkshakes with grandparents for generations or whose family has visited with Legendary Santa back to the days of Miller & Rhoads on Broad Street. But the rest of appeal is lost on me. This weekend, however, my wife and I shared a little bit of Old Richmond with our kids that carries as much wonder and joy for outsiders as those who grew up in the region: a movie screening at The Byrd Theater.

A friend of ours invited us at the last minute to catch a showing of The Lego Movie 2 late in the afternoon, and we were game for it. Both of our children were completely awestruck by the interior as their eyes adjusted to the low light, and my daughter kept asking whether it was a "play movie theater" (comparing it, I imagine, to the Carpenter Theater where she saw The Nutcracker this past December). Even better, and unexpected for the afternoon showing, was the performance from Bob Gulledge on the Wurlitzer organ coming out of the floor.

Valerie and I are no strangers to the organ or the theater—we’ve even participated in the pre-It’s a Wonderful Life sing-along. But it was a new kind of joy to share a little bit of this old town with my kids. I even forgot the terrible seats for most of the movie :-)

Run Aground

Sailboat locked behind a fence in the Northside, shot on Kodak’s new Ektachrome E100 slide film.

Unfinished Marathon

An old 1960-something Checker Marathon, more familiar as a classic checkered yellow taxi cab through the 1980s. I hunted around forever trying to identify this thing, comparing every American (and many European) make, model, and year in the 1950s and pouring over photos of hubcaps. I was stuck in the 50’s because most of the stylistic elements on this body (flared rear fender, roof line, hubcap style) were only around between around ‘51 and ‘55.

Then, of course, my brilliant pal Phil took one look at it and realized exactly what it was: an old sedan from the Checker Motors Company. I should have asked him from the beginning and saved myself more than a few hours of research :-P

(Smells) Just Like Honey

I drink everything pretty fast. Doesn't really matter whether it’s milk, water, beer, or a Tom Collins. If you’re a server at my table in a restaurant, don't bother asking—yes, I would like more to drink, thanks.

There's no beverage I drink faster—nay, chug—quite like unsweetened iced tea. I know it’s better for me to drink unsweetened tea anyway, but I just happen to like the taste. It’s what I want the most after mowing the lawn (even more than a High Life or a good kölsch). I can drain a quart of unsweetened tea in under 10 seconds if I'm truly thirsty.

I'm not picky about the brand/variety when I'm thirsty, but given the choice, I like Japanese teas - they tend to be more earthy and vegetal than Western palates prefer, but they tend to quench my thirst a bit more effectively. Ito En is a solid, common brand I see at ramen shops and Asian groceries, and my office has been carrying some of their teas in our beverage cooler for some time now.

One of my increasingly favorite products is the Ice-Steeped Cold Brew green tea. It's milder than some of the other products (not that I mind) and has a little less caffeine (that I do mind just a little :-P), but what strikes me the most is the aroma. The taste is in line with the above, generalized description, but this tea has a strong, uncanny aroma of honey. Bottle after bottle. It's intoxicatingly sweet-smelling, and provides a nice contrast to the flavor profile. This isn't sponsored (as if...), I just love the stuff. If you like unsweetened tea, find it. And give it a sniff!

A Fan of Camp

The following photos are a long time coming, but last October I took Maddie on her first camping trip. It was all part of a problematically-themed YMCA program (though I'm happy to report they're ditching all the problematic parts starting this spring), but it was a great way to introduce her to sleeping in a tent outside in a low pressure environment: a daddy-daughter group excursion to a YMCA camp facility.

It was a resounding success. You can just see it in her face in that black and white photo—a twinkle in her eyes and the hint of a smile almost visible above the lip of her rain jacket, standing there in the drizzle.

Despite 40ºF overnight temperatures and howling, gusty winds, my daughter instantly loved the whole camping experience. Whether it was sleeping in a tent, or spending an entire day outside, or simply poking at a fire with a stick, I saw a child in her element. We get to do the whole thing over again in late April, and we're both pretty excited about it.

I shot this all on my first roll of Kodak’s new E100 slide film, by the way. And I am loving the colors.

You’d think she was about to try some improvised spear-fishing…

They even had a station for the gals to make their own tie-dyed shirts!

Poking at the fire with a stick really was one of the group’s favorite activities.

Even with my careful slow-roasting method, Maddie isn’t much a fan of toasted shmallows.

Fire, Hops, Decent

I recently mentioned Fire & Hops Pizza Co. on this site writing about the "craft" pizza + "craft" beer non-trend I've noticed around Richmond, VA. Well this week I took the time to give it a try. Short version? It was good, and I'd like to go back for more.

I'm no beer expert, but if beer is in (or implied by) the name, I expect to see a variety on the menu. I saw a few reliable favorites, but it was Bingo Beer's lager that caught my attention, and proved to be the right drink for my lunch options. I tried some of their house-made mozzarella sticks (tree trunks, really) which were delicious, but definitely intended for sharing. I feel like we used to see more batter-dipped mozzarella sticks in my youth, but if they're going to be breaded, these were great. I had one and shared the rest with my family at home.

The main event for me was pizza, and my standard practice is trying out a "plain" pie when I eat at a new place. While I think I could have ordered a shredded cheese-topped red pizza from the build-your-own option, the Margherita was the true basic choice since Napoletana pizza is clearly the intended style. And you know what? It was tasty. I gave honest feedback to the...owner? GM?...when he asked; I think a Margherita shouldn't have so much cheese (it has a tendency to all come off at once), and I prefer the fresher, less wilted taste and texture you get when the basil is added post-oven. But the pizza tasted good, and that's what matters most. Flavorful, chewy crust that held its structure without being too thick, just enough simple and tasty sauce, and a bit of leoparding on the bottom.

I'd like to go back and explore other parts of the menu, and even some of the other house pizzas and toppings. A number of the pasta dishes really caught my eye as well. I think next time I'll bring the family.

In Training

Here's a shot from my first roll of Cinestill's BwXX film, which is basically Kodak's Eastman Double-X cinema film loaded in 35mm still cartridges. I didn't know whether I'd like this stuff all that much, but it's gorgeously silvery, and the highlights have a soft glow on some of the brighter frames.

So this is Wilson from back in October 2018, just chillin' on the sofa. And I finally sent my film back to good ol' Praus Productions up in Rochester, and I'm sure glad I did. They did a fantastic job on this and some othe rolls. I did a little pre-scan histogram adjustments, and didn't have to do much else other than remove a few specks of dust in post.

At any rate, this is still $10/roll straight from the source. For my preferences, I'd get a similar look from Ilford's FP4 (even though it's slower film) at a much cheaper price. You could buy a 100' roll for $90 and bulk load, which gets you down to about $5/roll. But really, I don't shoot a lot of 35mm anymore, and this stock is only available in 35mm. So it was fun to shoot, I got some nice results, and I still have 1 more roll to give it another go. But that'll probably be the end of it for me.

Hair of the Brunch

My family had the pleasure of brunching at some friends' house on Sunday. For this particular group of friends we're all used to bringing something to share, but with limited time to prepare any food, I offered up a brunch cocktail. The hosts approved, so I decided to make the classic Corpse Reviver №2 using a fine recipe from Saveur. This is a bright, citrusy tipple that works well with rich brunch fare, and it's stupid-easy to make because of the equal portions of each main ingredient. The problem, of course, is that I didn't want to hover over a bar measuring and shaking cocktails instead of socializing. So I went for a batch instead.

Normally this cocktail is shaken and strained into a coupe, so I made a standard cocktail the night before but strained into a measuring cup so I could get a sense of how much dilution I was adding from the ice. Seeing only about an extra ounce-ish of volume post-strain, I figured I'd be safe to stir in some ice cubes to a batch pour to achieve the desired strength.

On the morning of I juiced all the necessary lemons and then added an equal volume of the juice and each of the spirits to my pitcher. I wasn't going to shake 1.5 quarts of cocktail, so I sloshed the whole thing around with a whisk to mix it all together. I brought the whole pitcher to our friends' home along with some small, recyclable cocktail cups, a measuring cup, my little spray bottle of good absinthe, and a zip-lock bag of lemon zest strips I'd peeled that morning as well (the linked recipe above calls for orange zest, but I personally like the way lemon zest's aroma plays with the absinthe a little better).

If somebody wanted a cocktail, I could serve it up in about 30 seconds - mist the inside of a cup with absinthe, add a few ice cubes, and measure/pour 4 ounces of pre-mixed cocktail. Squeeze the zest over the cup and use the peel to give the drink a little stir. All done! The whole thing worked out better than I could have hoped, and I even ended up with a little left over to take home, though I'd better finish that by tonight before the lemon juice loses its zing!

Four Score

This picture is from 2010, but I swear to you she’s barely aged since.

This picture is from 2010, but I swear to you she’s barely aged since.

Our age in years is less a real measure of development than it is an arbitrary appreciation for round and/or culturaly significant numbers. Teens? Fractions of a century? Marking the decades? "Middle" age—whatever that means? Sure.

But 80...well, that's a long, full life. And I'm super fortunate that my grandmother (mom's mom) celebrates 80 years on earth today. Most of my family calls her "Jammie" (courtesy of my youngest brother when he was a bambino), and this spectacular woman is one of the best people I know.

I spent what feels like half of my childhood at her home by the Jersey Shore. I never realized until I was significantly older how much that time was a shield from the turmoil of my parents' divorce, and a point of access to resources and activities we otherwise couldn't afford. Time spent at Jammie's house was time basking in familial warmth - a warmth that spread through her descendents, an animated, humorous warmth that is one of the hallmarks of my maternal family. For 8 years she taught me to play the piano and instilled a love of music and learning that I carry to this day.

I'm also fortunate that my grandma is in reasonably good health at this age. She's been able to welcome many great grandchildren into the family, and it's conceivable that she could live to be a great-great grandmother, depending on whether/when my oldest nephew has any kids of his own. I smile thinking about the impact and influence she's had on her own expanding family and the countless students and parents she taught and interacted with back in New Jersey before she retired.

Happy Birthday, Jammie. I can't wait to treat you to a nice meal on Saturday.

Animating Performance

...if you stop any frame it looks like a [comic] panel.

—Patrick O'Keefe, one of two art directors on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, via Polygon

I've seen variations on that quote all over the place, and I completely agree. Frame by gorgeous frame, Spider-Verse is a comic book in motion. But it's not just the gorgeous comic book homage that makes this one of my favorite movies in recent years. Of course Spider-Verse deserved its Oscar for Best Animated Feature. But I feel like that's one of two narrow lenses through which people view this movie even if they're a fan: it's a cartoon (however innovative), and it's a comic/superhero movie (however different from the MCU).

I could gush about so many elements of this film (The voice casting/acting! The humane dialog! The production design! The soundtrack! The sound design! The New York-ness of it all!), but I want to draw special attention to the "physical" performances. The animated behavior and characterization of people (or pigs, or robots) in Spider-Verse is what makes it a motion picture and not just a series of comic book panels. In comic books, single panels have to do a lot of visual heavy lifting to convey emotion and subtext. Spider-Verse has plenty of individual frames that could do the trick, but the animators really used the whole medium to create natural and affecting movement that supported the truly excellent voice performances.

One of my favorite examples is when Mile Morales listens to some quotidian Spider-Man advice. Sure, you could pick a great still frame to get a sense of how he's feeling:

miles disgust.png

But when you combine an animator's characterization and a whole team's understanding of how people emote, you can see Miles' disbelief transition into disappointment and disgust:

“Anything else?”

“Anything else?”

The still frame points us to the emotional response. But the movement—that simulated physical performance—helps us feel it through slumping shoulders, half-rolled eyes, and a subtle head shake.

Another great example happens when alt-universe Peter B. Parker arrives at the high-tech hideout of the story universe's Spider Man. Just look at how over-it he feels in a single frame:

peter disgust.png

The performance really sells it, though. Alt-universe Peter already feels lost and defeated in his own world. Discovering that the story universe's hero had his own Bat—er, Spider Cave, is one more reminder that he'll never measure up to the perfect Parker:

“This place is pretentious.”

“This place is pretentious.”

These simulated actors with their simulated performances do real work suspending disbelief, drawing viewers into the world of the movie, and connecting with the audience so they have a reason to care about the characters. When I try to figure out why Spider-Verse means so much to me, this is one of the reasons hinting at the bigger picture. This level of cinematic execution and attention to detail is rare (like, Fury Road or Arrival rare) and should be celebrated, and not just because it moves animation forward both technically and aesthetically. Spider-Verse is the result of a huge collection of artists firing on all cylinders, driving toward a common goal. I feel so lucky to see the result.