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and when we die

Robin and I were talking about what we'll do when she retires. Talking about finances, not "Let's move to Nerja!" It was more the beginning of a long conversation than it was anything substantial, but just bringing up the topic gets you thinking.

We should be just fine, and I hope I never forget how privileged we are that I can say that. It's all thanks to her ... my pensions are limited, and my social security is small enough that I'm just waiting for her to retire so I can climb onto her benefits. But we have options, which again makes us lucky.

It's not the decision making that's important. Well, it will be eventually, but to some extent, it's about calculating what we'd get if she started Social Security at 70 as opposed to 66, and what kind of payments we'll choose from her ... heck, I don't even know what this stuff is called, the money that's been put away for her retirement.

But you soon realize that what is being discussed is about money on the surface, but the crucial fact (which can't really be exactly known) is how long we will live. For example, just off the top of my head (meaning I could be way off), if she started Social Security at 66, she'd get about $128k over the next four years. If she waited until she is 70, she'll get more by about $12k a year, but won't get that first $128k. So, again just thinking without actually working at it, if she lived to be 80, she would make close to the same amount overall no matter whether she started at 66 or 70. But if she lived past 80, that extra $12k/year would make the Start at 70 option the correct choice. So how long you expect to live matters, and who wants to think about that?

Then there's the part where who dies first matters. If it's me, her finances won't change much, because we won't be relying on my relatively small amount in the first place. But if she dies first, I'll end up with a lot less money, if I understand how it works. And it's about then that you understand you're talking about Who Dies First, and once more, who wants to think about that?

So ultimately, a conversation about retirement always ends up being about dying.

Really, it's another form of privilege that we can even have these conversations. I've already retired, and Robin will retire some time next year, while there are plenty of people who simply can't afford to retire. And while you can't predict the future, we can at least imagine a retirement that isn't an exercise in frugality. It also helps that since Robin has worked for Kaiser for 15+ years, our medical insurance will still be there.

Until we die.



teddy perkins

I have nothing special to say here, but last week's episode of Atlanta deserves mention. As I said on Facebook, I've seen some weird episodes ... heck, I watch Legion. But this was one of the weirdest.

Legion's weirdness is built in to the show. Here's Wikipedia's description of the basic scenario:

Dan Stevens stars as Haller, a mutant diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. [Noah] Hawley signed on to write and direct the pilot. He wanted to show Haller as an "unreliable narrator", including mixing 1960s design with modern-day elements, and filming the series through the title character's distorted view of reality....

Haller ... has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since.... Haller eventually discovers that his mind is infected by the parasitic mutant Amahl Farouk / Shadow King, and is able to force the villain from his mind. In the second season, Haller is trapped by a mysterious orb ...

You get the idea.

Everything is surprising and confusing on Legion, which to some extent diminishes the surprise ... we never know what's next, but we always know it will be weird and largely inscrutable.

Atlanta is not like that. Back to Wikipedia, which tells us "Atlanta is about two cousins navigating their way in the Atlanta rap scene in an effort to improve their lives and the lives of their families." It seems to fit into a popular type of series today that offers up the lives of people who aren't a part of the televised mainstream ... think Master of None or Insecure. Atlanta allows room for all the main characters to have their episodes, and we get to know them in depth. The show has taken some odd turns ... there was one episode that featured Justin Bieber played by a black actor. And Donald Glover called his show "Twin Peaks with rappers", which is both too easy and quite accurate. But more often than not, Atlanta gives us slices of life with an odd tinge.

Not the most recent episode, though. In "Teddy Perkins", we're introduced to an extremely eccentric man who looks like ... well, I don't know, like a man who used too much bleach on his skin. At one point, reference is made to Sammy Sosa (Vulture had a piece devoted specifically to all the pop-culture references in the episode). When Darius, who has met Teddy Perkins, tries to describe Teddy's face, he tells his friends to Google "Sammy Sosa hat". This is what I got when I did the search, although I knew what to expect:

Sammy sosa hat

It helps to understand that Sosa is a dark-skinned Dominican who uses bleaching cream.

Anyway, this is what Teddy Perkins looked like:

Teddy perkins

The story unfolded in such a way that you were never quite sure if we were seeing Darius having a dream. But the conclusion, with two dead bodies and a freaked-out Darius, seemed to suggest this all really happened. It will be interesting if next week makes any reference to this.

Oh, and the person playing Teddy Perkins? The show's star and creator, Donald Glover, who also appeared in his regular role as Earn.

One other thing ... the show ran over by five or so minutes (not all that unusual for an FX series), and had no commercial breaks. The latter added to the overall weirdness.


creature features: the incredible shrinking man and zombieland

The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957). An acknowledged classic of 50s sci-fi. My memory was that the special effects were weak, and the philosophical conclusion silly. But I'm glad I gave it another watch, because I was wrong. Sure, the effects are not up to the standards of today, but they work in the context of the movie. We are regularly surprised by the gradual shrinkage of the man, and while his battles with cat and spider might be done better today, I don't think we'd do any more to improve the excitement. As for that "I still exist!" ending, it's not nearly as dumb as I remembered. Grant Williams does a fine job in the title role. The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are my two favorite 50s sci-fi movies, but The Incredible Shrinking Man isn't far behind. It's Jack Arnold's best film.  #874 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 movies of all time.

Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009). This is an enjoyable zombie movie, with some of the feel of Edgar Wright's films. The zombies are MacGuffins ... this is actually a road movie, with Woody Harrelson playing the grownup. All four of the main cast are good (including Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin), but it's Harrelson who walks away with the film as a badass with a Twinkie obsession. There's also a great cameo ... most reviews I've read tell you who the person is, but that seems wrong in a spoiler-ish way, so on the off chance you haven't seen this nine-year-old movie, trust me, you'll like the cameo.


music friday: 1980

I feel like we've moved past punk (or we're into "post-punk") almost as soon as punk began. There are several New Wave songs on this list ... even Prince's song is New Wavish. And the post-punk tunes. Only the Funky 4 + 1 hints at the coming hip hop onslaught. And the only real punk tune here comes from Flipper.

Joy Division, "Love Will Tear Us Apart". I've always preferred New Order to Joy Division, but this song is unstoppable.

Bob Marley and The Wailers, "Redemption Song". Covered by seemingly everyone (I'm partial to Joe Strummer's version).

Blondie, "Call Me". I tend to forget this was from American Gigolo ... just feels like one of a succession of great Blondie singles at the time.

Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime". A memorable video, but watching it, you might think Talking Heads consisted solely of David Byrne. I kinda prefer the Stop Making Sense version, which focuses on Byrne, but at least lets us know there are other people in the band.

The Pretenders, "Precious". The first track from their first album. As a statement of purposes, it's hard to top Chrissie's "Fuck Off!". All these years later, it's hard to explain how powerful those two words were at the time. 

Prince, "When You Were Mine". As usual, it's hard to find Prince videos online, so here's Bob Mould, a contemporary of Minneapolis Prince, playing the song at the famous First Avenue just after Prince died.

The Fall, "Totally Wired". Mark E. Smith died a couple of months ago, which forced me to realize I don't know any Fall songs. Until I put this list together, and remembered I do know this one.

The English Beat, "Mirror in the Bathroom". Their first album was like a greatest hits album.

Funky 4 + 1, "That's the Joint". The infallible Wikipedia tells us, "They were the first hip hop group to receive a recording deal, and the first to perform live on national television. The group was also notable for being the first to have a female MC." Christgau named this the best single of the 80s.

Flipper, "Ha Ha Ha". I have so many Flipper stories. I've told most of them before. I called this a "real punk tune" above, but it's probably post-punk too. Sigh.

in loving memory, shyrrl

Shyrrl service

I'd just gotten my PhD. There was a knock at the door. I answered it. There was our neighbor and friend Shyrrl. "Is there a doctor in the house?", she asked. Then she handed me a quilt she had made. It was an Elvis quilt. She didn't like Elvis, but she'd visited down South once, knew I liked him, and so she bought a lot of material for some later use. That became my Elvis quilt.

At today's service, there were a dozen stories like that.

opening day #39

Today I'll attend my 39th consecutive Giants home opener. The Giants have won 25 and lost 13 so far. Several players made their major-league debuts at one of these games: Juan Bonilla, Mike Couchee, Joey Cora, Jim Steels, Jose Guillen, Joe Martinez. Seven games have gone into extra innings, with the home team winning six of them.

I was going to pick a few highlights from over the years, but as I checked out old news stories, I realized that one opener stood above all others. I'll get to it in a second, but first, some of those highlights.

April 17, 1980: Giants 7, Padres 3. The only thing I remember about my first Opening Day is that I had a broken foot, and seats in the nosebleeds.

April 11, 2000: Dodgers 6, Giants 5. Dodger fans like remembering this one, known as the Kevin Elster Game. Elster, who had been out of baseball for a year, hit 3 homers in the first-ever game at what was then called Pacific Bell Park. It still belongs on my highlight list, precisely because it was the first one at China Basin. Barry Bonds liked the new park ... he hit a run-scoring double on the first pitch he saw, then homered in his next at-bat.

More Barry Bonds Games: In 2002, Barry hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to send fans home happy. And in 2004, this happened:

Aaron Rowand: Aaron Rowand was an unlikely hero. The center fielder, in his third season with the Giants, had been a bit of a disappointment. In 2010, the Giants played the longest opener in terms of innings played, and in the bottom of the 13th, Rowand did this:

The Giants went on to win their first World Series since coming to San Francisco. In the 2011 opener, Rowand was at it again, this time in the bottom of the 12th:

Objectively, the best performance by a Giant on any Opening Day I attended came in 2012. Matt Cain faced 28 batters and retired 27 for a one-hitter. The only hit against Cain was by the opposing pitcher, James McDonald, who had a career BA of .110 over six seasons. (Cain wasn't done. Later in the season, he threw the first perfect game in Giants history.)

But my pick for my best Opening Day? 1993.

By the end of the 1992, the Giants looked like they would be leaving town. They were sold to investors from Florida. But the sale was denied, a group of locals bought the team and kept them in San Francisco, and they started their new reign by signing Barry Bonds.

Appropriately, the Giants' opponent for their 1993 home opener was the Florida Marlins, playing in their first season.

The Grateful Dead sang the National Anthem. Sherry Davis made her major-league debut as the PA announcer, the first full-time female stadium announcer for a major league baseball team.

Barry Bonds came up in the bottom of the 2nd for his first Candlestick at-bat as a Giant:

And in the bottom of the 11th, Darren Lewis singled home the winning run, giving the Giants a 4-3 victory.

film fatales #39: a girl like her (amy s. weber, 2015)

Amy S. Weber is new to me. She comes out of advertising and educational films, and A Girl Like Her is only her second feature. The movie starts out looking like it will be the story of a victim of bullying who tries to kill herself, but the focus gradually changes to the bully herself. Weber has said that she wanted us to understand that bullying grows out of pain, that the victim is not the only person who is hurting. Weber does a good job of balancing this out ... she never lets us forget the victim. And she gets very good acting out of her three main performers, Lexi Ainsworth as Jessica who is bullied, Hunter King as Avery, the bully, and Jimmy Bennett as Jessica's friend Brian. (They are not amateurs ... Ainsworth and King have both won Emmys for their work on soap operas, and Bennett has been piling up acting credits since 2002.) To the extent that Weber wants us to feel the pain of the bully, she succeeds.

But there are serious problems with her approach. The film started as a documentary project, where youngsters would go to their schools wearing hidden cameras to show what their lives were "really" like. Gradually the documentary became a fictional narrative film, but Weber chose to retain the cameras, making A Girl Like Her more like a reality show than a fictional movie. The "found footage" makes up a good part of A Girl Like Her, and it is effective. But Weber also creates a character for herself, a documentary filmmaker named Amy, who gets permission from Jessica's parents to film their lives (the high school also gives her access). The secret footage from Jessica's hidden camera is important, but the rest seems squeezed in ... it's more distracting than illuminating. The character "Amy" also becomes the bully's confidant, which adds a creepiness that detracts from the attempt to show us that bullies are people, too. In essence, I never understood why the documentary angle was part of the movie. It allows for the big scene when Avery is confronted with her behavior, but I wish they had found a different way to give us that scene. "Amy" is far too important for a story about three high-schoolers. (The website for the film includes a couple of videos of "Amy" interviewing "Avery", "Jessica", and "Brian" showing how the characters are doing, a few months down the road. For me, it's several steps too far, but in fairness, it seems that many have been affected by the movie and what I see as its excesses.)

A Girl Like Her would be better as an hour-long afterschool special, with the documentary stuff eliminated. As is, it's just an interesting try.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)