Monday, November 24, 2008

Meet the Family: Sam

The youngest of our cats.

Sam was presumably born in Rochester, NY in 2004. My wife wanted a third cat. I didn't. She got one anyway. She picked him up at a shelter. While I wasn't happy with her trampling over me in her need to get a head start on becoming a crazy cat lady once I'm dead, Sam quickly wormed his way into my heart.

Sam remains the smallest of our cats, giving him the appearance of still being a kitten. Sam (named for director Sam Raimi) isn't a lap cat. The few times he's jumped in someone's lap, he's just looked confused about the situation and jumped back down. Sam is a shoulder cat. When he wants to get attention, he jumps up the front of people. Hopefully, they are expecting them. It can be startling to suddenly have a little orange fury face appear in front of yours. The jump also involves a moment of him scaling a person's chest like he's Spiderman. At our heights (6' in my case, 5'10" in my wife's), my wife and I have to catch him in our arms to keep him from falling back down. Sam gives a hurt look if he drops back down because we're not expecting him.

Even when he cuddles up to my wife at night to sleep, he has to curl around her head. He loves being around that area of the body, it's not just him enjoying being up high.

Meet the Family: Spike

Here's the Jan to Sebastian's Marcia Brady.


Spike was presumably born in Buffalo, NY in 2001. Our friend Bob found him and a pair of litter-mates that had been abandoned in a box. Spike's sister had medical problems from the start and after investing in her health care, Bob opted to keep her. Spike came to live with us and his brother went to another home. Sebastian was mortified upon Spike's arrival. I've never seen a cat show such a look of concern, betrayal, anguish, etc. Sebastian's eyes went so huge that he looked like one of those big-eyed animal paintings.

Spike had an attitude from the start. It earned him his name right off the bat. Yes... he's named after William the Bloody. Despite not being anywhere near as large as Sebastian, Spike tends to be boss of the house. I think it may be because Sebastian is so easy going. The times that push has really come to shove, Sebastian has shown himself to be the guy who picks his battles and wins the ones that matter.

Spike has a thing about attacking people who sneeze (especially me). I think he perceives it as a threatening hiss. He's also the reason that the veterinarian comes to our house with a team armed with leather gloves up to their elbows (and the reason why the vet chooses to make us a house-call). Spike has been known to use anything he can as a weapon against vets... including feces. His aggression definitely is based in fear. Spike is totally the model for Yoda's speech about Fear leading to the dark side in Phantom Menace.

Spike, like his sister, has chronic health issues. His immune system can kick into overdrive during periods of stress. His lips swell up, his breath gets raunchy, his fur coat gets lackluster and he becomes lethargic. It has taken cortisone and occasionally shots of actual gold into his bloodstream to bring him out of it. The problem as decreased over time, but meant a good deal of time in an animal hospital when he was young (hence his hatred of vets). Below are pics of Spike displaying the swollen lips symptom and of him following an operation to remove part of his paw padding that had become infected due to cracks forming in the padding (another symptom of his chronic problems).

Meet the Family: Sebastian

Here's the eldest of our pets.


Sebastian was born in Albion, NY in 1999. His parents were barn cats. He had about 6 weeks as a barn cat himself before we adopted him and he's led a life of leisure ever since. Sebastian has a weight problem. He's currently been on a diet for half a year...and still seems to be gaining weight somehow. I have no idea how he does it.

He is a sweet cat, but his hygiene suffers due to his obesity. This makes him our smelly cat as well. So, while he's the most likely to jump into guest's lap during a visit, he's also likely to get pushed away thanks to the combination of his weight squeezing off blood flow to their legs and the stench coming from his unreachable nethers.

He apparently also has the psychic ability to tell that I'm thinking about him, as he has just now come downstairs to punish me with his crushing bulk. His aroma de cat poop seems less this morning, so one of our other two cats must have taken pity on him and given him a bath this morning.

Here's a pair of photos of Sebastian and I playing together. The camera scared him.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Car Accident

On Tuesday morning, Kristy got into a car accident on her way into work. Luckily, her and the baby are okay. She was going under 30 mph at the time and was buckled in. She was driving down a winding section of road when she saw cars stopped ahead (presumably due to another accident) and slowed down. Her car began sliding and spinning and she struck a guard rail twice, smashing the front and back on the driver side.

The insurance company decided to total the vehicle based on it's book value. Kristy wasn't very happy with what they are paying us for it. Luckily, we have a reliable second vehicle, so she's able to get back and forth to work. It just means that Kyra and I will be limited in travel for a bit and will miss playgroups at the local community family room. As soon as we get the money for the vehicle, we'll shop around for another car. It will likely not be as nice though. Oh well.
The important thing is that there were absolutely no injuries during the incident.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zombies, Parenting and the Loss of Identity

"They're coming to get you, Barbra."
-Johnny, Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A few years back I wrote an article on the history of zombies in pop culture and delved into the psychology behind what makes them scary. One aspect of the zombie in most fiction is its loss of identity. While modern zombies (post 1968) shown in films tend to come from different backgrounds based on the clothing they are seen wearing, they all lose their individuality and are ultimately identical in function and purpose. Even the classic voodoo zombie is an example of identity loss through slavery.

If you watch one of Romero's zombie films you will see zombies from all sorts of backgrounds; nurses, baseball players, mechanics, clowns, soldiers, farmers, etc. As zombies, however, they are just part of a mindless teeming mass united in a single goal. With a few minor exceptions, they seem to all lose their personalities. For example: In the original Dawn of the Dead (1978), one of the most tense moments in the film is an attack by a zombie that was dressed as a Hare Krishna. While he most likely was once a pacifist, as a zombie he's now robbed of his personal mores, decisions and identity.

As an adult I've found that marriage and parenthood can result in some identity loss as well. When you become part of a serious couple, you are no longer always Richard...quite often you will find that you are referred to in the collective, Richard and Jane. You'll also find that friends will act differently around you. Single friends may be uncomfortable around you, because you've become one of "them." Isn't that the real horror of zombie films? The fear of "them" and becoming "them"... whoever "they" are that you are afraid of. Eek! The Communists/Republicans/Mormons/Gays/Muslims/insert whatever culture of people worries you are at your door, wanting to convert you as well! In the case of a single friends perspective of your transformation during a relationship, perhaps the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a better reference. "It looks like the buddy I used to party with...but he's wearing a sweater...and using a coaster!" and "Oh god, I think he might be trying to fix me up with her sister!"

The same can happen with divorce or breakups. I've made friends with couples as a couple and had them part ways after a few years of knowing them. It can feel odd in the years afterward. "Richard and Jane" becomes "Richard" and "Jane." The dynamic that was there when you became friends has changed. I've had friends in this situation where hanging out with them after a breakup felt like hanging out with someone who suffered a head trauma that resulted in a loss of a familiar aspect of their personality. There's a feeling of disability even when the breakup has a positive impact on the person's life. I was married once before. My divorce was definitely a positive move for me. However, I did notice it made an impact on my friendships that varied widely from positive to negative (even though I wasn't the one who had been unfaithful and wasn't even the one who asked for the divorce). Some people couldn't be friends with both of us separately, or the dynamic had just changed too much for friendship to remain comfortable.

Upon becoming a parent, I discovered a bigger bite taken out of the identities of my wife and I. We weren't even "Tom and Kristy" to many people in our neighborhood within a year of Kyra's birth. We were "Kyra's Mom and Dad." We'd bump into another couple with a child at the local store or on the street and that was what we'd hear; "Oh hey! It's Kyra...and her parents."

Even before that point, we were finding less time to practice the things that were integral to being "us." Kristy was finding little time for playing her piano. I had hobbies that got boxed up and thrown into the attic to make way for baby stuff and also because I just plain didn't have time. We both were regular readers, but our book reading slowed to a trickle. It was the same with sex and intimacy between Kristy and I.

Now that I'm a stay-at-home dad, I have become more active in our small community and more people have gotten to know my name. Still, I can tell that a lot of folks I'm talking with at playgroups and what not see me first and foremost as "Kyra's dad." I'm not the star of my own show. I'm a supporting character in The Life of Kyra. Luckily for me, it's a pretty fun show and I'm lucky to land the part. It just takes some adjustment. I think it became even more noticeable to me in some ways because of leaving my job. My solo identity was a bit more publicly stable there. I wonder if housewives and other househusbands have experienced the same thing upon giving up careers to be at home.

Kristy and I reached a point of misery in how many of the things we love we'd been sacrificing. We've been making a bit more effort to make sure each of us has some "me" time. However, we'll never be who we were again. When our kids grow older and fly out of the nest, we probably won't know what to do with ourselves and the free time we'll have. I also think of people out there who have kids that are more like accessories. I especially get that feeling when I see the children of celebrities on TV. In that case it seems all too often the child's identity suffers under the weight of the parent's.

I've also noticed that over the past three years of being parents, Kristy and I have made friends we wouldn't have before. We'll make friends just because the people also have children around Kyra's age. It's an odd sensation. When we hear that one of our childless couple friends are expecting we rejoice, not just for them...but because there's more of "us" in the social circle. The parents. So now we're not just looking to fix up those single friends, we're trying to get them to have kids too. Make them into one of us.

"Gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!"
-Freaks (1932)

For someone like my brother, who is single and plans to never have children...we have become "them."


I mentioned in an earlier blog that I'd discuss the rewards we're using in attempting to guide Kyra towards positive behaviors. During the initial potty training stages we used stickers as rewards for using the potty. It worked well for a while, but because she also gets sticker books as gifts, the novelty seemed to wear out quick for her. Back in April, after her time with daycare ended and she began to stay home with me, her potty training regressed a bit, most likely because of the changes in her schedule. That and she was probably a little upset at not seeing Lori, her daycare provider, on a regular basis anymore. Lori was, and still is, very close with Kyra. She stops by for visits and even volunteered to babysit Kyra for free so that they could hang out. Lori has a son that is slightly older than Kyra and Kyra loves him too.

Anyhow, back to rewards. We resorted to using candy for a short while. It worked, but we were doling out too much of it. We stopped, rather than risk tooth decay. Currently, for potty training we've switched to using a chart that tracks each day she hasn't had an accident. She puts a sticker on each day that she doesn't. At the end of 7 days of stickers in a row, she gets to pick a toy out of a bag full of dollar store toys we purchased as rewards. This has worked great. She hasn't had an accident since we started the program. She's also begun to show more of a tendency to use the potty at night. On her chart, we don't count wet pull-ups that were worn while sleeping. However, we give her praise for the times she's had a dry pull-up in the morning and used the potty at night. It seems to be working very well.

This past week, I began trying rewards that would be less cluttering (this kid really doesn't need more toys). I dug out a box from storage that had my toys in it from when I was a kid. I've now been rewarding positive behavior with allowing her some time with these "special" limited-availability toys. I put them back away after the playtime is over so she has to earn them again. It works. It also helps that I was a child of the 1970s and she's currently on a Star Wars kick (She currently sleeps with Star Wars McDonald's toys her Uncle Shawn gave her). So, she's thrilled when I pull out the old Star Wars action figures and the toy lightsaber my best friend Lance gave me as a gift back in the mid-1990s. I also have a toy that was given to me as a gag gift years ago. It's an electronic toy that looks like Frankenstein Monster's head. It talks and you can pull off pieces of it's facial anatomy in a variety of games. That too has been a reward hit.

Earlier in the week, while experimenting with getting Kyra to clean up her playroom by using fractions of the room rather than time increments, I tried another type of reward. After each quarter of the room was picked up, she was rewards with "dance time." I'd play a song on a CD and we'd dance crazy together. It was a hit. It wasn't the dancing to music itself, which she gets to do regularly anyway, it was the fact that daddy was there dancing with her. It was fun. I also got some cardio exercise out of it and it was another bonding experience. It's a total hit.

On a further note, Kyra's now dancing the "Time Warp" at times, even when there's no music to go with it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movie Review - Brutal Massacre: A Comedy

Brutal Massacre: A Comedy is a mockumentary (seems like about 30% of films these days are. Heck, even I've directed one and had a bit part in another) that Fangoria Magazine describes as "A Spinal Tap for horror filmmakers.” A fair and accurate description in my estimation having now seen it.

Brutal Massacre stars An American Werewolf in London's David Naughton as Harry Penderecki, a horror movie director who, while achieving a fan following for his B-movies, has found himself on the outs with the Hollywood movie-machine. The mockumentary follows Penderecki on his quest to make his comeback film, titled "Brutal Massacre." His struggles bring to mind Terry Gilliam's disastrous experience attempting to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote back in 2000. Along the way, Penderecki and his crew face FX failures, injuries, inhospitable living conditions, lack of pay, a sewage mishap, near death experiences, death itself, disloyal actors and police arrest.

The opening moments of the film show Harry Penderecki making an appearance at a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention. The scene raised my warning flags and I began to worry about the quality of the movie and whether I actually wanted to sit through it. Luckily, I hung in there and gave it a shot. Even more luckily, I was rewarded with an entertaining and funny film in return for my patience.

The movie has a number of horror genre celebrities besides David Naughton either appearing as themselves or playing fictional characters. I'm not going to bother listing them. It has become an entirely over-used ploy in genre films. These days, I spend more time playing Where's Waldo with the horror icons of yesteryear in these movies that I can't get into the atmosphere of the film. However, in a comedy about horror filmmaking, these roles and cameos have some charm.

Brutal Massacre also comedy veterans Brian O'Halloran and Gerry Bednob in prominent roles as the fictional production's Production Assistant and Director of Photography, respectively. I half expected Kevin Smith to show up for a cameo after seeing those two in the movie. Both Brian and Gerry play well off of Naughton and the scenes with them interacting are some of my favorite in the movie. Ken Foree manages to earn laughs while still portraying a character I couldn't help but feel sorry for.

However, the standout comedy performance in the film is old Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen. After seeing him as the beer-swilling, potty-mouthed, lecherous, disgruntled Vietnam veteran, Krenshaw, I want to see him get more comedy roles. He looks like he was having fun making the film and in turn makes watching his performance fun as well.

Brutal Massacre is rated R, though I think it leans more toward a PG-13. It isn't something I'll be watching with my kids anytime soon, so it will remain a treat for those scant hours I have to watch my grownup movies.

Precocious Kyra moment while writing this blog entry: Kyra asked me to open up Word on our other PC so that she could write an article about Sam Patch, the early 19th century daredevil who jumped to his doom in the Genesee River Gorge in Rochester, NY. We were there last month when I was taking photos for an article I wrote about the incident for Dark Destinations. She has quite the memory.

My Friend the Increment

Lately I've been finding it easier working with my preschooler by making tasks or requests that are broken into increments of either time or scope. I've tried using a timer while getting her to clean up her toys. I set it for 10 minutes of cleanup time, then set it for 5 minutes of playtime break. I alternated back and forth until the room was clean. The process took a long time, but did achieve results without dad having to resort to threatening to throw out toys.

Yesterday, I tried something new in setting her a goal of picking up toys in a quarter of her playroom, followed by a reward and then having her return to clean another quarter of the room. The effect was far faster and more effective in achieving a measurable and noticeable difference for each increment.

This morning I wanted a little bit of quiet time so I could work on some writing. I set the timer and told Kyra when it went off she would get a reward (more on rewards in a future blog) if she managed to play quietly during that time without making a large mess. In this instance, the timer was ineffective. Within moments she was in the den, tugging on my shirt and looking for me to entertain her. A few moments later, she was back again. Reminding her of our deal didn't work one bit.

I asked what she could do on her own that she'd like that would give me the time I needed. Kyra asked to play the toddler reading games on Now, she's quietly playing on our old PC with headphones on with me a couple feet away working on the newer PC. It has worked far better.

I recall when I was younger, how much larger increments of time seemed to me. While a few minutes seems incredibly scant to me, it may feel like forever to her. Perhaps it has to due with the physics concept of time relativity. It is said that time moves slower the closer you get to a center of gravity. Perhaps being those extra couple feet closer to the ground makes time go slower. I may just try lying on the floor all day sometime next week and see how slow the day seems to pass.

While incremental staging of tasks definitely gets a thumbs up from me, I don't see the timer really working for anything beyond setting a limit on quiet time punishment. The goal will be increments based on clear physical results. It is easier for me to measure and easier for her to understand the goal.

Meet the Family: Elijah

This is Elijah.

Coming March 2009 to a maternity ward near us.

So far, his hobbies include kicking his mother in the stomach, sleeping and eating through a fleshy tube that runs straight to his tummy. We were pretty sure the next baby was going to be a girl and he surprised us when we got the ultrasound a few weeks back. I wonder if he will continue to pull surprises out here in the world outside the womb.

My wife wouldn't let me name him Milo or Pugsly. She spoils all my fun.

Meet the Family: Kyra

This is our daughter Kyra.

This is also Kyra.

She can go from Shirley Temple to Wednesday Addams in an eighth of a second. Most times she's in between the two, playing with her Cenobite action figures and her My Little Ponies (though most recently she's been on Star Wars kick). She's precocious as heck and one of the most out-going preschoolers you'll meet. She also shows definite signs of a being a blossoming horror fan herself. At age one she giggled at people in monster costumes at a horror movie convention we brought her to. The same year she was terrified upon meeting Santa Claus. She wakes up and tells us she had nice dreams about monsters, yet has woken up yelling because episodes of Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! have worried her (the episodes where animals are in peril due to water seem to be the ones bothering her).

Her favorite monster currently is Frankenstein's monster. She fell in love with him after watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and The Monster Squad. She also shares her daddy's affinity for Scooby Doo. She also shows an increasing interest in music and will hopefully take after her mother in that regard (her daddy is tone-deaf).

Kyra also has an active imagination and a wonderful sense of humor. For example: When I informed her that we were having stuffed zucchini for dinner tonight, her response was to tell me she couldn't eat it because a ghost had pooped on the food. How can I argue with that? I have no conclusive means disproving the presence of invisible phantom dung!

Kyra is named after Kyra Schon, who played the role of Karen Cooper in Night of the Living Dead (1968) (hence the masonry trowel in the second picture above). So far, she's happy with the association and excitedly points out the iconic image of Kyra Schon whenever it is present on a poster, T-shirt, DVD case, etc.

The first three months of her life, I was a stay-at-home dad before she was placed in daycare so I could take a job that ate up all my time and had me as a slave to a Blackberry device 24/7 365 (even on vacation/holiday/whatever). After going through a couple of years of my job making everyone in our family miserable, we looked at the figures and realized that with us planning on having a second child, the job that demanded so much of my time was barely worth it if we had to pay for daycare for two kids. I left my job in April, 2008. Just a bit shy of 3 years old, Kyra had her daddy back. It's been an experience for both of us over the past seven months.

Kyra is very excited about becoming a big sister next year.

Meet the Family: Kristy

This is my beautiful wife Kristy.

Unlike me, she has skills that are practical and that are more easily put to use. Currently, she's the bread winner in the family. Kristy is awesome with tools and built the shelves in the photo above in an attempt to get our movie collection under control.

Kristy and I met in 1997. We were fixed up by my dad, who had been her Sunday school teacher. See what happens when you send your daughters to church? They wind up married to creepy freaks like me. Speaking of which, we've been married since 2002. She's put up with 11 years of my crap and still hasn't run screaming for the hills, so I guess she's here to stay. How many women would put with their husband owning an actual coffin (I sold the second one I had) and mucking up the kitchen with stinky liquid latex, fake blood and other FX nastiness?

Besides making enough of living to support her husband staying at home to provide childcare and her abilities in DIY home improvements, Kristy is also musically inclined. She plays piano mostly, but I've lost count of the musical instruments in her collection. Luckily for me she also has an appreciation for horror movies and literature as well as enjoying taking trips to odd creepy locations with me, such as the time we spent the night in the Lizzie Borden house.

We have been parents since 2005 and are expecting another child in March of 2009.

Meet the Family: Tom G

Hi, I'm Tom G.

I've been a fan of all things dark and macabre as long as I remember (which would be age 4). My initial influences were episodes of Scooby Doo, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and William Castle's movie House on Haunted Hill. At age 16 I had my first date with George A. Romero's horror classic Night of the Living Dead and it was love at first sight. At the same age I also developed another apparently life-long obsession besides Romero's film: the works of authors John Skipp and Craig Spector (both together and separately).

Horror and Halloween are pretty much a lifestyle for me. It is in my movies, music, games, books, etc. Over the course of more than a decade, my wife has managed to get me to buy a few normal shirts so that not everything I wear has a horror movie image or rock group on it.

My brain catches and holds odd little macabre facts the way some guys can memorize sports statistics and everything there is to know about cars. In recent years, I've been able to put this odd quirk to good use finally as co-creator of the Dark Destinations database at It is an on-line guide to all places spooky, horrific and macabre around the world and it is part of one of my favorite web sites. Started in 1994, The Cabinet is one of the oldest horror sites on the Internet. It went on hiatus from 2001 through 2006 and I was honored to be part of its comeback. I've always been a fan of its all-inclusive approach to horror, rather than yet another site focusing on just movies.

2001 is also a significant year for me in that I got my first taste of indie film-making while playing a minor character (basically an extra with a bit of dialogue) and doing some other minor behind-the-camera work for my friend Curt Markham's feature length micro-budget movie Curse the Darkness. After being invited to be a part of the production of a short film for a 48 Hour Film Festival. After those two experiences I had the bug. In 2003, Spinning Grave Productions was formed by a number of friends and myself. In the time since, its members have made a number of twisted comedy shorts. In 2008, I once again had the chance to work on one of Curt Markham's features. This time I got to dabble in making my own latex prosthetics. It is definitely something I will doing more of in the future.