Step and pivot: Musings on sleep, weightlessness and the exercise machine of my dreams

July 19, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 19, 2016

People often say that dreams of flying give them a wonderful sensation of being weightless. I too occasionally dream about moving through the air, but I have a slightly different association between sleep and weightlessness.

Sometimes when I’m falling asleep, I feel as though I’m drifting in space. It’s a seductive feeling, and often the moment I become aware of the sensation overlaps with the moment unconsciousness overtakes me.

At other times, when I’m struggling to fall asleep, I try to simulate the sense of weightlessness. I do this by imagining what it feels like to be floating in water or suspended in microgravity. On some occasions, I’ll think about being on a bicycle that’s effortlessly rolling downhill; on others, I’ll think about how it feels to ride in a car or airplane, or what it might look like if I were somehow traveling with my eyes alongside the wheel of a moving bicycle or car.

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Cheeps and Chirps for July 15, 2016

July 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 15, 2016

Presenting more recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed.

• Comedy!

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Series summary: The ‘Laughing Gas’ movies

July 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 15, 2016

I recently rewatched all the entries in my favorite schlocky horror-movie series, and I wanted to recap them for your enjoyment!

• Laughing Gas (1959). Jim Laffmore (Lou Vernon) is the proprietor of Laughmore’s Comedy Club and Lounge, a venue that is wildly successful despite being located in the small West Virginia town of Plainville. What no one knows is that every night he floods the ventilation system with laughing gas in order to stimulate crowds.

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More tales of free poker: The hungry and disgruntled player

July 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 13, 2016

The evening started off well enough. In an early hand against a man named Aziz, whom I know sometimes plays junk, I started off with the ace and jack of diamonds and hit a jack on the flop, which gave me top pair and top kicker. He went all in following either the turn or the river, and after thinking, I decided to commit. He had nothing better than a low pair, and I raked in a nice pot.

The game progressed, shrinking from four tables to two. (I was seated at the same table throughout the tournament.) About once an orbit, I would be dealt a pair, and I continued to bet aggressively on them — I usually went all in, because my stack was respectable but modest compared to what other folks had. Everyone kept on folding, leaving me to collect only the blinds, which isn’t great but is better than losing.

A boisterous player named Jon arrived, the very same man who had gotten me involved in World Tavern Poker in the first place, albeit indirectly — although that’s a story for another time. (It isn’t all that interesting, frankly…) Around the same time, we hit the 5,000–10,000 blind level. The tournament director, a.k.a. the TD, removed the black chips from the table, leaving us with only white chips, which have a nominal value of 5K.

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Tragedy upon tragedy: America suffers its worst week in nearly 15 years

July 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 9, 2016

This week, two men — two black men — who did not seem to pose an imminent threat to anyone were shot to death by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. About 24 hours after the death of the second man, Philando Castile, a gunman began firing at the conclusion of a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas. Five law enforcement officers died; eight other people were wounded, all but two of whom were police.

More than two years ago, I called April 2, 2014, “a most American day” because of the events that took place on a seemingly ordinary Wednesday. That morning, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision that eased restrictions on political donations, thereby further paving the way for America’s wealthy to expand their influence on the nation’s political process. That afternoon, a mass shooting took place at Fort Hood in Texas, as three people were killed and 13 others injured by a soldier who subsequently took his own life.

That was a bad day, and bad in ways that were characteristically American; that is, in ways that showed off our nation’s embrace of money and guns. This past week, I think, has also been uniquely American, and for some of the same reasons. In fact, I think this has been the most discouraging week for our nation since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

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Recent Readings for July 8, 2016

July 8, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 8, 2016

I spent a great deal of Independence Day reading. Here’s a selection of worthwhile #longreads for you to enjoy!

• “The Devil on Paradise Road.” Bruce Barcott tells the gripping story of a fatal shooting on New Year’s Day 2012 at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. After an Iraq war veteran with a history of domestic violence and alcohol abuse shot a park ranger and disappeared into the wild, authorities attempted to rescue their wounded colleague and to protect numerous park visitors without knowing where or when the next bullets might be fired.

• “A Short-Order Murder.” In 1969, newlyweds Helen and Peter Menicou moved to America. In 1997, she was shot to death by a cook whom she’d worked with amicably for years. Lisa Davis’s feature article, published a few months after the slaying, vividly conjures the atmosphere of San Francisco’s Pinecrest Diner and sketches the universally beloved victim:

Sometimes the topic was money — fortunes were made and lost in the Pinecrest stock market — but whatever the subject, the discussion always occurred underneath the smell of bacon grease, sweet, sticky syrup, brewing coffee, and grilled meat all mixed together.

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Brian Daley provides fast-moving space opera fun in ‘The Han Solo Adventures’

July 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 7, 2016

Sometimes, when I pick up certain books that I read years ago, I am transported to past eras of my life. There was a stretch in the summer of 2003 when I would frequently take a picnic lunch from my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, amble over to Riverside Park and read one of the hefty volumes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I no longer recall which of the books I consumed during those warm, lazy afternoons, but I think of those idle summer reading sessions anytime I pick up the third or subsequent entires from the Potter chronicles.

Similarly, when I reread the first two volumes in Douglas Adams’s “increasingly misnamed trilogy” of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, I recall sitting in the backyard of the house where I grew up, also on a summer day, and virtually inhaling the words that I still enjoy these many years later.

The other day, I was looking for books to discard from my personal collection when I noticed a long-forgotten paperback that bore the clunky title of Star Wars®: The Han Solo Adventures. This yellowing mass-market paperback was published in June 1992 by Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. It’s an omnibus edition of three space opera novels licensed from George Lucas’s Star Wars universe; its cover boasts, “For the first time, all three books in one volume!”

The three books contained therein — Han Solo at Stars’ EndHan Solo’s Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy — were all written by science fiction author Brian Daley. They were originally published over what seems like an unbelievably short period: Han Solo at Stars’ End debuted in April 1979, according to Wookieepedia, while the trilogy concluded in August 1980 with the release of Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.

As soon as I saw the book, I knew that I wanted to reread it, and almost as soon as I started rereading it, I began recalling the novel’s intricate particulars in detail. All three books are rip-roaringly fun adventures that pay loving homage to the eponymous smuggler, his immense fur-covered Wookiee sidekick, Chewbacca, and their battered, deceptively ordinary-looking freighter, the Millennium Falcon.

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Cheeps and Chirps for July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2016

Please enjoy some more recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed.

• Comedy!

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Recent Readings for July 1, 2016

July 1, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 1, 2016

• “The Love Song of Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Horndog Governor.” GQ political correspondent Jason Zengerle dives into one of the recent scandals that has rocked the Alabama political world: The extramarital affair between Gov. Robert Bentley, a kindly dermatologist and grandfather whom some nicknamed “the accidental governor,” and a senior adviser. The whole thing is sordid, and includes the firing of one of the governor’s friends, a top state law enforcement official, because he crossed Bentley and his lover. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the entire affair is how Bentley’s entire character and life appear to have changed as a result of his dalliance.

• “Is Mike Hubbard the Most Corrupt Politician in America?” Gov. Bentley isn’t the only politician from the Yellowhammer State to have run into serious trouble. In 2010, former sports broadcasting mogul Mike Hubbard masterminded a Republican takeover of all branches of Alabama state government after Democrats had held the legislature for 136 straight years. In 2012, a grand jury indicted Hubbard on 23 felony counts. This article by Joe Miller was the first in a series of five New Republic stories describing the charges against Hubbard and his trial, which concluded in June with a mixed verdict.

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An ex-jock gets tangled up in a scheme to abscond with ill-gotten cash in the crime thriller ‘Caught Stealing’

June 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 30, 2016

More than 16 years ago, novelist Colin Harrison published a gritty crime thriller called Afterburn. I read it not long after its release, and while a lot of the details have faded with time, I remember its brutality. One of the main characters is tortured by mobsters eager to recover some missing money; although at least one character in the book arrives at a happy ending of sorts, most of the others experience grievous and permanent harm along the way.

I thought of Afterburn recently while reading Caught Stealing, a 2004 Charlie Huston novel that shares part of the earlier book’s premise, along with its penchant for putting characters through the grinder. Moreover, the volumes have almost the same setting — Manhattan at the close of the 20th century, although Harrison’s book takes place in 1999 while Huston’s spans Sept. 22 through Oct. 1, 2000.

Huston’s protagonist is Hank Thompson, a 30-something (or nearly so) alcoholic bartender. He inadvertently gets caught up in a vicious caper when his neighbor asks him to take care of his cat, Bud, while he goes to visit his terminally ill father.

The neighbor is named Russ Miner, and he’s got a secret: Although his father is dying, he’s actually skipping town in an attempt to avoid cutting his partners-in-crime in on the $4.5 million dollars taken in a string of small-town bank robberies around the country — money which they trusted him to store until the heat had cooled a bit.

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