I Will Never Shake Another Hand….

Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors. The Bourne Trilogy, Good Will Hunting, The Good Shepard, etc. His filmography is full of movies that entertain, intrigue, and – most of all – tell stories. Watch any Matt Damon movie, and you will leave the theater feeling as if you have read an entire book, and there are no questions left unanswered…

…Unless you watch Contagion. Now, before you stop reading, I won’t give any type of spoilers away for the movie, except for the fact ((***SPOILER ALERT THROUGHOUT THE BLOG***) that there are seizures in the movie. Overall, Contagion was probably the best movie I have watched in theaters in 2011. There was intrigue, suspense, and an overall great story. But after watching the movie, it left one question in my mind: Could I be patient zero?

For those who don’t know me, over the last 5-6 years, I have suffered from random seizures. I have been to doctors, had tests run, tried all different kinds of medicines, and as of today, a cause has yet to be determined. I have had three seizures while driving, and as of yet, I have been lucky not to harm anyone (including myself), and it has been determined that I should no longer drive OR live on my own, at least until an actual reason has been figured out. I was resigned to the fact that I had some rare neurological disease until I watched Contagion.

The movie (basically) has to do with a disease with a high mortality rate that has stretched throughout the world, causing a mortality rate that is far beyond comprehension. Originally, I figured that it was a good way to tell a story; but the more of the movie I watched, the more I realized something: I should be in the movie. The people who died had seizures before they died. The doctors have no idea what caused their illness/what caused their death. The people are dumbfounded. Sounds like every day of my life.

While I watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think if maybe what was going on in the movie is what was going on with me. People randomly having seizures, their families not knowing what caused them. These people never had any history of seizures; they never had any type of issues previously, yet all of a sudden they are having severe seizures that (eventually) caused death? What the fuck?

So after watching Contagion, I have been asking myself a series of questions: What did I touch in the months leading up to my first seizure (impossible to figure out)? Has anyone that I was in contact with around that time been afflicted with the same issues that I have (nope)? What did I eat (nothing at my aunt’s house, considering she can’t cook)?

The movie basically is a lesson in human cleanliness: wash your hands after you use the bathroom, touch a surface that you know isn’t clean, etc., otherwise you could start a worldwide epidemic. So if there is any doubt in your mind that the person who you just met didn’t wash his hands….don’t touch them.

Now the real question arises in my head…..even though it was a movie, what if it were true? What if my seizures were brought on by touching a surface that some unsanitary person touched after changing their tampon/shaking their dick? Could it be….because someone has no idea of individual hygiene, I have been doomed to a life of suffering? Could it be….because someone has never heard of Irish Spring, I will forever be worried about catching some unknown disease and thinking that my next seizure could be the last event I experience…..?

…..Or could I have just watched a movie that played on the human psyche, and our trait (as humans) to fear what we do not understand? Did I watch a movie that played on the fact that all humans are inherently afraid of the things that we have little understanding about?

Either way, Contagion is a movie that people who enjoy non-conventional thrillers should watch. It is a movie that brings forth the most elementary fear of all of us….the fear of the unknown.

*** Out of ***** stars for Contagion


Full Circle

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Around this time last year, I was talking myself into moving across the country. I couldn’t find a valid reason for me to stay in California. When the opportunity for me to move to Maine presented itself, I couldn’t get on the plane fast enough. After 3 1/2 months, it was determined that Maine (or more specifically, the situation in Maine) wasn’t the right one for me. So I was prepared to move back to Orange County. Then, two days before I am scheduled to move back, I get a phone call from my aunt, asking me to come to San Diego, and help her out with some of the issues that she was dealing with. I wasn’t in too much of a rush to go back to Orange County, so I figured, “why not?”. I changed my flight plans, and ended up flying into San Diego. After only a week there, I just knew that I had found where I wanted to lay my head. The weather was beautiful, everything I wanted was less than a 20 minute drive away, and the women were beautiful. How could I lose? Within three weeks, I had found a job, and I was genuinely happy.

Fast forward eight months. I’m back in Orange County. I spent the last few days trying to find a reason (or three) for me to stay in San Diego. What changed? The weather is still as beautiful. the women are still beautiful. Everything is still in the same location. So why couldn’t I wait to get away from there?

Oh yea. My aunt.

She’s always been the type of person who felt she was….entitled to respect. A lot of people stay away from her, and she has always wondered why. I never really spent large amounts of time with her, so I didn’t know why everyone spoke w/ distaste when it came to her. Over the last 8 months, I definitely found out why. To say that she is an egotist would be grossly understating the obvious; she is, by far, the hardest person that I have ever had to attempt to interact with. One of her biggest issues is that she never wants to admit that someone else is doing something for her. According to her, she’s the one who built the world, and it only took her five days. Try and tell her anything different, and it’s like you shot her child in the face. I couldn’t get out of that house fast enough.

So now I’m back here in Garden Grove….in my old apartment, only it’s not mine anymore. When I left, I decided to sign it over to my mother. So what does that mean for me? I’m a 27 year old man, back living at home with his mom, who can no longer legally drive a car due to his disability. Every once in a while, I have a memory of high school….now I’m back living life as if I WAS in high school. 2011 is more than halfway over, and I have yet to find a stretch of time that can be definitely classified as ‘good’. Two steps forward, five steps backward.

How Depp Is Your Love?

Today, I spent some time watching a couple of my favorite movies, Blow and Donnie Brasco. Upon completion of these two great films, I found myself asking a very profound question: Is Johnny Depp a great actor, or does he select great roles?

Now, I am FAR from a professional movie critic, but I do think that I have pretty good taste when it comes to both movies and actors. Over the years, I have found that I am a huge fan of Johnny Depp; films like Benny and Joon, Edward Scissorhands, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (along with the two mentioned above) are just a few examples of some of the quality work that he has done throughout his career. But after I finished watching Brasco and then Blow, I couldn’t help but wonder if another great actor would have been able to turn in performances as impressive, if not more, than Depp did in many of his films.

Now, like most actors, Depp has his share of stinkers (Rango or Don Juan DeMarco, anyone?), but overall, the characters that he has played have all, in one way or another, stuck out. Gilbert Grape, Ichabod Crane, and Sweeny Todd are a couple of characters whose popularity you can automatically attribute to Depp. But is it really his talent that makes these characters stand out, or is it the actual character that makes Depp seem so….intriguing?

This question came to me in the middle of Blow, where (SPOILER ALERT) Depp’s character (George Jung) was on the run from the police, and decided to visit his parents. He is having a drink in the garage with his father, when the police come to arrest him. It turns out that his mother called the police and told them that her son was in their house. Looking at the emotion in his face when he is being arrested, and how he reacted when he found that it was his mother who turned him in, I realized that there wasn’t much range there. He looked as if someone had eaten the last chocolate chip cookie; not like someone who was betrayed by his mother.

Both of the characters that Depp portrayed in Blow and Donnie Brasco were eerily similar: they both ended up in a lifestyle that didn’t fit them, yet they couldn’t pull away. Both characters had reason to leave, but the allure of their actions was too strong. Both characters knew that they didn’t belong, yet they played the role well enough to where they were accepted. Each of these roles were based on real-life people, and each of these roles were amazingly written. But that’s where the conflict comes in: if you replace Depp with another well-known actor, would the movies have turned out as good? And if so, who could you have used to replace him?

I think that there are two actors who could have made these roles better, if not taken them to the next level. For Blow, the choice is simple: Edward Norton. Norton is one of those actors where, no matter what he is in or what type of role he is portraying, he makes it seem so natural. Movies like American History X made you go through a gauntlet of emotion for Norton; The Illusionist made you remember what it was like to have your first love, then lose them to someone who you knew was not worthy. No matter the role, Norton got you to feel exactly what his character was feeling. He would have been perfect for Blow; from losing the woman you were in love with to cancer, to being betrayed by the person who was supposed to be your partner, Norton would take you on the emotional roller coaster that George Jung experienced throughout his life. I never felt for the character when Depp was playing him; I felt for the situations that the character found himself in. I could picture myself going through those types of issues, but could never picture myself AS the character. Norton can make a viewer feel this way.

For Donnie Brasco, the choice was a lot tougher. The lead role in this film seemed custom-made for Depp. Brasco was a gritty, undercover New York police officer, who infiltrated the Mafia. Depp seemed right at home in playing Brasco. It was a command performance….but I still felt as if something was missing. What that ‘something’ is, I can’t put my finger on. But I feel that one actor would have been able to play this role, and leave nothing on the table. And that actor is Daniel Day-Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis is a master at his craft. From My Left Foot to Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis literally BURIES himself in his roles. His gritty voice, humble appearance (when needed), and passion for acting are second to none. A role like Brasco, where he would have needed to show the stress and difficulties of living a double life, protecting his family, and trying to stay loyal to his job would have been a perfect fit for Day-Lewis. The scene where (SPOILER) Brasco refuses to take off his shoes in the japanese restaurant because that is where he has his wire hidden seems as if it were penned for someone of Day-Lewis’ ilk. The passion that had to be faked by Depp in that scene was impressive; if it were Day-Lewis, it would have been epic.

Johnny Depp is definitely one of the great actors of his generation; his resume speaks for itself. But, in the eyes of this one viewer, it was the roles that made the actor, not the other way around. Put specific other actors in those roles, and the roles would not only be memorable, but possibly all-time.

It Was All Good Just A Month Ago…

So…I have put off this post for a little while, but after the events of this past weekend, I felt that it needed to be done.

The summer of 2011 (more specifically July 24th – present) blows.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been the most…optimistic person in the world. I tend to think that when one negative thing occurs, the world is falling on my head. I’ve always been that way, and I have grown used to it. But this past 3 1/2 weeks has told me that either someone up there hates me, or I have done a LOT of fucked up things in my past, and now I’m paying for all of them at one time.

It all started on July 24th. I was playing beer pong with RJ at his house, and then my cell phone rang. At first, I didn’t want to answer it, but something told me that I should. It was my mom. She told me that my father had died. At first, I didn’t know how to respond. I just told her ‘ok’ and went back to my beer pong game. It wasn’t until we finished the game that it hit me….reality. I would never be able to cultivate any type of relationship with the other half that created me.

(As a little bit of a backstory for those that didn’t know: my father was never in my life. Never a phone call on my birthday, never a ‘congrats’ when I did something good; the last time I saw him alive, I broke his nose out of anger. No words spoken. In the time from when I was born until the last time I saw him, he raised 3 children, and was a presence in the life of 5 grandchildren.)

I sat there on the couch, and I broke down crying. In some far away part of my mind, I wished that my father and I could have some sort of relationship at some port. I thought that I would have the chance to grow past my anger for him, and try to look past all of his bullshit from before, and have a father. And just like that…that opportunity was taken from me. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I couldn’t even rub it in his face that I had become successful (whenever that day came) without his help, because he was no longer….there.

The next day, I decided to go to work, even though I probably should have taken a day or two off. Everything seemed fine (situation notwithstanding), until I turned down the street close to my job. Next thing I remember, I have paramedics all around me, and I am being taken to the ER. I apparently had a seizure behind the wheel, and ended up crashing into two parked cars. Luckily, I didn’t hurt anyone, but I did major damage to the cars that I hit, and the car that I was driving was a total loss. I figured it couldn’t get any worse.

I was wrong.

The next week, me, my mother, and my best friend RJ all went to the Bay Area for my fathers funeral. I was hesitant to go, because I hadn’t seen ANY of these people since I was maybe 2 years old (except for my siblings and their kids). But I had my support group, so things should have been ok….

…..until no one there knew who I was. While in the viewing for the funeral, my Grandmother went and sat down next to RJ, hugged him, and told him it was so good to see him, it had been so long, etc. He told her that he wasn’t Jamaal, and that I was sitting in the pew behind them. After the viewing, there was a dinner, and my uncle also went up to RJ, saying how long it had been since he saw me, calling him “Little James” (which apparently was the nickname they called me when I was little, until my little brother, James, came along). It was almost humiliating.

During the day, they were playing a DVD that was put together for him, including pictures of his kids, grandkids, siblings, etc. Whose picture was the first one that they showed? Yea, it was mine. But what was the worst part? ALL of my pictures, they pulled from Facebook. Never did they contact me and ask if I wanted to donate some pictures….they just pulled them off of a fucking social networking website. But still, I was willing to look past it.

At this point, I only have one regret about going up there….I couldn’t look at him. While he was in the casket, I could only focus on his hands. I refused to look at his face. I knew that if I did, I would break down, and I didn’t want to give him or those people who refused to acknowledge my existence previously the satisfaction in knowing that I was just as affected as they were. I just couldn’t. I left the Bay Area with all of my pain still  inside, with no release…..

Until the day after we returned. We got back to Orange County on a Friday night, and that Saturday, some friends invited me and RJ over for a birthday celebration/all night drink-a-thon. Of course, instead of talking about what I was going through, I decided to drink until I forgot everything. This wasn’t just run of the mill, lets-get-drunk drinking….this was ‘Jamaal-gets-belligerent drunk’. Beer, Jameson, Sailor Jerry, Johnny Walker Black (all straight)….they were all running through my system before 11pm that night. When it came time to leave, I climbed into the passenger seat of the car, and almost passed out….until I saw the police lights. The cop pulled us over, thinking that the driver was drunk (they only blew a .06), so it appeared that the cop was pissed and wanted to take it out on me. He wanted to administer a blow test to me. I fought it, telling him that there was no reason for me to take it, yet he stated that he needed to give me the test to ‘ensure that I was in driving condition in case the situation arises.’ I blew a .21, almost three times the legal limit. Guess who got a DUI for being a DRUNK PASSENGER?! Yup. Could it get any better?

Yes it can. This past Saturday morning, I was driving home from a friends place, and what happens? I have ANOTHER seizure, while driving. This time, I smash into a light pole, totally destroying the car that I had just purchased less than two weeks prior. I couldn’t believe it. All of this, in a three week span? Couldn’t some of it be spread out….just a little bit?

Today, I stayed home, and laid on my couch the entire day, evaluating. Trying to find a bit, just a little bit of positive in the last 3 1/2 weeks, and I have yet to find it. The Jamaal of last year would have already found a reason to run away, end up somewhere far away from here. But now? I can’t do that. All I can do is face the issue….but I don’t want to. I know that I have certain people who are there for me, but I still feel so….alone. I don’t have that one person who can relate to me….only people who can apologize for what I’m going through. I’m the sorry one; I don’t need anyone else to be sorry. I want someone who can tell me who they moved forward, and what I can do to try and do the same thing.

I’m supposed to be the strong one…but when one thing after another falls on my shoulders, it’s hard to be the one that continues to stand.

Digging in the Crates

I love finding old stuff I wrote….here’s one I found last night in a notebook

Each morning I wake up fighting it
Like a boxer trying to survive the final round
Just when I feel like I’m going to make it
I find myself embracing the ground
My loneliness has knocked me on my ass
Each day, getting up is harder than days past
I thought we had the possibility of forever
But it seems that only the pain will last
Every breath feels like my final one
Part of me welcomes the forthcoming end
I wish I could rewind my life
To stop this love affair before it begins
Crying is an exercise in futility
All it does is magnify the pain
Its like the world is basking in eternal sunshine
While I’m stuck in torrential rain
What’s strange is that I miss you more every day
Even though you shattered everything I previously was
At night I say in bed, longing
For another taste of your love
All I want is just one morning
Free from the struggle and fight
But I don’t have mornings like that anymore
Without you, nothing feels right

My Outlook Is Better Than Yours

Starting over is difficult, no matter what the situation is. New city, new job…hell, I restarted this blog twice already. Realizing that you have to start at the beginning is a tough reality to come to grips with, but it helps when you think you have people who are going through the same type of thing you are.

In February, I started my job. I saw it as not only an opportunity to get start working in the city that I had just relocated to, but also as a chance to meet new people, and maybe develop some friendships along the way. For the most part, I succeeded; I’ve met a few people who I really get along with, and who I enjoy spending time with. There was one person in particular, however, who I really thought that I had hit it off with. We were both new to the area, both going through some troubling times in relationships, and both had similar interests. This person would come to me when she wanted advice about how to handle the issues she was having with her fiancee, and I would tell her about the issues I was having with whatever was troubling me at the time. We would have group outings, where a bunch of us would go to happy hour, bowling, etc. Overall, it was a pretty good setup. Didn’t seem to be any issues.

….Until about a month ago. I decided that I didn’t want to be associated with that group of people anymore, because they liked to do a lot of gossiping. I told them that I wasn’t interested in bad mouthing other people at work, and I didn’t want to spend all my time complaining about things that I had no control over. So I ended up making some new friends at work. These new friends had been there a little longer, so they knew how the game was played in my office. One of them, in particular, was the target of much of the vitriol that the initial group was spewing. They didn’t like this girl because she wasn’t the type to try and be friendly with everyone. She went about her business, and if she didn’t have any reason to associate with you, she didn’t. She and I hit it off immediately. The more she and I talked, and became friends, the more the other group (specifically the girl) seemed to get jealous/upset. Dirty looks were all of a sudden being sent our way; whispering under their breath seemed to be the only way they communicated when we were around…it felt like Jr. High all over again, when you found out who was saying negative things about you in those slam books. I just chalked it all up as workplace politics, and didn’t really care about the way things were going.

Then, randomly, on Wednesday, I get called into the HR department. I was a little shook, to be honest. I have never been called into the HR department at any job in my life. When I sat down, I was told that ‘I may have been a witness in an incident, and they wanted my story.’ Turns out, the person who began as my friend was so upset about the way she had been excommunicated that she went to HR and made up a number of stories about supposed conversations that she and I had. She said that I was e-mailing her things that were graphic in nature (both sexual and descriptive), and that it made her very uncomfortable. When the HR department asked her if she had any copies of these e-mails, she stated that she deleted them once she received them, for fear that if the IT department were to randomly go through our e-mail, they would think she was participating (and welcoming) these types of conversations. She went on to say that this new person that I became close friends with would frequently give her dirty looks, and that I must have said something that would cause this person to be spiteful toward her.

I sat in that HR office dumbfounded. For about two minutes, I didn’t speak. I continued to laugh to myself, wondering how someone could act so immature, just because I had no desire to interact with them. I was seriously scared for my job, but worse, scared for how I might react if I saw this person again. But then it hit me….I never delete anything. In my personal gmail e-mail, I still have e-mails from 2006. I hate going through e-mails and deleting them. Same with work e-mail. You never know when a small bit of information may end up being big. I brought this to the attention of the HR department, telling them that I have EVERY single piece of correspondence that she and I have ever had, still in my Outlook inbox. They advised me that they would pull all of the paperwork, and sure enough, they did. It was found that everything she was accusing me off, all of the gossiping that she was doing, and my subsequent removal from their clique was all documented. She was called back into HR, and informed that they pulled all of our e-mail conversations. Before they could continue with what they found, she turned in her resignation.

What would cause a person to do this? Instead of speaking to me about whatever issues you may have, why would you try to force someone else to lose their job, and possibly jeopardize yours? Is the loss of a ‘friend’ really that important to you? Now you are out of a job, you’ve slandered me, and even though they say there is a ‘No Retaliation Clause’, how do I know this isn’t something that could come up at some point in time? This isn’t a bridge that I burned, but it’s definitely nothing but ashes.

In the last couple of days, the accuser has attempted to call me, left a number of messages on my voicemail, asking to voice her side of the story. I’m not even remotely interested in trying to hear what she has to say. This is just another reason why I choose not to let too many people into my inner circle. The more you try to trust people, the more you realize you can’t.

An Admission of…??

One of the things that I have noticed I have a difficult time with is admissions. Admitting anything is a task that seems to gnaw at me; I never want to admit anything. I thought that by ignoring the fact that I had come to some sort of conclusion, it would go away. It was almost as if I believed that the ghost would disappear if I shut my eyes tight enough. It was a paranoia that people would judge me once they found out what it was that I was afraid of admitting.

There are different types of admissions, I have found, but they all seem to elicit the exact same response in me: fear. Guilt seems to be the emotion most people associate with admissions. Whenever a person is told ‘I have something that I want to admit to you’, their immediate response is that they are about to be told something that they aren’t going to like. Whomever it is that needs to admit something has done a deed that is either unforgivable, hurtful, or some other combination. Rarely is the reaction of the listener one of hopeful intrigue. In most cases, the listener has already started to run the gauntlet of reasons that this person needs to ‘admit’ something to them in their own minds.

The type of admission I seem to have the most trouble with, however, is admissions that I need to come to terms with myself. The most difficult person to admit anything to is you. This is something that I have experienced on more than one occasion.

I am my most disparaging critic. Admitting anything to myself, good or bad, is admitting that I was doing something incorrectly. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that you have the right answer, but you don’t want to bring it into the light, only because it will put everything else you have done up to that point into the dark. It’s one of the few instances when a person has an internal struggle, and secretly they are hoping that the negative side wins, only so the way that they have lived their lives in regard to this situation doesn’t have to change. Recently, I have been going through this type of internal tug of war.

It’s simple to feign interest in another person. Pretending to like someone seems to be a talent that we are all taught growing up. How many of us have been told by parents that we have to be nice to the kid next door, because he doesn’t have friends? As you grow older, you learn to cultivate this ‘skill’ into a manipulation; you learn to pretend to admire someone, only so that you can get whatever your desired end result is. Some of us have become so good at this manipulation, we turn it on and off without it even registering to us anymore. But what happens when you realize that you are no longer acting, and the affection that you feel toward a person is genuine? How do you admit that to yourself?

Which do you trust more: instincts or heart? What if both of these entities are split, so instead of listening to two sides, you are listening to four? Instinctively, on one hand, you feel that you should leave; on the other, however, you know that if you did, it would be something that you would regret. One half of your heart is telling you that this is the best situation for you; the one that you always said deep down that you wanted. The other half is telling you that you need to be protective and guard yourself, because the past always seems to reincarnate itself when it comes to matters of love. At any given point, you could have a mixture of these four things playing ping pong with your emotions.

Why is it so hard to admit to myself that I actually have these feelings for someone? Initially, I thought it was the fear of her reaction. I feared that maybe, after me telling her how I felt, that she would inform me that she did not feel the same way. I thought that would be the ultimate form of rejection. It wasn’t until one night that I couldn’t get her out of my mind that it dawned on me: I wasn’t afraid of her rejection. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to give her what I felt that she deserved. I didn’t want to admit my feelings because I didn’t want to admit to myself that there was a possibility that I wasn’t good enough for her. With people in the past, I would do things to get them to be satisfied; with her, I did them because I wanted to make her happy. The divide between those two cliffs is vast. You can have satisfaction without happiness, but it is impossible to have happiness without satisfaction. Admitting that these feelings that I tried to suppress were real was a task that I wasn’t sure I could handle. Outwardly there is an aura of confidence, and of strength. But deep inside, I am just another person who doesn’t want to admit something to himself.

I said earlier that when admitting something, it is almost as if you are saying that your actions previously were wrong. With her, none of my actions were wrong; they were misguided. Before, my actions were for me to try and make her smile. It wasn’t until recently that my actions needed to be geared so that, when she is with me, she would have no reason to think about doing anything other than smile. And while I may not succeed at that 100% of the time, I can admit to myself -and to her -that these feelings are genuine