Happy 5th Birthday, Andy!

Andy5BDay

Yesterday was my son Andy’s 5th birthday!  This was an event that leaves me with some fairly paradoxical feelings.  I can’t believe that it has already been 5 years since he was born as the time does seem to fly quickly.  On the other hand, he has become such an integrated and vital part of our family that the time before he was there now feels a lot like a part of a different life.

Becoming a parent is unquestionably the best thing that I have ever done, with only the decision to marry my wonderful wife even coming close.  I’m well aware that I run the risk of becoming potentially intolerably sappy and sentimental in this post, but I simply don’t know how to accurately express my feelings towards my family without sounding that way.  For any readers of this blog that are turned off by an excess of sentiment, I’ll try to post a review of the new James Bond movie in the next day or two. 🙂

After 5 years, a bit of reflection pretty much comes automatically.  One thing that I’ve often heard repeated, both before and after becoming a father, is that parenthood involves a lot of sacrifice.  While I definitely understand the meaning behind such statements, I’m not so inclined to agree that “sacrifice” is really the right word.  Unquestionably, there are a lot of things that my wife and I did before Andy’s arrival that are much less common, if they still occur at all.  Reductions range from such small-scale activities as TV and movie viewing or nights out with friends, all the way up to substantial changes in vacation planning, major purchases and pretty much every other major life decision.

I tend to look at these as trade-offs rather than sacrifices, though, as the pleasures and benefits of being a father push way into the background any significant thoughts about what I might be missing.  While such activities as visiting a theme park or going to the movies have become more complicated (and in some ways restrictive), and often more tiring, I also find them to be rewarding in a whole new way.  Andy is mostly in a constant state of discovery and I find it tremendously rewarding to share with him many of the things that have brought a lot of joy to my own life.

The day to day routine is also full of moments that I treasure.  I absolutely love hearing Andy tell me about his day when I get home from work.  When I ask him about what he did at school, his answer always starts excitedly with "I played!", but it doesn’t usually take too much effort to coax longer and more detailed stories out of him.  His stories can be rather hard to follow and don’t always make a lot of sense, but they are told with a compellingly breathless enthusiasm that is usually a delight.

Andy has a tremendous imagination, so his stories of the days activities are often filled with rather colorful stories about pretending games involving such favorite things as cars, airplanes, fire trucks, and hotels.  Like many kids his age, he has an imaginary friend, but in his case that friend is an airplane who goes on all kinds of interesting adventures, although a lot of them seem to be more focused on the hotels where it stays rather than on the actual exotic (or not so exotic) destinations. 

Another favorite pretending game of Andy’s is bringing people imaginary food items.  During phone calls with his grandparents (via speakerphone), he likes to occasionally run off and then come back and announce that he is delivering some food item to them.  They get a big kick out of that.  He was similarly providing imaginary appetizers to our friends while we were waiting at a restaurant for our table during a dinner party a few weeks ago.  After finishing his cake at his birthday party last night, he also had to go around and serve other pretend food to many of the party-goers.

As I just mentioned, we did have a big birthday party yesterday afternoon.  We have been taking Andy to a class at the local Gymboree facility for a couple years.  For his party yesterday, we rented the facility for a couple hours and had a party for Andy and 19 other kids from his pre-school and Gymboree classes.  We were fortunate enough to be able to arrange for his usual Gymboree teacher to host and run the event, which ended up being a huge success.  The teacher did an outstanding job of providing a pretty much perfect mix of organized activities and free play time and really kept the kids all highly entertained for two hours.  It was a lot of fun and an event that I think will be pretty memorable both for Andy and for us.

Yesterday’s party brings me full circle back to the trade-offs that come from being a parent, but my hesitance to call them sacrifices.  Yesterday, many of our long time friends (most are not parents) spent what sounds like an exceptionally fun day at Disneyland.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the various reports from and about their day.  Six years ago, I’m pretty sure my wife and I would have been there as well and it sounds like we would have had a great time.  Andy’s birthday party is absolutely where I wanted to be yesterday, though. 

Week in Review 11/9/08: Elections and In-Laws

Depending on whether I have enough to say and how disciplined about it I end up being, this may or may not turn into a weekly post on here.  I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing, but maybe I can talk myself into spending a little time each weekend writing up a few thoughts about whatever caught my attention during the previous week.

On a national (and probably even world) scale, the biggest event of the past week was obviously last Tuesday’s election.  I haven’t really made it a secret in previous posts that I’m a Democrat and supported Barack Obama’s run for president.  Therefore, I was happy with the results of the presidential election.  After the past 8 years, it is definitely nice to be back on the winning side and I do have hope that this will signal a positive change in direction for the country.

I do think that President-elect Obama has a very difficult job ahead of him.  More so than in the other presidential elections that have taken place since I’ve been old enough to vote, I genuinely felt quite a bit of enthusiasm as I voted for him.  I was certainly very aware of his policy positions and agree with him on most issues, but I also have an impression that he is someone with a vision that could genuinely lead to correcting some of the biggest negatives that I have seen in our political system, particularly in areas of corruption and cronyism and a sometimes stifling fear of trying something different.   It is pretty clear to me that I am not alone in feeling that way about what Obama has to offer, but I also think that will prove to be both a blessing and a major challenge for him.  He goes into office with a remarkably supportive public, but he also faces the potential to disappoint dramatically if he fails to live up to his promise.

Of course, this election also represented an historic breakthrough as this country selected its first African-American president.  I was very disappointed, though, that I couldn’t help feel the euphoria surrounding that was blunted dramatically by the fact that a majority of voters here in California, among others, also decided to vote in favor of continued discrimination against homosexuals.  At least here in California, many of the arguments used in support of Proposition 8 were so ludicrous that I can’t  help but see it as simple excuse-making by those that don’t want to admit bigotry even to themselves.  I do still believe that the clear trend is in the right direction here and I was at least heartened somewhat by how close the vote was on Proposition 8, particularly with younger voters pretty decisively opposing the continued discrimination. I do believe this setback to be temporary, but I was truly hoping that this would be more of a year of breakthroughs on multiple fronts.

Shifting gears to my personal life, this week was dominated by one of the recurring events regularly experienced by those of us who do have marriage rights: a visit by the in-laws.  My wife’s parents currently live in Arizona and we typically manage two visits with them per year, usually with us making one trip out there (which we did last February) and them coming out here one time.  For this visit, they arrived last Wednesday and will be staying through tomorrow.  While they aren’t quite the constantly "on-the-go tourists" that my parents usually are during their visits, I’m still pretty tired after a weekend of company, even though it was a very pleasant and positive visit.  I think maybe I’m becoming too used my wife’s and my usual weekend ritual of tag-team napping, making the change of pace a bit harder.

It has been a good visit and I’ve been very pleased with the amount of quality time that they have had with their grandson.  Andy’s grandmother has particularly bonded very well with him, spending quite a bit of time playing toys and reading with him.  Both grandparents have put in some time working on drawing and writing with him and he has also enjoyed demonstrating his various computer games to them.  His grandparents also joined us for his weekly Gymboree class this morning and our usual Sunday morning breakfast at McDonalds.  This afternoon, we had an early birthday celebration for him where we had a small cake and they gave him his presents.  Tomorrow, grandma is going to accompany Andy for at least the first part of his day at pre-school. 

Looking forward to the week ahead, it is back to work tomorrow although it looks like it could be another rather quiet week there.  Between the upcoming holidays and the slowing economy, there aren’t a lot of active projects going on right now, which has kept the stress level and number of work hours somewhat more manageable the past couple weeks.  I don’t really anticipate that changing.  Other big events of the coming week include the appointment to get the crown attached to my dental implant on Tuesday (hopefully the last step of that long process) and Andy’s actual birthday and birthday party next weekend.

My Last Baby Tooth – Part 3

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2

I am way past due in getting around to writing the next part of this story.  As you might recall from the first 2 parts, I had one baby tooth that I had never lost as a child due to the permanent tooth never coming in.  Back in April, the tooth started bothering me and the dentist informed me that it was going to have to come out.  I had it extracted in early-May.

On August 22, I had oral surgery to put in a dental implant, the first part of the process of replacing the lost tooth with an artificial one.  This was the most invasive, and only surgical, part of the procedure.  The surgery involved the insertion of a titanium artificial root into the jawbone through an incision at the gap where the extracted tooth used to be.  Once the surgery has fully healed and the oral surgeon confirms that the bone has fused appropriately with the implant, my regular dentist will be able to affix a crown to the root, completing the process of replacing the lost tooth.

After I had the tooth extracted in late May, I had to wait a minimum of 6 or 7 weeks to allow it to fully heal before proceeding with the implant.  That timing pretty much ran right into a vacation that we had planned for the end of June as well as the July 4th holiday, so I ended up deciding to just put up with the gap in my teeth for a bit longer.  I finally contacted the oral surgeon’s office and set up an appointment for a consultation at the end of May.

The oral surgeon that I went to specializes in implant procedures.  I think that might be the only thing he does, although I’m not entirely certain.  Dental implants are expensive and generally considered by insurance companies to be an "elective" procedure (more on that later), so there actually was kind of a salesmanship element to the consultation.  I even felt a bit like I had been to a luxury dental office, with such amenities as bottled water offered while waiting for the dentist and even sunglasses provided during the exam to shade by eyes from the examination light.

After the examination, the oral surgeon told me that I was a good candidate for the procedure and spent a little time going over the procedure in more detail.  One key topic that he brought up in this discussion was the available options for anesthesia for the surgery.  He indicated that general anesthesia wasn’t usually needed for this (I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think he even offers that as an option), but he did pretty strongly recommend the use of an oral sedative during the surgery in order to help me to relax and also to help to avoid movement during the procedure.

I then met briefly with a member of the office staff who went over some of the financial details of the procedure with me.  She indicated a cost of a little over $2000 for the implant.  Many dental insurance plans apparently do not cover implants, considering them to be fully optional, cosmetic procedures, even though they are now widely considered to keep the gums/jawbone much stronger and are also longer lasting than dental bridges.  Fortunately, my insurance does cover about 50% of the cost, although apparently it is 50% of what the insurance company thinks the cost should be rather than 50% of what the oral surgeon actually charges (and the patient has to make up the difference).  There are also annual maximums that come into play.  As of the time that I’m writing this, my insurance company still hasn’t finished processing the claim and I don’t yet know how much they will cover.

After the financial discussion, we then scheduled the appointment for the procedure.  I decided that I wanted to have it done on a Friday, which would then give me a couple days to recover without having to take more than one day off from work.  We initially scheduled an appointment for the next Friday after the consultation, but they called the next day and let me know that the office staff had incorrectly recorded the itinerary for an upcoming vacation the oral surgeon was taking and would have to push it back a couple weeks.  The August 22 appointment was the next available Friday.  I wasn’t entirely thrilled that the only time available was 7:30am, but I still took the appointment since the only alternatives were to either switch to another day of the week or put the procedure off for almost another month.

Read More »

A Dozen Years as a Californian

This week marks the 12th anniversary since I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Southern California.  Those 12 years have resulted in so many major changes in almost every aspect of my life that looking back at that move almost feels like I’m looking back at a different lifetime.

My father (who has now retired to Florida) was a social worker and typically worked in non-profit or government agencies that didn’t always have a lot of long-term stability.  As a result, we moved around a lot.  Prior to my move to California, I lived for various lengths of time in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.  As long as I can remember, though, I always had a dream of eventually settling in the Los Angeles area once I grew up and was on my own.  I never really liked the cold mid-western winters (I don’t care for snow) and the stories of the very mild Southern California weather along with my affinity for the entertainment industry combined to form a very appealing destination.

After finishing college in Milwaukee, I actually sent a lot of resumes and applications out to various California-based companies, but without any success.  I ended up spending that summer with my parents back in Ohio and then found a job with Columbus-based CompuServe, the online information service pioneer.  Although I spent the next 4 1/2 years living and working in Columbus, I never really lost the interest in a life in California and I even privately set a 5-year goal for eventually figuring out how to make that change.

In 1995, my sister and I started having conversations about vacationing together in Los Angeles.  She lived in Orlando (actually still does), so our idea was for each of us to fly out there separately, but split the cost of hotel accommodations, rental car, and other expenses.  We ended up actually making the trip in September of that year.  Other than a family trip when I was too young to remember, this was my first actual visit to the Los Angeles area.  During those 10-days, we visited many common tourist destinations (Hollywood, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic  Mountain, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, Century City, Beverly Hills, etc.) and, thanks to a friend that I knew from the old GEnie information service, we even were able to visit the Paramount studio lot and the non-public part of the Universal lot.  As a special splurge, we even ate dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago restaurant one night.

My reaction to this vacation was that my expectations for the area were pretty much met.  What had been a personal dream based largely on stories and reputation was now much more rooted in reality.  I returned to Columbus determined to start a very concentrated job search with a goal of getting moved as soon as possible.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was starting to see the future at CompuServe as somewhat limited with the rise of AOL to industry leader and the growing influence of the World Wide Web.  I was increasingly aware that my career would benefit from a change of employer, regardless of whether I moved or not.

Read More »

Indiana Jones Memories: Last Crusade

Click here for my post on Raiders of the Lost Ark
Click here for my post on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The 5 years between the second and third Indiana Jones sequels were pretty eventful ones in my life, as is probably typical for the years between age 14 and 19.  In early 1985 (a little over 1/2 year after Temple of Doom came out), my family moved from Flint to Kenosha, Wisconsin.  My parents ended up making another move to Sandusky, Ohio just 3 years after that, although I was attending college in Milwaukee by that time.

We ended up all seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on opening day at a theater in Cleveland, so the movie’s opening day (the Wednesday before Memorial Day 1989) must have been shortly after I completed my sophomore year of college and returned to my parents’ home for summer vacation.  While there were a couple movie theaters in Sandusky at the time, they were generally older theaters and their presentation usually left a lot to be desired.  As it was only about a one hour drive to Cleveland, we quickly got into the habit of going there to see most movies.  My grandmother also lived in Cleveland at the time, so we were able to often combine a trip to the movies with a visit to see her as well.

I don’t remember the name of the specific theater where we saw the film, but we basically picked it out by looking in the paper for the closest theater that listed a 70mm 6-track presentation and Lucasfilm’s THX sound system, which had become pretty commonplace in larger cities by that time.  Our whole family (including my mother this time) got up fairly early to head into Cleveland for the first opening day matinee of the movie.  I’m not sure if there were any midnight showings of this one, but we did go to the first regularly scheduled showing at that theater.

Even with the show being fairly early in the day on a Wednesday, the theater was pretty full, although I don’t recall for sure if it was a completely sold-out show.  The most memorable audience moment actually came during the previews.  Just a couple minutes into them, the film broke and the lights came back up.  A few moments after that, someone in the theater started loudly humming the Raiders March.  It took only another moment or so until pretty much the entire audience had joined in.  I strongly suspect that this was considerably more frightening to the poor employee that was tasked with getting things up and running again than the more traditional audience taunts and complaints would have been.  Fortunately, they were able to get it fixed pretty quickly and the movie itself played through without interruption.

Last Crusade is a very good film with some considerable strengths.  Sean Connery is absolutely great as Indy’s father and he and Harrison Ford played off each other wonderfully.  It was also nice seeing Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies reprise their roles from the first film and, of course, the action sequences and big set pieces were as much fun as ever.  I can easily understand why most people seem to prefer this one to Temple of Doom and some even consider it to be the best of the original three movies.

For a couple reasons, though, it is pretty solidly in third place for me.  While Temple of Doom was able to genuinely surprise me by going off in a different direction in setting and style compared to its predecessor, Last Crusade instead repeated a lot of key elements from Raiders pretty directly, whether it be the reuse of the Nazis as the key villains, the quest for another famous Christian religious icon, or even the use of some very similar settings and locations.  I couldn’t help but feel like Lucas and Spielberg took the complaints about Temple of Doom too much to heart and responded by largely reworking Raiders for the third film.

I also can’t help but think that the difference in my memories of the films are somewhat reflective of the different viewpoints of an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 19-year-old.  By the time Last Crusade came out, I was a pretty avid moviegoer that was seeing a pretty wide variety of movies of many different styles and genres.  As excited as I was about seeing this one, I doubt I was quite as receptive to it as I was when I was younger.  I do recall still seeing the film a few times over the course of that summer, but I don’t think it was more than a handful.  Even taking into account home video, I have a hunch that I still probably haven’t seen Last Crusade as many times in total as I saw Raiders in the theater during its first year of release.

With that in mind, I’m very excited to go see an opening-night showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tomorrow night, but I also can’t help but wonder exactly how I am going to respond to one of these movies now that I’m 38-years-old, married, and a father.  There is a good chance I’ll write a review of the movie over the next couple days, but I suspect I won’t really have enough distance to write another one of these "memories" articles about it for quite a few years.

Indiana Jones Memories: Temple of Doom

Click here for my previous post on Raiders of the Lost Ark

By the time the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out in 1984, the dominance of the multiplex was really starting to take hold.  The sequel opened both at the big single-screen Flint Cinema where Raiders played, but it also opened at a suburban multiplex (the Genesee Valley Theaters) that was much closer to our family’s home.  This was the same release pattern that was used for Return of the Jedi the year before.  My sister and I saw Jedi at the first after-school matinee at the multiplex and then saw the film again that weekend in the better 70mm 6-track Dolby presentation at the Flint Cinema.

We had expected to follow the same basic pattern with Temple of Doom, which was also opening the Wednesday before Memorial Day, a week or so before school let out for the summer.  Much to our surprise, my father had other ideas.  At the time, the local newspaper in Flint came fairly late in the afternoon.  After work, my father was looking through the paper and called my sister and I into the room.  He then showed us the full-page ad for the movie that announced a midnight showing that night at Flint Cinema and asked us if we could promise to still get up and make it to school the next day if we all went to see it.  Of course, our answer was a definite "yes". 

Not being a night person at all, my mother again opted out of the first showing (another good excuse to see the film again soon…), but my father, sister, and I headed out to the theater late that evening.  This was my first experience seeing a midnight movie.  It wasn’t a sold-out show, but the enthusiasm level of the audience was about as high as it could get.  The crowd cheered and applauded at all the right moments and clearly was having a great time.  I particularly got a kick out of the reaction to Indy’s entrance.  The first time we see the character in this film, he is well-groomed and dressed in a white tuxedo.  The audience reacted with applause, although it was a bit restrained and even a little delayed as it took a moment for it to register that it was him.  At the end of the prologue, Indy makes a second entrance dressed in his traditional leather jacket, fedora, bullwhip, etc. and that prompted cheers and wild applause.

I obviously had a much better idea of what to expect than I did prior to the release of the first film, which led to quite a bit more heightened excitement about the film, but also a lot less mystery and surprise.  What I actually liked a lot about the film (and I’m a bigger fan of it than many people are) was that I felt that Lucas and Spielberg really did find some surprising and unexpected directions to take the movie.  Right at the very start, I certainly wasn’t expecting the movie to open with an entire Busby Berkley style musical number.  I even recall momentarily wondering if they were running the wrong movie.  A lot of people were also put off by the darker tone and overall modified structure compared to the first film, but I felt that it made the movie seem a bit fresher than most sequels.  The film was, if anything, even faster paced than the first and, even with the ultra-late showtime, I certainly had no trouble staying awake for the movie.  Yes, I did make it through the school day the next day as well.

I liked the film a lot and did see it several times in the theater that summer, but not as many times as the first film.  In fact, it wasn’t even really the movie that most dominated my attention that summer.  As a 14-year-old boy, I was right in the primary target audience for Ghostbusters, which became my favorite movie of that summer and the one that I gave the most repeat viewing.  The Indiana Jones films have overall likely withstood the test of time better over the last 24 years and I suspect most people might even be a bit surprised to learn that Ghostbusters was actually a bigger box-office hit overall that summer.  Still, it did play through the whole summer and I do recall several return trips to see it again.

In my post on Raiders, I mentioned that the John Williams score was something of a milestone.  While the sequel score wasn’t as much of one, it did come as something of a surprise to me and still remains one of my favorites.  The big surprise was Williams’ decision to abandon all of the themes that he had written for the first film with the exception of the iconic Raiders March.  At that point, I never really had conceived of a sequel score that would essentially start from scratch instead of further developing the first film’s music.  It caught me a bit off-guard, but also appealed to me very much.

I will close with probably the silliest and oddest personal story that relates to this movie.  At the very end of the credits is a somewhat cryptic credit that simply says "Thanks to Reed Smoot".  Being a couple teenagers, my sister and I both thought that was kind of a funny name and were also intrigued by the mysterious credit.  It then became a running joke for the two of us for quite some time, with us often joking about being the only members of the "Reed Smoot Fan Club".  Without the vast information available online today, we didn’t have any success finding any information on Mr. Smoot.  We were pretty sure he wasn’t the early-20th century Utah Senator that was the only reference we found to the name.  I now know that Mr. Smoot is actually a respected cinematographer that is best known for his work on a variety of IMAX features.  He apparently did some second-unit photography work on the film, which was the basis of the credit.  If Mr. Smoot ever stumbles on this, I hope he doesn’t mind that a couple silly teenagers had some goofy fun with his credit.

Indiana Jones Memories: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Unless you have been living under a rock (and possibly even then), you probably know that a brand-new Indiana Jones movie is opening this Thursday.  My wife and I have already arranged for a babysitter and purchased our opening night tickets.  With that in mind, this seems like a good time to reminisce a bit about my experiences seeing the previous movies in the series.  In this post (and later ones about the other two films), I’m not really going to write reviews, although I expect to reveal at least a bit of my opinion of each.  Instead will just tell a bit of the story of my own experiences.

With 19 years having past since we last saw Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 27 years since the character was first introduced in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m part of a likely pretty large group of adults who will be going into this new movie with a hope of recapturing a little bit of magic from my childhood.  I was only 11-years-old when the first movie came out and was 14 and 18 when the previous sequels came out.  As a long-time movie enthusiast, I probably would list other films (including others by Spielberg and Lucas) as somewhat higher on both my lists of favorites and bests, but I can think of very few that invoke more fond memories or that had quite as much influence on my love of movies and my cinematic preferences.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out back in 1981, I was already a fan of the Star Wars films (The Empire Strikes Back came out one year earlier) and, not surprisingly, was immediately very receptive to the promotion of a new George Lucas movie starring Harrison Ford.  My older sister (who was 14 at the time) also had a definite movie-star crush on Ford, which also helped to build our family’s interest in the movie.

The first that I ever heard about the film remains my pick for possibly the most amusingly wrong magazine article I’ve ever seen about a movie.  I don’t remember the specific publication (although my sister may still have the clipping somewhere in her files), but it was a movie rumors column in either a teen magazine or a general entertainment magazine of some sort.  The short article ran right around the time that The Empire Strikes Back was released and announced that the 3rd film in the Star Wars series would be coming out only one year later and would center around the character of Han Solo.  The title of this new film would be "Lost Raiders of the Ark".  I’m sure that whoever wrote that is very proud…

Back in 1981, I didn’t really follow the movies very closely and certainly didn’t have access to the kind of ready information on the topic that is out there today.  For the most part, the first real awareness of Raiders came primarily when the ads started hitting.  Back then, George Lucas and, especially, Steven Spielberg were not really household names, so the ads heavily promoted the movie as "From the creator of Star Wars and the director of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  As I said, the Star Wars connections were the big draw for me, although I had seen and enjoyed Close Encounters (but only on TV).  I didn’t see Jaws until a few years later.  After seeing Raiders, I quickly became a Spielberg fan, something that really solidified a year later when our family went out to see a sneak preview of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial without knowing much of anything about the film other than that it was from the same director.

My father took my sister, my best friend, and me to see the first evening showing of Raiders on its opening night.  We were living in Flint, Michigan at the time and saw the movie at The Flint Cinema, an old-fashioned single-screen theater.  Built in the late 60s shortly after the end of the movie palace era, it wasn’t anything overly fancy but was mainly known for a large screen and 70mm, 6-track Dolby presentation.  I think Raiders was actually the first film we saw there as the first two Star Wars films had opened at the nearby Eastland Mall Cinemas instead.  The movie pretty much blew us all away.  We knew it was supposed to be a fast-paced adventure movie, but I don’t think any of us really were prepared for the scope of the film or the sheer level of adrenaline it would pump.

My Mom wasn’t originally sure she was that interested in the movie (she hadn’t really liked Star Wars) and decided that she didn’t feel like dealing with the opening night crowds for the movie.  We, of course, all came home and told her that she needed to see the movie as soon as possible and we all went out to see it with her the next weekend.   As a joke, we all conspired ahead of time to repeatedly warn her that the movie started out very slowly, but promising her that it got better as it went along.  As you might expect, the very exciting opening sequence in the idol cave caught her very much off-guard.  She really loved the movie, although the intensity did get to her a bit at times.  She was holding my Dad’s hand during much of the movie and afterwards they laughed that she instinctively pulled her hand to her mouth, thus biting my Dad, during the Well-of-Souls sequence when the snake climbed out of the skeleton’s mouth.

Over the course of that summer, this became the first movie that my sister and I went to see multiple times in the theaters during its initial release (we had seen Star Wars and a few Disney films more than once due to re-releases).  By the end of the film’s run, I saw it a total of 13 times.  My father absolutely fell in love with the movie as well and went along with us to many of those showings.  Prior to that, he had never been much of a movie fan and didn’t typically see anything more than once.

John Williams score to the movie also represented a bit of a milestone for me.  I had started to become interested in movie scores a couple years earlier.  My interest was first sparked by John Barry’s orchestral score to Disney’s The Black Hole, which ended up being the first score soundtrack that I purchased.  My interest expanded dramatically after getting first The Empire Strikes Back and then the original Star Wars soundtracks and I then started a collection of movie score LP’s from movies involving outer space.  Over a year or so, I bought a bunch of albums including Close Encounters, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.  After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and hearing Williams amazing music for the film, I immediately wanted that soundtrack.  It was at that point, that my interest really broadened to film scores in general instead of just to souvenirs of space movies.  This really established my musical tastes for the long term as film scores remain the dominant part of my collection and my music purchases today.

I loved the sequels and have certainly been very impressed and excited by other action/adventure movies over the years as well.  I think Raiders will always hold a very special place in my memory, though, and I don’t really believe any other movie will ever quite match the surprise and excitement that surrounded this one.

My Last Baby Tooth – Part 2

Click here for part 1

The tooth is gone now. Rather than simply pulling it, as I had expected, the dentist ended up essentially pulverizing it last Wednesday afternoon. Apparently, it wasn’t as easy a tooth to remove as had been hoped or expected.

As a bit of a preface, this ended up being my family’s week for unpleasant dental procedures. My wife had learned a couple months ago that she needed to have her wisdom teeth removed and, coincidentally, that was scheduled for last Saturday, just 4 days before the extraction of my baby tooth. Since she only had two wisdom teeth that needed to come in (the lower ones never came in), she decided to have the procedure done with just local anesthetic instead of being put to sleep for it. When she got there, the oral surgeon immediately asked her if she wanted to re-consider that, which obviously wasn’t a good sign. She decided to go through with it, though, and when she came out she immediately told me it was one of the most miserably painful experiences she remembered.

Since my baby tooth extraction was scheduled to be done only using a local, her experience obviously made me very nervous. I even called the dentist’s office on Monday and asked them to advise on what I should do. They still recommended sticking with the local and essentially said that this should be a much easier experience. When I had my own wisdom teeth out around 12 years ago, one of them was removed using only a local (it was something of an emergency as it had become infected) and the other two were removed while I used a combination of laughing gas and valium. I didn’t remember either procedure being overwhelmingly bad, so I decided to stick with the original plan this time as well.

The first thing that the dentist told me on Wednesday was that he was going to use a lot of the local anesthetic and that I shouldn’t really feel anything at all during the extraction. To his credit, this turned out to be pretty much accurate, even when the extraction did turn out to be a bit more difficult than expected. The amount of anesthetic used was by far the most I ever remember receiving for a dental procedure, with the dentist even having to stop to refill the dispenser at one point. He applied it at several different locations in my mouth and I was overall pretty thoroughly numb. My dentist has an excellent bedside manner and pretty regularly double checked during the procedure to make sure that I was ok and not feeling any pain.

Read More »

My Last Baby Tooth – Part 1

I’m labeling this post as "Part 1" as this is, unfortunately, a story that is going to have at least a couple more chapters over the next several weeks.

When I was a child, a routine dental exam revealed that one of my baby teeth did not show any signs of a permanent tooth growing beneath it.  The dentist explained that without a permanent tooth coming in, I would not lose the baby tooth in the normal manner and that the baby tooth would hopefully last for a pretty long time.  On the other hand, he did acknowledge that baby teeth obviously aren’t intended to last a lifetime and that, sooner-or-later, it would begin to break down and have to be removed.  This was back in the late 1970s.  Over the subsequent years, I’ve had two different fillings put in the tooth in order to help strengthen it but, otherwise, it has largely served as an odd conversation piece during visits to new dentists.

A few weeks ago, I started to notice that the area around that tooth was becoming sensitive.  Touching the jaw-line around the location of that tooth causes a jolt of pain, focused around the spot where the baby tooth meets the gum.  It hasn’t yet given me any kind of continuous pain and, usually, it hasn’t really been too much of a problem while eating. I was obviously concerned that the discomfort was an indication that the tooth was failing and put off a visit to the dentist for a few weeks on the faint hope that the problem would just go away.  Earlier this week, I finally decided that it wasn’t going to clear up (and it was also getting a bit worse), so Thursday I did go to see the dentist.

The dentist did confirm what I was afraid of.  The tooth is finally breaking down and now will need to come out.  His recommendation is to replace it with an implant, which is an artificial root that is put in by an oral surgeon and then can be used as the support for a crown.  The implant is a titanium rod that the oral surgeon basically screws into the jawbone through an incision made in the gum.  I hope that is more fun than it sounds but I somehow doubt that it will be.  On the positive side, the dentist assured me that the use of a crown with the implant is pretty much indistinguishable from a real tooth in look, feeling, and function.

At Thursday’s appointment, they took an X-ray and the dentist did a short exam to confirm the problem.  They then took a huge number of photos.  I find it interesting how much high-tech digital technology is now involved in dentistry.  They now have monitors at the dental chairs and all the photos and X-rays are immediately transferred to a computer (running Windows XP…) and displayed right away.  At the beginning of the appointment, the hygienist took several digital photos of the tooth in addition to the X-ray.  They have a tiny digital camera at the end of a wand (similar to the electric toothbrushes they use for cleanings) making it easy to take the close-up photos.  For some reason, I found it really funny that every time she took a photo, an old-fashioned camera shutter sound played loudly from the computer behind me.

After the diagnosis and determination that an implant was going to be needed, the dentist then took a whole bunch of photos of my teeth using a Nikon digital SLR camera.  The camera had a very large, presumably specialized lens that was also fitted with a number of lights, which I would imagine were needed to get anything recognizable in the photos.  Presumably this was intended to fully document my mouth to help with getting the right sizing and coloring of the implant and crown.  The whole thing felt rather weird, though.  I’m not an extraordinarily comfortable photographic subject under good conditions, so it felt really strange having someone snap all these close-ups of my mouth, often with a metal instrument (the doctor called it a "lip retractor") holding my mouth wide opened.

Finally, to better inform me on the implant, they showed me a short video about it.  This was obviously produced by the manufacturer and was hosted by a doctor who was apparently one of the designers of the procedure.  The whole thing was kind of cheesy and I was a bit amused how he kept explaining all the potential side effects or complications with statements to the effect of "we are ethically obligated to inform you of this, but it very rarely ever happens." Fortunately, it did sound like most of the risks were pretty minor and included the typical "risk of infection" that is there with any surgical procedure as well as potential impacts to bite, speech, appearance, etc. any of which could easily be corrected.

The video also went over the alternative treatments that were available.  Ever since I first learned about this tooth, I remember being told that eventually a "bridge" would be needed to replace the tooth.  Doing a little research online, I found that implants started becoming generally available in the early 1980s (not that long after I first found out about my tooth), but I suspect that they have probably become much more common and routine in recent years.  A bridge is a much more destructive approach where the dentist files down the teeth on either side of the gap and then fits crowns over both.  The artificial tooth is then attached to and anchored in place by those two crowns.  Obviously, the big disadvantage of this is that it requires otherwise perfectly good teeth to be damaged and crowned.  The implant process leaves the other teeth alone.

The next step of this process will be the extraction of the baby tooth, which is scheduled for Wednesday, May 7th.  They mentioned that they would call me if an appointment opens up that would allow it to be done sooner, but I admit that I’m not in that big a rush.  I’m sure I’d be more anxious if I were in more continuous pain, but right now I simply find this to be something I dread more than welcome.  I know I need to get it done, though.

In addition to doing the extraction at the May 7th appointment, the doctor said that they would take the necessary measurements and impressions to prepare for the implant procedure.  They also will give me all the remaining information that I need at that appointment to get the surgery scheduled.  I’m not sure how long it will end up being between the two procedures.  Fortunately, the tooth is towards the back, so I shouldn’t look too much like a clumsy hockey player during that time.

Look for the next installment of this story shortly after May 7th!