Thursday morning I was saddened and shocked to learn of the unexpected passing of Tom Spurgeon, the longtime comics journalist, dedicated mind behind the Comics Reporter news site, and co-founder and executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an uniquely high-caliber arts festival that Anne and I attended both in 2015 and in 2017. I never had the pleasure of chatting with him in person and kick myself now for being too sheepish to try. Spurgeon was only 50, a year older than Anne and far, far, far too young.
“YouTube rapper” is among the myriad 21st-century phrases that strike fear and uncertainty in middle-aged fogies like me and makes us want to hastily close our browser windows and go seek refuge in MeTV reruns. I’d seen the stage name “Awkwafina” here and there in credits for such films as Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, neither of which I’ve seen yet, but I know zilch about her earlier works or online career. To be fair, most musicians whose entire resumes are less than a decade old are strangers to me. I figured I’d reach that age sooner or later in life, and knowing I’ve arrived there kind of sucks. I take heart that at least I’ve maintained a patient politeness with today’s bizarrely chosen entertainer names and I do try to suppress knee-jerk responses such as “In related news, I now wish to be known by my rapper name, Coo-Laid Mann.”
It’s been six years since the last time I had the chance to attend an advance movie screening (2013’s Broken City, for which I still want recompensated). Our city’s only verified art-house theater holds an occasional drawing for free screenings, which I keep losing. That changed this past week when I was a lucky winner invited to see Awkwafina star in the new A24 dramedy The Farewell, which I’d never heard of prior to the theater’s emails.
Thus my son and I found ourselves in a full house on a Monday night, snugly within an audience of whom the majority were over 65. This crowd was the most senior citizens I’ve seen in a theater in years. I’m pretty sure I knew more about Awkwafina than they did. Halfway through the movie the 80-something lady on my left fell asleep. At one point my son noticed someone behind us was listening to music on earbuds. On the bright side, no one in the rows ahead of us played on their phones during the movie.
Generational differences can be a funny thing.
…so, uh, spoilers for this heartbreaking entry in the title, obviously.
28 hours past the event itself, I’m two sentences into this and have already had to stop typing twice to compose myself.
Some introverts treasure those few places where we can feel like we belong. I mean in the physical world, not just online.
Comfortable spaces where we feel less weird and have reasons to hold up our end in a conversation instead of retreating from it. Areas where we can find common ground with folks who don’t think of us as strangers, who might even attempt eye contact despite how unnatural it can feel. Benign territories where the sight of a familiar face is a boost to our spirits, where mere recognition is validation, the baseline brownie points of existence. They admit they see me; they don’t slam the door in my face; ergo, I matter.
I’ve had a few of those places in my lifetime. That list doesn’t seem to be expanding much as I get older without becoming any more outgoing, which is a thing that happens for some folks as they age but hasn’t yet been the case with me.
I’ve been offline most of today, but upon returning late Saturday night was saddened to hear of the unexpected death of actor Scott Wilson at age 76. Most folks today know him as Herschel from seasons 2-4 of The Walking Dead, the kindly farmer and sage of the ensemble, often the conscience during the toughest of times when he wasn’t dealing with critical injuries, grieving the loss of teammates and family, or suffering the cruelty of the Governor. Barely an hour before his passing, news had broken at this weekend’s New York Comic Con that he would be returning this coming season for a flashback, most likely in connection with Andrew Lincoln’s farewell episodes and hopefully not as his surprise twin brother Murschel.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2015 my wife Anne and I undertook one of our most action-packed Wizard World Chicago experiences to date. It was the year we met more actors than any other, the year I attended more comics panels than any other, and a rare year in which the two of us had to split up a few times in order to see everything on our personal to-do lists. While I attended a Friday panel starring other, younger actors of relatively recent renown, Anne sped straight for a photo op with the legendary Burt Reynolds, that unparalleled star of the silver screen and beloved macho man of our childhoods.
We were shocked to hear this afternoon about his unexpected passing at age 82. As the photo proves, Anne had the chance to meet him, but I’m sorry I missed out. Even sorrier tonight.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: Anne and I attended the 2016 Superman Celebration in Metropolis, IL, whereupon…
…We also had the pleasure of meeting director Jon Schnepps and producer Holly Payne, the minds behind the recent documentary “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?”, the astonishing true story of that time Nicolas Cage, director Tim Burton, and writer Kevin Smith tried and failed to make a, uh, truly unique Superman film together. I’ve been wanting to see this for months even though I’m afraid to see it for myself.
We chatted for a minute at their table. I can’t remember a single thing about the conversation except that they were good people not that different from us. The last time I saw him in person was later that same weekend as we were wandering around the town’s “Super-Con” — the Superman Celebration’s equivalent of an exhibit hall for toy shops and comics dealers. During our lap around the building, we passed by Schnepp — no guards, no entourage, no disguise — standing at one table, rifling through their back-issue box like any ordinary average Joe who hadn’t made an actual film, accumulated Cartoon Network credits to their name, or once filmed themselves being wrestled to the ground by an unchecked, filthy rich studio exec.
After I watched writer/director/producer Schnepp’s candid, illuminating documentary about a massive failure of a Hollywood production, I eventually remarked…
We rarely get complete stories as to why a given high-profile film turns out awful, let alone a tell-all about one that collapsed under its own bloated before it could harm the innocent public. Copious interviews with would-be director Tim Burton, several attempted screenwriters including but not limited to a candid and incredulous Kevin Smith, producer Jon Peters checking in from some bizarre mental plane far removed from our own, fans, pundits, and other crew members who put in hundreds of hours of labor before someone realized they were collaborating on a fiasco and had to be stopped. It’s a shame Nicolas Cage himself couldn’t chime in with his thoughts because I suspect they would’ve made Peters seem rational by comparison.
Cage’s absence notwithstanding, I had to respect the force of will it must have taken to coax such revealing cautionary tales out of the participants themselves. I never took the time to watch Schnepp’s signature work on the Adult Swim series Metalocalypse (my loss, I’m guessing), but from the strong showing in that documentary alone I’d assumed we would see more great things from him in the future.
Then came the events of the past week.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: on June 7th my wife’s grandmother passed away, six days before her 93rd birthday. From 2011 to 2017 my wife Anne and I would take her out twice per year to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for her two favorite outings, the Indiana Flower & Patio Show and the Christmas Gift & Hobby Show. Longtime MCC readers have been treated to the resulting photo galleries and occasional cute Mamaw photos — her in her wheelchair and me as her chauffeur. While the better relatives would come over and visit her from time to time, not all of them took her places. I was among the precious few who stepped up to the privilege of being her personal driver in that sense.
The ongoing postmortem process has moved at a glacial pace in the ten days since her passing. Over this weekend the family got to the part where they begin dividing up the stuff she couldn’t take with her. As far as we know, she didn’t have a will drawn up, nor did she have enough extravagant possessions to her name to merit bitter feuding in lieu of one. The house itself is ultimately spoken for, but for now an aunt and a cousin are acting as estate wranglers, for lack of an actual, legally opened estate. This means they’ve been allowing close relatives to take turns coming over and picking out whatever mementos they’d like, within reason.
Today was Anne’s turn. Behold a selection from her de facto inheritance.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: from 2011 to 2017 my wife Anne and I would take her grandmother out twice per year to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for her two favorite outings: the Indiana Flower & Patio Show every May, and the Christmas Gift & Hobby Show every November. For Mamaw the fairgrounds were her premier destination for getting out of the house, buying presents for loved ones, stocking up on her favorite dark chocolates, marveling at strangers’ cute little babies, getting her watch battery changed at her favorite jeweler’s booth, oversharing about her medial conditions with any salesman who dared approach us unsolicited, and, for the last several affairs, relaxing while I had the honor of being her wheelchair chauffeur, uttering the occasional “Wheeeeee!” whenever we sped up while descending ramps and slopes. Longtime readers have seen several pictures of her throughout the years, enjoying what were basically her Super Bowl and her World Series.
Thursday morning, Mamaw passed away after a long, loving life, six days before her 93rd birthday.
The above musical number was performed in November 2014, four months after li’l Rosie’s double-lung transplant. I’m at a loss to add a review here other than something synonymous with “WOW”.
After I arrived at work this morning, I learned their estimate was off by about forty hours and that he’d passed away shortly before midnight.
The last time I saw him alive was on the morning of our wedding day in 2004. He’d arrived hours before anyone else, including us, because he wanted to congratulate us in private. We spoke for less than five minutes before he took his leave.
We spoke on the phone once every couple years after that, mostly about medical updates. We share a first name, and it’s entirely possible I’ll be sharing some of his conditions in the years ahead.
My preferred method of working through unique events (better or worse, good guy or bad) is to ponder at length in this space, but for dozens of reasons this moment doesn’t feel like the right time for new essays. The first time I tried to string any clauses together this evening, an ostensibly simple, fourteen-word Facebook status took me twenty-five minutes to write, including an extended thesaurus consultation and an editorial review by Anne at my repeated insistence.
Between this and other little signs throughout the day, I strongly believe God’s been trying to tell me to be still and spend more time listening, reading, thinking, and praying for a good while.
The funeral is Friday, but I’ve no idea how the next two days will go, either offline or here on the site. More introspection? Extended radio silence? Deep diving into Scripture? Off-topic distraction? Wish I knew.
Apologies for the disjointed fragments. For now I’m putting my inadequate words away, shutting up, standing by, and waiting to see what comes next.
As of this writing she’s still serving the remaining time on her sentence. We asked for your prayers, thoughts, and other forms of benevolence on her behalf. The happy dinosaur button in the lower-right corner of this page remains in place as tribute. Before The MAN sent her up the river, she was among the neatest of the coolest of the awesomest ’round these parts.
In her absence, her husband continued his own blog and self-publishing efforts under the name Grayson Queen. It goes without saying that times were tough for him throughout her initial months away, but a series of entries earlier this year had indicated an upswing in his fortunes, new employment opportunities, and a renewed dedication to the pursuit of his creative endeavors.
Up until last week, anyway. In the two most recent entries he reported signs of physical issues that to me sounded downright frightening at the time. His subdued writing style conveyed some slight urgency, but not really panic. Maybe he downplayed the symptoms. Maybe he did have them under control. Maybe they were wholly unrelated to what happened next.
Last night the WordPress community received word from the couple’s loyal friend DJ Matticus that he passed away this week at age 35.
At the moment few details are available, but the gracious Mr. Matticus, who’s already been immensely generous in helping to relay Rara’s ongoing behind-bars journals to her fans where possible, has provided what little is known, and he’s provided contact info for anyone who’d like to mail condolences, prayers, thoughts, or other direly needed supportive expressions of love to Rara during this absolutely tragic worst-case scenario.
I’m fumbling for words on this inconceivable occasion, but that last link has the important details and an outpouring of heartfelt words in their honor.
Thanks sincerely for your consideration.
With the right combination of persistence and timing, your Sisyphean efforts will produce a few shimmering, fragile globes, floating in the narrow space between obstacles. For scant seconds, you can enjoy your tiny, beautiful creation and derive a little joy from it.
At age 16 the thought of a part-time after-school job never occurred to me until I received a letter one day from a man named David Sleppy, owner/operator of the McDonald’s down the street from my high school. His store had launched a new recruitment program that offered a higher starting wage to applicants who were on the school’s honor roll — $3.85/hour at a time when minimum wage was $3.35/hour. As an introverted, insular kid with no self-awareness and minimal exposure to social worlds beyond my own limited boundaries, it wasn’t tempting until I did the math and realized that $3.85/hour was greater than my $5/week allowance. I figured why not. And hey, the letter guaranteed the job. Back in those days, silver platters were my favorite way of receiving things.
Mom drove me down there the next day and I filled out an application, but left most of the blanks empty because I had no experience and no idea how to sell myself on qualities alone. I saw no blank that allowed me to describe myself as “smart” and “nice”. But it didn’t matter to me anyway. I had the letter.
When I handed it to the manager on duty, he said they’d keep it on file. He brusquely sent me on my way, despite the letter. I was crestfallen.
Later that same day, David called me personally and told me I was hired.
For me, that’s when life began.
If you fear the aging process and aren’t remotely excited in seeing your possible future as a senior citizen writ large without any regard for your afterlife possibilities, chances are Michael Haneke’s new film Amour will be your scariest encounter of the year.
Except for the silent opening scene of one happy date night, the film is contained entirely within the spacious apartment where elderly couple Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are finishing out their decades of wedded bliss. The first telltale sign that something is wrong occurs when one normal morning is interrupted by one abnormal moment of stupor. After we learn from a reluctant Anne about her distrust of doctors, her condition quickly progresses to a full-blown stroke that leaves her paralyzed on one side and requires Georges to transition from the role of equal partner to majority decision-maker and full-time caretaker. Subsequent days bring new forms of debilitation and add new responsibilities to Georges’ list. How can he continue to manage? Can he continue? The film asks: should he continue?