On the Road

Comic book-style cover of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

I just finished Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road. I stayed up until one o’clock in the morning last night reading. I read the Original Scroll version (purchased at City Lights in San Francisco) in 2015, but I had never taken in the commercially released version. The copy I got for Christmas has a wonderful comic book-style cover with illustrations featuring a few of the main “characters” in the story. It took just a few days and nights to consume the book. You don’t read Kerouac, you consume him, you absorb him. He would’ve turned 99 last Friday had he lived. Even if he hadn’t drank himself to death at the age of 47 he probably wouldn’t have made it to 99.

I’ve explored Denver as The Beats did in the 1940s the last few times I’ve visited that town. The Five Points neighborhood is long gone but the jazz clubs persist and I wish I would have taken in some performances during my trips. I’ve visited My Brother’s Bar and shopped for Beat literature at the Tattered Cover bookstore. I’ve stood where Kerouac stood and walked in Denver and in San Francisco at City Lights and throughout North Beach. The Beat walking tour that ends at The Beat Museum across the street from City Lights was an enlightening way to learn about Kerouac’s visits to The City which, if his novels are to be believed, were never much fun for him. I’ve been to Mexico City and devoured tacos and cerveza at a corner neighborhood stand.

When I was young, I had always identified with The Beats even though I had never read anything they’d ever written. I knew the names – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke, Edie Parker, Diane DiPrima, et al. I knew they were writers and poets that had been mythologized for the better part of a half a century. But I didn’t discover the words they had written until I was in my mid-40s. Many people at least read Kerouac in high school or college. Not me. I was reading Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Anne Rice. The only books written by early and mid-20th century writers or even older authors that I read were required by a high school teacher or three. The books I have written myself echo King, Koontz, and Rice, rather than Kerouac.

Since reading the Original Scroll version of On the Road, I’ve embarked on a bit of scholarship regarding The Beats. I’ve watched documentaries and interviews and the like trying to understand who these people were, what they were trying to do, where they were trying to go, what they contributed. I’ve grown quite fond of a YouTube clip of Kerouac’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1959. I’ve read The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, The Haunted Life, The Subterraneans, the commercial and lost scroll versions of On the Road, and parts of The Unknown Kerouac by Jack Kerouac and Off the Road by Neal Cassady’s wife Carolyn Cassady. I posses other Kerouac volumes that sit on my to-be-read pile. I own other Beat literature as well.

I see some of myself and my early wanderlust in Jack Kerouac as I am sure many others have and do. I’ve examined friendships and found echoes of Jack’s relationship with Neal in one in particular. I’ve often thought of writing a book about my own Beat adventures in Kerouac’s narrative, stream-of-consciousness style. I stop short thinking nobody would want to read such drivel. I’ve been the third or fifth wheel, I’ve often shuffled after people who interest me, I’ve been the wallflower and the fly on the wall, and I have been the center of attention and the life of the party.

Many wonder what my fascination is with Kerouac and his writing. I wish I could answer that question. At his best, he is frantic and frenetic and takes you on the ride of your life either careening downhill with the car in neutral to save gas or climbing mountains without safety equipment. In The Haunted Life, Kerouac describes listening to a baseball game on the radio on a hot summer day like no one did before or has since. In On the Road, you feel like you are in the car with Kerouac and Cassady and the hapless ride-alongs from the ride-sharing service. In The Unknown Kerouac, his essays and journal entries leap off the page as he tries to figure out where he belongs. In The Dharma Bums you discover someone who is trying to learn the meaning of life and in Big Sur you realize he never will. After you read Kerouac, you’ll never listen to jazz the same way again (I often listen to jazz while I’m writing or reading). At his worst, he’s an overweight middle-aged drunk making a fool of himself on the William F. Buckley Firing Line program.

I’ve been to Big Sur and Bixby Bridge and thought of Ferlinghetti’s cabin and as I’ve driven up and down the California coast I’ve often wondered what Kerouac would think of the tourist-infested roads and towns and neighborhoods he once explored as a hitchhiker and bus rider. I don’t think he’d care for it very much. Reflecting on my own travels in my late teens I am thankful I had a car, I couldn’t imagine hitchhiking, although I have done my share of bus riding. There’s no way in hell you could retrace Kerouac’s tracks today, not the way he traveled. You’d end up dead or worse. Remember, I’ve read Stephen King, I know what really happens along those long lost lonely Nebraska roads.

On the Road will always be my favorite Jack Kerouac novel. I’ll read it again I suspect and I am sure it will be with new eyes and a new perspective. I never knew what it meant to be “beat,” and by the time I learned what it was I knew that I was not. Life happened, events transpired, and now I am “beat.”

“I had nothing to offer anybody, except my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Roller Coaster of a Month on the Scale

Sorry, no pictures or graphics. When I don’t feel like I am making significant progress or I’m not happy with myself, I tend not to take selfies or screengrabs of the Nike Run Club app. I’m not inclined to make PicStitch collages. That doesn’t mean the past few weeks have been a wash. It just means I don’t understand what is going on.

I started February at 218 pounds and added almost half a pound overnight and hit 218.4 on February 2. A week or so later I had dropped three pounds and was down to 215. I thought I was on the right path. I have found that when I start to drop, the decline in my weight is steady. But the week after that, the roller coaster ride began. My weight fluctuated all the way back up to 218 and then I hit a new low of 214.8 on February 20. All last week I fluctuated between 214.8 and 215.2.

Well, this morning the scale read 213.8.

Yes, I know day to day weight fluctuations are normal. But the wild swings this month have been interesting to say the least. But it was nice to see a number under 214 this morning, I figure it is going to take another five to 10 pounds before I seen an appreciable difference in the mirror.

So, what does it all mean? It means in the month of February 2021, from a high of 218.4, I have lost roughly 4 1/2 pounds. They say 1-2 pounds per week is healthy, I am right on track with that. Of course, it’s not happening fast enough and if you look at where I started at the beginning of January, you might say I haven’t made much progress at all. But I choose to look at January as a wash and the beginning of February as the real launching point.

What’s next? I’m glad you asked. I have gotten off track a bit with MyFitnessPal and I need to get back to logging everything I eat every day without fail. Beyond that, I need to plow through some aches and pains and keep plugging away. I feel like I am on the right path and I hope to continue the downward trend on the scale in the coming days and weeks.

Fitness Progress Update

Sometimes when you reset or reboot your fitness goals and priorities you have a significant amount of damage to undo. The word “damage” here is a bit hyperbolic, but it’s the closest word I can think of to describe what you do to yourself if you back off and subsequently backslide. Throughout my working career I set a high bar, a high standard for myself. I was a grinder. This is starting to have negative connotations now as people seek work/life balance, even in these dark days of a global pandemic. But, I digress. The point is I had to be “on” all the time. Back off or delegate just for a day and everyone wants to know what’s wrong with you.

This applies to exercise and nutrition as well. You work hard and track caloric intake and all that and you lose the desired weight and you think you’ve arrived. You don’t try to figure out maintenance levels, you stop tracking and you start skipping – a set here, a set there, a whole exercise, a day of cardio, – and next thing you know you’ve put 10 pounds back on, 20, 30. There are myriad reasons for this.

Part of the problem in my case is that I hate managing my life. It’s contradictory to my creature of habit and routine nature. Routines are comforting, but tracking everything you eat and how much weight you can lift and how fast you can run is tedium I can do without. But the truth is I can’t do without it. I’ve only gotten to a true maintenance point once during this journey. When I lost 60 pounds from January 2013 – December 2014, I stayed at my goal weight of 180 pounds for quite awhile, well over a year. In February 2016, I wrote that my weight was hovering around 185 pounds. I looked as good as I have throughout this process, but this is where my weight started to climb. The yo-yo was beginning. I was still running regularly but I was confused and on information overload. I stopped writing about my weight.

In January 2017, I started writing about my weight again because I had ballooned up to 198 pounds. By the end of 2017 I had quit running regularly. By the end of 2018 I had practically stopped writing about exercise altogether. From 2017 to today, I went from 198 pounds down to 177, back up all the way to 220, down to 200 and finally back up to 218. Every time I have gotten down to my target weight, I have stopped keeping myself accountable. That’s the bottom line. I stopped weighing myself every day, I stopped tracking caloric intake, I stopped blogging about my fitness journey. When I have done all or even some of these things I enjoy success. When I wrote on February 1, that I was disgusted with myself, it wasn’t the first time I had done so.

I have learned so many harsh lessons the past eight years. The biggest one of all is that I cannot afford to stop tracking my calories this time. Once I get to my goal weight, I have to continue to do this religiously. If I do not, I am just going to repeat the same mistakes and I’ll never be able to get off this roller coaster of yo-yoing weight.

So, I promised a progress update. When I decided on a reboot on January 4, I weighed 215 pounds even. I stopped weighing myself every day and I was strict enough with food, so by February 2 I was up to 218.4. It was taken me nine days to undo that damage. I weighed in at 215 pounds even. I’ve also made some progress in a few other areas. I am exactly right back where I was on January 4. Had I kept going back in June, I’d probably be right where I want to be by now. But, I can be excused and excuse myself for losing my way considering everything that happened around that time last year.

The reason I have been able to lose three pounds in a week is because I am tracking. I am tracking my weight every day and I am tracking everything I put in my mouth. MyFitnessPal has made a nice upgrade to their app since the last time I used it. You can scan the barcode on a food package rather than typing in the search bar. I have no qualms about digging in the trash can to pull out a discarded package and scan the barcode. Judge me all you like.

Sometimes you have talk things out, think them out, and write them out to figure them out even if the answer is obvious. It is very difficult to reach a high level of effort and maintain it for a very long time. Even backing off a little can have far-reaching effects. So, the damage from the last couple of weeks of January have been undone and hopefully it’s all downhill from here.

Star Trek’s Predictions and Prophecies

Chief Engineer “Scotty” uses a handheld communicator, the precursor to the modern cell phone.

Good science fiction is both prophetic and cautionary and Star Trek: The Original Series was both. When it comes to technology, the show and its creator, Gene Roddenberry, were particularly prescient as well as influential. A quick Google search came back with several web sites detailing the technological advances the show predicted and even inspired. And I know I have watched at least one documentary about it. I could very well cite those sources here but I thought it would be more fun to try to detail the ones that have stood out to me. There are also a few ideological elements I’ll mention as well.

  1. Transporters: these devices seemingly disassemble people and objects, shoot them to a particular set of coordinates, and reassemble them on the spot. This is not a reality but it has been explored in other science fiction stories, most notably The Fly before and after Star Trek.
  2. Phasers: A type of laser weapon I’m still not sure of. Star Wars seemed to have cooler “pew pew” guns, but these ship-mounted or hand-held weapons were quite effective within the context of the show. Folks have been experimenting in this field for years, but nothing practical and effective has emerged.
  3. Communicators: The precursor of the flip phone sure seems to have influenced early cell phones. These person-to-person or person-to-ship devices “chirped” when they were flipped open and often worked like a walkie-talkie.
  4. Tricorder: This device had many functions, most of which you can find in today’s iPhone or iPad, especially in conjunction with say an Apple Watch or a FitBit.
  5. Bluetooth headsets: Lt. Uhura, the communications officer, wore one of these throughout the series run, it was big and bulky but it was a wireless headphone nonetheless.
  6. Diskettes: Throughout much of the Original Series, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise transferred data using what they called “data tapes,” but these colored squares were roughly the size of a 3.5″ diskette.
  7. Electronic Computer Assistants: The shipboard computer responded to voice commands and accessed information from “library tapes.” Today, several companies make voice responsive electronic assistants, and one is built into Apple products, that use the internet to relay requested information. Some of the consoles on the Enterprise sure look like my Amazon Alexa Echo Show.
  8. Medical scanners: Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy often uses a handheld medical scanner he passes over a patient’s body to ascertain their condition. Ultrasound devices sure look like a logical offshoot.
  9. Space Travel: The United States and the former Soviet Union were the pioneers on this frontier in the 1960s. We still haven’t reached the speed of light as Star Trek predicted but advances in space exploration are made every day.
  10. Artificial Intelligence: In “The Ultimate Computer,” an experimental shipboard computer is installed aboard the Enterprise with the goal of replacing the majority of the crew. Forms of AI are prevalent throughout our society today, especially in computer technology. Thankfully, nothing has achieved consciousness … yet.

One of the other things I thought I’d mention here is the show’s depiction of the fight against communists, fascists and other forms of authoritarian or war-like militaristic government. In “Patterns of Force,” the crew of the Enterprise has to deal with a society that patterned itself after Nazi Germany, in “The Omega Glory,” one faction is described as communist and with Asian characteristics reminiscent of Vietnam and China, and in “Bread and Circuses,” a Roman civilization has evolved all the way into a parallel of Earth’s 20th century. In “The Omega Glory,” American history is on display, literally, with an American flag and a copy of the Constitution inexplicably oh so many light years from Earth. Democracy, freedom, and free will are the over-arching themes of several episodes.

The 2011-12 Science Channel series Prophets of Science Fiction unfortunately didn’t cover Star Trek, but it did showcase others who successfully crafted cautionary tales and predicted future technology. I suggest you give it a watch if you can find it. According to IMDB, it’s available on Amazon Prime and a quick search of the “library tapes” says you can find it on the newly launched Discovery+.

Best Fitness Week of the Year By Far

Increasing my cardio and squinting at the sun.

When I set out on January 4 to get back on the weight loss tip I didn’t think it would be as hard as it has been. I spent a month spinning my wheels. After undoing almost all of the progress I achieved at the beginning of pandemic stay-at-home orders, and staring undoing all of the progress I’ve made the past eight years in the face, I took a long look at my nutrition and exercise. I don’t know why, but I always forget how strict and intense I have to be in order to lose weight. Even when I think I am maintaining, I’m not. After spending most of January hovering around 215 pounds I started this past week at 218 and ticked up to 218.4 on Tuesday. I weighed in at 215.6 this morning.

What changed?

Two things. I cranked up cardio. Thirty – 45 minutes is prescribed post-workout every day but this past week I did 20 minutes of fasted cardio on my Bowflex Treadclimber before breakfast, and then 45 minutes of cardio post-workout every day except Wednesday, which was a HIIT day. So, I recorded roughly 13.51 miles of walking around the neighborhood and on the machine. In January, I walked a grand total of 12.68 miles. For the life of me I can’t recall if I got on the Treadclimber or not. If I did, it wouldn’t have amounted too much more mileage-wise. So, essentially, I logged more miles in a week than I did the previous month. I continued with my weight and strength training as well, that’s constant in my life.

The second thing I did was download the MyFitnessPal app. I have used this off and on over the years. In fact, the last time I logged out of it, I weighed 177 pounds. What a difference two and a half years makes. Sugar and carbs have always been the devil for me. Now that I am tracking my food intake again I can see I was consuming too many calories, especially in the form of sugar and carbs. I set an attainable daily goal of 1,600 calories and I have been right around that every day. Not that long ago I had a 20-something try to tell me if you exercise you can eat more. Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids. I log my cardio in the app and it does add the supposed calories burned to the daily number of calories I can supposedly consume. But, considering there isn’t one goddamn thing on this planet that can accurately measure the number of calories any given individual burns during exercise or at any other time, I can’t use that as a guide. I just keep my food intake less than my goal and consider the calories I burn exercising as a bonus and this way I stay in a caloric deficit, which is conducive to weight loss.

The other experiment and discovery is my relationship with protein. Conventional wisdom and the fitness industry will tell you the more muscle the better. It helps burn fat, improves functional strength, all that. As I mentioned, I’ve had numerous people and articles tell me 1g of protein per pound of body fat every day is ideal. Um, no. Not in my case. I started using MyFitnessPal Tuesday and hit 156g, then 133g Wednesday, 96g Thursday, 66g Friday, and 67g yesterday. I also used a scoop of creatine in my post-workout shakes the first few days of the week, which I know causes water retention. I didn’t see any downward movement on the scale until Friday. So, 218, 218.4. 218.2, 218.4, 217.2, 217.2, 215.6 (today, Sunday). I was starting to get frustrated because whenever I make a drastic change, the effects on the scale are almost immediate.

I’ll count it as almost three pounds lost from a high of 218.4. I have no doubt that more protein is better than less. But for me, 1g per pound of body weight is way too much much when it comes to weight loss. I read somewhere a few years back that if you don’t use protein your body will store it as fat. I’m sure the creatine had something to do with it, but it’s funny that as soon as I dropped the protein intake to under 100g per day and stopped taking creatine, my weight started to drop. I probably didn’t give my body enough time to adjust but I am a results-oriented guy. After drastically changing the nutrition plan, I really needed to see some tangible results.

My favorite comedian is Lewis Black. And in one of Lewis’s stand-up rants he discussed how everyone’s individual health is different and that we don’t know a damn thing about health. I think I am living proof of this. We are the sum of experiences and our health is the sum of everything we have done to and put into out bodies up to this moment in time. Every ache, every pain, every labored breath, every injury – they all add up. In my case – every cigarette, every drop of alcohol, every chicken wing, every cheeseburger, plus knee surgery, back surgery, arthritis, and every sprained thumb, every sprained ankle and decades-long gaps in exercise all add up to an uphill battle against Father Time.

We can sit here and talk about BMI and body fat and what constitutes obesity and overweight and all that. My current BMI would tell you that I am obese but to look at me, you wouldn’t consider me obese, maybe a bit overweight. Hell, even my target weight of 180 pounds is considered overweight for my height. So, as I have mentioned before, I look at body fat rather than BMI. And if you want to tell me not to worry about the scale I’ll tell you my weight and body fat are directly proportional. All three things seem to go hand-in-hand though – body weight, body fat, and BMI.

As I was telling a dear friend earlier today, Father Time is undefeated and it feels like I am ice skating uphill. Every time I slip, it seems like clawing back gets harder, but if the alternative is giving up and shortening what time I have left, I’d rather keep fighting the good fight. I enjoy the grind, the challenge and the journey. I have run up to the edge of where I want to be a couple of times and fallen back, and then forgot what it took to get there. I am determined to smash through this time.

Star Trek’s Cavalier Relationship with Death

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Alien Rojan (left) holds two freeze-dried Enterprise crewmembers in By Any Other Name.

During my exploration of Star Trek: The Original Series, I have tried to pay attention to the details, big and small. It has become a running joke over the years that anyone wearing a red uniform, who wasn’t part of the recurring cast, was doomed to die a miserable death by episode’s end. Accepting this as a universal truth throughout the series, the crew’s rather cavalier attitude toward death, in particular Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), is one of those details that has stood out.

I am 23 episodes into Season 2, meaning I have watched 53 shows so far. I wish I had kept count of the red shirts who have died unceremoniously. According to MeTV.com, 25 redshirts died during the three seasons of The Original Series, which, considering the disproportionate number of crewmembers who wore that color, isn’t all that many by percentage. Forty-three Enterprise crewmembers died in all. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) seems to be the only character overly concerned when a crewmember dies, regardless of the circumstances. The U.S.S. Enterprise seems to have an endless supply of expendable crewmembers. You hardly ever see them onboard anyone new and new crewmembers with speaking parts are never introduced in a meaningful way.

Rojan crushes Yeoman Leslie Thompson.

Perhaps the most disconcerting death came in “By Any Other Name,” where aliens kill a member of the Enterprise landing party, Yeoman Leslie Thompson played by Julie Cobb, after turning her into a geometric mass. The aliens proceed to take over the Enterprise turning the crew into these geometric shapes. Although they have the means to restore people, the head alien had crushed Thompson into dust. Eventually, Kirk convinces the aliens that the United Federation of Planets could help them, as friends. The alien leader, Rojan, played by Warren Stevens, murdered Yeoman Thompson, yet Kirk suggests the Federation could help the aliens find a new home. Never mind that the entire crew of the Enterprise had been effectively freeze-dried and we never see them restored. In fact, there’s no mention of Thompson ever again.

In numerous other episodes, an Enterprise crewmember dies in the line of duty, Kirk displays some sort of indignation or grief in the moment, and by the end of the episode that crewmember and his or her fate is completely forgotten. No memorial, no funeral, no notification of next of kin, no notification of Star Fleet, no burial in space (at sea). In fact, by the end of most episodes during which a crewmember has died, Kirk is quite pleased with himself at whatever resolution has been affected and orders the Enterprise off to another adventure. Many murderous characters face no justice.

Kirk often remarks about his concern for “his” ship and her crew. He mentions the more than 400 crewmembers aboard the Enterprise frequently whenever the ship might be in peril. And these crewmember deaths seem to affect him in the moment. But his remorse or grief is fleeting. And nobody seems to care how many deceased members of the Enterprise’s crew have been left scattered across the galaxy.

Maybe this improves in Season 3, but as far as I know, the only time any shipboard memorial services take place are in the theatrically released films.

Perhaps I am overthinking it, but I find it odd that this cavalier attitude towards death permeates a series concerned with the survival of alien races and humanity and is continually trying to define that humanity. So much of the show is about going where no one has gone before, but they forgot about those they left behind.

Disgusted with Myself

Throughout most of January, my weight remained steady at right around 215 pounds despite my efforts to drive it down. I set out on January 4 to start losing weight again. Well, after a month, I have gained three pounds. I stepped on the scale this morning and weighed in at 218 pounds even. I knew that I had put on a few pounds, I could see it in the mirror. When I get to a certain point on the way up I can see it in my face and my midsection. I also notice other symptoms. The extra weight stresses my cardio vascular and respiratory systems. When COVID hit I weighed 220 pounds and then I lost 20 pounds in three months. I have practically completely undone that progress.

During this eight-year journey I’ve had the tendency to forget how strict I need to be in order to shed pounds. When I lost 60 pounds from 2013-2015, I was counting calories and macros, I was weighing myself every day. After putting 20 back on, I lost that 20 in three months by weighing myself every day, taking pictures and measurements, and a strict daily nutrition plan with measured calories. People used to ask me for advice. I gave it freely, adamantly in many cases.

I really have no excuse. I no longer spend three hours per day in the car commuting, I don’t have the responsibilities and rigidity of a 9-to-5 job, I make my own hours these days. COVID has put the brakes on travel and dining out. When businesses do open when restrictions are eased temporarily the only thing I have taken advantage of is getting my hair cut professionally. I live in Northern California so the weather is rarely an issue when it comes to getting outside to walk or run or play ball.

So, what the hell is my problem? I’ve put a lot of thought into this. The mistake I commonly make when I do reach a weight I am comfortable with is thinking I’m finished, that I have arrived. The first thing that goes out the window when I reach these points is the strict nutrition. The other problem with that is not achieving the body composition transformation I desire, or muscle definition doesn’t develop. I run right up to it and either stop doing what I know works thinking it’s never going to happen, or I’m afraid of actually achieving my goals. Sounds dumb, I know. I think the fitness industry has similar issues when it comes to unrealistic body standards as the impossible beauty standards foisted on women. That’s a topic for another blog.

Since COVID hit, I have run at base level of anxiety every day. This was exacerbated when I lost my situation. I am normally not an anxious person, but with a raging global pandemic and uncertainty with my ability to make a living, my anxiety and stress have climbed to a level that, at a minimum, make it difficult for me to lose weight. The election and events thereafter haven’t helped any. I’m in a much better place with that, but I continue to watch TV news more than I have in years.

There is some good news. One of my goals is to get consistent with taking my supplements every day. I used to have a solid morning routine when I had that 9-to-5, I’d take my pills after breakfast right before I left the house. I’ve now come up with a new system to take them each day and I have done so for a solid eight days in a row after fits and starts.

I have a love/hate relationship with protein. I have discussed the proper protein intake with numerous professionals and it still always comes back to 1g of protein per pound of body weight (desired). So, for me, I should be consuming 180g of protein per day. If you try to get 180g of protein from just food alone, the calorie count goes through the roof. When I am on my game, I get my protein from a mix of high protein food like eggs and chicken, and whey protein shakes. I have one of those shakes, with added creatine immediately following a workout. I have been horribly inconsistent with my protein intake over the years.

I have to stop eyeballing things and trusting a flawed process. I know what works. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. Counting calories, getting enough protein, weighing myself every day, taking pictures and measuring … these things work. No more excuses. It’s time to take control of the situation. Conventional wisdom says you can eat more when you are an active exerciser because you’re burning more calories. My body doesn’t work that way. I must operate at a calorie deficit at all times.

So, after a month of fits and starts and growing disgusted with myself for my lack of discipline and sticktoitiveness, today, is Monday, February 1. It’s a good day to take stock and reset. Let’s just call January the warm up, the pregame.

Like I’ve become fond of saying, I’m not finished, I’m just getting started.

Continuity Issues from Frankenstein to Bride of Frankenstein

Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster and Mae Clarke as Henry Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth in 1931’s Frankenstein.

UPDATED! This has been brought up in Universal monster movie fan groups on Facebook of which I am a member. However, I thought I would re-visit it after recently watching both films back-to-back and paying more attention. I put the phone down and gave my full attention to these movies, not because I was being critical, but because I wanted to immerse myself. Oftentimes filmmakers will make changes from the original in the sequel, but I found that the continuity issues from the end of Frankenstein (1931) to the opening of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) too glaring to ignore. There are a couple of other casting issues I’ll point out as well.

During the climax of Frankenstein, the monster (Boris Karloff) tosses Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) off of an old, abandoned windmill. Henry hits a blade, which breaks his fall, then goes to the ground where the villagers gather him up to carry him home. The movie ends with his father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr), leaving his son’s bedroom where you can see a very much alive Henry Frankenstein in the background.

At the beginning of The Bride of Frankenstein, we see Henry hauled off to the family estate, where he is placed on a table and presumed dead. He revives to the delight of everyone. However, Henry’s father is nowhere to be found. Frederick Kerr, who played Henry’s father, died in 1933, two years after Frankenstein was released. I wonder if this is why the character was written out of Bride. I’d be surprised if that was the case since the actor who played the burgomaster was changed from film to film. Universal recast roles with impunity throughout their Monsterverse. And I just remembered, in Frankenstein, little Maria’s father’s name is Ludwig and he is played by Michael Mark, in The Bride of Frankenstein, her father’s name is Hans and he’s played by Reginald Barlow. We never saw Maria’s mother in the first film, but in the second she is played by Mary Gordon.

Seventeen-year-old Valerie Hobson replaced an ill Mae Clarke as Elizabeth in The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.

I have written extensively on the Universal cinematic universe of monsters and discussed the full range of actor and character changes, but since I am focusing on these two films in particular for this post, I thought I’d mention a couple the took place between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

The recasting of the burgomaster, who appears in the opening scene of the film as well as Maria’s parents, is quite obvious. Lionel Belmore played the character in Frankenstein, and he was replaced in The Bride of Frankenstein by E.E. Clive, who also appeared as a constable in The Invisible Man in 1933. Belmore returned to play a minor character in Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942.

Mae Clarke played Elizabeth in Frankenstein. When The Bride of Frankenstein was filmed, Clarke had fallen ill and was unable to reprise the role. She was replaced by 17-year-old Valerie Hobson, who also played Lisa Glendon, the wife of Henry Hull’s Dr. Wilfred Glendon in Werewolf of London the same year.

Dwight Frye, who played Fritz in Frankenstein, plays Karl in The Bride of Frankenstein. It’s not a recast of an actor but the creation of a new character. It’s not a continuity issue, but I just thought I’d mention it. Frye also played a small role in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein.

Obviously, the replacement of Mae Clarke makes sense, but I don’t understand why Clive replaced Belmore as the burgomaster, or why Baron Frankenstein was eliminated altogether. With the exception of one line delivered by Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) referring the Henry being the baron now. So, we can assume Henry’s father died. Perhaps this plot element got tossed in the wastebasket when the script was written or the scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

These details in no way hamper my enjoyment of the films. But when you watch things enough times, you can certainly develop a keen eye for inconsistencies and flaws.

How to Fix the Dark Universe

I have written about the Universal Monsterverse, the first cinematic universe, extensively in recent months. In fact, my look at Universal’s werewolf movies was the most popular thing I’ve posted in quite some time. Universal horror (1925-1956) is still enjoyed and widely discussed by people of all ages. The Peacock streaming service from Comcast/Xfinity, which is the parent company of NBCUniversal, has just about all of the original Universal horror films available. Over the years, many of these films have been remade, reimagined, and rebooted. Hammer Studios’ efforts from the late 1950s to the early 1970s were definitely the most successful.

In 1999, Universal released Stephen Sommers version of The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser. Sommers made two more mummy movies (which we won’t discuss), along with Van Helsing in 2004. I recall an interview with Sommers where he said he was a big fan of the original Universal films, just as Peter Jackson said the original King Kong (which he remade in 2005) inspired him to become a filmmaker. In 2010, Benicio Del Toro starred as Lawrence Talbot in a remake of The Wolf Man (1941), called The Wolfman. Numerous filmmakers and studios have put their interpretations of the source material for many of these movies on the big and small screens.

In my treatise on the Universal Monsterverse, I started with lavishing praise on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while criticizing DC Comics for their ham-handed attempt to emulate Marvel. I also mentioned the Stephen King multiverse, which was not brought to the big screen in a concerted effort the way Marvel and DC were. The reason why I have taken these particular steps across this bridge is because of Universal’s ill-fated attempt to create something called the Dark Universe. As a fan of Universal horror since childhood, the promise of such a thing certainly raised the hair on the back of my neck. But as films have trickled out and news of the future of the endeavor has been less than encouraging, I have been a bit disappointed. I’m sure I am not the first person to take a look at where things have gone awry, and I am sure I won’t be the last, but I won’t be reading of those pieces lest I form my own conclusions and make my own suggestions.

In 1925, Universal brought The Phantom of the Opera to life with the Man of 1,000 Faces, Lon Chaney, in the title role. Whether Carl Laemmle, Jr., intended it or not, the Phantom kicked off the dawn of the first cinematic universe. Gothic horror literature was a logical place to mine story ideas and after the success of the stage production, Universal turned to Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first “talkie” horror film in 1931. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was next the same year. It wasn’t until 1932’s The Mummy an original screenplay was used. In 1933, Universal returned to literature with H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. What followed was a cache of mostly interconnected sequels and tales of the undead, curses, and science gone wrong on a scale never replicated.

A detective’s crazy wall.

In 2008, Paramount and Marvel brought Iron Man to theaters. Whether Jon Favreau, et al, intended it or not, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What followed was a series of mostly interconnected films with stories and characters mined from comic books. Whether it was the plan or not all along, eventually a schedule of movies was mapped out and announced and connecting lines were drawn. More than 20 films featuring origin stories and team-ups all led up to an epic finale. The best thing about this? Until we were several films into it, Marvel DID NOT TALK ABOUT IT. Unless I missed something along the way, unless I wasn’t paying enough attention to the chatter, I had no idea what the grand plan was until we were knee-deep in Avengers in-fighting. And then I don’t recall DC coming out with a press release that read, “Hey, we’re going to copy those other comic book guys,” but that’s essentially what happened and we all knew what they were doing. The difference now is, unless you are “in the know” as it were, we still don’t know where the hell that’s going.

With Marvel, we had two Iron Man movies, a Hulk movie, a Captain America movie, and a Thor movie, before we got the first team-up, The Avengers. Marvel was laying the groundwork, introducing us to the characters and the alliances, some on more stable ground than others. DC has tried this to varying lesser degrees of success.

So, what does this all have to do with horror movies, Universal horror in particular? Glad you asked. If memory serves, I heard rumblings about the Dark Universe before the 2017 release of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. However, right from the opening Universal animation at the start of the film, you knew the Dark Universe was going to be a thing. I don’t know why they chose his particular film or monster. I questioned the casting of Tom Cruise, but the story itself, up until a certain point is actually kind of serviceable. Until the appearance of Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe. First of all, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wasn’t a Universal horror film to begin with, the 1931 film was released by Paramount and the 1941 version with Spencer Tracy came from MGM. The movie bombed and the buzz all over the internet was that the Dark Universe was doomed and then in short order, like Frankenstein’s monster, it was resurrected. The presence of Jekyll as the head of some monster studying and hunting society was supposed to set the stage for the entire Dark Universe as other monsters such as Dracula were hinted at and alluded to.

The Invisible Man released in 2020 happens to be the last movie I saw in a theater before COVID-19 hit. Elisabeth Moss (A Handmaid’s Tale) stars and it was a well-received and well-reviewed film. It is a modern update on HG Wells’ tale and the original film starring Claude Rains. Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays Adrian Griffin and Michael Dorman plays Tom Griffin, Rains’ character’s name was Dr. Jack Griffin. I won’t give away any spoilers but it is a tale of abuse, madness and paranoia, much like the 1933 film. The 2020 version currently holds a 91% Tomatometer rating and an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The Mummy clocks in at 16% and 35% respectively, in case you were wondering.

I recently read that Bride of Frankenstein was up next, then it wasn’t, then it was. Again, resurrected more times than …

So, what’s gone wrong and what can Universal do to fix it? The first problem was making the creation of the Dark Universe obvious and public. The second was the story in the back half of The Mummy. Dr. Jekyll and his secret agency of monster hunters just doesn’t work. Even if it was to be the crux of the Dark Universe, save it for later. The third is the on again/off again public admission that the Dark Universe concept is broken.

What’s the fix? One of the reasons I enjoyed the original films was the time periods they were set in. Gothic horror and early science fiction just work better as period pieces. The novels Dracula and The Invisible Man were published in 1897, Frankenstein was written in 1818, The Wolf Man was set earlier than its 1941 release, even mummy films work better set in the early part of the 20th century because of the infancy of Egyptology. The 2020 Invisible Man worked because of the use of technology. Could other original Universal monster movies be updated for today? Yes and no. We have two examples of this – one that works and one that doesn’t. As much as Frankenstein predicted medical advances such as organ transplants, could such a story be updated for today? By the right filmmaker, in the right surgical-gloved hands if you will, sure. I would argue for the opposite. Keep the films, the stories, in the correct time frame. Find a way to connect them later. These creatures all keep finding a way to return from the grave any damn way.

Now, you might argue that today’s audiences don’t have the appetite, the taste, for period-piece Gothic horror. I would retort that you are incorrect. Just look at the success of some of recent series – Downton Abbey, The Crown, Outlander, and now Bridgerton. You also might argue that this ground has been covered already. And I would answer with yes and no. Dracula is the most obvious. No true adaptation of that novel has ever been produced. Kenneth Branagh tried with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with mixed results. Stephen Sommers managed to make a fantastic mummy movie in 1999 that was both original and called back to the Karloff film. Van Helsing is another story. Look at the recent Sherlock Holmes films with, ironically, Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man). Guy Ritchie did a fantastic job with period detective stories that sprang from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work updated with breathtaking action. I actually liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which featured appearances by Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), Mina Harker, an invisible man, a phantom character (turns out to be Holmes’ Moriarty), among other literary characters. Some dark TV series have been pretty darn good as well, The Frankenstein Chronicles and Taboo come to mind. Ripper Street is one of the best. This can be done. And it can be done well.

Perhaps the most ambitious homage or love letter to the original Universal Monsterverse was Showtime’s Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, and Harry Treadaway. I get chills thinking about how good this show was and I am sad about how it ended. I think Kinnear’s portrayal of the Frankenstein monster was the best work of his career. Dalton plays Sir Malcolm Murray, ostensibly Mina’s father, who is trying to find his daughter who has been abducted by Count Dracula. Hartnett plays a character who is eventually revealed to be Lawrence Talbot, and yes, he is a werewolf. Dr. Henry Jekyll and Dorian Gray are part of the story, as is a version of the Bride of Frankenstein. There are witches, necromancers and vampires and all manner of ghouls and oogedy-boogedies in this fantastic Gothic horror universe. But it all falls down in the rush to the finale and the failed portrayal of Dracula. But if you love Universal horror, I do highly recommend this series if you can get it, 91% | 90% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes.

Victorian London has been the setting for so many great Gothic horror films and TV series during the past 100 years. There is no reason why Universal can’t revisit some of these familiar haunts. You never know what new terrors, and old friends, might be lurking around the corner in a creepy, foggy alley in the West End.

Was that the howl of a wolf I just heard?

January Quickly Becoming a Wash in the Weight Loss Effort

When I first made the decision to eat better and lose weight eight years ago I was gung-ho. I went full bore, balls to the wall into it. Changed the diet overnight. Started walking three miles per day right away. Had a major setback because I forgot to add water and ended up needing an embarrassing surgery but hey, it’s all water under the bridge now. I developed a rigid self-discipline I was quite proud of and I was the envy of many people and an inspiration for others. I don’t say that to brag because I am about to compare and contrast.

After the holidays I said I was going to recommit to losing weight and keeping it off. The good news is I am hovering around 215 pounds. The bad news is that’s where I started three weeks ago. I have struggled to find that willpower, that self-discipline to get back to proper nutrition. I’m still hitting the exercise although I probably could do more or work a little harder. Also, I have been having trouble sticking that supplement regimen. I start weeks off strong and then by Wednesday or Thursday I am back in forgetting mode. I’ve been trying to drink more water. That’s a similar issue. I start off the first few days guzzling water and then by the middle of the week I’m back to old habits.

Part of the problem could be how easy it is to sit at your set point (whatever weight your body wants to be at the time) and make major changes when you’ve been in kind of maintenance mode for so long. When I started eight years ago and the other two times I’ve rebooted and dropped weight, I dived in and went hard making sweeping changes. Since the changes I need to make now aren’t as extensive, I’m having trouble sticking to them.

I’m not complaining mind you, just updating you on what’s happening. I’ll get there, it’s just that this jump start isn’t happening as fast as I’d like. It’s another friendly reminder that the struggle is real. The only thing I can do is stack one good day on top of another.