Monday, January 30, 2006

My Fair Lady Long Ago?

My brother has been in touch with one of my high school friends, Tim Maculan, who is an accomplished film and TV actor. In fact, in the past few weeks Tim has been flying back and forth from New York to be on the set of the next "Spiderman" movie. In the nearly 25 years since we graduated from high school, I have only seen Tim once, when I happened to go to a taping of "Cybil" in Hollywood in 1995. I didn't watch that show much, so I didn't realize that he had a recurring role as the snooty waiter. He happened to be appearing in the episode that I was watching, when I suddenly realized who he was. During a break I called him over, we had a friendly reunion that lasted three minutes, and he gave me his phone number. Alas, I soon lost that number, moved away from LA, and never got in touch with him again.

Well, Tim's recent contact with my brother has resulted in my transferring the video of our high school production of "My Fair Lady" to DVD so that he can give it to Tim. The tape was made in March 1981, and is in poor quality, but it's still fun to see. The photo here comes from a series of stills that cast members could purchase from a professional photographer. That's Tim as Col. Pickering on the left, Lisa Jackson (now Lisa Nemeth) as Eliza Doolittle, and me on the right as a very young looking Prof. Higgins. Tim and Lisa ended up winning the best actor and actress awards at our high school that year, and it's clear in the video how truly great they were. And it's amazingly prescient how our director cast me as a professor!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

From Synapse to Sex

My wife's four and half months of being on bed rest ended this past Wednesday with the removal of her cervical cerclage. Needless to say, we were both happy to reach this milestone, so we went out to play during the afternoon. We sprinted to the new Atlantic Station development--the first time V's been able to see it since it opened. IKEA was our first stop. We bought a little mobile for the baby's changing table and a small table to put next to the glider chair where a lot of breastfeeding will supposedly occur. Woody Allen's "Match Point" was next. I had really been looking forward to seeing this, but I ended up feeling mildly disappointed, as the main themes of this film were more fully explored by Woody in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and even "Hannah and Her Sisters." Still, a Woody Allen film is better than most of the movies out there, so we enjoyed it.

V. continued her post-bed rest period on Thursday by going to lunch with a friend in Norcross. I had a long day of teaching. I am especially enjoying teaching my Intro class. The students ask all sorts of interesting questions. Even though we were talking merely about synaptic transmission, they were beginning to raise questions about how all this was related to personality and how we choose our mates. This prompted me to finally open a book that I bought a while back by Joe LeDoux called "The Synaptic Self." LeDoux addresses these very questions by focusing on synapses as the major explanatory mechanism for the self, personality, sex, etc., rather than the organization of the nervous system, which is pretty much the same across all members of the species. I've only made it through a couple of chapters, but I'm really enjoying LeDoux's prose.

On Friday we had another off-of-bed-rest celebration, starting with a trip to a Midtown spa for haircuts and V. getting a thorough leg and bikini wax. We had a terrific lunch at the new restaurant at the High Museum, and then saw another movie at Atlantic Station, "Brokeback Mountain." What an excellent film! I especially enjoyed the performances of the lead actors, as well as Michelle Williams, who portrays the suffering of Ennis's wife so amazingly well. This is a great film for people who get into personality, psychology, and the psychodynamic tensions that surround aggression and sex. Perhaps in a more enlightened setting I would have my students watch the film and have a lengthy discussion about everything it covers. My guess is that some lucky liberal arts professor at a small Northeastern college has already done that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Crash in Dunwoody

The waiting continues. All is fine at 35 weeks and 4 days, but we are both very ready for the baby to come. Friends with a two-year old girl visited us last night, giving us another peek at parenthood. I'll repeat...we are both very ready.

I was reading The Dunwoody Crier last night and came across a curmudgeon-y letter to the editor about how someone in "College Park" had ripped into the guy's mail to steal a Kroger card he sent to his sister for Christmas, apparently while the letter was being sorted at the post office somewhere. This morning I read a NY Times article about great screenplay moments in 2005, which featured an excerpt from "Crash." In this scene, Sandra Bullock's character has been recently mugged by two Black males. She acknowledges that she immediately didn't trust the two young males walking toward her, but she didn't want to fall victim to stereotyping. However, her stereotype-based fears were confirmed by the incident, so in the scene excerpted in the Times article she's telling her husband that they will need to change all the locks to their home again because the security company has sent over a Latino male to work on the current set of locks:

Written by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco

After a carjacking, Jean (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Rick (Brendan Fraser), the Los Angeles D.A., have called a locksmith to their home. He is Daniel (Michael Peña), a hard-working Mexican-American. But Jean sees something very different.

JEAN I want the locks changed again in the morning.

RICK Jean -

JEAN And you could mention that we'd appreciate it if next time they didn't send a gang member.

RICK (lowering his voice) You're talking about that kid in there?

JEAN Shaved head, pants down around his [expletive], prison tattoos?

RICK Oh, for Christ sakes, those aren't prison tattoos!

JEAN Right, and he isn't going to sell our key to one of his gang-banger friends the moment he's out the door.

RICK Jean, it's been a tough night. Why don't you go upstairs and -

JEAN - wait for them to break in? I just had a gun pointed in my face!

RICK (softly) Lower your voice!

JEAN And it's my fault, because I knew it was going to happen! But if a white person sees two black men walking toward them and turns and walks the other way, she's a racist, right? Well, I got scared and I didn't say anything and one second later I had a gun in my face! Now I'm telling you that your amigo in there is going to sell our house key to one of his homies! And this time it'd be really [expletive] nice if you acted like you actually cared!

The Dunwoody resident complaining about his stolen mail seemed to suggest something similar, as the College Park reference is to a city in S. Fulton county that is predominantly African American. He finished his little diatribe about no longer trusting the U.S. government because he's lost 50 bucks (and don't even get him started on social security). My own research on prejudice doesn't capture any of this because we mainly study the reactions of college students, who really have no property and probably little concern about safety to their family and selves. The more that I invest in my home with little DIY projects and then planning the arrival of our baby, the more I find myself relating to these right-wing Dunwoody residents and Sandra Bullock's character. Trying to develop a neuroscientific model of all this is way beyond my comprehension at this point.

The other day I lectured briefly about the problem of consciousness for neuroscience and psychology. My students got very involved in the discussion, and it was thrilling for me. I liked that feeling. I need to work some more on developing moments like that.

Monday, January 9, 2006

The Penguins Start a New Semester

Tomorrow is the first day of the spring semester. I am teaching three classes--one graduate and two undergraduate courses. We're also expecting our first baby in the next 3-5 weeks, so this is going to be an action-packed month!

Vikki and I watched "March of the Penguins" last night on pay-per-view. What an awesome story! Although we have had to endure more than four months of bedrest (well, actually, V. has, but I provide support), no creature can be more devoted to bringing offspring into the world than the emperor penguin. Is there an animal out there with more parental devotion? And, my gosh, what a weird way for evolution to solve the problem of penguin procreation. Surely, if there were merely just a Divine hand in all this, he or she would have come up with a less miserable way for penguins to have their chicks.

As for me, with the impending birth of our child I am comforted by my iPod, the PT Cruiser, and a new episode of "Gray's Anatomy." And I won't be walking 70 miles for my next meal either...