Sunday, July 25, 2010

After 24 years, a sad journey by plane

Last Sunday I got on an airplane for the first time in 24 years. I decided that if my friend Phil Valley could face his impending death with such courage and dignity, I could overcome my fear of flying to get to Texas in time to say goodbye to a man I've known longer than my own husband.

It wasn't easy. And yes, it did require a little chemical help, although far less than expected. I considered Amtrak -- my long-distance mode of travel over the past two decades -- but my last trip to Fort Worth took 59 1/2 hours. Husband No. 1 and I weren't sure we had that much time.

Although Phil could no longer speak because of his breathing tube, he could mouth words. As ill as he was, he had a twinkle in his eye when he asked: "Five hours vs. 59 1/2 hours -- what do you think now?" We both laughed. I told him he had inspired me and along with the precious gift of his friendship, he had given me the courage to face my fear of flying. I will be eternally grateful for both.

I first met Phil on a sultry Texas evening in the late 1970s. I was visiting my college roommate in Fort Worth and we realized over margaritas that our dear high school friend Diane, whom we had lost contact with during college, lived not far away. Phil watched in disbelief, one eyebrow cocked, as Sheila and I barged into their apartment searching for Diane, who was sick in bed with bronchitis. The three of us quickly resumed our lifelong and laugh-filled conversation as if we'd never been separated. Phil had no idea of the force that had just blown into his life and I don't believe his eyebrow ever went back down in the 35 years that followed.

There were countless escapades, shared holidays, many life changes and, always, much laughter during that time. Phil is the handsome man in the rear in this photo, taken so long ago that the squirming child in my lap is now a policeman and the guy next to Sheila is no longer her husband.

Phil, who spent his final 10 years in a wheelchair after sheer will no longer was sufficient against a devastating diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, fulfilled his dream of accompanying the sweet little blonde girl in the yellow outfit in the middle down the aisle in March.

Phil knew he would eventually die from MD and said many times that he did not want to rely on machines to live. When he was hit by a mysterious infection that ravaged his body, it led to four months of hospitalization and multiple organ failure. A few days before his death, he suddenly became incredibly lucid and let it be known that he would be ready to die after he said goodbye to the special people in his life. As sad as it was, we had the opportunity to share wonderful memories and say the things we wanted him to hear before he departed this world. It was truly a gift.

When Diane asked me to write Phil's obituary, I was honored but also concerned about the task of reducing the essence of such a good man and wonderful friend to just a few words. This was the best I could do:

"Phil was a man of unparalleled determination and courage who inspired others beyond their imagined capabilities and faced his own disease with dignity and grace. He loved to tell a good story as much as hearing one; appreciated baseball and a beer as much as fine food and a glass of wine; and was an intellectually curious man with a brilliant mind and sardonic wit. But most of all, he greatly appreciated his loving family, his friends and the comfort of gentle sunshine on his peaceful patio."
And they appreciated him, as well.

Farewell, my friend.

To read Phil's entire obituary, click here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

From the pages to the (small) screen....

The new TNT series "Rizzoli & Isles," based on the two primary characters in a gripping series authored by thriller writer (and Maine resident) Tess Gerritsen, premieres tomorrow night (Monday, July 12) -- and I'm not sure how I feel about the way the people I've imagined in my head for seven books are being portrayed on screen.

I suspect I reacted like a lot of Gerritsen's avid readers when I first heard that gorgeous Angie Harmon would portray plain Jane Rizzoli, the no-nonsense, driven Boston homicide detective. My response: Are you kidding me? And forensic pathologist Dr. Maura Isles as a blonde? Say it ain't so.

But I was curious. So when I got the opportunity to see the first "Rizzoli & Isles" episode before it premiered PLUS indulge my relentless quest for free and interesting entertainment, Husband No. 1 and I traveled to Boston on a recent weeknight for an event that also featured the author signing "Ice Cold" -- the newest (and No. 8) book in the series.

I should note here that this experience didn't end up being exactly "free." There was the $6 in tolls, $15 to park the car, $13 for drinks while waiting for the doors to open and the book I had to buy ($18 at a discount). Not counting the food we ate later because we were so hungry after the rest of the crowd crowd mobbed the servers carrying the complimentary hors d'oeuvres, our "free" outing cost $52. But I did get another photo with an author for my collection, a free t-shirt advertising the show, and assurances from Tess Gerritsen that she's more than OK with how her characters look and act on the small screen.

I'm not sure I am -- not that anyone's asking.

Gerritsen, by the way, does not write the scripts. But as she works on future books in her series, I have to wonder whether Jane will become Angie Harmon and if Dr. Isles will begin to look like Sasha Alexander and start acting as girly as she does in the show. Since the TV series doesn't exactly mirror the books, will the books begin to resemble the TNT series? At least one past book covers has been redone to show the TV show actresses and Gerritsen's newest novel proclaims on the cover that it's a Rizzoli & Isles mystery.

I also wonder whether any of the episodes could ever be as good -- or as heart-pumping exciting -- as the books, although I will confess to a gasp or two while watching the premiere episode. Haven't you been dismayed at one time or another by how a movie didn't measure up to the book on which it was based? When I get behind in my popular fiction reading and learn a movie will be made from a book, I don't even bother to read it because I don't want to be disappointed. Or I'll read the book but never watch the movie.

However, I did have a different experience withg the Swedish film version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I'd given up the struggle of trying to read the book (too much "information dumping," too many Swedish names, etc.) and I wanted to see the movie because I was curious about all the buzz. The film was so good, and the characters so compelling, that I forgot I was reading subtitles. It left me so intrigued that I picked up the second book in Stieg Larrson's series and intend to read the third. (Warning: the movie does contain very brutal scenes).

Nonetheless, I think even TNT may be a little concerned by how fans of Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles will react to its interpretation of these characters because it put together the following video featuring Gerritsen discussing how she views the changes. As I try to sift through my own reactions, I look forward to hearing what others think about the transition from the pages to the screen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Enjoy.... a tiny taste of the fireworks from Portsmouth, NH (and yes, in frugal Portsmouth, we have fireworks the night BEFORE July 4th because it's cheaper)!