Monday, July 30, 2007

The Anatomy of a Sunburn

Last weekend, a dog licked me on the back and I nearly cried. That night, I slept in between two sheets of sandpaper, radiating red-hot heat, feeling the tight twisting pinch of a well burned back. The next morning, I think someone had sprinkled grains of sand on the bar of soap and somehow, the shower was raining down shards of molten glass, undoubtedly piercing through my skin and sheering it off in large strips. Or so it seemed.

But what exactly is a sunburn? I know it hurts. I know it involves the sun and I know it makes me look like an idiot, especially if I’m wearing sunglasses. But what is it? Here is the medical explanation—gloss over it, unless you’re a doctor or the details of medical jargon interest you:

Sunburn is a popular term applied to the marked erythema and pain that commonly follows injudicious sun exposure. A sunburn is really a delayed ultraviolet B-induced erythema caused by an increase in blood flow to the affected skin that begins about 4 hours and peaks between 8-24 hours following exposure [23, 30, 31]. The underlying cause of this vascular reaction is direct and indirect damage to specific cellular targets from photochemical reactions and the generation of reactive oxygen species [32]. Damage to DNA, and the activation of several inflammatory pathways, particularly involving prostaglandins [27, 33-38], are thought to trigger this reaction, ultimately leading to vasodilation and edema. Biologic response modifiers released by both keratinocytes and lymphocytes also play a role [39-55]. The development of erythema therefore implies that enough ultraviolet damage has occurred that inflammatory pathways have been activated. Erythema is probably best thought of as a total failure of sun protection, and is a marker for severe UV damage.

I had decided to spend the majority of the day doing yard work. I had let the grass grow to African savanna lengths, and I was certain I’d find a car underneath all of the overgrown bushes…not to mention the weeds, my God, the weeds. The two planters that encompass the patio had in them more weeds than plants, and I had had enough of it. The woodchips I put down specifically as a barrier to keep the weeds at bay had failed to do their job and instead allowed a multitude of weed varieties to break through the ground and choke out some of the existing plants. Curses.

I flipped on my fancy AM radio and got to work, eventually filling a very large trashcan with all kinds of plant trimmings, weeds, old wood bark and grass clippings. Since I knew that I would, the following day, be lounging around a pool, I wanted to layer on a nice protective pigment to hide the soft pale areas that I call the majority of my body. So, daftly I undoffed my shirt and let the sun shine down.

Unbeknownst to me, I had entered into the first stage of a sunburn…the first of many.

Ignorance: You spend all day not thinking about the fact that radiation from the sun has traveled 94 million miles through space to crash down on your skin, not surprisingly a not so tough envelope that holds together all of my insides. So there I am outside without sun block, innocently unaware that my skin is under attack. That, and you don’t feel it. What? Am I getting a little pink? Good, bronzy tan of a Grecian god here I come. But quietly, sunlight, specifically the waves from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum have been bombarding and killing skin cells all over my exposed body, especially my back, which was constantly bent over picking weeds, looking very much like a solar panel. But, I didn’t feel anything, just hot and thirsty from working.

Sensitivity: The sunburn never hurts until you are well away from whatever activity provided the burn. I had finished up in the yard. It was about six hours later as I hopped in the shower to wash up. I knew that I had a little too much sun and I began to think that maybe I should have used sun block. But, at that point, what can you do? The shower, at that point, wasn’t uncomfortable, but I did set the temperature a little lower than normal.

Denial: It wasn’t until a couple of hours later did I suggest to myself that I had a sunburn, but I didn’t think it was that bad. After all, I’m impervious to the maladies of mere mortal men, right? I wasn’t in the sun for that long. My shirt wasn’t off for that long. My patio kept me mostly covered. This pinky redness that is starting to resemble a lobster is going to fade nicely into a wonderful tan, to be the envy of everyone on the beach. Why no, I don’t spend my days inside in front of a computer, and yes, my darkened skin pigment suggests that I am healthy, that I exercise, that I’m the rugged outdoorsman I like to think I am.

Excruciating Agony: Then reality burst into flames. I’ve slaughtered billions of skin cells, wholesale murder, and my body wasn’t about to let me get away with it. The outer layer of skin on your body is called the epidermis. The outermost cells of the epidermis—the cells you see and feel on your arm, for example—are dead. But just below the dead cells is a layer of living cells, the malpighian layer (no, I had to look it up). These living cells continuously produce new dead cells to replenish your skin. The ultraviolet light is strong enough to penetrate through this layer of dead skin cells to begin killing off the layer of living cells underneath. You immune system comes to the rescue—as it normally does when there’s a plethora of dead skin cells to be dealt with—and allows white blood cells to flow into the affected area to remove the dead skin cells. As a result, your skin becomes tight from the swelling and red and warm because of the increased blood flow.

A couple of hours later, the nerve endings wake up to the fact that there’s a genocide of cells going on and it turns up the pain receptors. Specifically, the damaged and dying skin cells release a chemical that tells the pain receptors to punish me severely as some sort of lesson for the next time I think about going out in the sun without proper protection.

Then you get to realize exactly how many times the affected area comes into contact throughout a normal day. People hug you and drag sharpened nails across your back. A cotton shirt becomes a straightjacket of steel wool and something as simple as a car seat can inflict so much pain. So, it was silk shirts all around, which is why, for a couple of days, I looked like a Florida retiree combing the beach. And forget sleeping. I found that sleeping on my stomach was the only way to go, with the ceiling fan blowing directly down on me all night. The covers were kicked on the floor.

False Calm: Then the pain went away, about 24 hours later, and I was left with a strange calm, as if the worst was over and it would develop into a deep dark Columbian exile tan. But, alas, it was a false calm, as the storm was about to come.

Peeling: The next day, I noticed that the skin on my back had began to bubble in some places and stretch in weird ways in others. From behind, I looked like a leper. Then it happened. All of the skin on my back fell off, like a cascading ticker-tape parade of flakes of skin. All it took was one small area to give way and the rest followed with little trouble. It is equally gross and fascinating. I tried to peel away as large of pieces as I could, but it just wouldn’t hold in any respectable strips. The floor around the chair in my office and the bathroom sink looked like a moonscape.

Itching: Then came the itching. My skin was crawling with ants, on the underside, and I couldn’t itch it enough. The skin had almost all peeled away and what was left was a dried out layer of skin that only itched. Some parts were still burned and sensitive, but the rest crawled on my back like a wool sweater. It still does. Some would say that is my skin healing, rebuilding the damaged skin cells, but I say it is almost worse than the initial sunburn. It’s a toss up.

Discoloration: The final stage in the whole sunburn experience is discoloration, a two-tone back, one half the light pink of new skin and the rest of it a darker pink, what survived from the peeling. Also, I notice that I now have more freckles on my back, like the stars in the sky.

But the yard looks nice.

**While I was out working in the yard, I was frequently visited by the giant bumble bee in the lead picture. I don’t know anything about them, but I spent the afternoon wondering what a bumble bee hive looked like, and if it is any proportion to a regular honey bee’s hive, I suppose it is about the size of a small car.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard… Well, Not So Much

I’m a big fan of the Die Hard franchise. I remember seeing the first one in the theater and being blown away at the dawning of the modern day action movie (the movie's tagline was "It will blow you through the back wall of the theater!"), as Bruce Willis—despite my current hatred for most of the movie roles he has made in his recent career (Last Man Standing, wtf was that crap?)—helped create the loan hero action movie. I’ve probably seen Die Hard three dozen times, and I am always impressed by its gritty realism, despite the fact that the first punch to the head he took would have probably put him on the ground for good. But that’s what makes for a good action movie: The hero gets knocked down but still manages to take out the bad guys and utter a witty hyperbole at the best possible moment. He saves the girl, saves the day and restores our faith in America. That's what it's all about.

Most importantly, it was Rated R as it should have been (as were the second and third films), for its violence and language. How can you have an action movie where many people are killed in gruesome ways without swearing. Saying, “Oh darn, I just stepped on glass as machine gun bullets are whizzing around me,” somehow just doesn’t cut it. I want to hear explicative shouted… and the John McClane trademarked “Yippee-ki-yay, MF!” (MF rhymes with “other trucker,” but you probably knew that. Hey, this is a family blog).

And this segues us nicely into the point of my rant. After 12 years without a Die Hard movie to sink my teeth into, I was delighted to hear that a new one was coming out, “Live Free or Die Hard,” and the trailers sounded promising. Here, see for yourself.

Yesterday, I plunked down $7.25 for the matinee showing and sat in the theater, all by myself, for two and a half hours, only to be disappointed by the movie. The John McClane that I had known had become a softy, with feelings and emotions. The first five minutes of the movie isn’t him duking it out with Steyr-armed German terrorists or jumping onto the wing of a taxiing airplane… he’s pleading with his daughter about their relationship.

And it’s PG-13. PG-freakin-13! Do you know what else is PG-13? Yeah, movies that 13-year olds go to! I’m nearing three times that age and watching a movie where you can see the actors talking but what they’re saying isn’t what you’re hearing because they’ve over-dubbed all of the language so as not to scorch our ever-so-impressionable 13-year olds’ ears, makes for a ridiculous experience. I know Bruce Willis just yelled, “I’m going to f***in’ kill you,” because, 1) He always says that in these movies; and 2) I just saw him say it. There was one scene between Willis and Justin Long, where very little of what we heard was actually being said by the two actors.

For me, it ruined the credibility of the movie, and it just goes to show you that marketing and the aggrandizement of commercialization can take control of the creative process and destroy its potential. I work in the publishing field, so this is something I know a great deal about...if you can't sell advertising against the article, they won't let you print the article. Free speech? Yeah, right, to the highest bidder.

But I digress.

A final example: The line "Yippee-ki-yay, MF!" is used in all four Die Hard movies, but instead of it being prominently displayed in this one, like in all the others, oddly placed gunfire masks the f-word part in “Live Free or Die Hard.” I was looking forward to hearing how they would use the line, and instead of that feeling you get when you hear Arnold Schwarzenegger say, “I’ll be back,” it was as if he said instead, “I’ll be returning shortly.”

Plus, the movie was predictable, but what was more predictable than this movie being predictable was the fact that I predicted that it would be predictable, especially when they dragged McClane’s daughter into it. Two hours into the movie, guess who’s the hostage?

Not to mention, the bad guys had every opportunity to kill everyone and get away Scot-free, but they don't. Instead, like a bad cliche, he shares too much information and allows his schemes to be spoiled at the last minute.

And some of the scenes were completely improbable. For example, McClane takes on an F-35, probably one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, and the pilot uses three missiles and still can’t seem to hit a slow-moving semi-tractor trailer. As part of the general public, let me just say this: Hey 20th Century Fox. We’re not that stupid. We’ve seen what these things can do in Iraq every night on the six-o’clock news, and there’s no way anyone can jump onto the back of one that’s moving… oh yeah, and survive a direct hit from its GAU-12/U Equalizer, a five-barrel 25mm Gatling gun capable of 4200 rounds per minute (yeah, I looked it up). It tore off the hood, the cab, the sleeper, most of the trailer, but McClane ducks his head and he’s okay. Wow, how is that possible, even in an action movie? One bullet travelling at 3200 feet per second would go from one end of that truck to the other without even slowing down.

But, again, I digress.

I guess the movie really was made for 13-year-olds who have only seen a scant few examples of movies in the action genre and don’t know any better. Oh well. You know what, if you like a sugary-sweet version of something that once was a great respite from all of the date movies and the warm and fuzzy feel-good flicks that we are forced to suffer through year after year, then you might like this one. Me? I’ll watch the original and pretend the fourth one never happened.

One last thing: “Live Free or Die Hard.” Why the hell didn’t it take place in New Hampshire? At least part of it. Any of it. It’s like having the “Treasure of Sierra Madre” take place in the Appalachians… I know, it’s a bad example because the movie takes place in Mexico, but you get my point.

I just hope there’s not another one. I wouldn’t be surprised if some idiot in his big Hollywood office overlooking a movie studio backlot is, right at this moment, looking over the script for “Daughter of Die Hard,” set to star Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane, seeking vengeance for her aged father’s death at the hands of Muslim extremists bent on blowing up her college dormitory in order to create a distraction for an undercover terrorist faction who have travelled back in time from 2032 to kill the mother of the unborn man that discovered the secret to world peace and social harmony... and global warming.

Just you wait for it, coming soon to theaters near you.

Hopefully not near me.

Slide + Pool = Slool?

If you were to watch this video out of the context of this blog you wouldn’t believe that we live in Southern California, in a modern city… with electricity and real honest-to-goodness plumbing.

So, it is a good triple-digit afternoon and there’s nothing better than jumping into a big plastic vat of stagnant water that the dog’s been drinking out of all morning, and while I’m sitting out there, sweltering like an idiot without much sense to get out of the sun, I say to myself, “We’ve got this perfectly good slide completely going to waste here on the lawn while they're splashing in the pool.”

While the kids are content with merely jumping off of the little inflatable seat at the bottom of the pool, my “mow-your-lawn-find-a-car” mind starts to churn. Just what if… now, I’m spit-balling here, but just what if, we were to combine the joys and jubilations of the nine-foot-round pool with all of the thrills and adventure of a four-foot slide into one stupendous, momentous activity that would surely blow their little minds, heralding me, in their eyes, the king of all creation for masterminding such a brilliant plan?

Just maybe it was possible.

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you, that it was. But no mind blowing took place. I think Matthew gave me a look that said he was wondering when it would dawn on me to put the two together and that he would have done it himself days ago if he were strong enough to move it.

Of course, I took some video… and, of course, I put it together for your enjoyment, but there are two things that particularly disturb me… well, three things actually. First, I need to butch up my son a bit. I mean, c’mon, how long can I let the kid walk around with Strawberry Shortcake floaties on his arms and still walk into the tool section at Home Depot with my head held high. They’re pink (which isn’t much better than his yellow ones, I guess, but at least his yellow ones have cute—but manly—sea creatures on them)! But the thing that really bothers me is that, since I’m so use to the girly antics of Natalie and all of her sugar and spice, what with the faux makeup, the purses, the princess dresses, the tiaras and all of the things she does that I have too much testosterone to comprehend, I didn’t even notice that Matthew was wearing the pink floaties.

Finally, the third thing that bothers me was at the end of the video, when he actually fell in the pool, he wasn’t even wearing the floaties! Gosh.

They’re going to revoke my Fathers’ Club membership for this one, and of course, if my dad makes fun of me for this, I'll just drag out the picture of him--about Matthew's age--wearing a dress and carrying a purse. Where has that picture been all my life, as there were many occasions I could have used it as quite the trump card!

All in all, we had a slooling good time sloshing around in our trailer-park pool. I’m just grateful I have all of my teeth otherwise it would have been quite a sight.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Vinyl Din Video

I'm not sure how this all started. I'm sure Jason idly mentioned that he wanted to put together a video of his band, Vinyl Din, and since I enjoy making movies (it's basically writing with moving pictures), I guess I agreed sometime a few weeks ago.

I'm no stranger when it comes to videoing the many exploits of Jason's various bands over the years. In fact, 90 percent of what Jason has of his music on video tape, you can pretty much guarantee that I was behind the camera. However, this time, it's different in a huge way, because I have access to a pretty cool video editing software that allows me to create a presentation that I could not have ever dreamed possible 20 years ago when we first started making movies. Back then, if you wanted to splice together two video clips, you needed two VCRs (yes, remember those?) and quick fingers to get it just right. Now, all I have to do, click the mouse, pick up as much as a clip or as little as a frame, and drop it where I want it, exactly where I want it. I can add textures, layers, sound effects, texts, extra music, fades, transitions... it's great.

So, in about eight hour's time, I had a completed three-minute video of Jason's band. Too bad I didn't go to film I rather like doing this.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Camping Trip 2007

Probably much to the surprise to those that think I loaf around the house with very little to do but these silly pet projects and time-wasting endeavours, I have actually been more busy these last few weeks than I have been in a couple of years. Sadly, my freelance career has been quite a demanding shrew as of late, and it has taken a toll on my lush lifestyle. But then again, when you've got the milk, make some butter... or whatever it was that my dad told me to do when business is good... meaning take advantage of the good times because they might not always be good times; I'm not sure what that has to do with butter, but I understood what he was saying.

If only the taxman would look the other way from time to time, I'd be more inclined to work harder, but I'm at the point in my career that if I worked any more than I already am, I might as well sign over any checks I get right to Uncle Sam and work for free.

So, I've actually have been working a lot, most of every day... aside from taking the afternoon to put together the long-anticipated video compilation of my recent overnighter in the desert last week. It was nice to check it off of my mental list of things to do so I can get back to working again. The video turned out much longer than I thought it would (hence the yawny parts), but I wanted to show a sense of what it was like to spend the evening with some old fraternity brothers that seem like they don't get out of the house too often.

True to form, I didn't hit the sack until well after three in the morning, and when the day's temperature is a lip-smacking 106-degrees, it is quite an early punch in the gut when the sun crests the mountain and starts to bake you in your sleeping bag.


web site tracking
Sierra Trading Post