On Natural Disasters and Re-watching Movies

As Hurricane Harvey wreaks terrible havoc here in Texas, we get to see humans being their best.  I’m reminded of that great line in “Starman” when a young Jeff Bridges says about human beings, “Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you?  You are at your very best when things are worst”. That line has stuck with me, and as I see story after story of people seeing past race, past politics, past caste, past rich or poor and just helping another human being, I take heart. It feels good to be able to donate, to participate and make things just a little better for someone who really needs it.  An affirmation, if you will, of our better natures.

It’s hard to watch natural disaster unfold, but harder being in them.  Between the ‘94 earthquake in LA, torrential downpours flooding our home 5 years ago in Johnson City, and the recent fire (we will be 6 months out from it on Sept 3rd), I’m topped off on the whole natural disaster thing. Watching the news and photos of disasters send me into overwhelm.  The only thing that really works to get me out of that kind of funk is to get involved in helping right away.  It’s a necessary part of being a human, I think, following that tug to help. Because of our personal list of disasters, I know what it means to have people and organizations like the wonderful Red Cross help, how weird it is to NEED help and then actually accept it.  You get to learn that the words “Thank You” can be a compete sentence. Often it is all you can gasp out as you stumble through the next minute of surviving disaster or when mind-numbing grieving hits.  It’s a humbling experience, being helped.  Yet through the murk and discomfort of being bounced abruptly out of normal routines, sometimes permanently, runs a wonderful ribbon of love and compassion which, given enough time, does win over tragedy.  You can literally feel the thoughts and prayers lifting you up, and it’s pretty miraculous.  I urge you to keep doing that this week and in the weeks to come.  They are going to need it.

My other coping mechanism to beat overwhelm is watching movies. This has taken on a new flavor, as my son Steven is with us, and he hasn’t seen some of our favorites. At 21 he is old enough that we can watch any movie without any of us being mortified at certain scenes, although I do leave the room at occasional choice sections. It’s an advantage of viewing these films before, knowing when to duck out for a few potentially awkward moments.  Having worked in Hollywood for 25 years, many of those as a reader, I was required to literally watch everything as part of the job description. (Oh, ow, twist my arm), and as a result I have an extensive mental library of off-beat movies that are excellent.  It’s even more fun to watch them again years later.  You appreciate different bits, relive your favorite moments, and have the delight in the reactions of someone who has never seen it before. I give props to “Starz” which I reluctantly added to my cable bill because it carries “American Gods” and “Outlander”. They have a great lineup of not-your-average movie choices.

This week, we’ve watched the excellent “Walk the Line” with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, and “In Bruges” with Colin Farrell and lots of the Harry Potter cast.  I keep wanting to not like Colin Farrell and then he goes and does brilliant work, and I can’t help but be impressed.  Now we’re set to watch a couple more of movies he is in: the noir thriller “Phone Booth” and the wonderful low-key “Saving Mr. Banks”, both of which I recommend.  “Walk the Line” has not only caused us to listen to a lot of Johnny Cash songs these past few days, it’s also sent us on a Joaquin Phoenix run that will probably include “Quills”, featuring an astonishing performance by Geoffery Rush as the Marquis de Sade, and of course the movie that is my Top Ten, “Gladiator”.  Not “Her” though, I really disliked that movie, although both my sons really liked it. It may be a generational thing.

Along with the movies comes dinner – an ‘M&M’ (meal and a movie). Below is my favorite easy pasta sauce to whip up.  I try and keep it to the healthy side and put it over brown rice pasta or just by itself.  In any case, I hope this week finds you safe, dry, and not personally experiencing any disasters.


Brown 1 lb turkey meat and set aside

Finely chop 1-2 onions, and 1-2 bell peppers, any color

Chop 2-3 cloves of garlic

Coarsely chop 8-10 Roma tomatoes, remove the seeds.

Put a good dollop of Olive Oil in a pan, and sauté the onions, garlic and the peppers. Add the tomatoes once the onions and peppers are soft and let it all cook down together – you may need to add a little more Olive Oil.  Add Italian spices like Oregano and Basil and Thyme (I prefer to use fresh, but dried is fine), and a can of Organic Tomato Sauce if you like your sauce super saucy.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Mix in the browned turkey meat and serve with Parmesan Cheese over your choice of pasta.

*my boys really like spicy sausages, and you can certainly add chopped sausage and brown that along with your turkey meat. It’s delicious, but makes this sauce rather less healthy.  ** If you are Vegan, make this with mushrooms instead of the ground turkey and omit the Parmesan. My preference is Portobello, but any mushroom will do.   

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