Misc. Memoirs - Randy Halprin

Randy Halprin
 "We tend to see a person in the moment, not as the journey they travelled to get here."  Kat Lehmann

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ALIGATORS

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir


As a child I would always have the same recurring dream, and for years I would try to figure out what it meant. Why was it so intentionally violent and scary? Most nightmares gave me a slight thrill; I would wake up sweaty...heart pounding...terrified! And when the initial fright wore off I would say to myself, "Whoa.. .That was cool!" I even hoped to have a nightmare again. But not the dream of the alligator...Never the alligator!

In this dream I'm always the same age: about three or four years old. My biological parents tell me that we're going to go and visit an alligator farm which I get really excited about. We get into a large tan automobile, me in the back seat, and I watch as the scenery swooshes by blurry and colorless.

What feels like a few minutes passes by, and we pull into a swampy marsh. The colors of the ground and trees are a muted green and there are weeping willow trees all around me, their limbs tumbling into the marsh. A few yards ahead is a crowd of people standing on the banks of what appears to be a small pond, and a man shouts, "Who wants to the see the alligator?" People shout and clap and my father hoists me onto his shoulders so that I can see above the crowd.

"But wait," the man barks, "We have nothing to feed this beast! If it is hungry it could very well eat us all!" The crowd murmurs and a few people back away from the pond. Suddenly someone calls out "What about the boy on the man's shoulders?" People turn and look at me...I'm confused...They can't...They WOULDN'T offer a little kid up as a meal!

Hands pull me down and I begin to kick and scream. “No! No! No!” My mother grabs my arms and my father grabs my feet, and they begin to swing me back and forth. The crowd parts, the water stirs, and then a huge alligator - like something out of a horror movie - snaps it's jaws hungrily! I'm swinging, swinging, swinging, and then they let go and I fly through the air, falling right into the jaws of the alligator.

I've thought about this dream and it's meaning for years, and the only plausible explanation is my constant fear of dying alone; of being abandoned by all who claim to love me.
SOMETHING SO PURE (Updated Re-write)

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir


Sometimes I'm asked, “What is your happiest memory?” and I never hesitate to answer, “When I was adopted.” I can close my eyes and remember so vividly that exact moment in my life. I see a little boy laughing in the arms of his newly adoptive father, and the joy of unconditional love beaming across their faces.

The first three and a half years of my life were a blur of confusion, fright, and abuse. I was born on September 13th, 1977, in McKinney, Texas, to a very young couple still in their teenage years. My brother, Wesley, was born three years later.  Wesley was born with minor birth defects, arguably caused by the drugs my mother was taking when she was pregnant, and a severe case of asthma. Several trips to the hospital, and a near death experience later, the State said enough was enough and they took him away. Despite reports of abuse, I was left with my biological parents, and passed between my father and mother back and forth, as they had separated at some point.   

I can remember certain moments of being abused. One in particular involved my brother and my mom's boyfriend at the time, a guy I only remember being named, Jimbo. He was particularly vicious. Wesley was in his crib, crying, and in another room, someone was yelling. I'm scared and confused, yet my first instinct is to run to Wesley's crib and stand guard. Jimbo comes barging into the room, staggering drunk. I grab some sort of toy; I think it was one of those plastic dogs on a leash. It had wheels, and when you “walked” it, it would make a little barking noise. The man yells for me to get out of the way. I stand my ground. I feel a hard slap against my face, and then it felt numb. Jimbo was reaching for my brother's crib, so I swing the toy with all of the might a three and a half year old has. It connects, so I swing again. I feel another hard hit to my face, and I can taste blood. He had knocked out my front tooth. My mother runs in screaming, shouts at Jimbo, and she grabs Wesley out of the crib. Who knows, I might've saved my little brother's life that day.

Another clear memory I have is being left behind at some sort of laundromat. I don't know if by accident or on purpose, but I was scared and crying. A relative eventually came and picked me up. It was hard for me to understand why the people who claimed to love me, the mother and father who brought me into this world, could cause so much harm to their sons. I seemed to stay in a perpetual state of confusion and loneliness and a fear of abandonment would follow me throughout my life like a curse.

I'm not actually clear on what event caused the State to finally intervene on my behalf, but I was eventually placed up for adoption and shuffled around from foster home to foster home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. I was never in any particular home for more than a couple of months at a time. I doubted I would ever have a permanent family like my social worker constantly promised. The worst of it was wondering if my brother had just been a figment of my imagination.   

A year passed and my file was turned over to a new social worker from the Edna Gladnet Adoption Agency in Ft. Worth. She reviewed my case and was horrified to see that I had been separated from Wesley for so long. I was relieved when she told me that I did have a brother, and promised to reunite us. She tracked him down to a foster home in Dallas County. The foster home protested against me staying in their home at first, but they did have plans to adopt Wesley, who they practically raised from infancy.   

As I stood at the door of my next foster home, I was anxious to meet my brother. My social worker had shown me a few photos of him as an infant, and more current ones of him at two and a half years old. I vaguely remembered his face, but still, I couldn't wait to be reunited with him. A love that only brothers could have, burned deeply in my heart.   

The social worker directed me to push the door bell and I touched it with my tiny finger. So eager was I that I pushed it again and again. A second or two passed...the door opened, and I was staring into my brother's blue eyes.   

“Who you?” He asked, suspiciously.   

The social worker squeezed my hand and I said, “I'm your big brother.”  He was holding something behind his back, and it appeared that he wouldn't hesitate to hit me with it if I was lying. Then, he dropped it and I saw that it was a small plastic guitar. The social worker coaxed us into hugging, and I gave him the biggest hug that I possibly could.   

Because I had thrown a monkey wrench into the foster family's plans, it created a hostile environment for me. I remember other kids being in the home, but I seemed to always be the one treated like an outcast.  Sure, the family did all that they were obligated to do for me, but I could clearly tell they did not want me there. I seemed to be singled out for the smallest of infractions, and they seemed to push me harder than anyone else.   

I didn't know my ABCs or how to count when I entered their home, and I remember being put through a rigorous educational curriculum. I also remember having a fear of water, and so they taught me how to swim, but their swimming course seemed to come directly from the NAVY SEAL'S handbook. One time they dumped a bunch of water weights into the deep end of the swimming pool, and told me that I had to dive into the water, and collect the weights within a set amount of time.  If I didn't, I wouldn't be allowed to sit at the same table as everyone else when they went to McDonald's. They applied the same punishment to me whenever I didn't finish my vegetables on any particular meal. I've always had a problem with broccoli and cauliflower because of the bitter taste and smell, and each bite would send me into gagging fits. To this day I cannot stand either vegetable.   

The other things I remember vividly from that summer: scorpions, a young girl the same age as myself, and Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi.  Being stung by a scorpion was nothing nice, and the house I stayed at was deep in the country, so we were warned to not run around barefooted...But come on! What kid wears shoes in the country? My little kid roots were as redneck as they could be, and besides, I could out run a measly little scorpion! The little girl was something else entirely...I was completely smitten! Her house was not far from my foster home, and I would run down a gravel road to her home whenever I could manage to get away. We'd play, drink lemonade made by her mother, or sip on sweet sun tea while playing in her yard. Once, her family invited me to their Country Club for dinner. I remember a giant swimming pool with a slide, and swimming there. Then, changing into clothes and going into the club house for something to eat. There was a television on with “Wheel of Fortune” playing. The little girl made a comment about how pretty Vanna White's dress was, and I promised her right there, “One day I'll buy you that dress!” I wonder if she remembers me...

Of all the things that stood out in my mind from that time, it was Star Wars that inspired my imagination like nothing else. I vaguely remember seeing “The Empire Strikes Back” with my biological family, but the scene where Luke is training with Yoda on Dagobah, and enters the cave to face his fears, only to confront himself as Darth Vader, freaked me out. I couldn't ever shake the image of Luke's face inside of Vader's chopped off head. So, when the foster family took everyone to see “Return Of The Jedi” at the theater, I was a bit uneasy. Any fears I had were easily replaced with the awesomeness of Luke – a fully realised Jedi, Chewbacca, and the rest of the gang. My love of space, and my obsession with all things Star Wars related, were firmly cemented. I was either going to be a Jedi, or an astronaut...I was certain of it!...But the fun could only last for so long. It was back to learning how to read and how to swim.   

I eventually began to love both swimming and reading, and excelled at both, so I give them credit. Even if at times when I'd jump into the water, my imagination would take over and I'd get the feeling that a certain great white shark was about to swim up behind me and eat me whole! But with each stroke I made, I knew I was swimming closer into the arms of a new family.   

A call was finally made to the foster family by the social worker. She said that a family who was interested in adopting both Wesley and I had been found. They would be coming from Arlington, Texas, only a few miles away from Dallas, and would be visiting and taking us home with them. A great buzz of excitement began to swarm around the foster home. I think in that week of preparation, I did more chores and activities than I ever had in my short little life!

The social worker believed it would be “the right thing to do” to allow our biological parents to see us and say one last goodbye, and a meeting was allowed. I don't remember much of it, though pictures do exist. I remember receiving a beloved ET stuffed toy from them, and some colouring books, and as a final goodbye from the social worker, she gave us a giant Snoopy stuffed animal.   

It was a blistering August morning when the big day arrived. Wesley was wearing an Incredible Hulk t-shirt, and I had some kind of tank top shirt on. We waited anxiously in the driveway, and rode our “Big Wheel” tricycles around. I'm not sure if Wesley fully understood what an important part of our lives this was, but I knew that it finally meant a family. A permanent place to stay...And the social worker promised me that I'd no longer have to be afraid of anything.  I firmly believed that every word she said was true.   

What seemed like forever to a five year old boy, passed by. I can't recall if any doubt set in as we waited, but I know I was still excited, nervous, and hopeful.  As noon approached I began to sun burn a little, but I refused to go back in. The foster parents began to cook lunch on the grill in the back yard and I could smell hot dogs burning. Suddenly, in the distance, I saw a bright flash of light reflect off of something metallic. I squinted my eyes, but could see nothing else. I could hear the distinct hum of an engine as a vehicle approached closer and closer. The hum turned into a growl, then the crunching of tires on gravel. The car was in clear view now, and drove very slowly to the house. I froze in place, and Wesley stopped his tricycle. I watched, breathless, as a hand reached out the passenger side of the automobile, read the address on the mailbox, then turned into the driveway.   

My heart was pounding!  It felt like it would have burst from my tiny chest. I watched and waited as the car parked, the engine shut off, and then there was a pause that seemed to suspend time. The driver's side door swung open in a wide arc, and I watched as a giant foot landed on the pavement. A bald man with a dark moustache and sunglasses, stepped out of the car. He removed his sunglasses and replaced them with a big pair of clear glasses. The high Texas sun glinted off his bald head and it made me want to giggle.   

We both stood there, staring at each other for a few seconds, neither of us making a move...And then, without even thinking about it, I took off running towards him in a mad dash, yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” jumping into his big bear-like arms. He picked me up as if I had always been his son.

I can still see myself trying to impress him in those first moments. I wanted him to know I could read, that I could swim, and dive in the deep end. I could tie my shoe laces, and a million other things. I remember Wesley being nervous, but bonding with our new mom quite quickly, as he shoved doughnuts into her mouth. I wanted my new dad to be proud of me, and I'd spend a lifetime trying to impress him.  By the end of that day, everything felt natural. As if they had always been my parents.   

Never had I experienced a love like this. Never had anything felt so real.  Never had I felt something so pure.

Randy at 5 1/2 years old, on the day of his adoption.
CANCER

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir


At age thirteen what do we understand about death? We’re told of heaven and hell. Our parents tell us to close our eyes and pray that our long lost family members are in heaven. We do this with a faith that somewhere they’re watching over us. We believe that a life on this planet isn’t all there is; that we will live on and not just disappear, identity vanishing into the cosmic unknown.

I received my first experience of death with my grandfather, and I wouldn’t be confronted by death again until it ate it’s way through my aunt's exuberant life. I don’t think there’s a disease on earth that is as evil, or has as many faces as cancer.

Much about my aunt Carol is fuzzy. My memories are all from when I was a child, but it was her pure joy and spirit that thrives in those lost dark vaults, like a blinding ray of light, burning itself into my memory. Aunt Carol was the youngest of three. My father's sister. She was the glue that kept our family together after Grandpa Lester passed away from complications due to a stroke. While we no longer had our Thanksgivings in Pennsylvania, the home of my grandfather, we would all still get together in either Grand Rapids, Michigan, where my uncle Mike lived, Arlington, Texas, where my family lived, or Arlington, Virginia Where Aunt Carol lived. Everywhere we went she was at the center of it.

I remember when she was about to be married. We all went to Arlington, Virginia and stayed at her home. My brother Wesley and me would sleep in her basement and she’d join us to watch movies and to play video games. I remember going to a beautiful forest or park and playing touch football with her and her soon to be husband.

One day she asked us if there was anything we wanted that our dad absolutely didn’t want us to have. I’d been dying to get these special batman logo printed converses. I would beg and plead with dad, but every answer was always, "No. You’ll tear them up in a week and I’m not shelling out a God-awful amount of money for shoes that aren’t going  to last". So, when I told aunt Carol this she promised to get them for me.

We went to the mall a day or two later and as promised, I was wearing the shoes and had an extra pair with the joker printed on. When my dad saw the batman shoes he just about lost it. "Where did you get those? I told you no!" My aunt Carol came to my rescue "Calm down…let him be a  kid for Pete's sake. I bought them for him and in the event he does tear them up, I bought an extra pair" My father protested...."You what?" But aunt Carol had already won. Dad had to concede and let it go.

I’d see aunt Carol off and on and then dad told me she was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t quite understand what it was, only that she would fight it with poisonous chemicals. When she came to our house for a Thanksgiving in 1990 she was still her joyous self. She hadn’t lost an ounce of energy. As the year progressed we could detect a slow deterioration. I’d talk to her on the phone and her words would be slower, yet she had the strength  to retain her wit and good nature. "Give your dad hell" she’d say and laugh weakly.

The year of 1991 was the year of my Bar Mitzvah. A Bar Mitzvah is a Jewish custom in which a thirteen year old boy becomes a man. You spend the whole year studying to read from the Torah, in Hebrew, and lead your Synagogue's congregation in Friday night and Saturday Shabbat (Sabbath) services. My dad had told me that aunt Carol was now on chemotherapy and that the chance of her coming to attend my Bar Mitzvah was slim, but she expressed her desire to be there for me.

When the time for my Bar Mitzvah finally came I was under intense pressure. Family members from all over the U.S. would be coming down. People I’d never met before in my life. I was very nervous and scared, and didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I remember the day of the Friday night services. In school I became sick and threw up. My nerves had overcome me. Yet, I  still wanted to show everyone I could do it. I pushed on the rest of the day, not even telling dad I threw up. After school he picked me up in his red suburban and said "Aunt Carol made it down. She’s very fragile so no horse playing with Wesley around her…I want to warn you of her physical appearance. She’s in a wheel chair and most of her hair has fallen out. Be gentle, Randy. She used all of her strength to come see you so make us all proud."

I went home, took a shower and put on my Friday night service clothes. Because it wasn’t the actual Bar Mitzvah service, I didn’t have to get fully dressed up. To my surprise, when I walked out to the living room aunt Carol was sitting in her wheel chair. At first, I was intimidated by her state, but her eyes lit up and you could see her spirit shine. "C’mere!  Look at you! Such a handsome man. You must’ve grown a few inches since the last time I saw you". Her arms and hands out stretched I walked up and gave her a hug as gently as I could. "Come on! Give me a better hug than that! I’m not as delicate as I look."

Before the service we all went out to eat. Uncle Eddy - my great uncle, and my grandfather's last surviving brother - raised his glass, "L’chaim!" (To life) he toasted "L’chaim!" Everyone else repeated and clinked their glasses together. The Friday night service was a success and I had my first kiss with a girl from my Hebrew class, Shoshana. Saturday would be the big day.

That morning I had to get dressed up: suit, tie, the works. We all left for my synagogue which was packed completely. I was all nerves. Before the service started aunt Carol wished me luck and so I began. It ended successfully and after that everyone congratulated me and would give a gift or a blessing. Aunt Carol waited for me, holding something in her hands. "Mazel Tov, Randy" and she handed me something square and soft like a pillow. "Thanks" I said and gave her a hug. "It’s handmade. I’ve been using all my time and energy to make it for you". I replied " I know I’ll love it."

After the ceremony was over we all returned home. On the drive back to our house I opened aunt Carol's gift. It was a beautiful tallith prayer shawl bag. Hand sewn with beautiful menorah stitches in the bag. "Take care of that bag, Randy, she used all of her energy to make that" To which I replied "I will dad. I’ll treasure it." And I did. I had put it on a shelf all by itself in my closet.

The year went by and my grades gradually grew worse in school. Dad had put me in tutoring classes in the hope of improving my grades, but to be honest I didn’t care much for school. I was enjoying a new found popularity I didn’t have in elementary school! Girls actually found me cute instead of the nerd I had been.

One February evening I had been at a tutor's house when my dad suddenly showed up. "I’m sorry, but I’ve got to pull Randy out tonight. My sister died." I was stunned, sitting at the table looking at a math book. I dropped the pencil "Dad, aunt Carol died?" I asked. "Randy, go out to the suburban. I need to talk to your teacher." I got  up, grabbed my things and went to the car. I closed the door and began to cry. Suddenly, I understood death more than ever. The news of her dying had really upset me. I mean, she was gone. Never more. Dead. I’d  spent the whole past year praying and believing, preparing to become a  "man" in front of a great and awesome God. A God who just took my aunt away from me. Allowed her to be killed by a disease I didn’t even understand. I think that’s one of the points in my life I really began to question God. My "faith" diminished greatly.  

Dad came back out and got into the car. "I’ve got to fly out to Washington D.C. tonight and prepare for the funeral." He said. As we drove back home I sat quietly and then asked "Dad, can I come with you?" He said "No. You need to stay in school. You’re in danger of failing"  I continued...."Please dad. Aunt Carol was important to me, too." I pleaded. "No. You’re staying at home. Besides, your mom will need your help with Jimmy and Kevin."

I was mad. Mad and hurt. I think in a way at that point, purposely did even worse in school as a soft of defiance. Aunt Carol's death really affected me and dad acted like I wasn’t even able to understand her death.

I remember snapping at my friend Mindi in one of our classes. She had been teasing me about something and I said "leave me alone, my aunt died." She apologized and felt bad about that for a long time. Even to this day, I get upset at my dad for not allowing me to attend the funeral. I believe he had only good intentions in his decision, but I felt marginalized like, because I was only thirteen, death shouldn’t affect me.

Several years later when I was going down hill, I had a small apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. My mom and dad had sent me most of everything from my room at home, except the tallith bag my aunt made me. "Dad," I said "how come you didn’t send my tallith bag?" He came back with "Because I don’t want anything to happen to it". I was upset by what he said and replied "Dad, I’ve always taken care of it. You know how important it is to me." But still he insisted "No. When your condition improves I’ll consider it, but not now. It’s the last thing she probably ever made" I protested "But it’s mine, dad!" Eleven years later, sitting here on death row, I’m glad - relieved he said "no" back then. Because with the way my life was headed something would’ve happened to it. It would surely have ended up lost, or destroyed.  

I take comfort in the thought that wherever my parents are right now, the tallith bag that my aunt Carol made as cancer ate her remaining life away, is sitting some place safe and sound. Hopefully, just like aunt Carol's essence, it will last forever.

THE ACCIDENT

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir


As a kid, I was always prone to accidents. My parents would call me a "klutz" which was a horrible understatement. I was a walking disaster. It was a wonder why I've never had any broken bones. When I was in sixth grade I won a raffle contest at a fall festival. The grand prize was a push scooter and it was all mine. I did everything I could possibly do with it. It easily replaced my bicycle. I jumped creeks, rode down stairs in strip malls, flew down steep hills on dead ends streets and crashed numerous times. Eventually the frame and tires became warped so my father deemed it dangerous and declared it off limits. The scooter sat in our garage collecting dust and eventually became forgotten when I got my first mountain bike on my 13th birthday.

1991 was full of events. I repeated the seventh grade, my aunt Carol died of cancer, and I was flunking classes again. Across the street where I lived had been a vacant lot with the last bit of remaining woods in our neighborhood.Trees covered the lot and lead to a creek and hang out for the kids in the neighborhood. One day I came back from school and noticed a sold sign on the land. I didn't think anything  of it until a few weeks later there were men on the lot clearing and cutting down trees. Soon bull dozers would show up to graze the land. Wesley and I were devastated. This had been our place for years. Every day of construction was a stab in our hearts.

Still laying claim to  this domain, we would ride our bikes down the freshly paved driveway, jumping, make shift ramps we built out of loose material from the construction site. One Saturday morning our dad was going out grocery shopping. Mom was cleaning up the kitchen and soon would start mopping, while my little brothers were watching cartoons in the family room. Bored, Wesley and I decided we would go out and jump some ramps across the street. In the garage I went to my bike, but noticed the front tire was flat. We had an air compressor mounted to a wall so I tried airing up the tire, but the tire wouldn't hold any air in. I was too big to ride my brothers bicycle and it was off limits to ride our parents bikes, so it looked as if I would have to sit this one out. I was very upset at first, staring at my mountain bike as if the tire would some how magically repair itself when I noticed the forgotten scooter out of the corner of my eye. There was some clutter piled onto it so I began to dig it out. It was always a big scooter, so the frame would be strong enough to  support me even if it was a little bent. The tires were flat so I aired them up and the air held, even though the tires were a little warped it  still rolled fine. I wiped it down bringing back the shiny blue tint and pushed it out the drive way for a practice ride. A little wobbly, but the sucker rode. "Let's go jump some ramps, Wes!" I cried and kicked my way to the other side of the street.

On the lot we proceeded to build the ramp. We grabbed some loose ply wood and heavy cinder blocks. Placing the wood on top of the blocks. Wesley said he wanted to try the ramp first and it was a pretty good jump. The goal was to out-showmanship each other and even though it was a cool autumn day we worked up a pretty good sweat. Wesley did a spectacular jump and I didn't know how to out do him on that one so I decided to make the ramp higher. Wesley looked at it uneasy about it, but my  pride was at stake. No way was I going to be outdone by my little  brother. The drive way of the lot was a little steep so I wanted to ride a few laps to gain enough momentum to jump the ramp then I decided to go for it. Whoosh!  I was flying. I had to have been in the air for a second or two and with a solid thump, I landed the scooter on both wheels. Seeing the ramp was safe enough, Wes went for his jump. We exchanged jumps for a while and then I declared a grand finale. I gave it all I had, going at a speed faster than I'd gone before. I hit the ramp, but hadn't balanced myself properly. For a second I thought I would crash right on the ramp, but before I could register anything I was in the air – without the scooter! The scooter thudded on the cement while Wesley later joked I looked like superman. I came down hard on the concrete with both hands down to break my fall. My chin smashed down hard and my hands collapsed as my chest hit the floor. "Holy shit!" Wesley yelled. "Are you okay?" For a few seconds I thought I would be alright. I was only banged up, been there done that. As I spoke though, my voice began to shake and I felt like I would pass out. Ironically, the only thing I could think about was how pissed dad would be if he found out I crashed on the scooter. "Yeah… Put my scooter in the garage and throw my bike at the end of the street.  I've gotta go inside. I think I'm hurt." I somehow managed to stand up and walked across the street to our house. My whole body was shaking and I had no clue I was beginning to go into shock. Inside, I walked across the kitchen and mom began to yell....

"Get off the floor!  I just mopped!"

"Mom,  I don't feel too good." I said and collapsed in the living room.

I started to convulse and vomit. My whole body was getting cold. I felt helpless and scared and for a second I thought I might die. Mom ran to a phone and called 911, while my little brothers ran around me yelling, "Call 911! Call 911!" About the time all of this was happening dad showed up. He ran to my side. The para-medics arrived and they checked my vitals and said I was in shock. They put me on a stretcher and dad climbed into the ambulance with them. Once they gave me a shot and put me on oxygen I started to stabilize and come out of shock. I was taken to the hospital.

Fortunately it was nothing serious. I had a busted up chin and some bruised ribs, but no internal damage or broken bones. I was lucky once again. I don't think mom and dad ever knew that it was my scooter I crashed on and not my mountain bike, as they've probably believed all of these years, but  it was one of those moments in my life I felt most connected to my father. The two weeks I was off from school while my ribs healed, it was just him and I during the day time. He'd bring me food or help me change out movies in our VCR. We talked about girls and he'd tease me whenever a girl from school would call to see how I was doing. Every time after that when I'd get into a wreck or banged up he'd remind me how expensive the ambulance ride to the hospital cost and would joke I would have to pay next time. When my father had his first heart attack my priorities were screwed up and while I felt responsible in some way because our relationship was beginning to go sour, I never did show him the love or concern he did for me the day I had the accident.


LITTLE TIGER

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir




When my brother Wesley and I were first adopted we lived in a small house in Arlington, Texas. It was a penthouse compared to what we were used to. For the first time ever, we had our own rooms and our own toys. There was a swimming pool in the back yard and even a swing set. We pestered mom and dad for a pet, but my dad was adamant that there would be no dogs and cats in our house. Besides, Wesley had asthma and allergies and we couldn’t take that risk.

Not long had passed and we were fully accustomed to our new life. I was going to Hebrew school and piano lessons during the school nights. I remember me and my dad pulling into the driveway from one of our sessions. We got out of the car and heard a tiny meowing sound coming from one of the bushes that lined the front of our home. Dad paid it no attention, but I said,

“Dad! It sounds like a cat!”

I looked around trying to find out where the little cry was coming from and dad opened the garage door. I was disappointed when the crying stopped and whatever was there seemed to have disappeared. We went inside and called it a day.

A few days passed and Wesley came running inside,

“Randy! Mom! Dad! There’s a kitty outside on the front porch!”

I got excited and dropped everything I was doing and went outside. Mom and dad followed.

“Here, kitty kitty kitty!” I yelled.

We opened the front door and there sitting on the porch was a tiny white, black and grey spotted cat. It looked up at us and meowed.

“Is it our cat?” Wesley asked.

“Absolutely not,” Dad said.

“But come on dad!” me and Wes cried at the same time.

“Well…how about we get the little guy some milk?” Mom offered.

We ran back inside excitedly and grabbed a small ceramic bowl and I grabbed the milk from the refrigerator. We ran back outside.

“Let us keep it!”  We cried again.

Dad crouched down and stuck his hand out to the cat and said,

“Tell you what; if he doesn’t leave tonight we’ll see. I’m not making any promises, but I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll take it from there.”

Something in my mind told me that if you gave a cat some milk he wasn’t going anywhere and so I yelled,

“Wahoo!” and did a little dance.

Mom and dad looked at me and shook their heads as Wesley tried to grab the little kitten, which was proving to be unsuccessful. We watched it drink the milk and dad placed his hand on my head and turned me around to go back inside.

I was right. Give a cat some milk and it’s not going anywhere. Now the family had to decide what we were going to do with this little critter who seemed to pick us, not the other way around. Dad was stern in his belief that the cat should be an outside cat. Wesley’s allergies and asthma hadn’t been acting up around the kitten, so we were fairly sure he’d be alright.

“What do we call him?” mom asked.

“Tiger!” Wesley yelled.

“Tiger? Every cat in the world is named Tiger.” I said. “Let’s name him Chewbacca!”

Wesley got mad and started yelling at me. I’m not sure how we ended up settling the argument, but my brother won and “Tiger” it was. We spent a couple of more years in that house, but as my dad’s business grew they decided to build a home on the other side of the area. Tiger grew to be a pretty big cat. Fat and fluffy. That cat shed more hair than an ox!

Tiger was a pretty friendly cat. He was rarely standoffish and often would stop at my feet, look up at me and roll on his back so that I could rub his belly. When he’d have enough he’d make a hiss sound, roll over and walk off. Those times as a kid made me wonder about the soul. One day coming back from piano lessons I asked my father,

“Dad? Do you think animals have souls?”

He didn’t hesitate to answer,

“No, I don’t."

Why?” I asked.

“Because that’s what makes us unique. Your soul is what makes you like music and me like electronics. It’s what makes us who we are.”

I scrunched up my face and thought about that for a second. No…I disagree. I thought to myself…Tiger is different.

I think I was ten or eleven when we moved to our big house. It was less than a mile from our old home and so nothing really changed. I went to the same school and had the same friends. I was just fortunate to have a bigger room and a bigger back yard. Once the move was officially down, we brought Tiger to our new home.

There were a few constants about Tiger. He would always come running if you called his name and he always came if you went to the back patio and shook a box of dry cat food. So, when we first moved I went outside to put food in his bowl. I called out,

“Tiiiiiger!” I called again.

No cat in sight. I held the box of cat food tight and began to shake the box with gusto. Now I was worried. Tiger never ignored food. You could float a bowl of cat food in the middle of the swimming pool and that cat was going to swim out there, water be darned. I scanned the yard one more time, concerned, and then went back inside.

Dad was making breakfast and asked, “How’s the cat doing?”

“Dad, I think something happened to Tiger,” I said worried.

“He didn’t come to the food?” Dad said.

“Nuh uh,” I replied.

“Well, I’ll keep an eye out for him while you guys are at school. That’s one of the great things about having your office at home. I can do business in my underwear and keep an eye on things!” he said proudly.

Wesley and I looked at each other like, “Ewwww gross!”

When we got back home from school I asked dad if he’d seen him. He said no, but we’d wait on mom to get home from work to see what they’d do. When mom came home she asked,

“Has anyone thought that Tiger might have gone back to our old home?”

Dad said, “You know what? He probably did. Come on!”

We all ran to the suburban and drove to our old home. Sure enough, there was Tiger sitting in the driveway. Wesley jumped out the car and ran to pick him up. I was beyond relieved.

Tiger wasn’t the most graceful cat in the litter. He was actually pretty clumsy. It’s strange to project yourself onto an animal, but Tiger was so much like me I’d be in disbelief at times.  We had a seven or eight foot tall retaining wall between our property and our neighbors and I’d routinely watch Tiger fall from it. He’d be on the edge like a balancing beam and then just drop out of sight like a sack full of potatoes! I would just start laughing. He would look up at me like, “Jerk” and turn his back and dart off out of sight.

Dad and Tiger had a love hate relationship that stemmed from Tiger's laziness. Instead of going around the house to get to the backyard, Tiger would wait for us to get home, patiently sitting in the driveway. We would pull in and Tiger would walk and stop in front of the garage door. This routine never changed. Dad would get out of the suburban, walk up to Tiger and try to discourage him from cutting across the house to get to the back patio. Tiger would hiss, and not budge an inch. Dad would swear at the cat, punch the code into the garage door and Tiger would jet through the garage and into the house, waiting for us patiently at the back patio door. We did this every night.

I was 14 years old when I left for Kentucky to go to a private school in 1992. One of the things I loved about coming back home - besides being tackled at the door by my little brothers - was going to the backyard and calling out, “Tiiiger!” and waiting for him to come running up to me. I’d sit down on the patio and he’d jump into my lap and just let me scratch his head and ears. Other than having his belly rubbed, he loved the head scratch. Tiger would press his head into my fingers instantly and purr.

Eventually, when I would come home from school I’d have nothing left. All of my friends were in other states and my best friend, Chad, ended up moving off to Alabama with his family. So, that time with Tiger in the backyard was always comforting for me. I’ve always believed that I feel more intensively about things. Little things affect me greatly. I can get emotional or extremely passionate about things that mean little to other people. So, I might have friends to call or things to do, but I had no one to really talk about my life. It’s weird to say this about a cat, but Tiger seemed to care. I could sit there and rattle off my many feelings and talk about my life and he’d just look at me and listen. This cat KNEW me! He was a kindred spirit. I was convinced of that.

When I was seventeen and already experimenting with drugs, I was never more confused in my life. Dad had called me a few days earlier and told me that Tiger was really sick. Something about the flu or pneumonia. I had other things going on and I kind of pushed it out of my mind.

Me and some friends were into huffing Freon at the time. We were siphoning it out of air conditioner units that were along the sides of the school buildings, and filling large garbage bags up. We’d each huff from the bag to get an instant high. I had just taken a huge hit from a bag and was tripping out on the explosion of colors and echoes in my mind when I thought I heard my name in the distance. It must’ve been my imagination and I took another hit from the bag.

“Whooaa…” We all said.

I heard my name again. My friend and roommate Matt said,

“Dude, I think your name is being called on the intercom.”

I asked, “You sure?”

When I clearly heard it again, I took off running to the dorm building. I went to the office and said,

“I got a phone call?”

Mr. Garrett pointed to the phone and I was trying to regain my bearings. I was still high and my head felt like a vacuum. I grabbed the phone,

“Yeah?”

“Hey Son”

“Dad! Hey! Why are you calling?”

“I wanted to tell you that Tiger died today. You need to let Wesley know tonight.”

I couldn’t believe it! I shook my head clear to make sure I heard that right.

“Tiger died?”

“Yeah. I went to the vet today and was going to discuss putting him down. The vet told me he was going to be dead in a short while anyways…I got there and we pulled him out of the cage and put him on a table and I just scratched his head like you always do. He watched me the whole time, Randy. He knew he was dying. Remember how we talked about animals having souls? I believe he did. It was like we made peace with each other after all of these years. He closed his eyes and passed away in my hands.”

I started crying, but because there was room full of teenagers, I tried to suck it up and said,

“Okay, dad. I’m gonna go and let Wesley know. Love you, dad. Thanks for telling me.”

I hung up and got permission from Mr. Garrett to go to the middle school dorm. Wesley took it better than I thought he would.  I hugged him and went back to my dorm.

I talked to dad later and he said he buried Tiger right in front of the shed in our backyard.

I came home a couple of months later and went to the backyard. I wanted to yell out Tiger’s name like I was so used to and I stared down at the empty dish where I always put his food in. I never felt more alone in my life. I went over to the shed and sat down on the dirt and grass where he was buried.

“Well, little Tiger, guess it’s just me now. I wish I could’ve been there for you like you’ve been here for me and I’m sorry. My life is getting kind of complicated now. I’m really in love with this chick and no one gets it. I don’t know where you are right now, but I’m going to miss you. Thanks little guy…”

I kissed the ground, got up and went inside.


WHEN ALL I'VE EVER HAD TO GIVE IS LOVE


A Memoir
(by Randy E. Halprin)

Chapter One

Riding in a car with my new family, to what would be my new home, filled me with excitement! As we drove out of the countryside of Dallas, Texas, and into the city, I began to ask my mom and dad a barrage of questions.  

“Where are we going?”

“Arlington,” my dad said.  

“Where's that?” I asked.  

“About thirty minutes away,” my  mom said.  

“Is it a city?”

“Yep. It even has a couple of amusement parks.”

“What's that?”

“They have rides. Fun things to do. Don't worry, you'll love it!” My mom said.  

Oldies were playing on the radio and I asked my new dad if we could listen to some country music.  

“I only listen to country,” I said.  

“Well, you have a radio in your new room, but in the car we listen to oldies.”

“How does a radio work?” I asked.  

“Well, they shrink people really small and then put them into the radio at the factory,” my dad said, teasing me.  

My imagination took over and I could picture tiny little people with guitars and other instruments, crammed inside the radio. I guessed that TV worked the same way....

“Will I be able to see my girlfriend when we live in Arlington?” I asked.  

“You have a girlfriend?” My mom said in disbelief. “How does a five year old have a girlfriend?”

“I'm five and a half!”

“Have you kissed her yet?” My dad asked.  

“Gross!” I yelled.  

“Tell us about her,” my mum said.  

Whilst living in the foster home I met a girl who lived down a long gravel road not far from the house. She was out playing in her yard when I came running down the road, exploring. She looked about the same age as me and so I stopped and said, “Hi!”

“You shouldn't run outside bare foot. There's scorpions out here,” she said.  

“I ain't afraid of no scorpions!” I boasted. The truth was I really was afraid of scorpions, and any other insect for that matter, but I wasn't about to tell that to a girl!

“My mom said ain't isn't a word. What are you doing out here?”

“Looking for cool rocks,” I said, handing her a large white stone I picked up.  

“My name is Sarah. What's yours? She asked me, taking the rock from my hand and tossing it back out onto the gravel road.  

“Randy. I'm gonna be adopted. Do you have real parents?”

Over the next few days I always tried to get away from the foster home because the teens picked on me, and the foster parents were a bit mean to me as well. I'd run away to go and play with her instead, and when I returned, the older kids at the foster home would tease me by singing, “Randy and Sarah sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Randy pushing a baby carriage!”

“Shut up!” I'd yell, and run off.  

I remember Sarah's family being very inviting. They'd make us lemonade and we'd go into the front yard and sit in the grass with a plate full of homemade cookies and ice cold drinks. The summer was sweltering, but we didn't care.  

“Are you my girlfriend?” I asked her one balmy afternoon.  

“I think so,” she replied.  

“Well, I ain't kissing you!” I said.  

“That's disgusting.” She said in a matter-of-fact tone.  

“I know.” I replied.  

Another time her parents invited me to go swimming at a country club they were part of. The swimming pool was the biggest I'd ever seen and it even had a slide. I'd been learning to swim with my foster parents and I had a chance to show off my new skills, so I told Sarah I was going to go down the slide and into the deep end...

“You can swim in the deep end?”

“I just learned!” I boasted.  

I climbed the steps to the slide, and when I reached the top of the platform I yelled out, “I'm gonna be Superman!” Some adults cheered as I went down head first and splashed into the water. I sank like a stone and then began to kick back up and broke through the surface of the pool.  

“Yeah!” Sarah squealed, throwing her arms up.  

When we were done swimming, her parents dried us off and we put on our clothes for dinner.  

The country club had a fancy dining area, but what I remember most vividly was a TV mounted on some kind of bracket. The Wheel of Fortune was on and Sarah made a comment about Vanna White's sparkling dress. “That's so pretty!” She said.  

“I'll buy it for you one day when I'm rich!” I said.  

Dinner ended and they drove me back home.  

Telling my new mom these stories, I stared out the window, a little sad that I might never see Sarah again, but then, off in the distance, I could see the double arches of a McDonalds sign.  

“She sounds like a sweet girl,” my mom said.  

“Oooh! Can we stop and eat at McDonalds?” I blurted.  

“You can see a McDonalds?” My dad asked. “Where?”  

“Down there!” I said, pointing off in the distance.  

“You must have eagle eyes. We're going to call you 'eagle eye Randy,'” my mom said.  

“No Mickey D's today – we'll eat when we get home. I bet you boys are good and tuckered.”

“I never get tired!” I boasted.  

“Well, we are.” My dad said.  

We reached Arlington and inched closer to my new home. Wesley had fallen asleep and leaned into me, snoring softly. The car turned down some roads as I took everything in and then my dad said, “This is our street,” as we turned into another street with houses lined up on both sides.

The car slowed down in front of the house, and my dad reached up to the window visor, pressing a button that opened up the garage door. Then we pulled in, dad turned the engine off, and closed the garage door. I stepped out of the car whilst my mom climbed out and made her way to the other door and opened it up. Then, she gently took Wesley's seat belt off so she could pick him up, but he stirred, then wrapped his arms around me tightly, like a koala bear clinging to a eucalyptus tree.  

“This is the laundry room,” dad said, as we walked through the door.  

“This is the kitchen.” Pointing out another room.  

“This is the living room. We've got cable TV and the Disney channel.”  

“Y'all have cable TV?” I said in wonder.  

My mom walked up to a box with buttons sitting on top of the television...

“You push the buttons for the channel you want, and then 'enter'. So, if you want to watch Disney, you punch in three, four, and enter. Go ahead and do it.”

I pushed the tree and four, and then enter, and sure enough a Mickey Mouse cartoon came on.

“Wow...” I couldn't believe it!

“Let's get you guys bathed and into bed.” Dad said.  

“I'm not tired!” I said, again.  

“Well, bed time is 8.30pm in this house.” Dad said.  

He lead us to the bathroom where there were two sinks, a ceramic bath tub, and a stand up shower spout over the white tub. Dad turned the water on to fill the bath, and mom poured in some Mr Bubbles bath foam. The water exploded into a pinkish foam that smelled like bubble gum, and I got naked and climbed in, and my mom gently eased Wesley in as well.  

“Hey, I was wonderin'” I said in a thick accent. “Are y'all yankees?”  

“We are,” my dad said, smiling...

“Well, I'm a rebel!” I declared.  

“Well, I got some bad news for you, Randy. The yankees won.” My mom said.

“Oh. Then I want to be a yankee too!”

We got dried off and dad put an oversized t-shirt on each of us, and lead us up to our new room. I couldn't believe my eyes! There were twin beds side by side, a book case filled with books, a huge bean bag chair, a large swivel chair, and a gigantic teddy bear. On a dresser sat a record player and a radio. On the shelves were plush animals, but I wasn't about to let go of the Snoopy I received as a gift from our social worker. Maybe the other plush toys could make it into my life though.  

“Crawl into bed.” My dad said as my mom pulled the blanket up around me and Wesley.  

My dad reached onto the shelf and pulled off a large Disney book, and began reading the titles of all the stories inside.  

“Read Pinnochio!” I yelled.  

He began telling the story, and quickly I fell asleep...It was probably the most peaceful sleep I'd ever had up to that point in my life.  

The next morning I woke up to the smell of Eggo Waffles in the toaster. I wandered out into the living room and cartoons were on, so I sat down and my dad asked me if I wanted sugar or syrup and cinnamon on my waffles.  

“Syrup!” I said.  

He poured a glass of milk for me, and told me to come and drink it. I brought the cup to my lips, took a sip, and then spat it out. “Blach!” I said, scrunching up my face. My dad began to laugh.  

“What's wrong with the milk?” Dad asked.  

“It's gross!”

“Dan! You gave him the buttermilk!” My mom said.  

“I don't like it! Can I have some plain milk?”

“Yes, you may. We're going to have to teach you how to speak proper English.” Dad told me.  

I sat at the dining table and dad poured me a new cup of regular milk, and put a plate of waffles down. Mom put Wesley in a plastic booster seat, and cut up his waffles for him. We ate, and my dad said, “Your grandpa is going to be calling you sometime today.”

“We have a grandpa?” I asked.  

“Yes. He lives in Pennsylvania, and we'll meet him in person for Thanksgiving. But for now, he wants to talk to you guys on the phone today.”

We finished eating our breakfast and went back to the living room to watch the TV. At some point my mom said, “I heard your favourite movies are Star Wars and Superman.”

“Are you gonna take us to see 'Return of the Jedi'?” I yelled, hopping with joy!

“As soon as we can, we'll be there. But for now, how would you like to watch Superman?”

She pulled out a VHS tape, and popped it into a large machine. Then she pushed 'play' and the movie began. I couldn't believe my luck! My own copy of Superman? I felt like the luckiest kid on earth. Wesley sat on the couch in my mom's lap, and I laid down in front of the TV.

“Back up a few inches from the TV, you'll hurt your eyes.” My dad said.  

Half way through the movie my dad got up and headed back to the kitchen. I could smell hot dogs and macaroni and cheese cooking, and when Superman was over, he fixed us each a plate and we sat down to eat lunch.  

“We'll go swimming once lunch has settled and grandpa calls.”

After a few bites into lunch, the phone rang.  

My mom got up to answer it, and I could hear her talking...

“They're right here. I'll let you talk to Randy, first.”

She pulled the cord and phone over to me, saying, “It's your grandpa.”

“Hey, grandson.” I heard the voice say. He had a pleasant and warm voice.

“Hi,” I said, nervously.  

“What are you boys up to?”

“Eating hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.” I answered. “We got to watch Superman earlier and then after lunch we're gonna go swimming.”

“Sounds like you boys are having some fun. Well, I wanted to welcome you to the family and I want you to know I love you. You don't have to doubt that for a single second. As long as I'm around, you can rely on me and ask me for anything. Okay? When you boys come up for Thanksgiving, we're going to have some fun. You ever seen snow?”

“Snow? Y'all have snow up there?”

“Yep. Lots of it. Let me talk to Wesley now, if you don't mind.”

I handed the phone to mom and they exchanged a few words before she pressed the receiver to Wesley's ear. He didn't say anything, but he was smiling.  

After lunch, and talking to our grandpa, dad asked me to help clear the table – something that became a firm tradition in the following years. When we were finished, we all put on our bathing suits and headed out to the back yard where the pool was. The pool took up most of the yard, but I remember being amazed at both the peach and plum trees that bore fresh fruit on their limbs.  

“We can eat those?” I asked my dad.

“We'll pick a few after we swim. For now, show me how to dive into the deep end,” he replied.

I walked over the long white diving board, climbed onto it, and ran to the edge, bouncing as I leapt into the water. I swam all the way down to the bottom of the pool, feeling my ears pop with pressure, then using my feet I pushed back to explode through the surface.  

“Looks like we've adopted an Olympian,” my mom yelled, clapping. Wesley sat on the steps in the shallow end of the pool, with arm floats on. He splashed the water, oblivious to my diving feat.  

We swam for a few hours and then dried off, making our way back into the house. At the end of the day my dad told me while there was still a little summer left, we were going to make a trip to Florida and then begin to prepare for the school year in September.  

“I turn 6 in September!” I said.  

“You sure do,” dad said. Then he picked me up in his bear-like arms, and swung me around. I let out a shriek of delight, and I guess I had my tongue sticking out as he dropped  me onto my bed – my mouth snapped shut with force, and as I bounced, I tasted blood. I began crying hysterically, and my dad didn't hesitate for a second...He grabbed me and pulled me to him tightly.  

“I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do that! I'll never hurt you, son. Please know that...I'll never hurt you. We love you unconditionally, and we always will.”

I stopped crying, and with all of me, I believed every single word he told me.  






WHEN ALL I'VE EVER HAD TO GIVE IS LOVE


A Memoir
(by Randy E. Halprin)

Chapter Two

I adapted to my new family quickly; I was comfortable immediately, and I felt safe. My adoptive parents did everything they could to show Wesley and I that we were loved, and that their home was a final stop on the rough beginning to our short lives.

My dad told me that school would start in September for me, but before it began they wanted to take a trip to the beach. “Have you ever seen the ocean before?” My dad asked.

“No...” I replied.  

“Do you want to see the ocean?”  

“Can I swim in it?” I asked.  

“You sure can, but you'll have to fight off the sharks! They like to nibble on little boys' feet,” Dad said.

“Dan!” My mom interrupted.

“I'm not afraid of sharks,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“No, I didn't think you are,” mom said, “but if one ever does get near you, just bop it in the nose as hard as you can.”

“Okay,” I said.  

I vaguely remember packing up a suitcase and my mom loading an ice chest with snacks and little cans of pineapple juice. My parents loaded our luggage into the back of the car and told us we were going to drive the entire way. I'd never been out of State, or very far for that matter, so I was excited about seeing things I'd never seen before. My brother, Wesley, was buckled into his seat and my parents told me to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't unbuckle it or try to climb out of it. When everyone was in the car, dad started the engine and we began our journey.  

Two things stand out the most about the drive to Florida. One was the first fight I remember having with Wesley...In between Wesley and I was another seat belt for a middle passenger, and he grabbed it and swung it at me!

“Stop!” I yelled. Dad looked up in the rear view mirror and told us to knock it off. Wesley swung it at me again and I said, “He won't stop swinging it at me!”

“Boys, quit it or your father is going to pull over on the side of the road and you don't want him to do that.” My mom said.  

Wesley didn't stop and with a hard and final smack, the metal buckle hit me on the back. I felt a sharp pain and I let out a cry. Dad, having had enough, pulled over to the side of the road, climbed out and opened my side of the door.  

“I told you to knock it off,” he said, sternly.  

“It's not me! He keeps hitting me with the seat belt!” I cried.  

Dad grabbed the ice chest on the floor board of the car, and put it between us. “That stays there!” He said. “If you two don't stop it and I have to pull over one more time...you don't want to see me angry. Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.”

I choked back my tears and went quiet. It felt unfair, but I didn't want to upset him. Dad slammed the car door, climbed into the driver's side and started the car back up.  

“How about we put on a tape,” my mom said, breaking the tension. “You boys ever heard Raffi?” She popped in a cassette and a childhood of torment began with the lyrics, “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea...you swim so wild and you swim so free...”

The other thing I remember is a family tradition that began whenever we'd travel. As we would approach the border of a State we were passing through on the way to our destination, my mom would begin, “Here comes Mississippi...uh-uh-uh-uh-uh...”  And then we'd all yell, “MISSISSIPPI!” Or whatever State we were crossing.  

When we reached Florida, my excitement grew. I'd only ever seen the ocean on television and I wondered what it looked like in real life. Even though I made the bold statement about not being afraid of sharks, secretly, I was terrified and I hoped with everything in me that JAWS wasn't out there waiting to get me.  

“Is anyone hungry?” Dad asked.  

“Yeah!” Wesley and I said, yelling at the same time.  

Up ahead was a large sign. “Randy, tell me what that sign says,” mom asked.  

I was just beginning to learn how to read and began to pronounce it.  

“Slopey Joe's,” I responded.

“No. Not 'slopey'. 'Sloppy,' My dad corrected.  

“Sloppy Joe's.” I repeated.  

We neared the restaurant and my dad clicked on his turn signal and we pulled into a parking lot. After we all ate we climbed back into the car and headed to what my dad said was called, 'Clear Water'.

Florida seemed magical to me. The sky was a bright blue with the biggest and puffiest clouds I'd ever seen. They looked like huge marshmallows ready to be plucked out of the sky. Birds were everywhere...Seagulls. Pelicans. The very first pelican I noticed was on the side of the road watching cars pass by. It's beak turning this way and that.  

We reached the city and the first thing I noticed was a large building with a painting on the side of it: a man in a ship's crow nest peering through a spy scope.  

“You want to take the boys to the beach before we hit the condo?” My dad asked.

“Yeah. I think they'd like that,” mom replied.  

My dad made another turn and we pulled into the parking lot of a public beach. My heart pounded. We unbuckled our seat belts and when dad opened his door I could smell the warm salty air, and hear the squeaks and squawks of seagulls flying overhead.

Mom grabbed Wesley out of the back of the car, and then we all closed our doors. We walked across the hot pavement and when we hit the sand I could see the blue water stretching all the way to the edge of the horizon. I'd never seen so much water in my life!  

“Go ahead and take your shoes off,” Dad told me.  

I kicked them off and peeled off my socks, and felt the hot sand on my bare feet. “Can I run to the water?” I asked.  

“Sure. But don't go in. Wait for us to catch up.” Mom said.  

I was off like a lightening bolt! I ran through the sand as fast as I could, and when I reached the edge of the beach my feet stopped in wet and slippery sand, and a wave splashed against them. I reached down and picked up a handful of the mud-like sand and squeezed it through my fingers. Another wave rolled in and I kicked the water and let out laughs of joy.  

When my parents caught up, my dad said I could wade into the water up to my knees. “No further!” He said. Mom tried to put Wesley down, but he wouldn't budge, so she held him in her arms.  

Dad had a camera in his hand and began to furiously snap pictures, catching every moment of our joy. “Hand me another roll!” He yelled to my mom. But I was oblivious to them as I kicked at the water, bending down and splashing it with my hands. It was so blissful that every hardship I'd ever experienced in my short little life, every bit of heart ache, simply vanished in that moment.  

“Alright. Alright...We'll hit the beach again tomorrow. Let's go to the condo. We're all pooped!” Mom said.  

A few days later we returned home and fortunately there was not a fight between Wesley and I on the drive back. When we were back in Arlington, Texas, preparations began for me going to school. I'd been in Kindergarten at Key Elementary which was just a few blocks away from our home, but now it was time for a new school year! Right before school began, neighbours invited me to go to a small theme park in Grand Prairie, Texas, called, “Sesame's Place,” which was a Sesame Street owned amusement park. I was around the same age as their son, so my parents said it was okay for me to go with them.  

We spent the day riding the water slides, seeing Sesame Street themed music shows, and ate Sesame Street themed food. There was a murmur that they were holding surprise auditions for the television show on PBS. We went to watch them because rumors were flying that some of the actual puppeteers and puppets would be interacting with the children, to see how they in turn responded.  

There was a good-sized gathering of kids standing around, and a guy in a red Sesame Street shirt began to pluck kids out of the crowd, and stand them to the side. I watched with amusement when the man stopped in front of me and said, “How about you?” Want to meet Big Bird?” I looked at the family who had invited me and they told me to go ahead.  

After he had about ten kids gathered, he grabbed a microphone and told the crowd, “That's it for the  auditions today folks! However, if you want to watch these kids interact with the puppets, feel free to wait around. This will be recorded, and you never know...It might just show up on a segment of Sesame Street!”

A producer then yelled out, “I need everyone to be quiet! Kids, when he asks your name, just speak into the microphone. Be yourselves. Don't be silly.”

He stopped, held up his hands to the crowd and gave a 'hush' sign, then said, “In 5...4...3...2...1...Action!”

The guy spoke lively into his microphone and then went up to the line of kids gathered and began asking our names. My heart beat nervously when he was in front of me and said, “What's your name?” I looked at him and with the heaviest accent in the whole of Texas' history, I said, “Raaaandy!”

We went through some acting exercises after our introductions, even interacting with a green screen, when suddenly Big bird arrived! I hadn't noticed the garbage can nearby and as if by magic, Oscar the Grouch flipped the lid to the trash can, and popped his head up! Big Bird and Oscar began speaking to each other and then asking all of us questions. I felt like I was really on Sesame Street!  

After it was all done, the producer shortened the group of kids to a few. I didn't make the cut, but they allowed the people who brought me to order a video tape of the event, and the family promised that when it arrived they'd give it to my parents. That video exists out there somewhere to this day.

When we got home I told my parents all about how I was almost on Sesame Street and they seemed to be upset about it. My dad called the neighbors up and there was a brief argument, and I heard my parents say they were trying to protect me. They didn't want my biological parents to come searching for me if I was on TV.  

Some months later a modelling agent would see me at school and approach my parents about getting me into modelling. They immediately turned her down, citing the same reasons.  

It makes me wonder to this day what my life would be like now, had I been on Sesame Street, or been a child model.  


101 MOVIES YOU MUST WATCH BEFORE YOU DIE...
(Unless you get hit by a bus or some other random freak disaster...in that case, just watch what you can!)

(by Randy E. Halprin)
A Memoir


It seems that everyone on this planet is writing a book of things you “must do” or try “before you die”, and after recently reading a really neat graphic novel along similar lines, I thought, “Hey! Why don't I throw my two cents into the mix?” I began to write down titles of movies that over the course of my life, really impacted me. Not so much written as critique or cultural significance, but instead, what they meant to me at various stages in my life, and how they sit in my memory bank. They are in no particular order...

Enjoy!

1. Superman: The Movie (starring Christopher Reeves. Arguably, the best Superman to date...Handsome, charming...down to earth, and ALL American)

Where to begin? Whilst the movie is extremely dated, and was one of the first to use (what it was known as at the time...) the “Blue Screen”, we finally got to see a person in flight, and it was actually believable! I watched it for the first time shortly after I was adopted, and it really captured my imagination. I'd wrap a beach towel around my neck, like a cape, and stick my fists out in front of me; then I'd “fly” around the place excitedly.  

When my mom asked what I wanted to be for Hallowe'en (the very first Hallowe'en I can remember...) I was torn between being Luke Skywalker or Superman. My mom, being a bit of a seamstress as a hobby, made me a Superman costume. Blue sweatshirt, with a large red cape sewn to the back of the shirt, and a hand painted “S” on the front. All topped off with bright red underwear over the top of blue sweatpants...I was Superman, and ran around the house saving the world. Somewhere, there are photographs of this moment in my life...

Ultimately though, I decided on being Luke Skywalker for that Hallowe'en (by way of Princess Leia – a story to be told soon!) but why couldn't I be both of the coolest people in the universe at that time? In my six-year-old mind, I was.  

2. E.T. : The Extraterrestrial

This movie kicked off my curiosity about life beyond earth. Since my very first viewing of Star Wars, I fell in love with the cosmos, and whilst Star Wars had aliens galore, none of them were as believable and relatable as E.T., and his relationship with Elliot. I can remember being in the movie theater, crying my little five-year-old eye balls out when I thought the alien had died. There were also themes in the movie that I think I could relate to even if I didn't fully understand them at the time...That feeling of being alone; wanting a complete family, wanting friends.  

The way in which Spielberg easily put you into the mind of Elliot, and had you BELIEVE everything that was happening, is nothing short of brilliant. And, of course, it gave us that old and long running joke that kids still repeat today...“URANUS!” It's just a magical movie that still holds up today, and I often find myself humming the musical score to the movie – that's how deeply the movie has managed to penetrate my brain!

Another connection and fond memory I have of this movie is when my parents took my brother and I to Universal Studios in California - it was magical! As a kid, I was always picked out of the crowds at various shows...I don't know why, because being the shy kid I was (and still can be!) I loved it, and my inhibitions would soon go right out of the window! So, when I was picked to play the part of Elliot in a live action refilming of the famous flying bicycle scene, I threw my whole being into it. I sat on the bike as the “director” started yelling, “Pedal! Faster! Faster!”, and then “Cut!” They replayed the scene for the crowd...Me on the bike, E.T. in the basket, and the film played out with the bike lifting magically against the sky, and across the backdrop of a large moon. There I was, Randy as “Elliot”...Pretty freakin' cool!

3. Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark

What kid didn't want to be Indiana Jones? I think I actually saw “Temple Of Doom” first, but I didn't think it was as good, and honestly, the scene where that guy pulls the heart out of a sacrifice's chest, kind of freaked me out. But “Raiders Of The Lost Ark?” From the opening boulder chase scene to the melting Nazi faces at the end of the movie...this is what adventure was all about!

4. Indiana Jones And The Quest For The Holy Grail

The second best Indiana Jones movie, in my opinion. It had that same sense of puzzle solving and adventure as Raiders had. Plus, we were introduced to Sean Connery as Indiana's father, and the way he and Harrison Ford played off each other was just brilliant! Funny as shit stuff...Indiana was all business and his father had seen so much in life that he learned to take none of it too seriously anymore. That was the lesson he was trying to impart on Indiana: have your adventures, but enjoy yourself in the process. Life is too short to take it too seriously, and the quest for immortality? It's a fool's errand! Enjoy the life you have.  

5. Disney's Pinnochio

In my first months of being adopted, I was thrown into the world of Disney. My parents loved all things Disney, and practically smothered my brother and I with it. I embraced it wholeheartedly, and became a Mickey Mouse guy over Bugs Bunny...Still am. And whilst I love all the things Disney do to this day, few resonate with me more than the story of Pinnochio...The wooden boy who wanted to be real; to have friends and to be loved by his “father”. In a lot of ways, even though Geppetto made Pinnochio, I could relate to him. That sense of being adopted and wondering if people really loved me or wanted to be my friend, when I was such an outsider. I might as well have been made of wood...There were other themes in the movie as well; some my dad would pound into my head as a young child. The most important, and one I wish I had really paid attention to, was the whole sequence of events when Pinnochio befriends the wolf (or was it a fox? Might've been a red fox) and is seduced by the fun of “Pleasure Island”. I, too, had been seduced by being popular and Pleasure Island, and just like Pinnochio I was turned into a jack-ass. I didn't really understand what it meant then, but I do now...

6. Star Man (starring Jeff Bridges)

Another “Alien Comes To Earth” story, but also a beautifully shot film. I remember first seeing it when I was young, and my mom loved this movie. I have to admit, my mom had GREAT taste in movies and really shaped my film mind. The main character – a woman who had lost her husband – is surprised when the alien takes on the shape of her late husband. At first it freaks her out, but as she's helping him hide from the government, I think she learns that even when we're most vulnerable and lonely, there is always someone out there for us. We're never truly “alone”. I've always wanted to visit the crater they run to (I think it's in Arizona or Nevada) to meet up with the alien space craft.  

7. The Wizard of Oz

What more needs to be said about this film? State of the art in its use of technicolor, over 80 years ago. The music never gets old, and it is still a magical film. 'Nuff said.  

8. Some Like It Hot (Starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis)

My mom always watched Turner Classic Movies while she was either folding laundry, or sewing. Sometimes I'd go into the sunroom and help my mom fold laundry; the sunroom was a sort of enclosed patio area that was supposed to be a place for relaxation, but with four kids and mountains of clothing, it soon became a de facto laundry room with freshly dried clothes piled up on the wicker couch and chairs! Mom often watched these old black and white movies, and I enjoyed watching them with her. When I first watched “Some Like It Hot”, I thought it was a bit strange...guys dressing as women to hide out. My mom used it as a chance to explore gender roles, and being gay, and we had many discussions. When I was young, my parents always told me there was nothing wrong with gay people - it was neither a choice, nor a lifestyle, and my dad even went as far as saying that if I ever “came out” they would fully accept me. I've always appreciated that in him...Of course, in my teens, I fell into the same homophobic traps and slurs that most teenage boys did, and said things I'm ashamed of to this day. But looking back...I'm really glad I had parents who said it was perfectly okay to be gay...We shouldn't judge people; we should respect human beings no matter what their sexuality, race or color.  

Besides the film being really progressive and waaaaaay ahead of its time, it's a damn funny movie! A classic.  

9. Goonies

There was something about '80s and early '90s teenage adventure movies that later movies just couldn't capture. Goonies was an example of that “lightening in a bottle”. A group of kids, all very different to each other, find a treasure map and embark on an adventure. There was an Asian kid, a fat kid, a nerdy kid, and a douche bag teen; but in the end, it was so cool to see how they all worked together to get themselves out of the mess they were in, relying on and trusting one another in order to survive. Even the mistreated/disfigured man who was abused by his own family, ends up saving the day for the group of kids. Another fantastic adventure movie!

Over the years there's been talk of remakes, or a sequel, but the general response is moans and groans from those who consider this movie to be an '80s classic – it is! In my mind, if a remake were ever made, I'd bring back the original cast, all doing their adult thing...A family member dies which brings them all together for a funeral, and after the funeral they're digging around an attic and going through past memories, and stumble upon another treasure map buried in junk. Sean Astin's character would light up, and Josh Brolin's older character would be like, “No...Hell, no!” But...then there's another adventure, and they're off! It could be really funny to see these middle aged people go on another adventure. It would be so cool to see what kind of inventions the Asian kid could come up with in the 21st century. Would it live up to the original? Of course not! But it would still be fun to see...I'm not too precious about a sequel if it's done well, although, if the remake of Red Dawn is any indication...maybe Hollywood should leave its paws off it!

10. Red Dawn (the original)

What kid in the '80s didn't daydream in their class room about Russians and Cubans invading the US, after seeing this movie? Another classic about a group of kids with different social/economic backgrounds coming together to resist an invading force. I'd sit, staring out the window, waiting for foreign paratroopers to drop out of the sky. How would I react? How would we fight back? Would I, along with my nerdy band of friends, have the muster to fight back? My best friend, Chad, and I, would often run through this scenario, and it never became more real in our imaginations until the first Gulf War...We had a plan in place! We'd hop on our bicycles and ride a few blocks to Target; then we'd start grabbing camping gear like tents, propane tanks (they'd make excellent bombs if we needed them) and then we'd go to the gas station near his house, and load up on snacks and food. Could I grab a gallon of milk? It might be the last milk I have in a long time, and I'll miss it...Chad said it would spoil, and plus, it's too heavy to carry around. Then I'd say, “I'll chug it on the spot. I'll miss milk!” I really loved milk!

The movie holds up...And it's great!

11. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

If you grew up knowing only the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of this movie (based on the Roald Dahl classic children's book, “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory”) you have been sadly deprived! Gene Wilder's take on Willy Wonka is superior in every way, whereas Johnny Depp's acting was just creepy and weird...I say this loving many of Depp's performances, but this just wasn't one of his best! I'm not really sure how Tim Burton got stuck in this rut of making Disney movies when obviously he doesn't have the artistic freedom he would have making one of his own movies. But forget all of that...Let's talk about the magnificent Gene Wilder! His performance was perfect: strange and aloof. But behind the facade of being only interested in the company, and caring about nothing else (including the well being of the children he allowed to visit the chocolate factory) we learn that he really DID care, and he wanted to make sure that his business fell into the hands of someone not motivated by profit or greed. The kids who won the golden tickets were spoiled brats. They could not have cared any less about meeting the reclusive Willy Wonka, and how his chocolate was made, and only cared about what they could gain from being invited. And then there was Charlie, and his working class family...A grandpa who would sacrifice the only money he had to try to get him an expensive bar of chocolate that may or may not have a golden ticket. Who was more deserving? From the production to the music numbers, this movie is perfect, and I often find myself singing or humming many of the songs in the movie. Who can make a rainbow...??? The candy man can! Oh and did I say that Gene Wilder's performance is magical? It really is!!  

12. Silver Streak

Thanks to my mom, I grew up on a healthy dose of comedies – especially Gene Wilder and Richard Prior movies, and this, in my opinion, was the best they did together. Most of the movie takes place on a train, and how they could pack so much comedy into a small place was nothing short of a miracle! Only they could pull it off. A great comedy classic that I highly recommend, if you haven't already seen it. I don't know if some of the jokes and comedic mechanisms would work in today's PC environment, but even the overtly racist jokes (approved and written by Wilder and Prior) work, because Prior then flips it around on its head. Yeah, tell the racist joke, but then I'll hit you back over the head with the same joke, to show you what an idiot you are for being racist...It works! That's what Prior did best. Wilder is great, but Prior stole the movie.  

13. Officer And A Gentleman

Crinkle those eyebrows if you must, but this movie is great! Sure, everyone remembers the classic romantic scene after Richard Gere becomes a Naval Officer, and carries the love of his life off in his arms to the song, “Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong”, but the movie is a great drama as well. From his friend who commits suicide, to Louis Gosset Junior's hard pushing instructor, “Why don't you just QUIT?!”, “'Cause I ain't got nowhere else to go!” This movie is about overcoming the obstacles in your life, and persevering. And...you may just get the girl in the end too!

14. The Three Amigos

Three Saturday Night Live legends all coming together for a screwball comedy with a heart = comedy gold! Starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase, as three silent movie stars in the early 1900s. They were best known for the film “The Three Amigos!” in which they played mariachi dressed heroes. A real life Mexican town is overrun by bandits, and a woman sees them being played in a church as she goes to pray. She believes these men (not knowing they are actors...) can save the town's money, and hires them to run the bandits out of town. The actors take the job, believing they've only been hired to put on a “performance”...Shennanigans ensue. In my opinion, one of the best sequences in the movie is the “My Little Buttercup” number they perform in front of a bunch of drunken outlaws, at a dusty old cantina. I remember seeing this movie with my best friend, Chad. We were probably about 10 years old, and we'd act out the entire movie...This movie is just perfect!

15. Flight Of The Navigator

An '80s Disney Classic! I was well into my obsession with outer space, and this was a movie that sent my imagination into over-drive! The movie starts out in the '70s, at a 4th of July party. The boy (who is the centre focus of the movie) goes out to look for his dog, when he falls down a ravine. He wakes up moments later, to the sound of a train rushing down the tracks, and he gets up, brushes himself off, and heads back home to find that nothing is the same...It's the year 1988. Oddly enough at the same time, a spaceship has crashed and NASA is hiding it at a base...The boy is questioned by NASA, and they want to run tests on him when the spaceship starts to “call” him. Sarah Jessica Parker in an early role, works as an aid at NASA, and helps the boy escape and get to the spaceship...

Of course, the movie is an adventure movie, but the deeper themes of just wanting to get back home to the people you love, is the heart of the movie. Paul Reubens (AKA Pee-Wee Herman) does the voice of the artificial intelligence that programs/flies the ship, and is pretty funny. He and the kid have great chemistry together. There are two scenes that would send my imagination into over-drive...One, when the boy finally figures out how to fly the ship, and takes off to the music of the Beach Boys...I imagined myself flying around, just jamming out! Another, and probably the funniest scene in the movie was when the spaceship stops at a gas station...The boy jumps out of the ship, meanwhile, a fat gas station attendant freezes, jaw dropped to the ground as a family of tourists begins to take pictures. “Is this an attraction?” the dad asks, then the boy runs up to the fat guy and asks for a quarter to make a phone call. Still, jaw hanging down, the man reaches into his pocket and grabs some change, and absent mindedly hands it to the boy...The boy runs off to make his call as the ship's robot yells out, “Oink! Oink! Too many Twinkies!” The boy runs back to the ship, the door closes and off it goes...the family is stunned and the gas attendant says in disbelief, “He just wanted to call home...” ha ha.  

I recently read that Disney was thinking of remaking this movie, and I thought, “No...Please leave this one alone.” I am way too precious about this movie!  

16. Back To The Future Trilogy

If you haven't seen these movies, then I really, really feel sorry for you! The first two are perfect films...the way they intertwine together with the different timelines, is flawless. I love the third movie as well, and the wild west theme was cool, and done very well. I'd never suggest you watch the first two without also including the third, because it does wrap everything up nicely. I know whole chunks of dialogue from this movie, and it never gets old. My favourite line, however, has to be when Doc Brown tells Marty when they first test out the DeLorean, “By my calculations, Marty, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious shit.” Never gets old.  

17. Ghostbusters (The original, and only one that really matters)

I don't even know where to begin with this movie! Another stellar (mostly) SNL cast. Ghosts, science, prick politicians...that fine balance of horror and comedy. There's a reason it still holds up and can't be touched. It's funny because I so relate to Dan Ackroyd's character when they're facing the literal apocalypse and are told that whatever they think of will manifest itself to destroy them. They all try to clear their minds when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man comes stomping through New York, and Dan Ackroyd is like, “I couldn't help it...” Yeah, totally me, because I wouldn't have been able to clear my mind and suddenly a giant Yoda or Chewbacca would be destroying earth. What can I say?

18. Predator

I know this is a head scratcher, but I can make a strong argument that in terms of an entire action movie, it's pretty much damn near perfect. It doesn't get bogged down in myths (as later Predator movies do), and it doesn't have an overblown plot either...It's literally in and out. Arnold is on a mission for what he thought was to rescue some hostages, realises he and his buddies are being used for something else, everyone is slowly being picked off...They realise they're being hunted by something sinister, and they fight back. End of movie...It really is a great film – forget the rest!  

19. Alien

Another classic...The slow build to terror, isolated in space. Evil corporations using a crew at their expense. It has that worn-in “dirty space” look, and one of the first female “action” stars in Sigourney Weaver. She wasn't dolled up; she didn't have a love interest, and she just wanted to survive.  

20. Star Wars Trilogy (The original, of course!)

You were wondering when I was going to get to this, weren't you? Ha ha....Slow build! I don't even have to explain these films...If you don't know the movies, or haven't seen them, I really, really, feel sorry for your existence! There are so many reasons I love these movies, and how they affected me as a child, and every person who has loved and grown up with these movies has their own reasons for loving them. From a purely cinematic viewpoint, these movies changed everything. You can thank Spielberg (Jaws) and Lucas, for the blockbuster. This movie showed that you could use practical effects to build believable worlds. New cinematography was developed, and special FX were taken to another level. THX sound and Dolby sound were created so that movies no longer sounded like they were playing out of tin cans...It just made everything so much better.

In these films, George Lucas created characters that you actually cared about. He added elements of different religions (heavy on eastern religion, light on western practices) and he used the narrative structure of the “The Heroes Journey” for Luke Skywalker (and arguably Darth Vader as well). As a kid these movies captured my imagination like no other! I wanted to be Luke Skywalker...escape from my first five years of life, hop in an X-Wing and take on the bad guys. And Yoda...my all time favorite character. Wise, calm, compassionate...He is what we all strive for. His words of wisdom from, “Wars not make one great” to “Do. Or do not. There is no try”...I get goose bumps just thinking about the little green fella.  

However, Return Of The Jedi is the one I always gravitate to the most...I think it was because it was released when I was 5 years old, and I was going through an adoption process, and my life became all things Jedi...After I was adopted, my very first remembered birthday party was at a place called Chuck E. Cheese, a pizza parlour, with games etc. I remember getting all of these cool Star Wars books and toys. For my first remembered Halloween, I decided I'd be Luke Skywalker...My dad went to K-Mart to buy me one of those disposable costumes, and he got me “Luke on Endor”. It was supposed to have a Luke mask, and the camouflage poncho they wore on the moon of Endor, but something looked “off” about the mask...It kind of looked more like Leia than Luke, but because those things were made so cheaply back then, I wasn't exactly sure until all the kids at school started to ask me why I dressed up like Leia! Shrug...Breaking the gender mold since 1983! (ha ha).  

Just watch the movies and have your brain blown!

21. Explorers

Okay, so you're seeing a theme here with my '80s movie choices and the kind I gravitated towards as a child. This is another movie that just set fire to my imagination...A group of kids begin to have strange dreams calling them to space...One of the kids – with an engineering mind – created a computer program that makes this controllable sphere that can safely envelope them. They build a “spaceship” out of an old amusement park ride, and other things, and take off to space to greet the aliens. It turns out the aliens are just kids who stole their dad's spaceship. A really fun movie with some young stars that went on to be big stars today.  

22. Summer Rental

Starring the late, great, John Candy...This is a movie that was a big hit in our family. My parents took us to Florida quite often, so we could relate and laugh at the misfortunes of the family who were also on vacation to Florida. I can't remember when, but some time in the late '80s, my dad had the idea to buy a small colour TV and VCR, and rig it up in the back of our Chevy Suburban, and just let us watch a bunch of videos...This movie always came along with us. I think in a lot of ways it was so funny to us because my dad's personality so mirrored John Candy's in this movie...A really great movie!  

23. The Right Stuff

A movie about the Space Program in the late '50s/early '60s, focusing on the Gemini missions...This movie was like a religion to me! I wanted to be John Glenn or Chuck Yeager...Even though Yeager never went on to be an astronaut, he's still remembered as one of the greatest test pilots in the history of aviation and space...Dude was the first to break the sound barrier for crying out loud! Beautifully shot, perfect acting, and nail biting sequences that made you feel as if you were one of the first in space as well. A must-see movie!

24. The Little Mermaid

One of my favourite Disney animated movies/musicals...All of the songs still hold up (I can sing them still!) and it's just perfect in every way! I hold no embarrassment in loving this film soooo much, and I can still remember the first time we watched it.  We were in Florida...it was raining, and the day we had planned to spend on the beach was ruined. The family decided to go and see a movie, and we picked this one...I came out singing and dancing in the rain!

25. The Secret Rats Of N.I.M.H.

Another '80s animated classic! I'm not sure which film company made this movie, but it was very much a statement against cruelty to animals and very much pro-environment. The “rats” were laboratory creatures with sentience, who escape from their confinement. It's about wanting to live normal lives, have family, and take care of their surroundings. There are a few tear jerker moments as well...I think this one flies under the radar a lot of the time, but it's golden in my eyes.  

26. An American Tale

This movie...ugh! An animated tale produced by Steven Spielberg...A small family of Jewish mice escaping the pogroms in Russia, and headed to the promise that is America. The young Fievel is separated from his family and spends the whole time trying to survive in a foreign land that sees him as nothing more than an immigrant, and he wants to return to his family. Some parts of the movie are just sooooo heartbreaking, but the movie is beautiful, and something American kids should really be watching now because we need to know that at one point in our families' history, we were ALL immigrants, and people didn't want us here either.

27. Short Circuit

Agh! This is one of the coolest '80s movies there is! I can still remember the first time I watched this...Some of my friends in school were talking about it and it had been out for a while, but I hadn't seen it. One weekend afternoon, mom was having a baby shower for my little brother, Jimmy, just before he was adopted; he would soon be joining our family, and there was a lot of excitement. While my mom was with her friends, my dad took Wesley and I out for the afternoon, and he asked us what we would like to do. I said, “Let's go see Short Circuit!” We drove around looking for a theater that had it on, but we couldn't find one...I was crushed! Then dad said, “Well, there is a dollar movie...maybe they still have it on...Last shot, and then we'll give up”.  

We drove out to the Dollar Theatre, and lo and behold, there it is! And it was just about to start! I went in feeling excited, and I left having had my mind blown...“Johnny 5 is alive!” The movie is about a military robot used for defence. In training, a mission/display is struck by lightening and gains sentience. Steve Guttenberg was at the height of his career in this movie, and this was one of his more “serious” acting roles after the Police Academy movies which I LOVE, but sadly won't make this list...Anyway, the movie is funny and delightful, but it also asks the questions: What is life? What is worthy of life, and to be treated as life? Just because we are humans, is “lesser” life less valuable? There was a sequel that was funny, but it doesn't hold up to the original movie...The ending of the movie is so cool, and unique. Another one of those “OMG...he's dead!” and you're crying over a freaking robot, but then...just watch it!

28. Cocoon

Another Steve Guttenberg movie. Directed by Ron Howard, strange cocoon like objects are in the swimming pool of a retirement home for safe keeping by mysterious people...Suddenly, the old folks begin to act younger and more wily. A movie about immortality and life, done in a really heartfelt way. I can't say much about it 'cause I don't want to spoilt it all, but it's one of Ron Howard's best, and a real tear jerker in the end. This movie is NOT what you expect it to be...

29. Mississippi Burning

Based on the true story of young civil rights activists who go missing in the deep south of Mississippi. Another movie that young people need to watch! FBI agents go looking for these young activists...The acting is superb, and it's a shame that this is another chapter in American history that is still going on 60 years later.  

30. Blade Runner

I pretty much love anything sci-fi related, if done well. I also love Harrison Ford. Pair him up with Ridley Scott, and good things are bound to happen. The movie takes place with him in the not-so-distant-future where artificial intelligence has been created, but once the androids “life span” has been reached, Blade Runners, as they are called – a sort of police group – are sent to terminate them. They're not allowed to live as human beings. Questions of life and death and who is deserving of life, abound. A really deep movie based on Philip K Dick's “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” My friend, Jason Goldberg, told me about this movie as we were both really geeky. I hadn't seen it and honestly didn't make a big effort to watch it, but after a push scooter accident that sent me to the hospital with bruised ribs, I was out of school for over a week and just laid on the couch, barely able to move, watching movies. It's a time I remember well because my dad, working out of the house, would regularly check on me and bring me something to eat etc. We'd have conversations, and I felt really loved and cared for. So, when this movie is talked about, or I read about it, I'm always taken back to that memory. It came on one day, and I watched it, laying on the couch...Mind totally blown....!

31. Robo Cop

Honestly, I don't know why I like this movie so much...It's a political satire of sorts, and gets into the whole subject of privatisation and corporations running prisons, the police etc, but it's also just a cool flippin' movie. I think most of the effects still hold up, except maybe ED-209, a killer robot. That always looked a little wishy washy, but Robocop? It still holds up.

I always kind of giggle to myself when I think about this movie because one night we went to Blockbuster video to rent some movies – it was just me and mom, and she picked a few out, and I grabbed Robocop. At first she was like, “I don't know...I heard it was extremely violent...” but I made the argument to the effect of “C'mon! You let me watch Lethal Weapon, and that's violent!” and she relented. So, we're in the living room watching the movie, and violent is an understatement!! It's very graphic in nature, and even I was getting a little squeamish, and my mom is like, “Uhhhhh...” :)  

32. Batman (1989)

There are only two '80s super hero movies that matter: the original Superman movie, and Tim Burton's take on the Dark Knight. I was obsessed with this movie! From the cool visuals/plot, to Jack Nicholson as the Joker...Danny Elfman's movie score (he'd become one of my favourite composers) to Prince's cool soundtrack...This movie is flawless! And while I've not seen it in over 20 years, I bet it still holds up. I loved the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, but this takes the cake! Who would've thought that Michael Keaton could play being so moody and serious? Who would've believed that Jack Nicholson could let loose and just not care? In 1989, Batman was the only thing that mattered to me.  

33. Beetlejuice

Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton as the “ghost with the most”...a creepy, fun, and brilliant movie! Tim Burton really let loose in his imagination and world building in this. I think it also started an obsession for me with Wynona Ryder. Geeze...she was hot! Ha ha.

34. Mr Mom

Starring Michael Keaton in the early '80s, with Terry Garr. A real classic; and socially progressive in that it flipped the patriarchal role on its head. Terry Garr was the career driven “bread winner” of the family, whilst Michael Keaton was an out of work stay at home dad...It's really funny and heart warming, and very ahead of its time.  

35. Ferris Beuller's Day Off

Another movie that if you haven't seen it, I feel really bad for your existense 'cause its perfect!

36. The Breakfast Club

My mom had this on VHS in the late '80s, and I remember thinking it was just a chick flick and I was really dismissive of it. Sure, it was always brought up in critic circles, and by fans, but for whatever reason, I was dismissive of it. I didn't want to see it! Didn't care to see it! Then, in 1994, some friends were talking about it and its social commentary, and how they applied it to themselves, and the whole “clique” culture in schools and how we separated and divided ourselves...It piqued my curiosity, so after returning home on a school break, I dug out the copy of the movie we had, put it in the VCR in the games room and watched it! I was late seeing it, but man...did I ever get it! I wish I had seen it sooner, and maybe I would've understood my own school years a little better. And it has an amazing soundtrack!! Never mind that John Hughes knew how to make a movie; that man knew how to put together a movie soundtrack!

37. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

I had to add a B-movie to the list, only because this movie is so bonkers, and so freakin' funny, that it has always been a favourite of mine. The title says it all: Killer Clowns From Outer Space! (ha ha). That is all you need to know about this movie. My best friend and I watched this one late night on Cinemax, when I was spending the night at his house. We loved it instantly...The next time it came on, we recorded it. I've easily watched it over a hundred times.  

38. Adventures in Babysitting

This was a household favourite, and another that we always took with us on vacations. There are so many lines that I still remember from this film...some I still repeat like, “Get outta my house!” or, “Ain't nobody leavin' 'til they sing the blues...”. And the most famous from the movie: “Don't fuck with the babysitter!” Another movie they talked about remaking (or may have already remade!) but you'll never be able to match the original. It was lightening in a bottle.  

39. Coming to America

An Eddie Murphy classic about an African Prince that comes to the US and tries to pass himself off as a regular guy. Chad and I would watch this one over and over. It was a favourite for us, and made us laugh every time. It was also one of the first movies that really showed how broad Eddie Murphy's acting skills were. He played numerous (disguised) characters in that movie!

40. Hell Raiser (Parts 1 and 2)

I didn't first see these movies until about 1993 in boarding school...My friend Wayne and I were spending a night in Mr Gibson's apartment, and he let us rent some movies. He was a Christian, but not fundamental like so many other staff and teachers at OBI, and he let us pick out the movies. Quite honestly, I'm not easy to scare, but these movies were...pretty frightening. Pin Head never really scared me, but some of the other sequences in the movie were just too...gross?...graphic? Still, I ended up loving them, and Clive Barker in general, and many of his books. He had a way of world building that not even Stephen King could touch, and he was just much more cerebral with it. Only see these two movies because the rest are rubbish! I mean, c'mon...Pin Head in space? PLEASE STOP, HOLLYWOOD...!

41. Mask

Cher, Sam Elliott, and a young Eric Stolz...if anyone has read the book “Wonder”, this movie predates that story. A young teen with the same disease, and Cher playing his junkie mother, with Sam Elliott, the motor cycle gang step-father. It's a really good drama, and a tear jerker at the end, but I think I could relate to it growing up, feeling like the outsider, and just wanting to fit in with everyone. It also taught me early on to not judge someone by their appearance, but by their heart.  

And now...for the '90s...I think I could keep going on with movies of earlier eras, but there was just so many good movies in the 1990s, and I spent so much time in the theaters...These movies bring back so many memories!

42. Goodfellas

A Scorsese classic, and just an all round great “mobster” movie. This is probably heresy, but movies like the Godfather, or even Scarface, never did it for me. Sure, there were memorable scenes and great acting...a good story even, but I find them terribly dated for some reason. For me, they just don't hold up. But movies like Goodfellas, or even Casino? They're just different. Maybe it's because they are based on true events, and are narrated...The story-telling, and the way you follow the characters as they grow up in the mob...Such a great movie!

43. Casino

See #42...Same kind of movie, but Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone are phenomenal in this!  

44. Disney's Aladdin

I was debating on whether or not The Lion King should make the list, but I ultimately decided this was just a better, funnier movie. Yes, it's true, the music numbers in The Lion King are better than in Aladdin, but Aladdin, along with Robin Williams's Genie, is so strong, and so funny! Disney was on a creative roll in animation until PIXAR's Toy Story CHANGED EVERYTHING! This movie was Disney's high point.  

45. Toy Story

Fun fact: A lot of people thought this was originally a Disney movie, but it's not. It was created by Steve Jobs' (yes, THAT Steve Jobs!) budding computer animation company, PIXAR. They are partnered with Disney for distribution rights, but Disney wasn't ready to take the gamble with computer animation, and were still having relative, although waning, success with traditional animation. Toy Story was the first full length computer animated movie. Like Star Wars, and Jurassic Park, Toy Story was a game changer. I remember being in Kentucky and talking to my mom on the phone in 1995, when I asked if she'd seen any good movies recently with my little brothers, Kevin and Jimmy. My mom was always telling me which movies I should see or weren't worth my time, and she said Toy Story was an amazing movie. I was eager to see it, and when I did see it, my jaw was on the floor the whole way through! The animation was beautiful, the story was powerful, and it was made all the more brilliant with Tom Hanks as Woody, and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear...They were the perfect duo! This movie forever changed animation, and Disney would ultimately end up buying PIXAR.  

46. Edward Scissorhands

Man...this is another all time favourite. Wynona Ryder was as gorgeous as ever – even /with her blonde hair! Johnny Depp was freakish and naïve as Edward, the created “boy”. A kind of bizarre retelling of Pinnochio in a way, but beautiful all the way around. From the cinematography, to the beautifully haunting Danny Elfman score....A classic!

47. Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas

If Tim Burton's name was attached to a movie, you could bet anything that I was going to see it. His later Disney movies turned out to be a bit iffy, but Disney really allowed his freak flag to fly with this movie! Visually stunning, creepy, and funny. The music numbers – all written by Danny Elfman – were brilliant, and this is all round jaw dropping animation at its best! This movie always brings back a particular memory of when I first saw it...I was staying with my friend Wayne and his family for Thanksgiving 1993, in Englewood, Ohio. My girlfriend at the time lived in Huberheights, not far from Wayne, but we were doing our own thing. Wayne's mom decided to take us to the movies and we picked Nightmare. I jokingly said to Wayne...

“Wouldn't it be crazy if Amy popped up?”  
And he said, “No, she's here...”
“Get off it, dude...” I said
“No, really, she's right over there!”

I turned, and sure enough, there she was with her mom, who I'd never met before. Wayne's mom was upset because she thought we set this whole thing up, and I was like, “This really is a coincidence!” I ran over to her, hugged her, and we sat down. Her mom said, “You look better in person than your pictures”, and I thought, “Ouch...”, and then she said, “Go get me some napkins”. Ooooookay. Nice to meet you too!  

So, every time I see an advertisement for the movie, I think of that moment.  

48. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

So, I'm going to be honest here...I've never been a fan of the first Terminator. I thought it was cheaply made, and bit “meh”...The concept was cool, but the delivery just fell flat with me. It feels terribly dated as well. When the movie was first advertised, I really didn't have any interest in seeing it, but Chad insisted we go and watch it. I was glad he dragged me to see it 'cause it was amazing! Better yet? Several decades later I believe it still holds up. The plot is brilliant, the film is gorgeously shot, and the action sequences are top notch...The writing was just so good too. James Cameron actually fleshed out the mythos and world building. This is a movie that makes you think...I love this movie, and I've seen it a billion times...It just never gets old.  

49. Forrest Gump

I don't think I've ever met a single soul who has seen this movie and who doesn't love it. It gets me every time...But it's a movie I almost didn't see...  

I was home on a break, and Chad and I were going to see the movie True Lies – another Cameron directed film, and my mom said it was really funny. We were both 16 at the time, and so we went to the theater, but True Lies was rated “R” and the girl at the ticket booth said we needed an adult to accompany us. We were both like, “C'mon! We look 17...Let us in!” She just said she couldn't, but told us Forrest Gump was about to start...sure why not...and in we went. And while we both did eventually see True Lies, and thought it was a cool movie, I think we both agreed we were really glad it ended up being Forrest Gump that night 'cause life is truly like a box of chocolates...

50. True Romance

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script...A really cool movie starring Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater, and some really cool cameos by Christopher Walken and Gary Oldman (easily one of my favourite actors) as a drug dealer/pimp...you won't recognise him.  

51. Pulp Fiction

My love of Tarantino movies began with this one...I didn't see it until a year after it came out, and then I back tracked through his movies (Resevoir Dogs, True Romance, Natural Born Killers – a movie he hates and disavows even though he wrote the script, and Oliver Stone directed it...) and it blew my mind. The disjointed story telling, the different “chapters” that stood alone as individual acts, but with a running plot thread that connected everything together...Just a perfect movie. I fell in love with the way he wrote dialogue – few have been able to come close.  

52. The Professional (aka Leon The Professional)

This is art house stuff disguised as an assassin's tale. A beautifully shot film, starring a young Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman, whose brilliance shines as the crooked cop...Definitely a favourite.  

53. 12 Monkeys

I've always loved Terry Gillam's otherworldly and bizarre way of making movies. They can be disorienting, but equally mind blowing. Just see Brazil, and you'll understand what I mean. But 12 Monkeys? I knew nothing of this movie but what I had to go on from a cool poster, which gave nothing away. What the hell was “12 Monkeys?” So, on a Saturday evening in January 1996, braving a blizzard in Louisville, Kentucky, because I couldn't spend any time with my girlfriend (well, actually a sort of ex, but we were still seeing each other...typical teenage confusion) I decided to go and see a movie. I saw the poster and thought, what the hell...I sat through the movie and it was like the top of my head had been blown right off! Mankind being eradicated, a virus, crazy people, future prison, and time travel...It was too much to process in one sitting, and yet I was in total love with it! It gave me goosebumps! I left the theater, went outside, bought another ticket, and watched it again...Pay attention to the ending, I'm always surprised when people don't catch it or put the pieces together, but it's worth focusing on...

54. Dumb And Dumber

Comedy classic! That's really all I can say. I was never a big fan of Jim Carrey; I always thought he relied too heavily on shtick and slap stick, but this movie has me in stitches every time. It's perfect!

55. Fargo

I grew up with the Coen Brothers' movies because my mom was a fan. Dark comedy at its best, and this movie...It's dark, it's funny, it makes you feel cold in your bones...But every actor is 100% perfect in this movie.  

56. The Crow

I realise that this movie may not be to everyone's taste...I'm kind of laughing now, because as I write this, I am remembering when I asked my girlfriend to watch it, and she initially thought it was a horror movie, and was scared (ha ha)...It's not! Yes, the movie is dark. Yes, it's a revenge tale...but it's a piece of art in my opinion. Beautifully shot, and if you love music, there are few films that so beautifully pair music with the scenes of a movie. Just watch as Eric Draven transforms himself as The Cure's “Burn” plays in the background, or as he runs across roof tops, as NIN covers Joy Division's “Lost Souls”...The soundtrack is amazing! The film is amazing! Sadly, Brandon Lee, the star of the movie, was killed in a freak accident on set as they were filming the movie, but he'll go down in memory as playing one of the most iconic characters in film, in my opinion.  

57. From Dusk 'Til Dawn

Written by Tarantino (as well as starring in the lead roles with George Clooney) and directed by Robert Rodriguez. What more can I say? It's funny. It's dark. It's bloody good!

58. Home Alone

I can repeat every line of this movie! At home, we watched it incessantly. Not only a Christmas classic, but just a classic in general. Keep the change you filthy animal!  

59. Apollo 13

I saw this movie the summer of 1995, and loved it. Tom Hanks really never looked back in terms of brilliant acting after Forrest Gump, plus it was about the space program. Something that has always been near and dear to my heart.  

60. The Burbs

Considered a cult classic, and starring Tom Hanks (before Forrest Gump) as a middle aged man, along with his buddies, who think there's something fishy about the creepy family next door...Dark comedy at its best.  

61. Jurassic Park

This was another movie that was recommended by my mom when I was away in Kentucky. There was a lot of hype around the movie, and I remember asking my mom if it was just another stupid dinosaur movie, or worth the time...She said it was amazing, and my little brothers were going crazy over it – especially Kevin. I was excited for summer break in between summer school at OBI, as I was busy taking extra classes to make up for the year of the 7th grade I failed. The school I went to was very fundamentally Christian, and I remember before even seeing the film, attending a mandatory Sunday school, and the farm manager “Poppa T” was teaching class that morning...He said, “Some of you fellas might have heard of that movie that just came out “Jurassic Park”, and it might be cool...but be careful! It's Satan's tool to deceive you guys...Dinosaurs never existed.” We were all like, huh? So, this guy, one of my friends, “Digger” asks, “Then where did the bones, you know, the fossils come from?” To which Poppa T replied, “Satan planted them to deceive man.” Ooooookay!  

Anyway, so I finally get home for a school break, and the family goes to see the film again so I can watch it and...wow! Not only were the FX fantastic, but it was just a cool story. Steven Spielberg had done it again! How many times has that dude captured lightening in a bottle? Seriously!  

62. Schindler's List

Spielberg again....this time with the heaviest topic he could possibly film: The Holocaust...I remember crying throughout this movie. There are two films that I think should be mandatory viewing in schools... “Roots” and “Schindler's List”. Sadly, I don't think there has been a movie made yet that properly addresses the genocide of Native Americans...it's about time someone made that movie! Until then, however, kids should be watching this movie.  

63. Mrs Doubtfire

Some people are thinking, “C'mon! Really?” But I love this movie! Robin Williams playing a guy going through divorce and a custody battle...and all he wants is to spend more time with his kids, so he dresses up as an older nanny named “Mrs Doubtfire”. It really is a funny movie, and showed how talented and funny he really was. We lost one of the greats when he took his life...

64. Silence of the Lambs

A genuinely scary thriller. A perfect cast too...It forever changed the thriller genre, and it showed you could use psychological scares to greater effect than just showing a bunch of blood gore scenes. The scenes that had the gore were not gratuitous either...it was just enough to scare you, but the majority of the scares came from Anthony Hopkins' performance, and the guy who played “Buffalo Bill” - I don't think he got the credit he deserved because it was a masterful performance! No doubt this movie still scares and holds up. I mean, really, it's still popular all these years later.  

65. Saving Private Ryan

Growing up, I wasn't that big a fan of war movies. I'd seen some decent ones but I didn't get too excited about them. Hell, I didn't even see Full Metal Jacket until the 21st Century, but this movie – another directed by Spielberg, is sooooo good. The first 45 minutes and the storming of the beaches in Normandy, are numbing, but the movie itself is just a heartbreaking movie. It really opened my eyes and gave me a greater respect for what we call our “Greatest Generation”. Tom Hanks was fantastic as the captain! It's a difficult movie, but a perfect one nonetheless.  

66. Singles

This movie came out at the height of the Seattle music scene, and the music is a heavy presence throughout the film. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and the movie is just the most perfect Generation X movie!

67. Reality Bites

Ditto...

68. Empire Records

I consider this a cult classic! It bombed in the theaters, but I freakin' loved this movie and soundtrack.  

69. Mall Rats

I know a lot of people refer to Clerks as being the greatest film by Kevin Smith, and I love it. However, for me, Mall Rats was funnier, and better.  

70. Se7en

I'll be honest with you...My first time seeing this movie, I didn't like it. Not that it wasn't well done, it was. But it took a couple of viewings to really appreciate and respect it, and I think it really is one of the better psychological thrillers out there. Kevin Spacey was genuinely creepy, and Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt had great chemistry. It's a movie worthy of respect, for sure.  

71. Kalifornia

Another great psychological thriller that doesn't get the respect it deserves. Brad Pitt as a sociopathic hill-billy is one of his best performances on film. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth your time.  

72. Mortal Kombat

Wait! Before you judge me, let me explain why I picked this movie...As a Generation X-er, we had to suffer through horrible attempt after horrible attempt to turn video games into movies (Super Mario Brothers, anyone?). Hollywood just couldn't get it right. They were awwwwwful! And then, this movie came out and changed everything! It showed that you could faithfully adapt a video game to the big screen, and it was fun! The soundtrack was awesome with its techno tracks, and the fight scenes were very faithful – and tasteful – to the video game. It's a fun movie and I've always had a soft spot for it.  

73. The Original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie

Another head scratcher right? However, being a huge fan of the cartoon, and the fact that cartoons were extremely hard to adapt to the big screen, this movie was the best! It captured the Turtles' personalities perfectly. It was well produced, and not at all cheesy (unlike the sequel...Really, Vanilla Ice???) and just a damn good movie. It was a favourite around the Halprin household, and in my mind, nothing can touch it.  

74. The Matrix

When I first saw the preview for this movie, I honestly didn't think it was going to be that good. I was never a big fan of Keanu Reeves outside of the Bill and Ted movies...but I was wrong to judge it. Another movie that just blew the top right off of my head. Sure, the groundbreaking special effects were amazing, but the existential questions throughout are what really spoke to me in the film.  

75. Chicken Run

A British stop motion film about chickens being raised to go into “chicken pies”...When the chickens discover the awful truth about their existence, they decide (with the help of a cocky American Rooster) to break out of their pen...A very funny movie.

76. Braveheart

I've always been a fan of historical dramas, and this one is top notch! The story of William Wallace is fascinating, and the Scottish fighting against British Colonialism is a very interesting part of history. The battle scenes are exciting, and the story of the fight for “Freedom!” is epic...Mel Gibson really did a good job in both directing the film, and playing the lead role.  

77. Rob Roy

Another Scottish story. Not heavy on the fight against colonialism, but a true tale of Rob Roy reclaiming honour for his clan, after being subjugated and humiliated by a British Nobleman (played by the great Tim Roth) with Liam Neeson as Rob Roy. There's much more story and drama to this movie, and a lot of people don't know about it, but it's great! The ending, when Rob Roy reclaims his “Honor”, is one of the finest climaxes there is in cinematic history...

78. Monty Python And The Quest For The Holy Grail

Okay...technically it's an early '80s movie, but I didn't see it until about was about 15 years old, along with my friend, Chad. We'd been hearing about its status as a “cult classic”, and its being super funny. Chad and I grew up on a healthy dose of British programming because our local PBS station spent most of its weekend airing British comedies and dramas...We were big fans of Doctor Who as well as other shows - Monty Python's Flying Circus being one of them – but we'd never seen any of the movies! So, we rented the video, and spent the entire time laughing our asses off! It really is an absurd movie, with each act getting a bit crazier on the quest for the Holy Grail. Chad and I would re-enact certain scenes, and our parents would look at us like we were crazy. This may not be to everyone's taste, but it was to ours. Bring out the holy hand grenade!

79. There's Something About Mary

This movie came out at the tail end of the '90s, and it was probably the last great Farely Brothers' (the makers of Dumb & Dumber) film. It is ridiculously funny and absurd, but it also has a lot of heart. If you want to laugh and piss your pants, this is the movie for you! If you subscribe to any political correctness, it probably ISN'T the movie for you...Franks and Beans!

80. The Last Of The Mohicans

I don't just love this movie...I freakin' love this movie! It's one of my all time favourites. It stars Daniel Day Lewis, and Madeline Stowe (in the '90s she was my other crush besides Wynona Ryder). It takes place during the French/Indian war against the British. Daniel Day Lewis plays an adopted “Indian” scout who is tasked with escorting Madeline Stowe, and her sister, into safe “British” territory. Beautifully shot in the mountains of Appalachia, with great writing, and a heart-sweeping score...This is a movie for the ages!

81. School Ties

This movie is about a Jewish high school football player who is given a scholarship to a prestigious Prep school. He initially hides his identity, but when it's discovered that he's Jewish, he begins to get harassed by some of the other students. Matt Damon plays a great douche bag, and when he's expelled for his anti-Semitism, there's a great exchange between his character and Brendan Frasier who plays the Jewish kid. A car pulls up to Brendan Frasier, and the window rolls down...Matt Damon stares him down, and says something to which the Jewish kid says, “You'll always be a loser...” Matt Damon replies with pure disgust, “And you'll always be a Jew...”

I went to a Baptist boarding school, and I could totally identify with this movie. I don't remember being exposed to the same vitriol and hatred, but I could definitely tell that I was not liked by some students and teachers, and I was quite often asked, “Why did you kill Jesus?”, or, “You know you're going to hell, right?” I remember coming home one fall on a school break, and attending High Holiday services at our synagogue; I was talking to my friend, Mindi, and she asked me, “So...is going to school there like that movie School Ties?”...

82. P.C.U.

Another movie that might not be to everyone's taste...It's a stoner movie, and just...funny! It's hard to explain it because there's so much going on, but it is really funny. Another movie I kind of stumbled upon at the Midnight Movies in Lexington, Kentucky; they played these movies in this old beautifully renovated theater from the '20s or '30s, and I'd go and see the late night Friday movies, if I could make it.  

83. Gladiator

Another great movie that came out at the tail end of the '90s, and it's just beautifully filmed, with amazing acting all the way through!

And now into the 2000s...Because I've not seen TV since 2001, due to my current predicament, I've been forced to listen to movies on my radio...In a lot of ways, the strength of a movie lives or dies on the plot and dialogue, the nuances of a performance, and sound design. I have to be able to focus intently on the movie, and let my imagination fill in the blanks to “see” it in my mind's eye. Only a good movie could allow this to happen, and so these movies have made my favourites list. I could be wrong...the cinematography could be crap, but for me, these movies have made the list!

84. American Beauty

A mid-life crisis and a fantastic Annette Benning and Kevin Spacey...I really enjoyed it.  

85. Pay It Forward

I had read the novel of the same title, and thought it was a great story, but the movie added even more emotional punch, and I admit...I was in tears by the end of it. Get the Kleenex box ready!

86. Darkness Falls

This is a horror movie, and normally I wouldn't know what was going on because of all of the screaming, but I thought the plot was very original! The dialogue was more than enough to know what was going on, and the sound design was excellent! My imagination totally took over.  

87. Blood And Chocolate

Another horror movie, but not really?? It's hard to explain, but I really thought it was original, and the acting was great. I've seen it get bad reviews in various magazines, but I've always said this about critics: what the hell do they know? Art is subjective...Plus, the soundtrack is amazing. Great bands throughout!  

88. True Grit (the remake by the Coen Brothers)

I'm not a big fan of Westerns. There are a few that are fantastic, even if they didn't make the list (Unforgiven, Tombstone) but this one with Jeff Bridges and a young Haylee Steinfeld? Unbelieavable! The dialogue is just top notch! Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn was amazing, but it was also the sound design that took me back to the “old west”. From the howling cold winds of the plains, the horses, and footsteps that crunch on cold grass...I was there. This is one for the ages...It really, really is.  

89. Inglorious Basterds

Yes, there are long parts of dialogue that are in German and French, and I was lost until I got to see the translation. But the movie is fantastic, and the (English) dialogue is perfect Tarantino! Loved it!

90. The Hateful Eight

Another Tarantino instant classic. Funny, irreverent, isolated, and bloody good! Definitely one of Samuel L. Jackson's better performances, as well as Kurt Russell's.  

91. Wonder Woman

Yep, made the cut! One of the best “superhero” movies made in years...Fantastic in every way!

92. The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as the Joker...Nobody thought he could be better than Jack Nicholson, but he was! I still think Batman 1989 is a better movie, but this is a favourite in the Batman movies, for sure!

93. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've heard The Last Jedi as well, and I really liked it, but after listening to The Force Awakens numerous times, this is up there with the original trilogy! This is the movie that Star Wars fans both needed and wanted after 40 years, and to focus on a woman as a potential Jedi that saves the galaxy??? Pretty awesome!  

94. Zero Dark Thirty

I didn't think I was going to like this movie, but Jessica Chastain does give a masterful performance. I kind of have a problem when we celebrate military actions post 9-11, but it's a harrowing story...the hunt for Bin Laden.

95. Arrival

I actually read the short story this was based on by Tim Chiang, and so I had an idea of what it was going to be like, but man...the movie? Amy Adams gives a great subtle performance, the writing is excellent, and it's a tear jerker when you put the pieces together. Don't be fooled by the sci-fi premise. It's not a science fiction movie in the sense of what you would expect out of a Hollywood movie. It's smart, it's heartbreaking.  

96. Sicario

Man...A heart-pounding movie!

97. Hell Or High Water

Poor Rural Texas has never been better portrayed. Great acting all the way around, great dialogue – funny at times, and heart-breaking as well. The ending is one of the best endings in a movie.  

98. Baby Driver

For the life of me, I don't get the popularity of the Fast And The Furious movies...Maybe they're cool to see, but the acting is horrible, and the dialogue is cheesy! Just not good at all, in my opinion. But then a movie like Baby Driver comes around and makes a “smart” fast and furious, with Tarantino-style-dialogue...(I'm not sure who wrote the film) and an amazing soundtrack that syncs up perfectly to each scene. I loved it!! It's just a hip movie! (ha ha).

99. Ex Machina

Another really smart sci-fi movie about artificial intelligence. I really enjoyed this movie.  

100. Jungle Book (Live action version)

I've heard the CGI in this movie is amazing, but I found it to be just a wonderful and faithfully done version of the Disney animated classic. The movie made me giddy – if that's possible. The voice acting was great, and the kid who played Mowgli was a heart stealer! Disney has really been on a roll with it's live action “remakes” of their animated classics, but whilst I've liked every one that I've heard so far, this one was the bees knees.  

101. It's A Wonderful Life

The Christmas classic! I've always enjoyed this movie growing up, but it didn't carry the emotional weight for me back then that it does now...When I first came to death row, there was a part of me that just wanted to die...Not willingly, obviously, and definitely not any kind of suicidal idealisation either, but more of a resignation and concession that this was my fate, and I had no one to blame but myself. The thought of possibly winning my appeal wasn't a thought I entertained, and I sure as hell didn't want to live the rest of my life under a life sentence, stuck in a cell for 23 hours per day. That seemed worse than death by execution!

NBC broadcasts this movie each year around Christmas, and it's an annual tradition now...I listen to it every year and each year becomes more significant to me as I've come to recognise the value of my own life. Yes, I've made mistakes, and should be held accountable for those mistakes; I no longer am willing to concede or accept that any mistake is worth death - to willfully hand over my own life...I feel like I have a life to live and many ideas to help others and effect change in a positive way...I have goals and dreams. I want to keep people - especially young and at risk teens - from making the same mistakes as I have made, and to encourage families to never give up on their children no matter how difficult they become, or how many mistakes they make. I'll happily live a life in prison if it means that I can save a life or lives, in turn. I no longer want to be George Bailey standing on the bridge, ready to jump...After all, it really IS a wonderful life...

Well, I could go on talking about movies forever...Movies, like music, have always been dear to my heart. They've been a driving force in my creativity and imagination, and they've kept me sane for most of my life...They've been a place of refuge. I hope you've enjoyed this “journey” as much as I've enjoyed sharing it.

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