Why You Should Get A Flu Shot

This article originally appeared in last week's issue of The Leeds Tribune. I'm posting it here so it can be shared with people outside of the community.

I grew up in a family where my mother was a nurse and my father was a fire fighter. On top of that both of them volunteered as medics for the rescue squad in our community. Medical things were very commonplace conversation pieces in my house. There was a back board tucked away behind the couch and an aspirator in the back of our car. That was normal.

Another normal thing that we did was doing anything that we could to keep ourselves from getting sick. My mom worked for a while in the respiratory department of the hospital and she had dealt with more than her fair share of flu patients. She would come home one day at about this time of year and declare “The flu is going to be bad this year”. I’m not exactly sure what she was comparing it to because she said that every year. I just imagined that the flu got worse every year.

Without fail my mom would take us every year to see our pediatrician whether we were sick or not. He’d look in my throat, listen to my chest, and then his nurse would give me a little shot. It didn’t hurt much and they always told me that it would protect me from getting the flu. My doctor said that it was important that I got it every year because my parents were exposed to the virus at their jobs and could easily bring it home to me. And it must have worked because I only remember having the flu once when I was a kid.

As I got older, of course, my mom stopped taking me to the doctor. Most of the places that I worked would bring healthcare professionals in to give a vaccine to everyone who wanted one and it was free of charge. Of course I was always in that line.

Until I got married and had children I got that shot every year with the sole purpose of not getting the flu. I didn’t want to get sick. As far as I was concerned that was the only reason to get it. Then I met a woman in my twenties who would later become my wife. She had something called CVID. I urge you to go look that up and find out what you can about it but I’ll give you the nutshell right here. CVID stands for Common Variable Immune Deficiency. CVID is one of many disorders that fall under primary immunodeficiencies (PI). It’s a disorder that causes a person’s immune system to be impaired. That person is going to be a whole lot more susceptible to infections and viruses than someone like me with a normal immune system.

It’s considered to be a rare disease but if you do a search for a few Facebook groups then you’ll quickly find out that a lot more people have it than you realize. For instance, my wife and my son both have it because it is often hereditary. On top of that my wife has made friends with a lot of people just in our part of the state who have it or variations of it.

So, what does any of that have to do with flu shots? During our first year of marriage, when October rolled around, I told my wife that we were getting our flu vaccines at work and that she needed to make an appointment to go get hers as well. She told me that she would go and get the shot but it probably wouldn’t do any good. I explained that I rarely got the flu and I got a shot every year. She said that was because I have a normal immune system.

I have to say that my knowledge of how immune systems worked was pretty lacking when I was 24. The flu shot works because they administer a small amount of the flu virus into your body. The virus is dead so it can’t infect you, but your body creates the antibodies that it needs to fight it. That way, if you’re exposed to the real thing later on in the season then your body already has the tools it needs to do battle.

A person with a PI disorder doesn’t have the immune system that most others have. When they are exposed to bacteria or a virus their body doesn’t create the antibodies it needs to fight it off. So, they can take a flu shot but there is no guarantee that it will do what it is supposed to do. If they get exposed to the flu later on their body may simply not create enough of the antibodies to keep them from getting sick. And what’s even worse is that it takes them a lot longer to fight it off.

My wife and my son get almost no benefit from the flu shot that they get every year. They still go get it because their immunologist says that the few antibodies that they get from it are better than none at all. I get my shot and so does my daughter. It gives us peace of mind that we have a better chance of not bringing the virus into our home. It is also important that we get the shot which is made with a dead strain of the virus. The mist vaccines use and actual live virus and it can be dangerous for them to be around someone who has had one in the past few days.

So, they depend on you to keep them safe during flu season. They depend on the people that they interact with every day to do the right thing and get their flu shot. You’re protecting yourself from a potential illness, but you’re also helping those in our community that have very weak immune systems.

And it isn’t just people with PI disorders. There are people that you see every day that have compromised immune systems. People with Cystic Fibrosis or people who have recently gone through chemotherapy treatments for cancer get very little benefit from a flu shot. You are their main barrier. When everyone in the community is protected then we have herd immunity.

If you know someone with a compromised immune system, please get a flu shot. Do it for you and do it for them.

41 Movies For 41 Years: 1998

Saving Private Ryan is an important movie for many reasons. It was the first film to give an honest and accurate portrayal of not only D-Day, but of war in general. It put it all out there and gave us a gritty and realistic look at what life was like for those soldiers that gave their all for our freedom all those years ago.

I just felt the need to say that because Saving Private Ryan is not my favorite movie of 1998. It probably should be. It is certainly the most well-made, beautifully shot, and brilliantly acted film that came out that year. It is without a doubt the most culturally significant film that came out in the latter part of that decade. And if I had to make a list of my favorite war movies it would definitely be on there.

Come to think of it…I think we did that on the podcast and it was.

But it’s not my favorite. My favorite, while also being one that I consider important, is not quite as impactful as that.

My favorite film of 1998 is The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, and Ed Harris.

I was a huge Jim Carrey fan when I was a teenager. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask were a trifecta of films for me. I considered them to be comedy classics and as far as I was concerned they belonged in a hall of fame somewhere between Abbott and Costello and Charlie Chaplin. I stayed a fan of his through my young adult years as he attempted to make some darker themed films like Cable Guy. And then it was announced that he’d be making this movie with director Peter Weir. This was in my film infancy so I didn’t really know who that was at the time. All that I knew was that Jim Carrey was going to be in a real movie, one that people weren’t going to look down on for being slapstick humor.

When I saw it I thought I was watching one of the most significant films of all time. My opinion of it has softened over the years but I still think it is a fascinating film and that the message it has to offer resonates to this day.

The Truman Show is considered science fiction since the premise is kind of impossible. It is the story of Truman Burbank. He was adopted by a corporation as a baby and placed in a manufactured world inside a huge studio. Now, every moment of his life is captured on camera and broadcast on a television network for everyone to watch. Of course, he doesn’t know that he’s being watched.
In the 90s a TV show called The Real World came out on MTV. It followed the lives of seven people who lived together for a year and allowed us to watch their interactions and everyday lives. It was all manufactured for television, of course. But at the time, we were riveted. It spawned many more shows and launched “reality” TV. That’s still a thing, 20 years later. We still watch Big Brother and Survivor and The Bachelor. But, back then, a few people felt like they needed to say something about it.

Ultimately, what is said is that what we see on the screen isn’t real. It can’t be. Truman is the only one that doesn’t know that he’s on TV. And, while he has the perfect life…a loving wife, a good job, a nice car…none of it is real. And, once he figures that out he wants nothing more than to see what’s really out there.

When I was a kid I used to imagine that I was being watched on some TV show somewhere…that my entire life was just a movie. This film plays with that idea and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The actors go to great lengths to make sure he doesn’t leave. They even give him a fear of the ocean from his childhood so that he won’t try to leave.

I also like the character that Ed Harris plays. He’s the creator of the show named Christof. This is an obvious allusion that he is Truman’s god…he is “Christ of” Truman.

I can’t say a whole lot more than that without spoiling and this is definitely a movie that I want you to watch if you haven’t already. After all, it is my favorite film of 1998.

41 Movies For 41 Years: 1997

1997 is a tricky year because I saw so many things. Almost every movie that came out I watched in the theater because I was working at one and I no longer had to pay to see anything. The few that I didn’t see on the big screen I caught later on video. So, going back now and looking at all the stuff that I’ve seen from that year it’s really hard to pick out what was my favorite.

There were films that stunned me on the big screen that I still think are great like Titanic. There were things that I found amazing at the time that I’ve grown to have disdain for as I’ve grown older like The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But this isn’t about what my favorite move in 1997 was. This is about what I NOW consider to be my favorite movie from that year.

And just to address the elephant in the room…Yes, The Star Wars Special Editions came out that year. Yes, I did consider allowing them to be eligible because I feel like there were enough changes to them to consider them new films. Ultimately I chose not to include them on the list because I felt it would be unfair to some of the rest of the things that I could pick from.

So, in a year that brought us Men In Black, Air Force One, and My Best Friend’s Wedding…what did I pick?

As my list gets further into my adulthood it becomes harder because I watch so much. So, I have to pick based on rewatchability. What movie from 1997 have I rewatched more often?

Boogie Nights.

Paul Thomas Anderson directed this film that starred Mark Wahlberg, Julian Moore, Heather Graham, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly. It takes place in the 1970s and it’s about a dishwasher that gets recruited into the porn industry. The bible belt tightened when this hit theaters because here in the south when you say a movie is “about” porn it is automatically assumed to “be” porn. This movie is not porn. It’s not even really dirty. I mean, there are some sexual situations but this is more about the story of this one character.

Wahlberg plays Eddie Adams, a high school dropout that gets noticed by a pornographic filmmaker and recruited into making a few films for him. He eventually becomes a big star. The thing about this movie is that it’s essentially the same plot that you’ve seen a thousand times in stories about the music and film industry. Someone is pulled from obscurity and turned into a big star and then they have a fall from grace. The way Anderson wove us into this world was fantastic. It’s Eddie’s story, but that’s not the only character we follow. We get to know so many other characters.

We meet Rollergirl (Graham) who has become a film star out of her need for a family. Jack Horner (Reynolds), the famous film director who finds himself having to reinvent himself because of a changing industry. Maggie (Moore) who is clinging on to her fame because her actual life is in shambles. I could list every character one by one, and no matter how small the role was there was something there for us to care about. And Anderson picked the perfect people to play those parts. Every actor in the film gives an amazing performance, especially Burn Reynolds who won an Academy Award that year.

Wahlberg cemented his place in Hollywood with this film. Until then he'd been known mainly for strutting on stage in his tighty-whities as the lead singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. He'd done a couple of film before this. Most notably was the thriller Fear from the year before. But he gave such a great performance in this film, showcasing his ability to play anything from a bashful kid that doesn't know much about the world to a coked out mega star. It leaves little wonder why he's one of Hollywood's A-List actors two decades later.

So, yeah…a lot of stuff came out in 1997. Some of it was good like Air Force One. Some it was…Batman and Robin. But if I forget about the stuff that I just had a good time watching 21 years ago and actually think about what films had I carried with me as my life has moved on then I would definitely have to add Boogie Nights to that list.

41 Movies For 41 Years: 1996

Wow I got behind. I started this project when I was 39 in hopes of finishing it on the week of my 40th birthday. I turn 41 next week. Oh, well…onward…

My favorite film of 1996 was not my favorite film in 1996. At that time I was a young man fresh out of high school. I was taking a few college classes but mostly I was working a lot and spending a lot of time reading and watching movies. I must have gone to the movies two or three times a week that year. I was really into action and fantasy films at that point. That year I remember going to see movies like Mission: Impossible, The Rock, and Dragonheart.

But a kid of 19 doesn’t know a lot about movies. I liked to think that I had a different taste in film than most people my age. I was into Star Wars like everyone else, but I also counted films like The Maltese Falcon to be among my favorite.

As I got older I really started to look beyond the screen when I picked out a movie. I started to see films for more than just what they were about or what actors were in them. I began to pay attention to who the writers were and especially who the director was. I started to realize that who directed a film was just as important, if not more so, as the actors and actresses.

So I started re-watching some classics like Psycho and The Birds paying special attention to how Hitchcock constructed his works. I made it a point to go see every film that Quentin Tarantino took part in, from Pulp Fiction to Four Rooms. And I absolutely fell in love with the works of the Coen Brothers.

Joel and Ethan Coen are a  couple of guys that direct the majority of their projects as a team. They direct the movies equally, but some weird rules make it difficult to give the directing credit to two people so usually one of them is listed as director while the other is listed as executive producer. By 1996 they had already directed a few movies that I really love like Raising Arizona and Barton Fink. They were films that I had seen but didn’t associate them as being a part of each other. But in my early twenties I saw a film that came out in 1996 that put me on a path to call myself a Coen Brothers completest.

That film was Fargo, starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, and Steve Buscemi among others.

Set in the great white northern town of Fargo, North Dakota, this movie is a perfect blend of comedy, drama, suspense, and mystery. At its core it is a murder mystery with a twist…it’s not a mystery to us. We know who the killer is from the beginning. The fun is in watching the lengths that he’ll go to not to get caught, and the resilience of a small town cop that goes the extra mile to catch him.
I think that my love for the noir genre of film from yesteryear may have contributed to my love of this. There are definitely a lot of aspects of that. The story relies a lot more on the characters and the dialog than the action. And the actors that they picked for those roles went a long way toward nailing me down.

I knew Steve Buscemi from other things like Resevoir Dogs. As a matter of fact, the fact that he was in the film may have been the reason that I decided to watch it in the first place. So, I guess I can thank him for putting me on the scent of a bunch of movies that I’ve loved ever since.
I had never seen Francis McDormand before this. But her performance was fantastic. Only the Coen brothers would make a murder mystery where the main cop character is not only a woman…but in the last trimester of pregnancy! She knocked it out of the park. I’ve never doubted her since. When I saw her collecting that statue earlier this year for her performance in Three Billboards I wasn’t surprised.

William H. Macy was another one that I didn’t know much about. I had seen him in some TV roles before this, but nothing that really stood out to me. His performance in this movie as well as Boogie Nights from a couple of years later are the gold standard that I compare him to. That may not be fair to him but I know from those two films what he is capable of…a lot.

This movie is regarded as a classic among many. They turned it into a TV series a couple of years ago and it has become one of my favorites as well. Especially the first season because it was almost a retelling of the story that was told here but updated and kind of a sequel as well. If you’ve never seen Fargo on FX I urge you to go and check it out.

But…go watch the movie first. I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it but there’s a good chance that you will since it’s my favorite movie of 1996.

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...Star Wars

The air outside is crisp. You can see your breath and the end of your nose is red and cold. The houses that you pass have Christmas trees in the windows. There are lights arranged all over the front lawns. The stores are all lit up and twinkling. The bell ringers are sitting in front of the shops collecting your spare change for charity.

But it’s not a Christmas party that we’re going to tonight.

I’m sitting in a restaurant with my wife and my daughter. It’s not a fancy place. “It’s not the Shangri-La,” as I’ve been known to say in description of any place that doesn’t require a jacket and tie. No, this is just a hamburger joint.

We’re sitting in a booth enjoying big, fat cheeseburgers, shoestring fries, and ice cream sundaes. There is electricity in the air. There is a smile on my face. This is a special day.

At the table next to us there are two men about my age. They’re having a casual conversation about their work and if you just listened to the words you’d think they were in business attire. But both of them are wearing t-shirts that have cartoonish pictures of robots…or droids, as they prefer to be called.

The front door opens and a gust of cold air sweeps through the room as a bunch of teenage boys come inside. All of them are wearing shirts sporting more droids, x-wings, and a certain villainous character garbed all in black. One of them is wearing a fur-covered body suit with a sash across the front.

This is Star Wars day.

I turn into a little kid when it’s time for a new Star Wars movie. A lot of us do. It’s not our fault. It’s just a part of who we are. Star Wars was a very big part of my teenage years. I was late to the game watching it but once I did I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of it.

There’s something about those movies that triggers my imagination more than a lot of the other things that I like. It’s not true science fiction like Star Trek, my other favorite fandom. It’s much more of a fantasy story than that. True, there are spaceships and aliens and all of that. But at the end of the day it’s a movie full of magic, wizards, and sword fights.

Star Wars is a fairy tale…and it’s my favorite one.

I can remember the first time that I saw each film. I remember my favorite viewing of each of the films. I remember seeing the remastered edition of the original trilogy when they re-released them in theaters. I remember lying on a sofa and watching A New Hope while my infant sister slept on my chest. I remember watching The Phantom Menace in 3D with my son. I remember seeing Rogue One with my daughter.

And last night I remember feeling that excitement again as we prepared to revisit that world again.
The previews subside…the theater grows quiet…and that famous sentence fills the screen…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

And then the speakers explode with John Williams’ magnificent and instantly recognizable fanfare. I’m 12 years old all over again. The screen is covered in X-wings and TIE fighters. I’m hearing the same laser blasts and light-sabers bouncing off one another that I did back then. And my eyes are filled with the faces of old friends.

Look! There’s Chewie!

There’s Luke!

Ah…There’s Leia…

Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher will truly be missed.

And that’s all that I really have to say.  I saw The Last Jedi. I loved it. But I’m not going to do a full review here because my review would not be objective enough for you to really gauge the quality of the film. I’m too in love with that universe. They could drop a steaming pile of garbage in front of me and if Mark Hamill was standing on top of it with a light saber I’d give it two thumbs up.

Star Wars is a big part of my life. And judging by the amount of people that I saw last night, I’m not alone. This thing is just as huge now as ever and it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Star Wars taught me that there is good in every person, no matter how bad they seem to be. It taught me that every person has the potential to be something great regardless of where they come from. And it taught me that no matter what you have done in your life there will always been time for you to redeem yourself.

Pretty good for a movie full of magic and laser swords.

May the Force be with you.

The Big Boy

As I was driving in work the night shift this evening I saw something that I haven’t seen in a very long time.

I had just pulled off I 20/59 where it runs through downtown Birmingham and just before it gets to the dreaded “Malfunction Junction”. Anyone from Birmingham knows what I’m talking about. I pulled down to 17th street and stopped at a red light, waiting to turn. Across the street there was a construction site and a huge crane that stretched a hundred or so feet into the sky. On top of that crane was a platform that had a couple of big, heavy duty metal containers on it…the kind that would be loaded onto a flat car for a train. He was standing on top of that.

The Big Boy.

You know who the Big Boy is. He’s the smiling mascot for a giant hamburger that has been passed around to various restaurant chains for decades. He’s probably most recognizable if you’ve seen the Austin Powers movies. Dr. Evil used him has a spaceship.

As I sat there in my car and looked up at him, smiling with a gigantic Santa cap waving in the cold wind, I smiled. He has been the subject of a lot of laughing in my family over the years.
When I was a little kid I was absolutely terrified of the Big Boy.

The story all stems from something that happened to me when I was about three or four years old. This would have been circa 1980 or 81. We were living in Columbus, Mississippi at the time. My dad was in the Air Force and my brother was a baby.

I can only remember two things about living in Columbus. One was that there was an orange replica of the Statue of Liberty in the middle of town. The other was that we went to a church where the pastor didn’t care for children very much.

At least, he didn’t care for me.

It might have had something to do with the handful of times that his services were interrupted by things that I did. Like the time I got stuck crawling through the opening in the back of a rocking chair in the nursery and the attendant had to go get my dad out of church to come free me.

That’s another story.

We had what is commonly referred to as “children’s church” on Sunday nights. This was when all the children would go down to the basement of the church and have a separate service. We would sing, play some games, hear a Bible story, and possibly get a snack. It allowed the adults to pay attention to the pastor without interruption and it kept us from being incredibly bored by “big church”.

One night the pastor announced that there would be a special guest for children’s church. The big doors in the back of the room opened and a monster walked inside.

He had feet nearly as big as my entire body. He was wearing a pair of red and white checkered overalls. And is head…

His head was not from this world.

He had hair as black as sin. His mouth was frozen in a grin that looked like he was happy about the absolute horror that was shooting like ice through my veins. His huge, round, eyes devoid of any semblance of a soul pierced my heart like a red-hot dagger.

The Big Boy was the stuff of nightmares…and he was grinning at me.

I screamed.

When I tell you that I screamed I don’t mean that I let out a little yelp and then cried like little kids tend to when they’re being shy. I mean that I let out a yell that would make a banshee get goose bumps on the back of her neck.

I made the Wray name proud that day. My ancestor, Faye, was one of the screaming greats.
The church was full of laughing, smiling children and parents looking on with joy. And there was one little boy that was screaming like someone had just set his shoelaces on fire and he was trying to put them out with a bucket of ants.

My dad picked me up as quick as he could and ran out of the sanctuary as the Big Boy led the rest of the children down to the church basement to have a party. I got a lot calmer once I was out of the room. My parents explained to me that the Big Boy was just a costume and that there was a very nice man inside. He went to our church and I saw him all the time. Wouldn’t I like to go to children’s church and have fun with all the other boys and girls?

I said that I would and they took me down stairs. I could hear all the other kids laughing and playing and singing. I felt better. This was going to be fun.

My dad opened the door to the room they were in. I saw all the other kids. I took a few steps inside and looked to my left.

The demon was staring at me.

I screamed.

This time they heard it in China.

The Big Boy came out into the hall with my parents. He reached up and grabbed hold of his own head. He decapitated himself right in front of me.

That didn’t make the screaming stop.

When he removed his head, I saw a man that I knew inside the shell of the Big Boy’s body. He was smiling. He told me it was okay. He wasn’t going to hurt me.

“Do you want to come inside?” he asked.

“Will you leave the head off?” I replied.

“No,” he said. “I can’t do that.”

“Then no,” I said. He put the head back on. I screamed. We went home.

After that day, I was teased whenever we saw a picture of the Big Boy. Then my parents told the story to my wife and kids. The teasing continues.

It’s okay. It’s a pretty funny story.

The White Thing

In the Himalayans they have the Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman. In the mid-western United States they have the Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot. Down south of the border they have El Chupacabra.  And up north there are tales of the Jersey Devil. The world is full of monsters, even though you never see them. You hear the stories of the people that say that they have. And while it’s easy to write them off as the ramblings of a crazy person there is always a part of you that believes it and is a little bit frightened by it.

All over the world there are different versions of the same tale. In the south we have a monster, too. It’s called the White Thing.

You can ask people that live in the country portions of central Alabama if they’ve ever heard of the White Thing. Most of them will tell you “yes”. It’s a story that we’ve all been told. It’s an easy way to scare children around a campfire and a villainous way to get them to go to sleep at night or to be home before dark.

Legend says that deep in the woods of Jefferson and Shelby Counties, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, there is a creature that is at least seven feet tall. It is covered with thick,  white fur. It can walk on its back legs like a man or move like lightening when it gets on all fours. The noise that it makes when it screeches sounds like a woman’s scream. Most people say that they can hear it screaming at night and that it sounds a lot like a panther.

The White Thing can run like a cheetah, jump ten feet in the air from a flat-footed stance, and rub its belly and pat its head at the same time.

Everybody and their brother has a story to tell about it. Some people just claim that they hear it all the time. Some will tell you that they’ve seen it running like a blur through the woods. Others will say that they saw it take their dog or their cat. Then the stories get a little more elaborate.

One woman says that the White Thing chased her as she was walking home from a relative’s house. She took a shortcut through the woods and it started to follow her. She ran and it ran, too. She started taking off clothes to throw at the beast in an effort to slow him down. By the time she made in into her house she was almost naked and she heard a body slam against the door behind her.
Let me just go on record as saying that I don’t believe that particular one.

Then there is the story of George Norris who went out in to the town graveyard and sat down next to a tree. He fell asleep. When he woke up the White Thing was lying on the ground next to him. He said that it looked like a cross between a dog and a lion and that it just looked at him and never attempted to hurt him.

Old George was probably one to take a drink every now and then.

Then there is the story of my own brush with the White Thing. It was when I was still living at home over on good old McBrayer Drive in Vincent. My cousin, Mike and my friend, Tommy were spending the night at my house. We had decided to go for a walk late one evening and it started to get dark before we got home. We cut through the woods to get to my house. The whole time we were walking we kept hearing something walking quickly behind us. When we stopped it would stop. Then it would start again when we did. This got us moving quicker and we finally got back in one piece.
Then, Mike and Tommy had the brilliant idea to go back in and see what they could find out. I told them that they shouldn’t. They told me I was being a baby. I stayed behind while they went on an adventure. They came back thirty minutes later. They looked like they had seen a ghost.
…Or a White Thing.

They had seen it. It was everything that we had heard about. It was huge…like ten feet tall! It had white fur covering every inch of its body. It’s face was concealed in the dark. They watched it walk over to Mrs. Harlow’s back fence and jump over it like it was jumping over a tiny hurdle. They heard the Harlows’ dog barking away and then heard that bark cut off suddenly.

It was true! All of it! And it had been following us through the woods? It was right on our tail? It could have gotten us?

We were all lucky to be alive…

And then I figured out that Mike had made the whole thing up and the thing following us in the woods was my dog.

Good times.

Why You Should Get A Flu Shot

This article originally appeared in last week's issue of The Leeds Tribune. I'm posting it here so it can be shared with people ou...