How to say goodbye, properly, to an inanimate parent.

Note: The government officials of Maryland and Florida do not endorse this article. Reader discretion is advised

As readers of this blog may know, I didn’t hatch out of an egg in the state of Florida. Instead I spent my formative years, with a healthy collection of angst, in Maryland, the seafood state of crabs and rich local history. Living in Maryland, to me, has always been like that of being a natural growth in a laboratory far, far away, and Florida is like the city that the growth either spreads mischief (in a family film) or destruction (in a oh no! monster film), though the hardest part of logic is the meaning that such an analogy overrides any prior contemplation of nostalgia for the “Free State”, after all laboratories are safe, secure, experimental, and interesting.

As the years have gone by, though, I’ve regarded Maryland as more of a curiosity, a kind of Southern state (though I think that its designation as a border state during the American Civil War is more apropos to its regionalism) with northeastern politics, a state which, if you’ve lived in it, was the perfect setting for something like “The Blair Witch Project”, due to its haunting nature and its rows and rows of forests. Almost creepy, Maryland can be. It does have greater character than I saw at the time, though it hasn’t changed my mind about the move I made after graduating from High School. Maryland was the past; Florida is my future.

And as the past can turn magnificent entities and buildings into ruins of memories and other eras, so has the same turned the old house that I used to live in from a large red storage unit to an empty museum. While these memories of mine are preserved well enough that I don’t need to see the full closing of the gallery of Merrick lore, I decided to take one final look at the house and the state in which I had spent so many years, during a short visit a few days ago. Short visits may always be the best way to approach my childhood memories..

Once I flew into Maryland, I felt the cold, harsh grab of its hand. There was chaos all around at BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), bundled up in four layers of clothing to take on the constant gray skies that, along with the fog, were accurate representations of how I view Maryland, my Maryland. Now, it was the wintertime when I was there, but at least I could’ve seen remnants of snow, even abandoned orphans of the cold. Maryland has always had its dynamic highs and lows when it comes to snowfall though.

When I got to the house, it was mostly empty except for a few rooms. Strangely enough, even with all of the cautionary invisible tape around the structure, that was one of my most enjoyable times in that weird contraption in a while. I enjoyed watching fantastic movies, including “Fistful of Dollars,” one of the great westerns, reading an interesting book, “Land of Lincoln” by Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, and playing an excellent video game, “Drawn To Life” for the Nintendo DS, while sleeping on the couch, and having little to no disruptive allergies, Plus, the fantastic food, cozy theaters, and playing “house archaeologist” (even finding a very important part of my family’s history) all made my last visit, perfectly done.

But, that may be the most surprising thing for readers here, the food. Unlike Florida, Maryland has a lot of fantastic local places, especially for Mexican food. But the no.1 thing   Maryland is known for is its crab cakes; in fact the last place I ate at before leaving the state (maybe for good) was a fantastic restaurant in Baltimore called G & Ms. It’s a real old-timey place with what you would expect from a continental steakhouse, of sorts, except their highlight is the crab cake sandwich, the biggest, and maybe priciest crab cake sandwich you can have. For 17 dollars, you can get a crab cake that completely falls off of the roll, or crackers, as you bite into it, with a side of nicely prepared steak fries to complement the fantastic meal.

Second place of honors goes to Romilo’s in Severna Park, my Maryland hometown. One of those unique Greek-Italian hybrids, the unfortunate case of Romilo’s is that it is the place that made me fear pizza for years, although their pasta and other Italian meals were pretty good, but not to an exceptional standard, and I hardly ever had their Greek food but, besides the Greek salad, one of the best versions ever produced, none of them are extremely memorable. Interestingly enough, their best meal is neither Greek nor Italian, but the Greek flair enhances it, and those are their Philly Cheese Steak Subs, some of the best that I’ve ever had, and north Palm Beach County residents should know that I’ve been to Baldino’s. At Romilo’s, they give you the lettuce and tomatoes from their Greek salad, add some Greek seasonings, along with the steak and the cheese that the sub is known for. Not only that but none of the ingredients are over-emphasized at the cost of the sandwich, and they don’t spoil you too much, keeping the sub restrained, fresh and compact with a twist that makes it go from “alright” to “great”.

But the hall of famer was a place that has been a family tradition for decades, Ledo’s Pizza. You can find these restaurants all over Maryland, and on other parts of the Southern east coast. There is even one in Tampa. How glad I was to have this pizzeria so close to the house I used to live in, during a time when my faith in pizza, itself, was low. It’s often hard to explain the miracle of Ledo’s, the best pizza pie I’ve ever had, although Grimaldi’s and CPK come very, very close. At the start of your meal come sides dishes like their salads, especially with their house dressing, and spicy toasted ravioli – thinking about it makes me drool buckets – and then comes the pizza.

First, what is unusual is that they give you two medium pizzas on two pans instead of one huge pizza on one huge pan. Second, the concept is of a large rectangular pizza cut into squares, almost bite-sized pizzas. Third, nothing is wasted, you can have stewed garbage on the pizza and it will still taste great, the sauce is restrained but works very well with the cheese, the crust, if you can get those slices, is some of the best crust I’ve ever had, thin and crispy enough that it goes down with the same grace as the slices themselves, add on either the best pepperoni you’ll ever have (greasy, solid and flavorful), or a round of excellent vegetables and you’ve got yourself a great pizza. If only I can get a sponsor for a franchise out here on the east coast.

So that is a summation of my trip to Maryland, especially of the fantastical food highlights offered by its hometown kings. While, I may have discarded the state nowadays, the one thing that I may always miss is the good homegrown cooking, thankfully it’s only a two hour and 30 minute plane ride to get there!


Cinematic Autism

Movies are an essential part of my life as a human being today. Almost everyone, of any age, has an interest in a certain era or certain genre, and film has been long established as an art form that any type of person, from the hipster to the layman, can appreciate. Movies create larger-than-life personalities, introduce people to stories beyond their own, and can create stars through soundtracks and merchandise, too.

Because of its cultural appeal, I am not distant from a love of cinema, but what is even more interesting is that a current film riding high on the box office, The Accountant, deals with an autistic main character and a possible Oscar entry for best documentary. “Life Animated”, is about a boy who finds his and his family’s life changed when he gets regressive autism, which is when a neurotypical kid exhibits autistic symptoms all of a sudden. What better time, than now, to talk about the moving pictures?

My childhood, like many others, was influenced by the Disney movies I saw. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast… those were the movies I got into and one of my favorites was The Lion King. I also absolutely loved Jim Carrey – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective– was my first live-action film, and Carrey was my favorite actor in the 90s. Graduating to more mature films was also quite easy, and eventually I got an appreciation of the film medium as much as any other, the artistry, and the unique genius in the world. Because I’ve always been interested in people, it is a way to understand people’s lives without becoming a voyeur, especially including documentaries.

Through seeing, probably, hundreds and hundreds of films of all kinds, I have movies I would call my favorites. My favorite genre of film has usually been the comedy, with the western almost being tied. In comedies, just being able to laugh in such a stressful situation during life is of high importance. The idea of recreating the freedom, liberation and beauty of a western landscape filled with little communities, and a timeless tale of good vs. evil is what I like about westerns. My favorite film, though, belongs to neither genre, and that is Psycho. Typically, a good horror movie isn’t always about scares, but about creating great characters through the twisting of humanity’s psychosis like Norman Bates or Freddy Krueger, in a way it may be the genre where the villain could matter more than the hero/heroine, almost creating an underdog mythos through a character with very few redeemable qualities. Psycho does all of that, especially with Anthony Perkins giving one of the best performances that I’ve seen in a film through the character of Norman Bates. Plus, Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors.

So what does this have to do with autism? Autistic individuals are generally into repetition which many films provide in a sometimes clichéd manner. This form of repetition makes it easier for us to understand. If the films aren’t completely adaptable to understanding every social situation, it doesn’t matter due to the visual importance of cinema, but they may still be able to learn important social skills, good and bad unwritten rules and proper behavior due to seeing good and bad examples onscreen. It also doesn’t require a lot of work to utilize, therein poor motor control has nothing to do with being able to enjoy a film.

But what may be the most important thing when it comes to autism and film is that it can allow neurotypicals the ability to understand autism in a way that they couldn’t otherwise, and for those with autism to look at role models, to even see their condition brought to a place from which very few social pillars can reach. Besides the confirmations that Daryl Hannah (Bladerunner) and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers) are both autistic, there are many, many movies, of many different stripes, that all try to tell their version of the autistic story. Besides Rain Man (which is, probably, where many people first heard about autism), there is a Temple Grandin movie, The Story of Luke. Additional movies include Adam, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, The Social Network, A Beautiful Mind, and the list goes on and on. Particularly notable is the film “Change of Habit”, which was one of the earliest film treatments on the condition, and which stars Elvis Presley in a rare dramatic, and final, role. Due to  the era in which it was issued, its mentality on autism can be seen as very insensitive in light of more contemporary practices and views.

For years, I’ve loved cinema, and it is one of the best ways to bond with other people. You go to a theater, get some popcorn, sit in a nearby seat, watch a movie and you don’t have to worry about any social or communication faux pas as you, and another person, suck in the quality of whatever it is that you watch. Because these films move beyond whatever limitations you think you have, you can then socialize about something related to the subject, almost like you can love the film as if you weren’t autistic at all.

Important Message:

As an organization centered in the U.S., we are taking our time to celebrate one of the most important holidays that our fellow countrymen cherish, Thanksgiving. While being uncommonly filmed, those celebrating the holiday can still watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, an excellent Thanksgiving-based comedy that is one of the few films that I’ve watched more than once. Have any other movies you’d recommend?  Share them in the comments below and follow us to stay in conversation. Have a happy Thanksgiving!