ENLISTED/IAVA Contest Winner: Lewis Nelson

3 02 2014

EnlistedLogoENLISTED on Fox and IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) teamed up to send three lucky winners to some Super Bowl parties in the New York area with some of the show’s stars. Lewis Nelson was one of those people. I was eager to know about this wonderful veteran and his adventure.

IAVAI noticed that you were part of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army. That has such a noble history going back to World War II. How did you become part of this division? Is it someplace you apply to or some place you are asked to join based about your skills?

The Army always tells soldiers assignments are based on the “Needs of the Army.” That being said, every soldier can fill out a sort of ‘wish list’ of assignments they’d like to have. It’s not a specific unit, but a base or geographical area. I majored in history in college and for one of my WWII class assignments, I wrote a paper on the Battle of the Bulge, particularly the role of the 101st Airborne Division. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with the unit, especially after reading Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers (later released as an HBO miniseries). I put Fort Campbell, KY, as my top choice and luckily they were in need of a junior solider in my career field!

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Parker Young, Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults

You are a combat veteran so you have seen action I presume in Iraq and/or Afghanistan? How many times have you been deployed?

Yes, I deployed twice to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I first arrived to the unit in 2003 after they had already departed for Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom I or OIF I). I joined them near the end of that deployment mainly participating in convoys and redeployment operations (the process of moving a deployed unit from combat back to their garrison base). I returned in early February 2004, almost exactly 10 years ago today. Later that year, the 101st Airborne created a 4th brigade combat team flagged the 506th Regimental Combat Team (Currahee). This was the same unit that was featured in Band of Brothers. I volunteered to join the new brigade and in late 2005 deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for a full 12-month tour, returning in November of 2006 (OIF IV). I was medially retired from active duty as a staff sergeant (SSG) (E-6) in 2008, but have also deployed to Afghanistan twice as a civilian, for six months in 2012 to Kabul and four months in 2013 to Jalalabad (I just returned mid-December 2013).

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James Marsden & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you have family at home while you are deployed? I have family in various branches of the Armed Forces and it has always been difficult to see the sacrifices they make at home while their loved one is away.

The quick answer is yes. When I left for Iraq in 2003, my son was only two weeks old. Leaving him was hard, especially with all of the unknowns that first year of conflict in Iraq. When I deployed the second time, we also had a little girl, who was only six months old when I left. I unfortunately missed her learning to crawl and learning to walk, but through the beauty of the internet, I got to see it virtually! Their mother is true hero to me. She’s been so strong, able to essentially handle being a single-mother every time I leave the country. She also stayed at home with all three of our kids during my two tours to Afghanistan. To further prove she’s a hero, she’s now a volunteer firefighter and training to become a paramedic.

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Geoff Stults, Lewis Nelson, Erin Wilkinson, Craig Washington & Parker Young at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

How did you hear about the ENLISTED contest?

I follow @EnlistedonFOX and the main actors of the show on Twitter and saw the contest advertised by the cast. I’ve also been an avid supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who helped sponsor the contest, so I may have seen it through one of their tweets as well.

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Terry Crews & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you watch the show prior to this?

Ironically, I was almost a vocal dissident of the new show when they started advertising it. I fully assumed the show would mischaracterize the service, and I didn’t want to watch. But then I heard Geoff Stults talk to a Washington, DC, morning show, Elliot in the Morning, and was impressed with what he had to say. After being convinced the show was making a great effort to support the military, I gave it a shot and loved it! I immediately followed the show and their main characters on Twitter; I even downloaded the ENLISTED iPhone app and wrote a short review of the show on my own, very neglected blog http://baghl.com/2014/01/20/heres-why-i-couldnt-hate-enlisted-on-fox .

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Craig Washington, Lewis Nelson & supermodel Bar Refaeli at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

When did you learn you had won and what was your and/or your family’s reaction?

I received a phone call from IAVA just after lunch-time on Wednesday, the day after the contest ended. Funny story, I actually thought the contest included a trip to the Super Bowl. Some of the initial tweets about the contest made it seem like the contest included the game. I even jokingly tweeted that I’d definitely win since I didn’t like either team! When I got the call from Christina at IAVA, someone I had actually worked with at an IAVA event in Baltimore back in 2011, I just remember saying, “No way, really? I actually won?” It was my birthday that Saturday and I already had plans with my best friends to go to Atlantic City, so I had the mixed emotions of happiness, combined with the “oh no, what about my other plans?” Luckily my friends were excited for me, and we all decided to reschedule our Atlantic City trip. I was still pretty excited after getting the email from Christina confirming it did not, in fact, include tickets to the Super Bowl.

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Model and actress Brooklyn Decker, Craig Washington, & Lewis Nelson at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

Were you the only winner or did they pick others?

There were three winners, all of us Iraq or Afghanistan veterans that are no longer on active duty.

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Nelly performing at the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you been on active duty how would that have worked? Because it was a special event, would you have asked for special leave of absence, or something else?

All three of the contest winners are civilians, but if it had been military, we would have just told our leadership about the contest and requested leave. Unless there was some crazy circumstance, almost any command would willingly authorize the time off!

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Wristbands from Leather and Laces, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you ever been to New York City before?

This was my fourth trip to New York City, with all three prior trips being focused on hitting all of the tourist sites. My first and second trips to New York City were in 2000 and 2001, so I visited the World Trade Center prior to 9/11 and then again in December of 2001, while I was on leave from basic training for Christmas (I enlisted the day after 9/11). I also took my two girls to the city just last June. I absolutely love New York City, the culture, the city, the restaurants, and the events. Now that I realize I can get there and back for $60 on a bus from Washington, D.C., I may be going back more often! It helps that I have a cousin and a few friends in the immediate area.

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ESPN First Take

Who picked you up from the airport (or did you rent a car to get to the hotel?)

The contest included round-trip airfare on Southwest Airlines provided through IAVA. Being so close here in DC, I didn’t see a reason to fly. I instead came up a day early (I booked a room at the same hotel IAVA provided for Friday through Monday) and took the DC2NY bus. While IAVA provided instructions for how to get from the airport to the hotel, we were pretty much on our own to get there and be ready at the hotel lobby Friday night.

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Cam Newton at the ESPN First Take filming

Can you share which Super Bowl parties you attended?

Sure! The Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street, Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party hosted by Bar Refaeli and Brooklyn Decker at Liberty Theater, Times Square, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel.

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Desean Jackson at the ESPN First Take filming

Were there any standout experiences for you?

Hanging out with Geoff and Parker was definitely a great time, so let’s just assume that was the best experience in itself. Other highlights included a five-minute conversation I had with Terry Crews about football and the military (he’s really a stand-up guy), and then a very similar five-minute conversation with Brooklyn Decker. She is definitely a supporter of the troops, and I got to talk to her about some of her time on the show The League, which is one of my favorites.

Many of the celebrities we met throughout the night, including Terry Crews, James Marsden, Ari Sandel, Josh Hopkins, Brooklyn Decker, and Bar Refaeli, were very supportive of the troops and happy to meet us. We felt very welcomed in the VIP sections of these parties, places I never imagined I would ever be sitting. It was a far cry from a plywood tactical operations center adjacent to Sadr City in Baghdad.

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A T-shirt ESPN First Take gave out depending on which team they wanted to win.

Who from the cast of ENLISTED were with you? What are they like?

It was just Geoff Stults (SSG Hill) @geoffstults and Parker Young (PFC Hill) @parker_young. We were also accompanied by two of Geoff’s friends who were also wonderful people! I was just telling my best friends at home Geoff and Parker were just like most of my other guy friends and if they lived here, and weren’t celebs, we’d likely be friends. Both are very personable and fun to talk to about life, military, their show, etc. They were really great around their fans (who often recognized them on the street and asked for pictures) and also wonderful about introducing us to people and explaining we were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. And of course, just like the show, Parker is definitely just like a younger brother to Geoff! I actually feel bad because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Parker at the end of the night – if you’re reading this, thanks for the fun evening brother!!

How long was the trip, from the trip day up to the return day back?

I didn’t necessarily follow the program because I came up a day early and then left a day early. The contest itself provided a hotel from Friday to Monday, with the activities starting at 9 pm Friday night through 2 am Saturday morning. One of the other vets and I actually stayed with Geoff and Parker until 4 am before catching a taxi back to the hotel. IAVA provided the transportation, hotel, vehicle and driver for the night, and met us at the hotel Friday night to make the introductions. Saturday through Monday we were provided a hotel room and just encouraged to go enjoy being in New York City! Since the contest didn’t include game tickets, and since I’m not a Denver or Seattle fan (Go Packers!!!), I actually took the bus back to DC and watched the game with my friends in Virginia.

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Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults & Craig Washington saying goodbye after a night of Super Bowl parties (4:00 a.m. by the way)!

The show has gotten some feedback from people on the internet in the service who are upset that it is not respecting the Army (for a wide variety of reasons). What would you say to them?

I was one of them, but I changed my mind. The actors attended a short boot camp at Ft Bliss with actual drill sergeants they could watch on FOX’s YouTube channel through a series of webisodes. They also have a crew including multiple military advisors—both former commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers—who joined the show after the Pilot episode (so I’d tell them not to judge the show on the Pilot alone). They also have to remember this show is a comedy and I’d hope they can look past the obvious parts of the plot that would never happen in the military and focus on the characters. If they were straight male soldiers, I would point out the fact that they could just enjoy Angelique Cabral as SSG Perez—she’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the show! The show has already hit a few topics very close to home, even for me… such as the more subtle signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shown in “Pete’s Airstream” or the sadness and joy of family separation and reuniting from combat deployments shown in the episode “Homecoming.” There are also quite a few comical moments many soldiers should instantly relate to from garrison life. Finally, I would encourage them to watch the show because the show’s writers and producers, Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, really respect the military. They and the cast are working with veterans’ organizations, such as Operation Gratitude and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, to support the troops and help raise awareness for military issues.

(You can help support these great organizations by clicking on the links above or below).

Biography

armyLewis Nelson is a 36-year old former Army staff sergeant with two combat tours to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He enlisted in the Army in Charlottesville, VA, the day after 9/11 and served seven years active duty as a cryptologic linguist before being medically retired in 2008. He is a father to three children age 10 and under and now resides back in Charlottesville, VA, where he works as a DoD employee and freelance web designer and social media strategy consultant. In addition to supporting IAVA, he is also an active member and webmaster for an American Legion Post and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). You can follow Lewis in Twitter at @lewisnelson or Instagram @baghl

All pictures were provided by Lewis Nelson and I wish to thank him for letting me borrow them for the blog post. 





My Visit to the National September 11 Memorial

8 09 2012

My Visit to the 9/11 Memorial

Three times I have tried to write this blog. For one reason or another they mysteriously disappeared from my computer. No doubt my son with autism had a role in that. I could imagine him looking at it, saying to himself (because he is nonverbal): “This is crap.” DELETE. So I am trying again.

In July, I headed up to Long Island for my high-school reunion. It was an epic trip. I’ve been up to the New Jersey/New York area many times since 9/11/2001 but it never involved going into the city. I was born in Brooklyn. I went to Patchogue-Medford High School on Long Island. When my son’s godmother asked me what I wanted to do in addition to my reunion, a trip into the city was very high on my to-do list. I needed to go.

I still cannot watch video from that dreaded day without panic rising up into my throat. Many of our friends lived outside the city, but many of them worked in the city. The question was “where?” It took about 2 weeks to locate them all. I found out many years later that I knew one of the people who died there. Class of 1980, Al Maler, was working at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower on that day. His co-worker, Eric Stahlman, also a Patchogue-Medford High School alumni also lost his life, but he had graduated many years earlier. With the passage of time and memories faded, extents of conversation lost, I still do have visual memory of Al, remembering his athleticism, his kindness, his smile. He was around my friend, Phil Bender, quite a lot because of his involvement in the service organization of our school for the guys, “Key Club.” There was a third person I wanted to look up while there–Patchogue first-responder Andrew Desperito, who was from Brooklyn.

As I remember him…

We had tickets to go at 4:30. The tickets are free, but they need to control how many people are going in. Security there is tighter than at the airport. President Obama was also going to be in New York City on this same day, so perhaps it was even more secure than usual. I oddly ran into a person I knew 20 years ago in Sugar Land, Texas who worked at Target; he still lives there, and here we meet up 1500 miles away. I braced myself for the raw emotion. My thoughts were with the families. “Good God, if I feel this way, I cannot begin to imagine the depth of their pain.”

Security is tight.

From the time we walked near the area, I knew I was walking on hallowed ground. When the 7 buildings collapsed, they carried dust clouds. Those dust clouds also carried what was left of some who died, which extended out from the area for blocks. Forty percent of the families have never received the remains of their loved ones.

Circles of the debris field.

The site is beautiful, peaceful. There are plaques that go around the pools of water where the North and South Towers once existed. On those are names of the people who died, not only in this attack on this site, but the people who died on all the planes, the Pentagon, and the 1993 terrorist attack. Below the parapets is a space where you can put your hand in and touch the water. All the sensory features add to the experience–light, touch, sound.

There is a computer over near the not-yet-opened museum where you can look up the names and see what section of parapet their names appear.

The computer area…

As I did with the Vietnam Memorial wall when it visited Houston, I walked around both towers, looking at every single name of those who perished, lingering only at the names of the people for whom I was searching, touching the name to say, “I’m sorry, and thank you.” What I was sorry for? For the evil that existed in the world, for any role that our country may have played in the events leading up to that day, for the politics that rule the world, catching innocent people in the crosshairs. And my thanks–for the contribution that their lives had and will continue to have in generations to come, to their families who were not present when I visited, the example they set of how to have hate touch their lives in the most personal way possible, yet choose to stand up and say, “We will not continue the cycle of hate.” They had many hurdles to overcome just to put the names of those who died onto the final bronze parapets. Thirty-two representatives of various family organizations had to work together to come to consensus. Congress could take a lesson from these people’s collaboration.

Paraphrasing from the book produced by National Geographic, “A Place of Remembrance, Official Book of the National September 11 Memorial”: “By 2006, they came together. The nine groups would be organized by location and circumstances in which the victim found themselves during the attack. Around the North Tower pool, people working in or visiting the tower; those aboard Flight 11; victims of the 1993 bombing. Around the South Tower pool: Those working in or visiting the south tower, those aboard flight 175, the Pentagon victims, Flight 77 victims, Flight 93 victims and first responders. The names of colleagues were kept together; first responders were organized by headings indicating their agency and unit. Then the kin of the victims who asked for specific names to be inscribed together (like husband and wife, or siblings, or best friends, or ‘in some cases entire families’ were honored.”

I found myself lingering on other names, too. I had heard that the babies of pregnant women were also mentioned at the site, but seeing the actual inscription is powerful: …and unborn child. Coming home with the National Geographic book added insight into the names where they show how families were grouped together, sometimes with different names.

The unborn remembered…

Alfred Russell Maler’s name resides at N-54; Eric Stahlman at N-46; Andrew Despeirto at S-18.

My school mate, Al Maler.

I began to get very irritated. I noticed that not everyone was respecting the site for the sacred place it was. There were families taking pictures, smiling and laughing right in front of the names of the dead. Seriously? You couldn’t have turned around and taken it around the tree that is 180 degrees to your current position? I understand taking pictures of the parapet–I did myself–but not having a grand old time as if you were visiting the Statue of Liberty.

According to my friend, she saw a woman doing a “sexy pose” for her boyfriend or husband right in front of the parapet names. I am glad I did not see that because I would have been in her face, admonishing them for their inappropriate behavior.

I went to visit one of the 9/11 Memorial workers to try to help me understand this because it was really bothering me (and writing this, I am still moved to tearful emotion in my search for understanding). Tim told me that when it was just the families and friends at first, it was a solemn place but one of friends coming together, having experienced a similar pain, who had become a much larger family. But as it had become a “tourist site” people do not have a connection with the names and with that came a change in how people acted. I told him I did not buy that argument. I had zero connection to the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall. It was touring and was put in a park. At the wall, there were tears, people speaking quietly, silence, prayer, and that included young children. There was a park area surrounding it and that is where laughter and running and playing occurred. I asked Tim if he could explain where all the buildings were going up. And then I realized I had a video camera and if he could be so kind as to explain that to me again and allow me to videotape. He was kind enough to oblige my request.

On my way out, my hope of treating the site with respect was renewed. A woman was explaining to two children, obviously born after 2001, the magnitude of the tragedy that occurred: “In 2001, this was the site of the most terrible thing that ever happened on US soil…” I was not going to be nitpicky about other horrific events, like the Civil War battle of Antietam where more than 23,100 people lost their lives, or Pearl Harbor, but it was refreshing to see lessons being taught. These children would learn about the other tragedies further away from their tender life span as they grew.

I stood in front of the gift shop and took a deep breath. A friend at my high school reunion said she was put off by the gift shop. I stood there changing my mind yes, no, yes, no, to the point that I drove my friend crazy. I finally decided I needed to form my own opinion and went in. I also felt like I may regret it if I did not go in. I felt myself becoming claustrophobic and quickly scanned the items available. A magnet or a pen that said, 9/11 Memorial? I don’t think so. I knew that the purchase would help maintain the memorial, so a purchase was important. So I quickly picked two items–an American flag that contained the names of those who died, and a golden retriever stuff toy that had “search and rescue” to honor all the service animals from that day and of their continued service when their mission turned from search and rescue to helping alleviate the sadness of the people still trying to clean up the area. And then I saw the National Geographic book.

The flag with all the names on it.

Search & Rescue Dog

Life moves on. In a city as big as New York, where property is at a premium, building anew has to occur. As a Christian, I am embarrassed by people of my own faith who persecute people of Muslim faith just because of the radical extremists. The Mission Statement from the National September 11 Memorial is this: “Remember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001. Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss. Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours. May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance, and intolerance.”  Sayings on materials sold in the gift shop are “In the darkness, we shine together” or “United by Hope.” Survivor Bruno Dellinger, from the 47th floor of the North Tower shares in the book, “You had in this building people from all over the world, all religions, all colors of skin. All everything. All social backgrounds and they lived in harmony. Everyone was very proud to be a World Trade Center tenant, one way or another, working in the World Trade Center. And for me, those flags that were in the lobby of the Trade Center represented a utopia that only can exist in New York.”

The commemoration of the 9/11 National Memorial will be on livestream at 8:30 AM Eastern time, 7:30 AM central time. I will get Patrick on the bus for school and will tune in. You do not have to actual visit the National Memorial site to help support it. Donations can be made (click here), or you can purchase items on-line from their gift shop (click here). I will proudly be displaying the flag purchased on our front lawn along with ribbons and flowers. My school mate’s smile will be forever inscribed in my memory.

Someone asked me, “If it so sad, why do you go?” The same reason why I sat through “Schindler’s List” or people go visit The Holocaust Museum or people visit the concentration camps throughout Europe. We must never forget. But we have to take those lessons we learned in those horrific moments in our history and learn from them, or we are doomed to repeat them. And we keep repeating them. We can learn from the words of Mr. Dellinger and the example set forth by those families of the victims of 911. Choose love.





Touch Recap: 1+1=3

29 03 2012

By Hilda Clark Bowen

When does 1+1=3? It is a mathematical fallacy, but for some, it means synergy. Synergy, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects.”

When we left off in the pilot, Jake (David Mazouz) had made a connection with his father, Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland), for the first time, indeed not only giving him his first hug ever, but also a clue to his next red thread to untangle, the phone number: 718-673-5296. Trying to see if there was a clue in that phone number, I dialed it. It is an actual landline in the Greater New York area, but the phone number is not programmed to take messages.

The new show opens in what looks to be a country in India perhaps, with a young man (Karan Soni) on a bench with a pottery statue, and continues with short clips of all the people involved in tonight’s episode. Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) returns to the Bohm’s home to take Jake back to the facility for an assessment. Despite what she witnessed, she still has to follow her job’s mandate, but reassures Martin she is on his side–she wants Jake home with Martin for good. When he politely refuses to cooperate, she politely informs him she’ll need to call the police. He reconsiders and walks over to explain things to Jake. Jake writes the phone number he wants his father to follow in the palm of his hand and leaves with Clea.

Martin looks up the phone number on his reverse directory and it belongs to Arnie’s Pawn Shop, 318 East Fordham Road, New York, New York. East Fordham is actually a street in the Bronx (I lived in the Bronx for a short time), but 318 does not exist (316 does), although I do like the call back to the first episode where 318 was important (the school bus, the fireman’s badge number, the number of the street address of the Teller Institute on West Tesla Street in the Bronx, the date and time to run into the fireman).

At the JFK Airport where Martin works, his path crosses with Lyov, a dog going to Moscow. Upstairs in the passenger area, flight attendant, Becca Klepper (Amy Sloan) is rushing and runs directly into the young man from India, scattering the ashes of his dead father that were contained within the pottery piece on the terminal’s ground. Becca meets up with Martin on the tarmac. She is supposed to escort Lyov to Moscow. While putting the dog on the truck, Martin accidentally pops the crate open and Lyov takes off.

At the assessment center, Jake repetitively writes 5296. Not understanding that he cannot just pop random numbers that have no connectivity out of his head, Clea asks him to use popcorn kernels to “guess” her phone number or address. Instead, he creates a smiley face for her. When she tries to get Jake to use paint to express his numbers, he uses it to paint his hand instead. Clea looks defeated. While getting him a wipe to clean up his hand, Jake has bolted from the room already but not before writing 5296 for her. Jake puts his orange handprint on a door with the number 6 on it in the basement. When Clea notices all the doors are locked, she subsequently notices the keypad at the exit door. She puts in 5296 and the door opens. In a beautiful scene, as the door opens, the sunlight shines on Clea faces, a light that is leading her to take another step in believing that nothing Jake does is random.

The young ladies from Japan from the pilot episode, Miyoko (May Miyata) and Izumi (Satomi Okuno) arrive at JFK Airport on their way to Los Angeles to the Coastabella Music Festival. They are fans of the group “The Morticians.” Their physical path crosses with Becca, the flight attendant, at the terminal. Becca runs into the young man she bumped into earlier, as she missed her flight chasing after the dog, and he keeps trying to get to New York Stadium but the bus keeps dropping him back at the terminal. They discover both their fathers love baseball. He is trying to get his father’s ashes at center field. Becca admires him, saying “some of us will never get the chance.” Seeing how lost he looks trying to navigate just to get to the cab, she offers to assist him in getting to the stadium.

Martin enters the pawn shop. He overhears the man say, “I’m ready.” Martin does not understand. He explains to Arnie Klepper (Jude Ciccolella) that he was the guy who phoned him. Arnie still thinks he is crazy. A man walks in to rob the store (Blake Shields). The way the exchange goes between the masked man and Arnie, and the fact that he was surprised to see Martin there, I think Arnie wanted the man with the gun to shoot him (the opening having revealed that Arnie has cancer). Martin rushes him, the gun goes off, but Arnie only receives a shoulder wound. Martin pulls the mask off the man, now being able to identify him. A baseball lands at the young man’s eye level and he seems to recognize what it is. As the man flees, Martin turns over and sees a number at the top of the doorway where the chime is:  318. Obviously 318 is playing a significant role in now two episodes of Touch.

The young man meets Yuri Andreev (Mark Ivanir) in an alley, showing him a bunch of jewelry. The young man owes Yuri $10,000, but “the deal fell apart.” He tries to offer him a baseball that he says belonged to “Patrick McGrath’s home run in game 7 of the 2009 League Championship” that is worth $50,000. He tries to appeal to Yuri to give him a second chance. Yuri throws the ball out of the alley and says he has 3 hours to get him his money.

On the bus, Becca discovers that the young man carrying his father’s ashes has not made prior arrangements at the stadium and warns him that it may not happen. He says he must do this because he made a promise. His father was greatly disappointed in him as a son. Despite that, he feels he must do this because it is his duty as a son to show his father respect. Becca begins to cry. The young man comforts her.

Martin shares what has happened with Dr. Arthur Teller (Danny Glover). He offers Martin another orange soda (like in the first episode). Martin is trying to figure out what he is supposed to or not supposed to do in these situations. When there is cosmic pain that needs to be healed, Jake sees and feels that. Martin receives a phone call from Clea that Jake is gone, but when he looks up and out the window, he sees Jake there. But a bus pulls up (number 36) and Jake gets on. Martin runs after the bus and gets on (wait a minute–he didn’t pay his fare!)

In Moscow, Pavel Andreev (Daniel Polo) and his mom (Tatiana Chekhova) talk in the car before a talent show at school. Most of the other children do not seem to like him, and he hoped to impress them with magic. Only a young girl (Alex Peters) who adores him claps for him. Pavel is in emotional pain when the kids laugh as he tries to exit the stage and breaks a glass. Returning to the magic shop, Pavel demands the product did not live up to the advertising. The man (Eugene Alper) insists there are no bad products, only bad magicians. On the way out, Pavel spots the young girl from the audience. When inquiring why everyone hates him, she tells him they are afraid of his father (Yuri) because he is Solntsevskaya, or part of the Russian mob, not just a businessman, using a Tony Soprano reference.

Jake gets off the bus at W 132nd Street and Creston Avenue (an actual Bronx road) and winds up at the pawn shop. Martin notices the phone number is not the correct one Jake gave him–off by one number–5297 instead of 5296. When he dials, it is coming from above the store. Jake tries the door; it opens and he walks in, followed by Martin. He sees a letter addressed to Becca offering up apologies for mistakes “he” (her father) has made and reassures her that he loves her, with some of the words, “something has happened in my life”, “that our time here is precious”, and “I have left thinking…” and “forgive me” visible to the audience. Jake picks up a bat in the apartment that has the number 5296 on it. Martin sees a prescription for chlorambucil. (Chlorambucil is a chemotherapeutic medication used to treated chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Hodgkin’s disease). A young man interrupts him.

The character who stole the baseball continues to try to sell it, but has no takers even at $10,000. He sees a picture on the wall about the catch he made, “Peanut Vendor Makes Lucky Catch.”

Becca and the man from India arrive at the stadium. However, the guard (Shane Blades) will not let them in. She encourages him that he did not fail as he had gotten this far, has gotten closure and not many people could say that. Becca says Lyov, the dog. When she runs to get him, he bolts and she chases him. Running in heels is never a fun thing to do.

The young man in the apartment returns with cash for Martin. Martin looks confused. The young man is going to hurt Martin, but Martin grabs the bat that Jake left near the couch (and Martin does see the number 5296). He scoops Jake up (which leads to Jake screaming) and carries him out to a cab. The driver (Tom Riordan) asks, “Where to” and Jake drops the prescription bottle on the seat. They are off to Victory Memorial Hospital. (Note: This is an actual hospital in Brooklyn that was noted for his delivering of babies that was closed. It sat just blocks from the Verrazano Bridge. They used to deliver a large number of babies of Italian and Irish descent, now it was more of Chinese and Russian descent).

Once at the hospital, Arnie happens to be in Room 5296, but not right now. Out the window, Martin and Jake see a hospital-gowned Arnie walking towards the bridge (it does not really look like the Verrazano Bridge to my memory).

The peanut vendor talks to Patrick McGrath, (Randall Batinkoff), the player whose ball he caught. McGrath mentions something about a “lawsuit” that allowed the peanut vendor to keep the ball. He shares a story that after he tried to sell his childhood dream (catching the ball), things in his life went from bad to worse. He just wanted to put things back right. He feels that in order to fix that karma, he needed to give the player his ball back. As the peanut vendor walks out, he leaves the door open for the man from India to go in. I’m sure the peanut vendor did not know he was to become part of a chain of events for this man either. The peanut vendor drives to where Yuri is waiting for him in a parking lot. Yuri realizes that he is going to have to beat him up for nonpayment. The peanut vendor reminds him that choices are cause and effect. Yuri gets a phone call from his son. He wonders if Pavel received the dog (Lyov) he sent him. Pavel confronts Yuri–does he not have friends because Yuri hurts people? He lies and tells Pavel no, and that “people change.” He will help his friends see that. Yuri turns to the peanut vendor and tells him he will give him his second chance.

Arnie stands on the side of the bridge looking down on traffic. (This definitely is not the Verrazano Bridge because that bridge goes over water). Martin tells him he knows everything–about his cancer, about the $10,000 he gave to the man to rob his store and kill him. Arnie does not know why Martin keeps “doing this to me.” Martin says he was meant to find him and help him. Arnie says he is dying. Martin says he does not know that as he has not even gone through the treatment yet. Arnie says he has no one who cares either way. Martin says he read the letter to Becca. His plan was to be able to leave her insurance money (if were killed in a robbery), but he could not even get that plan right. He plans to leave as he came in–alone. Martin says he’s there and he is not alone. Arnie, not convinced, prepares himself to jump as Martin rushes in and grabs him under the shoulders and pulls him over. Martin reassures him that he wants to be his friend and that he does care. A dog barks. It has to be Lyov (which will be followed by Becca). Martin is in further disbelief when he sees Becca.

An ending montage is played to the song by Alexi Murdoch, “Someday Soon.” (I love my father and I love him well…I hope to see my father soon…). The orange handprint being washed off the door. Arnie and Becca in the hospital room holding hands. The man from India spreading his father’s ashes at the pitcher’s mound and cries for the first time after his father’s death. Yuri arriving home on the plane to his son and wife. It becomes clear this was an episode mostly about fathers, including Martin and Jake. However, the montage then shows the girls from Japan. The peanut vendor is seen with a spring in his steps and burden lighter.

It closes with Martin saying, “There are so many things I wanted to teach you….” and goes into what he thought a father should do and be. “Now it turns out, you teaching me, and I want you to know I’m okay with that.” There is a hint of smile in Jake’s face for another thread healed in the world.

My thoughts about the episode: I’m enjoying the recurrent threads of the 318 numbers (which I’m not quite sure what it means yet although I keep looking). I’m curious where the threads will lead again with the girls from Japan. It was nice to see actors I have not seen in awhile: Amy Sloan whose work I had become familiar with on “Call Me Fitz”, Jude Ciccolella with his connections to Kiefer’s old show “24”, and Blake Shields who had been in “Sleeper Cell” and Tim Kring’s “Heroes.” That Jake feels cosmic pain does not surprise me. Oftentimes children with special needs have heightened senses. For example, my Patrick knows when there is someone around him who is uncomfortable with his behavior even though they do not speak a single word (and rarely does he). Tim Kring obviously takes that to the next level. My son, Patrick, is my life’s greatest teacher.  He has taught me how to live in the moment, a rare gift in a crazy world.  He has taught me patience.  He has taught me the beauty of eye contact, the joy of shaking a head up and down or right to left to respond to a simple question, and so much more.  My world is more about possibilities than absolutes.  Whether Yuri will leave the mob is doubtful, but at least for that one man on that one day, Yuri gave someone he never gave before a second chance. The show’s theme that concentrated on mostly fathers seemed to be more about second chances for everyone.





Touch — Review and Synopsis

26 01 2012

Touch

It has been a long time since I have been profoundly moved by a television show that has left me feeling hopeful regarding the interconnectedness of humanity. For anyone who believes things happen for a reason, this will be your new favorite show. Having previewed their new baby on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, Fox will enjoy seeing news about this series spread in the coming months. When it debuts on March 19, 2012, it will be seen around the globe in more than 100 countries within 3 days’ period of time and try to achieve a level of connectedness by the fan-base as never before. Arguably it has been something people have been complaining about for quite some time about the US or Canada having exclusive access to a show, and other countries having to wait to see it, sometimes many weeks, sometimes many months, sometimes never, which leads to seeking access on torrent sites which ultimately results in the demise of a show because no one is live-viewing it anymore.

The story centers around Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) and his son, Jake Bohm (David Mazouz). Labeled “severely autistic”, Martin never believed in the diagnosis given to his child and seems to be just trying to do whatever he could to make a connection with his son, yet fully accepting and loving his child at whatever place he was (very Son-Rise-esque).

I am a mother with a child with severe autism. In the weeks leading up to the show, I seemed to be getting a lot of negative feedback about that–not ANOTHER show about another kid with autism–as if autism is the célèbre-du-jour of Hollywood. Indeed kids or adults with autism were turning up everywhere on every show either as part of the main cast or as a guest star. There are a few shows that got it right, but most did not. Most people with autism are not savants (only about 10%). While parents with autism appreciate the desire to bring awareness to the spectrum disorder, when it is depicted incorrectly, it hurts our cause. The general population has grown tired of hearing “My child has autism.” They scoff at you like you are just part of the misguided parents who need to have a diagnosis for their child. Or, you have the medical community trying to reclassify the spectrum of autism to water it down so it does not appear to be an epidemic (a blog for a later time). Even I started viewing this show with a bias.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers:

The show opens with a narrative from Jake about numbers very similar to the a belief borne from the red string of fate, a Chinese legend that said the gods tie an invisible red string around the ankles of those that are destined to be soul mates and will one day marry each other. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break, a concept very similar to soul mates. But Tim Kring, the creator of Touch, twists this idea even further to tie a group of individuals together.

Fans of Jericho (or Three Rivers or Hawaii-Five-O) will be thrilled to see that Carol Barbee is executive producer on this pilot. Executive producer Peter Chernin now has another hit on his hands after enjoying great success with Terra Nova and New Girl, also on Fox. Also sharing executive producer co-credits are Katherine Pope (also of Terra Nova and New Girl), Kiefer Sutherland, and producers, Neal Ahern, Jr., (Terra Nova, Parenthood), and Dennis Hammer (Heroes, Crossing Jordan).

The show opens with Martin at his job at the JFK airport in New York where he is gathering a bunch of cell phones, that were left in the lost and found and unclaimed, for his son who is fascinated by them. One of them rings as he is walking away. Apparently it is the owner of one of the phones trying to get the phone back after losing it at Heathrow Airport in London 2 days previously. He is not looking to get back the phone itself, but rather photographs within the phone. Apparently it is her birthday “tomorrow” but he is now in Mumbai. And he seems to be in great emotional distress. Martin’s phone is ringing so he places the man’s phone down in a bin. His son is in trouble. “I pay your school good money to keep my son safe. Are you grasping me?” Oh yes, I was relating to this character very much.

He’s off to talk his son down off an electricity tower, and I mean that literally. Meanwhile, the cell phone gets mixed up on top of some luggage. Jack Bauer is scared of heights? What? Oh wait, wrong show. It is hard NOT to put Kiefer automatically into the role of Jack. The workers want to know if the numbers 318 have any special meaning to Jake but Martin shrugs it off. A report to child services is going to need to be made.

On the way home, they stop at a gas station. Martin gazes at his son in the rear-view mirror while gazing over at the school bus filled with children talking and acting like normally developed children. My heart sinks. I know EXACTLY what this character is feeling. How many times have I done this with Patrick, just for a brief second wondering what life would be like? Martin and I share a common bond in addition to the fact that they are our only living child so we know really no other kind of life. He looks into the rear-view mirror and his son is gone, having taken off to go over towards the bus. Another similarity to autism–so I’m still very hesitant. How many of us turn away for a second and our kids with autism take off? Martin talks to his son like one would talk to their loved one in a coma, hoping that something they say will jar their loved one to respond in some way, desperately longing for that contact. I have been in this place, too, where Patrick was seemingly catatonic (but very noisy, unlike Martin’s Jake). Martin notices the number on the bus: District No 318. In the store, the TV is showing a story on “The Children of 9/11” and the struggles they endure. A man is trying to buy a Lotto ticket. Jake looks up as the man calls out the numbers: 87 1 9 20 31 11. Jake grabs the Lotto ticket and runs to the car, locking the doors. He writes down these numbers on pages of numbers he already wrote previously and hands the ticket back. The man says, “You ought to keep that kid in a cage.” Oh yes, that is something we’ve had to endure hearing before.  But this is actor Titus Welliver from “Lost” so I expect dark mystery to surround him.

Then we see a beautiful young singer, Kayla Graham (Karen David) on stage, surrounded by her fans, recording her performance on a cell phone that looks very similar to the one found at JFK. She does not believe she’ll ever be a big star. Her co-worker, Niles Borne, (Simon Delaney), tries to encourage her, saying half the company was there to support her tonight. He tells her that we all have a destiny, and hers is to be a big star. The cell phone, he believes, is the key. He found that the cell phone had traveled all around the world and now her recording was on it. The phone apparently right now is in Dublin, Ireland. He sticks the cell phone into the luggage of someone headed to Japan and away the cell phone goes.

An alarm set for 3:18 goes off at Martin’s computer. He goes in to put Jake to bed. Jake has apparently lined up cell phones. He mentions that the doctor said he was going to grow up bigger than him and how was that going to work? I’m already living that. I’m 5’3″ and my 16-year-old son is now 6 feet tall, and has seizures. The cell phones go off. Jake has all of them programmed to show the numbers 87, 1, 9, 20, 31, 11.

A family in the Middle East, Baghdad, is the next bunch introduced. The son is trying to imitate Chris Rock and wants to be a comedian. They need an oven to keep their bakery. It will cost 800,000 dinar (about $687 US dollars). The only way to make that kind of money is with shady characters who make people blow themselves up. His friend suggests they check out Hassam’s place.

Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) from family services shows up at Martin’s door the next morning. One reality disconnect: They do not show up that quickly. I already dislike this woman, so she did a great job as an actress. She lists his inadequacies as a parent, supposing that the state could do a better job. Another reality disconnect: The writers did not Google: State facilities, Texas, fight clubs, Department of Justice report, Corpus Christi. “The financial challenges will only increase as your son gets older.” I can relate to that statement, but do you know what the first thing is to get cut when state budgets are on the line? Yep, people with disabilities. Good thing Martin lives in New York versus, let’s say, Texas.

Martin shares that his wife died in the 9/11 tragedy (making Jake a child of 9/11–see above).  While Clea is trying to “talk” with the silent Jake, Martin sees the numbers in the newspaper: The numbers belong to the new Lotto winner. The man (Randall) who bought the ticket realizes he is a winner and places a phone call to a woman. He says he wants to come home now.

Simon (the owner of the cell phone now off to Japan) is on a plane and calls a woman. He is on his way to Tokyo. He wants to be there for “her” birthday (the child) but the woman is short on conversation. She also appears to be in emotional pain. My first thought was a divorce. He asks her if they took any photographs of Lily while they were on vacation besides for the ones on his phone; a tear streams down her face as she says no.

Clea tries to explain the strange coincidence off as it being part of Jake’s autism, which Martin insists is NOT his diagnosis. Martin said that for all he knows Jake does not speak because he has nothing to say. Martin says he is trying to communicate; Clea belittles his thought to wish fulfillment. Her character then starts softening up, trying to say no one is judging him (but they are).

A young Japanese woman goes through the bag of the man who came from Ireland, the one with the cell phone in his bag. She and her friend, Izumi, are in a fan club of a group called “The Morticians” who are from Ireland (actually a band based out of Waco, Texas). The man lives in Tokyo but wants to have some fun with the young girl before going home. She grabs the cell phone in his bag and leaves.

Back in New York, Martin is leaving Jake at the boarding facility. Obviously no research has been done here either. These state facilities do NOT look like this gorgeous facility. My heart wrenches for Martin not only for having to leave his son in one of these places, but also that he cannot even hug him to say goodbye. Personally, I’d skip the country and run. No one is ever taking my kid from me. Martin then goes to visit the grave of his wife, Sarah. He says, “They say God never gives you more than you can handle. But I think he has this time.” Oh dear, the tears start streaming from my eyes. How many times have I felt and said the exact same words, or felt extreme anger at people who have said that to me, not having the slightest clue what our lives are like. He looks down to find a FDNY badge with the numbers 318 on them.

The Japanese girls see Kayla Graham’s video and decide to start up a fan club as they believe she is probably already a big star in Ireland. They are going to enlist the talents of their friend, Takezo, who runs the Jumbotron at Shibuya. They will get him to download “everything” on that phone and put it up on the Jumbotron (you can see where this is going). They’ll pass the phone to another client at 4:00 p.m. , who is catching a plane to Kuwait in 3 hours.

A search for mutism and cell phones leads Martin to the door of The Teller Institute that lists the following: Mysticism, Mythology and New Age interpretation; a rise in diagnosing behavioral disorders; for a select few, mutism is a false diagnosis; this is a beginning in a shift of consciousness. (Okay, now I’m thinking Mayan 2012 theories here). We are witnessing an evolutionary step (I’m thinking Alphas here). We must listen to their message. How string theory and quantum entanglement…. (I’m thinking Fringe). The geek that I am (and conditioned Lost fan) looked up the link to http://www.tellerinstitute/electromagnetism.html but it does not exist. He gets an address to this institute: 318 West Tesla Street, Bronx, NY. SWEET. It would have been really great if the address actually existed. A bath-robed Professor Arthur Dewitt (Danny Glover) answers the door. He talks about electromagnetism and that some kids (mostly) are just tuned into the right frequency. Interestingly, he gets Martin an orange soda, the same kind Jake drinks. Apparently Jake has discovered the Fibonacci mathematical sequence on his own. He shows him pictures of the curve, similar to how Jake lined up the cell phones. “The universe is made up of precise ratios and patterns. You and I–we don’t see them. But if we could, life would be magical beyond our wildest dreams, a quantum entanglement of cause and effect where everything and everyone reflects on each other. Every action, every breath, every conscious thought connected. Imagine the unspeakable beauty of the universe he sees. No wonder he doesn’t talk. ” Martin, excited, responds, “My son sees all that?” The professor continues, “Your son sees everything–the past, the present, the future. He sees how it’s all connected.” Martin responds, “You’re telling me my son can predict the future?” The professor adds, “I’m telling you, it’s a roadmap. And your job now, your purpose, is to follow it for him. It’s your fate, Mr. Bohm. It’s your destiny.” I now have complete chills. I see the parallels of my own life being reflected in this story. My Patrick has accomplished a great deal in his 16 years on this earth; my purpose is for him to fulfill his destiny. I have often felt like his conduit.

Back at the school, Clea becomes a believer when Jake uses popcorn to make the numbers 2, 1, 2, 9, 2, 0, 6, 9, 2, 2, the numbers which was her mother’s phone number. And then her cell phone rings with that number. He goes over to circle 18 on the March calendar.

The Lotto winner is headed to Lynchburg, Virginia.

Martin looks at Jake’s numbers again and gets a phone number. Using modern technology, he puts it into the reverse phone numbers feature of a web site and it comes up as Grand Central Station at 87 East 42nd Street. Eighty-seven is the first number of the Lotto sequence. Clea knocks on his door; 3/18 is “today.” Martin is not sure if he is supposed to stop something from happening or make something happen, not only to happen on 3/18 but AT 3:18. Twenty-two minutes to Grand Central Station? Yeah, right. He better live close-by. When he locates the phone, there is a man talking on it. When he turns him around, he realizes it is the man from the store, the one who punched him. Now Martin punches back. The police break up the fight. It’s now 3:19 and Martin thinks he has failed.

Back in Iraq, a group of men walk in on the young boy at Hassam’s and they hide. They have a bunch of cell phones, including the one with Kayla Graham’s recording on it. A little girl sees them, but does not appear to give them away, but one of the terrorists comes back in. They catch him. He tells them about the oven and you can see the evil in their eyes. You know they are going to make him do something bad.

Back at Martin’s the 3:18 alarm goes off again on his computer; he notices there is a message on his answering machine. Randall Meade is calling him. Randall Meade who won Lotto; Randall Meade who was on the phone at Grand Central Station leaving Martin a message on his answering machine. He was a fire fighter on duty who tried to save his wife that tragic day. He was part of Ladder Company 318 on 9/11. He went to the 87th floor of the North Tower. His wife was alive, barely conscious and bleeding pretty badly. He carried her down 31 flights of stairs, but could not carry her any further. He convinced himself that she was dead, but the truth was he was not sure if she really was. He had been thinking about her for 10 years and had been playing the same lotto numbers every week for 10 years. 9, 11, 2001, 87th floor, 31 flights of stairs. He had wanted to try to make the numbers come out right. He was going to give all the money away. Then Martin hears himself on the phone answering machine, the encounter that happened at Grand Central Station. Then he hears Randall Meade’s name on the TV. Apparently the bus from the gas station had overturned in a bad rain storm. He pulled the kids from a burning bus. He said to the reporter if he had not missed his train, he would not have been there. Martin heads out to see his son, but his son escaped the state facility. Martin still does not know the further repercussions of this red thread.

Flash over to the Jumbotron where Simon, who is now in Tokyo, tries to call his phone: 44, 077, 0090, 0488. He gets Kayla Graham who is back at her day job. He wants her to find out where his phone is, but it is in “an invalid territory.” Kayla appears on the Jumbotron. He pleads with Kayla to please help him. Lily’s picture is in there, his daughter who died a year ago. Simon looks up at the Jumbotron and sees Lily’s pictures. It brings some peace to a grieving father. In Iraq, Simon’s phone rings. It is hooked up to a bomb that is now attached to our character’s chest. He pleads with Kayla to tell the world he was not a bad person; she tries to help him not explode. With all these wonderful connections, my heart was hoping this young man wouldn’t be blown up, that he would get his happy ending, too. Kayla tells him there is always a choice. They bond over Chris Rock. She asks him what would make him not do this. He tells her, “An oven.” She knows a guy (Simon) in restaurant supplies.

Martin and Clea find Jake at the tower. Jake narrates again: “The ratio is always the same: 1 to 1.618 over and over.”  Kayla’s co-worker sees her video on YouTube with 1,621,318 views. Simon makes it home to his wife. Martin overcomes his fear of heights and climbs the tower to talk to Jake. Jake says, “Will these words be used to hurt or to heal?” Randall gets on a bus to Virginia. Martin tells Jake that he followed the numbers and people were saved. “I don’t know if you can even hear me, but I can hear you, Jake?” I’m sobbing at this point. How many times have I said this to my nonverbal son? Jake crawls over to him and for the first time in Martin’s life, gave Martin a hug. I have raccoon eyes by now; my mascara is flowing everywhere. I remember the first time my child gave me what I call a half-hug. My dear friend who I shared my glee with said to me that she appreciated me sharing these things with her because it made her appreciate her neurotypical child even more. She never realized the things she took for granted, the comment that made me realize that Patrick’s purpose was for people to appreciate the people in their own lives and not take even simple things as eye contact for granted.

Jake grabbed Martin’s cell phone and pointed him on his next mission: 718-673-5296

Where I end my belief is this: How does Martin’s phone still work in that monster rainstorm?

My message to Tim Kring: Season 1 of Heroes was awesome. Touch has the possibility of great things that may start people thinking more about the ripple effect of their own actions, and acting more kind to each other. Don’t screw it up, okay? Save Touch, Save the world.