A Thanksgiving Vingette

“Murph!” Mom screamed from across the kitchen, her arms weighed with platters of green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, turkey, and stuffing. “What have you done to my floor?”

“Nothing,” I shrugged, submerging an empty pot into the sink, a grey oily substance, the dregs of Thanksgiving gravy bubbled to the surface.

“Dive! Dive! Lieutenant, the engine room is flooded!  Jettison all loosh articles through the torpedo tubesh.”

Hunt for Red October was on Netflix an hour earlier, so I did my best Sean Connery.

“My floor! There’s water all over my nice recently stained and securely waterproofed floor!”

Bree stood next to a damp cloth in her hand, sighing like an old furnace or an older woman suffering her dotard husband.  Somehow recreating the Poseidon Adventure with the gravy boat had drowned the last of her patience.

“Mom,” she sighed.  “You’re oldest child is an idiot.”

“Damn the torpedoes, man!” I screamed, as my hands manipulated a ladle between the soapy foam.  “Sea monster oft the port bow!”

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Sport for Our Neighbors

Yield not to adversity but press on all the more bravely. — Virgil*

“. . . if it was a personal foul, they should have given us fifteen yards, ya know?” said the man in the hunting cap, fixated on the instant replay cycling on the stadium’s Video-tron.

“Uh . . . of course,” I nod, nearly choking on a salted pretzel. “At least.”

“They’ve been doing this too us all game,” screamed the older two-fisted drinker sitting nearby, who I took to be Elmer’s father.  “And did you see, he kneed at the five, so why place the ball at the eight?”

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” I shook my head. “They should have thrown a . . . flag. Or two?”

“Damn refs are blind, man,” Elmer sighed. “Hey, now all Rice has to do is cut across the middle while fainting to the left, slobber-knocker any interference from the D-line and sack dance across for the score.  Just like with the Navy game earlier. You guys, see that?” Continue reading

Comic Conned

“Seriously, Murph, you need a passport to come to these cons,” Ryan said, eyeing the rear of a particularly buxom Supergirl.  “Like a geek badge or something.”

“Yeah, thanks for being our guide and everything,” Shannon said adjusting his phone camera to fit a rather large Thor into the frame.  “I don’t know half of these costumes.  Who’s the guy in the red mask over there?  Cobra Commander?”

“No,  that’s Red Hood,” I explain eagerly.  “He’s a more recent Batman villain and former Robin.”

Last Sunday, the boys and I decided to visit the local Comic Convention for some much needed hero-action.  Lately I’ve been feeling rather isolated in the role as family driver. With the daily migration between home, Kevin’s school, Brigid’s school, Kevin’s school again, Chik-fil-a, grocery store, piano practice, and home again in addition to the arguments over the front seat and the radio stations, which frequently culminated in banshee-esque screaming, I felt the need to dip reality in liquid kryptonite for a day or so.

Most of the boys decided to tag along after I assured them that little to no anime or Japanese influences would be in attendance and that these particular conventions catered to superhero comic books.  They understood heroes, super or otherwise; manga and anime . . . well, I’m rather certain even the average Japanese citizen hasn’t a clue what’s going on.  In addition to siblings, I managed to rope my friend, Rodney, into visiting the convention as well with the promise that he will see things that “make a carnival side show or a Walmart queue look tame.” Continue reading

“Friday I’m in Love”

Geekdom is crimping CAT-6 cables at eleven o’clock on a Friday night, discussing romance stories with your younger brother only to realize that most your suggested reading involve mutants, Spiderman, and young adult literature by Lloyd Alexander.  After heartily recommending the Black Cauldron for the sixth or seventh time, Shannon stole up to his room with a copy of Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham, leaving me to pen this short post and consider shooting gargoyles online or returning to my collection of fairy tales by George MacDonald.

Geekdom is congratulating each other for defeating Bowser in Super Mario Wii, accompanied by loud cheering, high-fives, and several cycles of “You Da Man!” and “No, you da man!” with your baby sister and her best friend.

Geekdom is finding yourself inspired after several minutes staring at anime figurines unsheathing claymores on your VCR, while Bob and Bing croon Dorothy in Morocco on your television screen. You run upstairs for a cup of chocolate milk before Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

Geekdom is knowing how lame this must sound to most people and realizing in one instance that you don’t really care.  You dip another cookie into your milk as Costello runs screaming from the room.

Studies in Stereotypes: Trekkies

Common practice in today’s world takes great joy in reproofing stereotypes.  Artists in particular relish breaking down the barriers that all too often pigeonhole groups of individuals with various – and often untrue – adjectives: stupid, violent, awkward, materialistic.  One could hardly dispute the honesty and justice of such protests, expounding the potential of each individual regardless of race, creed, sex, or homeland, stimulating understanding and erasing bigotry en masse.  Yet most reformers stop there, forgetting to seek the honesty and justice among the stereotypes as well.  After all, stereotypes – unlike rumors – possess some and popular foundation in truth.  Often outward beauty reflects inward beauty, power corrupts government, crime-ridden cities, bucolic paradise, the French chef, the Irish drunk, the girl cooking and sewing, and the boy grunting, spitting and scratching – all in the same fluid motion no less.  We cannot hope to surmount our prison walls if we ignore their existence.

Over the past week or so I’ve had the opportunity to encounter several of these proven stereotypes, instances where despite my best efforts at iconoclasm, some habits are just too deeply ingrained for escape.

#1: Trekkies look like Trekkies

Last Sunday Dasad treated me to an IMAX showing of Star Trek.  He has been a long time fan of the movies and the Next Generation series, thus like Virgil he was to be my guide for the day.  As expected the line began early and the theater despite its large size was sold out the day before; thus we made sure we arrived a good forty-five minutes beforehand.  A group of ten or twelve people clustered near the entrance and so until the crowd became more substantial, we wandered over to the arcade.

arcadeOne of the travesties of the modern world is the death of the arcade.  With the omnipresence of the home theater and game systems, most surviving arcades are the digital descendant of the ghost town: empty corridors, blank flicking screens, broken controls, lilting broken tunes emanating from crane games sparsely piled with stuffed representations of decade old cartoon series.  The change machine worked though.  Changing my dollar to some tokens we took our chance on the crane game, which true to form slipped down and up Shrek’s bulbous head as if made of soap.  Two dollars lost and no (working) game in sight, we scuttled over to the line which had doubled in size within a few minutes.

Normally at the house and in public, I attempt to diminish the weirdness of my more geeky hobbies through a combined use of sleight of hand, explanatory argument, and large words:

  • “Weird?  He’s an addict, Mom.  A physical representation of addiction and evil’s ability to erode good.  Gollum is one of the most unique and important characters in literature;”
  • “So what you’re saying is that heroes don’t matter, huh?  That heroism and the ideals of these heroes don’t play a role in our daily lives.  So what if they wear tights.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it;”
  • “It’s just the art style, guys.  If you look beyond the semi-naked nubile eye-candy, the stories are quite good, entertaining yet poignant.”

Yeah so, it doesn’t always work.  Nonetheless I continue to plug away, a never-ending (and possible futile) crusade to convince others (and possibly myself) that what I do has value beyond escapism.  The irony is that while Dasad and I try claw our way from the muck and mire of stereotype, others seem to revel in it.

No one donned any costume.  Apart from one bearded shaggy guy with oddly pointed but otherwise natural ears, no one looked like a Volcan. Or a Klingon. Nevertheless everybody in line looked like Trekkies.  It’s hard to communicate in words how my fellow movie-goers struck me, no general pattern or scent – although Dasad argued that his neighbors exuded a rather unpleasant funk.  I will say that if you consider an average shape or size for the human body, these people were the outliers, individuals much too tall, short, hairy, or obese, whose collective differences were not so much uniform as much as uniform in their collective differences.  If that seems a little confusing, just imagine fifty or so characters from the Where’s Waldo books decked out in sandals, cargo shorts, and a black T-shirts that read “There are 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those that don’t.”

One lady, her frizzy grey hair tied off in a bun, wore cut off jeans, a tucked in T-shirt like the ones they wear at summer camp and a Transformers backpack, adorned with Muppet pins.  She talked freely and happily with a giant, a seven-foot man with a face that reminded me of my old physics professor: his eyes, nose, and mouth hidden behind a bushy mangled mop of black hair.  If the man had a beard or if the mange stemmed entirely from his head, I could not tell.  The woman snorted every now and then at something the bushman said when the line suddenly began moving.  Dasad and I entered the theater and found our seats.  A pod of Asian kids sat behind us, discussing the mechanics of something they saw on MythBusters.  A phone rang a few aisles up, playing a few measures of Final Fantasy’s ‘Vamo’alla Flamenco’ before cutting off (yes, it bespeaks my own level of depravity that I recognized the tune).  Below us several kids practiced holding the gap between their third and fourth fingers – I still need masking tape and/or rubber bands.

We sat next to a rather obese couple, a man and his wife, their bodies overflowing atop and around the arms of their chairs. While the pre-movie ads rolled, the lady squeezed through the row and left the theater.  Dasad leaned over to me.

“Now there’s a never-ending cycle,” he whispered.  “Fat people get married, reproduce, and have kids who cannot help but become fat as well, right?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Think about it,” he continued.  “It’s in the genes, right?  No way to escape that.”

“Not necessarily,” I say in a low whisper, a little embarrassed.  “Obesity is not necessarily genetic.  Even if it were two people with the same phenotype, the same characteristic, may yield different children.  Mom and Dad both have dark hair, but Pat and Sean are blonde. And you also have to take into account lifestyle too.”

“Right, so a child living in such an environment will do nothing but eat.  It’s doomed to follow its parents’ footsteps.”

“Again,” I said after a minute, “lifestyle isn’t like computer programming.  Kids react differently depending on their parents.  They might rebel or seeing the health issues their parents have or might have, they might become fitness gurus or baggers at Trader Joes.”

“Still it’s more than likely . . .” Dasad said.  “It’s just rather sad and disgusting.”

pizza“Dude, I wouldn’t say that.  Stereotypes can be quite misleading.  They might be a nice couple: kind, courteous, generous, loyal, hardworking.  The kind of people who do anything for their friends, family or even their co-workers.  They might even . . .”

Just then the woman returned carrying a mega-sized drink, a tub of popcorn and a pizza.  She bit into a slice of pizza navigating through the seats and shoes, balancing the rest of the food on a cardboard tray.  Still walking she twisted to take a sip from her cup; a glob of tomato sauce fell onto my pants leg.  Pepperoni splattered my shoes.

“. . . be rather disgusting, yeah.”

EPILOGUE

Before closing up shop here I should note — stains notwithstanding — that the movie was awesome.  I’ve seen it twice, and frankly if you’re able IMAX is the way to go.  As I said to Dasad, if the original series had only a smidgeon of the humor and charm of the flick, I might have joined his Trekkie club long ago.  He only nodded.

“Yeah, it was pretty good.  Even after the second time,” he said.  “When I got back home last Friday, I even dreamed about it some.”  Now I believe in karma, that all things balance themselves out, that those that mock and deride others will eventually get their comeuppance.  Thus I felt fairly certain that the following conversation will come back to haunt me one day.

“Dreams, eh?”  I mutter, feigning boredom. “So you dreamt of space hotties, huh?  That semi-clothed green-skinned alien girl was pretty hot, right?  Was she on the spaceship with you?”

“Huh?  Wait . . .”

“Were Kirk and Spock there too?  What were they doing?  Wait . . . I probably don’t want to know that.”

“Hold on . . .”

“And that bald guy from X-men.  Capt. Piccadilly, right?  Did you dream of him too?”

“Picard.  His name is Picard.”

“So you did dream about him . . .” I laugh.  “He’s buff.”

“Look, dude, I’m not that much of a geek.  It was just this one time.  I do not dream about the Enterprise every night.”

“Uh huh . . .”

“Seriously.”

“Ok then, but seriously you had to think the whole space/time thing was kinda lame, right?  That aspect was a little cliché,” I said matter-of-factly.

Khan“No, well, it was their way of staying true to the canon of the original films while totally changing everything,” Dasad sighed.  “Frankly I thought it a little weak too.  Also while the characters were great, the villain was horrible.  No pathos.  Nothing like the Borg or Khan.  Now there was a villain.  He had the intellect, power, and every reason to hate Kirk and the Enterprise.  I remember when I first saw him . . .”

“You got really turned on, didn’t you?” I laugh.

“Okay look, you suck.”

“Did you see Ricardo Montalban in the Naked Gun too?  Or was he only sexy in that Alladin vest and long flowing Bon Jovi locks?”

“I hate you.”

A Musical Pause

A few weeks ago just after posting our trip to the anime convention, Dasad mentioned how much he enjoyed the anime music video (AMV) linked in the blog.  Since then I search about for some other interesting or unique AMVs to show him and others.  This post-convention season churns out many high-quality AMVs that have won awards during the summer at conventions, thus I thought that I would post one or two just for kicks.

Essentially this is what I watch when I’m bored or need a good pick-me-up.  Better than coffee . . . for me at least.

Of Comics and Creeps

A haven from reality

A haven from reality

Like its patrons, comic book shops come in all shapes and sizes. In the years since I fell in love with comic books and super heroes, my travels have carried me to many a comic shop, many of which proved to be brightly lit, clean, and otherwise respectable havens from the drudgeries of reality. Others, dark dens devoted to fandom, fit the stereotype all too well. In college Dasad and I spent our Friday nights walking the malls, wasting time in the arcades and the popular comic shop, Another Universe.

Unlike most shops, owned or operated privately, AU was a legitimate chain, specializing in comic books and other comic-inspired merchandise. No dingy obscure dungeon was this, but a well-kept store equipped with freshly paint, ordered shelves, employee uniforms, an immense collection of comics, graphic novels, and figurines, as well as a knowledgeable troop of female cashiers.

Anyone who has ever donned the robes of geekdom knows the horror of talking to girls about your hobby. This is true of any male obsession – even the more socially acceptable ones like sports. Their eyes gaze, lips part to utter an impatient sigh, your final comment on the latest Batman movie is ignored as she and her girlfriends drift away, laughter and the occasional quip echoing in their wake. Not so were the female members of the AU staff:

“Big Batman fan?” the pretty cashier asked, looking at me and smiling.

“Uh yeah, I was a long time ago, and only recently started collecting again.” Typical ambiguous answer, which I mastered long ago, allowing the female in question a polite but disinterested out: “Oh that’s nice” or “Well, good luck.”

Instead she responds, holding up my issue of Batman’s “The Killing Joke:” “This is an awesome book. Great storytelling. Have you read Waid and Ross’ ‘Kingdom Come?’ yet”

“No,” I respond, excitedly. “No, I bought it the other day, but haven’t got a chance to read it yet.”

“Go home tonight and read it. Then come back and tell me what you think. I loved Ross’ art, all painted, you know. Beautiful. Go read it. I want to hear what you think.”

I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A girl geek. A pretty girl geek. A pretty girl geek who wants to talk to me about geek stuff. Not since fire and the invention of movable type has man stumbled upon such a wonder.

Unfortunately the store was bought out by a larger company weeks later and subsequently shut down. Afterwards I found a shop closer, Alternate Worlds, less mainstream and hip, but with staying-power. No girls either, but in such establishments you become accustomed to the girls to geeks ratio (0:1) and simply end up buying more Japanese comics. Nonetheless, the owner proved to be a sweet forty-something Swedish immigrant, the quiet aunt-type, who though plainly ignorant of the hobby always kept the store bright and cheery. Here I did not find a comic store but a bookstore that sold comics, a comfortable place that refused to emulate someone’s parents’ basement.

However, not all comic stores are like these. The owners and cashiers, most regrettably and all too frequently, fall into the old stereotype. The worse offenders – by which I define those who truly seek to embarrass and oppress the customer – evolve over years of seclusion and obsession, like Gollum in his cave. For these reasons, while growing up comic-buying always felt a little sketchy. In high school and college, few guys my age bought comics, so the act of collecting or even reading felt much like sneaking through your father’s Playboy collection:

“Murphey, what are you doin’ in there?”

“N-nothing, Mom, j-just reading!”

“I hope that you’re readin’ Hemingway, if I find another Batman under your bed . . .”

“H-h-haha, funny Mom!”

So when the owner of the nearby Cosmic Galaxy (for some reason all comic stores on the East Coast gravitate toward corny space epithets) began deriding me on my purchases, you felt even worse about yourself and your habits. Many geeks are like that though; lacking interest in society-approved activities, they seek to master the minutia of their own niche and thus prove their worth by abusing the less-informed. Justifying their worth to the world, they attempt to degrade it. In my mind, a bully is still a bully, regardless of interest or appearance. Still, the engine of self-promotion and public humiliation powers most modern businesses, fan conventions, and scientific research, so I suppose it was a necessary – if painful – experience.

But back to our disgruntled worker:

"This arc is horrible . . ."

"This arc is pathetic . . ."

The local comic guy seems to emulate his tragic counterpart on the Simpsons: pale complexion, lank unwashed hair, condescending demeanor, and a tight blue T-shirt pox-marked with grease. His pot belly blocks the faint light from door as I stand before him, like an astronaut watching the planet eclipse the setting sun. His fingers glow orange, permanently stained by the entrails of countless cheese doodles. I cough politely, and he stands. Slowly. Waddling over to the register, he coughs and prepares himself for business, simultaneously cleaning his fingers and decorating his shirt in one swift move. I say hello. He nods, sipping grape soda from his over-sized Big Gulp. Purple droplets escape down his cheek, eventually collecting at his chin like a grotesque wart. He rubs away the residual pimple with the back of his hand, glaring at my purchases as if they displeased him.

“This arc is pathetic,” he says scanning my first issue.

“Huh?” I stumble, pausing at his condemnation.

“This story arc, the one you are buying, is pathetic. I hear Parker makes a deal with the devil here, some dues-ex-machina crap. Quesada is over-rated anyway. If you really like Spiderman, toss away everything written in the last twenty years – especially any title that begins with “Ultimate” – and devote yourself to Romita’s work of the early ‘70s.”

He passed me an old comic, wrapped in plastic. I felt like he was trying to pawn off some pot. The fading colors, heavy price tag, and cheese-doodle smears turned my stomach; I politely declined. Some people collect comics for individual issues, encasing prized books in plastic and then display them in locked case on their dressers next to yesterday’s change and that pyramid diorama from third grade. I am just in it for the stories. Owning rare individual copies – groundbreaking and valuable though they may be – seems pointless if I cannot read them.

The comic guy sniffs at my refusal, and then ignores all but my money. I sneak out, darting my eyes about the parking lot, an instinctive search for girls and anyone who might recognize me.

Most comic stores have that feel to them: hole-in-the-wall shops squeezed in between laundromats and liquor stores. One such institution near the lab where I worked felt more like an opium den than a bookstore. The shelves seemed handmade by unskilled hands. I reach for an old issue of Batman but happen upon a splinter instead. I nearly trip over someone. Bodies of potential customers lay strewn about the floor next to piles of discarded back issues, reading silently, lost in alien worlds. Death metal bands screamed from behind the counter, where the gaunt pierced lips of the emaciated clerk mouthed ambiguous lyrics. Any moment I imagined tear gas to crash through the windows while my face is pinned to the floor by some rookie cop, trained on old episodes of Starsky and Hutch.

“Listen . . .” I would shout, as steel cuffs bite into my wrists.

“Scum like you should just die. Tryin’ to sell this stuff to kids . . .”

“Hey the writing has really improved in the last thirty years. Have you ever read Gaiman’s ‘Sandman?’ ‘Kingdom Come?’ I hear they teach ‘Watchmen’ in college cl . . . ow!”

“I don’t want your excuses. ‘Sandman?’ Happy dust? Is that what they call it on the street now?”

As they haul me away, I suppose it good luck that no one caught me reading the Japanese comics . . . but that’s another story for another time.