Thursday, October 11, 2007

TUESDAY TOP FIVE: SPACESHIPS

(I know it's thursday. I'm flaunting convention.)

5. THE PLANET EXPRESS SHIP

Fry: This is awesome! Are we gonna fly through space fighting monsters and teaching alien women to love?
Professor Farnsworth: If by that you mean transporting cargo, then yes!


Captain: Turanga Leela
This flourescent green beauty comes equipped with an unbreakable diamond tether, upgradeable personalities for the on-board computer, and a laundry room.
Caveat: Never put metal in the microwave while observing a supernova. This can lead to becoming your own grandfather.


4. THE TARDIS

The First Doctor: That is the dematerializing control. And that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy! Now please stop bothering me.

Captain: The Doctor
A Gallifreyan design, complete with guest bedrooms and a tachyon engine for easy time-travel. With a properly functioning camouflage program, this tesseract vessel can be disguised as anything from a bush to a Roman column.
Caveat: Makes an awful lot of noise when teleporting.

3. COLONIAL VIPER
Dwight Schrute: Do you ever watch Battlestar Galactica?
Guest: No.
Dwight Schrute: 'No.' Then you are an idiot.

Captain: Any trained Colonial Officer who has completed flight school.
The Viper is the last line of defense against total annihilation by the Cylons. Maneuverable, fast, and able to deliver a nuclear payload, these ships are capable in a planet's atmosphere, or in the cold vacuum of deep space.
Caveat: Prone to getting hung in launch tubes.

2. THE MILLENIUM FALCON
Han: Fast ship? You've never heard of the Millenium Falcon?
Ben: Should I have?
Han: It's the ship that made the kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. I've outrun Imperial starships, not the local bulk-cruisers, mind you. I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now. She's fast enough for you, old man.


Captain: Han Solo
A "piece of junk" that has been modified by the variety of smugglers and scoundrels that have owned it through the years, this freighter is not only very likely the fastest ship in the galaxy, but also creates the perfect romantic atmosphere for seducing rebellious princesses.
Caveat: Finnicky hyperdrive.


1. THE ENTERPRISE

Captain Kirk: I've already got a female to worry about. Her name is the Enterprise.


Captain: James T. Kirk
One of Starfleet's most famous and decorated ships. Comes complete with transporters, shuttles, a full sickbay, and an enormous brass satellite dish. Easily the coolest starship to ever orbit a gangster planet.
Caveat: God-like energy beings will want to play with it.


And now, dear reader, tell us about your favorite spaceships...

Friday, September 14, 2007

FIREWORKS

Camp Stahlman Fireworks Crew, 2002

Every so often, something will happen that makes your heart beat so hard and fast that you feel it up in your throat and it makes you shiver. It's not nervousness or fear, but the sheer thrill of pure anticipation, knowing that the most awesome thing in the world is just around the corner. Off the top of my head, I can think of three; when you clearly have the drop on someone while playing paintball, and you are moments away from unloading on them in a ping-ping-ping symphony of personal victory, when a girl you're making out with for the first time asks you to get a condom, with exposed breasts and exciting new pheremones heavy in the air, and when you first see those huge, roadside tents underneath a hand-painted sign reading "FIREWORKS" in big, bold letters.

Growing up in the rural South meant that fireworks season was a long, beloved stretch of weeks, filled with multiple trips to the Tents, bottle-rocket fights, smoke-bombs, M-80s taped together in lethal clumps, and of course, the Fourth of July. (This is, as we all know, the High Holy Day when one celebrates emancipation from the yoke of British Monarchy by blowing shit up. Nothing says "freedom" more than aiming a Roman Candle like a sniper rifle, and shooting bursts of colorful flames at your friends.)

Hot summer days were filled with that distinct, acrid gunpowder odor and an ever-present white fog, sprinkled with paper ash and adrenaline. Seeing fireworks actually explode was almost secondary to the hedonistic ritual of perusing the folding tables full of cardboard tubes, and wondering what kind of horrific mushroom cloud lived at the bottom of each one.

We always heard rumors of states that had banned fireworks, and refused to believe that such places existed. Madness! Not only were fireworks readily available all over the Tennessee Valley (and parts beyond), but they could be sold to anyone, of any age! If you had a bike and a handful of cash, access to deadly and brightly-colored implements of destruction was easy. If, between watching massive, booming displays and shooting each other with scorching flame, we had stopped to think about our peers in other states (whose elected officials were keeping them from firework glory), we would have felt terrible for them.

One of the great triumphs of firework season was working on Scout Camp Staff, and being in charge of the Fourth of July display. My friend Andy and I would go to the Camp Director, who would then hand us a wad of bills, and say "No more than four-hundred bucks worth." We would then drive to the nearest roadside stand, and tell the guy "Hey, we're with the Boy Scout Camp down the road... maybe you can cut us a deal? You know, for the kids." He would then proceed to load us up with box after box of massive, military grade explosives. Close to a thousand dollars worth of sparkling death packed into the trunk of a compact car. We could barely conceal our desperate glee.

On the Big Night, as the sun was setting, we would soak handkerchiefs in water, so as not to asphyxiate on the smoke-clouds to come. We would find goggles, and fire up cigars to use as wick lighters. The fireworks were laid out in a specific progression on the back of a soaked-wet wooden trailer. The music cues were readied in the outdoor amphitheater. And then, when the Scouts arrived and were seated, fiery chaos would be brought down upon us like the coming of Yog Sothoth. Mere yards above us, screaming detonations dazzled and terrified delighted troops of awe-struck kids, while we scampered like maniacs, lighting fuses and laughing madly.

When all was said and done, and the smoke had settled and the dust had cleared, we were covered in perspiration and ash and mostly deaf, but it was worth it. Bits of colored paper would drift in the breeze, our eyes would sting, and our hands were covered with bruises and black steaks. We stank of sweat and gunpowder, but most of all, we reeked of exasperated satisfaction. Emerging from the white sheet of concentrated smoke around the charred husks of blown stacks, we could only smile.

Nights like that are few and far between. Fireworks are Awesome.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

SELF-LOATHING

The best thing that happened to me last week was when I found pudding cups on sale at the local grocery store.

This was the highlight of my week. I actually called my girlfriend to tell her.

Many people will tell you that self-loathing is a bad thing, a destructive thing, a negative state of mind that is dangerous and unhealthy. But I'm here to say that self-loathing is a natural human condition, and when applied properly to an examined life, it is an anchor that keeps your perspective in check. Otherwise you would be so happy with yourself that you might explode in a cloud of rainbows and puppy glitter. Or your ego will get so out of control you'll end up like one of these people. (That's a worst case scenario)

I met a very friendly person at my job the other day, and they were talking about how great it must be to read comics all day. I'm young, they said, and I own a great store, and it must be awesome, and they were all smiles and high-fives the whole time. Then I bummed them out by shrugging my shoulders and looking despondent. I suppose my reaction wasn't as ecstatic as it should have been, but the truth is that the stress and anxiety of running a new, small business is so overwhelming that the good bits barely balance the bad. Of course, it's all better than the alternative, which would be unemployment, working at a job I really truly hate, or myriad other options too gruesome to contemplate.

You see, my natural self-loathing kept my perspective balanced, or else I might have pooped myself with joy when someone mentioned how great my life must be. I did not explode with happiness, but rather kept my cool and remained level-headed about my state of affairs, and then I was awarded One Hundred Dollars for not flipping out with joy and soiling myself. That's a true story.

Life is a series of re-evaluated expectations. Does anyone end up doing what they hoped they'd be doing when they were twelve? With everything working out for them along the way? And if so, are they insufferable pricks about it? (Answers: Usually not, Sometimes, and most of the time.) The fact is, when you're twelve, sometimes your goals are really stupid, and there's a world of difference between "I want to be a journalist" and "I want to make seven figures a year and have ripped abs until I'm fifty five". Some jerk who wants an UES apartment, wife with fake boobs, and a VP position at a hedge fund is going to be really, really smug about it when they get their way. Having to settle for a disappointments could do wonders for these guys, who most likely shit all over everyone to get what they wanted.

As we grow and change and turn from idealistic young punks into broken, disappointed adults, self-loathing is the the only honest reaction. It's nigh impossible to have any legitimate respect for yourself when your days are filled with frustrated compromises, irritated bowels, inane e-mails, litter boxes, overwhelming debt, and all the other elements of a well-fulfilled life. Yet, without all that shit, you're Candide, or Pollyanna, walking with a charmed gait through other people's misery! Who wants to be that asshole? Self-loathing means that you have achieved something, some sort of meaning, no matter how far removed from what you might have hoped, and even if it all makes you want to cry like a girl-baby, it's still something, and you have the ulcer to show for it.

This is it people. This is as good as it gets. I encourage you to look at your life, with all the miserable priorities and the misplaced aspirations. The lost loves, and the dreams that got eroded like teeth in a glass of Coke. Come to terms with Self-Loathing, and shake hands with that grim spectre of reality dawning in the mirror. Self-Loathing will keep you centered, lest you become one of those people with the blank stare, the fake tan, and the plastic cup of beer. You learn to appreciate the stupid crap that you would have scoffed at in the height of adolescence.

And suddenly, that sale on pudding cups is actually worth getting excited about.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

KNIGHTS


The best thing about feudal Europe was that within the tiny ruling class, you were basically rewarded for being a sociopath. If you were good at torturing people or killing them in grisly ways for no good reason, your serfs were most likely working their asses off, and you were beloved by your King for your loyalty.

Knights are remembered today as noble men sitting on white horses in shining armor, pining away for the woman that they love, but can never have. Reality is much more interesting, and I relish the image of a scarred, hardcore soldier shielding his vitals with plates of hot metal, carrying a bloody spiked mace he just used to bash in the skull of someone who insulted him... good times.

Knights used to pass the time between horrifying wars by charging at each other on horseback and trying to kill their opponent with an enormous spear. This was "sport" to them, and the best case scenario for the loser was getting violently knocked to the ground after your shield splintered into pieces. If the winner was feeling generous, he would likely not dismount his own horse and cut your head off with a sword. Although, depending on how much of a sociopath he was, he might anyway, just for fun. And chances are, if he was good at winning jousts, he had some violent and unhealthy tendencies. So why joust, you ask, if losing was so lethal?

For the opportunity to knock someone off a charging horse, and then cut their head off with a sword. That was winning the Lottery and the SuperBowl, if you were a knight.

From time to time, knights would go on "Crusades", which was the glorious excuse to travel south, get some sun, and slay heretics. They would pull on their chainmail, throw on a white tabard with a big blood-red cross, and proceed to kill anyone not dressed the same. These were the salad days for men who liked to carry swords.

The knight of fiction is kind of an effete character, with brightly colored plumes on his helm and a maiden's silken kerchief tucked in his guantlet, garlands of flowers around the neck of his steed, and a heart filled with courtly love and sonnets. The knight of history would fuck this guy up.

Knights were bred to smash other heavily armored people and cut them open, training from childhood to crush their enemies with no mercy. They served tyrant kings whose priorities were collecting taxes, taking their neighbors' land, and torturing traitors. Preferably a mix of all three at once. The favorite knights were the ones who could kill a few peasants that held back their taxes, kill some knights from the next kingdom over, and drag some enemy nobility into the dungeon. If they could do all this, train their squire to do the same thing, and feel a twang of regional pride in their hearts all at the same time, they would be rewarded with land and titles.

When I think of knights, I think of men wearing chainmail and dirty cloaks, sitting on top of an angry horse, covered in blood, and holding a severed head in one hand, and an axe in the other. He's waiting for his king to tell him how to defile the bodies of the men he's just slain. This knight is much loved by his king, and in many, many generations, his descendants will be wearing designer leather chaps, snorting heroin, and paying lots of duetschmarks to see two dudes poop on each other in the back of some club in Berlin.

The modern world sucks.

But knights were AWESOME!

Friday, July 27, 2007

FIRST LOVE



I spent my formative pubescent years in a private school that was almost too picturesque to be believed; lots of old stone buildings interspersed between quadrangles of ancient trees and broken stone paths. It was the kind of place where our teachers would wear academic gowns and you would frequently hear bagpipes in the distance. Of course, the plaid ties and blazers of prep school vintage were replaced with dirty second generation hippies and kids in the latest J.Crew fineries, but the overall vibe still felt like one of those mid-century novels filled with angst and teen suicide and bully lacrosse players.

The school was on top of a small mountain at the tail end of the Appalachia, and for some strange reasons, mired in geology and the Jet Stream, every autumn that mountaintop turned into the underside of a dark cloud. Fog would roll in so thick that you couldn't see twenty feet ahead of you. I fully expected to round a corner some days, and see a turn-of-the-century London bobby racing past, hot on the trail of some murderer in a waistcoat and tails. It was just that evocative to my lurid imagination. Also, a dreadful bitch to drive in.

Those foggy days, surrounded by the towering trees once tended by monks, and dark buildings that stood impassively in the grey soup, it was hard not to feel a bit on the Byronic side. There was slightly drizzling rain, and cold, stark air, and you lost the gorgeous Fall sunsets to a Gradual Darkening. Is anything more eerily romantic than a Gradual Darkening?

It was in this atmosphere, choked with chilly fog and the trappings of some weird, fictional, prep school melodrama, that I first fell in love. She was foolish enough to show me attention and mild kindness, and I rewarded that with slavish devotion and emotional demands the likes of which have never been seen by man or the angel Moroni. Now, the question is, was it simply that I was needy and overly dramatic, or can I blame the Pre-Raphaelite setting, colliding with the thunderstorm of teenage chemicals in my brain? Looking back, it's all very embarrassing and horrible, but along with the shame there is a hint of nostalgia, and the sad, sad realization that I will never again experience that particular mix of hormones, desperation, and foggy evenings ever again.

Puberty is rife with hot emotions and hyperbole, all stomping in your brain like the eternal Marching Band of Sex and Desire. Every trip to the movies is the first leap on the path to marriage or multiple orgasms. Every touch of the hand is loaded, and crushes you with the weight of a thousand erections. Every heartbreak is a vast abyss that drags you to the ground in an exaggerated fit of sorrow and despair. Had I known that actual love and commitment would be the sexy equivalent of handshakes and compromise, I would have more fully savored that Grand Guignol of gut-wrenched adolescence, and enjoyed the effects of hormones and unrealistic expectations while they were still fresh on the vine.

First Love was so very real and important that it reverberated in the rest of one's young life like atomic aftershocks. Food either tasted like sweet ambrosia, or turned to ash in one's mouth, depending on the state of romantic affairs. Music took on a whole new meaning, and songs that seem silly and forgettable now were once the most vital pieces of poetry ever composed and sung by the angels above. (Be honest; how many among us cried salty tears whenever the mix tape rolled around to "Romeo and Juliet", as warbled by Mark Knopfler and/or the Indigo Girls?)

Morning to night, filled with High Drama and Opera Bel Canto! Ahhhh, young love! Is anything ever so cataclysmic? All fourteen year olds are living through Shakespeare, every day, and we adults move on, forgetting that there was a time when every furtive glance between crushes was a matter of life and death.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vornado Fans

They call them "circulators" on the website.

It seems like every summer, at some point, I make a trip to the local hard-wares emporium to by a fan. By mid-July, the air has stopped circulating of it's own volition, and tends to just hang there, thick and sticky, like the greasy steam over a deli griddle.

In these trips, I always notice that certain fans outprice the others by a significant margin. Matte black and stamped front-and-center with an Orwellian red "V" for "Victory", the Vornado fans glance at you as if to ask, "What's the problem? Don't you have 100 dollars to drop on a fan? See the inferior model beside us? The one that costs twenty-five bucks and is the exact same size? Go ahead and get that one, plebe. You're not ready to join the Vornado Ruling Class."

For many years those talking fans were right. I wasn't ready. I would walk out of my local hardware store with a white plastic pinwheel under my arm, beginning the unspoken but inevitable countdown to the day it went to sidewalk, useless and unloved.

Why did I buy that cheap piece of garbage? What Depression-era habits had been hammered into my brain by well-intentioned parents? "Get the least expensive thing you can! Don't pay for a brand-name label! You can fix it if breaks... It's just as good as the other one, only better, because it costs less!" So many fans, gone to the expansive wastes of Staten Island landfills, just because shelling out an extra forty bucks made my hands shake as frugal homilies echoed in my brain.

The hottest I've even been was when I worked at a Boy Scout Summer Camp in Middle Tennessee. Summers in that neck of the South are already miserable and mythologically humid, but add some military grade canvas tents, vast fields of pounding sunlight, and kneesocks, and you've got a kind of heat that's so overwhelming, it feels like a constant celestial waffle iron is being pressed down over everything you know. By the time Independence Day rolled around, the humidity was palpable, and sometimes kids would just punch the empty air aimlessly, taking out their weary and futile frustrations on the atmosphere itself. It felt like living in soup, and paper products would curl like witches feet in Munchkinland, mere seconds after being exposed.

Life on Camp Staff quickly became an easy mix of Altman's "MASH" and "LORD OF THE FLIES". We were trying to make a comfortable existence for eight to nine weeks, while still wearing the world's least comfortable uniforms, and cohabitating with a savage crew aged 13 to 18. Trashed armchairs and rat-infested couches became coveted commodities, and trapsing to a gloriously empty showerhouse in flip-flops (that never fully dried) could be the best part of the week.

I remember laying under the thick, pea-green canvas tents, on an old army cot, doing nothing but sweating and wiping my eyes. Every once in a while a slight breeze would pass by, offering the most meager relief, and we would all gasp for the cool air listlessly, before it was gone as quickly as came. Without fail, someone would figure out a way to run an extension cord through the treetops, connecting our staff campsite with the nearest powered building. They would then produce the world's cheapest Wal-Mart box-fan, hanging it in the top of the tent using a short length of rope and desperate Scout ingenuity. With a turn of the big plastic dial, we were showered in a fake wind of hot air and disappointment.

I remembered the scorn we all held for those stupid box fans, and how little use they ultimately were. So I finally bit the proverbial bullet last week, and purchased the smallest possible Vornado brand fan. For a mere fifty dollars, something the size of a tupperware bowl puts me in a chilly wind-tunnel whenever I flip the switch to "on".

How do they do it? How do they churn out that tenacious stream of refreshing spring air, turning stale and humid heat into a soothing breeze? How do they take you from the angry, relentless July heat to a snowy, Alpine peak in February? Not a trace of freon in sight, just that utilitarian design and take-no-prisoners "VORNADO" logo staring at you.

Apparently "science" is involved, and there are patented whatsits and whatevers and blah blah blah. It's kind of boring. All I care to know is that it works like beautiful, evil magic, and worth every excessive penny.

Rated A for AWESOME.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

SPACE TRAVEL


We don't get so far anymore, but we live in a world where people travel in space. They have big ceramic-plated airplanes that get shot out of our blue skies attached to enormous explosives. Then they do a bunch of science stuff and poop in zero gravity and come home.

It's pretty cool, but I'm afraid the golden age of Space Travel might be behind us. The Mercury missions were all kinds of awesome, and awfully hard to top, in terms of sheer HOLY SHIT bravery and raw bad-assitude. Military pilots who could withstand the most brutal physical exertions were strapped into tiny metal pods and fired into orbit like mortar shells. Ex-Nazis with slide-rules computed trajectories while these guys went, quite literally, where no human has gone before.

(THE RIGHT STUFF is a great book and full of jaw-droppingly rad information. If you haven't read it yet, maybe it's time you did.)

Fictional space travel is rather excellent as well, although frequently ridiculous. "Hyper-drives" and "warp speeds" kinda pale in comparison to strapping men to the top of a freaking missile.
Kiss my ass, Skywalker! You big pussy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

TUESDAY TOP FIVE: Americana

In honor of Independence Day, I give you the Top Five things associated with the American Way of Life. Do you love freedom? Do you REALLY love freedom? Would you make love to freedom? From behind, with tears in your eyes? If so, you may keep reading.


FIVE: Apple Pie
The cliche is "baseball, mom, and applie pie", right? Well, baseball sucks and some people's moms are commies. So that leaves apple pie. Delicious, delicious applie pie. It's made with apples! Straight from Johnny Appleseed's dirty hippie pocket to your mouth! I wish I had some right now. Even a Hostess Fruit Pie would do. Those are pretty good as well. God bless America.

Joe adds: Apple pie is one of those things that when I see it, I'm underwhelmed by it, but when I taste it, I remember the glory that it truly is. That's like some kind of weird superpower, making me forget how good it is all the time. Or I'm retarded.


FOUR: Old Timey Country
People will tell you that jazz or the blues is the great American music. Have you ever tried to listen to that crap? It's for french people and 1950's Greenwich Village nerds. The best thing about Jazz are those tapes of Buddy Rich yelling at his band. For American music that will make you cry tears of sorrowful joy, you need look no further than the high lonesome sounds of Appalachia. Banjos, folks. Banjos.

Joe: Hank senior (pictured above) is an American hero because he played amazing music, inspired everyone else that ever came after him, and drank himself to an early death. No retirement woes or fighting over mortgages for Hank! Just the sweet oblivion found in the bottle. That's the America I dream of.


THREE: The Colonel
Fast food is disgusting and evil and whatever, but every once in a while there's just nothing better than slamming back a bucket full of the Colonel. It kind of sucks that our beautiful country is dotted with identical shitty restaurants like an Irishmen is dotted with freckles, but it's also kind of rad to be able to pop into a burger joint and eat until you want to die for under 12 dollars. I'm not a particular fan of KFC, but I thought it was a nice representative choice of crappy fast food that you sometimes crave.

Joe: You know what's shockingly tasty? White Castle. I avoided that stuff all my life, even when I actually ate fast food. But there's one right next to my local bar, and the inevitable eventually happened as I stumbled through the haze of steamed onion smell. You can't have very many, even if they are small, but damn they are tasty.


TWO: Slacking
Is there any greater American past-time than sitting on your ass? Add some beer, and some junk food, and maybe a nap, and you have the Sport of Democracy. It's getting to the point in this Brave New World of ours where it's almost expected that people will slack away for a full decade, sometime between high school and the first baby-makin'. The best slacking comes from a serious lack of the will to live, which modern American culture can beat into you with savage ferocity. Yeseterday, for example, I worked for a few hours, then took a pointless bike ride, swam in a pool, took a nap, then played D&D all night while eating take-out and drinking beer. Could I have achieved such glorious slackitude if i had any self-repect at all? Thanks a lot, American-way-of-life!

Joe: You played D&D without me? Oh, that's right. I had to get ready for my vacation in Maine (AWESOME ENTRY TO COME!!!). Vacations are only fun when it's just a new venue of slack. Now if my goddam wife could learn how to drive I'd be in business.


ONE: Comic Books
The greatest art form yet achieved by mankind.

(On a slightly related note Superman is the greatest living American, even if he can't be president (immigrant).)

Joe: (Sorry, Charlie Brown, you're a distant second.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

SUMMER


Summer Glau, who was very good in SERENITY, but ultimately unrelated to the season of the same name, and also, this article.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere (also known as "the Better Half"), our lives are rolling around into that daily assault of heat and haze we call Summer. Many people hate the heat, and will spend their time going from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office. They will complain about how hot it is and wear flip-flops, bumming everyone out with negativity and exposed toes.

Friends, I welcome the heat. It can suck, yes. Hot days are tiresome and sometimes make you vomit. Yet in the humidity and oppressive warmth, you have an endless excuse to be lazy, and drink cold beer at inappropriate times. It's okay to stink a little, because everyone else is just as sweaty. It's a wonderful mix of letting yourself go, but also losing weight every time you walk three blocks. You get a little color, you throw on a pair of shades, and wear shorts to dinner. Have a beer- it's hot out!

Summer is the season of skimpy clothes, and if you are a male of the species with a functioning wiener, you may now pray to your pagan gods and thank them verily for tank tops, cleavage, short shorts, open backs, sun dresses, bikinis, and all the other hot-weather wardrobe choices of lovely and winsome lasses. Think of the sweaty hair and tan lines, the fashionable sunglasses and the strapless tops, and then thank that horrible ball of atomic destruction around which we orbit. Thank The Sun for allowing us to get a little closer to him in our journey, so that he may heat up our air and encourage girls to go poolside with oily brown bottles of Hawaiian Tropic. Can you smell that weird coconut aroma yet?

Trips to the beach, lazy afternoons in the park, and cooking out on a grill are universally beloved by all humans. Chugging ice-water and going swimming after a long and exhausting bike ride... what's not to like? Sure, there's some heatstroke here and there, and the infrequent blackout because everyone has their AC on full-throttle. But I promise you, despite the miserable weather conditions, if you go to Coney Island on a hot afternoon and have a cup of foamy beer, ride the Cyclone, then go home and fire up the grill, have a bratwurst before you go for a swim, and finish the night off with a bout of sweaty coitus, you too will see why Summer is rated A for Awesome.

Friday, June 22, 2007

COFFEE


Coffee helps me wake up in the morning. Coffee helps me poop. For those things alone, it wins a gold medal and the Noble Prize for best Movie Ever.

I used to not drink coffee at all, but then I helped my dad refurbish an old house for six months, and coffee became like unto a needle drug. He would wake me up at five-thirty or six, and we would go get biscuits with country ham somewhere cheap, and wash them down with disgusting, bitter, black coffee.

Then he would make a pot of coffee, and we would go to work with cups of coffee sitting close at hand. Then we would have another pot of coffee with lunch. Then I would get the shakes mid-afternoon and want to die. This was a daily ritual.

I drank my coffee black because that's how my dad did it. It wasn't something I was drinking because I liked the taste; I was drinking it so I didn't pass out from exhaustion. I'm one of those people that needs like, ten or eleven hours of sleep each night. Waking up early does not suit me. So coffee was like a foul, liquid energy source and nothing else. Creamer was meaningless!

Presently I like a little cream in my coffee, and I only have a few cups in the morning. I'm glad it's not a staple of my day anymore. I used to wake up, and the first thing i would think about was getting coffee. It was my immediate priority when my eyes opened. That's a pretty sad state of affairs considering I didn't even like the taste. I could maybe handle wanting ice cream first thing every morning, it's delicious. But the coffee I was drinking back then was an inky gas station drip that tasted like salty motor oil. That's not an addiction to be proud of.

My preferred poison lately is the Chock Full o' Nuts Hazelnut. I am no coffee snob, and I like this blend because of the packaging and the ad jingle. There are some great coffee shops in Park Slope (a favorite is MULE), and I will often sample their wares. Good coffee is quite tasty, and whenever I drink a really great cup of it, I think, "I should get this every morning! It's terrific!". But I'm lazy, and I end up going to the nearest deli instead. Whatever!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

TUESDAY TOP FIVE: World Conquerers

A quick list from me this week... No time for love, Doctor Jones.

FIVE: LRRR OF OMICRON PERSEI VIII

Lrrr sometimes uses "human horn" aphrodisiac to mate with his queen, and is a fan of the television show "Single Female Lawyer". He also ate a hippie once.

Joe sez: Why this got cancelled and the Simpsons labors on in almost Family Guy levels of awfulness is beyond me.

FOUR: ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD

Never actually conquered the world, but came awfully close. His initial reveal in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is truly classic; it's the cinematic equivalent of seeing a girl from behind with a really sweet ass, only to have her turn around and reveal spectacular breasts as well.

Joe: One might think the Dr. Evil parody would kind of permanently ruin the genius of Blofeld. But that one would be completely wrong, and rather turdly. Blofeld transcends parody, all the while extinguishing the lives of less competent henchmen and stroking a cute putty tat.

THREE: DARKSEID

The ruler of Apocolypse, whose mission in life is finding the "anti-life equation". That, and enslaving the known universe. Created by The King, Jack Kirby, in his prime.

Joe: Fuck you, Thanos, you goddam prune-looking asshole! This is the real deal here. He doesn't shoot lasers out of his eyes. No, for Darkseid you've got to have a power name more regal and unique. Darkseid is better than lasers. Darkseid has the OMEGA EFFECT!!!!

TWO: KHAN

A genetic superman who ruled the earth in 1992. After being defeated by James Kirk, he quotes Milton at him. Awwwww yeah.

Joe: If Khan and Roy Batty from Blade Runner ever hung out, that would be the coolest, classiest couple of bad-guys-that-would-probably-make-the-world-better-if-they-ruled-it EVER. They would say stuff that the rest of us didn't really understand and laugh in a gentle way that doesn't make us feel ashamed. Why won't they take over now? (Unfortunately in writing this I have unwittingly given some awful nerd fan fiction writer an idea that will culminate with stilted descriptions of what he/she imagines gay sex to be like.)

ONE: MING THE MERCILESS

The original Alien Overlord, Ming ruled Mongo with an iron fist. It's almost as if you could say he had no mercy. Max Von Sydow played him in the crappy FLASH GORDON movie... Take that, Bergman!

Joe:
Did I read somewhere that someone was making a new Flash Gordon show? As long as they keep Ming awesome, they will be A-OK.

GALACTUS

Against my better judgement, I saw that horrible new Fantastic Four movie last week. I shouldn't have to say much more about it, beyond the expected; abortion, excrement, unwatchable, etc...

If any good came out of that 90 minutes wasted, it was a kick-in-the-nuts reminder of how spectacular Jack Kirby was, and what a mind-blowing designer he could be. Early in the original run of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, he showed off his design chops with visual treats like Doctor Doom (still one of the coolest villains ever), The Inhumans, The Sub-mariner's Atlantean Army, and endless piles of weirdo machinery. Pretty quickly, Kirby established himself as a distinct voice in comics, standing out like a thunderstorm in a field dominated by the generic Eisenhower-era Sci-fi of DC Comics.

While The Legion of Super-Heroes hung out in a Buck Rogers Rocketship, and the Justice League met in an empty cave (okay, they had a table), the Fantastic Four lived in The Baxter Building, a hi-tech skyscraper with a nuclear reactor and a rocket silo. And while everyone else was still coming to grips with jet-planes, Kirby was designing space-ships that looked like this:

Which brings us to GALACTUS, The Destroyer of Worlds. Not only does he travel through the universe in the Moebius strip shown above, but he requires a Herald. The only other arch-villain I can think of that requires a Herald was Sauron, whoi is no slouch in the villainy department. Having a minion that announces your arrival to the doomed who await your coming?

Pure class.

The rumor/urban legend is that Galactus was created when Kirby got a plot from writer Stan Lee that was simply "The Fantastic Four fight God." So the FF faced imminent apocalypse in the form of a giant alien who EATS PLANETS. Kirby took what is essentially one of the most basic super-hero plots (alien invasion/save the world), and turned it into a teeth-grinding epic that had scope and imagination almost entirely unseen in comics. Kirby raised the bar so high for Bad Guys, that Galactus still hasn't been topped. He is the King Grandaddy Most Holy Chairman of the Board of comic book villains. If you can't stop Galactus, everybody dies. And stopping Galactus is almost impossible. This is the kind of high-stakes tension that makes Lex Luthor seem like a minor annoyance. Luthor's a joke!

Visually, Galactus is not only singularly distinct, but when set against the buildings of 1960's Manhattan, he becomes imposing, bizarre, otherworldly, powerful, and downright chilling. Despite (or maybe because of) a costume some would call silly (fools, they are!), Galactus immediately reads as a Major Threat. He's huge; twenty stories tall at his smallest. He casually floats in the air, ignoring the civilization beneath him. Nothing harms him, and he's older than the universe itself. Galactus is accurately nicknamed "the Destroyer". Aliens pray to him. He wields the POWER COSMIC, and created the enormously powerful Silver Surfer as easily as you or I might hand out Smarties on Halloween.

I don't care what anyone says. If you think that a giant, swirling dust cloud is as visually exciting as this guy, you have no soul.

Monday, June 11, 2007

TUESDAY TOP FIVE: TIME MACHINES

A new feature, here at the WORLD OF AWESOME... The TUESDAY TOP FIVE.
We'll pick something awesome, and then count down the Top Five Examples of said awesome item.

This week we start with TIME MACHINES. Time Machines are hard to beat; they take you back (or forward) in time, typically with a lot of flashing lights and flipping of switches. If I could go back in time, I wonder if my mom would try to seduce me, ala Marty McFly. I actually don't wonder that at all. My mom was a sexy little vixen, and she would totally ignore me.

But I can live with that.

NUMBER FIVE: The Time Machine


H.G. Wells wrote about a Time Traveler who went into the future and fought morlocks and banged one of the morlocks' sexy livestock. His machine was a marvel of proto-Steampunk luxury, with a a big velvety chair surrounded by filament tubes and spinning dials. It stays in the same spot while the world whizzes by in fast-forward or reverse. You can just sit back and relax, and dream about all that delicious Eloi lovin' you'll get, just by being the only male that isn't afraid of fire.

AWOL sez:Proto steampunk? I thought Wells was kind of the definition of steampunk.
Anyway, I had this heavily abridged kids version of The Time Machine when I was a kid, and for some reason it scared the bejeezus out of me.
The only other thing I remember about it? The Eloi were fascinated by pockets. Pockets? How retarded are they that they couldn't think of pockets?


Joe sez:I used to sit on my Sit and Spin and pretend it was the time machine. H.G. Welles never mentioned the debilitating vertigo and nausea I experienced, but he was probably just censored.


NUMBER FOUR: Doctor Doom's Time Platform


This is how incredible Doctor Doom is. He built a time machine, but rather than use it to conquer us all, he just uses it to annoy the Fantastic Four. He doesn't need a time machine to rule the world. Time machines are but a trifle to DOOM!

AWOL: There was a totally awesome one-shot comic where Iron Man and Dr. Doom get transported back to the days of King Arthur's court, where they have to team up to kick Morgana leFay's ass. Time travel and sexy femme fatale sorceresses? Awesome squared.
Also to get back, they have to wire their respective armors together. How sweet is that? The only thing better than a time machine is an ad hoc time machine.

Joe:I also love that it's basically a flat square with some buttons on it. Doom does not care for baroque design.


NUMBER THREE: The Guardian of Forever


Remember when Bones goes all crazy and paranoid and jumps into the portal and it shows them cowboys and Hitler and then Spock has to hide his ears and then Joan Collins dies and Kirk cries like a big baby? I love that shit.

AWOL: Trek+Nazis = Awesome
Plus, didn't Harlan Ellison write this?
Update: Yep.

Joe: The Ellison thing is actually a count against it . . .but anything that remains awesome after Harlan touches it truly deserves this ranking.


NUMBER TWO: The Tardis


Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.
With all the talk of "relative dimensions", you'd think the Tardis would do a bit more than dangle from a string in front of a black backdrop when it's flying. Chintzy special effects aside, the Time Lords of Gallifrey designed themselves some pretty nifty little tesseracts to take a spin in.

AWOL: I always thought that the best thing about the Tardis was that despite all the time traveling/relative dimensions/regeneration crap, the doctor could never fix the shapechanging thingamjig. I mean, come on, how hard could it be?


NUMBER ONE: The Delorean


This one isn't much of a contest. As Dr. Emmett Brown says, "...if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?". Between the rad eighties vibe, the nuclear engine, and the Flux Capacitor, how can anything else compete?

We've had the Delorean listed in our "Always Awesome" sidebar since Day One, and the recent pop-culture cross-referencing in KNOCKED UP serves to remind us all; if you want to go back in time, you need 1.21 jigowatts, and you have to hit 88 miles per hour.
The Delorean flies, has a Mr. Fusion appliance, and personalized tags. Doc Brown cheated Libyans out of their plutonium to get things started. He promised he'd make them a bomb... Ha! Yes my friends, where we're going, we don't need roads.

AWOL: Why is the Delorean so cool? Not because is can go fast, it has to go fast. Just because.
Also, I use the term "flux capacitor" at work in the same way that John Pertwee used the term "reverse the polarity".

Joe: Also for a while it worked on rails, and things on rails are automatically awesomer. And who hasn't sometimes pretended that his car could turn the wheels in and fly? I'll tell you who hasn't: some sick, evil jerk.

Honorable mentions:
*The Legion of Superheroes Time Bubble
*Bill and Ted's Phone Booth
*This thing: AWOL: and this thing:




Detail of text at top:


















Joe:
And
*Getting hit on the head really hard

Sunday, June 10, 2007

BROOKLYN


Let's face it- Brooklyn rules.

It's pretty much the best place in the world. When you situate yourself in a Brooklyn neighborhood, people get all chill and friendly. Before long the guys at the deli know exactly what brand of seltzer you want, the UPS guys all wave when they drive by, and you can pet strange dogs. (People just stop and let you pet their dogs. That's crazy!) Kids still play stickball, and old women hang out of their windows, asking random pedestrians about the Mets game. It's like a cozy womb filled with Italians and dirty bodegas.

If you don't care about that kind of thing (and who does?), consider the other fine elements of The Borough of Kings. There's Prospect Park, which is one of the most perfect municipal parks ever designed. Not only is it huge, and filled with great open spaces as well as hidden wooded paths, but it also has lakes and horses and a Zoo.

Also, you can grill there. Take that, every other park in the world!
Nearby is the awesome archway at Grand Army Plaza, the Brooklyn Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and easy access to TWO (count 'em TWO) CHIP SHOP locations. The Chip Shop is some of the best food you can put in your mouth. Or rub all over your body.
Either way is fine.

Brooklyn at Christmastime is covered in garland and lights and dirty snow. There are the nomads that appear to sell Christmas trees on the sidewalks, so the smell of sappy evergreen trees is in the air. Brownstones pop up with lights here and there, enough to get you excited, but not so much that you're sick of sparkly lights by the time Christmas actually rolls around. In the summer, kids play in fire hydrants, public pools open up, and there's a street fair almost every weekend, somewhere. Street fairs suck everywhere else, but in Brooklyn, it's one of the only times you can walk around outside with beer, and eat disgusting fried food without your girlfriend giving you a lecture about your "health". (Whatever! My left arm hurts from workin' out!)


Brooklyn is a beautiful place, filled with amazing little spots that never get boring. I love walking over the disgusting Gowanus Canal; it's filthy and decrepit and lovely in a horrible way. I'm never happier than when riding my bike between the brownstones and tree lined streets, checking out all the incredible old buildings, and listening to people yell obscenities at each other.

Parts of Brooklyn still have remnants of a maritime past, when whaling ships set off from the naval yards, and stevedores in striped shirts loaded huge cargo crates all day. So if you yearn for the days of pea-coats and waxed canvas, you can just smell the salty air and see the tugboats and imagine you're about to set off on a tramp steamer for parts unknown. You can walk (or ride a bike) across the Brooklyn Bridge, over old wooden planks and through the haze of commuter pollution. Nothing makes you feel quite so alive as riding a bike across the bridge, angrily shouting at tourists who are standing in the "bike only" lane taking pictures.



The best part of it all is the wealth and diversity of culture here. My girlfriend is always up my butt about going on a trip somewhere, but where are we going to go that's better than Brooklyn? Why go to Egypt when the Brooklyn Museum has one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world? Why go to Japan when Prospect Park hosts a bitchin' Cherry Blossom Festival? Why go to Puerto Rico when you can sit on our stoop? Of course, she always says that "it's not the same thing", and I think, no, It's Better! Why spend all that money to go to Germany, and be surrounded by Germans, when you can just go to Cafe Steinhof during Oktoberfest? Traveling is for suckers.

Yea verily, Brooklyn rules. The bars are friendly and inexpensive, the people are cool, and the restaurants are wonderful hidden treasures, beloved by neighborhood locals who have long since stopped trying to eat out in Manhattan. Living anywhere else is crazy! Is it a little more expensive to live here? Maybe. But that's the price you pay for being in the most Awesome Place Ever.


A typical row of homes in Brooklyn, where people are happy and living fulfilled lives.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

PLAIN CHUCK TAYLORS



Chuck Taylors get a lot of hate, and I'm not entirely sure why. I guess because they're the shoe of choice for annoying Indie Rock kids, but I've come to the conclusion that they are too classically awesome to be ruined. Even Will Smith waxing masturbatory over them in that shitty robot movie can't ruin them. Even Jessica Simpson's little sister and Avril Lavigne can't ruin them.


Yes, many horrible people wear Chucks. But do you know who else wears them? That's right... mother-fucking DOCTOR WHO! One Doctor Who is cool enough to counter-balance fifty Avrils. (Joey Ramone also wore them, but I won't provide a picture, thus saving you from having to look at Joey Ramone, RIP. You can thank me later.)
Lame people are attracted to Chucks like moths to flame, hoping some awesomeness will rub off on them from their footwear. No such luck, but still they try. Such is the might of the Chuck Taylor.

(I think the other reason people hate on Chucks is the absurd amount of ugly, over-the-top designs. I too am flabbergasted and horrified by the double-highs, the camouflage, the black and red, the leathers, the neon colors, the hideous patterns, and the other aberrations from a plain old 1950's basketball shoe. If my dad didn't wear them on the varsity team in 1953, they aren't real Chucks. Sorry, Hot Topic.)

I have owned a pair of Converse All-Stars, in some form or another, since middle school. At the time, Air Jordans were all the rage, and morons would make fun of you if you weren't wearing heaping piles of colorful leather strapped all over your ankles.

But now, almost twenty years later, I'm rocking the same style kicks, and all those assholes have moved on to lame-ass sports sandals (or whatever else yuppies are wearing), and wouldn't be caught dead in Air Jordans. Classics last forever! Score one for the middle-school nerd!

A nicely broken-in pair of canvas sneakers (they don't need to be Chucks, honestly) is as easy a footwear as there is. They go with any outfit (except tuxedos! never tuxedos!), and are comfy as hell. You can pull off any number of classic looks with the Chucks; east coast punk, New England preppie, coastal boater, young Howard Hughes. These are all casual ensembles that go well with either a tall boy of beer in a paper bag, or a tumbler of scotch. This adaptability is always a sign of quality footwear.

(Also, how hot is as a cute girl in a pair of old Chucks? Let us not forget the cute girl factor.)

I submit, dear reader, that the Chuck Taylor should be made the official Awesome Shoe of Summer. Can we get a notarized seal on this declaration? I think it's important to make this official. Too many lives have already been wasted in the Footwear wars.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

THE SHEARER'S BURGER


I like a burger. I really like a burger with stuff on it. The Shearer's burger takes that concept ("stuff" on a "burger") and blows it out the poophole with a V-2.

Between two halves of a crispy bun you have beef, tomato, cheese, grilled onions, a slice of beet, a slice of pineapple, and a fried egg. When you smoosh it all up together and put it in your mouth, you are surprised; rather than tasting like a bunch of shit from your grandma's fridge, it tastes like the best burger ever. So you are not only happily surprised, but happily chowing down on a tasty meal. And then the two sources of happiness get jealous of each other, and start to fight, and it's a joyous cage match in your heart.



Finally! Australia has produced something worthwhile! (Aside form AC/DC... they're Australian, right?)

You can get these marvelous items at Sheep Station in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Probably other places too, but I can't vouch for them. It's probably best just to go to Brooklyn. It's worth the air fare from most of the western hemisphere.

Friday, May 11, 2007

JOHN CARTER OF MARS

Anyone who has ever read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels is already aware that John Carter (a Civil War captain who becomes a warlord on the Red Planet) kicks ass. Tarzan may have gotten all the glory, but John Carter was Burroughs' true masterstroke.

One of the greatest of the pulp characters, John Carter's adventures are so brilliantly insane it makes you wish magazines like WEIRD TALES were still ruling the news-stands. This is a character who, when suddenly stranded on a strange new world, goes about the business of CONQUERING THE PLANET, just because he's bored. Due to the gravity of Mars (Barsoom, to the natives), John Carter's rugged Earthling manliness makes him essentially superhuman. After proving that he is an unstoppable warrior, and killing anyone that stands in his way, he goes on to seduce the most beautiful woman on the entire world. That's the kind of fiction that puts hair on your oiled, bronzed pectorals.

As the Frank Frazetta painting above clearly illustrates, John enjoys killing giant martians with a sword, riding around on lizards, and having his way with Dejah Thoris (the titular "Princess of Mars" from the first novel).
Over the course of the series, he leads armies into battle, fights monsters bare-handed, unravels the superstitious Martian religions, and does it all naked.

Yes, naked.

His only adornments are belts that hold his many weapons, and a pair of boots. Otherwise, (despite his Southern Gentility) he is naked as a jaybird. His best friend is a four-armed, green martian giant, that is also naked. And his sexy wife? Naked. These books are so filled with violence and animal lust that people actually walk around nude, but for their swords and guns.

I like that kind of honesty in a novel.

Friday, May 4, 2007

DOOLITTLE


This is one of those "no duh" entries. DOOLITTLE routinely shows up on every "Best Album Ever Made" list and it would be hard, nay, impossible to argue that it's not a pretty much perfect record.
This is not news. (In fact, a quick wiki search reminds me that "A 2003 poll of NME writers ranked Doolittle as the second greatest album of all time.")

But why is it so awesome? Is it because almost twenty years later, it hasn't aged a day? Is it because it's lyrical themes resonate in dark, unconscious, Jungian places? Is it because it's fun to sing along to?

It's hard to describe the effect that this album had on me the first time I heard it. It was rock music in the purest possible sense; loud, silly, invigorating, and something that spoke to me in a way no other music had. The lyrics were bizarre and evocative in a way that reached right into my adolescent nerd heart.

If you travel backwards now, in the machine that takes us to 1992, you would find me at sixteen, driving a wee hatchback and cranking MINOR THREAT and the like in his cassette deck. What you see here is a kid who is finding some solace in the angry punk rock sounds of bands that broke up some ten years prior, but not really finding any deep-seated, soulful satisfaction. These bands are speaking to his frustration with the world, but not to anything else. This is a kid who is reading Robert Anton Wilson and discovering the myriad worlds of Ray Harryhausen and Moebius. This is a kid who doesn't mind a little silliness in his music.


(This is also a kid who wears khaki pants, tee shirts, and sneakers, and looking for a band that isn't worried much about their outfits, either.)




Then we pop in a new tape. This is a band we've heard before, in the background at parties and at friend's houses, and we liked what we heard, but we never really payed that much attention. So we pop in the tape, and all by ourselves, sealed up in that little car, driving down the highway, we hear the first loud, shrill, wild-hair chords of DEBASER. Someone is screaming at us in spanish. There is talk of mutilation. More songs and more grisly, biblical death, with some nonsense here and there to keep it light . Guitars are howling and drums are thumping hard in the distance like headhunters at midnight. Haunting harmonies sing about death and God and elusive folk named Crackity Jones. Weirdness is in the air, and this music was made entirely for you.

The Pixies took the angry center of punk, laid on the melodies and the pop-love of the Beatles, and then wrapped it up in a surrealist tortilla. This was the rock music I had been looking for since the first hint of puberty.

Some will argue that the Pixies were better before or after. (Mostly before.) Yes, SURFER ROSA is a great album, and indeed, the later albums were plenty excellent. But the deep, resonating thud you hear again and again in DOOLITTLE is more than drums. It's the wood-to-leather crack of a perfect pitch being knocked out of the proverbial park.