Sunday, August 14, 2011

THE MANY BEACHES OF NEW YORK CITY



I have never considered myself a "beach person", in the traditional sense. Surfing seems like an alien pursuit, I rarely wear bermuda shorts, and I do not tan. I was raised hours inland, nestled in the hilly bosom of this Great Land's Appalachian expanse. Before moving, at age 18, to the Coastal regions of Our Splendid Republic, I could count my trips to the ocean on one hand.

I am still a human person, however, and the allure of sunshine, surf, sand, salty air, and scantily clad ladies is not lost on me. I am not cold-blooded. I have a heart. I understand that these are good things. My robot brain allows me some small pleasures in this life. Not all that is good turns to dust and ashes in my mouth. I like the beach.

New York is the city where I live, and it is a city that I know things about. I have spent many desperate hours exploring this stupid place, particularly Brooklyn, home of the Cyclones, Paul Giamatti, and Uncle Louie G's. (It is also, in recent months, the home of more single speed bicycles than I ever thought possible. The ride of choice among people with oversized sunglasses, tattoos of birds, and tight pants, these inefficient things vex me at every turn. It's okay to shift gears, you guys. Your calves and thighs will thank you for breaking convention with your peers this one time. Also, enough with the expensive, artisanal versions of shit like popsicles and pickles and doughnuts. And can we cool it in general with the arts and crafts already?)

Brooklyn is not primarily known for its beaches. College kids with cocaine in their ironic mustaches, and Mos Def probably top the list, while Coney Island is maybe in the top twenty. It is a disgusting beach, but if you like your swimming to come hand in hand with funnel cake tummy aches and Russian men with a pelt of back hair, it probably will quench your thirst.

Brighton Beach has less fried dough and other junk foods, and way more Russians. There is no better way to remind oneself of the fierce strength of the USSR's military than to go to Brighton Beach and see the multitude of amputees. Between the gorgeous girls with amazing nails and the hardcore men missing limbs, this beach is less about suntanning and swimming and more about mad respect for our former Cold War adversaries.

Rockaway Beach is on the Brooklyn end of Queens, and relatively easily accessible from both Boroughs. It is notable for it's proximity to Rockaway Tacos, which has earned a well-deserved reputation as being a destination joint for the best tacos on the east coast. With a belly full of tacos, Rockaway is mostly clean and wide and good for finding space to hang out. It is also on the same peninsula as Jacob Reis beach, which is a great spot that is usually not crazy crowded, and has some cool old municipal buildings, if you are into the architecture of old military facilities and whatnot. (Who isn't?)

There are more things to say but I am bored of this topic. Summer is almost over. It is better to enjoy beaches than write about them. Nevertheless, New York has some beaches that are awesome.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

CHEWBACCA



Remember when we liked STAR WARS? Remember when it was still a thing that wasn't horrible?

Those were the days, my friends.

When I was a child, I always had to be Luke Skywalker when playing STAR WARS games, because of my blondeness. I don't know that I even liked Luke best. I'm pretty sure I liked Han Solo better, but after years of being forced into the Luke role, I can't even remember anymore. (I was typecast at age four!) Now that I consider it, why would anyone like Luke better than Han? Han was what made STAR WARS great. He was a charming asshole, which is basically the best type of person to be, in movies and in life. He had the best outfits, and the best spaceship. And his best friend was Chewbacca, who is the ostensible topic of this post.

Chewbacca did not wear pants. Chewbacca carried a crossbow. Chewbacca was into S&M. Chewbacca was a surprisingly good cellist. Chewbacca ran in marathons to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy. Chewbacca wrote his undergraduate thesis on GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Chewbacca had an origina mint-on-card Boba Fett figure (with rocket-firing backpack). Chewbacca won a beatboxing contest. Chewbacca was friends with Godzilla and had a cameo in GODZILLA VERSUS THE SMOG MONSTER. Chewbacca's name means "easy lover" in wookie.

How warm is wookie hair, anyway? I only ask because when the rebels were on the ice planet of Hoth, everyone is bundled up in quilted parkas and scarves, but Chewbacca is just walking around like it ain't no thang. He subscribes to the Bugs Bunny school of dressing for cold weather, which is just putting on a scarf or earmuffs. Chewbacca should put on a jacket. He is going to get pnuemonia.

There are three things that almost ruined Chewbacca, but his charm and style overcome all obstacles.

1. He was in REVENGE OF THE SITH, which was little more than a glorified cameo, designed to make people think "oh, there is a good thing that I recognize. If Chewbacca is in this piece of shit, maybe it isn't so bad." Sorry, Chewie. You did not successfully raise that movie out of the dumper with your illustrious presence. Points for trying, I guess.

2. The early action figures were not so great at sculpting hair, so Chewie kind of looked like a poop-monster. Also, it was the same color brown, when anyone can plainly see that Chewie has beautiful fur, ranging in shades from auburn to dusky grey to black. Poor form, Kenner Toy Company. Maybe if you spent less time designing dumb lightsabers that slid out of forearms and looked awful, and more time sculpting wookie hair, I wouldn't be zinging you in this horrible blog entry right now.

3. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, when Chewbacca swings on a vine, he yodels like Tarzan. What the fuck?

These are three things I choose not to like about Chewbacca. Maybe you have more. Maybe you hate his creepy Grandpa from the STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. Maybe you hate the way he bullies Artoo into losing that weird chess game. Maybe it upsets you when he gives Han the wrong spanner while they attempt to fix the Falcon's hyperdrive. Or maybe you can't stand the fact that Chewie is mortified by the stupid garbage monster.

It doesn't matter. He is still great. Let the wookie into your heart. Chewbacca is awesome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

CABBAGE



Cabbage is a vegetable that comes from the ground like magic. It is sometimes mistaken for lettuce, which is a terrible mistake. They look alike, in many ways. It can be very confusing.

Cabbage has been eaten by many people throughout history. It has gotten the silent stamp of approval from millions. I think it is a thing of Europe? Is that true? Do Europeans like cabbage? I seems like they would. I'm going to go on record with this. Europe loves the humble cabbage.

I was taught to cook cabbage in three ways. The first involves eating it raw, right out of the dirt, with a little salt. That is a satisfying and simple method. It is crunchy, and requires no effort, aside from maybe a little rinsing and slight chopping. The next way involves slicing it into pieces with a knife (or a small hatchet), throwing it in a pan with some oil, and cooking it down until it is hot and steamy. Maybe some salt would be good at this point. I would not presume to tell anyone how to season their veggies. I am not a presumptuous man.

The third method is passed down from the Deutschlanders from whence I am bred. It is the way of sauerkraut, and it is delicious. Many were the autumn afternoons I spent with my family, shredding cabbage with large graters, packing the stuff into mason jars, and watching the jars then be sealed with secret spices and vinegars.

(Full disclosure: I did not do this very often. It is super boring.)

The jars would then go in our "kraut cellar", which was mostly just a big hole under our porch. In the months to come we would crack open those jars, and then eat that kraut. We ate that kraut so hard.

I enjoy the nasty, soggy sauerkraut that comes on sidewalk vendor hot dogs, and also the fancy stuff that expensive bratwurst and knackwurst sit on top of at fancy Bavarian restaurants. When I was a young child, one of my neighbors was in Patton's Third Army, and marched across France in World War Two. He said that the Germans would carry sacks of sauerkraut as part of their rations, and that they smelled something terrible. I was really young and didn't quite realize what he was talking about, and took him at his word. In retrospect, he may have been fucking with me.

(Thinking about the stories I was told drove me to google "german army rations ww2". Someday, when my body is found slumped and cold due to "mysterious circumstances", that will be on my browser history, right after "Susanna Hoffs" and "cabbage head kids in the hall". I hope I am not judged too harshly by posterity.)

The World War II veteran in question was a really nice guy, and he had greenhouses that were fascinating places when I was a kid. I remember how the small pebble gravel crunched when you walked, and the air was always humid and aromatic. A system of pipes hanging from the rafters misted the plants now and then, and there was an occasional piece of interesting or comical pottery hidden here and there. The way the sunlight diffused through the ceiling and walls gave everything an ethereal quality, and coupled with these antiquated, purple, florescent lights that ran in long rows throughout, walking into the greenhouses was like being in a completely new world. I get the same feeling going to the different climate pavilions at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and it's still a weird and quietly thrilling experience.

I once saved up my money because I decided I wanted a cactus, and when I went to buy one, he refused to let me pay for it, insisting I take it as a gift. His wife always called him by his last name, which made me laugh, and the first time I ever saw DOCTOR WHO was at their house, one night while they were babysitting me. It was a super creepy rerun of an early black and white episode, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen on television.

I often wish I had had the foresight and wherewithal as a teenager to take a tape recorder over to those greenhouses, and interview this gent. I wish I had his stories about World War II on record, and I wish I knew more about the plants that sat in neat rows up and down the greenhouse walls and in a huge trough down the center. Mostly the World War II stuff, though. This is a major regret in my life.

The last time I was in Tennessee, I noticed that the greenhouses were in total disrepair. My neighbor and his wife have long since passed away, and creeper vines and entropy have taken their toll on the buildings. The cactus did not last either.

Amyway, I like cabbage.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD



Recently, I put together a list of the Top Fifty Greatest Comic Book Movies for a popular website. My list was solid and honest, but the number one slot was met with much horror and derision, as many people could not handle the truth of my words. It was hard for some folks to face reality.

SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD is kind of a masterpiece.

Not only that, but it is the Number One Greatest Comic Book Movie yet made and anyone who says otherwise is incorrect in their opinion. Also, they have something wrong in their heart. Their cold, shriveled, charcoal briquette of a heart.*

Beyond the fact that SPVTW** is a fun, visually innovative, genuinely moving film, it accomplishes a number of things that yank it up by it's bootstraps to the "classic" level.

- This is a movie that perfectly captures what it means to be young, single, and stupid in an urban area in the 1990s-2000s. Living in a shitty apartment with a roommate, having a terrible band, going to bars and parties filled with other young and stupid people; SPVTW has a verisimilitude that is insane. Having spent my 20s in Manhattan, surrounded by exactly the type of kids that populate this movie, it is more real a depiction of what my life was like than any movie I've ever seen, particularly those that are making a point to capture that feeling (I'm looking at you, REALITY BITES). This film is a sliver of life specific to being right out of college, falling in love too easily, and living in a city filled with other like-minded people your age, all in ironic t-shirts and dirty jeans and fashionable sneakers.

- From a technical, craft-oriented standpoint, SPVTW is a master class in how to stretch the film medium to tell a story. It plays with aspect ratios, focal depths, editing, split screens, color theory, and all the other myriad tools of film-making in a way that seems so effortless that it truly and without exaggeration reminds me of that most name-dropped of movies, CITIZEN KANE.*** All of these tricks and treats are put to use in ways that enhance the story; none of the visual flash is there just to be showy. In fact, much of the visual playfulness is incredibly subtle; I didn't notice the fact the aspect ratios shift (dependent on plot and tone) from scene to scene, until it was pointed out to me on my fourth viewing. This is the kind of stuff that gives movie nerds boners, and I respect that.

- The soundtrack is absolutely killer, and as well-used as any movie since SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Part of the conceit of SPVTW is a battle of the bands, so aside from the general background songs scattered throughout the film, you have several bands that all require unique sounds and audio-personalities****. When you have Beck providing the music for one of the bands, you have already scored an easy A on this exam. Then you start adding Metric, Broken Social Scene, Frank Black, and The Black Lips. Pretty soon you have one of the great soundtracks of the 2000s.

This is a new millennium, you guys. Time to shelve the PULP FICTION and SINGLES soundtracks. They kind of suck, in retrospect.

- SPVTW is second only to SAY ANYTHING when it comes to distilling the Obsessive Crush into a two hour experience. Seeing a girl at a party, followed by awkward first flirting, awkward first half-naked make-out, awkward first public outings, and awkward first argument. Everything is on display, and handled with unflinching honesty, including the strained hours before you lean in for a kiss, and the neurotic nit-picking of every signal (or not-signal). Scott's single-minded devotion to the process of making Ramona his "girlfriend" is a perfect depiction of post-adolescent Young Love, and probably the best since ROMEO AND JULIET, except without the melodrama and euro-trash. Anyone who related to Matthew Sweet's seminal album GIRLFRIEND, or spent the 1990s listening to anything by TEENAGE FANCLUB or THE LEMONHEADS is already primed like an oily shotgun to completely understand the fascination Scott has with the one cute, aloof, too-fashionable girl at a friend's house party. There is so much that is true about their relationship, and all the video game veneer and slick movie-with-a-capital-M artifice falls away when you see them look longingly at each other, despite all of their ham-fisted attempts at being cool (the ones that everyone falls victim to, ages 15- 30).

This is a genuine and sincere relationship, made even more-so by the ambiguous ending, that leaves open the fate of it all. Of course, ultimately, whether or not Scott and Ramona are soul-mates that will stay together forever is beside the point. The idea is that they've both grown a little and are ready to give their crush a shot at something meaningful. This simple point, that two immature people can become a little more mature, learn something about themselves, and give it a go together; this is about as honest as it gets when it comes to movie romances.

- It is the first film to use the visual shorthand language of comic books organically, integrating it into the editing rhythms of moving pictures and creating a thematic texture that not only works well, but becomes inherent to the storytelling. This is not the novelty "BAM! POW!" title cards of the BATMAN television show, this is taking the dynamic nature of what sound effects and motion lines in comics actually represent, and using them to enhance what is already an incredibly vibrant cinematography.

- Typical comic book adaptations, take a property, or a storyline, and hammer them flat with the blunt end of the Hollywood hammer until all subtlety and originality are lost. SPVTW not only stays true to the spirit of the comic, it condenses the last several volumes into something that actually makes more sense, and loses none of the characterization. It's a herculean feat, pulled off with the grace of a Russian trapeze artist.

- The performances were great, all-around. Some of them were exceptional. This is an amazing ensemble cast, and there are no weak links. Some people complained about the casting of Michael Cera as Scott, but at this point I can't imagine anyone else in the role. He brought to the role a perfect mix of cockiness and vulnerability, wit and stupidity, and horny confusion. For a scrawny kid, he was convincing in the physicality of the fight scenes, and he was effortlessly comfortable with a guitar or bass slung over his shoulder. Ellen Wong (as Knives Chau) was heart-breakingly real, and Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Simmons... hell, the entire cast were all scene-stealers. Chris Evans and Brandon Routh absolutely kill as ridiculous villains, oozing with a charisma and humor that totally outshines their larger roles in bigger pictures.

Every character was brought to life in a memorable and funny way, and they all reminded me exactly of people I have met, either specifically or generally. This is because they were honest portrayals and completely relatable, but still tweaked just enough to fit into the film's heightened reality. This is no easy task, yet everyone in this cast pulls it off.

- Um, excuse me? Did I just see a fight with magic, flaming swords and kung-fu? Another 1,000 points awarded.

In the end, this is a movie that took a great comic, and stayed true to the visual style, the characters, the charm, the wit, the pacing, the themes and the heart. It stuck close to the source material, and then tried to make it even better, adding the depth of great acting and amazing music. It added layers to something already terrific, without losing anything (except a few plot tangents and peripheral characters, but I think we can forgive that). SPVTW is a great movie, and I have no hesitation stamping it AWESOME.




* To be fair, there were plenty of things on that list that enraged people, such as placing ANNIE in the top ten, and leaving off a few execrable (but apparently well-loved) choices like WATCHMEN and KICK-ASS. The amount of rage leveled at the list, as it is, was kind of astonishing, often for no more a reason than that I placed RED SONJA higher than PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. I learned a lot about the world making that list.

** Let's just go ahead and abbreviate. Seriously, now.

*** The big difference between the two is that CITIZEN KANE is a ponderous morality tale about tragic hubris and the death of the American Dream, and SPVTW is about an immature Canadian guy, immersed in video games and indie rock, maturing just enough to keep a real girlfriend around a little bit longer. Look, I understand the difference. I'm pretentious enough to genuflect at the former and scoff at the latter. I get it.

**** Did I just make that term up? I don't know if I love it or hate it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

ABBA


ABBA is the world's only supergroup.

They are the greatest pop band to ever form, then break up, then enjoy unexpected late-career success connected to a Meryl Streep film. They are Sweden's greatest export. The world was a darker place before they arrived from Heaven.

The name ABBA comes from an abbreviation of the name of the rarest and most valuable metal, Abbatanium. It is so rare that only two people in the world have jewelry made from it. Who those people are is a secret, but pay attention to Henry Kissinger's pinkie the next time you see him in a delicatessen.

There are four members of ABBA, although they each have enough cool for two people. So it would be scientifically accurate to say ABBA has eight members, on a cool-o-meter scale.

The eight members of ABBA are:

AGNETHA
Also known as “the blonde one”. She is called that because she is the blonde one.

Her hair is blonde, presumably everywhere, although I have certainly met fair-hued ladies who have more of a tawny brown tone to their action hair. People are really fascinated with the idea of action hair matching the hair on the head, and I guess it is disorienting when it really, really doesn't match. A girl with jet black hair who has a soft blonde tuft in her underpanties is wrong somehow.

Despite my advanced age, I am still too young to know the glory days of pubic hair. It seems like everyone these days is trimming or shaving, and generally practicing grooming and good hygiene. It's a real shame. Unruly pubic hair reminds me of European girls who smoke thin cigarettes while they're naked, and yell at you when you apologize after climaxing. I think of hazy, backlit, black and white photos of a girl with bangs and dark bags under her eyes. She's hungover from too much wine, but is still going to the farmer's market, because she wants fresh leeks in her eggs. She's a busy girl, and she ain't got no time to mess with shaving down there.

Those were the days, my friends. We've let soft-core porn and sorority girls with fake tans lead us down a sad, curl-free path.

BJORN

Look into the eyes of the perfect soldier. This is Bjorn.

They say that one in one-hundred humans are born without remorse, or human empathy. These people shine on battlefields; the hesitation and guilt that plague other soldiers does not exist in them. Bjorn is an example of this type of natural born hunter.

Placed in a Stockholm military school while still a child, Bjorn quickly rose to the dominate his classmates, commanding a respect normally reserved for silverback gorillas. Through sheer force of testosterone-fueled power, he became the youngest cadet to ever win the Steel Panther, the most prestigious student olympian award in Northern Europe. His skills on the pummel horse were matched only by his skills in the boxing ring, the pole vault, the cross-country skiing routes, and the firing range. Known for a combination of deadly accuracy and pure physical power, at age thirteen Bjorn was taken into secret training by the Swedish government. This program, called Operation Thor-storm, was designed to create the perfect Swedish military operative; a soldier who could kill with his bare hands, deliver a baby in a hurricane, and topple third world governments, all before Hot Cocoa hour (the traditional Swedish mid-morning naptime).

Bjorn's actions on behalf of the Swedish Secret Service are confidential, but it is known that he was present at most key battles of the conflict in Korea, and he was spotted in Cuba shortly before the Bay of Pigs. Released from service after a decade of covert operations, Bjorn began a second life; crafting the beautiful harmonies and song stylings of supergroup ABBA.

And so it was that Bjorn mastered two fields, as one of the deadliest assassins ever to live, and as part part of humanity's greatest pop quartet. A secret Nobel Prize was awarded to him in 1995; it is unknown for which field the honor was given.

BENNY
I was born in 1976, which was apparently a pretty crappy time in this country. There was a gas shortage (I think?), everyone was all sassed up about Richard Nixon going crazy or something, and there were lots of tight clothes and synthetic fibers.

I remember absolutely nothing about the seventies. Does anyone remember anything from ages Birth to Four? I know that STAR WARS came out when I was a year old, and it was a big deal. It had Mr. Spock and a magic laser gun, and it soothed the wounds of a nation still stinging from bad stuff that happened in Indochina. There was NATIONAL LAMPOON, which was way funnier than anything before or since, but by the time I was old enough to read it, it was a shadow of itself. I can't personally recall anything about the seventies. My brain was still soft, I suppose.

The most significant early memory I can muster is going to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK at the theater in my hometown. My oldest brother took me; he would have been sixteen or so. The STAR WARS films dominate much of my earliest memories, in a way that is almost depressing. This is the sad story of most of my male peers.

I clearly recall the early scenes of that movie, set on a stark blue and white planet of ice and snow. There was a tactile darkness to the tunnels and spaceship interiors, adding a texture to the film that made it as real as the theater around me. It was hypnotic, and I remember details from that movie vividly, much more so than unimportant stuff like kindergarten, which is just kind of a stupid blur.

Sometimes I wonder if the extended adolescence I call a life isn't rooted in being so completely enthralled with a ridiculous fantasy world at age four. It's like my brain has never allowed me to fully step back into a world of root canals and debt and girlfriends who dump you in horrible ways. I've never really put much stock in the supernatural side of the Abrahamic religions I was raised in, but when Yoda says "Luminous beings are we...", it affects me deeply. I do not like this about myself.

Anyway, Benny was a famous musician in the seventies and he seemed to be having a good time.

ANNI-FRID

Anni-Frid was also known as Frida, which is also the name of a character in PEANUTS who was obsessed with her hair. That was pretty much her entire personality.

The great thing about ABBA is the complete lack of irony. I don't know if anyone could have predicted, back when ol' St. Augustine was making stuff up, that there would be a time when everything was viewed through a cock-eyed lens of snickering and snide self-importance. A time when people know more about SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT than the Song of Solomon, and not because they actually love Burt Reynolds. Hell, I'm as guilty as anyone. I like plastic dinosaur toys, but only when they're terrible. Really beautifully crafted and scientifically accurate dinosaurs hold no interest for me. I like the garbage and the kitsch. I am not without sin.

But ABBA had sincerity in spades, and sometimes it makes me cry to listen to them. They are like an old gospel group; when they sing they mean it. They were corny, wore silly disco togs, and seemed to be genuinely loving every second of every bellowed harmony. Sincerity goes a long way, and they were up to their Swedish eyeballs in it. Abba is awesome.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HIGHLANDER (1986)


The video stores of the late 1980s through the mid-1990s are now a lost species; an artifact of a time when VHS was the king of all media (apologies to H. Stern).
In those days, if VHS was the king of all media, then HIGHLANDER was the god.

The boxes on the shelves of the local video stores in my hometown were dusty and sun-faded, and they all seemed to have the same mix of B-movies and heavy-cable-rotation genre flicks. Of these, there was a small and revolving list of standards that my friends and I would routinely rent. This list included:

HELLRAISER
HELLRAISER II
KRULL
STAR WARS (This was at the low tide of interest between the heyday of 1977-1984, and the horrible over-saturation of garbage of 1997-present)
THE PUNISHER (Dolph Lundgren version. Underrated.)
BRAZIL
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
DUNE
FIRE AND ICE

… and any other number of grainy masterpieces, hidden behind cardboard sleeves featuring men with swords, women with swords, or robots with swords. They were either covered with intriguing and surreal imagery (as in the case of BRAZIL, where a man smiles beatifically as seraphim, sunshine, and a neon logo explodes from his head), or completely and laughably low-rent (as in the case of THE PUNISHER, in which the cover was little more than a publicity still of Dolph Lundgren in front of a prom-photo backdrop).

The high-water mark of this sordid selection was undoubtedly HIGHLANDER. It was simultaneously horrible and amazing, a concept that was initially hard for my mid-pubescent brain to process. I knew that Christopher Lambert, mumbling unenthusiastically through a horrible Scottish accent, was delivering one of the least interesting performances in action movie history. No small feat. I knew that the direction was ridiculous, and made for several indecipherable stretches, muddying an already silly storyline. The internal logic made no sense, the supporting cast (aside from two notable and obvious exceptions) was forgettable, and it is ponderous, with long police procedural scenes that are painful to sit through.

On the other hand, it's a movie where sweaty men decapitate each other with swords. It has one of the best soundtracks in the history of film, courtesy of QUEEN, and most importantly, Sean Connery is in it. This is a movie with a mythology that is thoroughly convoluted, yet it delivers a straightforward concept that, while it makes no sense, is primal and simple; THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.

With a central premise that essentially boils down to “men with swords must kill each other throughout history”, all the other details are inconsequential. Barbarians have survived to our era, where they secretly murder each other after long, intense swordfights. They are driven by ancient edicts, and can only be killed by having their heads chopped off. The main character has a samurai sword. Why?

Because it looks cool. Which is all that matters.

There are several things about HIGHLANDER which will always entertain me. First and foremost is Sean Connery. He is having as much fun in this movie as I have ever seen an actor have. It's almost as if he's on the verge of cracking up every time he delivers a line. He is smiling wide and every move is a bombastic flourish, but why wouldn't it be? The man is dressed in a cape and floppy hat, like some hyper-masculine Lord Fauntleroy. Sir Sean (Scottish accent in full throes) is playing an Egyptian, living as a Spaniard, who spent decades in Japan. None of this makes sense! Not even in the bizarre cosmology of the HIGHLANDER universe is this believable. Yet none of that matters. The only important thing, is that when Connery flashes his middle-aged grin through a soft-focus camera haze, we all get nerd-boners.

Clancy brown also brings the good stuff, chewing through every scene with a relish reserved for only the most hammiest of hams. His giddy-ass performance ranks with Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine in the STAR WARS prequels, or Anthony Hopkins in NIXON. These are villains who salivate with creepy glee as they deliver ridiculous lines, and the screen lights up whenever they start cackling. Clancy Brown's Kurgan is from the same world as Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, where saying terrible things while smiling horrifically is as natural as breathing. The Kurgan is evil because he is Russian, and that is the long and short of his backstory (this was the 1980s, after all). Over the course of the film, he rapes the hero's wife, sexually harasses nuns, kills Sean Connery, and dresses like a skinhead. Subtlety of characterization was not a concern here.

I am also perpetually entertained by the portrayal of the actual "highlanders", the group from whom the lead character comes from, and who lend their name to the title of the film. They are portrayed as plaid-smothered barbarians, covered in animal furs and generally looking like extras from LORD OF THE RINGS. The tartans worn would have required dye and weaving techniques that were not readily available until 100 years later, and the general historical accuracy on display is about on par with 300, or PLANET OF THE APES. Of course, this is beside the point. The closer the costumes are to CONAN the better, for my money. Watching a bunch of undernourished farmers (covered in buboes and wearing hastily woven wool skirts) trying to kill each other with dull weapons they could barely lift; this is not particularly enticing as a cinematic experience. A semi-fictional fantasy with overly-costumed actors swinging choreographed axe-chops is plenty fine by me.

The music, by QUEEN, is so iconic and wonderful that it barely needs be mentioned. It is so obviously brilliant that I suspect all the sequels and TV spin-offs were just extended and expensive excuses to use those songs again and again. To put gravy all over it, having QUEEN do the music led to a video where Christopher Lambert rocks out onstage with Freddy Mercury. Amazing.

All told, HIGHLANDER is ridiculous, horrible, amazing, laughable, and totally entertaining. It takes me back to the days when renting awful movies with your friends on a Saturday afternoon was as good as life got. I recognize that it is a genuinely bad film, but I love it dearly. HIGHLANDER is awesome.

(It is also free on Hulu.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Top Five: Aliens Among Us

Throughout history, creatures from other worlds have walked among humans, pretending to be one of us. They blend in and integrate, observing us with their beady alien eyes. It is one of the most terrifying ideas ever. I just gave myself chills thinking about it.

this picture is representative of a scary thing to me

There are many questions about these invaders. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What do they want? And who are the TOP FIVE?

5. ZIGGY STARDUST


Real Name: Davey Jones
Planet of Origin: Mars
Known Activities: Glam Rocking, Extreme Druggery, Multi-sexing
Sinister Plots: Failing in his mission to warn of Earth's imminent end after being distracted by drugs, sex, material wealth, and enormous boots.

4. FORD PREFECT

Real Name: Ix
Planet of Origin: Somewhere small, near Betelgeuse.
Known Activities: Travel writer. Hitchhiker. Towel Enthusiast.
Sinister Plots: Kidnaps hapless Englishman while allowing civil servants of an alien government to demolish Earth. Writes unflattering article.

3. UNCLE MARTIN

Real Name: Unknown
Planet of Origin: Mars
Known Activities: Turning invisble, levitating stuff. Having TV antennae in his head.
Sinister Plots: Keeping Bill Bixby from his rightful place as The Incredible Hulk for 107 episodes.

2. THE DOCTOR


Real Name: Unknown
Planet of Origin: Gallifrey
Known Activities: Time-traveling, talking to robot dogs, dying and regenerating.
Sinister Plots: Giving nerds ample fodder to fill countless message boards and awkward conversations.

1. SUPERMAN
Real Name: Kal El
Planet of Origin: Krypton
Known Activities: Saving lives, fighting evil, thwarting marriage attempts from earth women.
Sinister Plots: How dare you. He's Superman. Show some respect.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MY FUNERAL WILL BE AWESOME



My funeral, if these instructions are followed, will be awesome. Please pay attention.

1. All living things die, so I suspect I will as well. (This is reasonable to assume, right? I'm pretty sure it's incredibly rare for something to keep going forever. I can't think of any documented cases off the top of my head. So let's just stick with the assumption that everything dies. For the sake of argument.) In the case that I do die, which is probable, I want my body roped off for at least twelve hours. If I drop dead on the sidewalk, for example, I would like a team to rush to the scene, and set up a series of ropes around my corpse, at lease six feet away on all sides. Those velvety ropes on brass stands would be perfect for this. The kind that are used to make lines at movie theaters and horrible bars.

With my body crumpled in a heap on the ground, separated from other humans, it will be a nice time to reflect on personal space, and how nice it is when people aren't all up in your business. Passersby will think "at least in death, he finally had a few hours when he wasn't being bumped against or squeezed past or forced to hug someone."

2. In the top left drawer of the wide dresser in my apartment, there is a kilt. Find that, and stow it somewhere safe. It will come into play later. Do not dress me in any of the fine clothes or fashionable garments in my home. Whatever I am wearing at the time of departure-from-this-mortal-coil will be acceptable. I should be lain out across a stone slab of some sort, fully clothed. (Hopefully my glasses will still be intact. I would like to keep wearing them throughout the process. Not that I will need them, but I become an unrecognizable mole person when they are removed, and I would like for the bereaved and grieving to recognize me through their tears.) All those who have ever met me will be in attendance at this point, as I am well-loved and much admired.

After I am on this stone slab, someone should solemnly approach, hold a gong in the air, and ring it once, shouting "THE FUNERAL HAS BEGUN!" This person should be wearing a robe of some kind. Not a cloak. A ROBE. Perhaps a mask. It can be a hired actor. Actually, that's preferable, as long as auditions don't go on for too long. The mask should be something unsettling. I want people to be on their toes.



At the masked actor's announcement, the funeral will begin.

3. Not knowing what will eventually "do me in" means that I will have to trust you, dear reader, to exercise some improvisation. For example, if this stone slab is indoors, the bonfire will have to be further away from my corpse, so as not to interfere with fire codes. If it is outside, the fireworks may begin much earlier. Improvisation is fine as long as the spirit of the thing is observed. I trust you. Don't let me down.

4. At this point, the bagpipes begin. Four men will play DON'T STOP ME NOW by QUEEN. They should be Real Men, with hairy knuckles and smelling like corned beef and football turf. If one of them has too much to drink, this is acceptable. The man beside him will have to help prop up this fellow from time to time, and the bourbon on his breath will be pungent. This is all perfectly acceptable. While they are playing, everyone in attendance will line up, and pay their respects, one by one. The men will leave small tokens around me, such as pocketknives, or vintage presidential campaign buttons. The women will weep, and their tears will be collected in a silver chalice, carried by a registered nurse. No one should spend too much time admiring my corpse. Courtesy shall be enforced. In the case of a fatal headwound, I will allow a bandana to be lain across the gore, as long as part of my face is still visible. (This is the last chance people will have to admire me; we musn't deny them that.) As the line comes to a close, my "pall bearers" will gather the items left by men, the chalice of tears, and the aforementioned kilt, and be escorted to the nearest exotic dance club by the bagpipers. Several women of strong arm and backs will carry me on their shoulders to the same strip club, following the men at least six paces behind, as is custom among civilized peoples.

5. At the strip club, a LORD OF THE FLIES scenario will begin, where my "pall bearers" will struggle for dominance among the other male patrons and staff (except the DJ, who may remain safe in his booth). Weapons are allowed. When an Alpha Male is determined, and this could go on for days, all other men must leave. I suspect at this point he will be in a near-feral state, wearing war paint and possibly a makeshift headband. In total silence, and under the strange and likely nauseating neon lights of the gentleman's establishment, the Alpha Male will arrange my corpse in whatever manner he sees fit. The gifts and tokens will be arranged as well, and the kilt will be lain across everything; a tartan shroud that smells vaguely of old closets. The strippers will have watched this since the very beginning. His testosterone at this point will be so overwhelming, it will no doubt provoke ovulation among these women. In years to come, the babies born of this Alpha Male's seed (as he will certainly take all the strippers as wives) will be known as "Cox Funeral People". They will be a genetic strain unto themselves, eventually settling on a volcanic island and shunning the modern world.



6. With my body prepared, the Alpha Male will nod to the DJ, who will begin playing SEXXX LAWS by Beck. My corpse will be soaked in Jameson Whiskey, and lit aflame. A torch if available, but anything will do. The kilt is old and the wool is going to make excellent kindling. As my body burns, the strippers will wail and rend their garments (assuming they have any on). It will be strictly Old Testament. Gnashing of teeth and everything. This burning will take many days, until I am nothing left but char. The doors will have to be barred, and I imagine an altercation with a SWAT team might occur before the process is complete.

7. My ashes should be ground into a paste, mixed with the tears of the female mourners, and used by the Alpha Male to paint and decorate the bodies of his new stripper wives. When this is complete, he will collapse, exhausted from days of fighting and impregnating and tending to my remains, fueled only by booze and primal urges. The attendees at the earlier procession will have a vague idea who this was, but will never speak of it. The Alpha Male will fade into obscurity, along with the actor who began the ceremony. (After a few failed auditions, he realized that he wasn't going anywhere, and the best he could hope for would be infrequent local commercials.) Those who attended my funeral will be given polaroids of the strippers painted in my ashes, taken by the DJ, to remember me by. It is all over, except for one last thing...

8. Everyone goes to Hawaii!




My funeral will be awesome.

ALKA-SELTZER (in three parts)



1. I have discovered a thing. No one before me has known it. I have found it all by myself, and I am the first person to bring it down from the mountain. The world started the day I was born and ends at the edge of my vision. I discovered this thing all on my own. I deserve a medal or a ribbon. Someone get me my medal. Or ribbon.


2. Dear Planet Earth. I am angry that you waited until I was 34 before you let me know the benefits of the product Alka-Seltzer. I am so mad at you over this. I blame you. Even though this product has been popular for decades, and has one of the catchiest and most famous jingles of the television era, it has never occurred to me that this is something I should buy and use with regularity. There are too many people on this planet for there to be an excuse. Every time I woke up with a headache and a tummyache, someone should have told me there was an answer. Someone should have told me. This should be common knowledge. There is a fundamental flaw in the universe that this miracle cure for all-that-ails-you was not given to me sooner. So many wasted years...

3. When you are the type of person that drinks too much and eats too much, chances are that you feel like shit at least a few hours daily. Rich food and strong drink are the enemies of delicate human machines. Being a model of sobriety and healthy living, I only know of this second-hand, but it seems many people, after a night of libation, have salved themselves with an early morning cocktail of mylanta, pepto bismol, advil, aspirin, coffee, and several pints of water. This is breakfast, when you live a horrible lifestyle. Or so I have heard. I wouldn't know first-hand. I have healthiness.

Apparently, Alka-Seltzer has been around for decades, but no one bothered to tell me about it until the last six months (see number 2). So it seems that there have been entire decades of drunks and reprobates who have soothed the wounds of a long night's revelry with a familiar plop-plop and fizz-fizz. I was surprised and delighted to also find that this product can also help people with clean, sin-free lives. It just makes you feel good, no matter how deep in the devil drink you may wallow.

Without doing any research at all, I have determined that Alka-Seltzer is aspirin or something, with a magic potion that makes it fizzy. It turns water into something that smells like a YMCA, and tastes like hospital. I encourage everyone to keep a few tablets stowed on the old utility belt. Whether you are in the murky, pukey haze of a hangover, or maybe just after eating a jalapeno and sauerkraut sandwich, Alka-Seltzer has been getting pudgy middle-aged dudes through the working day since the 1700s*.

Alka-Seltzer is awesome.




*right?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

FLEUR-DE-LIS



The fleur-de-lis first came into your Humble Narrator's brain as a young lad, as it was (and remains) the worldwide emblem of the Scout movement. It was on patches and banners, and in the 1980s edition of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, there was a full-page spread of all the many variations of the Scout emblem used by different countries of the world. Each one was different, and several were amazing, like the one from Thailand which featured a screaming tiger face prominently in the center.

This was my introduction into the world of symbology. Being raised Cumberland Presbyterian (a church rooted in eschewing higher education for clergy, and dropping old-world formalities as it crept into Appalachia), I was not familiar with the iconography of Catholicism, and my father was not a Freemason nor an Oddfellow, so that particular strain of Arcana was not readily available to me. Without Chi Rhos or Squares and Compasses in my life, I was delighted and surprised to find that occasionally, abstract forms mean something beyond the immediate and obvious. (Rosicrucians and Catharine Wheels loomed on the horizon, ready to break my eager brain.)

The fleur-de-lis, in the instance of Scouting, represented the north point on the mariner's compass. It directed us towards something meaningful to follow, always pointing to a higher ideal. The trefoil of leaves represented the three points of the scout oath, and the shape was that of a flower, representing nature, but also an arrowhead, which hearkened back to the Native Americans and Zulu Tribesmen, from whom Scouting took much of its lore and inspiration. When the icons of the U.S. were laid across the top (making it a symbol for the Boy Scouts of America, complete with eagles and stars and scrolls and knots), the layers became thicker and more convoluted. It was amazing. It was a set of secret things to memorize and study, and even though the Scouting movement only started in the 1900s, it seemed ancient, like finding the wisdom of Babylonia written on a scroll.

Of course, the fleur-de-lis is, in actuality, quite ancient, and as I grew older, it began to appear more and more in my various hobbies and obsessions. In learning about religious traditions, it shows up in ancient Catholicism (that strange, polytheistic cult where Symbols-with-a-capital-S are so well beloved). The three foils of the fleur-de-lis represent the Holy Trinity, and the resemblance to a flower has attached it to Mary, and her famous virginity. An interest in medieval weapons led to antiquated armor, and then on to heraldry, where the fleur-de-lis pops up frequently, complete with the bad-assery inherent in being painted on a tower shield. It appears as the symbol of many European countries and Great Houses, but particularly France, where it reminds us of that stretch in history where the French were a full-throttle world power, regularly putting England across their plate-mailed knee and spanking Her little bottom. Through France the fleur-de-lis traveled to Louisiana, becoming the totem of that state, and while I hold no special love in my heart for New Orleans, I do root for the Saints, and much enjoy the spastic (yet Championship winning) stylings of quarterback Drew Brees.



Aside from the historical and religious connotations, the fleur-de-lis is simply a great piece of design. It is symmetrical without being dull, and florid without being busy. Very few symbols make good patterns, while also standing alone as a single icon, but the fleur-de-lis has been used as both, and serves both well. It can incredibly ornate, or simplified down to the stark essentials, and is possibly only rivaled by the Crucifix for sheer amount of variations on the core concept. In architecture, it has been used as finials or frieze motifs, and in street art it makes an excellent stencil. It is a near-perfect design element in terms of flexibility of use, and the infinite ways it can be distorted and replicated, while still being recognizable. Ultimately, no matter how it is used, or how it is modified, it always remains rife with the semiotic richness it has acquired over the past several thousand years.

The fleur-de-lis is awesome.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

The great thing about Dungeons and Dragons is that it's not just a game, it's a lifestyle. To really commit, you gather a shelf of source books and bags of dice that look like gems and/or candy. You have trays of tiny monsters and painted miniatures, and maps that spread out across a kitchen table, which then get saved in tattered stacks into perpetuity. You speak a new language with other gamers. Phrases like "critical hit", "marching order" and "save versus death magic" all become coded references you share with a select few. Names like "Mordencainan", "Vecna", and "Bigby" bring to mind important historical figures, looming larger than many past presidents (and let's be honest, Garl Glittergold is much more interesting than Millard Fillmore).

The books that guide you into this other world are evocative and exciting; the Fiend Folio, the Tome of Magic, The Manual of the Planes. Creatures with strange names (like Beholders, and Drow) have entirely new biologies and cultures to discover. Arcane rules and complicated charts guide you. You know that this is a Special Game because it has it's own dice. Unlike Monopoly* or Sorry**, you can't just use plain old six-sided dice (or "chance cubes", as George Lucas calls them). You need a new variety of polyhedrons that have to be tracked down in specialty stores, often hidden under sales-counters like pornography. The term "D12" has meaning now. You only use that dice for one thing***, but still you will need it.

Dungeons and Dragons is a Fantasy Role-Playing game, which means that you will want to be a fantasy fiction fan to truly appreciate it. That is a world unto itself, that should be explored even before the first character sheet is scribbled on with the requisite number 2 pencil. Where and when the standard, modern fantasy tropes began is hard to pin down. Folklore, Nothern European mythology, and fairy tales all played a part, and the idea of supernatural, humanoid creatures like dwarves and elves likely threads back to our earliest stories as a race with a shared narrative. Dragons and heroic quests and magic are concepts that exist in every culture, but the current and typified genre we call "fantasy", and corral into a ghetto on the bookstore shelves, probably begins in earnest with an amateur boxer named Robert Howard, and was codified by Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. He is, as they say, the line of division.

There was certainly fantasy fiction before these fellows, but the common signifiers we know today all came together in the pages of CONAN and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The ideas of a medieval world where magic lives alongside armored cavaliers on horseback, and hooded rangers fight goblins in dark forests, are not new. These existed in folklore, but the wholesale packaging of them in literature, with maps of fictional worlds and histories that could be memorized and studied, came to us in the last century. Wagner updated the Ring Cycles of the Vikings, but he was just retelling existing myths. Howard and Tolkien were creating their own mythology, and this is the key difference.

Dungeons and Dragons started as a supplement to a tabletop strategy game, created on the fly by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The initial game was historical in nature, but when they decided to add a fantasy element, the lure of Middle-earth stared at them like Sauron's eye. Dungeons and Dragons owes almost everything to Tolkien, and even in the earliest days of its creation this influence was worn right on the sleeve. "Halflings" are a non-copyrighted version of Hobbits, and the versions of Elves, dwarves, and orcs the game presents us with are straight out of Numenor. But where Dungeons and Dragons becomes genius is the next step. It adds more. It adds Lovecraft. It adds Howard and his world of Barbarians and thieves. It adds Fritz Leiber, throws in some Lord Dunsany, and peppers it all with liberal doses of Arthur myths, history, Jack Vance, and Robin Hood. Thorin Oakenshield joins Kull the Conqueror to destroy Shoggoths alongside a yeoman fighting the French at Agincourt. Then it gets even crazier, as Gary Gygax starts to make shit up.

Many of the early monsters in D&D were simply weird things Gygax created because he had small toys that looked funky, and needed names. There is no "rust monster" in the Prose Edda. It came from a vending machine full of cheap Japanese toys. A whole universe of monsters, gods, spells, and races came to exist on the whims of Gary Gygax trying to come up with new ways to kill the characters of his players. And now they are memorized by the devoted few who worship at the altar of Greyhawk.

Everyone who has ever played Dungeons and Dragons has a character with a history as rich and as amazing as any from fiction. Usually more than one. Every time they sit down to roll dice, there is an epic about to take place. I have a character that has been around since I was fifteen. I have known him longer than most of my friends. He his older than my niece. I know his history, his dreams, his wants, and his tragedies. When he goes on an adventure, his life gets richer, and I am there for it. On paper, he's just an elf archer with a silly name****, but in a larger sense, he is a connection to that first gaming table I sat at, one I got to by bumming a ride with my buddy Tommy because I was too young to drive. I created him while drawing next to Tony, and trading sketches. (Both of those guys also work in comics, proving something, although I'm not sure what.) This elf was there while I was bonding with people I am still friends with today, shooting monsters with a magic bow while we laughed and ate junk food and quoted BEASTMASTER.

Dungeons and Dragons, for all the stereotypes and jokes about nerds in basements, is a social activity. It encourages creativity and puts you eyeball deep in a mix of clever problem-solving and the luck of the dice. It brings people together, and requires genuine interaction and shared experience. The variety of people that play runs the gamut from truly awful geeks to perfectly cool and normal people. All ages and backgrounds can sit down and be equals. Everyone is the same at the wrong end of an ogre's axe.



This ridiculous game has given me escape, entertainment, chances to create, and friends I would not have known otherwise. It has introduced me to fiction I would not have found, and taught me the difference between a "geas" and a "guisarme". Most importantly, it let me roll the dice while Tarkas Polo and his magic bastard sword Gutcleaver killed a Red Dragon in the mountains of Taltosia. That is awesome.



* a game for jerks
** a game for stupids
*** Barbarian hit points. Respect.
**** Ruprecht Redwine. Don't judge.

Extra Credit: Patton Oswalt's amazing new book ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND has an essay on D&D. Here is an excerpt.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SUN DROP



I assume that most people's childhoods were fueled with chocolate milk, or Tang, or those little plastic barrels with the foil tops filled with grody sugar water. Not mine; I have no nostalgia for these things.

The flavor that takes me back to the days of yore is a regional poison that looks like Mountain Dew and tastes like heaven. Anyone from middle Tennessee, north Alabama, and parts of western North Carolina will know the nectar of which I speak. In these areas, it flows like salt water in the mighty Pacific. It is called Sun Drop, and it tastes like lemon pie baked in a lime cake covered with cane sugar pudding.*

There were many legends and rumors about the soft drink known as Sun Drop. We heard that it had more caffeine than eight cups of coffee,** and it was said that Sun Drop was illegal in most states because of the obscene and criminal amounts of that same devil-stimulant. Sun Drop had been around since my parents were young, and it was unique at one point for having bits of pulp floating in it, like real fruit juice. Those were long gone by the time I was in High School, and knowing that they got rid of them makes me wonder what they were, and also afraid to find out.

Our addiction was such that a good deal of our social time was spent simply getting a fix, or on a "Sun Drop run". Back and forth to gas station convenience stores for translucent green 20 ounce bottles. We needed that stuff. It was common for the floorboards of our cars to be ankle deep in empty Sun Drop bottles. This was a thing that we were accustomed to, despite the low breeding of having a filthy automobile. We forgave Sun Drop bottles. It fueled marathon Dungeons and Dragons games and was mixed with vodka (or moonshine) in more insane party binges. It was in our blood. Probably literally.

They say that antifreeze is dangerous because it is terribly poisonous but also terribly delicious. A domesticated animal will lap up that horrible stuff because it tastes so wonderful. This is the curse of Sun Drop; it tastes as good as anything ever bottled by the white devil's machines, but as far as sodas go, it is as close to arsenic as you can get. In retrospect, it's a miracle I'm not chubbier than I am. In fact, its a miracle I'm not downright obese, moving slowly down the sidewalk in a rascal scooter and wearing jeans with elastic at the waist. The amount of sugar I ingested from Sun Drop alone, from birth to age 18, was probably something along the lines of several wheelbarrows-full. If the world was fair, and metabolisms were even-stevens, everyone in "Sun Drop country" would be living with adult-onset diabetes by age fifteen, as opposed to the forty percent or so that it strikes currently.

Yet for all the cane sugar and caffeine and artificial food coloring and other assorted toxins and lab-rat killing chemicals, there is nothing I crave like a Sun Drop when I get off the plane in god's country, middle Tennessee. It is displayed in coolers in solid rows, glowing green in a neon ziggurat like the front doors of Emerald City. You see that display, and all the folly of youth races back into the reptile part of your brain. The craving begins. That sweet, syrupy, fake citrus calls to you like a carbonated siren song. You walk slowly under the fluorescent lights, past the corn-nuts and pork rinds, ignoring the beer coozies and NASCAR ball caps. Despite watching your diet and spending hours at the gym, that nasty stuff has triggered something in you, like the Manchurian Candidate. You are powerless.

Everyone I know that has emigrated out of that particular stretch of the southern United States harbors a deep-seated longing for Sun Drop. Cases shipped from home are treated like fine wine, broken out only on special occasions. It seems people still in the south take Sun Drop for granted. They laugh at the desperation with which we expats chug our first bottle, after being away for months at a time. But when you ask, "I'm getting a sun drop... Do you want one?", they will always, always, always respond with a thirsty "yessss".

Because Sun Drop is awesome.


* does such a thing exist? It should.
** why eight? That's kind of an arbitrary figure for a weird rumor...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

COLLECTING THINGS



My friend Garry, as a teenager, had a bedroom decorated with gas masks. I'm not sure how that particular assortment began, but for whatever reason, by the time he graduated High School, he had gas masks from every major conflict since WWI, from several nations and armies.

My brother had a bunch of vintage bottles he had dug out of the dirt in various woods, and my dad had a cedar chest full of pocketknives. Other folks had beer steins or records, antique books, mandolins, geodes, or photos signed by all the actors who played James Bond's villains. These were all amazing assortments that reveal a passing interests and fiery obsessions. Personally, over the years, I've collected star wars figures, comic books, Peanuts merchandise, vintage Boy Scout gear, Green Lantern stuff, rocks, coins, arrowheads, first aid kits, original comic art, presidential campaign buttons, D&D miniatures, and old maps. Some I still have, some I've gotten rid of, some are long forgotten. (I have found, in my elderly years, that the keeping is not as satisfying as the finding.)

In this golden age of the World Wide Internerd, collecting things is as easy as checking eBay over coffee every morning, which is equal parts miracle and bummer. As an example, for years and years, all I wanted in the world was this guy:



The 1984 Kenner DC Comics SUPER POWERS Collection GREEN LANTERN Action Figure. This was my Holy Grail. As a kid, Green Lantern was my favorite super-hero (Aside from Spider-Man, which is a story for another day). Aliens, magic ring, test pilot, blah blah blah. He was great. The Super Powers figures were a terrific line of toys that debuted when I was eight years old, so I was exactly the target audience.


The ads were in every comic book and they could not have been more directly designed for me, specifically, at age eight. The designers of these ads had clearly watched and studied me. They knew what I needed. They were taunting me.

I would religiously inspect every toy aisle, in every store, everywhere we went, looking for this toy. I wanted the Green Lantern so badly that I flipped right by the Supermans and the Batmans and all the A list guys without a second thought. I was on a mission, focused like the most intense of lasers.

The end of this story is as predictable as it is pathetic. I never found a Green Lantern figure as a child, and it plagued me into adulthood. I was still digging through junk stores and comic book conventions in my twenties,whenever the chance arose, looking for that one missing piece of my misspent youth.

Then one day I found him. A little beat up, overpriced, and missing his lantern accessory, but there he was. On a table at a small New York Comic Con, wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. He was mine now. My heart stopped and tears welled in my eyes. This was my Road to Damascus. I proudly turned, and showed him to showed him off to my friend Pat, who said, "Oh sure, I've got one of those. You want it?"

My jaw dropped. Suddenly, I had two. Before long, I was compulsively buying this same figure every time I found one. Identical toys, lined up on a shelf. It was beyond idiotic. My quest was now upgraded to finding one "Mint in Box", as they say. I was mentally ill.

Then came eBay, and the world was our oyster forever. Suddenly, these figures I had scoured the earth for were readily available, and the open market had decreased demand and dropped the price. I could have as many 1984 Kenner DC Comics SUPER POWERS Collection GREEN LANTERN Action Figures as I wanted, and suddenly they weren't nearly as exciting. I sold all of mine (but one) on eBay.

(Who didn't see that coming?)

EBay has changed the nature of collecting, making it simultaneously less exciting and more fun. Things that I never knew existed are now available, and prices are no longer dictated by the whims of weirdos at flea markets. It has made the hunt less difficult, but there is much more game on the savannah. I still dig through antique stores whenever possible; there's nothing like that particular tactile experience, and online shopping can never replicate it. A few years ago I was collecting vintage Super 8 cameras, and while they are all over eBay, actually being able to open one up and inspect it for yourself is unbeatable. And of course, the thrill of finding something like that, unexpectedly sitting on a shelf in a store, is always better than winning a bidding war with darth_snake_eyes1988.

The thrill of finding (whether it be online or hidden behind a Hummel Figurine on a dusty table) is always a little intoxicating. Adding one more piece to a well-loved menagerie is always a small victory in life, and small victories can be rare. Collecting things is awesome.