Sobering Facts About Time

When I was little, time used to DRAG. I was easily bored, and difficult to silence. My Uncle once promised me money if I'd keep quiet for five minutes. After 45 seconds I asked him if it had been five minutes yet. At the wake services for my maternal grandmother, the only grandparent who had still been alive in my lifetime, it took a deck of Batman cards to keep me occupied(a deck which I not only still have, but near enough to double-check that mine are in color while the picture shows them in black-and-white for some reason). School was worse. I hated being away from my parents in this strange place with other people, and every day seemed an eternity. Once I began making friends I found ways to make time pass more quickly. We'd play games where we'd draw ships on a piece of looseleaf, then draw a dot and fold the paper in half, then draw on the back to transfer the ink and see if we got the other one's ship. It was kind of a low-tech Battleship, but we made it more interesting by drawing Tie Fighters and X-wings. Teachers couldn't get me to stop talking, and I was frequently moved around the classroom to reduce disruptiveness. In fourth grade, I was so far in the back of the room that the teacher didn't even notice when I climbed out a second-story window on to a ledge, just to see what it was like out there. She certainly noticed me on the way in though, as the blur between the time I felt a woman's nails bite into the flesh of my forearm and the time I found myself sitting in the principal's office can attest. I spent a lot of time in the principal's office, but had devised a game involving rubber bands and mail cubbies to pass the time. I would pull a rubber band back on my thumb and let it fly, and each slot was worth a different amount of points, the principal's being the most.

I'm a lot older and quieter now, and definitely better behaved. There are many factors upon which these traits could be blamed, although I'm skeptical to point a finger at something unlikely as maturity, given my interests and general juvenile mindset. Time hasn't changed, but my perception of it certainly has, and this is a factor consistent with my peers as well as my elders. A day goes by in the blink of an eye, and while I'm still wondering where my Summer went, the irrefutable fact is that tomorrow is the first day of DECEMBER. My job doesn't help. When I first started working after college I was bored often, not having my old group of friends around to talk to. I would stare out the window for what seemed like hours, only to have minutes pass. Eight hours seemed a very long time to sit in one place, after four years of college in which my longest class was under two hours, and I moved from one building to another throughout the day. They also didn't trust me with many things, although by the time I left the company I was doing the work of several people. Now I constantly have work to do in my current job, which makes the day go by frighteningly fast because I'm racing the clock to meet deadlines. What's worse is that we work several months ahead on issues, and I'm about to start designing my March issue. December? That was months ago as far as my catalog is concerned, and winter images are already behind me.

Being occupied, either with work or play, seems to be the key to time's passage. When bored or suffering, that's when time seems to drag out the longest. Yesterday I mentioned Seinfeld nostalgia. When I told my friend Rey how ridiculous I thought it was, he pointed out that the show's been off the air for five years. I was sure it had only been two, and was shocked to find that it has in fact been nearly SIX-AND-A-HALF years. So, just for fun/masochism, here are a few more sobering facts about the passage of my lifetime:

1) I've run out of time to finish this. Tune in tomorrow for....THE LIST....


Benson Trek

I have some fond memories of watching Benson as a child. I never really watched Soap, which it was a spinoff of, and only have a vague recollection of some of the episodes I saw in syndication. But I liked Robert Guillaume's wisecracking lieutenant governor. He was the real brains behind James Noble's governor, whom I used to confuse with Conrad Bain's Mr. Drummond for some reason. And years later, Spin City's Barry Bostwick would play a simple governor reminiscent, in my opinion, of Noble's.

Benson was smart, and a definite match when sparring verbally with the stern Miss Krause or snide Clayton. I think Drew Carey carried on this tradition in his own exchanges with Mimi. For all his cool, biting wit, Benson could be kind and compassionate as well, especially where the governor's daughter, played by Missy Gold(sister of Growing Pains' Tracey Gold. My memory of my single-digit years is a little fuzzy, but I think Missy may be among the ranks of my childhood crushes, along with Dana Plato and Inspector Gadget's niece Penny(not to be confused with Michelle Trachtenberg).

Of Benson's sparring partners, Inga Swenson's career seems to end when the eighties did. Rene Auberjonois would later show up on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the shapeshifting Odo, and frequently turns up as an answer in television crossword puzzles(“12 Down; DS9 character, 3 letters”). He had no nose and simplified features, contrary to his villainous mustache and eyebrows on Benson, but his voice was unmistakable, even when he showed up voicing a scientist in the premiere episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Auberjonois was not the only Benson alumnus to show up on a Star Trek franchise however. Ethan Phillips, who played Pete, later starred as Neelix in Star Trek Voyager. His voice, distinctive in a more nasal & benevolent/less gruff & evil way than Auberjonois', helped make him recognizable, beneath the even more massive amounts of makeup his character required.

This trek through Benson history was prompted by a friend pointing out Phillips in a guest role on Cold Case last night. And, given the current wave of Seinfeld nostalgia that's spawned a DVD release, an upcoming NBC special, and an appearance by the cast on today's Oprah(I was off today), it's interesting that I found out from the trivia section of IMDB that Jerry Seinfeld made his acting debut in the 1980-1981 season playing Frankie. It's annoying that I don't remember him and Benson isn't on DVD yet, so I'll have to check it out whenever it's finally released.


New Avengers

When I was collecting comics, almost everyone I knew liked the X-men. This was around the late '80s, during the Claremont/Silvestri run. My friends eventually got me into the team as well, and it helped that I was already a fan of X-factor, a team comprised of the original five X-men, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel. But the team I really liked, contrary to popular opinion, was the Avengers.

The first issue I had was number #275, which can be found at the following link: http://www.plexico.net/avengers/covers/a271.html. While the Avengers' roster has included some true powerhouses over the years, this particular issue was an underdog tale, pitting Wasp and Scott Lang, the second Ant-man, against the nigh invulnerable Absorbing Man and Titania. The desperation of the situation, and the strategies that were ultimately employed had me hooked. Spider-man often fought foes well out of his league, and really good writers found ways for him to prevail. I enjoyed that sort of storytelling in his books, and I liked it in the Avengers. Soon I was collecting, as well as rounding up as many back issues as I could.

DC Comics had their Justice League, which since the 1960s has had at one time or another all the core characters in their comic universe in its roster. But when Stan Lee first assembled the Avengers for Marvel, the line-up didn't include the likes of Spider-man, Daredevil, or other prominent solo heroes. It did gather Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Wasp and her husband Hank Pym, the original Ant-man. The Hulk didn't stick around for long but in the fourth issue, Captain America would join and become the core of the team over the years, as well as its most frequent chairperson.

The roster has changed a lot over the years. Usually there have been an average of seven active members at a time, and at one point there was a second team operating on the West Coast. It's been a while since I've collected comics, but I did enjoy the trade paperback of The Ultimates, a fresh alternate reality take on the original team. A few months ago a woman in my office was giving away some comics her husband had in storage, including the shocking Avengers #500. By the time I was done reading, Jack of Hearts had exploded and taken Scott Lang with him, and She-Hulk had gone berserk and ripped the The Vision in half. Iron Man, a recovered alcoholic, also found himself acting drunk this issue with no explanation. It seemed the stuff of an alternate reality, surely due to be undone by the end of the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline. But from what I've read online, it all culminated in The Scarlet Witch going mad and unleashing chaotic vengeance on her teammates, blaming them for the loss of her children years ago. More disturbing was the discovery of not only Thor's death, but that of the archer Hawkeye, one of my favorite characters.

What this all seems to be leading up to is a team of New Avengers. Included in the roster are Spider-man and Wolverine, no doubt Marvel's answer to the JLA's Superman and Batman. It's piqued my interest enough that I've been lurking on an Avengers message board and I'll be checking the Avengers Forever site as well as Marvels to keep up with what's happening. I have no intention of collecting comics again, but I might just have to look for the trade paperbacks of these stories when they come out....


Stepping Out

Today I took a vacation from my vacation of doing nothing to do something. Fresh air is good. Getting out of the house is very good. And, most of the time, playing music is good. And so my father and I set out to play in a holiday parade in a part of Long Island generally referred to as “out East”.

We were to meet the band leader in his hometown “out East” where a van would drive us to another town “out East” where a holiday parade was being held. Because the band leader is nervous when it comes to time he had asked us to meet at 4PM when, as our suspicions were later confirmed, the parade didn't actually start until 6. We were giving a trumpet player a ride and though where we were meeting him was twenty minutes from our home, we left a good half hour before we were scheduled to meet because my dad is also nervous with time.

We arrived at 4 and waited half an hour for a drummer to arrive by train from Brooklyn, after which we all boarded the van and were on our way. It was a nice drive, and we even passed a movie theater my ex-girlfriend used to fondly refer to as “our little theater in the woods”. It was neither little nor technically in the woods, but from the highway all you could see were trees and the marquis by the entrance, a long driveway that led to a multiplex at the center of a big open area surrounded on all sides by trees which did a wonderful job muting the sounds of traffic and giving the illusion of being more secluded than it actually was. I miss that theater. Miss the girl more. Good times, most likely the best of my life. Sentence fragments, most likely from reading too much Claremont Wolverine dialogue. Best there is at what I do, makin' obscure references bub.

Musical instruments, especially brass, tend to sound worse the colder they are. So we played to keep them in tune while we waited, because it was FREEZING out there. It was rest-my-head-on-a-pillow-made-of-concrete cold. We were 47th out of 74 groups, and the crowd was immense. Finally at 6:30 it was our turn to play and when we rounded the corner, launched into THE most out-of-tune uncoordinated rendition of Jingle Bells I'd ever heard. For one thing the instruments had gotten cold again. For another our leader decided to start on the CHORUS. And of course, since he didn't hand out any music or tell us ahead of time what songs he was going to play since he chose them all on the fly, we had to guess what key we would all be in. I don't know why he never hands out music. I have no problem playing songs from memory although my dad and a few other guys do, but this particular band only has one Christmas gig a year. It's one thing to play all the Italian songs in our repertoire that we've done together so many times we KNOW how we're playing, and in what key. It's another for him to decide on the street, “OK guys let's play SANTA!!” and discern specifics. Still, either alcohol, intense cold, or untrained ears were on our side since the crowd roared in approval with every song we played, and seemingly were sincere. A long time ago a very wise music teacher told me never to get hung up on a wrong note on stage. Though I would know it was wrong, the audience wouldn't unless I stopped playing, or kicked my stand in anger, or some other noticeable giveaway. No matter what when performing, it's important to just keep moving forward.

We moved forward for about a half hour, and then had to freeze for another hour waiting for our van to arrive. Considering how far out the gig was from where I live, it made no sense meeting the van. It would have been better to drive directly to the parade location. We would not have had to meet as early, and we could have gone home as soon as we were done. If he didn't have to rent a van, our boss could have paid us a little better for the job as well. All in all it was fun while we were playing to the crowds of delighted parents and children though, as insane as they were to be out in the cold. And I've definitely had colder jobs. Several tree-lightings with a Baroque quintet I belonged to spring to mind. Thank GOD Hot Chocolate was served on these occasions. It was good to step out, but it's better to be home now.



It's hard to believe I used to enjoy “nothing” days. But I'm equally incredulous toward the realization that I don't enjoy them as much as I used to. Today was one of those days, and one I had been looking forward to. I slept until 9:30AM, which for some reason is as late as I'm able to stay in bed these days. Time was I'd roll over and sleep until noon on a day like this, after having stayed up until three or four in the morning the night prior. Now I wake up with numb arms and ringing ears, in a disoriented limbo between awake and asleep. Once I stretch and get some food and vitamins in me, I definitely feel better about being awake.

I began my day with a bowl of Rice Chex, my second favorite Chex. It's no Corn Chex, but it's still better than that bland Wheat Chex. Ugh. Speaking of Chex, that commercial with the home movie from the fifties and the woman's voiceover about her mother's “recipe” for Chex Party Mix always strikes me as complete bull, since I never heard of it until I was nearly a teenager in the late 1980s myself. So much so that I checked and found a food timeline, and apparently it's been around since the mid-1950s or so. The moral of the story here is that even the most insignificant detail of history can make us aware of the existence of things outside our own lifetime and perceptions.

Breakfast went well with the mindless clickfest called Carnage Blender, which only allows 160 battles roughly every three hours. Once I'd exhausted my battle allocation and broken my morning fast, it was off to X-men Legends for me, that wonderful action/RPG that some reviewers have compared to Baldur's Gate, something I've never played. It did talk about the structure and strategy of building a team though, and how you'll have your “tanks” which are the strong players on the front line and your “wizards” who cast spells and offer support from the ranks. That sort of structure I'm familiar with from Carnage Blender, so it seems an apt metaphor for choosing which members of the X-men to include on which missions. I haven't been able to get enough of the game this week, and it's been swallowing many hours.

I emerged from a video game haze an undisclosed time later, my eyes bloodshot and weary and with a strange sense of disorientation. I checked the mail and got some brisk fresh air which restored some semblance of reality. Joe's Apartment had arrived, so I decided to take a drive to the post office to mail Close Encounters back to Netflix. It was a nice sunny day and it felt good to be out there. I even drove without any of the incidents I'd been experiencing behind the wheel, although my errands were local and my dad, who needed to make some photocopies at Staples and pick up some Aleve for his arthritis, was along for the ride. I spent the rest of the day watching the movie(which took a little over an hour), surfing the web, and playing more X-men. I didn't even notice the sun had gone down until that sense of overwhelming unreality pushed me to take a break at the next save point. After an awesome leftovers dinner, and another impressive victory by Ken Jennings, I watched Mr. Deeds with my folks, who were seeing it for the first time and not noticing the bad editing I was. Although last night when Spider-man made its network television debut, I had to point out the substitution of a generic cola can for the prominent product placement of a Dr Pepper in the original. One thing we all agreed upon was that Fox has far too many commercial breaks, some less than five minutes apart.

I played X-men for yet another hour after the movie but I had to stop. Even now I see the names of characters leveling up when I close my eyes, and hear shouts of “COMBO!!!” which is what the game does any time two or more characters successfully get their powers to interact. I'm off for another three days but I have this overwhelming need to DO something. At least tomorrow I have a parade to break up the monotony. I guess even leisure in excess can be boring, and can dull the senses. I may be stressed at work but when I'm getting things done and accomplishing goals, I feel SHARP. Part of the reason I started blogging was because many of my intelligent friends were doing it. But it's also because I MISSED writing. For about three years I wrote over 100 characters in an online message board based interactive fanfic/RPG. It would be sad and lengthy to explain the previous sentence. But when that activity died down I found myself writing a lot less. My brain and my vocabulary dulled, and it's good to be writing again.

Perhaps it's a natural part of the aging process to veer away from “vegging out”, a realization as time goes by faster and faster that time is precious. It's definitely good and necessary to take a break, but it can also be frustrating and confusing as well. I think I understand some of what my dad was feeling when he retired. Worst of all is feeling exhausted at the end of a day filled with pure unadulterated inactivity. After writing all of this however, my brain is feeling functional once more and I'm more awake.

Maybe I'll get in another X-mission before I go to bed....


Giving Thanks

"I'm thankful I only lost four of my fingers in that accident last month." writes Curt of The Happy Husband, citing a facetious example of people being thankful things aren't worse than they are. What follows are some things MCF is grateful for, in the spirit of the occasion.

I'm thankful that I didn't bleed to death when I split my lip open at age five, or when something in my intestines ruptured at age twenty-five.

I'm thankful for my parents. There have been many times I thought they were ruining my life growing up, when in fact they were saving it time and time again. I'm thankful that my dad is willing to be my co-pilot when anxiety hinders a simple everyday task like driving to work. I'm thankful that, for all the dizzy spells I've gotten in my car, I've never actually lost consciousness. And on this day perhaps greater than any other, I'm grateful for my mom's cooking. Turkey. Stuffing. Crescent rolls. Carrots. Corn. Potatoes. Apple Cobbler. There's nothing like the GOOD dizziness of a hearty meal.

I'm thankful that the time a flagpole hit me in the head, it was only a glancing blow and I didn't even need stitches. Given the sharp metal eagle that struck me and the fact that I had started to look up while playing my horn when I heard the scraping sound, I'm lucky I didn't lose an eye or worse.

I'm thankful for the friends who've stuck by me over the years. One of the things my parents always tried to teach me was that friends aren't like family, and will ultimately abandon the friendship for their own pursuits. As a child I couldn't comprehend the wisdom of their years of experience, or the understanding of what they had gone through as their own friends got married and had families of their own that took priority. Children think everything is forever, and from calling people my “best friend” who wanted nothing to do with me once saddled with the monicker, to a foolish “engagement” to a childhood sweetheart at age five, I made my share of mistakes and misplaced priorities. My neighborhood friends a few years younger, ironically outgrew me and stopped calling. My school friends still included me when I went to a different high school, but after one year of college they ditched me the first time we hung out and I never heard from them again. Resistant though I was to make new friends in high school there was one who persisted, and I'm thankful for concerts, clubs, and karaoke, none of which I would have approached of my own volition. I only hear from him about once a year since he's often out of the country or having much better adventures leagues ahead of the ones we had when I was younger. In college I was somehow fortunate enough to make it into a very tight-knit group of friends. When I tried to befriend the group I failed and was often left out, but learned valuable lessons about friendship as I instead got to know them individually. We don't see each other as often as I'd like, but the friendships that were forged were stronger and more familial than the ones I'd had as a child. In times of great joy such as a wedding or a birth, and times of great sorrow such as a death, the old ties still pull us together.

I'm thankful that the time I inadvertently burned a slice of pizza and evacuated two office buildings when the new alarm system overreacted, one of my staunchest college friends was there to stop me from rushing forward, grabbed me by the shoulders looking me square in the eye and telling me, “It's NOT your pizza.” Given the angry coworkers and presence of the local fire department, it definitely could have been worse.

I'm thankful for never breaking a bone. Dodgeball was a harsh sport in seventh grade and one of the cool athletic kids pegged me in the hand at the worst possible angles, fracturing the pinky of my right hand. I ignored it the rest of the day but when I got home my mom noticed it was purple, and the size of my thumb. I had to wear a splint until it healed, but was still able to play in the NYSSMA all-county concert that WOULD be days after such an injury. Considering the time I flew over my bike's handlebars while tossing a frisbee at one of my friends in an extreme version of tag we had made up, I'm lucky I only scraped my hands on the asphalt, and that the bike which subsequently landed on my head did no doticable namage.

I'm thankful that when I was eight and decided to shove my “best friend” down a flight of about six concrete steps, he was neither seriously injured nor inclined to tell either of our mothers what had transpired. He did stop being my friend though. I don't know why I did that. It wasn't an act of malice, but of experimentation. He was standing at the top of the steps and I thought, “I wonder what would happen if....” and the next thing I knew, I had shoved him. I'm not the brightest adult, but I was a REALLY stupid kid.

I'm thankful for toys. And comics. And cartoons. And video games. And movies.

I'm thankful for the wonderful years I had with my girlfriend. I've been alone more years of my life, and even when she was breaking up with me and doing that whole, “You're not angry, are you?” bit to assuage her conscience, I sincerely assured her that while I was sad(devastated) that it was over, I couldn't be angry because she had spent as much time with me as she had in the first place, and I was grateful to have experienced things I'd only dreamed of.

I'm thankful I'm still catching up on seeing movies most of my friends saw years ago. Otherwise I couldn't watch Close Encounters and recognize the old man from Home Alone, albeit much younger, and appreciate the connection. Nor would seeing the name Lance Henriksen have meant anything to me in 1977. Then again, I was three at the time.

I'm thankful that, for all the unlikely crap life throws at me, I'm ultimately a survivor. I joke sometimes with my friends that, “I don't die; I just suffer.”, but that could be the wrong attitude. Maybe God's just preparing me to handle everything. Or maybe I need to stop wondering, “OK, what ELSE could go wrong!” since it seems to be taken as a dare every time I do.

I'm thankful for the internet, which has connected me to a myriad of people with shared interests I would never have had contact with otherwise. It affords me hours of entertainment and is an endless resource of information, easily obtained from the most logical starting place. I'm thankful that the informality of a blog and the fact that I'm not a writer means I can start nearly every paragraph with the same two words, joke about it, and not need to apologize to or change for anyone.

And If you've read this whole rant, thank YOU.


I'm no Superman....

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Traditionally, my mom cooks for my dad and I, and one of her brothers joins us. It is a time for relaxation and lots and lots of eating, with the promise of leftovers for days to come and a box of fresh cannoli from my Uncle. The best part about Thanksgiving for me has always been the day after however. What most people regard as ”Black Friday” has always been the truest day off of the year for me, whether working or in school. I get to sleep late the day after having eaten very well, and do nothing but play video games. Sure there are plenty of great sales and I've barely made a dent in my Christmas shopping, but I can't deal with the crowds. Plus Saturday I have to work and play in a holiday parade, so Friday's really a great nothing day between family obligation and musical obligation.

This has definitely been a weekend I've been looking forward to, and though I've slowly been falling behind on some projects at work lately I need to use my vacation days or lose them. So I put in for Monday to make it an extra long weekend. In addition, our company was closing at 3PM today. Today I needed to have a catalog and five flyers completed, and I managed to get those done yesterday. Unfortunately my workload overlaps, and when I'm completing one project I also need to have the next one ready to show my team. Prior to each meeting we have about my issues, I need to e-mail my initial design to the them. My next meeting is Thursday, so with the holiday and my vacation day I really only have two days for them to see it. I managed to get my catalog e-mailed out by noon today, but then was interrupted by my editors requesting a new jacket design, and by an illustrator accepting another book jacket. I had to pause from my regular workload to discuss one project with the painter, and then move on to the new jacket. The new one was not to be a commission fortunately, since it's in my next issue and there's no time. Rather we'd be pursuing acquiring rights to an existing piece of art. My editor told me what he wanted the picture to be of, but I still had to search online until I found one I thought would work. Once I got the book jacket detours out of the way, I was able to focus on the five new flyers still hovering over me like a sword of Damocles. Earlier in the day my supervisor had asked what shape I was in and if I needed any help. I assured him that everything was under control and I only needed to complete five flyers before leaving for a long and restful weekend. Clearly he was unconvinced however, since he returned with one of my coworkers in tow at 3:45 and insisted I hand off some of my work for him to do on Monday. I told him I could do it and I only had two more left(though it was actually three). He was quite adamant about it and so I was forced to explain the assignment to my coworker, who insisted on repeating my instructions in his impression of Sean Connery's voice. His trademark clowning didn't inspire confidence.

I had intended to stay as long as it took to clear my plate and not have anything to worry about, but now I'm going to have to come in Tuesday and fix the two that this other guy is doing, as well as create the one I lied about having done already. My supervisor told me not to worry and said that if I ever feel overwhelmed I could ask him to give some of my work away, but it was humiliating. This was stuff I should have had done already, and I fear it being reflected in my upcoming yearly review. I pride myself on being able to complete my assignments, and though my boss said, “Hey, sometimes ya can't get to everything!” it still felt like a major failure on my part. It's tough sometimes to swallow one's pride and admit we're not superhuman, that we need other people's help. But my workload was no greater than it ever is this time around, and I simply had a week of distractions, lack of focus, and badly timed vacations and holidays. It's hard to let go. My priest had some wise words to say last week, talking about flying lessons. Apparently if your plane stalls and begins to drop, your natural inclination would be to pull back on the stick, but that would be the worst thing you could do. The only way to recover is to push the stick forward to increase speed and catch an updraft. Paradoxically, sometimes you need to go down, in order to go back up again.

I'll be relaxing here on the ground for the next five days but come Tuesday, it's going to be time to fly again....



I bought Shrek 2 in Best Buy today. I have the first one, but only in VHS. I believe it was one of the last cassettes I ever acquired before making the switch to DVD. I remember a time when I didn't care whether a movie was widescreen or fullscreen. I saw most of my movies on television when I was younger, and event he ones I had seen in the theater I didn't pay enough attention to notice the difference. But once I started to see movies in widescreen, and realize how much stuff was missing from the sides when they cropped the image to fit a television's proportions, I was sold on the idea. Strong Bad's 100th e-mail had an awesome gag based on this difference.

I would have bought the first Shrek on DVD, but I couldn't find it in widescreen. They had it bundled with Shrek 3D but both were in fullscreen. There was also a gift pack which included Shrek, Shrek 3D, and Shrek 2 as well as a fourth bonus disc, but these were also fullscreen. Elsewhere in the store I found Shrek alone, as well as the director's cut. Both were fullscreen. Although the director's cut included a second disc with special features in widescreen. A search on Amazon confirmed my suspicions. There is no widescreen release of the first movie as part of a set. It does seem like they carry a widescreen version alone, so maybe Best Buy was just out of stock. With Shrek 3 underway, I wonder if a better boxed set isn't in the future as well. Personally, I'm hoping the rumors are true about a Puss in Boots solo feature. Antonio Banderas has expressed interest in reprising the role, and it certainly was one of the best parts of the sequel.

It strikes me as odd that I had more to say yesterday, when it was an admittedly off day. I think I'm still getting the hang of this blogging thing, and trying to find the right length article. I know most have definitely been too long, but this is definitely leaning toward the opposite extreme. I have a nice long weekend ahead of me with only one family dinner and one parade to deal with, so there should be time enough for me to get back to normal.



On November 24, 2003, Curt of The Happy Husband introduced the concept of ”Real Life Trumps Blogging”, to cover those rare times when he's not able to write anything of substance. Since then, he's made good use of RLTB™ whenever he and his wife have had other plans or he was simply too tired. I can't make any such claim, not actually having a life myself.

Today was a rough Monday, as most are. After getting a handle on what I think are panic attacks while driving, I got hit with a few on the way to work again this morning. Work itself wasn't so bad and I actually started making a dent in some projects I was barely able to touch last week due to one distraction or another, and an inability to focus in the morning. By lunch I was feeling pretty good although I had a few inexplicable dizzy spells while just relaxing with my friends in Starbucks. I've been staying away from caffeine since I've been having these issues, although perhaps hot chocolate may also be something to avoid. The afternoon went well as I made even more of a dent in my workload, and by 6:30 I was in the gym and on the treadmill, nary a dizzy spell in sight.

Driving home, however, I had to pull over to wait for one to pass and, after a call home to have my dad assure me my new muffler would not leak carbon monoxide as we discovered my old one had been doing, albeit in minute amounts, I rolled up my windows and put on the heat and made it the rest of the way home, not passing out but getting a slight tension headache. After dinner I didn't have ice cream or fall asleep, but I did watch Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men with my mom. It's UNREAL how gorgeous Denise RIchards is. Anyway, that was followed by what was going to be a quick stress-relieving jaunt through my newest game, and after using Magma to help Forge repair the computers on Muir Isle to stabilize a sick Illyana, defending the Mansion against cloaked invaders detected by Jean Grey, and pitting Cyclops against Havok at the old Weapon X facility, seen earlier in the game in a flashback, I entered the astral plane with Professor X, Emma Frost, and Jean to rescue the comatose Illyana. I then noticed the time and wrote this post, not even having the time to properly put all the links that should have been in the previous sentence.

It's barely the justifiable right Curt exercises from time to time, and I hope this will be a rare occurrence, but for tonight No Life Trumps Blogging. Cheers.


Transformers 2006

”It is the year 2005. The treacherous Decepticons have conquered the Autobots' home planet of Cybertron. But, from secret staging grounds on two of Cybertron's moons, the valiant Autobots prepare to retake their homeland.” Those words are now burned into the consciousness of fans of 1986's Transformers: The Movie. It is the narration that takes place after the opening sequence and credits, and establishes among other things that the story has jumped ahead to the “future”. The third season of the cartoon, which picks up after the movie, is subsequently set in 2005-2006. Mankind has progressed and Earth's technology is on par with the Transformers' homeworld of Cybertron. We're not too far from the year 2005 ourselves now, but there are no hover cars, fashion doesn't consist of jumpsuits, and we haven't traveled any farther than our own moon. Sometimes setting a work of fiction in the future and specifying a date means that when that date is reached, the real world will in all likelihood not match the artist's vision. Yet 2005 holds a significance for Transformers fans, and while the year 2005 won't see Earth involved in an intergalactic civil war, plans are underway for a live-action Transformers movie in 2006.

No one's been cast yet. Fan speculation is running rampant on message boards however, and many hope voice legends Peter Cullen and Frank Welker will be asked to reprise their respective roles as Optimus Prime and Megatron, and accept. Many complications now exist that will demand significant changes to the original story. In the original series, Megatron transformed into a Walther P38 gun, and the toy version was far more realistic than could be safely allowed under the conditions of today's society. There's also the matter of the source of the Autobot's power and salvation. In 1986, there would be no copyright infringement when referring to the Matrix, but I think someone may have called a movie or series that or something since then. Don Murphy, producer of LXG among other projects, is producing this new film and has set up a message board to weed through the rumors, speculations, and roadblocks as the film development proceeds. I've been reading through this board, and found good news in that Simon Furman has been approached as a consultant. His run as writer on the Marvel comic revitalized the series and brought in some excellent concepts while developing existing ones, including exploring the religion and origins of the Transformer race.

I was talking about what a live-action Transformers movie would be like with my friends when I was ten or eleven years old. A lot of time has passed since the fifth grade, and technology has advanced enough that such a vision is finally possible. I've watched Shrek 2 with supreme awe at least five or six times in the last few days. Transformers have already seen a decent CGI treatment with Beast Wars and Beast Machines. Animator Michael Smith proved transformers could be portrayed as real with a video of a transforming Volkswagon. And a recent car commercial I've seen has me all the more convinced that this can be done, and can look amazing.

The future is now.....


An X dream come true...

X-men Legends is a dream come true. I like RPGs like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. As a former comic book collector, I enjoy games that let me play as my favorite characters. More than half of my Playstation Games feature Marvel superheroes, including the fighting game X-men Mutant Academy. It's not the BEST fighting game I own--that honor is reserved for Soul Calibur 2 which not only continued the quality of THAT series but incorporated a “story mode” which incorporated RPG elements, as I battled across a map of locations and earned newer, stronger weapons. Next to the epic scale of the story, the fact that characters grow and develop is my favorite part of an RPG.

X-men Legends thus far has incorporated almost every one of these elements. Wolverine is the only character available to play as initially, but once you've completed the first mission(joined by Cyclops about halfway through), things get really interesting. A young mutant, Magma, rescued in the first mission is brought to the X-mansion, where she meets Professor X and several other members of the team. The game gives you free access to the mansion, which replicates the movie depiction right down to the cerebro chamber in the subbasement, and even includes a danger room where you can train your characters, learning new moves and powers and gaining experience. As the game progresses you face familiar foes and your powers get stronger. At times you will need someone like Iceman around to make bridges to get across chasms on some levels. The game allows up to four teammates at a time, and you can switch between controlling any one at any time while the other three follow your lead. You can combine your powers in many interesting ways, and the first time I inadvertently hit the grab button while controlling Beast in close proximity to Wolverine, I was ecstatic when he picked up his ally and tossed him at their opponents, and executed a classic maneuver from the comics, a ”fastball special.” And besides earning experience to boost your powers and statistics, you can pick up various belts, weapons and armor, some rarer than others. If you've earned enough cash, you can commission Forge to create some of these weapons for you as well.

Currently, I'm battling giant robot sentinels in a flashback sequence featuring Cyclops, Phoenix, Nightcrawler and Wolverine garbed in versions of their 1970s comics costumes as opposed to the black movie-inspired outfits they wear in the present day setting of the game. Wish me luck....


G.I. Joe and the Transformers vs. Transformers G.I.Joe

Yesterday in an uncharacteristically brief entry, I touched upon some connections between two of my favorite cartoons/comics/toys. In 1987, Marvel published a four-issue series that was a dream come true for fans: G.I.Joe and the Transformers, written by Michael Higgins and penciled by Herb Trimpe. The Transformers comics differed from the cartoon in a major way. While the heroic Autobots were widely accepted by mankind in the majority of the episodes(”Megatron's Master Plan” and ”The Return of Optimus Prime” being notable exceptions), the comics painted a different, more realistic picture in that giant warring alien robots were hated and feared by most of the humans, who took little time to make distinctions based on insignias. So it was in the first issue of this crossover, when the G.I.Joe team perceived benign Autobot and fan-favorite Bumblebee as a threat, they destroyed him! Allegiances are sorted out over the course of the next three issues, and while G.I.Joe teams with the Autobots, Cobra naturally forges an alliance with the Decepticons, until they learn their allies' true plans for a stolen satellite and their world's fate. Most frightening of all, amid this conflict, a young boy falls victim to the Insecticon Bombshell, who implants a “cerebro-shell” in the child's brain. This was the first time in the comics that the technological mind-control device was used on a human and not a robot, and the victim's youth and innocence made it even harsher. The problem is eventually detected and the device surgically removed, but not without some lingering effects. The heroes of course triumph ultimately, but not without casualties. As for Bumblebee, after the Joe's try to rebuild him with limited success and abundant error, Autobot doctor Ratchet finishes what they started, and Bumblebee is reborn as Goldbug.

Recently, one of the catalog's I design was offering Dreamwave's Transformers G.I.Joe series as a trade paperback, and I was fortunate enough to get a copy of my own from my editor. Written by John Ney Rieber with dark and moody art by Jae Lee, it has a unique approach, setting the series during World War II. When Cobra unwittingly awakens the Decepticons, it seems they have discovered weapons of mass destruction that will ensure their victory over America's newly-formed G.I. Joe team. But the Joes soon discover the Decepticons are not the only alien robots to have crashed on Earth, and with the Autobots help launch a campaign against their enemies. The concept and setting were amazing, like Saving Private Ryan would be if the tanks and planes were also giant robots. The series wouldn't be complete without a protracted new take on the classic rivalry between Snake-eyes and Storm Shadow. There's a follow-up series I've discovered in researching this article, and I just might have to check it out. If anyone reading this has read Image Comics' G.I.Joe vs. Transformers or the the sequel, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.


Yooooo Joe!

I liked G.I.Joe as a kid because I liked Transformers. The cartoons aired back to back when I was a kid and, both Sunbow productions, shared most of the same voice talents as well as a lot of background music by Rob Walsh,, including a generic rock tune I'd also heard anytime Peter Parker went to a party on Spider-man. The Joe cartoon was good, but probably not something I would have been into were it not for the connections between the two shows. Still, I have many fond memories of the series, such as the Dreadnoks and Joes facing off in a hockey game to secure a key component of Destro's Weather Dominator. And I loved the Marvel comics written by Larry Hama, which outlived the cartoon as well as the Transformers cartoons and comics.

G.I. Joe had a richer, longer history in American popular culture than I realized as a 10 year old though. I didn't know about the older larger figures with the ”Kung-fu grip” back then. The other day my friend Curt sent me a link to an interesting article. It seems the old Joes are being inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Yo Joe!

Join me tomorrow when I explore G.I.Joe and Transformer crossovers in greater detail...


"Ees naht a TUBA!"

Just yesterday, my friend Rey was telling me how much he enjoyed anecdotes of the past. I once began a tale of my past on this blog that took five days to complete. Economy of words is one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer, despite a recent seminar I took through my job dealing with just that problem. Those posts were longer than I'd planned, and a bit of a departure from games and movies and television, my usual topics of choice. I have found posts like this one by TheWriteJerry somewhat inspirational though. Jerry hasn't been well lately, although he's slowly getting there. I'd ask that you keep him in your prayers and/or thoughts. In the meantime, I plan to once more take a similar detour down memory lane, and a rare tooting of my own horn. You have my apologies for the preceding pun as well as the following post.

In third grade, EVERY student in my school was handed a recorder, a shrill plastic instrument similar in principle to a flute or a clarinet, but greatly simplified. Parents delighted in hearing out-of-tune renditions of such classics as ”Hot Cross Buns” at various concerts in the gymnasium. I was not sorry to be done with the thing by the end of the school year and I haven't touched it since, though I still have it. Some of the students were asked by the music teacher to look at a list of real instruments and consider joining the band in fourth grade. When I was approached I didn't actually say I wanted to play, since I had hated the recorder, but I did recognize the words ”Baritone Horn” as something my father played, and told my teacher as much. The teacher recognized my name as well, having been an appreciative customer of my father's back when he still had his own garage. Next thing I knew, I had a Baritone Horn and was signed up to be in the band the following year.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, but my dad does have one framed photo one of his sisters came across from an old newspaper article about one of the old-time Italian bands on Long Island which features my grandfather and his Baritone. My father himself played in high school but gave up shortly thereafter. His parents were supporting four daughters and a son with a lunch wagon and a small convenience store, and tales of my dad and some of his sisters “eating the profits” are legendary. So my dad took some mechanical classes and learned a trade to help out around the house. Twenty some-odd years later, on their first wedding anniversary, my mom surprised him with a Baritone Horn, having seen old yearbook photos and deciding it would be a good gift. And so it was that growing up I was familiar with the sounds of a brass instrument wafting up from my basement.

My mom was a pretty good pianist in her youth and one of my dad's sisters is a Clarinet player, so music is definitely in my family. The first two years I played were difficult though, and I often wanted to give up. But my dad kept at me to practice even when my inability to play some more challenging passages pushed me to tears. By sixth grade it was coming more naturally, and I began taking private lessons from an excellent teacher, an Italian master of all brass instruments. He broke things down simply, taking difficult strains and showing me the mathematical breakdown with exercises consisting of one note. Once I had the rhythm down, I was then ready to see it applied in actual melodies. Soon I was tackling more challenging rhythms such as syncopation. My teacher recommended I learn the trombone as well, and in addition to the regular band I was active for three years in a jazz ensemble. Additionally, I played in my teacher’s Italian band at local feasts, and my dad was able to get me into the fire department marching band that he was in.

In addition to the bands I was in, each year I entered a competition sponsored by the New York State School Music Association, or NYSSMA. NYSSMA consisted of auditioning before a judge who would ask the musician to play three scales, a prepared solo, and a few lines of ”sight reading” (playing something for the first time without having rehearsed it). The grade received would determine whether that musician was chosen to perform as part of an all-county band in a concert held at a local university. Through my teacher's guidance and my parent's support, I managed to qualify for eight consecutive concerts. When I was a high school senior the stakes were higher, and the level solo I played not only required performing with a piano accompaniment, but a high enough grade would earn me a spot in an All State band featuring the best young musicians in New York. I was very nervous the day of my audition, and had a hard time finding which room I was supposed to be in at the school that was hosting that year. Late and winded, I was off to a rocky start with the judge but recovered enough to score a 92 out of a possible 100. Sadly, this was not high enough to qualify for All-State and remains one of my greatest failures. I had looked forward to it not only as the pinnacle of my musical career, but to potentially be reunited with a talented girl I'd had a crush on in band in eighth grade and had not seen since being sent to a different high school.

Senior year was not without consolation prizes, however. In addition to being elected president of the band, I performed a solo at my last concert, accompanied by the band. I was very nervous and to this day won't watch the video for the one or two notes that I know were wrong even though the audience didn't notice. Though I didn't make All-state, I did play in the All-county concert for the eighth and final time. All-state itself was canceled due to a blizzard that year, so I didn't miss anything. And by the end of the school year, I'd received the fortuitous news that I had made the pep band at the college I would be attending, which included a scholarship that paid HALF my tuition.

Music is a wonderful and joyous thing. It's opened many doors in my life, and to this day I'm still active in a a variety of marching, concert and Italian bands. I don't practice as often as I should or as my dad would like, but it seems to come naturally to me and is one of the few things in life I don't find to be a struggle. I guess that's to be expected after twenty years of doing anything. Hopefully I'll reach that level with my day job someday. For now, I don't plan on quitting either one.


Hope ’n Death

What is hope? Hope is an essential part of life, the conviction that even when things are at their worst, better times are inevitably ahead. Bad times it seems are as finite as good ones, yet sometimes when our outlook seems grim and suffering unbearable, it doesn't seem as though the bad times WILL end. Conversely, it is very common to take good things for granted and be crushed when they inevitably end.

When I lay weak from blood loss in a hospital bed, suffering from an as-yet undiagnosed malady a few years ago, my music teacher's wife and daughter stopped by. He was in the hospital for an ailment of his own and when his family bumped into my folks in the hallway, they came and shared words of encouragement: ”This too shall pass.” In the grand scheme of things, the eleven days I spent in the hospital and the subsequent four-week recovery from surgery were but a chronological drop in the bucket of my life, an eyeblink in hindsight. But while I was there it was an eternity of neverending misery, between the possibility of death and release, and my normal life. Eventually the doctors reached a diagnosis, but I remember one scary morning waking up in the ICU hearing them argue over what each had looked up the night before on Web MD. Through the ordeal I retreated into my mind, away from the pains of my mortal shell, and looked ahead to the future, to a time when it all was behind me. I held on to what they said among other things.

Can hope be considered the opposite of death? So long as we have desires, and look forward to things and pursue them, are we in essence “living”? The question is further complicated by one's definition of death, and varying beliefs regarding the possibility of an afterlife. To a Christian, for example, death is but the end of THIS life, and so long as there is faith in God hope does not necessarily end with mortal death. Deep questions to be sure, but the only fact I can explore with certainty is that the answers are not to be found in the movie Lady Death.

I'd never read the comics though some cards and posters I'd picked up as convention samples over the years featured artwork by the late Steven Hughes. I actually was not aware of the artist's passing until researching this article, and it's interesting that I should come across it so soon after the world lost another talent in original Flash creator Harry Lampert. Art can sometimes be an immortality with a price, and creations tend to be better known than creators. Chaos Comics, who originally published Lady Death, went bankrupt in 2002 but former president Brian Pulido, the writer who co-created her with Hughes, continues her story through Avatar Press.

The animation is on par with most good Japanese animation, and certainly faithful to Hughes' design. From what I've read, the story and concept are still in essence what Pulido originally wrote, but the execution was painful. Hope, a young girl in a small village in an undisclosed part of Europe learns her father is Lucifer after he collects her boyfriend's soul. Clearly the guys Al Bundy tossed out his front door had no idea what it meant to say, “My girlfriend's father is from hell.” Lucifer beats a hasty retreat after naive Hope catches him flushing souls down a portal, and fries all the townspeople who also arrive to confront him, conveniently sparing a priest who moments earlier was using his staff as a weapon. Hope, a God-fearing victim is rewarded for her innocence by being sentenced by the priest to burn. Tied to a stake, her pretty blonde tresses chopped off, she begs God for forgiveness and mercy. Her doomed lover appears in the flames and persuades her to pray to her father, and demons carry her charred body into Hell, where it regenerates. Once she sees how stupid it is that the devil's shapeshifting court jester Joker/Violator ripoff was impersonating her lover, she begins writing a bad review in her mind, in blog form. Or possibly that was me.

What she does do is cry a lot and get brought before her father and his demon lesbian consorts. She rejects his offer to join him and is tossed over a cliff, hitting some rocks on the way down before landing in a deep river. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she weighs the implausibility of her survival against the phrase “demon lesbian consorts” being used in a coherent sentence. Eventually she washes ashore and faces two ferocious wolves. Fortunately, you can only push someone so far in hell before she learns to repel attacks with bursts of energy. Sometimes when I'm tired on Sunday I zone out during mass, so I bet that's when they covered superpowers in the afterlife. Lucky for Hope she finds a teacher in Cremator, a reject Masters of the Universe character who trains her vigorously. We learn that swordfighting with a cheesy demon in an elapsed-time montage can bleach a girl's skin and hair, remove unwanted pupils from her eyes, and add a cup size. Who knew? With the new name of Lady Death, she embraces her father's philosophy that “desire equals power” and leads a revolution against his minions, picking up a very big sword from a Golobulus wannabe along the way.

Is Hope the opposite of Death? Even though I added a star for the animation when rating the disk at Netflix, I was still hoping for the film's inevitable demise....


The Magnificent Seven Samurai

In 1954, long before rap artists The Wu-Tang Clan(R.I.P. ODB) were working their love of Eastern cinema into their name and lyrics, Akira Kurosawa's epic Shichinin no samurai(Seven Samurai) was released. It was the gripping tale of a village of farmers plagued by marauding bandits, who seek the aid of samurai warriors to defend them. Three villagers are sent in to the outside world and when they witness an unorthodox rescue by Takashi Shimura's Kambei, they think they have found the answer to their problems. Kambei attracts a disciple early on, the young Katsushiro, and is also sought out by Toshiro Mifune's comical Kikuchiyo, an overcompensating blowhard with a five-foot blade and a penchant for drunkenness. Kambei finds an old friend to help him recruit other samurai to aid the village, and the quest begins. In their search, Kambei and Katsushiro witness a mock duel between the grim Kyuzo and another. The match is close but Kyuzo is confident he has won. When his opponent presses the issue and challenges him to duel with real blades, Kyuzo slays him easily. Eventually Kambei has four warriors besides himself, and reluctantly takes Katsushiro along despite objecting to his youth. Kikuchiyo follows the six and as the movie progresses, proves he has skills which will be an asset to them. Defending the village from the bandits proves more challenging in the face of the townspeople's distrust of the swordsman, and though the farmers endeavor to hide their daughters, the young Katsushiro inevitably finds romance. Whether that romance or their defense of the town succeeds, I will not say. But it was a masterfully filmed and beautifully scored three hours that I would certainly recommend.

In 1960, The Seven Samurai came to the American screen. An Eastern film with elements of an old Western, the basic premise was left intact. The Magnificent Seven were a group of Texas gunslingers who band together when a Mexican village seeks aid against a marauders led by Eli Wallach's Calvera. As in Kurosawa's original, a trio is sent in search of warriors, this time finding Yul Brynner's Chris. While Kambei rescues a child from an armed thief by posing as a monk, Chris' act of heroism is to drive a hearse with a dead “Injun” safely to a local burial ground, despite objections from some of the townsfolk. Steve McQueen literally rides shotgun as Vin and helps Chris carry out his mission of honor. Their demonstration of gunmanship and heroism impresses not only the Mexican farmers, but young Chico, played by Horst Buchholz. Chico here is an amalgam of Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo, and his youth and drunken antics are both deterrents to his inclusion in the group. Once Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Brad Dexter are recruited, the sextet journeys back with the villagers, followed by Chico who will soon be one of them and have a romance paralleling Katsushiro's. It's interesting to note among the many parallels between the two movies, Coburn's Britt is found under similar circumstances as Kyuzo. Coburn is challenges by a gunslinger to test the speed of his knife-throwing arm against his gun. When the challenger refuses to accept that Coburn hit his target first he demands a true duel, and soon has a knife buried in his chest before he can even pull the trigger. With such Hollywood starpower playing such skilled fighters, there is only one possible outcome. Whether the ending remains faithful to the original or makes some key changes is again something I will not spoil here.

Both films remain monuments in their own right. Each has spawned homages. The Magnificent Seven had several sequels as well as a spinoff series and was spoofed in 1986's ¡Three Amigos! Next year Seven Samurai will be remade as Seven Swords, and was the basis of the anime Samurai 7 which, since I haven't seen and from the description has worked in robots, is something I definitely plan to seek out on Netflix. Animated homages are nothing new--fans of either Justice League or Beast Wars might recognize a certain scene in The Magnificent Seven...

I'll close with a great quote from The Magnificent Seven from Steve McQueen(who crashed a car while working on ”Wanted: Dead or Alive” just to get time off from his TV series to star in the film): “We deal in lead, friend.” Too cool.

They really don't make them like this anymore.


Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic

Reed and Sue Richards are still married. A loving couple who work together and are raising two children, they've managed to maintain their relationship since 1961. This is something as increasingly rare in the real world as it is in the pages of The Fantastic Four. As Mister Fantastic, Reed's intellect is as great an asset to his team as his ability to stretch his body. But what's truly fantastic is that despite all the things they've faced as both superheroes and parents, their bond has only grown stronger. Sue once suffered a miscarriage. Reed was once presumed dead in an explosion along with his archnemesis Doctor Doom. For months Sue took on the role of team leader, believing her husband still alive somewhere. She remained faithful in the face of romantic advances by Namor, the Sub-Mariner.The team faced many new enemies, including a Reed from a parallel reality, but eventually were reunited with the genuine article.

In younger days I found myself nauseated by the saccarine quality of their relationship, and the constant references to one another as “darling”. As I got older, I began to notice a disturbing trend in the soap-opera-like comics. Sue's younger brother Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, had married a longtime girlfriend of the fourth member of their team, Ben Grimm(The Thing). At some point during the early part of Tom Defalco's run as writer, it was revealed that a shapeshifting alien Skrull had impersonated the real girl, and they were never actually married. This wasn't the first time a comic book marriage had dissolved. In the West Coast Avengers, the marriage between Hawkeye and Mockingbird had dissolved when he learned that she let a villain fall to his death, one who had drugged her and forced her to love him against her will. She was upset that he was more concerned with the villain's fate than his wife's violation, and the two were separated for a long time before nearly reconciling--only for her to be killed by the demonic Mephisto.

I don't know if the writers were emulating the “real” world or if they thought single heroes would be seen as cooler. Even Spider-man's marriage to Mary Jane Watson, one of the stronger and most overdue unions, has suffered. I believe the couple is currently separated after a long period in which she was believed to have died in an explosion. This post would last longer than most marriages if I continued listing all the couples that didn't last. Hank and Jan. Scott and Jean. Bruce and Betty. Namor and Marrina. Be it death or divorce, writers have found ways to separate them. But through all of this, Reed and Sue Richards are STILL married. Let's hope future writers don't get any ideas to change that.

My own parents have stayed together for well over thirty years, having celebrated an anniversary a little over a month ago. I've seen them at their best and at their worst, working together anticipating what the other needs and at each other's throats when disagreements have gotten out of hand. They've come out of the fights stronger and more united, and it's a rare and remarkable thing to behold. In a world where otherwise good shows like Friends have trivialized marriage and divorce in an attempt to make light of the problems we all may face, it's nice to see someone take marriage seriously. Fantastic would be the word for it.


Best Laid....Plans

Time was our company would let us bank an unlimited amount of vacation days. We were allowed fifteen a year and any days that were not used could be stored and carried over to the following year. Additionally, there was the added benefit of trading in banked days for cash and being paid the equivalent of a day's pay for each day withdrawn. Last year, they announced that they were amending this policy. No longer would there be a cash-out option, nor would the bank capacity be unlimited. We would have a maximum of ten days we could store, and those days could only be withdrawn as days, not money. There was a window before this new policy went in to effect during which we could still trade any banked days for cash, so I withdrew my thirty-plus banked days. Given the raises I'd had during the first three years of my employment, the days I withdrew were actually worth more than when I started. As the end of last year approached I had fifteen days remaining, and could only bank ten of them. Whatever days I didn't use would be lost but, given my tight deadlines and the approaching holidays, I was foolishly prepared to simply lose them. My supervisor had other ideas however, and forced me to take them. I spaced them out and over the course of Christmas and New Year's there wasn't a week that I was at work more than two or three days. The long weekends were great, and allowed me time to finish up my holiday shopping and wrap presents. The days I was at work were more stressful since I now had to accomplish what I did in five days in only two. By some miracle I managed, but it wasn't easy.

I LIKE that my job has a structure. My previous one did not, and on any given day my superiors could shelve a book I was rushing to finish and make another project my priority. It made it very hard to plan my days. Some days there would be nothing to do, but I had to look busy so I wouldn't get fired. Other days presented me with so much work that I'd be rolling my chairs between several different computers and desks like Alex P. Keaton on speed, simultaneously scanning, printing, loading disks, revising layouts, and physically assembling books from color proofs for a trade show by hand using a knife, metal ruler and double-sided tape. I like the structure where I am now, though the volume is challenging. I make all my deadlines, sometimes even early, but the few times our scheduling system generates a dreaded “late notice” e-mail, my supervisor's boss sends me an inquiry, since the system is designed to e-mail her as well when we're late. It's only happened two or three times, and usually I completed my assignment the day it was due but after five o'clock, but still she checks up on me. It's important both physically and mentally to take days off but given these conditions, I probably wouldn't if I wasn't forced to. In the nine years since I graduated college, I don't believe I've had more than four or five consecutive days away from my day job, and many of those days I've been doing other work, usually with one of the myriad bands I'm in. I often think of Homer's sage words, “Don't worry, boy. When you get a job like me, you'll miss EVERY summer.”

With ten days in the bank, I had to use all fifteen of my yearly allowance this year, as well as the two personal days we're given. I've taken a three-day weekend whenever I was caught up or saw an opening in my schedule, and was again grateful to have a structured workload so I could tell a week ahead of time whether or not my not being there on a certain day would affect my stress level in trying to catch up the following day. Some of the days I took during the Summer were for musical engagements, and fell on days when I had things due, forcing me to work harder in the days prior to get the assignments completed early. Other days were taken to simply do nothing, and recover from work by sleeping late and playing video games. It didn't always work out that way though. There was one day when my dad announced he was going over to his property in his old neighborhood to reshingle the back of his garage, “if anyone wanted to help” him. There was no way I was going to let a septuagenarian with a heart condition carry a heavy ladder and work in the hot sun, and had I stayed home I would have felt guilty the whole time, especially if anything happened to him. He said it would only take us an hour or two but it ended up taking five, and he apologized for consuming such a large chunk of my day off.

That's the way it is with work and life though. Every day this week I arrived at my job planning to work on “project b”, but ended up spending time resolving issues with “project a”. Not one day did I get to the things I planned to work on before the day was almost over, because other things took priority. Every automobile my dad has worked on has always presented unseen challenges and taken far longer than he estimated. Last weekend I took off on Friday, planning a three-day session of de-stressing. I decided since it was a nice day to rake all the leaves in our sizable yard and get fresh air since it was a rare warm day and I'm indoors far too much. My dad was installing a water pump in my old music teacher's son's minivan and I could hear it was giving him trouble. I put down my rake, and helped him until it got dark, surprising myself that I was understanding what he was trying to do and seeing better approaches than the ones he was taking. We ended up having to finish the car on Sunday, which took another four or five hours. My ribs were sore and my bruises from leaning on the car are still healing. I started out with gloves but had to abandon them for better dexterity in reaching smaller bolts on an alternator, and my hands were solid black when I was done. I managed to get everything but my nails clean, but those are finally growing out as well.

Today I planned to watch The Magnificent Seven and write an article comparing and contrasting it with The Seven Samurai. The disk didn't arrive in the mail as I was expecting however. Our neighbor was cutting tree branches that extended above our driveway over a shared fence and so instead of watching movies, I found myself outside holding a rope to guide falling tree branches away from the fence, our neighbor, and my father who was holding the ladder. There was one limb he couldn't reach and I looked around his yard, spying his four-year-old son's beat up old Nerf basketball. I tied the rope around the ball and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, threw it up and over the branch. I was able to pull it away when my neighbor's chainsaw was almost through it and it was cracking, and once again spare two noggins and a fence.

Earlier this week my mom received the sad news that her aunt had passed away at the ripe age of ninety-seven. She had been living somewhere down south but since her children all lived on Long Island and her husband is buried up here, the body was being flown up. We'd been waiting to hear what the arrangements were and my uncle finally called today to pass along the news that the funeral would be held Monday morning. Fortunately I was already taking another vacation day Monday so I'll be able to attend. I hadn't seen this woman since I was a small child but liked her from what I can remember, and of course I want to be there for my mom. It's not what I PLANNED, but that's the point. My mom said that her brother was complaining that “everything always gets messed up during these times!”, to which my mom replied that we don't schedule our deaths. I don't think this means we shouldn't make plans. We do have some control over our own lives and need to exercise it as much as possible given all the things outside our control that can pop up and change things in a heartbeat. Earlier this week my friend Curt reminded me of a quote by George Bernard Shaw that applies here: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”


Questionable Links

Thank God it's Friiiieeeiiiieeeiiiiidayaaayy!(stupid gym background music why couldn't I time my session for when that same mix CD they always play was playing something I wouldn't mind having stuck in my head right now.) At any rate, I've survived yet another week and now, thanks to The Insider being two-and-a-half hours long, I only have forty--sorry, thirty-nine--minutes to finish this post. Great movie by the way with amazing performances by Al Pacino and a transformed Russell Crowe—and I had to triple-check to make sure Mike Wallace wasn't playing himself. But, in keeping with NOI tradition, I digress.

TONIGHT'S POST OCCURS IN REAL TIME. I'M MCF AND THIS IS THE LONGEST BLOG OF MY LIFE. I've been writing this blog for over a month now, without much explanation of the “MCF's Haunts” section, so I've decided to devote a post to it tonight. It's basically a list of places I frequent online, with some obligatory plugs to friends' blogs. I expect as time goes on the list will grow and change, and I may even need to break it down into categories. But for now, here's what I've got:

1) The Happy Husband is the blog of my friend and coworker Curt. As the tagline “Celebrating Marriage in a Hostile World” suggests, he takes his readers on a near-daily journey through his own happy marriage, something in stark contrast to what's portrayed on television and in advertising. Fictional depictions both reflect and bolster the reality, and 30+ year marriages like my parents' are increasingly rare. Curt's relevant and sometimes humorous essays are inspirational not only to married couples, but to those of us who dream of being happily married ourselves someday. It's safe to say that, among a group of us who survive the work day by e-mailing links back and forth throughout the day, he started this trend of blogging.

2) The Bible Archive is less of a blog and more of an academic theological resource. Maintained by my old college buddy Rey, it examines passages in scripture and scrutinizes their meaning. Rey is one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to faith, and I vividly recall a dream he once told me about in which a hand pulled him from the fires of hell. From that point on he was a Born Again Christian and joined his parents at church, and I've also seen his growth over the years from a shoplifting foul-mouthed college student to the responsible husband and father he is today. “Shoplifting” and “foul-mouthed” are probably harsh exaggerations, but I do remember when he stopped getting “free” Twinkies from the cafeteria, and when he stopped swearing and substituted words like “freak” for harsher ones.

3) The Write Jerry is a blog maintained by yet another friend and coworker. It was Jerry who first suggested Curt start a blog and, over a year later started one of his own. Shortly after he set his up, I finally caved and got on the blogging bandwagon, filling a void of obscurity amid a collective relevance. Jerry's written for major comic companies and I was actually surprised to learn I had some of his work in my collection, purchased years before I met him. In addition to being chained to a cubicle in a catalog company with the rest of us, Jerry is working with Mario Ruiz on a series of comics for a new Christian comic book company which should prove exciting. Jerry's blog covers a range of topics, and though it had a strong political focus given recent events, it also has some interesting anecdotes from his life experiences.

4) If I have to explain Homestar Runner, chances are you've just gotten internet access or stumbled on to my site in some freak internet cafe accident. A series of flash cartoons so popular the brothers who created it have been able to quit their jobs, this site has been referenced in episodes of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and is much loved by anyone with internet access and a lot of free time, like Wil Wheaton for example. Strong Bad's e-mails are the main attraction but there's a LOT to be found, from the colorful cast of characters to the hidden easter eggs. But if I'm really telling you anything you don't already know, I probably can't help you. Unplug your computer, and go back to your regularly scheduled actual life.

5) In4mador and & 6) memepool are collections of links to interesting websites and games. They're kind of lesser known Farks, which means that occasionally I can impress coworkers with links to things they haven't come across already on their own. By sharing them, I've probably halved my e-mailing value, but the box has already been opened now...

7) I hate Carnage Blender. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of an RPG broken down to the fundamental basics of fight, earn experience and money, and allocate them to building up a character. There are players who must play all day long everyday though, since in the two or three years I've been there I only managed to make it to the number one spot once. Now I'm somewhere around 40th or 50th, but my competitive nature won't let me quit.

8) The Internet Movie Database is the first place I go after seeing a movie. I find out who's who and who's been in what with who. Then I scare/amuse/entertain co-workers by having names like Crispin Glover readily available. A few years ago I had a copy-editor point out all the sidebar links she enjoyed. Not wanting to appear ignorant I wholeheartedly agreed, but in fact had never used the site to it's full potential. Now I'm on top of quotes, goofs, and movie connections as well as cast listings.

9) Television Without Pity consists of a group of people who recap shows in frightening detail, tearing them apart at the same time in clever and hilarious ways. They're all gifted writers and I find myself reading summaries of episodes of shows I've already seen, just to enjoy their observations.

10) TV Shows on DVD is great for finding out what shows are (finally) being released and when, and details about these products. You can vote for shows and even learn the answers to burning questions like, ”Why isn't Batman on DVD yet?”

11) I haven't seen every movie yet, but Netflix + no life= that happening. For $17.95 a month I can have three DVDs out at a time and as soon as I mail back ones I've seen in a postage-paid envelope, they send out the next one on my queue. It's awesome, probably a big reason why movies may dominate books, television shows and video games as a blog topic.

12) The Science Fiction Book Club is a long-standing institution that has been around for over 50 years and carries a wide range of titles from both genres. I highly recommend it with absolutely no ulterior motives. ::coff::

13) ”Triscadecaphobia” was the biggest (real) word I knew in fifth grade. So it's no surprise that there are thirteen links in my haunts section. In fact, I may limit the section to thirteen going forward and simply replace or recategorize when I want to add new links. This last link, and the inspiration for tonight's title, comes from Questionable Content, a great web comic my friends have occasionally sent me links to, but one I never read regularly. Like filling in the back issues of a comic book collection, I've been catching up the last few days and decided the story of a boy, his robot computer, and attractive and smart platonic lady friend was link worthy, especially as I've seen the story arc progress and grow and GO somewhere. Its creator's style has really evolved and grown as well, and from what I've read of his sidebar articles, those are great as well. There have been 229 strips and I'm only up to 57, so I guess I'd better get back to that. Besides, my time is almost up...