Phantasmic Links 7.31.06

Hello, internet. You're looking quite fetching this evening. Who am I? Figure. Mysterious Cloaked Figure. Perhaps I could interest you in a spot of this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS?:

You're all powerless before the might of the RIDICULOUSLY. CUTE. KITTEN. Awwww....

How well do you know your movies? Can you guess from only a still image of a scene? Type correctly and the box turns green; get your score at the bottom of the screen. My scores are to the right of each link:
Fun With Movies, Part I: 20 out of 30
Fun With Movies, Part II: 24 out of 30
Fun With Movies, Part III: 15 out of 28

Whew, movie quizzes make me hungry. Maybe I'll try one of these sandwich ideas recommended by Kev Bayer.

Colbert interviews Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. While Darrell didn't link to this specific clip, I am giving him a nod for pointing me in the direction of the show.

I've seen a lot of funny things this week, more than I can or would want to possibly share. Kevin Smith's hilarious Superman anecdote, posted by Sean, is definitely one of the funniest. “Thanagarian Snare Beast” indeed....

Kevin Smith also made me laugh quite a bit at Clerks II this weekend, and while I found Randal's summary of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to be very insightful, I would later stumble upon an even more shocking comparison between LotR and another classic piece of cinema history...

Hey boys and girls! If you could be a superhero, who would you be?

Can you disinfect the core? The only thing more frustrating than the computer player's skill is the evil way it mocks you with familiar catch phrases. Addictive, and I've only managed to beat it once.

”Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Independence.” I had no idea. Thanks, Curt.

Throwing a party? Will you know where to seat your guests when they RSVP? This card game offers eight challenging levels.

Maybe the hero of this classic video should have gone with “How you doin'?” instead of “My car broke down.” Lyndon helps us remember something perhaps best left forgotten....

There are 100 wonders in this world, and I've seen...um...two...(the Met and the NY Skyline). I need to get out more.

With the Concert Ticket Generator, now you can show off a ticket to anything, even here:

Can you deduce the Final Answer to Everything?



I Talk TV

I haven't watched television in months. Neither reruns nor Summer series interest me, and despite musing that I might use the Summer to introduce myself to House or The Office, I've made no attempt to watch either. I've gotten plenty of sun and fresh air, hitting the beaches and streets to run, walk, march, stroll and/or play some music, and I've spent a good amount of time watching DVDs and surfing the web. I’ve even seen a few movies in the theaters. I suppose if my folks had cable I might be watching things like Who Wants to be a Superhero? On the other hand, television seems to be like junk food: the longer I'm away from it, the less I miss it.

And yet, in a few days it will be August already. Now that temperatures have gotten into the upper 90s, it finally feels like Summer, when Summer is almost over. For some shows, the new season is just around the corner. For others, we still have a few months to wait. I thought I'd take a look around the internet and see what's on the horizon:

I know what you're all thinking. Yes, it was canceled. Due to conflicts with other, better shows as well as sporadic airings, I only watched about four or five episodes from the new season. It actually seemed like it was marginally improving, but an 82% drop in ratings said otherwise. All of the second season episodes have not aired though, and I read today that in August NBC plans to burn off the remaining episodes. Will I tune in and break my Summer hiatus? Will I even remember?

This, on the other hand, is a show I refuse to miss, especially after a cliffhanger that had three characters in captivity, three more possibly dead, and two leaving the island. How will our protagonists escape? Will there be survivors? And have we really seen the last of the island escapees? The third season promises to answer these questions, as well as a few things we've wondered since the series began. No spoilers here, but Lost returns on October 4, 2006. Also of note is that after six consecutive weeks of new episodes, it will go on hiatus for twelve before returning for seventeen straight weeks. I guess people didn't like all the repeats last year and watching the show in chunks of 3-4 episodes. I'm not sure about a three-month gap in the middle of the season, and my brain will surely explode with 17 weeks of new revelations and mysteries. And of course, I can't wait.

The show really picked up steam toward the end of the season. The stand-alone episodes started to incorporate sprinkles of continuous plot threads culminating in a heart stopping finale. This tale of two brothers battling supernatural forces has grown, and definitely fills the void left by shows like The X-files and Buffy. Supernatural will be back on September 28, 2006 on the new CW network.

Smallville, also on the CW, will return also on September 28, 2006, probably as a lead-in to Supernatural. The sixth season will bring in not one but at least two more DC comics characters, including a hero who will finally make some real moves toward forming the Justice League. I won't reveal who it is, but I will hint that he doesn't have any powers and he's not who we've all been waiting for since season 1. I figure at this point that guy will show up in the final season, or not at all. While I didn't care for the show's version of Aquaman, I did like they way they handled The Flash and Cyborg. Potentially, they should be able to do a sharp job with the character appearing this season and be right on target.

This is the funniest sitcom on television. Will NBC make us wait until January again? How will the pregnancy plotlines play out? I'll certainly write about it as soon as I know more.

At least with 24, we know Jack won't be back until January. But will he be back? Rumors are circulating as to where Jack will be as he was bound for China in captivity at the end of last season. Most of what I've read is unconfirmed speculation and wishful thinking at this point, but in case any of it proves to be true, Rey will kill me or worse, so I'll keep what I've discovered to myself for now.

Prison Break
They're out! Aren't they? We'll find out on August 21, 2006 making this the first of my shows to return this season. Like Lost, it will probably disappear for a few weeks in the middle of the season before returning in the Spring.

* * *

That's what's on the horizon for my television, arriving sooner than I think. I'm also looking forward to the returns of How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Earl, The Simpsons and Family Guy. Earl will be back September 21, 2006, The Simpsons and Family Guy return September 10, 2006, and HIMYM is back on Mondays, at an earlier time of 8PM, but no specific date has been announced yet. Since I've been television-free these last few flying Summer months, I haven't heard anything about any new shows, although a few people have told me about Heroes, a show about people with powers that includes Greg Grunberg(Alias) and Ali Larter(Final Destination). I've been watching some of the previews, and I'm definitely going to check this one out.

We now return to Summer, already in progress...


20 Funny Films

Yes! It's finally the weekend! The crowd breathes a sigh of relief as I cast aside griping about my busy schedule and focus on comedy. When Darrell posted his 15 funniest films, I was inspired to compile my favorite twenty, because I'm competitive and enjoy rhyme as well as alliteration. These aren't all good movies per se, but they're the ones that have made me laugh the most, ranging from the very silly to the silly with heart back to the very silly.

Before we get to the list, which was a challenge to narrow down, I'll note my Honorable Mentions, which were also hard to narrow down: Airheads, Back to School, Blazing Saddles, Brewster's Millions, The ‘Burbs, Groundhog Day, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, High Anxiety, History of the World: Part I, Hot Shots!, Johnny Dangerously, Major League, The Man with Two Brains, The New Guy, So I Married An Axe Murderer, ¡Three Amigos!, Throw Momma from the Train, Undercover Brother, Van Wilder, and Zoolander

And now, my TOP 20:

20 Easy Money
In this 1983 classic, Rodney Dangerfield plays an average man set to inherit his mother-in-law's millions. The catch? He has to lose weight, clean up his gambling, drinking and other vices, and transform into the sort of man she would have approved of for her daughter. A young Joe Pesci steals the show at times, at one point referring to the Statue of Liberty as “That big statue of the broad in the harbor.” It's all a showcase of Dangerfield's comic beats though, a slob like any of us struggling to be something more, and his final line is one of the funniest in movie history.

19 Gung Ho
Michael Keaton teamed with Gedde Watanabe in a film about a failing American automobile plant taken over by Japanese businessmen. Keaton's character negotiates the deal that saves his hometown's main business, but the work ethic of the new owners conflicts with the laid back attitude of his old drinking buddies. Caught between two worlds, can his quick wit save the day? This was one of those comedies with a little bit of everything, from the silly to the serious to the inspirational to the frightening. After one particular scene, I kept my distance from conveyor belts and heavy machinery...

18 UHF
This is a cult classic and geek favorite, favored by geeks with specific tastes. In the tradition of such stupid films as The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon, the loose plot about a man who turns around a small UHF television station is in place solely to connect a series of funny skits and spoofs from the mind of Weird Al Yankovic. I spent a good portion of high school quoting this movie. Gedde Watanabe shows up in this one as an irate chef, and Emo Philips proves that not everyone can handle a knife(“Call me mis-ter butterfingers...”). The breakout star here is Michael Richards, as a mentally challenged janitor who becomes the station's biggest star. In Stanley Spadowski you can clearly see the roots of Cosmo Kramer.

17 Super Troopers
This one surprised me. I didn't think much of the trailer, and expected a rip-off of a classic comedy about police officers(see #16 below). A friend of mine raved about it, and when I finally did see it I understood the buzz. Was it the typical formula where a group of zany misfits rise to the occasion to face their competition? It was indeed, and it was a formula I didn't realize I was missing until I saw Super Troopers and thought, “they really don't make these kinds of comedies anymore.” It starred a comedy troupe known as Broken Lizard as state troopers with a penchant for messing with the people they pull over. One officer bets the other how many times he can work the word “meow” into a conversation. “Meow, do you know how fast you were going?” There's a great sequence where they pull over a group of teenagers who do a really bad job of concealing their drugs. Broken Lizard's next comedy Club Dread wasn't as good as Super Troopers, but still very funny.

16 Police Academy
I'm citing the first film, but at least the first four were hilarious before cast members started leaving and the premise was simply drawn out too far. You can only make so many sequels. Still, this was the original band of wacky law officers in training, led by Steve Guttenberg, and deserves respect. The characters were caricatures, living cartoons, and everyone who saw the film must have had a favorite. What fan of ‘80s comedies didn't love Jonesy, a showcase for Michael Winslow's true talent as a human sound effects machine? I also liked David Graf's gun-crazy Tackleberry, and I was sad to read that the acto passed away at the age of 51 a few years ago. A new Police Academy is planned for next year, with most of the cast returning. Will it be as good as the earlier movies? Is there a reason to revisit the franchise? And most importantly, will Bobcat Goldthwait return as Zed and reclaim his trademark voice from pretenders like Fred Fredburger?

15 Airplane!
They don't make them like this anymore. Oh, they'll try, and they might even get Leslie Nielsen, but none of the Scary Movie's or other modern stupid comedies hold a candle to the original stupid comedy. I speak jive, I am serious, and don't call me Shirley. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit blogging...

14 Mystery Men
I'm a comic book geek. I collected for eight solid years, amassing a collection numbering in the 4000s, and an encyclopedic knowledge that easily dwarfs my limited social skills. Of course a film about a group of misfit superheroes makes my list. Ben Stiller is Mr. Furious, a character who believes he has powers when he gets angry. He works very hard to maintain his dark image, struggling to impress ridiculously hot waitress Claire Forlani. When she asks for his real name, he stammers through an impromptu list of tough guy names: “It's Phoenix....Phoenix Dark....Dirk. Phoenix...Darkdirk....I was christened Dirk SteeIe, and I changed it to Phoenix...” Of course his real name is as ordinary as “Roy”. He's just one part of a comedic dream ensemble that includes Hank Azaria as The Blue Raja, a faux British utensil tosser living with his mother, Janine Garafalo as The Bowler, following in her father's footsteps with his skull and spirit sealed inside her bowling ball, and the versatile William H. Macy as the Shoveler, badgered family man by day and honest and idealistic hero by night. Geoffrey Rush hams it up as the classic comic book supervillain, and Greg Kinnear is the public's beloved icon Captain Amazing, a sellout who may or may not benefit from a little help from the wannabes. It's a must see for any comic book fan. I'll also toss out another honorable mention here to the lesser-known superhero comedy, The Specials.

13 Shrek/Shrek II
Gun to my head, I'd say that while both had great soundtracks, clever writing, and tons of heart, the first had more emotional value in making me care about these characters while the second had more solid laughs. I had to cheat and count both as one, and in a year when the next sequel comes out I'll probably regard it as a solid, hilarious trilogy. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy make an hilarious team as Shrek the Ogre and Donkey(the donkey), while the sweet tones of Cameron Diaz make Princess Fiona all the more lovable. In the sequel, Antonio Banderas brought in suave swashbuckling as the deadly cute Puss In Boots. It's for the kids, but they sneak in a few jokes for the grown ups too, such as Puss In Boots telling a knight that's pulled the group over the the catnip he's concealed isn't his. The blend of historical fairy tale characters with a modern score and a sharp wit excels and thrives in a digital medium.

12 Team America
This movie is so wrong. From an explicit sex scene involving puppets to the depiction of real world menace Km Jong-il as a diminutive Bond villain, I felt guilty for laughing so much. Whether spoofing Rent with characters on stage singing “Everyone has AIDs”, or oozing patriotism with the song, “America! &*^% Yeah!”, it's sure to extract a guilty laugh from even the stodgiest viewer.

11 Young Frankenstein
I could probably dedicate an entire post to Mel Brooks' body of work. This classic cut makes my list with a black-and-white send up of the gothic tale and sidesplitting performances from bug-eyed Marty Feldman, wacky Gene Wilder, and lumbering Peter Boyle. I laughed hysterically when Wilder as the doctor engages in a broadway song and dance number with Boyle as the monster, and Boyle bellows the refrain to ”Puttin' on the Ritz'”. It may in fact be one of the funniest sequences in film history. Also of note is a scene in which Gene Hackman plays a blind man and pours hot soup on Boyle. I've always been a Brooks fan but it took me years to see this one in its entirety, and I was sorry I waited so long.

10 Clerks
Twelve years ago, did even Kevin Smith realize what he was starting? A record low-budget film, made for only $27,575, it became a cult favorite that spawned at least five more movies set in the same View Askewniverse, including one actual sequel and an extremely funny but short-lived animated series. Smith excels at dialogue, and geeks and minimum wage workers alike related to what he had to say in the film. Snootch to the nootch.

09 The 40 Year Old Virgin
Steve Carell is a funny, funny man. There's an appeal to the loveless loser he plays here, an underdog we both laugh at and root for. He's a genuinely nice guy that just got stuck in his lonely life at some point, and suffers ordeal after ordeal as well-meaning coworkers try to bring him out of his shell. I definitely rate this one a full two bags of sand.

08 There's Something About Mary
What is it about loveless losers? Ben Stiller pines for his high school crush, Cameron Diaz, and the film works because there's something about Diaz. Bobby and Peter Farelly somehow mix gross out humor with a sweet tale, their trademark specialty, and we're along for the whole roller coaster, including one or two stunning moments where we think, “Oh no, they didn't!” Oh, yes. They did.

07 Office Space
Obnoxious coworkers. Meaningless paperwork. Soul-sucking monotony. Obligatory celebrations. A boss whose whims can devour personal time. Mike Judge describes the plight of any office worker in this marvelous comedy. I've never encountered the situations depicted in the film, or even similar situations, in any office I've worked in of course, but I laughed just the same. Those poor fools; glad they're not me.

06 Happy Gilmore
At the time, I wasn't much of an Adam Sandler fan. Billy Madison appeared stupid and unappealing, another vehicle for an SNL veteran that didn't deserve first billing in any feature. My friends dragged me to the theater, mostly because I was older and could drive them, and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I see a different side of Bob Barker, witness a villainous Ben Stiller torment and old woman, and chuckle at a random and inexplicable midget, but I would forever refer to Christopher McDonald as “Shooter McGavin”. Before that, Shooter was just some guy that played a truck driver in an episode of Knight Rider that also featured James Cromwell. Some Sandler fans miss the days of the more immature comedies as he incorporates more and more themes of romance and family and even takes on more serious roles as in Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish. These are the same people that think Little Nicky was a masterpiece. Don't listen to those people. Don't be those people. Sandler is growing and evolving, and elements of his more successful films originated in Happy Gilmore, from his character's devotion to his grandmother to the supporting caricatures he's surrounded by.

05 The Princess Bride
A wonderful movie and one of my all-time favorites, it set the standard for the funny fairy tale followed by movies like Shrek. Its lines are memorable, its hero dashing, its damsel lovely, its villain dastardly, its perils perilous, and its palaces palatial. It's a story of love summed up in the words “as you wish”. Cary Elwes' Westley loves Robin Wright Penn's Buttercup. Mandy Patinkin loved his father, whose death he seeks to avenge. Wallace Shawn loves his own brain, in a battle of wits that warns us to “never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” Narrating the tale, Peter Falk shows the love of a grandfather for his grandson, played by a young Fred Savage. And countless fans love this movie.

04 Ghostbusters
“Who ya gonna call?” This is as much a spooky horror piece as it is a comedy, but with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd heading up the great cast, there are as many jokes as scares. I love when Murray is flirting with the girl at his university during the ESP “test”, administering shocks to the male subject even when he guesses the correct cards while sparing her no matter what. The original and still the best, you'll laugh at moments and lines from beginning to end. “Listen! Do you smell something?”/“What did you do Ray?”/“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria!”

03 Wayne's World
In 2006, many might consider it blasphemous to list this instead of Mike Myers' more popular Austin Powers series. I wouldn't even argue that Myers was on top of his game in the multiple roles he played, or in the way he captured the ‘60s style of filmmaking. Just last night I watched the choppy 1967 Casino Royale, and witnessed a lot of trippy psychedelic filmmaking that the Powers movies were faithful to. Wayne's World is just an extended SNL skit, from a time in my life in which I had a few favorite movies that I watched repeatedly, very nearly memorizing. The Austin Powers movies showcase Myers but lack the camaraderie and teamwork he had with costar Dana Carvey, whose heart problems have kept him out of the spotlight for some time now, save for the horrendous mistake The Master of Disguise. Wayne's World has great music, quick hits, and unexpected sequences. I love the product placement sequence as well as Ed O'Neill's crazy rants. Tia Carrere; ‘nuff said. And then there are the cameos, like Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf, and of course Robert Patrick, still looking for John Connor as he reprises his T-1000 role. I could write paragraphs about this stupid movie, all the while listening to Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead I'll simply link to a highlight reel and move on.

02 Spaceballs
Mel Brooks makes the list again, and while this certainly isn't his best film, for a geek like me this send up of science fiction was one of the funniest. The hits are quick, nary a pause between jokes, registering what a character said even as something more unlikely is happening. Bill Pullman is a heroic rogue, John Candy is his human canine(Mog) sidekick, and Daphne Zuniga is the pretty but bitchy princess. Rick Moranis plays an unlikely Vader, and Brooks himself shows up as both a galactic president and a diminutive master of the “Schwartz”. It also features a space ship transforming into a giant (maid) robot, so my requirements are well met.

01 The Naked Gun
This is the clear winner. It has everything. Leslie Nielsen. Zucker and Abrahams Airplane! humor. OJ Simpson hadn't (possibly) stabbed anyone yet, and so was very funny. It had zany sequences, trumpet fanfares, and a climax at a baseball stadium that may be one of the funniest things I've ever watched. Enrico Pallazzo! Nielsen is at his best, delivering tongue-in-cheek lines with a perfectly straight face. The more ridiculous the things he says are, the more earnestly he says them. Don't let him catch any of you guys in America.

* * *

Whew. I started writing this last night, fell asleep around 3 AM, and spent another three hours finishing it this morning. I'm sure this list will change and rearrange as I grow older, tastes change, and new films make their way into the mix. These might not be the funniest movies you've seen, but right now, they're my favorites.


Tidbits of Two Feasts

WEDNESDAY: St. Anne's Feast in Hoboken

• 5:45 AM. Hell no. Not after a race.

• 6 AM. I better move or I'll miss the train.

• 6:32 AM. I exit the shower and my dad calls in to forget catching the train because we'll never make it now...

• 6:37 AM. After driving like a maniac, a 76-year-old man gets us to the local train station with a series of maneuvers than included the rarely implemented “left on red”.

• 6:43 AM. The train arrives on time.

• 8 AM. After arriving at Penn Station, we walk one block to pick up the PATH train. The machine takes my money, and I make it through the turnstile, down the platform, and on to the waiting train. The timing is perfect. I stand in the door and look back for my dad. He's still on the other side of the turnstiles. He's put his instrument down and he's fumbling with his money. People walk around him. The warning bell sounds so I step off the train. “You know, I'm an old man!” he grouses; I haven't said a word. The next train arrives within a few minutes.

• 8:30 AM. We arrive in Hoboken where the band leader waits with three other guys, including a father and son from Brooklyn whose band we usually play for. It's a tight fit in the SUV and the son has to stand with his posterior out the window, in his own words, “givin' deh ladies a show.”

• 8:45 AM. Some of the other band members are holding a parking spot near the church. Parking is bad in Hoboken, with green permit signs overriding all alternate side of the street parking signs. The band members have permits for the day.

• 9-11 AM. We wait for the procession to start, and wonder why we had to arrive so early when the mass is at 10, and we don't actually begin playing until 11:30. Nearby, one of the guys in this band razzes the Brooklyn band leader's son about his weight. “How old are you now? 32? You better start going to the doctor. It's time to make some visits my friend. You don't go because you don't like what he's gonna tell you. He's going to tell you to eat less and exercise more.” Tragically, the son stares away and ignores him before starting a conversation with someone else. I think about one of the older guys that used to play with us, who used to say the son “eats like he has nine a**holes!” Sitting on the edge of a stage and I lie back and close my eyes. I catch a quick nap before my dad shakes my ankle.

• 11:30 AM - 4:30 PM. We meander through the streets of Hoboken, leading a statue and throngs of people. There are few food or drink stops at first, but after the first hour or so we come to a place with water and sandwiches. I try to “tough it out” and not drink anything, but start to feel lightheaded as the breeze gives way to humidity. Someone mentions the temperatures going above 90°, and when I see melted asphalt I decide to drink water at the next stop. At one point we see an elderly couple loading groceries into their trunk and have the sad duty of pointing out to them that local authorities have placed a boot on their back left tire. Five hours go by surprisingly fast, and at the end when we wait by an outdoor bar for our compensation I enjoy a free beer because %^&* it; I've earned it.

• 5:20 PM. Walking down the steps to the PATH train, I try to move my favorite sunglasses up on to my head and somehow succeed in flipping them up into the air. I grab at them and make it worse, somehow tossing them on to the other side of the steps where my Brooklyn band leader nearly steps on them. “Now you know what it's like!” says my dad as I retrieve my shades, “Wait till you get to be my age!” At the turnstile this time I let my dad go ahead and I put the bills into the machine for him. Of course he gets through fine, but my dollar keeps getting folded in half and rejected. It's an odd phenomena I have no time to admire as rush hour commuters push past me, anxious to get home.

• 5:51 PM. Back at Penn Station, I admire the new screens that have replaced the dated flip panels that spun to change the signs indicating destinations, times, and tracks. Despite traveling to the city more frequently than I to go to his doctor in New Jersey, my dad doesn't notice any difference in the big board.

• 6:15 PM. As we board our train, I note no indication of the dreaded “change at Jamaica. Indeed, we had caught a rare direct line home. About five stations from our destination, I opened my eyes and realized I had fallen asleep against the glass.

• 7:15 PM. Home at last, and more than halfway through the work week. I'd soon sleep good.

* * *

THURSDAY: Feast of Our Lady of Snow, Brooklyn

• 5:30 PM. I decide to save filling out one last form for the next day, as I'm expecting my dad to meet me down in the parking lot with our friend Bill the trumpet player. It feels wrong leaving so early, especially after being off the day before. In my brain, I hear the voice of Robert Stack inform me, ”I can't deal with that now!” My phone rings, and my mom asks me to check the car for her arboretum keys when my dad arrives, because she can't find them. Less than a minute later, the phone rings again and she lets me know that she found them in her purse.

• 5:45 PM. No sign of my fellow musicians. I hate not having a car, and an illness creeps up within me, a festering voice telling me I could have gotten more work done before I left.

• 5:50 PM. My dad races through the parking lot, ignoring my wave to pull into a parking spot. He soars around and for a second I think he's going to run me over. I step aside and he stops perfectly for me to hop in the back. Despite the fact that I told him I was going out for a big lunch for a departing coworker, there's still a bag with a McDonald's bacon cheeseburger and fries waiting for me. It's way too early for dinner, but parents get pouty when they think they've done something nice for you and you still don't want it after telling them already like twelve times you didn't want it. I avoid the fight and eat the food, figuring I can just skip dinner later.

• 6:33 PM. We arrive in Brooklyn. My dad drives crazier than I've ever seen him. “I don't want Tony to be pacing!” he shouts at one point when I scream at him to stop for a red light. I remind him that I told the band leader I would be leaving work at 5:30, and confirmed that while he asked us to be there at 6:30, the event didn't actually begin until 7. The first thing I do when we get there is collect his keys.

• 7:03 PM. The band leader's son, a drummer, has us play a fast song with a lot of high notes, a bad idea for a warm-up. My lips are numb against the metal after playing so much the day before, but I manage to get all the notes out.

• 7:45 PM. The procession arrives at the local church. The band leader tells us we have a break until 8:00 while the parishioners have a ceremony inside. His son makes a beeline for the nearby White Castle, accompanied by his self-proclaimed “girlfriend-fiancée-whatever”. In the last five years or so, this kid has fathered an illegitimate son he subsequently disavowed, married his first wife and brought her in to his parents’ home where both enjoyed a pool and free meals rent-free, divorced her and took up with a single mother of two who overdosed and committed suicide after losing custody of her children a few months ago, and found his new “girlfriend-fiancée-whatever” with whom he now lives. It takes me longer to find new sneakers than it does for him to find a new girl.

• 8:15 PM. The ceremony is definitely running long. The sky is dark and clouds are gathering, threatening rain. The “girlfriend-fiancée-whatever” gripes about how long things are taking and how ridiculous it is. Apparently she refused to eat White Castle food, but now keeps repeating the phrase, “I could have been having my dinnah by now!” I neither offer the opinion that she could afford to skip a meal nor suggest she find some babies to snack on. I'm better than that, and figure I can always write it down to get it out of my system later. I’m not that good, after all. I also don't join in a “deep” theological discussion when she throws a mitt around her boyfriend-fiancée-whatever's neck and explains that Judaism and Catholicism are identical. Apparently both worship different gods, but then collect money, then say “hallelujah.” He's a lucky, lucky man.

• 8:45 PM. Finally, the church empties and we play the crowd out. The procession back to the society where we began doesn't take long either, but the flashes in the sky are ominous for those of us with metal instruments. “Anybody got wooden cymbals?” jokes one of our drummers.

• 9 PM. We play the final hymn and fanfare as the first few drops of rain hit. We're officially done playing for the next week-and-half, and I look forward to the break. As we head back to the car, I wonder if we'll beat the storm.

• 9 PM-10:30 PM. The further East we drive, the worse things get. In the distance, impressively thick bolts of lightning bombard the same targets. Has Destro perfected a new Weather Dominator? The road becomes slick and reflective, and I can no longer see the lines between the lanes. Rain pelts the windshield and the wipers do nothing at the highest setting. Eventually I have no choice but to get off the highway and use side roads. “Is anybody on my right?” I ask my dad as I begin my attempt to exit. “No, there’s just one car behind you,” he finally replies, after I’ve already changed lanes. I turn on the radio, and the weatherman safely informs the audience that “we may see a storm or two moving through our area now, some stronger than others.” Meteorology is a profession that thrives on being vague. By the time we get Bill home, the lightning is done and there's naught but a light drizzle. Fog is the only menace as the high temperatures cause the water on the roads to evaporate.

• 11 PM. Nearly home, my dad complains about my driving. I was too close to this guy. At this light I almost hit the car in front of me. Was I falling asleep or something? I was exhausted. I don't like driving in rain that heavy, and as tired as my eyes were the reflective quality of the road doubled the lights ahead of me. Maybe I was too close to the other car or maybe my dad was watching the mirage. The latter would explain phrases like “you're right on top of that guy!” Yes, I drove my car directly over another car parked upside down under the road.

• 2 AM. I can't believe I stayed up to write. Has anyone out there ever felt too tired to sleep? Oh well, TGIF.


The Running MCF

(...or “Chariots of MCF”; your choice.)

Three years ago I participated in a 3.5 mile race, surprising myself by not passing out and finishing in 32.49 minutes. It wasn't a great time, but it wasn't bad either. The following year, I had to play for the St. Ann's Festival in Hoboken, which always falls on July 26th. The race is usually the last Tuesday in July. In 2004 the feast took place a day prior, but I figured I'd be too tired to run after a six hour procession in the hot sun, and that I'd be working late to catch up after a vacation day. In 2005 they fell on the same day, so I had no other recourse but to miss the race. This year the race took place the day before the feast, and in truth I signed on for it before I realized I was booked to play the next day. Nevertheless, I decided to be a man and tough it out, and proceeded to diet and exercise, and train for the 2006 Workplace Challenge. ”Was I Prepared?” is the question I posed yesterday. I was prepared indeed, but was it enough?

On the way to work Tuesday morning, it struck me how many songs I was hearing sequentially with the word “run” in them. U2's “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Jackson Browne's “Running on Empty”. Van Halen's “Runnin' with the Devil.” I got to work and didn't think too much about the race. My morning vanished between a meeting and a photoshoot, and suddenly it was lunch. I was told that runners should have carbs, so I took a quick break with a few friends to head for a pizzeria. I had an amazing stuffed chicken slice. My afternoon was far more productive than my morning, though I was constantly aware of my diminishing time. I think part of the reason I work late so often is because that's become my safety net. I know I'll get everything done because I can just work late if I have to. I forgot how much pressure there is when I only have until 5:00. I finished everything I could for one project, and took a good bite out of a second project, but I wasn't able to finish both. I was able to listen to Superman II, which I had playing in the background on my machine and, with the John Williams theme music firmly in my head, it was time to go. Followed by my friend and arch-nemesis The Greek, I proceeded downstairs to the locker room. For some terrifying reason he chose to document my journey on his camera phone, though thankfully didn't follow me into the locker room. It was then that the first trademark bit of MCF luck struck, when I found I couldn't get out of a bathroom stall. “This is SO me...” I thought with more resigned acceptance than surprise. Panic grew as I jiggled the handle and contemplated the horror of crawling under the door to get out. I prayed to God and the latch finally slid free.

I quickly donned my company's shirt and other sportswear, and put all of my valuables into my bag save for my wallet and keys. I was feeling nervous, and tried to think of all the pseudo inspirational phrases in my lexicon like “put one foot in front of the other” and “shut off your mind and just go” and “they'd stop picking on him if he'd hit back just once, Mr. and Mrs. [MCF].” It's funny the things that pop into one's head at odd times, or at least into my screwed-up brain. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, I focused on the drive ahead of me and the inevitable traffic on the Meadowbrook Parkway. Surprisingly, after a delayed merge, things opened up. Both the air and my head got clearer as I got closer and closer to the beach. I noted a sign that said Jones Beach stops collecting parking fees after 4 PM. We were told it would be waived if we said we were there for the race, but I was glad to see I wouldn't even have to stop at a toll booth to explain that after all. Time was short and the race would begin in an hour. ”Nothing's gonna stand in my way!” I thought with the same inexplicable confidence that usually precedes spectacular improbability. It was amazing how I had about six lanes to myself, and all the traffic was in the left two lanes. Then I saw the toll booths, blocked off by traffic cones. I was flying at a speed I won't post online, and very nearly crashed in to the booths as I swerved in front of the traffic. Heart pounding, I began focusing on the signs to find Field 5.

Of course the field required a U-turn to reach, and of course park officials closed off the nearest turning point. Some people ahead of me cheated and drove into the wrong lane to get to the other side, but one of the officials yelled at me, her arms flailing, and so I had to continue on for another mile before I could change direction. As I finally approached the entrance to the field, I noted The Proclaimers' “I'm Gonna Be” lyrics and wondered, not for the first time in my life, what the heck the word ”haver” meant. In context of the song, I guess “chatter” is the most likely definition. I'm glad that's settled.

I found a great parking spot, and went to turn in my slip for a free t-shirt and other nifty swag. I decided to put that in my trunk before finding my company's tent, even though I now only had about 10 minutes until our gathering time and 40 minutes until the start of the event. I walked to the end of the aisle, and thought how improbable it was that someone should steal my car of all the thousands of newer ones to choose from. Logically, the configuration of the lot had merely changed as more cars pulled in, and I was merely disoriented. I eventually found my car two aisles down, and now had to jog back to the picnic area. There was a nice breeze, but I began to feel the heat as I ran. Things were looking grim until I spotted my friend Harry, who also hadn't located the company tent. We soon found more people from our job, and eventually all reached the tent which was in a different location that it normally is. There I found extra safety pins for my racing number, as the two originally supplied weren't cutting it and the wind kept blowing the sheet up. My friend John arrived, and jovially warned Harry, “Watch this guy; he's faster than he looks.” I laughed too, before that fully sunk in. Still, my plan was a simple one. Harry usually gets the best time in our company, so I could gauge myself by where I was in relation to him. I began to crave first place, and the honor of a company-wide e-mail that would make me the object of every girl's desire. I've learned countless times in the past that real life doesn't work that way, but it's always in my subconscious I suppose.

When it came time to line up, an enthusiastic aerobics instructor took the stage alongside the starting line and barked out warm-up exercises. Running in place was easy enough, but when she began doing lunges most of the people in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd stood puzzled, heads askew, or ignored her entirely. There was no room for aerobics. A rising breeze cleared some of my mounting claustrophobia, as local boy, American Idol finalist, and young Curt Happy lookalike Kevin Covais belted out our national anthem. The announcer said there were three minutes remaining, then two, then one. Suddenly, a horn sounded as a mass of people pushed forth. U2's “Desire” blared on the nearby speakers, and I erroneously thought about the symmetry of hearing another song with a running reference, from U2 no less. The opening line is “Lover, I'm on the street”, but for some reason I'd always heard “Runners! Out on the street!” Meanwhile, my “follow Harry” plan went out the window almost immediately as he cut to one side to pass people, then to the other, then was a speck on the horizon. He's lost weight to the point where he looks like he's trying out for a sequel to The Machinist, and I'd later learn he runs about twelve marathons a year, some in the Winter and some as long as 7 miles. Yeah. I was going to outrun that guy.

For the most part, the course is on level ground, but there's a bad hill in the beginning getting out of the parking lot. Not far in, I was sure I was done for. What was I thinking? I looked at all the people passing me, all the serious runners, and knew I had no business being among them. I stayed to the right, following the shoulder of the road so I didn't hold anyone up. Every once in a while a really fit girl might pass by and motivate me to keep pace with her, before my legs and my lungs told me otherwise and she'd leave me in the dust. Tell me that's not a metaphor for my dating experience. I was jogging through molasses, and I was an arrogant fool for even attempting to compete. It was then that I saw the sign for the one mile marker. Each mile has a table with cups of water, as well as a clock. I couldn't believe my eyes. 8 minutes and 11 seconds? In the gym I've never done better than a 9 minute mile, on a treadmill with a fixed incline. Apparently, I was doing more than jogging and only the relative appearance of my speed against the rest of the crowd made it seem like I was trudging along. My spirit was renewed as I did the math in my head. At 8 minutes per mile, I could potentially cover 3.5 miles in 28 minutes! My brain shut out the voices telling me my legs hurt or that I was breathing heavily. All I heard was the wind, a honking horn as we ran over the Wantagh parkway, and finally the John Williams Superman theme. My legs moved in time to the imaginary music, my speed increasing with every trumpet fanfare. I reached the turnaround point and knew I was halfway there. I began to see my competition. Some were muscular guys. Some were lithe, ridiculously hot women. Some were young kids, children of various runners, and others were mothers with babies strapped to them or pushing three-wheeled running strollers. I began to pass all of them, but reached the two-mile mark at just over 17 minutes. I was slowing down gradually, and hit three miles at just over 28 minutes. I wasn't going to reach my estimate, but if I could run half a mile in less than four minutes I would at least beat my time from three years ago. I took a quick gulp of water and tossed the cup aside at the last table, and screamed “Move, MOVE, you fat B@ST@RD!” inside my head.

I don't know why I did it, why I let myself think. Before the home stretch, there was one more bad hill, up over a bridge then back down into the parking lot where we began. I saw other people walking, and some part of me, some devilish temptation said there would be no harm if I walked up the hill, and then sprinted. Thank God my legs had more sense than my brain. I slowed to a walk, and my legs wobbled awkwardly, fighting to move faster or collapse under me. That was their ultimatum: run or fall. I chose to run, and made it over the last bad rise to see the finish line. Just over 32 minutes were on the clock, and I ran as hard and as fast as I could, passing dozens of people and finally, miraculously, crossing the finish line at 33:15. I felt good, then wobbly, then nauseous. I fought it all and kept walking, grabbing a bag of ice from the rows of tables and holding it to my wrists to slow my pounding heart. Next I grabbed an iced tea, and finally made my way back to the company tent. There I would indulge in a turkey sandwich, and reward myself with a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie, my first snacks in over a month.

I learned that Harry finished in about 27 minutes, taking first place for our company. One of the girls did it in about 29 minutes and her husband, who now works for a different company, finished in an amazing 26 minutes. Gradually, more and more people showed up and compared times. I was about 5 minutes slower than the best people in our company, but there were a lot of people I did better than too. I was happy, but by the time I got home I wondered if I could have done better. What if I had paced myself? What if I maintained my speed up that last hill? Those few seconds I lost in that moment of weakness could have been the difference between beating my previous record and falling 26 seconds short. Of course, that was three years ago when I spent 7.5 hours in the gym a week and weighed at least ten pounds less than I do now. Currently, I run an average of 6 MPH on the treadmill. I can usually maintain 6.3 MPH for 17-20 minutes before I have to take it down to 4.5 or so. I had been running 35 minutes a day, and covering at best 3.3 miles in that time. My goal for the race was to run 3.5 miles in 35 minutes, a constant 6 MPH that I thought myself incapable of. Anything under 40 minutes I would have considered less than embarrassing. I decided then, all things considered, that while I might have been able to do better, I did better than I was expecting. More importantly, I proved I'm capable of more than I think I can do, so I'll have to push myself on the treadmill beyond my preconceived limitations, going forward. Maybe I'll even imagine a pretty girl or two to catch up to, since that's the real goal in staying fit. As for those snacks, despite the indulgence at the picnic table after the race, I hope I won't revert to type. The race may be over but my life isn't, and I now have a year to prepare for the next one. If I don't have any conflicting obligations, I'd definitely like to take it on a third time. When I consider the progress I made in just over a month of preparation, I wonder where I'd be after training for an entire year.

Even though I had to be up at 5:30 AM the next day, I was incredibly wound up after the race and subsequent socializing. I had a hard time falling asleep, and a harder time waking up. Since I'm about a day behind in chronicling the events of this week, the feast tales will have to wait until tomorrow. Right now, I think everything is finally catching up to me and I'm ready to crash. The moral of my racing tale is that while I often think that I can't win, and shouldn't try, the truth is I can win, at least minor personal victories, even when the road is riddled with improbably, occasionally humorous obstacles.


PBW: Was I Prepared?

Before I get to the account of my performance at Tuesday night's Workplace Challenge, I should review the things I did and didn't do on the road to endeavoring not to be stopped. If you've had nothing better to do than follow the life of a 32-year-old office geek, you know that I've been preparing for a 3.5 mile race for a little over a month. It wasn't going to be easy. I'd really gotten lazy in the gym, skipping it entirely at times to get my work done, and I'd really fallen into a bad snacking pattern. I don't know what a 215 pound geek was thinking when he signed up for the race, but it was a 192 pound geek that documented the final preparations and assets this past weekend for today's Photo Blog Wednesday. I warn you in advance that some of these images will be disgusting, and unusually revealing, especially for me. I feel I must be honest and thorough in whatever I share however, and that I wouldn't be true to the spirit of this blog if I held anything back. I'm certain some of these shots will have people longing for my insect or dead bird photos.

Let's start with my sneakers:

Pretty bad, eh? Running 3 miles a day on a treadmill, 5 days a week, for years definitely takes its toll on running shoes. I should have bought new ones a long time ago, and probably first talked about doing so two years ago. If running took its toll on my sneakers though, what effect would that have on my feet?

I said it wouldn't be pretty, but I doubt anyone was prepared to see my thumb-heel. Gross. With the race two weeks away, and my feet falling apart faster than my sneakers, it was time to spend some money on a new pair.

That's more like it, eh? The one thing I learned though, the first time I ran this race three years ago, was that new shoes must be broken in. I bought a new pair the day before and tried them on, only to find they were clunky and uncomfortable on a run. I ran the race three years ago in the black sneakers pictured above, which were in much better shape then, but certainly not brand new. These Sketchers felt great in the store, although I felt very self-conscious running in place and didn't continue testing them once I sensed eyes upon me. I would have ten visits to the gym between the time I bought them and the day of the race, time enough to break them in. On day one, when they felt huge and loud, stomping on the treadmill, I was certain I'd made a mistake. Each day the sound became smoother, and the shoes started feeling like extensions of my own body. Soon we were one, and I knew I had the right “tires” to go the distance. But how was my chassis?

Faint if you must. I know it's not exactly ”All-Abs”, and would be more effective had I the foresight to take a before picture. Honestly, the before picture would be more repulsive. Suffice to say that the shorts I'm wearing in that shot fit snugly a month ago. Moving on:

Oh, yeah. That's right. One pale, sort-of muscular leg is all I really had going for me physically. There was only one step remaining. As you may or may not know, because it's probably not public knowledge, I'm a frightening geek. Therefore, the films I might choose to watch for inspiration the night before and in the afternoon on my computer at work probably aren't the films most runners would watch:

I only focused on the chapter list for The Transformers: The Movie because it cracks me up that they named chapter 11 “Swear Word”. For years fans who saw the film in the theater would vehemently defend the fact that it contained a single, minor profanity, despite the fact that it was absent from the video cassette and any television airings, even on Cable. A throwaway, insignificant line became so significant that it merited becoming a chapter title when it was restored for the DVD edition. I'm a loser.

So, after all that, the big question is: “Was I Prepared?” Would new sneakers, a reduced gut, strong legs and inspirational songs and movie quotes floating in my brain be enough to beat or match my previous time when I was in far better shape three years ago? The answer is...

...going to have to wait until tomorrow. If I promise no more pictures, will you join me to learn the outcome?



One Foot in Front of the Other

The secret to getting from point A to point B, especially when point B is really far away, is to take one step at a time. Running, meeting, marching, or strolling, this week holds a LOT of steps for me. I've already survived one day though, so I'm one step closer to a welcome weekend.


Monday wasn't bad, but then never was expected to be more than the fourth challenging day. Early in the morning I picked up my t-shirt and number for tonight's big race. Because some people might be curious enough to look up my number and because I'm that paranoid, I won't share it. I will say though that I just looked at it and realized that it's EXACTLY twice the three-digit number on my parent's license plate that they always play in the lottery and occasionally win a bit with. Is that good luck or meaningless coincidence? Only time will tell.

In the morning I reviewed the final proofs of my last catalog. I had an afternoon meeting to present the cover of my next Science Fiction issue along with the first few spreads. As usual, everything was well-received and the meeting went smoothly. Before the day was over, I even found some Moose photos for the cover of a hunting catalog I also design. I usually defer to that editor's expertise as I know little about hunting, but he's away the next few days and so the task fell solely to me. Hopefully he'll like what I came up with. In any event, the day was productive and I managed to squeak in one final run on the treadmill before the real thing.


Today's the day, arguably the biggest day. In the morning I have to meet with my SF team to discuss the current issue I've designed. On average, with that club, I'm working on three issues at a time at various stages. Yesterday I dealt with one I was finishing and another I'm starting, and today I deal primarily with the one I'm in the middle of. This meeting is immediately followed by a photoshoot of the team for another upcoming project, and I'm also expecting to review and approve a sketch from an illustrator for one of my book jackets. The one bit of good news arrived on Monday when an afternoon staff meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon several months ago and postponed, was postponed once more. It means that after my meeting and my photoshoot, I'll have the rest of the afternoon to get my work done and even get out for lunch for a bit. At one point I had considered skipping lunch or eating at my desk, something I try never to do. It's important I get everything done swiftly and efficiently, because I can't stay late and I won't be at work on Wednesday. At 5 PM, I'll be shutting down my machine and donning my racing gear, and beginning the battle with traffic to reach Jones Beach in time for my race. Will I be ready? When I signed up for it, I weighed a disgusting 215 pounds. I've worked hard, and dieted(kind of), and I'm down to 192 as of my last weighing after Monday night's visit to the gym. I'm still overweight, and I don't look all that different, but I feel different. Wish me luck, and think of me when 7 PM rolls around. I'm going to turn off my mind and just go, and can use all the good thoughts and prayers I can get.


The good news is that I took a vacation day on Wednesday. The bad news is that I have to be in Hoboken by 8:30 AM to play an Italian procession that could last as long as 6 hours. The date is always the same for this particular feast, and it's particularly bad when it falls on a weekday. Not only do I have to get up extra early the day after I run a marathon, but my dad and I will be lugging instruments on trains packed with rush hour commuters. I just hope we can get home before the work day ends. Some years we have to wait around a while to get paid while the band leader meets with the organization. At least I'm not doing any driving though, and I'll be able to get some rest on the various trains.

While feasts on the weekend are normally better for my schedule, I've just learned that a friend is having a Christening for his first born precisely in the middle of a weekend gig I'm already booked for in a few weeks. I guess I'm lucky that all these different bands will hire me, but every now and then my obligations conflict with someplace else I'd rather be.


Being back in the office once more, I'll be able to stay off my feet after running a 3.5 mile race and playing in a six hour procession. Right off the bat I'll have to present the aforementioned Moose cover, and then the day will be dedicated to catching up on all the stuff I'd fallen behind with the day prior. Staying late would be the obvious fix, and since I'd be done training for the race I could even skip gym, but it's not an option. Yet another band has me booked to play in Brooklyn by 6 PM, and so my dad and another musician will be waiting for me at 5:30. By this point in the week I predict my brain will have completely shut down, and only subconscious musical queues will keep one foot in front of the other. I'll also sleep very well, though Italian songs and runners will haunt my dreams.


Call me lazy, call me an unmotivated sloth, but “Friday” is going to be the sweetest word in the English language by the time I reach it. In the Summer my company has a great program in which we can leave early on Fridays, as soon as our work is done. I have no idea how far the prior three days will have set me back by that point, but I have a feeling I'll reach a point where I just want to go home, and deal with it Monday. Weeks are funny like that. You put one foot in front of the other, and make it to the reward of a weekend, sometimes even an extended weekend, only to repeat the journey a few days later...


Phantasmic Links 7.24.06

I can't quite swim, and I've almost drowned at least twice in my life, yet for some reason I'm always drawn to the shore. I took a walk this evening to clear my head after being cooped up for two days, and stood listening to the waves and breathing the fresh sea air, recharging my batteries. In a moment of clarity I realized my tasks are nothing more than tasks, and that I will get everything done that needs to be taken care of this week. The first order of business is to gather and share this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Joel Siegel announced to an entire theater in the middle of Clerks II that he was walking out, and Kevin Smith called him on his unprofessional move on the radio. Link courtesy of Sean.

In college, one of my graphic design assignments was to design a stamp. Being a comic book geek, I created a sheet of Spider-man stamps. I'm not sure if he was telling the truth, but according to one of my friends, he successfully mailed something with one of the ones I gave him. Of course these days, you can find real stamps with your favorite characters without committing a federal offense. The latest collection out there features DC comics heroes.

Speaking of Spidey, I found some old footage I'd somehow missed before, in which he seems to have let himself go, yet somehow snags a beautiful new partner.

Bored with karaoke? Can't sing but can remember the lines to your favorite films? Maybe Movieoke is for you!

Speaking of movies, people are always grouping actors together and coming up with collective terms for them. Surprisingly, as many movies as I watch and as much time as I spend on the internet, I've only recently become aware of the term Frat Pack.

Speaking of the Frat Pack, is Ben Stiller really set to star in Ghostbusters 3? I'm not sure about that, but the concept of “Ghostbusters in Hell” does sound interesting. I just hope the audience isn't sharing their fate...

I've long thought we've needed to see the 7 deadly sins portrayed by....Gummi Bears?

If that's not scary enough, then check out the trailer for Dead and Deader. If only I could figure out why the serial killers seem so familiar to me...

If only there was a way to learn english, aerobics, and what to do if one is being mugged. Oh wait...there is!

Finally, we'll conclude with some classic comic book covers.



M.C.F.A.T. XIV: Answers

I apologize. By my calculations, I'm at least 12-13 hours late in posting my answers to the Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test Volume XIV. I don't even have a good excuse like I was working all weekend, because the truth is the inverse. It's been gray and raining on and off and I've had nothing to do, which instead turned me into a vegetable for a bit. I'm a little more focused today though, so on with the links to your answers, followed by my own:



Kev Bayer





1) Friends and family often offer advice or share experiences with the best of intentions, sometimes with the opposite of the desired effect. What are some of your more memorable “you're not helping...” moments?
The specific incident that inspired this question is tamer than most of the answers I received, and most of the other ones I'd experienced. When I was driving my dad and our friend Bill to one of our gigs last Saturday, for some reason I thought of the few months last year when I used to get dizzy and tired behind the wheel. Nothing was ever found wrong with me medically, so I was eventually able to brush it off as anxiety and overcome it without medical intervention. Thinking about the sensations brought them on, so I learned to turn off that part of my brain. When I thought about it last week, I decided to focus on the conversation. Unfortunately, Bill was telling my dad about the early days of the Jackie Robinson(Interboro) Parkway. My dad hates that road, as the lanes are narrow, the road snakes, and people still speed. I'm not a fan of it myself. In the old days, Bill told us, there was only a small curb separating oncoming traffic. He had a boss get into a head on collision as a result of this. I turned up the air conditioning at this point, as it felt a little hard to breath. Trucks flew by on either side as my dad agreed that the Jackie Robinson was bad. Bill's boss had dozed off behind the wheel, and my dad added, “Yeah, I've done that a few times. It's very easy to do, to just nod off and drift into something. I usually woke up when I hit the curb.” In that moment I thought to myself “you're not helping...” and wished they'd change the subject. Thankfully they did, and all I suffered was a few nervous moments. I know it's silly and I should be over all that, but I guess something can always trigger some reaction.

Over the years my dad has helped me with many things, from finances to automobile repair to music. One area where he didn't help was girls. When I was young and painfully shy, afraid to even speak to girls, he once told me not to be afraid, that girls were just like me, and “went to the bathroom like anyone else.” I have no idea why he thought that would make them more approachable. I try not to think about that, and hang on to the fantasy that the only waste product females produce is rose petals.

The air conditioning was broken in church yesterday and despite the rain, it was still very hot. The doors were all open, and the deacon promised us he’d cut his sermon short. He then proceeded to spend fifteen minutes analyzing the responsorial psalm, “My soul is thirsting”, with no acknowledgment of the irony.

Finally, I had a “you're not helping” moment this week with my friend Rey. Back when I was still in a funk about my ex-girlfriend and not making any efforts to find a new one, he once signed me up for an online personals site. I was furious when I found out I had a profile and a picture on there. Eventually he turned the site over to me once he convinced me to keep it up, although I predictably never did get any real responses. I thought he'd learned his lesson, but the other day he sent me an instant message asking me if some girl had called me. I didn't know who he was talking about, and he went on to say she seemed nice when she chatted with “me” and said she might call. This prompted a “what did you do?” conversation in which I learned he'd apparently put up a profile on another site, going so far this time as to impersonate me and chat with some stranger. Given my reaction the last time he tried a similar stunt, I doubted he'd go even further so I was certain it was a joke. When I got back from lunch however, there was a voicemail from some girl saying she was sorry she missed me and would call back later. I told him he had to clear it up, since the person she thought she spoke to on the internet wasn't me. He might have provided some facts, although he did get some details wrong, but it was still dishonest to her. In college he and some other friends once helped me “trick” a girl into going out with me, by planning a group excursion in which everyone would back out at the last minute except me. As you can imagine, that didn't work out too well in the long run. It's best to be straightforward when approaching someone. “Are you trying to get into this week's MCFAT?!” I asked. “I'm talking about real life and you're talking about a blog?!?!?” came his incredulous reply. Eventually I just stopped answering him, as I had a ton of work to do and no time to deal with the mess he'd created. He then sent me an e-mail with a transcript of not only our conversation, but a conversation with some of the guys in the office in which he told them he was playing a prank on me and needed them to find some girl to leave me a message when I wasn't at my desk. Relief washed over anger once I started piecing together the bits of his elaborate scheme, and the role people in my office played. I was impressed; they'd gotten me good. “300 miles away, and I can still make your life hell!” he boasted. He might not have been helping, but then he wasn't trying this time.

2) You enjoy this actor's work, but many people just don't get it. Who is it?
A few weeks ago I was telling someone how funny Wedding Crashers was and he just shook his head and said, “See, I just don't get Owen Wilson.” Some people find Wilson funny, while others wonder why he's famous to begin with. The first movie I can remember him in was Meet the Parents; I don't even remember him from The Cable Guy. It was probably Shanghai Noon where I started paying attention and appreciating his work. That and its sequel were very funny, and he stole many scenes in Zoolander in one of his funniest roles. In Wedding Crashers, he brings an unusual honesty to the role of a character with very dishonest tactics.

Last night I headed in to the kitchen for a bottle of water when I glanced in the living room. My dad had a sort of grimace on his face, like he was in pain. “Everything ok?” I asked. “Have you ever seen this movie...” he inquired, pausing to squint at the nearby listings, “...Behind Enemy Lines?” I told him I had, and thought it was pretty good. It's one of the few serious roles Wilson has played, possibly the only action role, so while I didn't expect much I was pleasantly surprised. “It's just so ridiculous; how can ONE guy keep getting away from a whole army?” You just have to like those kinds of movies to appreciate it.

3) In general, when it comes to movies, are originals better than remakes, or vice versa? Feel free to cite examples that support either or both positions.
Casablanca, Spartacus, On the Waterfront, and other classics should stand as they are, with no need to revisit the stories. However, On the Waterfront was remade into Ghulam, Casablanca inspired not one but two television series as well as an unofficial remake, Armaan, and Spartacus was done on television in 2004 with Goran Visnjic in the title role.

Sooner or later, someone decides it's a good idea to tell a story again with a new cast and modern tweaks. If it must be done, I think there should be a reasonable amount of time in between, 50-80 years, but sometimes within 30 years someone dips into the same well. Most of the time, it's needless and inferior. Rear Window (1998) wasn't as good as Rear Window(1954), and The Shining (1997) definitely doesn't hold a candle to The Shining (1980).

When I watch a movie, I'm not always aware if it's a remake, especially if the the original is before my time or not as famous. I always try to watch both versions when I can, though. Last weekend I saw When a Stranger Calls and When a Stranger Calls Back. It was no surprise to see Charles Durning in a gritty detective role, but I was surprised to see Carol Kane in a serious role, and do so well in it. Then I watched the new When a Stranger Calls, which basically is a remake of the FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES of the 1979 film. They did a decent enough job with the suspense, but there was so much more in the original film, including a dip into the cop genre, that stretching 15 minutes into an hour and a half worked as well as one might imagine. I also planned to compare Cape Fear with the 1962 original this weekend, but Netflix unfortunately sent me two copies of the 1991 version.

When do remakes succeed? Ocean's Eleven (2001) was a fun and refreshing modern take on Ocean's Eleven (1960). The stories are slightly different, and each plays on what was cool for its individual era, making them both good for different reasons. I liked King Kong (2005) as much as if not better than 1933's, but I hated the 1976 version. Remakes are rarely as good, and there has to be a reason to do them beyond better effects, such as a new spin or specific performers who can add something to the parts they're taking on.

4) If it were scientifically possible to live on any other planet in our solar system, through the development of faster-than-light travel and genetic enhancements or protective suits, which planet would you choose to live on?
At first I thought Pluto, because it would be nice and isolated, and not too hot. I definitely wouldn't want to move closer to the sun, and would enjoy living on a world where people weren't judged by their appearances. Then I thought I'd miss being that far from home, and it might be too cold, even with genetic enhancements. Mars would be a little further from the sun but not too far from Earth, and it'd be aesthetically pleasing to me as I really like the color red. So much has been done with the world in fiction, from Barsoom to J'onn J'onzz, that I can imagine what the local entertainment industry would dream up on a colonized Mars. It would definitely be my first choice then. Either Saturn with its rings and Jupiter with its gaseous nature would be interesting places I'd visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

5) Who would win in a war: Hobbits or Smurfs?
I'm going to take a controversial position here, especially given my tastes. Everybody watched Smurfs, including me, but the television show dominated Saturday morning for so long that I began to hate them and wish something else was on. Get that “la la la la la laaa!” theme out of my head! Tolkien and the denizens of his Middle-earth on the other hand I loved, in spite of the fact that other kids likened me to both Hobbits and Gollum when I was in high school. Despite the fact that I like Hobbits better than Smurfs, and Hobbits are bigger, I'm going to have to vote for the little blue guys here. In Tolkien's novels there were only about five Hobbits who went out from their homes and made a true difference in the world. They had powerful allies, but their pure nature helped resist evil and turn the tide. Smurfs were also pure, nauseatingly so, and outwitted a human-sized dark mage and alchemist, Gargamel on a regular basis. Papa Smurf, despite his small size, was a formidable alchemist who could concoct potions to deal with any eventuality. Most Hobbits did little more than drink and farm, and those Hobbits, the ones that Bilbo Baggins liked “less than half ...half as well as [they] deserve[d].”, would be no match for Smurfs with their magic, potions, and specialties.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: The year is 1985; who is Flora?
The Flora I was thinking of was a character from the short-lived French-originated cartoon Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. She was a young girl genetically engineered from plant matter by the title character's missing father. Unfortunately, she was Jayce's father's only successful experiment, as the rest of his work resulted in monstrous organic vehicles that terrorized the planet. An interesting show inspired by a toy line like many other ‘80s cartoons, it didn't share the success or popularity of its contemporaries.

* * *

And there we have it. Whew. In the future, I'll try to factor in how long an answer a question might inspire. I usually write five questions, because it doesn't that long to write questions, but maybe three is a more reasonable number given the essays these result in sometimes. What say you all?