The Italian Feast season has officially begun, as of Sunday morning. There were a few drops of rain on the way to Brooklyn, but it cleared up, even if the clouds didn't. And, by the end of the procession we even had some sunshine. If I had one complaint, it was that our band leader asked us to be there so early, and we sat around for nearly two hours before the gig officially began. He wanted us on call as usual to play a hymn near the end of the 11:15 mass, but after playing one song at 11:45 we didn't hit the road until 12:30-1:00, and we'd been there since 10:30. But, I got fresh air, exercise, and paid, and at the end of the day isn't that all that matters? Well, at the end of the day I'd be remiss if I didn't also post this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:
It's hard to believe Charlie the Unicorn has never made an appearance on my site. Wendy sent me the link this week, and other people have shown it to me before, but I wasn't able to find it in my archives, so here it is now.
Zombies walk the Earth. You defend a small barricade, gathering survivors and weapons, hoping to see another sunrise as you make your Last Stand. Hat tip: B13.
It's easy to feel like a nobody. After all, most of us are. Sure, we have dreams when we're young, of fame and/or great accomplishments, but there are obstacles, distractions, and compromises along the way. Maybe we don't leave the mark we wanted to, or our name isn't known. Maybe your job doesn't improve the world in any way, or your boss treats you like a rookie no matter how much you improve. We're not rock stars or actors. We don't make an insane amount of money. We don't save lives. We're nobody, right?
A while back, Curt recommended American Splendor to me, citing that the portrayal of underground comic book legend Harvey Pekar by Paul Giamatti was one that I could definitely relate to. I'm used to possibly unflattering comparisons by now, and I remember college friends urging me to see Crumb years ago, because they saw something of me in that as well. The films are actually connected, as R. Crumb was friends with Pekar and illustrated his first comics. So, I put both on my queue and moved on.
Sometimes it takes years for me to get to films, with all the rearranging and prioritizing I do with my list. I had forgotten about these comic book biographies, until I received them Friday night. Interestingly enough though, rather than Crumb, I must have added Who's Harry Crumb?, which I suspect as an ‘80s John Candy comedy is a lot cheerier than the film I was expecting. It was enjoyable for what it was, and his plucky teenage sidekick looked very familiar to me. Turns out, Shawnee Smith went on to portray Amanda in the Saw trilogy, possibly her best role and a complete change from a teen in a bad ‘80s flick. But, I digress.
After watching the comedy and putting Crumb on my queue, I moved on to American Splendor. I had no idea what to expect. Pekar is an anomaly, both nobody and somebody at the same time. He's your typical American loser, stuck in a dead-end job for life and getting little joy. Like me, he's a collector, and I identified with the sight of his apartment cluttered with records and comics, and his unwillingness to part with anything. The film is part documentary, and blends footage of the real Pekar with drawings from the comics and Giamatti and the other actors. Giamatti transformed himself for this role, and I've felt the anguished expression I saw on his face at times, like just being was hurting him. I get in these inexplicable funks sometimes, where little things bother me. I could be driving my mom to church, and she'll be tapping her fingernails on the cap of her bottle of water, and playing a CD of classical music, and it all irritates me. Usually, it's when other things are on my mind that harmless things make me grimace and twinge like Pekar.
We all feel like nobodies sometimes. Pekar was right to feel that way. His wife left him. His voice left him. He worked as a file clerk in the basement of a hospital with misfits and oddballs, and all that was there to greet him at home was a cat. After meeting Crumb, he was inspired to start drawing. Pekar was no artist though, and grew frustrated with his attempts. While his art was off, his writing was on, and his autobiographical accounts of the minutia of daily life, from people asking stupid questions at work to waiting in line at the supermarket, brilliantly brought life to the no-life of your average joe. He showed Crumb, who was inspired to illustrate it, and American Splendor was born.
Over the years, the comic gained fame and he worked with various artists. It even led him to find a new wife, Joyce Brabner, who remains with him to this day and collaborated with him on Our Cancer Year, which chronicled a particularly challenging time in his life. Pekar gained recognition as a tell-it-like-it-is guest on Letterman, though speaking up too much got him banned from the show for a decade.
Eventually the comics led to a play, and the film I watched. Pekar hasn't changed despite all this. He still works as a file clerk. He still has misfit friends like “Genuine Nerd” Toby Radloff(portrayed brilliantly in the film by 30 Rock'sJudah Friedlander). He's done what many of us have dreamed of. Comic books. Talk shows. A play. A movie. People know his name. People recognize him on the street. He still sometimes winces at life.
At the end of the day, it isn't fame or fortune that make us somebody. Maybe our dreams don't turn out the way we planned, either because we got tired and curled up into a ball, or because the goals simply changed along the way. I called his friend a misfit, but a friend is a friend. His wife is his best friend, and has remained loyal and by his side, even when he portrays her unflatteringly in the comics. The two have an adopted daughter, though Pekar thought he would never make a good father. We're all nobody, but we're also all somebody, most importantly to our friends and our family. You should set goals, but you shouldn't crumble when you don't reach them, or when life itself just beats the crap out of you. There are people better than you, but there are a lot more who are in the same boat, and even worse off. It's easy to focus on the bleak; I often do. Your friends will still be your friends if you don't hit a home run or conquer the stock market, and your family will certainly still be your family, there when you need them even when you don't want them. American Splendor is an ironic title, but beneath the crusty surface of disease and stress and human nature, there are things that are splendid. There's definitely some perspective to gain from the world's most famous nobody.
Wendy came the closest in guessing our second batch of Blogroll Villains. She actually got them all right, with links, although at one point she changed one guess incorrectly. I'm going to let it slide though, and send her a piece of the Mysterious Master Prize™, because she made the effort and the answers were all there. Going forward I'm going to relax the “with links” bit, but I will ask that each comment contain a full set of five guesses. Will it be easier or more difficult? Time will tell. Wendy, check your inbox soon for Caprica.jpg, and congratulations.
OK Cloakfriends, here we go again! The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying all five bloggers will receive a piece of the rare Mysterious Master Prize™! Let's see who we'll be facing this week:
I'm getting old. I'm only 32, but every time rock from the ‘90s is considered “classic rock”, I wonder what happened to the last 10 years of my life when I wasn't looking. Radio stations do it all the time, and even on Supernatural this week, an Alice in Chains song made the soundtrack. While this wouldn't strike the casual observer as unusual, seeing as how the protagonists are only in their 20s, the show generally features traditional classic rock, from the ‘70s.
We've all seen those memes in which the writer is challenged to answer questions using only the titles from the songs of one artist or group. I've done two myself in the past, once with Alice in Chains and another time with Pearl Jam. Thinking back fondly on the music I listened to so long ago in college reminded me. These are always fun, and I haven't tackled one in over a year. This time, I'm going to try one using Metallica songs:
Generosity is a good thing. It's important to be charitable, and help out those less fortunate. Sometimes there are selfish reasons; for example I read an article that said women don't like men who are cheap. Obvious article aside, there are also selfless reasons ranging from sympathy to empathy to Karma to just paying it forward as well as back.
School costs money, and is quite possibly one of the biggest expenses in a person's life, ranking right up there with marriage, children, or real estate. I was one of the lucky ones to get a scholarship to college and cut my tuition in half just by playing in the pep band. I had some other academic scholarships as well, and thanks to my parents scrimping and saving, both a private high school and a university education were paid for on a mechanic's modest salary. After I graduated, I didn't have to deal with the debt that plagued many of my peers as they entered the workforce.
Of course, scholarships wouldn't be possible without the support of alumni who want other kids to have the same opportunities we did. Once I started working, I started getting letters from both my high school and my college, asking me to donate to their funds. I wasn't making a lot with my first job, so I gave what I could, a mere $20 to each, once or twice a year, however often they sent me a letter. When I got a better job, I upped it to $25.
Sure, I could afford to give more. Each letter came with a list of names, former students ranked by their generosity. I didn't need to have a brick or wood panel in some school building with my name engraved on it for giving hundreds or thousands of dollars. Though what I was giving was a small token, and a fraction of my income, mathematically if everyone gave at least as much, the schools would be doing fine. What did it matter if one year I didn't give as much? There were doctors and lawyers and pharmacists who graduated from the same school, got the same letters, and had more to spare. Maybe I'm cheap or selfish, but the more the schools wrote to me, the less inclined I was to give. A few years ago I dropped my donation to $20, and sometimes they'd have to write to me two or three times before I sent in a check. That's when the calls began.
“Hello, in the past you've given this amount. Would you consider raising your pledge? Can we count on you to continue?” At first I'd take the calls, and even though I've gone to these schools, had a good education and a good experience, the hard sell had the opposite effect on me. It didn't matter that the telemarketers were students who were where I was a few years ago. The fact that they were calling me at dinner time, asking me for money, and asking me to increase my donation, turned me off. Soon I stopped taking the calls. If my dad answered, he'd say I wasn't home from work yet. In most cases that was the truth. The more hang-ups we got on the answering machine, the more I suspected it was them. It was worse than the mob or a collection agency.
Every once in a while I'd still send in a check of course, at the very least once a year to each institution. That would stop the letters and the calls for a while. I also have a bad habit of letting my mail pile up on the hallway table and going through it once every three months. I'll grab current bank statements of course, as well as Netflix DVDs, as those red envelopes are always my (misplaced) first priority. Sometimes it would be months before I noticed I'd been solicited. This year, the phone calls have been really bad.
They'd call in the afternoon. They'd call at night. I'd get home, and my dad would tell me my school called. They never said what it was about, and when he told him to call back in a few hours when I returned, they never did. It was never the same person twice. Sometimes my dad had trouble hearing them, and they gave up. Other times my mom would say it sounded like a cute girl was calling me and she got her hopes up. My dad would ask what it was in regards to, and they'd never say. They wanted me on the phone. They needed to back me into a corner, and pressure me, because for some reason that lousy 20 bucks a year was that important to them. Sure, I have a better job than when I first graduated, and I have wise savings. But if for some reason I ever lost my job, I'd probably miss even $20.
Finally, about a week ago, I caved. It wasn't just the pressure. My college sent me a very cleverly designed piece that looked like our old exam books. It had a fake multiple choice test with the right answers already marked in red, and the questions all pertained to the things alumni donations help support, like scholarships, equipment, and reasonable tuition. The definition of “reasonable tuition” has changed radically in the last few years though. Alumni contributions probably mean the difference between crazy expensive and sell-your-firstborn insane. But, as a designer, I liked the piece and it was better than the straightforward letter and perforated form. But, I did do something a bit petty. They had harassed my father, multiple parties calling at multiple times of day, and not all polite about it. I only sent $15.
A few days later, my dad took another phone call. He told the young lady that his son sent money in if that's why she was calling, and she very politely thanked him. On Wednesday however, I got a card. It looked like a greeting card, and my mom thought perhaps they were thanking me. I wasn't so sure. It was indeed a greeting card, with a handwritten note inside from a fellow alumnus, a basketball player who graduated in the mid-70s. He implored me to join him in supporting our school, and consider renewing my pledge of $20. I actually considered sending them a check for the difference. As I was reading however, I heard my dad answer the phone.
“My son? He's not home yet. What is this about?”
“He sent money the other--HELLO?”
“They hung up. I could just about hear him.”
I know I'm probably wrong about this. My high school also called earlier in the day about their fund, and I still haven't sent them anything. It's just The Calls. The more they ask for money, and ask for more money, the more I plant my feet and the less inclined I am to actually send anything. I understand the marketing behind it, understand that a phone call is harder to ignore than a letter, and unless that letter is in a clever format, it won't get them the results they need. I'm grateful to my schools, but my education wasn't free even if it was my parents paying the bills. I'm kind of annoyed that The Calls continued even after I sent a check, albeit for less money.
I’m afraid that the more I give, the more they’ll expect. If I continue giving the same amount, they might increase their mailing frequency, hoping I’ll forget the last time I sent a check. Does anyone else out there have this problem, or am I total deadbeat?
In Stand By Me, an old favorite of mine, a group of friends follow some train tracks into the woods where they discover a dead body, and adventure evading Jack Bauer. Wandering into the woods, especially near train tracks, often reminds me of that classic.
On Sunday, I traveled with B13 once more to a canine agility trial. Last year, my first experience with this sport found us enduring freezing temperatures and strong winds. This year it was 80 degrees with a clear blue sky. The conditions were perfect, though I'd later realize they were perfect for getting a sunburn without any shade.
I got a lot of amazing action shots for Photo Blog Wednesday, but we won't get to those until next week. There were a few hours to kill before it was B13's wife's turn to run their dog, so we decided to follow nearby train tracks along a field, and see what we could see.
At the edge of the cornfield, a dirt road continued into a wooded area that was a dumping ground for all sorts of things, from tires to electronics to vehicles. We continued undeterred, hoping we were still in Stand by Me and hadn't wandered into Deliverance. We didn't notice the spent shotgun shells carpeting the woods right away...
Oh, yes. Those are bullet holes in that rusted heap.
Around the time I saw the “UNDEAD” tire, I started thinking that maybe a couple of wannabe Sopranos wouldn't be a match for whatever hung out in those woods. And of course, it was on the way out that I noticed the downed no-trespassing sign in the grass. We stuck with the field, and soon found a tunnel that ran under the L.I.E.
For some reason, after finding a pile of bones picked clean by the entrance of the tunnel, I decided it would be a good idea to head on through.
On the other side, B13 found the hollowed out remains of a deer in several pieces, scattered around. We headed back through the tunnel, pausing to capture some graffiti we noticed.
In the distance, I heard a loudspeaker, and we could finally see the tents again where the dog show was being held. On our way back though, we stumbled upon a farm bursting with live animals, and finally left Stand By Me behind. The following images more than made up for the horrific deer remains:
That's all for this week! Tune in next week for the conclusion of our adventure, and enjoy the sneak preview below:
Round I of the third set of MCF's Perilous! is done! It's time to see who's off to the best start this time.
In MCF's Perilous! I provide 10 answers for which you, my readers, have to come up with the corresponding questions and post them on your blogs. Scoring is as follows:
1 pt=each question 2 pts=each question that matches MCF's -1 pt=any sentences not in question form, or forgetting a question mark 15 pts=Bonus for the Best Question
Each series has five rounds, at the end of which the player with the most points gets a prize. Only I know how many prizes there are, and I know what they form when combined. Even if MCF's Perilous! runs its course before all the prizes have been given out, I'll probably think of other fun ways for you to earn them(such as the challenging Blogroll Villains).
I have a lot to learn. I have to learn that, even in April, if I'm going to be in a wide open space under the sun with little cloud cover for an extended period of time, I'm going to burn every time. I also have to learn what to do when I get a scary red light next to the word “internet” on my modem, and can't get online, no matter how many times I restart my computer or unplug the modem and let it rest for a few minutes. Ultimately, turning everything off and trying again in the morning was my “solution”. So now, a little late, without further adieu here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:
Famousr is an incredibly addictive site that tests your knowledge of the relative popularity of an assortment of celebrities. Some I disagree with, some I never heard of, and in general I spent way too much time trying to break 1,000. Thanks to J-No
I don't often devote an entire post to a single film. I usually leave it to the professionals, like the Film Geeks or Nehring. I also average about six movies a week, and it's more common for me to occasionally reference them when they fit in with my other myriad topics. I've seen three in the last 24 hours alone, and the one I saw Friday night moved me enough to write about it.
I'll often forget what movies are in my queue of 500 at Netflix, and unless I've specifically moved one up, from time to time one will bubble to the surface that I forgot about. This was the case with Two Brothers, a film I'd added years ago after seeing the trailer in theaters. It tells the tale of two tigers separated as cubs, and the different paths their lives take. It's also one of those movies that makes you loathe human beings. Sometimes, we really suck.
It's a hard film to describe, because while in some ways it's a live action Disney-esque film, it's also a nature documentary. It walks a fine and successful line between the two. There are no talking animals and no spontaneous musical numbers, but many of the other elements are present. The narrative told by footage of the tigers and other animals is great, and a lot of storytelling occurs without dialogue.
It could have been a beautiful movie without people, but inevitably actors do intrude, including Guy Pearce as a hunter with a heart and Freddie Highmore as a boy whose insight exceeds his peers. Their relationships with the brothers are as key to the plot as the the brotherly bond itself. The film is cheesy at times, for the most part appropriate for children with a few elements I don't think younger ones could handle. There's also an important message, and some staggering figures as to the world's current tiger population compared to years ago. Today, fewer than 5,000 of these majestic cats remain.
The scenery is breathtaking, and the vivid shots of the animals reminded me of some of the trailers I've seen for the Discovery Channel's Planet Earth high definition series. It works equally well as a documentary, and the DVD includes a more straightforward look at tigers in the wild, including mating, hunting, family life, and rivals. As for the fiction spun in the main film, it does an excellent job of drawing every emotion imaginable from the viewer. I knew going in there might be some teary moments. There were also spots I laughed or cheered aloud.
Maybe it's corny, and I'm corny too. Attention is paid to reality, and how tigers do behave in the wild as well as in captivity. For the sake of the story, human emotions are transcribed to the animals as well, from loss to recognition to despair to joy and more. I wonder how much footage was shot to get the right expressions and motions for the narrative. A lot of it was used in the bonus documentary as well.
I didn't mind the cute, fictional aspects of the tale. The world can be as dark a place as a happy one, and in an age where every day brings more bad news, it's great to just see something nice. If you have children older than 8 or 9, or if you're a kid at heart or an animal lover, you might want to give Two Brothers a look. As for me, I might be tuning in to more nature shows after this experience...
In my earliest years, I wasn't the quietest kid. Somewhere between third and fourth grade I made the transition from extroverted class clown to introverted shy nerd. I got beat up. Girls laughed at me. Even the fellow outcasts I surrounded myself with made fun of me. The less I spoke, the less fodder I'd offer for mockery. My parents were no longer concerned about my hyperactivity, and a single visit to a child psychologist on that matter was left in the past. Fearing I might do drugs or fall in with the wrong crowd or be seriously injured by the wrong crowd, and wanting a better life for me, they saved and sent me to a private high school. There was no physical abuse, not to the extent of what I'd endured up to that point, but plenty of psychological abuse. I was the son of a mechanic in a thrift shop suit, surrounded by the sons of doctors and lawyers garbed in name brand new clothing. I escaped into comic books. I withdrew for months at a time, not socializing with my friends from my old school and even turning down invitations from lifelong neighborhood friends. I've been called horrible things and compared to horrible things. I've been through a lot and I've done a lot. I've never killed anyone because of it, and rest assured there is no unwritten “yet” in that statement.
When something like the Virginia Tech Massacre happens, when someone snaps and takes lives, and it makes no sense, we try to make sense of it. Was it the video games he played? A rap video? Maybe he was on drugs? My father even asked me at one point if I thought Cho Seung-hui was sent by “the terrorists”. Blame is cast, and even before all the facts were out I was seeing unrelated clips from video games on the news. The one common factor in these situations always seems to be the same. He was a quiet kid. He kept to himself.
So why doesn't every quiet loner who gets picked on snap? Why do so many of us channel our pain into positive creativity, or develop a sense of humor? We learn our comfort zones, learn to break out of our shell and gradually develop relationships with trusted friends. There's nothing in popular culture that instills hatred and violence per se. In most cases it's only a trigger for something that's already there.
Could this horrible, horrible tragedy have been averted? The killer was autistic and a loner that rarely spoke. Along with the video that was irresponsibly broadcast, one student is interviewed and speaks of trying to reach out to Cho. He never responded, never spoke or made eye contact in the hall. After a while the other kids stopped trying. Could they have tried harder, or was the underlying bad wiring too screwed up for Cho to ever respond?
What will set someone off? How do you diffuse a ticking time bomb? Maybe other students made fun of the way he spoke or dressed, but many got to him without knowing it. Just by being wealthy, or better dressed, or whatever, they were stirring all these thoughts, and no one knew what was happening inside his brain. To be sure, there is a lesson for young people to learn about how they treat one another, to realize everyone has feelings and words have consequences. But this too falls under the search for rationale. Sometimes, as Swanshadow put it,the person might just be a “whackjob”. It wouldn't matter if he had strong faith, or responsible attentive parents, or friends. Nothing anyone said or did would have altered his chemical imbalance.
32 people are dead, cut down before their lives really began. 29 more are wounded. All were caught in the crossfire, and Sean raises a point that Cho might have started with himself. It was a thought out and orchestrated plan though, from purchasing weapons and ammunition, to filming the videos to send to the media, to a manifesto complete with photographs. And there it is again, that link between creativity and pain. A normal person finds positive outlets. Write a poem. Paint a picture. Tell a joke. A disturbed person orchestrates mass murder and visual companion pieces.
Amid media vying for ratings and politicians turning loss into gain, the best thoughts and coverage of this week came from Darrell, who actually stopped writing for a few days and set up his site as a memorial. He and his family live a mere two hours away, and his response reminded me that we all are close to something like this at any given time. It's sad that death is so commonplace that we become desensitized, and sensitivity decreases with geographic distance. We hang on to routine for a sense of sanity and normalcy, and sometimes it takes a while for things to phase us.
He was a quiet kid. He kept to himself. A lot of quiet people keep to themselves, and I'm left pondering the irony in Eleanor Rigby:
”All the lonely people; where DO they all come from?”
Well, no one guessed who our first batch of Blogroll Villains were. Careful comparison to their heroic counterparts might have yielded some clues, something to consider for the Heromachine creations I'll unveil shortly. First though, in order, here's who we had last time:
As you can see, many of you got 4 out of 5, but no one got all of them. There's no time to lose though, because below you will find yet another dastardly quintet of villains, each based upon my blogroll. The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying all five bloggers, with links to their respective sites, will receive a piece of the rare Mysterious Master Prize™!
Janet wants to know what our favorite Saturday Night Live skits of all time are. I watched the show mostly in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but I have seen a lot of specials from the earlier years. The show always has its strong times and its weak times, because when its strongest stars peak and break out into films and other shows, there's a lull before they find someone as strong. The ‘70s produced legends like Aykroyd, Murray, Belushi, Radner and Chase. The early ‘80s brought us Eddie Murphy. Later in that decade, leading into the ‘90s, featured the cast I'm most familiar with, including Phil Hartman, Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Norm MacDonald, Molly Shannon, Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz and me, Rob Schneider. Sadly, some of these talented comedians are no longer with us. Many of those that are still here don't grace our screens and movie theaters as often as they'd like. Many have also enjoyed success, some dramatic as well as comedic, and are as strong today as they were during the three decades I grew up in. The more recent casts haven't turned out the success stories and memorable stars of the past. Will Ferrell is probably doing the best of his alumni, and of course there's Tina Fey. Tina Fey is awesome. I don't currently watch the show, but from what makes it to the internet I'd say Andy Samberg is their current strongest player.
Obviously the complete cast is too numerous to list, and I've only mentioned a few of the ones who stood out. As for the skits that have stayed with me over the years, I'm going to list them below with links to transcripts. The embedded videos are out there, but I've found that the network cracks down and they're not up on Flash video sites for very long. Here now are the funniest, most quotable bits from the show's history:
Photo Blog Wednesday is going to have some surprises this week. For various reasons, I didn't take any new photos this past weekend. And any last-minute indoor set-up shots were nixed when, in a fit of “efficiency”, I decided to charge my camera's batteries at work, then subsequently leave them in my cubicle when I came home.
Still, it wouldn't be Wednesday here without some visual interest, so first I revisit Terragen™, a three dimensional terrain generation program I dabbled with, here and there, last August. I believe this is my third foray into amateur digital art with this application:
Plus, I had a little fun with a photo B13 recently posted. I'm pretty sure with his personality and sense of humor he'll take this in good fun, but I'll remove it if asked, because this is exactly why I won't really post any kind of real photos of myself. Enjoy the latest video game sensation:
Click Myclofigia once a day to get our city to #1!
MCF is a mild-mannered
artist from the suburbs.
His knowledge of obscure
comic book characters
is more powerful than Gladiator
of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard on
an ego-trip. Able to leap topics
in a single sentence faster than
a speeder-bike on the moon of
Endor, MCF has never written
about himself in the third person
and now dreads the day he
utters aloud the fateful phrase,
"MCF is gettin' upset!"