Too Much

Some days just have too much. Too many phone calls. Too many people dropping by with requests or just to chat. Too many interruptions. Most of us call these days Mondays.

Then, when it's all over, when we can finally leave work and roll out into darkness and make our way home and relax in front of the television, there's just too much to watch. Thursday has always been guilty of this, but while four hours of shows await me on that day, Monday edges it out with an extra half hour. Four-and-a-half hours. Five shows. Three networks. Likely spoilers:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: I love how after new shows survive a short first season, they start fleshing out their characters' history. Summer Glau was phenomenal this week. She played a cold robot, the human her model replaces, a confused robot who thinks she's the human, and finally a robot who knows who she is but still mimics human behavior like lying. Although an origin story can sometimes feel like filler, this one underscored the high risk of keeping a Terminator around. It's a lot like playing with fire, and I love it.

Prison Break: I love how they reinvent the concept every year to expand what could have been a single season saga. Unlikely that the idea would last four years, it does so and does it well. I'm loving this Ocean's 11 vibe with the ex-cons pulling off “capers” each week, and I think Sara was definitely channeling a little Alias this week. It's a fun ride. Even Gretchen, who was kind of a bland, annoying character in season 3 got more interesting this week as we got a glimpse of her past, and her path crossed with the show's best villain. I can't wait to see where that goes.

Chuck: You know, I really didn't want to add another show last season, but Rey kept point out how “me” the series was, so I finally caved and I'm glad I did. This week brought new viewers up to speed in like the first two minutes, without slowing down. A genuinely awesome premiere best summed up with a list of what made it great: Michael Clarke Duncan. The obligatory running joke about staying in the car. “You never stay in the car!”/”You know what? It's never safe in the car!” Adam Baldwin. Yvonne Strahovski. Yogurt montage. Getting Ready for Date Underwear Montage. “I was going for imposing.” Adam Baldwin portraying emotional conflict over his assignment to kill Chuck as Casey has grudgingly come to like Chuck. “Did someone order drive thru?” followed by the meta commentary on that line a few minutes later. The Nerd Herd Thunderdome. “I catch you when you fall.” The return of “Charles Carmichael”. If I had one minor complaint it would be the apparent demise of Candyman, though he went out in a spectacular fashion that will keep the concept alive. And did I mention not one but two Huey Lewis songs?

Heroes: This show is back in a big way, and I have a feeling the pacing will be insane each week to address fan complaints about season two. I seriously can't believe that all happened in one hour. I can't believe two of the season's villains are down before we really got to know them. I can't believe the company is working with Sylar or that Mrs. Petrelli is his mother. She's so playing him, which underscores how dangerous she is. Still, he'll go along with them if it keeps leading him to fresh brains and new abilities. Most of all, I can't believe they might make Ali Larter's story more interesting. Niki might be gone along with her “Jessica” and “Gina” identities, but this “Tracy” that's walking around has led a different life as a separate person, who coincidentally was born in the same hospital. And when she visits the doctor who delivered them both, he calls her by yet another name before explaining, “I created you.” The curiosity? It is piqued.

* * * * *

I really watch too much television. If you'll excuse me, it's after midnight and I still have to watch How I Met Your Mother online...


Phantasmic Links 9.29.08

A funny thing happened in Burger King on Saturday night. A woman ahead of me struggled to place an order, while her bratty preteen son kept getting in her face. “Maa..ma...what're ya getting? Don't get that! No...Maaaa...!” On the other side of her, his friend tried to reason with him and quiet him down while she tried to tune them both out and the cashier looked mildly amused. When the entitled little twerp said, “If you get me chicken I'm gonna throw it on the floor!” the woman looked at him as if slapped, then turned and walked away from the counter. “Maaaa! WHY YOU SUCH A B*TCH, MA? MA!!! Don't be a D*CK!!” But she was already out the door. “F*** her,” said the punk to his friend, “We'll go eat at my house.” By “his” house I could only assume he lived with his father or something, since there aren't many 13 or 14-year-old's with their own place. I nearly applauded when the lady refused to buy food for the little ingrate, and it took quite a bit of effort to hold my tongue and yell, “That's how you talk to your mother?” There is something seriously wrong with kids today. When I got back home with the food, I began the tale for my parents with, “So you though I was bad when I was a kid...”

I still can't believe the kid behaved and spoke like that, though. I can't believe another weekend has come and gone. And I can't believe some of this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Click Myclofigia and get our city to #1! Pretty please?

(2) PETA urges Ben & Jerry to substitute human milk for cow's milk in their ice cream. Upon hearing this story earlier this week, Opie and Anthony actually had some people in the studio test some ice cream made from human breast milk. Everyone agreed that initially it tasted the same, before reporting a “sweaty” aftertaste. Yeah, I'm not sure it's a great idea...
Hat Tip: Darrell.

(3) Have you tagged up a wall yet for B13's Project Graffiti? No, my psychotic little friend isn't encouraging folks to deface actual walls, but is offering a clever digital alternative with a blank canvas begging to be painted over. Here's my contribution:

(4) Joshua Allen Harris brings characters to life using only garbage bags, tape, and New York subway steam grates.

(5) Z-Rox challenges your brain to make sense of a series of horizontal dashes and translate them into numbers, letters, words, symbols, and more! I got bored around level 21, but I'll definitely be back to play this one through.

(6) Every song could use More Cowbell.

(7) Blow up bubbles and build up your Bubble Tank.

(8) Finally, Saw crosses over with Wallace and Gromit. You know you've been waiting for that to happen...
H.T.: Darrell.

(9) Behold The World's Largest Wargaming Table.
H.T.: Curt.

(10) Got a robot problem? Weapons Against Robots can help...
H.T.: Rey.

(11) Is Stan voting for Will Smith as the next Captain America? Is there anyone on this planet the “news” doesn't quote out of context?

(12) Help U.F.O. Joe navigate through 15 levels and abduct 48 creatures!

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



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

Last week I posted the TWENTY-SECOND batch of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test questions. These are the brave souls who stepped up to answer:



And here are my answers:

1) What do you think will be the most popular Halloween costumes this year?
Obviously Heath Ledger's Joker is going to be huge this year, as The Crow was in 1994. I considered this option, but I'm not real big on wearing face paint even if I could get my hands on a slamming purple suit. Certainly this year will see its share of geeks in cardboard Iron Man suits as well, and I suppose a more respectable option would be to grow a goatee, get a tuxedo, and go as his alter-ego Tony Stark. Sean mentioned Sarah Palin, and reminded me that this is an election year. With an election hot on the heels of Halloween, I expect to not only see some Palins, but maybe the presidential candidates and even the departing president and vice-president out there as well. The kids will probably be out there dressed as characters from cable cartoons I've never seen, as usual. As for me, I usually steer away from what's popular in a given year and come up with something unexpected, yet appropriate...

2) Do you recall the first time you received an e-mail, and what it was?
I remember this lab in college, really low-tech computers that were completely text-only. I'm talking glowing green letters and no graphics. I wasted most of my time in there playing text-based role playing games that consisted of typing in words like “EAST”, “WEST”, “SEARCH”, or “INVENTORY”. Strong Bad's “Thy Dungeonman” did an excellent job capturing the feel of those old games. One of my friends was “talking” with friends out of state, and she showed me how this “electronic mail” worked. I remember long addresses and not fully understanding it, and since I didn't know anyone with a computer I didn't have much use for it. But a friend from high school who was out of state at another college also had computer access, and at some point sent me my first forwarded bit of mail, a top ten list making fun of our old high school that was circulating among the alumni.

I didn't get my own computer with internet access until the Fall of 1999. I actually still have that computer, which I just turned on to launch Netscape and check my old e-mail, which I never deleted. There's quite a few e-mails from my ex-girlfriend, something of a mixed signal considering she had dumped me eight months prior, but then guys always have trouble with the fact that girls are actually sincere when they say they still want to be friends. It's probably best I don't start reading those now, though. The oldest e-mail in that inbox dated 10/29/99 is from my old friend Rey, and reads as follows:


Get PAID to surf the web!

The way it works is this: Advertisers pay to advertise on your computer. So you download the ad bar, which goes on the bottom 1/16th of your computer (very small) and leave it on while you surf the web. The advertisers are paying you to advertise on their computer. IT'S AWESOME! and you get money for it. And for referrals. So enjoy enjoy, enjoy!

I of course substituted “Figure” for my real last name. It's funny that my first personal e-mail reads as spam, a message I would have deleted had it come from anyone other than a friend. I don't remember if that link he sent me worked. It either wasn't compatible with my operating system or took too long to download on my old sad dial-up connection. By November, I was actively sending links and peppering my messages with emoticons, and quickly embraced a new digital realm I've never left.

3) What would be your ideal life after retirement?
It would definitely involve a hammock, a beer, a lot of movies, and either a lake or ocean nearby. It would be nice to get back to fine art as well, and concentrate on painting and drawing. I certainly wouldn't want to give up my music either. A lot of the guys in the bands I play with are retired, and I was talking to some of them on Saturday about the secrets of longevity. They all agree that staying active is key, that the people who look forward to sitting in a chair and doing nothing are the ones that decline more rapidly. One of the guys who's in his 60s told me about his mother, who's still going strong at 95, sharp as a tack, fluent in her letter-writing, and enjoying life in Arizona. During the week my mom also told me that my uncle, her oldest brother, is spending an entire month in Florida. A widower in his 80s, he's more than earned it. I guess when all the deadlines and meetings go away, it will be nice to finally travel, and I'll probably have an impressive list of places to visit in 30 years or so.

4) Who are your three favorite recurring commercial characters?
A) Kool Aid Man: To this day I love that freaky sentient pitcher of red liquid and his inappropriate but timely property damage as he smashes through walls. Is it weird that I own all the comics that were based on the character? “OH YEAH!”
B) The Burger King: He's a seriously creepy dude running around in a face mask with a single, disturbing and unchanging smile like V. I remember some of the earlier incarnations of this character, and this may be the most awesome reinvention of a mascot ever. Terrifying AND hilarious.
C) Time for Timer: Technically a P.S.A. character more than a commercial, his spots still ran during intermissions of my Saturday morning cartoons, so I'm allowing his inclusion here. Now it you'll excuse me, I suddenly hanker for a hunk of cheese...

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Who made Blake black and why?
No one remembered that classic Mork and Mindy episode in which Mork teaches some bigots a lesson in diversity by altering their DNA:


Over the Weather

On Thursday, we were warned that for a few hours, the company would be switching over to backup generators as a standard test. Even the slightest possibility of an interruption in power could mean a loss of data, so we were encouraged to save our progress often, something I’ve learned to do over the years.

On Friday, it rained steadily. My cold had shifted to my lungs, though I was still a bit lightheaded. I made remarkable progress getting through revisions I’d received late the day before, and it looked like I’d make my afternoon deadline. Right about the time I was feeling confident, the electricity winked.

Most people were at lunch already. I stifled a scream, then silently cursed at the ceiling of my office. My computer was only off for a few seconds, but enough time to have lost major progress. I took it as a sign to take lunch, though a crowd and the ever-ticking clock sent me and my food right back to my office. I closed the door while I ate and surveyed the damage, pondering the irony that a little rain the day after they tested the generators was enough to cause an outage. The damage wasn’t too bad, but with less than an hour until my meeting I wasn’t sure I’d get all 14 ads revised. In some cases where I considered presenting multiple versions, I opted to go with my best ideas. With 10 minutes to spare, I found myself printing and gathering the various products on a cart to wheel over to our photo studio in another building.

The rain at least had given way to a drizzle, better for the items I was transporting though not much better for my cold. An hour meeting turned in to a two hour meeting for various reasons I won’t go into, but it was a relief when we finished. And, in classic MCF luck, I learned that only 5 of the 14 designs were actually due,while the others could have waited until next Wednesday. At least I got a head start though, and next week will be less crazy as a result. I’m glad it’s the weekend, and I’m actually hoping the one band job I have gets rained out. I could really use one day in bed. I’m tired of being under the weather, and look forward to getting back to normal, to getting over the weather.


It Pours

What a week! It started fantastic, with a relaxing and productive vacation day on Monday leading up to a procession with one of my bands on Monday night. By Tuesday, I was refreshed and ready to tackle my work. We have a saying around the office, that we have a “feast or famine” workload. Depending on how the schedules for various assignments play out, some days we might have very little to do while others find three or more assignment deadlines crashing. This is one of those weeks.

Four days in and I haven’t made it to the gym once. I’m working on an extra assignment in addition to my regular workload, and stayed an extra hour or two on Tuesday and Wednesday to get caught up. By Thursday I had a better bite on everything, which is probably why folders and comments landed in my freshly emptied inbox by 5 PM. After a nice three-day weekend, I find myself yearning for another vacation already.

No single assignment is all that difficult or challenging; it’s just the classic struggle of prioritizing. Give me too much to do and I don’t know what to do first. At my last job, I’d reached a level of zero famine, and every day was a busy time. So the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will quiet down by next week helps. I’ve also found that no matter how intimidating my workload might appear, all of a sudden I turn a page and realize I’ve gotten everything done. And I am back to making checklists, which both help me organize and create a sense of accomplishment when I check stuff off.

What’s making this week particularly hard is that I’m also sick. Around Tuesday night I had a runny nose, albeit only on the left side. I didn’t have any other cold symptoms so I chalked it up to allergies. When I eat right, take vitamins, and exercise regularly I find I can go a year or more without illness. The last time I got really sick was a few months after I’d stopped working out, about a year ago. Back on track, I was sure this couldn’t happen again. But Wednesday morning I wasn’t feeling so good. I was achy and my nose was stuffy and I had a bit of a tickle in my throat.

I doubled up my vitamin C intake and tripled my fluid intake. I find super-hydrating minimizes the most debilitating symptoms, especially sore throats which is the one symptom I cannot endure. I can deal with everything else. By Thursday morning I was achy and borderline feverish. Why this week? Why not one of my slow weeks? I had to design an additional flyer for my last mailing, make corrections on my current mailing, and rough out 14 concepts for approval on the mailing I’m starting, not to mention present concepts for my test assignment to a panel of executives. Germs have a horrible sense of timing. Last week I could have missed a day or two. Three weeks ago I could have missed an entire week. This week just doesn’t have enough days in it.

Somehow in my delirium I made it to work, though, made it through my meetings and muddled through my assignments. I just need to make it through one more day and two more meetings before I reach yet another weekend. Weekends are fleeting and fly by faster and faster each week. Right now I’m actually hoping for rain Saturday so I don’t have to drive in to Queens and play a gig. It’s an easy job, strolling around a small park for two hours, but I’d rather rest. Everything is hitting me at once this week, and I’ll be glad when it’s over. When it rains it pours, which is why I’m hoping it pours on Saturday....


T.I.L.T. Things I've Learned Thursday XVII

Hopefully, these Things I've Learned Thursday make about as much sense as usual, as I'm currently fighting a bit of a head cold, as was foretold in elven prophecy. I'm sure we won't notice any adverse infects:

* When the season changes from Summer to Fall, dress accordingly at night. Just because it's shorts weather when you go to bed doesn't mean you won't wake up shivering around 3 AM.

* For whatever reason, iPhoto up until recently lacked the basic ability to selectively pull pictures from a camera's memory card. It had an option to ignore duplicate images, but if you only wanted to grab a specific one or two that was impossible. Around version 6 there was a hidden workaround, whereby hitting “return” or “enter” twice brought up an edit menu and you could drag images out by their file names. My company is currently running version 5 or so, so that tip didn't help me when I borrowed a friend's camera and had to wait for an 138MB video to download before I got to the shot I took. Apparently the selective download feature was added by the 7th version of the software, but it's a mystery to me why it wasn't there sooner.

* Don't leave water bottles sitting around for too long. If you are in the habit of doing so, it's a good idea to look in the bottle before taking a drink in case mold is floating in there. If you put a fresh water bottle down amid a bunch of old ones and get confused, hopefully there will be some condensation to tip you off as to which is the most recent bottle. In the grand scheme of things, it's really best to not fall so far behind in clearing out your recyclable containers.

* Who knew that the singer in the Real Men of Genius ads was original Survivor lead vocalist David Bickler? Sean did.

* Lunch is very important, both mentally and physically. Even if I'm swamped, I'd rather work late than miss even a short break in the middle of the day.

* The bigger the pride, the further the fall.

* You can lose brain cells watching the new Knight Rider. How do you hide a code in your DNA? What's the point of faking your death if you only change your last name and have no plastic surgery whatsoever? How does a car morph into a pickup truck? On the other hand, it has a transforming car and a hot chick, so after one episode this brainless entertainment hasn't lost me yet. I'd probably ask fewer questions if I was still 10, if history is any indication.

* “One more...” is always a lie. You might tell yourself you're only going to do one more thing at work, or play one more game before you go to bed, or eat one more potato chip before putting the bag away, but “One more...” is often an infinite loop. I could list one more thing I learned, or I could stop right now...



PBW: All's Weld That Ends Weld

The David Weld Sanctuary of Nissequogue proved elusive. Between printed directions, B13's satellite-starved GPS device, and a helpful Amish-esque gentleman arbitrarily trimming branches by the side of the road, we were able to locate a great source of visual material. Here's what I found for my Photo Blog Wednesday:

Click the last two to enlarge to desktop-sized proportions:



Playing Themselves

If I'm oversimplifying, I would say there are two kinds of actors. The first are chameleons. They rarely play the same role twice, and immerse themselves so thoroughly in each part as to be nearly unrecognizable as themselves. The second kind discover a niche, certain mannerisms and deliveries that they carry with them from film to film. This isn't always a bad thing, and they find work doing what they do on a regular basis. Occasionally, the latter brand of actor might take a chance and move beyond their typecasting. Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and even Adam Sandler are among those rare examples of celebrities who've broken the mold and taken chances with more serious and challenging roles outside their image as comedians. Chameleons include the likes of Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks. And what of those actors who settle into doing the same thing every time? Christian Slater comes to mind, but then he shattered his prior incarnations with his role in He Was a Quiet Man. Maybe he'll jump right back to doing what he always does in the future though. Certainly, many of the following actors have stretched once or twice, only to stretch back.

I chose ten only as a nice round number; these are in no particular order, and certainly not all examples, but these are some of the major ones:

1) Al Pacino: At some point in the ‘90s, around the time of Scent of a Woman and Heat, Al traded his whispering suave Italian guy image for “guy who shouts and RANDOMLY emphasizes certain WORDS!!” We still love him for it though, and still want to see him doing his thing.

2) Robert De Niro: Like Pacino, he's one of America's greatest stars, and certainly had some classics under his belt already by the ‘70s and ‘80s. But as he got older, he settled into this nodding, squinting caricature of himself, peppering his speech with a “l'il bit” of truncated words and phrases. When you hire De Niro, that's what you're hiring him to do. When you go to see a De Niro flick, that's the guy you're going to see.

3) Chris Tucker: Unlike legends like Pacino and De Niro who made names for themselves before settling into routine, Tucker always played the fast-talking, high-pitched wiseguy that he perfected by Rush Hour, at which point that series seemed to be the only work he was doing.

4) Joe Pesci: Okay. Okay. Okay. He did come out of retirement as a favor to De Niro to take a small role in The Good Shepherd, and he was a lot more subdued and barely recognizable. But prior to that, everything from Goodfellas to Home Alone to My Cousin Vinny to Casino starred the same little quick-speaking Italian guy we know and love.

5) Stifler: Admit it. When you see that sarcastic, crooked smile and spiky blonde hair, you think ”Stifler” before you think “Seann William Scott”. If I didn't give you his name, you'd be looking it up right now...

6) Tony Danza: He almost always seems to play a good-natured Italian guy named “Tony” in all his sitcoms. Taxi. Who’s the Boss? Hudson Street. The Tony Danza Show. Then in 2004 he became the host of a daytime talk show with the same name as his last sitcom. Again, not a lot of range, but he seems like a nice guy you like seeing on your screen. I don't know why so many Italian-American actors fall into this category. Not even Matt LeBlanc, heir to the Danza throne, could explain the pattern.

7) Lisa Kudrow: To explain why Phoebe Buffay on Friends was so similar to her previous character Ursula in Mad About You, writers decided to reveal the two characters to be twin sisters. That's all well and good, but is every character she's played in movies related to the Buffay sisters too?

8) Julia Roberts: Some might disagree with this one, but Julia Roberts honestly plays Julia Roberts in nearly everything she's done. I submit for example Ocean's 12, in which her character is supposed to impersonate the “real” Julia Roberts at one point because of their striking resemblance. That could be a fun challenge for any actor, to play the role of a character impersonating the role of the actor. Julia put on a hat and sunglasses and wore a pillow under her dress. Hey, it fools Bruce Willis...

9) Jack Nicholson: He's yet another veteran that's earned the right to just be himself on film, because that's who we're going to see. If I were to make a case in favor of Heath Ledger as the better Joker in The Dark Knight, I would point out that his delightfully anarchistic sociopath was a completely different person from Ledger, whereas the Joker in Batman was just Nicholson in facepaint and a wig.

10) Keanu Reeves: Like....whoa....'nuff said.


Phantasmic Links 9.22.08

These weekends go by way too fast. I got a lot done, though. I went on a photo outing with B13, I picked up a key element for my Halloween costume, purchased Death Magnetic since I've been listening to a copy from a friend all week, went to church, washed my car, and got through several movies and television shows. I think the weekend flies whether I do a lot or nothing at all, but I feel worse when I look back and realize I did nothing. I'm even making this a three-day weekend by taking Monday off, partly because I'd never make a 6 PM band gig in time from work and partly because I just need another day to relax, but I know Tuesday morning will be here in the blink of an eye. You just can't stop the increasingly increasing flow of time, but you can pass time happily with this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Click Myclofigia and get our city to #1! The sooner we do, the sooner I can stop reminding us, although then we might slip to #2....

(2) This is the most recent reason why Charlie Day is awesome.

(3) Maverick is a great concept, an old-school game in which you move by shooting yourself around the screen with unlimited bullets. It's only 15 levels before you reach a magic pig, which sounds wonderful, but I'm sorry to admit I got frustrated after I died 43 times on level 12. Stupid cacti.

(4) Grab a brew and enjoy The Greatest Drunk Moments on Television! I totally want to hang out with DeVito and Trebek now, but not Affleck because women would just giggle and find that jerk charming.
Hat Tip: Darrell.

(5) How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed next to a velociraptor?
I could survive for 38 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

(6) Office Snapshots takes you inside the offices of many well-known websites and other popular companies. I'm still trying to find a website to get me out of the office...

(7) Demakes take modern video games and reinvent them as classic low tech games. See if you can figure out which games they're spoofing. I bet that “Noiseless Mound” game is really scary...

(8) A man takes a photo of himself every day for 17 years. Highlights include rotating and taking his glasses off and putting them back on.
H.T.: B13

(9) Elements offers 25 levels of rotating bouncing fun!

(10) I'd be sorry I never got around to entering the Batman Nunchuks Contest, but some of those submissions would have been impossible to beat in their hilarity.

(11) ”Summer Glau, she makes me feel fine...”
H.T.: Rey.

(12) And finally, Conan O'Brien finds out what the deal was with Batman's recent profanities...

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



M.C.F.A.T. Volume XXII

Welcome to the TWENTY-SECOND edition of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test! “Twenty-second” is a fun word to say aloud. Please answer the questions below in the comments or on your own blogs, and check back in a week when i link to your answers and post my own:

1) What do you think will be the most popular Halloween costumes this year?

2) Do you recall the first time you received an e-mail, and what it was?

3) What would be your ideal life after retirement?

4) Who are your three favorite recurring commercial characters?

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Who made Blake black and why?

There's no right or wrong, and you can't fail if you answer. Good luck!



Am MCF now or have MCF ever been?

Fun “interrogation” found over at Antick Musings:

1. Have you ever killed a man?
Define “man”.

2. With your own hands?
I don't know whose hands those are; I've never seen them before in my life!

3. What, in your opinion, is the best way to transport contraband across state and country lines?
I wouldn't know. By the way, do you know where I can buy some balloons? It's for a....birthday...

4. Even if you're transporting explosives?
I've never heard Mexican food referred to as “explosives” before...

5. Really? Have you ever known me to lie?
Have you ever known me to kill a man with my own hands and transport explosives across state and country lines?

6. Have you ever stolen a library book?
As long as I plan on returning it someday, it's technically “borrowed”.

7. On purpose, or only because you found it under your bed years after you reported it lost and paid the fine?
I told you I'm only borrowing the darn thing!

8. Where were you on November 1, 2007?
Three days away from my 33rd birthday, possibly drunk if that fell on a Friday? Was that a Friday? It's kind of a blur.

9. Can you prove it?
Well yeah, I guess if I got out a calendar I could prove what day of the week that was.

10. You had to think about that, didn't you?
Well yes, that's the way our brains work. We process thoughts which then translate to speech or action.

11. How much is it worth to you for me to pretend I didn't notice?
I go unnoticed for free on a daily basis; I'm not about to start paying for it.

12. Have you spent years building up an immunity to iocane powder? (And if you know a faster method, will you share it?)
Haha! You fool! You've made the classic blunder!

13. Name three different ways to start a fire.
Maybe it was always burning since the world's been turning. Maybe it was Webster trying to make a rocket for his teddy bear with that chemistry set! What are you asking me for?!

14. Now try to convince me you only know that because you were a Girl/Boy Scout/Guide once.
Actually, it's because I listened to a lot of bad music and watched a lot of bad television growing up in the ‘80s.

15. How many digits of pi can you recite from memory?

16. Did you have to count out the digits on your fingers to answer that?

17. Did you check online to make sure you remembered right before answering?
I was tempted, but no.

18. Does all this talk about numbers make you uncomfortable?
It excites me, actually. Is that weird?

19. Or are you just wondering what it has to do with the rest of the meme?
The rest of the what now?

20. Seriously, where did you bury the body?
Only the blue Fescue knows for sure.

21. Where were you on March 16, 2036?
Amid the wreckage of my beloved Manhattan, I used my powers of empathy to change the future by traveling back to the past to be interrogated by myself.

22. If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?
When they jumped off, I jumped back to the past. Did you miss that episode?

23. What is the ninja replacement score for your life?
Just 1. I wouldn't replace anyone else, but replace me with Snake-Eyes and certain episodes of my life get a lot more interesting...


Southcon Movie Meme

Darrell tagged me:

1. Which actor do you think hasn't gotten the attention he/she deserves?
I can think of a slew of Joss Whedon show alumni that I'd like to see become major stars, including Alexa Davalos, Christian Kane, and Amy Acker. Acker will be returning to the small screen along with Eliza Dushku in the upcoming Dollhouse. Dushku seems to have disappeared lately. I thought for sure Alan Tudyk would have made a bigger name for himself by now, but he only shows up in the occasional bit part. The most recent thing I saw him in was Death at a Funeral, and he had one of the funniest roles. Finally, why isn't Nicky Katt a household name yet? He played the best character on Boston Public and has this awesome dry delivery, but when he left that show he seemed to take supporting roles and bit parts in films. He plays a darkly hilarious scene for about five minutes in Sin City, but most recently he played an uncredited SWAT guy in The Dark Knight. What's up with that? I'm sure I can think of more names, but there are other questions to answer.

2. What is your favorite movie line?
I think my favorite lines aren't so much about the lines themselves, as the context.

Superman II: After being powerless and absent for most of the film, the recharged hero shows up outside the window of the Daily Planet to challenge the Phantom Zone villains: “General, would you care to step outside? “

Sometimes it's about the delivery, as with Wallace Shawn's in The Princess Bride:
“Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

And then there are those lines that somehow speak to me as an Italian-American:
The Godfather: ”Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Goodfellas: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little ***ked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to ***kin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?

This one is classic:
Easy Money:”My mother-in-law, for years I wouldn't kiss her face; I ended up kissing her @$$!

They don't make them like that anymore.

There was a time in my life when I had most of Wayne's World memorized. If I had to pick one line, I'd go with Ed O'Neill's psychotic soliloquy when he breaks the fourth wall like the main characters: ”I'd never done a crazy thing in my life before that night. Why is it, that if a man kills another man in battle it's called heroic; yet if he kills a man in the heat of passion, it's called murder?”

I also liked Alice Cooper's history lesson and the way Dana Carvey says ”I like to play” after his awesome drum solo. Honestly, that whole movie is one favorite quote after another, and I'm about five minutes away from walking away from my keyboard and popping in my old VHS of the film.

I feel morally obligated to include at least one reference from The Transformers The Movie: ”It's a pity you Autobots DIE so easily, or I might have a sense of satisfaction NOW!”

Sadly, that's another script I have nearly committed to memory, right down to the TV commercial gibberish spouted by the Junkions: ”Stop thief! No welcome wagon. Hello stranger, with that good coffee flavor for you. Offer expires while you wait, operators are standing by.

I'm going to start using that last line in bars; if it impresses a girl, I'm so in.

3. What are the absolute worst movies you've ever seen?
I can be more forgiving than most, and I try to find something to like in every movie I see. Therefore, when I don't like a movie, it has to be really bad: The Brown Bunny, Congo, Hudson Hawk, Very Bad Things, and of course, The Happening.

4. Is there a movie you hated when you first saw it and then later had to admit you were wrong?
As I've said, I'm very forgiving, so if I hated something enough the first time, I probably wouldn't change my rating. Someday I may give Heat another chance; I saw it in college at an on-campus showing where the sound quality was really bad and I only made out words when Pacino raised his voice for inexplicable emphasis in the middle of sentences or for random prepositions. Perhaps under better conditions I might rate it higher. Certainly there were plenty of movies I didn't expect to like going in, and found that they weren't what I thought they would be. The Color Purple certainly comes to mind. I avoided it like the plague, and ended up being very moved when I finally watched it. Pretty Woman was another one I avoided, and certain scenes like the jewelry box closing/horse laugh scene still make me cringe, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

5. What is your biggest guilty pleasure movie - the one you're ashamed you enjoy?
A lot of people probably think I should be ashamed of UHF, but I maintain that it's my best work. I mean, it's Weird Al's best work. Probably the aforementioned The Transformers The Movie and Wayne's World are guilty pleasures, if only for my level of devotion and the number of times I've watched them. There's probably a slew of stupid comedies I love that people may have blocked from their memories by now, including Airheads, The Man with Two Brains, and Dragnet.

* * * * *

I have to tag three people, but feel free to tackle these questions even if you aren't Rey, Lyndon, or Sean.


T.I.L.T. Things I've Learned Thursday XVI

Here are yet more Things I've Learned Thursday, named for the day on which I share them, not necessarily the day on which I learned them:

* The answer to the question of ”What's the Worst That Could Happen?” is apparently “that movie”. Take four of my favorite comedians, put them in a low-budget comedy with the thinnest shell of a plot, and you end up with an hour-and-a-half DVD that takes me a week to get through.

* I had one of those “Whatever happened to...?” moments and found myself looking up Bridget Fonda. Now married with one son, she hasn't acted since 2003. Interestingly enough, her husband is one of my favorite composers, Danny Elfman. I did not know that.

* I was about to write a joke about how Danny Elfman is no relation to Jenna Elfman, but then I read that she's his niece.

* Nobody cares about or remembers what you did yesterday. Don't be like Al Bundy and live for those football trophies you won in high school; figure out instead how you can be a star tomorrow.

* “Metallica produce[d] videos for seventeen of the [Black] album's twelve songs.”
“Replaced by guitarist Kirk Hammett, [Dave] Mustaine went on to form his own successful and popular metal band, Winger.”
“Lars Ulrich has admitted that he stole the name Metallica from a fellow high school student who showed him a list of possible cool band names.
I learned a lot about Metallica from Darrell.

* Always check your fly before leaving the restroom. If you're feeling for your zipper as you're walking out into the hall, you might force a female coworker to quickly look at the ceiling. I had a...friend...who did that once...I imagine he was very embarrassed.

* It is not possible to build a sentient robot with an Erector Set, although that's a damn funny name for a kid's toy.

* The single most challenging thing to teach at an all-boy's Catholic high school is Ejaculatory Prayer, although I imagine the teachers in the coed Catholic schools invoked just as many guffaws if not worse. I think it would be difficult for adults to keep a straight face, let alone teenagers. It's probably why the term isn't used that often. Word meanings change in context, sometimes drastically.

* The easiest way to get a six-pack is not through sit-ups or any other intense exercise routine. Just go to the supermarket and buy one.



PBW: Stack Attack

Life has a way of piling things on. It always starts small, whether material or otherwise. A magazine here. An obligation there. If we’re not careful, we might get buried, physically and emotionally. If I ever find the time or energy, I really should sort through my stacks. For now, the best I can do is take some pictures of some of them for Photo Blog Wednesday:


Blood of the Beast

”Where was the blood coming from?”

“I can’t tell...I don’t think it’s his tooth, but it was all over the mat he was sleeping on.”

Granted, I’d gone to bed around 6 AM after bar hopping on Friday night and was still recovering from some very good bourbon, but the conversation my parents were having down the hall on Saturday morning tore me awake easily after four hours of sleep. I remembered checking on our cat Chirp when I got home, noting that he was curled up on a small rug in the living room. Fearing the worst, I dashed down the hall.

After some groggy and confused inquiries, I ascertained that Chirp was fine and fit as a kitten. Beast, a stray my mom’s been feeding for the better part of a year, was not faring as well. I looked out our kitchen window and saw several bright red patches on our front walk. The cat was off to the side, licking his paw and seemed fine, but there was a lot of blood.

Like Bigfoot, another stray that hung around here for a few years, Beast never warmed up to humans. At some point we could pet Bigfoot, but Beast remains wary, possibly feral. Twice my mom tried and twice he batted her hand. He’s learned to trust us enough to get within a few feet and put down a dish of food, but he usually fires off a warning hiss. It’s only recently that we’ve heard him meow. For a while last Winter we were letting him eat in our entranceway, and one night he inadvertently became locked in when he ran down into our basement. But for the most part he’s been too wild to adopt, and has settled into a pattern of appearing on our steps twice a day expecting a free meal. Initially my mom wanted to call him Sunday for the day he first appeared, but given his wild nature Beast seemed more fitting and seems to be the name we’re going with.

I was concerned, not just for the welfare of this creature we’ve been feeding, but for ourselves and our indoor cats. What if he was sick, or the blood was infected? How could we even help this animal if we couldn’t get him to a vet? He didn’t have any visible wounds, and except for a few small puddles, he didn’t seem to be losing anymore blood. He’d finished a dish of food my mom left for him, and retreated to the woods behind our house. My dad headed out and hosed down the sidewalk thoroughly, as well as washed the mat.

A few hours later, when my mom and I returned home from five o’clock mass, we found Beast waiting on our steps as he usually does. There were a few more spots of blood in the driveway, and when he stood up we saw blood on the step and a bright red patch on his chest. His eyelids were heavy, but he still managed to hiss and keep his distance. I couldn’t tell if the blood on his chest was a wound, or if perhaps his leg or some other part of his body had bled and he was just lying in it. “How can we help him?” I asked my mom. All we could do was give him food to keep his strength up, and hope nature took a healing course.

There was no sign of him on Sunday morning when my father and I headed out to play a procession in Queens with one of our bands. When we got home, there was more blood under my mom’s car, and an untouched dish of food by the back door. My mom was out at a concert with one of her friends, and when she came home we learned the latest. Beast was lying very still under her car, and she thought he was dead. He was very sluggish, but alert enough not to let her get too close. He was also uncharacteristically uninterested in the little plastic plate of food that normally attracts him. He left without eating while we were all out, and I was sure we’d never see him again. It was horrible to think that this animal might be bleeding to death somewhere. If only we could have tamed him, perhaps he could have avoided that fate. Worse, we still weren’t sure what happened. Did he catch himself on a fence or a twig? Was there a cut he kept reopening? Did he get in a fight with another animal, or get clipped by a car?

Monday at lunch I called home to check if there was any more news. He hadn’t been around when I left in the morning, and my parents were out. When I got home around 7:30, I saw my mom doing some work behind a hedge. I thought perhaps he was there, and she was setting up some kind of shelter, but when I rolled up past the hedge I saw nothing but a pile of vines and some clippers in her hands. I asked if Beast had been around, and she said he had indeed come around, showed no signs of injury, and devoured a full plate of food. It boggles my mind how often I’ve seen cats bounce back, and this guy definitely used one of his nine lives. A few hours later, I heard some rattling outside and flipped on the light. A pair of raccoons looked up from the pile of weeds where my mom had been working, turned and ran low to the ground, appearing to melt into the shadows beneath my car. If I had to guess, I’d say Beast may have tangled with some of those guys. We’ve seen him with little cuts on his nose or ears before, and he’s definitely a scrapper. On the one hand, he might be out of the woods as far as his injuries are concerned, but he’ll never fully come out of the woods. He might have the face of a domestic animal, but within beats the heart of a Beast.


Phantasmic Links 9.15.08

Well, I guess the latest Movie Keyword Meme was a lot tougher than I thought! Here are the titles I was looking for:

1) Tropic Thunder
2) A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
3) A Scanner Darkly
4) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
5) Wonder Boys
6) U.S. Marshals
7) Two Girls and a Guy
8) Natural Born Killers
9) Chaplin
10) Iron Man

And of course, with that list, one can easily see that Robert Downey, Jr. is the common element in those films. With that kind of range, I should spread a rumor that he'll be playing The Riddler next. I bet Michael Caine would buy that one!

Here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Click Myclofigia and get our city to #1!

(2) Hey math geeks! Behold the lost art of Nomography. I have a vague recollection of doing something like this in high school, plotting points on a grid and drawing a series of straight lines between them that somehow formed curves. It's a cool marriage between the two halves of the brain.

(3) Apparently, some people were offended by the package design for Obama Waffles...

(4) Scientists seek dimensions beyond space and time. Coooool....

(5) Use your hook to grab floating mines and escape to the surface in Gravity Hook, but don't hang on too long unless you like to explode...

(6) The FM 100 Hue Test will gauge how well you perceive color, but if you're a former art major like myself those swatches may conjure flashbacks to color theory classes...

(7) Move, mutate, change color, feed flies and more with this cool and creepy Flash Spider.

(8) A collection of images showcases flags photoshopped into everyday items.

(9) Enjoy this Beautiful Rain Photography.

(10) What does the future hold for Iron Man 2?

(11) All productivity has ceased in my free time now that I've become addicted to Gemcraft, a cross between tower defense and RPG leveling. You have been warned and enticed...

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!

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

The Twenty-First edition of the Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test didn't draw as many answers as previous editions, but I do appreciate the responses I did receive:


Perhaps it was just a busy week; I know mine was busy. Possibly some of these were hard questions; I know I'm going to struggle with some of them:

1) At what point would you say some of your favorite shows ”jumped the shark”, and did you continue watching them anyway?
Smallville certainly tops the list, although it jumps back every few weeks, just enough to keep me watching. Hopefully after eight years, the main character will finally move off the farm and become the hero he's destined to become. It's a little ridiculous that he never finished college, lost his father, had his mom move out before he did, has met the Justice League as well as his cousin, and yet after all that he still spends most of his time hanging out in a barn. I'm wary of the upcoming season's version of Doomsday.

Beast Wars is as close to a perfect series as I've ever encountered, with great characters, beautiful computer animation, and a solid story that plays out after three seasons to a solid conclusion that flawlessly illustrates what happens when writers plan ahead. I was floored when I learned how the show really tied in to the original Transformers, and it may be the only animated series with an episode that made me cry. That being said, the sequel series Beast Machines proved to be one giant shark jump, and I wish they'd left it to our imagination what happened when these characters finally got back to their homeworld of Cybertron.

Gargoyles was another epic series that started on a small scale with medieval creatures waking up in modern Manhattan and grew in scope until they were tackling more complex storylines inspired by Shakespeare. By the third season, they jumped networks along with the shark, and without the direction of the series' creator they got bogged down in stories of the Gargoyles trying to fit in with the humans.

I can probably think of more examples of shows that have jumped, but there are very few that I stopped watching entirely. Enterprise is one of the few I can think of that I dropped after a season or two, but then it jumped early on.

2) What was your greatest pain, and how did it change your life?
Honestly, at the age of 33 I'm fairly certain my greatest pain is yet to come, so I probably should have qualified this question with a “so far”. My greatest emotional pain was when my girlfriend left me after two-and-a-half years, and it threw my life into turmoil as I suddenly didn't know my future. I was sure we'd end up together. It pushed me to eventually seek a better job after months of wallowing, and lots of free, boring weekends led me to accept more and more band jobs just so I'd have something to do. I became wary and cautious, and even when she stayed in touch for a bit and raised the possibility that we might get back together “someday”, I couldn't trust that she wouldn't leave me again. It was years before I even considered another girl, promising “her or no one” to God if He'd bring her back, though realistically I couldn't dictate such terms to Him, and once I found out she'd married someone I regretted the corner I'd painted myself into with that “deal”. I regressed to a previous and familiar state of shyness and antisocial behavior, and even now I'm still crawling out of my shell. On the advice of friends, I've started paying attention to things like body language when I go out to bars, and avoid folding my arms or leaning on the bar around a bottle with my back to everyone else. I've made efforts to engage girls in conversation, though sometimes that's a challenge. The other night I met a girl who neither owned nor watched a television; that limited my range of topics.

Physically, my greatest pain so far occurred after intestinal resectioning to correct a birth defect known as a Meckel's diverticulum. The dizzy spells, blood loss, and sharp pains in my side preceding my hospital stay were bad, but I think the pain I felt when I woke up with twenty staples holding my abdomen together was worse, not to mention the discomfort of the nasogastric tube that remained in place for a few days until I healed and was allowed to eat and drink again. I'm not quite a hypochondriac these days, but the experience did make me more sensitive to certain symptoms and more concerned if I felt lightheaded or had a stomach ache. It was at least a year before I stopped checking for blood.

In some ways I'm fortunate. For all their health problems, I still have both of my parents. I've seen friends go through that pain, and I know it's inevitably in my future. And if I ever do settle down and get married, I know there's a chance that years of joy will be capped with my wife's death. I probably should keep an eye on younger women to increase the odds that I'll die first, as selfish as that seems. Pain has a way of improving our lives, but my biggest surprise has been how little things change. I almost regret that my life went back to normal after a near-death experience, that it led me to be more cautious and not to go on vacations or take more chances with my social life.

3) What are three of the worst things you've ever done?
Do these questions count? Yikes. In no particular order:
a) Up the block from my house there once lived a mentally challenged girl named Gina. I remember one Summer playing at my friend’s house across the street from hers. She was older than us but acted younger, and was running around laughing and giggling with the smaller children. There was a metal pole on the ground that I picked up and started carrying over to a fence. I'm not sure if I was thinking of building something or pretending to joust or what I was playing at, only that when one of my friends called to me, I turned around with the pole balanced on my shoulder and heard a loud “CLONK!”. I saw Gina standing there looking stunned, and I didn't realize that she’d been following me and I'd hit her when I swung the pole around, until she put a hand to her head and ran to her house crying. After that, her parents didn't let her out of the house much.

b) Of the girls that caught my eye in college, there was one particularly quirky but cute girl that I thought I might have a shot with, despite terse conversations about how she didn't understand the “meaning” of the Metallica songs I'd put on during art classes. We had one sort-of “date” in which my friends set up a group visit to see the tree lighting in the city, and then all backed out so that it was only she and I. We got lost, never found the tree, and ended up walking and talking for a few hours before catching a train back to campus. I had barely enough money for the subway, so I didn't even buy her food. Undeterred, I tried two more times to ask her out near the end of my last semester of classes before I'd be leaving for an internship. The first time, I rushed out of a class as she was leaving and asked her in the hall if she'd like to see a movie “sometime”. She sort of gave me a maybe and excused herself quickly and easily, especially since I neither specified a movie or a time. My final attempt was the worst. I asked if she'd go to my friend's Christmas party with me and she scrunched up her face and shook her head like a small child refusing broccoli. After mustering the courage to just take one final definitive swing and a miss, I couldn't take it. “WHAT'SA MATTER?” said an angry voice that sounded like an evil Brooklyn version of myself, “DON'TCHA LIKE ME OR SOMETHING??” She looked a little afraid at that point, and I was pretty much finished. A few months later I had to visit the campus to check in and report on my internship. I saw her in a class, and as she was leaving she kissed a guy I was friends with. So not only did I yell at the girl for turning me down, but there's a very real possibility I was hitting on my friend's lady. Whoops. It wouldn't be the last time I'd inadvertently approach someone who was already in a relationship, but thus far it's been the last time I've yelled at a girl. A few years after that incident when my own girlfriend was breaking up with me, between the tears and literary quotes I was remarkably civilized, telling her that while I was sad she was leaving me I'd be grateful for the time she spent with me, opening my eyes to the possibility that sometimes, just sometimes, geeks find love in real life.

c) When I was a kid, I once turned the top hooks on a wall mirror in the dressing room of a department store. It held to the wall for a few minutes, and it was only after I'd left that the thing finally tipped forward and crashed to the floor. “What was that?!” asked my mom, turning in the direction of the shattering noise. An 8 or 9-year-old imp just shrugged innocently, and it was years before I told my parents the full story. I did a lot of things like that when I was a kid, and if I didn't limit this question to three items I'd be typing all night.

4) Are there any habits or rituals you engage in on a daily basis? How do they assist or harm your life?
I find chewing gum helps me when I get those anxiety spells while driving. I know which stretches of road will cause me to worry and induce the lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and or swollen temples, so I pop in a stick of gum in psychological anticipation. Most days I don't even think about it, and get to my destination before I realize my mind was elsewhere and I didn't need the gum. The habit reinforces the fact that the problem has a psychological trigger and reduces the need to think about it. And if I don’t think about it, it won’t happen and I’m fine.

One thing I almost always do when I reach a destination is think or say aloud, “Park, Brake, Off.” That little mantra helps me remember to shift the car into park, engage the parking brake, and turn off my headlights if they're on.

Before I start working each day, I check my personal e-mail as well as any blogs, online comics, or other sites, often before my work e-mail has even loaded. Sometimes throughout the day, I'll stop in the middle of designing an ad with the sudden A.D.D. urge to check my e-mail or read a synopsis and message board comments for a television show that I watched the night before. I still get my work done, but long gone are the days I'd work for four or more hours steady without distraction. It's a bad habit that spills over into the evening when playing one more game or checking one more blog adds up to a bedtime of 1 AM or later.

Another positive habit I've developed in the last few years is staying well hydrated throughout the day. I drink at least one 32 Oz. sports drink a day, refilling the bottle with water before I leave the office to go to the gym. I drink half of it throughout my workout, and finish the other half after dinner when I take a Multivitamin, a Vitamin C, and two B12s. So I consume 64 ounces of liquid a day or more, which is pretty good. This past Friday I had several bottles of apple juice and orange juice after donating blood, in addition to the tea I had with my lunch and my regular daily fluids. Then I went out drinking for a friend's birthday, pacing myself with Guinness and beer only to find myself sipping bourbon by the wee hours of the morning. If I drank as much alcohol as everything else I drink, I probably wouldn't be here right now. I definitely develop habits and get addicted to things, but thus far I haven't become an alcoholic like my uncle, which my parents always feared. One night a month or less is enough for that particular habit.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: What is the significance of 926535?
I can never remember more than the first four decimals to Pi. If I were able to retain the sequence to ten digits after the decimal point, 3.1415 would be followed by 926535. I guarantee I've forgotten that already. Maybe I do need easier questions in the future...



A Movie Thing Six.

I haven't done one of those Movie Keyword Meme things in a while, which is why I'm doing one today. It has nothing to do with going out drinking to celebrate a friend's birthday on a Friday night, and I certainly didn't write this a day in advance. Nope, I'm sitting here at the stroke of midnight typing, and not in a bar regretting drinking after donating blood. I also have a nice bridge that might interest you if you believe any of that, but first a refresher of the rules:

1) Go to IMDB.com and look up 10 films.
2) Post five (5) official IMDB "Plot Keywords" for these 10 picks.
3) Have your friends guess the movie titles.

I'm all out of prizes, so this one will be just for fun. As I've sometimes done in the past, there is a common link between these movies. See if you can guess what it is. Answers will be revealed in about two days.

1) White Male Pretending To Be Black; Vietnam; Child Uses Gun; Spoof; Controversial

2) Juvenile Delinquency; Queens New York; Coming Of Age; Based On Book; Flashback Sequence

3) Bath; Drug War; Paranoia; Undercover Work; Rotoscoping

4) Car In Lake; Gay Straight Alliance; Narration; Child Abuse; Magic Act

5) Dog Killed; Professor; Writing; Alcohol; Transvestite

6) Fight The System; Sequel To Remake; Cover Up; Escaped Convict; Falsely Convicted

7) Two Girlfriends; Plant Through Window; Lying; Real Time; Bisexual

8) Villain Played By Lead Actor; Cult Favorite; Blood On Camera Lens; Fugitive Sex; Killing Spree

9) Vaudeville; Nostalgic; Anti Semitism; Based On Multiple Works; Character Name In Title

10) Nonlinear Timeline; Ambush; Artificial Intelligence; Body Armor; Fighter Jet

I'm still working out the balance between too easy and too hard with my choice of keywords. For the most part, I think I skewed toward easy this time, but we shall see.



Divide and Multiply

I love the freedom of speech in America. This is a diverse country, in which anyone may express his or her views without retribution. There are of course consequences, in that no one will ever agree 100% of the time. Questions of faith, politics, and even sports teams can divide us. At a feast in New Jersey last weekend, our drummer shouted “LET'S GO METS!” when he spotted someone on the sidewalk wearing a shirt adorned with the logo of his favorite team. A moment later, spying a shirt he didn't like, he shouted even louder, “PHILLIES SUCK!!” He immediately remembered where he was as the band leader turned around and glared at him, and he apologized on the spot. “You might be right in that sentiment,” said a priest strolling alongside us in the procession, “But this isn't the place for that.”

For the most part, I respect that people like different things and might have different opinions than I do. I could care less about sports. I make no secret of the fact that I'm a Catholic or usually vote Republican, though in this medium I tend to focus more on pop culture, geek interests, and the minutia of my daily life. My blogroll consists of good writers with similar interests, and just as my friends in real life range from one extreme to another, so too do I have a mix of liberals and conservatives, faithful and atheists. Just last weekend in a diner myself and four friends discussed the current presidential candidates. Two of us were for McCain, while the other two leaned toward Obama. We differed on some issues and agreed on others, notably that these elections often come down to choosing the lesser of two evils. At this point in our history I can't imagine why anyone would want to be president. Forget wealth and historical fame; no matter what you're guaranteed to have nearly half the country dislike or loathe you.

A few days ago, Sean used the term “Anti Choice” to describe Sarah Palin's stance on abortion, and the term's been nagging at me. I'd never heard it before, and wondered if it would be logical to refer to the other side as “Anti-Life”, maybe get this guy as their spokesperson. Some research showed that the term has been used before. I found it interesting that in a point-by-point analysis of the two viewpoints, that site linked religion to the definition of “personhood”. Personally, I'm not so sure. It's a biological certainty that, once an egg is fertilized, its cells will continue to divide and multiply and, uninterrupted, grow into a human being. I believe as early as three months a sonogram will show recognizable features, and while we don't normally have memories of our time in the womb, there may be some measurable brain activity. Some studies have shown the influence of playing classical music for an infant before it's born, for example.

I was always divided on the issue as a kid, despite a cruel childhood nickname. I knew how I would want to proceed should I ever screw up, and I would be a man and take responsibility if I impregnated a girl. The aforementioned drummer has a son he doesn't acknowledge because the kid is inconvenient, and because he cursed at his grandmother the first time he stayed with them, after ten years of being neglected. That's someone I don't want to be. At the same time, while I knew what I believed was right and how I would conduct myself, I wasn't sure I wanted the government telling women what they could and couldn't do. And while I knew what I would want to do, I knew the decision wouldn't be mine alone. I also naturally assumed all women would be pro-choice and I would never get a girlfriend if I didn't support her freedom.

Around the seventh grade, we watched a particularly graphic abortion video in a biology class and my opinion definitely and finally shifted to one side of the fence after seeing a device I can only describe as a “blender” as well as several recognizable tiny limbs and other body parts. I can't imagine the choice is a remotely easy one to make, nor can I know what it must be like to carry a child for nine months and give birth. I only know secondhand the pain my parents went through with miscarriages before I was born, and remember visiting the unmarked grave in the cemetery where my older sisters were buried. Whether approaching life from science or faith, I think we can all agree it's pretty miraculously that the process defies odds and succeeds in bringing more of us into this world at all.

I don't know that the issue will ever be resolved until we can definitively measure and agree upon life. It's more than just a question of the government telling women what to do; it's a question of whether or not you're taking the life of a living human being, or extracting organic tissue that only resembles a human being. I find it difficult to view it as the latter. Why can't my friend's ex-girlfriend kill their son? Is it because he talks and has gone to school and bonded with other people and made friends? Would taking his life now really be so different from taking his life ten years ago? Ten years and three months? Ten years and six months? Does what we become define what we are? Would it be morally wrong if we were able to travel back in time and decided to kill Hitler as a boy? I honestly don’t have the right answers, only what I strongly believe to be the right answers.

The world is an increasingly dangerous place to be. We're fighting on several fronts, and lives are being lost daily to war. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Venezuela and more pose threats, and I shake my head in disbelief sometimes when I hear a network like CNN report a “story” on Sarah Palin's glasses. Again, I'm not sure why either candidate would want to take office at a time like this, but you have to commend them for trying anyway. I was glad to see both candidates come together for the 9-11 remembrance. Sometimes I worry if we're on the brink of another civil war. Political agendas notwithstanding, it was still a nice reminder that, Republican or Democrat, we're all Americans. It's too bad we can't have co-presidents in our system. If things as trivial as sports or music can set us at each other's throats, what happens when the larger issues boil to the surface? The best we can do is state our opinions calmly and rationally, and accept that at the end of the day we may have to agree to disagree, and enjoy the freedom we have to state our differences openly.