Shifty Priorities

Sometimes, I just don't understand the way my own mind works.

For about three years now, one of the Italian bands I play for has made a pilgrimage to a shrine in Pennsylvania to play in honor of Padre Pio. It wasn't a bad gig, especially since we were able to hitch a ride on tour buses taking visitors there from Long Island and Brooklyn. It was always a nice day, and on two occasions my mom even came along for the trip. Back in April of this year, the woman who usually hires us came to one of our feasts in Brooklyn, and told us she was looking forward to seeing us in September. However, as the year went on, the band leader and his son told us that the job had “fallen through”.

Part of me was disappointed, but I got over it quickly enough. I had plenty of gigs with them this year, along with four other bands. One day off wouldn't kill me financially, and might even be good for me emotionally. My father, meanwhile, was suspicious. Last year they lied to two of their regular trumpet players and used a band leader from a New Jersey group and some of his guys instead. I didn't understand why they would lie. If you're a leader, it's your decision who you use, for whatever reason. I don't think it's so hard to man up and say, “Hey sorry guys, I've got someone else on this one, but I'll hire you next time.” I'm not a leader, though. Still, lying seems worse and compounds getting passed over for someone else.

I guess I fall victim to my ego, sometimes. For all the times my dad has said things like, “You're the whole band! They can't do it without you carrying them!”, I've actually started to believe it, like I'm some kind of lower brass quarterback. The truth is, anyone is replaceable. About a week before the job was originally going to take place, the band leader's son and I were playing a gig for the Jersey band leader. At the end of a long day, the leader told the guy he'd see him the following Saturday. I asked him if he had something but he denied it. Perhaps I had misheard. In any event, I had already made plans since the weekend was free, and would be enjoying a mini-vacation in Atlantic City. I have almost no regrets about that, save for getting my credit card bill and realizing I didn't “break even” when I factored in travel expenses.

The following week, I had a job with the Brooklyn group in Queens. They had a big band of about 14 musicians, consisting of their regular members, as well as a few “ringers” from the Jersey group. When some ladies from the society in Pennsylvania showed up and commented, “Hey it's the same band from last week!”, I couldn't help but be suspicious. The band leader just looked really uncomfortable, his eyes darting back and forth and then to the ground. Later in the day, at one of our food stops at someone's house, the woman who runs the Pennsylvania job said hello to me and the two trumpet players. “This is a different band than we had last week,” she commented, fully aware of the situation. We all just smiled uncomfortably, not knowing how to respond. “I know, you guys are the New York crew!” This was true, although not the truth as to why we weren't included.

I was a little mad at my Brooklyn leaders for the rest of the afternoon. I really didn't care if they didn't use me for the job, especially since it freed me up to have some fun with my friends. I could even guess their reasons. Neither of them drive, and on one occasion when no tour bus was available, they rented a van and had our bass drummer drive us. But he's been out of commission with a torn tendon in his ankle, and they probably lost money on the rental that time anyway. The son expressed surprise when I told him the bill included gasoline, which wasn't in the estimate the woman gave him over the phone. The Jersey guys live a lot closer, so it was probably easier for him and his father to take a train in and hitch a ride with them. I understand why some of us were excluded; I just don't get why they lied about it. I don't get why they lied so stupidly, as though we weren't going to find out. And I don't get why they still didn't come clean after it was obvious that the ladies from Pennsylvania had spilled the beans.

On Sunday I played another parade with these guys, and drove them to it after meeting them at a train station. I thought it would be awkward, but none of us brought up the subject of Pennsylvania. Maybe they didn't know that I knew. Maybe I should have said something. But they had no problem asking for a ride; the son said to me the day before, “So when should we meet you tomorrow?” He didn't ask if they could get a ride, but when. And afterwards, they asked me if I could hold on to the bass drum until their next parade in two weeks. Over the years these people have become like family, apparently to the point that they expect me to be a good guy and help them out. Perhaps the bigger idiot isn't the one with the oblivious sense of entitlement, but the one who helps out in spite of knowing people are using him.

I guess I was raised to put others before myself, to believe that the more inconvenienced I am, the more value there is to doing a good deed. I also find that leisure time is more enjoyable when I feel like I've earned it. I enjoy a cold glass of water, but I enjoy it more after I've gone four or five hours working in the hot sun. It's a weird hedonism-only-after-masochism dynamic of extremes. In any event, I had two weeks before I had to see these people again, and I was looking forward to playing paintball with my buddies this weekend. I make plans; music leaders laugh. Sure enough, my cell phone buzzed while I was watching television on Tuesday night. It was the band leader's son. I ignored it. Seconds later, our land line rang. I told my dad to let it go on the machine because I knew who it was. He didn't leave a message though, instead calling my cell phone a second time. When there was an intermission, I checked to see that he had left a voicemail marked urgent. The Jersey leader had a gig on Saturday morning in the city, and needed me.

“You're crazy if you go with them!” grumped my dad from the kitchen, where he was listening to baseball on the radio. “You go play ball with your friends!” It's funny; at some point my parents stopped telling me I was lazy, that I needed to be a hard worker like they were. “You don't see your father and I taking breaks!” was one of my mom's sayings. For some reason, the minute I started following their example and instructions, I stopped listening and didn't notice that they'd changed their tune. Maybe kids just need to do the opposite of what parents tell them. Maybe parents just need to tell kids the opposite of what they're doing. Maybe all human beings are inexplicable creatures who deliberately choose the opposite of our instincts.

As I watched television, I wrestled with the decision before me. The responsible thing would be to do the job. I couldn't turn down work to go play; I'm an adult. On the other hand, I told my friends I probably could make it, and now four days before I was about to cancel on them. I was also not inclined to go play alongside two guys who had lied to me, along with a group of people with whom they had replaced me and other regular players. But it would be bad business to allow personal feelings to get in the way of earning money. In the end, the math wasn't adding up the way I wanted it to, and I'm a slave to mathematics. If I played paintball, I'd not only be losing the money from the gig, but spending more money. If I played the job, I'd not only make a few extra bucks, but I'd save the expense of paintball. I was leaning toward the gig, and not liking it. I planned to sleep on it and call the guy back in the morning with my answer; it was late anyway.

Around 9 PM, our house phone rang again. Once more, he hung up when the answering machine came on, and once more he called my cell phone. My show was over, and this time I answered. Like an outside observer, I listened to myself tersely respond and ask for details. What time? Where were we meeting? Could I do it? Yeah, I could do it. Within about a minute, my weekend plans had changed.

I felt weird, almost depressed, with that sort of lump in my throat one gets on the verge of crying. My mom, overhearing what I'd just done, actually said it was “sad” that I'd “thrown away my recreation”. Who were these people, and where were they when I was growing up? I e-mailed my friend the bad news, feeling rotten, and he didn't take it well, which made me feel worse. Logically, it seems like the right decision. Work and responsibility are the priorities of an adult, right? It's immature to want to go out and have fun, at least at the expense of accomplishing work, right? It's really nagging at me, though there's no going back now. I had my chance to tell the band that I already had plans for the weekend, and I didn't. It's not like this would be my last opportunity to play paintball, and I'm not upset about missing it so much as having to ditch my buddies at the last minute. And it's made worse by the fact that I was mad at the band people for lying to me a few weeks ago.

Sometimes, I just don't understand the way my own mind works. There's a split between doing what I want to do, and doing what other people need me to do. Everything from my faith to my family has taught me that it's wrong to be selfish, to put myself before others. My dad, at 80, still pushes himself, still climbs ladders and works on cars, and finds frustration in the limitations imposed on him by his heart condition. If he's not working, he doesn't see the point in being alive. My mom is constantly working on her garden, or making crafts, and is spending the week getting ready to volunteer at a craft fair, in between cooking dinner and taking care of an ailing senior cat. They don't socialize all that much, save for the occasional phone conversation with their friends. But sometimes, they don't seem too happy, and I wonder if the shift in their advice to me, the sudden repetition of “We want you to go out!” over other catchphrases is the realization that they might not want me to follow their path entirely.

I've always struggled with balance in all things, as much as I recognize balance as the most important thing of all. A little playing isn't a bad thing once in a while; it's not like I party and then call in sick to my day job. I get my work done. I got so much work done this year, that I find myself with 8 unused vacation days three months before the year is over. Can it be? Can it be the lazy kid who would rather watch cartoons than hand his dad wrenches has become so responsible, that all forms of work are a priority? I think I sometimes create work for myself in order to avoid fun, and I don't understand that. It's like the more I go to one extreme, the harder it is to fight the flow and get back to the middle.

Something needs to change, and I need to start pushing back against the current. I messed up this time, at my own expense. I don't want to do this again. I don't know that I won't....



PBW: Fountains of Win

My Saturday in Atlantic City didn't end when the sun went down. After a nap, I left my camera in my room, and began a series of adventures which didn't end until 6:30 AM, an official new record for the latest I ever stayed out. Yet somehow I had enough energy on Sunday morning to play(and win) a few more games of roulette, and get a few pictures in a nearby pier/mall before reluctantly making my way to the train station, and my journey back to New York, and reality. This is the conclusion of my AC Photo Blog Wednesday:

Yeah, that bit of train graffiti confirmed that I was back in New York.




The Monday of all Mondays

Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like every Monday has been dreary and rainy lately. Granted, since I took a vacation day last Monday, and the weather was actually nice enough for me to do yardwork, I can't complain about last week. Tuesday may or may not have been a rainy “Monday”. The week prior, Monday did fit this bleak description. And this week, the cold drizzle returned with a vengeance.

I’m one of those people who find days without meetings to be the most productive. I'm one of those people who, when faced with a clean slate, will inevitably face a barrage of interruptions. I used to think I was unique in such improbability, but as time goes on, I realize I'm no different than the rest of you. We all have bad luck and bad days, some more than others. We all have our challenges; it's how we face them that sets us apart.

Other than crummy weather and a few interruptions, my Monday wasn't all that bad. I didn't get done as much as I wanted to, but then I never do. Part of it is setting my goals too high, and part of it is reality. And for some reason, my most productive hour is often between 5 and 6 PM. I accomplished quite a bit in that key hour on Monday afternoon, but I did notice some images in the file I was working on were not displaying properly. It looked like some kind of memory issue, and the fastest solution in those matters is to save, quit, and relaunch the application. That's exactly what I did, and that's exactly when my Monday became a MONDAY.

“Your file cannot be opened with this version of _________” was the message I got when I tried to reopen the file. I wasn't panicking yet. I opened a few other files to make sure it wasn't the application, then I opened an older version of the file from my manual backup folder. I've been burned by this particular Program-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named before, so I make a point of saving copies of my work at various points of progress. My older version was fine, but of course didn't reflect the work I'd done in the past hour. And I'd done a lot.

I looked online for solutions. I tried renaming the file, and changing its extension. I even found an auto-backup on my harddrive that the program creates. For some reason, this file was 250X bigger than the original, and gave a new and (in hindsight) hilarious error message every time I tried to open it. “You cannot anchor that item to text box.” “Thank you your trial version has expired.” Not one message made any sense, and finally I gave up, went to the gym, and ran four miles.

The weather was still crummy when I drove home, and Chuck was definitely the high point of my day. Technology burned me again when I checked my digital converter box and discovered it was off. Apparently, we'd had a brief power outage during the day. It wasn't enough to mess up my VCR, which was still recording, but with the box off, all I got was static instead of How I Met Your Mother. And then the reception on my box began to act up during The Event, during crucial scenes. I think The President's advisors told him a group of people were aliens, but I'm not sure. The scene was like, “These people are R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R...” and suddenly it was like I was watching Max Headroom. Thank God TV shows are also available online nowadays. As much as technology was the bane of my existence on Monday, it also helped me.

Tuesday is another day. Remembering what I'd designed, it won't take an hour to get back to where I'd left off. It's just annoying to have to do the same work twice. But these things are bound to happen. Whether I'm doing work or watching television, a storm, surge, or random glitch can make for a bumpy road. The question is, am I a slave to the technology, or a slave to fate? The one thing I learned from the casinos is that the longer you do anything, the more likely you are to lose. Maybe I should have left work at 5 PM. No matter what, I'd be doing the same thing Tuesday morning, but it wouldn't be a second time. Or maybe it simply would have happened then, setting me back to Tuesday afternoon. You can't predict fate. You just have to learn from experience, and make an educated guess as to when it's the best time to jump. Then jump, pull the cord, and pray to God that the parachute isn't a knapsack.



Phantasmic Links 9.27.10

After Atlantic City, I was pretty sure this weekend would suck by comparison. The trip to the dentist I was dreading on Saturday morning turned out great when I found out that I not only didn't have any cavities, but what I thought was a cracked tooth was merely an excess piece of a filling from my visit six months ago. “You had an extra piece,” explained my awesome dentist, “I have already removed it; I just need to polish it.” When I got home to check, it looked like a perfectly intact tooth; no crack, no white spot, no indication that there's even a filling there. On Saturday afternoon I played a decent gig, although the band leader's son apparently got into some kind of argument with the society president, so we might not be back next year. At this point I could care less. I found out there was a job last weekend that they didn't use their regular guys for, when the ladies from the out-of-state society were at Saturday's job and flat out commented, “Hey this is a different crew than last week!” I don't mind not going to every job; it does bother me that those guys feel the need to lie about it. I didn't mind having a weekend off to do something fun, and I want these bands to have back-up musicians so it's not such a big deal when I have another gig or a personal affair to attend instead of one of theirs. On Sunday, we played the world's longest short parade. It was only six blocks, but we didn't start for about an hour, and it took another hour to get to the end with everyone stopping to perform or make speeches at the reviewing stand. Financially, this was a better weekend than last weekend, and though it wasn't as much fun, it wasn't as bad as I feared. In other words, I can't complain. What I can do is relax, and surf through some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) I know it's a (very well done) fan-made trailer, but I would watch the hell out of Pokémon Apokélypse if it were a real movie.

(2) Thinking about doing your own plumbing work? Here are 15 disastrous DIY plumbing attempts that might make you reconsider.

(3) Charlie Brown + Hellboy = HELLBROWN. Awesome.

(4) Listen to the Super Mario Bros. dungeon theme as it was meant to be played....death metal style.
Hat Tip: B13.

(5) This interactive map of Middle Earth is a true testament to the worldbuilding of Tolkien.
H.T.: J-No.

(6) Chris Sims, the internet's foremost Batmanologist, picks his favorite title cards from the animated series. Those things really were works of art in themselves; you can check out a gallery of them here.

(7) After The Avengers, could these be the next Marvel properties to make it to the big screen?

(8) Apparently, there's some kind of major spelling error in this school billboard. Me, I look at that, shrug, and think strippers need to go to school somewhere....
H.T.: J-No.

(9) And this week's “holy crap I'm getting old” moment comes in the form of the news that Teri Hatcher is going to play Lois Lane's mom in the final season of Smallville.

(10) Speaking of final, I wonder if Robot Wants Ice Cream is truly the last game in that series. They've been so much fun.

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!




WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 62

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 62nd WWW:

1) Youth in Revolt:
While at first glance, this seems to be Michael Cera doing his usual routine, an awkward intelligent guy trying to impress his dream girl, there are a few things which set it apart from his usual fare. When Cera's Nick Twisp goes on a camping trip with his mother(Jean Smart) and her dirtbag boyfriend(Zach Galifianakis), he meets and falls for a girl named Sheemi(Portia Doubleday). Sheemi has a love of all things French and speaks with the same pretend pretentious air about things well before her generation as Nick does. The two seem to have that in common, escaping their trailer park lives by elevating themselves. Sheemi is already dating Trent, the most popular guy at her school who writes her some truly terrible poetry, and when Nick's trip comes to an end, he realizes he needs to step up his game. The kids work out a plan in which Sheemi helps Nick's dad(Steve Buscemi in a great but all-too brief role) get a job near where she lives. But convincing his mom to let him move in with his dad will require the docile teen to dig deep and find his bad side. This is where the movie had the potential to separate itself from other Cera films. He creates an alternate imaginary persona named “Francois Dillinger”. The 20-something actor ditches his slight falsetto, and adds a mustache, cigarette, and blue contact lenses. This aspect was what appealed to me in the trailers, and I wish the film spent more time with Francois, a far more interesting character. Obviously no one else sees him, but they do some clever things with split screen or simply having the “evil” twin interact when Nick is acting out. Overall, there's an independent film vibe to the piece, and its definitely a coming-of-age story. Sheemi's Christian parents catch wind of some of the things Nick-as-Francois has done, and end up sending her away to school. This leads to some standard teen sex comedy hijinks with Fred Willard as an eventual accomplice. Justin Long also has a great part as Sheemi's drug-addled older brother. He's definitely an actor who sinks his teeth into cameos extremely different from the starring roles he usually takes. In addition to some of the split screen stuff, there are a few interesting animated interludes. I've since read that this movie was based on a series of books about the Twisp character, and in light of that it comes in at a remarkably short running time of about an hour-and-a-half. With the exception of Year One(which was just awful), this is probably my least favorite Cera movie, even though I did like it(just not as wholeheartedly as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Superbad, or Nick and Norah's infinite Playlist). They definitely could have had more fun with the alter-ego persona, but it does end on a great note, particularly the last line of the film which was excellent.

2) Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril:
Four movies in to the manga-based series, and ronin Ogami Itto is still wandering with his son Daigoro. Some key things happen in this one beyond his pursuit of a topless tattooed female warrior. He's finally separated from the kid for a while, and we get to see what Daigoro is turning into. Another warrior notes the lack of fear in the eyes of the child, even when he finds himself trapped in a burning field. He has seen death; he has walked the path of the warrior. Ogami's son is well on his way to following in his father's footsteps. Meanwhile, we finally learn the reason why Ogami was framed and disgraced by his enemies, and his usual one man vs. an army sequence ends with a confrontation with his greatest enemy Retsudo. Before he gets there, he resolves the situation with the tattooed lady as well as her father, and we get more insight into the notion of dying with honor in this culture. And after his big confrontation, we end on the most uncertain note of all in the series. More than ever, we see that Ogami is human, not the demon he has always proclaimed himself to be. He acknowledges that he and his son walk on the crossroads to hell, and when ninjas continue to crawl over and bite him even after losing their limbs, one can understand his sentiment. He bleeds, but he's not dead yet, for when he dies, the boy will die. Their fates are linked, so he keeps going through sheer force of will. The fights are bloodier, the music is seventies-ier, and the stakes are higher than ever. I like the continuity between the movies, as Ogami still bears a scar down his back from a fight in the previous film against an honorable foe, so it’s a safe bet that the unfinished business with Retsudo and a few other foes will come back to haunt him in the final two installments.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!




Poll of Randomosity Seventeen

Hey! It's the Nexus feature everybody(or nobody) wanted to see one more time! Remember the old Poll of Randomosity? Here's my SEVENTEENTH set of TEN random questions for us to answer together:

1) Did you catch the final season premiere of Smallville, and if so, what did you think?

2) And if you caught the sixth season premiere of Supernatural, what did you think of that?

3) How do you feel about going to the dentist?

4) When do you stop working?

5) Do you ever get head rushes?

6) What will be the first new show of the Fall television season to be canceled?

7) Would you rather be invulnerable but blind, or be completely paralyzed with all your other senses intact?

8) Do you believe in randomosity?

9) Have you ever suffered from ”Senioritis”?

10) What's the deal with the numbers?

For me, the answers are:

1) I thought it was awesome, but the premieres and finales of this show have historically been great, even in the weaker seasons. I won't spoil anything, but it was great to see one original cast member make an appearance, and disappointing to see a sub-par stand-in for another original. I hope that particular actor makes a return in the finale. I do like how the gloves are completely off with referencing other characters from the comics, especially the little CGI tease of this season's true “big bad”. They managed in one episode to reference things all the way from the first season, while demonstrating how far they've come, and how far they potentially can go in the next 20 episodes or so. I just hope they don't mess it up.

2) I was worried about it, because it was planned to be a five season show and ended so perfectly last year. After battling the devil himself for two seasons, I wasn't sure how they could go back to a monster-of-the-week formula. The premiere was average, and was fine as a standalone episode. When compared to what they had been doing, it fell a little short, but it's not as bad as it could have been. This probably should be the last season though. It's important to end on a high note.

3) Normally, I look forward to the experience. I've only had four cavities, and that's four more than I would have liked, even though I made it well into my 20s before the first one. On my last visit I needed two fillings, and in the months since I've noticed what looks like a crack in one of my front teeth. I'm hoping that's just the seam of one of the fillings, since one side of the tooth looks whiter than the other. In any case, I have an appointment this weekend which had been delayed a few weeks, so while I'm nervous I'm also relieved that I'll finally find out what it is, and what needs to be done to correct it. I have a great dentist, so I'm sure he can help me.

4) Officially, I should be done by 5 PM. Most nights I leave the office around 6:30, although some of my time after work is spent gabbing with friends about movies or photography. Mentally, my brain never stops and sometimes a solution to a problem I had during the day will pop in to my brain at night. In the middle of writing this post I had to stop to e-mail myself at work, since I'll never remember by Monday morning the solution I'd thought up. I don't get paid to think when I'm not at the office, but my brain seems to do it anyway.

5) Once in a while when I stand up too quickly, the room may spin. It hasn't happened in a while, but I had a pretty bad one on Thursday. I got back to my desk after walking to the printer and felt very dizzy. My heart also raced as I considered the sensation that I might be passing out, but that was likely anxiety creeping in. The technical term for the experience is Orthostatic hypotension, and considering I'd had a LOT of sugar and caffeine that day and had been seated for a while before getting up, I don't think I should be too concerned.

6) From what I've seen so far, I'm going to guess Running Wilde. I like the actors but they've done better, and the network they're on has also canceled better shows. Of course, they've also kept worse ones, so we shall see.

7) That's a horrible choice, but as much of a visual person as I am, I wouldn't want to lose the freedom of motion, and not being able to be hurt would make the blindness easier to deal with.

8) I believe in the appearance of randomosity, but that there is always a pattern bigger than what we can see. That which appears random is always part of a larger tapestry.

9) I never did during my school years, no. When I was younger, I could keep the same level of quality work right until the end.

10) I think they had something to do with Jacob's list, although that still didn't make it clear why the same six were a serial number, or wreaked such havoc on luck when played in a lottery....I'm honestly fuzzy on the whole thing. Those numbers, right?

And you, my loyal readers? Where do you stand on these inquiries?




The Best.

The best comedy on NBC is Community.

The best old lady is Betty White. (sorry, Ma!)

The best ice cream flavor is Cookies ‘n Cream.

The best pizza comes from New York.

The best day of the week is Friday.

The best incarnation of The Beast is ape-like.

The best James Bond is Sean Connery.

The best time to go back to sleep is on a Saturday morning, after waking up from a dream that it was a weekday and you had to go to work.

The best returning drama on broadcast television is Fringe.

The best new drama is Boardwalk Empire.

The best number is 333.

The best live-action Lex Luthor is Michael Rosenbaum.

The best animated Lex Luthor is Clancy Brown.

The best timeless rock band is The Beatles.

The best grunge band is Pearl Jam.

The best things in life are free.

The best time to quit is while you're ahead.



The Essential MCF: 2K9-2K10: Part 7

Cloakfest 2K10 lives on! July 2010 is done, which means we're up to August already! I can't believe it's going so fast.

August, 2010

Running Out of Time.
Every year I participate in a 5K run against other Long Island professionals, and every year I get a bit faster. I wonder before this year's race if I'll be fast enough, when there's no more time left to prepare...

Oh, I was fast enough. Surprisingly, so...

My Marvel Weapon Five
I know they're not real, but they're pretty damn cool anyway.

PBW: Cuz He's 50.
I can't possibly have a 50-year-old cousin yet, can I? Because that would make me....nahhh. I'm still a kid.

Sensitivity Zero
I usually keep things light and avoid tackling sensitive subjects, but after wrestling with one hot topic for a few weeks I need to work out my thoughts. Having the right to do something should not supersede taking how others will feel about doing that thing into consideration.

* * *

And that's what I wrote about in August 2010 in my sixth year of doing this.

The Essential MCF 2K9-2K10 will continue....


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PBW: Boardwalk Quagmire

Picture it: Atlantic City, 2010. A blogger and his friends find themselves with an interesting conundrum. Even after a night that ended around 5:30 AM, they have hours of sunlight on a Saturday afternoon to kill before they even think about gambling or drinking. Fortunately, the blogger brings his camera, and it’s a beautiful day to walk along the beach, not the dreary, rainy experience from his first visit. And so begins a Photo Blog Wednesday that does more justice to Atlantic City. Below you’ll see what I saw on Saturday, from our room to the beach and more, and next week I’ll share what I saw the next day before reluctantly journeying back to real life.




Always Bet on Odd.

The first time I visited Atlantic City, I did what any self-respecting idiot would do: I fed $60 bucks into a slot machine and lost it all within minutes. I then went from machine to machine trying to win it back, printing out vouchers, popping in twenties, and generally acting like I wasn't playing with real money. Mind you, this all happened before I'd had my first drink.

This was not a good time. In fact, I began to feel anger and remorse at letting my buddy talk me into going to the worst arcade ever. Then I settled in at a roulette table. A waitress brought over some drinks, on the house. The game was more interesting than the slot machines, and sometimes I actually won. In the end, I still walked away from the table with less than I started with, but then you don't win money playing video games either. You pay to be entertained, and I felt like I was doing that. The slots were just these super-efficient money donation machines in which you pushed the same button over and over and never had any control of the odds.

I did a little better on my last trip. Oh, there was one slot machine that ate 20 bucks as a reminder of my first experience, but I was a little wiser overall. I stuck with roulette, and found three ways to play. One was the traditional kind with a dealer at a table and real chips. Another was completely virtual, played on a giant touch screen. A third was a hybrid, in which players sat around with individual touch screens, but an actual dealer and wheel stood in the middle of us. At the classic version I lost 20 bucks, then bought another $20 worth of chips, and played until I had $62, at which point I quit. I found I had better luck sticking with things like “odd” or “black”, where I had roughly a 50-50 shot at winning. Picking specific numbers for the ball in the wheel to land on paid more, but the odds were tougher. Like all things financial, more risk gets more reward.

We stayed for two days, this time. I caught a train with one friend after work on Friday and didn't get there until 11 PM. It was a fun ride that included a conversation with a cute girl who needed to charge her phone near our seats. She was only a college student, heading home for a wedding, but despite being young, pleasant conversation helped us all pass the time. Two of my friends had driven up already. After one guy finished a poker tournament, we took a break to enjoy some 20-year-old bourbon then headed back out to the floors, where our adventures included my aforementioned roulette win. By 5 AM, it had been a long night, but didn't include as many of the mistakes I'd made my first time. I think stopping for breakfast at the hotel diner where a very annoyed waiter took 45 minutes to bring me horrible pancakes may have been the worst thing I did.

Saturday was where things got dangerous. I didn't sleep well since I never do when I'm away from my own bed. I got 3, maybe 4 solid hours of sleep. We didn't want to start drinking or gambling too early, and wandering the boardwalk taking photos killed only so much time. I did discover the roulette video game which allowed bets as small as a dollar on which I actually doubled my money after playing for a bit. I also made the mistake of getting some pizza, after ironically chastising my friends the night before about getting pizza outside of New York. I should have taken my own advice. Back at the hotel room, watching Terminator 2 killed some time, especially as I dozed through some of the loudest bits. I awoke to one friend heading out to test his luck again. When he returned, he was up $150.00. Another friend came in and took a nap in his room, while the guy who was winning went back out. Later he returned to say he'd lost it all. We all got dinner at The Rainforest Café, possibly the loudest theme restaurant ever. Even the screeching animatronic animals did nothing to dispel the bad dance music playing in various bars. Some were better than others, but by the 900th time I heard this one, they could have turned off all the speakers and the music would still be bouncing in my head. “They play whatever crap keeps the girls moving,” explained one of my friends. When he put it that way, I suppose it made sense. In one bar, I heard a crash, only to see two feet sticking out under the curtain surrounding it. Friends of that overserved young lady rushed over to help her back to her feet. Thankfully, the floor broke her fall.

My best win was at the hybrid roulette, where I turned 20 dollars into 50, and promptly cashed out. I began to think I had a “system”, and figured that if I placed two equal bets that covered 2/3 of the board, I had a 66% chance of doubling my money since a winning bet in those sections paid 3 to 1. Obviously, luck is still a factor, and no one should be deluded into thinking a system exists. I was pretty lucky, and kept doubling my money, but I also played with caution, and a few times came close to losing everything. The key was walking away when I was up. With any game in any casino, the longer you play, the greater chance you'll lose. Know when to walk away. Know when to RUN.

Surprisingly, I outlasted everyone else on Saturday. One guy drove home during the day to get back to his wife and kid. Another, who didn't take a nap in the afternoon, went up to our rooms early. A third finally called it a night at 5 AM, probably the first time he's ever left a party before I did. I probably should have done the same instead of staying out for another hour, but I did meet a charming young prostitute when I was walking back to the hotel. “You dropped something,” called out a stumbling chocolate fantasy, as I fumbled in my pockets and doubled back to the sidewalk scrutinizing the ground. “What did I drop?” I asked naively. “Me,” she purred, sidling up to me. I had to give her credit for creativity, but still politely declined. Atlantic City is strange like that, with all these wealthy casinos bordering some really run-down and economically-struggling blocks. The girl on the train had told us how her brother, a firefighter, was beaten unconscious by a gang and lay bleeding in an alley before police found him. I guess I was gambling wandering the streets by myself at night, and was lucky a hooker was the worst thing I ran into.

When I got home, I found that I pretty much broke even as far as betting went. I had less money than I started with, but it all went to dinner, drinks, and travel expenses. I won back anything I bet, and had as much fun if not more than my first excursion. I stayed one night last December and came home $600 poorer. This time I stayed from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and the whole weekend cost about $200. That's not bad for a vacation, and worth the escape from real life. I took off on Monday, but did plenty of work. I trimmed the hedges, mowed the lawn, and picked up rotten pears at my dad's lot, where I also repainted the address number on the front of his garage. I mowed the lawn at our house, and climbed up on the roof to clean leaves out of all the gutters. I washed two loads of laundry. And yet, I feel strangely energized. Hopefully that energy carries over when I'm back in the office. The hardest part about coming back from a vacation is that sudden desire to take another vacation. I haven't seen the last of Atlantic City, and I'm glad I got to experience it in warmer, sunnier weather than my December trip in 2009. Everywhere I went on this trip, I either saw signs or spoke with locals about Boardwalk Empire. That show will serve to sate my longing for my happy place, until my next exciting adventure. Of course, my kind of adventure has less gunfire and more eating good food, playing games, enjoying sights, and generally not having to worry about getting home by any specific time. It's not real life, but that's the point.



Phantasmic Links 9.20.10

I'm baaaaack! AC was more awesome than ever, and for once I actually broke even. Roulette is proving to be a good game for someone with my math skills and probability instincts. Of course, that's only what they want me to think, and the biggest lesson I learned this past weekend was learning when to walk away. I'm exhausted but content. I'll have some photos later in the week, and maybe some stories. Before I pass out from a weekend in which I slept a total of five hours in two days, let me collect this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) According to Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye probably won't be wearing his purple costume from the comics in the Avengers movie. I like the character, but I have to agree that the costume probably wouldn't translate all that well in reality.

(2) Check out the web of a new species of spider in Madagascar, currently the world's largest web. I bet that thing could catch thieves, just like flies....

(3) Hey, remember how Joaquin Phoenix supposedly was reinventing himself as a fat, bearded rapper? Now we know what that was about.

(4) The people are pixelated. The background is not. A digital artist presents an interesting juxtaposition that challenges our perspective.

(5) If you have a problem that needs a unique solution, this gallery offers ways you can fix that.

(6) Speaking of unique solutions, the facade of this museum dilates in accordance with the level of daylight outside.

(7) Is anyone really surprised that the originator of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” has had to go into hiding?

(8) Batman technology will support the U.S. special forces. It makes sense to me. Terrorists are a cowardly and superstitious lot....

(9) I'm VERY excited by this Voltron concept art. Let's hope the actual movie can do justice to that art(and the original source material).

(10) Seriously, do not start playing Epic Battle Fantasy 3 if you have any kind of responsibilities or a life. You may disappear for hours at a time in this progressively awesome RPG with surprising layers....

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!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 61

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 61st WWW:

1) Legion:
I'm tempted to simply write, “This movie made no ****ing sense.” and move on to my next review. If you've seen the trailer for this mash-up of The Bible and Terminator 2, you've pretty much seen the best parts. At a small diner/gas station in the middle of the desert, a motley crew of actors who normally can act gather to play the survivors of an apocalypse. A pregnant waitress is apparently carrying the (new?) messiah, and God has sent an angel to make sure it isn't born, because he's “tired of all the bull***” or some nonsense like that. But Michael, played by Paul Bettany, rebels, and for some reason not fully explained cuts off his wings and loads up on an arsenal of heavy firearms. Sure, it looks cool, but when we see what a full angel can do later in the film, you have to wonder why he downgraded to fighting the way humans fight. More importantly, you have to wonder why it works. Hordes of possessed people converge on the diner as the plot devolves into your typical horror movie cliché of characters being picked off one by one, in increasingly gory ways. The big twist here is that the possessed people attacking them are being controlled not by demons, but by angels. I would have guessed otherwise from their shark teeth and blackened eyes. There's the creepy and profane old lady from the trailer who skitters up the ceiling, the limb stretching ice cream man(who does absolutely nothing beyond roar, stretch and skitter as shown in the trailer), and a little boy with a knife. Seriously, are we sure these aren't demons? Where are the demons? Why did a television show like Supernatural handle this subject matter twenty times better than a big-budget movie? Why was Lucas Black(the over-accented lead from Tokyo Drift) actually putting on a better performance than veteran actors like Dennis Quaid, and were we expected to take him seriously when his name was “Jeep”? I seriously don't know how Bettany kept such a straight face when telling Jeep his devotion to his father and love for the pregnant waitress was the reason Michael disobeyed God's orders. As Gabriel, Kevin Durand made a great Thanagarian, blocking bullets with metal wings, slicing people, and smashing things with his mace. If this were a real apocalypse, we might have seen more than one of these warriors. Can you really toss a baby around like a football without hurting it? And why would December 23rd mean anything at all to the soldiers of heaven, if the calendar is a manmade creation with holidays assigned to arbitrary dates? I could go on, but I've already wasted too many words on this nonsense. Since they chose to end the story with the same voiceover dialogue they started it with, I'll do something similar with my review: This movie made no ****ing sense.

2) Daybreakers:
It's not often that someone comes up with a novel concept for vampires, especially with the current oversaturation of the genre in our culture. The ‘70s gave us Blade, the daywalker, a vampire created when his mother was bitten while he was in the womb, giving him their abilities without their weakness to sunlight. It wasn't until the late ‘90s that a film series would give him mainstream attention and popularity. For the most part, vampires were either these romanticized old world immortals, or overly theatrical monsters. With Buffy, they were brought in to the modern age, given personalities and contemporary concerns, even if we did get a few period pieces in flashbacks to their early days. I admit I am not the target audience for the Twilight series, and have no interest in angsty teen romance and vampires who sparkle in the sunlight. 30 Days of Night made vampires scary again, and had a unique spin on horror isolation, trapping humans up North in Alaska while being hunted by a predatory pack of bloodsuckers. And then there's True Blood, part Buffy and Twilight for adults, but with richer characters and themes, making vampires “outed” beings trying to fit in to our society like any other oppressed minority. On the one hand there are definite metaphors for the struggles of various groups, but on the other many vampires have shown that humans are right to fear them. Some choose to drink a blood substitute, while others still feast on the real thing. This brings us to Daybreakers, which presents a world in which the vampires have not only assimilated in to society, but they have become society. These are civilized beings in suits and ties, going to work on the subway every day. They drive cars whose windows black out during the day, while a camera shows what's outside. They use camera's and monitors in lieu of mirrors since they cast no reflection but can be captured digitally. Sure, they take blood with their coffee, but on the surface they're not all that different than you or I. But that's the surface. Humans have become the minority, and as a food supply, they're becoming scarce. Without human blood, these civilized vampires are breaking down into their core animal nature. Below the streets they are winged bat creatures with no hair and pointy ears. They feast on each other, and are mad. It's a great concept and unique, and my only real complaint is that I wish they'd done more with it. Ethan Hawke is a hematologist working on a blood substitute(a la True Blood), and for some reason he's sympathetic to humans. He claims it was because his brother turned him against his will, but other than one speech this isn't fleshed out much further. Sam Neill is his boss, a greedy pharmaceutical tycoon who recognizes the demand the population will have for a good substitute. And Willem Dafoe, giving the best performance of the film, is part of the human resistance, and possibly the key to a true cure. I really liked the world the movie created, and wished they'd done a little more with it. Some characters have woefully short arcs. One goes from human to vampire to primal mad vampire to ashes in the span of ten minutes. Hawke's character, as I mentioned, could have had a few more details in his backstory, and he does stumble on a rather radical solution a bit too quickly. Still it was worth the rental, and scores big points on world building and concept alone. There are worse complaints I could have about a movie beyond that it left me wanting more.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



The Essential MCF: 2K9-2K10: Part 6

Cloakfest 2K10 lives on! With May and June 2010 reviewed, July is our next logical stop:

July, 2010

Triple elbuorT
Three problems visited in the end of June attain various degrees of closure, or lack thereof, at the beginning of July.

Keeping My Cool
This Summer was HOT, but I endure the heat for parades, a barbecue, and yard work. My dad feels the heat too and is disappointed in his limitations, while I'm impressed that an 80-year-old who had heart surgery can do as much as he does.

PBW: MCF Takes Manhattan 2
It's part 2 of 3 as I take advantage of a business trip to take pictures in the greatest city I know.

The Rise and Fall of M. Night
Once upon a time there was a promising director named M. Night Shyamalan whose film career path can be described as, “Great-Awesome-Good-Wait What?-Decent-WTF was that?!-OMGYouRuinedAvatarYouB@st@rd!” I elaborate on that a bit more in the actual post, of course.

The Old Man Keeps Going.
My dad might not be what he once was physically, but his spirit is an inspiration.

PBW: MCF Takes Manhattan 3
I button up my collection of New York photos in the conclusion of a three-part series.

Fix or Repair Daily Redux
I wish my troubleshooting skills included my dad's knowledge of automobiles, especially when my inability to get a friend's car started reminds me that I should have paid more attention as a kid handing the old man wrenches.

Loop De Loop
Without variety, I find myself going in circles, and parts of my life begin to blur as I forget certain details and repeat myself and repeat myself.

Crank Wanker
Over the years, one of my band leaders and his son have become like family to me. And, like family, they rely on me, especially since neither father nor son drive. This proves challenging when transporting a bass drum or just commuting to a job, and causes them to depend more than others. The bus depot proves not as patient as myself...

Signs and Causes of Stress
These include but are not limited to bizarre dreams, researching the disease of a dying aunt, eating lunch at my desk, dealing with a major printer jam, and discovering 8 D batteries have leaked inside a boombox I inherited from an old friend.

PBW: The Six Faces of Dorkness
I pity the fool who doesn't recognize my six digital alter-egos. I do, I do! (I don't.)

Tact vs. Age
Some people reach an age where they don't care what they say anymore, while others never cared to begin with. My dad more or less falls in to that first category while his oldest sister falls in to the latter, especially when matter-of-factly stating that if their sister did not pass away during her trip up from Florida, she would not plan on coming back to New York for the funeral.

Order of Operations
A rough week starts with my aunt losing her battle with cancer, my dad grumbling about the way his nephew worded the obituary, and me figuring out how I'm going to get everything done at work when a funeral clearly takes priority over a busy season. It's all about my autopilot.

PBW: Aunt Josie
It's a photo farewell to a favorite Aunt.

Always Darling
I said goodbye to my Aunt Josie with pictures, and then I said it with words. It still doesn't seem real, but my family made it through that tough week, and beyond.

Always Darling
I said goodbye to my Aunt Josie with pictures, and then I said it with words. It still doesn't seem real, but my family made it through that tough week, and beyond. Hopefully, we’ll see her again in the next life...

* * *

And that's what I wrote about in July 2010 in my sixth year of doing this.

The Essential MCF 2K9-2K10 will continue....

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These are busy times for a certain mysterious cloaked blogger. Work. Band. Ailing pet. Property dispute. But I take one day at a time, and I take it all in stride. For the most part, I'm not dealing with anything I haven't dealt with before, and that makes it much easier to shut off my brain and go in to autopilot mode. It's a lot like hitting a fast forward button on a remote.

I guess I leaned on that button a lot this Summer. As I huddle under blankets at night, I wonder if it was really so long ago I was complaining about the triple-digit weather. I haven't turned my fan on in weeks. On Thursday morning, I finally closed my bedroom windows. 2010 was a blur, though it had some highlights, which included the discovery of a barbecue place on a dock not far from my office. Soon it became a Friday lunch ritual for me and my friends, enjoying cold beer and hot food at the end of a long week. The last few weeks, we'd all had trouble coordinating, or had meetings in the middle of the day. This week one of our friends was out of state on vacation. Next week, we'd surely make it there again.

Finally caught up after months of being busy, or more accurately finding myself in the eye of the storm(figuratively and, as I'd later learn, literally), I decided to walk to this place on Thursday afternoon. It was a little cloudy, and cool enough to walk such a distance, and though we'd always driven to this place, I was certain I could make the journey within my allotted lunch time. My estimates of speed and distance proved accurate. My knowledge of the calendar was not so much.

The folded umbrellas were my first clue. No one was sitting at the tables either, my second clue. I knew before I got to the counter that the window would be closed, but it was wishful thinking. I could taste that chicken, that spicy corn-on-the-cob. Even worse, the sign read that they were open from mid-April to October. It's not October yet by my calculations, but maybe there weren't enough people for them to stay open. I was dejected, and the grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on a salt bagel that I got at a deli on the way back to my office didn't come close.

I could certainly use a break, an escape for more than an hour. To that end, I actually cleared my calendar for this weekend. I moved a dental appointment back a week. I turned down a band job. I even wrote my next few posts in advance, so if all goes according to preprogramming, you'll have something to read in the next two days. MCF will be here; the man behind the cloak will not. On Thursday night a tornado ripped through Long Island from West to East, sending down trees and hail and disrupting all train service. I'm praying it's restored by Friday night, so I can get in to the city after work. I already reserved tickets for another train that will have me in Atlantic City by 11 PM! And I won't be home until Sunday afternoon. The first time I went there was in the middle of December, and I only stayed overnight. My friend and I managed to find some fun and some trouble. This time we're staying twice as long, and will have a group of about 4 to 7 people. I took out a bit more cash this time and split it among three wallets. I know it's as good as gone, but with a higher fixed amount I hopefully won't succumb to temptation and high ATM fees while I'm there. Who knows; maybe I'll actually win something. I know to avoid slot machines this time, the fastest way to spend money. I think in less than five minutes I had thrown away over 60 bucks.

Problems don't disappear when we run away from them, but that's not what I'm doing here. This is more of a break, almost a vacation, and a much-needed one. I took off from work on Monday, but I'll be back Tuesday and have a gig after work on Tuesday night. And Monday probably will be spent installing a light fixture at home and doing landscaping work over at my father's lot. The responsibilities will still be waiting for me when I get back. But for two days, they and I will be miles apart, and that will be nice.

Of course, if I hit it big, I might not come back at all. So, calculating the odds of improbability, I'd say there's a 98% chance I'll be back in a few days.


The Miracle of Cubby

Fourteen years ago, I could swear my mom had brought home some kind of rodent.

Instead, it was Cubby, a little gray and white kitten. My dad was still in the early stages of dealing with his heart problem, and during their visit to one of his doctors, my mom heart faint cries coming from a nearby window well. Inside was this little guy, with no sign of his mother or the rest of his litter. My mom had no choice but to rescue him, and she became his mother.

I wanted to name him Cerebus, after a gray aardvark whose graphic novel adventures I had been reading at the time. I showed my mom some of the illustrations, but they of course didn't strike a chord with her. She liked “Cubby”, even though I didn't think the name would always fit him. But he was her little kitten, whom she fed from a small bottle and kept healthy, whom she sang ”Hush, Little Baby” to every night. Even after he doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in size, he'd always lift his head and come running for that song.

I'd occasionally try to class the name up and upgrade it to “Cubbington”, sometimes add a “Lord” before the name, but for the most part my mom stuck with Cubby. And he stuck with my my mom. He liked my dad, and was usually a little wary or afraid of me, except for when I was feeding him. Then he was purring and bumping in to my ankles as I tried to put the dish down.

Almost one year ago, we discovered Cubby had gone blind. It started with circling, then bumping in to things, and eventually the vet confirmed what we suspected. He postulated the cat had suffered some sort of stroke, and was able to treat any brain swelling with various anti-inflammatory drugs such as Prednisone. He'd never see again, save for possibly colors and light, but as a cat, it would prove to be a minor inconvenience. Animals compensate very well with their other senses, and since our cats are always indoor cats, he already knew the layout of the house pretty well. When he started getting soft tissue damage and weakness in his back legs, jumping up on the bed or the dresser proved dangerous at first, then impossible. Every 7 to 10 days, my mom would take him in for another shot, and he'd be like a new cat.

A few times this year we thought we'd lose him to a urinary tract infection, common in senior male cats. Every time he'd lose his appetite, stop using his litter pan, and try to crawl under furniture or into tight spaces. Every time we were ready to say goodbye, the vet would express his bladder, get him on antibiotics and medication to break up kidney stones, and he'd miraculously perk up. I've lost track of how many times I expected to come home and find he had passed away, or wake up in the morning to the same sad news. My mom has always stayed with her cats right up until the end, but this is one of the few she's had since he was a kitten. When I was a little boy, I believe her cat Cindy was given to her as a kitten, though that was before I was born and I only knew the cat as an adult. She knows what to expect, but it doesn't make it any easier. And the downside of my most hated human quality, the fact that our perception of time shortens as we grow older, is that Cubby's fourteen years genuinely don't seem long at all. Maybe it's his gentle nature, but we still see a kitten where this big old cat sits.

I thought for sure I'd be writing an obituary this week. They say cats have nine lives, but this cat has come back from near dead more times than that. One morning last week, my dad woke me and said he thought the cat had died during the night, but he was just sleeping in my mom's arms and perked up after a visit to the vet. Just this past Tuesday, he relapsed again, wasn't eating, and was lying stiff with his eyes open, tongue out, and taut skin. Even with a catheter, the vet couldn't get anything out of him. He gave Cubby a few shots and had my mom bring the cat back in the afternoon. He was a little more successful, but still the normally voracious animal showed no interest in food.

By Wednesday night when I came home, the cat was walking around. My mom said he had used the litter pan, and was devouring any food she put in front of him. His fur seemed shiny and soft again, and he was walking in a relatively straight line with hardly any sign of a limp. This year has been quite a rollercoaster. We know sooner or later he'll get sick again. And one of these times, the vet won't be able to help him. But we've got a damn good vet. Two years ago I was sure a respiratory infection would do in my pal Mr. Chirp, and today he's running around like a kitten, sometimes climbing up as high as the top of our refrigerator. At night when he gets bored, he sometimes leaves toy mice outside our bedroom doors as “gifts”. His “brother” Cubby has, of course, been getting most of our attention lately. So it's an interesting position to be in, emotionally, to avoid false hope while trying not to be negative, either. My mom sometimes beats herself up, laments that she's not doing enough, that she wishes she could help him. If he was in the care of anyone other than my mom, he might have been dead a year ago. And, truth be told, while he's still relatively young compared to her past cats, without her intervention, he might have been gone 14 years ago. So whenever his time comes, it will be that much later because he had the miracle of having the same mother I do.


PBW: Falling in Place

Can you feel it? That slight chill in the air? The big difference in temperature between sun and shade? Summer is nearly a memory. But while Autumn is upon us, things are still colorful, and I don’t need to look far to find shots for Photo Blog Wednesday:



MCF's 2010 Watchlist

It's that time of year again, when new shows premiere and old favorites return. It's hard to navigate the television week as technology has really changed the landscape. Now we get new episodes of some shows during the Summer, and with all the options available beyond TV, from VCR to DVR to online to DVD, times and days are meaningless. There was a time when we lived our lives by the network schedule, because if we missed an episode, we'd have to wait for a rerun. And that second airing might be edited down to fit more commercials. Also, missing a show meant not being in on the conversation at school/work the next day with your classmates/coworkers.

Last year was an interesting year, one that wiped a large part of my inflated viewing slate clean. LOST and 24 each came to an end after respective healthy runs. Other shows, like Heroes, Dollhouse, FlashForward, and Happy Town were simply canceled. Heroes made it to four seasons before being put out of its misery, while Happy Town didn't make it past one 8-episode season(I think the last 2 or 3 episodes were only available online).

I haven't heard a lot of buzz about new shows, and there are only 2 or 3 that I might check out. So I think my viewing schedule might be leaner, and there certainly aren't any shows like LOST or Heroes for me to follow obsessively. Fringe is probably the best of the surviving dramas I watch, while Community worked its way up as my favorite comedy, if only because The Office and How I Met Your Mother are starting to get a little tired. I'm genuinely excited about the final season of Smallville, and that surprises me. It's come a long way from a freak-of-the-week formulaic teen drama, and in the last two seasons resembles the comic book source material on a more epic scale. It took ten years to improve and get here, and I hope for a good payoff. Supernatural came to an epic conclusion after five seasons, but its popularity gained it at least another season beyond the planned five. Let's hope it can still maintain the same level of quality. And straddling the line between comedy and drama is Chuck, which is not only consistently entertaining, but actually gets better and better. Chuck and Fringe are probably the two shows I'm most looking forward to. As for new shows, I'll be checking out No Ordinary Family, The Event, possibly Nikita(whose premiered I've already missed), The Cape(which I don't think starts until January), and Undercovers(which wasn't even a blip on my radar until I read it was a J.J. Abrams show). I might fit The Walking Dead into my rotation too, either online or on DVD. That's at least six new shows I'm curious about; time will tell if I stick with any of them.

Television Without Pity published their list of see/skip/DVR/watch online picks, which I found to be a handy guide in mapping out my week. As with last year, there are some days which are completely dead, and others which have numerous conflicts. My VCR, DVD player and my computer will all be getting a lot of use this year. You can check out their more extensive list of the options that will become available in the coming weeks; here's what I'll probably be watching:

Chuck (8-9 PM)
How I Met Your Mother (8-8:30 PM)
The Event (10-11 PM)

No Ordinary Family (8-9 PM)
Stargate: Universe (9-10 PM)

Undercovers (8-9 PM)

Thursdays: (The busiest night of conflicts)
Community (8-8:30 PM)
30 Rock (8:30-9 PM)
The Office (9-9:30 PM)
Parks and Recreation (9:30-10 PM, hopefully later in the season depending on how newcomer Outsourced fares)
Fringe (9-10 PM)
Nikita (9- 10 PM)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (10-10:30 PM)

Fridays: (The 2nd busiest night of conflicts)
Smallville (8-9 PM)
Supernatural (9-10 PM)
Human Target (8-9 PM)
The Good Guys (9-10 PM)

Absolutely nothing. A good catch-up night for all the shows that are on at the same time as other shows during the week. Or to, you know, actually go out.

The Simpsons (8-8:30 PM)
The Cleveland Show (8:30-9 PM)
Family Guy(9-9:30 PM)
The Walking Dead (10-11 PM)

And what's on your watchlist this year?