Monday, November 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Feasts (Or Famines)

So, yes, I took the entire four-day Thanksgiving weekend off from blogging, but now I am back just in time to close out the month of November with some scattershot reporting on the three F’s that unite us all at this time of year: family, food and football. (Note that in my particular case the food falls into the feast category, whereas the football was all famine, but I will elaborate on that below.)

My wife Roonina and our son Muttley and I went down to Roonina’s folks’ for Thanksgiving and we were joined there by Roonina’s brother. The traffic on I-95 sucked about as much as you’d imagine, compounded by some seriously foggy weather that morning, but once we arrived at the grandparents’ house all was well. Muttley napped in the car all the way down and was in a good mood all afternoon, due in no small part to the layout of the new environs. Our townhouse is very narrow, which limits Muttley’s running to straight lines from the front of the house to the back; Grandma and Grandpa’s, on the other hand, has a foyer which gives on a hall to the kitchen straight ahead and a doorway to the living room to the right, and the living room also has an entrance to the kitchen, so the hall, kitchen and living room form a ring around the main staircase. So Muttley ran around and around in circles and laughed his round little head off. He also discovered that when he laughed, we laughed, so he actually started fake-laughing, which did in fact succeed in making us laugh some more because it was terribly cute and unexpected. This particular feedback loop went on for hours. Eventually we sat down to dinner, which was less fun for Muttley as he really wasn’t into any of the food on the table. The grown-ups were more than satisfied, as the Thanksgiving menu hit every item on the traditional checklist – turkey, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie – plus some extra favorites like Grandma’s corn pudding and Roonina’s macaroni and cheese. At some point someone observed that there were no mashed potatoes on hand, but they weren’t missed as much as you might think. Even on the high holy day of overeating, there’s only so many carbs one can take.

After dinner we managed to get Muttley to bed before the kickoff of the Giants-Broncos game, but of course it was all downhill from there. I thought that was a game the Giants had an excellent chance of winning, so it was especially irksome to see them take such a drubbing, failing to score a single touchdown and giving up gobs of points to a mediocre Denver team. When the Giants beat the Falcons last Sunday I thought they had the wherewithal to shake off the losing skid and run to the playoffs; after the Turkey Day debacle, I don’t know what to think.

But there was little time to lament the lackluster performance of professional athletes who happen to play their home games in the state where my parents decided I would spend my formative years, as on Friday we had to get home (by way of the home of a cousin of Grandpa’s, which was a lovely but uneventful visit) in time to meet my Very Little Bro, who was driving down for the weekend. We succeeded – Friday clearly was the best day of the holiday-half-week to be on the highway – and got Muttley bedded down before ordering a couple of pizzas and watching the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot flick. I will probably post about that movie at length in the future but suffice to say we all thought that it was totally righteous.

The reason Very Little Bro came all the way down to Virginia was because our mother was coming to visit for a week starting on Saturday. Mom moved out to New Mexico a few years ago and she can’t come east terribly often, but she came for close to a month when Muttley was born (technically two months after Muttley was born, when Roonina had to go back to work and Muttley was still too tiny for daycare) and hadn’t been back since. The week after Thanksgiving worked out well for her this year, so we booked her a flight and I invited both my brothers to come down while she was in town. The big upshot of this is that we (Roonina, Very Little Bro and I) spent all of Saturday morning cleaning the house in anticipation of her arrival. If I were a much better person the house would have somehow gotten cleaned Wednesday night or something, so that we could leave for Thanksgiving, come back and have my brother arrive at an already clean house, but clearly that is an area where I have room for improvement. The Saturday morning cleaning was further complicated by the necessity of organizing the basement room which is the de facto guest room due to its large sleeper futon. We’ve been using that room as a packing/staging area as well in advance of the big move, so Very Little Bro got drafted into helping me pack about half the contents of the pirate bar so that I could start stacking packed boxes behind the pirate bar and clear some actual floor space.

(Note: if you have ever dreamed of setting up a moderately serviceable bar in your home, I strongly recommend doing so in a home where you plan to reside for several decades, if not indefinitely. Once you have stocked a bar with bottles of all varieties of liquor and various mixers, and acquired glassware from shot glasses to highballs to margarita glasses, and been birthday- and xmas-gifted with shakers and stirrers and ice tongs and sundry other knickknacks, it is a soul-crushing beeyotch to have to pack up all of that fragile crap and move it somewhere.)

Thank goodness I've culled the herd by drunkenly smashing half the shotglasses I've ever owned.
Mom landed more or less on time and Little Bro and his fiancée made it to town much later that evening (Saturday on the highways was hellish) so we had a nice but brief visit on Saturday night followed up by a harrowing night of Muttley not sleeping and generally being (and making his parents) miserable. I did go to the Motrin a bit sooner on this particular adventure, but I still ended up (at Roonina’s wise suggestion) driving Muttley around at 1:30 a.m. so that the high-speed motion of the car could lull him to sleep. (No highway traffic at that hour, at least.)

In the light of day Sunday morning we could see the indisputable evidence of yet another ear infection afflicting Muttley … gack. I’m starting to resign myself to the probability that he will need his adenoids taken out sooner than later, which is one of those things where on the one hand it’s a routine operation and I am a staunch believer in western medicine and professional advice of doctors and whatnot, and on the other hand just hurts my heart because it entails thinking of my beloved little guy going under the knife. So in addition to the resignation, part of me is keeping my fingers crossed that maybe this will actually be the last ear infection he ever gets in his life and the adenoidectomy issue will be moot.

It’s interesting, and comforting, to have the whole family together for a few days, though. Roonina and I were explaining to my brothers and soon-sister-in-law that Muttley is just the kind of kid who never just gets a cold, they all end up as ear infections. And my mother pointed out that Very Little Bro never just got colds either; he always got full-blown bronchitis. Very Little Bro is now 22 and shows no adverse effects of childhood illness. So life is a circle and inter-generational support is a constant and that’s all good. Fortunately the discussion of Muttley’s ear infections was largely academic because he certainly wasn’t acting like a sick kid, since he had a whole new audience to entertain. So most of Sunday was spent splitting attention between football and Muttley and discussing Star Trek (since we had all, as it turned out, seen the reboot relatively recently) and reminiscing about me and Little Bro’s misspent, heavily-HBO-influenced youth.

Feast #2 was a semi-impromptu engagement celebration for Little Bro and his fiancée, much-delayed from the actual proposal by the fact that far too many miles separate our places of residence and we hadn’t gotten everyone together before this weekend. It was certainly fewer courses and dishes than Thanksgiving but we made them count: steaks (filets and ribeyes), twice-baked potatoes, broccoli and asparagus, followed by champagne and Boston crème pie cake. Or, as we condensed the idea to a catchy title, Sunday Night Steak-n-Cake. The menu was Roonina’s brainstorm and just one more piece of evidence that I have married a genius. The fact that I got to do some serious late-season grilling as my contribution to the preparation was a nice bonus.

After the serious chowing down and toasting of the happy couple, the only thing left to do to finish the weekend was watch the Ravens-Steelers game, which, for those of you keeping score, was one of heavy emotional investment for Roonina (who loves the Steelers so much that she might as well be a member of the team-owning Rooney family, hence that particular silly sobriquet) because it is an intra-divisional rivalry with playoff implications. Unfortunately, with bellies full of beef and tubers and sparkling wine and chocolate icing, it was challenging to stay up until the end of the game. Roonina drifted off sometime in the fourth quarter, and maybe that’s just as well as the game went into OT but the Steelers’ ridiculously inexperienced fill-in quarterback gave up an interception that set up the Ravens’ game-winning score.

All in all, though, of the three F’s two were really, really good all extended-weekend long, and I will take that and be very satisfied. And now everyone is caught up and I can get into some really geeky explorations later this week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

“Your mind plays tricks on you … you play tricks back!”

Right now I’m reading a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace (we will come back to this man as a subject unto himself once I finish the book … oh Lordy, will we come back to it) and one of those essays is about the original Straight Talk Express, way back when John McCain was first running in the Republican primaries in early 2000, and it’s a fascinating essay in and of itself plus the fascination is amplified by now being on the other side of the decade, but it’s also kind of timeless and seems like something everyone should read every election season because it makes some incisive points about the whole democratic experience in America in the modern age. One of those points I’ll go ahead and repeat right here because I think it deserves extra-special promulgation: there is no such thing as not voting. The act of staying at home on Election Day is equivalent to giving an extra vote to the entrenched, established incumbents, for various reasons (and I direct you to read Consider the Lobster for yourself, or at least the relevant essay ("Up, Simba") for Mr. Wallace’s further elaboration).

This reminded me of the 1996 U.S. presidential election, which is one of five U.S. pres. elections for which I have been over 18 and registered to vote, and is the only one for which I stayed home. On the one hand I had a veritable slew of logistical rationales for this (all of which were, admittedly now and would have been so then if pressed, weak-sauce): I had just moved to Virginia the month before; I had no idea where the polling place was and had never even voted in a polling place before because four years prior my first-ever vote had been cast via absentee ballot; I was temping, getting paid by the hour, and therefore uncomfortable either showing up late to work or leaving early just to exercise a civic duty. But the real kicker came when I got home from work that Tuesday, when the polls were still going to be open for a couple more hours and there was still an extant possibility that I might vote.

Just to set the stage a little further, here’s a couple more reasons I had not to vote, but these are not logistical, nor are they particularly valid; in fact I hate when people use these excuses nowadays, and I’m pretty sure that at age 22 I knew they didn’t carry much weight. One was that Clinton seemed poised to win re-election by a landslide. Another was that, at the time, Virginia was a ridiculously reliable red state (or whatever verbal equivalent we used to use for red states and blue states in the 90’s), whereas I was a predictably blue voter. Both of those reasons more or less equate to “my vote doesn’t matter.” Clinton was not going to get any electoral college votes from Virginia, whether or not I voted, and yet Clinton would still get his four more years anyway. If 22-year-old me were to pierce the veil of the future and ask 35-year-old me whether or not he should vote under those circumstances, he would get a big fat Yes, ALWAYS in response. But he/I didn’t. (To be fair, he/I really couldn’t avail him/myself of that option in any case.)

One person I could ask if I should vote, and in fact did ask, was my roommate. (I had two roommates at the time but was only close with one of them. Many, many stories could illuminate the strange tripartite living arrangements there but will have to wait for another time.) My roommate was a good buddy with many interests common to my own – comics, X-Files, heavy drinking – but he was what I term a Lazy Republican: his parents voted R as predictably as I voted D, and my roommate uncritically followed their lead, generally agreeing with his outspoken father’s convictions about the evils of affirmative action and high taxes and welfare &c. without thinking them through on his own or thinking about how policies might affect anybody but his family and himself. (Please note this does not mean that I believe if every single Republican thought through their beliefs they would find them wanting and magically agree with my liberal leanings; I’m talking about a specific individual who had a very shrugging indifference toward politics in general and, when pressed, would mostly parrot what he had grown up around. I suspect this happens quite a lot. But I don’t think it exemplifies the entire Republican party. For what it’s worth, my former roommate is still my buddy and his politics have become decidedly more well-informed and more liberal as time has gone by, which again is just one specific anecdote which proves nothing.)

My roommate very quickly cut to the heart of the matter. He told me he hadn’t voted, and wasn’t planning to, but if he had gone down to the polls he would have pulled the lever for Dole et al. (of course) He hazarded a (correct) guess that if I were to vote, it would be for Slick Willie. So on top of all the excuses, rationalizations and fuzzy electoral math logic already filling my exhausted head, he laid the back-breaking straw: if he and I had both voted, we would have cancelled each other out. And we could achieve the same zero-sum effect by not voting at all. At which point I gratefully slumped onto the couch beside him and we probably watched Simpsons reruns.

I’m certainly not proud of this behavior, although I could probably make a few valid analogies between my enthusiasm for the 1992 elections and my utter lack thereof for the 1996 version and what the hell happened to my generation in the 90’s politically, but mainly the reason why I bring up the tale of my civic duty-shirking is because of what it has revealed to me about the unreliability of my own memory. Because I do think about that exchange and roommate pact every so often, especially around elections, however fleetingly. And I always remember the conversation happening in a very specific setting, the recessed living room with the big green sectional sofa and the non-functioning fireplace. I also remember watching the returns of the election results in that same room, on that same sofa.

But it’s the wrong sofa, in the wrong room, in the wrong house. As I was thinking about the Non-Vote-Swapping of 1996 at length, it slowly dawned on me that my roommate and I moved into a townhouse in Ashburn in October of 1996 and relocated to a townhouse in Sterling in September of 1997. Obviously we were living in the first house on the Election Day in question. But for years I have associated all those incidents with the second house, subconsciously painting it in as the background scenery … and I really have no idea why. It totally falls apart when I think about it at length and attach real dates to the recollections. Plus the two houses were laid out differently, the decor colors were different, the furniture was arranged differently (it was Third Roommate's mind-bogglingly impractical white couch in the first house) - it's not like I'm confusing two different institutional dorm rooms which are for all intents and purposes identical boxes. It's a very strange thing to conflate, but I seem to have done it for over a decade.

Sometimes the gears slip.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I am an unreliable narrator at best, but I am a guileless one, to boot. So if you don’t know me and have stumbled across this blog in some arcane link-hopping fashion, be advised that I may sometimes get things flat-out wrong. And if you do know me, be advised that you may find yourself saying “whoa, he is totally misrepresenting what actually happened that time five/ten/twenty years ago.” But in either case, it’s not because I’m shady and trying to promote some subversive revisionist agenda. I just have a crappy inconsistent memory and an inherent ability to mentally construct patchwork memories that are so convincing that they become indistinguishable from the real thing. Which means I’m a great person to make bar bets with because I often am convinced I know something when, in fact, I don’t.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Born to Slack

I feel like I’m coming down with a slight cold, mainly because of one tell-tale symptom, the specific flavor of burning sensation in my sinuses that is more indicative of “sick” than “allergic to something” or, for that matter, “epic wrong-pipe fail while eating Thai hot peppers”. (I also have a secondary symptom of fatigue but since the baby woke up screaming at 4 a.m. today I’m ruling that evidence as inadmissible.) Having cold symptoms always makes me feel like a bad commuter. On some level I worry that I might infect my fellow Metro passengers, and on another level even if I’m not highly contagious I feel like I might be causing my fellow Metro passengers mental distress because they are forced to worry about catching whatever I have when they hear me cough or sneeze or snort or whatever. And then not feeling well just makes me more rude; when I need to get off the train and get past seven or eight unmoving people to do so, instead of saying “Excuse me” to every person as I pass (which I don’t have the energy for and/or my voice is too scratchy to contemplate) the best I can muster is to say “Excuse me” to the person standing closest to me and then hope for a domino effect, where the person on the other side sees someone moving out of my way, and they also move out of my way unasked, and the person next to them sees the shift and similarly makes way, and so on. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the guilt is pretty much constant, and doesn’t seem to cut me any slack for being under the weather.

It’s an odd thing to obsess over, I admit, especially since there are so many, many areas of my life where I cut myself entirely too much slack. Work, for instance. For all the years I’ve been desk-job employed, I’ve always gotten things done in the timeframe they were requested, except for rare occasions when the original timeframe was ludicrously unfair and understood to be not really achievable, but we had to say we TRIED. I’ve never really tried to get things done early, to go to my boss and say “I’m not just caught up but ahead, can you give me some more things to work on?” Some well-meaning counselor in some career center somewhere would probably have me believe that I am hamstringing my own career by never exploring that particular avenue, but I just don’t buy it. I do the work I’m asked to do; I get paid the amount I agreed to be paid when I took the job. This strikes me as a very happily balanced equation.

Lazy recycling of old e-mail fodder ... or brilliant meta-commentary on slacking itself?  YOU DECIDE.
So the fact that I long ago tied my personal performance to other people’s expectations means that a week like this should be very slack indeed – everyone’s slouching towards Thanksgiving, some people are already out of the office on vacation, and nobody really expects a whole lot to get done. I find myself unable to join wholeheartedly in the slackitude, however, which is deeply troubling. The problems I was having with the servers operated by our new hosting provider, problems which I could do nothing about except report and wait for a fix and test and find still broken and report and wait ad infinitum, were finally resolved yesterday, which freed me up to actually move the damn project forward. The project is now hopelessly off-schedule, but it’s going to be incumbent on me to get it back on schedule, and that means a bit less slacking on my part. Of course, I’m still relatively powerless in the whole process, which means the only action I can take is running down the project checklist and e-mailing other people and asking them to do things on the list they are empowered to do or maybe asking them what they’d like me to do. And the project has dragged on so long that I am fundamentally sick of it and, if it were a personal project, I would have long ago passed the point of losing interest and giving up. Boo hoo hoo and so it goes.

Sometimes being a slacker has its own unexpected advantages. When I bought myself lunch yesterday, the intricate choreography of juggling my wallet and cash pulled out of it and the food I was carrying away and the change I received from the cashier meant that the paper-money component of the change ended up in my front pocket while the wallet went in my back pocket, and over the course of the day the wallet migrated to my work bag and the change stayed in my pants and I never quite managed to work up the energy to get out the crumpled bills, smooth them, get them facing in the right direction and put them in my wallet. Instead a wad of bills and change went on top of my dresser at the end of the night, and this morning the same wad went into my pocket again (in the abstract sense, since I was wearing a different pair of pants than the day before) along with the intention of sorting things out later in the day.

When I got off the Metro in Rosslyn this morning there was a street musician playing Christmas carols on tenor sax near the station entrance. I am kind of a sucker for street musicians, especially the ones who are tolerably competent (and this one was) and I am also kind of a sucker for Christmas carols, even before Thanksgiving, so I was highly inclined to toss the guy a buck. Usually I ignore this inclination because usually I (a) don’t have any cash at all, (b) only have cash in the form of twenty dollar bills, or (c) my wallet is buried somewhere in my work bag and I don’t want to break stride in the flow of pedestrians leaving the metro to fish it out. But today I had singles in my pocket and so I was able to toss one to the sax man, and that was cool.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dust in the Wind

Over the weekend things proceeded in tiny increments towards the ultimate endgame of moving house. The following logical proof inexorably took morbid shape in my mind as I attempted to do a modest amount of sorting and boxing:

1. I am an inveterate collector and displayer of things, to the point that in my personal Furniture Hall of Fame the spot of highest honor goes not to The Recliner or even The Keg-Fridge but rather the Bookcase (or any other related kind of general shelving)
2. Anything that sits on a shelf for a prolonged period of time will inevitably collect dust, and the smaller and fiddlier such items may be, the more likely that they will never receive proper dusting due to time constraints
3. I am debilitatingly allergic to dust, to the point where an allergy attack brought on by dust can blind me with tears, pack my sinuses with solid pain, and make me lightheaded from oxygen deprivation in a matter of minutes
4. Moving, by dint of involving disturbing collections, stirs up dust like few other activities
5. Moving every few years is more or less inevitable
6. THEREFORE, I am apparently committing the slowest, most agonizing, and while I’m at it most expensive form of suicide possible, QED.

Hey, who's been jostling my vintage ironic beer bottles?
Respiratory trauma aside, though, everything is moving along pretty well. The happiest recent development is that it looks like the old townhouse should be no trouble to rent as there is already a lot of interest lining up. Our whole strategy of buying while the market was good for buying, and selling later when the market is good for selling pretty much depended entirely on covering as much of the old mortgage as possible with rent, so it’s a big relief to see that angle coming together. We still have some repair issues to work out with the sellers of our new house and the origination of our mortgage just had to be changed because of some arcane FHA geographical restrictions that I won’t even pretend to fully understand. But I am both optimistic and confident that everything will work itself out according to plan.

I should really get some of those breathing masks from the hardware store if I’m going to make it through the next month.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Grab Bag Epic

Epic subject matter, that is. Not a particularly epic-length SGB.


Just to continue the Saga of the Stooges: at one point I was being cc'ed on e-mails that probably should only have been between Moe and Larry, because it was Moe telling Larry in painful step-by-step detail how to do his own job. Because I was cc'ed and privy to the exchange, I was sorely tempted to reply-to-all with a simple "Are you fucking kidding me?!?!" Yes, including the rare double-interrobang. But all's well that ends well. At least, that's what I'm hoping I'll be able to tell myself once things finally are resolved - which, as of Friday's close of business, they were not.


So earlier this week I brought up the connection between Superman and a certain crazy-ass Sean Connery 70's sci-fi flick, as reinforced by crazy-ass-in-a-different-way Alan Moore. I've never seen the actual movie in question - Zardoz - but I admit a certain geeky curiosity. Especially since I have seen another movie in the body of work belonging to Zardoz's director, John Boorman; he directed the 80's classic Excalibur, so he has some goodwill with me.

But this seems like as good a time as any for another mini-rant, especially since I've already broken the fertile ground of ranting about the mere existence of movies based solely on their trailers. I've heard rumors that currently there are trailers floating around for a remake of Excalibur, as well as a remake of Clash of the Titans. This just hurts my brain profoundly. Why in the world would anyone remake those movies? It's not that the stories aren't worth revisiting, or that the originals are inviolably sacred. But ... but ... they're not even really originals. Excalibur is itself a retelling of the Arthurian myth. Clash of the Titans is a retelling of various Greek myths. I can't think of many Greek myth movies of late (300 was Greek quasi-history ... Disney's Hercules, maybe?) but I know there have been King Arthur movies aplenty since 1981. I don't believe either of the proposed remakes is a shot-for-shot, so that means certain things will be changed anyway ... why not put a different title on it and go all the way back to the source, instead of making an inevitably less-crisp copy of a copy? Are studio execs so enamored of remakes from the 80's now that being able to call up my generation's memories of crap we saw on HBO is the prime motivator? Oy.


It has recently come to my attention that there exists a heavy-metal album from 2004 which is a retelling of Moby Dick. This is an awesome idea and, according to a few reviewers, an awesome execution. Why do I not already own this???



Sometimes when we're hanging out I think of my son as just one of the guys, who happens to be exceptionally short and not very talkative. So when he picks up a Cheerio and gestures at the cup of yogurt I'm feeding him for lunch, I think, "Oh, yeah cool, you want to dip your Cheerio in the yogurt, that's brilliant." So I hold the cup out for him. And then a minute later I'm mopping away a yogurt glove that covers my son's hand from fingertips to wrists and thinking "He's a BABY, he's a BABY, he's a BABY. And his fine motor control is a work very much in progress."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gimme Shelter

They’ve recently begun a new construction project at the WFC Metro Station’s bus kiosks. Essentially they’re going to put a roof over the entire horseshoe-shaped sidewalk, but so far all they’ve done is erect the supports for the structure, which are big steel columns that rise about eight to ten feet and then have huge curving arches bolted on top, all of which are painted white, which creates an effect of walking through a giant rib cage on an avenue in the necropolis as I make my way down to the 980 stop each evening. I am solidly in favor of this project, because it is proceeding in a nondisruptive (if eerie) way and also because it just seems like a baseline decent thing to do, keeping people dry when it rains. Somehow, almost without my knowledge, I have become such a responsible adult that I carry an umbrella at all times, so I don’t need the new pavilion per se, but I understand that some days the rain comes as a surprise and some people don’t even own an umbrella to begin with, so, it’s nice. Right now the only way to get out of the rain is to duck into one of the tiny shelters at each bus stop, except that’s not really a viable option either.

Here’s the difference between the bus and the Metro trains: the bus system actually has a civilized queuing system. It’s hard for me to overstate how much I appreciate this about the bus-riding experience and how, by contrast, the Metro drives me just a little bit crazier. I guess the root of the issue is that when a bus arrives at the bus stop it opens one and only one door to let people on. And the bus always pulls up to the exact same section of curb and you can predict within inches where that door is going to align. This means that one person can stand at that one spot where the door will be and stake a claim to being the first person on the next bus. And therefore another person can stand right behind that person and be the second person on the next bus, and this chain of logic manifests as a very polite single-file line of people waiting for the bus. And once the bus arrives, and people board and the bus starts to fill up, it is a reasonable decision for some people to step slightly to the side; the first person who does this gets to be first on board the next bus, and the person behind him can choose to get on the crowded bus in front of him or get behind the new line leader for the next bus, and so on. There are days when the volume of riders is high and/or the buses are off-schedule, and thus the lines get long, but they remain orderly even as they snake back up the sidewalk toward the Metro station proper. You can accurately gauge how many buses will have to come and go before you get on one, based on your position in line. The only downside, as mentioned, is that if it’s raining you can’t wait in a shelter, because you have to stay in line (unless the line happens to pass by a shelter at the spot where you’re holding your place).

The Metro is more chaotic. Every car of every train has three doors, so that’s 18 to 24 points of entrance, none of which are easily discernable until the train actually arrives at the platform. People mill around up and down the platform, some recklessly close to the edge, some all the way back against the wall or sitting on the concrete benches. And some stations serve multiple lines of the system, so the person standing next to you may or may not be trying to get on the next train with you. There’s just a scrum to get on the trains when they do arrive, with a kill-or-be-killed undercurrent. I have seriously had days where I stand near the edge of the platform where I assume a door is going to materialize, and when it turns out that I have guessed correctly as a train is settling to a rest, another commuter will literally step around and in front of me to position themselves to get on before me when the doors open. As a result, when the cars are at their crush-iest capacity and a wise soul might opt to wait for the next train, there is no guarantee that just because you’ve been waiting a while you’ll be first on the next train. I’ve often thought that the Metro trains should be forced to always stop at the exact same spot (they’re actually starting to do this) and the platforms should have cordoned serpentine lines for each door to impose some semblance of order. If you are having trouble visualizing what I’m talking about or think such a system is unworkable, I will answer both by pointing out this is how the boarding of roller coasters is handled. So there.

Oh, if only I could take SUPERMAN:The Ride of Steel back and forth to work (That's what she said!)
But back to the buses. I’m actually excited about the new roofing project because even though I don’t need it, it will still make my life easier. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t mind waiting for the bus (or even waiting for the next bus while people who were behind me crowd on to stand in the aisle) because I can always read while I stand in line. Except on rainy days, when it sometimes becomes problematic to juggle an umbrella with one hand and a book with the other (especially if the book is a massive hardcover, for instance). When the roof eliminates the need for the umbrella, I’ll be able to read all kinds of books in all kinds of weather, which again I’ll acknowledge is a ridiculously small thing for a small span of time in any given day, but it matters to me. I’m further hoping that the entire sidewalk enclosure will have better lighting than the kiosks currently do, because those dark winter evenings can be tricky, too.

I was thinking about all this last night especially because I had just started reading a book of essays by David Foster Wallace that I found unreasonably hard to put down. It was the perfect antidote to the Tales of the Dying Earth slog I just finished – Wallace’s writing is hyperliterate and human and fascinating. Wallace is deeply enamored of footnotes (as am I) to the point where he will often put superscript symbols next to words in his numbered footnotes, referring to sub-footnotes below, and I happily follow him down every digressive trail, even as the font size gets smaller and smaller at each level, even as I’m standing in the dark and the rain under my compact umbrella, squinting to decipher words. If there’s a more hardcore definition of ‘geeking out’ I have to imagine it somehow involves re-enactment, wild animals, live ammunition and imaginary languages.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Man, Tuesday was a busy day. No, wait, that isn’t right. Tuesday wasn’t any more eventful than the usual weekday in my life, considering that I went to work, picked up my boy Shep from daycare and got him through dinner, bath- and bed-time, read a graphic novel, watched The Biggest Loser, welcomed my wife Lucinda home and went to bed. But those two diversions between baby bed-time and grown-up bed-time sparked massive posts, and yet there’s one more thing I can build an entire post around which happened on Tuesday night. (OK, more accurately it happened in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, but that’s still part of Tuesday’s mental space.)

Around 2 a.m. Shep woke up crying very loudly, practically screaming. Lucinda and I have been past the let-him-cry-it-out gauntlet for quite a while now, so at first we took that approach, but at maybe the twenty minute mark we decided direct intervention would be appropriate. Thus began a series of attempts to get him back to sleep including pacing while carrying him, rocking him in the glider, lying him in our bed with us, offering him a bottle of milk, letting him cry it out more, and finally dosing him with Infant Motrin, at which point he finally fell asleep, a little after 3:45 a.m.

Now it may occur to you (and believe me, it has definitely occurred to Lucinda and me) that a much more prudent course would have been to give Shep some Infant Motrin at 2:01 a.m. and get everyone the hell back to sleep as soon as possible. But that’s really a hindsight-driven proclamation. On the one hand it presupposes that when the baby started screaming it was instantly recognizable as cries of pain. Not so. He mostly sounded pissed off, which meant the first cribside visitation involved checking to make sure his diaper hadn’t overflowed and left him soaked, gross-smelling, cold and cranky. (It hadn’t.) The next operating theory was just that he was pissed off to be awake – Shep’s never been the best sleeper, and running the aforementioned cry-it-out gauntlet was hard on everyone, and even now on the other side of it he has his inexplicable moments. It certainly seemed a reasonable possibility at the time. And even now, a couple of days later, I’m not 100% sure if he really was in pain and the Motrin really is what got him to a place where he could settle down, or if he was just so exhausted as 4 a.m. came into view that he would have fallen asleep then under any circumstances. This is a sub-corollary of “you always find what you’re looking for the last place you look”. Of course you do; once it’s found you stop looking. Motrin was the last thing we tried, but that might be because it worked or might be because it was the last thing we tried before there was no reason to try any more.

But STILL (I hear you say) why not give him the Motrin first, and then if it hadn’t worked and he had just needed an hour and forty-five minutes of attention and/or wearing himself out, you would have lost nothing. There’s a reasonableness to that, but both Lucinda and I are reluctant to make the medicine cabinet our go-to. We share a vague sense that we might be doing the baby a disservice if we did that. Not that he’s going to become addicted to baby meds, a shivering junkie looking for just a little fix of St. Joseph’s chewable aspirin, but … well, yeah, maybe something like that, psychologically if not physically. We don’t stint on giving him fever-reducers and painkillers when we know for a fact he has an active ear infection, but when we have no reason to believe he’s sick, we don’t want to give him ibuprofen just to shut him up. That seems like a bad association to form in his tiny young mind, and it seems like lazy parenting. It just boils down to saving the medicine as a last resort feeling on a gut level like the right thing to do, no matter how painful a ruined night’s sleep may be.

And this is not a double standard, for whatever that’s worth. I’ve had a diffident relationship with painkillers most of my life. I used to get some wicked headaches as a kid, and often taking an aspirin wouldn’t help, which as an adult I can look back on and realize probably means I needed stronger (possibly prescription) medicine but at the time just made me feel like popping pills was pointless (and I had a sensitive gag reflex and hated swallowing pills anyway). So to this day, despite the fact that I believe wholeheartedly in medical science and the good it can do, in this one particular area I’m always stupidly skeptical. (Twenty minutes for an analgesic to kick in? In twenty minutes my headache might go away ON ITS OWN.) (Yes my headaches are volitional, anthropomorphized things.) I guess I’m passing this on to my son in a way, at least until he’s old enough to decide for himself when to take over-the-counter meds and when not to.

My self-medicating option of choice, by the by, is food. I tend to eat more when I’m sick, swearing by the old “feed a cold” axiom and taking it undoubtedly way too far. I just got over a cold last week, and by then it was basically time to start getting ready for Thanksgiving, Christmas and everything in between. Not to mention that the whole house-buying process we are currently in the middle of is stressful and begs for its own gustatory amelioration. I don’t think the house-buying is going badly, and I don’t really believe that anything untoward is going to happen between now and when it’s finally a done deal, so I’m not feeling stressed in the sense of being scared, upset, angry, or any of those emotionally negative states. But the process involves more things to do each day than the norm, and often more things than I feel like I have the energy for, plus it’s often unpredictable which means I can’t do enough to prepare for the excess demands on my time because I don’t see them coming. That is stressful, and that in turn makes me want to stuff my gullet. All. The. Time. I suppose the bright side really is that all these things are perfect storming along all at once. When the holidays are over and it’s time to make New Year’s Resolutions we’ll be well-settled into our new house and I’ll have no distractions from reining in my gluttony. But for the next six weeks I will be fattening up like a goose. (Which, from my perspective, barely constitutes a complaint at all.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hating the game

I wanted to blog about the November 10 episode of The Biggest Loser, but I couldn’t quite figure out a way to make it fit into Science-Fiction Week. Or, more accurately, I did think of an amusingly tenuous connection, namely that the little monitors the contestants wear around their biceps to track calories or heartrates or something remind me of the motherboxes from Jack Kirby’s sci-fi Fourth World, but I couldn’t quite pull the trigger because (a) I didn’t know the proper name for the monitor devices and (b) I couldn’t Google up a good picture of a Kirby motherbox. So that fell apart. But now that I’ve possible piqued your curiosity, here’s a so-so picture of a motherbox worn by Mister Miracle:

Circus-themed superhero quota: MET!
Maybe it’s just as well I waited, for a couple of reasons. One week and one more episode later, I have cooled off a bit from my initial reaction, plus I’ve gotten more of the overall story. Such as it is. Sort of.

The November 10 episode felt weird right off the bat. First came the announcement that there would be a double-elimination that week, which made all the contestants super-grim. The person who lost the lowest percentage of their body weight that week would be immediately deported from The Ranch. (They don’t call it deportation; I kinda wish they did.) The next two lowest percentages would be up for a vote. And at this point in the season, there were eight contestants left divided into two 4-person cliques: the kids and the oldies. Whichever side lost a member to the red-line-no-vote elimination would be at a significant disadvantage in the voting elimination.

Then Bob and Jillian were informed of the double-elimination and a long – really, ridiculously, uncharacteristically drawn-out long – scene of hand-wringing ensued between the two trainers. Jillian repeatedly stated “I know it’s not politically correct or whatever, but Shay HAS TO stay” and Bob vacillated somewhere between agreeing with Jillian in theory and being willing (or able) to actually, you know, do anything about it.

Shay is the contestant who showed up at the ranch weighing 476, the heaviest ever. She’s also only 29, which puts her in the kids clique (even though she’s married and has two step-sons). By week 9 she was still tipping the Crazy Roulette Scale at 376, great progress for her but still hella-unhealthy. I confess that it took me a while to figure out why Jillian saying that Shay needed to stay on the ranch as long as possible was politically incorrect. She’s morbidly obese, which is both obvious at a glance and undeniable. Is calling a fat person fat, or not even that, just saying that a fat person needs to be in the most favorable environment for losing weight, somehow politically incorrect? Or was it the fact that Jillian was taking sides and playing favorites, which doesn’t make sense either because she has done that in previous seasons, too. (Finally it hit me – Jillian was leaving unspoken that Shay needed to stay on the ranch because Shay is poor and can’t afford to go and join a gym and might not even be able to afford meals healthier than junk and fast food. Which I guess isn’t very PC but, in all likelihood, it’s probably true.)

So the contestants work out and then there’s a circus-themed challenge, which at least got a chuckle out of me as everyone talked into the camera about how magical and wonderful the circus is, except Rebecca who matter-of-factly claimed “I hate clowns.” Right on, sister. Creepy MFers. Anyway, the challenge goes down and right before it starts Rudy and Shay are talking/plotting/strategizing … or are they just joking around? The cliques pick away at each other in the challenge until Rudy and Danny are left against Shay and Shay loses her shit because now Rudy is working against her and she thought they had an understanding which Rudy now denies and it just gets ugly and acrimonious and uncomfortable. When Rudy finally wins the challenge, his victory is accompanied by the most bitterly ironic confetti-cannon in the history of circuskind.

Then it’s weigh-in time and Daniel – Shay’s original partner – is in last place below the red line and is immediately booted. Shay and Amanda are the two below the yellow line who will be voted on. So not only has the kids clique lost one vote in Daniel, but it’s not even a vote between an oldie and a kid, it’s two more kids up for elimination. Rebecca and Amanda are BFFs, so Shay’s fate totally rests in the hands of the other clique. And, call me naïve-o-supremo, but I honestly thought the grown-ups would vote Amanda off so that Shay could stay because, PC or not, she did need to stay. And yet Shay gets voted off. Rudy actually cast the deciding vote and completely failed to justify it with a rambling monologue about the importance of setting goals which made no sense in the (highly edited?) context of the episode whatsoever.

I was stunned. In the back of my mind I believed that, if nothing else, when Bob and Jillian left the weigh-in they would, in saying their ritual goodbyes, explicitly instruct everyone how to vote (again, a tactic they’ve used before) and that would save Shay. But it didn’t happen. And to top off the depressing sundae of doom, they didn’t even do a post-show Shay segment, focusing instead on Daniel, though really focusing on Daniel’s old partner from last season who has apparently let himself go and undone all the good TBL once did him, which Daniel called him on to no avail. Holy crap-sandwich. (Apparently I could have seen how Shay was doing now by watching Leno immediately after TBL, but … I’d rather stick a hot branding iron in one eye and an electric cattle prod in the other.)

All this past week I was looking forward to last night’s TBL because the TBL formula is as follows: every episode ends with an elimination vote. The next episode opens with some reactions from the remaining contestants about how tough the vote was and how much they’re going to miss the eliminated player. Then the trainers come in and ask the contestants to recount what happened at elimination. I was really looking forward to that last bit, and the trainers going ape-shit on everyone who voted Shay off. Petty, sure, but I anticipated it eagerly.

And then last night’s episode was all kinds of misshapen. It started at 8:30, the prior half-hour given over to the Merry Madagascar Christmas Special. (On November 17th? Srsly?) And it started with the contestants meeting Tim Gunn and Tabatha for Makeover Week. No remorse about sending Shay home, no furious vengeance laid down upon them by Bob and Jillian, just moving on to the makeovers, which are supposed to be a reward to the final six for making it that far but seemed really superficial (I mean, moreso than your usual fashion-and-hair makeover) and borderline inappropriate compared to what immediately preceded them. The lack of fallout from last week was a glaring omission, and made me wonder if maybe there was a secret missing half-hour of the show, cut in the final editing process for being a way too depressing revelation as to just how venal the remaining competitors are, and replaced at the last minute by a poorly-timed holiday cartoon. I know that sounds like the paranoid tooth-gnashing of an unrepentant conspiracy theorist, but there it is.

Meanwhile last night the elimination came down to Liz versus Rebecca and unsurprisingly Rebecca was sent home. Rebecca always seemed down to earth, like someone I would have hung out with in college, and I ended up liking her a lot and was pulling for her to win it all. But the oldies clique was too much for her. Bizarrely, Rudy once again was the deciding vote and once again he gave a nonsensical speech about why he voted the way he did which caused Rebecca to absolutely break down. I wanted to reach into the TV and explain to her that we now have an established pattern which shows that Rudy lies at elimination. He just makes shit up, as if for some unknowable reason he is incapable of owning up to his true motivations. He didn’t send Shay home because of “goals”, he did it because she pissed him off. Similarly, it was never about Rudy “not trusting” Rebecca, it was about the fact that Rebecca stood a much better chance of beating him for the grand prize than Liz does, so he eliminated the threat, case closed. Fortunately, from the follow-up segment it looks like Rebecca did just fine off the ranch and has a good shot of being the runner-up at-home winner.

There’s one more elimination to go before the finale and I don’t much care who gets booted now. Amanda is dull as dishwater. Liz has always had a bit of a mean-old-lady to her, but Rudy is emerging as a late-swerve villain. Allen is almost as dull as Amanda, but probably has the best reason to hang tough beyond everyone’s standard “stay healthy for my family” (he’s a firefighter and needs to be in better shape). Okie Danny used to be a lot more fun when he was bug-eyed yokel crazy, but he’s been taking himself distressingly seriously since having some kind of breakthrough a couple weeks ago. I guess if I had to pick someone to root for to win it all now, I’d be torn between Allen and Danny, which just about guaran-damn-tees that one of them will get eliminated next week.

Whatever Happened to the Hyper-man of Valeron?

One of the gifts I got this year for my birthday was the hardcover edition of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – which is a reprint collection of four comic book issues from the 80’s. I just finished reading it last night. All of the stories star Superman (who, in the neon-purple prose of comic books, has long been referred to as the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton, etc.) and all of the stories were written by Alan Moore, the eccentric genius who would go on to write Watchmen, V for Vendetta, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, From Hell, and many other mind-blowing comics series and graphic novels. If you’ve seen any of the movie versions, I can say definitively the book is better. Still, before Moore was a mad hermit taking up whatever grandiose project struck his fancy, he was just an emerging talent who took work-for-hire on an issue by issue basis. If DC Comics needed a Superman story written, Moore might get the call.

He needs the rings because he's a wizard, you see.
The introduction to the hardcover Whatever Happened (which is named after the two-issue story at the front of the volume; the other two issues are standalone Moore/Superman stories that just pad out the book to justify its deluxeness) alleges that Moore actually insisted that he be allowed to write that namesake story, complete with death threats, but whether editorial approached him or vice versa, the fact remains that it is a story written by a visionary but using old characters. In fact, it is a coda of sorts to the Superman mythos. Or one big chunk of the Superman mythos.

Right, let me wax expository for a bit. Superman is about as recognizable a privately-owned American icon as Ronald McDonald or Mickey Mouse, and he’s been around since 1938. But whereas Ronald McDonald is just a corporate mascot, and Mickey Mouse is an ageless character who resides in a 50’s-ish cartoon world but can easily be dropped into fairy tales, Dickensian holiday classics, or a disco album, Superman has been steadily accumulating a narrative history for seven decades. The basics of the character have always stayed the same, but the trappings evolved over time, to the point where one could build a fairly canonical biography of the character based on the monthly issues that advanced the story of Superman’s life – and of course comic book fans did just that because being a comic book fan tends to go hand in hand with being obsessive and over-invested.

The upside of comic books as a medium is that you can keep drawing a character the same way forever – you don’t have to recast the actor playing the hero, you don’t have to worry about the signature special effects that were once cutting edge looking dated and cheesy. If you find something that works you can ride it indefinitely. The downside is that if you also incorporate an accretion of meaningful history – the dreaded Continuity – then you eventually run into problems with that otherwise desirable open-ended timeline. On the one hand it’s a storytelling limitation, because a writer in 1979 can’t hang an issue on the idea that Superman would be surprised to encounter magic in the modern era if Superman had previously fought a warlock in 1969 and a coven of witches in 1959. And on the other hand it strains the suspension of disbelief; it’s well and good that pencil artists can re-draw Lois Lane and Clark Kent in the fashions of today year after year, or even have the writers move them from the old-fashioned newspaper business to the exciting glamour of television news, but how is it that the same Lois Lane who exposed Nazi saboteurs in World War II is now covering computerized satellite launches and still doesn’t look a day over 30?

Various efforts to explain away or ignore these inconsistencies were employed for about the first fifty years of Superman’s publication history (and these kind of inconsistencies didn’t just affect him, obviously) and then DC Comics decided to scrap everything and start over. One month comics would be published in which Superman had been Earth’s greatest hero for a long, long time, winner of countless battles against his menagerie of villains through the years; the next month that collective memory of Superman’s career was editorially nullified and the audience was given a new take on Superman’s premier appearance, with first meetings of allies and enemies still ahead of him. The origin – rocketed from doomed Krypton, raised in Kansas by the Kents – was kept intact, but moved forward in time to jibe with Superman’s apparent age. Other elements of the Superman mythos were totally revamped. Lex Luthor, for instance: he had always been a mad scientist intent on committing loot-motivated crimes of genius and/or destroying Superman, and at one point it was revealed that young Lex and Superboy were actually friends, to the point where Lex tried to create a cure for kryptonite for his buddy, but one day Lex’s lab caught fire, Superboy showed up to blow out the blaze, and in the process caused some fumes to sweep across Lex and make his hair fall out, which explains both Luthor’s baldness and his hatred of Superman. I SWEAR TO RAO THIS WAS CANONICAL – until 1986 or so, when Luthor was retooled as a respectable but corrupt businessman first, dabbler in science second, a self-made man more interested in power than wealth (though of course the latter helps achieve the former), who hated Superman for being an alien, for having innate powers which were less worthy than Luthor’s own bootstrap-hoisting origin, and for thwarting Luthor’s scummier schemes. In hindsight it seems like a no-brainer to truly update and streamline the Man of Tomorrow so that he no longer seemed like the Man of 1950, but it was a big gamble at the time.

But back up to that moment in time just as all of Superman’s previous exploits are about to be deemed inapplicable to the history of the character going forward. (Yeah, talking about the history of comics and what-was-considered-real-and-when hurts my head, too.) DC Comics decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give that classic version of Superman a classic send-off, a grand finale of literally monumental finality. OK, technically it was a cheat, because all of the earth-shaking changes chronicled in that final story would be undone and rendered meaningless as the new Superman era began, but it still seemed fitting. And Alan Moore got the gig, and the world got Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Moore, always a riot-of-ideas kinda guy, pulls out all the stops. He tells the story of Superman’s Last Stand, and the tale of the battle documents the fates of most of Superman’s villains (they die), all of his supporting cast of friends and loved ones (most of them die, too, no messing around here), and finally the big guy himself (I’m hesitant to be too spoiler-y, but the story is told as a flashback based on the recollections of Lois Lane Elliott, who is clearly living in the future in a world without Superman). Yet somehow, in keeping with the classic Man of 1950 feel of the character, the story has a happy ending.

As is my wont, though, I’ve just provided all of those reams of background info to provide context for something really specific I want to focus in on. Alan Moore, given the chance to put a big red, blue and yellow bow on the Superman saga, and working within the expansive DC Universe and without constraints, incorporates a sweeping cast of characters like he’s Cecil B. DeMille. Lois Lane and Lana Lang and Perry White and Jimmy Olsen are all present and accounted for. (Ma and Pa Kent were deceased in this version of the canon, another thing the post-Crisis revamp rectified.) Bizarro and Luthor and Brainiac play big bad guy parts, and lesser foes like the Toyman, the Prankster, the Kryptonite Man, and Metallo get their moments, too. Plus there are all the other super-heroes to contend with, including Krypto the super-dog, the future-based Legion of Super-Heroes who can’t interfere in the past, and Superman’s contemporaries, who are kept away from the siege on the Fortress of Solitude by a plot device (an impenetrable forcefield that is not what it seems to be). It’s a balancing act for Moore as a writer, who wants to tell a story about Superman facing down his greatest enemy all alone, despite living in a world full of super-heroes who all practically worship him and would unquestioningly fight at his side. So the other heroes are kept out of the fight, and only allowed in when it’s time to clean up the wreckage left in the battle’s wake.

Who are these heroes? Pretty much exactly who you’d expect: Wonder Woman, Batman, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, Vartox …

Wait what.

To those of you with even the most casual familiarity with Superman, one of these things is not like the other. You know Wondy and Bats thanks to Lynda Carter and Adam West if nothing else. Hawkman was in the Super-Friends cartoon and has a pretty recognizable look to him. Captain Marvel you might know better by the slightly-less-accurate-but-also-less-copyright-problematic Shazam(!) another character who had both live-action and cartoon TV incarnations. So that leaves ...

I demand a Hungry Man frozen dinner, a bottle of Old Spice and a steady supply of quaaludes!
Vartox is an alien from the planet Valeron who has hyper-powers that rival and possibly exceed Superman’s, and his look is based entirely on Sean Connery in the role of Zed the Exterminator from the 1974 sci-fi movie Zardoz.

Damn, brutha, you so SMOOOOTH

It’s true, I’m not embellishing in the slightest, so let’s just accept it and move on. Needless to say, Vartox is a relatively late addition to the Superman mythos and arguably one who never really had the time or space to catch on. Wonder Woman and Batman and Captain Marvel and even Hawkman were all headliners in the 40’s and more or less mainstays ever since. Vartox debuted in the pages of Superman in the mid-70’s, mainly to serve as an older, more-experienced, hairier-chested buddy to Supes, and about ten years later all of that would be chucked out the window anyway.

But just before that defenestration, Alan Moore thought that it made perfect sense that when Superman was in the fight of his life Vartox would rush to his aid. In that mid-80’s context, with Vartox as well-established as he was ever gonna get, I suppose it did make sense, as Vartox was undeniably a heavy-hitter and every bit as loyal to Superman as Wonder Woman or Batman. I also like to think that Moore recognized how ludicrous it was that the Superman cast had a supporting member who was based on a Sean Connery modeled future-man already painfully dated a mere ten years later (hell, arguably painfully dated the day Zardoz hit theaters), and given no reason not to use Vartox did so for the sheer hilarity factor as well. Whatever the true reasons, Moore worked him into his epic Superman farewell. And the best part is that he calls no undue attention to it. Vartox doesn’t get a single line of dialogue, nor is he ever identified by name. If you know who he is, it’s impossible not to recognize the mustachioed gent showing a lot of skin. (As opposed to the bird-headed gent showing a lot of skin – that’s Hawkman.) But if you don’t, it doesn’t impact your ability to understand or enjoy the story an iota – weirdly-dressed dude shows up with Batman to help back up Superman, he must be one of the good guys (who are destined to play a very sidelined role in this drama).

Personally, I don’t really have a good reason to know who the hell Vartox is, either. He showed up only a handful of times in Superman comics between the time I was born and when I was nine. By age nine I enjoyed comics but only read them here and there when a grown-up bought them for me, and I never asked for Superman comics because other titles appealed to me more. To this day I still don’t read Superman comics very often, for various reasons which could take up another few thousand words, but I like the idea of Superman and the rich history of his myriad incarnations, especially the crazy anything-goes days of the 60’s and 70’s. I have killed many an hour on teh interwebs surfing around various Superman reference sites and learning about storylines and characters that are entirely too obscure to have made it into the coffee-table retrospectives or be recycled as plots on Smallville. I love that stuff. (I love Smallville, too, don’t get me wrong. Smallville also put its own spin on the Luthor-Superman relationship and brought back a twist on the how-Luthor-got-bald story but, again, that is a post for another day. Right now we’re focusing on Uber-Nerd Comic Book Trivia.)

And I love the fact that, annoying and limiting and self-contradictory as Continuity can be, it sometimes has its own rewards. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is a Superman story with a deservedly classic status, and great fun to read both in and of itself and as a time capsule of DC Comics in a period of upheaval in the 80’s. To be able to identify what basically amounts to a decades-old inside joke in the inclusion of a forgotten, misbegotten and marginal character makes me feel for just a moment - a sweet, utterly enjoyable moment - like my embarrassingly vast stores of useless geek-knowledge aren’t quite so useless after all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Non-verbal communication

Having caught everyone up on work, I can now proceed to the updates on the new house. We had our home inspection this past Saturday (a massive time-sink, which is the primary reason why there was no Grab Bag to close out Science-Fiction week, sadly) and it went pretty well. No colonies of malevolent termites skulking in the baseboards, no creative overclocking of the wiring, no bottomless pits in the basement cleverly obscured by well-positioned carpet remnants and exercise equipment. Apparently it’s just a run-of-the-mill thirty year old house with the expected amounts of wear and tear.

Is it weird that I remember these characters about as findly as any other early 80's Saturday morning cartoons?
There were a couple of small deficiencies (like the shower in the upstairs hall bathroom, which works, but not quite perfectly) and it was oddly refreshing that our real estate agent took those matters seriously enough to immediately draft an addendum to our contract requiring the sellers to resolve the issues before closing. I couldn’t help but mentally contrast this to five years ago, when I bought the current residence, which was near the height of the real-estate market hysteria in northern VA. Back then a house would go on the market on Friday and by Sunday night the sellers would be reviewing a dozen bids: first they would laugh and discard anyone who actually wanted a contingency home inspection, and then of the potential buyers who waived the inspection the highest bidder usually won out. I insisted on a home inspection contingency for the townhouse – I take no chances when it comes to hyperintelligent insects, potential electrical fires and/or hellmouths – and I’m pretty sure I only ended up winning my bid because the townhouse was a former rental property being shown empty and didn’t attract any competing buyers. In any case, this time around I was going to insist on a home inspection again, but on some level I expected that, as long as the report was not stamped with a big red RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, I would just take the minor flaws in stride and deal with them later. So to have pretty much everyone on all sides say, “No, no, for the money you’re paying for this house you should get everything in good working order” … logically I know it shouldn’t be odd, but it is.

The whole family – my wife Nisse and son Wendell and me – trekked out to the new house for the inspection but due to the time-consuming thoroughness of the enterprise our roles quickly became established: I followed the inspector around getting the play-by-play, and Nisse kept Wendell occupied and out of trouble. Mostly Nisse supervised while Wendell played with the two dogs who currently live in our future house; these dogs give great lick-y kisses (something our dog doesn’t do at all) so Wendell was totally delighted by their attentions. For the better part of three hours Wendell really was an angel, but towards the end as we were congregating in the kitchen Wendell spotted a lone banana in the fruitbowl and decided he wanted it very much. His mother and I weren’t comfortable stealing food from people whose house we’re trying to buy, so we made every effort at distraction to fend off the threatened temper tantrum. I thought I was doing all right at shifting Wendell’s focus when I got one of his random-pictures-and-words books and started flipping through it with him in the living room, but he quickly skipped ahead to the page devoted to foods and pointed insistently at the picture of … the banana. Apparently the boy thought it had somehow slipped my mind that he had been demanding a banana earlier, but even though he’s a pre-verbal child he was happy to use a visual aid to get me back on task. I thought that was pretty funny. He never did get the banana, and I’m sure his therapist will be hearing about that cruel deprivation years from now.

So another major milestone has been met and now we just need to finish our official mortgage application, make it through closing, find a renter for the townhouse, and pack and move everything we own. Truly it is the most wonderful time of the year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The New Org Chart

I haven’t been unemployed since the middle of 2001, and even that period was a relative blip in the scheme of things, a five-month interruption in what would otherwise be unbroken gainful employment stretching back to approximately November of 1996. And the vast, vast majority of that stretch has been spent in largely indistinguishable cube farms in The Big Gray, working the 9-to-5, five-workdays-a-week standard. My point is this: I am no stranger to the sensation of going back to work on Monday morning. The contrast between a weekend of downtime and the beginning of yet another clock-punching week should have long since faded into the sensory background like the subtle texture of a demure wallpaper pattern. And yet. I suspect an inordinate number of my blog posts that end up being about work get written on Mondays. If there’s a reason for it, it’s that work is just so much more noticeable coming on the heels of Sunday, even after all this time.

There was actually quite a stir at work last week, in the form of a sudden an unexpected announcement of reorganization. A bigwig was reassigned to a special task force and everyone who reported to that bigwig was shuffled around to now report to new bigwigs. Ordinarily something like this would have virtually no impact on me, because I’m a contractor and I just keep my head down and do the work that’s assigned to me and give little thought to its point of origin up the food chain. However, in this case, the bigwig in question who was reassigned was the same bigwig who decided, seemingly on a whim when I was introduced to him and he found out I design web-interface databases, to draft me into developing a brand new system for a project he had been rolling around in the back of his head. Since he was leaving, I had no idea if the project would evaporate as well. (If it did, it was kind of a good news/bad news situation; good because I’d be off the hook, bad because I’d be back to having very little to do for the foreseeable future.) I proceeded in my own head-slappingly stupid way to try to ask about this in an e-mail to both my contracting supervisor and the government liaison who coordinates our weekly status reports right after the bigwig told us he was leaving – my contracting supervisor was quick to point out that since the announcement wasn’t official yet I shouldn’t be making reference to it in departmental e-mails and I was quick to feel like a twit who should really know better. Luckily it was no harm, no foul, and the next day the announcement was made officially and a new org chart was provided at the announcement meeting.

Later that same day, the bigwig I had been re-organized to report to (who happens to be that same lady who coordinates weekly status reports) called me into her office to explain to me why I had been left off the org chart. The re-organization had happened fast and several people who hadn’t been in the office long, myself included, were inadvertently omitted, but an even-newer org chart was forthcoming. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t worry about my position. Also, she wanted me to continue working on the departing bigwig’s project, since she’ll be able to make the same use of it that he was planning on. So back on the hook, but with something to fill the hours, at least.

For the record, I had never bothered looking at the new org chart so I had never realized I wasn’t on it. I played it off to my new superior as something that hadn’t fazed me because I assumed things were done under extraordinary time constraints, and I thanked her for letting me know she was aware of the oversight. The truth is I’m glad it all worked out that way because I haven’t had much to do lately (even the old bigwig’s project has been stuck in neutral because I am still waiting for some software acquisition) and when periods of inactivity at work stretch out I admit I get a little paranoid that someone’s going to snap their fingers and eliminate me as unnecessary overhead. So it was nice to have my newly-installed superior personally assure me that I still have a role in the organization.

Meanwhile I’ve spent most of Thursday, Friday and today trying, both vainly and despairingly, to get the new hosts for my server migration project to do their fucking jobs. They e-mail me and ask if everything is working. I e-mail them that it’s really not, explain in excruciating detail what’s not working, give them the means to test it for themselves, and ask them to repair. Then they either e-mail me back to say that they don’t know what’s causing the errors (it’s not like I’m holding out information on them, so what they hope to gain by admitting this to me is a mystery) or to say that everything is fixed and I should test again. Which I do, only to get the same old errors. And round and round we go. The thing is I’ve been in the troubleshooter’s seat before and if there was one rule drilled into my head it was this: you do not say something is fixed until you’ve not only made the repairs but actually tested the product to see that the repairs took in the way you thought they would. And it is painfully obvious these guys do not follow that dictum, because otherwise they’d see immediately that their fixes are nothing of the sort. The other thing that is driving me bananas is that I keep getting passed from one technician to the next. Moe helps me for a while and then punts me over to Larry, and we go back and forth until he foists me off on Curly, and by the time Shemp starts getting cc’ed on the e-mails and I am explaining the exact same thing again for the fourth or fifth time I’m about ready to explode and take a few stooges down with me.

Once again, the thought that all this is a weird prank played on me by powerful unseen forces is hard to deny.
But the so-what-of-it-all is that I am trying to buy a lovely new house and I need this job, so I will continue to show up five days a week and take whatever comes my way. I will also spend some of those days envisioning ways to unsuspiciously get my foot run over by a forklift and settle out of court for a few hundred thousand dollars. That’s all I need, really. I’m not greedy.

Best. Tackle. Ever.

Back in October, I expressed my admiration for Melvin Bullitt simply because he had a cool name which would fit well on a leather-jacketed streetsmart cop whose best friends were a hooker with a heart of gold and a turbo-charged muscle car (not necessarily in that order).

Last night Melvin Bullitt tackled Kevin Faulk on a game-changing fourth down and made Bill Belichick look like a chump.

I am seriously considering naming my next child Melvin. Or possibly Bullitt. One of those.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The future ain’t what it used to be

We (the nuclear family unit, although the little one is pretty oblivious to the finer points) are currently very deep into the process of translating our desire and intention to own a new house into a legal and financial reality. Once again, this is largely accomplished via paperwork, which is a frustrating exercise under normal circumstances. During (self-proclaimed, I know) Science Fiction Week, however, it seems downright barbaric.

Today I have made multiple trips back and forth from my cubicle to the lone fax machine in the office, in some cases picking up paper copies of forms signed by my wife so that I too can sign them and then re-fax them to our mortgage broker so that he can have permission on file to check our credit, our tax returns, and whatever else it takes to justify loaning us a really mind-boggling amount of money. Doing things on paper as opposed to electronically strikes me as quaintly old-fashioned; for some reason, fax machines occupy space in my mind devoted to the hopelessly archaic, fallback technology that should have been completely phased out by now but somehow hangs around because everyone needs it every once in a great while.

Sci-fi often gets a bad rap for its failures in predicting the future. Where’s my flying car, my two-way television-phone, and my robot butler, all things which were supposed to be commonplace by 1999? This of course misses the point, because sci-fi has really always been more about processing society’s fears than its aspirations, because sci-fi is a genre of stories involving conflict, as opposed to pure philosophical futurism. The point is, no one ever complains that we don’t yet have re-animated patchwork corpses as in Frankenstein, or hi-tech cryo-prisons like in Demolition Man. (Or maybe some people do – humankind’s capacity for grousing is limitless.) But the fact is that both the shiny chrome-plated utopias and grimy irradiated dystopias are probably equally unlikely, putting equal amounts of the fiction in sci-fi.

Still, it’s pretty amazing to observe how far we have come in making what once was futuristic look like cheesy relics, just in terms of the real everyday objects we take for granted.

Still waiting for the yellow coats and fedoras to have their moment
My cellphone beats the hell out of Dick Tracy’s wrist-radio. The internet feels more indispensible than any worldwide computer system crippling humanity and/or its alien analogues. Direct deposit and a debit card let me roam around with as much autonomy as any of the credit-stick carrying characters in Asimov’s Foundation, and that prophetic society blew my MIND as a kid. Of course, just acknowledging that brings up two realizations:

1. When I was a kid my own personal economy was 100% cash-driven, more or less in five dollar increments. The idea of large sums of credits being transferred by computers from one account to another was pure fantasy from my perspective. But obviously it was already happening on no small scale in the 1980’s.
2. Today is one of those days where direct deposit is kind of biting me in the ass, as the mortgage company wants to see some paper paystubs which do not, as such, exist. Ah, progress.

I know this post is kind of meandering and pointless (arguably more pointless than usual, even) and I suppose I’ll blame that on being distracted by the mortgage shenanigans. I think it’s important to remind myself, when I feel burdened by doing low-tech things, that progress really is all around and happening constantly, and the next great leap forward could come at any time, and the world twenty-five years from now may bear as little resemblance to today as 2009 does to 1984, which means I’ll be able to lean back in my hover-Rascal and laugh about fads like looking at screens instead of using cortex-uplinks. Then I’ll yell at the damn human-bug hybrid kids to get off my opium-grass hybrid lawn.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


At this point in Science-Fiction Week it occurs to me that I’m doing a lot of bitching. On the one hand this may not seem remarkable because providing a venue for rantings, expressions of entitlement, snark and general douchebaggery seems to be the primary purpose of the interwebs in general and blogs in particular. But as I take a deep breath after reiterating how much I disliked the 2003 Hulk movie and ragging on the Avatar trailer and dismissing Tales of the Dying Earth as a poorly-written footnote to a different interest of mine entirely, I’m capable of the modicum of self-awareness necessary to realize that the whole reason I have so much to say about sci-fi, due to so much exposure to it in general, is because I am ostensibly a fan of the genre. But I hate the thought of embodying fandom as “someone who can pick apart and denigrate things with excessive specificity.” Begging the question: when’s the last time I consumed any sci-fi pop culture which I actually liked?

I am alarmed at how difficult this is proving to answer.

It’s not surprising to run into bad sci-fi after bad sci-fi because the genre is so fraught with pitfalls, all of which are really just the dark sides of its strengths. It’s something people willingly come to with a higher threshold for the suspension of disbelief, but that is often used as an excuse to incorporate magical plot developments and resolutions that don’t make any sense by draping them with non-explanations like “aliens” or “future technology”. It can make the familiar unfamiliar and let the audience take a fresh look at something (like yet another high school drama but in a school staffed by ROBOTS!) but often times it gets caught up in the flashy new idea and loses the connection to real life that would have made it meaningful. In a similar vein, it’s a near-perfect setting for allegory, but ham-fisted moralizing sometimes gets the better of it.

And there’s some kind of primal allure the genre has for me, something to do with the inherent promise and potential of starting with our real world and pushing at the edges of it a bit, reshaping it in a plausible way, with unlimited possibilities, which means I return to it again and again no matter how many times I get burned. Somehow that deep belief in what sci-fi can be keeps me coming back despite every new piece of evidence that it rarely reaches its own capacity for greatness.

I guess it’s symptomatic of my general decline in pop culture consumption in general that I’m hard-pressed to rattle off sci-fi I’ve loved lately. I liked the Watchmen movie (even though I thought it had some pretty serious flaws), so much so that I’m eagerly looking forward to picking up the ultimate edition on DVD and sharing the viewing experience with my wife, who missed out on the late-night boys’ trip to see it in the theater. I am enjoying the Blackest Night storyline in the Green Lantern comics, although I’m still reserving judgment until it finishes up. I was grooving on Firefly for a while there but I don’t think I’ve popped one of those DVDs in since early spring (before baseball season, of course). The last sci-fi that wasn’t based on a known commodity I enjoy (i.e. comics or Joss Whedon) that I was thrilled to discover was the Hyperion Cantos novels by Dan Simmons. And I read the fourth and final installment of that series a year ago.

It’s hard to shake off associations of identity, though. Even if I can’t point to a single great new sci-fi find of 2009, even if I spend more time apologizing for Star Wars than enjoying it, I still consider myself someone who’s always on the lookout for the next big futuristic jetpack thing and optimistic about 2010. (And I still have Serenity, Torchwood: Children of Earth and the Star Trek reboot to get around to as soon as I have time …)

(Seriously, you guys, if at some point in the rebooted franchise they do a feature-length Mirror, Mirror I would pay $100 to be at the midnight showing.)

Just to wind up this post with some unbridled enthusiasm: a bit of sci-fi for which I have undiluted nostalgic goodwill (probably because I have yet to revisit it as a harsh and jaded adult) is a Japanese cartoon called Star Blazers (in America, at least; the Japanese title translates roughly to Space Battleship Yamato) and a disproportionately huge amount of that warm regard comes from the cartoon themesong. It’s a fantastic composition that lays out the backstory (warship confronts enemy aliens to save the Earth) of the cartoon against a stirring, stridently martial composition, so it sounds like a song soldiers would sing while marching off to war … in the future!!! If there is the slightest appeal in boys’ adventures somewhere in your soul, to hear this song is to love it. So I was reading another blog yesterday evening while my son little Wildstar played nearby and I was made aware of the existence of a speed-metal cover of the Space Battleship Yamato theme song (by a band called Animetal) and I had to track down the MP3 and unmute the computer speakers so I could blast it. It was, I am happy to report, a clear-cut case of awesome + awesome = even more awesome. I am even more happy to report that little Wildstar concurred. He is just starting to make the tentative connections between music, rhythm, and dancing, which means when he hears something musical he will rock his tiny torso back and forth to the beat, or sometimes clap his hands. When the air was filled with shredding guitar underlining Japanese lyrics about war with aliens, he did both. He stopped what he was doing, clapped along and rocked out. I hesitate to project to much on my progeny, but I’m sure I recognized the spark in his eyes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Geek Roots

I hereby declare this to be Science-Fiction Week here at PA, by virtue of the fact that I am going to follow up yesterday’s musings on sci-fi flicks, modern special effects and my personal aversion to the uncanny valley with another batch of geek-specific overthinking. (I know Monday’s post doesn’t qualify as sci-fi-related at all, but cut me some slack for clearing the decks at the week’s outset.) Just figured I should give fair warning before we delve too deeply into the speculative realm.

I’m currently reading a book called Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance, which is actually four novels, although you could make the case that that’s not technically accurate, either. Ah, sweet familiar allure of the needlessly complicated.

It’s been a long time since I walked through a book store, picked up a book I knew nothing about written by someone I had never heard of, and made a purchase based on some combination of the persuasiveness of the blurb on the back cover or the kewlness of the artwork on the front. I made some interesting discoveries that way but I got stuck with a lot of dreck, too. The last thing I want is to be stuck on the bus or the Metro with a bad book, so nowadays I tend to stick with series or authors I’m already familiar with, or pick things up based on reviews or other recommendations. Tales of the Dying Earth came to my attention in a slightly roundabout way, as I was reading the blog of George R.R. Martin (who writes a series I’m in the middle of reading, waiting for him to put out the next volume, which he is taking his sweet time about, but that’s neither here nor there …) and Martin mentioned a book he had edited would soon be released. That book is Songs of the Dying Earth which is an homage to Tales. I trust Martin’s taste and the mere concept evoked by the title alone seemed intriguing, so I put Tales of the Dying Earth on my wishlist and my father got it for me for my birthday. So before I cracked it open, all I knew about it is what I’ve relayed so far.

So it turns out the Vance was a pulp sci-fi short story author and the Tales are all short stories, many of which were originally published independent of one another in various magazines. Then they were published again as novels, rather than short story collections, and I assume that was a decision based largely on the fact that novels generally sell better than anthologies. And novel isn’t entirely a misnomer here because there is a lot of connective tissue between the stories, as they take place in the same world and often feature the same characters. This is one of the things I love about sci-fi, the fact that it lends itself so well to a long series format. In addition to characters and plots, sci-fi (and fantasy) writers come up with entirely new worlds, or at least worlds markedly different from our own, and those worlds beg to be revisited and explored more deeply once they are introduced. And on the slightly more cynical flipside, once an author manages to sell a story with a compelling lead character and interesting setting, why exert the effort of coming up with new characters and new settings when a return to the well will be just as profitable? So Vance re-used his Dying Earth for story after story, and publishers re-used the stories to crank out paperback novels.

Why sell them all in one paperback now, rather than as the four separate volumes? I think the answer lies somewhere along the beam of “They’re not very good.” I really like the idea of the pulp era, for two reasons. One, so many huge touchstones of my geek obsessions, from Star Wars to Green Lantern to Cthulhu to Buffy, have their roots more or less directly in the pulps. Two, I’m drawn to them as a writer who has dabbled in short speculative fiction, with a combination of curiosity to see how it was originally done and jealousy because I wasn’t alive back then to get paid by the word before all the good ideas were taken. But, again, that’s the idea of the pulp era. The actual products of the era often leave me cold, and I’d rather spend time with the modern descendents. Playing in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying system is a lot more fun than reading H.P. Lovecraft, for example.

And Jack Vance, who I’m sure has influenced many a geek I know and love … hoo boy, does he write some turgid prose. And he comes up with some wild ideas, but they very often show the stitches and seams of making-it-up-as-you-go-along. He invents races of people with, for example, black teeth or expressive articulated ears and noses or hallucinatory amethyst eyewear, but never provides any context for why the people would have such features. It’s just craziness for its own sake, a primitive exultation in the freedoms of the emerging science-fiction genre. I’m still fairly jealous of people who used to be able to get away with this, but at the same time I’m grateful that sci-fi has evolved since then, both for the sake of my fandom and whatever I may contribute to it creatively in my lifetime.

The most disappointing aspect of the series so far (I’m a couple chapters into the third novel) is that it doesn’t mesh with my expectations for a dying Earth setting. What might those expectations be?

You maniacs!  You wasted a perfectly good trope!
You’re damn right. I want some Thundarr the Barbarian, Roland the Gunslinger type post-apocalyptic set dressing, and Vance just doesn’t provide it. In the first book, which is the one with the least through-story, there are a few moments that get close to what I’m looking for. The basic premise for the world is that civilization long ago rose to its highest heights and has been in steady decline for millennia, and now science is mostly forgotten and magic is resurgent, along with demons and monsters and such. The sun is cooling off and has become red, and people generally believe the end of the world is near. In one story, the main character travels to a city where there was once a great library, and he fights some cannibal creatures in the ruins of skyscrapers, escapes in a somehow-still-working flying car, and then defeats the demon who has taken root in the library. I would have loved a whole series of books like that. But for whatever reason, Vance fell into a pattern of telling stories about men and monsters vying for power that would not be out of place in a straight-up sword and sorcery setting. There’s no more references to lost technology like cars and computers, and even references to the red sun and the end of the world become infrequent. Vance invents geography that matches nothing on Earth, with cities and races and societies that could just as easily be from Hyperborea or Eternia. Which doesn’t make for bad sci-fi per se, it’s just not what I was expecting.

But, in every bit of exploration of the deepest geek roots there’s bound to be at least one or two interesting revelations. In this case it was a piece of the origin story of Dungeons & Dragons that I never knew before. D&D owes the vast majority of its look and feel to the Lord of the Rings. You play a human, elf, dwarf or halfling and you fight goblins and orcs. Identifying as a thief is just as valid an occupation as ranger, cleric, wizard or fighter. The whole milieu is a pseudo-medieval wilderness overlaying ruins of past glories. D&D makes that Tolkiennian experience into a game by making every swing of an axe or twang of the bowstring into a roll of the dice. But there’s one thing in the Lord of the Rings that doesn’t quite translate to D&D. In the books, Gandalf pretty much does whatever he wants whenever he wants. He’s an inscrutable old bastard, but when he needs to escape a tower, he knows how to send a moth to fetch a giant eagle. He’s a walking plot device. The D&D world would feel incomplete if you couldn’t play a wizard, but if you give a player whatever-whenever power, you are giving them the ability to ruin the game at a whim. D&D gets around this by saying that wizards can do certain very specific things whenever they want, but only a limited number of times per day. In the world of the game this is explained by saying that knowing how to cast a spell is a slippery bit of knowledge that can be learned by memorizing passages in a spellbook, but casting the spell erases the knowledge. It’s the mystical equivalent of giving a character in a story a gun but a realistic amount of ammunition, and once a bullet is spent, it’s spent, unless the character can reload. Which is great for maintaining a fun yet challenging gaming experience, but couldn’t be further from the spirit of Tolkien. So if D&D is a LOTR ripoff, where did this spells-as-memorized-ammo idea come from?

Jack Vance. Not only did Vance come up with the idea of a mental quiver of spells, he also came up with the idea of spells being invented by dedicated magic researchers, who sometimes named specific effects after themselves. D&D totally ripped off that idea in the broad sense, not to mention some specific spell names (Prismatic Spray). The borrowing of LOTR for D&D is pretty obvious if you’ve had exposure to both (and post-Peter Jackson, who hasn’t been exposed to LOTR?) but Tales of the Dying Earth is way more obscure, so there’s no way I ever would have known about that influence if I hadn’t bumbled into reading the novels and then looked them up on Wikipedia to see if I was the first person to make the D&D connection. (Obviously I was not. I don’t know why that thought even occurs to me anymore.) Anyway, that’s your bit of pulp-sci-fi-to-roleplaying trivia for today.