Thursday, July 29, 2010

BBB Update

I rode the bus again today, and the twice-a-week break from driving myself up and down 66 is really making a big difference in preserving my sanity. Today was a perfect example, as the highway was doing its best impression of a parking lot and I was able to largely ignore it and ride it out. The bus also, as previously noted, has allowed me to keep at least a modicum of plausibility in my claim to a 2010 version of Beach Books on a Bus, which has been rolling pleasantly along.

I actually finished a Beach Book today which is almost the Platonic Ideal of Beach Bookdom, a hilariously overwrought potboiler called Starik. Rest assured, I do not expect you to have heard of this book. I certainly had never heard of it, and simply stumbled across it in a used bookstore at the beginning of June and bought it on a whim. When I went to add the book to my personal cyber-shelfspace on the GoodReads site, I discovered that they did not have an image of the book’s cover on file, nor had anyone else on the site ever given the book a 1-to-5 star rating. I’ve put 400 books on my GoodReads shelves over the past three years and those data lapses on the site’s part were a couple of firsts for me. They simply underscore the utter obscurity of this particular piece of pulp.

But it has so many awesome things to recommend it! A quick sampling:

- On the cover, the “R” in “STARIK” is backwards (of course it is) because it is a thriller written in the 80’s about the Russian Menace. That’s actually what initially caught my attention in the bookstore, because I am a sucker for weird jingoistic Cold War relics. Feel free to blame that on all the comic books I read as a youngun.
- The rest of the cover has the most generic art you could possibly imagine – a large American flag where the blue field has no stars in it, showing instead a silhouetted skyline of the Kremlin and multiple ICBMs flying hither and yon above the onion domes. It’s so characteristic of the cheap spy knockoff genre that it practically oozes déjà vu (or more accurately déjà lire?)
- The blurb on the back explains that the premise of the book is basically a heist story, with the loot in question being Lenin’s corpse, as in the terrifying near-future of the novel the USSR is led by a saber-rattling madman who reveres the old man. So basically a few loose cannon Americans who think outside the box are going to steal Lenin out of his tomb, which will cause the Russian leader to have a nervous breakdown, which will actually prevent World War III since the Russian leader will be too distraught to actively start the nuclear hostilities. I KNOW.
- Not contained in the blurb, but should have been: “This novel contains a passage in which a German spy, working with the CIA, has his legs strafed with a machinegun by a KGB operative on the streets of Moscow, and is then tackled by the KGB man, which leads to a brief wrestling match that ends when the German decides he has no desire to be captured, tortured, and used to undermine the CIA’s non-officially sanctioned graverobbing schene, so the German grabs the KGB operative’s machine AND SHOOTS HIMSELF IN THE FACE.” Because in 1988 that is how far the USA and our allies would go to stop those godless commie bastards.

Really, the best thing I can say about the book was that it was so bad it was good. And, as I say about everything I read on the commute, it passed the time.

Now I find myself looking ahead to August and three more weeks of commuting before I can actually read Beach Books on a Freaking Beach. I may in fact need to start pacing myself and setting aside a few books for the Outer Banks vacation itself, which of course begs the question: do I save the good (or at least wildly self-indulgent) books for the beach, even though with a two-year-old in the mix I might not have that much down time to read them? Or do I use the most highly entertaining books to get me through the interminable wait between now and a week of freedom, and content myself with any old thing I can find when I’m footloose and fancy free with sand between my toes? I will let you know how that dilemma ends up shaking out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My big takeaway thoughts from the hype coming out of last weekend's San Diego Comic Con

Green Lantern and Thor do not, at first glance, have too terribly much in common, other than both being marquee comic book superheroes who have carried their own titles on and off (mostly on) for about five decades apiece. But they are two names that get dropped by me here in the blog quite a bit (although, to be fair, sometimes when I namecheck the Odinson I am referring to his mythological antecedent directly, not the Marvel incarnation of the character per se). They are, I should hope I have demonstrated, personal faves.

They are also both getting feature-length movies which will be released in the summer of 2011. The timing of this, as you might imagine, kind of blows my tiny mind. Growing up the Superman movies were pretty much where superheroes began and ended on the silver screen, and then Tim Burton gave America Bat-mania, but by then I was already in high school. Then the X-Men and Spider-Man finally got their own movies, another ten or twelve years later.

Now it’s become a pretty facile observation to say that there’s scarcely a comic book property left that hasn’t at least been considered for a screenplay treatment, from “unfilmable” classics (e.g. Watchmen) to indie darlings (e.g. Hellboy) to stuff I was vaguely aware of but nobody I know was necessarily a fan of but what the hell, it’ll look all right on the big screen (e.g. Kick-Ass).

But any true comic shop denizen can tell you that for every movie that hits the cineplexes, or even gets an entertainment press mention for casting rumors, there’s approximately sixty-seven thousand other potential title characters appearing in published comics who are waiting their turn and may very well wait forever. That, more than anything, is why the timing here is a bit mind-boggling for me. Had you asked me, say, five years ago if they would ever make a Green Lantern movie, or a Thor movie, I would have said something approximate to maybe-but-probably-not, because each of them is a lone mid-level-at-best character among thousands in their respective publisher’s stable of licensable properties. And if you had asked me if I thought movies based on either of them could possibly turn out well, I would have similarly equivocated, if only to protect my inner hopeful-fanboy from having his spirits crushed. And furthermore if you (strange establisher-of-premise-via-hypothetical-questions that you apparently are) had told me that both movies would get made, both would give me good reason to actually get excited about the prospect of seeing them in the theater, and both would be released not only in the same year, not only close together, but quite possibly on the same dang weekend, I would have laughed, because, come on, now you’re just talking crazy jibber-jabber.

So yeah, if you were wondering if I am going to totally freak out next June? Yep. Most likely I am.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

23 days too late

Not only 23 days, but also 14 years too late, but who had a blog back in 1996? Not this guy. So if the G4 network sees fit to air the movie Independence Day a full three-plus weeks after the titular holiday, I think I can dedicate a post to the flick a decade and a half post-theatrical release, inspired by the fact that I got sucked into watching the last half hour or so on cable this past weekend.

Aliens, man.  They are all about the overkill.
I really love this movie, and it’s not terribly noteworthy (from my perspective) that I fell into watching a tv broadcast of it because (a) it’s one of those cheeseball classics that every cable station owns a copy of and airs on a semi-regular basis and (b) I tend to set down the remote and watch at least a few minutes of it whenever I flip across it. Every. Single. Time.

Of course Independence Day is utter brain candy, and by that I mean it’s the equivalent of compressed sugar tablets with trace amounts of fruit flavoring which you would never seek out but which you can’t seem to stop eating if they happen to be right in front of you. The characters are all the tropes I grew up on with exactly zero added nuance and nary a fresh quirk to be seen (the misunderstood genius? the cocky fighter pilot? the stripper with the heart of gold? COME ON!) but it’s probably that whole I-grew-up-on-those-stock-types that makes them feel so right in the middle of the outsized end-of-the-world plot. And the fact that the plot unsubtly hits each and every beat you would predict if you heard the synopsis “alien invasion disaster movie with happy ending” just adds to the overall addictiveness.

I did notice a couple of things this time around, though, or maybe not so much noticed as allowed certain ideas to crystallize. One was just how much Independence Day is a product of its time, in every conceivable way. And perhaps I am biased toward overly mythologizing the mid-90’s in which I graduated college and came of age and so on, but I think that even taking that into consideration you have to marvel at the high concentration of zeitgeistiness on display. If someone asked me to compile a pop culture time capsule of the 1990’s (or possibly even of the entire previous century) I would absolutely include a copy of this movie and let it speak for itself. There’s the cast, just for starters, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, who you really couldn’t get away from in that decade, all the way down to some of the supporting roles: Harry Connick Jr.! Brent Spiner! Will and Jeff are still with us but Harry and Brent were pretty much peaking at that point. (There’s also a young up-and-comer playing the commanding Air Force officer at Area 51, who has one of my favorite lines in the movie, when the President asks if the glass separating the alien autopsy room from the observation theater is bulletproof, and the major says “No, sir!” just before shattering the window by unloading a full clip into the alien’s bug-eyed head. That’s Adam Baldwin! AKA Jayne Cobb from Firefly and also AKA John Casey from Chuck! And that guy is eerily ageless, as he looks pretty much exactly the same.) And there’s the ham-fisted themes about natural resource conservation and government cover-ups and conspiracies and even a moment when Earth is mounting its final resistance and Israeli and Arab fighter pilots give each other grudging looks of respect across the airstrip from one another (hey, remember when it seemed like the Mid-East Peace Talks might actually go somewhere?).

But then there’s the movie as an artifact itself of how blockbusters were made in the 20th century. They actually built miniature sets of the various downtown areas that get blown up by the aliens, and set off explosives inside the model skyscrapers and filmed it and slowed it down to get realistic destruction shots. I will always remember being a little kid and sometimes catching specials on PBS about the miniature model-makers who worked on Star Wars, thinking that sounded pretty much like a dream job. But Independence Day has to be one of the last movies to use those kinds of old school effects rather than CGI. And of course the events themselves, as depicted or enhanced by the special effects, having to do with attacks on and mass death and destruction in American cities – I know we’ve had movies do similar things in the post-9/11 world (hell, Emmerich himself has helmed them) but it’s so gleefully done back there in 1996. And of course the whole glorious mess ends up being so unapologetically jingoistic in holding up the indomitable, invincible USA as the saviors of the world that it should be embarrassing today, given how much humble pie we’ve gorged on since the millennium.

And it is a little embarrassing, but not enough to ruin the movie. The movie is just one big naked manipulation of the audience’s emotions from the first frame to the last. And I’ve always smirked at that aspect of it but what I realized this time was that I was a lot more susceptible to the button-pushing. This is actually part of a larger phenomenon my wife and I have been noticing lately, which we’ve taken to calling Everything Is Different Now. This is nothing earth-shattering, but however universal it may be it’s still somewhat disorienting (though usually just amusingly so) to experience it firsthand. To boil it down, we find ourselves having visceral emotional reactions to things we formerly only had more cerebral reactions toward, such as the cheap dramatic technique of placing children in peril. Obviously this is because we now have a child of our own, and as a result … Everything Is Different Now. It’s particularly apparent when we re-watch something we’ve already seen, back in the pre-parenthood days. Case in point, the BTVS project, where we recently re-watched the first ever Buffy Halloween episode, in which all the little kids who bought costumes at a certain shop turn into little monsters when the shop owner casts a spell. My wife and I both remember thinking this was an entertainingly silly lark of a storyline, but watching it again we both felt cold little knives of fear in our bellies despite being well aware not only that we were watching a piece of fiction but knowing exactly how it ends! (The kids, shocking spoiler alert, are all saved by Buffy.) Independence Day shares in this effect as well. The President leads a fighter squadron against the alien battleship and returns in triumph … to give his little girl a hug. Meanwhile Randy Quaid’s character is the one who had to sacrifice his life to achieve the victory, which marks the first time in the course of his troubled relationship with his son that the boy has been proud of his old man, and over in yet another story arc Jeff Goldblum’s character and his difficult dad played by Judd Hirsch find some common ground when Goldblum crashlands back on earth after taking out the mothership. It’s really borderline insulting how over the top these father-son intergenerational feelgood moments are but they just about slayed me this time around. I still recognize, intellectually, what’s going on and how hacky it all is, but now in addition to that there’s this wellspring of feelings that surge up unbidden in response.

And that is just me getting mortifyingly misty-eyed at the climax to a deliberately dumb movie. Don’t even ask how I’m able to function like a normal human being in the face of real-life tragedies that happen to children in the news every day, because I’m still figuring that one out for myself. It probably goes to the point of why I’m more likely to be watching G4 than CNN on any given weekend afternoon, though, brain candy addict that I am.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Continuing Adventures of the Littlest Virgo

I don’t really care to turn this blog into any kind of shill-fest for products and/or services, but the fact remains that I am exactly the kind of American consumerist you would rightly expect a person of my socioeconomic background and present situation to be. I like to be entertained; I enjoy a few independent works of art but spend most of my time on mass-produced media. I like to eat; home cooking suits me just fine but I shop at recognizably large grocery stores and also frequently dine at transnational franchises. That is how I roll, and it would be pointlessly disingenuous to assert otherwise. So I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you all have heard that there is this place called Dunkin’ Donuts, and that they serve breakfast-type foodstuffs. And I am going to go ahead and tell you a story that happens to take place at a DD, and simply hope that you understand I am not trying to do any kind of stealth viral marketing for the Dunkin’ Brands Corporation.

Usually we get our Dunkin’ Donuts bagel sandwich combos to go and enjoy them at home on a lazy weekend morning, but this past Saturday found my wife and the little guy and myself out and about quite early and relatively far from our neck of the woods at the breakfast hour, so we stopped in at a DD for the dine-in experience. Of course the little guy had already started a banana roughly the size of his femur at home and finished it in the car, but we still managed to split up two breakfast combos into what I like to think of as Three Little Bears portions: I of course had a bagel sandwich and side order of hash browns and coffee all to myself, my wife had a bagel sandwich and coffee, and the little guy had her hash browns (which are really more like round, flattened tater tots than anything, but whatever, semantics) . Everyone was pretty pleased with that arrangement of food distribution.

They live in a house with furniture and eat porridge, yet don't wear clothes ... less disturbing than if they did wear clothes, or more?
The little guy is at a bit of an in-between point these days as far as mealtime seating arrangements go. His high chair still sits in a corner of the kitchen, although my wife and I never try to maneuver him into it ourselves. Sometimes, though, he specifically requests it, and he still (barely) fits, so we generally oblige him. He also has a booster seat semi-permanently strapped to one of the chairs of our dining set, and that’s the spot where he eats most of his meals at home, particularly when we actually make a point of all three of us sitting down together for family dinner. The third option is the just-his-size table and chairs in the playroom – which has somehow been christened the “snack table” – where the little guy is allowed to eat solo lunches if he’s not in the mood for the booster seat and his parents are not in the mood to argue with him.

Of course in an unfamiliar fast food place all bets are off, and if it even crossed my wife’s mind to ask for a high chair at Dunkin’ Donuts, she kept it to herself; I know it never crossed mine. The little guy just sat in a regular chair like the rest of us, seeming perfectly content to be eye-level with his little bag of potato-discs.

But more than the predictably hyper-palatable food itself, or even the sitting in a big boy chair itself, I think mostly the little guy enjoyed the freedom of not being strapped in. He quickly settled into the following process:

1. Eat a single hash brown.
2. Pick up a napkin from the pile in the middle of the table, and wad it up into a ball (incidental wiping of hash brown grease from fingers may or may not ensue)
3. Slide down from chair to floor unassisted
4. Walk over to garbage and throw away used napkin
5. Return to chair and climb back into it unassisted
6. Go to Step 1

So over the course of a bag of hash browns he must have gone through that entire cycle about eight or nine times. I really did not think I would ever have much use in my life for a phrase like “adorably fastidious” but then my son came along and started having a personality, and now it seems like I can’t get through a day without saying that.

Also did I mention that this DD was actually inside a gas station? I feel that is relevant because I must also inform you that after breakfast we bought a bandana for the little guy which was patterned with John Deere logos and pictures of tractors. He let us tie it around his head do-rag style and he thought he looked pretty cool in it. He was totally right, too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Slow Fade

It’s been a bit of a strange week, what with the Tuesday-off interruption. That deviation from routine would have been something in and of itself, even if it had been for some prosaic reason like needing to stay at home for an appliance delivery or something like that. I like a three-day weekend as much as the next working stiff, but somehow a midweek day off seems even more monumental (possibly because, as opposed to a Friday on leave, a Tuesday away from the office significantly reduces the number of days I have to dress up and wear a tie) and creates all kinds of cognitive dissonance: Monday feels like Friday and Wednesday feels like Monday and so on. So add to that the fact that my Tuesday-off came on the heels of a Monday wherein I was feeling most peculiar indeed thanks to the drug stimulation, and was followed by a brief but non-trivial recovery, and furthermore consider that the entire Donation Day scenario had been looming on the horizon for a couple of months which leads to an inevitable feeling of “huh, now what?” once it’s passed by … I find myself oddly rudderless as the workweek, such as it is this go-around, draws to a close.

Next week is going to be yet another short week, but of the more traditional configuration, as I take Friday off and my nuclear family roadtrips up north for an extended family occasion, my Little Bro’s wedding. I’ll try to get that week’s blogging off to a strong start since it will inevitably be interrupted by the festivities.

Right now, though, I’m about all out of gas, so I will close with a random anecdotal thought (which would normally be saved for a Saturday Grab Bag, except this week I haven’t had the presence of mind to prepare one): if you are walking down the sidewalk talking on your cell phone, even if you raise your voice to be heard over the ambient city noises of idling bus engines and rattling construction equipment and whatnot, people will totally ignore you, for the most part. But if you modulate your tone ever so slightly into the register reserved for talking to a toddler, because your wife handed the phone to the little guy so he could say “hi”, all of a sudden people whip their heads around and lock onto the source of your kidspeak-voice. I guess maybe they are looking for the actual two-year-old, wondering who would have one close at hand in a commuter area during rush hour? Whatever the underlying cause, it really is a remarkable phenomenon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A minor quibble

There's a comic book convention going on in San Diego right now, which you might have actually heard mentioned even if you're not a giant geek like me, because it is a con that attracts (no exaggeration) 100,000 people and, because of its proximity to Los Angeles and the current trends in movies and tv toward doing more geeky genre stuff as well as out-and-out adaptation of comics properties, gets a lot of real celebrities and power players to show up. It is in fact sometimes referred to simply as Comic Con, which is kind of like referring to a meeting of the Yankees and Red Sox as The Baseball Game, because yeah sure it’s pretty much the high-point of the form but, to be fair, there are other examples out there as well.

Anyway, little news tidbits trickle outward from San Diego at a pretty steady rate but, again, a geek like me goes looking for news tidbits like that all the time so all I tend to notice is a slight uptick in frequency. But I did hear something awesome today: when Community’s first season comes out on DVD, it will include a mini-comic written (or meta-written) by the character of Troy, and starring Kickpuncher (his punches have the power … of kicks!)

Sweet. But I keep seeing references to this online in which people refer to “Troy’s creation Kickpuncher” which … gah … no!

Look, the whole point of the episode was that Troy and Abed enjoy watching crappy movies and MST3King them (obviously they don’t use that particular probably-copyrighted verb, but that’s what they’re doing) and Pierce tries to join in but he’s a Baby Boomer, not a Millennial, and he just doesn’t get MST3King and ends up overpreparing and showing up for the viewing of Kickpuncher 2 with canned material that bombs. Then in the bumper at the end Troy and Abed make a Kickpuncher fan film. Fan films are an entirely separate weird corner of the geekernet which I could probably riff on for an entire post, but the point that the bumper lovingly exploits is that they are almost always based on existing properties. Which, in the universe of Community, is what Kickpuncher is: a terrible low-budget movie series that Abed and Troy discovered, adopted with ironic love, and alternately made fun of and paid homage to. All of which is the exact opposite of Kickpuncher being Troy’s creation, as these various articles keep claiming.

Do these people even watch Community? I guess not, which makes me sad, because I want everyone to watch that show, because I want it to get good ratings and stay on the air forever. Or at least five years, so that I can see how they handle the more-or-less real-time progression of the universe’s timeline and keep the characters at Greendale for more than four years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Hello, and how are we all feeling today? If you are feeling well then we all are feeling well, because I am in fact feeling much more like myself, which is well enough. Figured I might as well cut right to the chase and answer the most all-encompassing question which might be on anyone’s mind after Monday’s pre-collection post: I’m fine, thanks.

(Yesterday’s post was something I started writing on Monday afternoon, somewhere between looking for a distraction from the low-grade skeletonache and legitimately wanting to talk about Supernatural and RPGs and all that. I was not expecting it to spin out for 3000 words, but that does happen to me from time to time. I finally finished it last night, while recuperating in the evening after the collection, and figured I might as well use it for my daily content. Here endeth the explanation for a post that may have seemed to come out of nowhere and did not address the collection at all despite appearing at the tail end of Collection Day. Back to the present.)

Either the rhino symbolizes pain, or rhinos are just awesome.
I honestly have to say that I’m feeling surprisingly good, considering. I was somewhat worried that receiving the final injection on Tuesday morning would mean that my barely tolerable flu-like feeling of crappiness would persist (or even potentially get 20% worse) for yet another 24 hours, and then slowly subside over the course of Wednesday and most likely beyond, maybe even another five full days. I briefly entertained the thought of asking the staff at the collection center how long I could expect it to take for my symptoms to go away, and then realized it really didn’t matter because it would simply take as long as it would take. And the back half of Tuesday was as rough as I’d anticipated, to the point where I had to lie down for an hour or so late in the afternoon, just dozing because my bones hurt a little too much for me to sleep deeply, but it did get better as the clocked ticked on. In retrospect now I think a large part of it was psychosomatic or otherwise incidental. I had no appetite for dinner, but that is almost certainly because of the triumphant gorging in which I indulged at my beloved Buffalo Wing Factory immediately after the collection was over at lunchtime. I felt pretty low-energy, too, but I’d attribute part of that to the fact that I had been admonished not to pick up my little guy for a day or so, and he’s at that stage right now where sometimes being picked up and held or roughhoused with or flown around or whatever is all he wants to do, so not being medically cleared for that kind of interaction bummed me out. Still, after the little guy was in bed for the night (a process facilitated by Pop-pop since I was on restriction and my saintly wife was putting in a truncated shift at work) I found the wherewithal to straighten the house a bit and make myself feel the tiniest bit useful.

But this morning I woke up with a significant reduction in the pain levels, which was a welcome surprise. Still a very mild headache and the occasional twinge in a joint here or there, but nothing like yesterday. I brought some ibuprofen with me to work but I have yet to take any because I haven’t felt like I’ve needed it. I don’t know if it was the excess buildup of stem cells that was contributing to the overall feeling of wretchedness, which was relieved by having them gone, or if the magic blend of saline, anticoagulants and calcium that was pumped into me at the collection center had some restorative effects, but the point is I think it’s safe to say I’m out of the thorniest part of the woods, at least.

I feel I should at least mention the collection itself but it was really fairly anti-climactic. You can hardly tell by looking that I was hooked up to machines for hours, since the nurses were pro enough to get the needles in me with nary a bruise. Holding the arm with the outgoing needle relatively immobile and completely unbent for a little over four hours got tiresome at about the halfway point, but I was well-distracted by some Joss-tastic entertainment, as my wife and I finally watched Serenity (more about that later, no doubt) and a couple of episodes of Buffy on DVD. The process could have taken up to five hours but I was done in a little over four because I’m such a good bleeder. And, apparently, I respond well to Filgrastim and they got as much volume of stem cells as they needed sooner than later. And that’s pretty much it, my work is done, and I can only hope that it does the right kind of good for the intended recipient, even though I’ll probably never know.

All in all it wasn’t that bad. I can bitch about pretty much anything, but knowing what I know now, I’d do it all again. Come to that, I might – the database has already matched me as a potential donor twice thanks to my mongrelized European hybrid vigor. It could very well happen again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blowing the dismount

Some buddies of mine recently got me into the WB show Supernatural. I should perhaps elaborate a little bit on the context here (because it actually becomes relevant later on). These buddies are my regular Wednesday night gaming group. Three of the players were regular watchers of the show, and it came up in conversation one night how much they enjoyed it, and one of the three fans owned several of the first few seasons on DVD, so he loaned them to one of the uninitiated, who immediately became an evangelizing convert of the first order. This process repeated itself until I was the only one in the gaming group who had never seen the show, and thus I was given the box set of Season 1 and urged to check it out. Then, because everyone else was so high on the show, it was determined (by the kind of primitive consensus fiats that determine most things for our group) that we would actually start playing a Supernatural game, so I had that much more motivation to figure out what this particular fictional universe was all about. So instead of Supernatural Season 1 languishing on a shelf along with Smallville Season 5 and the first disc of the CGI Clone Wars ongoing series, etc., I started working my way through the episodes.

And I’m happy I did, because it’s a fun show, something of an X-Files descendent but the central pair are twenty-something brothers rather than co-ed FBI partners. They get a suitably mythic origin story in the first part of the pilot (their mother is killed by some kind of monster when they’re very little, their dad then dedicates his life to avenging that murder and trains himself and his sons to be monster-hunters, the younger brother walks away from that life when he’s 18, but when he’s 22 big brother shows up on his doorstep because their father is missing and one thing leads to another and they’re on the road looking for dad and hunting monsters together again) and basically get to traipse around in a sweet old car listening to badass old dinosaur metal and getting in adventures which take their inspiration from ancient myths, urban legends and everything in between that goes bump in the night. The actors playing Sam and Dean have good chemistry and it’s generally pleasant enough as brain candy.

These boys are also excessively pretty, and that is a fact.
So over this past weekend, since I spent a lot of time trying to lay still and let the Filgrastim do its thing, I watched a few more episodes of the show. And I finally hit my first real dud, eight eps along. (Spoiler Alert, for an episode first broadcast in the fall of 2005!)

The episode started off pretty strong, too, with a very high creep factor due mainly to my own personal hang-ups. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a phobia, but I really dislike the feel of bugs crawling on me and have a very deep and abiding dread of actually being bitten by an insect or arachnid. I think giant centipedes are the most terrifying creatures in existence – just typing that now gave me the jibblies. Thus an episode entitled “Bugs” which leads off with a construction worker falling in a pit and subsequently being swarmed by beetles that proceed to crawl in his ears and eat most of his brain, um, how do I put this: AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

One thing which I’m coming to respect about Supernatural is that it’s nicely action-oriented. Sam and Dean always have a plan once they figure out exactly what’s going on. Most tv shows that follow this formula let the storylines unfold in the same way: investigation, then showdown, and some of the variation comes in how the two are balanced. So another kind of show, like X-Files, might have the investigators discover some weird occurrence, slowly rule out any mundane explanations, come upon a paranormal explanation that fits the facts, do more research to figure out how one is supposed to deal with that kind of paranormal problem, and then finally implement the solution at the last moment. Whereas Supernatural has Sam and Dean roll into town pretty sure that something non-mundane is going down, and quickly narrow down the possibilities. And once they settle if it’s a ghost or a werewolf, they know if they need to find the ghost’s physical remains and do a ceremonial cremation, or go hunting with silver bullets. Which saves a lot of time and lets them get right down the showdown, giving those action sequences a little more time to breathe. Nothing wrong with one approach or the other, and like I said, I respect that Supernatural is fully committed to the approach it’s chosen.

Here’s the thing about me as a viewer of high-concept genre entertainment like Supernatural: I contain multitudes. Part of me is watching just for the fun I can derive from the entertainment itself. But part of me is constantly picking apart the storytelling techniques, the choices the showmakers have made, and not just because I’m an unrepentant English major, and not just because everything I can analyze makes for potential blog-fodder, either.

There’s also the roleplayer in me, the guy who runs games for his friends and plays in games run by his friends, and that part of me can’t help but watch episodic storytelling on tv and pick it apart to find the moving parts that might translate into episodic collaborative storytelling around the gaming table. Especially when the connection between the tv series and the roleplaying game has been explicitly drawn by someone starting a new game using the licensed game materials associated with the show. (I told you the fact that it was my gaming group that got me into the show would be increasingly relevant.)

See, the thing is, the writer of an episode of a television series has to fill forty-two minutes of screen time every week, but they have the total control necessary to do so any way they choose. If their inspiration happens to be the urban legend about alligators in the sewers, the writer can create an elaborate mystery with twists and turns that slowly draws the protagonists towards the payoff of blazing gunslingers versus albino reptilian monstrosity. Or the writer could come up with thirty-seven minutes of bantering dialogue and then have the protagonists stumble into the final scene purely by accident, literally falling through an open manhole or whatnot.

Roleplaying games are a bit different, as I’ve vented before. The person who comes up with the scenario idea and runs the game and controls the environment has virtually no control over one critical element: the protagonists of the story, in the persons of the other players. It’s possible the players will just want to sit around jawing in-character for most of the night, and the sudden and unexpected appearance of a third-act explosion of violence will be welcomed. But it’s more likely that players are looking for something a little more structured, that gives them a little more to do. But it’s a fine line to walk, between planning every possible contingency in advance, and giving the players a feeling (however illusory) of control and free will.

So it’s generally advisable to overprepare if you’re planning to run an RPG. Give the players a lead to follow or a puzzle to solve, which will lead to another stepping stone in the story, and another, and so on until the climax. The more stepping stones comprising the path of the plot, the more likely it is to still feel developed and satisfying even if your players take shortcuts, show no interest in possibilities you dangle in front of them, or generally betray your vision in a way that fictional characters rarely do for their authors. And if your players are good but slow, you can always drop a few steps yourself and they’ll be none the wiser, whereas if they rush through too fast it’s much harder to come up with delaying tactics on the fly.

For what it’s worth, this improvisatory nature of storytelling via roleplaying games is really the guts of the appeal, in my book. Because there’s a certain expectation that the clock in the game is always ticking. One of my favorite Stephen King books is Misery, which like many of King’s stories is about a writer, and at one point the writer reminisces about working on a novel of his own and painting the protagonist into a corner, where the protag anti-hero had killed a man in a dark and somewhat crowded movie theater, and needed to hide the evidence/body, but without anyone seeing him. The writer had stumped himself and spent days, maybe weeks thinking it over until he hit on the solution: the anti-hero started a fire in the theater. Smoke and flames and everyone running out screaming, and the anti-hero carried the dead man out, which no one batted an eye at because they thought it was someone carrying an unconscious friend, if they even noticed amidst the chaos. That’s good stuff, but a good roleplaying game can create those kind of nearly impossible situations and then demand that an answer be forthcoming immediately. You certainly aren’t supposed to call time out for two weeks on a roleplaying game while you figure out what to do next. And if you can’t think of something fast enough, the person running the game should have the cops show up and allow all the other logical consequences to play out, which can change the entire story. It’s living in a story where not everything is clean and you hang on the edge by your wits, or some other grievously tortured metaphor. That is the really good stuff.

Right, so, tv shows and storytelling mechanics. Assuming you’re not watching the Super Friends (where the giant computer says “There’s trouble on Volcano Island!” and the Super Friends go to Volcano Island and beat up Lava Lord and the whole story takes ten minutes) you can usually pick up some good beats in the A leads to B leads to C pattern. So this was point number two in favor of “Bugs”, which had a lot of moving parts in its storyline, with red herrings, suspects that become allies, and so on. Parts of it were handled well, parts of it were kind of groan-worthy, particularly the reveal kicking off the third act, which explicated the episode’s previous shenanigans as the manifestation of an ancient Native American curse. Again, just so we’re clear here, the shenanigans were not ghostly scalphunters or bison-shaped storm clouds snorting lightning or anything remotely (or stereotypically) Native American, but carnivorous beetles and poisonous spiders, all of which seems a bit more Egyptian plagues, but whatever.

The point is, this placed our protagonists Sam and Dean in a narratively compelling corner as Sam asks “How do we break the curse?” and Dean replies “You don’t break a curse, you get out of its way.” Apparently the plot-mandated slaughtered Injuns had sworn that no white man would ever live on the cursed land, which put the developer’s family in danger for doing just that. And of course the developer refuses to leave his house when Sam and Dean show up predicting death by insect swarm around midnight. When the tidal wave of flying bugs crests over the treeline, it’s too late to run, so Sam and Dean and the family hole up inside the house to wait out the plague of murderous Indian-curse-fulfilling bugs. It’s been established earlier in the episode (by a token Native American wiseman, of course) that the curse manifests every year for six nights, starting on the spring equinox, because the historical slaughter lasted the same duration. So when day breaks to end the sixth night, which is the night the developer’s house gets attacked, the curse will have run its course until next spring.

Still, six hours (give or take) is a long time to hold off fourteen trillion death-crazed bugs. And I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how they were going to get out of it. Again, partly this was as a pure entertainment-seeking audience member, and partly as a roleplaying enthusiast who had every intention of noting the plot convolutions in order to rip them off in a game at a later date.

The climax unfolded, to my mind, much the same way that a roleplaying game would – the writer/game master/ cold uncaring universe continuously escalates the danger, while the main characters/players try to win the scenario, by surviving it. The killer swarm approaches, and the characters take shelter in the house. Once inside, they improvise a plan of defense, stuffing towels in the gaps under doors and grabbing a can of bug spray from under the kitchen sink (mainly to use in tandem with a Zippo as an improvised blowtorch). The swarm makes its way into the house anyway, though, breaking windows with a million tiny impacts and stressing the chimney flue with sheer weight. So the characters retreat upstairs. The bugs follow. The characters go up to the attic which has the virtues of a relatively tight door seal and no windows (or fireplaces). But of course some of the insects are flying termites, who set to chewing through the roof. There’s an attempt to reinforce the roof, which fails. Soon the attic is full of deadly bugs.

Now at the point where the reinforcing the roof has failed and Dean has run out of bugspray fuel for his blowtorch and the characters are all huddled in the corner screaming and brushing insects off their limbs and out of their hairs in constant thrashing motions, I was starting to feel some misgivings about the episode’s willingness to play by the rules. The previous deaths shown took almost no time at all. A few hundred carnivorous beetles killed a man in the time it took his coworker to run to the truck and come back with a rope. A few dozen spiders killed a woman in the time it took her to run out of the shower and collapse in the middle of her bedroom floor. The climax featured approximately nineteen billion times as many bugs, which should have made short work of five humans in no time at all. Still, that’s almost a horror trope in and of itself, where the potential victim who knows what they are up against survives longer than the ignorant victim, just ‘cause. The important thing, it seemed to me, was how Sam and Dean were going to outsmart a 170-year-old Native American curse once they had run out of places to hide and other delaying tactics.

And the answer was … they were saved by the bell. The morning bell of sunrise, that is. The night ends, the megaswarm stops being animated by the undying rage of slaughtered aboriginals, the insects all fly away, and everyone survives. OK, on the one hand, that is a lame and passive ending. But on the other hand, it is a total cheat. The retreat into and up through the levels of the house took maybe ten or fifteen minutes of show time which was edited in a way that did not seem to compress in any extra hours. Sam and Dean show up on the doorstep at midnight, fight and flee for a quarter of an hour, and then the dawn arrives. Basically the writer ran out of ideas for how the brothers could combat the bugs and just typed “and then sunrise breaks the curse” even though it defies all logical reckoning of the passage of time. That is really irksome and anti-entertaining and terrible, and if something like that happened in a game the players would just about revolt, and rightfully so.

Don’t get me wrong, I can forgive a good show one or two bad outings, so I will stick with Supernatural for a while because I do think it has more going on in its favor than marks against. But when something really rankles me, it feels good to get it out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stemcellsplosion, Day Four

So it’s Monday and I made it to work. Fortunately my job involves sitting in front of a computer, fairly quietly and with a minimal range of motion, and my chair is reasonably comfortable. My hips, spine, shoulders, neck, base of my skull and eyes ache, but it’s tolerable. I had already convinced myself that yesterday was going to be the hardest day, the third of five, the peak of the bell curve as it were. I have no idea if this is at all scientifically accurate, but it felt truthy, the notion that going from the second dose of drugs to the third would be the major turning point. And I made it through Sunday in reasonably good shape. My beloved wife brought me an Oreo McFlurry at the end of the day, and that helped. Scientifically.

Thus I will gut it out today and take tomorrow off, and I apologize in advance if the contents of posts in the early part of this week are thin, sporadic and/or non-existent. I’m already looking ahead, of course, because as I said I feel like I can handle one more solid day of bone soreness today and one more pair of injections tomorrow. And I’m not apprehensive at all about the procedure, being hooked up to the machines and whatnot, because I used to make apheresis donations back in the day (ten years ago) and that’s really no big deal. So my major forward-thinking concern now is just how quickly I’ll bounce back from the collection. I expect to be moderately wiped out Tuesday afternoon and evening and likely to go to bed early, but I also have every intention of getting up at 5 a.m. and going to work on Wednesday. I’m just not 100% convinced my body will be fully on board with that plan.

And yeah, there’s just no hiding the fact that while I love the blogging, it tends to be one of the first casualties of major disruptions in my routine. I actually have no shortage of topics bouncing around in my head at the moment, it’s all just a matter of finding the energy, concentration, and time. I may post again later today; I may not post again until Wednesday or even Thursday. If silence reigns, just assume I’m asleep on the couch, because the chances of anything more serious than that befalling me are vanishingly small.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Grab Bag Confessional

A little while ago I set up a shelf on the wall in the little guy's room, much too high for him to reach, and on that shelf I arranged some toys, including a small wind-up fighter jet, two old school Transformers, and a set of Iron Man figures from the Superhero Squad line, which is designed in a cute, chunky style for little kids. Four figures total: one in the original gray armor, one in a late 80's silver and red version, one in a massive Hulkbuster gold and yellow armor (I think that one's from some time in the 90's) and a modern style one with the helmet held under the arm, revealing Tony Stark's smug puss. Anyway, sometimes the little guy plays with them, and then I put them back on the shelf when he's done, and one time when he wanted to play with them I lifted him up and he excitedly knocked everything off the shelf. I put everything back, except I couldn't find Tony, even after I looked beneath all the furniture to see if he had rolled under something.

Tony turned up the other day (my wife actually found him in a bin on the bookcase under the shelf, don't ask me how he ricocheted in there) and I was excessively relieved. Not so much because I was worried that the little guy was sad about a missing toy - he really couldn't have cared less. But every time I went into the little guy's room, it was bugging the bejeezus out of me. I had set up the Iron Man figures in a little diorama, with Tony right up front, and it told a kind of story, as if Tony were giving a tour of his Hall of Armor, and without him there ... gah. But he's back, and everything is in its proper place, and I'm much more settled.


So speaking of superheroes with movie franchises, yes, of course, I saw the pictures on teh interwebs this week of Ryan Reynolds in the CGI Green Lantern costume. I've never hidden my general distate for prominent use of CGI, when it stops being an effect and starts being a major character, so using it as the costume for the main character - especially in the superhero genre where from a certain iconographic angle costume IS character - is a little problematic for me. But, another thing I've learned over the years is that I tend to be really repelled by stills of CGI effects, and then when they're actually up on screen in motion, they don't bother me quite so much. So, largely based on my deep and abiding love of all things Green Lantern, I'm willing myself to remain calm and go into the movie itself next summer with an open mind.

I'd love for this movie to be the next Spider-Man.  Side note, I'm really kind of dreading the next Spider-Man.
But yeesh, that thing looks nothing like the costume from the comics. I've heard some people float a theory that it's some kind of mid-transformation image, that the green lights will flow across Reynolds as above but then settle into a more recognizable pattern of solids. We'll see.


Another issue associated with the stem-cell production drug I'm on is that I'm forbidden to do any "heavy weightlifting or heavy cardio". Aw, shucks. Because I was totally gonna get on that starting, um, today. But now I'll just have to wait.

Of course, I got a bit of a workout yesterday evening, as it happened. First I got on a Metro train to head home and discovered the train's air conditioning was out of service, so, that sucked. It was so sweltering I could barely concentrate on the book I was trying to read (and it's a pretty compelling book). Then I got off the train and walked over to the Matro parking garage where I had parked my car. Not my usual spot, but I had been off-schedule after my injections and had to take what I could get. Well, long story short, I learned a valuable lesson about that parking garage, which is that it is a crazy concrete funhouse where you can only get to certain parts versus other parts depending on which stairwell you use to enter the thing. I made the mistake of going in a different staircase from the one I had come out in the morning, and proceded to spend a good 15, 20 minutes wandering up and down the ramps looking in vain for my car. Finally I exited the structure and came back in the way I had in the morning, and lo, there was my car, just in time for me to collapse into it in a sweaty heap.


So today is day two of stem cell overproduction and I'm hanging in there, popping Tylenol every six hours or so. I had some other unpleasant side effects this afternoon - I think? Maybe? They were, um, gastrointestinal in nature and maybe that's because of the weirdness going on with my augmented body chemistry but, you know, it's entirely possible that it was all due to the sketchy all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet I hit for lunch on Friday. In any case hopefully the worst has passed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mmmm ... mediciney

This morning I went to the pathology facility where I will ultimately be making my donation of stem cells for the NMDP. The donation (or “collection”, as they call it) is scheduled for this coming Tuesday but I had to go in today to start a five-day course of a drug called Filgrastim. Two subcutaneous injections before 8 am, that’ll wake you up in the morning, boyo.

Standard I-am-not-a-doctor disclaimers aside, this is my understanding of the whole deal. The reason why cancer patients need bone marrow donation is that chemo/radiation compromises, weakens or kills most of their own marrow and leaves them dangerously (even fatally) vulnerable to infection because without the marrow to produce white blood cells, their immune system is essentially nullified. So it used to be they would sink a gigantic (and excruciatingly painful) needle into a healthy person’s hipbone and extract a mass of marrow and turn around and inject that into the person who had chemo, and let the healthy marrow make white blood cells in its new location. Fortunately for me, they have come up with another way to achieve the same basic results, which is to dose the donor with Filgrastim, which triggers the body to do two things it doesn’t normally do: produce excess bone marrow stem cells, and dump those excess cells into the bloodstream. After five days of that, there’s a substantial mass of stem cells floating free in the donor’s blood stream and the donor can be hooked up to a non-nightmare-sized needle (depending on the relative nightmarishness associated with a person’s innate trypanophobia, I suppose) in a vein. So its equivalent to giving blood, except that it takes four or five hours as all of your blood goes out through the tube connected to the needle (though not all at once, obviously), and circulates through a machine that centrifuges out the stem cells, and then gets pumped back into your body along with a little extra to make up some of the unavoidably lost volume. OK, so it’s nothing like popping into the Bloodmobile but at least it’s a point of reference.

Anyway, the appointment this morning was more or less a non-event, as they took my temperature (normal) and blood pressure (normal) and asked how I was feeling (as a pre-injection baseline) and then shot me up, once in the back of each arm. The needles were actually an incredibly fine gauge, which was a pleasant surprise, and then the nurse said “There’s going to be a little bit of burning as it goes in but that fades pretty quickly,” and son of a GOAT she was right about that, happily so on the second half. Then they gave me a bottle of Tylenol and told me to take 2 every 6 hours whether I felt like I needed it or not, because I was definitely going to need it eventually and if I waited too long then I would wish I had started sooner.

The whole scenario is pretty conceptually strange. I’m a big fan of modern science and its capacity to fix things; it may not be a cure-all and certainly needs certain reasonable constraints, but I’d rather live with it than without it. But there’s something fundamentally … I hesitate to say “perverse”, but twisted at least, that in order to fix someone else who is broken, science is going to break them even more (chemo) and then break me a little bit, too. Because I generally think of medical science as being concerned with getting things back to normal: you have too much cholesterol, so we’ll give you drugs to bring you in line, with “too much” and “in line” being judged against the average of everyone else which delimits “normal”. Now I find myself willingly going along with a plan to make myself temporarily abnormal, pushing one of my bodily processes beyond the range of average. And hey, I’m not regretting the decision in any way, I’d say I’m past willing and well into committed, but I’ve also read enough sci-fi in my day to know what happens when scientists have the hubris to try to push the boundaries and remake nature’s handiwork to conform with their own visions. I know how that can escalate out of control …

OK, maybe I’m not really anxious about biomorphing into some kind of uncontrollable living engine of destruction. I am not exactly, in point of fact, an experiment, either, since this technique has been in use for quite a while. I am a little apprehensive about known side-effects, though, I must admit. It all boils down to “it’s not gonna kill you, but it may make you feel like crap.” All the usual fineprint type of stuff, of course, like nausea and dizziness and skin rashes and such. Plus a deep ache in the bones as the marrow gets worked into unpaid overtime, hence the admonition to start sucking down Tylenols sooner than later. My plan is to just tough it all out, have a normal weekend, come in to work on Monday, and then take Tuesday off to let them do the collection in the morning and then just chill in the afternoon. But in reading over the info sheet they gave me today, I’m less than 100% confident in that plan. It’s still my intention, but the info sheet made various unsettling allusions to the availability of prescription narcotics if the pain got so bad I couldn’t sleep (WHAT THE WHAT.) and also a number for 24 on-call physician, you know, “just in case”. (Uh … huh …)

So yeah, we shall see. Every deviation from the norm is an opportunity for adventure, though. And assuming I can keep myself from freaking out every time I feel a slight twinge anywhere in my body, I’m sure everything will work out fine.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grammar Triumphant

Time did not, as it turned out, permit me to return to the topic of our resident toddler last night, so allow me to do so forthwith.

There’s a been a remarkably rapid evolution in the little guy’s speech in recent days (or possibly weeks; life has been such an accelerating blur basically ever since he was born that it hardly seems worth trying to fight anymore), a quantum leap forward, a watershed, a sea change, however you want to demarcate it. One day he was perfectly content to speak in single words, pointing at things and naming them. Then he got into differentiating things with a single modifier – he could pick up one of my shoes and say “Daddy’s shoe”. Sometimes he would sneak in some verbs that essentially narrated what he was doing, but it was all still a hyper-efficient way of communicating. He struggled with pronouns, mixing up “me” and “you” pretty regularly, so he would skip them, also presumably in the interest of efficiency. Fair enough.

Somehow he blasted right into complete sentences this month. The other night when he and I got home from his daycare, the whistle of the train going through town came to us in the garage. Little guy stopped to listen for a second, and I waited for him to say “Choo-choo!” Except what he said after a moment was, “I can hear the choo-choo!” Just like that, he was using the proper first-person and not referring to himself by name, he was putting together subject-predicate-object, utilizing articles. But I have to admit, as my sentence-diagramming heart was bursting with pride, the thing that really got to me was “can”. Not “I hear the choo-choo” but “I can hear the choo-choo” which (though I may be overthinking, heaven forfend) implies a certain self-awareness, not simply stating what’s happening but tapping into an understanding of things which are noteworthy because of the realization of a not-always-constant possibility …

OK, no question, I’m totally overthinking it. But it was pretty cool.

Commence searching for a real set of alpha-blocks that includes parentheses ... NOW.
Of course, there’s two sides to everything, and although very little in the great wide world makes a mega-verbal person like me happier than a glimpse at my child’s emerging verbal command, I see the downside, too. Specifically that this expressive breakthrough comes along hand-in-hand with the little guy’s most precocious displays of early two-year-old-hood to date, specifically a severe case of bossiness. There is a subtle yet profound difference between a small child saying “Yogurt?” and the same child very clearly saying “I want yogurt!” (The difference, of course, is that in the first case the grown-up can feign ignorance and reply “Yogurt? What yogurt? Where’s the yogurt? Yogurt is nice, isn’t it?” etc. Responding like that to a single-word query is disingenuous; responding in the same fashion to an unmistakable demand is just plain mean.)

So my wife and I find ourselves emphasizing manners like never before, not to mention being frequently surprised by the specificity of our child’s vision of how the world around him is supposed to be managed, because he informs us in what you have to acknowledge now are no uncertain terms. If we have brought forth a future world-conqueror, there’s a very good chance he is going to organize humanity into submission.

The obligatory shameless plug

I mentioned quite a while ago that a buddy and I were working on a potential website project which basically boiled down to the dissection of pop culture using COMPUTER SCIENCE! Specifically relational databases! Did I even get that far into the technical weeds last time? I think mainly I was just talking about categorizing certain movies as mental comfort food.

In any case, that website, officially christened Poprity, is now really and truly all-the-way-live. If you are remotely interested in the kind of overthinking about cartoons and comics and reality tv and the rest of my post tags that I bring up here on a middlingly regular basis, I urge you to check out And spread the word and tell your friends! The more people we can attract, the bigger the site will get, and the more successful it will be - both in the sense that the aim of the site is to mine trivial data just for fun, and find out whether more people think Tina Fey is overrated or underrated, and also in the sense that the site is geared to generate a bit of scratch for me and my buddy just by getting eyeballs looking at it. It would take millions of eyeballs to even come close to generating live-on money, but you never know ... and if I didn't need my day job anymore, I could certainly put more effort into the quantity (and, what the heck, maybe the quality too) of posts around here. What more noble goal could there possibly be?

Thank you for tolerating this promotional intrusion into the regular blogging, and I assure you I will only bring up Poprity in the future when there's actually something germane to say about it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pastime pause

So on to topics of wider appeal than what a solipsistic cretin my new officemate is. Well, perhaps not wider appeal, but at least more appeal to me personally. This post is going to be about baseball and not much else, so those of you looking for toddler antics and/or geeking out over sci-fi/fantasy concepts may not be as amused. (Although it is possible I might do a second bonus post later about toddler stuff, time permitting.)

Today is about as dead as it gets during the baseball season, as there are no games scheduled tonight in the wake of last night’s All-Star Game. Personally I’m not a huge fan of the All-Star Game. Let me clarify that a little. I am a huge enough fan of the concept of the All-Star Game, and in the notion of assembling a dream team from each league. Dream team assembly is always a fun mental exercise, whether it’s pulling together the deadliest team of mercenaries imaginable from books, tv, movies, comics and such, or trying to imagine what kind of Bonnapalooza line-up could actually get me to buy a ticket and attend an all-day rock festival at this stage of my life.

Nothing in any galaxy is more baller than Boba Fett.
But the actual watching of the All-Star Game leaves me somewhat cold, because despite my fandom for the game in general it’s mostly focused on one team in particular and (inversely) on a few despised rivals, so there are inevitably numerous players on both sides whom I just don’t know or care about. And the constant substitutions in the roster throughout the game means that it’s hard for a meaningful narrative to develop (and yes of course I project meaningful narratives onto sporting events, do not even try to pretend you are surprised to hear that).

To top it all off, I’m really not a big fan of the “this one counts” evolution of the ASG. And I know, I know, I probably should have said so yesterday, before the American League lost, because now it’s just going to sound like sore loserdom, but I swear I have felt this for a while. It’s just illogical to base home-field advantage in the World Series on anything other than the records of the two teams who make it there. The better record should earn that team the slight edge, not the performance of the entire league in a single exhibition game that is only supposed to be a pleasant diversion at the midpoint of the season. I hope someday television ratings become moot and they go back to the game’s original “just for fun” purpose.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing yesterday of George Steinbrenner. On the one hand, he built the Yankees into the Evil Empire, and that is an aspect of the team I love and embrace, so I’m thankful for the Boss’s particular brand of megalomania. On the other hand, he came across as kind of a jerk and I would hate to fall into the trap of overpraising someone just because they shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s a sad loss for his family, which to a certain degree includes the entire Yankees organization, and my sympathies go out to them. But life will go on.

I was also going to utilize this midseason opportunity to note how the Yankees were really on a roll there at the beginning of July, but for that matter so were the O’s, who managed their first four-game sweep in a decade or two, and against a team that’s not exactly hapless. I hope the O’s continue to keep the momentum going (I think there’s a redundancy in that sentiment somewhere) if only so that my wife can find some joy in the 2010 season, as so far she has not.

But what I really want to know is – how long have sportswriters been referring to Colorado’s team as the Rox? I suppose shortening Rockies to Rox makes exactly as much sense as shortening socks to Sox, but Sox is actually spelled that way on the Boston and Chicago uniforms, and isn’t so much a bit of headline shorthand as, you know, the legit team name. But I just saw Rox in the paper the other day and it brought me up short, but at the same time made me feel like maybe it wasn’t the first time I had seen it, just the first time I really noticed. Just weird.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A broken record

It’s been a bit hard to concentrate today, because of my excruciatingly petulant officemate, Mr. Running Commentary. He still is not fully integrated, in that he now has all the physical apparatus and accessories he needs but his account is not fully registered on the network, thus his login requests are denied. And he will not shut up about it, which is tiresome in and of itself. But even more ridiculous is the tone he strikes while yammering on and on, coming across as overly entitled and gratingly passive-aggressive and woundedly martyred and all number of other things which hit my ear like a fork scraping a chalkboard.

My other new officemate has become the most entertaining aspect of the whole situation. She was the last one of the three of us to arrive this morning, and when she walked into our area it was fairly clear she was in a hurry and just looking to set her stuff down on her desk before proceeding somewhere else. Still, I said good morning to her (don’t cost nothing to be polite). Mr. RC, for his part, also said good morning. She didn’t answer either one of us, which I chalked up half to her obvious unsettled haste and half to the fact that she’s been quite cool to Mr. RC as his talking-to-hear-himself-talk has escalated into ever more off-putting areas (e.g. late last week he was talking about how he and his wife were potentially going to be hosting a foreign exchange student in the near future, a 16 year old boy, “although of course I would have preferred an 18 year old Swedish girl or something like that.” CLAZZY!) Of course, Mr. RC didn’t even pause long enough to let her reply to the morning greetings anyway, before he launched into “My computer still doesn’t work this morning! I just tried logging in but I’m getting this message about how my credentials couldn’t be verified …”

I’m honestly a little stunned that anyone could be so full of themselves that they think the first thing people want to know when they get to work in the morning is how the narcissist’s day is going in minute detail. I would expect the maximum amount of interest another party would have in my technical problems with the network would be paltry and passing at best. And that would be for someone I got on well with, not someone who barely tolerated my proximity. Ms. Cool is not someone I would have pegged as giving half a crap about Mr. RC’s status with regards to network access. There is in fact no way she could possibly care less.

So the fantastic thing was, while Mr. RC was segueing abruptly from a greeting to a recitation of his professional woes of the moment, Ms. Cool was crossing to her desk, setting her things down, turning around and heading back to the door. She never acknowledged Mr. RC, never even looked at him as far as I could tell, and walked out while he was in mid-sentence. And I swear he kind of kept talking after she was gone, albeit in a trailing-off kind of way, as he slowly rotated his desk chair back around and returned his attention to some reading material or other. I gather from this that he is the kind of boor that is completely unprepared for people to ignore him. I somehow managed to take this whole scene in without dying laughing, but it was by no means easy. Fortunately the incident was never spoken of again.

But those kind of bright spots are few and far between, and mostly it’s just Mr. RC whining loudly about how frustrating it is not to be able to get on the network and wondering aloud when someone’s finally going to fix it for him. Seriously? Nobody cares, because it doesn’t affect anybody. And when you talk about it so aggrievedly, like you expect it should actually affect everyone within earshot, it makes everyone that much less sympathetic. I mean, come on.

I’ll try to blog about something more substantial and/or interesting early tomorrow morning, before Mr. RC arrives and the lamentations begin anew.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All things in moderation (including moderation)

Another weekend in the rearview mirror, and this one had its shares of ups and downs. There was (to fall back on an overworked-almost-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness buzzword) DRAMA. But other than acknowledging its existence, I’m not even going to get into it here. It certainly wasn’t my drama, it was something along the lines of third-hand drama. Although, really, isn’t that pretty much the worst kind? When the drama impinges on you to the extent that you can’t help but be aware of it and affected by it, yet doesn’t belong to you, so that you have absolutely no capacity in the face of ye olde rising sea of troubles to oppose and/or end them? In any case, definitely not worth revisiting in the cold cubicle-fluorescent light of Monday.

What is worth revisiting is the fact that my wife’s birthday was on Sunday, and so on Saturday night we went out for a night on the town, an occurrence which does not happen as often as I suspect it should. The steep drop in carousing was understandable when my wife was pregnant, and then nursing, and then for some time after that it was at least theoretically possible that we could arrange for grandparents to act as overnight babysitters and nothing untoward would happen to our little guy, but it would have involved something very untoward happening to the grandparents who would be subjected to a baby who refused to sleep through the night without squalling madly every couple of hours. Now, though, all of that’s behind us and the little guy sleeps ten hours a night like an angel and a night away from home feels more attainable.

Of course, that attainability hasn’t translated directly to doing so with any great frequency. Every other weekend my wife is working and disinclined to do anything other than rest and recharge at home in between shifts (and in this regard I support her fully and do not blame her in the least) and on the work-free weekends we often find ourselves with enough other things to do during the days that adding on nightlife exploration just seems to not be a big deal. But birthdays only come once a year, after all, so we were determined to make the most of it. In fact, we arguably crammed about three or four date-nights into one 14 hour period.

There are a couple of restaurants in Glover Park, one sushi place and one Indian place, which both seemed like good candidates for my wife’s birthday dinner-for-two because they do their respective cuisines extremely well, and my wife is a big fan of both as well. As the big weekend approached my wife was having trouble deciding between the two, and finally I prevailed upon her to choose both. It would be one thing if we had promised a teenage babysitter that we’d be home by 10:30, but with the grandparents staying the night and a hotel room reserved in the city, dinner could be a somewhat more luxuriant affair than the norm. And when in doubt, I always advocate pushing right through luxuriant and on into decadent. With a little persuading, my wife agreed that a sushi appetizer course, followed by whatever intermezzo activity seemed appropriate, followed by an Indian main course, would be a delicious way to go between the horns of the dilemma.

Japan, you make the world a more magical place.
One of the many, many things I love about my wife is that she doesn’t ever want anyone to feel ill-used. (In general, if everyone felt it was important to be as non-abusive as possible to everyone else, oh, what a world this would be.) And ultimately that was probably the final hurdle in convincing her to adopt a two-restaurant approach to dinner. She wasn’t averse to the idea on aesthetic grounds, incorporating such disparate areas of Asian gastronomy into the same evening. Nor was she concerned that the plan would become a wasteful misadventure wherein the sushi would fill us up and render the Indian half of the meal moot. (We’ve been asked “What’s the occasion?” by the hostess of a sushi bar when picking up a to-go order which the hostess assumed was for a party but was really just for the two of us. We can pack the sashimi away!) The primary objection was simply the notion that going to a restaurant and taking up a table and the server’s time only to order an appetizer and then leave was in some way rude, an ill use of the proprietors and staff of the sushi place. On the one hand, I disagreed with that assessment on pure principle, because opening a place of business to the public means agreeing to meet the needs or expectations of a wide range of clientele. (See also, the following morning, when we went to Starbucks for coffee and the gent ahead of me in line ordered a cup of hot water. Because he had brought his own tea bag. OH YES.) But on another hand, while the plan as it existed in our minds was “sushi for an appetizer, Inidan for the main course” the fact was that to all observers at the sushi restaurant we were there for our entire dinner. We actually ordered something off the restaurant’s appetizer menu, and then three plates of sushi to split. Even amongst corpulent Americans, that qualifies as an everyday meal. We made it a birthday dinner prelude, but combining that with a beer for me and wine for her, there was absolutely nothing suspicious or offensive about it.

(Incidentally I almost always order Kirin Ichiban with sushi but on Saturday night I order an Orion and I may have become an instant convert to Okinawa’s very pleasant contribution to the world of beer.)

Nor did we hold back over the second half of our dinner either, unless you count not ordering an appetizer at the Indian place. Instead, we ordered the samplers of chutney and pickle with papadams, and then two entrees and dal and naan, and it was most satisfactory. One of the excellent pickles was mango, much more tangy than sweet, and for a brief moment I thought I might finally have hit upon a good blogonym for my dear wife in that I could refer to her lovingly as Tangy Mango, but then I remembered that grossly annoying Mango character of Chris Kattan’s from SNL in the 90’s and had to let that one go.

The intervening activity ended up being a bit of luxury shopping at Whole Foods because (and this is one of the things I love about the city) Whole Foods was basically right next to the sushi place and right across the street from the Indian place. And after dinner we made our way to the hotel where we enjoyed the comfort of a fresh king-sized bed, which is one of those little pleasures that just puts a perfect bow on an enjoyable evening (and inevitably makes us wonder if we’ll ever be able to have some contractors increase the size of our master suite at home and make room for a king sized bed that we could take to on a more regular basis).

So yeah, two restaurants (oh, and a bar later on) and some shopping and a hotel stay pretty much met a seasonal quota for fun activities, and all between leaving our house around 6 or so Saturday evening and getting home by 8:30 on Sunday morning. Which is not to say that we won’t be doing anything else until November or so. We just need to remind ourselves that a little excess now and then is perfectly fine, even without a special occasion attached.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spectre, Spectre, Burning Bright

Bonus content is great, isn’t it? Quite a while ago (February) I picked up a DVD copy of a DC animated movie, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. After one buddy of mine, after seeing it on my bookshelf, inadvertently spoiled part of it by asking about certain third-act character motivations, upon which occasion I had to admit I hadn’t watched it yet, and then after another buddy of mine saw it on the shelf and asked to borrow it and I had to admit once again I hadn’t watched it yet, I finally watched it over this past weekend. In and of itself, it’s a good movie, slightly unsatisfying in its resolution perhaps (although that’s an inherently unsolvable problem which I’ll get back to in a bit) but by and large a fun popcorn flick aimed squarely at the sensibilities of an overgrown adolescent like me. It’s bright and cartoony, but it’s rated PG-13 because of the violence as well as some sexual innuendo which would only go over the heads of kids too young to have been through the “Your Changing Bodies” unit in health class at school. It’s based loosely on some classic storylines from actual Justice League comic books, but with enough tweaks and new ideas that it’s not exactly a straight adaptation and managed to twist and turn on me in ways I didn’t expect (my one buddy’s spoilery questions notwithstanding). The basic idea is predicated on the assumption of an infinite number of parallel Earths on which all possible arrangements of reality exist, including a world in which the equivalents of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern and cohorts are evil and tyrannize and exploit the world rather than protecting it. That world’s Lex Luthor is a good guy and he travels to the world of the heroic Justice League to get their help dealing with this superpowered Crime Syndicate. I’ve mentioned before my love of alternate universe stories and the “Mirror, Mirror” variant in particular, so this is unquestionably Right Up My Alley. But while it’s a great high concept, it’s tough to hang a compelling story on it. A lot of these kind of scenarios end up servicing plots in which a character from one universe ends up accidentally in the other and it all becomes a quest to get home. Crisis on Two Earths makes travel between the universes something essentially available at will, so the conflict is literally good Superman versus evil twin Ultraman, and good Batman versus evil twin Owlman, and there’s a certain inevitability to the resulting stalemate. There’s also the interesting question of whether the Justice League, if they prevail, should go home, or stick around to make sure evil stays defeated, which again is philosophically interesting but doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to actual resolution that doesn’t end up feeling the tiniest bit like a cheat. I won’t give away how the animated movie in particular (or any other instance from the comics) answers these unanswerable, but again, it wasn’t perfect but didn’t ruin the movie.

So, yeah, worth the purchase price for an afternoon’s entertainment, but not really what I want to talk about right now! Because included as a bonus feature on the disc was an animated short about a completely unrelated character from the DC comics stable: the Spectre.

I say “completely unrelated” but that’s not entirely true, or only true in certain senses. Clearly the Spectre and Superman are related in the sense that they are both fictional characters who have appeared in comics produced by the same publisher over the years. Moreover, they both have long histories stretching back to the WWII-era Golden Age, and both are considered to co-exist in the same universe and have, in fact, run into each other and interacted in various stories over the years. (There is in fact a sanity-challenging amount of interaction and overlap between the Spectre and my beloved Green Lantern, as it happens, but let’s save that for another day.) Arguably, you could say that Superman and the Spectre are both superheroes – and within that argument lies some interesting areas to explore.

See, the Spectre was never in the Justice League, but he was a founding member of the Justice Society, which ... no, no, it's too much.
Looking purely at the trappings, it might appear fairly cut and dry. The Spectre was once Jim Corrigan, a cop who was murdered but continued to fight crime as a ghost with mystical powers, still able to pass himself off as a man when necessary but also able to guise himself as a chalk-white cadaver in a bright green hood and cloak. OK, so far so good, we’ve got the codename, the costume (including cape!), the secret identity, the origin story, the powers far beyond that of mortal man. Pretty boilerplate superhero stuff. And back in the 1940’s boilerplate was how superheroes were made and how the publishers liked ‘em, selling their monthly adventures at a dime a pop to kids who would read them, love them, and use them to start a campfire.

But years go by, the comic book audience becomes a thing, and differentiating one superhero from another becomes a lot more important. So you could say the Spectre didn’t come into his own until that more creatively rich period of the 1970’s. Which (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps all part of the same larger zeitgeist, no bilingual pun intended) was also around a time when spiritualism was gaining certain critical mass and the first stirrings of Jewish mysticism were beginning, so the hook for the Spectre became that he was actually much more than a ghostly superhero. He was a soul who had been selected to literally serve as the wrath of God, the terrifying Old Testament God who turned people into salt just for looking the wrong way. Way before Kick-Ass, before the Punisher even, the Spectre was the superhero who would straight cold kill you. Clearly, by then, he and Superman had parted ways in a pretty profound way.

(So you can see now how, thematically if nothing else, the Spectre is barely on the same plane as the Justice League, especially in the context of the parallel-evil-universe trope. How do you even go about creating the evil version of God's smite-happy boogeyman?)

Time marched on and eventually they dialed back on the vengeful angel of death and doom aspects of the Spectre, and instead of being an instrument of Yahweh who executed pimps and pushers using various callouts from Exodus and Leviticus, the Spectre became a nebulously supernatural entity who dealt with cosmic supernatural threats. DC no longer published an ongoing Spectre comic book, so he was relegated to being part of the background scenery of the overall shared universe where Superman and Batman live. And through the past two decades or so the cycles of reinvention and reinterpretation and attempted revitalization of the character have come faster and faster to the point where I’m no longer sure I could give an accurate answer to the question of what the Spectre is all about today. (And he was in Blackest Night! I must have glossed over that part.)

So, weird character. Even weirder for the headliner of an animated short. But I will give them due credit: they went with the 70’s version of the Spectre. And it totally freaking OWNS. It makes for a good story, in which Jim Corrigan investigates a high-profile Hollywood murder and then the Spectre visits the various suspects of the presumed conspiracy, not to interrogate them but to straight up murder them right back. In 20 minutes or so the Spectre electrocutes someone in a special effects studio, commits psychokinetic vehicular homicide, and finally slashes someone to ribbons with a whirlwind of hundred dollar bills which are the ill-gotten gains of the original crime. Dark stuff!

And not only did the producers go with the 70’s interpretation of the Spectre, but the true stroke of genius is that they set the story IN THE 70’s. The guys have glorious mustachios and drive Camaros, and the girls wear hotpants. And they made the short itself look like a product of the 70’s! It’s animated in this incredibly retro-stylized way that combines the lighting and camera angles of the kung fu/blaxploitation aesthetics, with the Japanese-influenced character designs that were starting to become prevalent back then (see Starblazers). Even the music, subtle and unobtrusive as it is, reminds me of the soundtracks of the epoch. The end result is just exquisite. If you happen to own the Justice League DVD and haven’t watched the bonus short yet, because you bought it for the main feature, brother get ON that.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Open to interpretation

Did I mention the dogsitting? I don’t believe I did. In one of those no-good-deed-goes-unpunished situations, my household found itself at +1 in the dog column over the Fourth of July weekend. At a remove, I suppose it’s kind of fascinating how these things play out. To be a veterinarian, as my wife of course is, one must maintain a examining tableside manner which simultaneously earns and keeps the trust of a frightened animal and also gladhands the owner who, nine times out of ten, is about to be informed that they must spend a certain not insignificant amount of money to maintain the health of their pet. One of the ways in which this can be accomplished is to cuddle and coo over the pet in the most complimentary ways possible, and my wife is really aces at this. Helping her out is the fact that she genuinely does love animals, so to a large extent when she gushes to a cat that he is very handsome or insists to a dog that she is the best love-a-muffin in the world, there’s an underlying sincerity that’s simply being amplified for the benefit of the human client. The funny thing is that when my wife meets a legitimately adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (the very same breed as the backup dog we rescued this spring) and enthuses “You are such a good boy! You can come stay with me at my house any time!” the Cavalier’s owner might very well pick up on the grain of truth in my wife’s words and actually come right out and ask if my wife would be interested in dogsitting while the Cavalier’s family goes on vacation for the Fourth. And because my wife is a big-hearted people-pleaser … humans = 3, dogs = 3, severely put-out cats = 1.

It really all worked out fine, and could even be seen as an inoculation against sliding further down the slippery slope of turning our entire house into a large den for a pack of seven or eight dogs. Two dogs has been pushing our limits at certain times. Three dogs was tolerable for a weekend but absolutely untenable in the long term. We probably already knew that, but it doesn’t hurt to be confronted with living proof. The major concern, then, was that our little guy would get attached to the new temporary Cavalier boarder just as he immediately bonded with our own Cavalier, and be crushed when the temporary arrangement came to an end.

At this point I will break longstanding blog protocol and give the guest-dog’s actual name, which is Beaux. Middle name Jangles. I bring this up partly because it plays into the story I’m telling. And partly because … First name Beaux, middle name Jangles. Come on.

Anyway, I got the little guy home from day care yesterday and he started getting a little fussy about getting out of the car. Nor was it immediately clear to me whether he was disappointed that we were home already and weren’t going to be driving around looking for choo-choos and big trucks any more that particular afternoon, or whether he simply objected to the manner in which I was helping him out of the backseat and needed to climb back in so that he could climb back out the right way. My recourse was to retrieve from under the passenger seat a slightly crumpled piece of foam headgear which is a yellow toy construction hat. And in that hilariously random way in which two-year-olds are capable of being distracted, my little guy was much happier with the construction hat on his head and immediately acquiesced to exiting the car and heading from the garage into the house.

Once we were in the house, sure enough, the first thing the little guy said was “where’s bo-bo?” which of course was his name for Beaux. We had been keeping Beaux’s crate just inside the garage door, so its absence was immediately apparent. I reminded the little guy that Beaux was only visiting, told him that now he was back with his own family (my wife had taken Beaux to work that day so the owners could retrieve him), and maybe we’d see him again some time. And we moved on, fairly well … or so I thought.

A little while later as I was trying to get dinner together, the little guy got my attention and pointed to his head. “Bye-bye bo-bo hat?” he asked. This struck me as fairly odd, that he would grasp that Beaux was gone and that we had said goodbye to our guest, and that somehow he would connect this to a construction hat. But I tried to roll with it and said, “Yeah, Beaux’s back home with his family. But, your hat is … pretty cool?” “Bye-bye bo-bo hat!” my son repeated. And we went back and forth a few times until I finally realized that the actual sounds “bah buh boo buh hat” were not in fact connecting Beaux the Cavalier’s departure with haberdashery, but rather that the little guy was saying “Bob the Builder Hat!”

I'm waiting for the Bob the Builder/Maximum Overdrive mash-up.  Because I am a very disturbed individual.
Which, you know, yeah, totally. The little guy really wasn’t fazed by the 33% reduction in dogs in the house. Once again a little overthinking and a little projection go a long way in thwarting the translation of two-year-old-speak.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As the duty roster turns

It’s remarkable how the workday routine, for me, can be so quickly and completely upended. For a while there I was sitting in my quiet, secluded storage-space keeping to myself and minding my own business. And now I have two officemates. So minding my own business takes some effort.

The impact was minimal when my first new coworker arrived, because as mentioned, she is a perfectly nice middle-aged woman who is very polite and professional and focused and naturally inclined to keep to herself. The third member of our improvised workspace is the wildcard, though. He is also about the same age as our female colleague (and it just occurred to me that I’m in my mid-almost-late-30s and I am referring to my co-workers as “middle-aged” in a way that is ultimately intended to convey “them, not me”. I guess to me “middle-aged” has always meant approximately “my parents’ age” and has shifted accordingly through the years. ) but he is significantly less predisposed to keep to himself. At all. My best snap assessment is that he is in love with the sound of his own voice, which is a trait I’m not particularly judgmental of because it applies to me in certain situations, too – just not work. But some people make that kind of extreme garrulousness verging on compulsive attention seeking work for them in the office setting, and that’s fine.

So the thing is that neither of my two new officemates has anything to do as of yet. The government, and its departments and agencies, move slowly at best, and for whatever reason all of the processes of integrating a new person into a particular role are not initiated until that person shows up for their first day. (Doubly true if said new person is a contractor or, Heimdall help us, a sub-contractor.) So the new hire ends up sitting at a desk which may or may not even have a computer at it, and has no way of using the computer even once its set up because the new hire does not have the network permissions or the encoded security card to log on. Mostly they do a lot of reading and filling out forms. Also, the new hires do not have badges, which are required to roam the halls of most secure government facilities. The facility badge and the computer access and all of that comes along, eventually, but the first few weeks as the gears slowly turn can be a bit dull, especially if they happen to fall in the summer when lots of people who might nudge the apparatus along happen to be on leave.

An overhead view of the new employee orientation process
That’s the position my new officemates find themselves in, but what does that have to do with me? Well, it’s certainly less quiet in here than it used to be, as the two of them talk to each other quite a bit during the course of the day, sometimes about the job duties they’re slowly getting acclimated to (their functions are fairly similar, and of course totally different from mine, so it all becomes background noise which is essentially meaningless), other times just about random crap to stave off the boredom. And in either case, of course, Mr. Gregarious has (and vigorously exercises) the ability to blow any discussion out to three or four times longer and louder than it needs to be with digressions and personal anecdotes and wanton pop culture references (may it go without saying that I am not saying pop referencing is bad, per se, I am just saying?).

Also, there are a few things which absolutely require a computer, such as signing up for Army intranet accounts, and since I’m the only one in the room with a functioning workstation I’ve been asked a few times to scoot aside and let them sneak on, do the mandatory online in-processing, and then get back to their offline reading. Of course since I’m such a swell guy I’ve also let them borrow my internet connection to check their webmail or Google things now and then.

The badge situation is even more impinging (which is a word I’m choosing to use because I am in full-on Bitching About Work mode, not because it’s really all that horrible) because I end up as the de facto escort required for my colleagues to move about. If either of them leaves the building, for lunch or whatever, they need me to come downstairs and meet them in the lobby to escort them through security and back upstairs. And even if they stay in the building and don’t go past the security station and run the risk of being found out by a hall monitor with their “escort required” temp badges, they get locked out of our particular office as soon as the door shuts behind them – the electronic lock has a badge-reader. So Mr. Gregarious will ask me if I’d mind strolling down to the vending machines or accompanying him to the restroom, which can’t help but be disruptive. Ms. Polite, on the other hand, will just slip out to the ladies’ room but then has to call my desk phone to let her back in through the locked door when she returns. And none of this is either of my colleagues’ faults, it’s just the way things have gone since Thursday of last week, and it’s the way it’s going to go for the next few. Those two are bored but, almost as a direct result, for me it’s never a dull moment.