Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Special: The Colors That Never Run

Up-front warning: this post is so geeked out that it probably raises the overall average per-post-geekiness of the entire blog by a good five points. No cute toddler anecdotes or slice-of-life philosophy here, folks. If you are not remotely curious about the depths of geek esoterica of which I am capable, you might just want to come back tomorrow. It pains me, sometimes, this compulsion, but it would pain me more to fight it.

Right now there's this meme floating around the comic-book-y blogosphere which involves giving Green Lantern-style power rings to characters from different properties not normally associated with power rings. I like this meme, and my response to it is the basis for this post, but let me explain how we got here first.

So, Green Lantern is kind of my joint. He's a sci-fi superhero, an Air Force test pilot (Hal Jordan) who received a power ring from a dying alien in order to carry on the fight against evil. As his adventures unfolded he found out the alien was part of a universe-wide police force all armed with identical rings, created by ancient, wise, order-obsessed entities called Guardians. As the alien's selected successor, Green Lantern (of Earth) was now part of this Green Lantern Corps consisting of thousands of aliens.

The power rings work by focusing the owner's willpower. This gets translated into green light which can form solid objects, or basically do anything the owner can imagine. Again, as adventures unfolded, it was revealed that the rings had a certain amount of artificial intelligence, worked as translators/databases, could scan for successors in the event of a Green Lantern death, etc. The criteria for becoming a Green Lantern are honesty and fearlessness. The inherent vulnerability of the power rings is an inability to affect anything yellow, attributed (originally) to a "necessary weakness" in their design. (Presumably the Guardians in their infinite wisdom included a glaring defect so their agents would not become all-powerful and inevitably corrupt.)

Green Lantern's arch-nemesis is a former Green Lantern called Sinestro. Yes, that was his real name, even when he was a Green Lantern. Sinestro is an alien of the variety that looks almost exactly like a human except for one variation (magenta skin in this case). When Sinestro was kicked out of the Corps and became a villain, he acquired a new power ring that created yellow objects, which exploits his former allies' weakness.

The epic struggle that makes jewelry fairly bad-ass!!!
Thus was the (needlessly complicated except that's the way geeks like it) status quo for decades.

A few years ago a comic writer named Geoff Johns decided to recontextualize the whole Green Lantern cosmology. If there are many Green Lanterns, why not many opposites like Sinestro, a corps of Yellow Lanterns? And if two colors are represented, why not all seven? (This despite the fact that seven includes "indigo", which is pretty much a made-up color which makes the ROY G BIV mnemonic more pronounceable and the proper color wheel only has six - but seven makes more narrative sense, see below.) This would allow for a gigantic space-opera War of the Lanterns, which is a big huge component of the Blackest Night storyline which I have made reference to before as it is currently not only the main focus of the Green Lantern comic books but is also touching pretty much every other title DC is putting out. The "Blackest" part comes from an eighth group of power ring wielders, the Black Lanterns, powered by death. (In fact, in many cases they are dead. Zombies are big with the kids these days.)

So the spectrum of power rings attaches each color to a different emotion (more or less) and they break down like this: Red Lanterns are powered by rage; Orange Lanterns by greed; Yellow Lanterns by fear (technically the ability to inspire it, because while a corps of cowards would be interesting, it still has to conform to Sinestro's character as a worthy foe for Green Lantern); Green Lanterns by willpower (technically not an emotion, yes, but again, Johns is retrofitting his idea onto a forty-year-old mythos as best he can); Blue Lanterns by hope; Indigo Lanterns by compassion; Violet Lanterns by love.

You may have noticed that the Red-Orange-Yellow Lanterns are all associated with essentially negative emotions. These are the bad guys of the piece, as you might imagine. Willpower is somewhat neutral, because when all is said and done the War of Lanterns will pass but the ongoing Green Lantern title needs to keep going in interesting directions and interpretations, so it doesn't come down on one side or the other. Again, this is why a seven-color spectrum is preferable, because it allows the focus character to be the fulcrum point, with three on one side and three on the other. Blue-Indigo-Violet are positive, although Johns keeps things interesting here too by making Violet a little more ambiguous and tying it into old Green Lantern history. The Blue and Indigo Lanterns are all brand-new characters invented by Johns but the Star Sapphires take the Violet slot, Star Sapphire being a female nemesis of Green Lantern's who always simultaneously wanted to both defeat Hal and jump in the sack with him. (Yes, sexual politics in super hero comics are often ugly caricatures that do women no favors, given, granted, but that is a debate for another day.) So the Sapphires represent love but always with the potential for psycho Fatal Attraction manifestations.

You may also have noticed that each Lantern (except Green) has an almost exact opposite (in classical ring structure, no pun intended ... or is it???). Red's rage can also be understood as hate, which is the antithesis of Violet's love. Indigo's compassion is a generosity of spirit which contrasts with Orange's selfish avarice. Blue's inspirational hope opposes Yellow's terror. I just think that's another good indication that Johns's idea is well-constructed and possibly connects with something primal, the much sought-after Idea That Was Just Waiting To Happen.

Another good indicator that you've stumbled on a valuable mythopoeic archetype is when you can easily map it to another mythology. The father-judge and nurturer-mother and warrior and trickster and knowledge-seeker are useful for describing not just one pantheon, but most of them, from disparate cultures through history. Some shoehorning and squinting is inevitable, but the easier the fit, the better.

Which brings us (FINALLY) to the meme. This is a time-honored geek game, by the by, comparing and contrasting different stories that take place in different worlds. (If the Enterprise crashed on Eternia and the crew were killed, but the ship could still be taken into space, how would the Masters of the Universe fill out the bridge? OK, He-Man's the captain, Stratos can be the helmsman, Teela's communications, Man-at-Arms should probably be down in engineering even though his name makes him sound like chief of security ...) What other sets of characters could embody the rainbow of archetypes Johns has laid out?

The first place my brain went was the G.I. Joe cartoon and I was damn near gob-smacked at how easily it all fell into place. Thus, I present:

Joe Lanterns

RED (rage) = Cobra Commander. So the first three colors have to be bad guys and Cobra Commander takes the first slot as a no-brainer. Granted, on the cartoon he mostly embodies "impotent, shrieking rage" but that's close enough. There's certainly no denying that he hates the Joes. Bonus points for the fact that the very symbol of COBRA is traditionally done in red.

ORANGE (greed) = Zartan. Zartan is a gun-for-hire who is, as they say, all about the Benjamins. (Note: nobody says this anymore.) Really, that's enough to justify his position here, but ... um ... as master of disguise he assumes other people's identities, taking on their very appearance for his own use. Avarice, acquisition, etc. To be honest, I really wanted to put Major Bludd in this slot because I have a soft spot for the character; his was one of the very first Joe action figures I remember owning, and his packaging states his role as "MERCENARY" which, again, feeds directly into the payday vibe I was looking for. But in the cartoons he was portrayed pretty much as a COBRA lifer, a mercenary working for salary (possibly with benefits, insert Dr. Mindbender HMO joke here), whereas Zartan actually whined about gold and such. Zartan is also a more central character, my own personal pet favoritism aside.

YELLOW (fear) = Destro. Of all the bad guys from G.I. Joe, he is unquestionably the scariest MFer. The censors wouldn't let anybody get killed on the show but you just know Destro would cold pop a cap without flinching. Good enough, but wait, there's more. Sinestro/Destro = COME ON WITH THE RHYMING. Plus, Sinestro often allies himself with a group of warmongers called the Weaponers of Qward. Destro's official title? Weapons supplier. This is just some freakish synchronicity right here.

GREEN (will) = Gung Ho. There aren't a lot of neutral characters in the Joe universe, and to be honest, Green Lantern is complicated but he's clearly one of the good guys. As is Gung Ho, who again is just a personal fave, which I allowed to come into play here because really, all of the Joes have strong wills (they never give up! they stay til the fight's won!) and could fill this role admirably. I also like the fact that Gung Ho's very name implies will ... or willingness, but, you know, close enough.

Two words: CHEST TATTOO
BLUE (hope) = Duke. Obviously I'm going for the inspirational angle of hope here, which is why the leader of the Joes (blah blah blah General Hawk blah blah Flint shut up, it's always Duke) isn't in the central green slot. Duke rallies the troops and kicks ass.

INDIGO (compassion) = Lifeline. Here's another personal fave, the medic who also happens to be a conscientious objector. Which is really as close as you're going to get to finding a living embodiment of compassion in an elite paramilitary unit. (I love the inner conflict of Lifeline's character, I really do, but even as a kid I remember thinking "You can't get drafted into G.I.Joe, can you? Why would he join up if he's a CO?" But lucky for the purposes of this exercise, the writers just embraced the crazy and ran with it. It was a cartoon for kids, so I'm totally OK with that.)

VIOLET (love) = Scarlett. This brushes up against the stupidly obvious, but maybe that's the point. I'm just playing by the rules of the spectrum and this does seem to be the token girl slot. Believe me, I thought the longest about this one. Other possibilities: the Baroness, to mirror Star Sapphire's villain-on-the-hero-side aspect; Covergirl, an underrated female Joe if there ever was one, and supposedly the hottest one of all (and in comics, to embody "love" you have to be super-hot). And then of course there's Shipwreck, if I wanted to be non-cliche and avoid putting a female in the role altogether. Shipwreck always struck me as one of the more romantic Joes, and then he had those great couple of episodes focused on his tragically doomed relationship with the girl Mara who was genetically modified to breathe underwater. But, I settled on Scarlett and I'm standing by that, since it just feels right.

Then there's the question of the Black Lantern role, which you might think wouldn't graft very well onto G.I. Joe because of the sad dearth of reanimated corpses in the series. Except, wait, what's this ...?

BLACK (death) = Serpentor. Obviously we are back to evil dudes, single-mindedly evil dudes at that, and Serpentor clearly fits the bill there. And he was created in a mad experiment which combined the DNA of a bunch of military geniuses and conquerors ... who all happened to be dead. That's a really hard connection to deny. (Yeah, I know, he also had some Sergeant Slaughter DNA in the mix, and Sarge wasn't dead. But his career was. Hiyo!)

I would just like to take a moment here to congratulate myself on completing the exercise without utilizing either Snake Eyes or Stormshadow, which I think is the equivalent of making a super-hero dream team Wolverine-free.

So there you have it, an internet meme which I've used to combine an 80's toy-cartoon franchise with the current moment's big comic book crossover event, with gratuitous references to Star Trek, Masters of the Universe and X-Men (and ancient epic poetry) thrown in. I'm out before I end up crushed by the super-dense mass of weapons-grade enriched geekonium.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Grab Bag Quickstep

The child is napping and the snow is falling, which means I am torn between shoveling in quick bursts between auditory checks for contented sleep-breathing, and moving the baby monitor from room to room while getting some more unpacking done without underfoot distractions. I am going between the horns of this particular dilemma by, of course, hacking out a blog post.

+++

Yesterday I got the state inspection for my car and stopped at a neighborhood Shell station to do it. They got me in and out of there very quickly, for which I am grateful, but in the small amount of time I spent inside the shop (which consisted of a cashier’s booth, a computer desk just for the garage, a coffee maker, racks of snacks and three chairs) I decided that this gas station actually had a much better munchies selection than the sundries store in my office building. This might actually be a good thing, since if there’s one thing I have a weakness for, it’s sundries. So the less temptation at the place I spend 40+ hours a week, the better. But still. Amongst the offerings at the Shell shop were numerous hyper-palatable delicacies I didn’t even know existed, and now I can’t unknow them. Jalapeno Cheddar Tortilla Combos?! All-caramel Milky Ways?!?! It is obviously in the best interests of the secret cabal of tycoonish overlords that rule the world to keep us all as fat as possible, but damn, do they have to be so insidiously good at it?

It's like seven-layer dip, but four of the layers are 'self-loathing'.
I didn’t buy any of those snacks but I’m seriously considering using the Super Bowl as an excuse to do so. Along with the much delayed taste-test of Bud Light Golden Wheat, just as the clock runs out on football season.

+++

I’m in the process of building bookshelves (read: assembling cheapo kits obtained from Wal-Mart, I admit) for my man-cave, which is kind of fun. I’ve never had a big problem following the directions of any assembly-required furniture. I enjoy it. Once the shelves are built I then have to decide what kind of organizational system to use to appropriately house and display my various collections of books and (let’s call them what they are) toys. That, to me, is the hard part. I would say “hopefully I won’t obsessively overthink it too much” but we all know that’s the impossible dream. “Hopefully I won’t obsess over it so much that it drags out for the better part of a year” sounds more achievable, so let’s go with that.

+++

There’s a reason why I titled this post the way I did – gotta keep it short and sweet and get back to other things. However, there may be an ultra-rare Sunday post tomorrow, if you’re good.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cold front

When I got in the car this morning, pre-dawn, the dashboard thermometer read 20° F. I’m pretty sure at the beginning of this week the daytime highs were around 60° F or so. Oh, Temperate Zone, how you toy with me. I would say this capacity for sub-zero weather is yet another difference between the South (where I live) and the Deep South (where some people think I live, just because my commonwealth seceded and for a while happened to encompass the Confederate capitol … geez, perspective, people) but there have been crop-threatening deep freezes in Florida this winter, so I’ll just stick with this: I really hate winter.

Evil, EVIL ninja.
We’re supposed to get snow this weekend, but today it’s cold and clear. My drive in to the Metro station was also clear, which is at least marginally noteworthy to me because lately it’s been bumper-to-bumper from the moment I merge onto the highway from the ramp in my town. I don’t know if this morning just happened to be blessedly free of accidents and breakdowns, or if this is indicative of a pattern. It’s possible. Lots of people in this area work for the government and a lot of government agencies more or less mandate a compressed work schedule where every two weeks people get Friday off, because they work nine nine-hour days in that period instead of ten eight-hour days. Theoreticaly that would lighten the highway load on Fridays, assuming there isn’t rain or ice or glare or emergency roadwork. If I really cared I might try to pay attention and track the Fridays, but I suspect that despite talking about it right this second, I actually don’t care that much.

The really dispiriting thing, to my mind, is how unpredictable my driving commute seems to be. Some days there are longer delays than others but I’m never 100% sure why. The slowdowns happen in different places at different times for no apparent reason. Sometimes leaving the house ten minutes earlier or ten minutes later makes a big difference, and sometimes not.

Listening to the traffic reports on the news radio is, incredibly, even more maddening. Sometimes I will be at a standstill on I-66 and the announcer won’t mention that highway at all, but other times he will, and again, the circumstantial difference is utterly imperceptible to me. Not to mention the fact that more often than not the mention in the traffic report consists entirely of “I-66 eastbound experiencing delays” before moving on to the next bullet. Not terribly illuminating. Of course illumination may be overrated, since in my ignorance I can always hope the traffic will miraculously break up soon, whereas if the eye-in-the-sky tells me “delays continue all the way to Exit 70” then I just know I’m unpardonably screwed.

Of course, since I advocated perspective at the outset here, I should mention that a couple weeks ago I heard the morning traffic report refer to a tanker truck incident up on I-270 in Maryland. Said tanker truck being ON FIRE. That sucks in a lot of ways, and certainly made my stop-and-go progress toward the Metro seem like a burden I could reasonably bear.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

E for Effort

The post title may seem like a bit of a non sequitur but it actually is a reference to my childhood, or specifically the fourth and fifth grades. The elementary school I found myself in when my parents moved the family from New York to New Jersey used a grading system where both achievement and effort were monitored (indeed, there was both an Honor Roll and an Effort Roll) and the achievement grades were numerical, so instead of getting an A, B, C, D or F, you got a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. (I think there were also plusses, so you could get a 2+ on your report card, but there may or may not have been minuses.) Effort grades were given out for every subject at report card time, broken down as E for Excellent, S for Satisfactory and U for Unsatisfactory. I suppose the idea was to allow teachers to quickly convey to parents the difference between a child who is only doing middling well in math but is really, really trying to master the material, another child who gets similar test grades with minimal trying, and yet another who isn’t trying at all: 3E, 3S, 4U. Which also meant, in the first hypothetical child's case, it was possible to miss the Honor Roll by a wide margin but still make the Effort Roll, presumably to encourage the mediocre students via faint praise to Just Keep Trying.

Granted, this same school would also intermix the multiplication table dittos and paste-based glacier modeling with circle-time discussions about self-esteem and conflict resolution, so … the curriculum was kind of touchy-feely? Which is somewhat bizarre in retrospect, this rather Free To Be, 1972-ish vibe in the classroom when the rest of my life was 110% Reagan's America 1984 (the actual year in question) as I played with G.I. Joes and watched the Hot For Teacher video on MTV.

Given unlimited resources, I would totally get myself one of those cantaloupe-colored tuxes.
In any case, I don’t say it very much anymore but for a long time I used to say “E for Effort” because that was the honest-to-Tanngrisnir real-world example I had originally been exposed to. Eventually I realized that most people express this idiom as “A for Effort.” I also realized that, out of context, “E for Effort” doesn’t sound like praise, even of the sarcastic variety, unless one interprets it as a sardonic subversion in which the speaker doesn’t want to lie and therefore says something reflexively true but non-committal. “J for Jackass.”

My (theoretical) point: it’s been an effort to blog this week. I’m not sure if that’s come across in the posts or not, but it’s only Thursday and I find myself meta-blogging about the blogging process and that’s never a positive sign. There’s very little earth-shattering news to report, which by and large is a good thing. The little guy had a rough night last night, but we’ve run that gauntlet before. The new house is still coming together little by little and the Great Re-Painting Project looms before us but has yet to commence. Work has settled down to the long-since-reconciled-in-my-mind dull grind. I’m in the middle of reading a longish book, actually technically two longish books, one I read at home and one I save for the commute (Stephen King’s Under the Dome and Dan Simmons’ The Terror, respectively); I haven’t caught any new movies, I’m still way behind on comics, and The Biggest Loser is kind of boring me so far this season. I’m tired of winter and counting down to March. Even my brain seems to be half-hibernating, with nothing jumping out and grabbing it as particularly interesting and no wild flights of fancy of its own. This might all sound boring, but from my perspective, it’s serene. I’m not dissatisfied, wishing things could be more dramatically action-packed. There’s only so many words I have for ruminating on how the awesome things in my life steadfastly remain awesome.

But, I’m still going to make the effort.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

E-Mail-Splosion

I have two different e-mail addresses for personal use, both of which are of the free, web-based variety. One of them I consider my main address, which I actually use for communicating with people I want to stay in touch with. The other is useful for signing up for site access or ordering things online, anything that will probably result in a barrage of spam. I know I’m not the only person who maintains two e-mail addresses for this very (or strikingly similar) reason, and it works out so well that I can’t imagine needing more than two.

Do you know how many e-mail addresses I have at work? Go ahead, guess. OK stop guessing.

CLIP ART'ED!!!!
It’s four.

I work for a government contractor and I have a corporate e-mail address maintained by my employer. My employer’s I.T. department supports Outlook Web Mail so I’m conveniently able to check this e-mail from anywhere teh interwebs are flowing: corporate HQ, government on-site gig, home. So that’s one.

(Random anecdote: I recently got an e-mail from the corporate I.T. department explaining that one of the many, many corporate e-mail servers would be offline for an emergency repair. Since users are segregated on different servers based on last names, the outage would only affect "people with last names beginning with Pb - Pz". Maybe one of these years I need to get my act together and go to the corporate Christmas party, and try to meet these John Pboppbbles and Jane Pzaczskywyczs. They sound interesting.)

I’m assigned to a specific contract working for a government agency, so I have a domain-specific e-mail account on their departmental server. This is how I do most of my intra-office communicating throughout the day. It’s the e-mail account that dings on the desktop when new mail arrives. (Except my GFE (government-furnished equipment) doesn’t include speakers, so I rely on the visual ding-quivalent, the little yellow envelope appearing in the notification tray.) It’s tied to the websites I’m responsible for maintaining and receives the error messages generated by the server and the feedback messages left by users. It’s really the only work e-mail I need to do my job, most of the time. That's two.

But I also have an intranet e-mail. The government agency my contract is with is a Defense agency, so I have an account on the military-wide intranet and said account comes with its own e-mail address, an address which happens to be only a couple of characters off from my main agency address. Sometimes people get confused and send e-mail to my intranet account instead of my main work account, and I have to specifically log in to the intranet to retrieve it, and I don’t know until I log in if there are any messages waiting for me or not. This is exactly as annoying as it sounds. That's three.

Finally, just the other day I realized that I also have a secret e-mail address. Obviously it was a well-kept secret if I wasn’t aware it existed, but I actually mean that in the sense of security clearance. The agency uses some secure applications which can only be accessed via a secure network, and logging on to that network involves obtaining a special hard drive usually stored under lock and key, entering a password for the drive, and proceeding from there. The drive has its own e-mail client and connects to an e-mail server that is completely separate from the everyday agency server. I have yet to do any work on the secret clearance application but in order to start looking at it the other day someone had to e-mail me the location and my credentials, which they sent from their secret e-mail to mine. I was somewhat surprised to learn of this new account’s existence, but really, I shouldn’t have been. I had already passed the point of more-than-I-or-anyone-else-could-possibly-need a while back, so everything on top of that is consistent with the theme, at least.

I’ve been working this gig for about eight months; I came into it with my corporate e-mail address and have acquired three more. At this rate I should reach the point where it takes me all eight hours of every day to log in and clear through all my various e-mail accounts some time in mid-2011.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s good to walk away a winner

One time when I was in Vegas with a buddy of mine and the two of us were sitting at a blackjack table, we struck up some banter with the dealer. I’ve definitely overused the rationalization that it doesn’t matter if I win or lose money at the gaming tables, because just playing the game is entertainment in and of itself, and if I win then it’s profitable entertainment and if I lose it’s entertainment I paid for (at a staggeringly high hourly rate, but still). It’s not really the game to 21 itself that constitutes the majority of the entertainment, although a well-timed ace on top of a face card, or watching the dealer slowly bust himself after you’ve doubled down, can be exhilarating. Usually it’s the dealer who makes the time spent at the table worthwhile.

So, this one time, the dealer was a nice middle-aged lady who had the neighborhood mom vibe going, and my buddy and I were being charming, tipsy-on-white-Russians-by-midmorning morons, and we had her laughing with us (or probably at us) and during one of the long pauses to reshuffle the shoe, she said, “I like you boys, so I’m going to give you some advice. Important advice. This is probably the biggest secret to being a winner in Vegas, which means it’s not in my employer’s best interest to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway, because I like you.”

We weren’t going anywhere anyway, and would have listened if she had just wanted to talk about the weather, but we were intrigued enough by the set-up. Not for a second did I actually believe I was about to get some insider insight on how to get rich off the casino’s largesse, but I’m always curious to hear people’s personal philosophies on gambling, the Vegas experience, and suchlike.

The dealer spelled hers out like this: “Most people who come in here sit down at a table and say to themselves, ‘I’ll play until I lose a certain amount of money’, right? ‘I’ll keep playing as long as I’m winning, but once I lose a hundred’ – or whatever – ‘I’m done.’ That’s what they say.”

My buddy and I agreed this was an accurate assessment of most casual gamblers’ attitudes.

“That is the wrong way to think about it,” the dealer told us. “That’s the opposite of what they should be saying. You boys should always say to yourself, ‘I am going to play until I win a certain amount of money.’ And then stick to that, and when you win that much, walk away. Because that way you stay a winner.”

I know the extra dollar is a sucker bet, but a suited blackjack pays twenty-to-one!
I seem to recall lauding the dealer’s sagacity at the time and promising that I would henceforward live by her wise words, even though I couldn’t quite parse out the flaws in her logic in the moment. It’s really Pseudo-Profundity 101 to take a commonly accepted premise and invert it and claim that the counter-intuitive opposite is actually true. Usually that just means that both sides have some truth to them and, surprise, there’s no blanket statement that covers all possible scenarios.

Obviously the inherent danger of that well-meaning dealer’s approach is that not only do casino games of chance offer you the gambler very little control over whether or not you win or lose, but in fact you are slightly (or sometimes very much) more likely to lose than to win. Mathematically unlikely scenarios play out all the time – once I sat down at a blackjack table with $100 and won another $400 and I attribute that entirely to sheer dumb luck – which is part of the allure, but you can’t count on those. So every gambler needs an operational guideline for what to do when you buy in at a table and steadily bleed away every last chip. Do you walk at that point, or do you pull out more cash and buy in again? I’ve been known to do both, but most of the time I stick with the former. Neighborhood Mom would seem to advocate for the latter, but that way lies madness, really. I think what Neighborhood Mom was assuming was that everyone who gambles wins some and loses some, and walking away when you’re winning is more virtuous than complacently allowing yourself to lose the winnings and then proceed to lose your original stake and only then walking away. There’s some sense to that, but it doesn’t always go down so serendipitously. Sometimes you sit down and lose ten hands in a row right off the bat, and you never have a chance to walk away while you’re winning, in which case you’d damn well better have a sense of how much you’re willing to lose, not just how much you’re hoping to win.

All of which leads inevitably (at least amongst me and my degenerate friends) to more elaborate systems where we play until we win X amount OR until we win Y amount OR until Z units of time elapse to allow for the possibility of merely treading water BUT reserving the right to walk away before any of those conditions are met if the general luck of that particular table seems to spell doom for us, in the form of losing three to five hands in a row, and so on. Vegas, for its part, does everything in its power to make it hard for you to think at all, what with the free drinks and the lack of clocks and windows and the use of chips that look like candy-colored play money instead of real, reality-reinforcing cash and the general overstimulation in all directions, so trying to maintain a highly codified system in the face of that is … dare I say, dicey? If you’re an overthinker who enjoys a challenge, though, it’s pretty sweet.

Thankfully there are other gambling outlets with more fixed parameters than Sin City’s bottomless gullet, such as the friendly football pick’em pool. I managed to go the entire regular season (with the exception of Moving/Blizzard Weekend) picking winners against the spread without ever having the best weekly record. But fortunately this was a pay-up-front game and losing sixteen or so times in a row never begged to be interpreted as a sign to cut my losses. Once the playoffs started, the object of the pool became to pick not only the winners, but also the over-under for each game, though my results remained typically middling.

Finally, we arrived at Championships weekend, the last hurrah of the pick’em pool. Because there were only two games, and enough bettors to guarantee some multi-way ties if there were only four bets to make, several new categories were added. So for each game we were to pick the winner, the over-under, which team would be first to score, which would kick the first field goal, which would put the last points up on the board, and which would get the most penalties. I had tried during the early weeks of the season to put some honest mental effort into evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of various teams to make predictions, but by the final weekend I was happy to make some gleeful, gut-check guesses and see how things fell out.

I picked the Colts and the Vikes, and although I was only half-right as to the eventual Super Bowl match-up, I got credit for the Vikings covering the spread. I though both games would be low-scoring, but both went over their respective lines, so I was unlucky there. Other than that, I incorrectly predicted the Jets would kick the first field goal in their contest, and that the Vikings would score last (and if not for a stunningly fitting final interception thrown by Favre, they might have), but got the rest of the bets (or wild, random shots-in-the-dark) correct. The whole pick’em pool had been split in half as of Wildcard weekend, with those who did well in the regular season (including my super-keen wife) in an overachiever bracket – I, of course, was in the underachieving bottom-half bracket. 8-and-4 was good enough to win the Championships weekend for the basement-dwellers, so I’m ending the pick’em season on a high note, and walking away with my winnings. Not that I have any choice, but I’d still like to think a certain matronly Vegas blackjack dealer would be proud of me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Jargon-naut

I like to think that this here blog serves a couple of different purposes. An outlet for the part of my brain where my logorrheaic tendencies intersect with my pop-culture obsessions. A general life-news clearinghouse for people who know me and want to keep tabs on such things. A way to kill time at work when things are slow. Those facets, I imagine, are pretty readily apparent. Another justification for the whole enterprise (in my mind, at any rate) is for it to serve as a kind of geeky primer – I’d say half the people I know for sure read my posts regularly are well-acquainted with the insider angles on various comic book creators and 80’s toy franchises I wax rhapsodic about, while the other half aren’t. And I strive to keep the things which are of limited broad appeal out of my normal human interactions, which makes it handy to dump them here. Anyone reading along can feel free to skip any post where I wander way out into the geeky weeds, but at the same time it’s always possible you might learn something. And not only does that give you a better sense of what color the sky is in my world, but given the way that geek culture is on the rise all around us, you might be that much more prepared for a situation that is sprung upon you without the benefit of well-articulated footnotes.

So, here’s a bit of geek jargon for you: the Mary Sue. This is a pretty well-documented phenomenon (if you are so inclined to Google more about it, like why they’re called Mary Sue’s to begin with) but the basic upshot is that a Mary Sue is a character in a fictional story that wears its embodiment of authorial wish-fulfillment a little too plainly on its sleeve. Now, given that so much geek entertainment is essentially wish-fulfillment fantasy to begin with (I’m looking at you, superhero comics) this might seem either redundant or hair-splittingly picky, but … a well-drawn fictional character is like a slice of genuine New York style pizza, and your average superhero is like a slice from Pizza Hut. But admit it, you’ll eat Pizza Hut when it’s in front of you, and it’s not all bad. A Mary Sue character is like a piece of elementary school cafeteria pizzoid-foodstuff.

Mary Sue characters have all the nuance of a crayon drawing rendered by a six year old. Batman may be extravagantly wealthy, a peerless hand-to-hand combatant, the world’s greatest detective, and any number of other things which hit the sweet spot of escapism and adolescent power fantasies, but he also has a few flaws and shortcomings that keep him interesting as a character. Mary Sues cleave to the uber-competent power fantasy without balancing it with the slightest bit of imperfection that might betray some self-awareness, and that might sound in the abstract like a minor distinction but in practice it can be disastrous. If you’ve ever read or watched (or started to but couldn’t finish) a story unfold in which the protagonist was utterly devoid of problems or issues, the best in their field, irresistible to the opposite sex, and generally annoyingly too-perfect-to-be-true, you may very well have been exposed to a Mary Sue. If said protagonist is the same gender, ethnicity and approximate age as the author, the odds multiply exponentially.

And that’s bad enough in a self-contained universe, where it just seems silly. But it crops up with frightening regularity in existing property franchises, which can be a real howl. I think I’ve touched on this before, but I’ll say again that there are some little kids who are perfectly happy to run around pretending to be Batman, and other little kids who pretend to be Moonman, a character of their own invention who happens to be Batman’s new best friend. And unless the kid has serious self-esteem issues, he won’t want to play second banana to Batman, and their imaginary adventures will ultimately evolve into Moonman figuring out the vital clue that unravels the Riddler’s plot, or Moonman rescuing Batman from the Joker’s deathtrap. Which is all well and good for the self-directed amusement of a small child, but the very existence of someone who’s better at beating up the Joker or outsmarting the Riddler than Batman goes a long way toward undermining the very concept of Batman, which means it would make a less satisfying entertainment for mass consumption. Geek audiences especially are attached to the groundrules of their respective canons, such as Batman being the world’s greatest detective. Woe be to the auteur who says “Batman is actually the second best, after this guy I just made up!”

Honestly, this is pretty much how half the Internet hive-mind envisions the other half.
One of the worst offenders in this category, by the by, is the character of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Given all of the existing groundrules of how Starfleet and its future universe worked, as established in the 60’s series and 80’s movies and so forth, the audience was suddenly asked to accept a whiz-kid ensign who often became the de facto protagonist of the Enterprise’s adventures by virtue of being smarter than everyone around him. And who was really, gratingly annoying. It was a bad writing decision by any measure, but it was also so nakedly obvious that one or more of the writers on the show had been a young nerd, skipped a grade or two, and always felt they didn’t get the attention they deserved which could only truly be found in the sci-fi future. So they projected themselves onto the cipher of Wesley, and fans nearly revolted. (Incidentally, Wil Wheaton himself recognizes what a blatant Mary Sue Wesley was, and has since apologized for it and joined in the Wesley bashing, and is now generally beloved by the huge overlap in the Venn diagram between internet screedists and Trekkies. So don’t feel too bad for the human being who brought Wesley to life, whenever entitled fans treat the concept of the fictional character like their own personal punching bag.)

The reason Mary Sues are on my mind lately is because last week I finished reading a Star Wars “novel” – Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry. (Sorry for the abrupt shift from Star Trek to Star Wars; to me they’re so different as to be impossible to confuse one with the other, hopefully for everyone else the whiplash isn’t too bad.) I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this book since it came out, which was 1996. Allow me to set the scene: 1996 was the year before the special edition remastered original Star Wars trilogy was released, and about three eyars before the prequels started coming out. Some licensed tie-ins to Star Wars, really the first new Star Wars stuff for fans in 13 years or so, had been doing well in the marketplace. Shadows of the Empire was supposed to be a full-on assault hitting two major retails sectors: video games and books. The plan was carried out adequately enough (I remember my college roommate getting a copy of the video game and showing me some of the better sequences) but neither the gaming nor publishing industries were rocked to their cores. To this day Jar Jar Binks has had a bigger impact on the Star Wars legacy than Shadows of the Empire.

Somewhere inside the Lucasfilm monolith, they decided that the Shadows of the Empire novel, and the action covered in the video game, would take place mainly between the movies Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. On the surface, this seems like a good plan. You get to involve all of the main characters that fans love and fill in some of the narrative gaps that geeks obsess over, and at the same time create something somewhat new. Truth be told, Perry plays it very conservatively, hitting a lot of the same beats as the movies as if that’s the only thing that could possibly entertain the fans. He even has the characters make occasional head-slapping observations, such as when they fly into an asteroid field and someone says “Hey, remember when Han tried to lose those Imperials by flying into an asteroid field?” When Perry does stray from the well-established Star Wars familiarities, it’s to introduce two new characters who would ostensibly justify the existence of this new work, a hero and a villain: Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor.

Holy fricking bantha-poodoo, are they a couple of Mary Sues.

So at the time Shadows of the Empire is set, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. Lando Calrissian is hanging out with the Rebel Alliance, but the smooth-brother rogue is apparently not archetype enough to make up for Han’s absence. Dash Rendar is introduced as a mercenary-smuggler intended to fill the Han role. Much like Moonman overshadows Batman, Dash is everything Han is … and more. Where Han flirted with Princess Leia, Dash hits on her shamelessly. Where Han is good in a firefight, Dash is so skilled with a blaster or a spaceship laser array that he. Never. Misses. Ever!!! And where Han wasn’t particularly inclined to help the Alliance out of the goodness of his heart, until he came around, Dash is an even bigger jerk. Then Dash, while escorting Luke and some other Rebels through space, fails to intercept an imperial missile, and people die. Dash is so shaken by finally missing a shot that he has a crisis of faith and ends up saving the day multiple times by always being in the right place at the right time as the climax of the book unfolds. And then in an out-of-left-field epilogue moment, it turns out that the missile Dash failed to intercept was some kind of cheater missile, so it’s not his fault people died after all. Um, hooray? So basically he’s a bag of clich├ęs who shows up sporadically throughout the book when the plot contrivances call for someone to be totally awesome. (I understand he’s also the POV character for the video game.)

Prince Xizor, on the other hand, is the ultimate evil bad-ass, an alien crimelord with schemes within schemes and back-up plans for every back-up plan. He propels and headlines a subplot in which he tries to push Darth Vader out of the Emperor’s favor, intending of course to fill that power vacuum himself, by assassinating Luke Skywalker once he learns Vader has promised to deliver Skywalker to the Emperor alive. He personally oversees his criminal empire despite its mind-bogglingly vast size, he’s a connoisseur and a Casanova (who, incidentally, ends up obsessed with Princess Leia and tries to date-rape her using his natural reptilian pheromones – so, you know, that’s in there for the kids) and quite possibly a ninja. Seriously, at the risk of overusing this metaphor, with just about every page of the book I kept imagining Lucasfilm execs approaching a sugar-addled six year old and saying “We need you to come up with a Star Wars story and a pirate a million times cooler than Han Solo and a big meanie a billion times worse than Darth Vader.” And then they asked Steve Perry to transcribe it all more or less verbatim.

Sadly, it’s not even a very well-written story, beyond the egregious Mary Sue-isms. The plot is really pulpy, where random happenstances are explained away as logical developments facilitated by futuristic technology. The dialogue is fairly wooden (not surprisingly, since this is basically a Star Wars puppet show with a couple of homemade new puppets thrown in) and the interior monologues are much, MUCH worse. I’d probably have to read something else by Steve Perry, something totally original that was not interfered with at any level by Lucasfilm, to know if he’s really a horrible hack or just grabbed one convenient licensed paycheck, but the risk outweighs the benefit in that particular scenario.

And yet, I can’t say it was a total waste of time. Misguided infamies are often as interesting to me as deservedly heralded classics, and despite the rough rogering the franchise has gotten of late, I’m still an unrepentant Star Wars fan. I appreciated that Perry showed the actual process of Luke building his green-bladed lightsaber, which shows up otherwise unexplained in Return of the Jedi. I smiled, a little, at the intentional comedy of C-3PO and R2-D2 flying the Millennium Falcon during the climactic escape, while everyone else was planetside. Super-cheesy, but in a fun and nostalgia-filled way. I need a little bit of that in my diet every now and then.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cat’s In The Cradle

Alert readers may have noticed a couple of things in regard to my ongoing references to the other 2/3 of my nuclear domestic unit. One of those would be that I’ve been utilizing the ultra-bland “my wife” and “my son” and the like rather than coming up with blisteringly arcane pseudonyms like Antoinette or Xenophon. This is probably about half pure laziness and half desire to come up with permanent pseudonyms, still thwarted by inability to settle on perfect ones, as I’ve explained previously. Another phenomenon of note would be the gradual shift from always referring to “the baby” and instead referring to “the little guy” and other such variants.

Because, the truth is, he’s not really a baby any more, although the truth-value is pretty strongly correlated to how one defines babyhood. He still wears diapers, sleeps in a crib, eats in a high chair, can’t speak in complete sentences, and other fairly prototypically babyish things. But he’s starting to get actively annoyed by diapers and the forced changing thereof, and he can lower himself out of a grownup bed without crashing and face-planting (usually), and he feeds himself semi-independently (sometimes even using age-appropriate utensils), and he’s adding new words to his vocabulary every day (“hat” and “eyes” are a couple of the latest). He runs around like crazy, but sometimes he plays quietly by himself with some intense concentration. He’s developing a sense of humor. He’s mimicking more and more – not just sounds but whole behavior dynamics, like when he’s carrying a bowl of goldfish crackers and the dog comes sniffing toward him hoping for dropped treats, and the little guy holds a hand out warningly and says “No!” He has a mind of his own, a will which is expressing itself more and more every day, a personality which is less a matter of interpretation and more a simply evident fact. He is becoming a little kid, and some days it seems like he’s already there. Not a baby, in any case.

Not all the evidence is warm and fuzzy and life-affirming, of course. Earlier this week, at daycare, one of the other children bit the little guy’s hand. And if I do say so myself, I was proud of both myself and my wife for how we handled the incident, which was basically by nodding and shrugging and accepting it as one of those things that inevitably happens when you put a bunch of rugrats in a confined space over a long period of time. Between the ages of one and two, children do an incredible amount of discovery, both self- and of the world around them, and it’s fascinating to watch, but it can also be incredibly frustrating to the child. Freakouts ensue. My wife and I know the daycare providers are doing everything in their power (which of course has reasonable limits) to minimize the impacts of other children’s freakouts on our child. And the little guy shook off the chomping like a trooper, though to be fair it didn’t break the skin, barely left little pink impressions for that matter. (Apparently he cried a little, then while being comforted asked for “cars” – hey, the kid knows what he likes and how to make himself feel better.) I think my wife and I would have been more upset if our little guy were the one doing the biting. That would open the floodgates for all our insecurities about parenting, being role models, teaching values, nature versus nurture and a thousand other points of obsession. But being bitten? Happens. We’re not contemplating switching daycares or wishing hateful Twilight Zone comeuppance on the aggressor-child’s clearly derelict parents. It’s an imperfect world and unpleasant things occur without warning or reason. We minimize them as best we can, and failing that roll with them as best we can, too.

Fact: Babies love nails, screws, thumbtacks ... really anything metal and pointy and dangerous.  WTF, evolution?
Which is not something I think we would have been so sanguine about a year ago, when we were still in the throes of constant low-grade “How do we make sure he keeps breathing all night?” panic. Our bouncing boy is not an infant any more, and we’re not the parents of an infant any more, which might sound redundant but really signifies multiple arcs of growth.

Regarding the subject of this post, “Cat’s in the Cradle” is one of those songs that falls into a musical genre which my wife and I mostly agree on a fundamental fascination with: the painfully earnest. (see also: most early Simon & Garfunkel) Personally, I can track my responses to the song through several phases, going back nearly as far as I can remember; my parents weren’t huge Harry Chapin fans per se, but they listened to radio stations that were likely as not to play the single. As a little kid, the song stopped being just another bit of melodic noise right around the time that I was old enough to listen to the words of story-songs and appreciate the cleverness of an ironic ending. When I got a little older, into the teenage know-it-all years, the primary thing I got out of the lyrics was that the father pretty much deserved what he ended up with. (It goes without saying that this is heavily shaded by my own ambivalent relationship with my father during those teen years … but I’ll say it anyway.) With young adulthood it became impossible to hear the song as anything other than mawkish and maudlin and a little overwrought. (The excessive cover version by future state fair headliners Ugly Kid Joe did little to dispel this.) It became a cheap punchline, and conveniently enough the same thing seemed to happen culturally as well, or it might have been something that I said once in a while to poke fun at lamentations of time’s passing but which no one else got. Fortunately for me, everyone knows that “Cat’s in the Cradle” is about fathers and sons and misplaced priorities and unsalvageable regrets, and the reference rarely goes amiss.

Then, of course, I had a kid. And that fact in and of itself doesn’t make the song any less painfully earnest, or any harder to mock. It just makes my response more complicated, because I can see the inherent truth and the absurdity side by side. And, let it never be forgotten, I do like things that are complicated. I still use “Cat’s in the Cradle” as a punchline, or at the very least as a humorous expletive. My wife and I will be talking about how fast the little guy is growing up, and how far we’ve all come, and I will feel myself getting emotional about it, and I will yell “Cat’s in the Cradle! Cat’s in the Cradle!” until we’re both laughing, which is a nice way to defuse the intensity of the situation, but is also, equally, a way to encapsulate those intense emotions and allow myself to feel them, and also, still equally, a way to remind myself that it really is possible to blink and miss your own son’s childhood, which would be a stunningly rotten thing to allow to happen.

The path I’ve laid out for myself, the life I want to live, involves feeling everything possible without ever getting bogged down by any of it. That is not easy. It involves a lot of internalized intensity that has to be popped quickly when it gets bigger than me, which usually involves making fun of myself. Sometimes a dumb folk song (coincidentally released the year I was born) helps me do that, and I have to admit I’m grateful for that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where credit is due

You know who doesn't get enough credit for combining the child's imagination-captivating concepts of dinosaurs, dragons, giant apes and shapeshifting blobs into a nuclear-family-with-monster-pets brew of geektastic potency?

They team up to protect their planet from sinister invaders, using stock footage and recycled music cues!
Hells yes, the Herculoids. (Or, more accurately, Alex Toth, the actual human intelligence that created them.) I suppose it's because once you get past the high concept, all of the Hanna Barbera World of Super Adventure episodelets from Space Ghost to Frankenstein, Jr. have an undeniable ultra-cheap assembly line formulaic quality which does not reward repeat viewing or deep analysis.

Still - the dinosaur shoots exploding rock bullets out his horn! The dragon shoots fricking laser beams out his eyes AND his tail! This should come off as overkill but it just seems appropriate to the evolutionary precepts of whatever crazy jungle planet the Herculoids lived on. Brilliant.

Other than that, I got nothing today - who knew that taking one day off from work to get over encroaching illness could set me back so far? Someone threw the gears into flesh-shredding mode while I was out, apparently.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Home, sick

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon marveling at how cold it was in my office, hunched down in my hoodie and eventually feeling sore all over from tensing my muscles against shivering. By the time I got home, though, I realized I was actually feeling the aches and chills of Coming Down With Something, Dammit. Which would have been bummer enough, but I also had to take care of the little guy while his mother worked late ... and the little guy ended up getting sick all over himself shortly after I put him to bed. So I had to clean him up, change his pj's, strip and change the crib, find new blankets for him, all of which took so long with all the lights blazing that he just thought it was time to get up and play again. Much, much later, I got him back in bed (and, eventually, to sleep). It really sucked the rest of the wind out of my sails, though, so I was under Dr. Wifey's orders not to even think about going to work today.

(Another consideration was that we're not supposed to send the little guy to daycare for 24 hours after a vomiting episode, so one of us would have to stay home with him anyway. He seems absolutely fine, for what it's worth. I don't think he has the same bug I do, and more likely he may have just swallowed a little too much snot, or possibly gagged on some, to bring up his dinner. Pleasant, I know. But, again, the point: he's fine.)

(Also, BTW? Not to jinx it or anything but he's actually been sleeping all the way through the night again. Like, five nights in a row now. Which made the cookie-tossing interruption last night all the more of a grief, but on the bright side it happened at 7:45 and not 2:15.)

So I've been hanging around the house in pj's myself all day and feeling much better; no doubt I will return to the office tomorrow, but it will already be Thursday so that seems tolerable. While the little guy napped today I finally got around to watching the DVD of The Warriors that I Netflixed back in September. (Hoorah for no late fees!)

The July 4 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Championship is now only my second favorite thing from Coney Island.
Ah, The Warriors, surely one of 1979's top five gems of cultural infamy. It seems like one of those movies that everyone has heard of and knows a little bit about ("CAN ... YOU ... DIG ... IT!" or "Warriorrrrs ... come out to plaaayyy-aayyy!") but very few people have actually seen. It got a big push for its 25th anniversary (DVD release, new video game) and there have been rumors of a remake for a while, but it remains a cult classic with a very small cult. Of which I am now a cultist, I suppose.

I really was open to allowing The Warriors to become my new favorite movie, but sadly, that didn't happen. It's a fun movie, and has a lot of great moments, and its sensibilities are so inline with mine that if it didn't exist I would be on the verge of creating it myself. I guess I'm just spoiled by 21st century blockbusters, and the interminable parts of The Warriors that slow down almost to a stop border on the unforgivable, while the gloriously batshit insane action setpieces ... look like they're from a film from 1979. With a budget of about $50K. That's a really unfair way to judge a movie, though, so I'm trying to keep the context in mind and respect what the movie does right. It starts really strong, creating this crazy comic-book inspired New York City of the near future. (I love New York, love comics, please don't ask me to choose which I love more.) I can't quite decide if a major metropolis essentially ruled by night by tribal gangs who all wear color-coded theme costumes (and sometimes facepaint) would be the awesomest of all possible worlds, or the most terrifying. Probably both. When the gang in spangly purple vests and matching pimp fedoras walked through the subway station, the movie had me. Then, as it dragged on, it lost me. Then, for the penultimate fight scene, it had me back. And then, when the movie reached a conclusion which was narratively satisfying but viscerally completely wrong, I was disappointed. I would watch it again with someone who has never seen it, but I most likely wouldn't watch it just for myself.

But would I go see a remake? Depends on what they did with it, probably. I did find myself thinking that the action scenes would be improved with a modern translation, and that basically the underlying ideas are good even if the execution is a bit cheap and dated. (And frankly, if they just got The Rock to play Cyrus I think they'd be halfway to genius right there.) Then I think about how horribly they fucked up the Rollerball remake and I kind of hope they just leave The Warriors alone.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Staring into the abyss

I actually bought some comics last week; I worked some longer days in the beginning of the week which meant I could head home earlier as the weekend approached, especially on Friday when the whole office was bolting early in advance of the three-day federal holiday weekend. So I took advantage of the extra hour or so to drive from the Metro station to the next town west of mine, where teh interwebs had informed me a comic book shoppe could be found, before doubling back to pick up the little one from daycare.

(And lest I seem like a shamefully disinterested parent who does not instinctively jump at the chance to spend an extra hour with his progeny and spring the offspring from the clutches of institutional daycare at the earliest possible instant, I can only offer my belief that the progeny in question does much better with a normalized routine and seems to quite like his daycare, so I actually feel like I’m doing all right by him to leave him in their good hands until the usual pick up time, rather than circumvent his late-afternoon snacktime or whathaveyou. So.)

In any case, the comics shop was a bit of a disappointment. Comics shops are a lot like grocery stores, in that they all sell the basic staples, but different stores are going to have different specialty items, and every one is laid out differently with its own quirks presents a learning curve to the shopper who’s never been there before. The shop I visited on Friday was fairly small, physically and in terms of selection, but I dutifully gave it a chance and walked more than one slow circuit amongst its shelves, looking for hidden treasures and generally trying to get a sense of the establishment.

This gave me enough time to overhear many conversations going on throughout the store, and in the process to get caught up in an unpleasant feedback loop which I call The Big Wince (clearly this has happened before, since I’ve named the phenomenon.) In essence, all of the conversations were cringe-worthy in one way or another, though they tend to fall into two broad categories: attempts at humor and attempts at showing off.

Before I get any deeper into this, let me clarify a couple of terms. I’ve referred to myself countless times in this blog (and elsewhere) as a geek. I’m about to refer to the patrons and employees in the comics shop I visited as nerds. Some people consider those terms interchangeable synonyms, but I draw a distinction between them, which is that geeks possess rudimentary social skills and nerds do not. So it’s not that a comic book nerd is more passionately devoted to the medium than a comic book geek, or vice versa. It has nothing to do with the obsession or fandom itself, that which modifies the label. It has to do with everything else about the person besides their particular obsession. Sometimes it gets conflated because the nerd is kind of a personality-void, and there’s nothing that defines them beyond their obsession. There’s a popular stereotype of the nerd who can’t talk to girls because all he can think to talk about is comics or cartoons or sci-fi movies or whatever, unable to change gears even when it becomes apparent that the girl doesn’t know anything about those subjects and, understandably, doesn’t want to talk about them. But you’ll also find in the wild various sub-species of nerd who can think and speak about mainstream-friendly topics, yet who can’t do so very well and thus still have the same fundamental problem. And if you were conversant with their obsession, you’d find that even when they speak to their own wheelhouse, they’re still not very good at it, and are still just as painful to listen to. Geek conversations follow the social rules of normal conversations and happen to be about geeky things. Nerd conversations barely qualify as human interaction. And are about geeky things, usually.

Science nerd!
So, the nerds at the comic shop. Half of their rudimentary attempts at self-expression came in the form of making jokes which were not very funny; the other half were put-downs of comics creators or storylines or related ideas in snarky, cynical terms. From my perspective, it bore a certain superficial resemblance to 80% of the discourse out there in society (or 98% of the discourse online), where jokes and ironic disdain are in far more abundant supply than anything else. But, it was filtered through individuals who understand the basic formulation of “humor and/or bitching = acceptable/expected communication” and yet lack the socialized wherewithal to communicate effectively. Much of what they said was recycled, and anything original ran a high risk of being incoherent. And again, not incoherent like someone saying “Next thing you know Geoff Johns is going to retcon Magenta to make her the daughter of Atrocitus and Star Sapphire and fit her into the power ring spectrum!” because what the hell does that gibberish even mean – I’m a comics geeks and I know what all of those capitalized names refer to. It’s just even if you speak the language, it’s still moronic. (Um, trust me?)

The only thing a convoluted mess like that has going for it is that it allows the speaker to show off, within his narrow nerd obsession, via copious name-dropping. Sometimes this leads to very strange power struggles, bizarre alpha-male displays where one nerd throws out an abomination of barely connected obscure comics terms, like the above, and the other nerds must respond by either (a) acknowledging that the speaker’s trivia hand is indeed strong; (b) pointing out the logical flaws in the original speaker’s statement, often with more ridiculous name-dropping to make a new bid for nerd dominance; or (c) inverting the entire structure by giving the original nerd blank stares and professing ignorance, somehow implying that one is now a little bit cooler compared to the speaker who has proven he is the nerdiest of the nerds, essentially ceding the contest and dismissing it as something not worth being proud of winning. I’m pretty comfortable making these sweeping statements about the typical nerd interactions because I’ve seen it over and over and OVER again. And yet it makes me wince every time.

The Big Wince, though, comes near the end. As I was bringing the few issues I wanted to buy up to the cash register, I became more and more convinced that the nerds were not only conversationally preening, but that they were doing it for my benefit. And you can call me solipsistic, which I rarely deny, but I say this with confidence because the truth is I used to be a socially clueless nerd. I outgrew it and got over it and learned to not live in my own head so much (though I still do a little) and to read the social cues of situations and I struck a much happier balance, for me and for everyone else around me. Before I made that change, though, I was an undeniably show-offy nerd, as most nerds are, probably because getting attention from strangers helps make up for the total dearth of real human relationships and connectedness. (Except it actually doesn’t. But nerds’ options are limited: live off of goggling attention from strangers, or die a little more inside every day.) So I recognized a version of myself in the comics shop nerds and their flailing struggles with self-expression. That, in essence, is The Big Wince.

Things took a slightly surreal turn as I was paying for my comics and yet another trying-to-be-funny-but-failing-spectacularly conversation happened over my bowed head. The kid at the register, with a glimmer of self-awareness, said to me, “And if you become a regular customer you can look forward to conversations like this all the time!” There was a bittersweet combination of perceiving that the conversation must seem strange to an outsider, and yet unquestioningly accepting that that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be. I managed a weak chuckle; I was certain I would be exposed to more of the same if I ever went back there, but I wouldn’t say I’d look forward to it. I kept that observation to myself, though.

Still, as I can attest, a geek is just a nerd who wised up enough to stop being such a total fucking melvin all the time. Maybe the kid at the cash register who just accepts the background noise of his shop as normal will branch out and try other things and become more well-rounded and develop socially. I do believe that everyone has that potential, no matter how many t-shirts featuring pencil art cheesecake pinups they own. As for me, I’m undecided if I want to go back to that shop and give it another chance. Time will tell, I suppose.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slackurday Grab Bag

Have I used that gag in the post title before? If so, ah well. Yesterday was a full day, with many an errand to be run and two parties to attend, not to mention playoff football. The pickem pool continues, by the by, and on wildcard weekend my results were rather mixed: I didn't pick a single victory correctly, but I got the over/under right for three out of four. So far this weekend I'm off to a slightly more encouraging two out of four.

The televisual highlight of the day yesterday was a Colts fan in the crowd who was wearing a home jersey, a Batman cowl painted white, and Hulk hands painted blue. Nice.

+++

While we're on the superheores tip, two quick follow-ups to my earlier post about the future direction of the Spider-Man movies. Less than an hour after I posted my thoughts on redundancy, I ran across another news item that boiled down to the following: a proven Hollywood director approached Sony about taking on Spider-Man, and already had a pitch including a six-minute version of Spidey's origin, and Sony rebuffed him and insisted on a full-on origin story. Which means any equivocating I had done about the studio heads probably making the wrong decision when it came down to it can be replaced by a lead-pipe lock. So, you know, goddammit.

Also? I was thinking (more) about superhero movies and my preferred model for them, and I recollected a flick which started with the hero in full embodiment of his identity, did a reasonably brief flashback to the origin, and used the two-villain set-up where one villain essentially hires the other, and the hireling gets killed in the end while the shot-caller lives to remain a thorn in the hero's side. Just replace J. Jonah Jameson with the Kingpin and Scorpion with Bullseye and my pitch for the Spidey reboot is basically the 2003 Daredevil movie. That movie is still rife with various mockable inelegancies, of course, but my respect for its structural underpinnings just went up a notch or two. I won't say it's a pity we never got to see Affleck turn that into a full-blown three or four installment franchise, but I can't deny a modest curiousity about what might have been.

+++

The office in Rosslyn which I am trying to escape (so long as my escape route does not dump me in the Crystal City I.T. Help Desk room) is a secure government facility, which means I need a badge to enter and said badge must be displayed at all times, ad a lot of other protocols. If I didn't have a badge, I would have to be escorted everywhere by someone taking responsibility for my possible impact on national security. You know who doesn't have badges? The office building's cleaning crew. That means that there is a woman in this office, a government employee, who's job duties include once a day (a) letting the cleaning person into our locked office and (b) following the cleaning person as the garbage can in each cubicle is emptied, making sure the cleaning person doesn't whip out the James Bond microcamera or liberate any hard drives or somesuch. I guess in the bottom-line analysis, having someone take time out of their day to babysit the dama de basura makes more sense than background checking everyone who takes what I'm sure is a high-turnover, minimum wage gig. It just seems like a drag. Then again, this particular government employee always smells like burnt patchouli so I can't always muster up that much sympathy for her.

+++

There are many and varied reasons why I would like to someday become a published writer, but one in particular has been on my mind lately. It would be nice, when people visit my home and get the nickel tour and walk from room to room and see overflowing bookshelves every-freaking-where, to know that instead of thinking "Jeez, what's with all the books?" they were rather thinking "Well, of course. He's a writer."

But until then, it's just this unrealized ambition which can be surprisingly awkward. At the first party I went to yesterday, the host at one point asked me if I had written anything lately. I kind of laughed it off and said not much except this here bloggy-blog. The host's father, whom I had just met a few minutes before, overheard and then started asking me about what kinds of things I write and what the last thing I had written was about and so forth. I know he was just trying to make conversation but it felt like a merciless grilling. Writing more beyond the blog really needs to be my 11th pop resolution.

Friday, January 15, 2010

If I can be serious for a moment

Rather than force myself to come up with yet another slight variation on my petty life grievances or pop-culture obsessions, I've decided that today seems like a day when the best use of my tiny sliver of teh interwebs would be to ask anyone who happens along here to seriously consider helping relief efforts in Haiti.

NPR.org has been good enough to consolidate a page of links to various charities and aid agencies, any one of which would be grateful for donations. A friend of mine who spent some time volunteering in Haiti a few years back would heartily recommend Partners in Health, for what that's worth. Personally I've always been a big fan of the Red Cross. Suit yourself.

Amidst all the clatter of staking out my domain in suburbia and fondly recalling my sizable arsenal of childhood action figures, I do devote a brain cell here and there to trying to figure out Why We're Here. I have no illusions about having sussed that one out yet, or ever really reaching a worthwhile and enlightened Q.E.D., but at a minimum I'm convinced that it has something to do with helping one another. And every bit of help makes a difference, which is easy to lose sight of when every headline and broadcast lead for the past few days is about the immensity of the damage and the rising desperation in the affected areas. If you've already done something to contribute or show support, you are awesome. If you haven't, and if me asking means anything, please consider being at least a little awesome.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some would say the garage is half-full

The momentum of moving into the new house seems to have reached a low ebb, which is a bit of a shame because we haven’t exactly completed the process. There remain un-unpacked boxes (in some cases, still taped shut) in various locales around the house, including dozens of boxes of books relegated to the rarely-visited basement, a huge box of linens that wound up in the den, two boxes of picture frames waiting for the wall-painting project to come to fruition, and a random assortment of boxes, bins and loose items in the garage. The pirate bar also sits in the garage, and probably will until the spring thaw, which means it’s no big deal that we’ve only cleared enough room in the garage for one car; even if we found a home inside the house for every other item in the garage, the bar would still prevent comfortable accommodation of a second vehicle. So there’s that.

Ur doing it wrong
Of course there’re multiple factors at play here. One is the weather, which keeps the house well-chilled round the clock and discourages embarking on ambitious activities that would involve long periods of time spent in the garage or basement. Another is ordinary day-to-day life, which we did our best to put on hold on the actual weekend of moving day but which has inexorably reasserted itself. Given the choice between unpacking a box or washing/drying/folding a load of laundry, the latter has taken on a greater sense of importance on any given evening. (For that matter, a choice between unpacking a box and watching tv or surfing the web now that we have cable/internet again tends to slide down a similar anti-unpacking slant, but I figured I’d try to throw something out there first that doesn’t make me seem like a completely irresponsible slacker. Semi-irresponsible, if you please.)

But ultimately I think a lot of the problem (if, indeed, it is a problem) is simple burnout. The move was almost four weeks ago and there’s only so many consecutive days that one’s brain can focus on a particular task before cracking at least a little. If you extend the timeline backwards to when we first started packing, the whole experience feels even more interminable. And since we’ve moved in, we’ve hosted a family holiday gathering, had two different couples over for dinner, and put up my Very Little Bro for four nights. Clearly whatever urgently needed to be dealt with has been. This, in turn, raises some not altogether welcome questions about the items still nestled in cardboard cubes. If we haven’t needed them in the past month, how important can they possibly be? Why did we bother moving them here in the first place? Sure, there are reasonable answers that make use of words like “seasonal” and “luxury”, but still. You formulate an image of yourself as someone low-maintenance and relatively unattached to material possessions, and then you realize you own one bed but five or six different comforters and you need to decide how much cabinet space you’re willing to dedicate to your cappuccino maker and your bread machine. How odd.

I should probably try to make a note when the final box is unpacked and the last possession is given a spot in which to reside. Then every year on that date we can have an official family observance, somehow centered around said item. Of course this will probably yield something utterly ridiculous like “My Wife’s Summer Shoes Day” celebrated in late March, but if I can attach the appropriate amount of beer-drinking and meat-grilling to it, I think it could be a big hit.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spin Again

If you, like me, follow entertainment news closely, you might be aware of an item which broke this week, declaring that the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy would presumably remain forever that, a set of three films with no further installments. Rumors about Spider-Man 4 had been percolating since around the time the first cut of Spider-Man 3 came into being, the most recent of which was the casting of John Malkovich as the Vulture (which, I admit, made me a lot more excited about the possibility of yet another sequel for that particular franchise than, say, anything that ended up on-screen in Spider-Man 3) but apparently all bets are off now. The studio and the director could not come to agreement on their “vision” for the next chapter, and Raimi walked away, as did Tobey Maguire. This kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood, and even as a lifelong comics fan and fairly deeply-read Spidey booster, I greeted the news with a yawn. No Malko-vulture is kind of a bummer, but as great as the first two Raimi-helmed movies were, if he couldn’t be allowed some course corrections after part 3, it’s probably best to let it go before the world ends up with “Spider-Man: The Quest For Peace.”

So what’s more noteworthy, to my way of thinking, is the hyper-compression of the overall cycle of franchise development that is now playing out, in contrast to the usual way of things. In the past a series of movies would be cranked out, gradually and inevitably declining in quality, and when the final installment was released it was not always immediately apparent that it was, in fact, final. Maybe it was apparent to the studio that owned the rights to the characters, or to the director or lead actor who definitively washed their hands of it, but as far as the public was concerned there always remained that possibility of a cast reunion and a new chapter in the saga. As time passed, the possibility seemed admittedly more and more remote, but the diminishing odds felt like part of a natural process. And sometimes, long after the possibility of a true continuation had dwindled to nothing, an announcement would be made that the franchise would be revisited in a new way. In the current case of Spider-Man, though, the studio was simultaneously announcing both Raimi’s departure and a complete reboot of the series, taking Spider-Man’s alter ego all the way back to Peter Parker, high school student. So any thoughts of Raimi and the studio heads eventually renegotiating and setting aside creative differences and agreeing to the exact arrival times of dumptrucks of cash money are now pretty well misplaced.

There’s nothing wrong with high school Spidey, by the by. The 2002 movie blows through high school graduation fairly early and moves on to Peter (and MJ and Harry) dealing with the adult world and all its problems and disappointments, but it’s not a problem to mine plenty of everyman trials and tribulations from the lives of teenagers. (I know, I know, the real motivation for de-aging the cast is no doubt to tap into the lucrative Twilight-fan market, but I’m going to put the best spin on it I possibly can, dammit.) In the comics, Peter was a high school student for the first 28 or so issues, plenty of which are stone cold classics. It’s the original milieu for the character and a highly workable one.

So I don’t begrudge the teeny-bopper reboot per se, and I’ll miss Raimi’s obvious love and understanding for the character but don’t think he’s the be all and end all, so what’s left for me to complain about? (Well, really, nothing at the moment, since no product as of yet exists, and this is all based on idle speculation, but I’d hardly deserve my geek cred if I couldn’t find something to preemptively snipe at.) In essence, it’s redundancy.

If Gossip-Spider comes out in, say 2011, it will be only nine years removed from the kick-off of the Raimi cycle. And yet there will be an almost irresistible compulsion to re-tell Spider-Man’s origin. Partly that’s because that’s just what super hero franchises have always done: start with the origin. Even if we just saw it done really, really well within recent memory in the same medium. Maybe, on some meta level, that’s actually further justification for recreating the origin, so that the audience will think of the new kid as the “real” Spider-Man and displace the memories of Tobey Maguire. But it’s still a terrible idea, because more than anything it’s going to feel redundant. It’s impossible to improve on the Spider-Man origin story, and dang near sacrilege to tweak it. (Raimi just barely got away with it, swapping organic web shooters for mechanical and a carjacking for a burglary.) Unlike Superman and Batman, who first appeared beating up bad guys and had their origins revealed incrementally over time (in the comics, anyway), Spider-Man was introduced by way of his origin story, a perfect morality play that utterly defines the character on every level, and as a result comics fans pretty much fetishize it. If the director feels he must at least touch on the origin (to cement the new lead in the role, to appease the slavish fanboys, to illuminate the backstory to anyone in the audience who might not already know how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, whatev) then I hope he does it in a title-sequence montage or mercifully brief flashback. Because thanks to this reboot coming so hard and fast on the heels of the Raimi trilogy, the next movie is going to feel like a part of it. It has to stand on its own, not retread the same ground.

Still, if the allure of the origin is irresistible, I will sigh but I will understand. On the other hand, if the reboot includes the Green Goblin as the villain I will scream. Again, it’s not that I don’t get the appeal. Gobby is rightfully considered Spidey’s arch-foe and hits all the right notes to claim that title: He represents anarchic power lust, the exact opposite of Spider-Man’s “great power great responsibility” mantra! He has gadgets and abilities that set him apart from Spidey yet give him an evenly matched fight! His visuals are great (in the comics), including the inherently evil colors of green and purple (just like Lex Luthor and the Joker)! But he’s not the only scallywag in the rogues’ gallery, and again, the sheer redundancy of two movies in nine years about Spider-Man versus the Green Goblin (or five years, if you count the Harry-Goblin from the third movie) would be crap.

Of course I have a humble suggestion for the villain of the reboot, but before I get into it let me skewer something about trends in superhero movies that consistently disappoints me: they keep killing the villains. I understand that the conventions of drama practically mandate that the hero’s triumph is only considered sufficient when the villain is utterly vanquished, and death is the most operatic way to represent that. Comic books, as monthly periodicals, have a lot more to gain by setting up recurring grudge matches so that Wolverine fights Sabretooth again and again and again, with minor victories rather than final battles; movies have to match different expectations. Still, when Jack Nicholson bought it at the end of the 1989 Batman movie, I was pretty disappointed. Ditto when Alfred Molina goes gently into the goodnight at the end of Spider-Man 2. Bombastic showdowns are blockbuster gold, but doesn’t a constant thorn in the hero’s side have value, too?

We're all a hero, AND a menace.  And a princess, a basket case, a geek and a jock.
Enter J. Jonah Jameson, the richest vein of material you can mine from the Spider-Man canon. He’s Peter Parker’s boss (inasmuch as freelancers have bosses) at the Daily Bugle, and provides a capricious source of income for a super-hero who actually has money problems. The newspaper setting itself is good for exposition, and for allowing our hero to learn breaking news about nefarious goings-on. Jameson is a terrible boss, self-important and impatient and rude and most other qualities anyone who’s ever hated their boss can relate to. He’s also a self-appointed talking head in the media, who has made it his mission to take down Spider-Man because he doesn’t like him. Raimi’s movies hit all of those notes, but one area from the comics they never explored was how much farther than writing editorials Jameson was willing to go to destroy Spider-Man. J.J.J. actually plays a significant role in the origin of a Spider-villain. More than once.

My favorite of these is the Scorpion. Jameson hires Mac Gargan, P.I., to follow Peter Parker and find out how he gets his exclusive photos of Spider-Man. When Gargan fails at that, Jameson convinces the guy to be a test subject in a science experiment that bonds Gargan with a scorpion-styled weapon-suit (read: “green longjohns with a hefty, barbed tail”). Gargan goes after Spider-Man at Jameson’s insistence and eventually goes insane due to suit side-effects. Scorpions are bad-ass and scary, so basing a villain on one is a no-brainer. They’re also arachnids, which sets up a nice totemic symmetry with Spidey that I’ve always appreciated. As far as movie-readiness, I’d think it would be a great role to play as Gargan quickly goes from being a street-smart investigator to reveling in the brute strength of his Scorpion identity to total screaming crazy. The look would have to be updated, but a bio-organic H.R. Geiger-esque version would be something to see. And if the movie demands that Spider-Man kill the Scorpion (or, via movie-logic, that Scorpion destroy himself) so be it – as long as J. Jonah Jameson stays alive.

Jameson gets played for comic relief but I maintain that with a little nudging he could be Spider-Man’s movie arch-enemy. In fact, he could be both: fuming, eccentric megalomaniac publisher in most people’s eyes, and slightly disturbingly obsessed Spider-hater who meets with mad scientists behind closed doors in makeshift labs under abandoned warehouses. If I were pitching a trilogy of movies, that’d be my hook. Start the first movie with Spider-Man about a year into his career, still in high school but already having fought not only countless purse-snatchers and bank robbers but also the Vulture, Electro, Mysterio, whoever looks good in the opening credits montage. Jameson’s editorial campaign against Spider-Man should be well underway as well. Elide over Peter Parker's origin and get right down to Jameson’s origin as a supervillain creator, set Scorpion on a rampage, build to a Spider-Man/Scorpion showdown, and in the epilogue bring the focus back to Jameson. Second movie, same formula, this time riffing on the comic story of the Spider-Slayers, robots built (with Jameson’s funding) expressly to hunt down Spider-Man. This time around Jameson will be more directly involved in fighting Spider-Man, operating the robots by remote control, even revealing his involvement when it seems Spider-Man is finished. Of course Spider-Man defeats the Spider-Slayers but now he knows Jameson’s secret. Third movie sets up an inevitable Jameson/Spidey showdown, and Jameson hires some mercenary muscle as bodyguards (Rhino? Hobgoblin?) but ultimately the supervillains double-cross Jameson and Spider-Man finds himself having to save Jameson in the course of thwarting the bad guys. The Jameson/Spidey feud isn’t necessarily over in the end (leaving room for ever-crappier sequels) but Jameson has in a sense been defeated because he owes Spider-Man his life, and if he continues his vendetta it can only be as a hypocrite and a fool.

Not gonna happen, of course. J.J.J. will be a supporting character at best in the reboot, if they can even find anyone willing to follow in J.K. Simmons’s footsteps. And odds are good the villain will be either the Green Goblin or someone Goblin-like. I just can’t help thinking about the possibilities, in this incredibly brief interval during which they still exist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Walls

The third bedroom/spare room/study/guest room in the new house shares a wall with the baby’s room, which means that for the past several nights, (coinciding with Very Little Bro’s visit) my wife and I have been acutely aware of our little guy’s difficulties in sleeping through the night. Just when we had reached the point of building a critical mass of steel in our respective spines, allowing us to resist the first ten or fifteen minutes of wee-hours wailing in hopes that the mite would comfort himself back to sleep, we found ourselves with a much lower tolerance for caterwauling out of deference to Very Little Bro. We can stomach being awakened, lying awake for a fairly painful while, and generally enduring unpleasantness because it is ostensibly in the best long-term interests of our progeny and, by extension, ourselves. That’s just part of the package deal of parenting. But houseguests shouldn’t have to walk that road with us, so the past few nights have seen much quicker response time and a rush down the path of least resistance to restore the quiet of the house. My wife, of course, has been doing the lioness’s share, and we’ve come to an understanding that I’m not to feel bad about this. (Which of course means I do feel bad about it but I don’t brood about how bad I feel about it – marriage is all about compromise.)

Very Little Bro is departing northward today, so if the past is any guide, tonight the baby will doubtless enjoy twelve hours of sleep uninterrupted by a single chirrup of discontent.

Meanwhile, my own discontent at work now stems from the fact that I am done with my major project and am left once again with very little to do. The completion of the server transition was met with very little fanfare, but I knew all along that’s how it would go; success, for this project, would be best achieved if no one noticed that anything had changed. It wasn’t an addition of new functionality or a shiny visual redesign. No user should be aware of the essentially invisible service of hosting, so the non-event nature of reaching the finish line is, in its own way, a testament to my awesomeness. It also, however, takes away any day-to-day need for me to be in the government office every day, since I’m not fussing with the server network which is only accessible from the inside. Going forward I should be able to work remotely and only come into the office when I have finished building new code or repairing old code and need to install it.

All well and good, but where will this remote work be done? Back in the summer I spent most of my time at a corporate office in Crystal City, where space was made for me on a very (assumed at the time) temporary basis in the I.T. Help Desk room. That worked, but was also kind of a drag, because if I wasn’t being mistaken for Help Desk Support myself I was almost constantly distracted by people wandering in and out of the office looking for ways to circumvent the company e-mail attachment size restrictions or begging to have their lifeless laptop miraculously resuscitated, or just the actual I.T. Help Desk guys sitting around bullshitting with each other (which, I hasten to add, I do not begrudge them in the slightest – map someone’s connection to a new printer in five minutes and then spend an hour and a half talking about Halo 3 until the next pseudo-emergency erupts, that’s your prerogative; I’m just saying it’s hard to work on utterly unrelated tasks in the same room as that). On top of those specific grousings, add the fact that it’s somewhat dispiriting to work at a blank desk and be told not to get attached to it. So while I believe (although I have not yet confirmed) that my loaner laptop is still waiting for me at that beat-up desk in the corner of the Help Desk room, and I could very well go back to Crystal City, the truth is I don’t want to.

It's a chip-eating computer gremlin ... look, I admit it, sometimes these pictures serve little purpose other than to amuse me.
On the other hand, a vague plan was formulated (over my head) to allow me to do my offsite work at a different corporate office in Fairfax. Formerly there were two corporate buildings on the same street, but the workforce is being consolidated into one building in a major re-arranging, and apparently this represents the perfect opportunity to set me up in a more or less permanent environment, a desk that’s not just free for me to use temporarily but really (in as much real sense as the word can carry in the work-for-hire mega-corporation modern economy sense) mine. Thing is, the big Fairfax office building consolidation has not gone down yet, as far as I know, nor do I know when exactly it will be completed, other than “sometime in January.” And even that timeframe must be heavily caveated with maybes.

I’d be happy to stay here in Rosslyn until the path to Fairfax was clear, but that’s not so simple, either. The agreement between the government and my employer is fairly explicit about my role on the team assigned to do the contracted work, and it spells out that I am supposed to spend most of my time offsite. So it’s not just allowed for me to work remotely, it’s required unless there’s good reason for me to be here. I had a very good reason while the transition project was ongoing, but now I don’t. And yet I keep showing up here in Rosslyn every day, partly to avoid Crystal City and partly because there are some non-justifying but still compelling loose ends here which are easier to sort out in person. I expect my contracting supervisor at any minute now to give me a direct order along the lines of “Stop coming to Rosslyn,” but it hasn’t happened yet. At this point I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I can run out the January clock.