Friday, October 29, 2010

A bunch of random Halloween anecdotes

Do you remember your earliest nightmare? Most of my waking life for the first five years I spent on this planet are pretty much a blur now, more a collage of family snapshots and the oft-repeated reminisces of others than genuine memories (and the blur’s borders creepingly extend more and more as time goes by). But I’m legitimately convinced that I can still call to mind the very first dream I ever had that not only scared me but stayed with me long after I woke to daylight, and I had it when I was around three or four years old. It didn’t have much of a plot per se, but the weird dream-specifics were these: I was at my grandparents’ house, it was Halloween, the doorbell rang, my grandmother opened the front door, and on the doorstep were three witches and a gorilla. And I hid in the coat closet in mortal terror.

At least I think it was a dream? The details are so mundane that all of that could have actually happened. And as I just admitted at the outset, I’m not great at reliably retrieving my pre-K memories as it is. It’s possible that something like that went down, and then subsequently was transliterated into my dreams. One might wonder what my parents were doing letting me stay up late enough on Halloween at age three to see the bigger, scarier trick-or-treaters, but as I’ve pointed out before, my parents fell somewhere between indulgent and not-altogether-paying-attention much of the time.

More evidence of that? I was just reading an amusing A.V.Club article about Halloween costumes gone wrong which included one staffer confessing to creating a homemade Red Skull costume as a kid – the Red Skull being an adversary of Captain America also created in the 40’s and thus totally a Nazi supervillain as well. I never had a homemade Red Skull costume, but I did once rock the Ben Cooper version of the nefarious Johann Schmidt. (Granted, just the fact that such a thing was commercially available reflects at least as poorly on the judgment of the vinyl-smiths of Ben Cooper, Inc. as on my parents.) Another year I trick-or-treated in the Ben Cooper version of the H.R. Geiger alien from the Ridley Scott flick. That one baffles me to this day; of course as a seven-year-old I had read Captain America comics but I definitely had not seen Alien. (My parents were slack but COME ON.) I don’t even know how I was aware of the existence of the movie Alien. Probably from ads on the backs of comic books.

I loved it when the body suits were illustrative imagery rather than even attempting to model the body of the character.
My own personal worst Halloween costume (using the “lamest” definition of “worst”) would probably be “spaceman”. This was in ninth or tenth grade, when some friends convinced me to go trick-or-treating at the last minute and I had to figure out a way to shield myself from the “get the F out of here” opprobrium that suburbanites (rightly) rain down on teenagers who don’t dress up at all and go door-to-door candy-begging. So I wore snow boots, blue jeans, a black hoodie and the helmet-and-chestplate-and-gun apparatus from the Photon system that had been all the rage, oh, four years earlier.

I’m pretty sure those snow boots – or moon boots as I seem to remember calling them – were the single piece of real-world clothing that got the most secondary use as Halloween costume elements in my entire life. The year before the Photon-repurposing Halloween I created a bizarre hybrid superhero/grim reaper costume out of the snow boots, blue sweats, a black cape and a skull mask. (Yeah I was 14, I don’t know either.) And when I was a senior in high school one of my red-headed classmates took it into her head to dress as Ariel from the Little Mermaid and get together an entourage of friends as the supporting cast (Flounder, Scuttle, Sebastian, Ursula, etc.) because the senior class costume contest had a “best group” division. You would think that we were still in fifth grade because the poor girl couldn’t find a guy to be her Prince Eric, as if no one wanted to catch cooties from being in a group otherwise composed entirely of girls. So even though I wasn’t the best of friends with this girl, and I knew I was not her first choice, I went along: white button-down shirt, one of my mom’s red scarfs as a waist-sash, blue jeans, snow boots. This selfless act of Halloween enabling did not, as I recall, win us the best group prize. Nor did this get me any play with the Disney-loving ladies in question. But at least it gave me a sweet random Halloween/snow boots anecdote.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unless

The little guy got a large hardcover book called Six By Seuss from his uncle a while back, although for a long time the little guy referred to the tome as “Muh-bey Steet” because the only story he wanted read to him from the collection was And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. (Given that the daydreamy plot focuses on a procession of vehicles, this is stunningly unsurprising.) Recently, he’s decided that the story he wants to hear the most is The Lorax.

Also, my wife has started referring to the little guy's footie pajamas as his 'bar-ba-loot suit'.
Initially I greeted this news with much delight, because I love The Lorax. I have fond memories of both reading it and watching the animated film of it as a young biblionerd, hanging out at afterschool programs in the library. It’s simultaneously comforting and distressing that the blunt, unapologetic moral of the story is as resonant today as it was when Geisel first wrote it. (Which was before I was born, since the initial publication copyright is 1971. Which very much blows my mind.) It’s impressive how the artwork uses two simple but contrasting color palettes to differentiate the befouled present from the unspoiled past, and how the former slowly overtakes the latter. The Lorax is an ideal hero and the Once-ler is an exceptional villain. But neither of them, I would argue, is the main character of the book.

What the what? (And no, I’m not going to say the main character is “ecology”, either.) The thing I had forgotten about over the years, but couldn’t help but notice upon these recent re-readings, is that the framework of the story is written in the second person.

The main character is "you". But, it's not me. Not anymore. And guys, this is slaying me.

When exactly are we supposed to change the world? Is it in our early 20s? At the very least I think that’s when we’re forced to make a choice, whether we’re going to devote all our time and energy into really saving the planet/humanity/the glaciers/the rainforests/whales/orangutans/etc. OR we’re going to raise a family, which I now feel qualified to assert does in fact take a devotion of all one’s time and energy. I actually spent my early 20s doing neither of the above, instead choosing to make a bunch of dumb mistakes (which I at least had the sense to learn a little bit from) and now, mid-30s, I have a two-year-old son and another child on the way, and my world-changing chance does not seem to be where I left it. I don’t feel like I’m likely to find it, either, but I’m hopeful that my little guy can and will.

And The Lorax, specifically the end of The Lorax, really mercilessly hammers this home. Because I read it out loud, and because I read it to my son, every line from around “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” on out is a freakishly pointed dagger. It’s as though I’m just directly addressing the little tow-headed bundle of potential and possibility on my knee. I suppose I am: Screw the grown-ups, man. If anybody’s going to turn this crazy mixed-up world away from a collision with doom, it’s going to be you, little man. I feel terrible for not doing it ahead of time so that you wouldn’t have to, but I’d feel even worse denying that it needs to be done.

So, don’t get me wrong, I still love The Lorax, and I’m going to keep reading it to the little guy every time he requests it. (And I’ll probably buy the movie.) And I’m going to keep getting choked up every time during the closing exhortation, and my heart’s going to break a little each time too, and I guess that’s just the price we pay for growing up and handing down the world.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sold separately, if at all

Know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? TV commercials for toys. Blame the fact that my little baby boy is fast becoming a little dude, blame the nearness of Christmas and its attendant retail season, blame the fact that my brain has been warped over the years to automatically fire the “Starriors!” synapse whenever I think about power construction tools and/or nuclear war, blame the historical moment’s “Mad Men” zeitgeist and its examination of America As Advertisement, but there it is. I’ve been recalling lots of the Saturday ad campaigns of my own youth recently, and in the process, I’ve been obsessing anew about one particular aspect of toy commercials that always drove me nuts.

I know that commercials sell impossible fantasies, and marketers hope that potential consumers will associate the product with the fantasy just enough that they become inclined to buy the product, not because they actually believe acquiring the product will actually make the fantasy a reality but simply because the acquisition pleasantly reinforces the idea of the fantasy. I think even as a kid I knew this, definitely not in so many words, and maybe I’m retro-projecting my adult sensibilities onto my pre-adolescent memories, but still. I was never abjectly (or even slightly) disappointed that, for example, my Transformers neither talked nor moved on their own, or that my copy of the board game Conspiracy failed to wrap me in a trenchcoat and whisk me away to a foggy London streetcorner at midnight.

I also wasn’t too put out by the ethos of completism that the toy commercials of my youth espoused (although I did turn out to be a crazy completist, and we could probably play chicken-or-egg with that one all day); I mean, sure, I was a little put out, but that’s just one of those affluent-white-kid-in-the-suburbs problems that I’m highly dismissive of now and that I honestly don’t think was a big deal even back then. Little Bro and I didn’t want for much growing up, including playthings, and right up until late in the gestational period of Very Little Bro, when a new nursery was demanded, every house we lived in actually had a dedicated “toy room”. If I saw a commercial for a toy and decided I wanted it, chances were pretty good I would get it, especially if said commercial-inspired decision were made close to the end of the year, where Q4 is bookended by my birthday and Christmas. I think my parents bought us more than enough toys to keep us happily pacified, yet not so many that we ran the risk of getting overly spoiled. And the real wisdom in my parents’ approach, it occurs to me now as I look back, is that they always went broad rather than deep. I’ve heard stories about, and for that matter bore witness to once or twice, people’s fondly remembered particular birthdays where every single present they opened was a toy from the same collection, the All Strawberry Shortcake Birthday, or the All Hot Wheels Birthday. I didn’t have any of those, and my parents balanced out generous birthdays and Christmases with the fact that they almost never bought us random toys “just because”. (I almost typed that last as “ransom toys” and, let’s face it, that actually happens, when parents buy good grades or obedient behavior in public with promises of new action figures.)

The point being, no matter how into a certain toy I might be, I was never ever going to own them all. One Christmas I got He-Man and his friend Stratos, and my Little Bro got Skeletor and his lackey Beast-Man. (Somehow I think Little Bro also got Castle Grayskull as his Big Gift which may have made that the Christmas I got a cassette player or something.) When the next set of birthdays and Christmas rolled around, we got some more Masters of the Universe and their vehicles, and then by the holidays after that we had kind of outgrown them and moved on, maybe going deeper into something that had rotated into the mix the previous year, maybe other entirely new things. In the prime half decade or so from, say, my sixth to eleventh year, my parents never once sank thousands of dollars into any given line of toys. I think they knew my attention span couldn’t justify that kind of commitment (very few children’s could, honestly) and they also knew I’d outgrow them all soon enough. (Which I did, briefly, until it became feasible to be into toys again without seeming like a scary weirdo.) So this is the wisdom that I think borders on brilliance: my parents never wasted money amassing small galaxies of interrelated toys on my behalf, and thus never suffered the regret of seeing me grow bored with 1000 plastic men all at once.

OH MY GOD IT'S FULL OF STARS

But I was talking about toy commercials specifically, and often times the kids in those commercials seem to have exactly the opposite kinds of parents, who think nothing of throwing bottomless cash reserves at a child’s addiction to one toy line or another, so that the kid has every conceivable playset and figurine in the set (and sometimes more than one of each). I knew kids like that, and I knew I wasn’t one of those kids, and I was OK with that.

No, here’s what drove me nuts: I wanted to be able to play with my humble handful of action figures in the same way that the kids in commercials played with theirs. Not on the same scale, clearly, but I wanted to take my smaller collection into their world, or at least their backyard. Because that backyard was crazyawesome.
We moved around a bit when I was a kid and believe you me, I looked for that backyard all over the northeast, but I couldn’t find it. The classic toy commercial back yard had the following features:

- long straightaway stretches of packed-down dirt which were the perfect width to act as dirt roads to scale with vehicles
- trees with gnarly roots that could double as naturally occurring alien jungles
- manicured hedges with enough ground clearance to either work as perfect natural shelter for action figures or as high canopies to which the upper end of ziplines could be attached
- large, flat elevated surfaces where bad guys could be positioned near the edge, to be knocked off by good guys’ spring-loaded missile launchers
- some kind of water feature for toy boats
- an unlimited supply of sticks of identical length and diameter, suitable for building action figure sized fences or roadblocks or punji traps, as well as an unlimited supply of rocks for similar obstacle- and trap-construction purposes, as well as an unlimited supply of cool, uniformly-colored plastic shapes like cubes or cylinders for building large walls that battletanks and/or superheroes can crash through
- also please note the sticks, rocks etc. were always antiseptically free of dirt despite being found outside

I could probably keep going, but I trust you take my point. For some reason the set dressing of the toy commercial fantasy world really cheesed me from a very young age. Little Billy 30-Second-Spot would be swinging his Crystar figure through Magma Men infantry set up in tenpin formation, and what would cross my mind was not “How did that kid get his mom to buy him ten of the same Magma Man toy?” because that seemed plausible enough. What did cross my mind was “Where does this kid live that just happens to have a quartz rock garden complete with an algae-free water feature?” Because playing on the carpet of the toy room, using the lid of the toy box as the edge of a dramatic cliff, paled a bit in comparison to the outrageously improbable landscaping presented as a very matter-of-fact no-biggie part of the background in the commercials. I could only imagine that those backyards belonged to the same houses that had kitchens about a hundred yards long, where on rainy days the kids could run their Penny Racers from one side of the room to the other without coming close to hitting a wall.

With all the repair work my wife and I have done on the lawn this autumn, we’ve also entertained the idea of turning some sections that are allegedly supposed to be grass into … not-grass. So I guess I am just saying that maybe recreating the geologic formations planet Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith out of black pumice as a play area for the little guy is not entirely out of the question.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's all in the execution

As part of my ongoing effort to get around to seeing the movies everyone is talking about … eventually … (not to mention watching Netflix DVD’s as often as possible to justify paying for that service, said justification not exactly going gangbusters since I wanted to average 1 a month and am currently at 8 for the year) I saw District 9 over the weekend. Belated verdict: not a bad way at all to spend a Saturday night, especially not for me personally, since I enjoy thought-provoking science-fiction at least as much as the next guy (and usually quite a bit more).

I wanna hold your tarsus and/or dactyla
There are a multitude of different things I could highlight about the movie. I could simply note the fact that it ended up serving as a surprisingly effective supplement to Spooktoberfest 2010 thanks to some unabashed horror elements integral to the second act plot developments. I could wax on and on about the utter lack of easy genre classification which I, frankly, respect the hell out of, because the movie starts out as a mock-documentary soft sci-fi allegory about society and racism, and then becomes downright Cronenbergian in a nightmare descent into xenomorphosis coupled with the nightmare fuel of remorseless faceless medical experimenters, and then shifts gears yet again into full-bore high-octane action shoot-em-up popcorn flick mode before coming full circle with the mock-doc style and emotionally compelling ending. And all of that sounds like an irreconcilable mess when I tick down the list like that but actually it totally works. Or, once again, I could notch another entry in the Everything Is Different Now Series and confess that the child-in-peril subplot which escalates throughout the movie’s climax fully got its hooks into both me and my wife, despite the following factors: (a) in my wife’s case, at least, she wasn’t even fully watching the movie at first but got totally sucked in just by sitting on the couch while it was on; and (b) the child in question is one of the CGI aliens who look like totally inhuman anthropomorphic bugs and speak solely in subtitled clicks; and (c) I’m fairly certain the child-in-question never even gets a name, and is only ever referred to by one of the main aliens as “my son.” So apparently Everything Is Different Now works on a purely conceptual level. Which, wow.

But instead of going down any of those roads I want to touch on one of my other pet theories, one which I was pleasantly surprised to find District 9 was able to overcome. I think I may have mentioned this before, so I’ll try to keep the background brief. (Ha, ha, no, really.) I’m fascinated by the function of villains in narratives, because it’s so hard to do them well. Ultimately all villains are plot engines, personifications of the conflicts without which there is no drama and no narrative. It probably says something very telling about me that I tend to prefer entertainments with literal villains than with more abstract conflicts, but that’s armchair self-analysis for another time. So given that villains tend to act and react and be dealt with all in accordance to the dictates of the plot, they tend to occupy a fairly narrow area where they can manifest as credible threats but still ultimately can be overcome by the protagonist (leaving aside downbeat endings and such). Where a lot of depictions of villainy go wrong, I posit, is that they focus so much on the credibility of the threat, in the form of the villain doing awful, horrible, hateful things, that eventually it reaches the point where the protagonist’s eventual triumph and/or the villain’s final defeat isn’t enough to balance the scales. I’ve had this experience several times, where I’m reading a book or watching a movie and thinking to myself, as I observe the villain committing yet another heinous act that raises the stakes of the overarching story, “There is no way that I, the reader, personally, will feel sufficient catharsis by the end of this.” And partly this is because in my own imagination I am fairly bloodthirsty about karmic redress, but partly I think it comes down to lazy writing. Yeah, I’m calling you out, actual published novelists and screenwriters with movie deals!

Anyway, District 9 features a character who is the commanding officer of the paramilitary security force who are the heavies of the piece, and the guy is an absolutely irredeemable Symbol of Man’s Inhumanity To Man. Right about the point that the human protagonist is making a daring assault on the corporation that owns the security force, and using alien technology to electro-shred mercenaries left and right, but never quite managing to blow up the commanding officer, I felt pretty sure that particular villain was going to make it all the way to the end of the movie perpetrating more and more heinous shenanigans without ever getting his proper comeuppance. Let me clarify at this point that, for most Evil Symbol characters, I do not consider a quick death to be proper comeuppance. At the very least, if I’m really going to derive any satisfaction from a heinous fictional villain’s demise, said demise has to be something that the villain sees coming and is deeply disturbed about in his final moments, and is preferably slow or at the very least excruciatingly painful. In short, there must be suffering. But I didn’t imagine I was going to get that from District 9.

For a while actually I thought I wasn’t going to get anything at all, and that one of the indignities (forgivable, because it’s a parable about indignities, but still) would be that the C.O. survives through the closing credits. Barring that, I figured he’d catch a bullet in the brain in the climactic gunfight. However, neither of those things happens. Instead, just when the C.O. is about to shoot the human protagonist, he finds himself surrounded by feral aliens who have come to defend the human. The C.O. warns them off with his pistol, but gradually it dawns on him that there are more aliens than he has bullets left. He still shoots a couple of them, hoping to scare the rest of them off, but they just pile on him and then rip him screaming limb from limb. Now that’s comeuppance!

There’s an ongoing debate in our modern society about whether or not entertainments which depict actions and ideas appealing to people’s darker natures end up inherently glorifying what should be unacceptable, or if they provide a healthy, arguably indispensable, release valve for those impulses which remain unacceptable in the real world outside of constructed fictions. Clearly I fall in the latter camp. I wish that it were as simple as identifying something as wrong and then finding that that automatically leads to rejecting it from my mind completely and forevermore, but I’m not wired that way. So I’m thankful for the movie magic that gives me other options.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Knotty issues

Some morning last week (I forget which one and really it’s irrelevant) I got to work slightly on the early side, headed to the men’s room almost immediately upon my arrival (oh the perils of an hour-and-a-half commute) and there bumped into my contracting boss, who was standing at the sinks and using the wall mirror to tie his necktie. I’ve mentioned the “core hours” concept before and my boss prefers to fulfill that obligation by coming in appallingly early, like sometime between 5 and 5:30 a.m. (right about when I’m rolling out of bed, in other words) and then leaving right when core hours end at 3 p.m. Yes this means he works 9 or 10 hour days but he’s the project supervisor and that’s the way it goes. At any rate, his one concession to his own convenience is that he will arrive at the office sans tie, work for a couple of hours in comparative comfort, and then complete his business uncasual ensemble in time to look professional as the majority of the office is arriving. I’ve bumped into him tying on his tie before.

But what I hadn’t encountered before was what happened last week, when someone else entered the men’s room following me and asked my boss how everything was going. And my boss kind of wearily replied “Well, it was going all right until I had to put this tie on.” Wry chuckles ensued.

My dad used to make this joke a lot when I was growing up.  (Insert armchair psychoanalysis here.)
I think I’ve mentioned before that, even though I am in my late thirties and have been working in the corporate world since the mid-90’s, I still consider myself on the kids’ side of any given office’s kids/grown-ups dynamic. For a while there I had a job where I sat in a cube wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and now I have to play dress-up four days a week, but I don’t have to like it. (Disclaiming, as always, that I don’t like that one particular aspect and very much like having gainful, reliable employment, thank you.) Still, I always kind of assume that that’s a kid attitude (which I’m fine with) and that the office grown-ups don’t spare the dress code much thought one way or the other. My boss, obviously, falls on the grown-up side both in terms of rank in the hierarchy and chronological age, not to mention the fact that he used to be in the military and clearly would have had the value of uniform dress instilled in him then. I just found it surprising that he would gripe about having to wear a tie in a tone that aligned so closely with my own thoughts on the subject. I could find it disheartening to think that, on the one hand, in ten or twenty years certain standards we’re forced to observe won’t sit any better with me, and it never gets any easier. But I think instead I’ll choose to find it heartening, simply realizing that my boss and I have more in common than I would have suspected.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scanner Sunday - Goofy, Goofy Comics

There's something of a custom on comic book blogs to occasionally simply scan and post some panels from older comics, which taken out of context - both in terms of the story of which they are a part and their native historical/cultural milieu - become hilarious bits of randomism. And rarely have I ever met a blog tradition, especially comics-related, that I didn't want to take part in myself.

So one of the things I bought myself with recent birthday money was DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories volume 2 (needless to say I already own volume 1) and I just finished reading it this weekend. The first volume focuses mostly on Superman, and volume 2 belongs to Batman. The 'imaginary' aspect refers to the fact that all of the stories were originally presented specifically as being non-canonical adventures of the Dark Knight which represented what might have been or was possibly yet-to-be. Most of the stories are from the 60's, when rigid continuity wasn't as devoutly worshipped as it would be later on, but in superheroic serialized stroytelling there were always developments that were out of bounds unless labelled as 'imaginary' - Batman getting married and having a family, for example.

Which is the premise of "The Second Batman and Robin Team", a hypothetical tale in which Batman has married and raised a son, and the former Robin is now Batman II, with young Bruce Wayne, Jr. filling the green pixie boots of the sidekick as Robin II. It was originally published in 1960, and assuming a mental calculus something along the lines of Batman's wedding taking place five years in the future and Bruce Jr. being a 12-year-old Robin II, the writer apparently believed giant flat-screen tvs were going to be available, at least to millionaires, circa 1977. (So close!)

At any rate, the particulars of the story itself are silly and irrelevant, because I just wanted to share this particular moment, where the older members of the Wayne household watch the heirs to the legacy on one of the aforementioned future-tv's because the Dynamic Duo II happened to have caught up to the crooks during a live tv broadcast:

The guy behind the guy BEHIND the guy
Click to embiggen for full-size rah-rah bully good show!

Perhaps not Alfred the butler's most dignified moment. And I'm not one to dismiss the opportunity to snigger heartily at the unintentional homoerotic humor of urging the giving of "a jolly good poke" but what cracks me up even more about the scene is the artwork itself: Alfred's wide eyes and crazed, lopsided grin, his improbably angled arms, the swooshing motion lines trailing his wrinkled little fists. It's got a certain childish energy (and arguably a childish grasp of anatomy to match) that I just find too good not to share. If I ever have enough money to justify hiring a manservant of some kind, I'm definitely going to ask how he would pantomime exuberant fisticuffs if the situation demanded it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Grab Bag Clarifications and Addenda

The 2010 MLB season ended (by any useful definition of the concept in a me-centric universe, such as the one wherein this blog resides) last night when the Yankees were eliminated from the post-season. I'm bummed, but neither distraught nor outraged. The Yankees gutted out their struggle just to make the wild card all season long, and the swept the Twins once again, but they ran up against a Rangers team that was doing everything right to a ridiculous degree just at the same time that the Yanks' collective tanks all seemed to hit E, from the starting pitchers to the bullpen to the offensive stalwarts. They pulled off that amazing comeback in ALCS Game 1, and then Elvis left the stadium (Presley, not Andrus, unfortunately). At this point I haven't yet decided if I'm rooting for the Rangers out of American League solidarity plus the old chestnut about hoping the team that beat your team turns out the be the Team Of Destiny that was simply marching towards inevitable ultimate triumph, OR if I'm rooting against the Rangers out of pure, sore spite. If I come down decisively on either side I'll let you know, but the smart money is on me remaining indifferent and doing other things with my free time now besides watching baseball every night.

Incidentally, dreading and mourning the end of baseball was not why I failed to blog yesterday - that was because a gigantic crapstorm on the VRE as I tried to use that system to get to work yesterday morning completely fouled up my whole day. So now you know.

+++

I mentioned a couple weeks back how I was reading all spooky books in the month of October, beginning with David Wong's John Dies at the End, which I have long since finished and which I quite enjoyed, but I wanted to take a moment before I forget to point out the exact moment in the horror-comedy when Wong won me over. His pair of protagonist supernatural investigators show up at a crime scene at one point and the car in the driveway has vanity plates which read STRMQQ1. The lead police investigator on the scene asks the guys if they are aware who the victim (of demonic murder, as it happens) was. One of the characters guesses "Strom Cuzewon?" In fact it turns out that the victim was a local celebrity, one of the affiliate evening news programs' weatherman with a really innoucuous name. Someone explains later on that the vanity plate is supposed to say "Storm Watcher 1" with the two Q's representing eyes. All of which is more or less totally inessential to the plot of the book, just thrown in to be goofy, and it did indeed make me laugh, because I am amused by some very weird stuff.

+++

I was torn on which image to use when I was riffing on building my workbench and playing with power tools this past Tuesday. Here's the other option I considered:

Don't even get me started on the whole 'golden brains in the image of our maker' motif, either ...
And rather than waste it I decided to show it today, which also gives me an opportunity to do a little "oh, man, 80's toys, amirite?" Seriously, Starriors are remembered by far fewer people, I'd wager, than Voltron or Care Bears or whathaveyou, but they were insane. Not so much in terms of the actual toys themselves, which were just these fairly cool-looking robots with some wind-up moving parts (which means they were Zoids ripoffs but, again, that's not exactly a meaningful to distinction to 99% of people) like the twin circular saws on the badboy above. No, the insane part was the backstory, which was that the Starriors were built on Earth, some to do construction-type jobs and some to do military-type jobs, and of course the builders were good and the overtly weaponized ones were bad, and they were locked in an eternal struggle blah blah blah. But said struggle took place after a MASSIVE DISASTER THAT WIPED OUT HUMANITY AND MOST OF EARTH'S HABITABLE ENVIRONMENTS. The militarized Starriors wanted to just move on and rule the wasteland Earth since humanity had been wiped out, but the good guys wanted to check various refuges to see if possibly any humans had survived in bunkers or whatnot. That is some grim stuff. I was always the kind of kid who read everything a toy came with, including personnel file cards on G.I.Joes and mini-comics included with Super Powers figures and so on - even in elementary school I was a continuity-obsessed little geek. But dang, some of those continuities were depressing, and it's a wonder I didn't spend every moment of my childhood in mortal terror that nuclear devastation was about to be unleashed and leave the world to the insects and the machines.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

He Contains Multitudes

Does the little guy contradict himself? Very well, he contradicts himself. He is LARGE. No, wait, he’s still little. Also, still learning.

So on the one hand, he has this incredibly generous nature which I find endearing beyond belief. This past weekend I was in the spare room using the big computer and he followed along and saw the pile of paint pans and tarps and brushes and can of Kilz sitting in the corner, all of which he greeted with his now-customary “What’s that?” And I explained to him that we were going to paint the spare room soon, to get it ready for the baby who is coming to live with us in the spring. (“Coming to live with us” is the euphemism we’re going with, as opposed to “that mommy is going to give birth to” or anything remotely biological which seems somehow simultaneously over-specific and impossibly abstract.) And the little guy considered my answer for a second or two and then announced, “I help paint!” And picked up a dry brush and started scratching the walls with it. In the same vein, a little bit later he discovered a box of unopened/unused baby bottles that a friend had hoped we could make use of, and asked what they were, and I once again said they were for the coming-soon baby. The little guy decided “I fix them for the baby” and proceeded to try to assemble various nipples and spouts and collars and bottles and so on (they really were staggeringly fiddly).

He likes to be helpful, or maybe it’s simpler than that and he just likes to do things, to exert his own agency, and to me and my wife this is perceived as inherently helpful after two years of doing for him ourselves. Of course inevitably there are times when his insistence on doing things himself is spectacularly unhelpful, as when we’re trying to get out the door and he needs shoes and he demands to be left alone to put them on without assistance even if that takes approximately ten times longer. Absolutely classic “I do it myself!” behavior, and I was prepared to deal with that.

What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened yesterday, when he suddenly turned into a completely opposite child. As soon as we got home from daycare, every time I asked him to do something he insisted, “I can’t!” Not “I don’t want to” (which he had mastered some time earlier) or a simple “No”, but this weird insistence that he was somehow incapable of the task in question. And not in a kinda-sorta-understandable-if-you-fill-in-the-blanks way, like “Please pick up your cars from the floor” being met with an “I can’t” which implies “right now because I’m playing with Mr. Potato Head and refuse to multi-task or pause my current activity”. I mean flummoxing me by walking across the garage to the door while I carry an armload of stuff, and then just standing there on the threshold after I’ve gone inside, prompting me to say “Are you coming inside?” and answering “I can’t!” No apparent reason whatsoever.

Well surely it's not literally THAT hard ...
And I caught myself, I’m pretty sure for the first time since becoming a parent, sliding a bit down the slippery slope into the quagmire or trying to argue logically with a two-year-old. Part of my brain really, desperately, almost ferociously wanted the little guy to conced that he was talking crazytalk. Don’t want to come inside, would rather ride your trike around the garage, just feeling lazy and want Daddy to carry you? Fine, fine and fine. But claiming you can’t? That is contrary to well-established fact! I managed to keep it in check though, and mostly I just ignored his claims of sudden helplessness. I either repeated my requests at reasonable intervals, or veered the subject away and then looped it back in again later. The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that however much of a premium I place on understanding my child, I’m not always going to, especially right now because the mindscape of a two-year-old can contain some fairly alien terrain. And when I go wading into it, sometimes I can get disoriented.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Small victories

A couple weekends ago I had one of my geeky buddies over while my wife was at work and we indulged in one of our shared geeky hobby/pastimes. (Yes I am being coy about exactly what this is but all will be revealed as we go along here, I assure you.) As the afternoon was winding down we got to talking about our respective jobs, where we share a lot of common ground because we’re both government contractors, and he informed me that his entire office would soon be moving from the well-west-of-DC northern VA suburb where it is currently located (and which is conveniently close to the nearby suburb where my buddy lives) to smack-dab-in-DC (which, obviously, is inconveniently far away, as I am only all too well aware).

I expressed my sympathies but also, as is my wont, attempted to find a silver lining in this development. So I pointed out that maybe he and I could get together for workday lunch once in a while, since we’d only be separated by a Metro stop or three.

To which my buddy had a single nonsense-word exclamatory response: “Dreamblade!”

How is it possible that I have been blogging for over a year, exposing my nerdy underbelly for all teh interwebs to see, and I have not yet talked about Dreamblade? This is probably owing in large part to the fact that I just haven’t played the game very much in the past year or two, but here we are on a Wednesday with the subject recently re-invoked in my mind, so prepare yourself for an onslaught of dorkitude as I finally shine the spotlight on an obscure game that ends up reflecting a lot about me. (We were gaming, my buddy and I, just to be clear about the activities of that weekend in question, but it was a completley different though equally dorky game than Dreamblade.)

There are certain aspects of geek subcultures which take seemingly innocuous words and redefine them almost to the point of becoming unrecognizable, and “game” is one of those words. My gut instinct is to explain Dreamblade by comparing it to chess (really an even closer analogy would be the chess-like game that C3PO and Chewbacca play in Star Wars but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here) but that breaks down almost immediately. If I were seized by the spontaneous urge to play chess with someone, or teach them to play, or something like that, I could go to any Wal-Mart and buy a cheap plastic chess set and be good to go. But Dreamblade is a collectible game, which bottom line means that there is no way to buy the complete game. (Not retail, at any rate. Maybe with some creative eBaying.) What one is expected to do is buy the pieces for the game spread out in multiple boxes, bearing in mind that each box is sealed and has no guarantee whatsoever as to which pieces are inside. In other words, you could buy two boxes, each with four pieces in it, but end up with two identical sets of the same four pieces (unlucky, sure, but theoretically possible). Some people will go crazy buying booster after booster trying to amass every single piece for the game, while others will content themselves with a respectable subset thereof.

You don’t need every single piece in order to play the game (and in fact, to be totally fair, there is a core box which includes the necessary game board and the bare minimum number of pieces required for the game to work) but the more pieces you have the more interesting the game can become, because each piece works differently, and some pieces work better with each other than others, and so on. You might be starting to glean how this becomes like crack to hardcore geeks, but let me spell it out: geeks tend to be completists when it comes to any subject that attracts their acquisitive interest, and geeks love systems which are simultaneously highly complex yet also entirely graspable with sufficient application of effort, and geeks really do love to compete at things they are good at and emerge triumphant (perhaps because, sociologically speaking, the experience is a day-to-day rarity for them) … so a game which provides exponentially higher levels of possible strategic combinations the more of it you happen to own? Just hook it up to my veins, please.

So back to the chess analogy. Dreamblade is a two-player game in which you and your opponent vie for control of a board, although perhaps a bit more literally than chess. In chess control of the board is only worthwhile insofar as how easy it makes it for you to capture your opponent’s king. In Dreamblade you move your pieces around, your opponent does the same, and at the end of your pair of turns all areas of the board are either unoccupied, occupied by both you and your opponent, or occupied by only one player. Certain areas are worth points if occupied only by one, and whoever has the most points wins that round. First one to six rounds won wins the whole game. Each player has sixteen pieces to start with, just like chess, and the board has only twenty-five areas, as opposed to the sixty-four squares of chess, and each piece (usually, for the most part) can only move one area per turn, which actually starts to make it sound like an elegantly simplified version of chess, no?

Except of course it’s not, because of everything I led off with about collecting hundreds and hundreds of pieces and selecting a different combination of sixteen of them every time you play, but also because the pieces can fight each other to the death when they’re in the same area (this is where we come around to the Dejarik table on the Millennium Falcon). So each piece brings different advantages and drawbacks to bear when fighting another piece, and the conflict is resolved via rolling specialty dice (of course) and so it becomes a much more chaotic and arcane game than chess.

Conspicuous even from a distance ...
And it looks it, too, because these hundreds of different playing pieces are not nearly so demure as the classic chess motif of a monochromatic column with a stylized head that resembles a crown or miter. Dreamblade pieces are sculpted and painted to look like two-inch high brightly colored 3D nightmares (hence the name of the game, or at least the “dream” part, whereas the “blade” is partly intended to evoke the combat-system engine of the gameplay and is also co-opted as an emblem for wildcard-type game effects that I’m just going to gloss over right now if you don’t mind). Of course this heightens the collectability, because it’s much more fun to admire (and much easier to covet) a well-rendered albeit bite-sized armored dragon or anthropomorphic spider or straitjacketed werewolf or whathaveyou than something more subdued and abstract. And overall it gives the game a cool, unique aesthetic right in the geek’s wheelhouse, the one with Boris Vallejo murals painted on the walls.

But my point is that if two guys who work together were to, hypothetically, go to Starbucks together on their lunch break and order some food and drinks and then sit down at a table, unfold a Dreamblade board, and start setting up rows of garish miniature monsters on the edges of the tabletop, it is safe to say that other patrons would notice this and some of them might even come over to find out what exactly was going on (and possibly whether or not the sacrifices of pigeons in view of the tiny evil idols was imminent). I am of course referring to things that my geeky buddy and I have actually experienced (except the pigeon-sacrifice part) back when we used to work together. Which explains why his reflexive reaction to the thought of us once again lunching together wasn’t nonsensical at all, in context. Dreamblade lunches used to be the highlight of our workweek.

And they were significant for me because they represented the first time in my life, at the ripe old age of thirtysomething, that I was willing to indulge in a hobby I enjoyed, in public, with no regard for what complete strangers might think. As a growing geek, I figured out pretty early on that my passions were not exactly mainstream. Very often the social downfall of the geeky is that they are too smart for their own good. Geeks like things that other people either outright dislike or are essentially unaware of, and geeks are also very good at constructing ironclad arguments as to why the thing they like has inherent worth, and shouldn’t be stigmatized, and might be enjoyed by more people if they gave it a chance, and so on. And because the logic makes sense to them, they assume they can make the convincing case to anyone within earshot, but any attempt to actually do so generally makes things worse. It’s fairly ironic that one of the tenets of Star Trek, which is the High Church of the Geek (and how do we know it’s a church, class? Because an archaic word for “church” is “kirk” and oh MAN how long have I been waiting to drop THAT reference!), is that only aliens are logical, and therefore humans are not (at least not entirely) and yet geeks are constantly frustrated and disappointed to encounter human beings who are not swayed by logic (and who, incidentally, consider the geek fairly alien).

Anyway, where was I? Right, my own tendency to avoid the truculent geek position of defending my own geekiness. I valued fitting in highly and just compartmentalized my geek interests with interactions with my geeky friends, and never tried convincing a cheerleader that the long-running subplots in comic books were almost identical to the long-running subplots in soap operas in hopes that she and I could bond intensely over the Defenders comics I could introduce her to. I almost never made the first move in outing myself as a geek to someone I had just met, but if he/she indicated ever having played an RPG or been a fan of a Japanese cartoon, I would tentatively start to compare notes. I’m not really sure why all of that translated toward strangers the way it did, like I assumed if some passer-by saw me reading a Dungeons & Dragons novelization in the park I’d be verbally or physically assaulted and ostracized from mainstream society forever. But that’s the way it went, I just refused to fly my freak flag unless I was already docked in the safest of ports. Until my buddy convinced me of the Starbucks lunch/gaming combo’s viability.

Not to say I didn’t feel slightly self-conscious about it, but the fun of the game simply outweighed the discomfort. And that includes the interactions with non-strangers, as well, because in order to have the game available at lunch there would be pieces sitting on my desk and my buddy’s desk all day, which would draw curious inquiries from our bemused co-workers. I give my buddy all the credit in the world because their looks of weirded-out-ness never ever seemed to faze him (maybe it did, but he never let on) while I squirmed and deflected to the bitter end. Ceasing to care what strangers thought about my hobbies was a big enough step.

And now the prospect exists of once again not caring what strangers think when my buddy and I bust out our bizarre miniature grotesques in public for some fun at lunch, which I’m pretty excited about except for how wincingly perverse it sounds when I put it like that. Clearly I still have some work to do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Easily irritated

You know, I was doing better and better with my allergies-manifested-as-death-rattle-coughing-fits, to the point where I eased myself off the multiple prescription respiratory drugs for a few days and still wasn’t having any symptoms. But I seem to have shot myself in the foot, or the lung, as it were.

This past weekend, as mentioned, I went a little nuts hauling futons down flights of stairs and heaving shattered couch frames into the garage and disassembling semi-self-destructed gliders, but I was also ever-so-slightly constructively productive as well. I took some of the spare lumber lying around (I had bought enough to make the little guy’s birthday train table approximately three times over, just in case I managed to utterly foul up one or two attempts, which did not seem beyond the realm of the possible) and I cobbled together a very rudimentary workbench which in turn allowed me to straighten up the garage a lot more because various things found a home either on top of or stacked neatly below said workbench. I enjoy most excuses to make use of drills and circular saws and whatnot, especially when the end results do not need to conform to any particular societal definitions of attractive craftsmanship, so that was a fun bit of time spent on a Saturday afternoon. (Again, I rush to point out, all conducted when the little guy and all his vulnerable little fleshy parts were already laid down for a nap.)

All too easy to get carried away
The miscalculation on my part was running the drill and the circular saw in the garage, with the garage door closed, which arguably led to me inhaling a bit higher proportion of wood particles than is generally recommended. I don’t think I’m hemorrhaging from bronchial splinters or anything, but it did irritate my airways just enough to set my internal system all a-tizzy again, and I’ve been tight-chested and phlegmy ever since.

So I’m back on the meds again and hoping that at least this is just a spot of idiocy I can work out of my system and be done with, as opposed to the inescapable arboreal allergens that were choking me in August and September. But man, a couple more nights of trying to lie perfectly still, rather than spazzing out and hacking up a lung, so as not to disturb the essential rest of my lovely expectant wife, and that vicodin cough syrup the doctor prescribed me is going to start looking dang tempting.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cheap thrills

Here’s the thing about catching the bus from the town where I live to the DC area: there’s a bus stop fairly close to my house (outside the Sears), which is more or less the start point of that particular bus route. And there are three buses that leave from that stop in a span of about ten minutes, after which the wait for the next bus is pushing half an hour. There’s another stop a little further down the main drag of town (outside the Kmart), which is technically the fourth stop or so on the bus route, so the buses don’t go from one to the other in a straight shot. If I had my crap together and could get out of the house in a timely fashion in the morning, I could probably just drive to Sears and catch a bus with plenty of open seats and be good to go. But since I’m often shambling out the door a few crucial minutes later than I’d like, it’s a safer bet to go directly to Kmart, taking advantage of the fact that the last bus to leave the Sears parking lot has a more circuitous route to cover and I can probably edge it out in a race.

I mention all of this primarily because this morning, as I was going through the motions of all of the above, I found myself at one point going through a green light and seeing my bus waiting at the cross-street red light, waiting to turn right. Which added a neat little frisson to my morning as I went into action movie race-the-bus mode. I had the lead at that point but then I came to a red light, and the bus gained on me and by the time my light turned green the bus was filling up my rearview mirror. Then I turned right into the Kmart parking lot as the bus went straight down to the next proper corner, where it would turn right and then pull up to the actual bus stop at the sidewalk. I had to navigate the parking lot (including massive speed bumps) and park my car and gather my things and get out and lock the car and get in line before the bus pulled away. And I did, because the line at that second-choice bus stop is always fairly long (another factor that makes it the second choice) but as I say, for a couple seconds or so there it was exciting. For a Monday morning.

HOV LANE HERE WE COOOOOOOOOOOOOOME!!!
You would think a day in the office after that would pale in comparison, excitement-wise, but as luck would have it we had a building-wide fire drill mid-morning today. OK, granted, that’s not terribly exciting, it’s a minor inconvenience which, now that I’ve been coming into this office for almost a solid year, doesn’t offer much in the way of new experience. But afterwards, my officemate Mr. Gregarious felt compelled to note how the gathering place we were all assigned to assemble in as we waited for the All Clear made for an ideal high bodycount target of opportunity for terrorists. Which, well, is weirdly ghoulish and all but also I think kind of a pointless observation because we (as a country) have already had experiences with terrorists taking out thousands of innocent people and they didn’t have to pull a fire alarm, wait until everyone was herded into a parking lot or atrium or whathaveyou, and then attack, they just attacked the building itself while everyone was inside. So are we technically any safer if we don’t have the fire drills at all, or was my officemate suggesting that if we have to evacuate the building we should all scatter and yet in some convoluted hi-tech information-age way still make sure everyone who was supposed to get out is accounted for? Or does he simply love the sound of his own voice and pop off with the first half-baked malformed thought that burbles up through his brainmuck? (In case you are new around here it is definitely the last one.)

So yeah, fire drill morbidity is not so good. The bus race wins!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Scanner Sunday – Catalogs, Part 2

A recurring feature wherein we marvel at the fact that my household is on the mailing lists for what strikes me as a precipitously large number of catalogs. Many of which are totally ridiculous.

Design Toscano is a catalog of "home products" where that phrase is construed to mean "sculptures, statues, wall-hangings, and other objets d'art that would only seem cool if you were 13 but you can only afford to blow the money on if you're 56." I think if I keep this Catalog series going on intermittent Sundays, Toscano will probably give me the most material in the long run. However, I do worry a little bit that by exposing myself to its contents over and over again I may start to actually covet some of the treasures within.

Now some people continue to mock me for starting to talk about Christmas as soon as my October 1 birthday has come and gone, but the Autumn Gift Issue of Toscano came that same week, and featured this bauble on the back cover:

HO-HO-HOLY CRAP
I ... wow. I can't think of anything that says Christmas to me LESS than Bigfoot. "Holiday Yeti" has a certain charm to it, and of course Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Rankin-Bass incarnation befriends the Abominable Snowman, but this is so clearly not one of those crypto-hominids, because if it were, it would have white fur. This is clearly a Bigfoot with a lustrous late summer or early fall coat of brown fur, which simply underscores the point: it's too dang soon to be thinking Christmas, even according to Nature (or Super-Nature) Herself.

And yet, he's wearing a large Santa hat festooned with mistletoe and he's carrying Christmas lights, and it's hard to hate on that. See, this is what I'm talking about. I start out scoffing at how abusrdly non-sequitor this stuff is, and then I end up kind of wanting to buy 2 and get the 3rd one free.

Where Did Saturday Go Grab Bag

I spent the vast majority of my free time (time when the little guy was down for his nap, although once again he decided he didn't particularly care to take one) yesterday rearranging furniture as per the stop-gap plan I had been envisioning on Friday. The good news is I got everything where it needs to be at the moment. The bad news is there is still more rearranging to be done in the post-brand-new-den-sofa Pahe II. But that won't be for a little while yet ...

+++

Speaking of losing track of time, you might wonder how often I miss my Metro and/or bus stops given that my nose is almost always buried in a book while I'm riding along. The answer is not very often, in fact, hardly ever. However, on Thursday I started reading Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain, and on Friday evening, sure enough, I was oblivious to the Metro pulling into my stop and only noticed when the train went above ground again, which I was not expecting it to do. Fortunately it doesn't cost any extra to get off at the next stop, cross to the otehr platform, and backtrack, but I was sufficiently abashed, I think. Needless to say The Strain is yet another page turner and a worthy inclusion in the Spoooktoberfest read-a-thon.

+++

As alluded to earlier, Columbus Day was observed on Monday of this week but actually, technically fell on Tuesday because it is always October 12th, because it commemorates an actual historical event (the sighting of land at the end of the westward voyage, not Columbus's birthday as some may suppose). The reason I know this is because my Very Little Bro was actually born on October 12th, Technical Columbus Day. My Very Little Bro (23 now! Wooo!) is not named Christopher, which I feel compelled to mention because there was another little boy born in the same hospital as him on the same day, whose mother shared a recovery room with our mother, and that little boy was named Christopher, because of TCD. Fun trivia!

+++

I've marveled previously over the fact that next summer will see the cosmically unlikely alignment of both Thor and Green Lantern live-action movies hitting the multiplexes, but really the only common theme between those two movies is that I'm an outsized fan of both characters. But in the same superhero movies vein, this week I learned that the creative powers behind the next movies in the Batman and Spider-Man franchises are starting to settle on and leak info about the villains who will appear in those movies. Spider-Man seems like a done deal, with the baddie in the script revealed as The Lizard. As the name declares, that would be an anthropomorphic reptilian nemesis.

Hee hee hee he has a tiny head.
Meanwhile unsubstantiated rumors fly that Batman will face off against Killer Croc, who is ... an anthropomorphic reptilian nemesis (the "Croc" is short for "crocodile", not the hideous and ubiquitous footwear). If all of that turns out to be true, oh man, professional movie critics and journalists who write the entertainment beat in general are gonna go crazy with the coincidence of two huge superhero movies both featuring scaly green monsters and what does it all MEAN?!?!? Wacky stuff.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking a load off

This is technically not a random anecdote (he said, as if he’s not allowed to break his own recently instituted and utterly arbitrary programming guidelines on his own blog) although it might perhaps portend a random anecdote yet-to-come … but man, we have a lot of broken furniture in our house.

A matter of weeks (or possibly months, I lose track) ago the glider in the little guy’s room broke, although this was not an out-and-out catastrophe, nor was it the first time it had happened. On the off chance that you aren’t entirely sure if you’re supposed to be picturing some kind of flying-squirrel-shaped apparatus or what I’m on about here, a glider is like a no-impact rocking chair, with base runners that are flat and rest completely on the floor, supporting a swing-like structure of multiple loosely interconnected parts which allow the seat part to smoothly sway back and forth. I’m not gonna lie, it is (or was) actually kind of awesome, but the complexity ultimately proved to be its undoing, because when two pieces that had formerly been fastened to one another became unfastened, the swinging parts couldn’t support the weight of the seat parts. (These two formerly attached pieces were fastened with five separate wood screws, all of which simply snapped clean in half as if a mind-boggling amount of shearing force had somehow been brought to bear, a happenstance which baffles me to this day.) I tried re-fastening the pieces with more screws sunk in new places (because you see I couldn’t get the old pieces out of the holes due to the bottom halves not having heads anymore) and that held for a little while but eventually similarly succumbed to entropy. The bright side in all of this was that the seat part of the glider just rested a little bit cockeyed on the bedroom floor itself, and still worked as a chair, just not one with any swinging ability, and we used it as such for a while. Recently, though, we shoved the non-glider into the spare bedroom (a.k.a. the soon-to-be-nursery) and set up in its place a saucer chair (a.k.a. the fake papasan) which is significantly less complex. It is in fact only slightly more complex, as seating options go, than a stump. A folding stump would basically be indistinguishable.

I like the rustic stuff, but it's really an all-or-nothing itnerior design choice, isn't it
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night of this week I had some friends over and we … may have gotten a little carried away. One of our friends who had been absent from the weekly gatherings made a return appearance and we were overjoyed to see him. So overjoyed that we monkeypiled on his lap when he sat down on the couch in the den. Our friend survived the high-weight assault of goodwill, but the couch … ah, not so much. Which is understandable (much moreso than the spontaneously snapping screws above) because it was an IKEA couch and you shouldn’t ask too much, load-bearing-wise, of a Swedish pine frame. Once my friends had left for the night, I upended the couch to assess the actual damage, and it was pretty grim: wood shattered beyond repair. And the couch is now extremely misshapen as a result, something I could overlook perhaps in my early 20’s but nowadays all but demands immediate replacement.

(Funny enough in my early 20’s I never did trash that much furniture – I was the bane of a few doors and windows, however – probably because I was dead broke and not only splitting rent with people but letting them purchase the furniture, so I was actually reasonably careful because it was all Other People’s Stuff. I slept on a second-hand mattress with no box spring and no bedframe for over a year. Meanwhile one of my roommates bought a brand new sofa and loveseat for the living room, upholstered in white, despite the penchant of me and our third roommate for drinking cocktails based around cherry Kool-Aid. As I may have alluded to previously, this living arrangement did not end amicably. But I digress.)

So we have something of a plan (execution of which is whence the theoretical hilarious anecdotes are no doubt going to arise) which will involve emptying out the spare room (which, nursery-wise, needed doing anyway) and putting the futon which currently resides there in front of the tv in the den, and meanwhile putting the busted couch and the busted glider … somewhere … Honestly at this point I’m thinking my side of the garage because I just need to drag them to the curb Tuesday night. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so much civic pride for anyplace I’ve ever lived as I did when I saw on the city website that bulk pickup of furniture and standard appliances (meaning “non-chemical containing”, sorry refrigerators) is an Every Single Trash Day kind of thing. No special arrangements required, no once-a-month calendar marking, no extra charge or anything. So that’s a beautiful thing. And of course at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future we will get a more décor-appropriate sofa for the den, and the futon will be relocated once again to the eternally-in-progress basement-rec-room-bar-library-exercise-storage area.

Oh, also we have some creaky kitchen chairs that tend to poop their spindles if you look at them funny, but we’ve been putting up with those for years so I intend to keep them out of the massive furniture relocation and replacement planning, because it’s a big enough plan as-is. But in the overall tally for broken furniture, yeah, it’s annoyingly large right now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sleeves, hearts, etc.

Yesterday when I picked up my little guy from day care he was with his class out on the small, enclosed playground behind their room, and he was wearing the following ensemble: a gray zip-up hoodie, jeans shorts (technically jeans shorts overalls but I couldn’t see the bib because it was covered by the hoodie), bright fire-engine red socks and blue/black sneakers. Perhaps needless to say, I thought this was almost excruciatingly adorable, largely because to my eye he looked like a miniaturized college student who has passed the crucial sartorial threshold where comfort and function far outweigh how visually jarring any given ensemble might be. The fact that the hoodie in question came from the bookstore of the college where my father-in-law teaches no doubt enhanced this to a certain degree.

Daycare has been going very well for the little guy since he moved up to the two-year-old room; for example, there has been a steep decline in the number of biting-incident (both biter and bitee) report forms I’ve been required to sign at pickup time. My boy seems to be enjoying the whole quasi-school experience, but of course that’s one of those unknowable-because-observation-changes-quantum-state kinds of things. When I show up after work and he grins and gives me a hug, does that mean he’s thrilled to see me because he hates daycare and can’t wait to leave and I represent his deliverance? Or does it simply mean he’s a well-adjusted kid? I believe it’s the latter, but honestly I’d be inclined to choose to believe the latter barring the most undeniable evidence to the contrary.

There’s the second-hand evidence of the daily report sheet filled out on his behalf every day, which includes a checklist of general moods. The little guy was on a streak of like 100 “happy/cheerful” days in a row, and then suddenly for two or three consecutive days his mood was noted as merely “content” and of course that got my wife and I scratching our heads and we figured we’d at least ask the caretakers if there was something else we needed to know about. Which got us an assurance that the moods are generally gauged in the morning and our super special little snowflake was almost always his normal exuberant self by the afternoon (as I myself could attest) … and then of course ever since we asked his form has said “happy/cheerful” again. So … just a micro-phase, possibly a growth spurt which made him sleep harder and rise and shine only with difficulty and take a while warming up at daycare? Or did the providers of care just decide to arbitrarily assign him happiness and cheer so that we, the parents, would stop nervously obsessing over it? Unknowables abound.

An accurate portrait, in the sense that my little guy does love hats.
It’s pretty much a given, though, that the kid is developing a little more emotional complexity every day, which honestly is to be expected in a fully functioning human being, I suppose. Especially when one comes from stock on both sides of, shall we say, heightened sensitivity. As toddlerhood becomes tweenerhood (with intermediate steps along the way, sure, but I’m led to believe it ends up seeming like a blink of an eye) it may be a bumpy ride, but at least my wife and I have personal recollections to relate it all back to. For whatever that’s worth.

On Monday when we were mounting the climactic final offensive on the weeds marauding over our lawn, my wife and I had to decide at one point how much we could reasonably accomplish before the little guy’s nap. Ultimately we decided, since he seemed to be in a sustainably good mood, that his nap could be delayed somewhat and we could all three head to the nursery and garden center for a whole lot of supplies. In theory, we would then come home, put him down for his nap, and get a couple of hours of uninterrupted horticulture knocked out. And to his credit, the little guy was exceptionally well-behaved at the garden center, and everything seemed to be humming along according to plan, and just as we were about to leave and only needed to wait for the massive bags of mulch we had ordered to be loaded into our trunk, the little guy just burst into miserable tears. It wasn’t because he had injured himself and wasn’t because someone had said no to him, it was as if he had simply hit a wall. (Which is certainly a feeling his parents can relate to about a butt-zillion times over.) Had we overreached, carting him around on errands at a time he would normally be catching zzz’s? Or was it just another one of his mercurial moods? For that matter, when we did get him home shortly thereafter, upon completion of a car ride that put him soundly asleep, and we tried to transfer him to his crib and spent the next hour or so listening to him on the baby monitor very clearly wide awake (alternately talking to himself and whining for mommy and daddy) was it just a case of the worst timing in the world for him to have a no-nap day when we were trying to have a relandscape-the-whole-lot day? Or had we brought it on ourselves? This is one of the major struggles I foresee as all three of us keep on trucking down the highway together. My wife and I can relate to crazy highs and lows, overreactions, furious passions (or passionate furies) and all that, and we’ll never look at our child’s outbursts and say “Dude, I just don’t get you.” But at the same time, that actually makes us more likely to fret over how we could possibly smooth things out better for him, to make the more unpleasant highs and lows and extremes unnecessary in the first place. Because we should have learned it for ourselves by now, right? (We haven’t, of course. But we remain convinced we should have.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Horror of horrors!

For my birthday, my Little Bro bought me a book that I had added to my Amazon Wish List ages ago, which I had almost completely forgotten about. It’s a horror novel called John Dies At The End (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it) and I promptly dove into it. This in turn prompted me, somewhat capriciously, to make a bold declaration on the GoodReads site as I added John Dies At The End to my Currently Reading bookshelf. I announced that, with Halloween approaching, October would be my own personal Spooktoberfest in terms of reading material, all horror (or dark fantasy) all month. Apparently I already miss the thematic structure of ninety-plus days of Beach Books on a Bus? At any rate, it should be good times.

I’ve been fairly-to-moderately interested in horror ever since I was about 10 years old, and of course in my world being fairly-to-moderately interested in something means that I foster an interest level which your average man on the street would peg as “cripplingly obsessive”, and I absolutely believe horror is a subculture-spawning genre which can totally be geeked out about … but I don’t consider myself a “horror geek” and I never have. At various times I’ve identified strongly as a band geek and a comic book geek and a D&D geek and a Star Wars geek and various other fandoms and preoccupations too numerous to name, but not horror, which when I step back and consider it seems conspicuously odd, but there it is.

I imagine my interest in horror started in much the same way as a lot of my cohorts’ might have, stumbling across it as something very easy and obvious to latch onto in that fifth-grade mindset where signposts of earliest adolescence like gender identity and superficial maturity point a lad toward proving he can withstand gross-out/freak-out assaults and not be unmanned by them. Having sleepover birthday parties and renting monster movies seemed like a perfectly appropriate rite of passage in the sanitized suburbs, and then of course premium cable meant that I could go from asking my parents to rent Dracula on their video store account to just staying up late without asking permission so I could watch Friday the 13th Part II on HBO. And while I devoured Nightmare on Elm Street and the Amityville Horror and the Exorcist, it was never exactly because I enjoyed those movies, or not that entirely – it was more to be able to talk about them at school with my friends, and sometimes watch them together and spend the rest of the night messing with the head of whoever seemed most affected.

Horror movies and I more or less peaked in middle school (when essentially everything, at least the way I remember it, revolved around my friends and I messing with each other’s heads every chance we got) but then in high school I discovered Stephen King and, since this was almost two decades after his prolific career had begun, I worked my voracious way through his back catalog with wild abandon, pretty much to the point where all I ever read was school assignments when I had to and King every other waking moment. I very nearly burnt myself out on King, as I caught up with his real-time output around when he published one of his most self-indulgent and least essential novels, Needful Things, which I started but couldn’t finish. I came back around on King later, though, and at this point I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written, except his nonfiction treatise Danse Macabre … and Needful Things, which drives the completist part of me insane. (So of course at some point this Spooktoberfest I will finally be crossing Needful Things off, and you can expect a post on that in coming weeks.)

I've never seen the movie of Needful Things, either.  And I freaking LOVE Max Von Sydow!
If the attraction of horror to a middle schooler is the opportunity to prove how tough you are, the attraction to a high schooler is probably to wallow in how deep you are, as measured by feelings of teen angst. Almost every first-world eventually hits a point where they wonder if life is actually meaningless, if everything is really horribly ugly just below the surface, if death might not actually be a relief, and lots of other distressingly cliché fodder for amateur poetry. Horror novels just literalize those feelings by putting protagonists through the grinder of meaningless suffering and unhappy endings and fates worse than death and so on, and you can likely tell I’m rolling my eyes as I type that but I do think it has a useful place as an outlet for those (hopefully transitory) feelings at that age. Not to mention I’m still a fan of the genre, so I can’t be too dismissive of it. It’s just that now when a character being chased by gibbering demons from the bowels of evil incarnate becomes a mouthpiece for some kind of cheaply nihilistic philosophy, I’m less inclined to say “Yeah, totally” in response and more likely to say “Ah, kids.”

(And not to harp on Everything Is Different Now once again but obviously if I truly embraced the idea that modern life was just the thin, fake veneer we put up between ourselves and bottomless madness and suffering, I probably wouldn’t have been inclined to bring two children of my own into this world.)

So I think that’s a big reason why I’ve never really thought of myself, especially my supposedly adult self, as a horror geek: because I can appreciate well-crafted horror despite the fact that my personal outlook is at odds with most of the viewpoints you’re likely to find in the genre. I think that for really hardcore horror geeks, it’s the existential underpinnings that resonate with them, and hey, fine, to each his own, but that’s not my thing. I also think that hardcore horror geeks tend to be so in tune with the overall aesthetic that it tends to be the only thing they’re into. There’s lots of both overlap and disconnect amongst sci-fi fans and comic book fans and you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to peg someone’s favorite band based solely on the fact that they play Magic the Gathering, for instance. But the guy who has a subscription to Fangoria and whose favorite band is a European death metal outfit – that’s one of those stereotypes-rooted-in-reality, I’ve found, more often than not. And again, I’m not really one to turn my nose up at all-consuming obsession for a corner of pop entertainment. I just prefer to spread my obsessions around a little more, and make horror a sometimes brain-food.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Field work

Have I mentioned before that, much as I adore long weekends, coming off of them frequently throws me for such a loop that at the very least the long weekends seem to accomplish nothing in terms of refreshing and recharging my ever-addled mind? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before, but see above re: addle-pated-ness.
The crazy thing of course is that I kind of wanted to blog all weekend long. There were a few stray thoughts rattling around that I could have strung together in Grab Bag fashion, and a lot of catalogs begging to be scanned came in late last week, and even Monday was eventful, but the whole three-day, federal huh-liday (i.e. “Oh, uh, I guess we should be grateful for Christopher Columbus or something, huh?”) weekend came and went in a bit of a blur. Still let’s see if we can quickly get back up to speed. I should warn in advance, though, that I foresee the remainder of this week’s posts, including today, blending together and blurring categorical lines, because a lot of what I’ve been thinking about hits all my wheelhouses in rapid succession, so …

There was an awful lot of work going on for a three-day weekend, but all of it to one extent or another necessary. My wife of course works weekends, sometimes, and usually in an all-or-nothing fashion where either both Saturday and Sunday require her to put in slightly truncated shifts at the clinic, or else she’s off from Friday night until Tuesday morning. This time, though, special arrangements were made because my wife had a baby shower to attend on Saturday, followed by a normal workday on Sunday (and next weekend she’ll work a shift on Saturday but have Sunday off, and thereafter it should be more or less back to all-or-nothing normalcy). And Monday is always my wife’s day off, but every few months or so she is the on-call doctor for a week’s worth of nights, fielding after-hours phone calls to either dispense such medical advice as can be given based on telephonic diagnoses, or to advise clients to get their pet to a 24-hour emergency vet. She started her on-call week last night, and found herself answering a couple of pages, thankfully only one of them after bedtime (and just barely).

But the main work was literally around the homestead as we spent chunks of time on Saturday, Sunday and Monday working on our lawn and landscaping. The amount of progress we made over the course of the three days was fairly gratifying, including but not limited to: aerating and overseeding parts of the main front lawn; tearing up by the roots the entire jungle of weeds growing in the corner between the front side of the shed and the side of the house (dubbed Weedpocalypse I by my wife, as opposed to Weedpocalypse II which is on the opposite side of the shed and still being dealt with, but at least that’s more hidden from the street view); planting a new bush and some ground cover in the de-weeded corner; and also planting like 99 bulbs in various garden spots around the yard, and mulching over top of them. Of course this all required several trips to various nurseries and home improvement stores and the buying of everything from a bale of straw to bed down the grass seeds to a gas-powered tiller, which I mention only because that added to the total amount of sheer manhours required to get everything done (and let us not forget that most of this was done also while wrangling the high-spirited young heir of the estate).

To say nothing of the sheer number of creepy-crawlies unearthed in the whole process, ah jibblie jibblie jibblie
So much soreness and exhaustion resulted, in addition to a non-insignificant amount of dehydration, because sweet scorching Surtr was it warmish this weekend. We felt markedly under the gun to get as much of the landscaping repairwork done over the holiday weekend as possible because soon enough it will be too cold to be digging in the dirt or trying to transplant new flowers and whatnot, but you wouldn’t have known winter was a matter of single-digit weeks away from the high-80’s hot sunshine Virginia was getting the past few days. The little guy actually spent a fair amount of time in his inflatable swimming pool as happy as could be, and this morning I noticed a slight farmer’s tan on the back of my neck. I actually maintain that if it had to go to one unseasonable extreme or the other, I’d prefer digging and planting and watering and raking and whatnot when it’s warmer than when it’s colder, because the latter makes me even more miserable. But still, it made everything that much more of a trial.

Nonetheless, I believe the consensus is that it was worth it, because the property overall looks a lot better, and my wife and I – as homeowners and members of the neighborhood – feel less like derelict slackers who can’t maintain a baseline amount of yard maintenance. When my wife and I recover enough energy to have a proper conversation I’ll be sure to check if that is in fact what she thinks as well.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In other news …

And we’re back. Seems like I’m destined to keep repeating the pattern of taking Thursday off from work (which I’m totally fine with) and also from blogging (which just seems to go hand-in-hand with the former) and then playing catch-up on Friday. So once again, let’s jump into a smoothie of a post made from mixing equal parts anecdotes and parenting …

I realized recently that the little guy and I make quite the complementary pair, something physically manifest in the wooden train sets we bought him for his birthday (and no doubt will supplement come Christmas). So far it seems like his favorite way to play with them is to tear up whatever configuration they’ve been laid out in on his play table; he does this with appropriately explodey mouth sound effects that do my heart proud. Whereas my favorite way to play with his train sets (and make absolutely no mistake about it, they ended up in our house just as much because of my interest in them as the little guy’s) is to set them up in various configurations. So I lay out convoluted track routes, and the little guy busts them up, and I lay them out again, and he demolishes them, and both of us are pretty happy. It’s actually my turn to build a track again right now, which would first require that I clear off the train table which has been conveniently bearing the weight of a lot of the inherent chaos in the playroom recently, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that over the weekend.

But speaking of destruction, we were driving down the highway yesterday morning, all three of us (my wife, my little guy, and me) and the little guy was pointing out trucks in other lanes, as is his wont. His expressions these days tend to take one of three forms: “See that!” as an imperative, often with the ‘that’ more explicitly named; “What’s that guy doing?” often with ‘guy’ replaced with the afore-referenced explicit name; and “What’s that?” which is actually word for word because he’s genuinely unfamiliar and curious. Anyway, at one point we were passing a landscaping truck towing a woodchipper trailer, and in my mind I was readying myself for the little guy to ask what it was. And I swear, the first thing that sprang into my skull was something along the lines of “That’s a woodchipper and it’s VERY DANGEROUS” because, you know, who wouldn’t want to seize the opportunity to discourage their child from playing with woodchippers? As it happened, the little guy must not have seen it (or didn’t feel moved to ask about it) so I mulled it over a bit more and I started to wonder if that kind of attitude might not be a wee bit overzealous. The odds of my little guy getting anywhere near a woodchipper are reasonably remote. And it’s not that it’s untrue that they’re dangerous, but I don’t know, maybe if I always stridently point out that dangerous things are dangerous I might create a certain amount of disproportionate anxiety in my child? I have no interest in raising a child who thinks the world is first and foremost a lethally scary place where destruction and doom lurk around every corner. I also don’t want to have any regrets about blithely assuming he was born with an unerring sense of what’s all right to be curious about and what’s better left alone. It’s a heck of a balancing act.

Oh sure, this one's an easy call, but it's almost never as straightforward as that.
You may very well be asking yourself what in the world my wife, my little guy and I were doing cruising down the highway mid-morning on a random Thursday, and that’s a fair question although I think close to 100% of the audience here has at least an inkling. But on the off chance there’s a random reader I don’t know about, I’ll dispense with being coy. We were driving to the hospital, because we had an ultrasound appointment, because my wife is pregnant with our second child and it was time to peek in for some developmental measurements that can test for chromosomal abnormalities (which, we breathe a sigh of relief, were all normal). I’m not going to add a “pre-natal stuff” tag to the blog so from here on out “baby stuff” will refer to the little one on the way. My wife and I are in agreement with all the usual clichés about not caring if it’s a boy or girl as long as s/he’s healthy, but in benevolent-genies-granting-wishes terms I’m hoping for a girl, which certainly would make it easier to continue referring to my son as the little guy and start referring to my daughter as … something else? I’ve got until mid-April or so to figure it out, or come up with two good online differentiators if we emerge from the pregnancy as a family with two little boys. Either way, exciting times ahead!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Worlds Within Worlds, Part 2

When last we left the blog in full geek-out mode, I was yammering on and on about a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called City of Heroes, which (between legal copyright considerations and technical non-unique identifier restrictions) is home to various bespandexed characters with codenames like L1teningBoyyy. And I promised that I would also address the semi-imminent release of a competitor MMORPG, the forthcoming DC Universe Online. Incidentally, I learned this week that one can participate in the beta testing of this new game if one ponies up for a pre-order of the game, and believe you me, I am sorely tempted. I really do suspect I would need to get a new computer to play it right, though, so at the moment the temptation is mostly theoretical. But come spring? I’ll be a subscriber.

Not that I expect the gameplay of DC Universe Online to be earth-shatteringly different from City of Heroes, or that I expect to be any better at it. Much like CoH, I expect DCUO to be a game I play occasionally and enjoy more for soaking up the environment than engaging in the challenge. And inextricable from the online environment will be the online population.

(I mean, don’t get me wrong, the environment in and of itself will be rad to run around in. City of Heroes did an admirable job creating a new world from whole cloth, and exploration offered its own rewards, but it inherently had no real historical weight. DC Universe Online will be able to draw on 70+ years of comic book publishing history and can put Easter eggs in just about every nook and cranny for people so inclined to go looking for them, and they’ll actually mean something. Good times.)

So a new gaming window through which to avatar-watch will be opened to me, and I’m arguing that this one is going to be even more fascinating, for multiple reasons.

Let’s start with copyright. On the one hand, DC obviously owns the copyright for Superman, so there’s no legal conflicts to mediate there. However, there’s a storytelling conflict – in fact there’s more than one conflict. One has to do with the precepts of adventure gaming like this, where presumably you start off small, play the game and earn rewards, make your character stronger, play against more difficult opposition and earn more rewards, etc. If you play as Superman, you’re pretty much by definition at the ceiling of superhero ability, so where do you go from there? Another conflict is that more than one person will want to play as Superman, and from a coherent narrative perspective it makes absolutely no sense for there to be multiple Supermans running around. (This isn’t Arena the MMORPG. Although that would kind of rule.)

An MMORPG along the lines of LAST SUPERMAN STANDING would have limited appeal to a very small niche audience, but it could also be mankind's greatest MMORPG achievement.
So – wild guess about an unreleased game, here – they’re not going to let anyone play Superman, even though they legally could, because it just causes too many headaches. That’s not a totally wild guess, to be fair, because from the previews of the game I’ve seen, I believe Superman will be in the game as a non-playable character, someone your character can interact with but who is for all intents and purposes part of the game itself, like the scenery.

So you won’t be able to experience the game as Kal-El himself, given. What about the gray areas of off-model Supermen? Can you play someone wearing blue and red in Supermanesque configuration and name the character ManOfTomorrow? Is that still narratively confusing, or does it dilute the core concept of Superman to the point where it’s simply not desirable to the folks who own and run the game?

Suppose, for either reason or no reason, Superman knock-offs are discouraged and deleted if discovered, or forbidden outright and impossible to create. What about characters inspired by Superman? This actually has precedent within DC Comics themselves, where at various times new heroes have appeared on the scene and to one extent or another taken on some or most of Superman’s trappings for themselves (Supergirl, Steel, the second Superboy, Bibbo, etc. etc.) and if you’re a game underwritten by DC Comics itself and trying to recreate the eponymous Universe, you would think that precedents like that would count for something. So the granular question is something like this: when making a costume for your character, will the trademark “S” shield be available? If it isn’t even an option, that will be lame. But if it is an option, then presumably there will have to be some kind of guidelines as to how unique your costume/name combo has to be so as not to overstep certain logical bounds. Logical when you talk through them at any rate, which means I’m utterly fascinated trying to envision how they’ll enforce those boundaries in a computerized system.

You could also take this one step further and point out other comic book precedents for duplication of ideas. Wonder Woman has always been one of many Amazons, some of whom have worn her costume and used her name when she was unavailable to do so. Green Lantern has always been one of thousands of members of a galaxies-spanning Corps who wear identical uniforms and are all, technically, referred to as “Green Lantern”. Will the game let you play an Amazon, or a Corps member? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Granted, there’s also precedent (although it gets thinner and thinner all the time) of creating brand new, completely original characters, and presumably that’s what the focus of the game will really be. Playing a Green Lantern is almost as unbalanced and game-breaking as playing Superman, and surely the game-designers’ intention was for everyone to play someone who just woke up and decided to start fighting crime at Level 1 the other day, armed only with some martial arts moves or a flame-throwing powersuit or something. So, for the sake of argument, let’s set aside all issues of infringement and homage and inspiration and legacy and just think about new, original characters. (Let’s also set aside how there are no more original ideas and everything is a rip-off of something else. Humor me here.)

So you sit down to design your aforementioned flame-blasting hero, and he looks unique enough (or generic enough that he’s not obviously aping anyone in particular) and you think for a moment about what to call him and you come up with Firepit. But the computer tells you that name is already taken. But you really like the sound of that, so you try Fire-pit (taken) and then Firepitt (taken) and then Fyrepitt which ultimately is accepted. Not much of a hassle, really …

… except that DC has always been kind of the square comic book empire. Because their whole universe is founded on unadulterated wish-fulfillment: Superman can do basically anything and can’t be stopped or harmed; Batman is rich, powerful, smart and generally awesome; Wonder Woman is like a female Superman and is a real princess; Green Lantern has a ring that lets him create anything he can imagine, etc. etc. Whereas Marvel comics has a more rough-around-the-edges feel, where Spider-Man can do nifty things but often loses fights to villains and has personal problems all the time; and the X-Men are hated for being born different; and Captain America (in the 60’s at least) was a man out of time and out of sorts after being literally frozen since World War II; and the Fantastic Four have family squabbles and can never quite manage to cure the Thing, etc. etc. If Fyrepitt fits into either of those aesthetics, it’s Marvel. Really, though, if you want to get technical, the aesthetic where Fyrepitt fits is Image Comics. DC springs from the 1930’s and Marvel from the 1960’s, and Image is the inevitable result of the 1990’s, and boasts such marquee characters as Stryker, Psilence, Violator, The Maxx and Bloodwulf. (OK, fine, most of those are minor Image characters, but they really get the whole Image vibe across pretty succinctly.) Marvel Comics in the 90’s was to some extent playing catch-up with Image and found itself incorporating a lot of characters who were edgy and violent and had codenames which were common words with the “I” replaced with “Y” or the “S” replaced with “Z” or the “C” replaced with “K” and some of those worked and some didn’t. (And honestly, Image itself was every bit as hit-and-miss in the final analysis, which speaks to the weaknesses of the whole motivating concept itself here.) DC Comics tried to jump on the bandwagon as well, but whenever they did the results invariably felt just plain wrong.

Rob Liefeld, ladies and gentlemen.  He's a big dumb animal, isn't he folks?
Still, the deliberate “kewl” misspellings of equal parts pre-millennial 1337-speak and bad-assery posturing (all of which sort of reminds me of vanity license plates, too, which may explain my tolerant semi-affection for it on balance) don’t seem that jarring in City of Heroes, because as I said last post that world is a pastiche world, part DC and part Marvel and part neither, and if some Image Comics tropes worm their way in, eh, so be it. But in a pure, DC-branded gameworld … man, I just don’t know. I’ve often suspected that one reason why I never really got into World of Warcraft was because there was just enough violation of the genre tropes to sour my suspension of disbelief. I love high fantasy, but when I experience it I fully expect the elves to have names that either evoke nature in English, like Dapplecloud, or sound like ethereal gibberish, like Daaladilai. And I expect the human knights to have names like Althorn and the human barbarians to have names like Gronk, and so on. I do not expect the lady elves to be named Kittysass72. I can close one eye and tolerate a leather-bodiced female vigilante on the city streets calling herself Kittysass72, but can’t do the same for a sorceress hanging out in the same pseudo-medieval village as my swordsman. Call me a nitpicker, and a wildly inconsistent one if you must, but there it is.

And I think somewhere in the middle ground between “whatever” and “nope, nope, nope” I will find the more jarring online handles that are bound to crop up in DC Universe Online fitfully amusing. All the moreso if the game owners decide to try to police them and enforce some kind of house style for all players. It should be gloriously weird no matter what, and I know I keep saying it over and over again, but it’s kind of the whole entire point of this post: I am looking forward to it.