Thursday, September 29, 2011

Soxenfreude

Every weekday morning, after I get up and take a shower and get dressed, I head downstairs and start a pot of coffee. If I haven't prepped the machine the night before so that all I have to do is flip the On switch, then the pets mill about my feet expectantly as I take care of the priority that ranks above feeding them. (I sometimes wonder if they are curious as to where the fifth pet is, the one whose food is tiny brown granules and whose bowl I always fill first.) Then while the coffee brews I feed the animals and tie my tie and eat my breakfast bar and, if I have a little wiggle room on time, I fire up the computer and hop online to check my e-mail or the previous night's scores.

That's basically the way it went down this morning. Last night I was lying in bed at 11-something and flipping back and forth between ESPN and MASN trying to see the outcome of either the Yankees/Rays game or the O's/Red Sox game. In Tampa, they were into extra innings; in Baltimore, they were trying to finish the game after a 90-minute rain delay. I kept dozing off and jerking awake and finally I gave up and turned off the tv and passed out almost immediately. But I was curious, when I woke up, if the AL Wild Card issue had been settled or if there was a second-place tie in the East or what.

I figured the possible scenarios broke down in order from most-likely to least- as follows:

1 - The Sox held on to their slim lead over the O's and won the game. This seemed probable because I kept seeing the O's fail to capitalize on scoring opportunities late int he game. The Rays rallied to beat the Yankees, who from the middle of the game on had been resting starters and making offensive and defensive substitutions like there was a special bonus for getting all 40 players in the game for at least one out.

2 - The Sox held on to their lead, as above, but the Yankees were the ones who broke the extra innings tie and hung on to win.

3 - The Sox somehow blew the game, but so did the Rays.

4 - The Sox somehow blew the game and the Rays won.

The reason why I thought scenario 3 was more likely than scenario 4 was pure pessimism. If both the Sox and Rays lost, they would have identical records and would need to play a one-game tie-breaker to determine who got the wild card spot. Whereas if the Sox lost and the Rays won, the Sox's season would be over, full stop. The Rays would be the Wild Card, which didn't matter to me so much as seeing the Sox conclude their historic collapse in third place completely shut out of the playoffs. But because I revel in curses upon Boston, I figured the universe wasn't likely to reward such meanness.

So I checked the Yankees website and saw that the Rays had indeed walked off with a win, as I expected. Again, I could be pretty sanguine about that because the Yankees already had the AL East pennant, home field playoffs advantage, blah blah blah. On the one hand a Red Sox/Rays one game playoff could make the playoff road that much harder for the eventual wild card winner because they wouldn't get a day off, but sometimes that actually ends up energizing momentum for the team that advances, and the Yankees have to worry about the Tigers before facing the wild card anyway ... And then I saw the other headlines on the site indicating that ... Boston had lost?

People are going to bandy about the numbers 7 and 20 (the Red Sox record in September, during which they totally choked up a 9 game lead in the wild card race - and don't forget they were actually on top of the AL East outright not much earlier in August) but you also gotta love the numbers 77 and 0, which was how the Red Sox fared all season in games which they led going into the ninth inning. 77 and 1 after last night. Another fun stat to recall is that the Sox, despite being heavily favored in advance to win it all, stumbled out of the gate and opened the season 1 and 7, and if they had even managed a mediocre 3 and 4 back then we wouldn't even be having this conversation (but sports hindsight is full of "if"s, and we don't play this game on paper, do we, Jim). 7 and 20, 77 and 1, 1 and 7 - that is a lot of 7's, I should be playing the lottery or roulette or craps or something. Although of course if I did and won any money the universe would surely balance that out with the Yankees getting first-round swept, so maybe I'll keep it to myself.

It's not terribly noble but taking satisfaction from the struggles (and abject failures) of a rival is part of the insane sports fandom package sometimes. And today I'm just gonna roll with it.

Oh, also, I will try to get to a second post later today for my usual catching-up-with-the-kids, but I would be remiss if I didn't express some sincere gratitude to my wife, who dropped off our daughter at daycare yesterday in a bright orange Orioles onesie so that I would know, when I picked the kids up, that my wife was rooting for the O's to beat the Sox. I'm a lucky, lucky guy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weird to some, not to me

I acknowledge that the posts this week have been on the short side, and I'm afraid today is going to be no exception. I don't have a 2K-word geek rant rattling around in my brain at the moment. In fact, my brain is on the partly cloudy side at best as I seem to be fighting off some kind of crud involving a cough, a sore throat, and achy fatigue, so that further explains the low-content mode of the past two days which is about to extend into today.

But to make a general concession to the pop culture theme of Wednesdays, I will relate that today I read a couple of different articles online which fed directly into my personal obsessions. One was about the re-issue of Nirvana's Nevermind. I've talked before about how Nirvana isn't my cup of tea, which should be no big deal because lots of bands aren't, except Nirvana's place in the pantheon or canon or whatever seems so wildly at odds with my distaste for them, so I really put a lot of mental energy into justifying my contrarian opinion, blah blah blah. Obviously there is no way in the world I would willingly acquire the Nevermind re-issue in any form, but by the same token I can't seem to help but click on every link I see that talks about it. I'm forever trying to understand my own inverse obsession with Kurt Cobain's musical legacy. The article didn't really move that along very much, but who knows, maybe some day it'll be one more tile in a mental mosaic that makes some kind of sense.

The other article was about The Cambridge History of the American Novel and some of the predictable controversy between traditionalists and non-traditionalists about What It All Means. I thought to myself, "That there sounds like a book I need," and of course the article itself linked to the book's Amazon page and I promptly clicked over and added the book to my Wish List, only noticing after that the book retails for $185. (But can be yours at Amazon for $157.37!) It is also 1272 pages long, yes that is a four-digit number not a typo. But as I said, I noticed these things. I didn't freak out about them or really find them all that strange, and they didn't make me reconsider for a moment the Wish List status I had just bestowed on such a big whomping pile of dead trees. I still think it sounds like a book I need, albeit one which might finally convince me to invest in an e-reader. (Except it's not available in that format right now. So there you go.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Work stoppage

Yesterday was supposed to be the end of our long floor-replacement saga, the idea being that after ripping up the old hardwood in the area that had been soaked the most by our dishwasher leak, and giving the subflooring beneath a good four days and change to dry out more fully, the area would be in good enough shape to finish the installation of the new hardwood. So the workmen showed up (at about 10:15 after we had been told to expect them between 8 and 10, and I honestly can’t figure out if “missing a two-hour window” is pretty terrible or if “only fifteen minutes late” is pretty good) and started testing the moisture levels of the plywood. My wife was the one home yesterday to meet them, so I am getting this second-hand, but apparently the subfloor was “still 1% too damp” to properly finish the job. I get where that single point comes from, since the little electronic analyzer does measure things on a percentile scale of overall water content which presumably goes from bone-dry zero to 100% pool of liquid, but I was still a little surprised to hear it expressed so precisely. When I saw the device myself last Tuesday, I thought that at best it could give readings at about +/- 5% accuracy. I don’t know, maybe the little stack of LED bars that go from green to yellow to red along the percentile scale were oscillating uncertainly between the last green light and the first yellow, and that translates to “still 1% too damp”. And to be honest, being exactly that close and yet so far just seems like par for the course as far as our house is concerned.

Watch your step
So my wife told the workmen they could come back Thursday, and she cranked down the AC to try to take that much more humidity out of the air and hopefully help things along that much more. In theory, we should finally have a non-hazardous walking surface from wall-to-wall in our kitchen just a couple of days from now. But I wouldn’t want to bank on it prematurely.

Meanwhile, one week later and I have yet to return to the task of re-tiling our basement ceiling, and I’m not entirely sure when I’ll have the opportunity to do so, either. I’m trying to remain optimistic that between now and then I won’t forget everything I figured out to transform the task from something impossible to something merely onerous. And of course when I get that whole project completed, there’s a joy-of-homeownership-reinforcing list as long as my arm of things to do next … but at least most of those don’t involve sticking my head into the innards of the house itself and/or creating massive amounts of crumbled ceiling tile particles and dust, so maybe I can run through those later tasks fairly quickly by enlisting two trusty helpers in the persons of my children. (Kidding.) (Mostly.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yay, sports

I’m staring down the barrel of a fully-loaded, five-day work week, and I once again have a non-negligible amount of actual work that I’m expected to do therein, but otherwise, really, there’s not much to report from the Big Gray …

This past weekend was quiet, too, with my wife working and me holding down the fort, but at least there was nothing to complain about in terms of the sporting diversions offered up along the way. The Michigan Wolverines won (and are now 4-0), the NY Giants and the Steelers both won, and were both on tv (and are both now 2-1), the Yankees took 2 out of 3 from the Red Sox (pretty much solidifying home field advantage through the playoffs for the Yanks and keeping the Sox in Circling The Drain mode with Tampa Bay making a charge for the wild card to keep Boston out of the post-season altogether, I dare to dream) – and the silver linings of the Yankees blowing the sweep in the 14th inning of the doubleheader’s game 2 late last night are as follows:

1, I was up anyway watching the Steelers/Colts game which surprisingly came down to the final drive
2, If the Yankees had swept the sports weekend would have been just about perfect, which would put undue pressure on the Monday Night Football game to somehow allow for both the Cowboys and the Redskins to lose in order to keep the streak alive

Their pain is my joy
I suppose I should also mention that after two strong weeks in the football pick’em pool which had me near the top of the heap and well-positioned to make a serious attempt at winning the season champ prize, Week 3 officially blew up in my face. Depending on how tonight goes, I could end up with a paltry 6-10 this go-round, which is pretty dreadful. But I ain’t mad or nothing. It’s just a game about a game at this point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Co-located disasters

Aaaaaaand we’re back, to the blog which I really should have named Online Yammering I Do When I’m Bored At Work because, man, if I stay home for a couple days, ain’t no updating going on here.

I skipped out on work Tuesday and Wednesday because of the installation of new hardwood floors, which required physical presence of a homeowner to let the workmen in (primarily) and keep an eye on them around our stuff (distantly secondarily – I’m just not that paranoid). Skipping work on Tuesday also allowed me to get up in the morning and get cracking immediately on moving “everything light enough to be picked up by one person” off the floor and out of the living room, dining room and kitchen, before the workmen arrived, instead of messing with stuff like getting dressed in work clothes and catching a train and whatnot. Then, once the installers arrived, I was able to retreat to the basement where I had work of my own to do, namely replacing the drop-ceiling tiles. Only a couple of them were damaged by the leaking water from the dishwasher directly above, but all of the drop tiles were old and cheap so it seemed like a good idea to do one massive sweep, clear and replace operation.

Thus the stage was set for two comparable yet contrasting jobs to unfold literally within inches of each other on separate floors of the house. Above, professionals doing skilled work which would end up having a transformative upgrading effect; below, a DIY gig which would (theoretically) end up being subtle at best, with things looking more or less the way they did before. And as the guy on the DIY end, I gotta say, those are my least favorite kind of jobs. I don’t mind maintaining a house, I don’t mind physically demanding or tedious labor, but dagnabbit when I finish I want to be able to show off what I’ve done and say “Look, look what I did, look how impressive that is!”

Not only was I bound to be disappointed in that regard with the swapping of old white textured ceiling drop tiles for new slightly sturdier white textured ceiling drop tiles, but it turned out to be physically and mentally grueling work out of all proportion with reason. To condense a very frustrating and long couple of days’ worth of lessons learned, here’s the deal: the drop ceiling frame in the basement was installed right up against the crossbeams beneath the main floor of the house. So there’s no clearance above the frame, and no space in which to insert a solid drop tile upward at an angle along the diagonal before straightening it and settling it into place. This was no big deal when the tiles were flexible foam with vinyl surface and could just be curved to fit between the frames and then uncurved to lay flat in place. This was an almost insurmountable deal when trying to install sturdier, rigid tiles, as I was. There was much cursing, which made me glad that we sent the kids to daycare while my wife was at work and I was playing fixer-upper. Eventually I figured out some ways to loosen the drop ceiling frame just enough to create maybe two inches of clearance to play around in, accompanied by much grunting and straining (sounds more fun than it is). Which didn’t solve the problem of the many weird corners and A/C vents and suspended fluorescent light fixtures I had to work around, which again is not hard with soft tiles but a royal pain with rigid ones …

Sorely tempted, more than once
Meanwhile at least someone else was doing to genuinely harder work of repairing our floors, but that ended up being a mixed bag as well. The crew leader was doing his job by the book and testing the plywood underflooring as they went along to make sure it was install-ready, but when he got to the end of the kitchen where the leak originated he found that it was not, in fact, install-ready; despite the days during which we tolerated all that water amelioration equipment, the subfloor had never completely dried out. So they ripped out a lot of old floor and installed a lot of new floor on Tuesday, then they came back on Wednesday and installed a little more new and ripped out the rest of the old, so that they could leave the underflooring exposed for four or five more days before finally putting in new floor in that part of the kitchen. Thus for the next few days we are living with half a kitchen/dining room floor, trying to keep the little guy from wandering onto its pointy-poky debris field, and skirting around a few pieces of furniture that have been dumped in the den until they can be restored to their usual sites in that half of the kitchen.

The new floor in the living room looks great though! And by midday Monday everything should be finished, so don't let the post title fool you, nothing going on at home really qualifies as a disaster (yet). Nothing’s ever simple, though.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A couple of boring office memos

1.

It often seems pointless to carp about how unresponsive and behind the times the federal government can be in terms of the digital frontier, but today has been a particularly frustrating day. The computer in my cubicle froze up this morning for no apparent reason; I mean, I was running quite a few programs simultaneously but there have been days when I’ve put more workload on the machine with no ill effects. I’m gonna go ahead and blame ‘network latency’. Also? I understand it’s not part of my official job duties to check my personal web-based e-mail from my desk, but it is a little bit disconcerting to see messages on the Gmail home page to the effect that “You are using an older version of Internet Explorer that Gmail no longer supports.” Awesome.

The past is not so far away
2.

On the other hand, long-time readers may remember that a while back I was grousing about how severely irritating my allergies had become, and how I suspected various job-environmental antagonists might be to blame, including I-66, the Metro system, my confined office space, my co-workers, and just being a working stiff instead of a millionaire gadabout in general. I never did solve the mystery, and even when I stopped using 66 and the Metro to get to work and got a brand new cubicle all to myself in the new office building, I still coughed my way through the day pretty much every Monday through Friday, which was a drag. Then a few weeks ago it occurred to me that the problems had started shortly after we moved, which was coincidentally around the same time I started working this contract gig in particular but was also a time when I was forced by new geographical circumstances to start using a different dry cleaner located in the new town. Could it be that I was allergic to their particular brand of soap, and all my shirts laundered therein, which explained why I rarely had the horking hacks on the weekends and they always came back as soon as I dressed myself for work on Monday morning? Well, long overdue, I recently switched to a different dry cleaner’s (closer to the train station than the highway/bus stop) and today is the first day I am wearing a shirt cleaned at the new place. I don’t want to jinx anything but so far, so good as far as ease of breathing goes. Will wonders never cease.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Grab Bag Back to School Edition

ENGLISH
As an English major, I am just as likely as anyone to pile on when the jokes start getting made about how it's kind of a pre-unemployment degree with very limited application in the real world except in the broadest sense. I did have a moment of minor triumph earlier this week, though.

The little guy had spent much of Monday pretending he was Nemo the clownfish; he has now seen the movie a grand total of two times and therefore can re-enact large swaths of it pretty faithfully. One of his favorite bits comes from early on in the story, when Nemo swims around the anemone's interior yelling "Dad, wake up! Dad, wake up! It's time for school! It's time for school!" It doesn't take much more than either his mother or myself lying down on the living room floor to get the little guy whipped into that particular frenzy. Anyway, Monday evening's bath time rolled around and I informed the little guy of that fact, which prompted him to look at me and say "Fish don't really sleep." (So just to connect the child-logic dots there: he was pretending to be Nemo, ergo he was a fish, ergo he didn't really sleep, ergo bedtime was a non-issue.) Without missing a beat, I informed my son that of course fish slept, that was why Nemo had to wake up Marlin and tell him "It's time for school! It's time for school!" - Marlin had been sleeping. The little guy (somewhat surprisingly) conceded the point and I started leading him upstairs. My wife commented that she was glad I knew the movie well enough to out-argue a three-year-old. And so was I, but it did occur to me that I had basically supported a position based on a direct quote from a text, a.k.a. what English majors do for four years. So, booyah.

+++

MATH (and/or PHYS ED)
So the football pick'em pool started last weekend - technically it started back on Thursday the 8th and the first round didn't end until the wee hours of Tuesday morning, but there you go. I did pretty well, considering how I find week one's lack of track records difficult to work around, going 10 and 6 when all was said and done. My wife went 9 and 7 and might have done as well or better than me if she hadn't (a) picked the Dolphins to cover the spread against the Pats or (b) picked Indy to do anything other than implode without Peyton. But we both did better than the coin-toss average, so that's a good start. Neither of us won the week, though, as that honor went to someone who managed to go an impressive 12 and 4. Still, what killed me on Tuesday morning when I checked the standings was this: 10 and 6 was good enough to put me in the top six, tied with two other people, and behind two 11 and 5s and the aforementioned 12 and 4. Out of all six of us, I was the only person who picked Jacksonville over Tennessee. Jacksonville did in fact win that game, but only by two points. They had been two-and-a-half point favorites. If Jacksonville had scored ONE MORE LOUSY POINT (not that there's a way to score one lone point in football, but go with me here) then I would have been 11 and 5, the other 11 and 5s would have been 10 and 6, and Mr. 12 and 4 would also have been 11 and 5. So I would have tied for first place AND I would have won the tiebreaker, too, on total points for the Oakland/Denver Monday Night game (I had 39; 12 and 4 had 34; the final total was 43). Clearly I can never forgive the Jaguars for this miscarriage of gambling justice.

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EARTH SCIENCE
Got some more weed annihilation done this weekend and this time instead of waiting for creative landscapin inspiration to strike, we just went ahead and grass-seeded the whole ... former flower bed? At this point I can't remember what half-ass purpose the former owners were trying to put it to. If the grass doesn't take and the weeds overrun that side of the house again I believe the next step will be to just build a 100 square foot sandbox there, which actually I bet the little guy would get quite a kick out of.

+++

U.S. HISTORY
You might have noticed that I haven't been complaining much lately about the Civil War sesquicentennial celebrations hereabouts, which is neither coincidence nor a sudden bout of tolerance on my part. The commemorations just seem to have completely evaporated. I guess once the Battle of Bull Run anniversary came and went, so too did the localized fervor. And I also suppose that next August there will be just as much (if not more) mania for Second Battle reenactments and whatnot. For now, though, things have quieted down and I am totally fine with that.


+++

WOOD SHOP
Our hardwood floor installation happens next week and right now we are living with tons of materials in our kitchen. It was delivered on Thursday morning because it needs to hang out in our house for a few days to acclimate, apparently. They had warned me on the phone that the pile of hardwood would take up about as much space as a small couch and that was no lie - I would go so far as to say it takes up as much space as a regular couch. It's all stacked against the outermost kitchen wall, displacing our dining table so that it's half-under the island (fortunately only three of us need to sit around it on a regular basis) and serving as a massive reminder that we need to spend at least part of the next couple days clearing out everything from the kitchen and living room except the biggest furniture pieces which the workmen will move themselves. Hopefully the install will go smoothly and quickly; I of course will update upon completion.

+++

HOME EC
This week my wife and I tried a new flavor of Turkey Hill ice cream called Double Dunker. The carton features a picture of an Oreo and a chocolate chip cookie simultaneously being dipped into a cup of coffee, and that's pretty much the deal: mocha ice cream with both chocolate chip cookie dough bits and cookies-n-cream bits. It is essentially the most ridiculously awesome thing in the frozen foods section. I just felt like everyone should know this.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unsportsmanlike conduct

There was a very important lesson which was learned this past weekend, to wit: it is kind of a bad idea to let the little guy watch too much professional football on television, and it is an unequivocally awful idea bordering on reckless endangerment to let the little guy watch pro football on tv with me when one of the teams in the televised contest is my team, and they are losing. Because I get very fired up and demonstrative of my negative emotions in that scenario, and the little guy apparently internalizes it all very much, with outward effects varying from aggressive acting out to teary refusals to allow the lights to be extinguished at bedtime (because he’s still “just so sad about the way the game was going”. Dagger. My heart.)

But it was a crazy weekend, Opening Weekend for the NFL and the rarest of all conjunctions wherein my wife was home from work on Sunday (blowing a vacation day, technically, true, but worth it) AND the Steelers were on at 1 (because they were playing the Ravens) AND the Giants were on at 4 (because they were playing the Redskins). My wife and I had gorged ourselves on Thursday Night Football for the season opener as well as the fantastic Michigan/Notre Dame game on Saturday night, and we judged that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to simply hang out in the den with the games on for essentially all of Sunday afternoon. Of course not only did it have a deleterious effect on the little guy (once he joined us after his designated quiet-time for the day) but both the Steelers and the Giants ended up losing, and looking none-too-encouraging while doing so, which meant in case we weren’t prepared to take seriously the lesson we were meant to learn there were a couple of extra dollops of fan-karma just to pound the point home. OK, universe, we get it; my wife and I will limit ourselves to Sunday Night and Monday Night football. At least until the playoffs (assuming we still have a vested interest in the sport by then).

The devil inside
Of course bringing out the little guy’s aggressive side is never the best idea in the world, especially recently as we are currently dealing with some delayed-onset sibling resentment. It’s nothing out of the ordinary by any stretch, and only noteworthy because we honestly thought we had dodged that bullet entirely, not realizing it was simply on a very slow approach. But now it’s here, with the little guy demanding to also be picked up whenever mommy or daddy picks up the baby, with the little guy stealing the baby’s toys for no reason, with the little guy showing blatant disregard for the baby’s whereabouts when he starts flopping around and flailing his legs. And we are dealing with it.

One conveniently serendipitous development is that the little girl has just outgrown the co-sleeper within which she has slept, at our bedside, since coming home from the hospital. Our daughter is five months old now and (in another case of a bullet which we’ve hopefully dodged entirely and not simply missed the slo-mo approach of) continues to be a very good sleeper, including this week wherein, since Sunday night, she has been sleeping in her crib in her own room for about the same six to eight hours as before. My wife and I are hoping that this will eliminate at least once source of jealousy in her older brother, who suspected she was getting special treatment by being “allowed” to sleep in mommy and daddy’s room every night. Injustice redressed!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Recapitulation

This is something of a thematic continuation of yesterday’s post in that it involves a spontaneous, opportunistic visit to a purveyor of reading materials.

I found out yesterday that my paperwork had been processed and finalized to obtain a new building pass/ID badge for work. Such is the incrementally metered way of government contracting gigs: everything issued to you so that you can fulfill the functions of your job has an expiration date, especially when you’re in a situation (such as I am) where your company has been granted a contract consisting of renewable “option years” … I can sense your eyes glazing over so let’s just move along. My badge was set to expire at the end of this month (and in September of next year not only will my badge expire yet again but my access card for the government computer network will, too!) but once I received the paperwork notification all I had to do was zip over to the Pentagon’s ID office, show the papers, and trade in the old badge for a new one.

The Pentagon is two Metro stops away from my current office, and honestly when I don’t have to drive on 66 and pay exorbitant parking fees and ride the Orange Crush at rush hour, I don’t mind the Metro quite so much. So as of yesterday I started thinking about whether or not there were any other Metro-accessible destinations where I might stop off while on my badge-updating errand, and while thinking in that vein I realized that the next day (today) was Wednesday, a.k.a. New Comics Day, and this month is September, a.k.a. The Month DC Comics Reboots Every Title They Publish With Brand New #1’s. And when a little googling revealed a comic book shop in Alexandria within three blocks of another Metro stop on the Yellow/Blue Line, I had myself a plan.

So I went and renewed my badge late this morning and that went without a hitch; then I got back on the Metro and onward to Alexandria and at about 11:25 found the comic shop … which didn’t open until noon. (Teh interwebs had told me they opened at 11. I hates it when teh interwebs are wrong.) So I grabbed some lunch. And then I hit the shop.

The place is a total hole in the wall, but still managed to be overstuffed with goodies that I probably could have spent a much longer time perusing if I hadn’t needed to hurry back to work. I was able to find a few #1’s that piqued my interest, including Green Lantern #1, which I’m sure comes as a tremendous shock. It is, I believe, Green Lantern volume 4 #1. Volume 3 #1 just came out about … six or seven years ago? And I bought that one on its release date, too. Just like I had bought #1 of the prelude-to-relaunch miniseries eight months before that. And like I had bought the first issue(s) featuring new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner back in 1994, which were somewhere around #50 of volume 2. I also picked up a copy of volume 2 #1 at a convention somewhere. Volume 1 #1 from 1960 is significantly rarer and of course before my time so that’s the exceptional GREEN LANTERN FIRST ISSUE!!! I don’t actually own (though of course I have acquired many reprints of it over the years).

Yes, I own the #0 issue, too.  Look, the 90's were CRAZY, man.
And really it's that strange, legacy completist instinct in me that compelled me today. I don’t expect the single monthly issue I bought today to rock my GL-loving world, and I kind of hate myself a little for showing implicit support for DC’s linewide reboot by going out and paying good money for examples thereof … but, eh, it was nine bucks and who knows how much longer they’ll even continue to print comic books on paper instead of digitally, and how many more times I’ll be able to go into a friendly local comic book shop and pick up the latest greatest saga-begins-anew installment just like I’ve been doing since I was ten. Oddly enough I seem to have two different yet equally cynical voices in my head trying to answer that one, one saying “probably not too many times before old media becomes dead media” and the other one saying “probably more times than you can count because the publishers are going to keep pulling this stunt over and over again like always”.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Farewell To The BooksMusicCafe

I’m not sure exactly how it came to pass that I became more of a Borders-person than a Barnes&Noble-person, but so it was for many years. It might be explained by something as simple as the fact that I spent huge chunks of my post-collegiate life within a shorter driving distance of a Borders than a B&N. (In fact, early in our cohabitation and pre-child marriage, my wife and I would frequently look forward to date nights that took place entirely within the confines of a strip mall that had both a Chipotle and a Borders and was only five minutes from our house.) A somewhat reverential pilgrimage to the original Borders in Ann Arbor a few years ago may have sealed the deal, too, but it was pretty far along by then already.

Whatever the root cause of my allegiance, it did mean that I was somewhat saddened when it was announced this year that Borders was going out of business and liquidating all of its remaining locations. Not terribly saddened, because times are tough all over and it’s hard to muster tons of sympathy for a corporate entity when flesh-and-blood human beings are also suffering economic calamities, and because I never had anything against B&N per se and it still exists (as does Amazon.com, as do small indie book stores, as does freaking Target which, incidentally, was the only place I could find a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book on release day after trying both the Borders five minutes from my house AND the B&N fifteen minutes in the opposite direction. So.) But somewhat saddened, a little bit.

And that amount of sentiment, of course, was not enough to trump my instinctive acquisitiveness which was aroused by the prospect of getting new books cheap. I kept thinking to myself that I needed to swing by the local Borders (not the old date-night Borders, obviously, as we’ve moved house since then) to scope out the going out of business sale, and I kept not getting around to it, because it’s way the heck out by the interstate. I used to drive more or less past it every day when I was commuting to and from the Metro on 66, but now that I take the VRE from Old Town I can go weeks or months without ever seeing that end of town.

Until last Friday, that is. You may or may not have noticed that I failed to blog last Friday, and as is often the case the underlying reason was that I was not in the office terribly long that day. As a very rainy week drew to a close, a week during which I found the VRE crowded to its SRO limits most evenings and slowed down due to flash-flood conditions besides, I heard on the radio as soon as I left the house that the VRE wouldn’t be running at all. So, I turned my car around and headed for the highway and the Metro. It was every bit as terrible as I remembered, but luckily no moreso. Once I got to work I told everyone I would be leaving early because I had to fight Friday traffic in the rain to get to my kids’ daycare on time. And then a funny thing happened: the rain really wasn’t that bad on Friday, and I did leave as early as I had planned but by the time I was westbound on the highway in the afternoon I was making extraordinarily good time. So I decided I could spare a few minutes to stop by Borders.

As always, not really mine, just a suitable image found online.
I half expected to get to the parking lot and see the building totally stripped inside and out, but as it turned out I hadn’t missed the liquidation sale entirely. 8 DAYS LEFTthe big signs in the window said (so it would be down to 4 as of today) which had me feeling pretty lucky to be cutting it so close.

Of course given how nigh the end in fact was, the interior was pretty picked over. They were already selling off shelving as fast as they could empty it of stock. The book sections were marked with hand-lettered signs (complete with misspellings, like a whole row of shelves labeled as “Bargin Books” YES SERIOUSLY) which clearly were re-made just about every day as they consolidated down to smaller and smaller sections. I cruised through the aisles pretty quickly, and a few books jumped out at me as mid-level titles on my Wish List which I couldn’t resist at 70% or 80% off; I ended up snagging five of them. (And just in case you are the kind of person who would be inclined to buy me presents by consulting my Wish List, never fear – I deleted those purchases from the Wish List as soon as I got home.)

I was, upon reflection, glad that I didn’t have time to dally longer (since I still needed to get clear across town to pick up the kids at what would end up being only slightly earlier than usual) because my tight schedule didn’t give me the luxury of hanging around sighing over how low Borders had fallen and how distressingly grim it looked in its final days. It also probably prevented me from snagging another ten or fifteen books, a double-sided bookshelf I would have no way of getting home and no room for at home, and a case of stainless steel coffee carafes. But I was glad I had made the trek over there, for no other reason than to say goodbye.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crazy cube-neighbors

I actually have a couple of work assignments to turn around this week, as opposed to my usual time-killing busywork, so I’m going to keep today’s check-in from the cubicle farm as brief as I can. But I have been meaning to talk a little bit about the neighbors. Who are kind of nuts.

I don’t want to get too specific about what other agencies share the same floor of this government office building because things like operational locations technically constitute security considerations which I am expected to observe and uphold (and, for what it’s worth, with which I happen to agree). But whatever the official mission statement or acronym of the group that occupies the opposite side of the suite, it has something to do with munitions. I know this because they leave them lying around.

OK, maybe not lying around, but standing up against the outside walls of cubicles, in the walkways, these lovely collections of shells and warheads that come up about waist-high and which I (if only to preserve my own sanity) am forced to assume are disarmed, defused or otherwise deactivated … probably?

That whole group, whoever they are, don’t just stop with rockets, either. They moved in after my agency did and immediately made their side of the floor look like they had bene there for years, with all the posters and prints and knickknacks and whatnot that they hung on the office walls and cubicle borders and suspended from the ceilings and so on. Their side of the office looks exceptionally cluttered, and by comparison my agency looks like transients who aren’t getting too comfortable in case we have to pick up and leave again soon.

Clutter isn’t necessarily indicative of a mental state one way or the other, but I can offer as additional evidence some goings-on in the shared floor kitchen. The kitchen is centralized for the entire suite’s use but only has one door and that door happens to face Missile Command. They may feel a bit of de facto ownership as a result. They certainly wasted no time setting up a huge coffee service in there, complete with excessive signage explaining that it was for a private coffee club to which one could subscribe and participate. (This is actually not that unusual in government offices where they’re too cheap to pay for coffee out of the operating budget, so that didn’t really faze me.) But then some other signs started appearing on the kitchen bulletin board.

You know those signs people make where, say, they want to sell a couch? So they fill up the upper ¾ of a sheet of paper with info about the couch, and then they repeat a phone number across the bottom ¼ with a vertical orientation, and then they cut lines between those phone numbers so anyone who wants to take the phone number for future reference can tear off a single strip and leave the rest? (I feel like I have to over-explain this because it clearly predates and seems impractical in the face of smart phones, Craigslist, and various other modern obsoletizers.) Anyway, one day someone put up a sheet like that in the kitchen, except the upper portion simply said “Free strips of paper – please help yourself” and the fringed bottom section was blank. I admit, that got a chuckle out of me the first time I noticed it. Then last week, someone put up a sequel. This time the main section said “Free chicken strips” and the bottom section had a clip art image of a hen repeated and pre-cut for easy tearing. Which normally I would classify as “delightfully bizarre” but if it came from the same folks who consider spent howitzer cartridges to be d├ęcor then I’m not sure how far the “delightful” part extends and how much is just plain “bizarre”.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let him eat cake ... or not, whatever

In the weeks leading up to his third birthday, the little guy was ultra-specific about what kind of cake he wanted – “a strawberry cake with Lightning McQueen” – and as the weeks shortned to days he also stipulated that blueberries should be included as well. My wife and I were nothing but gratified that our boy had made his wishes so abundantly clear, because they seemed reasonably attainable and we truly did want him to have a happy birthday. Originally the plan was to bake and decorate the cake on Saturday night so that it could simply be brought out at the appropriate time during the party on Sunday, but the evening ended up getting consumed in various other ways, not least in catching up with my mother who, after only recently relocating to the East Coast, was forced very suddenly to re-relocate. (She is now living with my Little Bro and it is a long story.) Oh and also we did not have the right size baking pan for a sheet cake made from the specifically purchased mix.

So here is a rough timeline of the cake’s overall existence:

Early Sunday morning – I ran out to the grocery store to buy a cake pan

Still Fairly Early Sunday morning – I returned home with the pan, my wife followed the red velvet cake mix directions and got the cake in the oven

Mid Sunday morning – my wife took to kids to the hotel where grandma and poppop were staying for some pool play, I got the cake out of the oven at the appropriate time and set it on a rack to cool

Late morning – my wife got home with the kids and we finished readying the house

Noon Sunday – the birthday party began with the arrival of grandparents, uncle and aunt and godparents

Early afternoon Sunday – my wife iced the cake with white vanilla frosting-in-a-can and decorated it with strawberries and blueberries, including both a border and a fruit-paved highway. She asked me to fetch the Lightning McQueen toys which would also festoon the cake. These toys were part of a boxed collector’s set of Cars we purchased quite a while ago because (a) it was on clearance at Target and (b) it contained the desired-by-little-guy but otherwise hard to find Chick Hicks and The King cars, which were used in due course as rewards to cajole good behavior out of said little guy. I ran downstairs to grab the box and spent several panic-stricken minutes searching in vain for the box amidst various other boxes in the closet to my dork room. Finally I abandoned the search because I was simultaneously supposed to be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on the kitchen deck. Upon returning to the grill I found the burgers a trifle well done and the hot dogs as charred as used firewood. I got the burgers off, started more hot dogs, and ran downstairs again. On the second try I spotted the box of Cars sitting in the corner of the main basement area, which explained why I couldn’t find it in the closet. I humped it back upstairs.

AAAHHHHHHHH!!!
Slightly later – the little guy enjoyed some of the second-batch hot dogs and some sliced berries left over after the cake decoration, while I began artfully arranging cars around and on top of the cake, including Lightning himself and one of his generic racing rivals balanced on top of skewer segments to keep their wheels out of the icing. The little guy noticed all these actual cool Cars toys going on the cake and wanted the cake RIGHT THAT SECOND and I had to convince him that it wasn’t quite ready and we needed to wait for everyone else to finish their lunch before we could bring out dessert. Somehow, he proved willing to wait a little longer

Slightly later still – with the addition and lighting of a “3” candle the cake was ready, the birthday boy was seated, and the pomp and ceremony of presenting dessert and singing Happy Birthday To You was underway. The little guy beamed from the center of attention, blew out the candle, and ran off with some of the cars. We cut the cake and offered it around, including to the little guy – who declined to try even a single bite. Of the cake made to order to his exact specifications.

Ever so slightly later still – I deemed the cake delicious after consuming a piece myself.

Some time Sunday afternoon after the opening of presents – the little guy said “I want one of those” and pointed to the special, egg-and-dairy-free cupcakes which his godparents had brought to the party because their own daughter has some food allergy issues. I obligingly grabbed one for him and partially unwrapped it and held it out. The little guy hoovered most of the frosting off the top, never bit into the cake, and wandered off to continue playing with his new toys

Sunday evening – after the little guy went to bed, I had some more of his red velvet and berries cake. Still delicious.

Monday (Labor Day) afternoon – more cake for me. Still none for the little guy.

Monday night – I finished the cake.

So, to recap:

TOTAL INVESTMENT IN PRODUCTION OF SPECFICALLY REQUESTED CAKE: one box of cake mix, one egg, one-third cup of milk, one canister of frosting, one pint of strawberries, one pint of blueberries, one brand-new cake pan, one package of immolated hot dogs (well, to be fair, maybe 5/8 a package as some people ate a couple of the less-crispy ones), a couple hours of time in shopping, baking and decorating (and looking for misplaced decorative toys), a few kilowatts of electricity to run the hand mixer and the oven, and theoretically a handful of months off my life due to eating approximately 9000 calories worth of refined sugar within 24 hours.

TOTAL SPECFICALLY REQUESTED CAKE EATEN BY THE LITTLE GUY: naught.

Ah, but it made him happy that it was simply part of the party, and that’s really all that matters.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Arrowville

So last week I cracked open the Smallville Season 6 DVD set and plowed through the first half-dozen episodes over the course of my commuting on Thursday and Friday. I’m now past the halfway point of the series, which is kind of odd – Smallville was the geek-show I was eternally way behind the curve on, but at this point they aren’t making any new episodes and I’m slowly but surely catching up, however belatedly. Rounding that corner from the first hundred or so episodes to the second hundred or so also coincides with a slight shift in the series itself.

Namely, in Season 6, Smallville kind of goes batshit insane.

And I am not using that term loosely! Smallville started out as a teen drama coming-of-age story about a young boy who had a friend his parents didn’t approve of and who pined for the girl next door, and who also happened to be an alien with rapidly developing godlike powers and who was forever stumbling across other people who had gained their own weird abilities from radioactive meteor fragments that arrived on Earth at the same time as the alien rocket carrying our hero – and of course those others inevitably used their abilities to hurt people and only our hero, raised by the two most decent human beings on earth, could reliably save the day. By the end of Season 5, our hero (Clark Kent, just in case I’m being too coy) had gained and lost the girl next door multiple times, his powers were pretty much completely developed, his dad had died, his mom had become a state senator, and his former best friend (Lex Luthor) got to go full-on supervillain when he was possessed by an alien conqueror. Where do you go from there?

You bring in Batman, of course.

At least, I imagine that was the initial idea: as close as Clark had come to embodying Superman on the show, it would make sense to introduce a counterpoint, a complimentary ally who is in some ways cut from the same cloth and in other ways his polar opposite. Superman and Batman have always been yin and yang to one another. The Smallville showrunners must have found the storytelling possibilities in their pairing irresistible.

Except, again I imagine, there were some insurmountable corporate roadblocks. With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight handling Batman’s character just fine for mass-media audiences, there was no way they were going to let Smallville get its histrionic hands on Bruce Wayne. The merest mention of Gotham City had to have been a non-starter. But still! How great would it be to give Clark an ally in the fight against evil! But an ally with no superpowers at all, only highly developed skills and sheer determination! Someone rich, to contrast with Clark’s humble farmboy background! Someone dark, to offset Clark’s inherent goodness and light! And preferably someone who already exists in DC Comics’ immense seven-decade stable of characters, but just isn’t Batman!

So they wrote Green Arrow into the show.

Like a modern-day Robin Hood!  Exactly like that, actually.
Which actually is somewhat clever, because Green Arrow really does easily slot into all the categories I listed above. As written in the comics, Oliver Queen was a wealthy industrialist who ended up shipwrecked on a deserted island. He was eventually rescued but would have starved to death if he hadn’t taught himself to hunt with a bow and arrow. Once he was back in civilization after that experience he wanted more out of life and combined his newfound archery skills with a desire to make the world a better place and became a superhero. Skilled, detemined human – check; rich – check; dark – sounds goofy but trust me, check.

Of course I’m explaining all this because the one downside to using Green Arrow as opposed to Batman is that people know who Batman is and more or less what he’s all about. Green Arrow’s a bit closer to the bottom of the barrel (two-thirds of a stave down, I’d say, and that’s me speaking as a big old comics geek). So Smallville finds itself forced to do a lot of exposition work in order to set up the Superman/substitute-Batman dynamic with Green Arrow. And for six episodes (and counting, from my perspective) it kind of becomes Green Arrow’s show. They not only sketch out the basics of his origin and gimmicks but also create new elements to tie him into the Smallville mythology: he went to an elite private school with Lex Luthor, he immediately becomes romantically interested in Lois Lane upon meeting her (as did Aquaman in Season 5, funny enough), &c.

And, inevitably, they make a couple of missteps along the way, above and beyond the trivial little things that have to be changed to fit the parameters of Smallville’s own ramshackle internal consistency. Early on, discussing Green Arrow’s recent campaign to steal black market art treasures from shady plutocrats, Clark asks Oliver if the ends justify the means, and Oliver says “Absolutely” and Clark says “I could never believe that.” I get what they were trying to do there, showing Superman as the ultimate idealist who never compromises (because he can afford not to – he’s invulnerable) and Green Arrow as the pragmatist who bends the rules (because he’s only a man doing the best he can) but it’s Ollie’s answer that screws up the whole intent. He should have said “Sometimes” because that is the whole point. Clark/Superman is rigidly idealistic which is often all to the good but sometimes can cause him problems. Ollie/GA is more real-world flexible (like a bow – see, in some ways he’s a better counterpoint than Batman!) but that’s supposed to mean that he’s nuanced and able to judge different situations in different ways. Having Ollie proclaim that the ends always justify the means makes him just as limited and bull-headed as Clark saying they never do. The opposite of extremism is moderation, not extremism in the other direction.

But, then again, a character who can put things in terms of absolutes comes across with a bit more bad-ass of a vibe than a character who refuses to oversimplify, and Rao knows Smallville is all about family-friendly bad-assery (when it’s not all about plot contrivances that cause the young female leads to take off family-friendly amounts of their clothes) so maybe I should give the writers the benefit of the doubt. I’m essentially committed to another 104 episodes or so, anyway.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Idle competition

Yesterday was a federal holiday and also a day of rest much needed in our household. The little guy’s third birthday on Sunday was by and large a happy and successful event, upon which I will expand a bit more on Thursday (as is my wont), but for all that, it still required some physical preparation and mental girding which left both me and my wife feeling drained come Monday. Fortunately we had at least had the foresight to keep Monday free of plans so that we could remain relatively inactive for the duration.

As luck would have it there was an Orioles/Yankees day game scheduled for yesterday afternoon. It was a rare Monday which both my wife and I had off from work, so we were both theoretically free to watch it, and it also as previously noted was to take place on a day when our energies would be at low ebb, and thus the usual inflamed passions of our professional sports fandom rivalry would not flare up too hotly or brightly. My wife nonetheless tried to get a little bit of a rise out of me first thing in the morning by dressing our daughter in an official O’s onesie of brightest Baltimore orange, but my primary reaction to that sight was “awww, she looks cute.” Then the game started and quickly turned into a showcase of offenses and embarrassment to both pitching staffs. My wife fell asleep in the early innings and took a well-deserved nap. I alternated between watching the game and puttering around the house (mostly cleaning up and doing laundry) but at least sat down to see the Yankees end the game on the winning side, 11 – 10, by barely staving off a ninth inning rally. The post-game repercussions under our roof were minimal.

So as we officially head into the post-Labor Day homestretch of the major league baseball season and are very nearly only two days away from the kickoff of the next NFL campaign, things at the moment are on a fairly even keel. Of course the Yanks and O’s have to play each other again tonight and tomorrow and the day after, so there might be some late-developing bitterness (and it could very well come from either side of the Great AL East Divide). For now, though, peace is at hand.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Random Friday Observation

Here is a thing, which exists in the nominally real world:

5 Hour Energy Decaf.

Seriously?
5 Hour Energy DECAF.

If I stop and think about it I suppose there are people who have adverse reactions to caffeine but no problem with herbal energy boosters, and maybe also people who believe they've built up an immunity to caffeine, or conversely believe that if they consume caffeine after 6 p.m. they will not sleep for three days, and really for them it might just be a psychological placebo effect where 5 Hour Energy Decaf makes them feel more alert and that's all that matters, but still ... it's a startling indicator of just how specific a level our consumer culture drills down to.

I do have to say that I love how the regular 5 Hour Energy bottles have this very aggressive black and red color palette that evokes staying up all night partying (or possibly a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the weak are killed and eaten) but the Decaf version is all blue skies and green rolling hills because, you know, taurine and Citicoline are healthy joyous little body-helpers compared to icky old caffeine. Or something.

Personally, I’m just waiting for the inevitable 24-hour energy boost micro-beverage, that chemically allows the human body to forgo sleep entirely with regular consumption. Side-effects may include hallucinations up to and including vision quests led by anthropomorphic 1950’s-era household appliances, but your productivity will be the tops!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The spirit of gifting

The little guy has recently decided that one of his favorite things to do is to climb up onto the couch while either his mother or myself (or both) is seated thereupon, squeeze himself behind our backs (sometimes going so far as to bury himself between the cushions and the frame) and then loudly demand that we talk about how we don’t know where he is. So my wife and I wonder aloud where oh where he may have gone, and then after a few seconds he jumps out, laughing his fool head off.

Most kids love this game so I wasn’t surprised that he took to it with such gusto. My wife and I now like to come up with elaborate theories of his disappearance every time and banter them back and forth. This past weekend during one such exchange I suggested that maybe he had gone to “the dirt mall” which is what we call the local shopping center when we are feeling snarky (which of course is the vast majority of the time).

I had been assuming that the little guy was never really listening to his mother and me as we discussed his presumed-missing whereabouts, and that he was only counting down in his head until the right moment to “surprise” us, but on the occasion in question he emerged from behind my wife with no squeals at all and said, very seriously, “I want to go to the dirt mall.”

I laughed a little and said we did have some errands to run later in the day but not there. And I asked him why he would even say that, what was at the dirt mall that he wanted to see?

With even more solemnity, as if explaining to me something fundamental that he couldn’t quite believe I had forgotten, he said, “SANTA.”

Rock on.
That kind of blew my mind about three different ways, because yes we took him to the dirt mall to see Santa but that was eight and a half months ago, or about a quarter of his lifetime. Apparently the Main Man from the North Pole made quite an impression on the little guy (as did the phrase “dirt mall”, I guess?) and he is totally ready for his fourth Christmas even before we get to his third birthday.

But said birthday is just around the corner, this coming Sunday in fact, and we’re all looking forward to it. I do have to admit, though, that in the past week or so I’ve been looking around the corner of the house that includes the front living room and extends significantly into part of the dining room on one axis and a scrap of the foyer along another, all of which is basically given over to the little guys various playsets and toys, and I’ve been wondering how much more loot is going to accumulate between the birthday and Christmas to add to that overall mass. I’m fine with kids getting loot a-plenty, honestly, I just find myself contemplating which toys I might reasonably rotate out of the playzone without unleashing the three-year-old fury. I haven’t really reached any decision on that yet. It might be easier just to put one of the couches in storage.