Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Do you know what a duvet is?" (Fight Club)

The first rule of Fight Club (the movie) is You Should See Fight Club.

The second rule of Fight Club (the movie) is You Should See Fight Club Again.

Obligatory “Rules of Fight Club” references aside, I’m being completely serious and not entirely motivated by fanatical appreciation of the 1001 Movies Blog Club weekly selection in question. Fight Club is one of those movies which packs a serious punch (ha ha) into the viewing experience partly (but not entirely) because of a major twist at the beginning of the third act. And oddly enough it’s one that I almost never hear people going around making jokes about, the way they do about, say, The Sixth Sense (which came out the same year as Fight Club) or The Crying Game (which came out just seven years earlier). I’m not going to get into spoilers about it here, either; if you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you haven’t seen it, well, I refer you to the rules enumerated above.

The way I remember it, my Little Bro saw Fight Club in the theater and almost immediately thereafter was exhorting me to see it as well. And somehow we ended up seeing it in the theater together, when one of us visited the other. So that was his second viewing, which he enjoyed every bit as much as the first, and afterwards we talked about how the whole movie was put together and how it had made my Little Bro want to re-watch it almost immediately the first time. I don’t think I saw it a second time in the theater, but it was one of the first movies I ever bought on DVD when I got my first DVD player (which was like five years later, but still). I’ve seen it multiple times since, and I have nudged people in real life to see it, going so far as to lend them my copy, and when they give it back I always say, “Let me know if you want to borrow it and watch it again some time. You really should.” So these rules of mine pre-date this blog. Just sayin’.

Most good movies reward multiple viewings, because those returns to the material allow you to pick up on little nuances and details you might have missed the first time around, to appreciate the work as a whole from end-to-end. That’s true of Fight Club as well, but much more overtly. The act three twist is something which could easily call into question the internal logic and cohesion of everything that comes before it, but if you watch the film a second time you’ll see that it all still works. The movie emphatically does not cheat; despite (or maybe because of) essentially being told from the point of view of one of the most unreliable narrators in all of western literature, everything that is shown on screen before the twist still makes sense if you know the twist is coming. Not only that, but the twist is foreshadowed pretty heavily in quite a few spots, which will jump out and grab you by the throat when you re-watch the movie. There are moments of pure poetry throughout Fight Club, particularly in the combinations of Fincher’s stylish visuals and Norton’s slightly disconnected interior monologue voiceovers. At least, they seem disconnected the first time through, and then on the second viewing it’s crystal clear that he’s telegraphing the twist. Without the context of the final act, it all seems dreamlike and deliberately disorienting; with the context in mind, it’s obvious, like hearing a riddle you already know the answer to.

Plus (and this doesn’t really constitute a spoiler) if you pay close attention, there’s a moment in the first act where a “cigarette burn” appears in the frame, well before Norton introduces the subject and Brad Pitt explains what they are. You might not even notice it the first time you watch Fight Club (after all, you’re not necessarily supposed to notice them) or you might notice it and forget about it, or only see it subconsciously. Then on second viewing you can’t help but notice it, and wonder about how you processed it (or failed to) the first time, which brings to mind all kinds of subtext Fincher is providing about how what we’re watching is an artificially constructed narrative, and also about conscious and subconscious perception, and media in general, and so on and so on. Which is pretty cool.

The arguments against Fight Club as a worthwhile piece of art are understandable and somewhat valid, and I don’t know that I can counter them. It may be superficially slick but ultimately soulless. Fincher makes it all look amazing and Norton and Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter all act the hell out of their parts and each cover an impressive amount of emotional terrain from hilarious to terrifying. But to the extent that the movie advocates anything, it’s brutally bleak, and if it’s not trying to glorify and advance an arguably dangerous and self-destructive worldview, then it’s a satire that wallows in what it’s looking down on. Fight Club is unquestionably a guy’s movie (although my wife enjoyed it when I inflicted it on her while we were dating) and can fairly easily be ridiculed as a howl of pain and a cry for help coming from the heart of a segment of society that has no basis to complain and no rightful expectation for sympathy: privileged white males at the turn of the 21st century. Yeah, that’s a tough criticism to dodge, unless I fall back on one of my trusty old standards, that movies have value as time capsules, and just look at what life was like in America two years before 9/11, look how easy we had it, that anyone would even think to complain that modern urban life didn’t involve sufficient challenges to produce sufficiently manly men. That happened, and Fight Club was born out of that, absurd and infantile as it all may seem now.

But, all of the above notwithstanding, I unashamedly love Fight Club. It’s a well-oiled entertainment machine that totally works for me. There have been other film assignments for the 1001 Movies Blog Club which I had already seen, but this is the first time I felt both sufficiently familiar with the flick (despite not having seen it in a while at this point) and sufficiently opinionated about it to weigh in. And now of course I’m really craving yet another repeat viewing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The class not taken (The Big Nowhere)

Earlier this year, I ran across a treasure online: a syllabus. It’s for English 102 - Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction, from the fall 1994 semester at Illinois State University. That would have been my junior year of college, and by that point I was way too far along in my English major (and my efforts to graduate in four years with the exact minimum number of credit hours required for my B.A.) to be taking intro level classes. In fact, in keeping with my essential English-majorness, A.P. English was one of the only two A.P classes I took in high school, which placed me out of intro level composition classes altogether (although I still took one my freshman year because the subject matter interested me). Nevertheless, had I been enrolled at ISU, I might have been very tempted to take ENG102, as well.

Did I mention the professor for the class was David Foster Wallace?

I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually know who David Foster Wallace was back in 1994, unless I heard someone else mention him in passing. In hindsight, as someone who’s now an unapologetically devoted fan of Wallace’s work as well as a nursemaid to disappointment that I’ll never meet the man face-to-face (not that I realistically ever would have even if he hadn’t ended his own life at 46), it’s easy enough to stake a retroactive claim to one of the seats in the classroom where English 102 met. If there’s a shred of evidence I can use to back up the assertion that I (meaning the spring-of-94 me, scheduling my upcoming fall semester) might have tried to sign up for the course, it’s once again the subject matter of the syllabus. In my actual freshman year, it was fairy tales and folklore. In my hypothetical alternate universe junior year at Illinois State, it was popular commercial fiction.

If you haven’t clicked on the link above yet, I will give you the basics: Wallace assigned eight novels via his syllabus, and not only are they almost exclusively from the latter half of the twentieth century (with the borderline exception of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) but they are page-turners and pot-boilers, not canonized serious-works-of-art. (Unless you count the Pulitzer Prize as a canonization of art, in which case, Lonesome Dove is on the list to check that box.) I love mainstream books best enjoyed as paperbacks, and I love discussing pop culture, so clearly this syllabus is right up my alley. Plus, in keeping with my general amiable laziness, in 1994 I would have already read at least a third of the assignments. In addition to C.S. Lewis (whom I read in fifth grade), Wallace included Stephen King’s Carrie and Thomas Harris’s Silence of the lambs, both of which I devoured in high school.

Wallace implies in his syllabus notes (and the author of the Open Culture article about the syllabus points out, as well) that it’s actually harder to perform critical analysis on popular commercial fiction, because of the tightly symbiotic relationship between serious art and critical analysis. Serious artists attempt to illuminate human existence, personal morality and the shortcomings of society, and therefore analyzing their work is a matter of determining a given author’s specific takes on those broad themes. Writers of best-sellers just want to tell a gripping story and could care less if they end up with any Christian symbolism or political philosophy embedded therein, but nonetheless its unfairly dismissive to simply call it trash with no redeeming value. All stories have ideas in them, even if those ideas aren’t always the ones officially sanctioned as significant and worthy. Deprived of the standard toolbox of tips and tricks for writing a college English paper, I reckon it would be interesting to perform the analysis on some unlikely candidates. (Yes, well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?)

Anyway, as soon as I saw the syllabus article the notions of pop novels and academic pursuits were immediately incorporated into my nascent plans for SUMMER SCHOOL, and I figured I might as well add to my reading list the few books that I hadn’t previously engaged with. James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere was one, Jackie Collins’s Rock Star was another, and I figured Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove could be the third, time permitting. (It may not, since August is just the day after tomorrow already, but I’ve been noticing lately a striking preponderance of cowboy entertainments in front of my eyes and in my thoughts, and I’m going to have to spend some time breaking that all down here sooner or later, so I’m sure Lonesome Dove will get its turn one way or another.)

Right, so I read The Big Nowhere, and after all that set-up are you ready for a five-page, double-spaced essay examination of the recurring motif of double identities? Just kidding. It was an interesting experience reading Ellroy (who really is quite good) and at the same time trying to imagine how DFW would read Ellroy (because their styles really could not be more different), but it became much more dark and bitter (spoilers a’comin’) once I got to Danny Upshaw’s suicide, which doesn’t so much directly echo Wallace’s own in the circumstances of the act itself (Upshaw kills himself in a moment of profound panic as his life is on the brink of suddenly and violently unraveling, whereas Wallace presumably thought things through for a long time as he struggled with side-effects from antidepressants and then loss of effectiveness of antidepressants) but does call both to mind. The passage immediately leading up to Upshaw’s self-destruction is more freewheeling and stream-of-consciousness than most of the rest of The Big Nowhere, which of course gives it the approximate feel of any number of moments from Infinite Jest. And ultimately, the root cause of Upshaw’s desperate surrender is his homosexuality, which is anathema to his chosen profession as a Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy in 1950, a dilemma with which he has struggled all his life. As tragic as it is, Upshaw’s suicide almost seems like an inescapable outcome of his constant suffering. I think that conclusion could apply to Wallace as well.

I mentioned that The Big Nowhere was demanding and challenging, by which of course I mean it’s fairly dark and depressing (in almost every facet of the story, not just Upshaw’s cut-short thread through the plot) but I’m glad I took it on and I’d put it forward as worth a look for anyone, even if it isn’t assigned reading.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Un-super slo-mo

As last week was drawing to a close, I was perturbed to note that certain factors out of my control seemed to be getting worse and worse. I had gotten to the point where I only had one year’s worth of files to copy, a single directory, so I started the process and let it run. It was not running terribly fast, but that was about what I expected. I have never shied away from confessing that I am not really a network guy, nor am I fully initiated in the higher sysadmin mysteries, so I don’t really know with exact certitude what factors dictate or influence how quickly data can move from point A to point B. I know that there are physical limits to the carrying capacity of the network connections, and I know the overall traffic has to be managed somehow and there must be pre-programmed rules that determine which actions get bandwidth priority and so on … it’s possible that the network resources are capable of automatically evaluating the size of a job as requested and can shunt the job into the slowlane based on enormity, leaving lots of high-speed capacity for smaller jobs which shouldn’t have to wait behind the big slow behemoth. I can appreciate the wisdom of that kind of procedural resource management. My jobs can run overnight, it’s all the same to me as long as it gets done.

So at its pokey little rate of transfer my final copy job ran all day Thursday and I left it to run overnight. It got a little further, but not as much further as I had hoped, and I noticed on Friday morning that the transfer rate was even slower than it had been when the job started. And as the last workday of the week elapsed the rate continued to fall, so the job had not yet completed when I left. But surely everything would finish up over the weekend, right?

Well, not if my task was locked into some kind of hellish inverse Zeno’s paradox of data transmission, where the first half of the batch of files transfers at 1 MB/sec, and then the first half of what’s left transfers at 100 KB/sec and takes ten times longer, and then the first half of that remainder transfers at 10 KB/sec and takes an order of magnitude longer, and so on and so on until my workstation actually begins approaching the heat death of the universe.


The tortoise may in fact be moving backwards in time at this point.

And something like that did in fact seem to be the case this morning when I arrived to find that the task was still far from done and was crawling along at some laughable pace measured in bytes per second. BYTES. I have gigs of data (lemme do the math for you, = literally billions of bytes) to move and it is ambling along the cables and over the routers like it has nowhere particular to go and all day and then some to get there.

This too shall pass, this too shall pass. If the network is going to keep slowing my job down the longer it takes, which is only going to make the job take longer, in a vicious feedback loop, then I will find a way to work around that, break the job up, trick the network into letting me at least use the slow lane instead of pushing me into the ditch on the side of the road. But man oh man. I’ve been saying that when this project is over I can finally a take a day of paid time off and catch up on some non-work responsibilities I’ve been neglecting, but at this point I think I may have to take a day or two to just drink heavily, sleep it off and blot out all memories of the experience.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some thoughts about steering into skids

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but there’s been a lot of bad news going around lately, in the “prominent far-reaching matters affecting large numbers of people” sense of “news”. And hey, if you honestly hadn’t noticed, I’m not judging you for it! To a certain extent we all get media jammed into our eyeballs round-the-clock and it takes a conscious effort to avoid the news, but if you have made that conscious effort successfully, good for you (though you might want to skip this post, and I’ll see you tomorrow). I’d characterize myself as somewhere between completely passive recipient and avid news junkie, though I hasten to add that such characterization applies only to national/international news. My wife and I are in complete agreement that the local news is THE WORST and we avoid it assiduously.

(The commercial above combines two of my favorite things: reminding people that local “everything is trying to kill you” news is THE WORST, and grown men shrieking like little girls. It’s also far and away the best of all the commercials for Hopper, because the only speaking voice you hear is the no-regional-dialect of the local newscaster, and none of the recurring characters say a word in their awful Southie accents. I will never ever get a Hopper, nor ever buy any product, advertised via South Boston accent. Anyway.)

But yeah, bad times in the news. The train crash in Spain. The Zimmerman verdict. Detroit’s bankruptcy. No shortage of reasons to think a little less of humanity, and its prospects. And I can’t really say anything that magically makes all of that better, but I can maybe offer a tiny salt-grain sized bit of perspective. And to do that, I will look to the oeuvre of John Carpenter, specifically Escape From New York.

Somehow I’ve been doing this blog thing for close to four years and I’ve only mentioned Escape From New York in passing. That can at least partially be chalked up to the fact that it is decidedly not one of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, nor is it a particularly glaring omission. I like it, and anyone whom I knew had roughly similar taste in movies as me who hadn’t seen it would certainly get an “Oh, you really should watch it some time” recommendation. But it’s pretty dated, and it’s a little cheap and cheesy and a little rough around the edges in almost every facet. Its main worth as a cultural artifact is in the premise, not the specific beats of the narrative, so to sit through the running time requires a certain amount of either cultish love or ironically distanced appreciation.

Which is fine, because it’s the premise that’s on my mind at the moment. Not even the inciting incident of the plot, which is that Air Force One crashes somewhere insanely dangerous and the President of the United States must be rescued. The premise is the world itself, a dystopian future (1997, ha ha ha) where the insanely dangerous place could exist in the first place, namely the walled off derelict ruins of New York City, which has become America’s foremost maximum security prison.

Dystopian fiction, far more often than not, expresses something about the society that produces it in the moment in history when it was produced. It exaggerates current problems, amplifying them but still allowing them to be recognizable to the audience. Escape From New York was made in 1981, and as far-fetched as its premise seems to be today, back then it was reasonably grounded, by which I mean it was an exaggeration of some real, resonant problems society was grappling with. I was six when Escape From New York came out, and back then I didn’t watch the local news or the national news (or much of anything besides cartoons) and I didn’t actually see the movie until a few years ago, anyway. So none of this comes from my memory, but only what I’ve learned along the way. But two big things are reflected in this dystopian premise:

1. In the late 70’s and early 80’s in the U.S., the crime rate was rising at an alarming rate. Some prefatory text in the flick says that in 1988 alone crime spiked 400%, which precipitated the max prison on Manhattan Island as a national need. That didn’t end up happening in the real world, but the concern was legit.

2. Also in the late 70’s and early 80’s, New York City was in terrible shape and only seemed to be getting worse. A lot of people who had the option of leaving were doing so, and “bad elements” were filling in.

In other words, the world in which Escape From New York was set seemed like a plausible tomorrow. New York abandoned? Already happening. New York ruled by violent gangs? On its way like the A train. Need for a penitentiary that can hold 8 million inmates? Highly likely. Forget plausible, from the viewpoint of 1981 it seemed downright probable. Give the last few law-abiding stragglers a chance to clear out, blow up the bridges and fill in the tunnels, and start airlifting in criminals with life sentences to do as they please under the watch of helicopter gunships? Sure, why not? Sometimes you just gotta steer into the skid, amirite?


Seriously?

Except, obviously enough in hindsight, that didn’t happen. 1997 is now exactly as far in our past as it was in John Carpenter’s future, and although I haven’t been to NYC in a couple years I am given to understand that people may still come and go freely. Actually the city is thriving, and has been for a while, to the point that no one doubted that it could bounce back from a terrorist attack. Nationwide, crime rates have at least stabilized, and in some cases fallen (in other cases, gone up); feel free to slap a [citation needed] on that if you must but we can all agree that crime rates are no longer rocketing ever upward exponentially.

I may not know exactly what factor or combinations of factors turned around New York City’s fates or why crime lost its terrifying momentum (Freakonomics has some interesting theories on the latter, at least) but that’s beside the point. The point is simply that those things happened. Just to be clear, I’ll say it again: I was six when Escape From New York came out. Its premise has gone from “yeah, something like that probably will end up happening” to “wow, that is insane” within my lifetime. And I’m not that old! (he protests too much)

Deep down in my heart of hearts, I reject the notion that human beings are inherently self-destructive. Good times come and go, bad times come and go. When things get superlatively bad, people put in the good faith effort to fix things. And in the grand scheme of things, the amount of time needed to back away from the abyss and get to a better place can be remarkably short. I don’t mean to be glib, I know that three decades of suffering poverty or injustice is nothing to take lightly, and I also know that not every problem this country had to contend with in 1981 has already been dispatched. But we have taken positive steps in the right direction on a lot of them, and we have no shortage of reminders of times when it was taken for granted that those same problems were inescapable. The value of those reminders lies in realizing the can’t-be-fixed attitude is almost always wrong.

So, there’s been a glut of bad news lately. Sometimes that happens, but all is not lost. It never is. It’s human nature to fear that it is in fact the end of the road, that we might as well pack it in, call it a day, say we had a good run. But there’s no excuse for holding onto that fear as if it’s reality. Things can get better. They have in the past, and the recent past at that, and they surely will again.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wherever they lay their heads

As I was explaining to my Little Bro recently, our baby is a little over four months old now and that puts him directly in a gray-zone developmentally, specifically as it pertains to his evolving sleep habits. He’s no longer a newborn (we no longer refer to his age in weeks) and thus he no longer needs to wake up every two to three hours to feed. But he’s also not quite old enough to be consigned to a crib wherein he must cry it out until morning and thereby learn to settle himself and sleep through the night; that approach is not APA-recommended for babies under six months of age. So he still sleeps in a little sidecar bassinet next to my wife’s side of the bed, and sometimes he wakes up twice in the course of the night, and sometimes only once. Sometimes he is legitimately hungry; sometimes he just wants to be held. Sometimes the first wakening comes in the are-you-kidding-me-we-just-fell-asleep window (approximately ten to midnight), and that’s not so good. Sometimes it doesn’t come until 4-something in the morning, which thanks to the weird perspective-warping of parenthood is so good, the closest we’re going to get to a through-the-night snooze at this point.

We took a shot at laying the baby to sleep in his crib (which used to be his sister’s crib, and is still in her room, with her in the toddler bed in the opposite corner) early this week, but it was a complete no-go. The baby woke up the moment he hit the crib mattress and was not particularly happy about it. He sometimes naps in the crib, so it’s not like the strange and unfamiliar surroundings threw him off. But then again, it was very dark in the room because the little girl had gone to bed hours before, well before the baby got his nightly bath and final nursing and whatnot, so maybe that was the difference-maker. We’ve never had kids share a room before, so when the other two were just a few months old they always had quarters to themselves where we could shut the door and muffle any wailing required by the adjustment process. But the plan is for the two youngest to be roomies for a while, which means we have to time the implementation to make sure baby isn’t waking up two-year-old. And clearly we’re still figuring out how to do that.

The little girl, for her part, doesn’t really have any problems sleeping through the night (again, assuming there isn’t a howling baby eight feet away from her) but she is developing a serious aversion to going to bed in the first place. As with just about everything consternation-causing she does these days, I chalk this up to her being two. (My wife worries that it’s all due to her acting out about being the middle child, but I sincerely hope that I’m right, if only because one doesn’t grow out of one’s birth order.) So bedtime has become a tiny bit more harrowing, with the one saving grace being that the little girl has not quite figured out that she could make things a lot harder on us. It’s hard to wrestle her into pajamas, and it’s heart-breaking to turn my back on her and turn out the light and close the door as I leave when she’s sobbing hysterically and incoherently, but as difficult as all that is it only lasts for a matter of minutes before she throws herself across her bed, sucks her thumb miserably and drifts off to sleep. It’s not as pleasant as tucking her in and kissing her forehead and whispering “I love you” and having the sentiments returned, but it could be worse if the little girl ever figured out that she could riotously protest bedtime by, you know, actually leaving her room. Her older brother twigged to that trick early and employed it often, but so far it hasn’t dawned on her. She also waits, wide awake, in the mornings, never leaving the confines of her toddler bed (let alone her room) until a parent comes in and gets her. I’m crossing my fingers that this pattern holds a while longer.

And just to round out the sleep study report, the little guy sleeps like a champ, which if nothing else encourages my belief that if you (the parent) hang in there and enforce the bedtime protocols on a consistent basis for several years, they will be ingrained in the child and no longer challenged or even questioned. Patterns can be formed, and eventually patterns stick. Anyway, lately the little guy has been talking a lot about sleepovers. Last fall he and his sister had a sleepover at their grandparents’ house, which allowed my wife and I to swing by our college Homecoming for an evening. He’s been talking about wanting to do that again, and also about maybe sleeping over at the house of a friend who lives on our street. I’m all for it, I think that would be tons of fun for both our little guy and his friend, and my wife is gradually warming to the idea after the initial panicky gut surety that she would never be able to fall asleep herself if all her children weren’t under the same roof with her.

In fairness, I don’t think this recent interest in sleepovers is any indication that our firstborn is ready to spread his fledgling wings and fly. A few nights ago it was particularly hot in the upstairs of our house and we suggested to the little guy that he sleep in just a pair of underwear, and the ones he chose were dark blue with orange basketballs, which brought the University of Virginia to mind and my wife speculated aloud that maybe the little guy would go to UVA someday. The little guy thought about this for a moment and asked, “Is A-V-A close by?” and we said not really and he informed us that he wants to go to whatever college is closest to our house. Obviously many, many countless changes are in store between ages five and seventeen (or sixteen? whenever the college selection process will be underway?) but it’s still sweet that right now our boy just can’t see himself leaving home (or us) for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Buster Move (The General)

As alluded to yesterday, I recently did some make-up work in my movie-watching (SUMMER SCHOOL, ROARING 20’S MONTH, blah blah blah). Somehow back in February I dug through various offerings from a little less than a century ago but managed to neglect the legendary Buster Keaton. I have now corrected that oversight via his Civil War locomotive epic, The General.

It takes something special for a silent movie to appeal to me, because I tend to place such a high value on characterization via dialogue. And that goes double for comedy, where I bring to bear certain expectations for wordplay and witty repartee and whatnot. My earlier samplings (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, The Passion of Joan of Arc) encompassed impressive spectacle that ranged from surreal to strange to somber, and I appreciated how each one told their story visually. But I admit I was somewhat dubious of The General going in, since I assumed I knew the kind of slapstick style it would employ.

I was right and wrong, and wrong in a couple of different ways. Possibly more than a couple. The General is considered one of the best silent movies ever made, was inducted into the National Film Registry the very first year the Registry existed, was one of Roger Ebert’s all-time favorite movies, and the accolades go on and on. And it’s all for very good reason. It’s a comedy in which essentially all of the humor is physical, but it’s never the kind of dumbshow clowning that makes me shake my head and conclude that way back in the day the public didn’t have a very sophisticated sense of humor. It’s smart slapstick with astonishingly precise execution, especially considering that the vast majority of it involves not banana peels and cream pies but steam engines in motion, railroad ties, water towers and collapsing bridges. And obviously all of it was performed in a real-world way (mostly by Keaton himself) and simply captured in long, unedited and unaltered takes.

But, as everyone knows, Keaton’s real gift was his facial expressions, which could sell any gag. He might be known as the Great Stone Face but I think that's unfair; he certainly doesn't do any pantomime mugging for the camera but his expression is constantly shifting, in subtle but meaningfully nuanced ways. Keaton’s reaction shots are absolutely priceless, and as much as I’m a proponent of bringing a character to life with their distinctive voice, through what they say and how they say it, Keaton is more than up to the task of animating a fully-rendered, sympathetic and memorable Johnnie Gray with the set of his mouth and the blinking of his eyes. There’s never any doubt what Keaton is thinking, what he’s communicating to the audience in response to each increasingly ludicrous development of the train-chasing, love-interest-rescuing plot.

So, with the one-two punch of funny stunt setpieces and Keaton’s exaggerated but utterly human processing of them, I laughed a lot while watching The General. Not screaming, losing-my-breath laughter, but genuine amusement nonetheless. And considering how many layers of artificiality had to be penetrated - the film is black and white, silent, made in a different era, set in an era even more distant - in order for me to be drawn into the story and open to its humor, even a half-chuckle of amusement would have been a triumph. I feel like I’ve said this before about other movies, but it absolutely bears repeating no matter what: The General is not merely “good for a silent movie” or “good for how old and primitive it is” but just simply good on its own merits stacked up against anything else. I would unequivocally put it at the top of my list of movies to show someone who was skeptical as to how movies ever managed to entertain people before they had sound and color. And hopefully, like me, this hypothetical first-time viewer of The General would be pleasantly surprised to have their unfounded doubts put to rest.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mid-summer summary

I was talking last week about something of a lull in my pop culture consumption, but I have to admit that was not an entirely accurate characterization of what I’ve been up to. If anything, I’ve been gorging myself on books and movies which all fall under the SUMMER SCHOOL heading, throwing myself into that theme with reckless abandon. What I’ve been struggling with is focusing and finishing. So today I just wanted to give a brief overview of what I’ve been amusing myself with, and maybe some explanations as to why none of it has qualified as post-worthy material so far.

MOVIES: A few weeks ago I watched Looper, the Rian Johnson sci-fi time travel flick with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same character at different ages. Not exactly a summer movie (it was released in late September last year) but close enough! I had been meaning to see it for a while, and one thing that really tipped me in that direction was my father mentioning that he had seen it recently and found it moderately mind-blowing and wanted to talk to me about it. I promised him I would move it up in my Netflix queue and watch it soon. And I liked it well enough, but my mind remained unblown, so what I really wanted to do was close the loop (pun!) with my dad and talk the flick over with him and then post about what insight (if any) that conversation might yield. So the stumbling block here clearly is that I am a terrible son and I haven’t called my dad yet. When I do, assuming I remember to bring up the flick, I will report back.

I also did some make-up work for ROARING 20’S MONTH, which coincides with the 1001 Movies Blog Club, and I will actually be featuring that review tomorrow, better late than never.

TV: I’ve been working my way through Smallville; I can’t recall the extent to which I ever specifically addressed it around here, but my goal really is to get all the way through the last episode of the final season by the end of 2013. In theory this would have meant finishing up Season 9 in the first six months of the year and Season 10 in the latter six months. Here we are in late July and I have a handful of Season 9 episodes to go, so I’m once again in make-up work territory. As far as the show itself, it continues to be what it has always been, silly and mildly exploitative in a way I find irrationally endearing, nothing I haven’t said before, nothing new to hang a ruminative thoughtpiece on. Ditto for Supernatural, which I’ve gotten as far as the opening salvos of Season 3 on. Fun summer-light stuff to watch, but not fun enough to blog about.


Just a couple mellow dudes, havin' a couple brews

BOOKS: A couple weeks ago I started reading Damn Yankees, a collection of essays about my beloved baseball team, which was a combination of yet again doing make-up work (for the BASEBALL MONTH that never really came together) and also looking for something more enjoyable than following New York’s actual box scores. The nice thing about an anthology by different essayists is that you can read a few pieces, and put the book down at any point between essays and come back to it any length of time later and not feel as though you’ve lost the thread. The bad thing is that you can put the book down at any point between essays, which is of course what I seem to have done.

One reason I set Damn Yankees aside is because I had ordered a bunch of used books (and one new one using an old gift card I found cleaning out my wallet) and they all showed up on my doorstep in rapid succession and I felt obligated to at least crack open one of them. The one I settled on was James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere, which is kinda sorta summer-y reading (although I selected it for a specific reason not at all connected to traditional beach read lists or the like) but is also a demanding, challenging novel (which is not at all a bad thing, just time-consuming). I am very nearly done with The Big Nowhere (finally) and will no doubt blog about it soon, and then finish Damn Yankees, and then move on to some really trashy books. Good times.

COMICS: I read one compilation of comics recently, as well: War of the Green Lanterns. It was actually quite the refreshing palate-cleanser after the disappointment of Green Lantern: Sleepers Book Three, because despite being a crazy kitchen-sink cosmic shoot-em-out with the usual ongoing series hallmarks of promising that nothing will ever be the same and then reverting back to the status quo by the end, at least the main characters behaved, you know, in character (according to my own subjective-yet-informed-by-decades-of-fandom expectations).

When I was reading comics regularly, buying several titles every month, there were two kinds of books I followed: long-game and short-game. Short-game is also commonly known as “written for the trade” which meant the monthly newsstand issues might have cliffhangers and various incentives to get people buying them regularly, but they also tended to tell essentially self-contained stories which started and ended every six issues or so, thus making it very easy to reprint #’s 7 through 12 and slap the storyline title on the spine and sell it as a trade paperback. Long-game, on the other hand, tended to have just as many elements which persist and play out over the years and beyond any given moment’s horizon and woven into crossovers with other titles as they have elements which can be isolated into narrative chunks. I always considered Green Lantern a long-game kind of book, which was one of the complicating factors when I decided to stop collecting the monthly issues of comics altogether and only occasionally pick up trade paperbacks with good online buzz. It was easy enough to latch onto special projects, a mini-series here or a run by a guest writer there, but I never did figure out how to devotedly follow Green Lantern in a non-monthly real time way. War of the Green Lanterns was my first what-the-heck attempt to jump back in, and as I suspected the split was about 80/20 between material self-contained to the story at hand and passing references to other ongoing matters which I’m no longer making the effort (or spending the money) to stay current on. 80/20’s not bad, though, all considered.

So yeah, those are the crumbs from the bottom of the SUMMER SCHOOL backpack. I never promised I'd break world records for organized thinking, after all.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Antagonist

At the moment my big work project boils down to copying files. Or, slightly more accurately, selecting huge swaths of files and instructing the computer to copy them from their network location to a movable location that will eventually bridge over to a terminal the classified network, where they will be copied yet again to their new, secured network home. Once the copy command is given, the process just chugs and chugs and chugs, interminably. I leave my computer on when I depart the office for the day and it keeps on chugging. Occasionally a problematic file throws an error and I answer the computer’s prompt about retrying or skipping, and onward it chugs. Eventually it processes through the tens of thousands of files and then I select another set of different files and those get copied.

I’m about halfway done, and hopeful that part of what’s taken this long has been some trial and error about exactly what the network traffic can and cannot accommodate in terms of my excess data demands, so this week might very well see the completion of everything (in this round, at least, the “copying down”, not to be confused with the subsequent “copying up”) now that I know what I’m doing. And to a certain extent I’m oversimplifying, as there’s more to be done than just mindless file replication, but the other tasks that need doing are ones which - even now, after all of my jumping through hoop after hoop this entire year to be certified compliant and whatnot - I am not allowed or enabled to do myself. All I can do is spell out what I need and request that someone else with the proper access perform these tasks for me. And if they don’t do so in a timely fashion, then I have to ask repeatedly.

This, it goes without saying, is inherently frustrating, but it also rankles me because it goes against every best practice that I’ve figured out for myself over the years of my career. Namely, (1) do not be a nuisance, and (2) be extra nice to the IT guys. Nuisance-avoidance is self-evidently a good idea for a number of reasons: when your supervisor performs your annual review, you don’t want them to latch onto any negativity, nor do you ever want to get caught up in petty office politics stemming from your co-workers finding you intolerable. Keep your head down, get your work done right and on time, that’s what’s worked for me. And because most jobs, especially mine, require functional IT equipment in order to be performed, it’s in everyone’s best interest to stay on IT’s good side. And it’s very easy to get on their bad side! They often find themselves needed by people who don’t understand what they do or how the things they are responsible for actually work. I, at a minimum, know enough to avoid the explicitly annoying questions like “Well can’t you just make it work?” as if the IT guys were magical computer-whisperers who are prone to feeling sullen and obstinate and taking it out on others.

I know that keeping an entire corporate infrastructure up and running is a demanding job. I know that clueless users are supremely irritating. I am usually more than willing to cut the IT guys a lot of slack, sympathize with them, and ask them if there’s anything I can do to help them out just as often as I ask them to help me out. And by and large the dividends get paid on the regular. When I do in fact need a big favor, I can call it in.

Now, however, I feel like I have little choice than to be acutely unreasonable, to resort to every stereotypical squeaky-wheel approach I have always rolled my eyes at other people relying on. This project has simply dragged on too long for me to adopt my usual laid-back zen attitude. I asked for something to be done on Wednesday. By Friday it wasn’t done and I asked for a status follow-up. It still isn’t done today and I’m debating whether the weekend counts as 72 hours since my last inquiry or only 24. I don’t like thinking this way, I really don’t, and I like even less the thought of the disruptive impact it may have. I truly have no desire to burn any bridges, but I have even less desire to let this project continue to limp along if I can actually bring about faster results by pitching a bit of customer-entitlement fit. So I’ll probably just have to grit my teeth and do it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Grab Bag Summer Breeze

Pursuant to this post, it turned out that the big announcement regarding the Kingkiller Chronicles was that the property had been optioned to 20th Century Fox to become the basis for a television series. Which is less viscerally exciting than a date on the 2014 (or 2015) calendar to circle for volume three's release, but still pretty cool. (Because clearly what I really need is yet another long-format serialized program to somehow find time to keep up with on a regular basis.)

The mailing list devoted to all things Rothfuss went predictably nuts over the announcement, although the volume and intensity of acrimony caught me off guard, a bit. I kind of thought we, as a culture, had moved past the whole other-people's-interpretations-of-properties-I-like-cause-me-pain thing, but apparently not. Seriously? Even if you are a superfan of Rothfuss's in-progress trilogy and love it with the burning passion of a thousand love-suns, it should make no difference to you whatsoever if someone makes a weak cash-grab movie or a phenomenal Broadway musical or anything else out of it. The novels will always be there. Check out the adaptation if you want, or ignore it if you choose. Either way they literally cannot cross-contaminate each other, so relax!

+++

In the interest of blogger-istic even-handedness I feel compelled to offer a slight addendum to my post on Thursday in which I was extolling the virtues of my children. I stand by every word I wrote and every iota of admiration and appreciation I expressed, but lest anyone think I am blinded by my feelings and convinced my children are perfect, a counterpoint: my two-year-old daughter has started having howling freakouts about bath time. When I posted on Thursday, she had made bath time excruciatingly difficult the night before, but I had tried not to let it get to me. However, she pulled the exact same routine on Thursday night, and that wore me out a bit. (Although I was able to defuse the situation somewhat in round two via judicious use of a monkey-shaped washcloth, so thank goodness for that.)

Now, as I've already pointed out, she is only two, and "two-year-old" is a synonym for "tantrum-thrower". And part of the deal, I believe, is that the past two nights were the nights my wife worked late and I was juggling all three kids through their nightly rituals, which displeased my daughter to a certain extent in principle because lately she's been (presumably) gender-identifying more and more with mommy and (for sure) asking for mommy to be the one to give her a bath and get her ready for bed when the option of choice exists. And the hardest thing for very little kids to deal with is when things aren't always the same day to day, even if there's a weekly pattern that's visible to more long-view oriented adults. So, I get all that and I don't hold it against the little girl. But the screaming is a bit much, sometimes.

Anyway, don't think that all three of our children are (in reality or in my mind's eye) genteel little angels who frolic in softly lit slow motion and life around our house is always like a commercial for domestically produced textiles or anything. Life is good, but there's wide open wild spaces between good and perfect.

+++

I meant to blog about this a couple weeks ago when it actually happened, but better late than never: so my wife and I were watching Key & Peele (the upcoming new season of which is yet another thing I'm looking forward to), an old episode but one we had never seen. And there was a sketch wherein they made fun of Mighty Morphing Power Rangers via their own creations, the Power Falcons.

Feel free to watch the sketch, it's pretty funny. It also speaks to the fact that both Key and Peele are geeks, who can mock the genre trash I'm a fan of and make me laugh because they do it from a place of loving and understanding it themselves. But all of that is beside the point! The real point is that the sketch started with the multi-culti Falcons doing their roll call and I turned to my wife to tell her the sketch was already awesome, and before I could even get a word out she was extremely excited to point out to me: "A five man band!"

She totally gets me.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Timed out

I'm due to leave work in about an hour, and I have been casting around in my brain all day but have so far failed to latch onto a good Random AnecdoteTM. I think it's about time to call it for the lost cause that it is and resolve to take another stab at it next week.

It has been a productive week at work, at least, and I've been chipping away at stuff that may amount to a full-on breakthrough sometime early next week, so let's all keep our fingers crossed for that, shall we?

Hate to leave it at a dinky place-holder post, but I have a few odds and ends for tomorrow's post and I didn't want to have a gap, either. It's terribly trivial, I know, but that's how I roll!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Child by child rundown

I.

So, the little guy needs glasses. My wife picked up on him closing one eye and/or squinting when he was looking at books we read him or watching tv, and once she pointed it out to me I couldn’t help but notice it as well. So earlier this week she took him to an eye doctor and he very bravely underwent the various exams which ended up with a prescription, which he’ll be picking up next week. This may or may not end up being a lifelong thing for him; apparently we caught it early enough that if he spends some time bespectacled then it’s possible his eyesight could be corrected and the prescription can be ramped down until the glasses can be ditched altogether. Or, maybe not, so all we can do is wait and see (so to speak). But for what it’s worth at this point the little guy is pretty sanguine about it and hasn’t balked at the idea of wearing glasses, in theory. He’s had friends in daycare who had glasses so it’s not a frighteningly foreign concept. Not to mention that he has fair, light-sensitive baby blues which have already made him a pro at wearing sunglasses. Honestly at this point my biggest concern is whether or not the glasses he obtains in a few days will survive unscathed and unlost between now and the first day of kindergarten. Even money?

II.

The little girl continues to follow her big brother around devotedly, which is for the most part all well and good (although the other day I did have to come down on both of them because he was coaching her on the best ways to become airborne by jumping off furniture, despite numerous admonitions not to engage in such behavior). Recently the two of them were playing in the front yard, running through the sprinkler. We have an oscillating sled, the kind with a bar that rotates back and forth letting the water out of a row of holes in a big back and forth fan pattern. So the little guy would run around in the grass and then approach the sprinkler from the side and wait for the fan of water to be at its lowest, almost parallel to the ground, and then he would run through the stream as it started to rise upwards, and the water would hit him in the legs as he went through. His sister would then immediately follow him, but of course (a) the water would be at a higher angle and rising and (b) she is a bit shorter than him, so instead of hitting her in the legs the water would mostly hit her in the face. I do believe there’s some metaphorical harbinger in that somewhere, big brother inadvertently leading little sister into places where she’s in over her head? I certainly don’t see it stopping any time soon.

III.

Last weekend we visited some friends of ours who have a daughter a year older than our little girl, and a son a month older than our baby. At one point the two moms were sitting on kitchen chairs facing each other, each with an infant on her lap. It was really the first time either of the babies had seen another age-peer live and in person, since neither of them is in day care. And they were both pretty stoked! The words “baby bromance” were bandied about quite a bit, but mostly this is just an opportunity for me to say that our baby is just really, congenitally happy. And he has a killer smile, which was fully evident when he found himself face-to-face co-dandled with another similarly aged tyke but honestly is something he breaks out pretty much on a daily basis. My wife and I have often acknowledged that we’re in uncharted waters with our third; she is one of two kids and while I am one of three, my Very Little Bro didn’t come along until I was 13, so the concept of a trio of little ones who are all little at the same time is still a novelty. But the baby is taking it all in stride with a laugh, so that’s reassuring.

I was looking back over the past few weeks of the blog and it seems like I haven’t put the spotlight on the kids very much, what with Thursdays happening to coincide with birthdays of either the spousal or national variety. And also, you know, the kids are just good. No dramas, no traumas, they’ve been getting along with one another fine and toeing the line of our parental demands reasonably well, they’re all healthy and happy and utterly unremarkable. Which in and of itself is kind of amazing, I admit. I wouldn’t want it to be said that I’m not grateful or I take the good times for granted. So here I am, acknowledging that my lovely children are just that, and that is more than enough for me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Duly noted from a distance

The San Diego Comic-Con International officially starts tomorrow, and obviously there is no way I am going to drop upwards of a thousand dollars on a ticket to the event, airfare across the country, hotel accomodations in town and sundry expenses along the way. Even if money (and time) were no object, I still most likely would not be westward bound tomorrow, solely due to the rumors and reports I have heard over the past few years that the sheer physical scale of the weekend means the most common experience (for non-press and non-industry types, aka fans like me) is long lines for everything and no guarantee of even gaining admission to a coveted auditorium seat for a panel even if you do stand in a long line for hours and hours. Pass, thanks.

But oddly enough I’ve begun to look forward to Comic-Con’s arrival each year because that is when the entertainment news feeds I follow light up with high-profile project announcements. In addition to the comic books implicit in the event’s name (which, believe me I know, at this point only nostalgically hearkens back to when it was genuinely a comic book convention and not the media frenzy it is today), SDCC encompasses the other major pillars of my pop culture interests as well: toys, books, television, and movies, and usually (though not always) with a strong geeky/genre thread running throughout as well. So just from a pure information junkie perspective, in terms of wanting to know which big or small screen adaptations based on horror novels or Saturday morning cartoons (or vice versa) are forthcoming in the next year or so and can be looked forward to with appropriate glee, dread, or snarky indifference, it’s basically Christmas in July.


Something I would not mind getting for Christmas!

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that I’m on the GoodReads site, and I belong to a couple of mailing lists associated with it, including one dedicated to discussion of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss (a fantasy trilogy that I’ve gone into at length here and there). I’ve joked that I never post to the list and often delete the message digests after a quick skim, and the only reason I don’t unsubscribe altogether is that I am fairly convinced that the very moment an official announcement is made as to when the unbearably anticipated third and final volume of the series will be published, the mailing list will explode with the news and I will get the word thusly. I skimmed the messages today and found that someone had heard there would be a “major announcement” from Rothfuss at Comic-Con. So there’s one solid example right there (assuming that the hearsay holds up).

I’ve been in a bit of a lull lately with my popcult consumption, between national holidays and family birthdays and major real estate transactions and purgatorial work projects and baseball season and so on and so on, and this is what I tend to do in lull times: look farther down the road to where things get interesting. I’m already looking forward to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series and Stephen King’s new Shining sequel novel in September, and the Thor 2 movie in November, but if all goes as well as it usually does I’ll have even more things to count down to by early next week. It's the little things, as always, that bounce me along day by day.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The “wingedy-thingedy”

My wife indicated well in advance that she was actively interested in sitting down and watching the live broadcast of the Home Run Derby this year, and she in no way dissembled about her motivation: Chris Davis is the current AL leader in home runs and was going to participate in the derby, and this was the first time my wife could remember that one of her much-loved Orioles was in that particular position. So how could I say no to that? (Not that I am much given to saying no to my wife to begin with. Or saying no to watching televised sports and sports-related entertainments. Win-win-win &c.)

Davis did not win the contest last night but he had a decently good showing, and it was amusing enough to watch the spectacle unfold. I was not expecting, however, for my personal highlight of the broadcast to be a house ad, but that’s how ESPN got me.

In case you missed it, or haven’t watched the network in a while, the above screencap is from a commercial ostensibly promoting the ESPYs, which will air tomorrow. Pictured is one Adrian Peterson, who is nominated for some kind of Best Comeback award. He is wearing a football helmet which is purple (because AP is a Minnesota Viking) and which is topped with a wig in the distinctive hairstyle of everyone’s favorite X-Man, Wolverine. Which is amazing.

I get the upshot of the commercial, which is basically that AP had a devastating injury but has fully recovered from it (or fully enough to resume playing profesisonal football) and that kind of restoration of bodily soundness is remarkable in a manner reminiscent of Wolverine’s mutant healing factor. So the commercial makes a specific pop culture reference to underscore why comeback stories are inherently cool, and then ramps up the reference into humorous absurdity to make the spot that much more memorable. And I have no problem with this, as I’m certainly not the type of defensively territorial geek who thinks that putting Wolverine’s hair on a football helmet to promo the ESPYs is disrespectful in either the execution or the inherent premise. I liked the commercial, and I LOL’ed at it. But it also just kind of blows my mind.

I know I’ve said all this before, but I grew well into my arrested adolescence in a world where only hardcore comic book geeks even knew who Wolverine was. He didn’t exactly have the widespread recognition and/or appeal of Superman or Spider-Man or other Underoo-friendly characters. And I know the X-Men movie came out like 13 years ago and Hugh Jackman raised Wolverine’s profile immeasurably, but it’s still a little bit weird and wonderful that the character awareness has sunk in so deeply that even the crazy hairdo of said character is an independently recognizable thing.

Marvel Comics actually features several male characters with heads of hair in a similar mold as Wolverine (e.g. Quicksilver, Starfox, and the blue furry version of the Beast, to name a few) and my buddies and I have had entire conversations about this phenomenon of, as we like to call it, the “wingedy-thingedy” coiffure of extreme featheration. And I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the ‘do, because honestly my own hair has been known to resemble it when it’s at approximately the halfway point between buzzed-short and Jesus-long. (It hasn’t been there in a while, granted, but the fondness persists.)

And now the wingedy-thingedy has been grafted onto a football helmet in an ESPYs commercial, which is just about as far on the opposite side of the nerd-jock divide as one can get. But apparently we are living in a post-nerd-jock-divide world! I just forget sometimes, and then I’m always delighted to be reminded.

Monday, July 15, 2013

One of these days I’ll learn

Last week was consumed, in a good a rightly way, by my wife’s birthday, what with planning for it in the days leading up to it (because with three small children, even something fairly low-key requires a certain amount of logistical awareness to avoid completely falling apart) and of course dealing with the scrounging pet-related after-effects. But there were actually some fairly momentous developments last week which I will now bring everyone up to speed on.

Big haps number one: my all-consuming project at work actually rumbled into an almost lifelike approximation of forward progress. The advantage of only posting about work stuff on Mondays is that I have had a whole weekend away from the cube farm and am not sick of talking and/or thinking about the indignities thereof. The slight drawback to only posting about work stuff on Mondays is that sometimes there’s noteworthy goings-down on Tuesday and I just don’t get around to talking about it for a week, and that is in fact a fair description of last week’s turn of events. I got a hookup with the hardware support I needed this past Tuesday and since then I have been doing my level best to get a bunch of data transferred from the network to a movable storage drive. That will be about half the battle when its done, and then I’ll need support again in uninstalling the movable drive and reinstalling it on my workstation on the classified network so I can do the whole transfer again in reverse. Wheee.

Not everything is skittles and beer (of course not, it never is) because now I am at the mercy of our network speeds to transfer this ungodly amount of data, and those speeds are non-optimal. It is a painstakingly slow process, and there’s not a lot I can do to speed it up, and every time I calculate exactly how long the whole transfer is going to take I get very depressed (and also have visions of the people waiting for me to finish this project completely freaking out). I’m still trying to figure out what, if anything, I can do to work around that which I cannot change, but I haven’t had any breakthroughs as of yet.

Big haps number two: we finalized a closing date for the sale of the old townhouse, and that date is today. I know, I know, I KNOW, the short sale of that property dragged on for close to forever but everything has been sorted out and all that remains is the signing of a spotted owl’s habitat worth of papers, and that’s on tap for this afternoon.

As I may have mentioned, I’ve never been through a closing from the seller’s side before. The townhouse was the first patch of real estate I ever bought, and then my wife and I bought our current house together and rented out the townhouse because it would have been impossible to sell at the time, and so for the past few years I was two purchases up on zero re-sales, and now I’m closing half of that gap. (Some day in the not-too-distant future I will finally probably have the experience of buying a new house and selling an old one and closing on both all around the same time, which should be interesting, but neither here nor there.) I bring this up again as a point of emphasis for my own lack of experience as the grantor in the transaction, because that goes a long way towards explaining how this past Friday unfolded.

Basically I found out on Thursday that Monday the 15th was the appointed day of reckoning, and the lawyer (whom I was required to retain the services of for navigating the arcane requirements of the short sale) sent along some paperwork for me to complete in advance of the closing. I honestly didn’t even look at the paperwork until Friday morning, at which point I realized various documents needed to be not only signed but notarized. Undaunted, I printed everything off, filled everything out, loaded everything into a file folder and set out for the branch of my bank closest to my office. It’s a bit of a hike, but notary services are provided free to account holders so I felt the long walk was effort well expended.

I got to the bank and waited in line for a teller; my mom used to be a bank teller and in fact for a time she worked for the bank I use (coincidence, because I chose that bank and then after the fact they acquired my mom’s much smaller bank) and my mom was required by the bank to become a notary public so I figured there was at least a chance that this could be a teller window piece of business. But no, the teller asked me to have a seat on the waiting couch while he went and got the notary. I did, and after a couple of minutes the teller came back and told me, sorry, they only have one notary and he had just gone home for the day. (This was about 1:05 p.m.) I was annoyed, but I’ve apparently reached the point in my personal maturation where I primarily blame myself when something like this happens, e.g., I should have called the bank and made sure they were going to be able to accommodate me before I burned shoe leather in that direction.

The teller suggested that I go to another bank branch but I patiently explained that I needed someplace within walking distance because I had to get back to work. The teller offered to take my documents and have the notary take care of them in the morning and then I could pick them up. I explained I don’t live anywhere near where I work and it would not be convenient for me to come back on a Saturday morning. The teller offered to have the notary fax the documents to me, and at that point I stopped explaining myself because obviously the teller had no idea what getting a notarized signature entails (specifically me and the notary being in the same place at the same time). I just shrugged and walked out.

On the sidewalk, I pulled out my phone and googled “notary public” in the neighborhood of my office and the very first result was the Kinko’s office center within a couple blocks of my bank, so I beat feet in that direction. Walked in, went to the counter, asked the woman behind the counter if it was true that they could notarize something for me. And she apologized and said no, they no longer offered that service, BUT the very next words out of her mouth were “but there are three places nearby where you can have it done” and she rattled them off.

See, now, that’s customer service. I can’t get too mad at the teller at my bank because I know he was a young kid just doing his job as it’s been drilled into his head by his corporate training. (In fact, again because my mom worked for them too, I recognized some of the exact phrases he parroted at me as things my mom had rolled her eyes at when she went through the post-acquisition training, such as “What can I do to help solve this problem for you?”) But my bank is lame, and in reflection of that the teller was entirely focused on ways that the bank could notarize stuff for me, in the morning or at another branch or whathaveyou, even though I had already expressed the urgency of getting stuff done right then because I had to return the paperwork for a Monday closing. So if the bank couldn’t do it right then, then I needed to know who else could do it right then. And at least the Kinko’s lady realized that. She mentioned another bank up the road, the hotel concierge down the road, and (randomly enough) a framing shop right around the corner inside the shopping center. I opted for the closest destination, the framing shop.

When I got there, I asked the proprietor if he notarized, and he just laughed at me and said no, he doesn’t, and he has no idea why people keep coming in and asking him that. I told him the people at Kinko’s apparently thought he did, and he shook his head and said he never told them that and it’s a great source of confusion to him.

At that point I had already killed so much time I figured I might as well indulge in getting some good karma for myself by going back to Kinko’s and informing the lady at the counter that she was misinformed about the framing shop, and maybe prevent her from misdirecting other people in the future. So I retraced my steps and told the lady of my recent experience, and this time the first words out of her mouth were “Wait, which framing shop did you go to?” Because apparently I work within walking distance of a shopping center with more than one framing shop in it. I guess there’s enough office towers where executives need to hang art on their walls to support that kind of thing in mass profusion. At any rate, the Kinko’s lady gave me better directions to the framing store she had actually been referring to, slightly farther into the shopping center than the one I had made a beeline for originally, and I set off once again.

At framing store number two I finally found success and got my documents all signed and stamped with seals and whatnot. It cost me 20 bucks (cash only, so I had to jog up to an ATM and back) but at that point, and in fact in this point of the whole overall seven-or-eight-month short sale process, there is literally almost no hoop I wouldn’t jump through to get things done. And with docs in hand I trudged back to the office to get the papers back to the lawyer.

The scanner was down at the office so I had to fax the papers back to the lawyer, and then I e-mailed him to let him know they were coming that way. He e-mailed me back to say that he had only provided me with the paperwork because the title company handling the closing needed them before we sat down at the table. So I printed off another cover sheet addressed to the title company and faxed the paperwork to them, and e-mailed the lawyer to let him know I had taken care of that. He e-mailed me again to inform me that the title company needed the original documents inked by me and the notary before closing. Which did not quite sound right to me, so I called the title company myself. And I spoke to the woman preparing everything for my closing, and told her what I had been told and asked her what exactly she needed from me. And, as nicely as you can possibly imagine, she said that she already had everything she needed and she certainly hadn’t been expecting me to get anything pre-notarized. It would have been fine if I had just showed up on Monday afternoon to complete and sign the paperwork, and of course someone in her office would have notarized it then. Of course. (Sad trombone.)

Well, what’s done is done! And by this time tomorrow I’ll be done with the old townhouse. It’s been a bit of a trip, but I’m more or less used to those by now.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Helpless creatures

If there are any of you out there who think that I don’t blog about our family pets often enough (considering that my wife is a veterinarian and I do have a “pets” label-category for posts at the ready) then, boy howdy, is this the Friday for you.

Let us begin with a Random AnecdoteTM, shall we? Back when our oldest child was born, people came to visit us and meet the baby and whatnot, and one night a couple of good friends (who would ultimately become the little guy’s godparents) arrived for dinner with, if I recall correctly, the entire meal in hand, or at the very least with desseert (which is the important part anyway). I remember dessert distinctly for two reasons. One, it was a fairly sizable (Costco sizable, in fact) tub of brownie bites, which is one of my personal faves. And two, we did not end up eating any of them. Because we left the tub on the dining room table while my wife and I took our friends upstairs to show them what we had done to turn the spare room into the nursery, and by the time we came back downstairs our dog had eaten the brownie bites. All of them. Every. Last. One.

Back in those days we only had one dog and one or two cats (by which I mean sometimes one and sometimes two and I forget exactly when this fell, not that there was some kind of quantum fluctuation on any given day) so this is our main dog I’m talking about, the one who is now the bigger of the two we have now. So obviously he survives this story. He also survived eating an entire pound of cooked bacon once without keeling over from acute pancreatitis, but as you may know if you know much of anything about dogs, chocolate is severely toxic to them. So we actually ended up calling an animal poison control hotline and they advised us of the following procedure:

- Fill the dog’s bowl with cooked rice or cubed bread
- Douse liberally with hydrogen peroxide
- Make the dog eat as much of that concoction as possible
- Take the dog outside and encourage the dog to run around
- Allow nature to take it’s course (read: profound emetic effects)

I had to run to the store to buy fresh hydrogen peroxide, which gave the rice time to cook, and then I followed the instructions point by point and it worked like a charm. Our main dog loves to play fetch, and in fact rarely does a day go by when he doesn’t at least try to put a ball or other chew toy in someone’s lap, you know, just as a suggestion. He also loves to eat, so feeding him the carbs-n-peroxide platter and then running him about was no trouble, and soon enough he had ejected the brownie matter. All of which made for a memorable evening, some four and a half years ago.

This charming tale of the sweet joys of pet ownership is top of mind because … pause to appreciate the clarity with which you can see this coming … it got a repeat performance just last night. Sort of. A friend of my wife’s dropped off a birthday present during the day, consisting of a batch of brownie-cookies and some wine, all of which was placed very sensibly on our highest kitchen counter where the dogs could not reach it. But of course, when I got home, I wrapped my own present for my wife and put it on the dining room table along with some cards the kids had made, and I relocated my wife’s friend’s gifts there as well. The cookies were in a ziploc baggie and then also wrapped in gift tissue and ribbon, by the by. Anyway, I fed the kids and got them upstairs for bathtime, and when the two older ones were in their pajamas I let them run around and play a bit while I attempted to rock the baby to sleep. So all the humans were upstairs and the animals had the run of the house. Then the little guy came running into my room telling me that he and his sister had just gone downstairs and found our smaller, auxiliary dog eating mommy’s birthday present.

The baby was mostly asleep so I laid him in his bassinet and ran downstairs and sure enough, there was our runty inbred toy dog licking up the last crumbs of the cookies. Now, at this point I didn’t know exactly what kind of cookies they were, in fact I had only assumed that it was cookies inside the opaque wrappings because of the weight and feel of them, but the crumbs were definitely dark brown. Our auxiliary dog is significantly smaller than our main dog, and of course lacks that hybrid vigor of a true mutt that could survive on garbage, so I was somewhat concerned, but I was also home alone with three small children. So we waited it out until my wife got home and I told her what had happened, then we got the bigger kids to bed, and then my wife texted her friend and asked her how much chocolate was in the recipe, and then she entered that info into an online chocolate toxicity calculator, which informed us that based on our auxiliary dog’s weight he had consumed TEN TIMES the toxic dose. An hour and half ago.

Well, I was planning on heading out to pick up our take-out birthday dinner anyway, so I made a second stop at the pharmacy for more hydrogen peroxide. And I was gonna be good and golldurned if I was going to cook rice for the little glutton, so I tore up some bread instead and then went through the whole process. Our auxiliary dog is less of an avid fetcher, but sure enough just the H2O2 on top of his very full stomach was enough to bring back up the bread, the cookies, and the kibble he’d had for dinner an hour or so before that.

(Two chemists walk into a bar on a blazing hot summer day, and the first one says, “I’ll have an H2O,” and he chugs the whole glass. The second one says, “I’ll have an H2O, too” and chugs the whole glass and dies. Strong stuff, is what I’m saying.)

And then the dog suffered a prolonged period of bile-spitting dry-heaving which I’d kind of like to say he deserved, but since he’s intellectually inoperative and thus incapable of making the association with the cookie snarfing in any meaningful learning-one’s-lesson kind of way, maybe not.

This did not, for the record, ruin my wife’s birthday. The loss of the cookies was a bummer, but I had pie and ice cream at the ready for dessert anyway. In fact, my wife complimented me on the efficiency with which I handled the necessary treatment, as it all came back to me. She has deemed me now something of an expert on getting dogs to barf up chocolate desserts before they succumb to fatal theobromine overdose. So that’s something, I guess? Oh and then this morning, our main dog wouldn’t eat his breakfast and then threw up what my wife described to me (via text message, as I was already on my way to work at that point) as “chocolaty kibble” so apparently it was both of them who helped themselves to the cookies, not just the tiny one. Which kind of makes sense because we know, historically, that the main dog can reach stuff we leave on the dining room table but I’m not sure the toy dog can, and that probably should have occurred to me last night. Ah, well. The point is my wife did not have to clean up the bigger dog’s mess on her actual birthday.

So, to sum up: dogs are fairly stupid! And ours in particular think we starve them and will help themselves to any and all foodstuffs left unattended. But, they are good with kids, and the little guy continues to adore the inbred one, so they continue to be allowed to stay under our roof. But if you take anything away from this story, maybe it should be this: if you visit friends who have just had a baby and also have one or more dogs, maybe don’t bring them brownies? And if they have cats, don’t bring them flowers, but that’s a whole other post, really.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sweet Thermodynamic Miracle O' Mine

Today my lovely wife celebrates the ending/beginning of another spin around the sun. Unfortunately we both must suffer the great indignity of showing up at work for the day, but by the time my wife gets home I should have the kids just about ready for bed, and once they're settled we can treat ourselves to some kind of take-out feast (plus dessert, of course). You grow up, you start a family, and you catch your own natal anniversary celebrations as you can.


One of the sweeter moments in Watchmen
I say it a lot, yet still arguably not enough, but at the risk of repeating myself: I'm a lucky guy. Lucky to be born in a universe where my wife was also born, and lucky that some way we found each other and are now in the process of growing old together. Not that we're old! (Certainly my wife isn't.) But the "growing" and "together" parts are true enough, thankfully.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bloodless (I Walked With a Zombie)

Before I proceed with the actual talk-about-the-film-in-some-vaguely-analytical-way for this week’s installment of the 1001 Movies Blog Club, I wanted to talk a little bit about how I’m managing the overall endeavor from a personal perspective. 1103 movies total (and counting, more no doubt to come in October or so) and 210 (as of right now) seen by me. I have a spreadsheet of the entire list of enshrined movies, which for sanity’s sake I have extensively color-coded. Green means I have in fact seen it. Blue means I haven’t seen it, but it has already been an assigned movie for Blog Club members, either from a week I bailed on or some time before I joined up. Yellow means neither I nor the Club have seen it, but I very much want to, so whenever the next time I’m tapped to pick a feature film rolls around, I can zero in on the yellow highlighted movies in my list to make a selection from the designated time period.

And then there’s the orange movies, which are the ones I haven’t seen and am kind of in disbelief at myself over, because they are minor or major classics in the geek canon. This includes such 1950’s sci-fi gems as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Forbidden Planet (a doubly improbable gap in my knowledge since I love Shakespeare as much as I love tales of alien worlds), plus latter-day mandatory movies like Planet of the Apes, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Mad Max and Videodrome. I also feel a certain amount of obligation (which I almost certainly will fulfill sooner than later) to finally sit down and watch The Maltese Falcon and Shaft one of these days, given the thematic resonance between the respective archetypes of private eyes and vigilante superheroes.

But the craziest gaps are in the horror genre, considering how I’m always going on and on about what an aficionado I am. In my defense I can only point out that horror is an inherently overcrowded field, and although I’ve seen a ton of horror flicks, from classics to crapfests, there remains an order of magnitude more that I have not yet tackled. And as far as where the genre intersects with the 1001 Must-Sees, and gets color-coded orange in my personal tracking system, the list includes Universal Monster movies The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolfman, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, and both zombie masterpieces Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead …

… not to mention I Walked With a Zombie, which I was pleasantly surprised to see pop up in the Blog Club queue a few weeks ago. I didn’t request that the Club cover it, but I had duly oranged it on my own spreadsheet because it is the granddaddy of all zombie movies, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Here’s the problem with granddaddies, though: sometimes they are really racist, and sometimes they tell boring, pointless stories, and sometimes you really struggle to find a way to relate to them. I Walked With a Zombie is more like a short story on film, barely clocking in at 68 minutes, and I broke it up into three viewing chunks of twenty-some minutes (because I am of course oh so busy) and yet I still found my attention wandering. The acting is fairly stilted, in the way that I tend to associate with most older Hollywood productions. There are a few nice pieces of camerawork here and there, and the shadowy black and white turns a Caribbean plantation house into a Gothic haunted manse, although the unquiet spirit in question is not a free-floating ghost but a mindless yet ambulatory woman somewhere in between life and death. Her family and her doctor believe she is suffering the aftereffects of a tropical fever, while the local slave-descended population believe she is a true zombie. The soundwork is good also, particularly the effective use of the constant, unsettling sound of houmfort drums in the background.

There are many black performers in the cast but they all fall into one of two categories, either the obsequious and servile types or the superstitious primitives. I understand the deeply embedded and unthinking institutional racism of the 1940’s and I know that nobody responsible for making I Walked With a Zombie was trying to make a provocative statement about race, but it’s still extremely hard to get around it. The African culture transplanted to the islands is depicted as both fascinatingly, frighteningly exotic and inherently inferior.

The main problem with I Walked With a Zombie is that, as a horror movie, it’s incredibly tame. It incorporates ambiguously supernatural material, in the question of whether or not Jessica is in fact a zombie, but it relies heavily on voodoo being an intrinsically terrifying alien concept, which doesn’t really hold up today. With the horror element thus not terribly horrifying, what remains is a fairly limp melodrama about a young nurse working for two quarreling brothers to take care of the woman who married one, but whom both brothers loved. And the movie begins more or less at the end of the story, with the romantic rivalry already a moot point given Jessica’s zombification. The movie concerns itself mainly with payoffs and consequences, without giving much of a reason to care.


Yeah, basically how I felt during my viewing

I wanted to like the movie, I did! But whatever power it once held to introduce viewers to an eerie world hidden in the shadows of our own has long since been demystified; the veil it means to pull back has been subsequently well-shredded. I can feel some gratitude for the trails that it blazed at the time, especially when considered as part of the entire body of work produced by Val Lewton, who could very well be enshrined as a horror geek patron saint. It’s good to live in the pop culture world that came to be in the wake of films like I Walked With a Zombie, but it’s also good to be living at a substantial remove from them as well. Sometimes old things improve with age, but sometimes newer things improve upon the older.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dark evidence (Green Lantern:Sleepers, Book Three)

As I tried to explain at the outset, part of my goal in putting myself through SUMMER SCHOOL is taking care of some make-up work, and today is a pretty clear-cut example of that, as I return to the verdant territory of Green Lantern Month and finally finish my reviews of the Sleepers trilogy of novels by examining Book Three. (See previous posts on Book One and Book Two.)

So I’ve come to the end of the complete three-part story that Christopher Priest set out to tell, and I just feel kind of bad. Priest has done a lot of work in the comic book industry over the years, and lots of it is really good. And, from the interviews I’ve read and behind-the-scenes knowledge I’ve gleaned, he seems like a decent enough guy. He’s a tremendously talented writer who was stand-up enough to take on various thankless editing tasks in his career as well, and who got needlessly crapped upon at various points, to boot. So who am I to dump any more on the guy, to say when it comes to being a novelist, Priest is a great comic book writer?

And for the record, though it hopefully goes without saying, I don’t mean to imply that comic books are written down to the level of not-terribly-bright children and novels are artistic expression of our highest virtues and therefore being a “good comic book writer” is a dismissive backhanded compliment. Novels can be founts of wisdom or utter dreck, and so can comics. The don’t occupy two different levels of inherent merit, but each one is its own medium, and each one can highlight different strengths and weaknesses of a writer.

Here’s an example: Priest tends toward a lot of brandname references in his writing, which is a pretty aggravating tic in prose. I actually think it can be quite an asset when writing a comic book, though. If you write in a comic book script that a character is wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, that conveys a certain amount of information, some of it potentially characterization, some of it only fleeting details of set dressing. But the only person who will read the words “Brooks Brothers” will be the artist, who then draws the character wearing the suit and has to convey the brand, not by zooming in on the label but by evoking the associations in the visuals, the lines and colors. The end result is much more subtle, less grating. When you write in a novel that a character is wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, it just seems like clunky product placement. (Unless you’re Bret Easton Ellis. But sometimes even then.)

Also, if you’re writing a comic book script and you indicate “the doors were shuddered” when you really meant “shuttered” then chances are the artist will know what you meant and draw the shuttered doors correctly and your wider audience will get the idea. Whereas if you have a crummy-to-nonexistent copy editor and your novel gets on bookshelves with the phrase “the doors were shuddered” in it, then snippy English majors like me will roll their eyes.

But style is one thing, and substance is another. The substance of Sleepers: Book Three is all about Hal Jordan, who is for all intents and purposes the main Green Lantern. He wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last, and he hasn’t always been the most interesting, but he’s the one in the Super Friends and he’s the one Ryan Reynolds played in the 2011 movie. You may have noticed in the middle of that last sentence I took a dig at Hal for being the boring Green Lantern, some of which comes down to personal preference, but some of which is genuinely embedded in the history of the character. Back in the mid-50’s all superheroes were status-quo supporting squares, and the revolutionary idea of flawed, conflicted, complicated protagonists hadn’t truly taken hold (not in comic books, at any rate). So when Hal Jordan’s adventures first started getting published, he was noble and clean cut, basically Superman but with a power ring instead of a bunch of alien powers. As the decades went by Hal was redefined and reinvented many times, in a moderately intriguing reflection of changing social customs and understandings. Hal Jordan was, from day one, a professional test pilot. In the mid-50’s, the Cold War and the Space Race, this made him a prototypical brave American essentially above reproach; by the tail end of the 20th century he was (clearly!) arrogant and cocky and possibly a bit suicidal, at the very least a man-child with tendencies to be romantically self-destructive.

And Hal Jordan’s romantic life certainly factors heavily into the plot of Book Three, as Carol Ferris plays a major role in the proceedings. Carol is to Hal as Lois Lane is to Clark Kent, although she’s also to Green Lantern as Catwoman is to Batman. Priest isn’t inventing anything out of whole cloth by delving into the fraught, soap-operatic tension between pilot Hal Jordan and his boss, Ferris Aircraft executive Carol Ferris, or between masked, ring-slinging crusader Green Lantern and his foil Star Sapphire (as Carol is known when possessed by a certain cosmic gem). But Priest does make a stab at recontextualizing Carol Ferris, and it’s not one I would consider altogether successful. When originally introduced, Carol was an exciting character simply because she was a (rare at the time) independent-minded career-oriented gal. But she generally played damsel in distress to Green Lantern. Once the Star Sapphire plots started recurring, she became a regrettable stereotype of a harridan, obsessed with defeating Green Lantern and thereby claiming him as her worthy mate. Them ladies, give them all the cosmic power in the galaxy and they still just want a husband, amirite? But those embarrassing Eisenhower-era sexual politics raise a difficult question, namely which is worse: a feminine caricature who can’t decide whether she wants to blast the hero or marry him, because that’s how girls are; OR, a character who is described by the author in one breath as dealing with the emotional damage wrought by her father when she was growing up and in another breath as “evil” as if that’s just a trait that some people develop or even embrace. I honestly don’t know which is worse, the antiquated plot device/symbol of a frighteningly strong woman, or the modern all-about-the-daddy-issues oversimplification, but I know that they’re both not good.

I think, ultimately, my main frustration with Priest’s Sleepers novels is the way that he continually attempts to make grand sweeping statements about life and humanity and the nature of the universe which I assume he thinks are profound (and posisbly even the sublime expression of truth which novels can carry off but mere comic books can’t) but which really come off as oversimplifications and pointless generalizations. He describes various characters, from minor bit parts to major players like Carol Ferris, with a kind of winking, nudging, “come on, you know the type I’m talking about” as if to make himself seem worldly and wise. But reducing people to types is kind of the opposite of wisdom, as far as I’m concerned, so it all falls pretty flat.

And then, crowning the whole hot mess, is the fact that (as I referenced in my earlier reviews) this Green Lantern story, which saves the part about Hal Jordan for last, is set at a time when Hal was not serving as a Green Lantern. He was the Spectre (a concept I have dissected before), and so he is in the Book Three novel. He is an agent of God, although the book is written in first person from Hal’s perspective and he too-coyly refers to God as “the Boss”. (If this had turned out to be Bruce Springsteen all along I would have deemed Sleepers: Book Three my favorite book of all time, but alas, no.) Or at least, he starts out as an agent of God, running around extracting severe vengeance in poetically warped ways on those who commit evil, until he steps out of line one too many times and is stripped of his divine mission, which leads to him slipping on a Green Lantern ring once again. And then by the end of the book the only way for Hal to save all of Creation is to become the Spectre once again, and he does.

OK, two insurmountable problems with using this technically-canonical-circa-dawn-of-millennium Hal Jordan:

1. I find genre-action stories in which the existence of an omnipotent and interventionist God is posited to be excruciatingly boring. If God is on the good guys’ side, they literally cannot lose, which in turn sucks all the life out of the story for me. Yeah, I know that nobody reads Superman comics because this might be the time Superman loses, that it’s inherent to the superhero formula for them to be invincible, but invoking literal G-O-D? Too far.

2. The novel inevitably becomes a tract on theodicy, but it’s a nonsensical, self-contradictory, meaningless one when all is said and done. The upshot of Book Three, if I read it right (and I concede maybe I didn’t), is “Why does evil exist? It just does. It’s all part of the plan. Don’t worry about it. In fact, don’t even think about it at all. You’ll feel better if you just accept it without question.” Which is a lousy bit of philosophy on the face of it, but as the backbone of a novel about superheroes? Are you kidding me? Superheroes fight bad guys. They don’t accept the existence of evil with a shrug, they engage in a never-ending struggle against it. They don’t look for salvation in the next world, they protect life and promote justice in this world. Many, many attempts have been made over the years to reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God with a universe full of superheroes, throwing in holy warriors and avenging angels and all that, but it rarely works, because there’s a fundamental disconnect in there somewhere.

(And ha ha, you probably thought I was all done forever talking about Man of Steel! But this is another one of the things I thought was completely wrongheaded about it, the whole Kal-El = Jesus theme that they drove into the ground. Yeah, yeah, their fathers sent them from the heavens and they are destined to save the world … but no. No, no, no. Superman is NOT Jesus. For one thing, Jerry and Joe were Jewish, so if anything, Superman is Moses. And for another, the story does not go that Jor-El was angry at humanity and was going to wipe us all out unless his son arrived on Earth, made a few good points about love and compassion, and then died self-sacrificially. That is Jesus’s story. Christianity assumes that people need salvation from an external, heavenly source. Superman does not atone for our sins, and in fact comes to Earth with no agenda at all from his father other than to live. It’s his Earth-parents, the Kents, who give him the gift of human spirit and with that, Superman becomes not a redeemer making up for what we can’t do ourselves but an exemplar of what we can do. I’m not saying one of those stories is intrinsically better than the other. I’m just saying they're not the same, and hammering on Clark Kent being 33 years old on a Kryptonian crucifix … ugh.)

But where was I? Oh right, Sleepers. Christopher Priest wrote a trilogy about three different Green Lanterns working together across time and space to fight three interconnected villains, and the convoluted master plot makes approximate sense by the time all the final pieces are revealed in the final volume, but that’s largely overshadowed by the insanely misguided attempts at mashing up superhero tradition, modern psychology, spirituality and assorted other quasi-deep pretensions. And I feel bad viciously laying into Priest like that, because I’m sure he’s a solid dude and nobody forced me to read the books at gunpoint! But there you have it.