Sunday, March 16, 2014

David Brenner

David Brenner passed away yesterday.

There was a time, when I was young, when he was my favorite comedian. There were two reasons for that. The first was that he guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on the tonight show on so many occasions. While I never thought of Johnny as a comic -- he was a host -- David was a comedian filling in for the host. And at the time, he always made me laugh, maybe even more than Johnny did.

Second, he was from Philadelphia. It seems a strange thing to matter so much to me, but it did. He was one of ours, a guy from that same area that became a big star. David Brenner, because of his local origins, but also because he always seemed to wear those origins on his sleeve, somehow made the idea of success real. That's important to a kid. (I feel the same sense of local pride in Tina Fey. When the Phillie Phanatic showed up on an episode of 30 Rock, Kathy probably got a sunburn from the sheer joy on my face.)

Mark Evanier has a great remembrance of David Brenner on his blog.

I've got nothing but warm memories of him, and how much he made me laugh when I was younger. But there was one day... Kathy and I were walking up the strip -- forever, it seemed, as distances are illusions out there, and objects are much further than they appear. And all the while, we were being paced in the bumper-to-bumper traffic by a truck with a loudspeaker and a billboard that was blasting raucous, canned laughter, punctuated by David Brenner's voice urging us to come to his show. The laughs were eardrum-piercing, meant to grab attention for the brief moment as the truck drove past. But it was crawling along in a traffic jam, and we were walking the same unfortunate direction. So instead of hearing it for 20 seconds or so, we heard it for fifteen minutes, on an interminable loop.

For refuge, we ducked into a shop that was selling cheap tourist bait, and holed up there among the "What Happens In Vegas" T-shits and souvenir dice. Eventually, the truck crawled by, and the danger had passed. I can't stress enough to you how aggravating the sound of all that phony laughter on the recording was, and how much of it we heard. I can only say this: Had it been Carrot Top, I'd still be livid about it today.

But David Brenner? I could forgive him anything.

Rest in Peace, David. Thanks for almost all of the laughs.

Rob


Friday, February 28, 2014

Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?

So there's a Cadillac commercial that was in heavy rotation during the Olympics. It stars Neal McDonough, who's played a shady creep in pretty much everything I've ever seen him in (Desperate Housewives and Justified spring to mind; he's always a great choice for a villain), selling Caddy's new electric model.

Here it is, if you want to watch.


Anyway, the Huffington Post got itself in high dudgeon about the thing, calling it a "nightmare."

I've seen the commercial, and I think it's pretty awesome. Not because the message appeals to me, but particularly because it doesn't -- it's not designed to appeal to anyone who would already be thinking about buying an electric car.


All electric-car sales and PR campaigns, to this point, have an element of altruism at their core. (Buy one and save the planet, etc.) This ad doesn't care. It's just "Buy one because it's the new thing. Because we're American. Because we work harder. Because we deserve to have all the best stuff."

It's an irritating message to libs like me. The dude comes off like an arrogant prick. But to the people this ad is meant to appeal to, riling people like me (and HuffPo readers) is a plus. And I understand that -- that multilingual Coke ad in the Super Bowl was nice and all, but wasn't it even better because it stuck a thumb in the right wing's eye? Wasn't watching that ridiculous freakout fun? Pass the popcorn, and maybe I'll wash it down with a Coke.

Cadillac has decided there's a market for electric cars beyond people with environmental concerns. That's GREAT.

Rob
(Most of this post originally appeared as a comment in a pal's Facebook thread.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In which Rob's dreams reveal his deep distrust of the medical profession

I dreamed I was going to the doctor’s office to get laser eye surgery. It was a four-part process, at least, and this was my third session. As part of the procedure, after the actual laser eye surgery, I would have to chew a pill and then get shot in the head. They would hand me a pill, I would go into a little room, and someone I couldn’t see would shoot me in the head. I guess you could say this was a nightmare.

I’d been through this several times before. I always assumed the sniper was in the building across the street. Then I heard something shuffle above me. I looked up. In the ceiling tiles were hundreds of bullet holes, patched with dangling strips of bloody gauze. I started screaming. I couldn’t remember whether to eat the pill before or after I was shot, and I scrambled around the room, trying to find cover, a red laser dot following me from above.

Eventually I ate the pill and heard the shot.

Sometime later, maybe that afternoon, I’m recovered enough to leave. There’s a party for me outside, on the hospital lawn – a surprise picnic. My mom’s there, some others of my family, a bunch of my friends. It’s a big day. I only have to go through this one more time, if I’m lucky. I take off my glasses and look around. My vision’s no better than it was before.


Rob

(In no coincidence at all, I get my CPAP machine today. My worries apparently run deeper than I knew.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oh, gracious!

Apparently in an interview in the new issue of Rolling Stone, President Obama called Mitt Romney a "bullshitter."

The exact passage is this:


I was reminded of this incident when our interview with the president ended. As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it."
Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer."
"Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked.
"You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"


So essentially, Obama doesn't call Romney a bullshitter by name. It's kind of a bank shot, and an off-the-cuff, post-interview comment, at that. But in an interview about the election, it's obvious who he's talking about, if it's anyone in particular.

I'm all in favor of this. "Bullshit" cuts across the high bar necessary to prove the term "liar." A politician can say a half a dozen true things, but by omitting many other facts of reality, those details, while each individually true, when mixed with a few unverifiable assertions, can become a steaming stew of bullshit. Not a single "lie" in the recipe, but it's still not anything you want to swallow.

I've long said that politicians should be freer with the B word (and the somehow more rustic H word, horseshit). It wouldn't elevate our discourse in terms of politeness...but being willing to label a talking point bullshit gives the audience a euphemism they instinctively understand -- with a touch of shock to the language to get them to pay attention. (Probably too much shock, at first -- the national conversation will be all about the word than the claim itself, which is self-defeating. At first, anyway.)

Perfume makers use a base of civet underlying a scents' pleasant overtones, because biologically or nostrils open to the odor -- it smells foul, and dangerous. It awakens our senses, and lets us smell the more delicate scents more fully. Maybe we need to hear the word bullshit now and then, just to get us to open our noses.

Rob


Friday, October 19, 2012

Rolling Away

Just got back from getting my new car inspected. I’m really happy to have it, and it’s going to serve me well for many years, I’m sure.


But yesterday, I donated my old car, a Chevy Cavalier Rally Sport, to the American Lung Association, and even knowing how sentimental I can be, I was surprised at how much it pained me to say goodbye.

I bought the car in January of 1999, just a few weeks into dating Kathy. I’d been in an accident that didn’t hurt anyone, but had totaled my previous car. I needed a new one, quick, because Kathy lived close to two hours away, and I had no intention of spending any weekends apart from her, if I could help it. I think I borrowed the family car just once to see her; by the next weekend, I had my Rally Sport. And it traveled the PA and NJ turnpikes nearly every weekend for three years, until we moved in together.


As the tow truck was pulling it away, I said to Kathy, “That’s the car that brought me to you.”

It also managed to let Kathy know I could take a joke. Within a few weeks of me buying it, Kathy and I attended our friends’ wedding out of town. After the reception, one of my friends noticed that the Rally Sport shared my initials, and pointed that out… as if it were some weird manifestation of ego that I had to have a car that shared my initials. And suddenly there were a barrage of comments about the car, all with the letters R.S. “It’s really spiffy” is the one I remember best, but the comments were relentless. Not insulting, but just merciless teasing. And I did my best to take it with good grace, and give as good as I got whenever I saw an opening. And I’d like to think Kathy noticed I was someone who wouldn’t blow a fuse at a little ribbing, and I hope that recommended me.

The Cavalier had a lot of miles on it, so I can relate. Its systems were failing, one by one. First the CD player went. Then the trunk began leaking badly enough that I had to remove the carpeting because it had molded. The back seat no longer had any padding under it (it had molded), and the cushion would occasionally detach from the bench. The air conditioning stopped working several summers ago. And sometime this summer, I was no longer able to direct which heating and cooling vents the air would come out of… which promised a fall and winter of fogged, undefrostable windshields. 

It was clearly time to move on.


But still. That was the car that brought me to my wife. Every weekend, for months and years on end, since before she was even my girlfriend, really. I owe it a debt.

There was a photo of us, a Polaroid, in the change well of the Cavalier. Four photos, shot in a boardwalk booth, of Kathy and I, smooching and grinning like crazy. We both have more hair than we do now, and it’s clear we’re over-the-moon in love.

You can bet that photo is in the center console of my new car. It’s a smooth ride, and the air conditioning works, but it has a lot to live up to.

Rob

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Thrill When I Drill a Bicuspid

Of all the comics I bought this weekend at New York Comic Con...

and the even greater number of comics I looked at in the back issue bins....



...this is the one I simply could not put down. It called to me.

Why am I such a Super-Misfit?

Rob
(Cover by the great Nick Cardy, btw.)

Monday, October 01, 2012

Team Up

This is my childhood hero, The Flash -- Barry Allen -- when he was a boy.



And this is his mom saying something that my own mom has always said to me: "Luck is preparation meeting opportunity."

Good advice, from a great mom.

I have a feeling opportunity is at my doorstep. I hope I've prepared enough when it knocks.

Rob

Friday, August 31, 2012

Watching 'Play Misty for Me'


A few random thoughts on Play Misty for Me:

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie since I was renting VHS tapes at Erol’s Video Club in Springfield. I don’t know how many times I’d linger over the VHS sleeve, read the description, and eventually put it back in favor of something I wanted to see more on that particular night. This is probably my number-one also-ran from those days.

I’ve also been more interested in watching movies from the 70s lately. Unlike the 80s, which I remember pretty well and when I watched a lot of current movies, the 70s is a time I was alive, but have little functional memory of. Snippets here and there, of course, but all from a child’s point of view. It’s interesting to get an adult perspective, even if it’s through the filter or a psycho-stalker suspense movie.

It’s melodramatic and over-the-top, and certainly a prototype for Fatal Attraction. (There’s even a Madame Butterfly reference.) Unlike Michael Douglas in that movie, Clint Eastwood’s jazz deejay character isn’t cheating on anyone here; he’s just a cad.

The woman who goes from groupie to stalker in no time flat is played by Jessica Walter, an actor who I never really took notice of until her turn as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. She’s effective in this, especially early on, in that she pretty naturally amps up Eastwood’s frustration level whenever she appears, and always manages to take charge of their conversations. Eastwood’s good, too.

BTW, if you ever wanted to see Young Clint walk around in his tighty-whities, here’s your chance.

A couple odd, peripheral scenes to mention: In one, Eastwood’s dejay buddy is about to smoke a joint. Clint declines the offer to share, asking him to do it in the other room so he can keep a clear head. Which manages to depict the drug use without it actually being on film, as the camera stays on Eastwood and the doorway during their conversation. Maybe it was a MPAA ratings thing?

Also, no surprise, but Eastwood’s love of jazz brings the plot to a dead stop for a little while, as we see ten minutes of footage of the Montery Jazz Festival. No complaints here; it’s a wonderful glimpse.

And finally, I have to mention that there’s one brief shot where you can see one of Jessica Walter’s boobs. Not entirely unexpected for this kind of movie (it’s actually pretty restrained in that regard), but nonetheless a strange moment, since to me she’s Lucille Bluth. I have never felt more like poor, conflicted Buster than at that moment.

Rob

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I'm no explosives expert, but...

... I think Batwing is engaging in some serious CYA behavior in this week's Justice League International Annual:


"The device was small. Undetectable." Seriously, dude?


Let me make it easier for you: HIS ENTIRE TORSO IS COVERED IN EXPLOSIVES.


Batwing scans for explosives like I scan the refrigerator: "Honey, where's the mustard?"
"It's in the fridge."
"I don't see it."
"Sheesh, it's right in front of you."
...
"The jar of Grey Poupon was small. Undetectable."

Boom.

Rob

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Clark + Diana? For now, maybe.

DC recently announced a Superman/Wonder Woman romance (starting in tomorrow's Justice League #12), and I'm curious to see what DC does with it. My biggest fear is that it will derail some of Brian Azzarello's plans for Diana in the regular Wonder Woman comic; it seems more of a Superman storyline than a Wonder Woman one to me, although that's mostly because Wonder Woman has been refreshingly free of crossovers with the rest of the DCU.

Kissytime.
I don't think it will last at all -- probably a year, maybe a little more -- but that doesn't mean I think it's not worth doing. (That remains to be seen by the stories we get.) Hopefully both characters will be treated with respect throughout the storyline, and the relationship will be dealt with maturely once it ends. I like the idea of exes in the DCU -- relationships which were once one thing and are now another. If they want to do that with Superman and Wonder Woman, that's fine with me. It's a big step, but it doesn't have to be a disastrous one.

Interestingly, AP writer Matt Moore writes this in today's story about the couple: "One aspect that did not survive the relaunch: Lois Lane's role as Superman's love. She's still around, but the two have never dated, nor are they likely to."

That's gullible to the point of ridiculousness. Moore is swallowing whole this temporary PR push, and ignoring everything we know about these characters (not just Superman and Wonder Woman, but all long-running, serial fiction characters) periodically reverting back to their iconic forms. Not only is Lois likely to date Superman, but history indicates she's all but guaranteed to. In the unlikely event that the Superman/Wonder Woman couple sets the world on fire (and I honestly don't think it's even intended to; I think DC wants people to buy it, but they don't necessarily want us to like it or root for it), it'll take ten years instead of 3-5, but Lois and Clark are ultimately bound to fall back into each other's orbits, and eventually date (and possibly marry) once again. Lois's gravity will always pull Clark in, and rightfully so.

Which is why the deviations are so potentially interesting to me. But whether they crash or fly is all in the execution.

Rob

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bear Witness



Behold! The Granite Terror of Saranac Lake!



Cast your eye upon his whelp, using tools to contain his prey!



Look upon him, and tremble!



BEHOLD!


Rob
(Had a great vacation, everybody. Wish I were still there, with all my pals.)


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Wonder Woman 10, "Vows"


Previously, in Wonder Woman: Diana, shot with Eros’s golden guns and betrothed to Hades, lord of the Underworld, was confronted with a noose made from her own golden lasso, that compels the truth from those bound by it. Hades’ intention is that she wear the noose and proclaim her love for him before the wedding. Meanwhile, while most of their Olympian family has refused the wedding invitation, a few have come to witness the nuptuals: Diana’s allies, Hephaestus, Eros, and her half-brother Lennox, and Strife, who’s always been a source of…well, you know.

The action in Wonder Woman #10 picks up at the moment Diana is asked to prove her love to Hades by wearing the Noose of Truth… and we discover that, whatever her feelings for the lord of Hell (in one sense, they surprise, but in a larger sense, we should have known she felt that way all along), she won’t be bound by anyone, especially not a creepy candle-headed little-boy uncle who doesn’t even trust her. And a chase/fight scene commences, including Hades’ ex-wives, the billion tormented souls of hell, and a giant effigy made of muscle and blood.

And although she gets an assist from her family, Diana doesn’t want any of it. It’s as if she’s heard the complaints that she’s a supporting character in her own book, telling her allies “This is my fight; you shouldn’t have come.” And then: “You, too, Strife? Why can’t any of you let me fight this alone?” Production schedules being what they are, I’m not sure if this is writer Brian Azzarello's response to  fan criticism; it’s just one more way any of us relate to our families, even when they’re trying to help.

Ultimately, the key to the story comes down to love. Last issue, Aphrodite begged off the wedding invitation, opining, “There isn’t space in hell for love; it’s too cluttered.” This issue, we see just how right she is, and what strength love brings to Diana, and what a weakness that lack of love brings to Hades. (Although we later see all hope isn’t lost there, either, as the twin gifts of Hephaestus and Diana may work some magic.) And, incidentally, we get to see the effects of love on the rest of the Olympian family, through the eyes of Hephaestus, who certainly has plenty of experience, given that he’s married to (and cuckholded by) Love herself.

Aside from the issue’s striking cover by regular artist Cliff Chiang, this issue’s art is split between Kano and regular fill-in Tony Akins (with inks by Dan Green). Their styles complement each other, and it’s not jarring at all when one artist’s work gives way to the next’s. (It helps that it’s timed for the exact moment when the action kicks up to a crescendo – well planned, editor Idelson!) Colorist Matthew Wilson reinforces the eerie environment of the Underworld, giving everyone’s skin an unsettling, greenish cast.

It’s unclear where the story goes from this point; aside from Zola’s impending baby, the immediate plot threads are all tied up for the time being. But with this issue, Azzarello put Diana solidly back in the spotlight, focusing on her most important asset. Fueled by love, as she says, winning isn’t always the goal. But with it, she knows she can never lose.

Rob

Monday, May 07, 2012

Five Boro

I learned as a child not to trust in my body.
I’ve carried that burden through my life.
But there’s a day when we all have to be pried loose.
-Bruce Cockburn


Yesterday, I rode 40 miles on my bike through New York City, along with 32,000 other people, including my wife Kathy and my pals Andrew and Jay. Forty miles sounds like a lot, and I was nervous. I wasn’t kicking and screaming, but I can’t say I was wholeheartedly looking forward to it, either.

Kathy & Andrew set out first, with an earlier start time, necessitating a wake-up time for her that could only be described as “god-awful.” After riding down Victory Blvd. to St. George Terminal on our bikes, Jay and I made it onto the ferry and over to Battery Park in time for our ride to begin at 9:15.

From the start, I felt much better on the bike than I had on Friday. I was still recovering from being sick during the week, but my main problem was that my knees – the left on in particular – were in no mood to take me up a hill, and complained via explosions of pain on the first part of my training ride. But on the real thing, the knees were up for it. I still hadn’t had much of my morning coffee, but a banana and jelly donut were fuel for me to ride with Jay (and some 12,000 others) up 6th Avenue up past Herald Square and Radio City and into Central Park. And very quickly as we rode, I realized I wasn’t nervous at all. I was having fun.
In Central Park, we rode alongside an older rider with a tiny boom box strapped to a rear rack. It was blasting cycling related tunes; Queen’s “Bicycle” was the one that caught our ears, but there were others. I thanked him as we passed.

We stopped for a restroom break in Harlem, while gospel singers were belting music to inspire us on a corner stage. We emerged from that area into a blocks-long traffic jam where we inched forward, our bikes at our sides. Had we fully known how long the line would have been, I’d have given in to my impulse to stop at Doug E.’s Fried Chicken and Waffles. I’m sure I somehow could have managed a few bites with my bike resting on my hip.

After the jam turned a corner and finally dispersed, we rode a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip into and out of the Bronx, and made it to the first big rest stop…which we were told would be closing in 15 minutes. We scarfed down a banana, a bagel, and a box of raisins, and hit the road again, fueled and rested enough to skip stop #2.

People say the toughest bridge is the Verrazano, but the Queensborough seems steeper, if not as long, and it was brutal pedaling up it, but I refused to walk. Once over the hump and into Queens, I was able to stop and take some pictures from the freeway. It was a good day for skyline shots.


After a shorter jam-up in Queens, we made it over to Brooklyn. Somewhere along the ride, a woman in front of me dropped her sunglasses. I stopped to pick them up, and was lightly rear-ended by another rider—nothing major, just a slight bump. And when I rode up ahead and was able to hand the woman her (unbroken) glasses, it was worth it.

Throughout it all, the ride was easy and for the most part, flat. It just felt like a casual day, riding at pretty much our own pace. Jay and I were always passing people, and it’s not like we were fast ourselves. After a few minutes at the third rest stop—a sizeable parking lot that was bordered by a fantastic overlook—we got back to the ride.


Here’s where it started getting slowly more difficult. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway isn’t quite flat, and we were following its slight uphill grade for several miles. We passed a rider in a homemade Captain America costume, complete with a shield on his back. Also a guy with a bunch of Superman figurines on his helmet, one of them flying and planting the flag. Eventually, we stopped at the final water station before the Verrazano Bridge.

The bridge itself is long, and high, and chilly, because on the lower level you’re riding in the shade. But Jay and I didn’t have any trouble clearing it, and from everything I’d heard, I was expecting this bridge to do its best to break us. We climbed it in one go, shot some pictures at the apex, and then glided down into the festival at the foot of the bridge.


I started with a quote from one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs, “Last Night of the World.” As a kid, I was never very good at sports, and never much interested besides. I preferred not to trust in my body; it’s always tended to let me down. I’ve let it down, too.

But every now and then, we get pried loose.



Rob


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds

...and binding with briars my joys and desires.

In one of my favorite films, Lone Star, Chris Cooper plays what I think may be The World's Saddest Sheriff. I've finally found a companion to the film, the 1950 Robert Bresson film Diary of a Country Priest, in which Claude Laydu shows us what inner torment really means as The World's Saddest Priest.


I haven't finished watching the movie yet -- I've been digesting it slowly, much like the priest with his stomach problems, and his absurdly bleak self-imposed diet of stale bread and wine. But I've certainly gotten far enough to feel certain that nothing will ever go this poor guy's way. He can't even bring himself to pray... although he reasons that the desire to pray is as good as prayer in God's eyes.

Anyway, not much to report. It's a well-made, affecting film... and one that has done no favors for my own mood, to be perfectly honest. Once this is over, I think I'll need to pop a couple of Father Ted episodes in the DVD player. As an exorcism, of sorts.


Now there's a priest who isn't cursed by an excess of self-examination.

Rob

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hot Tub Alarm Clock Machine


Last night I dreamed I had dinner with Mitt Romney.

It was private dinner, with Mitt and a bunch of my friends and me. It was mostly just genial chit-chat. And then someone made a joke about another friend, with connections to the media (and, in the dream, the Obamasphere), having attended a hot-tub party with Bill Clinton back in the 90s. And Mitt just laughed and we moved on, but then the person emphasized that they were just joking about the hot-tub party. And suddenly it seemed like we were covering it up. Like there was actually a Clinton Hot Tub Party, and my friend was there, and Boy Did He Have Stories. And for the rest of the night—even as Mitt was washing the dishes as we were leaving—we just continued to deny and deny this totally made-up hot-tub party. Which just made the made-up party sound truly scandalous. But Mitt just chuckled and scrubbed a pot, saying, “I know; relax; it’s no big deal.”

And I’d say, “No, really, we were joking.”

And he’d say he believed us, but we could see the gears spinning in his head, planning to use this fabricated hot-tub party as opposition research. (As if he were running against Clinton, but whatever.) But the more we denied it, the more credibility we gave the story. Hell, suddenly I wasn't sure if it had ever happened, either.

So when we got back to our hotel—where, coincidentally, a hot-tub party was going on, and my buddy was there. I told him, “Dude, I think you’re gonna be on the news.”

And then, after all the talk of hot-tub parties and Mitt Romney washing dishes in his sink, I woke up, realizing I had to pee.

Rob

P.S. Special Behind the Scenes Info! You'd think by Googling "Bill Clinton Hot Tub" I'd have plenty of (photoshopped) images to work with, but there was really just one, and it was awful. So use your imaginarium for this.