Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring Out The Old


2010 is a brand new year--one that promises to either free me... or kill me.

Ladies and gents, put yer money down.

Happy new year, everybody. Make it count.

Rob

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Decade in Rob

I just got tagged in a new meme by the ever-adorable Ami Angelwings. This is how she describes it:

It's the "of the decade" meme! Basically come up with 3 categories and who you think wins that category! Be creative!

Like what I mean isn't just "best comic book of the decade"... like "best moustache of an comic creator of the decade" or whatever.. it can be serious (best Asian male film character of the decade) or not or whatever.. it doesn't have to be about comics, or games or whatever.. it can be about nething (worst hair of a world leader, weirdest food trend... etc etc)

and tag 3-5 other ppl! And then they come up with 3 categories.. etc :] The main part is to be creative!

Full Disclosure: The learned judges at Ami Central named me “Best Comics Blogger.. hell... Blogger period.. forget that.. WRITER.. named Rob Staeger this decade.” It’s a big honor, and I’m sure as hell going to try to live up to it next decade. This one, I fear I very nearly got elbowed out by my evil twin in Chicago. But as they say in A Christmas Story, it’s A Major Award, and it’s going right on the windowsill where everyone can see it!

I’m going to use blogger’s prerogative to supply more than three, since I’ve got a few serious ones at the end, and I don’t wanna lead with them.

Comics Artist of the Decade: Darwyn Cooke. Here, I will brook no argument. Brooke Shields, if you’re reading this, I know you’re a big Paul Pope fan, but with all due respect, Brooking. No. Argument.

(Actually, I listed a few other comics pics on one of Ami’s earlier posts, so you can read them there.)

Christmas Movie of the Decade: Bad Santa. All the best Christmas stories are Scrooge stories, and Thornton plays the Grinchiest Scrooge of all.

Horror Imagery of the Decade: The creeping vines in Scott Smith’s novel, The Ruins. When we finally got rid of that hideous wallpaper in the dining room, it was one of the many reasons I breathed a sigh of relief.

TV Show of the Decade: Arrested Development. Every episode was a little joyous ball of wrong.

Vampire of the Decade: Shane McAllister, from Jeri Smith-Ready’s WVMP novels. Not only do her vamps have a great gimmick—they’re stuck in the time they “died,” but being late-night oldies-era deejays can keep their minds from deteriorating until they become true monsters—but Shane is that rare romantic-lead vamp who doesn’t make me want to throw a chair. Instead, through the magic of seeing a friend’s creation grow and take life, he makes me want to write. Which is important as hell. Thanks for that, Jeri.

Trend of the Decade: Friendship.

It’s easy to make friends in school. You’ve got peers all around you, and while you’ll never get along with everyone, chances are you’ll find a core group, or even just one person, who gets you. That’s what I’ve found, anyway. Though all through elementary, high school and college, I also recognized I was pretty lucky, friendwise.

Just the same, I kinda thought I was through with making new friends to a large degree after my education stopped. There just weren’t the same opportunities to meet them in the working world. But you don’t always get what you expect. And I’ve managed to find and keep friends in each job I’ve had since the 90s: John & Steph from the newspaper, Mike & Lisa from the children’s crusade, and a whole bunch from the gun mags, including the Jims, Slaton, the Mikes, Shayna, Margaret & Justin. And more.

And then there are the friends who totally blindside you. Ami (remember Ami? The lady doling out awards?) is one; somehow we found each other in the blogosphere, and traded comments, then e-mails, and even had a chance to meet at a comic con last year in Philly. She’s someone I never would have met without this complex series of tubes connecting us, and the unlikelihood of our meeting makes every contact a little bit astonishing to me. Then there are all my friends at the Captain Comics site; I've only met a few of them in person (actually, just one), but I enjoy checking in with them every day; it's a great community, and it's been interesting in the past year to see them on facebook and twitter as well. What was once compartmentalized is extending through everything.

Two other friends, Don & Brenda, we met on a big group vacation. We’d be living with strangers and their kids for a week, along with two more families we knew. It could have been a disaster; instead, we were quickly thick as thieves. There’s a terrific musical by Jo Carol Pierce called Bad Girls Upset by the Truth. It’s got a line I try to remember when I go out into the world: “Friends are fine, but to have a truly interesting life, you must have strangers.” Every now and then, someone makes the switch from stranger to friend. And there’s nothing in the world better.

There are other friends, of course—some I’ve known since elementary school, and one (who I’ll be seeing tonight) I’ve known from even before then. And thanks to the internet, I’ve gotten back in touch with a number of them, and kept in better touch with others of the bunch, too distant to see as often as we’d like. But the Oughts were the decade that surprised me, by bringing me friends I never expected, whether in the office, online, or around a D&D table.

Rob-Centric Event of the Decade:

In June, 2001, in the town of Kinsale, Ireland, a smart, talented, funny, beautiful woman who should really know better made a dreadful mistake by agreeing to marry me. And then in April of 2003, she doubled down and said “I do.” No matter what else happened this decade, this event elevates the Oughts beyond compare.

In closing, the Nineties can Suck It.

Rob


P.S. I'm tagging Jeri, Jim the Bastard, Sharon, Travis, Geoff and Greg.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Spiraling, at Glen Burtnik's Xmas Xtravaganza. Merry Christmas, everybody.



Rob

Oops!

Just for a second, Harry Reid voted no on healthcare reform.

Rob

They Really Got Me

While I'm browsing around online, I'm listening to one of NPR's All Songs Considered podcasts: a concert by Ray Davies and a choir singing Kinks classics. All those voices singing "You Really Got Me"--it's quite a sound. It even seems Christmassy without having any tinsel in the lyrics.

And browsing through their archives, you can find concerts by Tom Waits, Iron & Wine, Arlo Guthrie, the Avett Brothers, Deer Tick, the Decemberists, Steve Earle, and even some artists I'm not obsessed with... but you might be. Great live music, all for free. Enjoy, fellow babies.

Rob

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Puppetry of the Dickhead

I'm on my last legs -- a combination of an early morning and some mid-afternoon bourbon, topped off with a possible oncoming cold -- so I'll just refer you to Chris Sims' awesome takedown of Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special:

"His act is based almost entirely on racism and homophobia delivered through a set of puppets, each of which is more pandering to his cracker-ass audience than the last, and whose lines are delivered by a ventriloquist who can't even be bothered to stop his lips from moving all the time."
Seriously, read the whole thing.

Rob

Monday, December 21, 2009

The All-Too-Real Legend of the Bat


The Riff blog at Mother Jones directed me to this post by Eric Grignol about the intersection of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and Batwoman's origin story, currently being serialized in Detective Comics 858-860 (issue 860 goes on sale on Wednesday). I've been reading comics for more than 30 years, and I'd say that this element of Kate Kane's past is probably the most realistic and human superhero origin story I've ever read. Which is especially impressive, given the character's clumsy rollout in 52 a few years ago; it makes me gladder than ever that Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams were able to take their time on this series. Not to be missed.

Rob

Saturday, December 19, 2009

So This Is Christmas

Tonight, weather permitting (and so far, it looks like it just might permit), we’ll be going to Glen Burtnik’s Xmas Xtravaganza, an annual Christmas concert Kathy & I have been going to since our second date back when the world was young. It’s a great time, which I’ve written about before, and promises to be one again.

It’s also the real kick-off of the Christmas spirit for me. I always enter late in the game, but this concert always warms me up in a way that’s just perfect. It makes me remember the True Meaning of Christmas, in all caps.

Now, my True Meaning of Christmas might not be the same as yours. For one thing, there’s a lot less Jesus in mine. No one knows when Jesus was actually born (although some astronomers claim is was June 17), but it’s fairly commonly agreed that the December 25 date is commemorative, rather than an actual anniversary. The date itself is arbitrary.

Except it’s not. Not here, anyway. We’re heading for the shortest day of the year, and we’re in for two or three months of cold and darkness. Snow and ice and nasty weather threaten to strike at any time, messing with our well-laid plans and isolating us from our friends and family. The beginning of December sees us staring down a meteorological crapquake, and the warmth of spring seems unimaginably distant.

So we need Christmas now. Whenever Jesus was born, and whatever he ultimately means, we need Christmas on December 25, to help us be brave enough to face the cold and dark. To give us some twinkling lights to see, and hearty songs to sing.

It’s time to make our own warmth. It’s time to gather with loved ones, and express how much they mean to you. It’s time to enjoy cookies and fruitcake and big honkin’ hams. It’s a good time for bourbon, it’s a good time for stout. And more than anything, it’s a good time to smile at a stranger, and wish them a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, whatever. It doesn’t matter what you wish for them: just make a wish. Maybe next year will be better than this one, and maybe it won’t. But we’ll all be going through it together, and there’s nothing wrong with huddling together for warmth.

Rob

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ulp.

This could be beyond bad.

Rob

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jotsome and Fletsam

Well, I didn't come anywhere close to getting my word count to where I wanted it to be in November. The combination of a magazine closing and a general malaise sank my writing in the gutter for the second half of the month. But I'm doing my best to bounce back in December, putting in some time every weekday. I want a novel--this novel--and the only way I'm going to get it is if I write it.

But I have to say, God is it awful sometimes.

Take today, for instance. I realized in writing yesterday's section that I missed out on a crucial action that anyone in my protagonist's situation would do. So I broke yesterday's section apart and wrote a scene in the middle where he does that thing--spending some time looking around for someone. Problem is, I knew he wasn't going to find who he was looking for--the plot demands a bigger entrance later on. So essentially, I was sending my character on a wild goose chase.

I can think of three ways that sort of scene gets handled in a finished book. 1) My protagonist succeeds in finding Character B -- which would pull apart later plot threads, but might wind up for the better. I won't know until this draft is done, if then. 2) My protagonist goes seeking Character B, but finds something else important... say, Item C. This is probably my favorite way to handle this, as long as I can keep it suspenseful. Problem is, I've got no idea what sort of item, fact, clue or trap C could be right now, and spending 1,000 words on a midnight stroll didn't quite get me there. Or 3) The scene winds up being cut, and only referred to so that the character and the author have covered the bases. It moves things along, at least.

Thing is, however it gets eventually handled, it won't be handled how I handled it this afternoon--by writing a thousand-word shaggy dog story that covers the bases in the longest lap possible. There's something in there... but I don't know what it is, or, at the moment, how to get it out.

Now, whatever my illusions are, I never expected to keep all the stuff I'm writing during this draft. But it still sucks to know that even as I'm writing--but also to know that if I don't write this part now, I won't be able to make my brain continue on to a point that might have a chance of surviving a revision.

Ah, well. As long as I'm moving in some direction, I can arbitrarily call if "forward," I guess.

Rob

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dreamin' My Life Away

So I dreamed that my friends from the ol’ gun mag and I were trying to kill each other. Specifically, Jim the Bastard and I were engaged in some sort of road-rally deathmatch down I-95. And somewhere in Maryland, I had to pull over to get more gas, and I made the mistake of sitting down where I thought I was safe.

Now, the Bastard and I were both wounded… it had been a hell of a fight up to that point. And at the time I thought I was safe, I knew Jim was a few miles behind me. So I sat down in the rest stop, and out of nowhere, Chicago Jerkface (another mag friend) sits down right behind me and bap. bap. bap. Shoots me in the back of the head, three times with a .22.

Which, under normal circumstances, would kill me. But it being a dream, all I could feel were these three bb-like bullets in the back of my head, right around where my skull meets my spine. I knew I didn’t have long... and I knew I couldn’t trust myself to drive, because I could black out and endanger people. (Yes… I didn’t want to hurt anyone during my Interstate Murder Race.)

I spotted a cab, and asked him where the nearest hospital was. He said “3.2 miles,” and I said, “Good, because I’ve been shot in the back of the head.”

So I got in the cab, and we got back onto I-95. And there were horrific, horrific accidents wherever I looked. And yet my cabbie was able to skirt them or run over them, and at one point actually plowed through the flaming wreckage of a school bus. At some point, the cab changed from a normal taxi to a three-wheeled ATV towing a yellow motorcycle-like thing with wings, which I rode. The ATV couldn’t fly, but the passenger area could get a few feet in the air to hop over bodies and such.

At this point, the cabbie says, “Where to?” and I say, “The hospital in 3.2 miles, remember? I’ve been shot in the head?”

Turns out we’ve been going the wrong direction. But he knows another hospital nearby. We take some back roads to get there, and I start to think going to this other hospital is probably a good idea, because the Bastard and Jerkface won’t look for me there – they’ll be going to the closer hospital to finish me off. By the time the cabbie pulls up to this new hospital, however, I notice my family and some of my friends clustered outside the emergency room. I stumble off the back of the cab and onto a gurney. My old buddy Jeff opens his wallet and pulls out enough money to pay the cabbie… at least a fifty, and some other bills. I look up at him as I’m being wheeled into the ER and say, “Thanks, man. I had no idea how I was gonna pay him. You saved my life.”

And then I woke up for a couple minutes, and then I went back to sleep and dreamed that my grandfather was finally being released from prison. So a big night for dreaming, all around.

Rob

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

NJ Marriage Equality

I found this link on my friend Geoff's Gay in Public blog: a calling tool which finds and connects you with your state senator, so you can tell them how you feel about marriage equality. I just called the office of my senator, Barbara Buono, and urged her to support S1967, which would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey. With Christie on his way in as governor, Thursday's vote might be the last serious chance to pass this bill and get it approved for a few years. And people shouldn't have to wait that long to get married.

As for the Courage Campaign's calling tool, it's excellent. Before I called, I looked around, trying to find info on where Sen. Buono stood on the issue. I could have saved myself the trouble, since before placing the call, it a) confirmed that Sen. Buono is my district's senator, and b) told me that her position on the issue is "unknown." Hopefully, my call (and yours, and yours) will help convince her to take a stand for equality, on the right side of history. (I should also note that before the call connected with her office, there was a recording from the courage campaign with some brief coaching on how to approach the call. It's all easy as pie.)

So call today. And call tomorrow. Even if you're not gay, this is important. None of us are free until we all are free.

Update: The vote's been postponed. Fingers crossed.

Rob

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fashion! (Turn to the Left!)

Matt Taibbi takes a look at what makes a left-winger these days:

If you scratch the surface of “left” you’ll find that it has a lot more to do with attitudes and cultural markers relative to the bourgeois norm than it does to do with political beliefs, ideas about the role of government, taxes, and so on.

It’s much easier to figure out who’s “left” and who isn’t using cultural litmus tests than it is using position papers. What’s the left position on monetary policy? I have no idea. What’s the left’s position on American Idol? Easy: it rolls its eyes.
Worth a read, simply for setting the definition as it stands into writing.

Rob
(Via Mark E.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Found! Lost Pages From The Blank Album!

A video that comes to us from the year 3,000 A.D., as historians and archaeologists discuss the Beatles.



It reminds me of those old Grendel comics where Elvis's cape and belt were holy relics.

Rob

This Joke Does Not Compute.

Humor doesn't always age well.

The style of presenting a gag changes, for one thing. Setups that are fresh and innovative when first presented can seem tired and lethargic when viewed after 40 years of other comics building, tweaking, and distorting that initial joke.

Other things, we're just not comfortable laughing about anymore. Tastes and sensitivities change, and while there are things we'll joke about today that would scandalize previous generations, it doesn't take a lot of digging to find jokes from the past that we'd find outrageous today (say, practically anything Frank Sinatra ever said onstage to Sammy Davis, Jr.).


But sometimes there are other problems, too.

Kathy & I were watching Woody Allen's 1969 film Take the Money and Run, which on the whole holds up really nicely. I'd never seen it before, and it's so light and silly that it just gallops along. Most of the Woody Allen comedies I'd seen were quirky, human-scale things, with the humor coming from character's insecurities and neuroses. This, though, was full of sight-gags and non-sequitur, like when Allen's character's girlfriend "makes him a home-cooked meal" while he's in prison: a hard-boiled egg that she presses through the screen that separates them in the prison visitation room, replicating those wire egg cutters somewhere in the back of a kitchen drawer in ever house.

But there's one moment that used to be funny, and simply wasn't any more. Allen's character (Virgil) is applying for a job at an insurance company, and just lying his way through the job interview, since as a lifelong thief, he doesn't have any job experience. (As an example of how bad his lies are, when he's asked what kind of an office he used to work in, he says "rectangular.") Further along in the interview, he has this exchange with the manager:

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever had any experience in running a high-speed digital electronic computer?

VIRGIL: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Where?

VIRGIL: (A short pause.) My aunt has one.
At the time--the year I was born--"My aunt has one" was a ridiculous answer. It was the height of absurdity: What the hell would his aunt be doing with a high-speed digital electronic computer?

Now, of course, there's one in every home. That joke simply doesn't work anymore.

And when I realized that, I laughed so hard I had to pause the TV until I could catch my breath.

Rob

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Six Words

Newsweek just tweeted:


In 6 words, your thoughts on a Dick Cheney presidency. Send entries, along with your full name, city, and state, to sixwords@newsweek.com

Here's my entry:

Things would get so, so, so, so much worse.

I know that's not six, but I'm having trouble cutting it down.

Rob

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

A little more on nostalgia.

One thing I noticed on my list is that some of the cultural touchstones of my generation—Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, particularly—aren’t on my list of nostalgia movies. And I really do love Raiders, and I really did love Star Wars. They’re great movies, and came out right at the perfect time for me, when I was 8-11. Pretty much zero hour for nostalgia.

I guess the difference is: They kept coming out. Empire followed Star Wars, and was even better… but then Jedi came out, and it was good… but also kind of a letdown. I was in high school rather than elementary school, and instead of a mind-blowing experience, I got a really good action movie. And then neither of the Raiders movies grabbed me the same way as the first. Partially because I was older, and probably also because it’s breakneck pace simply wasn’t as new to me. (And maybe they weren’t as good. It’s been years since I’ve seen Temple of Doom or Last Crusade, and I didn’t even bother with the one this summer.)

And Star Wars, of course, returned with awfulness, to an extent that I’m surprised how thoroughly it killed my interest even in the original movies. That shouldn’t happen, but it did. But I don’t think it’s so much the drop in quality that makes me less nostalgic for these properties. It’s that, well, they’re properties. They kept coming out and were a constant presence at the time when I was growing up and realizing that these movies weren’t just amazing flights of imagination, but also launching pads for toys and games and lunchboxes and happy meals. If there’s just been one movie of each, the phenomenon would have passed before I recognized it. But since they kept coming out, each new movie was born to someone growing more cynical about the whole process. I was hardly a hard-nosed cynic at 14, but I was aware enough to know that people wanted to sell me things.

I wonder if the sweet spot of Star Wars nostalgia isn’t maybe 6 years younger than me, where the kids would have seen the first two movies on VHS or in the theater rereleases, and then they were taken to see Jedi for the first time. Their minds would be blown, just like mine was with that first movie. And then they would have had fifteen years of nothing… the perfect soil for nostalgia to take root. But since I first saw Star Wars, one thing has been layered on top of another so many times that the original moment I could be nostalgic for is lost under layers and layers of extraneous stuff.

This:

is occluded by this:

and by the time this comes out, who cares?

Strangely enough, I am still nostalgic for certain runs of comics I read as a kid: The Bates/Swan Superman of the 70s, the Bates/Novick Flash, the Levitz/Giffen Legion. I think, in their cases, there’s an opposite effect to a constant presence killing nostalgia. These books came out every month—so often, and with so much work produced, that I could be nostalgic for specific stories and runs without mixing it up with the properties themselves. I might not have noticed the departure of Irv Novick originally, but by the time Don Heck was drawing Flash a few years later, I knew my personal golden age on the title had passed... and later figured out when. And the Levitz run of Legion stood so high above what had come before that it was like comparing Star Wars to Solar Babies. It was incredible, world-expanding stuff. And even more important, it felt like it was mine.

Maybe that’s what nostalgia is. A sense of ownership of the material you love, and a true ownership of your own personal experience of reading/watching/listening to it. I remember hearing Styx’s “Too Much Time On My Hands” for the first time over the radio when my friend Tom slept over in 1979—the first time I ever listened to FM, top-40/rock radio. I’m not so nostalgic for that song, but man, do I remember that listen. That’s nostalgia.

We can’t own pop culture: it’s for everybody. It’s pop. But we can own our memories, and how these things touched us. I heard a story on the radio a while back about how when you remember an event that you’d forgotten for years, it’s much stronger and more precise—and more faithful to the truth of the event—than something you mull over every day. Which might be why Star Wars had progressively less hold on me when I got older and saw it in more and more contexts, and why Airplane—a movie I saw a lot in a specific time, and then not again for decades—hits me so much more strongly.

Rob

Celluloid Heroes Never Really Die

My favorite podcast, Filmspotting, recently offered up a Top 5 list of favorite “nostalgia” movies—movies that they, personally, felt nostalgic about. I’ve given it some thought, and come up with a list of my own. It’s tough to narrow it down to just five.

I figure it’s best to start with the runners-up. The most recent film on the list, The Breakfast Club was the first R-Rated movie I ever saw in the theater, and while I can’t say I know how well it speaks to high-schoolers today, I know that when I was in the theater watching that movie, I know that when I was watching it that first time (and every time thereafter) I was struck with one feeling: This gets us.

Then there’s the Jason & the Argonauts/Clash of the Titans twofer – movies I remember more for scenes than for the entire throughline. Jason seemed to be on every Thanksgiving or Christmas at my Aunt & Uncle’s house, and somehow there’d be a TV with it on that I could watch while other people were crowded around a football game. There is nothing more spectacular than that skeleton fight. As for Clash, it’s not so much for the movie itself (though the bow-wielding Medusa was terrifying), but instead the fact that my pal Jeff and I stayed up all night in a tent in his backyard so we could go back into his house at 3 a.m. to watch it on HBO.

Another cable classic was The Man With Bogart’s Face, a movie about a private eye (Bogie-lookalike Robert Sacchi) who loved old movies so much that he got plastic surgery to look like Humphey Bogart… and who, of course, gets involved with a Maltese Falcon-like mystery. I’d never even seen any Bogart movies at that point (I was probably 12 when it was in heavy rotation on Prism, the Philly-area pay-movie/sports station we subscribed to), but this light mystery drew me into the mystique completely. I found it on VHS a few years ago, and enjoyed watching it even as an adult. (The cable-overkill comedy Scavenger Hunt might be on this list, except I rented that a decade or so back, and good grief, it was bad.)

And one more cable classic: Airplane. Absurd humor for every angle. There’s a new gag with every line, and I ate it up, watching this movie again and again when I was a kid. I just picked it up on DVD, and really can’t wait until I’m in a silly enough mood to pop it in and relax.

Now onto the top 5:

History of the World, Part 1: I actually think Airplane is a better movie than this (though no doubt about it, History is screamingly funny). But I might have watched this every day for a year on my friend John’s VCR. And as I look for a job as a stand-up philospher, Bea Arthur’s words at the unemployment office ring truer than ever: “Oh, a Bullshit Artist! Did you bullshit today? Did you try to bullshit today?” Each and every day, Bea.

The Poseidon Adventure. High Drama on the High Seas – I probably know this movie better from the Mad Magazine parody (“The Poopsidedown Adventure”) than the movie itself, but boy did I watch it on its yearly TV rotation. There are certain movies that, when they came on TV, it was an event. The Poseidon Adventure was one, at least at our house.

The Wizard of Oz. This might be higher on the list, except it feels less personal, and more universal to me. It’s a great movie (and another TV event), but I realize there are scenes that are larger in my imagination than they were on screen. For instance, I can picture the Cowardly Lion jumping through a window in the palace in Emerald City: a slow-mo, head-on shot with green glass shards flying everywhere. No such shot exists; he just ducks off to the side. But in my head: Whoa. We’re talking Michael Bay effects, but with characters that I’ve known so long that they’re nestled in my heart.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. This Steve Martin movie was the counterpoint to The Man with Bogart’s Face –at the very least, it’s part of what gave me my appreciation for old crime movies. It’s kind of crazy how a send-up of those movies was so accessible to a kid who’d never really seen them before, but the private eye tropes were all around our culture (including The Electric Company: Remember “Fargo North: Decoder”?) and the editing trickery (intercutting Martin with films of yesteryear) and the silly spy story really got to me. Plus: Cleaning Woman!?!?!?

And finally:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’m not as candy-centric as my wife, but I know a wonderland when I see one. But the thing this movie gets so right (and so much so-called “children’s entertainment” gets wrong) is that it accentuates the sweet with a large dollop of bitter. Slugworth is terrifying, Wonka is worn down, cruel and defeated, and all the kids (save Charlie) are horrible brats. This gets to be my number one nostalgia movie in large part because it doesn’t seem nostalgic for childhood at all. It’s nostalgic for goodness, wherever it can find it, and knows it's scarce. But the film also shows that goodness sometimes can inspire goodness in others, even when they don’t expect it. It’s almost a Scrooge story, and it’s a surefooted delight.

So that’s my list. What are your nostalgia movies?

Rob
(Because I fascinate me: More here.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Convienience Uber Alles

One of these days I'm going to get around to posting some actual Rob-created content here again. Until then, check out Eric Burns-White's post on Websnark about the new media/old media divide. Here's a slice, but there's a lot more food for thought where this came from.

I don't know very many people who read a newspaper cover to cover, whether online or on paper. But a lot of people read articles that are germane to them right at that moment. Articles get linked on twitter or Livejournal. Google gathers these things together and points people at them when they're interested. And news sources that accept that they're a brief stopover on one's daily web journey get far more traffic than news sources that make a person jump through hoops to get the news. Bring money into the equation, and suddenly that readership drops by another order of magnitude or two. Robert Murdoch and those like him may assert the value of their goods, and equally assert that content must be paid for, but the only thing they can possibly do is make their content irrelevant to the broader world that's coming.

Let me repeat that.

The only thing paywalls or other direct monetization can do for newspapers or any other topical content is make it irrelevant to the world of the internet age.

Burns-White goes on to assert that convenience trumps all other characteristics of the content: quality, reliability, etc. On a level playing field, quality will out. But if there's even a little hurdle to cross before reaching it--even free registration--some other content filling the same niche will get the hits instead.

From experience, I know convenience affects my behavior. I read Krugman, Dowd, Herbert, and Rich all the time for a while at the New York Times' site. Then they erected a paywall, which lasted for a while, and I stopped. (For a little while, I went to a pirate site to read them, but that was too much hassle.) Now there's no longer a pay wall... and I read them occasionally. Usually when someone links to Herbert or Krugman, and Maureen Dowd, very rarely at all. Frank Rich is the only one of the bunch I seek out on my own.

I don't know what that says, really. Except that even some temporary inconvenience can break a consumer habit.

Rob


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gobble, Gobble.

A friend of mine showed me this picture the other day, and I can't think of any better way to celebrate Thanksgiving on the blog. Have a good one, everybody.

(And thanks, Dave!)

Rob

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You know what's cool?

This is cool:

The White House is going to host an annual science fair.

“If you win the N.C.A.A. championships, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too,” Mr. Obama said. “Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House, we’re going to lead by example.”

He added, “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”
I'm so glad we've finally got a president who appreciates the value of science and knowledge.

Rob
(Also, he gave a shout-out to Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters, who were in attendance. Again, just plain cool.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Second Best Thing

The best way to eliminate marriage discrimination is to make same-sex marriages legal. Period. In a generation, people will be looking back at this era and wondering why anyone every would have stood against this. But there's no sense in another generation of Americans being denied their rights, and certainly no justice in that.

But if you're looking for delicious irony, McClatchy reports that Texans might have found the second-best way to end marriage discrimination. Here's the headline:



I know irony is bad for me, but it's so, so delicious that I can't keep away.

Rob

Movie Wars

Looking for the next great time-suck? Looking to put a double-tap to the back of the head of your productivity? Let me introduce you to my newest Internet obsession: Flickchart.

The concept is simple. The website shows you posters for two movies. You click on the one you like better. And then it uses those results to rank the movies you've chosen (and the ones you've passed over. (It weeds out movies you haven't seen.)

And you choose. Star Wars over The Hunt for Red October. Chinatown over Porky's. Fargo over Batman. Choices that, at least to my mind, are pretty clear-cut.

And then it gets cruel. How do you choose between Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Princess Bride? Which is better, Chinatown or Young Frankenstein? A Christmas Story versus Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Who comes up with these pairs? When I logged on to do this, I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Come to think of it, when I logged on to do this, my tea was still hot in the mug. Now it's cold, and only half-drank.

But I choose. And I click. And I click some more. Eventually, I find the filters that lets me compare movies of a certain decade, certain director, certain actor, or just movies I haven't been asked about yet. I find the way to specifically get questions about a certain movie, which takes some of the randomized weirdness out of my list (True Lies was my number one movie for a disconcertingly long time).

But the choices don't get any easier. Which is better: This is Spinal Tap or Aliens? King Kong or The Wizard of Oz? And how can I choose between Star Wars Episode I and Transformers? Can either of them be better than anything?

For movie lovers, this is like playing a video game of Sophie's Choice.

Join me, won't you?

Rob
(P.S. I left the computer on when I went to bed, and when I woke up and logged on it was asking me to choose between Road to Perdition and Spaceballs. I had to close the window before I was sucked in again.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Imagine

The Internet plays hell with my attention span. I always have half a dozen windows open, hopping from one to the next when I get halfway through a news article or blog post or message board thread. I look, I link, I wander.

Not this time.

This short story, written by Christopher Bird, grabbed me from word one, and I didn't stop until I reached the finish. It starts out as an exercise in imaginary nostalgia... Oh, I don't want to ruin it. Just enjoy:

Scenes From An Alternate Universe Where The Beatles Accepted Lorne Michaels’ Generous Offer


Rob

Sunday, November 08, 2009

There is wine and beer and scotch in Rob.

Rob crawled upstairs to get to the internet, and needless to say, scotch or no scotch. he's probably going to bed as soon as he's satisfied this is punctuated halfway right. Cheers.

Rob

Saturday, November 07, 2009

More Nano

In the past few days, I wrote 660, then 913, then 1197 words... bringing my total words so far to 6871. It's a few thousand below where I'd like to be, but there's no denying that the book is moving forward much faster than it had been. Only 43,129 words to go by November 30th!

I should probably mention that, unlike Nano, I might not end the book when I reach that magic number. But by that point, I'll probably be careening headlong into an ending, whether I intend to or not.

Rob

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nano Update

Another good day for Nano yesterday: another 2056 words. That puts me at 4101 overall, and even better, I figured out how to make an affect possible in prose that I could only think of in comic-book form. It was a nut I wasn't sure I could crack, and now that I have I'm happier than a pig in Pig Disneyland.

Now to do some work today before my brother arrives and we start watching the game. Go Phils!

Rob

Looking on the Bright Side

Well, the NJ governor's race is over, and look who we got. Needless to say, I'm disappointed. It wasn't so much that I wanted Corzine to win; what I wanted was for Christie to lose. But a lack of enthusiasm for Corzine pretty much inevitable translated into a Christie win.

So we'll likely have four more years of Republicans trying their solutions to the budget and economic crisis, most likely causing an even bigger mess for the next Dem in office. Good luck to him, but I don't expect much good to come of this.

Anyway, I'm trying to look at the upside, and the main one I see is this: Political blogging could suddenly become a lot more fun for me again.


I've come alive again. The night is mine again.

Rob

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Write It All, Let God Sort It Out

So I've been writing a novel for a little while. I've told some people, and not mentioned it to others. But I'm about 25,000 words in, and it had been going pretty well. I was doing about a thousand words a day.

Then two things happened. One: I went to Las Vegas and broke my stride. For about a week, the book was lonely and untouched.

Second: on the journey from point A to point Z, I found myself at point F or G with no idea where to go. I know what has to happen at J or K, and I know where I need to be at point N or O, but I'm in the creamy center of the twinkie with no real idea how to get back to the spongy outer layer, or even a decent analogy.

So I've decided to be an unofficial* participant in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The deal is (and I've done Nano before, and prevailed), you set down 50,000 words of new fiction in a month. It's a tough goal, but it's not impossible. It's an exercise in Quantity over Quality, and intentionally so. Writers -- especially first-time ones, who haven't been through the whole process yet -- can be too precious about their words, and more concerned with the trees than the forest. And right now, my job is to get that forest planted, and I can come back and sculpt the topiary in another draft. And if I can get 50,000 words written in November, that means I'll have 75K of fiction ready to edit and work with in December and beyond. I'll have a solid, solid start, even if much of the text is clumsy and obvious. No one gets to be Ross MacDonald right out of the gate.

Naturally, yesterday I didn't write a word.

Today, however, I continued Chapter 13, allowing the scant words I'd already written of it into my Nano count. And so, my Nano tally stands at:

2045 words; 47,955 to go.

Expect updates.

Rob
*Unofficial because Nano rules say you have to start from scratch.

Día de las Cabezas

Mis amigos,

Querría desearle, todos, cerca y lejos, un Día de las Cabezas feliz y seguro. Puede la cabeza crece tres tamaño este día.

Día de las Cabezas.

¡Día de las Cabezas!

¡Día de las Cabezas!

Le saluda atentamente,

Rob

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I'm Too Late To Wish You a Happy Halloween

But I'm gonna do it anyway.


And how did the Devil land a lady like Lois? Maybe he tempted her with nougat!

Rob

Friday, October 30, 2009

Doorway into Nightmare

Warning: Clicking this link will probably send you crying to Dr. Strange. Or whoever the Sorcerer Supreme is these days.

Rob

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happiness is a Secured Kangaroo

So the song in my head today is "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." I learned the chorus of it in elementary school, and somehow got the impression that it was an old Australian folk song. (It was actually written by Rolf Harris in 1957 and became popular in the early 60s.) Anyway, the chorus goes:

Tie me kangaroo down, sport
Tie me kangaroo down!
Tie me kangaroo down, sport
Tie me kangaroo down!

Which is innocuous enough, and a fun song to get a bunch of elementary school children to sing.

The thing is, when I was just a wee one I didn't quite grasp that "tie me kangaroo" was dialect for "tie my kangaroo." I just thought the "kangaroo" was added to the song just to make it Australian. Perhaps it was a verbal tic Australians had, adding the word "kangaroo" to their sentences without even knowing it. "Pass the kangaroo sugar, please." "What's kangaroo on the telly tonight?"


Problem is, that frame of mind changes the lyrics from someone stressing that you don't want a loose kangaroo on your hands to someone saying, "Tie me down, sport... Tie me down."

As an elementary school kid, I had no idea why someone would want to be restrained in such a fashion. While "Tie me down, sport," takes on a whole new meaning to my adult ears, as I kid I could only think of one explanation:

He was asking to be tied down because he was worried about turning into a werewolf. And if he were a werewolf, he'd probably eat the kangaroo.

Who really should have been tied down, don't ya think?

Rob

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Internet Update

Google Images isn't the only game in town. Undaunted by my earlier failure to track these two guys down, I tried Bing, and I came up with these two images of Jingle and Jangle on the first page of results.


And having settled that matter in my mind, I hope to forget about Christmas for another 50 days or so.

Rob

Shifting Sands

This is pretty amazing... an artist makes a circus in the sand. Enjoy.



Rob

So I guess this is a recurring dream. How 'bout that.

My impression is that recurring dreams are ways the subconscious addresses issues that the conscious mind is unable to face. But, having had this dream twice now, I have to say I'm at a loss for the deeper meaning.

A colorful, do-gooder style ocean vessel (like a Greenpeace ship) pulls up next to a U.S. battleship. Two young men--a gangly blond man and his stocky, curly-headed friend, are escorted from the hippie ship onto the military vessel. They're led far into the depths of the battleship, where there is a room with sound baffles on the walls, and all the equipment of a mobile recording studio. And there, under executive order of the President, they will record the vocal tracks for a recently uncovered "lost" scene from The Year Without a Santa Claus. These two guys were the closest to the hapless elves, Jingle and Jangle, both physically and vocally, and the project could not be delayed.

I have had this dream twice, under two different Presidents. Both want more Year Without a Santa Claus.

Rob
(And as an aside, a Google search turned up only one, thumbnail-size, photo of Jingle and Jangle. The Internet has failed us on this most basic of things.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dreaded "Still Alive" Post.

I'm still alive.

I'm not sure why I haven't been blogging since I returned from Vegas (oh, yeah, I went to Vegas. It was a birthday surprise to my friend Chris, who reads this blog, or else I would have mentioned it beforehand), even though, well, I went to Vegas and had a great time.

And heck, there's still one or two things I'd like to say about Folk Fest, and that was back in August.

But anyway, I'm still alive, and regular blogging will resume shortly. Well, as regular as it gets around here, anyway.

Rob
(Meanwhile, out of the blue, a 3-year-old guest post I did on Sharon's blog saw some action today.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Stop Your Parents' Car...I Just Saw a Shooting Star

One of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, was on one of my favorite talk shows the other night. They performed "Laundry Room," and did a real nice job of it, I think.

So give it a listen, while I ponder why a newly 40-year-old dude responds so strongly to a song so young.



Rob
I am a breathing time machine.

Rob's Couch vs. The Wages of Fear

For the past week or so, I've been watching an excellent movie called The Wages of Fear. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, The Wages of Fear is about four men living in a South American hellhole of a town. It's an awful, poverty-stricken place surrounded by desert; the only way out is a plane ticket no one there can afford. But when an accident sets an oil rig ablaze, the oil company that runs the town decides to hire these drifters to haul an terrifying amount of nitroglycerin out to the rig, where it can be used explode the well closed and stop the blaze. They'll pay $2,000 a man for the trip, enough for any of them to get out. But is that enough to carry a bomb on your back?

The first hour sets up the mens' lives in the town, and how they relate to each other, and why they (or anyone) would be so desperate to get out. It's slowly paced, like life in the town itself. And since this is subtitled (from both Spanish and French into English, although sometimes English is spoken, too) it took a little more attention than I was able to give it the first night we watched it, and I fell asleep on the love seat, some 45 minutes in. (It's a two-and-a-half-hour movie.)

After that night, Kathy had seen enough, so I set about to finish it on me own, after she'd gone to bed. Problem was, I'd lie down on our couch and watch this movie in the dark. The first night, I got fifteen minutes further, and realized I'd dozed off around 45 minutes after that...so i turned off the tv, and, too paralyzed by the couch to move, stayed there until 5:30 in the morning, when I crawled into bed.

Two nights ago, I got a little farther. The ride had begun, but I drifted off again, forgetting I needed my eyes to read the subtitles. The couch wins again.

But last night, I backed up to the first treacherous part of the journey, a long, grooved part of the road (called "the Washboard") where there were only two safe ways to drive it: going 40 mph, or crawling along under 6. This is followed by other hazards -- a tight turn onto a rickety wooden platform, a boulder in the path of the road, and worse. And Clouzot twists and twists until he finds every bit of tension in the scene. None of these things sound like they'd be terrifying to watch. But make no mistake, they are.

By the time the film reaches one of the most disturbing death scenes I've ever seen, I realized that, no matter how many nights it took for me to watch the whole thing, this had become one of my favorite suspense movies. It's a slow starter, but when it hits the road, it never lets up.

Rob

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Showbiz!

I saw a sweet country girl reveal her biker-chick side, and a donut-munching cop turn into a crook. A woman turned into an angel, and girls defied gravity. I learned there's more than one way to make lemonade. And I saw Goldfinger, which isn't something you soon forget.


The New York Burlesque Festival's Saturday Spectacular was eye-popping, jaw-dropping fun.. and a hell of a way to turn almost forty. Thanks to my pals, and my glorious wife, for coming out and having this kind of a crazy good time with me. And thanks to everyone involved in making this amazing show happen!

Rob

Friday, October 02, 2009

Screw that, then.

I'm not flying all the way to Rio just to break a long-jump record. The Olympics will just have to go on without me.

Rob

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Big Bird: Birther

From Conan O'Brien: Too funny to miss.



Rob

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Arrested

Lately one of my big guilty pleasures is Magic's Greatest Secrets Finally Revealed, one of the masked magician shows that, well, do what the title promises. There are some neat tricks, it's true, although most of them can be explained like this: "She's hiding somewhere. Here's where." It's full of smarmy, leering voice-overs by the boss from the X-Files, and often seems to be an excuse to show a lot of scantily-dressed assistants crouching or otherwise contorting themselves.

But hey, magic!

Anyway, the simplicity of those tricks (even many of the big ones) brought my favorite tv magician, Gob Bluth to mind--and his arch-nemesis, Tony Wonder:



Rob

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eye of the Spider

I don't know why I hadn't seen this before, but it's absolutely brilliant: Peter Parker's photo essay for the New York Times on "The Mutant Problem."


It's really creative and well-imagined. Check it out.

Rob
(And Pete? I'm proud of you for finally leaving JJJ behind.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rob's Getting Old! Everybody Shimmy!

In a few weeks, my friends, I will be 40. And before that happens, I want to celebrate. Because I could very well bust a hip or something if I wait until afterward.

So, on October 3rd, five days before the clock strikes old, Kathy & I are going to the New York Burlesque Festival at BB Kings. We're buying $25 general admission tickets. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30. Meet us in line (we'll probably line up around 5:30 for good seats), and we'll all go in together!


If you haven't been to a burlesque show before, let me tell you what it isn't: It's not some sleazy strip club. There ain't no lap dances, ain't no "champagne room." What it is is a bunch of grownups putting on a sexy, funny show, full of bawdy jokes, risque dancing, and maybe even a little carnival sideshow thrown in for good measure. It's so much better than stripping: It's what you thought stripping was when you were a little kid. You'll have a blast.

So check out the link above, and this video preview. Or read this review of a Starshine Burlesque show from a few years ago. And join us as I get old before your very eyes!



Rob
(P.S. No gifts, please -- tickets are 25 bucks apiece, plus service charges, so go easy on yerselves!)

(Also: I realize this *is* an expensive night out. If you can't make it, I totally understand.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Did You Know?

Four out of five dentists recommend Soylent Green to their patients who eat people.

Rob

Friday, September 18, 2009

Maybe You Oughta Rephrase That

Did anyone else see the Bill Clinton interview on last night's Daily Show? Does anyone else think he should avoid the phrase "suck up to the boss" for pretty much the rest of his life?

Rob

Good. Good. Excellent. Incredible.

So I was wondering at four in the morning:


Just when did my computer turn into a Bejeweled Blitz machine?

Rob

Thursday, September 17, 2009

High School Reunions

Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and half awake, I stopped into the neighborhood Wawa to buy some coffee for a drive to Atlantic City for a writer's conference. Not my neighborhood, to be clear--Wawa doesn't reach this far. Kathy and I had stayed over at my mom's place the night before, so we were in my hometown Wawa.

And as I walked in, someone already in line said my name. I looked over, and for a moment, my first thought was "who's this man?" Because while I've seen my old friend John now and then since high school, it always takes a moment for me to connect our grown-up avatars with the kids I used to know.

Anyway, John, Kathy and I had a brief little chat, then he was on his way and soon we were on ours.

I think the encounter prepared my brain for later in the day. I was in a memoir-writing workshop that I was quickly realizing wasn't really for me, when i noticed a guy in the front row, and thought, "That's how Anthony looks his Facebook profile picture..." And the more I looked at him, the more I thought he was my old high school buddy Anthony -- someone I might've bumped into twice in the last twenty years. And as he turned around as the instructor was wandering the aisle, I caught his eye and was about to write his name and a question mark on a pad of paper. When he saw me, he said, "Holy shit! Rob?" and moved back next to me for the rest of the workshop, and we hung out for the rest of the conference.

With close friends--even long-lost ones--sometimes it's easy to fall into the same conversational cadences you've always had. At one point, during a discussion of the reasons and pitfalls of using pen names, Anthony said sotto voce, "I'm going to use your name as my pseudonym." I shrugged, and said it was only fair: "I leave your name on all my victims."

Ah, good times.

Rob

A Facebook Friend Said:

"I can't believe I just met Nick Cave in the flesh!"


My question: Whose flesh?

Rob

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Cell Phone's Alarm Scares the Hell Out of Me

Especially since I was dreaming I was a member of the Avengers, and we were all hooked up to some sort of weird brain-scan-transfer machine, and suddenly WHOOOOOONKONKONK! Something was going horribly wrong...

Rob

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Best Fan Costume I've Ever Seen


From Steve Bunche's report of this year's Dragon Con, which looks like about as much fun as a geek can have. I might just have to make the trek to Georgia some year...

Rob

Lend Him an Ear

Ella Taylor has a good interview with Quentin Tarantino up at the Voice.

"My movies are painfully personal, but I'm never trying to let you know how personal they are. It's my job to make it be personal, and also to disguise that so only I or the people who know me know how personal it is. Kill Bill is a very personal movie.... It's not anyone's business. It's my job to invest in it and hide it inside of genre. Maybe there are metaphors for things that are going on in my life, or maybe it's just straight up how it is. But it's buried in genre, so it's not a "how I grew up to write the novel" kind of piece."

Rob

Mouse Hunt

It's mouse time again!

As the weather gets colder, Kathy & I had noticed an increased incursion of mice. So, the other night, I pulled out the old standby: glue traps. I set one by the fridge, two at the corners of the stove, and another by the trash can. All places I've caught mice in the past.

After two days of having the traps out, results were poor. No mousies had been caught, and I was waking up early and going downstairs before Kathy could for nothing.

So last night, I decided to bait one of the traps. I plopped an orange gumdrop in the center of the glue trap and set it on a counter the mice visit now and then.

This morning, I took trap inventory. The one by the trash can was there, but there was only one trap by the stove. The one by the fridge had been moved to the counter, and there it sat, gumdrop untouched.

I looked around for the missing trap. I grabbed our LED flashlight, but it seemed to be going dead. So I grabbed the clunky orange flashlight, and directed the beam under the stove. I couldn't see anything down there. I stalked around the kitchen, peering into nooks, squinting into crannies. Nothing.

Somewhere along the line, I lost track of my orange flashlight. I looked all around for it, and just couldn't fine the thing. I felt like I was living in a cartoon, that a little cadre of mice had scampered up to the flashlight and stolen it when I wasn't looking. I looked over at that lone gumdrop on the trap. Suddenly it looked like a middle finger that they left waiting for me.

I found yet another flashlight--my third--and then noticed the second one on the dining room table. And when I crouched down on the kitchen tile and took another look under the stove, I saw the mouse on the trap, waaaaay in the back. I eventually was able to fish it out with the help of a yardstick--luckily, the traps are kinda sticky--and then tossed the mouse in a grocery bag and the bag in the outside trash. He's on his way to a landfill by now.

Ah, well. At least there's one gumdrop in the house I won't eat.

Rob