28.12.06

I've got the kitty cat blues...

When you have a multi-cat household, like we do, hierarchy is a force to be contended with, and it’s really hard to figure out.

Valarie and I got our first cat, Sammy, back when we were still housemates. We were living in Chicago and there was some sort of humane society location directly across the street from the First Comics offices. One day after work we took a walk over and walked out with Sam. This was maybe sixteen or so years ago.

When he died earlier this year, after leading a fairly adventurous life, Sam had been joined in our household by Tiger, Jack, Ozzy, Dusty, Yoshi and Blackie—all males and there was never a lick of fighting between them. They are all indoor cats and seem to like it that way.

Sammy was Valarie’s cat, plain and simple. He liked me a lot, but he slept on Val’s lap when she was on the couch and slept on her pillow when she was in bed. Sammy tolerated the newcomers into his household. He’d clean one of them on occasion or allow one to snuggle next to him for a nap, but mostly he was above them and tolerated them like a grandfather tolerates a load of grandkids who have come to visit.

When Sam got sick and eventually died, the others spent a couple of weeks wandering around, wondering what had happened. Jack stepped up to the plate and became Val’s new lap cat. Tiger, who had been spending most of his nights downstairs, took to sleeping between our heads, up against the headboard. This was sometimes a little dangerous; because of all the cats in the house Tiger is the wildest and will sometimes bite or seriously scratch for no apparent reason. He loves getting attention and being stroked and cuddled, but then out of nowhere he’ll get a wild hair up his butt and go into attack mode. During the waking hours it’s easy enough to tell when he’s about to flip, but when you’re tossing and turning in your sleep there’s no warning system. It was sort of like sleeping with a ticking bomb next to your head.

Then, out of the blue, he stopped coming upstairs. He stayed on his little pillow on the end table next to Val’s side of the couch. Either he decided he didn’t feel like sleeping on the bed anymore, or somehow he was scared off. Jack and Dusty became the new regulars on our bed during the day and the night. Ozzy has always preferred sleeping beneath the bed, except when he gets cold and then he’ll burrow under the blankets and sleep down by our feet. When Yoshi and Blackie came into the house this year as Val’s Mother’s Day present, they traveled freely upstairs and down.

Things were going along fine after the two new boys arrived. I added a new litter box and stepped up the scooping schedule and all was well, until for some reason, Dusty declared war on Tiger.

The attacks began in the middle of the night. I think part of it hinged on Dusty taking every opportunity to climb onto what had become Tiger’s pillow on the end table. He seemed to me to be doing it at times just to spite Tiger.

We would wake in the middle of the night to the sweet sound of two cats screaming their heads off at each other. Then there would be a crash that usually meant that the battle had moved up to the kitchen counter top and Val’s collection of antique bottles and salt and pepper shakers had taken a major hit. By the time we stumbled downstairs the fight was over.

We tried to keep the peace between them, but no solution worked. After a while Tiger totally gave up on his favorite pillow on the end table, because Dusty had taken to sneaking under it and attacking from behind. Since Dusty and Jack had always been thick as thieves, Jack would be drawn into the attacks. Tiger sought out resting places where he could have his back to the wall. For a while he took refuge in the downstairs bathtub, but that turned sour for him and he finally settled into the corner of the kitchen counter, next to the sink. There was no way a sneak attack could be launched. We took to putting a bowl of food and water up there for him, because every time he would jump down to eat where we keep the food and water in front of the dishwasher, Dusty or Jack would race into the kitchen and jump him. So he pretty much camped out there. A couple of times a day I’d pick him up and carry him to the litter boxes. I’d have to close the door and wait for him to do his business, and then I’d carry him back. Sometimes he cooperated, other times he added to the scar collection on my hand and wrists.

Weeks passed and all efforts to bring peace to the situation were futile. Tiger likes me a lot. Even though he’s a killing machine, he greatly enjoys climbing up on my chest for attention and a short nap. As much as he likes me, he adores Dakota a thousand times more. He will follow here all around the house for hours, and he’s in a special state of bliss when she lets him in her room. He will burrow into her pillows or perch onto one of her chairs and spend hours keeping her company while she draws or watches television. He loves sleeping with her, but in the middle of the night he’s prone to waking her up for attention. Plus, he’s always done this thing where he’ll be sleeping right next to you, then he’ll yawn and stretch and just slightly pop his claws out enough to give you a little jolt.

So for a while I would rotate Tiger from the kitchen counter to Dakota’s room to the cat’s bathroom. Dakota was a champ about it, but he has a real knack for wanting attention when she’s in the middle of lightboxing something, or writing a story on the computer. When Dakota is on the computer Tiger insists on stretching out between the keyboard and monitor.

The nighttime attacks were happening again, with Dusty or Jack climbing up on the counter and invading Tiger’s corner, so I have taken to locking him up in the downstairs bedroom that Valarie and I use for an office. It has two nice windows to look out of and I gave him his own litterbox and food and water. So now he rotates between the office and Dakota’s room.

We were wondering for a while if Tiger was sick or something, and Dusty and Jack could smell it and decided to prey on him. He seems pretty healthy. The worst thing of all is that this whole affair has made him horribly skittish. He used to walk around the house like a king, but now he scoots between bedrooms with his tail between his legs. I’ve tried a variety of things to right the situation, but with no luck. I can let Yoshi and Blackie into the office to hand with Tiger and there isn’t a hint of trouble, but if Tiger is making one of his rare public appearances, racing around like a scared rabbit, the two boys see this as a game and chase after him. It’s become one of those vicious circles you always hear about. The attacks have made him weak and now his weakness are cause for attacks (even if they’re innocent playful attacks, like from Yoshi and Blackie).

As I type these words Tiger is roaming around the desk, giving me headbuts in an effort to get some love. He’s a great little guy but I’m running out of options. What’s a fella to do?

26.12.06

I’m dreaming of a partially-cloudy Christmas…

This has been my fifteenth or sixteenth Christmas in California, but there’s a stubborn part of my brain that refuses to accept this fact. I guess I’ll be a Chicago boy no matter where I roam. So when I went outside to haul out the trash I half-expected to see some snow or at least see my breath. Instead I got a face full of sunshine. The temperature was in the mid to high sixties and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

I miss seeing the snow but I don’t miss cleaning a foot of it off my car in the morning and driving down icy roads. I don’t miss shoveling my driveway and front walk, and I certainly don’t miss stepping into an especially steep puddle of slush and having it fill up my galoshes with icy wetness. (Do they still even make galoshes?)

Our clothes dryer went belly up about a month ago and that took a big bite out of our Christmas budget, but Santa still managed to stop by with a generous assortment of books, DVDs, toys and other assorted goodies.

Dakota scored the biggest load. She got a nifty Bluetooth headset for her cell so she can now chat with friends hands-free, while she chats with other friends online. She also got a lighted make-up mirror (I never knew my pores were so huge!) along with some books, jewelry and tons of clothes.

I found myself a bit melancholy on Christmas Eve. Earlier that day Val and I had watched Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, which turned out to be a movie about death—sorry for the spoiler—and it left me thinking about Christmases long long ago, and all the relatives I’ve lost since then. Val and Dakota seemed a little down in the dumps as well, so we went to the movies and saw A Night at the Museum, which was exactly the bit of fluff that was needed to lighten the mood.

Later that night Val and watched our all-time favorite Christmas movie, Scrooge. I don’t know if it’s a letter-perfect adaptation of Dickens, but it’s a fantastically entertaining musical with Albert Finney and Alec Guinness absolutely knocking it out of the park. If you’ve never seen it you really should oughta.

I have to go get my teeth cleaned now. I don’t know what possessed me to make an appointment with the dentist for the day after Christmas. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d best go brush a couple dozen times before I go.

Happy holidays all.

21.12.06

Is that a couple of D-cell batteries in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

This may or may not be the offical logo for the Iron Man movie. I hope it's not. It's too slick to interest the eye.

If anyone gets their hands on any production artwork and sends it my way, there's a foot rub in it for them.

28.11.06

Mel Gibson used to kick ass like a pro...

It's not quite 8:00 a.m. yet and already my day has been made.

I'm a big fan of Brian Helgeland's film, Payback. Mel Gibson played a royal hardass who's been done wrong and now he's back to get what's owed to him. The good news is that an even meaner cut of the movie is due out early next year.

As much as I love the movie, I've somehow managed not to own the DVD--but now I have no excuse. If you've never seen the film, do yourself a favor and rent it. Don't bother trying to watch the toothless version they play on basic cable. It's not worth your time.

10.11.06

I don't know Howie does it...


I don't know how it's currently doing in the ratings, but for the first couple of weeks after it debuted, my wife, daughter and I were major fans of the television game show, Deal or No Deal, hosted by Howie Mandel.

Once the producers knew they had a hit on their hands, they really began to milk it, and the show began to be more commercials and fluff than actual game. Toward the end it got to be an actual chore to watch, but it was worth it to see Howie Mandel.

Over the years I've hated/loved Howie in a variety of television and movie projects. I thought he was outstanding in the early 1980s drama/comedy St. Elsewhere, and even though I wasn't a member of the target audience, I laughed a lot at his voiceover work in animated series like Bobby's World, Amazing Live Sea Monkeys, Little Monsters, and Muppet Babies.

Over the years Howie Mandel has kept his hand in the field of stand-up comedy, and that's where my opinion of him varies wildly. He's had me rolling on the floor laughing myself sick, yet the next time I watch him I throw the remote across the floor in disgust. For a while I used to think he was following in Andy Kaufman's footsteps, doing some sort of performance routine, where he was playing a prank on the audience. But no, it became clear that he really does suck super hard sometimes. Really, really hard. Is he aware of it? He's got to be, but how do you from one extreme to another with no middle ground? The guy blows hot or cold and that’s the limit to his range.

I watched Howie co-host Live with Regis and Kelly this morning and he totally killed. I laughed out loud too many times to count. Dusty and Yoshi, two of our most tolerant cats, left the room when they came to realize that I wasn't going to let them sleep.

Try and figure out humor. I dare you. Some people howl in delight over that mellon-smashin' Gallagher, while others giggle and chortle over shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives.

6.11.06

She's like Wolverine, except she's cuter and she can get through airport security...


Save the cheerleader, save the world, save this show.

If you're not watching Heroes on NBC, you should be, so just go ahead and tell everyone you are and catch up on the episodes as quickly as you can.

And here I thought Misfits of Science was our one chance for a network show about superheroes

Weekend rentals—due back by Tuesday

For a nice change of pace, Val and I actually got around to watching the movies we rented for the weekend.

We’d both been waiting to see Thank You for Smoking, having missed it while it was in the theaters. We both love a good satire and Smoking had a mouthful of sharp teeth. It hit the ground running and started out wickedly funny. Aaron Eckhart owned every scene he was in, and he was surrounded by a talented and funny supporting cast.

Unfortunately the movie got soft about midway through. The narrative thread got a bit tangled and I wasn’t sure what the movie was about anymore. It ended with a thud rather than a bang, but the film wasn’t a total loss by any means. There was plenty of good humor.

The second film we watched (Dakota joined us—making it a family affair) was Click, featuring the sporadically talented Adam Sandler. I didn’t like the previews for this film when it first hit the theaters and the commercials for the DVD didn’t win me over either. But, Dakota really wanted to watch it with us, so I tried to clear any preconceived judgments out of my mind and give it a chance. Sandler can be a very funny man at times.
This didn’t turn out to be one of those times. This is an ugly movie about an ugly character (Sandler) who learns the error of his ways and is handed a second chance, a do-over, to start fresh. He doesn’t earn it—it’s just handed to him. The script is lumpy, depending on fart jokes and dogs humping stuffed animals for laughs, and it expects the viewer to swallow some massive contrivances to keep the plot from completely falling apart.

One of the most disturbing things in Click, and something that totally strips away any of the suspension of disbelief you might be able to muster up, is when we see Sandler’s character in the future, when he’s become extremely overweight. Instead of strapping Adam Sandler into a Fat Bastard-type fat suit, the director decided to paste Sandler’s head onto a fat guy’s shirtless body. I can’t begin to tell you how disruptive I found the special effect to be. Even when they actually got the head and body to properly match up, it still looks horribly wrong. Then, to make matters worse, when we see the character later, he’s dressed in a 3X jogging suit, that looks like it’s pumped full of helium. So you go from the real body of a fat guy to Sandler skipping around in a lightweight fat suit that doesn’t even begin to look realistic.

One of the biggest sins Click is guilty of is wasting a precious natural resource—Christopher Walken. Until now I didn’t think it was possible for the man to be bland and unfunny in a movie. Now I know differently.

31.10.06

Bad cats, bad cats, what'cha gonna do?


No root canal for me today. The dentist's receptionist called me this morning to report that the dentist's cat bit him yesterday and now his hand has swollen up like a sausage.

The same thing happened to me a few years ago. I was goofing around with one of our cats and he got a little bit out of control and bit me on the hand hard enough to reach the muscle. Cat spit is so toxic that by the next day my hand was three times fatter than normal.

Cats suck sometimes, but they're still smarter than most dogs.

30.10.06

What's the best time to go to the dentist? Two-thirty. Get it? Tooth-hurty! Get it now?

I have to go to the dentist tomorrow to get my second root canal done. I'm not stressing, though. The technology available to today's dentist has improved by leaps and bounds compared to just a few years ago. The worst part about getting a procedure done these days is having to hold your mouth open for a half hour or so.

I like my new dentist so much I trusted him to stick his fingers inside my daughter's mouth. She had a couple of small cavities on each side of her mouth and she walked out of the dentist's office a whole lot happier than I did when I was a kid. Dentists were barbarians back then. They hardly ever washed their hands and if you asked for Novocain before the drilling started they would sneer and call you a little baby.

29.10.06

Great Expectations...

Nuts! I have to stop listening to people hyping movies.

If I hear enough positive buzz about a movie I build up all kinds of unrealistic expectations for it. Expectations that can never be reached, unless I directed the movie myself.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the horror movie Slither. It was written and directed by James Gunn, who wrote the screenplay for the most excellent Dawn of the Dead. (He also wrote both of the Scooby-Doo movies, but we all have to pay the rent sometimes, right?)

Earlier today the family and I were out picking up some last minute Halloween gear. I saw Slither in the new releases section of the home video of Wal-Mart. We had talked about renting it for a fun Halloween movie to watch while giving out candy, but I figured there were probably a few other people who might have that idea, so I bought it.

We got about halfway though it when I paused to go to the bathroom and to switch the laundry. (For some reason Dakota’s P.E. clothes never seem to make it into the wash until Sunday night, and I seem to be the only one concerned with getting them washed and into her backpack by bedtime Sunday night.) When I got back to the living room I saw that Dakota had gone to her room to take care of something and Valarie was getting ready to go upstairs to read for a while. She told me to go ahead and finish watching Slither with Dakota was gone for almost a half an hour so I figured we were done for the night. I cleaned up the kitchen and started getting ready to go up and read for a while myself.

The movie turned out to be some harmless, lightweight horror fluff. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly wasn’t as much fun as I’d expected. Plus I was kind of annoyed because I specifically picked the widescreen version of the full screen version, but what was inside the widescreen box was the full screen version.

As I was getting ready to shut down the television I caught the beginning of a noir-looking movie about pool hustlers. It starred Freddie Prinze Jr., but it also featured Ving Rames. It started out sort of interesting, but quickly fizzled. Then Dakota came out of her room and asked if we were going to finish Slither. I hemmed and hawed for a minute, but then I gave in.

The movie ended pretty much the way you’d expect.

Again, it wasn’t horrible. I probably would have liked it more if I hadn’t heard word one about it. If the DVD had been the widescreen version I’d wanted I probably would have slid it into an open slot in our DVD collection, but it isn’t so I didn’t. I’ll bring it back to Wal-Mart and either get my money back or exchange it for something else.

Any suggestions?

24.10.06

Fear of the iron mask


I know the Iron Man movie is at least a year or two away, but has anyone seen any recent concept art or designs yet? I need something to put my mind to rest.

Whenever I think of someone doing an Iron Man movie I have nightmares thinking of the pilot for the television series Exo-Man back in 1977.

I’ve always loved movies, comics, cartoons, short stories and novels about guys in armored suits, but one of my pet peeves is that at some point in the story it’s inevitable that the armor will develop some sort of mechanical defect. Whether it’s dead batteries, short circuits, oil leaks, or some sort of sabotage. Writers typically seem to be more focused on what could go wrong with armor as opposed to what could go right with it. That’s why the Tony-Stark-as-a-drunk storyline was so refreshing. For once the problem was with the wearer and not the suit.

23.10.06

Two on the aisle, please...

My wife Valarie and I were decadent beyond compare this weekend and actually got out to see two movies at the theater. Val had some dicey deadlines to dance around, but she made it work.


On Friday night we saw The Prestige, which apparently was the most profitable movie playing this weekend by just a whisker. Val enjoyed it and I think I would have had a better time if I hadn’t read the book last year. Instead of sitting back and letting the film wash over me and absorb it as it was presented to me, I kept making comparisons to the book and wondering how some of the more radical changes would affect the outcome. If you get the opportunity to catch it in the theater before it goes away, go for it, but with all the craftiness that Christopher Nowlan serves up, this is a film designed for DVD, so you can back up and track down all the clues that have scattered around.

The second film was Martin Scorsese’s cop drama, The Departed. Scorsese has once again cast Leonardo DiCaprio in a starring role, which is starting to get a little old, but the good thing is that there are plenty of other juicy parts to go around. Jack Nicholson plays a colorful crime boss, while Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Sheen play agents in the Boston police department. Alec Baldwin adds some weight to the cast; milking his role as a taskforce team leader for all it’s worth, and manages to get a lot of funny lines in along the way. I’m unfamiliar with the Japanese film that The Departed was based on, but I’m betting there were too many changes to keep track of. That said, both Val and I enjoyed the film quite a big. Matt Damon has a reputation for being something of a joke in Hollywood, but he manages to hold his own just fine here. Jack Nicholson comes close to overplaying his role, which was originally written for Robert DeNiro, but I think he hold it back and quite well and I don’t think I’ve liked him in anything this much for a long time.

Have the lab boys dust for monkeys...


I’m normally not a regular viewer of the Sundance channel, but every once in a while I stumble on a fun film or series. The way our cable company has the channels set up, the Sundance channel and IFC, the Independent Film Channel are off in the middle of nowhere, hidden between coverage of local politics and one of the sixty-four NASCAR channels.

Sundance has been showing an animated series that first played on BBC 3 a few years ago. The show is called Monkey Dust, for no apparent reason. The episodes run a solid thirty minutes with no commercials and features reoccurring or standalone characters and settings.

The animation is done by at least five or six different art teams, each with a dramatically different style. England is dirty is funky and pleasantly twisted. Some of the art styles might be a bit sloppy and unkempt, but for the most part the writing is as clean and sharp as a laser.

Like a lot of things I talk about here, Monkey Dust isn’t for everyone. It’s one of those love it/hate it situations. Don’t you just hate situations like that? Or maybe you love it. Whatever. Free country and all that.

20.10.06

Here's a cool stocking stuffer for this Christmas...


I'm not a huge fan of the Richard Lester version, so it couldn't be any worse. Plus, this was before Donner had the creativity drained out of him by Mel Gibson and the Lethal Weapon sequels.

16.10.06

My mutant power is to forget that I have a mutant power. Damn!


Last night I was checking out X-Men: The Last Stand on DVD and I noticed an interesting phenomena. The special effects that I thought were more or less passable in the movie theater were seventy-three times worse (I did the math) on my television screen.

Maybe I’ve got the contrast up too high or the color values set too low, but something is wrong. In the past, going from the big screen to the living room has helped smooth over lackluster effects in movies, but not this time. The Angel’s wings look like they were pasted on in Photoshop. The chrome on Colossus was impossible to look at without laughing. And the effect of smoothing twenty years of wrinkles off Xavier and Magneto in the beginning of the film looked so downright creepy and slimy I needed to wash my eyes after watching it. They looked like they’d fallen into a vat of Botox and then Bob Layton had inked them. Blech.

Maybe I was just in a more forgiving mood six months ago in the theater when I still had my hopes up. But again, blech.

11.10.06

Name the television show and win a prize...

As if you even need a hint, Burgess Meredith had a starring role. If Hollywood is so out of television series and movies to remake, they ought to give this show a go.

9.10.06

Yo, Santa...

Look who's coming for Christmas. It'll probably suck like a Hoover (or a Dyson if you like) but it's hard for me to be a total Sly Stallone hater. Rocky 2 is one of my favorite movies. There, I said it.

3.10.06

Static until further notice


Sorry about the lack of posts. This sinus thing refuses to go away. Tomorrow I'm going to have me skull electroscanned. I'd love to post that image.

29.9.06

Now that we have our Iron Man, who will play Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts?


Tony Stark
Makes you feel
He's a cool exec
With a heart of steel.
As Iron Man,
All jets ablaze,
He fights and smites
With repulsor rays!
Amazing armor!
Iron Man!
A blaze of power!
Iron Man!

28.9.06

...and nothing but the tooth

In case you’re wondering, one of the few things worse than having a three-week-old sinus infection that makes all the teeth in your mouth sing in pain every time you move, is coming down with an honest to goodness toothache that reminds you what real pain is.

Wisdom teeth aren’t smart but according to my dentist they’re a dying breed. Not to brag or anything, but I have a huge bite radius. This means that I have plenty of room in my mouth for all my teeth, including my wisdom teeth. My dentist, who only yesterday did a snappy and relatively pain free root canal on my lower left wisdom tooth, says that even though Americans as a whole are getting fatter, our mouths are getting smaller, and many of us don’t have room for our wisdom teeth. (There’s another school of thought that believes that we’re losing our powerful grinding teeth because the food we eat is so much softer than it used to be. It doesn’t take much effort to chew up a Quarter Pounder.)

Due to this lack of space, lots of wisdom teeth grow in cramped or crooked and need to be yanked.

The only problem I’ve ever had with mine is that they are so far back inside my cavernous mouth that I have trouble reaching them with a toothbrush and my fat fingers have a problem getting a loop of floss next to them. As a result I’ve had cavities in a few and just yesterday needed a root canal to save one.

The last time I had a root canal was ten or eleven years ago and I was stunned by how technology has improved the process. The advent of new drills with super sharp tungsten files along with real-time X-ray viewing has cut the treatment time, which used to eat up most of a day, to under an hour!

With me, there’s always been a massive degree of shame associated with going to the dentist. I never seem to find the time to go in for regular, preventative check-ups, so when I walk in the door it’s because I’ve gone and let one of my precious teeth succumb to the ravages of decay. Maybe it’s because I had a horrible dentist when I was a kid (which I did), or maybe it’s the overpowering position the dentist has, looming over you when you sit in the chair, or maybe because it’s just so easy to put off dealing with. I don’t know, but I’ve never gotten over the curve and started going in before a problem develops.

Just like smelly feet, dental problems run in my family. Most of my relatives come from the old country, where dental hygiene was apparently never a high priority. My uncles were a hearty bunch and I recall a few of them were fond of popping the caps off beer bottles with their bottom teeth, and one of them was so adverse to going to the dentist that he used to yank is own bad teeth with a pair of pliers.

Ow. Just typing that hurts my mouth.

20.9.06

Do I look any different to you?

A big strong deliveryman came to my house yesterday. He had legs that were thick as tree trunks and he looked strong enough to tip over my car if he wanted to. He brought with him a new computer so of course I welcomed him heartedly.

I’m not exactly certain what specific model computer this is. It’s a Mac. I know that much. I also know it’s got a more sophisticated version of OSX than I have on my iBook.

Hmmm, I just did a little looking and discovered that it’s an iMac 5.1 dual Pentium core nitro-burning funny car. I’m certain that it can crunch numbers like crazy and juggle sixty-two graphics files at the same time, but I mostly like it because it looks like a gay Scandinavian college student designed it as his Industrial Arts thesis.

It’s a skinny little thing, which I like, because that means the cats can walk behind it, as opposed to climbing gracelessly over it or tripping drunkenly over the keyboard like they usually do with my iBook.

Technically it’s Valarie’s computer. An old friend of the family (she wrote and delivered our wedding vows some fourteen years ago) does a lot of political consulting work and Val pitches in donates a lot of her time to help out. This had becoming increasingly difficult with the limited equipment we had here which is why the big strong man showed up yesterday with the box.

It’s situated in the home office that Valarie and I share, and it’s much nicer to work on than my iBook—still, I feel funny using it. It’s not mine. I feel strange.

I’m sure, like most things in life, this guilt too shall pass.

18.9.06

Does anyone have Dennis Quaid’s telephone number?

I haven’t been the happiest camper of all the campers out there for the past few months. I’ve struggled with a handful of silly/stupid illnesses and it’s tough to keep yourself on an even keel while spending extended amounts of time loafing around trying to heal from something as idiotic as tripping over wheelchair.

My sleep has suffered immeasurably. While stretched out waiting for cracked ribs to heel, and goofed up on painkillers, napping becomes a common habit. Which of course screws up your nighttime sleeping schedule, which results in sleeping during the day while the rest of the world is active, which leads to copious amounts of guilt and embarrassment.

The latest ingredient into the mix is a painful sinus infection that appeared out of nowhere. For a week or two I was pretty dizzy and it felt like I was wearing a hat that was two sizes too tight. During a normal visit with my MD she poked and prodded and concluded that I had an infection. She sent me home with a big bottle of antibiotics. For some reason antibiotics kick my ass harder than cheap vodka. I feel terrible when I take them. A week later the problem is back and she ups the dosage and changes the spectrum, or something silly like that, and now I’m on a new brand.

I’ve had nothing but Franz Kafka dreams for the past two weeks. I must be near the point of losing my mind but I don’t know how much further I have to go. Which is why I need Dennis Quaid’s telephone number.

Dennis (the Quaid brother blessed with the looks) starred in a1984 semi-cult classic film called Dreamscape, where he and other government-funded flunkies were doing experiments in entering test subjects brains.

[Hollywood drones—if you’ve run out of ideas and are looking for a reasonably solid movie to remake with all your CGI toys, this one should be in the running.]

My dreams are fraught with anxiety. Buckets of anxiety loaded into a cannon and fired right in my face. There are large chunks of what takes place during the dreams that I can directly connect to something I read in a book, saw on television, or discussed during a conversation the night before. The thing is, being able to dissect them later, doesn’t make waking up from these dreams any less stressful.

One common thread that runs through a lot of my dreams involves large contained places. Whether it be at a big consumer electronics show, or the San Diego Comic Con, the offices of a new company that I’m working for, or even an especially large house. I always seem to be in a hurry to get to one corner of the building to the next and my legs seem to be slowing me down, like I’m running through sand and mud or pudding. I’m always late getting to where I’m going, and a lot of the time, when it’s a new job I’m left on my own to figure things out and to get things started. Nobody expects me to do very much during the first couple of days, but I’m sitting there in this new office; I really need to be getting something done.

17.9.06

As if we needed yet another reason to watch 24 this season...

James Cromwell has been signed to play Jack Bauer's father, while acclaimed British comedian Eddie Izzard will play a "villainous accomplice" named Darren McCarthy.

14.9.06

I don’t like The View from where I’m sitting…(will the puns never stop?)

The other morning I watched Live with Regis and Kelly and then some of the new and improved—The View (G’bye Star—Hello Rosie)!

During the day and at night I listen to 70s pop and rock when I write, but early in the morning I love coffee chat shows. Perhaps I should delve into this with my therapist one of these days.

I feel this odd attraction for watching/listening to Live with Regis and Kelly for a number of reasons. For starters, over the past year or three it’s become abundantly clear to anyone with at least three of their five senses that Regis is rapidly slipping into old age dementia. It’s most noticeable during the part of the show where they interview guests—the ones who have been nice enough to stop by to visit. (They do this bit during almost all the talk shows, especially Conan O’Brien, who should know better by now, and it drives me 100 percent bonkers. It happens at the end of the interview and it goes something like this…“Thank you so very much for finding time in your busy schedule to come by and visit us, Mandy Moore. And thanks for telling us all about your new movie that’s opening this weekend and maybe we’ll see you soon—perhaps you’ll visit us just in time to tell us all about the next new movie/CD/Afternoon Special that you crap out of your talentless ass!”

Please don’t treat us like we’re three months old, guys. Nobody does anything for anyone out of the kindness of his/her heart in Hollywood. The closest thing they’ve got to impromptu out there was planned three to four months ago.

So like I said, It’s fun to watch the decline of Regis. Seventy years of having his brain baked under those hot studio lights has taken its toll. He can’t pronounce the names of most of the guests, even if they’re sitting right there in front of him. Fantasia Barrino becomes Anastasia Burrito, Amy Lee and Evanescence becomes Effervescence, and desperate housewife Nicollette Sheridan somehow turns into Nicole Ritchie. The cool thing is to watch Kelly Ripa sitting next to Regis. She knows perfectly well who the guests are and she probably knows perfectly well which names Regis is going to botch and mangle, but she always waits until he’s buried his foot deep into his mouth and has floundered a while before coming to his rescue.

Ripa sits there laughing AT Regis just as much as she laughs WITH him. As she cackles and pats his liver-spotted hand, she does her impression of a family member stuck talking with an ancient relative at a family affair.

Another fun thing to watch for on Live with Regis and Kelly is when Regis zones out. He just flat-out drifts away to his happy place while Kelly is busy gabbing with Jessica Simpson or someone important like that. After a few minutes his internal timer kicks in and in a mad panic his eyes do that auto focus sort of thing and he’ll repeat the last thing he heard Kelly said and will suggest that they look at a clip from Jessica’s latest movie, even though they just did.

Regular visitors to the show like NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon or maybe Queen Latifah are in on the joke and they play along, but every now and then they’ll have a politician or an author on. Suddenly from out of left field Regis will ask them if they work on a computer or an old fashioned typewriter, and then he’ll ramble on about his AOL account and how he can’t check his email or phone messages, and then ask whatever happened to writing someone a letter on a piece of paper. The guest being interviewed will look around like he’s being Punk’d or something and then will visibly mouth, “What The F**k?!?”

Plain and simple, this is too much fun to pass by.

About halfway through Regis and Kelly I would normally switch over to music, or just turn the television off, but then one day I stayed around and watched The View. I’ve had a minor crush on Meredith Vieira since she was on Chicago news during the early 1980s. My wife doesn’t get it; just like she doesn’t understand my attraction to Susan Sarandon or Jamie Lee Curtis. That’s fine. She doesn’t need to understand. The only thing she has to ‘get’ is that all three women are on my list, so if the stars align and I find myself locked in a hotel room with any or all of them, she can’t complain. (Just like I can’t complain if she finds herself hooked up with Bruce Willis or Justin Timberlake. Willis I can see, but come on, Justin Timberlake?)

If you’ve never seen it, The View has a somewhat interesting format. When the show begins the four or five ladies will sit around politely slurping coffee and talking about hot topics of the day. It starts out slow, but five or ten minutes in they’ll all be shouting and clawing for camera time. After they’re done with their Hot Topics and a stretch of commercials for feminine products, the featured guest (normally a man) will nervously climb into the viper pit and try to look as comfortable as possible while dodging meat hooks and puddles of estrogen.

I don’t miss Star Jones a whit. She annoyed me to no end and made my stomach roil. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

I don’t really miss Meredith Vieira as much as I thought I would. Her role on the show was as a player/coach who worked hard to both keep the peace and to keep the show moving along at a lively pace.

Barbara Walters has positioned herself between the two potential powder kegs, Rosie O’Donnell and Joy Behar, but that won’t last too long. Everyone has been playing nice since Barbara unleashed her power by cutting Star Jones free. It’s crystal clear that this is her show and people are going to play by the rules or there’s the door.

She’s only a couple of weeks in but O’Donnell’s comedy isn’t meshing with the other women. She used to make me laugh years ago, but not so much now. She talks about her kids a lot, which wouldn’t normally bother me, but when she recounts their activities she has to narrate what happened talking in baby talk. Her kids are almost teenagers and they still talk in baby talk? Baby talk by adults should be outlawed. I hate it with a passion. My wife and I never talked to our child like she was an idiot, so she never did it in return. God, I hate baby talk. It’s like my kryptonite.

12.9.06

To boldly go where we’ve all been before…a bunch of times….


I’ve heard the story of how Paramount is sprucing up the original 1960s Star Trek series for another run on broadcast T.V.. They’re doing some CGI shots to cover the special effects that they feel are a little too embarrassing for today’s audiences.

The photo I’ve pasted somewhere in this item is a sample shot from one of the contractors trying out for the job.

My first impulse was to wonder why they’re wasting their time? I’m not a massive Trek fan but just about everyone I know has seen the original episodes a couple of dozen times each. I’ve seen all the episodes of Next Generation at least once. I started getting my fill of Trek around the time Deep Space 9 and Voyager came along. I think there’s still a Trek series currently in production. I believe it’s called Generations(?) and it stars that guy from Quantum Leap, Scott Baklava.

So why make the effort to release the original Trek series—especially with G4 doing their fun Trek 2.0 show?

And then it dawned on me. I hate it when obvious things clobber me over the head when I’m not looking. When I was young I used to watch WGN TV on Sunday mornings. For the longest time the Sunday AM lineup included The Wild Wild West, Secret Agent Man, and then Star Trek. When baseball season was in full swing the Cubs would play around lunch time, after Trek. When there was no baseball WGN would pull out their collection of Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan movies. Each week they would switch back and forth between the two detectives, and every once in a while they would switch things up with a Mr. Moto movie featuring the always-creepy Peter Lorre.

So why is WGN or some other Chicago UHF channel going to start showing the old Trek episodes? It was kind of embarrassing when the answer hit me. It is so easy to forget that there are more people in the United States who don’t have basic cable than those who do. They can’t watch the original Trek episodes on G4 because they don’t know what G4 is. And besides, even if they do have basic cable, they can’t set their TiVo or cable company digital video recorder to snag it when it’s on each Thursday night at 3:00 a.m. because they don’t know what a DVR or TiVo is.

There are only three people who live in my house, yet we have three color televisions, two cable digital video recorders, two CD burners, one DVD video recorder, and all kinds of assorted MP3 players and digital cameras, and a couple of clunky PCs in the garage that may be slow by today’s standards but they probably had a hundred times the computing power that the computers aboard the first couple of Apollo moon shots had.

It’s the whole embarrassment of riches thing that socks me in the gut every once in a while. Valarie is talking about a new Mac she’s getting too do some work on, yet there’s a good chance that a handful of kids my daughter Dakota goes to high school with, not only don’t have a computer or digital video recorder, but they probably go to bed at night with nothing more nutritious than a bowl of Ramen noodles in their bellies.

Forget about television sets and iPods, I learned the hard way that it’s a whole lot easier to get help in this country if you need a lot than if you simply need a helping hand.

A few years ago my family was in serious trouble. I called in every favor I had saved up but I still couldn’t get a scrap of writing. We had been selling off a lot of our old books and toys and crap on eBay to help pay the rent, but we needed to get the car fixed and we had some major bills to pay so I did something that I never thought I’d do. I walked into the local welfare/public assistance office, laid all my cards out on the table and told them that we needed help. Cash would be great, but even if it were some food stamps or help with paying the utilities would make all the difference.

The robot sitting across the desk from me took down all my information, did a little math and talked with someone on the telephone. Things were sounding pretty good until she told me that she was sorry but my requested had been denied. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t understand what she was saying so she gave me a brochure with a toll free number on it that I could call for a full explanation.

When I didn’t get up and move out of the office quickly enough a supervisor and a security dude came over to pry me from my chair. The supervision was a tad more understanding than the robot who had been helping me. He looked over my application and told me that the reason I didn’t qualify for any sort of public assistance was because of my current lifestyle.

His words were bouncing off me like bullets off Superman’s chest. The two big reasons we were declined was because we were paying too much money in rent on our house each month (I think it was around $1200 a month) and our car was too valuable (we had a Honda Civic that we were still paying for and was only worth five or six thousand dollars).

So, in essence I was being told that the government wasn’t interested in helping me if I was simply stumbling around trying to get a hand up. On the other hand, if I were nearly down for the count, inches away from falling down into the gutter, they’d be more than happy to help.

I don’t have the figures in front of me but there is a large portion of the population of this country that doesn’t have a single black & white or color television in their houses (there’s probably a substantial lack of milk and bread in those households as well). There are even a higher number of people who don’t have a computer, and even if they did there’s a high likelihood that they wouldn’t know how to use it to get a job in today’s society.

I know that Bill Gates is doing fantastic things with the billions he’s accrued over the years. It might not put too big of a dent in his budget to make sure that there’s a computer in every school classroom in the U.S.. Perhaps if a student demonstrated and affinity or aptitude toward using said computer, how much more would it cost Mr. Gates to put a PC into that child’s home?

He knows that he can’t take the money with him, and apparently he’s not going to make any of his children or heirs instant billionaires, so why not? The man has the resources to change the world. Isn’t it his responsible to do so?

11.9.06

I blame society...and the SciFi Channel

Normally I'm more than capable of making a fool of myself with no outside help, but this time the SciFi Channel has pitched in to give me a hand.

A couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of the BBC import Garth Marenghi 's Darkplace that SciFi had been playing at midnight on Sundays. I told everyone I know to tune in for a good time, but before they could the SciFi Channel pulled the rug out from under us. Bastards. They show Mansquito three time s a week, but they hold back on Garth? Again, bastards!

8.9.06

I shot an elephant in my pajamas last night. They fit him quite nicely...

I’ve never personally been a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s films, but if you happen to be flipping around the movie channels late at night and you see the film ‘Elephant’ listed, do yourself a favor and tune in.

The film was released in 2003 but I don’t believe it got a very wide theatrical release, due to the Columbine similarities.

The movie is chilling and very violent at times, but the violence is not exploitive in the least bit. Van Sant’s best call was using a no-name cast. They walk and talk and act like real teenagers. That’s part of what makes the film so chilling.

Check it out and see what you think.

7.9.06

Demon Days...

During my limited time writing comics I was lucky enough to work with two artists who were either dead on or pretty darn near the same wavelength as I was at the time.

The first was Titanic Tom Morgan. Tom and I tried to break into comics at the same time so he read everything I wrote and I saw most of what he drew. Over time I think this practice helped further our almost psychic connection. We would often work on stories together, and in the beginning I was writing Marvel-style, or a paragraph or two of description for every comic page I wanted Tom to draw.

After doing enough stories together I pretty much stopped writing the plots all together. All I had to do was outline to Tom that; the Hulk is acting crazier than ever before, and while not toppling skyscrapers he holds his head and roars in pain. Reed Richards designs a microscopic medical scanner that Ant Man flies up into the Hulk’s nose and detects that the Hulk has an impacted wisdom tooth. Tony Stark gathers the mightiest heroes on the planet to hold the Hulk down while Thor uses his Uru hammer to knock the Hulk’s aching tooth out.

A few days later Tom would have the story penciled, complete with sound effects and dialogue suggestions. Tom would change things, but they were changes set within my sensibilities. It was always fun because he would add amazing things, like move some of the action to the inside of a SHIELD helicarrier. When the Hulk rips the side of the structure open, instead of being one mile up, we see that the helicarrier is rust pocked and missing a rotor or two and is parked in a SHIELD helicarrier graveyard of sorts. After pages of fantastic action Thor would finally knock the aching tooth out of Hulk’s mouth.

I don’t know if Tom and I will ever work together in comics again, but I’m pretty certain that we could pick up right where we left off—having fun the second we hit the ground running.

Besides Tom, the other artist that I was on a parallel wavelength with was the fantastic Tony Akins.

Tony and I met through a mutual friend, Paul Mounts, someone that Tom Morgan had introduced me to. Tom and Paul had gone to high school together. Years after that, Paul Mounts and Tony Akins had worked together doing television commercial storyboards which neither ever seemed too excited about. Paul was also wearing many hats at a new comics publisher called Now Comics. One night Tom and I were visiting Paul who told us about what was going on at Now Comics. They had the rights to do Astro Boy (yawn—never saw the show, didn’t care), plus they had the rights to do Speed Racer and Racer X comics.

Hmmm...

I dropped out of the conversation for a few minutes to imagine what I would do with a Speed Racer comic. I pictured Racer X having to steal Speed’s Mach 5 to evade some evildoers in the middle of the desert. At one point he gimmicks the steering wheel controls of the Mach Five and when an enemy helicopter comes in for the kill he pushes the button that controls the buzz saw blades, only instead of sticking just a few feet out in front of the car, the saw blades fly off toward the enemy helicopter like Ninja stars and neatly shear off the copter’s tail rotor.

I came back into the conversation when Paul was telling us about another book that Now was publishing called Rust. It featured a cop who falls into a pit of corrosive acid. He survives, but his body is horribly scarred from head to toe, plus, in times of turmoil or if he’s injured he bleeds acid.

Bleeds acid? That sounded kind of interesting.

Paul continued on that at the end of the first or second issue this horribly scarred and corrosive man climbs into a garbage dumpster in an alley to get out of the rain for a few minutes sleep.

That was a pretty cool visual that sticks with me today, some fifteen years later.

I sniffed around the Speed Racer book but found out that just like they’d gotten Ken Stacey to do Astro Boy, they were looking for more of a ‘name ‘ to write Speed. I think that year at San Diego they talked to people, like Mark Evanier, but came up empty.

Meanwhile, there was some trouble brewing with the Rust book and Paul tossed my hat into the mix to try and help straighten things out. Paul is always doing that and I never thank him enough.

A few issues later Rust was going along on a pretty smooth path. Nobody told me to stop writing new stories so I keep at it, and after a handful of capable but temporary artists, Paul teamed me up with the astounding Tony Akins.

I think I’d only met Tony once or twice by that point. Nice fellow, but fond of talking about his personal demons. I’d never met anyone with any sort of demons. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. I sat and smiled like I understood what he was talking about. Today I do,of course. Several of mine are wandering around the room as I type this.

I believe at this time Tony was rooming with Rich Powers, a talented fellow that my path would cross with on more than one occasion during the years that followed. Rich took me out to his studio, which was on the back porch of the apartment that he and Tony were sharing. The view from his studio was the alley of a mortuary/funeral home. A couple of guys were wheeling what looked like a body or a casket into the back door. Rich said that it happened frequently, night and day.

Tony was very excited about working on Rust with me. He hadn’t drawn a large number of comics at that time in his career, but I think he was pretty adamant that I not write it full script, because that might handcuff him. At the same time I got the feeling that he wanted more instruction than a typical Marvel-style plot, so I wrote it in a hybrid style that seemed to work. Each page of art took a double-spaced page of plot. I would give Tony a fairly concrete idea for an opening panel on a page. Then I would write a couple of fat paragraphs of what I’d like to see happen in the bulk of the page, then give him a fairly concrete idea for a closing panel on the page.

Tony took what I gave him, and in some insane and probably arcane ritual he peeked inside my head and saw what I was really looking for. It was always kind of frightening. He would draw things that I'd wanted but hadn't typed in the plot. Have you ever tried explaining something to someone and said, “Well, I think you know what I’m trying to say.” That’s the way it was with Tony. He knew what I wanted to say, based on the plot that I had written and him being so in tune with what I wanted. If a specific scene or plot point was important he would leave it alone and draw it just as I'd written, but most of the time if he knew a shortcut or a scenic route to getting the job done, he’d take it. I was never sorry that he did.

It would always be like Christmas morning when Paul would give me new pages that Tony had penciled. Most time it was three or four at a time, but sometimes it was as many as six or seven. I would have to stop whatever it was I was doing at the time and study each page. I haven’t noticed if he still does it today, but Tony used to be a big one for combining panels. There was rarely a single action going on in a single panel of Rust. Action and elements tended to overlap from one panel to the next. Talk about keeping a writer on his toes!

While Tom Morgan and I connected on something of a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby level when it came to goofy superhero comics, (oh, my, god, did a tanker truck of pretentiousness just crash into the building?) in which we were always just sorta fooling around and having fun. Working on Rust was different with Tony. A lot of it revolved around what Paul Mounts told me that first night he was explaining the comic to me; Rust isn’t a character, it’s a state of mind.

Sure, former cop Scott Baker was horribly scarred and bled acid every now and then, but that was never what the comic was about. It would have been pretty silly if it had. I didn’t know all that much about Scott Baker, but I was deeply invested in the people he encountered along his path in life. Scott was so horribly deformed that once they got over his ugliness they felt unusually comfortably around him. He became invisible and we saw the people who gathered around him through his eyes. We never talked about it and I never described it in the plots, but Tony and I were definitely on the same page with this notion.

And then Tony started to flake. It could have been those personal demons he spoke of, or it could have been the princely sum of fourteen dollars a page that Now was paying pencilers—when they had the money to pay it.

Of all the comic publishers that I’ve worked with that have suffered through a case of the financial shorts, it was never as ugly as it was at Now. I begged people to get them to letter or ink pages knowing full well they weren’t going to get paid for their work. I never knew if Tony flaked because of lack of money or if he had other reasons.

A fan favorite issue came from Tony Akin’s tardiness. It was the Talking Eds issue. The issue was way-late and Paul and I had to fly to New York for a signing with Jim Higgins at Jim Hanley’s Universe. I came up with the notion that Tony would only have to draw five or six full page splashes, and then the remainder of the pages would be 9-panel grids that would be little more than talking heads. We would use the same heads, flipped and flopped and reversed and enlarged on the copier, and then I would write a script that would pull it all together. I know we started in a jail cell with two fellows named Ed who were talking about something that had happened, but I don’t remember what the issue was really about. That’s probably for the best. The capper was us not having a cover, so I typed up a note to Paul Mounts explaining that I wanted exactly what I described in the note that followed to be on the cover to that issue. The gag was that we printed the note from me to Paul on the cover, instead of a rendering of what I described. Funny stuff. I think the cover was yellow, with lettering that started, “Dear Paul, Here is an exact description of what I want to be on this cover of Rust. Follow my directions to a ‘T’ and put exactly this on the cover. I want to see Scott Baker in a bathing suit sitting in a public swimming pool…” But of course there was no drawing of Scott Baker, only the note that I had written to Paul Mounts, which is what I said was exactly what I wanted on the cover.
Things got really weird when Now snagged the rights to do a Terminator comic book. This was well before T2. Somehow the notion came up that if Tony Akins worked in house, in the Now offices, that he would get more work done. We got him a drawing a table and a chair and a tape dispenser and all that, and even so I only saw him there one or two times tops.

I was mad as a wet hen. Maybe madder. He kept promising and kept not showing up. One day I found a stack of cassette mix tapes that he had brought in on his first or second visit. On one of the days that Tony was a no-show I flipped out and started snapping them in half like they were Pop-Tarts. To this day I’m ashamed of what I did. I have never been more frustrated with anyone in my life, but that was still no excuse for my behavior.

Working with Tony Akins on Rust and on the Terminator comic was a standout for me.

If they ever get this whole time travel thing figured out I’d like to go back to that time and tell my self to take more time scripting the pages before getting them off to be lettered in such a hurry. I would give up a lot to be able to go back and script those pages with the attention they deserved. I was writing a bunch of plots and scripts and stuff, most of it on the fly, but that’s no excuse. My run on Rust was fun, the issues generated a lot of fan mail, but I have trouble reading them. The scripts should have been up to the standards of the artwork, no matter how late it was.

Another problem concerns the inker of most of Tony's issues, Jim Brozman. Damn that kid was dedicated. He worked for months without seeing a single penny. He wasn't the most talented inker on the planet, but I have to give him massive props for delivering art fast and when it was needed when no other talent would return my telephone calls.

I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m currently working on that are horribly overdue, and that I just can’t get a handle on, and a thought crossed my mind the other day that maybe I’m being plagued by my personal demons. And sure enough,therethey are. Well, Tony Akins overcame his so I guess I can do a little ass kicking of my own.

5.9.06

My Love Affair with Alec Baldwin…

Alec Baldwin. I just love the guy. I don’t know him personally, but I’m certain that if I did he wouldn’t disappoint. I know more people who dislike him than like him, but that’s their loss.

Baldwin is a great over-the-top style actor, and with an industry full of moody, mumbly actors, it’s refreshing for someone not afraid to make a little noise when he walks into a room. He’s rambunctious, a little scary, and has that kind of edge that even though you’re watching him on a television screen in a movie he made ten years ago, there’s a chance that he could still reach out and grab you by the balls and nearly pop them if you’re paying attention.

Some of my favorite Alec Baldwin movies, in no particular order, include: The Cooler, The Aviator, The Edge, Pearl Harbor, The Shadow, The Getaway and Glengary Glen Ross. He also does funny well, as demonstrated in his many appearances on Will & Grace and hosting Saturday Night Live.

This past weekend I caught a good chunk of the first Alec Baldwin movie that really caught my attention, 1990s The Hunt for Red October.

There’s been a hubbub going on over the cat that’s playing the new James Bond. I haven’t wasted much energy worrying about this debate. I recall reading a few of the Ian Fleming Bond books as a teenager and being bored to death, but as far as who played the best Bond in the movies to date, I am a card-carrying member of the microscopic minority who like Pierce Brosnan.

Alec Baldwin was the first actor to play author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on the big screen. Lots of people think that Harrison Ford played Ryan better, in the following movies, but lots of people are wrong. Sure, Ford was good at the action sequences, but what I walked away from the Clancy books was that Jack Ryan did more problem solving with his brains than his fists. When jammed into a corner with no way out, you can see Alec Baldwin running through countless scenarios in his mind before deciding on a plan of action based on a CIA memo he’d read four years earlier about the firing mechanism of the X-18 Soviet SAM missile. If pressed into a similar situation Harrison Ford’s Ryan would probably kick loose a steam pipe, blinding his captors, then escape the submarine by firing himself out of an empty submarine tube.

I have hope for the Ben Affleck’s Ryan, as seen in 2002’s The Sum of all Fears. He’s got the moves, but you can also tell that he’s a thinking action star as well.

The last and possibly he least reason why I like Alec Baldwin so much is because he has brothers. A whole bunch of them. I wish I had a brother. Older would have been great, but I would have settled for younger. I had two older sisters and they were great, but they were sisters. If I had grown up with a couple of brothers I probably wouldn’t be such a big wuss. I would have started dating, drinking, driving, and a whole bunch of other things earlier. My sister Nancy tells me that after my Mom and sisters got back from taking a train trip to visit my aunt in San Diego (this was from Chicago) that she had a horrible miscarriage that almost killed her. Ever since I heard this I think that perhaps the baby that she lost was the brother I never had. That would have been great. Or, he might have been an even bigger wuss that I am.

31.8.06

Rescue Me ramps up for a scorching season finale while Entourage goes out with a whimper.

In my opinion this has been a bit of a bumpy year for HBO’s Entourage. Last year the show was hot as a pistol, leading up to the Aquaman movie, but this season things seemed to flounder. I thought things were going to take off with the arrival of Dom from the old neighborhood, but he was gone as fast as he arrived. Martin Laudau’s riff on Bob Evans was fun but it was too little too late.

I’ve expressed in an earlier listing my disappointment at HBO prematurely cutting the legs out from under Deadwood, leaving the show to swirl to a clumsy end like a school play lacking adult supervision.
The pleasant surprise of this television year has been FX’s Rescue Me, which continues building up a full head of steam for the upcoming season finale. The secret to the show’s success is Dennis Leary’s willingness to share the screen with a bombastic supporting cast of characters.

30.8.06

Limping to an early grave…

This past Sunday HBO aired what is apparently the season AND the series finale for Deadwood. For the past few months there has been talk of HBO ordering up six more episodes to bring the show to a proper end. Then that changed to two two-hour movies. Now apparently HBO has gone back to its original decision and there will be no more new episodes.

If this is true it’s a horrible shame.

If you haven’t seen the final episode yet I won’t ruin it for you. Someone’s done that already.

Proud to be an American? I was too.

Spike Lee’s devastating new documentary ‘When the Levees Broke’ is currently playing on HBO to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Watching it is an eye-opening experience if you’re lucky enough to have premium cable service, and a television to watch it on, and a home to watch it in.

The United States is one of the greatest countries on the planet to live in. For some of us.

25.8.06

Mmmm...roasted ham!

The biggest shock of Comedy Central’s recent roast of William Shatner was that it was freakin’ funny! Of course the pro roasters like Jeffrey Ross, Lisa Lampanelli, Patton Oswald, and Greg Giraldo killed, but even the newbies like Betty White and Nichelle Nichols were hitting them out of the park. They must have had a gang of hired guns writing material for some of the roasters.

Shatner took it all in stride, even the hairpiece and fat jokes, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. Don’t be blue if you missed it—Comedy Central has more reruns than a What’s Happening!! Convention—so set your machine to grab it—especially if they run it late enough at night when they don’t edit for foul language.

20.8.06

I should be late to disappointment...

I just finished the new Scott Smith book, The Ruins.

I’m not a trust fund baby, and my plans for being a high-priced male escort never panned out, so I usually have wait for new books to come out in paperback before I bite.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and since it’s been twelve years since I read Smith’s previous novel, A Simple Plan, I figured I’d cough up the eighteen bucks. (I figured it was a safe bet. I really dug reading A Simple Plan—I more than enjoyed Sam Rami’s film version—and the reviews for The Ruins have been through the roof)

But here I sit, brokenhearted.

My recent track record for being disappointed by movies/records/books that are supposed to be surefire hits has been unusually high for some reason. Especially with regards to movies.

I seem to be the only one who thinks that Cars was Pixar’s first dud (artistically, that is. I know the movie made a mint at the b.o.). Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Man’s Chest was fourteen times more complicated and dull than it should have been for a fun summertime romp. Superman Returns bored me to tears (toward the end I was actually hoping that they would digitally insert Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn into the movie). Even after giving it all sorts of latitude for only being a fairytale, Lady In The Water still made me sad. And X-Men 3 was a stupendous waste of everyone’s time and money. My cracked ribs kept me from going with the family to see Talladega Nights, the one movie that might have broken this summer’s string of mediocrity. (Valarie tells me that the film was no Ron Burgundy, but she suspects that I would have laughed heartily through most of it.)

Is it just me? Have I set my expectations too high? I don’t think so. I’ve enjoyed some of Bryan Singer’s other movies, and on Superman he had a QUARTER OF A BILLION DOLLARS to play with. I don’t think it was out of line for me to at least expect to get my $7.50 worth.

18.8.06

Entertainment, in disguise..

They’re making a Transformers movie, which is definitely cool for fans of the toys and the animated series—and who knows, it may make a few new friends along the way.

I like it when loyal fans get what they want. Earlier this morning I saw a few minutes of the film Serenity on one of the movie channels, which was a nice send off for fans of the Firefly television show.

I never watched the Transformer series with any sort of regularity, which is weird, what with my love affair with robots and toys. I think the show became popular during a weird time in my life when I didn’t have a lot of spare time. Another thing that threw me was the similarity between the Transformer show and G.I. Joe (Go Joe!). If I came across either show while flipping around the channels it would take me a few minutes before I knew which show I was watching.

Something that bothered me about both shows was how easily they had rolled over on their backs when the Moral Majority, or whoever it was trying to make the world safe for children with sloppy brush strokes of sanctity. The bad guys never succeed in their crimes and they were never shown in a favorable light. Oh, and bullets were replaced with energy beams, and nobody ever got hurt—unless they were robots.

This same mentality was being embraced by the weak-minded primetime television creators at the same time. Stephen J. Cannell was one of the first out of the pool. Your average episode of The A-Team had more firepower than a stack of Tom Clancy novels. Everyone and their Aunt Sophie was walking around with AK-47s, but despite thousands of rounds of ammo being fired in every which direction, no one ever seemed to get hit or even grazed. Car tires would get shot out during high-speed chases, but after the cars would flip, skip and tumble down embankments, the camera would linger long enough for us to see everyone climbing out of the wreckage, shaking the dust off their clothing.

I guess if I ever take up a life of crime, I’ll track down a group of mercs like the A-Team to fight it out with. Mr. T. can be a bit crusty around the edges, but nobody gets their toes hammered flat while being pumped for information.

15.8.06

Noir, noir away…

I have a movie rental suggestion, if you give a hoot.

The film is 2005’s ‘Brick’ and is a noirish, teenage detective story set near and around a high school in the coastal town of San Clemente, CA.

The direction and the dialogue are highly stylized, which might turn some people off, but keeping up is certainly worth the effort. Brick features a talented cast of young actors. The shining star of the movie is the protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who you might remember from the sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun.

Brick isn’t perfect and it gets a little muddy toward the end, but I think some of you might enjoy it greatly.

7.8.06

Hero worship and other things...

Growing up, my take on things was that there were actually two worlds.

Really.

I thought there was the world I lived in with my mom and dad and two sisters on Chicago’s south side. And then there was the world I experienced in old television shows and old timey movies on the television. For the longest time I thought that my neighborhood and everyone and everything I knew was sort of an individual cell of the overall world. Like a single kernel on an ear of corn.

I thought that Wally and Beaver Cleaver were real. I thought that Fred and Ethyl Mertz really lived one floor up from the Ricardos. The Brady Bunch really lived in that cool house and that there really was an advertising agency in New York called McMahon and Tate.

I used to marvel at how kids lived in movies and on television. The Little Rascals had some of the coolest clubhouses ever. Wally and the Beaver may have had to share a bedroom, but they had their very own bathroom. Kids had paper routes or stocked the shelves at the local grocery to make money. All the kids, even the fat ones, could play on the school football or basketball team and they got a uniform with their name stitched on the back. Moms wore high heels and loads of jewelry while cleaning the house and cooking the dinner, and after dads got home and had time to down a few glasses of scotch and browse though the mail and the newspaper headlines, he would join his family at the dinner table, not the kitchen table, and he’d still be wearing his suit and tie.

For the longest time I thought my family, neighborhood and life were the exception to the rule—especially when it came to heroes. In old movies and on television, people, young and old, would have posters and pictures up on the walls of Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, JFK, Martin Luther King Jackie Robinson, Neil Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, and the like.

Setting the Way-Back machine thirty-five years or so I've tried to remember who I had up on my wall.

Urmm.

Well, I remember for sure I had a little mini poster of the Groovy Ghoulies. Umm. I think for a while I had a picture of Micky Dolenz of The Monkees taped up—only because I thought he was the funniest of the four—with Mike Nesmith coming in a close second. Oh, I think I had my membership to the Archie Fan Club up over my bed.

Does this mean that I didn’t necessarily have any heroes growing up?

I guess so.

In the late 60s and early 70s astronauts were pretty popular, but there were a lot of them to keep track of. It’s not like they sent them up alone, so you’d only have one name to remember--they were shooting them up three at a time. I never had any real aspirations that I might one day be an Apollo astronaut. Even as a kid I was something of a realist and I figured they were never going to make hatches in the command modules big enough for me to squeeze through.

I was never a massive sports fan but we were a Cubs household and I grew kind of fond of Ernie Banks. I liked it when he came up to bat or snagged a fly ball out of the air. I admired him, and I guess if someone had given me an Ernie Banks poster I might have taped it up to the wall, but that never happened.

He wasn’t famous or anything, but I always kind of had heroic feelings about my best friend, Donnie Draves’ father. Donnie’s father was a carpenter who worked at the General Mills plant in Chicago. I could never fathom why a cereal company would need a carpenter. I liked Donnie’s dad so much because he built things. Most weekends he was in his garage workshop sawing and nailing something together.

Mind you, I was no stranger to carpentry. At least two of my mother’s brothers were carpenters. There was my Uncle Paul, who was a massive bear of a man who genuinely filled a room when he entered it. He had a booming voice that would scare a bulldog off a meat truck, and when he got frustrated he would breath in deeply through his mouth and then exhale through his nose and it sounded like you were in a wind tunnel. He smoked a pipe on occasion, which is, I’m only just now realizing as I’m typing this, the reason I took up the pipe at an early age. My other uncle that was a carpenter was my Uncle Beefy. His real name was Joe, but he’d been given the nickname Beefy at an early age and it stuck. He was a loud man as well, but gentle as a kitten. He was also as round as a beach ball. From any angle you looked at him he was round. My wife takes great glee at the fact that one of my mom’s other brothers is my Uncle Willie, who is a butcher. She thinks it’s hilarious that Willy was the butcher and Beefy was the carpenter.

The thing that was attractive about Donnie’s dad was that he had a massive amount of patience for us kids and he always seemed to be building stuff for us. For example, there was an empty lot on the north side of the three-story building that Donnie’s family lived in. Empty lots were a rarity in my neighborhood. These were row houses that Pullman built for the workers in his Chicago railroad factories (it used to be that if you wanted to ride the train in luxury you rode it in a Pullman car), and each butted up to the next. Scars on the sides of Donnie’s building indicated that once upon a time there might have been a house standing where the lot was, and perhaps it had been destroyed by fire or some other calamity. Fires were a rarity in that kind of housing because of the rampant use of brick construction. It wasn’t until we moved away that I learned that houses could also be made of wood.

So anyway, back to the empty lot. It was naturally a bit on the sunken side, so when winter hit Chicago like a sledgehammer and the temperatures dropped, Donnie’s father would open the garden hose in the lot and before long it was filled up with water. The next morning we had our own private ice rink. Most of us couldn’t skate so he built a wide ramp with stairs that he ran water over until it became an ice ramp sturdy enough to hold a sled full of kids.

The summers in Chicago were just as brutal as the winters, so further back in the empty lot, approximately where the garage would have been, he built a wooden form and had a concrete slab poured. Once it was dry he built a wooden platform that he erected a swimming pool on top of. The icing on the cake was when he had a truckload of sand brought down the alley and he surrounded the pool with it.

The man was very cool and I admired him a lot. Maybe too much. It wasn’t until years later that I came to realize how hard my father was working to support my family, while I was off watching Donnie’s father design and build a multi level birdhouse for the roof of the garage. As I’ve mentioned here before, my dad probably only made it through the eighth grade before he had to go out and work to support his family. As a man he worked on ice trucks, hauling hundred pound blocks of ice into stores and taverns. He also worked alongside a lot of uncles in one of Chicago’s famous meatpacking houses. Somehow, I never really learned how, he got involved with radio and television repair. He taught himself and then got an entry-level job at a shop where he learned the rest of what he knew. For a period of what must have been a year or two I never saw my dad. He was out the door before I woke and he got home after I was in bed. During that period he was working at the TV shop by day and then going and pumping gas at night. This was in an effort for us to move out of the city and out to the suburbs where my parents could finally own their own home.

In retrospect, I can’t think of a single person I admire more than my father. He never raised his voice or his hand to me. I got a little further than he did in school, but much of what makes me a moderately successful writer comes from what made him a moderately successful television repairman. It’s all about problem solving. He would take the back off the television set or radio and fiddle around inside, switching tubes and transformers around until he made it work; much the same way I hack away at a story idea, removing bits and switching things around until it works.

My father also had the unique ability to befriend anyone he would meet. I’d walk over to where he was and he’d be talking to a grocery store cashier, gas station attendant, or just someone standing in line behind him at the store like they were long lost cousins. He always had a smile on his face and a good word for anyone he met. I guess he had a right to be a happy man. He had risen up beyond his roots, raised a healthy family, and as far as I know, didn’t have a single enemy.

I’m not saying that he was the best father in the world. He didn’t wear a suit and tie to the dinner table. He never took me to a single baseball game. He snored like the whistle on a steam locomotive. Every day when he came home from work he’d have a couple of beers and a nip from the Crown Royal whisky bottle, and then nap until dinner was ready. But damn, he was a good guy.

In the mid-80s, when I couldn’t get arrested in New York, let alone sell a story, I came back to the Midwest and my dad offered me a place to stay. He had sold the house and was living a quiet life in a reasonably quiet trailer park (not the type you see on COPS). During the two years that followed my dad and I had a chance to do a lot of catching up. We would sit and talk all night long. At that point my mom had been dead a few years and he was keeping the company of a woman he’d recently met at church.

Of course, when I say church I don’t mean Church. If I’m not mistaken I think it was St. Ann’s Church on Ridge Road in Lansing, IL. St. Ann’s was technically our family church, although I can only remember going there once or twice. (We were fallen Catholics and we couldn’t get up) Maybe this happens in churches all over the world, but the evening mass at St. Ann’s was at the time something of a lonely hearts club. There were a dozen or so people, mostly retirees, who would follow along with the sermon or nap silently, and then afterwards they would head out together and hit the coffee shops or bars for a night of chewing the fat.

Anyway, my dad would go out for coffee or dinner or drinks with his lady friend and then come home to find me slumped over my IBM Selectric, my muse MIA, and starved for company. He’d pop a beer and I’d pop a Pepsi and we would talk the night away. I am so deeply grateful for those talks we had. I got to know the man who was my father.

My mom had died of cancer, so we had a heads up that her time was short. That wasn’t the case with my dad. No time for goodbyes. He had been out shopping for a birthday present for me (talk about guilt) when a young lady asked him for help starting her car. He was happy to comply, but while doing so suffered a heart attack that killed him. The kick in the ass was that he had called me at work earlier that day to talk about something, but I cut him off and told him I was kind of busy. He was all apologetic and said he’d talk to me later.

The thing was, I wasn’t busy. I just didn’t feel like talking to him at the time. Again, talk about guilt.

My sister Nancy called me at work, later that day, close to quitting time. One of the guys I worked with had just given me a birthday present. It was a Chicago street sign from Schiller Street. When Nancy called she told me that dad was hurt and that I should get to the hospital in a hurry. I had driven to work that day, so I headed out to the car with my Schiller Street sign under my arm, hoping a cop wouldn’t happen to be passing by. It was a half hour drive to the hospital and I knew deep in my heart what I would find there. My sister’s tone had said it all. I managed to hold it all together pretty well during the drive until the radio played that Bob Seeger song ‘Like a Rock’. Then the waterworks began. I was crying so hard it’s surprising that I didn’t run off the road. By the time I reached the hospital he had long since been declared dead.

Shortly after my mother died I was kind of hung up over the fact that I hadn’t officially told her that I loved her before she died in her hospital bed. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Our family wasn’t big in the touchy/feely/huggy department, and as a rule we didn’t use the ‘L’ word very often. A friend of mine, Patricia Nowlan (who is Nowlan-Tunberg now, I believe), was quick to set me straight. She told me that no matter what was said or wasn’t said, if I loved my mother, she knew it. Words were meaningless if there was nothing behind them.

I pretty certain that I never once told my father that I loved him, but I am one thousand percent certain that as he was stretched out on the icy parking lot pavement, with that chainsaw ripping up his left arm toward his heart, he knew his son loved him, just like I know he loved me.

I guess heroes aren’t that hard to find after all. I will die a very happy man if I wind up a fraction of the man my father was.

I know it sounds a tiny bit macabre, but whenever I end a telephone conversation, especially with someone I don’t see or talk to very often, I always let them know how I feel. Because, well, you just never know.

I must tell my daughter and my wife a hundred times a day how much I love them. I never get tired of saying it or hearing it.

In fact, it’s 3:21 in the middle of the a.m., but as soon as I’m done writing this I’m going to go wake up Dakota and Val and remind them how much I love them. They’ll probably get mad and throw something at me, but it’s worth the risk, right?

4.8.06

Easier than falling off a blog...

I blog because Stephen King told me to.

Well, sort of.

Years ago I read a quote by King that has stuck in my head for the past twenty years and which is more or less why I’m a writer today. To paraphrase him, “I write my stories for people to enjoy, sure, but mostly I write them just to get them out of my head. Writing down my stories keeps me from climbing up a water tower with a high-powered rifle to thin the idiots from the herd.”

I read that quote when I was in my early twenties. Back then I was a Community College dropout who was living at home and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I worked as a packaging designer for products in Sears’ kitchen and bath departments, and was a secret drinker (mild and sporadic but working my way up the ladder). One day my boss, Tom Murphy, was reading the hardcover of Stephen King’s The Stand. I asked him why he was going through all the effort of reading a fifty-pound book. He tossed me a paperback copy of King’s The Shining and later that night I understood.

I instantly connected with King because he made the effort to connect with me. He talked to me, not at me. I really liked that. For some reason I equated his writing to that of Stan Lee, the wunderkind at Marvel Comics, who helped create icons like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and more.

When I was a wee lad the only comics we had in the house were Archies and Harvey. I had tried reading the occasional Superman or Batman comic over the years, but they always left me cold. The characters were flat and the storylines were unrealistic and had nothing to do with my life. My first encounter with Marvel Comics had the opposite effect. Stan Lee is legend for writing about characters with feet of clay. Everyday folk like you and me. Ordinary people sent flying into extraordinary situations. It could have just as easily been me that the radioactive spider bit, rather than Peter Parker. Or I could have been the one accidentally bombarded with radiation that releases the creature that lurks in all of us, if I’m pushed too far. Stan Lee and Stephen King were both on the same page, and I loved reading it.

Writers are strange folks. Or maybe they’re just ordinary, everyday folk who react to the world and what’s buzzing around in their heads in a different way. Each day I see dozens of situations or hear snippets of conversation that I think would be the basis for a good story, or at the very least a part of a good story. Or I’ll make some observation that I’ll forget about as soon as it passed through my mind, but instead of dropping into the garbage chute it keeps bouncing around inside my brain until I have to file it somewhere.

I’ll smell the neighbor firing up his backyard grill and that odor will trigger a memory I had when I was ten, when I heard the song Windy playing on the transistor radio while my dad was cooking some burgers on our charcoal grill in the backyard. The song Windy sticks in my mind because it was sung by Petula Clark, a British singer I always used to get mixed up with Lulu, the gal who sang the theme song to (as well as playing a minor role in) the ‘60s film classic, To Sir With Love. To Sir With Love will remind me of another Sidney Poitier classic, Lilies Of The Field.

I think for most people it would stop there, but not me. I’ll remember that Sidney Poitier also once stared in a movie with Tom Berenger, Shoot To Kill, and that Berenger starred in a different movie with Debra Winger called Betrayed that I saw with a friend while living in Staten Island. In the movie Winger and Berenger rob a small bank in Chicago which was the same bank I used to go to every Friday when I worked at a small printing place down the street. I slapped my friend on the leg and hissed that they were in my bank. A few years later I saw the Jodie Foster movie The Accused in the same theater. In the film she gets raped and the rapists get off pretty easily. I remember at the end of the movie when the lights came on I noticed I was the only man in the audience. All the women seemed to be glowering at me.

Just down the street from the theater was a building that once held a discount toy store. I remember browsing through the store one day and I found some toys for an animated series called The Bionic Six. I was in running to write a comic book series based on the animated show, so I bought as many of the toys as I could and shipped them to my editor in California, Valarie Jones, who is now my wife.

I think most people have the ability to step out of the stream of conscious early on, but not me. I’ll keep slogging on until the threads no longer connect to anything else, and then I’ll continue to chew on the whole mess over and over again, pulling story ideas out and recounting funny instances. I guess my brain was pretty gunked up before I started writing.

My niece is a writer and she’s a big proponent of writing in journals. I’ve tried this off an on over the years, but they’ve mostly turned out to be a place to park chunks of ideas and funny doodles. I’ve never been able to see the benefit of writing for myself. It would be like painting a picture and then stuffing it into a closet without showing it to any one. I know a lot of people do a lot of creative things and never share them, and I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s that I like being paid for my writing, and if I’m looking to entertain myself, hey, reading a book is a lot easier than writing one. Or maybe my ego is so overgrown that I think every string of words that I lovingly craft should be available for all to see.

I guess that’s why I’m so fortunate that blogging came to be. It’s not paying work, no, but it’s not random scribblings in an ornately bound journal, either. You are reading this and being affected in some way, so that’s okay.

Unleashing the weird and randomly strung together thoughts that clog up my brain is certainly a cathartic experience. Plus it’s always fun to write without a copy editor or project manager looking over your shoulder. This is all about me. Well, me and you.