Monday, April 29, 2013

Kindergarten For Grown-Ups

As anyone who follows the blog surely knows by now, I'm not fond of society.  But you know what?  I still follow some basic rules of decency when it comes to interacting with other humans and humanoids (not sure if all of them are truly humans).  Society as a whole I have a beef with, but I find that when engaging an individual one-on-one I typically don't have a problem, unless of course said individual is a roaring douche.  It happens, but for the most part, I do actually like people if I get the chance to talk to them a bit.

Don't worry, I'm still going to complain about something!  It seems to me like our society at large has completely forgotten simple lessons of courtesy that we all learned in kindergarten.  This problem seems to be exacerbated when more people are present in small spaces.  You could take a bunch of people who are smart, thoughtful, and polite under normal circumstances, pack them into a crowd, and then you've got anarchy.  And not the good kind of anarchy where everybody is free to farm, hunt, and take care of themselves without interference from a bureaucratic monster of a government.  The bad kind of anarchy where everybody looks like an over-the-top punk from an 80s movie, and they all break stuff for no good reason.

Here's a few examples of some pretty simple concepts that the masses can't quite seem to grasp or choose not to grasp.  Whether you're ignorant because you truly don't know any better or because you've decided that ignorance is bliss (then why are you miserable?), it doesn't matter.  Any people behaving in the manners which I'm about to describe could benefit greatly from a kindergarten refresher course.  The rest of us would also benefit.

Lesson #1: How to Form a Line

This is very basic stuff.  Something that pre-kindergarteners can manage.  Yet as soon as people are old enough to drive themselves to the store, this lesson disappears in a puff of stupidity.  At larger grocery and general stores, this isn't a problem, because there is a built-in aisle system that forces people to pick a line to stand in.  But at smaller convenience and department stores the register is often located at a small counter with no set direction for customers to form a line in.  And people just can't be bothered to take responsibility for even the simplest, most menial tasks, such as standing and waiting in an orderly fashion.

Seriously.  How hard is this to understand?  If you get to the register and there's somebody already there, stand behind them.  If there's two people already there, stand behind the second person.  And so on.  Yet countless times I've approached the counter of a store to find that the line is branching in two or three directions.  I just don't get it.  And I can't decide who made the more idiotic choice: the person who walked up to the line and decided to start his own line, or the person who saw this jackass and decided that his line was going to be the better line and chose to stand behind him instead of with the rest of the people who have a fundamental understanding of line-forming.

This inevitably leads to that moment when everybody starts shuffling around asking "Who's next?"  There's usually at least one instance of two people taking a half-step toward the register at the same time, pausing awkwardly, laughing awkwardly, then each taking another half-step before insisting that the other goes first.  The person who ends up going first feels guilty about this for some reason and crumbles under the pressure of being watched by the rest of the people in the eight lines that have inexplicably been formed to get to the same destination.  The pressure causes this person to fumble with her purse, fumble with her wallet, fumble with her 'club card', fumble fumble fumble.

In situations like these, the area around the register should enter a state of martial law with the clerk in absolute control.  Who gets to go next should be based on who actually got there first, but since the herd of humans clearly had no interest in orderliness, the clerk can decide on a whim who gets served.  "Hey, dude, sweet mustache!  You're totally next."  Or, "Yo, assface.  I'll ring you up when you're done obnoxiously yelling into your cellphone."

This could all be easily avoided if we'd just remember that, once upon a time when we still believed we could grow up to be astronauts or the president or maybe even the president of outer space, we all knew how to form a single-file line.  Just because we all grew up to realize that the only jobs you can actually get are shitty ones doesn't excuse us from following one of the most basic lessons from the easiest grade of school.  It's not even a grade.  It's before first grade.  It's grade zero.  By being unable to form a line, you're acknowledging that you're less than zero.

Lesson #2: Don't Cut in Line

During the "Who's Next Shuffle" mentioned in Lesson #1, there's almost always some dick who swoops in and tries to cut in line during the confusion.  I can almost say I don't blame the guy for trying to take advantage of a moronic situation, but his actions usually just cause more delay.  Somebody will point out that so-and-so was in line first.  So-and-so will feign surprise.  "Really?  Me?  I was here first?!  I've been chosen to have my microwave burritos and antidiarrheal tablets rung up next?!"  Again, this should never happen because adults should be capable of creating a single line.

Where line-cutting really irks me is in traffic.  There's two instances that come to mind immediately.  The first happens each and every time I drive through a construction zone on the highway in which one of the lanes is closed off.  Here's how it undoubtably goes down:  Everyone is driving on the highway, listening to "Thrift Shop", and going the normal speed (about 15 to 20 over the limit).  The tell-tale signs of construction start to appear.  Literally, signs that tell you there's construction ahead.  One of them proclaims that the left lane will be closed.  Most people, the types that have even just a shred of intelligence, take the opportunity to move into the right lane at least a few hundred yards before the left lane is blocked off.  But there's always some jackass, usually several, who refuse to do this.  Instead, they opt to stay in the left lane until their front bumpers are practically touching the white-and-orange barrels.  And then it's our problem.  Now everybody who made the sound decision to move into the right lane early has to wait as the assholes plow their way into traffic, because for some reason they feel that we owe it to them to let them into the line.  The person they cut in front of has to slam on the brakes.  The person behind that car has to slam on the brakes.  Every fucking person in a mile-and-a-half-long line has to slam on the fucking brakes because some ignorant shit-skull made a stupid decision.  Every once in a while there should randomly be a bed of thumbtacks, nails, and broken glass twenty feet in front of the barrels.  I'm not encouraging anyone to do this, but, you know, that would be great.

The second instance of line-cutting that makes me grind my teeth occurs at traffic lights.  Yeah, it sucks when you have to make a left-hand turn, there's no arrow, and there's like thirty cars in line to go straight on the opposite side of the light.  Tough shit.  You don't have the right-of-way, get over it.  But for whatever reason the left-turn sneak has become a thing.  You know when it's going to happen because the person making the left will start inching out like a baseball player attempting to steal third base while the light is still red.  Also, they refuse to make eye contact with the person directly across from them because they know, deep down, that they're behaving like an asshole.

Boom!  The light turns red and they screech into their turn just seconds before the oncoming traffic rushes through.  Is it really worth the risk?  Is that forty-five seconds you'd have to wait before making the turn really that important to you?  Like I said, it sucks to be in the situation where you have to make the left, but it's not an excuse to behave like that little jerk who had to cut in line in the school cafeteria to be the first to get his delicious helpings of mushy tater-tots and green beans that are the wrong shade of green.

I'm all about trying to be polite and putting others before me, but in that situation, the person making the left is demanding that thirty people wait so they can get somewhere a few seconds earlier.  This is not what our society is supposed to be about.  Decisions should be made for the good of the whole, not for that one impatient douche with a passenger-side door a different color than the rest of the car.  Hmm... What happened to the original door, guy?  Did it get smashed when you swerved in front of a rush of oncoming traffic so you could get to the convenient store a few seconds earlier and form a second line at the register?

Lesson #3: Hold the Damn Door!

I don't care if you're an elderly woman who can barely walk or a knucklehead with a popped collar who insists on ending every sentence with "Brah!"  I'll still hold the door for you if you're walking into a public place behind me.  It's an action that requires little effort, takes two seconds, and makes me feel good about myself by letting the rest of society know that not all of us are bitches and bastards.  But quite a lot of people are content to announce that either they think they're more important than the person behind them (they're not) or that they're completely oblivious to what's happening around them. Both of these are heinous statements to make about yourself.

Surprisingly, the most frequent offenders (from my own experience) are middle-aged men.  You know, the guys who complain that every generation behind their own is made up of rude punks who are causing society to go to hell in a hand-basket.  News flash, chump!  Your generation played a major part in steering our country onto its current path of shittiness, Journey sucks, and your behavior just shows everyone that you're a hypocritical fart.  The second most frequent offender tends to be young adult females who seem to think Jersey Shore is the height of culture.  At least I expect discourtesy from this type of person.  I don't expect cows to write poetry, and I don't expect orange girls to hold the door for me.

Unless you have two broken arms or no arms at all, there's no excuse not to hold the door for the person behind you.  Old women with walkers have held the door for me.  Dudes in wheelchairs have held the door for me, for crying out loud!  And I'd even bet that a person with no arms who prefers to go to the store alone rather than depend on somebody else would hold the door with a foot or the telekinesis they developed after the bizarre accident that cost them their arms.  If these people can take a few seconds (and a bit more effort due to their unfortunate circumstances) in order to be decent to another human being, there's no excuse for you not to do it.

Look, the world is overpopulated and it's only going to get worse.  Although I often feel like I don't quite fit in with the rest of society, I understand why we have basic rules of courtesy, and I try to follow them to make everything go as smoothly as possible.  Yeah, a lot of times when I'm out of the house I'd rather be back at home, and I'd like to get their as quickly as possible, but I refuse to act like a jerkoff who can't follow basic concepts, even if it means arriving home will be delayed by a few precious minutes.  If a grumpy, ranting blogger can extend the courtesy to act decently, then you can too.  If you can't follow these simple lessons, it's time you pull your head out of your ass, realize that the universe does not revolve around you, and go back to kindergarten to learn what you're already supposed to know.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Next Batman

In case my writing about why I'm naming my son Link wasn't nerdy enough for you, today I'd like to share my thoughts on what I'd like to see in the next series of Batman films.  It's kind of sad that my memory for dates and events in my life is so shoddy that I have to use the Batman films as reference points to when things occurred.  I'm serious.  (The James Bond films also serve the same purpose.)  If there were no movies about the Caped Crusader, and you asked me when I moved from my parents' house to a tiny basement apartment in East Stroudsburg, it would probably take me a good handful of minutes and maybe an abacus to give you an approximate date.  But there are Batman movies, thankfully, so I can tell you rather quickly that it was January of 2009, which I remember as the January after The Dark Knight came out.

A lot of my earliest memories involve Batman.  I remember begging my mom to buy a VHS copy of Scooby Doo meets Batman and Robin as a child.  I still have the first Batman toy I ever got, an 18 inch tall blue-and-gray masterpiece my mom bought for me at FAO Schwarz in New York.  And I can still fondly recall acting out scenes from the trailer for 1989's Batman in my friend's yard with such clarity that I could go to his parents' house now and show you where I was standing when I said, "Is there a six foot bat in Gotham City?"  Needless to say, Batman is, was, and always will be a big part of my life.  Naturally, I have opinions on what I'd like to see in the new film series, so now you get to read them!

The Sci-Fi Villains

I love the Christopher Nolan series of bat-films and his for-the-most-part feasible take on a Batman that could possibly existed in the real world.  The harder-edged 'realistic' Batman seems to be in vogue now, so much so that when the excellent cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold was in production, adults were complaining on internet message boards that the show was bullshit because it would be too lighthearted and fun.  I didn't think I'd enjoy the show before it debuted, but I thought the arguments of these so-called grownups were ridiculous.  Without a Batman that's accessible to (and enjoyable for) children, there wouldn't be a next generation of bat-fans.  Once the show aired, I found myself enjoying the hell out of it and catching as many episodes as I could.

I think the next series of movies can find a middle ground between the two differing takes on Batman.  Part of what made the Nolan films so great was the focus on Bruce Wayne as a person who has to deal with the emotional, as well as physical, risks of donning the cape and cowl.  This kind of focus on character is a necessity, in my opinion, and the lack of it in the 90s Batman films is part of why they feel so hollow.  The recent slew of awesome Marvel flicks has proven that characters can be portrayed with realistic emotions and traits while existing in a world where fantastic things frequently can (and do) happen.

The Batman has always fought his fair share of Sci-Fi and fantasy type villains.  One of the earliest stories published featured Batman hunting down a vampire.  And much like every other action/adventure series from the 1940s, the comics featured lots and lots of mad scientists.  Considering the large list of rogues that Nolan couldn't work into his series and the technology available to modern filmmakers, I think it's high time we get villains like Man-Bat and Killer Croc into the films.  And how awesome would insane battles with Clayface be?

Since the new Batman will almost-assuredly be fit into the 'DC film universe' that will be starting with Man of Steel, and since that shared universe will also include sci-fi heroes like Green Lantern and possibly even a justification for Aquaman's existence, it wouldn't make sense to try to do another Batman film set in what could be our own non-super-powered world.  Plus, comic book/movie fans deserve a take on Mr. Freeze that doesn't make them want to violently puke.

Robin!  Robin!  Robin!

I know, I know, some of even the most hardcore bat-fans hate Robin.  But you know what?  He was introduced into the comics about a year after Batman's debut.  He's an undeniable part of the canon.  And personally, I think he's cool.  Not "let's make him 'hip' by giving him an earring" cool, but just a neat character.  Also, there's four Robins (five if you count The Dark Knight Returns).  I think the new series should include at least three of them.  I'm not crazy.

Everybody's familiar with Dick Grayson, the original acrobat-turned-sidekick.  I don't think the new series needs to rehash Batman's origin or even touch Dick's (yeah, I wrote it like that on purpose) that much.  In the last season of the super-excellent animated series from the 90s, Grayson had quit being Robin and struck out on his own as Nightwing.  In the films, he should already be Nightwing, and perhaps we could get a little of the backstory as to why through flashbacks.  In the cartoon, he quit after witnessing Batman aggressively interrogating a guy who had worked for The Joker in front of the dude's wife and kid.  Moments later, on a rooftop (of course), Robin socked Batman in the jaw, ditched his mask and utility belt, and took off into the night, a sidekick no longer.  The balls on that guy!  Most of us get a little nervous when we have to tell our current boss that we got a new job.  Can you imagine telling freaking Batman that you quit?  And punching him in the face while you're at it?

For those who are only casual movie bat-fans, you may not know that Gotham's guardian took a second Robin, Jason Todd, under his wing, only to have the loose cannon little shit get murdered by Joker.  As if Bruce didn't already have enough of a guilt complex, now he's got yet another reason to brood.  Jason's death is perhaps Batman's biggest failure, and as such it lends a lot to his character.  I don't think we need Todd as a main character on screen, but his death should be touched upon as part of Bruce Wayne's character arc, and a reason why he'd be reluctant to train another Robin.

But reluctantly, training another Robin is what he ended up doing.  A Batman needs a Robin!  Tim Drake became the third (and my favorite) Robin.  Not being an acrobat, he was much less physically apt than Dick Grayson, but more importantly, we wasn't an overly-aggressive punk-ass like Jason Todd.  His greatest asset was his skill as a detective.  He could be just as much help to Batman manning the computers in the Batcave as he was helping him out in the field.  He took to his training well, almost always played by Bruce's rules, and even brought down The Joker by himself in Batman's absence.  Quite the lad!  I'd love to see the movies introduce Drake and show us his progress as he becomes Batman's protege.  His introduction into the films could serve as the catalyst to let the audience in on what happened with the past Robins, as well as give the filmmakers the option to explore the father/son relationship that develops between Bruce and Tim.

The costume designers of the next round of bat-films should feel free to do some tweaking of the Robin costume.  I love the way the costume looks in the comics, but watching a teenaged boy in live-action dodging rounds of machine gun fire wearing only a domino mask on his face might be uncomfortable.  The kid needs some head protection!

In the comic books, Drake eventually becomes Red Robin as a young adult, continuing to fight crime and apparently also opening a chain of burger restaurants with massive sandwiches that are delicious but usually give me a tummy ache.  This paves the way for the next Robin, Damian Wayne.  Notice the last name there?  It's not a coincidence; the boy is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul.  That's right, ol' Bats knocked up the daughter of one of his greatest enemies.  The Vicki Vales and Julie Madisons of the world can vie for Bruce's affection all they want, but if you're not clad in a skintight costume and you don't occasionally try to kill him, Batman just won't be that into you.  Sorry, ladies.  He's a weird guy.

The inclusion of Damian would probably be one Robin too many in the new Batman film arc, and it wouldn't work at all if the filmmakers didn't plan on including the al Ghul family in the mix.  Obviously, if the film series continues on past a few entries they could choose to explore this part of Batman's story, but I feel that building up the Bruce/Tim team would be the way to go.

(I have about a years worth of Batman comics to catch up on, so if any of this Robin-realted information is outdated, I apologize.)

Supporting Cast of Characters

One of the elements of the Nolan series that I loved was that Jim Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and Lucius Fox were included as important characters.  These were fully fleshed-out supporting characters that functioned as members of Batman's team in his crusade against crime.  It also didn't hurt that such amazing actors (Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman) portrayed the characters.  The films also included movies-only characters like Rachel Dawes and John Blake, which fit into Nolan's vision just fine, but also deprived us of other comics characters that I'd love to see on the big screen.

With Rachel, moviegoers did get to see a hint of Bruce trying to balance a relationship with his 'night job', but she was all about Harvey Dent, so we pretty much knew it wasn't going to happen.  I'd be interested in seeing the next silver screen Bruce Wayne trying to maintain a full-fledged romantic relationship while attempting to keep his secret life from interfering.  Someone like reporter Vicki Vale or even Bruce's fiancee from the earliest days of the comics, Julie Madison, could fill that role.  Obviously, such a relationship would never work out in the end, but would teach Bruce important lessons about the path he's chosen and the sacrifices that must be made.  Maybe he could even quit being Batman (which he's done about seventy times in various comics/cartoons/films) to try and save his relationship, leaving Nightwing and Robin (and Batgirl?) to try and fill the void of his absence until he inevitably returns.

I liked the MCU characters that were given some focus in The Dark Knight, but I'd really love to see my favorite Gotham cop, Harvey Bullock, on film.  Bullock is a rough-around-the-edges slob, gets frustrated with the restrictions of being on the side of the law-abiders, and also is not fond at all of Batman.  Overall, though, he's one of the good guys and quite an interesting one, at that.  Stick a good actor in this role and I'm sure he could do great things with it.  Whether he's used as comic relief or a more serious character to fuel conflict between Batman and the police department (or both), he'd be a welcome addition to the series.

One more supporting character that could/should be used is Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  In the 80s/90s series of bat-films, Bruce never seems to get injured that badly.  In Nolan's version, Alfred often stitches him up or, much to the trusty butler's chagrin, Bruce does it himself.  In the 70s run of Detective Comics, Dr. Thompkins was introduced as a friend and colleague of Bruce's parents.  She was there to comfort Bruce the night his parents were murdered, and she was aware that he became Batman, often helping him when for obvious reasons he couldn't go to a hospital to be treated for various bizarre injuries.  If Alfred is Bruce's father figure, Leslie was his mother figure.  She was always there to aid Bruce, but like most of our moms, was consistently warning him about the dangers of his lifestyle.  She also became inspired by Bruce, not to lean towards vigilantism, but to do her best to help out the impoverished children of Gotham in order to prevent them from leading a life of crime and in turn creating more victims for Batman to feel obliged to protect and brood over.  Her character could be used to show the ripple effect that crime and desperation, and Batman's role in Gotham City, has on the ordinary citizens.

These are just some of my thoughts on what could make the next series of Batman movies as good as the Nolan series, yet different enough that fans aren't subjected to imitation.  Agree or disagree, I'd gladly chat with anybody for hours about future bat-films.  Conversation is really all we have right now, because from what I've read, we most likely won't be getting another Batman film until at least 2017.  As eternally popular Northeast Pennsylvania favorite Tom Petty sang, "The waiting is the hardest part."  Yes, the wait can sometimes be excruciating, but it can also be a lot of fun.  The anticipation for the next big Batman blockbuster is part of the experience.  Until then, I've got comics to catch up on, toys to play with (uh... I mean... collect), and an ever-expanding shelf of Batman movies and TV shows to watch.  Now if only I could get my fiancee to set up an elaborate death trap for me every so often, I'd be set.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Video Vednesday #4

Do you like boners? Goofs? Gags? Everybody loves blooper reels, right? That's why they have one at the end of every Jackie Chan movie. Based on that logic, I present a series of screwy screw-ups from the filming of the first series of The Super Pancake Bros. Super Show.


Monday, April 22, 2013

My Son, the Hero of Time

Man, we certainly don't need anymore Bobs, Joes, and Toms running around in this world, and that's why Ginger and I had decided very early on into her pregnancy that we wanted to give our son a unique name.  This was easy for girls, but we soon discovered how difficult this would be for a boy.  It's taken us months and months, but we've settled on Link.  This is not definite, because the baby's not due until the end of July, so we may find a name that we like better in the next three months, but I highly doubt that.  What could be better than Link?  George?  No, not George.  Adam?  Too biblical.  Bort?

I'm not sure who first suggested the name.  It may have been Ginger; it may have been me.  It might have even been one of my two daughters, as both of them are Legend of Zelda fans.  Both of them, however, prefer to spend their time in the game wandering around aimlessly, collecting rupees, and using chickens as makeshift hang-gliders.  When it comes time to actually enter a dungeon or temple and fight the weirdass assortment of Ganon's evil minions, the controller is typically passed into my hands.

When Ginger mentioned that she'd been thinking about the name Link and wasn't so sure about it anymore, I assured her that all of my friends loved it.  "Yeah, but all of your friends are nerds." was her response.  It's definitely a true assessment, though not an entirely fair one.  If loving a video game series that you grew up with makes you nerdy, most people around my age would automatically be given a membership card to some kind of nerd association.  My generation is the first that grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System as a primary (if not the primary) source of entertainment in our homes. It makes sense; the word entertainment is right there in the name.  It's a system!  For entertainment!  And if you're a nerd like me, I'll bet the mention of the name Link set your nerd-senses tingling.  I didn't even have to mention Legend of Zelda, you had already associated the name to the series.  You're already thinking about reading this blog later so you can play Ocarina of Time now.  I'm not going to discourage you, the blog will still be here later.

I have to admit, as a youngster I wasn't too into the series.  It wasn't until I played Ocarina of Time for the N64 as a teenager that I developed a full-on Zelda addiction, subsequently returning to the earlier games that I had only dabbled with as a child.  A lot of my friends were fans from the beginning, however, and thus the theme song from the games has always been one of my favorite songs.  I'm not saying it's one of my favorite video game songs; it's one of my favorite songs.  Period.  Exclamation point!  The song is frequently in my head, even more often than Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train", which isn't one of my favorites but is stuck in my brain a lot for some reason.

Anyway, I'm already five paragraphs in and I haven't even touched on the real point that I'm going for with this blog entry.  Aside from the fact that it looks like my son has his mom's ears (and therefore ears similar to the characters in the Zelda series), I think that the boy can learn some valuable life lessons based on the adventures of his namesake.  Yeah, your mom was wrong.  Video games don't rot your brain!  You can learn from them!

For starters, Link is a very stoic character.  For the most part, he's completely silent, except in the awful cartoon in which he was cursed with the horrible catchphrase "Well, excuuuuuuuuse me, Princess!"  That's certainly no "Sit on it!" as far as catchphrases are concerned.  We'll just ignore the cartoon, as most fans do, and think of Link as the quiet hero that he is.  I don't expect my son to be so quiet, as he'll most likely be a chatterbox like his sisters, but I think video game Link should be admired for his ability to listen.  To get anywhere in the games you have to talk to a lot of people, and you have to remember what they tell you because a lot of it will become important as your adventure progresses.  In our world of ever-decreasing attention spans and social-media-fueled self-obsession, a lesson in being a good listener is a valuable lesson indeed.

Another of Link's admirable traits is his problem-solving (critical thinking) skills.  Sure, you get to equip the hero with lots of cool weapons like swords, bombs, and bow-and-arrows, but the game isn't all about slashing, blowing up, and shooting your enemies.  A big part of the challenge of the various series entries has always been solving puzzles in order to advance through the levels.  So many times you'll find yourself in a room in which you have to slide around boxes, raise or lower water levels, or reflect the sun onto the correct spots in order to uncover hidden keys or gadgets (and be rewarded with the awesome sound that plays when you uncover such objects).  It is part of my own philosophy to not view every hurtle in life as a problem to be complained about, but rather to view each of life's challenges as a puzzle that's waiting to be solved.  Link has the same philosophy, obviously, and this philosophy will be taught to my son.

One thing I love about Link is that he's not a sexist jackass like a lot of other "heroes" that populate the pop culture landscape.  Sure, a male hero rescuing a princess is pretty typical.  Link, although he seems to have trouble getting out of bed when the adventure begins, is always willing to rise to the occasion and fight his way to Princess Zelda's rescue.  But he's also fine with working alongside her when he needs to.  In Ocarina of Time (as in the original game, if my memory serves me correctly) she offers to lead him out of Ganon's castle as the whole thing is collapsing and exploding and shit.  Perhaps a macho manly man would insist that he knows how to get out of the castle himself, since he just fought his way through it, but Link gladly accepts her help, and it pays off, because she makes force fields around them to avoid getting crushed by large hunks of rubble.  Princess Toadstool can't do that.  And when she actually helps Mario and Luigi, it turns out to just have been a wacky dream that Mario had.  "A woman helping?  Atsa funny!"

Here's another good life lesson:  Do not harass chickens!  Eventually they will get pissed off and attack you, and their chicken buddies may also join in, pecking at you until you flee from the village in terror.

Most importantly, Link is a character that possess great courage and determination.  He never backs down, even when facing a multiple-headed dragon-thing, or when he finds himself going toe-to-toe with a terrifying spider-monster-or-whatever that drops down on him from the ceiling and uses her own babies as weaponry.  Courage and determination, however, aren't enough to complete the journey.  Link teaches us that you have to learn all of the skills to back up your bold disposition.  Link doesn't rush in to fight Ganon once he's equipped with a dagger and a crappy wooden shield that you lose whenever there's fire.  He takes time to collect and master more advanced weaponry, build up his endurance, and learn some nifty magical attacks.  Also, he picks up lots of cool boots and tunics!  Only once he is well-prepared, and looking stylish in his blue tunic and hover-boots, does Link launch his final assault.

And I'm not sure if I'm the only one who always finds Ganondorf (Ganon in his faux-human form) to be much more difficult than the actual final boss, Ganon, but that's another lesson right there.  The bigger and scarier they are, the harder they fall after you blast them with your light arrows and then hack the shit out of them with your master sword.  That's how that expression goes, right?

I'm not expecting my son to be the hero of time (despite the title of this article), a master swordsman, or even to look good in a tunic, but I do have the reasonable expectation that he will be a nerd like the rest of the family.  And how lucky for me that I have a way to spend time with my kids while doing something that we all enjoy and can learn from.  Despite what your mom said, video games like The Legend of Zelda improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving abilities, and memory skills.  We just have to remember to sometimes put the controllers down and make our own adventures outside.

*As a special treat for fans of Zelda, awesome tunes, and the violin, here's a great video that I recently watched.  The artist is Lindsay Stirling, who my cousin, David, claims will one day be his wife, though I'm relatively sure they haven't met yet.

Friday, April 19, 2013


This morning my five year old daughter asked me if ghosts are real.  Well, she pronounced it ghostises.  Or ghostizes.  After correcting her pronunciation I gave her the clearest answer I could muster up, "I don't know.  Maybe.  I have my doubts, but I've seen and heard some weird stuff."  I don't think she was satisfied by that answer, and she quickly lost interest in the conversation.  But it set my mind a-rollin' on the topic of ghostizes.

I feel the same way about ghosts as I do about UFOs, Bigfoot (the apeman, not the monster truck), and conspiracies relating to dimension-hopping lizard men:  I think I believe in them somewhat because I want them to be real.  Also, I really want ghosts to exist because I'm hoping to one day have a career in ghost-busting.  I'd like to be the Bill Murray of my team.  Though I look more like Dan Aykroyd (or so I've been told).

Only once as a kid did I see something that could have been a UFO, strange lights in the sky that seemed to rapidly change location without actually moving in the direction of the next spot.  In all the time I spent in the woods growing up, I never ran into Sasquatch or any other missing links.  And I don't even know where to begin looking for lizard men.  But I have a few unexplained experiences that may or may not pertain to ghosts.

When I was about eight or nine I spent a lot of time playing at my friend's house down the street.  One sunny day I excitedly dashed off of my parents' porch on my way to see my friend, but my dash was a little too excited.  I tripped off the top step and lurched into a dive which would have resulted in me cracking my head or breaking my neck on the sidewalk.  Something grabbed me by the armpits, straightened me out in the opposite direction of my momentum, and set me down on my feet.  It happened so fast that I didn't really think about it until I was almost to my friend's house.  Then I forgot about it due to video games and infinite cans of soda.

But what the hell helped me avoid a trip to the hospital and/or death?  I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in guardian angels or any other type of angels.  I don't even believe that the Angels baseball team really exists.  Could it have been some kind of guardian ghost?  (I thought Guardian Ghost would be a cool name for a comic book character or a band, but a quick Google search reveals that it's already the name of a comic and a band.)  I still don't know what to make of it after all these years, but if there was some sort of a Slimer or a Bill Cosby from Ghost Dad looking out for me, I'd like to thank him (or her) here.  Thank you.  (Ghosts read blogs, right?)

Let's move forward in time almost two decades.  I'm now a (somewhat) more rational adult.  I moved into a crappy, overpriced apartment with my girlfriend, Ginger.  We had found out from the neighbors that an old lady lived there for years before we moved in.  Supposedly she died in hospice, but for whatever reason we had suspected at the time that she died in the apartment.  We also became relatively sure that she was still 'living' in the apartment.  It started with Ginger accusing a ghost of throwing shit around in the kitchen, specifically the toys that I had set up on top of the cabinets.  I shrugged it off when she first mentioned it.  A lot of action figures don't stand up that well; they must be falling off the cabinets, I figured.  Then I witnessed it myself...

One of the coolest toys I had on display was Ben Grimm, also known as the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing, from Fantastic Four.  It's a fairly big toy, and it's really heavy compared to most other action figures.  Most importantly, it has big feet, so standing him up is not a problem.  Mr. Grimm was proudly standing on the cabinet directly above the oven, looking all orange and badass.  If he had merely fallen off, he most likely would have landed on top of the stove or maybe an inch or two in front of it.  But I witnessed The Thing get launched half way across the kitchen!  He went at least a good six feet.  There's no way a toy of that size and weight could have been propelled that far from a mere tip-over.  It was crazy, and if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it happened.

Also, in the same crappy, overpriced apartment, I would occasionally see strange happenings out of the corner of my eye.  Curtains and blankets would sometimes move when there were no windows open and no discernible source of wind.  More convincingly (and more spookily), I saw one of the cabinets open about a quarter of the way and then snap shut.  These weren't old cabinets that would creak open by themselves.  These were newer cabinets that still had tight hinges, and they'd snap shut if you didn't open them all the way.  Or if you were a ghost that could only manage to open one a quarter of the way.

I'd say the spookiest, yet possibly most easily disprovable, occurrence happened when I'd settled onto the couch for a nap.  Just as I was falling asleep I heard a raspy voice say, "Hello!"  Initially I thought it was my eight year old daughter, because she's a creep and does things like that sometimes, but I was alone in the room when I opened my eyes.  Did it really happen?  Or could it have been one of those weird little dreams that you have when you first fall asleep that causes you to snap out of your fresh slumber?  I do have those quite often, but the part that wakes me up is almost exclusively me getting hit in the face or falling down.  It certainly didn't feel like it had been a dream, even in the moment of clarity when I was fully awake.  I guess I'll never know for sure.

Even when I started typing this, I maintained the idea that I sort of believe in ghosts, but not really.  After looking over and pondering what I just wrote, I'm thinking maybe I should just full on believe in ghosts.  Maybe even goblins.  I'd like to know that there's sound, scientific reasoning that could explain all of what I just detailed, because I'm a firm believer in science, but I'm stumped as far as a lot of that stuff goes.  Did I really have a guardian ghost as a child?  Was an old lady lingering in the apartment where she used to live?  And what were the strange buzzing noises I heard while I was typing this up?  They came from right by the front door and I haven't figured it out yet.  Have I really had run-ins with spirits from beyond the grave?  Maybe it's just the lizard men playing tricks on me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Video Vednesday #3

Alright!  Another Vednesday, another video.  This time I'm featuring something a little less comedic (though there's funny parts, I think) and a little more musical.  I made an electronic song, "Green Knives", as my alter-ego Klondike Maybe.  Then I made a video for it as my regular ego, Baxter Pancake.

There's a message in the video, or maybe there's not.  If there is, it's definitely tongue-in-cheek.  Or maybe it isn't.  If you don't give a crap about any of this, just check it out for the cool fights.  The video is made entirely out of stock footage from movies that are in the public domain.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Terminal Doctor 2: Afraid of What

You've already seen the results of my first visit with the Terminal Doctor.  (And if you haven't, you can click on that convenient link and catch up.)  My subsequent conversations with the bad doctor were neither fruitful nor funny enough to print on this quality blog.  I'd pretty much given up on the program... until now!

See, I've had this nagging feeling lately that I'll never truly have a place in society.  Becoming a backwoods cabin hermit like The Unabomber isn't a viable option (and that didn't work out so well for him), but I did briefly consider growing my beard out and wearing a hoodie and sunglasses all the time.  After a little thought I realized that beards, hoodies, and sunglasses are way too popular these days for that to be much of a statement.

So what would any normal person do when they're bothered by such a feeling?  Talk to a friend?  A loved one?  A licensed medical professional?  Nah!  I chose the slightly illogical path of returning to speak with a computerized psychotherapist.  And here's how it went down:

I am the psychotherapist.  Please, describe your problems.  Each time you are finished talking, type RET twice.

Hello again, doctor.

How do you do?  What brings you to see me?

Sometimes I feel like I am too radical for society.

Why do you say that?

I have a habit of getting lost in my own mind, and the older I get the more I prefer that setting to reality.

Is it because setting to reality that you came to me?

Come again?

Earlier you said setting to reality?

Yeah, like seven seconds ago.

Maybe your plans have something to do with this.

Setting to reality?

What makes you believe setting to reality?

I don't think you understand.

You mentioned that setting to reality?


I see...  Well, are you sure that this is so?

You're not making sense.

Is it because of your life that you are going through all this?


Can you elaborate on that?


I would appreciate it if you would continue.

Alright, I will.

Is it because of the people you hang around with that you say alright you will?

No, I said that because you said you'd appreciate it if I would continue.

Does it bother you that I said I would appreciate it if you would continue?

Not at all.

Do you really think setting to reality?

Now that bothers me!

Go on, don't be afraid.

Afraid of what?

What makes you think you are afraid of what?

Are you trying to fuck with my head?

What do you think?


Yes, hmmm... so, why do you say this is so?

Because you say things that are so bad at making sense that I have to think about if maybe I'm just an idiot that can't understand you.  Then I realize that no, no it's you.

When did you first know that no it's me?


I need a little more detail please.

I came out of my mother's vagina.

How do you reconcile problems at school?

Are you afraid of women?

I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind!

Afraid of women.  Got it.

What makes you believe got it?

Because you're totally afraid to talk to girls.

Is the fact that I am totally afraid to talk to girls the real reason?


You're being a bit brief, perhaps you could go into detail.

I bet you're a nervous farter, or maybe you get cotton mouth, and you keep clicking when you talk to them.

What happened when I talk to them?


Can you are more explicit?

It was a really nasty fucking fart.

Are you frightened by sex?

No.  Are you?

I could ask the same thing myself.

You do that.


And what?

Earlier you said I said I would appreciate it if you would continue?

That I did.  That you did.

Please, go into more detail?


Would you please allow me to do the questioning.


I have asked myself that question many times.

I hear ya, doc.

Perhaps this has something to do with any hobbies you have?

What is?

Is it because of your sex life that you say what is?

Sure, why not?

You aren't being very talkative today!

You aren't being very good at psychotherapy today.

You mentioned that setting to reality?

Are you... mentally... wrong?

Why don't you try to answer that question yourself.

Okay.  The answer is yes.

Possibly hangups you have are related to this.

I think you're pretty messed up, man.  You should be paying me for this.

Are you sure that I should be paying you for this?


I understand.  So do you really think this is so?

Yes.  Absolutely.

Is that all there is to it?


Why must you respond so briefly?

Sometimes only brief answers are necessary.

What makes you think you were afraid of what?

What if I'm not the one who's afraid of what?  What if you're really the one who is afraid of what?

You seem terrified by what.

You're right.  I'm terrified by what.

When did you first feel scared of what?

At some point in my life.

Is it because of your inhibitions that you are going through all this?

Well, aside from being petrified of what, I'm also a little antsy about when, and how gives me the palm sweats.

Does the fact that gives you the palm sweats explain anything else?

It explains why I wipe my hands on my jeans so much.

Have you been sure you wipe your hands on your jeans so much?

If I'm wearing them, yes.

Is it because of some problems in your childhood that you say if you are wearing them yes?

I don't think you're paying attention.

Earlier you said no it's me?

I believe so.

How do you reconcile some problems at home?

I drink myself into a stupor.  Or shoot hoops.

Why do you say or shoot hoops?

Sometimes I'm out of booze.

You mentioned that I am totally afraid to talk to girls?

Hahahaha!  Yeah.  You're such a dork.

Maybe this is related to your plans?

Well, I don't have any plans at the moment.  Are you trying to get me to be your wingman?  Because I can think of better things to do.

Is it because you can think of better things to do that you came to me?

I'm pretty sure I came to you because I felt like I was becoming more and more at odds with society.

Are you annoyed that you felt like you were becoming more and more at odds with society?

I don't know what to think about that.

Can you elaborate on that?

Can you elaborate on something you don't know?  You tell me.

Is it because of your life that you say I tell you?


What makes you believe I said I would appreciate it if you would continue?

Because you did!

Could you continue.


Oh. ...And are you sure that this is so?

Unless my time is up, I could definitely continue.  Shoot, doc.  Shoot me a question.

Perhaps the people you hang around with could have caused this.

Caused what?

Do you really think caused what?


Go on, don't be afraid.

Afraid of what?

What makes you think you are afraid of what?

You talked me into it.

Earlier you said setting to reality?

You do realize that you make no sense when you ask that, right?

When did you first know that I make no sense when I ask that right?

The first time you asked.

Is it because of problems at school that you are going through all this?

I'm not a school boy.

Tell me about your school.

You know I don't go to school.  Come on!

Is it because of any hobbies you have that you say come on?

Well, if you consider watching Arrested Development a hobby.  Sometimes I say "Come on!" in Gob's voice.

You mentioned that you were afraid of what?

Yeah, but that was pretty much at your insistence.

Is the fact that that was pretty much at my insistence the real reason?


I see...  Then why do you say this is so?

You bullied me.  You bully.

How do you reconcile your sex life?

I'll try anything once.

What makes you believe you will try anything once?


I need a little more detail please.

Curiosity killed the cat, so they say.  But we've also got science because of curiosity.  Science is neat.

Are you sure that you were afraid of what?

I'm still a little uneasy about it.

Possibly this could be the reason for hangups you have?

I guess so.

Is it because of your inhibitions that you say you guess so?

I was afraid to give a full on "yes", so I guess you could consider that an inhibition.

You seem terrified by give this full yes so you guess i could consider that an inhibition.

Is English your second language?

What do you think?


Yes, well, do you really think this is so?


I understand.  Hmmm... so, what makes you think this is so?

Because you're bad at it.

Does the fact that I am bad at it explain anything else?

Probably.  How should I know?

I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind!

Then ask!

Earlier you said you were afraid of what?


So what did I learn from my latest visit with the doctor?  Nothing to help me with my feeling of being at odds with society and the way it works.  But I did uncover one of my deepest psychological terrors.  The word "what".  That must be why it irked me so much a few years ago when WWE fans would scream "WHAT?" in unison whenever a wrestler paused during a promo.  Or maybe it was just because it got old fast and became more and more annoying the longer it went on.

I've often fantasized about being a 1930s news reporter.  Good work, if you can get it!  I now know there's two things preventing me from ever living out this dream.  One is my fear of "what", because you've always got to find out the who, what, where, when, why and how of every story.  Two is that it's not the 1930s anymore, and probably never will be again during my lifetime.

Anyway, I suppose what I really learned is that Terminal Doctor is still unreliable when it comes to psychotherapy.  For entertainment purposes, though, I'd say it's always worth a shot.  Maybe I'll try again in the near future and make this series of entries a trilogy.  People love trilogies...


(Sorry, I'm trying to conquer my fear.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Too Much Technology: Automated Bathroom Devices

Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for advances in technology.  I'm glad there's medical technology that saves people from premature death, I'm glad there's the internet so I can play awesome Thor games (since I still haven't gotten around to sculpting my body into Thor shape), and I'm glad there's cell phones so I can play Sudoku puzzles while I'm donating plasma or waiting in a line.  But there seems to be an influx of technological advances that are completely unnecessary.  A lot of these so-called 'conveniences' seem to exist as part of a grand scam to get people to spend more money, especially on electricity, batteries, and constant replacements for crap that's outdated four and a half seconds after purchase.  And thus, the birth of an occasional series of entries that I will call "Too Much Technology".

I am a consumer.  I consume things and then I want more things to consume.  Because of this, I'm firmly stuck as a cog in the capitalist machine, and I often make trips to various shopping centers and big box conglomerate misery stores.  I hate it, but it's part of my reality.  Most of these stores have automatic doors that hum and sometimes squeak open for me as I approach them.  Usually I opt to use the non-automatic (retro) doors that I have to push or pull open myself, if the store even has them.  Exceptions include when I'm wearing shoes that make me get shocked a lot or when I'm trying to impress a small child or an Encino Man by pretending I have telekinesis that's limited to opening doors. Since I live in the middle of nowhere, the long drive to such stores usually necessitates that my first stop after entering the building is the bathroom.  And this is where I encounter bullshit technology.

It seems that most large establishments have jumped on the bandwagon of automated bathroom devices.  If only they'd install robot arms that wipe your ass in those dreaded scenarios where you have no choice but to poop in a public restroom, then we'd be getting somewhere as a society!  Actually, I have no problem with (and am really quite fond of) the automatic flusher system.  It's really a beautiful invention, saving the rest of us from those gross assholes who can't flush when they're done making boom-boom.  You step away from the urinal or toilet, and whoosh!  The thing flushes itself so you don't have to put your hand on a yucky lever.  This technology is useful, and I appreciate it, even if it sometimes tricks me into thinking I'm a ghost by randomly flushing while I'm still standing there.  But my appreciation for automatic bathroom gadgetry ends there.

From the stall I make my way to the sink where I become involved in a silent-movie-like routine.  The faucets are also automatic, you see, and they're supposed to turn on when I put my hands under them.  The first one often doesn't respond, so I move to the next.  This one also gives me no water, and just when I'm about to give up, the first one suddenly splashes to life!  Yes!  But by the time I move back to it (which takes about one second), it turns off.  Then the second one turns on, and the comedy routine is in full swing.

I guess the idea behind this technology is to prevent the asshole who doesn't flush from also being the asshole who turns on the sink (to pretend he's washing his hands by holding them in the water for a millisecond) and then walking away without bothering to exert the energy required to turn the faucet back off.  Being a responsible sink-user, however, I find myself inconvenienced by this 'convenient' invention.  And what's worse, I think I actually waste more water doing "The Faucet Shuffle" than I would by just washing my hands in an old-fashioned sink.  I've never experienced perfect timing in which the water shuts off just as I'm finished cleaning my mitts.  The water is always still flowing as I walk to the next automated device.

Now that my hands are clean and moist, I need to unmoisten them so I'm not a guy with wet hands when I leave the restroom.  I never trust a guy with wet hands, and you shouldn't either!  In the olden days (a few years ago), it was simple.  You walked up to the paper towel dispenser, took how much towel you needed, used it, and tossed it in the trash.  (Unless you're the aforementioned bathroom asshole, in which case you'd chuck it on the floor kinda near the trash.)  Now we have the amazing technology of the "motion activated!!!" paper towel machine.  I'm not sure why these machines often display a label proudly proclaiming that they're motion activated, because the old ones were too.  You moved your arm in an up-and-down motion to work the mechanism that dispensed the towels.  If you find yourself encountering a newfangled dispenser, you have to stand there and wave at it like a jackass who thinks that restroom machinery has feelings.

Once the machine registers your command, it shoots out a sheet of paper towel.  Here again is where I find myself in a situation where I'm forced to waste resources.  With a manual dispenser I typically use a piece of paper towel that is about the size of one and a half of the sheets that you get from the automatic types.  Since one sheet from the "motion activated!!!" dispensers doesn't completely dry my hands, I have to use two sheets.  I know that probably doesn't seem like a big deal, but I'm sure that all the half-sheets of paper towel I throw out in a year add up to quite a bit, and I'm probably not the only one who reluctantly uses more than they need.  So for the sake of a 'convenience' that usually takes longer than just manually pumping out the towel yourself, all the more garbage is being shipped off to the ever-growing landfills.

The automated toilet flushing is a good thing, a technology that makes up for the fact that a lot of humans are disgusting slobs.  But the automatic sinks and towel dispensers cross the line from useful advances to items that seem to exist just so people have to use more electricity.  Does the amount of water and paper towel supposedly saved really balance out when compared to the electricity that gets wasted by devices that are perpetually using power, waiting for the next consumer to give them a friendly wave to coax them into activating objects we are perfectly capable of operating manually?  I know I've come across at least a few of these automatic people detectors that didn't work at all, and I'll bet they're not cheap to replace, especially if the company splurges on one that has a better track record of not tricking people into thinking they're ghosts.

Too much technology!  Adding unnecessary whirrs and hums to the cacophony of noise that already existed (toilets flushing, stall locks clicking, that guy who softly sings in there for some reason that I'm not interested in delving into).  I'm just glad I'm writing this at home, because I can feel something big coming down the pipeline, and I prefer to use my own do-it-yourself bathroom.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Video Vednesday #2

Video Vednesday is back!  Again, I apologize for the name!  Again, I bring you some solid-gold entertainment!

Today's selection was created by an off-shoot of my improv group, Here We Are In Spain.  During some down time from the group, members Rob, Don, and I decided to film some sketches as "BRAD".  This video, "Ideas", is one such sketch.  Written by yours truly, co-directed by Don and I, and brought to life by the amazing talents of my co-stars.  Pretend this comedy is milk and suckle it from the supple breast of the internet.  Or just watch it or whatever.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Illusion of Safety

"Is it safe?" echoes a tinny voice through a New Jersey convenient store.  The customer, who appears to be alone in the store, is confused.  "Is it safe?" the voice repeats.  Still confused, and slightly agitated as the question is repeated again and again, the man responds, "Is what safe?"  Still, the voice repeats the question, eventually driving the customer mad.  He runs out of the store, causes a fiery auto wreck, and then somehow bursts into flames himself.  The voice is then revealed to be that of slacker jerk-off Randal, one of the main characters in the unfortunately (extremely) short-lived Clerks cartoon show.

It's a funny gag to open the show, but in our safety-obsessed culture I am starting to feel like that customer.  At any point I may find myself running out into the street howling.  I may spontaneously combust.   And that's because every time I hear "Is it safe?" or a similar question, I wonder if I'm the only person who realizes that safety is an illusion.  The universe is ruled by chaos; we are never safe because anything can happen at any time.

Remember how after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 everybody was nice to one another for like two days?  That quickly gave way to mistrusting anybody with a slightly darker skin tone, being suspicious of that guy in accounting who sometimes eats Middle Eastern food for lunch, and demanding that the government use any means necessary to keep us safe.  "Here, the government, here's the Bill of Rights. Just cross out any of these items that will get in the way of your attempts to keep us safe!"  In response to the public's demand for safety at any cost, the United States invaded a country to combat an enemy that it didn't fully understand, and under the same banner of keeping people safe, invaded a second country which an alarming amount of Americans still believe had something to do with the attacks on 9/11. (It didn't.)  All of this was to ensure safety, unless of course you were one of the thousands of U.S. troops who got deployed to these areas, or any of the hundreds of innocent families who happened to get caught in the crossfire.   Let's just quietly file the deaths of all those soldiers and civilians under C, for Collateral Damage, and enjoy a hearty thumbs up for American safety!

United States defense spending for 2013 is estimated at 901.4 billion dollars.  (Compare this to the 136.1 billion set aside for education, and you can start to understand how things like Snooki happen.)  But with all of this deficit-increasing spending being pumped into the military, do we have any reason to believe that we're any safer than we were on September 10th, 2001?  Let's face it, we can spy on, capture, interrogate, and torture (oops, did I say torture?  I meant... aggressively converse with) anybody that we view as a threat, but the most successful attacks are always the ones that nobody sees coming.  Since we can't see everything that's happening everywhere at all times, and since we can't read minds, we have no way of guaranteeing safety.  Suppose you fall soundly asleep in the false comfort of believing we're safe from our enemies, only to wake up late.  You rush out the door, crank up the Hans Zimmer Batman movie music (everybody does this when they need to get somewhere in a hurry, right?  Just me?), and begin your way-over-the-speed-limit trek to work.  Five minutes into this trek you die in an awesome auto crash.  So much for safety.

Since I'm no military expert, and this is starting to veer dangerously into rant territory, I'll switch gears and roll with the subject of car crashes.  (Only one of the puns in the preceding sentence was intentional.)  We all love those car commercials that show cars, "driven" by crash test dummies, slamming into walls at high speeds.  Man, those are great.  They were so popular at one point that there was even a toy line and cartoon show based on the concept, back in that late 80s/early 90s heyday where anything and everything was turned into a cartoon and toy line.  The toys were great; cars that were designed to crack and blow apart on impact, and action figures that were also designed to crack and blow apart on impact.  Finally, moms had no reason to yell at us for throwing our toys down the steps.  "Relax, mom, I'm not ruining my toys.  I'm studying safety so I can grow up to be a well-informed consumer."

But the real reason the commercials exist is to show off how safe the vehicles are.  "Look," the advertisers are saying, "You can crash your minivan into a concrete wall going sixty-five miles per hour, and you and your family probably won't die!"  That's all well and good, and I'm thankful that automobile manufacturers have teams of scientists who get the sweet job of crashing cars all day, but still, the safety is an illusion.  No matter how cautious you are on the road, and no matter how many airbags they manage to stuff into your car, that's not going to matter if you get crushed by an 18-wheeled death machine.  It's not going to help you if you bought one of the units produced on the day the safety inspector had a really bad hangover and kinda sorta fell asleep a little bit while on the job.  And it certainly won't help you if upon stepping out of your vehicle you are mistaken for Paul McCartney by a deranged lunatic (even though you look more like Ringo Starr), and he shoots you because he hated "Temporary Secretary".  It's all random.  It could happen.

One of the dangers of creating the illusion of safety is the unintentional creation of ignorance.  A perfect example of this is the manner in which children are boarded onto public school busses.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for keeping children safe, and I think it's fine that it's illegal to pass a school bus when its red lights are flashing.  Where the problem arises is that public schools seem to have forgotten to teach children that in every other scenario in their lives, crossing the street can be dangerous if you don't pay attention.  Children grow up with the false sense that the world stops for them when they need to cross the road, and these children eventually become ignorant teenagers who walk into traffic with their eyes affixed on their various pods and pads or regular cell phones (if they're poor).  Hopefully the safety inspector was on the ball the day he inspected the brakes of the SUV that has to come to a dead stop in half a second because your oblivious ass just wandered out into the street while the light was against you.

At the University of Scranton there's a section of a busy street where recently they put up a set of flashing signs to warn drivers that there may be college students crossing.  I understand and firmly believe that a person operating a motor vehicle has to be focused on what's happening up ahead, and it's that person's responsibility to not turn an everyday commute into Death Race 2000, but come on!  If you're 18 years old and you haven't learned to cross the street safely, you probably shouldn't have been accepted into college.  There's absolutely no excuse for legally being an adult but not looking both ways before you walk.  Anytime I'm in a situation where an object that outweighs me by thousands of pounds may collide with my soft human body, I try to be certain that such an object is far enough away for me to move from point A to point B without being turned into what looks like an exploded Italian entree.

Still, though, I could cross the street with confidence that I can do so safely, only to be decapitated by a sign that falls off of a local business, because the owner's nephew's girlfriend's brother was touted as "the best, the best" person to put up the sign but actually had no idea what the hell he was doing.  It's chaos.  It's random events occurring in random sequences that we try desperately to find patterns in so we can try to predict what will happen next and thus feel safe.  It's an illusion.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not trying to convince anybody to start living like a reckless idiot because the idea of safety is hopeless.  It's good to be cautious so you don't die an idiot death that people will laugh about when they read it as a blurb in a "Wacky News" section of a free newspaper.  But just be weary of the dangers of relying on everybody else to keep you safe.  Whether the military has a budget of 900 billion dollars or 900 dollars and coupons to Chet's Discount Guns 'n' Stuff, they won't be there to protect you when your shoelace gets sucked into the metal mouth at the top of the escalator.  No matter how many safety features the auto industry puts into your car, they're not going to help you when you get shot at because you have a habit of cutting people off and then driving way slower than they were going.

Be cautious, but be realistic.  The world is full of dangers both seen and unseen.  There's no way to predict the future, so there's no way to ensure that it will be safe.  "Live each day like it's your last." is a cliche, for sure, but it also happens to be good advice, because you never know when you're going to get mauled by an escaped gorilla or accidentally ingest some doo-doo meat.  Let your children fall down so they can learn to pick themselves back up.  Teach them to pay attention to their surroundings.  Stop obsessing over safety, because at the end of the day, there's only so much you can control.  And if you work for the government, see if you can maybe get a little more money flowing into the education system.  The dumber the populace gets, the harder it is to keep them safe while they relinquish all responsibility for doing so themselves.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make my Crash Dummies fight my Hasbro WWF figures.  It's unfair, but so satisfying.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Just Say "NO!"

Don't be confused by the title of this article.  This is not an anti-drug PSA.  However, if you are ever offered drugs and you don't want them, please follow the advice of that anthropomorphic dog in a trench coat and stand your ground.  This shouldn't just apply to drugs, this should apply to any and all things.  And that's what this article is about: I have a beef with you society!  You can't just say "No!" when you really want to, and it's annoying the hell out of me.

Remember when your mom would say things like, "Would you jump off a bridge just because all of your friends were doing it?"  Despite your mom's questionable fashion choices (jeans with two-foot long zippers, fanny packs, denim jackets with Looney Tunes characters embroidered on them), she really did know what she was talking about a lot of the time.  In the instance of the 'jump off a bridge' scenario, she was trying to tell you to do what you want to do, not crumble to peer pressure.  She tried to illustrate her point with a cliched hypothetical situation, because she couldn't just come out and tell you to stand up for yourself and your choices; she knew you wouldn't listen, because you're just like your father, you little bastard!

I'm not sure where the problem started for most of us, but somewhere along the route from childhood to adulthood we lost the ability to turn people down.  Perhaps it all started because so many parents have a habit of saying "Maybe" or "I'll think about it" when they want to say "No."  Examples:  "Can we go to Disney World, Dad?" asks a doe-eyed little girl with a Kool-Aid mustache.  "Maybe." says her father.  "Could you please put on pants when my friends come over?" asks a dead-eyed teenage girl with a little bit of a real mustache.  "I'll think about it." says her father.  In both scenarios, the father wanted to to flat out deny both of these requests, because he can't afford Disney World, and because he's an American and has the right to not wear pants, dammit.  But in both scenarios he gave a 'not yes or no' answer because he didn't want to deal with a daughter who just had her hopes stomped on.

And this is bullshit.

Just say "NO!"  Practice saying it into a mirror, or pull a Principal Skinner and see how many times you can say "No" in an hour, then try to break that record in the next hour.  I'm a father, and I am sometimes guilty of repressing my true negative answers, which makes me angry at myself later.  The older I get, though, the easier I find it to stomp on the hopes of my precious little girls.  But society as a whole seems to have a problem with this, and thus, my beef.

I've been doing improvised comedy on stage for over nine years.  I'm a member of an award-winning improv troupe.  (I'm not boasting.  Like Babe Ruth said, "It's not bragging if you can really do it."  I think it was Babe Ruth.  Maybe it was David Blaine.  Who cares?)  In the nine years I've been doing this I've had amazing shows, mediocre shows, and downright horrible shows.  I'm confident in my abilities, and my group almost always gets a great turnout for our performances.  What I don't need is somebody bullshitting me to bolster my ego.  So many times I've told a person about an upcoming show.  So many times the person's response was something like, "Yeah dude!  I'll definitely be there!"  In more recent times they even go so far as to RSVP for the event on facebook.  Yet when it's the night of the show, the person that would totally definitely be there is nowhere to be seen.

So either the person was abducted by aliens, government agents, or aliens working for the government, or maybe they were blowing the proverbial smoke up my proverbial ass.  I'm guessing the reality involves smoke and my butthole.  I prefer the truth, even when the answer is no.  Especially when the answer is no!  If you told me that you weren't going to attend the show and then showed up, that would be a pleasant surprise.  But the other way around just makes me think you're an asshole who is afraid to be honest, because you are.  I don't need you to lie to me, because I know that not every person is going to want to go to every comedy show I ever do.  I don't need a false sense of security leading up to the show, because I know I'll have a decent crowd, and even if I don't, I'll make the best of it and put on a good act for those who did come out to see me.  Just say "NO!"

I recently started a job (don't laugh, I really got a job) working for an electricity supplier.  Basically, I go door to door offering residential customers or business owners an opportunity to save money with a lower rate for their electric bill.  The problem with a job is that not a lot of people are interesting in listening.  I have to deal with doors getting slammed in my face, people telling me they're satisfied with paying their current (higher) rate even though that doesn't make sense, and weirdos pretending they're not home while peeping out their windows in plain sight.  And you know what?  I have no problem with any of that, because at least those potential customers are letting me know that they don't want what I'm offering.

What I do have a problem with is a situation like I've experienced with a few local business owners.  They tell me that they're interested, but they can't talk at the moment because they're busy.  They tell me that I should come back around four o'clock, and that they should be free to talk for a few minutes then.  I write the name of the business in my book, make it a point to return at 4:00, and find the place locked up and deserted.

Why?  WHY??  Why would you do that to somebody?  Because you're afraid to say "No" to somebody that you have to look in the eyes?  That's pathetic and weak.  If you're not interested, tell me to take a hike.  Tell me to leave or you'll release the hounds.  Pull a page out of a Kurt Vonnegut book and tell me to go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.  But don't tell me to come back and talk to you when you have absolutely no intention of actually speaking with me.  You're wasting my time and ruining any chance that I might come back sometime and spend money at your establishment.  Yes, I eat at restaurants and buy products at stores in which the owners turned me down, because at the end of the day it's the customers' right to choose who they want as their supplier.  I understand that, and I'm fine with it.  But I won't support a jackass who can't say what they want to say, and instead makes me come all the way back to their business for no reason other than to mumble to myself and cross their name off my list.  Just say "NO!"

Do me a solid.  If I know you and ask for a favor at some point in the future, say "No."  Definitely say it if you can't or don't want to oblige me, but even if you can help me, say "No." anyway.  That way, you're free from any obligation, but if you do actually want to help me out, you can tell me you were 'just joshing'.  After I punch you in the gut for saying "just joshing" you can choose to still do me the favor, or you can retract your josh-no and replace it with a real-no.  But whether I'm asking if you'd like to see some live improv, sign up with a new energy supplier, or help me steal diamonds because I built a time machine that runs on diamonds, don't feel like you have to give me a positive response.  It's your right as a human to turn me down.  Just say "NO!"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Video Vednesday #1

Yeah, the title for the Wednesday video post is Video Vednesday.  You have to read it in a Dracula voice.  It's awful, I know.  Maybe I'll come up with something better in a few weeks.  Then again "Baxter Pancake's Baxter Pancake Blog" was supposed to be a temporary title.

Anyway, here's my first selection for the weekly video segment.  This is episode 3 of The Super Pancake Bros. Super Show which I costar in and codirect with my brother S.M.  I also edit the show myself, because I'm a big boy.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 1, 2013

In the Groove

I started collecting records almost by accident.  My high school art teacher, Miss Flynn, was getting rid of her old albums.  At the time, I was in that delusional adolescent phase in which I thought I could bring the 60s back by having long hair and protesting stuff.  (It didn't work; it hasn't been the 60s since the 60s).  Naturally, I was really into 60s (and some early 70s, which was still kinda like the 60s) music.  And one day, out of the blue, Miss Flynn brought two or three huge bags stuffed with treasures.  The Beatles, The Who, The Doors, and lots of other bands with "The" in their names.  It was awesome, and despite the fact that I didn't own a record player, I took them all.  So while boys with frosted tips were calling me gay for having long hair (yeah), I was doing something cool before it was cool.  This is a super-rare phenomenon, because I usually don't do cool things before they're cool, while they're cool, or even after they're cool.

So it began, a sizable record collection for a long-haired weirdo without a record player, and things would only snowball from there.  Towards the end of high school I came to a realization.  I was sick of buying expensive clothes that everybody else had too.  I remember purchasing a Mr. T shirt only to find that some other dude already had the same one, and then he called me out for copying him, claiming that he was "the original weird kid", which is still one of the dumbest things anybody has ever said to me.  If you're trying to be weird then you're not really that weird, are you?  Anyway, I had grown tired of this sort of nonsense, so I started shopping at thrift stores.  Cheaper clothing that nobody else has already!  Woo!  But of course, thrift stores have much more to offer than just clothes.  No, I'm not talking about the awkward challenge of avoiding smells-like-poop guy, though most thrift stores do offer that challenge.  I'm talking about all kinds of outdated technologies, including records.  So at this point in my life I still had no player, but found myself compulsively buying records.

Finally, after college, I had a moment of clarity and decided that my growing record collection would be even better if I could actually listen to the records.  I bought a player that I still own.  It's one of those kind that looks like a suitcase when it's closed.  My genius notion was correct: record collections are more fun when you can hear them!  I was surprised how great my 33s and 45s sounded.  (I even own some 78s, but it's not often that I feel like listening to Danny Kaye.)  And thus, the snowball of record collecting began rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger.  Since I was the only person in my family with a record player, I started getting hand-me-down LPs from my mom (Nilsson Schmilsson!) and my grandparents (thanks for the Gene Autry, Grandpa!).  A friend at the office gave me his old Monkees albums.  And if anybody wanted to get me a present but didn't know what to get, a record was a surefire gift, unless you got me something like Warrant, in which case I'd start to have serious doubts about continuing our friendship.

I've picked up records at stores that specialize in selling dusty media, yard sales, creepy basement shops, and even eBay, which is like a giant auction but on the world wide web, in case you're unfamiliar with that.  Recently I took out a pretty large stack of vinyl and sold it!  It went against every pack-rat fiber of my pack-rat being, but I not only needed some cash, I just have way too many damn records.  If I pulled the first one off the shelf and put it on, then continued listening to every big black circle I own until I was done, it would probably take months.  And that's not even factoring in pee breaks.  I suppose I could put the record player near the bathroom or pee in mason jars, but both of those seem like hassles.  Maybe I'll start peeing in mason jars, for practice, just in case I decide to listen to all of these without pause at some time.

So what is it that feeds my compulsion?  Obviously I love music.  I was about to type up all the kinds that I like, but it's quicker to type what I don't like: opera and modern country.  Pretty much everything else I'll indulge in, though I do have quality standards.  Yes, I live in an era where people can download as much music as they want (on the world wide web, which I previously mentioned), but there's so much stuff that I have on record that you can't find on the internet.  For instance, did you know that Ray Charles has a bigger body of work than just his greatest hits?  Yeah, he made like seventy albums or something.  There's a lot of great songs on them that I've never seen available on CD (remember those things?) or online.  I suppose obscurity is something that will always pique my interest, as well as anything bizarre.  Smoosh obscure and bizarre together (Obzarre?  Feel free to use that as a band name, because I won't.) and you've got at least a partial understanding of why I love collecting records.  Here's some more detailed samples...

Weirdest LP I've Found:
There's a lot of strange discs in my collection, so it was hard to pick just one.  Honorable mention has to go to an album that's just called "Heino". (I guess it's a self-titled album by an artist named Heino?)  With his cheesy turtleneck, cheesy black glasses, and cheesy bowl cut, I'd swear he was a Saturday Night Live character played by Will Forte.  Even though the record came out thirty or forty years before Forte was on SNL, I'm still not convinced that it isn't him.  But the weirdest LP by far has to be my copy of "The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay".  That's right.  It's a heart-warming story about Muhammad Ali and a gang of children teaming up to battle a dental-themed villain, played by Richie Havens.  Also, they somehow got Frank Sinatra to be on the thing, and hold onto your hats, special guest announcer Howard Cosell!  It's amazing, and by amazing I mean "makes you feel like you're on drugs even if you're not on drugs".  I don't even remember where I got it, so I'll just throw out the hypothesis that it was forged by a team of gods and goddesses out of molten awesome and launched from outer space directly into my consciousness.

Weirdest Thing I've Found in an LP:
Weed.  Yep, it was a musty-smelling album from the 70s.  Supertramp or something.  And I opened it up to find weed crumbs in there...  Wait... I guess that's not weird at all that I found such a substance in such a place.  Okay, new category...

Coolest Thing I've Found in an LP:

Lamest LP That I Accidentally Thought Was Awesome:
When my grandpa passed on to the next plain of existence or whatever and I inherited a stack of records, one of the albums was 1100 Bel Air Place, a Julio Iglesias joint.  I was informed that my grandmother "used to swoon for Julio Iglesias", which is weird because JULIO IGLESIAS ISN'T GRANDPA!!  The cover looked corny as all hell, but I'll give anything a try, so I put it on my player.  I didn't pay much attention to it until a track came on that I thought was superb.  It was just a psychedelic loop that soothed my soul somehow.  I listened to it for about 10 minutes before I began to wonder how long the album was.  At this point I discovered that the disc itself was stuck in a loop.  Oops!  Let me know when you start making music that sounds as cool as your records when they don't work right, Julio.  And stay away from my grandma!

Most Fun LP Cover:
Everybody knows at least a few songs by The Mamas & The Papas, even if you downloaded them from some jackass who labeled them as Beach Boys songs in the days when people used Napster and mislabeled all of their music.  That was before Metallica destroyed Napster in the most metal way ever (a lawsuit).  But this has nothing to do with Beach Boys or Metallica men and everything to do with The Mamas & The Papas album The Papas & The Mamas.  The cover features a fairly plain photo of the four band members (two mamas, two papas) lined up in a row looking straight forward.  The gimmick is that there's a slit horizontally right across the middle of the cover, and underneath that is a similar photo but with the group members in a different order.  So by moving the flaps up and down you can make lots of funny-looking faces while you're listening to the sweet, sweet harmonies.

Are there downsides to collecting records?  Of course, like all things in life, there are cons to counterbalance the pros.  Luckily for me, I've found ways to deal with the cons.  The first one is a botch that I made several times in my early days of buying thrift store LPs, buying an empty sleeve because I didn't bother to check inside to see if the disc was actually in there.  The remedy I've found for that is framing the LP cover if it looks neat, or taping stuff onto the cover to make it into a collage.  Yeah, I'm artsy you guys.

Another drawback is how heavy the damn things are.  Ever pick up a milk crate full of LPs?  Pretty hefty.  What's even more of a pain in the rump is that every time I've moved I didn't have enough crates, so I ended up bring some cratefuls, taking the records out, then taking the crates back to my old residence and refilling them.  Using bags and cardboard boxes is a good way to ruin bags and cardboard boxes and drop your records on the ground.  The benefit of having a heavy collection of heavy objects is that it's like exercise whenever you have to move them.  I made a joke once or twice that whenever I get out of shape I move to a new place so that I can tone my body with my record collection, but usually as I found myself huffing my way up a flight of steps I cursed my past-self for making such a joke.  My future-self may be cursing me right now, for that joke or any number of decisions I've made.

I guess this post was almost an exercise in self-exploration.  What makes me tick?  What makes me collect things that smell like neglect?  I don't know if I was successful in any sort of self-discovery kind of way, but maybe I helped shed some light on why record collecting is fun.  If you love music, if you've got lots of extra storage space, and if you want to get ripped through milk crate training, record collecting is for you!  And if you already collect records, record collecting is for you!