So, inspired by EEK!'s blog, I have decided to shamelessly rip off her idea. As she shamelessly ripped it off from SPIN, I don't feel too bad. As I was composing my list of "Ten Albums That Changed My Life," I was thinking about other bits of pop culture, too. "What about movies?" I thought. Too much, too big - I'll save it for another time. "What about books?"
So...Ten Books That Changed My Life? Maybe. Ten Books That Are Super Important To Me and Mean Something in a Great Big Way? Definitely.
1. "Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A comic nerd putting "Watchmen" on a list like this is as predictable as...well, as 20/30-somethings putting Nirvana on a list of ten life-changing albums. I finally got around to reading this when I was seventeen or eighteen, and it happened at the perfect time. I hadn't quite outgrown super-heroes, but I was ready for something bigger and better than the standard-issue monthly soap-operatics of the X-Men. Every single aspect of this book is perfectly rendered, both in terms of story and art. Neither Moore nor Gibbons has ever been better. At least once a month, I pull it off the shelf to leaf through - I still read it cover-to-cover now and then, but I know it by heart.
2. "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller (with an always underrated assist from Klaus Jannsen and Lynne Varley). Frank Miller shattered forever the image of paunchy Adam West in grey lycra trading campy quips with Burt Ward and spearheaded a revolution in the comics world. It's tempting to call "Dark Knight" the mainstream "graphic novel"* for adults, but in spite of the fact that it's about an older version of Batman, it's just swimming in adolescent angst. This thing rocked my world when I was twelve. "Watchmen" is deeper, more refined, more layered, but "Dark Knight" is the best story about super-heroes at their purest, most ass-kicking level. And it started the cliche of Batman beating Superman in a fight, too.
3. "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud. Everything I'd always suspected about comics as a medium but had never been able to express, McCloud summed up and made concrete. It's the place where anyone who wants to understand comics (so to speak) on a more intellectual level should begin. It could be (and should be and probably is) a textbook in any class about creating comics or about analyzing comics as literature. In spite of this, it's an effortless read, every bit as easy and entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
4. "Bone" by Jeff Smith. The story is good, no doubt. It's a not-terribly-original but still well-done Tolkienesque fantasy, involving and entertaining. But for me, this one's all about the art. Book 3, "Eyes of the Storm" stuns me every time I look at it. This is the book that made me want to make comics. Sure, as a kid I'd dreamed of working for Marvel or DC - what comics-reading kid doesn't? But this is the book that made me realize that a comic book could be a finite story and one writer/artist's own personal vision.
5. "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett. Neil Gaiman talks about doing signing events and constantly encountering "those copies" of "Good Omens." The ones that are battered, dog-eared, torn, folded, held together by scotch tape and pure love. Mine is one of those copies. I was absolutely thrilled last year to have the opportunity to have it signed by both authors. This is one of the only books I've ever read that actually made me laugh out loud - moreso even than the much-venerated "Hitchhiker's Guide."
6. "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. High school lit classes are such a bore. Yeah, everyone loves "To Kill a Mockingbird." Alienated teenagers identify with Holden Caulfield. But other than that? "The Great Gatsby." Bleah. "Ethan Frome." Double bleah. "The Red Badge of Courage." Triple bleah with curdled whipped cream and a rancid cherry on top. So imagine my delight when I found myself enjoying Steinbeck. First "Of Mice and Men." Then "The Grapes of Wrath." Finally, senior year, "East of Eden," which just nailed me right between the eyes. That it's primarily about sibling rivalries, a subject of much interest to me at the time as well as today, certainly didn't hurt.
7. "The Twenty-One Balloons" by William Pene DuBois. This was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid. Oz and Alice were beloved by millions. Beverly Cleary's adventures of Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume's adventures of Pee-tah and Fudge were de rigeur for the elementary set in the '80s. But no one else I knew had read this one. No one gave it to me, no one told me to read it. I picked it out myself. It was mine, my own perfect little discovery.
8. "The Book of Three" and its sequels by Lloyd Alexander. Another childhood classic, handily beating out "The Lord of the Rings" for a spot on this list. Don't get me wrong, I love Tolkien, but Alexander's Prydain series captured my imagination first. There just ain't no justice in a world where Christopher Paolini's craptacular "Eragon" is a giant hit and gets adapted into a big movie while Alexander's perfect little world and terrific characters remain unheralded. More than Middle-earth, more than Narnia, I love Prydain.
9. "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. I did something with this book I've never done with any other. I read it twice in a row. I was so fascinated by the way Niffenegger constructed an almost impossibly intricate story told through two overlapping POVs, and never misses a single beat. Nothing doesn't work, nothing rings false. It is unquestionably the best time-travel story I've ever read. Beyond that, it's a moving and beautifully written love story and prominently features a Violent Femmes concert, which is always a good thing.
10. "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. This book is just incredible. Campbell's not easy reading, but it's worthwhile. Once I had read it, I felt like I had a key to unlock any story, from "Cinderella" to "Star Wars." It's like a guide to what a story is and why stories are important.
* Remind me sometime to tell you why I despise that term so much.
So, inspired by EEK!'s blog, I have decided to shamelessly rip off her idea. As she shamelessly ripped it off from SPIN, I don't feel too bad. As I was composing my list of "Ten Albums That Changed My Life," I was thinking about other bits of pop culture, too. "What about movies?" I thought. Too much, too big - I'll save it for another time. "What about books?"
So for one of my art classes this semester, I had to acquire a Wacom Graphire 4 Tablet. I had been wanting to get one for a while, so it was nice to have the "I need it for school" excuse to justify the expense (though it was only $70 at Best Buy, so not all that expensive, really). I've never been very good at drawing with a mouse, so I was very excited to try this thing out.
I hooked it up to my crappy old computer and spent basically the entire evening playing with it. It doesn't hurt that it includes pared-down versions of Corel Painter and Photoshop. Even as the scaled-back "Essentials" versions of these programs, they're far and away the most powerful graphics tools I've got on my machine, now. Even without these, the tablet is great. I did some fairly cool stuff with the previously more-or-less useless MS Paint before I got around to playing with the other stuff.
I know a fair number of people have learned to draw with a mouse, but I've never gotten the hang of it. Trying to create an image with a mouse or a trackball has always felt clunky and counter-intuituve to me. The tablet allows me to apply the drawing skills I've spent my whole life developing directly to the computer, and it's an amazing feeling. Already I'm feeling that this is the beginning of a major change in the way I approach my artwork. I'll always keep a sketchbook, I'm sure, just as I always have. And I'll still draw the old-fashioned way when I travel, because trying to keep a travel sketchbook with a laptop and a tablet would be far more trouble than it's worth. But I don't know right now how much need I'll ever feel to do other non-digital artwork in the future. We'll see.
But I do know for sure that the webcomic I mentioned in the comments section a couple of posts back is coming soon.
Timestamp: 8/26/2006 12:44:00 PM
Two comics creators, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, have adapted the 9/11 Commission Report into comics form. You can hear them discussing it here with Neal Conan on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" yesterday. NBC News also did a story about it - video here. The project is being serialized on Slate, and it's well worth a look.
Maybe one of these days we'll bring to an end once and for all the idea that comic books are just for kids. Creators and fans have been hammering away at it for years and years now, since Will Eisner's A Contract With God in the mid-'70s. The newsmedia is certainly in no mood to help, though. For their report, NBC collected a soundbite from the daughter of a woman killed on 9/11. Her brilliant insight? "I don't think this is appropriate for children, and I don't see why adults would want to read it."* The situation was little better at NPR. The usually even-handed Neal Conan began his segment, before even introducing Jacobson and Colón, by saying, "The purpose of the project is unclear. The images are too disturbing and the subject matter too dry for children, and adults, well, they can just read the book." Later, during the interview, Conan asked them, "Isn't this dumbing it down?" as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and he expected them to say, "Oh, yeah, we're dumbing it down. Really aiming for the lowest common denominator here."
The 9/11 Report is a heavy tome, densely written and difficult to read. What Jacobson and Colón have done is distill it into a simple, easy to read format. Faces are applied to unfamiliar names and the often nebulous sequence of events is made crystal clear (the timeline of events on the morning of 9/11, beginning here, is especially enlightening) The crucial details are still present. What was dense and impenetrable has been made accessible.
And yet the newsmedia gives us hand-wringing, "Is this appropriate?" and "Isn't this disrespectful?" Both NBC and Conan made a point of taking offense at the inclusion of comic-book sound effects - a RRRRUMBLE! as the first tower collapses, BLAMM! as the jet crashes into the Pentagon. NBC, of course, relies on a higher authority to tell us how wrong this is by bringing in the 9/11 victim's daughter to tell us all how offended she is. Did they wonder about the appropriateness of filmmakers Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone using the stylistic methods and techniques of cinema in United 93 and World Trade Center?
The creators call what they've done "graphic journalism." I have plenty of problems with the stigma attached to the word "comics" that leads to the creation of terms like "graphic novel" and "graphic journalism," but the term does seem apt. It's no different from Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo or Joe Sacco's innovative non-fiction comics, including Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus, a "graphic novel" and as harrowing a depiction of the Holocaust as Schindler's List - the novel or the movie.
Comics aren't an insult. Comics aren't disrespectful. Comics don't have to be stupid. Comics can be literate, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, emotional, meaningful. They can tell a gripping story, they can have a message. Yes, they can also be silly and as empty as cotton candy. It's a medium, y'all. It's a narrative format capable of telling stories and imparting information, like any other. It's got its own strengths and weaknesses, just like prose, cinema, television, drama... Assuming that comic books are inherently for children is as wrong-headed and arbitrary as declaring that television is only for women, or that prose novels are exclusively for Chinese people. Assuming that adapting the 9/11 Commission Report to comics is stupid or disrespectful because it is the medium of Archie and Scrooge McDuck and Batman just doesn't make sense. They discussed the 9/11 Commission Report extensively on television, the medium of "Fear Factor" and "According to Jim" and "General Hospital." They discussed the 9/11 Commission Report extensively in newspapers, the medium of "Garfield" and Dear Abby and a whole section devoted to grown men being paid millions of dollars to play children's games. The report itself was published as a book, the medium of Danielle Steele and Chicken Soup for the Soul and Harry Potter. In all these cases, not a hand was wrung and, in fact, it wasn't even considered noteworthy.
Enough ranting. Ultimately, respect isn't given, it's earned. And despite what NBC News and National Public Radio would apparently like me to think, I'd like to end this simply by extending my thanks to Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón for taking the medium another step farther on the long, long journey towards the respect it deserves. You guys (I address them as if they'll ever read this) have realized a tremendously difficult project very well indeed, and have handled the resulting tempest-in-a-teacup the media has tried to generate with grace, dignity and aplomb. Nice work, guys.
* I don't remember the exact words here, so I'm paraphrasing.
Timestamp: 8/23/2006 08:05:00 PM
This article is an interesting read about MAD magazine.
I haven't read MAD regularly for many years now - but I'm still a big fan. Reading MAD as a kid led me to watching SNL, which in turn allowed me to appreciate the subtle and sophisticated humor of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I suspect this is true for more than a few nerds out there, but MAD, SNL and Monty Python are the bedrock upon which my sense of humor is built.
A neighbor across the street gave my brother and I some old MAD paperback books, full of shit that amused me enough to seek out more, but also kind of confused me as a lot of the humor was topical to the late '60s and early '70s, when the material was new. Still, instead of using my entire allowance on comic books the next time I went to the grocery store with my Mom, I also sought out and purchased the latest issue of MAD. I remember it so clearly that it took me only a minute or two to find the cover (as pictured above) on this site. Looking over the covers from the late '80s in the archive is like a little trip down memory lane.
Some things, I never really got. I didn't think much of Spy vs. Spy when I was ten, though looking back on it now, I see how great it really was. I've developed a bit more of an appreciation for Don Martin's work, though it still doesn't really do much for me. And even if I convened a panel of experts to figure it out, I still don't think I'll ever understand why they kept publishing Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." for as long as they did. It was never funny to me at the time, and unlike Spy vs. Spy, in retrospect, it's still as awful as ever.
But the movie and TV parodies were always funny. Mort Drucker's spot-on charicatures of pretty much any celebrity you can name still astound me. Al Jaffee's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" never let me down. And of course, MAD introduced me to the work of Sergio Aragones, who is in my opinion one of the all-time great cartoonists. Of course, presenting the work of all-time great cartoonists has been a specialty of MAD's right from the beginning - Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood are absolute legends in the comics world, based in no small part on the work they did for MAD, way back in the days when it was an acutal comic book, long before the advent of Alfred E. Neuman.
I would pick up the "Super Specials" and the paperback compilations of old material. If I was really desperate for a fix, I would even pick up an issue of "Cracked" now and then, though it was sort of like getting carob when you're really jonesing for some chocolate.
There's not much, now that I'm a decrepit old man, that gives me the same sheer, unadulterated joy as MAD. Nothing else that I loved as a kid still holds the same appeal. Star Wars is tainted by crappy prequels. Star Trek got spun off into oblivion. Even my beloved comic books give me fits, full as they are of super-hero garbage that mostly drives me nuts these days. But I can pick up MAD, even the new, glossy, ad-filled MAD, and be nine years old again for an hour or so. And even though these days it costs more than twice what it did when I was wee, for that kind of return on investment, I'd say their long-time assertion holds true: $3.99 - Cheap!
Timestamp: 8/21/2006 07:15:00 PM
When we go to Berzerkeley, a trip to Comic Relief, my favorite comic book store in the world, is in order. I didn't buy anything, but only because I couldn't afford to. Had I the means, I could easily spend hundreds of dollars in that joint. Thousands, even. Anyway, even if I can't buy anything, it's lovely just to go in there and bask in its nerdly glow.
As I was perusing a shelf full of men-in-spandex, Emily says, "Hey, there's two different Batman comics. What's the difference?" I spent a brief moment wondering just how much detail I ought to go into. Not much, I decided. Not worth it.
The American comics industry frets and wrings its collective hands about how to attract new readers. Well, producing something other than adolescent male power fantasies would be a good start, but barring that...
Every month, DC Comics publishes "Batman," "Detective Comics," "Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight," "All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder," "The Batman Strikes!," "Superman/Batman," plus a dozen or so other one-shots and miniseries, and Robin's own solo title, to boot.
So imagine you've decided you want a Batman comic, and you head down to the local comic book store. You're just looking for a good Batman story, but you're confronted with this bewildering array. Which one is the best? How can you tell?
Well, the simplest solution is just to buy 'em all. You get them home and start to read. Each one is a completely different story. None have any apparent connection to the others except for the characters. No one would blame you if you just chuck the whole mess in frustration and find something a little less impenetrable.
Superman is similarly over-exposed, headlining no less than three titles each month. The situation at Marvel is no better, where someone looking for a Spider-Man comic will find "Amazing Spider-Man," "Sensational Spider-Man," "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man," "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Marvel Adventures Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" (this last being Marvel's pathetic excuse for an attempt at targeting girls), and a similar confusing glut of X-Men titles. The closest thing the industry has to a trade or journal is "Wizard" magazine, which is essentially useless, especially to outsiders. It's nothing but drooling fanboyism at its worst, as inaccessible to new readers as the comics it covers. On a message board I like to read from time to time, someone recently made a post along the lines of, "I liked the X-Men movies and I'd like to try reading some X-Men comics. What should I read?" The responses were varied and certainly confusing to a potential new reader. The thread quickly devolved into yet another argument amongst nerds about which X-Men stories are the best and whether Joss Whedon sucks or not.
Now, that said, there are a lot of friendly, helpful retailers out there who are more than willing to help new readers find something they might actually enjoy. But there remains a hefty share of strangely elitist nerds a la Comic Book Guy of "The Simpsons."
It baffles me. The combined gross of the Spider-Man and X-Men films is something in the neighborhood of $1,300,000,000. 1.3 billion dollars at the box office, I assure you, does not come from comic book fans alone. And what, during these cinematic bonanzas, did Marvel Comics do to make their product accessible to new readers?
Nothin'. They trucked right along with their Spider-Man and X-Men titles mired in forty years' worth of backstory, playing to their miniscule loyal audience. They didn't use the movies' popularity as a promotional push for their comics. Their "Ultimate" line, a then-streamlined reboot, did debut at the time, but that was entirely coincidental. And the "Ultimate" universe is now nearly as convoluted and needlessly complicated as their classic line.
I didn't launch into this rant when Emily asked about it in Comic Relief yesterday. I just shrugged, said, "It's kind of a long story." The thing is, she's actually starting to kind of dig on comics. There's even some superhero stuff that she might actually enjoy - but most of it would take the liftime-long absorbtion of comics that I've had to even begin to understand...so why bother?
And people in the industry wonder why they're not generating new readers...
Timestamp: 8/15/2006 09:46:00 PM
Friend, one of these days you're going to be driving through the East Bay on I-580 westbound, and you're going to have a mysterious impulse to take the Albany/Buchanan Ave. exit. This, friend, is a good impulse, and you should follow it. If you do, when you do, you're in for a lovely evening. Because a few blocks east on Buchanan, you're going to do some brief and simple automotive gymnastics and you'll be on Solano Avenue in Albany, California. This is a good thing. Drive up past the Safeway and park your car.
On the north side of the street, you're going to see a tiny little hole-in-the-wall called Sushi Shō. The door proclaims "No Tables, No Take-out." There's only eight or ten seats at the bar, and you may have to wait a while to claim one. This is okay, and entirely worth the wait. Once you're seated, you'll be able to drink some saké or a Sapporo and watch a very talented master sushi chef at work - he's a true artist, painstakingly making all the garnishes by hand, slicing perfect servings of sashimi with a very sharp knife and a very sure hand. He's endlessly friendly and always ready to offer advice on what you should eat and how you should eat it. You'll learn tons about sushi and sashimi and you'll have an opportunity to sample some Japanese delicacies that you don't find at an average, everyday sushi place. He was quite pleased when both myself and one of my dining companions sampled a spicy, salted cod roe and both liked it quite a lot. "It's an acquired taste," he said, "and you acquire right away! Very good!" It's not cheap, but for the quality and quantity you get, the price is very reasonable.
After your fabulous dinner, you'll walk back down Solano towards the highway. Pass by the Safeway again, and before long, on the south side of the street, you'll see a sign proclaiming quite simply, "PUB." Friend, this isn't "Tipsy McStagger's Genyouwine Oirish Pub." This is really a pub. There's a vague smell of pipe tobacco in the air thanks to the quite fully-stocked tobacconist's shop next to the bar. They serve Guinness and Bass and Harp and all the usuals, of course, but also a variety of English ales I'd never even heard of. The atmosphere is terrifically friendly and laid-back. You're going to have a great time at The Pub, friend, because I think it's pretty much impossible not to.
So that's what you'll do, and you'll love it. You lucky dog.
This post has been edited to fix egregious geographical errors.
Timestamp: 8/12/2006 10:48:00 AM
You can't manufacture "cult appeal." You can't just set out to make "so bad it's good." The makers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show didn't go to the set every day during filming discussing how great it was going to be when their project was a midnite movie in twenty years, beloved of freaks and weirdos across the land. Edward D. Wood, Jr. was convinced he was making high art, not something that would forever be known as the Worst Movie of All Time and be adoreded by lovers of bad cinema for generations to come. These are things that happen by accident, not design.
I love a Good Bad Movie as much as the next guy. Give me a six-pack and a DVD of Rocky IV and I'm a happy man for two hours. I have a finely honed appreciation of the early years of Schwarzenegger and I'll even gladly watch any Van Damme movie you can name. But goddamit, I just want Snakes on a Plane to go the fuck away.
The makers of this thing really were going to the set every day discussing their project's future as a cult favorite and a midnight movie. They really did set out to make "so bad it's good." And it just can't be manufactured. They're relying on Sam Jackson's ever-burgeoning resumé as one of Hollywood's great schlockmeisters and the ever-decreasing "hilarity" of their title to turn a tidy profit on opening weekend, and then the DVD sales and years on the midnight-movie circuit to turn their crapfest into a cash cow.
And let's make no bones about Sam Jackson. He's got bags and bags of charisma, no doubt. He's even capable of turning in a great performance when he feels like it. He will live forever in the annals of cinema just for his performance as Mister Señor Love Daddy in Do the Right Thing, a memorable part of one of the greatest movies ever, and that's the triple truth, Ruth. Take Sam Jackson out of Pulp Fiction and it's barely watchable at best. But the dude's a fucking whore. He'll do any movie if the producers wave a big enough check under his nose. Take a look at the credits on his IMDb page: Shaft. The Man. S.W.A.T. Deep Blue Sea. xXx. These are not good movies. But I bet he got paid a metric assload of money to do each one, because he has that certain way with the F-word. So much so that the absolutely baffling enormous and rabid internet fanbase of Snakes on a Plane demanded that Jackson utter, "I have had it with these mother-fuckin' snakes on this mother-fuckin' plane!" in the movie. And they got what they wanted.
That's what just kills me. Filmmakers are apparently now collaborating with the Dorito-munching, Mountain Dew-swilling, parents'-basement-living, Ain't It Cool News-reading (literally) unwashed masses that comprise Internet Geekdom. This disgusting blob is the leader of the cult that is apparently now responsible for the content of the latest Hollywood blockbusters. There was a funny list that made the e-mail rounds back in the day when Sam Jackson had been cast in the Star Wars prequels - "Top Ten Lines We Want to Hear Sam Jackson Say in the New Star Wars Movie," with items like, "Hand me my lightsaber - it's the one that says 'Bad Mother Fucker'" and "What ain't no planet I ever heard of! They speak Bocce on What?" But...let's give George Lucas some credit here, none of the dialogue in his movie was included at the behest of a gaggle of internet dorks.
Sure, I chuckled a bit when I heard that someone was making a movie entitled Snakes on a Plane. But the brief humor of the title didn't give me even the slightest desire to actually see the movie. But somehow there's a legion of people frothing at the mouth to see this movie based almost entirely on a vaguely funny title.
I want the movie to go away. I want the movie's pre-existing fans to go away. I want the movie-as-running-pop-culture-gag to go away ("What'll they call the sequel? Bears on a Boat?" Yes, very droll, you're the first person ever to think of that, you're a fucking comic genius, now go back to cruising MySpace for hot cheerleaders). I even kind of hate myself for throwing my voice into the inevitable-and-growing backlash, but I just had to rant about the stupidity of it all.
I'm getting on an airplane this afternoon. If I hear one person make a Snakes on a Plane joke, I'm going to have to take drastic measures. I'll simply have to reach back into my extensive knowledge of legitimate Good Bad Movies and go all Harrison Ford in Air Force One on his ass...
"GET OFF MY PLANE!"
Timestamp: 8/10/2006 03:16:00 AM
This comic reminds me of our house, in a way. It's not a rustic farmhouse in Nova Scotia...and we can't rip it up and make interesting finds under the floorboards, since we're renting...but still, I am reminded.
This house was built in 1890. By non-American standards, it's practically brand new. But by American reckoning, especially here in the West, it's ancient. Back in the day, this part of Capitol Hill was where the wealthy and the upper-upper-middle-class lived. A few blocks from here is the Molly Brown House Museum, the former home of the most famous Titanic survivor other than Kate Winslet. The Governor's Mansion is a few blocks further on - though it's only been the Governor's Mansion for about fifty years. Prior to that, it was the Boettcher Mansion. The Boettchers are That Family in Colorado, the ones who have their name on everything in Denver, from wings of museums to special hospital wards to the Boettcher Concert Hall to the Boettcher Scholarship, awarded to forty outstanding Colorado high school seniors each spring, a full-ride to any university, public or private, in Colorado.
In those days, there was a woodburning stove in the kitchen - there's a kind of ornamental patch up near the ceiling where the chimney once met the wall. I haven't looked for it, but I'm sure a careful search would reveal the remains of a coal-chute, too. No electricity in those days, of course - so now the exterior of the house is a mess of wires, retrofitting the place for modern habitation.
The houses around here were extensively renovated, of course, when the wealthy fled to the suburbs post-War and their former homes were converted to apartments. The signs of what this place used to look like are everywhere. The only remains of the old staircase run from an exterior door to the basement apartment, covered by a giant boxy thing in our second bedroom. There was once a large staircase window, too. It's long-since filled in with cinderblocks. The house used to have what must have been a lovely, breezy, shady front porch. It was walled in many years ago. Now and then I wish we had a front porch, but overall I prefer the extra room. It's a dining room/library for us. I do wish that whoever walled it in had put in larger windows, though. The laundry room was, similarly, presumably once a back porch. Since it was walled in, the transom over the former back door has been painted shut, and the hardware that operated it has been painted into inoperability, as well.
I wonder what the house looked like back in the day. I wonder if it was painted the same color as it is now. I wonder what we'd find if we ripped up the carpeting in the bedrooms and the linoleum in the kitchen. I wonder how different the living room was with light flooding in from the staircase window.
Mostly I wonder about the people who have lived here over the last 116 years and how they lived their lives. If I believed in that sort of thing, I'd probably suppose the place was haunted.
Timestamp: 8/08/2006 09:00:00 PM
Eek! sez I must reveal five weird things about myself. I don't suppose it's enough that I reveal several times a week on this very blog that I'm nearly 30 years old and still a player of role-playing games and care too much about Spider-Man. So, witness, dear reader, first-hand evidence of just what a giant freakazoid I really am...
1. I am strangely proud of my essentially useless ability to name every Best Picture Oscar winner and every Super Bowl champion dating back to 1985ish.
2. I am, generally speaking, a slob. I'm not a neat person at all - but I'm absurdly anal retentive about organizing my DVDs, how I fold and put away my T-shirts, and the order in which I wash dishes, among a few other things.
3. When I eat a cheeseburger and french fries, I invariably, without fail begin by taking one bite of the burger, then eat all the fries, and then eat the rest of the burger.
4. In restaurants, I feel uncomfortable if I have to sit with my back to the door.
5. One of my great ambitions in life is to win a Chili cook-off.
Timestamp: 8/06/2006 09:17:00 PM
When she was a kid, as I'm sure most of you who know her are aware, Emily lived out in the country with cows and chickens and suchlike. They didn't have cable TV, and most of her television watching was PBS - "Mr. Rogers," "Sesame Street" and the rest of the Children's Television Workshop productions. When I learned this early on in our chatting-online days, it absolutely boggled my little suburban child of the '80s/'90s mind - how could anyone grow up without cable? Wasn't this a form of child abuse? It didn't seem possible to me that someone nearly my own age could grow and thrive without a steady diet of "You Can't Do That on Television," and didn't really understand the importance of the epic run of Duran Duran's "The Reflex" as the champ of MTV's "Friday Night Video Fights." I got over it pretty quickly - it was just weird. Everyone in our neighborhoods in both the Denver 'burbs and in Greeley had cable.
Now and then in our early conversations I would drop a reference to some movie I sort of assumed everyone had seen - Die Hard, Jaws, Rocky, Batman, a ton of others - only to hear, "I've never seen it." At first, this never failed to blow me away. I've grown a lot more used to it now. I've worked on getting her caught up on the touchstone movies of the MTV generation and the important classics. I made a point of showing her Rocky during one of her first visits to Colorado, because, honestly, how can you expect to get anywhere in life if you've never seen Rocky?
Last night we watched the first part of The Godfather - we started it a little late, so we had to stop right when Michael gets back from Sicily. I had tried to show her The Godfather before, but it was during another of those early visits and because we only saw one another about once a month (and because, y'know, Luca Brasi getting knifed in the hand and garroted is hott), we wound up making out and fooling around instead of watching the movie.
It struck me again last night, though, that there are things I just assume people know about pop culture that Emily doesn't. I sort of assume that people know The Godfather, even if just by cultural osmosis. She asked about if Michael's Sicilian bride appears in Part II, and I said, "Yes," because what am I going to say? "No, she gets blown to smithereens in about ten minutes."
It's not that it's bad or wrong or anything, it just seems kind of weird to me. She didn't know the secret of what "Rosebud" was before I showed her Citizen Kane, and I didn't think it was even possible to reach the age of 23 in America without knowing what "Rosebud" is - it's sort of like the shower scene in Psycho or Darth Vader's shocking revelation in The Empire Strikes Back, so heavily referenced and homaged and parodied that it seems impossible not to be familiar with it even without having seen the movie.
Not long ago, I made a joke about Mr. Peabody and Sherman and the Wayback Machine and it went right over her head. I was again dumbfounded - "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is one of the great pinnacles of American television, and I'd always figured it so ubiquitous that anyone would get a Peabody and Sherman joke. Apparently not. Needless to say, "Rocky & Bullwinkle," Season 1 immediately went into the NetFlix queue.
It's a long process, but worthwhile. By the time we're sixty or so, Emily may actually not even have to ask about even my most obscure and idiotic references and jokes.
Timestamp: 8/05/2006 12:51:00 PM
Ugh. Sorry if I shocked and dismayed my six loyal readers...I was in a really foul mood the other night, and I wallowed a bit in self-pity and suchlike.
To which I say...Bah! Bah to self-pity, bah to "o woe is me," bah to all that bullshit. Bah bah bah. I have very little to feel so down about. I live in a cool house in a great city, I have a wikid cool and dead sexy girlfriend, I am happily owned by the two cutest kitties on Earth, I'm finally studying something I love and choose to devote myself to instead of being all wishy-washy and studying to be a (*shudder*) English teacher because it's a nice career option of which my parents approve, (they still don't quite get why anyone in their right mind would study art - "What do you do with an art degree?" my mother asked last weekend, obviously perplexed but trying with only a certain amount of success to be tactfful about it. Their confusion on the matter secretly delights me), I had a fabulous pizza omelet for breakfast made with herbs and a bell pepper from our garden...
So anyway, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, disregard previous message, these aren't the droids you're looking for.
Timestamp: 8/05/2006 12:40:00 PM