Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Random 11

It’s one more random than 10!

Last weekend, I not only felt 14 again, I got to act like it.

My best friend Tom came to visit me. We’ve been friends since 1981, brought together by mutual interests in Dungeons & Dragons, Rush, and the NFL. Over the years, we ditched the D&D and added things like spouses, kids, and jobs, but those early nerd experiences still define our friendship.

In 1985, while attending a D&D convention (the event that killed D&D for us), Tom happened to buy a game called Grav-Ball. It’s a board game about a fictional futuristic sport that is like a bloodier version of lacrosse in zero-gravity, minus the sticks and with a 10kg metal ball and fully-armored players. He bought the game on a whim, drawn by the cover art as much as anything, thinking that it would be a fun change-of-pace from D&D.

Instead, Grav-Ball became our new D&D. While literally just a game board and some cardboard pieces, the comic levels of violence in the game coupled with our competitive natures immediately sucked us in.

Tom and I haven’t lived near each other since I moved away in 1984, but during every visit, we play Grav-Ball. This activity annoys our wives, in part because the game takes three hours, more because we act like complete idiots during the game. There is trash talking, one-upsmanship, profanity, and drinking. To avoid irritating them completely, we usually just play one game.

However, right before the trip, Tom’s kids and wife came down with an illness and couldn’t travel. That left just him, with no familial governor to regulate his nerd engine. The Lovely Becky, seeing the dice rolls on the wall, told us to just go crazy, and even secured babysitting for one afternoon so we could play.

Tom and I spent the weekend facing each other across a table, reveling in our freedom to be idiots. Our first game lived up to those expectations, a contest I won on the last turn by scoring with my goalie thanks to a pair of lucky dice rolls. I did a “gooooooaaaaallllll” yell and cranked “We Are the Champions” to celebrate the victory.

Tom would have the last laugh, however, winning a close game the next afternoon, and blowing me out in the last game we managed to get in before we went to bed. Nine hours of Grav-Ball squeezed into two days. While I was very sorry to miss his family, the sheer indulgence of a marathon game session, of returning to the days before jobs and responsibilities and the rationing of free time, had given us a lot of joy.

“Do you realize we’ve been playing this game for 24 years?” I asked him.

“Jesus,” Tom said. “That means next year will be the silver anniversary. You know what else I realized? It’s possible that we might be the best Grav-Ball players in the world.”

I pondered that for a moment. I felt pretty silly about it, sure, but I’d be lying a part of me didn’t let out a, “bitchin’.” And I’m already planning out my strategies for next time.

1) “Burnin’ for You,” Blue Öyster Cult. How do you know this song rocks? Because it doesn’t have time for no “g” on “Burnin’.”

2) “The Well,” Elf Power. It’s a funny phrase, Elf Power. Funny because elves are not intimidating or scary. Funny because it makes me think of mythical races engaged in racial politics. Could you imagine a story about a group of militant elves acting like the Black Panthers? Or like a bunch of inbred white power idiots? Are there redneck elves? I sense a future sketch here.

3) “In the Garage,” Weezer. This was my Facebook update the day after Tom left. Their debut has one of the best guitar sounds of any album. Even though so many bands copied that sound, they never got the right mix of fuzz, crunch, and clean that this album has. Plus how many songs name-check the Dungeon Master’s Guide?

4) “La Costa Brava,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. When I hear a short, catchy song that I like, I always think, “I wish that song would keep going.” However, one of the reasons why those songs are appealing is because they don’t overstay their welcomes. Ted Leo’s written a lot of those songs, but here he just stays about two minutes longer than he should. I certainly like long songs, but they have to have a purpose: some interesting instrumental passages, or a story to tell. You know, like a song cycle about Grav-Ball.

5) “Knife,” Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bear is going to show up on a lot of best-of lists this year, and I admit I don’t get it. They’re not bad, but there’s this tendency among some bands to focus on sound over songcraft, where the concept of being interesting is equated with being enjoyable. Reverb and atmosphere can make for some nice aural foreplay, sure, but at the end of the night, I’d like a little more action.

6) “November Rain,” Guns N’ Roses. Of course, then I get all gooey over something like this, flushing what little credibility I have like heroin down the toilet during a drug raid. I don’t care, I’m still doing a mental Axl shimmy right now.

7) “Lazy Day,” The Flying Burrito Brothers. A rather revved-up song for a lazy day. The only thing I miss from the pre-parent era is the lazy day. It’s pretty hard to have one, the kind of days where the sun would move but I wouldn’t, or TLB and I would watch a half season of Battlestar Galactica. Obviously parenting is way better, but I did love those days.

8) “The Night Is Still Young,” Billy Joel. An excellent song…for me to poop on!

9) “She,” Green Day. I had a conversation this week about 90s music. I think it’s my least-favorite decade for music. There were a lot of great songs and albums and artists, sure, but even stuff I really liked then I don’t play much now. Case in point with Green Day. I played Dookie a lot when it came out—one of those albums that I think became super popular because it was so good, not because it was a watered-down shot of suck. And it got a revival after American Idiot came out. But it doesn’t really hold up for me, and that’s true for a lot of 90s music that I really liked. I play stuff from the 70s, 80s, and 2000s more.

10) “South,” A Cursive Memory. I like to think that, even if I was 15 and oh-so sensitive, I’d still find this a little too wimpy. Even Robert Smith said boys don’t cry.

11) “Blinded by the Lights,” The Streets. Normally, a song about taking too many pills at a club would sound like boring, familiar fodder for music, but the trippy, hypnotic beat of this song always sucks me in. Good stuff.

Have a great weekend, and I hope you have at least a little bit of summer where you are. Somebody should feel warm in August, cause it sure as hell won’t be me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

top 10 tuesdays: what r we tweeting?

Spcl xtra charactrs ed.!!!

11) locked in trunk by da mob not sure where but smells like jersey. help.

10) Too lazy to blog, too broke to text, so here I am.

9) In the middle of something and out of lube. Suggestions?

8) @momoftheyear777: mom, lisarulz44 keeps touching me!!!!

7) @lisarulz44: one more tweet from ur brother and ill pull this car over!

6) Will tweet for food.

5) Since no publisher will recognize the brilliance of my novel, I’ll publish it here, 140 characters at a time. One: It was a dark and stormy n

4) Quick poll: Should I plead guilty or not guilty?

3) @TacoBellLuvr101: im in the stall next to you & agree you should ease up on the gorditas

2) does this look infected to anybody tinyurl

1) Just wanted to share how much more interesting my life is than yours.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Off today

The Summer of Much Knee-Bent-Running-Around Business is reaching its final weekend, as my friend Tom (of D&D fame) is out to visit. I do intend to get off my ass and get back to updating my blog (and visiting everyone's) next week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TopTen Tuesdays: How are we appealing to the conservative base?

10) Getting a frontal lobotomy.

9) Pushing for a presidential candidate who won't overthink the issues the way George W. Bush did.

8) Sticking fingers in ears and yelling FREEDOMCHOICEWELFAREMUSLIMSMEXICANSUSAUSAUSA during debates.

7) Reminding them the Bible says nothing about regulating the free market.

6) Vowing to keep teabagging against gay marriage.

5) Fighting to make sure the United States never becomes the comfortable, peaceful, tolerant communist apocalypse that Canada is.

4) Using abstinence programs to find virgins suitable for sacrifice to Lord Cheney.

3) Running through the streets and yelling, “A government option is people, IT’S PEOPLE!!!”

2) Promising to cure unemployment, the stock market, world hunger, global warming, drug violence, drug addiction, cancer, obesity, declining church attendance, increasing Mexican presence, a lack of anything good to watch on cable, autism, and erectile dysfunction—through tax cuts.

1) Making “socialist” the new “black guy.”

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Random 11

It's one more random than 10!

I have been working harder than a Beatles song for the past couple of weeks, doing the dance that many of us do where you have to cram in two weeks of work so you can go on vacation for a week. Tomorrow we head to North Carolina for our annual pilgrimage to the beach, where we will soak up the sun, surf, suds and suds with The Lovely Becky's family. Those include her Canadian relatives, about whom I will warn Libby, "Don't be fooled just because they look like you and me. They are from Canada."

While I am looking more forward to this vacation than I ever have—seeing my daughter walking on the beach will probably be the highlight of my year—I am also nervous. For I am about to read my novel.

I have wanted to publish a novel since I was eleven. In the height of my D&D fandom, I dragged out my mom's typewriter and began writing an epic fantasy full of danger, magic, intrigue, and lots and lots of gory violence. It lasted two pages. But the seed was planted, and while that field has been fallow at various times in my life, the crop has never died. My dream has been to publish a novel, to create something that might sit on a bookshelf, to make a work that causes someone I don't know to say, "Hey, this doesn't suck. I'm glad I found it in the remainder bin."

I've started probably a dozen novels since my first 500-word forray. During high school and college, I dabbled and didn't really work that hard at it. Once I entered the white collar world, though, the desire came back very strongly. I not only enjoyed writing, I needed a creative outlet to help me escape the fiscally necessary but not exactly spiritually rewarding world of white collar life.

Still, wanting to write a novel and writing a novel were very different things. My pattern tended to be that I'd think of something that sounded like a great idea for a book, get fifty pages into it, and conclude it was the stupidest idea ever thought of by anyone in the history of everything. I'd go into a non-writing funk until the little Troy McClure voice in my head would tell me, "Get confidence, stupid!" and the process would begin again.

This year, though, things have been different. I managed to find an idea, start writing, keep writing, and still keep writing. I made it to June with 150 pages. I was having fun (what a concept!) and not only believing I would finish this, but that somebody might want to actually publish it.

While I was writing, I didn't go back and read much of what I had done. I wanted to keep my momentum going, to turn off my editor, and just keep putting one line in front of the other. I hit a point in June where real life got too busy and I had to take a break, one that turned out to last a couple of months. I figure that's a good stopping point, and that with a whole week of vacation coming up, it'd be a great time to make those 150 pages part of my beach reading. So I'm printing out what I have and taking it with me.

I'm bracing myself for the negative voice to come in. What can seem like hilarious dialog and superb comic framing under the intoxication of inspiration can look like a ugly one-night stand in the sober light of editorial review. A few years ago, this very process would likely kill my momentum. But watching The Lovely Becky work has inspired me. She's shown me that you have to confront your writing, wrestle with it, and wrangle it into shape. Yes, what I'm going to read will have a lot of warts, but I can't remove those warts unless I open my eyes and look for them.

1) "Happy Segovia," The Fucking Champs. Fuck yeah. The beauty of the Internets for me has been how easy it has made discovering music I never would have known about. I was driving around yesterday while listening to the local radio station, which was playing the national broadcast of Alice Cooper's radio show (there's more irony than rain on your wedding day or good advice you just can't take). Alice happened to mention Alex Chilton and how he was in Big Star. It occurred to me that I never really would have known about Big Star without the Internets, and now Big Star is one of my desert island groups.

The same happened with The Champs. They play 80s-style instrumental metal that tickles my whammy bar. But they are clearly one of those niche groups that I never, ever would have heard about without the easy access into niches that we get with the Web. So thank you, Al Gore, for inventing this wondrous invention. It does things you didn't originally intend—brings the most unusual sexual fetishes right to your desktop, allows intellectual property theft on apocalyptic levels, and makes it easier than ever to stalk old high school flames. But it also rocks, and for that, I salute you.

2) "When Anger Shows," Editors. Along with time changes and guitar wankery, I have a soft spot for Big Important Music, especially stuff that apes The Joshua Tree. Which is why I dig Editors. They throw a big, reverbed wall of drama at me, and I am powerless to resist, even if the lyrics never clearly explain what all the fuss is about.

3) "Drink Before the War," Sinead O'Connor. During and after as well. This is Big Important Music, but here the production doesn't quite pull it off. Her voice, as usual, is huge and amazing. The music, though, is lost in that thin 80s production that plagued a lot of rock records. The bass toward the end should be blowing up like artillery shells.

4) "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House. About as well crafted a pop song as you'll find. Perfect for a lazy summer day—enough energy to make you feel good, but laid-back enough that you can relax. Like, "Let's enjoy this sunset after a long day of enjoying the sun."

5) "February," Dar Williams. Please, don't remind me about this month, no matter how sweetly you sing about it.

Speaking of depressing subjects, I'm really sad to hear John Hughes died. For people who were teenagers in the 80s, I don't think any other director managed to nail the teenage experience quite like he did. He captured the confusion, the self-importance, the battle between independence and conformity, the horniness, and often the sheer fun of being an 80s teen. His films are too melodramatic to be great, but that's also what makes them work so well. They're filled with the kind of emotion and perspective (good and bad) that you'd find someone's journal for junior-year English. And he had a knack for comic timing and for creating layers of absurd situations that did as much to advance the story as make you laugh (with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles being the best example). Plus he did it all in Chicago. I hope he's having a great day off right now.

6) "Another One Bites the Dust," Queen. The most distinctive bass line in rock? Probably at least in the top 5. I was in fifth grade when this was a hit, and I remember us calling it "Another One Bites the Wang." Nearly 30 years later and my dick jokes are still going strong. Also: the video features Freddie's wardrobe at it's finest.

7) "My Own Summer (Shove It)," Deftones. I am not a fan of the nu-metal. It's hard enough, it's loud enough, but that's just not enough. I need a melody or a structure, something to tell me I'm listening to a song and not just a collection of chords, drums, and vocals.

8) "Suddenly Last Summer," The Motels. One-hit wonders get plenty of press and shows on VH1, but what about two-hit wonders? Where is the love for your Scandals, your Romantics, and your Motels, who had 100% better career performance than your Quarterflashes, your Rockwells, and your Nenas?

9) "Grinder," Judas Priest. Wow, a lot of metal on these lists the last two weeks. The studs are practically bursting out of my tweeters. I also didn't think it was possible, but Rob Halford's outfit is more ridiculous than Freddie Mercury's.

10) "Under Pressure," Queen and David Bowie. Yet another incredibly memorable bassline from Queen's John Deacon. The 60 seconds after the pause in the middle are one of my favorite minutes in rock. I've heard that part a million times and it still makes me feel tingly. I just block out the Vanilla Ice thing.

11) "Selling the Drama," Live. They were like Nickelback's older, nerdier brothers. At least Nickelback seem to know they make big, dumb music. Live were under the impression they were U2, when there's only one band that has the musical talent to overcome its often embarrassing pretensions (that band would be U2). I can't end on this before I go on vacation.

Bonus track: "Eclipse," Pink Floyd. Goddamnit. Stupid iTunes, be better.

Hidden bonus track: "Dr. Feelgood," Motley Crue. Okay, more 80s metal, which I apologize for, but this is also The Number One Track People Who Don't Like Heavy Metal Still Kind of Like*. The Crue are probably the laziest band to ever have sustained success. They were Guns N' Roses long before Guns N' Roses arrived, but they phoned it in on just about every album except this one. Even lesser Van Halen albums look more meat-filled than most Motley Crue albums, and GnR's drug use seemed to fuel their production instead of hold them back. None of that matters, however, because any band that cranks out a tune with this much groovy sleaze has accomplished more than most bands ever will. Now I can go on vacation.

*Note: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" is not heavy metal. And if you mention Warrant I will hit you in the face with a cherry pie.

Have a wonderful week. I am going to sweat and have fun with my family in the surf and hopefully keep feeling like I'm going to finish this novel. If those three things happen, everything else will be gravy.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Top Ten Tuesdays: How are we showing our liberalism in Congress?

10) Shhhh!!!

9) Ixnay on the liberalism-ay.

8) That was close. What the hell's the matter with you, someone could have been listening.

7) We don't like to use the "L-word" in public.

6) Why? Because the American people can't handle it.

5) Okay, okay, sure, they tend to support things that rhyme with schmiberal, like universal health care coverage, social security, and not using a Sears Die Hard and two paperclips to extract information from a guy who may or may not be a terrorist.

4) But if you just go around shouting "I'm an L-Word" from the top of the Capitol dome, do you know who might hear you? Fox News! And they're not afraid to use the L-Word, let me tell you!

3) It's even worse when the other Republicans in Congress get a hold of the word. Sure, there aren't many of them left, but they're really scary and carry a lot of weight with our most rapidly declining demographics!

2) So we prefer to use terms like "centrist," "bi-partisan," and "totally not socialist." And not make any sudden movements that might startle voters.

1) Instead, think of us like the light beer of progressivism: You can drink us all day without feeling any different, except you have to pee a lot.