Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Something Burrowed, Something Blew

Early last week, Denise and I spent an afternoon working on the cinder-block walls of the basement hatch, chiseling away at decades-old mortar and then filling the cracks with freshly mixed Hydroxic cement.1 The hatchway doors were open, of course, to let the warm rays of the sun in and the stifling clouds of dust out. In between the chiseling and the filling phases, a mole scrambled two-thirds of the way across the edge of the hatch before it lost its footing and tumbled to the basement floor, landing at Denise’s feet. Not the squeamish type, Denise was ready to kill the mole right where it stood.2 However, I stayed her hand and proposed another, more entertaining idea. I collected the mole in a small container and brought it outside. Then I called our dog over.

I’d like to say that our lovable mutt Sonya fulfilled her appointed role as head of pest control admirably, but alas, she does not quite possess what one would call “hunting prowess.” The mole zigged and zagged, always just out of Sonya’s reach, across the yard and into the underbrush in the back corner. Sonya searched that corner for the next ten minutes, then gave up and headed back into the house, her head hanging low with disappointment.

~ ~ ~

At the end of the week, we headed to Buffalo. Along with checking out potential venues for our own upcoming nuptials, Denise and I attended the wedding of one of her cousins. Now, I’ve always considered the traditions surrounding the bouquet and the garter to be kind of stupid, if not borderline disturbing. Typically, the single folk have to be begged to participate. And then, they simply stand there, glumly, until one of them gets hit with the item and figures that they might as well pick it up off the floor, since no one else is reaching for it. Yet, at this reception, after the two lucky contestants were done with the whole push-the-garter-up-her-thigh nonsense, the DJ introduced a whole different set of rules that I swear he was making up on the spot. He bade the guy to sit down, had the girl remove the freshly placed garter, and then had her put it on his thigh instead. Every inch past the knee, the DJ said, would correspond to more enjoyment for the bride and groom on their wedding night. I left at this point, not at all interested in what the DJ had in store for the bouquet.

This episode only further cemented in my mind that Denise and I will in no way be observing these traditions when we get married. The only way a garter will find itself airborne is if one of the snake variety interrupts the ceremony and has to be forcibly removed. Also, if I have anything to say about it, none of the following will be found at my wedding, either: groomsmen, bridesmaids, pews, Pachelbel's Canon, wedding cake smeared on the face of someone older than five, attention-seeking DJs, attention-seeking wedding band singers, rain, videographers, George W. Bush, and of course, the Macarena.

Oh yeah, and moles.

1 It’s kind of like hydraulic cement, but made by grinding Oreo wannabes into a fine paste. The quality isn’t quite as good, but it’s cheaper.
2 Presumably, by setting the poor creature’s little feet in a bucket of the cement and dropping it into one of the local ponds. After all, her mother is a mafia queen in certain jurisdictions.3
3 That is, if Facebook is considered a jurisdiction.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paging Doctor Acula

The Strain
by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Vampires. Everyone loves a good vampire story.1 And I had high hopes for this one. I thoroughly enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s films, such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, and the book itself starts out with a great hook: A jumbo jet touches down at JFK airport, then stops completely dead on the runway. And I mean dead... electronics, crew, passengers, everything. But, unfortunately, a good screenwriter and a quality opening will only get you so far...

We know The Strain is about vampires. It says so on the book jacket. Yet the authors still feel the need to build toward this discovery — that vampires are at the root of all the trouble — for well over a hundred pages, which amounts to the first third of the book. And how do they build this suspense? With repetitive storytelling and horribly unsubtle metaphor.

Here’s a tip: If you’re going to stick a bunch of characters into similar situations (for example, finding a relative or neighbor acting peculiarly, who happens to be a newly turned vampire), you need each character to react differently, and provide noticeably divergent outcomes. When the names change but the story remains practically the same,2 it’s a waste of the reader’s time. Also, should you choose to introduce an event as ominous as a solar eclipse, it’ll pretty much speak for itself. There is absolutely no need to, for instance, have a half-dozen different characters try to stymy their impulse to run and hide, or remark that the eclipse is “what the beginning of the end of the world will look like.”

Along with their ability to come up with some fantastically un-analogous analogies,3 del Toro and Hogan also fall into the habit of using a little writer’s trick I like to call “damn laziness.” Say they want to get a certain concept across to the reader, such as that the comatose man isn’t so much dying as he’s undergoing a metamorphosis. Well, they just have some character suddenly realize it, whether or not they have the information to jump to that conclusion. In fact, some of the revelations don’t even have anything to do with anything else in the entire book:
He brought the half-empty bottle away from his lips with the realization that he had just slaked his thirst with the product of another mammal.4
Sure, the writing is bad, but it doesn’t deserve all the credit. The story has its faults, too. [Warning: Thar be spoilers ahead.] This is the first book of a trilogy, so some questions are purposely left unanswered. But others deserve to be answered here, in this first book. For instance, we learn that the Master caused the death of the plane and its passengers – none of whom tried to fight back, by the way – in under two minutes’ time. What we never find out is how he did this; apparently the fact that he is a vampire is explanation enough. Also, the Master makes sure to save his favorite minion as he flees one encounter, yet that secondary character does not show up again in the penultimate scene, or anywhere else for that matter. A rapid-firing nail gun fitted with silver nails is mentioned multiple times and coveted by one character, then is tossed aside after one use in favor of a UV lamp. That’s right: a lamp. And then, in the climactic scene, as the all-powerful Master is inexplicably held against a wall with this same UV lamp, rather than slay him then and there and perhaps save all of mankind, the idiot with the blade goes back to save a fallen cohort instead, by administering his heart medication. And why? So the Master can escape and there can be a sequel. Frankly, that’s the only explanation.

Then there are the creatures themselves. The vampires are not at all glorified; they are ugly, decrepit beings who stink of death. And I’m fine with that. Vampirism, in this case, is spread not by swapping blood with a vampire, but via strange worm-like entities in the blood that can be seen with the naked eye. I’m fine with that, too. Also, the vampires don’t have fangs. Instead, they suck blood using a bizarre extendable stinger that shoots out when they unhinge their lower jaw and makes a tiny incision in the victim’s neck. All of this I can abide. After all, if vampires were the same in every story, they’d no longer be as interesting. But then del Toro and Hogan went and made the one misstep that is completely unconscionable when it comes to vampires. Newly-turned vampires, which populate the majority of this book, stumble around in packs and think collectively. That’s right: basically, their vampires are just zombies who prefer blood to brains. What a gyp!

Maybe in the second book they become werewolves. I don’t know.

I’d have rated this book even lower, except that I wasn’t so much annoyed by the inconsistencies and the haphazard writing as I was entertained. It reminded me of Snakes on a Plane, which was so bad it was almost good. Of course, the difference here is that with The Strain, they were actually trying to make it good.

The moral of the story? The authors shouldn’t quit their day jobs. Del Toro should return to writing and directing major motion pictures. And Hogan should go back to writing crime novels like his Prince of Thieves (a.k.a. The Town).

Anyway, if you’re looking for a quality read and some fangy goodness, pass on this horrible mess and open up something by Bram Stoker or Anne Rice. Or, better yet, read Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story). You’ll be glad you did.


1 No, not Twilight. I said a good vampire story. Pay attention, will you?
2 Like the first season of Smallville. And every single episode of Scooby Doo.
3 Though you may not be altogether disturbed by the vampires in this book, whenever you come across an “apparently” or an “as though,” if you read the rest of the sentence, you do so at your own peril.
4 This is perhaps my favorite line in the book. As you may have deduced, one of the main characters has just had a sip of milk. What you couldn’t know is that he’s also right in the middle of introducing the director of the CDC to the world’s foremost expert on vampiric lore. Just had to get that milky pearl of wisdom off his chest, I guess.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yo Ho Ho, and a Bottle of Manischewitz

(Note: You can also view the Talk Like a Pirate Guides for 2010 and 2011.)

For those of you who don’t already know, September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. But this year we get an extra special treat, since it falls on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Thus, I decree: the first ever International Talk Like a Jewish Pirate Day!

So, just how do you talk like a Jewish pirate? Like so:
  • “Today ye shall become a man, for it is yer barrrr mitzvah.”
  • “Ahoy, vey!”
Pretty simple, yes? So now, if your uncle Sol is forced to walk the plank and finds himself in a watery grave, you can tell people you can’t maraud for the next seven days because you have to “sit shiva me timbers.” Inform a young punk that just finding a buried treasure chest doesn’t yet make him a pirate, since “a true swashbageler must learn to pick quality lox.”

Of course, some of you filthy bilge rats may have too much self-respect to use such horrible puns. If that’s the case, try to draw inspiration from this exchange between Jean Lafitte1 and his fictional first mate, Long John Silverstein:
Lafitte: “Avast, ye scurvy dog! Read the torah, or I’ll cast ye into the briny depths!
Silverstein: “Do you mean the vat of gefilte fish?”
Lafitte: “Aye, the gefilte fish.”
Congratulations! Now you’re ready to hoist up your flag, with its traditional skullcap and crossbones, and head off to part the seven seas.

1 An actual Jewish pirate.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nostradamus, Eat Your Heart Out!

The Psychic Hotline has nothing on me. Some of you probably remember the content of my first post. However, you probably don’t recall the specifics of the final footnote, so take a moment to refresh your memory.

Now imagine my surprise when I went online tonight, after the season's first full day of games, to see Yahoo’s front page screaming, “Miracle game-winning NFL play” and ESPN’s touting, “Miracle pass lifts Broncos.” It seems Brandon Stokely caught a deflected pass originally intended for a teammate, then sprinted 80 some-odd yards for a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. The article itself only uses miracle or miraculous a couple of times, but still...

Pope Benedict’s going to have himself a busy night.

And now, for my next trick...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Camera is Dead. Long Live the Camera!

Nikon D60
December 6, 2008 – August 20, 2009

Here lies my departed D60.
I’d hoped the repair shop might fix thee.
It could have been nice
Had I known to use rice,
But I didn’t.

So, yeah, the camera’s toast.1 Unlike yours truly, it did not survive The Great Plummet of ‘09. The repair place said that if I’d placed it into a box filled with white rice right away, that might have been able to draw the water out, but even then it would’ve been a dicey proposition. By the time the repair shop got hold of them, the body of the camera showed corrosion, and the lenses had extensive water damage. Which was pretty much what I’d been expecting.

But do not despair, for when I learned of my camera’s fate a week and a half ago, I began seeking out a suitable successor. The D60 was nice, but this time I decided to up the ante. I stuck with Nikon, moving up to the D90, and getting one standard zoom lens (16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX ED VR), one tele-zoom lens (70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR), and a fixed lens for low-light shots (50mm f/1.8D AF). I realize that unless you’re a photography buff much of that last sentence is pure gibberish to you, so I’ll clarify: mm stands for millimeters.

Basically, what it means is I splurged and got myself some quality product. Not pro level stuff — I’m not made of money — but the body and two lenses are at the high end on the amateur side. I ordered through Amazon, and everything except the camera body was delivered within two days. Therefore, come Monday, barring a bloody coup, the D90 should arrive at my doorstep to begin its reign.

In the meantime, let us take a moment remember my old, washed-up D60. Eventually I’ll get around to posting photos on Flickr, but for now, I leave you with a few sample shots taken during the previous regime:

1 Not literally. But you already knew that. This footnote is really nothing but a waste of your time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I am Destro

As a result of recent events, it has become readily apparent that I am chock full of innate luck (so to speak). Thus, it’s only fitting that our 2009 Rip It Up / Tear It Down Summer Tour culminated this past weekend with the destruction of the prime symbol of manufactured luck: the wishing well.

In all, there were four stops on the tour this year, and in my esteemed opinion (you may not esteem it, but I do), each one was an unmitigated success…

July 11, 2009 – The Carpeted Stairs
The problem: The hardwood grain of the stairs couldn’t be seen through the layers of musty carpeting, mustier padding material, hundreds of rusty nails and staples, and multiple coats of hideously colored, lead-based paint.1
The solution: Rip it up, pull ‘em out, scrape it off.
The implements: Hammer, crowbar, awl, pliers, paint scraper.
The result:

1 I’m just guessing about the lead. It could have been asbestos.

July 25, 2009 – Those Damned Crab Apples
The problem: Weeks before the tree was ready to release its gloriously useless bounty upon an unsuspecting yard, certain limbs were already hovering delicately four inches above the ground. Also, it was encroaching on the house.2
The solution: Tear it down.
The implements: Hand saw, ladder, lopper, pruner.
The result:

2 Yellow flag, five yard penalty.

August 1, 2009 – The Hatch
The problem: Years of post-rain runoff had covered the hatch floor with lovely-smelling sludge, rotted the base of both the stairs and the door, and often flooded a good portion of the basement.
The solution: Tear it down. Tear it all down.
The implements: Rubber mallet, hammer, pliers, hose, shovel.
The result:

September 6, 2009 – Wooden Wishin’ Well
The problem: Well kept lookin’ at me funny.
The solution: Tear it down. Burn it up.
The implements: Large pokin’ stick, rubber mallet, hammer, crowbar, foot. And fire.
The result:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Comforters are a Sham

No, really. Think about it. You buy a decent quality comforter, one claiming to possess a high thread count or the latest in microfiber technology. It looks nice, is soft to the touch, and keeps you warm on those cold, wintry nights. All is well and right in the world.

But then, disaster strikes. Maybe it gets pushed to the floor on a warm night and covered in dust and dirt. Maybe your new baby spits up a little formula on it. Or maybe, just maybe, your cat, after snacking on a house plant that you were pretty sure was well out of reach, hops up onto the bed and coughs up a little more than just house plant leaves. Spray cleaners and paper towels don’t quite do the trick, so you look to the tag for guidance: “Machine wash cold, gentle cycle. Tumble dry low.”

Sounds easy enough. But what you end up pulling from the dryer is a sad substitute for your once-glorious comforter. Sure, it may still have that high thread count or its microsuede, but basically it’s now a large, lumpy mass. Each time through the process — after all, the cat can be just as productive without nibbling on a plant — the lumps get lumpier, and now your covering provides you with alternating cold and warm patches, much like you might find whilst swimming in a lake.1 So what do you do? You could use blankets instead; they’re not as fluffy, but they’re easier to clean and won’t lump up on you. But no, you tell yourself that this time you’re going to be extra careful, or that you think you’ve figured out how to wash it without the adverse effects, and you buy another comforter. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And don’t even get me started on bed ruffles.

1 In a lake, the warm patches are likely due to the sun. In a pool, or in a water park, not so much.