Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wabbit Season!

At this moment, there are nearly 90 bunnies in the first floor of our home. Thankfully, they’re not live ones (or formerly live ones), but everywhere I turn I see stuffed animal bunnies, porcelain bunny figurines, hand-painted bunny cutouts. It’s as if someone dropped a rabbit grenade in our living room.

This many bunnies can only mean one thing: Easter is coming. After all, if it was any other time of year, there’d only be 40 bunnies. 45, tops.

When I was growing up, we never really decorated our house for specific occasions. Sure, we might put up a cheap plastic banner for someone’s birthday now and again, and back when we grew pumpkins in our backyard one of them might find its way onto our doorstep for Halloween, but that was about it. I guess seasonal decorating just wasn’t our style.

Then I met Denise. For Christmas, she’ll pull out the tree and three large tubs’ worth of ornaments and decorations. Halloween begets two tubs. It’s clovers for St. Patrick’s Day, flags for the 4th of July, leaves and cornucopias for Thanksgiving.

And when Easter rolls around, out come the bunnies. That is to say, out come more bunnies. You see, Denise has been collecting rabbits for many years, and loves them too much to keep them all hidden away like the rest of her decorations. Some stay out year-round. Only in spring will she dip into the rest of her collection and make it seem as though the little long-eared rascals multiplied overnight.1

Coming from a decoration-deficient family, I could grasp why someone might go all out in preparation for their favorite holiday, but not why some people adorned their homes for each and every one. I’d always figured their enthusiastic over-decorating was either a way to fill some other void in their lives, or an innate need to show off to friends and neighbors. It never occurred to me that they might truly enjoy the process.

Denise will pull out all three tubs of Christmas decorations even if she plans to be out of town the entire holiday season, and no one but me and her will see any of it. She loves putting up the decorations for each holiday, and the holidays themselves feel more real to her when she’s surrounded by their accoutrements. I might always think the whole thing’s a little silly, but then I see how much enjoyment it brings her, and I get it.

So I’ll put down my musket. The bunnies can stay.

1 And she could easily have them multiply to far more than 90. Think of it like an art gallery’s permanent collection: Only a fraction is on display at any time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: A Primer

For a stat geek like myself, there’s no better sport than baseball. Beyond the statistics that everyone recognizes, there are dozens upon dozens of others, covering every aspect of the game from hitting to pitching to fielding to hot dog vending. If you want to know how well a certain player hits with two outs in the ninth in the second game of a double header, with a lefty on the mound, at a time when the moon opposes Jupiter in Pisces, somewhere out there is a stat that does just that.

I was a sophomore in high school when I created my first fantasy baseball league,1 and I’ve been hooked ever since. While some people prefer to build a team by wheeling and dealing, I enjoy poring over players’ stats and trying to predict who will excel in the coming season. Of course, as much as I like the stats, I enjoy one aspect of fantasy leagues even more... and that’s gloating when I win.

I realize that many of you know next-to-nothing about fantasy baseball. Some of you may know next-to-nothing about baseball itself. Well, that’s where I come in. As a public service, I will now review the basic terminology. Therefore, if anyone ever starts talking to you about fantasy baseball, instead of shying away, you’ll be able to hold your own in the conversation... at least until you can get the can of mace out of your purse.

Fantasy vs. Reality
In the major leagues, if a guy is a defensive wizard or excels at getting left-handed batters out, he can make millions of dollars and be a great asset to a team. However, in most fantasy leagues, if the guy can’t hit or rack up wins or saves, he’s about as helpful to your team as the batboy.2

Rotisserie vs. Head-to-Head
To select a player in a rotisserie league, the owner gets spun around under a hot lamp, and then stumbles over to the list of available players tacked to the wall. He gets whichever one his finger lands on.

In a head-to-head league, any owners who want the same player bash their skulls together. Last one standing gets him.

Mixed vs. Single
Similar to mixed doubles tennis, a mixed league contains an equal number of teams run by men and women. (Some men will pay extraordinary amounts of money to be in these sorts of “fantasy” leagues.)

In single leagues (such as AL-only leagues), every owner is a dateless loner. Named Al.

Re-Draft vs. Keeper vs. Dynasty
At the end of each season, in a re-draft league all players are dropped from the teams and made available for the next season’s draft.

In a keeper league, not all of the players are dropped. Owners may choose to hold onto the “keepers:” the players who are the best-looking, most thoughtful, come from rich families, etc.

In a Dynasty league, owners select soap opera stars instead of baseball players. You need a good roster of murderous double-crossers to take first place in this one.

Auction vs. Draft
At Madison Square Garden tonight! Johnny Auction vs. Syd “The Snake” Draft in a no-holds-barred, rock’em sock’em battle for the Heavy Featherweight Boxkicking Championship! Order now on Pay-Per-View!!

The most common type of league is called a standard 5x5. And of course, thanks to the character of Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we know that when things are “five by five” that everything’s great. Therefore, it goes without saying that these are the best leagues out there. I’ll quickly run down the statistics involved, since the abbreviations can be a bit tricky.

Hitting Stats
  • HR – Easily the most recognizable stat on this list: Human Resources. The total number of servants in the player’s mansion added to the average number of people in his entourage.
  • BA – Also known in some circles as the “Baracus Index,” this measures how hard the player can hit the ball, divided by how many times he’s been tricked into flying on the team jet after sleeping pills were slipped into his milk.
  • R – Runs. The lower, the better. The total number of times a player’s stomach has disagreed with him during the season after a team served Mexican food in the post-game spread.
  • RBI – Really Bad Injuries. Each one is assigned a value based on a sliding scale, starting at a 1 for a severe sprain, all the way up to 100 for decapitation.
  • SB – Stolen Bases. A running tally of the number of bases the players swipe without the umpires noticing that they’re gone.
Pitching Stats
  • W – The total number of times a player has watched Josh Brolin portray George Bush the Younger.
  • S – Saves. The total number of times a pitcher keeps a ball from getting past him. This includes batted balls as well as those thrown toward him by the catcher or the ump.
  • ERA – Total number of different eras represented by your players’ clothing styles. Ideally, there’s enough variety on your roster to cover the Roarin’ 20s all the way through to today.
  • K – The amount of potassium in the player’s diet.
  • WHIP – How hard the player can rear back and throw the ball. Control doesn’t matter at all, so whether the pitch hits the batter, the bat, or the backstop, the value’s the same. Bonus points for having a huge windup.
Well, there you have it. Sure, fantasy baseball might seem like a silly hobby for the uninitiated, but it’s a lot of fun. If you want, you can go out to Yahoo or ESPN and join a free league today. Or, if you prefer, you could do a quick round of Head-to-Head on your own and forget you ever read this article.

1 We were careful to call it a “rotisserie baseball league,” though, since back then the word “fantasy” had only negative connotations. We might have been geeks, but we weren’t Dungeons & Dragons geeks.
2 Another notable difference: Unlike fantasy baseball, real baseball has a marked absence of rainbows and unicorns.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Yeah, He's Lost It

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

A few years back I read Dan Brown’s first two Robert Langdon novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. I remembered the tales as being outlandish but entertaining, yet some of my friends and family held a different opinion: They deemed Brown a talentless hack. That’s why I felt compelled to read his latest novel, The Lost Symbol; only in the last couple of years had I begun to read books with a critical eye, and recognize bad writing for what it was. I needed to find out once and for all: Was Dan Brown really as bad as people said?

Oh, you better believe it.

In The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon gets summoned to Washington, D.C. to blah blah blah yackedy shmackedy. The story itself doesn’t really matter. Really, the characters and plot elements are only there for one purpose: to build the suspense. And, of course, when I say suspense, I mean short, formulaic chapters filled with cheap literary gimmicks.

Let’s begin with the main gimmick. Dan Brown employs one little trick repeatedly and unabashedly throughout the book, and that (along with some other telltale evidence) is what proved to me early on that I’m already a far, far better writer than he’ll ever be. What he does is this: He ends every chapter with some great revelation or unveiling. Now, this would actually be a fine way to keep the reader interested, except he never lets the reader in on the surprise! Instead, he’ll give you something like, “Langdon looked upon the object, and knew with utmost certainty that nothing would ever be the same again.” Then, chapter break. If you’re lucky, you’ll find out what the object is a few chapters later, rather than fifty chapters later.

In my writing, I also try to end chapters with a twist, or leave characters in the middle of a tense situation, surefire ways to keep the reader reading. The difference: I strive to shock the reader, whereas all Brown does is show us the shock on his character’s face.

Which brings me to my second point. If you ever deign to read a Dan Brown novel, one of the first things you may notice is that all of his characters are pretty much shocked all the time. And he’s not coy about it, either; instead of letting a character’s shock shine through in his dialogue or actions, Brown comes right out and tells you – repeatedly – that the figure is amazed, astonished, or astounded, and usually at the most mundane things.1 Actually, maybe it’s a good thing he does us this service; if he didn’t tell us, we’d have no idea that the idea or the object or whatever was supposed to be shocking in the first place.

Some other things that bothered me:
  • Often, characters withhold information from other characters – and from us, even if we’re following their inner monologue – for the sole purpose of moving the plot along.
  • Robert Langdon is well-versed in Freemason lore, but believes every single aspect of it is myth. Even after a half-dozen are proven to be real, in relatively quick succession, what does he think the next time one comes up? Myth.
  • At the beginning of the book, the Masons want to keep all their secrets secret, and go to great lengths to do so. By the end, they’re actively helping Robert Langdon uncover them, even though he himself is reluctant to do so.
  • Brown did a ton of research to write this book, and goddammit, he wasn’t going to let any of it go to waste, whether or not the information was relevant. He imparts most of the research via flashbacks to earlier discussions or classroom lectures, and in one fateful instance, a flashback within a flashback.2 If his editor hadn’t been a spinless pansy, s/he’d have gutted the book with a chainsaw and cut out about 150 pages.
  • Brown uses too many pet words. For instance, he apparently likes to over-use the word apparently, despite that in almost every case there’s nothing “apparently” about it; it just is. Then, there are a couple chapters in the middle where everything’s potent, and one character refers to his sex organ multiple times as, well, “his sex organ.” Not his penis. Not his cock, his dick, or some other penile slang.3 His sex organ.
  • By the end of the book, three of the main characters have nearly died. Yet, whether they’re dealing with loss of blood, loss of hand, or loss of credulous readers, the characters just keep on trucking. (“No, I don’t need to go to the hospital! It’s just a flesh wound! Now come with me, so I can let you in on things us Masons have kept secret for hundreds of years!”)
In conclusion, it sucked.


1 Though, of course, you have to wait at least 3 chapters after the character’s initial shock to find out just how mundane.
2 Both discussions and lectures are completely unrealistic. Every time, the characters just happen to speak of the exact details that are important to the story, or argue about the very points Brown is anxious to dispel, and always in regard to the most obscure of subjects. In the lectures, the high schoolers participate enthusiastically and applaud the speaker, and the college students are way too knowledgeable even for Harvard folk. In essence, these scenes feel more staged than the rest of the book... which is saying something.
3 As opposed to penal slang, such as slammer. Although, it would have been fun if he’d called it his hoosegow.

Five Answers with High-Fivin’ Fillion

Last week, much as I predicted he would, Gabe posted the other half of our interview swap. Foolish mortal! By doing so, he has unknowingly set events in motion that will eventually make me Supreme Overlord of the entire human race.1 But that’s far, far in the future. For now, all it means is that my suave and sophisticated answers to his five diabolically clever questions are now available for public consumption.2

So, if you want to know such things as...
  • my weapons of choice in the coming zombie apocalypse,
  • the largest amount of money I’ve ever stupidly put on a horse, or
  • how many licks it takes me to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop
...then you’ll just have to ask me yourself. Those weren’t Gabe’s questions at all. His were better.

If you haven’t done so already, check ‘em out.

1 It’s not as great as it sounds. Basically, I’ll get to lord over the Supremes.
2 The management is not responsible for any actual consumption (i.e. pulmonary tuberculosis) caused by the actual consumption of said questions and answers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Five Questions with High-Fivin' Fillion

A few weeks back, my good friend Gabe proposed the idea of an interview swap: we would each ask 5 questions of the other, and then post the answers on our respective blogs. Well, to be fair, a friend of his came up with it first, but I still thought it was a fantastic idea. First of all, there’d be no telling what his questions or answers would be, since he’s almost as crazy as I am. I also happen to like answering questions.

If you like what you read below, you can hop on over to his blog, Gabe versus the VOICE OF REASON. I expect he’ll be posting my answers to his questions in a day or so, since I’ve only just sent them his way. You can also download a great short story he wrote, A True Tale of a Complete and Utter Idiot, for the low, low price of $0.49 at

Oh, and if anyone else is interested in swapping interviews with me, just let me know. Don’t worry; even if you have a themed blog or website, I’ll be sure to stay on topic. (If you have an unthemed blog, I’ll be sure to stay off-topic.)

Anyway, I suspect you’re itchin’ to read Gabe’s responses, so without further adieu…

  1. You are stranded on a dessert island with Cher, Patrick Stewart, and Barbara Walters. What dessert is it, and how likely is it that you will eat the entire thing before rescuers can find you?

    Wow. You have somehow psychically zeroed in on one of my deepest desires: to eat an island made completely out of Caramel covered warm brownies atop a bed of vanilla ice cream alongside Captain Picard. "Number 1, we must act quickly and devour this beach. Engage!" In a heroic and selfless act by Cher and Barbara Walters, they would consent to having a raft contructed out of them using caramel sauce as an adhesive and sail themselves out into nearby shipping lanes to attact the rescuers. I just can't decide, though, if they are simply that brave or if at their advanced age they just don't have anything left to fear. Either way, I salute them!

    As to how likely is it that I would eat the entire thing before help arrived? Meh, about 45%. "Resistance is futile!"

  2. Sarah Palin stops by your house in the midst of a cross-country game of Truth or Dare, and has you choose for her. Do you ask her a question, or dare her to do something? What is the question/dare?

    This is a trick question: Sarah Palin could never find my house! Okay, okay, fine; I don't normally do this, but I'll allow my mind to veer off from hard facts and concrete reality and entertain this notion. Even though I can neither confirm nor deny this, should Sarah Palin does in fact come over to my house to play truth or dare...I would choose Dare, hypothetically speaking. The dare would, allegedly, be that every time she encounters an elected official that is dissembling or hedging the truth she must dance around them in a circle, flapping her arms wildly, while shrieking "Liarface! Liarface! I hate your stupid Liarface!" Then slap them in their "Liarface" as hard as she can. Including herself.

  3. You awake one morning to learn you can speak to animals. Which are the most annoying? The stupidest? The most foul-mouthed?

    Cool. I can talk to animals! That is so much better than waking up to find I can talk to plants or lava or somthing dumb like that. So, hmmm...which are the most annoying animals? Snakes. They have great personalities for the most part but they have the thickest lisps and they spray venom around with every other word. It's like, "What? What? I'm sorry, what? Say that ag--Oh God, I can't feel my legs...."

    The stupidest animals on the planet are hands down moose; I knew this already, but speaking with them only confirmed it. I mean, I once saw two moose near a stream - one was taking a leak into the water, the other was not even 5 feet down stream and was happily drinking the now-contaminated liquid. Dumb-ass! Anyway, once my Dr. Doolittle ability surfaced I walked upon the same two moose and I overhead this conversation:

    "Pete! Pete! Pete! Hey, Pete!" said the first moose, presumably still going wee-wee in the water.

    "Huh? I...I thought you were Pete?" said the second moose, attempting to chew on a river rock simply because he couldn't think of a good enough reason to not chew on a river rock.

    "Oh," retorted the first. "Are you sure?"

    "Not really," said the second, spying another river rock that wasn't in his mouth and bent his head to rectify this.

    "Neato!" said the first moose, possibly named Pete, as though this were somehow a proper response.

    "Yup," agreed the second moose also potentially named Pete.

    "Pete! Pete! Pete! Hey, Pete!"

    "Yo!" says the second moose, clearly having forgotten that he wasn't sure if that was his name and sounding exactly like Sylvester Stallone.


    At this point I walked away, vowing to never again listen in on a moose conversation, pausing briefly to take a quick drink from a cool and refreshing stream at my feet. God, but moose are stupid creatures!

    The most foul-mouthed animal is, always has been and always will be comedian Sam Kinison.

  4. If you could go back in time to any point in history, and stay for one week, when and where would you go, and what would you do while you were there? Would more things be named after you when you returned to the present day?

    This is a very interesting question because it automatically assumes that I haven't already gone back in time and screwed around with things (ever wonder why the leaders of the Catholic religion wear such goofy hats? Hehe...yeah...shhhh!). For the purposes of this I think I would spend some time tracking down when and where the handshake became popular and the nigh-universally accepted form of greeting and change it to the Turkey Five! Complete with gobbling sound!1 How friggin' awesome would that be to see the Principal of your high school giving a turkey five and gobble to every student he gives a diploma too?! And that's just one example. Think of seeing it at inaugurations; when you are meeting your future in-laws; gang members giving sarcastic greetings before a throw-down.

    Would more things be named after me? would be highly possible that I would invent an entire new holiday to go along with the rise in turkey fives called Gabe's Yum-Yum Turkey Fun-Time Day.

  5. You have just been made commissioner of the first annual Ninjalympics. What are the three most popular events, and who is the favorite to take home the top prize?

    First of all, I would like to take a moment to thank you all for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the opportunity to lead the world in an event that has been hidden in the dark for so long, away from prying eyes. Mainly because, ninjas are secretive folk to begin with and have guarded their traditions and methods with the fierceness that can only be rivaled by a woman at a Macy's Wedding Dress Sale. But that is about to change! Now, onto the games!

    The first event is called "Assassination!!" The competitors take turns infiltrating a locked down safe house holding the leaders of a rival gang. Whomever can get in, kill/incapacitate all guards, assassinate the target, and get out without being detected the fastest is the Gold Winner! This is a time trial, with 20 secs added for every guard left to tell the tale.

    The second event goes by the mysterious title, "Hey, Where'd He Go?" This game has all the competitors standing in full view in a crowded arena with hundreds of people milling about. Amongst those "hundreds of people" are a handful of "judges," each carrying on their person a Gold, Silver and Bronze medal. The Ninjalympians are required to disappear in plain sight, identify the judges, and pilfer as many medals as possible (only 1 from each judge!) and place them in their individual bins. Gold is worth 5 points, Silver is worth 3 and Bronze is worth 1; the competitors are deducted 1 point every time they are spotted by a judge. Most point wins.

    The third event is, obviously, the Ninja Baking Contest. The contestants can make anything they want and will be judged based on creativity, presentation, flavor, and how hard the ninjas can punch/kick the judges into submission.

    As commissioner, it is not really my place to pick a winner beforehand (at least not on the record) but I can shortlist a few for you: Batman, Houdini, Snake Eyes, Sidney Bristow, and "Nameless Ninja."

1 Editor’s Note: For the uninitiated, a “Turkey Five” is like a regular “high five,” except it also has an extra batch of unadulterated awesomeness. (Not to mention the double-dose of high-pitched gobbling.)