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Inspirational Reads

Let the Games Begin

July 31, 2008

Okay, I haven't done a sports post in a long time, party because some people were whining about it, and partly because it's baseball and MLS season here. While I love soccer, not many people give a damn about it here in the states, and pretty much the rest of the world plays soccer during the winter. So, there you go. The soccer of any import isn't being played now, and what am I going to do with baseball? Tell you how the Cubs will find a new and inventive way of screwing it up this year? Place odds on whom the next Bartman will be? With football season just over the horizon, I thought maybe I'd do a few quick little stories that have popped up recently. You might have heard a few of them. One of them is about a guy named Brett. Screw you, Milwaukee Bait and switch, baby. The first entry is about the Cubs, mostly because they're rolling off a four game sweep in which they dominated the Milwaukee Brewers. I really don't have too much against Milwaukee, and despite the title, I kind of like them (Jesus, they're the Brewers...how can you truly hate them? Their mascot makes beer and happiness!), and they play in one of the finest ballparks in the majors. Still, screw you, Milwaukee. Nothing like seeing your hopes disappear in one second and suddenly turn into five games back in another. I think the true joy in all of this is that I read some obnoxious White Sox fan talking about how, after the series in which the central leaders in both leagues were playing the second place teams, only one of the Chicago teams would still be in the lead. I guess he was right. So, I guess I should be saying, "Screw you, stupid White Sox blogger!"

I'm a Sports Radio Whore It's true. I'll admit it. And here's why. All summer long, I have faithfully been listening to the two AM stations here in the Triangle, 850 the Buzz and 620 the Bull. The big draw was 850 had Bomani Jones covering their afternoon drive home time slot, and I've been enjoying his take on things since he was writing for the World Wide Leader. Well, now he's down here, and I've been loving it. Unfortunately, Friday is his last day, and August 4th we get ACC Douchebag David Glenn back. It wouldn't be so bad if Glenn wasn't a horrific ACC Homer (I get it, he loves it, yay for him), but his voice is annoying AND he asks hard-hitting questions to coaches and players along the lines of "If you were a tree, would your leaves be green? Unless of course you were a pine tree, then would your needles be green? And, if you don't want to talk about the color of your leaves and/or needles, feel free to tell some other cutesy story, and I'll guffaw like a senile old man with my teeth in my pocket." The biggest thing that gets me about this asscock is he's willing to give Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski as pass on every little negative blip on their radar, but he talks about what an asshole Bob Knight is. Yeah, I get it. Coach Knight was a dick. But you know what? He's also the winningest coach not named Pat Summit in NCAA basketball. So, eat dick already.
Couple the fact that David Glenn comes back with the obnoxious Billy-show run by Mark Packer, son of nefarious h8er Billy Packer, that plays in the afternoon on 620, and I start thinking of things I'd rather be doing than listening to sports talk radio around here, like having my testicles pulled slowly out of my nose with a crochet hook, for starters. Ugh.
Then, however, I turned over to the FM radio show today just in time to hear that they've picked up a contract with Westwood One radio. Do you know who is on Westwood One radio for football? That's right. Notre Freaking Dame. The guy announcing this promised every Notre Dame game every week. I about had to pull over and rub one out right there. Of course, 850 and 620 have to counter, so they are carrying...Duke football and North Carolina high school football games. Wow. The high school football games will be more interesting. So, there. Guess what, 99.9 the Fan? You've just picked up a new faithful listener. And you didn't even have to put on fishnets.

Speaking of Billy Packer... CBS got wise and told that antiquated curmudgeon to hit the road. Billy, of course, complained about how they got it wrong, declared it was over, and then shuffled off to eat his bran flake ice cream cone with extra prune. Good riddance.

Speaking of Good Riddance... Jesus, Red Sox fans, why did it take you this long? Let me back up. I passionately hate the Red Sox, mostly because the only Red Sox fans I've met in real life redefined the word "obnoxious". I believe it now means, "fat, ugly, and loud in a ball cap with a red 'B'". Of course, I've only ever met one Red Sox fan I can stand...probably because he kicks so much ass...mine, too, I'll assume, if I keep ragging on his team and 'nation'. But, don't worry, Red Sox nation, there is another group of fans who take obnoxious to a whole new level. Sorry, Hap. Anyway, it seems the annual drama has been shipped out West. The fact that Theo Epstein could convince anyone to take that mess of his hands is a major coup. I thought it was a deal when the Cubs dumped Sammy Sosa after his little tantrum...and Manny's been throwing these for years. Good riddance, I'd say. The mess that is Manny Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers today as the trading deadline came to an end in major league baseball. You got a decent pitcher outfielder (sorry, I was confusing him with Zach Duke) out of the deal, Red Sox nation, but I imagine the sudden relief of the migraine disappearing is better than Jason Bay. Unfortunately, David Ortiz is never going to see another hittable pitch in a clutch situation, but there you have it.

Stop me if you've heard this one... Danica Patrick picked a fight with another driver in the pits recently. This one with fellow female driver, Milka Duno. However, Milka, not having to abide by the by-laws of chivalry, threw a towel in Danica's face...twice...and then told her to leave the pits. This, of course, is not the first time Danica's picked a fight with someone. Famously, in the Indianapolis 500, after she wrecked out...again...she got out of her car and stormed down toward Ryan Briscoe's pits to confront him. She's had a history of punching other drivers--all male--knowing full well that they can't hit her back, and then when the guy talks about it, she insults his manhood. Also, ever notice how none of these wrecks are ever Danica's fault. I guess that's what you get when you have a bitch storming around with a false sense of entitlement. She keeps talking about making the jump to NASCAR, and I'd love to see it, because I can't really see Chocolate Myers taking her shit for too long before he hauls off and knocks her jaw loose.

More False Sense of Entitlement I see Michelle Wie is taking some more solid career advice from Daddy Dearest and skipping the major event on the LPGA tour--the tour on which she was won exactly zero events--to once again compete in a PGA tour. This will be her fourteenth attempt to play with the boys. She's made the cut in exactly zero of these competitions, but continues to play in them. If you'll pardon me, I'm going to go tell my daughter to enjoy being a little girl for as long as she wants. Look, I'm all for equality and all, but, seriously, Michelle...maybe you should focus on winning an LPGA event rather than just trying to make the cut on the PGA tour. If that's too much for you, maybe you can focus on signing the right scorecard for once.

A Man Named Brett George Brett, that is. We passed the 25th anniversary of the "Pine Tar Incident", wherein Brett showed the world that he was crazy. If not crazy, then he showed the world what a crazy face looks like, at least one without make-up and nasty scars on the cheeks. In case you forgot about it (or weren't born yet), basically Ole George used the sticky too high up on his bat and was called out after hitting a go-ahead two-run home run. His was the last out of the game. George came tearing out of the dugout to confront the umpires in a scene that was played over and over again during the opening scenes of This Week in Baseball throughout the entirety of my youth.

Purple Number 4? So, Brett Favre is...quasi-retired? What a fucking circus this has turned out to be. At first, I was like, "Brett, just walk away." But then the whole thing came out that Ted Thompson, GM for the Packers, and Mike McCarthy, head coach for the Packers, pushed Favre into retiring. If that's the case, then they should either let him come back, or outright release him. If it's false, and Brett really wanted to retire, then he should stay gone.
However, I can't understand the Packers' position here. They are rock solid, dead set on Aaron Rogers taking over in Green Bay. McCarthy has said there's no quarterback controversy...Aaron is our guy. Wow. Versus a hall-of-famer who owns ever passing record? Really? I mean...every team in the league has quarterback competitions, except Green Bay, Indianapolis and New England. To tell me that Aaron Rogers is on par with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is fucking ridiculous. I mean, you've seen this guy on the field, right? Not to mention, he's a Jeff Tedford quarterback. Those guys always turn out to be great NFL stars, right Akili Smith and Joey Harrington?
Yeah, it's gotten ugly and comical, but my favorite is when Favre was going to call the Packers' bluff and show up at training camp. Thompson talked him out of it, saying "If you show up at camp, Brett, I'll lose my job." Okay, yeah, because when you're not making the playoffs this year with Rogers, and Favre is leading some team to the playoffs, your head isn't going end up on a pike in Green Bay. Good luck with that, buddy.
Honestly, if Brett ends up in Minnesota, I will root for him to beat the Packers. I know, my loyalties should not lie with one man, but the Packers bungle-fucked this long ago. I want to see Rogers fall flat on his face and I want to see McCarthy eating shit pie. Sauerkraut is optional.
Check it out. I just switched allegiances again...and still no fishnets. Although, I'm thinking someone out there might need to put on a pair to help cement my ties to the Purple People Eaters.

I think that should just about do it for alienating every one of my readers.

More Wandering: My Trip to the Volunteer State

July 30, 2008

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Like I haven't gone a week between posts before. Right.

Anyway, Thursday night we went to reclaim the children from my in-laws. We weren't supposed to meet them until Saturday, and so we decided we'd have ourselves a little mini-vacation filled with food that wasn't McDonalds and hotel sex--not necessarily in that order.

This notion was grievous to my in-laws. The couldn't figure out why we'd go to Nashville, TN two full days before we were supposed to meet them. My wife, being the golden-hearted woman that she is, simply didn't scream into the phone "We're going to fuck in a hotel room!" Notice how she has a much better relationship with her parents than I do with mine.

I digress. We drove out to Nashville, TN on Thursday night. I didn't realize that Nashville was that fucking far west in Tennessee. Holy dear Christ on a bobsled, that was a lot of I-40 to enjoy. We also discovered that every little shit town along I-40 in North Carolina has a Sonic drive-in...except ours, of course. If there's one here, it's hidden somewhere. We stopped in a place called Clyde by way of Canton, which is dominated by the largest damned papermill in the world, or so it seemed. It's like a town erupted around the foot of the papermill. The best part of Canton that didn't involve the papermill (directly), was the semi that decided to pull a U-turn in the middle of the two-lane road. Nice. Well-done. Fuck you and all 18 of your oversized wheels.

Also, seriously, Clyde has a Sonic, but Raleigh doesn't? Communists.

Anyway, the drive out to Nashville took so long, partly because Nashville is so far west, partly because we were backed up about 20 miles from the Tennessee border, with promises of heavy delays for the next six miles. Deciding we didn't want to do that, coupled with the fact that I had a quarter of a tank of gas, we decided to get off, find some gas, and then go exploring. After fueling up, we found one road that goes through the Smoky Mountain National Forest, and we took it.

You're greeted at the entrance to the park by a sign warning of elk crossing. I've seen what a deer can do to your car. I can only imagine the levels of effed-up an elk will leave your sweetass ride if you collide with one. Anyway, we follow this windy road up and through the park, which was an awesome ride, to be honest. I wish it wasn't so dark, so I could see more of the scenery, but it was still pretty cool. Especially when we came to the sign warning of a curve ahead, and then the arrow went in 360 degrees. Keen. A corkscrew road. If you ever get the chance to drive through the Smokies, do it. The road is awesome.

However, as we were coming off the mountain, I was glad it was night. Holy crap, we came down near Gatlinburg, and there was all sorts of lights piercing the sky and rows and rows and rows of lights and other things to ruin my senses. Oh, it was fabulous. And then we rolled through Pigeon Forge and Dollywood and...oh my God. Sensory overload. It was awesome. The wife and I were all fired up to come back on a vacation to just Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg or one of those places. Oh, it was gaudy and garish and oh so beautiful. We counted three different Flapjacks' Pancake Houses, and another place was offering 45 different types of breakfast. Forty-five! Be still my heart. No, seriously. I'm sure the cholesterol would force it to a standstill, because I wouldn't be happy until I made it through at least 25 of those.

After we found our way back to the interstate, it was more-or-less a straight shot to Nashville. We stopped west of Knoxville to refuel and pour gas station coffee down our throats, and the buxom and comely Boudicca took over captaining the S.S. Jenks Treader. I fell asleep, only to wake up two hours later and find myself just outside of Nashville. At 2 in the morning, local time, we checked into our hotel. And, let me just say, when you're that damned tired, you don't want to try and sleep on an uncomfortable bed. And LaQuinta in Franklin, TN has a very comfy bed. And the room was nice and cool. I give the big thumbs up to the LaQuinta in Franklin.

I'll spare you the rest of the gruesome details, but I will say that, of all the "vacations" we've been on over the past eight years or so, Nashville was the best. We'll definitely be heading back to Music City, USA. We're back, safely (or as safe as one can be) in Durham. Who knows, maybe I'll share some more tales of our wild adventure, maybe I'll talk of the return trip and how my four-year-old has become wildly appreciative of fart jokes. Maybe I'll tell you about my trip to ancient Greece. Maybe I'll tell you about run-in with four angry Australians. My lips are a tingle with excitement over the potentials. Travel blogs are fun to write.

Perhaps I'll even share pictures of the trip. Pictures? Yeah, that's right. I finally bought a memory chip for my digital camera, and we used it. This, of course, means that there'll be more pictures of my ass to pass around. Aren't you all thrilled?

Happy Saint Liborius Day!!!

July 23, 2008

Today, we celebrate a saint whose veneration is near and dear to my heart.

Er, check that, we celebrate a saint who is near and dear to my liver...and that empty spot where my gall bladder once resided.

That's right, folks, today is St. Librius' Day. He is, in fact, that patron saint of gall stones. He's also the patron saint of colic, fever and Paderborn, Germany.

A little bit about the saint (and damned little is all you'll get): He was born in (wait for it)...Gaul...in 348. No word on whether he knew Asterix. He befriended St. Martin of Tours, built some churches, and then died in 396.

Apparently, his ties to the gall bladder aren't just because he was born in Gaul. No, in between building churches across mostly non-Catholic Europe (this was around the time that Constantine had his vision of a cross in the clouds, thus rendering Christianity fashionable in the Empire), Liborius went around healing people complaining of "gravel and allied complaints". According to Father Eugene Carrella--who is an avid collector of Saint Cards--Liborius apparently helped heal Pope Clement XI of some gastric distress, thus earning the Saint both his venerability as well as patronage.

After he died, however, Liborius wasn't done. His remains were carted to Paderborn in Germany, with hopes that they'd help convert the Saxons to Christianity. I guess nothing convinces a heathen savage to convert like a femur upside the head--and not just any femur...a Holy Femur! And here the Spanish Inquisition thought the auto de fe was the best solution. Anyway, every year on July 23, the residents of Paderborn throw a big celebration in honor of Liborius, which I imagine includes lots and lots of beer, laderhausen, and countless women dressed like St. Pauli girl. My lustful undertones are clouding the true point of this post, and I'd apologize if the vision of hundreds of busty blondes in serving wench regalia wasn't such a pleasant image to scrawl across my imagination. Anyway, during the festival, the bones of St. Liborius are trotted out for all to see and transported three days later (after everyone has sobered up, I presume) to the town hall in Paderborn.

According to legend, Librorius' bones were stolen during the Thirty Years War, which outraged the locals, and so they went to recover the stolen saintly artifacts. Whilst out reclaiming what was rightly theirs...sort of...the pilgrims were accompanied by a peacock both on the initial foray and later for their triumphant return. Thusly, Liborius came to be symbolized not just by tiny stones that hurt like a bitch when they get caught in your bile duct, but also the beautiful peacock.

So, there you have it, the life and times of St. Liborius, who seems like he had a whole lot more fun after he died.

Review Time: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

July 22, 2008

I'll preface this by saying I loves me some Hellboy, but haven't read a book in a long, long time. Like, since my first year of grad school. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the first movie as I thought it was a fairly good recreation of some of the original series.

To that end, I'm glad that Guillermo del Toro was given more license to do as he pleased with this installment in the Hellboy films, and it pays off as del Toro is an excellent storyteller. As opposed to the original, this story centers more on tradition fairy tale mythology, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The other nice thing about this movie was that the characters seemed to mesh into a more cohesive team, each knowing and owning their rolls within the larger group dynamic. Even the inclusion of Johann Krauss, a German psychic who got converted into pure ectoplasmic energy worked within the team...despite the fact that he was voiced by Seth MacFarlane. I, personally, would have liked to have had a voice actor with a more hollow, almost synthetic voice rather than listening to Peter Griffin, but that's just me.

Overall, the acting was consistent. Ron Perlman does a great job as Hellboy and Selma Blair doesn't really need to act all that much, but her broodiness is pulled off well. The scenes illustrating the growing friendship between Abe and Hellboy was comedic, and the action scenes were well done. Also, the creatures that del Toro dreamt up for the movie (Wink, the Forest God) were incredible. The Angel of Death was pretty kickass, too. I had seen a picture of her/it/him, but when it "came to life" on the screen, I really liked it. The Golden Army itself, with their clockwork skeletons, clearly carries the mark of del Toro's handiwork.

Possibly the nicest thing about the movie is that it does not rely too much on CGI. Almost all of the characters and creatures have a body inside the suits, and any extras are taken care of through the computer generated graphics. It definitely gives a much less artificial feel to the movie, which is something that was lacking in the waning scenes of Indiana Jones (and all three of the Star Wars prequels).

I will say, however, that I was slightly distracted by the Elf Prince that was the main protagonist thanks Jidai antagonist in the story, only because his name is "Nuada". There used to be a company down the street from my current employer called "Nuada Pharmaceuticals", and I knew a few people who had worked there. Couple that with the fact that the fates of both Nuada Pharmaceuticals and Prince Nuada were pretty much the same, and it makes for an enjoyable allegory.

I also kept hearing Charlie Dalton from Dead Poet's Society saying, "Call me Nuwanda".

Overall, the movie was solid and the action scenes were thoroughly entertaining. The ending is a bit predictable (come on...we know the protagonist is going to win) but getting there is a joy unto itself. The visuals are nice and don't feel overly faked and the acting is solid. The story was without any major plotholes that I noticed right away, though the scene with the baby kind of annoyed me (yes, I understand that it was a vehicle for something else).

If you're a fan of the series, you won't be let down; if you're a fan of del Toro's films, this one will not disappoint; if you're a fan of stories featuring folk lore and mythology, you might also enjoy this, as well.

Fluffy Strikes Back

July 21, 2008

You ever hear a story that had you sort of dumbfounded? Like, the story either amazed or confused you so much that you just sort of stared, mouth agape, at the storyteller, resting your chin in your hands, drinking the whole thing in?

If you've read this blog for long, you'll know that I often troll the Indianapolis Star for interesting reads in the news department. For one, I like to keep up on what the dumb broad from Carmel is doing about the Victoria's Secret model controversy at the mall. I also like to scour Indiana for morons in the news so I can contribute just a little bit more to the Karma Police blog.

And then, sometimes, I read a story just for the sheer delight of reading a story. Or, let's say, that the headline features something about a man beating his wife to death for not emptying the litter box.

If you read that story, you might understand why I sat here for a few moments, mouth agape, peeping the details of said sordid affair. Number one, who beats their wife for not emptying the litter box? I mean, do they have a pet cougar, or is Fluffy just rolling out human-sized turds? I get it, some guys are total douches and beat their wives for stupid shit. Clearly, this guy is a douche.

But then, she's 18 years older than he? And, he's a convicted sex offender? And the two of them moved from California to live with another convicted sex offender? Double-u, tea, eff. There's a lot more to this story than what we see right here, and it kind of pains me that I'm not back home to work my "sources" for the truth behind this thing.

Overall, though, just...fucking...wow. What a messed-up house that must have been. If I can find anything else about this, I'll be sure to keep everyone up to date. Not that this is funny or a topic to make light of, but I want to know the fucking truth here. This is messed up and it takes place in what I consider my "home town".

Stay tuned.

Review Time: The Dark Knight

July 20, 2008

I was afraid that, when I saw all the promotional posters with the Joker and the "Why so serious?" catchphrase, that we'd get a lot more of the same zany, madcap, crazy, where-does-he-get-all-those-beautiful-toys, Superfriends Joker.

However, as someone put it last night, Jack Nicholson was Jack Nicholson; Heath Ledger was the Joker.

I had heard, going in, that Ledger could be up for a posthumous Oscar and all that. Yeah, yeah, I thought. But, not only did he capture the Joker, he also captured the two levels of the Joker. There's the wise-cracking, smartass Joker, and then there's the nobody crosses me because I'm an insane criminal mastermind who will kill you if you try Joker. Ledger was able to play both parts perfectly.

The best thing was that he didn't dominate the screen and demand everyone's attention. Instead, he sort of slunk onto the screen and then performed, his character growing with each scene, going from an unknown entity to being the creature who held 30 million people in terror within Gotham City.

Here's another thing: there was actual tension built throughout the film. There was constantly a thought of "What next?" Yeah, I could see where things were going and all, but never at any point was I sitting back thinking, "Alright, here we go." There was drama, there was tension, and there were plenty of "Oh wow" moments. I'll just say that Christopher Nolan pulled a couple of excellent bait-and-switch moments.

I think this is the movie that Spider-Man 2 wanted to be. But where Peter Parker is always going to be a whiny little punk, Bruce Wayne is dark and contemplative. Christian Bale has pretty much become my favorite Batman, though I will admit his voice in Batman form is a little...off. I guess I was spoiled by Kevin Conroy in animated form for all those years. Still, when Bruce Wayne struggles with himself, it's believable and not pouty.

Aaron Eckhart did an excellent job as Harvy Dent. So as I don't ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it, his performance throughout was spot on, playing the counterpoint to Christian Bale's Batman. The interaction between the two on and off the screen with one another was well-written and well-performed.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gary Oldman are also good in their roles, but I still love that Morgan Freeman watches over all of Wayne Enterprises and still delivers the best comedic line in the movie.

Still, in the end, everything comes down to the Joker and Batman, and the story and the performances do not let the viewer down. As I said before, Bale does an excellent job toeing the line between caped crusader and masked vigilante, both as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Ledger brings to life a terrifying, monstrous Joker and fulfills the hyperbole surrounding his final performance. It's difficult for a movie to live up to all the hype that surrounds it in this day and age, but The Dark Knight does so, delivering an excellent action movie that tickles the fanboy in all of us.

I'll also pop in, here at the end, that I really liked the Watchmen trailer that popped up right before the movie. Clearly, that is the Head of the Class of the previews, and I hope that the movie does not let down. Hopefully, like Batman, it delivers.

Geekery Ahead: My Top Five Universes

July 17, 2008

Remember when I was slapping the Arte y Pico award around the other day, and I saddled awarded What Does it Mean? Nothing! with it? And remember in my description how I said that Jidai's blog is a lot like what I want mine to be, if I didn't have so many anecdotes about Notre Dame, Leelee Sobieski and Winston-Salem, NC (or something to that effect)? Right, well, it's getting a whole lot more Jidai-esque around here.

The other day, Monsieur Jidai posted a lovely entry wherein he described his five favorite fictional universes. Not one to let a good idea go un-plagiarized, I stole his idea and ran with it. I did give him fair warning, so that makes it less like plagiarism and more like homage, right? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Right. Let's move on.

5) Osten Ard:
Sure, I had been writing stories and such since I was in the third grade, but if there was any one place in all the different worlds crafted by different authors, Tad Williams' creation, Osten Ard, is the one that made me get serious about writing. Since then I've tried and tried again to craft a world based modestly on the model of Osten Ard: a realistic world in which realistic characters undertake semi-realistic endeavors surrounding magic and magical artifacts. The peoples of Osten Ard are easily identifiable as various archetypes from Europe (Scandinavians, Britons, and Roman Imperials), but the way in which Williams meshes his characters with the world has always made me hold Osten Ard and Tad himself in such high regard. While some may dismiss Memory, Sorrow and Thorn as being no Wheel of Time, this is the series/trilogy that I hold my own works against time and again when comparing to see if my books are "good enough". Granted, that's like holding up my kindergarten self-portrait to artwork of the Renaissance Masters and saying "Yeah, passable likeness", but still, this is how I view it all.

4) Star Wars:
The Star Wars universe is sort of a double-edged sword. One one side, you have a fantastic universe littered with countless interesting worlds, characters, creatures, technologies and concepts; on the other side, you've got a creator who cares more about designs and computer technology than character development and dialogue. Fortunately, there's a myriad of authors, artists and comic book writers who are willing to pick up the slack. Here is a universe with 3000 years of history to tinker with (and you still wonder..."what happened before?" and "what comes next?"). While parts of the Star Wars universe not directly under George's control are supposed to get Lucas' stamp of approval, the other various medias in which the Star Wars Universe has been depicted were given carte blanche to work, and it shows. Perhaps greatest among these are the novels by Timothy Zahn. If you're a fan of Star Wars and you haven't yet read the Thrawn trilogy, you definitely need to. Yeah, they're big and yeah, they don't have pictures, but the books themselves are very well-written and help give a peek inside the mind of an evil genius warlord.

3) The View Askewniverse:
This holds perhaps the most unbelievable place in all the universes: A strange land called New Jersey. While most of the stories are, indeed, Jersey-centric (I don't know if Zak and Miri is also), this doesn't detract from the overall vibe of the universe Kevin Smith has crafted. Sure, most of the characters are modeled on real people Smith either has known or--better yet--cast in his movies, but the characters themselves are almost parodies of themselves. You'll never find more incredible--or believable--douchebags on the screen, but at the same time there are moments so flowing with tenderness and emotion it makes you want to get a love mop and clean that shit up. Not only that, but I have to love any universe where saying "fuck" is perfectly acceptable, phrases like "Bunch of savages in this town" crop up over and over, and Selma Hayek rips her shirt off and thrusts her breasts into the camera. Mercy. Where was I? Oh, fuck it, who cares. Snootch to the booch, my bitches.

2) Middle Earth:
As much as I love Osten Ard and publically fellate Tad Williams whenever I get the chance, Tad would be just another guy writing just another book if it wasn't for J.R.R. Tolkien's creation of Middle Earth, because he not only helped define a genre, he effing created it. Since then, there have been thousands of Tolkien clones and then, even when someone tries to break the Tolkien-mold, they get raked over the coals. Case in point, J.K. Rowling's House Elves did not fit the Tolkien High Elf description (instead, they were more like traditional elves from fairy tale literature), and she was gutted, roasted and served with a lemon wedge for it by the "fantasy purists". While I, too, struggle with breaking the Tolkien-mold, I realize that without him, I'd just be another hack struggling to put together a book and hoping like hell that one of Oprah's assistants picked it up and said, "not bad." *shudders at the thought* Whereas Lucas' Star Wars Universe is outfitted with characters that are often underdeveloped, Tolkien's characters are fully rounded--sometimes too much so. The man clearly loved his world, enough so that he continually scrawled new stories and "backfill" on napkins at bars, in the margins of papers he was reading, and probably on the unused rolls whilst sitting on the john. All of these have been summarily cobbled together and published in various forms, thanks to son Christopher's work, the most recent of which was titled "The Children of Húrin". Again, like the Thrawn novels for Star Wars, if you're a Tolkien fan, you should read Húrin.

1) My Universe:
I've never shied away from the fact that I'm a total homer when it comes to Notre Dame or Indiana, so why the hell should I back down from my own creation? Does it compare to the other universes I've listed? That's for others to decide. Unfortunately, I don't have a name for my world; if you really want one, I'll call it the Jenksatorium. Happy? Good. As it compares to some of the other universes I've listed, I can promise you the reader that I've toiled over it almost obsessively, thinking up the backstories and writing and rewriting the characters until it makes sense that they are doing what they're doing. Once the characters were set, then the story began to unfold. Now, I'm mired in at least four books with many more in sight along with a second series of stories that I'm just as eager to write, but I have to get my priorities set and finish the first set of stories first (the second set of stories totally ruins the first set, if I were to write them at the same time). Speaking of priorities, let me get back to finishing this game of Civ III. What? No, you didn't see that. I meant to say "get back to finishing this chapter in book III". Right.
Honorable mentions: Springfield from the Simpsons, Ivalice et. al. from the Final Fantasy games, the X-Universe from Marvel Comics, and Upside Down Alaska from Robin Hobb's books, and the Wizarding World from Harry Potter.

My Wandering Adventures

July 14, 2008

This past weekend, I took the kids up to Marietta, OH, where I met up with my mother-in-law. She took the kids from there onto South Bend, IN, where they will stay for a week and then they'll stay another week at the beach in Alabama. Yeah, thrilling, I know.

I'm pretty familiar with this stretch of road, as I used to jet up and down I-77 while in grad school, either to take the wife down to see her family in Charlotte or to visit her while she lived with her parents and I was working in the lab, desperately trying to finish up my research for my thesis. There were two places along the way that were my favorite oases to stop and refuel: West Philadelphia, OH and Fancy Gap, VA.

Fast forward a few years, and now I no longer travel that far up in Ohio, so I don't stop at West Philadelphia anymore, but Fancy Gap is still one of my favorite places to stop and get gas. For one, gas is much cheaper in Virginia than it is in North Carolina (in fact, only the rest stations along the interstate in West Effin' Virginia offered more expensive gas than the stations in the greater Triangle area in North Carolina), and for two, there's a certain nostalgia that surrounds Fancy Gap.

Here's the thing, though: I've never actually been in Fancy Gap, VA. I've only stopped at the BP station there. Fancy Gap, itself, is a mile or two down the road, so while the exit might be the Fancy Gap exit, I had never actually visited this humble village.

So, on Saturday, after refueling my car and tossing a whizz in the rather...malodorous...rest room, I checked my map and saw that Route 52 went down through Fancy Gap and would ultimately take me to Winston-Salem, where I would be able to pick up and continue with my regular course home. Armed with this knowledge, I made the executive decision to take a little excursion through Fancy Gap and see a slice of America.

I would not be disappointed.

At this perfect little confluence of Rte 52, the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, you are welcomed into town by a weather-faded sign loudly proclaiming that "This is Frank Beamer Country". "And don't you forget it, motherfucker," would have blended perfectly with the rest of the sign, yet sadly it was missing. I'm sure some adoring Va Tech fan (Joe, I'm looking at you) swiped it during the night. Anyway, in case you didn't know, Frank Beamer is the head coach of Virginia Tech's football team and grew up just north of Fancy Gap in Hillsville, Virginia. And don't you forget it, motherfucker.

Nestled snugly in the bosom of these picturesque mountains, Fancy Gap offered plenty of camping and cabin rentals, along with several hundred shops offering all manner of trinkets, daubles, doo-dads and shit all under the heading of "Antiques". It might serve Fancy Gap well to post a sign opposite Frank Beamer Country proclaiming "One man's garbage is another man's treasure...and don't you forget it, motherfucker!".

Within about five minutes, the banjo and jug music faded into the background and I came upon Cana, Virginia. Where Fancy Gap was replete with campgrounds and "antique" shops, Cana must be the world capital for concrete statuary for your front yard. I counted at least three places dealing said creations on my drive down the hillside, and yet only one house in town had decorated their yard with anything, and those were a collection of pink flamingos arranged lovingly around a dogwood tree in the front yard. The statuary, however, was truly epic, ranging from the typical statues of deer or lawn jockeys to almost life-size replicas of tigers and lions...which were painted! I think there was also an entire team of horses at one place. I guess when you live on the side of a mountain and procuring stone is not a problem, you can do all manner of artistic endeavors with it.

All too soon, I found myself on the south side of town and, bidding Cana and Fancy Gap a fond adieu, I began plunging headlong down a mountainside. What great fun it was, too, to simply let gravity accelerate me to the point where I'm not sure if I can make the impending hard left turn in time or not, and if not, which of the large oak boles will I find myself splattered upon for eternity. I did discover that, traveling at that speed, I could pull out in time. Sadly, the path down the side of the mountain was tree-lined enough that I could not catch much more than a few glimpses of the green valleys opening at the foot of the mountains. Aesthetically unpleased, I continued on my way toward the next town on my agenda, Mount Airy, NC.

I knew I had crossed into the North By God Carolina (say the "by God" part so that it sounds like James Brown screaming) when the road turned from beautifully-paved blacktop to a layer of gray shit that once resembled tarmac. Following this rough gray ribbon through the green hills, I came to the one small town in North Carolina that everybody knows, Mount Airy.

What? Oh, right, you might recognize it by it's other name: Mayberry.

That's right. I visited the birthplace and ancestral home of Andy Griffith, and the town on which the town of Mayberry was loosely based (none of the Andry Griffith show was ever filmed in Mount Airy). However, you wouldn't know that the cameras never rolled in this town as they have fully embraced their Mayberry heritage, at least from what I saw. There was the Mayberry Mall, the Mayberry Car Wash, the Mayberry Dry Cleaners, the Mayberry Brothel and the "Can I Put My Bullet In Now?" shooting range. As you roll through the city from the north side along Rte 52, it seems everything is named Mayberry something-or-other. I can imagine that there are some people who aren't happy with this whole connection to tv nostalgia, but while I was stuck at a light, I felt like rolling the window down and drinking in the entire Mayberry ambiance. As it was, I had that damned whistling theme song stuck in my head for the forty-five minute drive to Winston-Salem, so it's probably a good thing I didn't drink in the Mayberryosity of Mount Airy.

I had called my wife while south of Charleston, WV, and promised her I'd be home by 8:30, so I didn't take the more scenic route through downtown to try and find the Andy Griffith statue. However, as I rolled through some swampy looking lands around the Ararat river (the Mayberry Fens), I promised myself I'd be back. Despite my cheekiness, I really found the town to be rather agreeable (Jesus, do I sound British in this sentance), though I doubt I would be allowed to stay long. I saw a sign as I entered town proclaiming Mount Airy a "Fit Town". Clearly, I'm lucky to have been allowed to cross the border at all.

One quick side note about the history of Mount Airy. Eng and Chang Bunker, the world's most famous Siamese twins, lived in Mount Airy. In case you don't remember the whole story, they married sisters (not twins, that I could tell, but definitely not conjoined in any way) and then they went on to father between 20 and 23 children! Remember, these dudes were connected when that all went down. Apparently, some of their descendants still live in the Mount Airy area, but still.

Eleven Gallows on Your Sleeve

July 8, 2008

As I traipsed up to the mailbox this afternoon, I was suddenly shocked and taken aback to discover that I received a letter simply postmarked "Central Mordor". Worried that some gog-eyed, fish-eating, hairless freak had sold me out for my simian larceny, I snuck behind the nearest pine tree and opened the envelope. To my great surprise, I learned that I had won a coveted blogging award, and the granter was none other than his wooden cubedness himself, Eric Rider, keeper of Rider's Block.

Of course, I had to celebrate this sensational, and frankly monumental, moment in my life.



Once I was done with what became a very dirty letter, I read through all the things I have to do in order to claim my prize. At first, I was angry with all the hoops I had to jump through in order to claim this lovely slice of heaven, but then I realized, "This is the internet, and dammit, sometimes you have to jump through hoops in order to maintain the high level of integrity demanded by the internet!" Besides, apparently, I've been nominated to be Rider's Padawan, thanks to my fascination with what's inside Leelee Sobieski's shirt and my love of transcribing snarky comments into hovertext over all the pictures I steal from the internet.
First, the requisite picture of the award, courtesy of Arte y Pico:

And now, onto the esteemed five poor saps winners!

1) Homebrew and Chemistry: Here is the perfect co-mingling of two of my absolute favorite things not involving D-cups and Indiana basketball, beer and chemistry. Eric the Mad-Brewer spends his daytime hours molding the minds of America's youth as it pertains to the molding and reformulating of matter, otherwise known as chemistry. To be able to reshape existence as it pertains to your view of the world is akin to wielding the power of a god; to teach others how to do it is akin to wielding the power of the Jedi Council.

2) Lisa-Tastrophies: Her recounting of the tale wherein she purchased a Battery Operated Buddy for a friend is some of the greatest comedic genius I've ever witnessed since those waning days of my senior year of college when, unfortunately, Sparklebelly was born. Sadly, Lisa has a conscience (known as her mother), which means some of her stories are somewhat muted, but when it comes to rants, hers are tops among the PG-rated crowd.

3) Frank (slept here): The man loves robots, sleeping and bacon, which should be enough for the award in and of itself, but he also, for a while, sported a tagline which cames from the depths of my own insanity: "Frank (slept here): Come for the comedy, stay for the pop culture references." Plus, he lives in Chicago, and if there was a city that I would claim as my second home, it would be sweet home Chicago. Despite all of the Illinois Nazis (I hate Illinois Nazis!).

4) What Does It Mean? Nothing!: Jidai runs a blog that deals with reflections on a younger him, graphic novels, obscure references and movies, which is what this blog would be if it wasn't for all the pictures of Leelee Sobieski, novel-writing, and fart jokes. From the moment I clicked over after seeing him pop up in Frank's comments, he became a daily read, and he'll be the first person I tell if I ever manage to successfully keep down a piece of raw eel.

5) Scribe of Blackridge: In the fifth grade, Joel was my best friend. His love of G.I.Joe and Transformers, not to mention the fact that he lived two blocks from me, made him the coolest kid in town, as far as this reporter could see. Unfortunately, life intervened, and he had to move away later in the year, shattering my heart. However, there was this thing called the post, which moved slowly but kept us in touch for a while, until we inevitably fell out of touch. Then, through the magic of the ebays (and my clever trick over at Classmates.com), we were reunited, and it felt so good. Now we talk from time to time, blog more often, and Joel is, to this point, the only human being who has read through the entirety of the rough editions of both King of Shadows and King of Thistles, praising both entirely too much, at least according to this reporter. He's now (unknowingly) become my sounding board who will, inevitably, end up in all of my acknowledgments, thanks to his opinions.

Thanks again to Eric Rider for the keen award. Now that I've claimed it, it shall be set neatly upon the shelf next to my Golden Hound, which I won in the third grade for a poster urging you to knock your dog's nuts off, for the sake of the planet. Unlike Bob Barker, I didn't get to stand next to Heather Kozar as a part of my awards ceremony.

Disclaimer for the winners:
1) Pick 5 blogs that you think deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y Pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

Would you like to buy a monkey?

July 7, 2008

I think I'm going to go blind spamming my own blog. The nuns said something about that or masturbation, I'm not sure. I was too busy playing with myself in order to pay attention.

Anyway, all my autoerotic exercises aside, I figured it was time to find out just what I was wanted for in the Wild West of Cyberspace.

Apparently, it's larceny. Better, it's monkey-theft.

matthewjenks.blogspot.com
WANTED FOR THE SUPREME ROBBERY of an ADORABLE MONKEY
$2500
What's Your Blog Wanted For?

Created by OnePlusYou

With that $2500 reward hanging over my head, I went tossing the place looking for the adorable little feller. Unfortunately, my search came up empty. Naturally, I asked the most powerful being I know: Wizard Cat.

Turns out that plucky little puss of prestidigitation [1] ate said stolen monkey. Now I'm in quite a bind. I need to either cough up the $2500 to clear my name, or keep feeding Wizard Cat delicious monkeys to eat, so that he will continue to keep my house hidden from the roving posses of bounty hunters. This is quite a predicament, to be certain. However, I could be in for quite a show as I'm sure the day will come when Wizard Cat will be going toe-to-toe with Boba Fett. Hopefully, I can stay away from carbonite chambers...

[1] I spelled prestidigitation correctly without looking.

Cyborgia

Remember the Cuss-O-Meter? Sure you do, it was just the last post. Anyway, while I was playing around with it (the Cuss-O-Meter site, you perverts), I came across a robot quiz.

Name That Robot
Created by OnePlusYou

I realize a 69% isn't that stellar, but a couple of the robots were a bit difficult to see. Plus, I didn't feel like looking some of them up in google just to make sure I was right or not. See, I may have a foul mouth, but I don't cheat.

Except on diets.

"That's a Lot of *dolphin noises* bad words!"

Whilst doing my usual blog perusal this evening ere I set forth to do a little typing of my own, I came across the Cuss-O-Meter. Thanks to one fan who constantly updated Shawon Dunston's batting average while he was with the Cubs and held the sign aloft from the bleachers, dubbing it the Shawon-O-Meter, I've been rather interested with things ending in "O-Meter" (not to be confused with "O'Meter", which is a unit of measurement in Ireland). With this in mind, I dove straight into the Cuss-O-Meter to see just how filthy I am.

Here's the results:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Holy fucking shit, Batman. That's a lot of swearing! Granted, they're only counting pages containing cussing, and not the actual thirteen words you should never say (I thought there were only 11. Not if you're a sailor!). I'm guessing if we went for a total saturation, I'd be a lot higher. It's a good thing there's not a law of conservation of swearing, because I'd be in serious violation. I'd go back and try to up it by inserting a cleverly placed foul word, but that would skew the results, and I want my impurity results to be as pure as possible. Er, something like that.

Still, at that 31.1%, I'm a whopping 211% higher than most other sites you find on the internet. And to that, I say, fuckin' aye!

A New Addition

July 3, 2008

Not to worry, dear readers. I know that a few of you just threw up in your mouth a little bit over the thought that I have gone and procreated yet again!. To allay your fears, I'll point you toward the birthday post. Not a lot of teh sex is going on whilst one of the partners is bent over the sink trying to puke and the other is constructing a tale of a moldy, melty piece of cheese found in his car whilst cleaning it out the previous week[1].

No, I've just gone and added something to the side bar, because I don't have near enough shit over there. Not only have I updated a few more Inspirational Reads [2], but I've also added a "What I Am Doing" section that's supposed to add a touch of accountability to my whole writing process.

To that end, allow me to translate my vernacular.

Pimpin' = Trying like hell to get an agent to pick this book up and sell it to an editor/publisher.

Editin' = Either actually sitting down and making things flow better or rewriting passages in an otherwise completed book in order to make it better.

Scribin' = Either banging away at the keys, weaving together words into the tapestry of a tale, or sitting in a cafe checking out women carefully penning potential portions of a prospective parable [3] whilst sipping soothing Starbuckian stimulants [4].

If I can come up with another category, maybe I'll toss that one in there, too. Avoidin'? Ignorin'? Backburnerin'? Who knows.

[1]: If you ever need to inspire someone to vomit, this does the trick.
[2]: Inspiration not guaranteed
[3]: I like alliteration
[4]: Maybe too much

Review Time: These Things Come in Threes

Since I'm lazy, I haven't done much else but read. Paint falling off the house? Let's read a book. Siding buckling and rotting? Turn those pages! Strange sounds coming from the high grass in the front lawn and perhaps a panda sighting at the edge of the property? Just one more chapter!

And, of course, the wood splitting on all the decks on the house? Let's blog!

First up, Tales from the Hoosier Locker Room by John Laskowski with help from Stan Sutton. Growing up, I was familiar with Laskowski as the color man to Ted Kitchel during the ESPN-plus/Raycom local broadcasts of Indiana games--before ESPN decided to do away with any sort of "local" flavor to the local broadcasts of games in favor of more corporate "unbiased" douchebags that seem in excess over at the World Wide Leader. Laskowski played for Indiana from 1972 to 1975, which is how he's connected to the program enough to write a book about it. Another fun fact: Laz attended high school at the private school where the buxom and comely Boudicca taught Latin for a year while I was still in grad school.

This book reads pretty much as if it was written by a former player-cum-sportscaster.

It's not to say it's awful; if you're a fan of the program (which I am) and you enjoy a good read while doing your sit-down duties on the crapper (which I do), this might be the perfect book for you. Or, if you like to read in the back yard while your kids are running through the yard like wild apes (which I do) and need to keep some of your attention on said wild apes while they are throwing rocks, sticks, grass, logs and each other into the stream out back, this might be the perfect book for you. Or, if you just really like schlocky, short-tales stuffed together into loose chapter forms, this might be the book for you.

Okay, you get it: Pulitzer Prize winning material, this isn't. Even if you view this through cream-and-crimson-colored glasses, you're going to be somewhat disappointed. Written the year after Indiana's epic fail trip to the championship game in 2002, a lot of the stories revolve around the early years of the program and the years after Mike Davis took over the team. What's missing? A lot of the Bob Knight years. There's a lot of stories about Knight's teams, but for a program whose glory days revolved around the General at the helm, there's not a lot of Knight in it. I realize this was only a couple of years after Knight was summarily run out of town, but still.

Another disturbing thing was the lack of player interviews. There were plenty coming from Laskowski's team mates, but even for the team at the time, there weren't a lot of stories. Highly disappointing was the lack of stories surrounding players like Calbert Cheaney, Alan Henderson, Michael Lewis, Eric Anderson, Matt Nover...there was a small bit about Cheaney's ankle being broken in high school, but other than that, you would never have known that the 1992 team went to the Final Four and the 1993 team was ranked Number 1 going into the tournament. Hell, there's not even one mention of Todd Leary, Laskowski's radio counterpart.

Overall, the premise is a good one, but the book just leaves a lot to be desired. I understand that, at the time, the program was trying to distance itself from Knight so that Davis--who had just guided the team to a runner-up position--didn't have to live in Knight's shadow. Still, there could have been a lot more here that simply wasn't provided. At the end, when I finished, I closed the book and thought, "Meh" and simply plopped it on my "done" pile.

Next up, Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I realize this book is 13 years old, and that perhaps dates some of the jokes and stories in it, but this was still an enjoyable read. As one reviewer put it, Bryson has a knack for lovingly making fun of someone so that they don't feel offended at all, or something to that effect. This is true in most of his books, though I can't figure out what he has against Indiana. It's not like Iowa has a lot to brag about. But, I digress.

I've recently been reading through Bill Bryson's material, mostly because I became real sick of epic/high fantasy and decided to branch out for a while. With Bryson's stories, the epic journey is still there, but it's littered with much more outrageous characters and not as much frilly language. This book is no different. Often, I find myself wanting to stuff my gear into a backpack and follow his trip, whether it be a year-long tour of the United States, a trip up the Appalachian Trail, or, as we see in Notes from a Small Island, a six-week tour of Great Britain. While Bryson's story does encompass much of the rich history of the island, it was also a reflection on the current state of economic affairs in many of the British cities. One thing that often annoys me about Bryson's writing is his distaste for modern architecture and construction. I understand that the concrete facade of a shopping mall does not go well with the historical buildings of many British cities, but to keep bringing the point up time and again gets tiresome.

While this is one complaint, it does not distract from the tale woven about traveling around the island using primarily public transportation. Bryson deftly weaves together historical aspects of each city he visits with a wry humor that covers a vast array of subjects, whether it's the weather to the different accents encountered on his journey. In all, he paints a loving, humorous tale about not just an island but also the people who inhabit it. This is definitely well worth the read, especially if you happen to know or work with people who originally come from Great Britain.

And finally, we hit My Boring Ass Life by Kevin Smith. Basically, this is a compilation of his posts from his blog. Unfortunately, for about four fifths of the book, the stories can be boiled down to this: let the dogs out, took a shit, watched a movie, went out to eat, banged my wife, watched the Simpsons, fell asleep.

Reading about his time spent shooting Catch and Release did make things a bit more interesting, but the studio's worrisome treatment of his blog made that story suddenly less appealing about halfway through. However, it was interesting to see how a movie is shot from the inside, especially through the eyes of someone who makes a film rather than routinely acts in them (because, being Silent Bob doesn't require a lot of acting). Also, I didn't know he was in this movie until I read about it, but I still haven't seen it. I'm not a big Jennifer Garner fan, nor am I a fan of this genre of movie. Also, it has a character named Persephone, which, unless we're talking about Greek Myth, usually makes me a touch wary.

After the Catch stories, it's back to learning what is coming out of Smith's bowels and when. Finally, as he nears the production of Clerks II, the stories become far more entertaining, especially the story Me and My Shadow which is a tale told in nine parts about the events surrounding cleaning Jason Mewes (more commonly known as Jay, both on the screen and in Smith's life) up from a life of heroin and crack addiction. The posts from then on get far more enticing, as Smith relates dealing with assbag fans, anonymous douchebags on the internet panning his flicks, and wraps things up with how he got the part of Warlock in Live Free or Die Hard/Die Hard 4 and the subsequent retooling and shooting of the part for the movie.

Overall, I could have done without the daily updates showing just how boring ass Smith's life is, and gone with more of the written stories that bear more of a resemblance to the his "Evening With" material (in fact, several of the stories appear in both places). If you can wade through the shit (pun intended), this is an amusing read. It especially goes well with the time spent in the smallest room in the house, not because it stinks, but because the anecdotes and episodes are broken up into short, easily read fragments.

And, because I feel that you should never end a story talking about spending time on the shitter, here: