Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sparta, Interrupted

I've been growing more and more unhappy with everything about my job as time flies on. Eric swung by the other day and asked how much I hated my job. I didn't have a real answer when he asked me, but since then I've thought of the computer AM from I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream when it was asked how much it hates humanity.


Then I thought of the Total Perspective Vortex from the sequel to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is described thusly. "You can kill a man, destroy his body, break his spirit, but only the Total Perspective Vortex can annihilate a man's soul!"

So, things could be better at the moment.  I do blog psuedoanonamously here, and we discussed why in the comments briefly, and it's mostly because I bitch about my job so much. It's not hard to figure out who I am based on information that I've let slip, but it would be more difficult to happen upon this blog if you were searching only for my real name.

To return to Eric's visit, we did have a very nice time when he was over. Lily told him "Tiny Titans is my favorite book!"

Lily and Gavin played superheroes (he was Batman, she was Superwoman) and pretended that their superpowers included supercleaning as they dusted around the house with Lily's little toy cleaning supplies. When Gavin started cleaning my face, Eric told him to sweep something else, so I did my best John Kreese impression and said "Sweep the leg, Gavin."

Eric wanted some time to talk like grownups (sort of. We talked about video games and super heroes) so we turned on Scooby Doo, Mystery Inc to distract the kids. It's the new Scooby Doo series, and it's surprisingly good.

The other day, Jen asked me if I were writing anything for Geek Speak this month and I said that I was going to see Sucker Punch.

"Is that a boy movie?" she asked.

I said that it had a lot of girls in it.

"Yes, dear," she replied, "Boy movies often do."

On Tuesday I saw Sucker Punch and it was terrible. Since I do owe Geek Speak a real review and since I dislike duplicating material, I'll just outline things briefly here and relate reactions that will be of interest mainly to people who know me in real life.

The movie was essentially Sparta Interrupted!

Like this, but with icepicks and fishnets

I went there with Frederick and Eric and Ancker. Frederick had won a couple tickets from the local radio station, and he very generously (or so it seemed at the time) invited us to come with him to see it.

We grabbed dinner at the local Chinese buffet and Frederick mentioned previous tickets that he had won last year, but never got to use. That sounded vaguely familiar, and somebody asked him which movie and he replied Jonah Hex. Somebody else was like, "Jonah Hex kinda sucked, didn't it?" and I was as oblivious as the guy in the horror movie when the creepy music starts playing and the camera pans away from him to focus on the spoor of the monster. We were in trouble but we didn't know it.

The previews were the best part of the movie.

First up is Arthur - with Russell Brand  as the titular aardvark  and Jennifer Garner as Skeletor. Also featuring Luiz Guzman as himself. I liked Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but remaking Arthur just seems wrong. What else does Dudley Moore have going for him? Let the guy have his legacy!

Priest - A Vampire movie when it's Ash Wednesday all the time. It did have nice visuals though. The Priest has to leave his walled city to rescue his niece from the vampires.  Her name is Lucy. Of course it is. Something about he trailer reminded me of the cover from Wasteland, which was a piece I really liked.

X-Men: First Class: This looks like it's made entirely out of awesomeness. Nuff said, true believers.

Three Musketeers: I guess we were about due for another go at this. It looks amazingly generic. For the first half of this trailer, I thought they were rerunning the Priest one by mistake.

Fast Five: Who, exactly, was clamoring for this? It's the fifth (!!!) movie in the Fast & the Furious series, whose movies shared little beyond fast cars and the same name, but I have to admire their ambition, because they seemed to bring back everybody who wanted in from the previous installments, so yay for continuity porn. Also, I do like the Rock.

Hangover Part II:  Ayup.

And finally, Captain America! It looks great, but I have some unanswered questions, will Chris Evans will use his flame powers or his skateboarding prowess to defeat the Nazis? Will Hugo Weaving need any makeup to play the Red Skull? How awesome is it that the Howling Commandos are in the movie?!

And then it was time for Sucker Punch.I'm not going to go into great detail, because I owe Geek Speak the full review, and as I said on Facebook, if you hate woman and love lobotomies, this is the movie for you!

Snyder has stated that one interpretation of the film is that it is a critique on geek culture’s sexism and objectification of women.

I think that's bullshit. *coughcoughParodyretconcough*

I'll link to my review when I finish it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where the sidewalk ends

Quite a bit happened over this weekend, both good and bad, but before that, giraffes!

My friend Karen reads this blog, but only because I sometimes mention giraffes. So rather than bury the giraffe portion in the middle, I thought I'd just put it right up front so she wouldn't have to search around for it.

I found this website, where a Russian family raises and sells petite lap giraffes. Have you ever seen anything cuter? I'm sure Karen will have some choice words about it, that's for sure.

When we were eating on Saturday, Lily said "I'm concerned about going to church," and I said "You're concerned?", because it was such a strange choice of words for a little kid and she looked at me and said, "I believe you know what concerned means?", which was of course, even stranger.

She went to sleep early on Saturday and woke up in a bad mood on Sunday. The mother of all bad moods. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood. I don't know what set her off.

As she was getting undressed for her bath, she hit me with the dress she had just taken off. I picked her up and told her not to do that, whereupon she blew a raspberry right in my face. I put her on time-out, which upset her even more. And the next hour and a half was pretty bad. Lily was saying, "I don't want a mommy or daddy any more! I don't want to live here!" and stuff like that, on and on.

She eventually calmed down in spite of everything and we took off for church in the nick of time.

We were looking forward to this for a while, because I rarely attend church with Jen and Lily, but I was going this week because Lily would be singing a couple songs as part of their program. It's fairly well known that Unitarian Universalists worship Cthulhu, and I'm somewhat uneasy with that.

Somehow he got left off this list of famous unitarians

(I can hear the complaints now. "I don't really like giraffes!" "We don't worship Cthulhu!")

Lily was pretty cute. Her age level perfomed two songs,  Love Grows in both spoken word and sign language, and a short ditty of the UU Principles set to the tune of one of her favorites, "Do, Re, Mi". ("One: Each person is worthwhile, Two: Be kind in all you do..." etc.)

I'd put a video up here, but blogger degrades the quality of hosted videos so much that it's not worth it. Since people mostly read my Lily posts when they feed into Facebook, I might as well just put the video up there.

We stopped in at a place Jen had read about in a local magazine, Hello Burrito. I liked the food. I loved the fact that the Yelp review to which I linked ranks the restaurant's ambiance as "Hipster".

We weren't done yet, because we took off to a local playground to play around for a while, even though the temps were still in the 30s.  We ran around for a bit until we were able to lure Lily away with promises of a brownie tasting at Terra Cafe. I read about it on a local blog that I happen to enjoy and it was really quite neat. They had live music and brownie samples in all the colors of the rainbow. The hazelnut and sea salt were nifty, but my heart belonged to the caramel bacon brownies.

This is what you eat in heaven. Unless you're a Unitarian. In their heaven, Cthulhu eats YOU!
When it came to buying some to take home, we were considerably more conservative, and got one each of the pineapple and the peanut butter.

As we were walking back to the car at the end of our very busy day, Lily looked at piece of broken sidewalk and very matter-of-factly declared, "Oh. This must be where the sidewalk ends."

I'm pleased we managed to reclaim as much of the day as we did. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I feel like this blog has really arrived. I had to delete a spambot post last night.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Naked Matador

When I was a kid, I was huge into mythology, so it's no surprise that I wound up reading as much Zelazny as I have. Of course, when I was a kid, mythology meant Greek mythology, and as I read more Zelazny I was somewhat disappointed that he never really worked more with the Greek myths. (And call me Conrad was one of the very last of his books that I read, and I don't know if young Josh would have appreciated it anyway, seeing to him that Greek myths were epics about Zeus and Athena and Achilles and not stories about some kallikan-something thingy he'd never heard of.)

Which brings us to The Naked Matador. Our narrator remarks on the similarities to Hemingway's The Killers, and if he hadn't, I would have. In the introduction to the piece, Zelazny said he felt like writing a Hemingway piece. I think he succeeded outstandingly.

It's quite a minimalist work, having virtually no plot to speak of.  Descriptions are pared down to the bone. And yet it works. I think it's just shy of brilliant.

The story opens with Nick Adams "Jess Smithson" in a diner, on the run. He takes a seat next to an attractive woman with a scarf over her hair and smoked glasses over her eyes.

We paid our checks. She was short. About five-two or -three. I couldn't really see much of her, except for her legs, and they were good.

We went out and turned left. She headed toward a small white car. I could smell the sea again.

We got in and she began to drive. She didn't ask me where I was staying. She looked at her watch again.

"I'm horny," she said then. "You interested?"

It had been quite a while, running the way I had been. I nodded as she glanced my way.

"Yeah," I said. "You look good to me."

She drove for a time, then turned down a road toward the beach. It was an isolated stretch. The waves were dark and high and white capped.

Whenever I think about Hemingway, I think about something Vonnegut wrote about him somewhere or other, wondering what kind of thesaurus he had, because he always got away with dinky little words that everybody knew, and was yet one of the giants of the 20th Century. I ran Matador through MS Word's readability analysis and it got a Flesch–Kincaid score of the second grade. And yet, it's a great story.

I mentioned in my review of Coils that I associated that book with this story because they both featured houseboats. On rereading, I see that I was mistaken about the houseboat, because there isn't one in the Naked Matador. Don from Coils does mention a condo in Key West, so I think that's why I made the connection between the two stories. (I wish he would have said "cottage" instead of condo, so that way I could pretend that M is renting Don's place while he's away.)

One of my favorite traits of Zelazny's writing is his penchant for omitted scenes, a trick, he says, he stole from Hemingway, where the author omits from the final draft of the story something he knows to be true. I wonder what those papers are in the manila envelope in bottom of the suitcase. I wonder what interest the men in the blue Fury might represent. But they're not important. The papers are the Macguffin and the men in the Fury are the men who want it back. That's all we need for the story.

My favorite part is the phone call from Perseus. I can't remember if that's when I knew for sure that the woman was Medusa, but I think it was.

"Em . . .? Is Em . . . there . . .?" said a man's voice, sounding as through a seashell. "Who is . . . this . . .?"

"Jess," I said, "Smithson. I'm renting this place for a week. It belongs to some lady. I don't know her name."

"Tell her . . . Percy's . . . called."

"I don't know that I'll see her. But is there any message?"

"Just that . . . I'll be . . . coming."

I just love the detail that he sounds like he's speaking through a seashell.

Here's another part I enjoyed:

We went back to the bedroom and I showed my gratitude for as hard and long as I could. It was still a hands-and-mouth-below-the-neck proposition, but we all have our hangups, and it was certainly wild and interesting country. Afterward, she broiled lamb chops and I tossed a salad. Later, we drank coffee and smoked some small black cigars she had. It was dark by then and the rain had stopped.

Heh. I'm glad NESFA collected the stories, because if I had done the project, it would be nothing but me breaking into the text every couple of paragraphs to say "Great line!" or "I love this part!"

Much later that night, Joe and I pushed the two limestone statues over the side into the Gulf Stream. I leaned on the rail for a long while after that, before I realized I had forgotten to tell her that Percy was coming. Later, the sun rose up at my back, turning the sea to a fleece of gold in the west.

Nice reference the Golden Fleece there at the end.

I don't think it's one of Zelazny's all time great short stories like Divine Madness or Comes Now the Power, but it a lot of fun to read, and I imagine that he had a fun time writing it too. The process probably went something like this: I went to my typewriter to write a Hemingway pastiche. I sat down. I wrote it. It was pretty good.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: This Mortal Mountain

Welcome back to Josh's Roger Zelazny commentaries. Today I'm looking at This Mortal Mountain, which I always used to confused with This Moment of the Storm. (And then I used to get This Moment of the Storm confused with The Night has 999 Eyes, because the Hell Cops have those patrol eyes, but now I've finally got everything straightened out.)

It's the story of Mad Jack Summers, and his odyssey to climb the Gray Sister, a forty-mile tall mountain whose peak extends beyond the atmosphere. I consider this story to be in the same class of Zelazny stories as A Rose for Ecclesiastes or The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth  in that they're pretty straight SF stories which remind me of a pulpier era of sci-fi.

I really like the language used in the story.

"How does the Gray Sister strike you?"

And I lit one of my own and inhaled, as the flier was buffeted by sudden gusts of something from somewhere and then ignored, and I said, "Like Our Lady of the Abattoir--right between the eyes."

We drank some coffee, and then he asked, "She too big, Whitey?" and I gnashed my teeth through caffeine, for only my friends call me Whitey, my name being Jack Summers and my hair having always been this way, and at the moment I wasn't too certain of whether Henry Lanning qualified for that status--just because he'd known me for twenty years--after going out of his way to find this thing on a world with a thin atmosphere, a lot of rocks, a too-bright sky and a name like LSD pronounced backwards, after George Diesel, who had set foot in the dust and then gone away--smart fellow!

"A forty-mile-high mountain," I finally said, "is not a mountain. It is a world all by itself, which some dumb deity forgot to throw into orbit."

Later on they establish that Jack climbed Everest at 23. I thought Bear Grylls was the youngest person to climb it, and I knew he had done it at 23, but he wasn't the youngest person to climb it, just the youngest Brit.

 (The youngest person to climb it was 13-year-old Jordan Romero It's kind of funny how time marches on, and a feat that was impressive when the story was published is entirely unremarkable now. (As unremarkable as climbing Mount Everest can be, that is.)

Everest is 29,029 feet, or about five and a half miles. The Gray Sister is more than seven times taller. It's probably not possible to climb a mountain that big with the techniques you'd use on a terrestrial mountain even with Diesel's lesser gravitation.   And I know, it's a picayune complaint, along the lines of dismissing Dracula because you don't believe in vampires (though such a response is perfectly valid when confronted with Twilight, however.) And there's something about the willing suspension of disbelief. It's just a central element of the story and happens to rub me the wrong way. That said,  sometimes the genius is not found in the tale, but within its telling, and that's true for me here.

Mountains rising to my right and to my left, mountains at my back, all dark as sin now in the predawn light of a white, white day.  Ahead of me, not a mountain, but an almost gentle slope which kept rising and rising and rising.  Bright stars above me and cold wind past me as I walked.  Straight up, though, no stars, just black.  I wondered for the thousandth time what a mountain weighed.  I always wonder that as I approach one.  No clouds in sight.  No noises but my boot sounds on the turf and the small gravel.  My small goggles flopped around my neck.  My hands were moist within my gloves.

For an instant, I was seized by a crazy acrophobic notion that I was looking down rather than up, and the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands tingled, like an ape's must when, releasing one high branch to seize another, he discovers that there isn't another.

And I immediately thought of Dubhe in Donnerjack, to whom this had happened.

I don't really care what Whitey is doing, but I am interested in why he does it.

"Mountain," I said.  "Mountain, you have told me to go away."

There was a rumble.

"But I cannot," I said, and I took a drink.

"I'm bringing you the best in the business," I said, "to go up on your slopes and to stand beneath the stars in your highest places.  I must do this thing because you are there.  No other reason.  Nothing personal...."

After a time, I said, "That's not true."

"I am a man," I said, "and I need to break mountains to prove that I will not die even though I will die.  I am less than I want to be, Sister, and you can make me more.  So I guess it is personal."

And a little later:

"There is a certain madness involved," I said, "a certain envy of great and powerful natural forces, that some men have.  Each mountain is a deity, you know.  Each is an immortal power.  If you make sacrifices upon its slopes, a mountain may grant you a certain grace, and for a time you will share this power.  Perhaps that is why they call me...."

While climbing the mountain, Whitey and his crew are warned by a possibly supernatural manifestation that they should turn back. I couldn't help but think of the nonsense words at the beginning of ELO's  Fire on High, which if played backwards say "The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back." They persevere and find something entirely unexpected, but fits in very neatly with a reference hidden early in the story.

While I wasn't all that captivated by the literal story, the mountain as a metaphor really works for me. Jack wishes to become more than he is. He climbs the Gray Sister because it's there. That's a universal goal and Zelazny speaks compellingly of it here.

A short post with a picture

We watched Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster. Every Scooby Doo adventure is pretty much the same as every other one, but this outing gave the guest actors a chance to break out their outlandish Scottish accents.

So, when we went down to breakfast this morning, Lily grabbed her Superboy action figure and a big plastic shamrock and said "I'm going to pretend that I'm a supervillain and I'm celebrating Saint Patrick's Day by tying up Superman to a giant chunk of kryptonite shaped like a shamrock." Jen is raising a very strange child. She was pretending her oreo was a supervillain last night.

I didn't really have enough material for a blog post, and I was thinking about how I could stretch out this post when my mp3 player decided it wanted to set  itself to random play, which it sometimes does if the headphones are jostled in just the right way. I've got over 12 GB of stuff on there, so it's an insane mix. I decided to let it play to see what I'd get. Here are the first thirty tracks I got.

  1. Random song off the Robotech soundtrack
  2. Random song off the Robotech score
  3. Human Wheels by John Mellancamp
  4. A track of Patton Oswalt's stand up Werewolfs and Lollipops
  5. A song by Anamanaguchi off the Scott Pilgrim video game soundtrack
  6. Everything's Alright by Kimya Dawson
  7. Waterloo Sunset by Robyn Hitchcock
  8. Ramona (Acoustic) off the Scott Pilgrim versus the World movie sountrack
  9. Side 3 of to Die in Italbar (I skipped this one)
  10. We hate you, please die by Crash and the Boys off the Scott Pilgrim versus the World movie sountrack
  11. This American Life #199: House on Loon Lake (skipped)
  12. A remix of Transylvania Concubine by Raspuntina
  13. Here comes Science by They Might Be Giants
  14. Way Down the Line by the Offspring
  15. Bookends by Simon & Garfunkle
  16. Death to All Hipsters off the Scott Pilgrim versus the World movie score
  17. Seeing Other People by Belle & Sebastian
  18. Remember that I Love you by Kimya Dawson
  19. Like Rasputin by Amy Rigby
  20. He's Not a Boy by the Like
  21. Human Wheels again
  22. Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie by Belle & Sebastian
  23. This is Halloween off the Nightmare before Christmas Soundtrack
  24. Oh Maria! by Seawolf (excellent song)
  25. Outtakes from the Popful Mail video game
  26. San Francisco by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (I'm surprised that it took this long to get to a song by this band, considering I've got just about everything they released on my player)
  27. Part one Damnation Alley audiobook (skipped)
  28. Endless World off the Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite (by the London Philharmonic!)
  29. W*O*L*D by Harry Chapin
  30. Somehow a Frog Finds a Pond by Lunch Money

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World's Finest

I had my follow up doctor's appointment on Tuesday. I'm in surprisingly good health, aside from my blood pressure. Cholesterol and blood sugar levels were especially good. So, go me! It had been forever since I'd had a physical and I was expecting my blood to have bits of twigs floating in it. 

Blood pressure was actually worse than my first appointment, unfortunately, but I knew it was kind of spiking, because I had a terrible day at work, followed by a terrible drive home, followed by an hour long wait once in the office. I've got a follow up in three weeks.

I picked up Lily because I was closer than Jen when the appointment got out. I don't often pick her up, but I'm always happy when I do, because she's just so thrilled to see me. She was playing with some Play-Doh when I came in but dropped it when she saw me and ran over and yelled "Daddy!" and gave me a great big hug.

Jen and I are sharing a car seat between our two cars, so when she dropped Lily off in the morning, she left the car seat too. Lily wanted to carry it out, but she settled for helping me. She was just so cheerful, even when I told her that I had forgotten to bring a lollipop. (Jen buys dum-dums in bulk so she'll always have something to entice Lily out to the car)

We went home, where I saw that Lily gotten an issue of an animal magazine in the mail. I asked her where she thought it came from and she told me that my friend Miss Karen must have sent it. (Karen loves giraffes. Every time we leave her apartment, it seems like she has a new stuffed giraffe on her couch.)

This just in. Karen hearts giraffes

After that I got some candy out of the candy box and we watched the Batman/Superman three-parter where they team up in the Animated series ("World's Finest"). It's a fun run of episodes. I barely got Lily to watch it. Batman and Superman had been the subject of vigorous debate earlier in the week, with Lily declaring "Batman rules, Superman poops!" which I rebut with "No, Superman rules, Batman poops!"

Lily says that she likes Batman because he flies, and I tell her "No, only Superman flies," and wouldn't you know it, there's a scene where Batman puts on a special suit that lets him fly. He still poops, though.

Superman also wears a special suit, specifically a lead-lined haz-mat suit because he knows the Joker has a big chunk of kryptonite.

It's not completely successful (the Joker compromises the integrity of the suit with his acid-squirting flower) but I like the fact that he took a reasonable precaution which his adversary was able to overcome with a little ingenuity.

Lily liked it. But she still thinks that Superman poops. (She had a little brainstorm yesterday and expanded on her fecal nicknames by calling him "Pooperman") She's crazy though. If I untwist the lid on a stuck pickle jar, I don't say that opened it with my "Bat-Strength".

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Now with extra Josh!

I contributed to Geek Speak magazine a while back, with their Zelazny zealotry piece, and now I'm a contributing writer. I won't mirror the stuff here, but if you happen to like my particular style, please check out my work at Geek Speak. Josh's review of Rango.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Godson

For today's Roger Zelazny book review, I'm looking at Godson.  I don't know anybody who doesn't like Godson. It's such a great story. The only thing that could possibly make it better would be if the author adapted it into a musical. But what are the odds of that?!

When discussing Zelazny, one often hears the criticism that his older books were his best. I think there is some element of truth to that, but the same can't be said of his short stories, which were consistently great right up until the end.

It's one of those great stories where nothing is less than perfect, just like The Last Defender of Camelot and every element fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.

The story is taken more or less directly from the fable of Godfather Death. If you don't feel like clicking on the link, I'll summarize it here. A man is looking for a Godfather for his son. After passing on God and the Devil, he accepts Death's offer to be the boy's godfather. In the original story, Death teaches the boy to be a physician by instructing him how to find and apply a certain magical herb. Death decides who will live and die by standing at the head or the foot of the patient's bed. The Godson defies Death's will by saving the king. Death then makes the king's daughter fall ill, and the Godson saves her too. Then Death spirits him away to his lair, which is filled with countless candles, each of which represents a human life. The Godson's candle has almost burned out and he pleads with death to transfer the flame to a fresh candle, but Death is still upset with him, so he extinguishes the candle in the guise of fumbling with it.

That's more or less the plot of the Zelazny version. The godson, David, is actually a doctor in this one, and uses the magical herb to supplement his more traditional remedies. The king is a governor, David lives at the end, and Death likes football. It has some lines about Death being a power over life that hearken back to Creatures of Light & Darkness.

The name of the herb which Death instructs David  how to grow and apply is bleafage. It's such a random name that I thought there must be some kind of meaning behind it, but there's no suggestion of this in the annotations in the Collected Stories version and I didn't come up with anything meaningful when I ran the word through an anagram unscrambler (Though Fable Age has a certain poetry to it)

Anagrams of bleafage:

Alga Beef
Gala Beef
Beagle Fa
Fable Age
A Flab Gee
A Gab Feel
A Gab Flee
A Bag Feel
A Bag Flee
A Leaf Beg
A Flea Beg
A Flag Bee
A Gal Beef
A Lag Beef
Gab Fa Eel
Gab Fa Lee
Gab La Fee
Bag Fa Eel
Bag Fa Lee
Bag La Fee
Alb Fa Gee
Lab Fa Gee
Gale Fa Be
Lea Fa Beg
Lea Fag Be
Ale Fa Beg
Ale Fag Be
Fa Gal Bee
Fa Lag Bee
Fag La Bee
A Fa Be Gel
A Fa Be Leg

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the musical version of Godson.

I happen to like local theater. The only thing better than a local play is a local musical.  Godson occasionally gets performed at conventions, which is just awesome. I'm sorry that I didn't know about the Boskone one because Mass is not at all a long trip for me. (I see it's being performed again at this convention, but unfortunately, that's too much of a hike for me. If anything, the play tightens up an already stellar work, keeping much of the language of the story, but giving Betty an expanded role and introducing her earlier.

The songs look an enormous amount of fun. My personal favorite is "Oh, Wondrous Weed!" ("You tonify and purify and fix up damaged parts/ You outbiot the antis and you stabilize our hearts!")

It's so great. I can't think of a single thing I would change about it.

It's always sunny...

We had quite a nice little weekend. On Saturday, we went down to Philly to meet with some friends. We rendezvoused at Valley Forge National Park, but it just got so windy that we decamped for the mall before too long. I did get a cute picture of Lily while we were there, though.

We went to the King of Prussia mall, which has a very cool Lego store. They had a Lego Death Star. How awesome is that?!

It costs more than my first car.

Lily was pretty good, but she's really into riding escalators. The Nordstrom's has three stories. Lily wanted to go up two stories and then back down to the ground floor, but I told her we were only going to go up down, but she said "Why can't we go up up down down?" and I said "Dude, you sound like the cheat code to Contra."

I realized that I loved living in 2011 because I can just talk into my phone and it gives me turn by turn directions to wherever I want to go and my biggest complaint is that the directions were slightly less than optimal.

Lily and I were looking at Wired magazine, and it had a woman engineer on the cover. We were talking about how girls can be scientists too. I asked Lily who her favorite scientist was and she said me!

Lily occasionally has nightmares, and she'll wake up and say, always in the same quavering tone of voice, "I had a bad dream!" She did this on Saturday morning and I said to Jen that she sounds like Martin Luther King from the anti-matter universe.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Mana from heaven

Phoenix, phoenix, burning bright

Even though the title says Roger Zelazny Book Review, this is a review of the short story and not Scott Zrubek's collection of a similar name. I just called it a book review to keep things standardized.  I was indifferent to this story the first time I read it, and I slowly grew to dislike it more and more. It doesn't help that it seems to find itself in the mix every time somebody puts together a collection of Zelazny's stories. (The same can be said of The Furies and Corrida, but I give them each a pass, because The Furies is good and at least Corrida is short.)

If I may digress for a moment, part of the problem with modern fantasy and sci-fi is that earlier creators didn't have a roadmap, so necessity forced them draw on many different resources. I'll use George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien as examples. George Lucas was inspired by Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell and Tolkien drew on his own experience as a linguist and a soldier in the trenches of the Great War, as well as a large number of real world myths. 

Most modern fantasy authors aren't reaching that far back for inspiration; they're emulating Lord of the Rings itself and all the little details that made LotR great are lost, like a hundredth generation photocopy.

And that's what this feels like. It has all the elements of a Zelazny story, but it never feels like one.  It reads like something I would have written in high school, when I thought the trappings of mythology and a smart-mouthed tough guy were all I needed to write the next Chronicles of Amber.

Pheonix is a superhuman threatened by another of his kind. He doesn't know who he can trust, so he goes around and talks to a bunch of his peers in turn...blahblahblah. He's Corwin, but boring. I certainly didn't originate the concept of a Zelazny archetype built around a few core traits (though I've certainly referenced it often enough) , but it seems like Phoenix is nothing but a collection of those traits.

I think a big part of the problem is that Larry Niven said "Come play in my playground" and invited a bunch of writers to write stories in his "Warlock Universe", and it's possible the story reads better as part of an anthology. Meaning that it doesn't really stand out on its own, but it might get away with the just the superficial aspects of Zelazny's style when compared to a number of different authors each of whom has his or her own manner of writing. No sense in trying something risky and experimental for an audience who may not be familiar with your works. I haven't read the anthology, so I don't know how it works in that context. Taken alone, it's a pretty weak Zelazny story, but it's possible that it might be a good Warlock story.

Though taking someone else's setting and writing a story in your own style has its own kind of appeal. It reminds me a of a thread on the Straight Dope message board, "What if the Lord of the Rings had been written by someone else?" There are at least two Zelazny versions of LotR there.

Trumps of Khjazad-Dum (I love that title) describes a fight between Merlin and the Balrog of Moria and  Nine Rings in Mordor casts Aragorn in the mold of Corwin. The full versions of each story are at the respective links.

It was quite a battle. The balrog was big, and it was nasty. It reminded me of Dad's old friend Sigmund, who used to tell me that if I didn't deal with my family issues, some big nasty monster would come up and bite me on the ass. Which it was presently doing.

On this particular shadow, they call me Gandalf, or sometimes Mithrandir, or sometimes Olorin. Which is close enough to the truth, anyway. This isn't my favorite place to be, it's no club med, but Random needed help, something about a ring that one of my uncles made. Once again, I should have paid attention to all those things that Dworkin used to talk about.

The hot ashes dropping from my pipe jerked me back to wakefullness and I swore quietly to avoid waking the hobbits sharing the room with me. One of them, I think it was the one they called Merry, stirred briefly but settled back down again. Good. They had questions that I hadn't thought of answers for yet.

The most amusing bit about the story is that Mana from Heaven later appeared in the Manna from Heaven. This isn't a typo; I think it's the Collected Stories that points out that this is a rather subtle pun. That doesn't stop me from hoping for a deluxe Mannna from Heaven collection in a couple of years.

Just a brief amount of random stuff

As the title say, just a brief amount of random stuff.

I love listening to college radio. REM got their start on college stations thirty years ago and I heard a song from their newest album just the other day. I also caught Strange Names by Steve Forbert. It's a song about the strange names of New Jersey towns. As a Jersey native I found it pretty funny.

(If you're reading this on Facebook, you have to click on to "See original post" to see the embedded video.)

This article had an amusing look at the ratio of Republican presidential candidates to ex-wives and the family values party doesn't come out looking too good.  I couldn't help but imagine Milton from Office Space mumbling: "The ratio of people to cake is too big."

We watched The Love Bug, the first of the Herbie movies for our latest Wacky Wednesday, but Lily didn't dig it because it didn't have any princesses. I think her ideal movie would be if Batman teamed up with Scooby Doo and Belle to rescue some princesses.

I'm very disappointed that she's a Batman fan. It's because she likes his costume. She'll say "Batman rules!" and I''ll say "No, Superman rules!" Right now we've got the disc with "World's Finest" episodes where Batman and Superman team up, so we'll see how she likes that.

She's also a huge fan of Tiny Titans. We got a copy at a birthday party a couple months ago, and she just fell in love with it. That's all she ever wants for her bedtime stories anymore, which kind of annoys Jen.

She was very sweet at bed time the other night. Sometimes Jen or I will lay with her as she's falling asleep and she was just sleepily telling me "I love Mommy and Daddy more than anyone in the whole world."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Black Throne

I meant to review The Black Throne earlier, but I had a hard time finding the copy I was annotating on my trip back from Florida. I made some notes, and then I promptly misplaced the book. I did a little brushing up on Poe (My knowledge of his works is sadly limited to some long ago AP English classes.) I found the book a couple days ago and then lost it almost immediately thereafter.

Zelazny clearly liked Poe enough to take a line from one of his poem for one of his stories. (A Night in the Lonesome October. It's taken from Poe's Ulalume). Poe also appears as a character in Psychoshop, but in the part that Bester wrote.

At its heart, it's the story of three friends who meet as children - Annie, a girl possessed of powerful mesmeric abilities  and two versions of the same boy,  Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Perry. I thought that was kind of clever, because though I'm by no means any kind of Poe expert, I knew enough that he had used the name Edgar Perry when enlisting in the Army.

Years, later when all three are adults, Annie is kidnapped. In order to take her from her world,  Poe and Perry must be exchanged in accordance with a Changeling-like cosmic balance.

There are some notable differences between the two worlds. The first is that people from our world have profound resistance to the intoxicating effects of alcohol and the mesmeric forces that exist in the other world. I liked this. It's not a trope often used in SF, where our world is clearly the stronger one, and it's a consistantly maintained theme throughout the book, which serves greatly to enhance the sense of place.

Perry is by now a a sergeant in the Army and he is recruited by a man with the awesome name of Seabright Harrison. It's a shame that I don't have the book handy, because Harrison's explanation of his motives is a scene I really enjoyed. Perry notices that Harrison is clearly very wealthy and observes that his motivation must be love or revenge. Harrison corrects him, saying that with Annie, the kidnappers can generate enough gold to devalue his investments, and that his financial interests dovetail neatly with Perry's own personal ones.

Perry is an enjoyable protagonist, and I think it's the presence of Saberhagen that prevents him from becoming as sardonic as most of Zelazny's characters. And I like the Zelazny Archetype, but it's a nice change of pace to see someone a little different in what's otherwise a Zelazny story.

Several of Poe's better known characters assist him in this quest, among them the dead man M. Ernest Valdema, the enchanting Ligeia, who has mesmeric powers of her own, the gentleman detective C. Auguste Dupin, a certain orangutan, a certain raven and Marie Roget. And this is both the book's strength and its weakness. We occasionally switch over to Poe's perspective in our world. He has taken Perry's place, and as he has the sensitive constitution of those of the other earth, he quickly succumbs to alcoholism. He is still linked to Perry in some manner, however, and has dreams of his counterpart's adventures and writes them down, thereby producing the stories for which Poe is known.

I liked Coils, their earlier collaboration. The Black Throne starts out promising, but then it just seems to descend into a mishmash of Poe's greatest hits. I'm certainly guilty of this. For my online RPG, I stole just about every element of Zelazny that wasn't bolted down. (We had a story arc where the reinforcements from Avalon were instrumental in closing the Gateway in the Great Game. And it was AWESOME!)

My big complaint about it is that the authors don't make much of an attempt to provide a framework for the story. First we're swimming in allusions to Poe; then we're drowning in them. After a clever gambit to get him there, the authors just have Perry lurch from one Poe story to the next. Valdemar was a unique character quite unlike anything else in fiction...unless you count his earlier appearance in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar". The ending is not great. (Rocks Fall, just about everybody dies. Ooops, spoilers.)

It has its moments. The use of the language of the time, specifically,  "incarnadined" does an excellent job as establishing it as a period piece. I knew enough about Poe's works to have some fun playing, "Hey, identify that reference!" I think the best thing about the story is that it inspired me to read more of Poe's works.

Call them lies

Like anyone, (or at least, like any twelve-year old) I sometimes get involved in fights on the internet. As the xkcd strip goes:

I'll fight back on things that I should really let go, and I'll pursue things so vigorously that I win on facts, but lose in the court of public opinion.   There are arguments from which I'll walk away, but if I do engage, I'll fight to win. (As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If you shoot at a king you must kill him.”) That's just who I am (and this trait doubtless accounts for my high blood pressure).

That's why I can't understand National Public Radio's reaction to the smear campign directed against it.

Basically, two men posing as members of a Muslim organization met a senior NPR official for lunch. They spoke for two hours and made six overtures to buy favorable coverage, and each and every time they were rebuffed in no uncertain terms.

About a month after the exchange, a heavily doctored video was released online. When I say doctored, I don't mean it was "inappropriately edited" as the tepid criticism voiced in NPR's later reports timidly suggested. I mean it was chopped up to the extent that comments early in the conversation were being presented as answers to questions that hadn't been asked yet. It's a complete and utter fabrication.

It was planned by James O'Keefe whose whole career is based around this kind of thing. You may remember him from the ACORN videos which were also "inappropriately edited" and crippled a 40-year-old organization that had worked tirelessly to get housing and healthcare for the poor. This Post from another blog has a good breakdown on the kind of things he's done.

Anyway, the video surfaces, and NPR management says "That O'Keefe boy seems like a credible source. Let's take this video at face value and fire the executive featured in it before we can get any facts about it!"

And they did. They were bending over backwards so as not to appear to be criticizing him. Coverage was positively hagiographic, for lack of a better word, "Crusading citizen journalist  James O'Keefe III bravely exposed the rot at NPR's core..."

I blogged about something similar at this this post, which covered Shirley Sharrod's firing. She was, and stop me if this sounds familiar, a left of center individual abruptly fired when doctored footage made it appear that she was saying something that she wasn't.

This is another post that highlights the almost instinctual desire to cave displayed by any liberal on the national stage. (Not that I think that NPR is especially liberal, except in the sense that reality, as they say, has a liberal bias.) Money quote from that post: Both [Wisconsin Governor] Walker and NPR’s Schiller were caught saying bad things but doing nothing wrong (though Walker arguably intimated that doing wrong was seriously contemplated). The difference is that NPR acted like they did something wrong, and Walker served the world a giant slice of fuck you marblecake.

I'm a worrier. If I get an email at work from a client questioning my research, my heart goes into overdrive, even though I know I do quality work and keep excellent documentation supporting my conclusions. Even so, though, when someone questions me, I automatically think I'm wrong and they're right. When I get those emails, I go back and look at my notes, and see what's wrong, and it's really pretty rare that I make a big mistake. In spite of all that, I still have that knee-jerk fear when I'm criticized.

But I don't let it rule me. I don't act out of my fear. I go back, I look at all the information I have, and I act on it aggressively and forthrightly. (And if I'm wrong, I admit it. It's not easy to do, but it doesn't get any easy after a week of denials.) National democrats though, fold like a card table at the whiff of criticism, simultaneously emboldening and validating their critics. It's short-sighted, it's cowardly and it's just plain stupid.  Perhaps more importantly, this apparent tacit acceptance of the charges that they should be fighting alienates their most ardent supporters.

NPR's Ira Glass says "As somebody who works in public radio, it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it's biased news, it's left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it's not. And we are not fighting back, we are not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it."

It reminds of a line I like on The West Wing:  "But it's not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo. It's the ones we don't suit up for!"

At least the Republicans will fight for their interests. The Left just surrenders, over and over again. I feel like Walter in the Big Lebowski: "Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

The Left doesn't need to engage in false equivalences. It doesn't need to be nice to its attackers. What it needs to do is stand up and call these fabrications what they are. It needs to call them lies.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Roger Zelazny Casting Call: The Corwin Chronicles

I've decided to expand on the casting for an Amber movie, just because I had a fun time touching on it in my review of Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber a couple days ago.

My usual go-to choice for Corwin is Clive Owen, but I went with Timothy Dalton in the first post because the Trump in the Visual Guide looks just look like Dalton. If I'm not mistaken, both men have green eyes too. I tend to prefer Owen in the role on most days, so that's what I'm going with today.

"Talk is cheap. Whiskey costs money."
I sometimes think of Chris Sarandon as Humperdink as Eric. Not that there is any resemblance between how Eric is described and how Humperdink appears, but I was exposed to both Amber and the Princess Bride at about the same time and over time, the two adversarial princes got combined into a single entity.

"...I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I'm swamped."

(And on a similar note, I still like Christopher Walken as Julian, but maybe Christopher Guest as Count Rugen can be his understudy)

Chris Kovacs came up with Robert Downey Jr. as  Random, which is an excellent choice on which I can find nothing to improve.

"Look, they're making a movie! Robert Downey, Jr. is shooting it out with the police."

"I don't see any cameras."

He also nominated Gérard Depardieu as Gérard, and while I'm always partial to David Morse, I think Depardieu just slightly edges him out.

 "I can kill you, Corwin. Do not even be certain that your blade will protect you, if I can get my hands on you but once."

I suppose I'd cast Emma Thompson as Llewella, but who really gives a shit? Does anybody read the Chronicles of Amber and go away thinking "Llewella was my favorite character"? You could give this part to a mannequin with a good agent. Merlin kept a piece of string tied to his wrist, and it got more lines in one book and one short story than Llewella did in the entire series.


I was thinking a young Marcia Cross as Fiona, but then I though of Tilda Swinton. She's got frightful intelligence and absolute self-possession one needs to play Fiona, but she's really too tall and if I recall correctly, Fiona's height is given at 5'2". Julianne Moore is another possibility, but I cast her in everything. Maybe Gillian Anderson. She's short and has shown a willingness to dye her hair red.

David Tennant could do a really good Brand, I think. Take one part the Doctor, one part Hamlet and the combine with some red hair dye. He's got the manic intensity to pull it off.

Go sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here.

And to finish up the redheads, I'm pretty happy with Kenneth Branagh as Bleys. I think he's finally finished making a movie out of everything William Shakespeare has ever written, so perhaps he's ready to play a prince of Amber with all of his dash and charm.

Benedict was giving me a lot of trouble but I think I finally found the right actor in a young Christopher Lee. At 6'5" he's tall enough to loom even over bigger guys like Corwin and he just has absurd amount of presence.

Caine is a tricky one. Antonio Banderas is a more talented actor than people tend to give him credit for. (I'm told that he learned and delivered his lines in The Mambo Kings phonetically, which still continues to impress me.) His English still has an accent, though it's certainly better than my Spanish and if we can bring back Audrey Hepburn from the dead to appear in this movie we can certainly get Antonio Banderas a dialect coach.

Flora was the other one that held up this post. I always thought Téa Leoni was really attractive, but apparently only David Duchovny agrees with me.

Seriously, though, she's super hot.

I had considerable difficulty finding someone to play her. I was going back and forth on this with a friend, and I said that I imagine Flora as someone really beautiful somewhere in her thirties, with a maturity about her, and all these actresses these days are so young. (And if you'll excuse me, I need to wave a rake at some darn kids who won't get off my lawn.)

It took a lot of looking at pictures of attractive women, which was a bit of a chore, but one I'm willing to suffer for this project, but I finally decided on Virginia Madsen to play Flora. She's mature, but still extremely attractive, and has the adult beauty, and more importantly, the poise needed for the part.

So, that's that. In the next day or two, I'll combine all the images into one page.

Honey ice cream and a lack of ducks

We've been having a pretty nice week. I took Lily to see Rango because I started writing for an online magazine and that was the movie I was assigned to review. I'll link to it when it goes up. She enjoyed it despite a couple scary parts, and Jen enjoyed her time alone with her episodes of Glee.

I can't believe how much fun it is playing with the little Scott & Romona plushies with Lily. The specifics of the story usually varies, but the general plot is the same. The boy is irritating and the girl wants him to leave her alone. This morning she was trying to take a nap and the boy burst into her room and asked "Maybe you'd like to hear me sing a particularly irritating folk song with several hundred choruses?" Later on, the girl ran him over with her car, then put it in reverse and backed over him again.  Not incidentally, talk of playing with the dolls is one of the few things that really motivate her to jump out of bed in the morning.

She's also really enjoying the They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science CD. "I am a paleontologist" is the breakaway hit. The songs are catchy enough that we don't mind listening to them.

We spent some time visiting Jen's friends at the parks department for the maple sugaring class. We had a lot o fun running around and playing Ice Cream store, where she gave Baby Bear some honey ice cream with bee sprinkles on top.

Then we went to downtown Clinton. I used to spend a lot of time there with my buddy Tim and the place hasn't really changed a lot in the past 20 years. The same shops closing ridiculously early. The famous Clinton Mill. One time, Tim and I were feeding the ducks and we decided to see if we could get them to go off the waterfall. It took about fifteen minutes and the duck just glided down safely to the bottom when it realized what was happening.
The famous Clinton mill! Not pictured: Ducks.

Lily had a hot dog and some ice cream and she wound up with a tummy ache. Kids can sometimes be kind, but they're generally just monstrously selfish. That's why I was so happy to hear Lily say to Jen, "I'm glad that you didn't eat as much as I did, because then you'd have a tummy ache too." It's not easy to think about someone else's comfort when you're uncomfortable, especially when you're a little kid, and I'm pleased and impressed that she did.

Of course, not everything was peaches and gravy this weekend. I went to the doctor on Friday and he put me on some medication for my blood pressure. We'll see how that goes. I've been eating like a slob because of my dissatisfaction with my job, and not getting as much exercise as I could, both of which are aggravating factors for something to which my family is already predisposed. So, bleh.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Visual Guide to Castle Amber

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny are a fantastic resource, but not one I consult when writing these reviews, simply because the commentary there is so incisive that it would be too easy to unconsciously incorporate the observations there into my own work if I started reading it before I had an idea of the form a particular entry will take. So, if I read it at all, it's right before I publish, to see if I overlooked something blindingly obvious.

That's what I did this time around and I saw that I had pretty much said the same things about it that people have been saying since its release at the end of the 80s and that Chris Kovacs already covered the points that I was going to make when he looked at it in the "And Call Me Roger..." segment.

I'm not sure I even consider it a proper Zelazny book. The book was written by Neil Randall and Roger Zelazny, though Zelazny's contributions seemed to be limited to answering the questions Randall posed to him. I don't feel that's a role to which he's entirely suited, because by his own accounts, he makes up his worlds as he goes along, often having no idea how a story will end when he begins writing it. And it's possible for him to reverse engineer it to an extent, by remembering what he's written, determinging what would lead to that state of events and projecting where they might go in the future, but it's not as if Amber had been rigorously planned from the beginning.

Randall plugs his Amber choose-your-own-adventure books (Black Road War & Seven No Trump) a couple times but I'm okay with that because I happened to like them. My biggest complaint is that I read Black Road War right before I started The Hand of Oberon for the very first time and Zelazny casually mentions that Oberon is Ganelon in the introduction.

It's probably the best semi-canonical work in regards to giving the neglected princesses some real character. Sometimes it's a mess, when it suggests that Gérard played defensive tackle for a college team. We never get an official age in the books for any of the princes, except for Benedict, who by Corwin's account is "several" millennia old. Gerard was at least a young adult when Corwin was banished to the London during the plague and that was several centuries ago. I suppose it's possible that Gérard played football as an undergrad on some adjacent shadow, but a more likely explanation is that Randall or Zelazny just didn't think that one through.

Showing how each royal decorates his or her room was really clever. I like maps of the room, and the little details, like Julian's bearskin rugs or Fiona's Scandinavian decor.  I was amused by the account of Bleys's chess match with Tlingel the unicorn, though it's not something I'm inclined to treat as canon. I especially like the characterization of Diedre as an urbane Manhattanite and "the first to comfort the grieving Yoko Ono", and I will forever after imagine her as Audrey Hepburn wearing a black turtleneck.

I really liked the art in the book with a few exceptions. (Why, exactly, was Fiona's head so flat? Why did you give the unicorn those horrifying goat eyes? Gérard looks like he's really enjoying that goblet of wine.) It got me thinking about the perennial pastime of Amber fans, the casting of the hypothetical Amber movie.

I'm terrible at this, but I have a couple of suggestions:

If the artist is to be believed, we should absolutely go with Timothy Dalton as Corwin. I like him in The Lion in Winter (one of my favorite movies), but he's just too young in that role to play Corwin.

Eric Bana as Eric, naturally.

Christopher Walken as Julian. In my most recent reading of the books, Julian came across as emotionally stunted, what with his awkward wooing of his sister and "his slow, almost impeded way of speaking". There is about each of them and I think Walken would be a great fit. Ideally, I'm thinking young Walken, like from the Deer Hunter or Annie Hall.

"I enjoy slaughtering beasts and I think of my relatives constantly. Please brothers, scooch closer."

Audrey Hepburn as Diedre, as per above.

Brendon Gleeson in his role as Menelaus as Ganelon 

Bernard Hill in his role as Théoden as Oberon

And finally Justin Bieber as Merlin.

Ha ha ha. Fuck Merlin.

 I may be back for the characters I missed, because this was kind of fun.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nice and Nerdy

We had a pleasant weekend. I showed Star Wars to Lily for the first time. She loves princesses, so I told her that this movie had a space princess, so that was an easy sell.

I noticed at the beginning that the Tantive IV was firing back at the Star Destroyer, and I was thinking, "What's the point?' because it wasn't until Return of the Jedi that the things started exploding like pintos whenever something brushed against them.

She kept calling Chewbacca "The Monkey" and the first time she said it, I only caught the second half and thought she said "Wookie" and I  thought she was some sort of Star Wars savant who just instinctively knew the names of various alien species.

She liked the twins that show up for one second in the cantina and the monster in the trash compactor, but her attention kept wandering.  We ran out of time right after they escaped from the Death Star,  and we'll pick up with the rest of the movie in a couple days.

I bought TMBG's "Here Comes Science" off Amazon and it's a really solid album. I burned it to a disc and we we had a nice Saturday afternoon of listening to the album and looking up pictures in "The Illustrated Atlas of the Universe." Though it was awkward when a song about the solar system ended and Lily said "I want to see a picture of Uranus!"

It's an excellent book and Lily really enjoyed the pictures that compared the relative size of the planets. Jen and I really like astronomy (one of my fondest childhood memories is the time my father took me to the beach for pre-dawn astronomy program) and I'm glad that Lily enjoys it too. My friend Jen is a big astronomy nerd too, but she hangs out with a bad crowd.

We know you are, Doctor Tyson!

There's also a song on the album called "I am a Paleontologist" and after listening to that, Lily said she wanted to teach a dog to be a paleontologist. "Because they already know how to dig!"

We also went a local park and played on the swings, and played some hide and seek. I hid in the car. A winner is me! We also made a run to the library and I picked up a collection of Jack Prelutsky's poetry to read to Lily. It was just a really nice weekend.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ignore your teeth and they'll go away

I had a dentist appointment on Thursday afternoon. I like my dentist office, and dentists in general. Not that I spend a lot of time thinking about them one way or the other, but when I do, it's generally positive.

I work more than an hour away from where I live, but the dentists office is less than a mile away (Google maps said 2.0 miles, but since I made it in eight minutes without hustling and I am not, as far as I know, Usain Bolt, I think they gave me a more meandering route than I actually took.)

The office is perpetually understaffed, and I had an hour wait, but that's okay, because they had The Electric Company ("Heeeyyyy youuuuu guysssssss!") on in the lobby!  I didn't know they still made that! (Aha! Some quick Googling shows it was revived in 2009!) I used to love that show and I'd been thinking about it and other shows, because I'm always on the lookout for worthwhile stuff to show to Lily.

So after that wait, I got in the chair and did all the things one does at the dentist. After a while he came to me and said "Your teeth are in great shape-"


"-except for that suppurating abscess. We'd remove the tooth, but your blood pressure is too high."

High blood pressure certainty runs in my family, and while I do walk a couple miles every day, I'm under crazy stress at work (magnified by a commute that not infrequently stretches out to 90 minutes) and my diet is just a ball of sugar, salt and fat squeezed into a ball, and I'm older than I've ever been. (And now I'm even older.)  I should take better care of myself, but this job has been grinding me down for a long time. 

Lily, for instance. There's a good reason for taking care of myself.

Even at four, Lily has has an extremely fine distinction between real and make-believe. That's great, but sometimes, I feel that she's missing out on part of the sense of wonder of being a kid. So I was happy that Jen told me the story about a missing lovey, Baby Bear.

Baby Bear is her little pink bear that goes everywhere with her. Other favorites come and go, but Baby Bear is eternal. (Though it's more reincarnation than immortality, as we've located a source of Baby Bears online and we try to keep a spare sandbagged in my sock drawer in case of emergency.)

We couldn't find our first Baby Bear and the other had already been left behind elsewhere, so Lily had to go Bearless into her day. Once we all got home and started looking again around bedtime, Jen shook out Lily's blue blanket, just as she had in the morning, and Baby Bear fell out on to the floor.

Lily's eyes got huge, and she said "They really do come to life!" When we asked her what she meant, she said that she was thinking of the Toy Story movies, where the toys scurry around on their own when they're not being observed, and they might cling to the back of a blanket as it's being shaken out. I thought that was really cute.

I came home from work on Tuesday night in a pretty good mood and realized as soon as I came through the back door that I had forgotten my phone. So I said that and opened the door to go back out to retrieve it when Lily said "Can I come? I have long sleeves on!" and I said yeah and we both went out to grab my phone. As I opened the door, she saw the little Scott and Romona plushies I'd had sitting at my desk at work for the past couple weeks, but which I recently brought home.

"Are those for me?!" she gushed, and what was I supposed to say, no, those are daddy's dolls? So she fell in love with them, and we've played with them every night since. At first they were siblings and Baby Bear was their mother. Then Baby Bear became Romona's adopted mom (she was raised by bears) and Scott became the boy who pesters her all the time. Baby Bear bites him on the heiney when he looks away and Romona yells "hi-ya" like Miss Piggy and karate chops him all the time. We watched Scooby Doo for our Wacky Wednesday movie, and Romona (played by Lily)  offered commentary for Scott (played by me). I was asking easy questions to allow to provide some chance for her to segue into exposition. I asked "What's Halloween?" and I think she was role-playing Romona when she huffed and said don't you know anything?"

She's got a mint in her mouth, which is why her cheek looks like that. Her smile is normally much cuter.