Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Father's Day, Sick Day

We were supposed to head up to New Hamshire over Father's Day weekend, but Lily got sick. She threw up in the morning, then slept a lot. The original plan had been to take Jen up to work, then return in her car to pick her up and head directly to New Hampshire from there. Lily's sickness called that into question, and we figured we'd make the call during the day. If she improved, we'd go. If she didn't, we wouldn't.

She slept all day and during a brief period when she was awake, I asked her if she thought we should cancel, and she said yes. So I made the decision, and I put her in the car and we drove over to pick up Jen.

I suppose it's just as well that we decided that we weren't going, because Jen's brakes failed when I was driving, suddenly and almost completely. We later learned that the brake line had broken and all the fluid had leaked out.

I don't know why Jen's car hates me so. It broke down the last time I drove it too. But Jen's the one who keeps getting in car accidents. (Though in her defense, she's always the one getting hit.) The car should hate her!

Lily is a very good patient on the rare occasion she gets sick. Aside from her burn about a year ago, she hasn't had any major injuries or illnesses. She listens, she mostly sleeps, she drinks the broth and fluids that I bring her, and she does her best to get well.

A few days after Lily recovered, Jen and I started coming down with the same thing. I woke up feeling queasy, and thought a big breakfast would settle my tummy, but I took a very rapid turn for the worse over the course of about fifteen minutes.

And this is an example of how we reap what we sow, because Lily was so kind and took such good care of me when I was sick. She said, "I want to take care of you as you did of me when I was sick."

Jen and I each got it worse than Lily, but we recovered from the high fever and I went to a family gathering on Thursday. I commented to Jen the next day that I must be leading a more sedentary lifestyle than I thought since I began working out of a home office, because my feet were killing me after just one long day.

To add to our misery, Jen also caught a nasty case of poison ivy despite having been a naturalist for almost twenty years. By the time the weekend rolled around, the blisters on my feet had transmogrified into some blotchy rash. Jen's poison ivy had also spread to her feet and we were beginning to suspect that our initial diagnosis was in error. So we returned to the Google. Jen started typing in "rash hands" and the auto-fill prompt suggested completing the query with "and feet only."

It was the dreaded head, shoulders, knees and toes disease. It usually afflicts preschoolers, and what we think must have happened is that Lily was already infected when she left school on Wednesday and it was incubating. This is supported by the fact that we learned that one her classmates went home and infected her family.

Father's Day was nice. It was the intermediate period when Lily was feeling better and Jen and I were not yet sic. I woke up early and sat down at the computer and Lily said, "You look really tired, daddy. Why don't you go back to bad and get some more sleep?"

So I did, and got a Father's Day breakfast in bed and it was nice. Lily always has a little kid's excitement when she thinks she's pulling one over on a grown up in service of a good cause.

We watched the Karate Kid on Sunday. It's a fun 80s movie. I think the thing that struck me that while a lot of the people in the movie are good looking (it was a Hollywood picture, after all) , they're not generically, homogeneously attractive like teenagers in 2012 era films. The other thing that struck me is that Elizabeth Shue has thicker arms than Ralph Macchio. Also, if you watch the closing credits, you see that Karate Kid from the Legion of Super-Heroes is used with permission of DC comics.

Speaking of Karate, Lily wanted to know how to throw a punch after seeing the Karate Kid, so I taught her some basics about how to stand and how to make a fist. I don't want her to hit other kids, but I don't want her breaking her thumb by putting it inside the fist if she does. We're hoping to get her involved in some kind of extracurricular activity and I would be very supportive of martial arts if that's the route she wants to go. One of her friends is already taking a class, so we'll have to call the school and see if they allow prospective students to sit in on a class before enrolling.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Watching Cartoons with Lily: Buffalo or Bison

My friend Feighlogh had recommended Avatar: The Last Airbender a long time ago, and I hadn't really watched more than a few minutes until sitting down with Lily today. Long time readers of the blog will know that I'm occasionally easily entertained, but this exchange from the show just cracked me up.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mad for Mad Men

This post was supposed to follow the Mad for Mad Libs one, but I got busy and never finished it.

I first saw Mad Men about a month before my great aunt died. It fell to us to clean out her house, and it just struck me that the style of her place was firmly rooted in that era. The events were close enough together that whenever I watch the show, I think of her.

Jen and I are working through it on Netflix, and I like it and part of the appeal is figuring out why I like it. It's a show about an advertising agency in the 60s staffed by a bunch of alcoholic assholes. And I've mentioned that part of my dislike of Firefly is that I think that the characters are a bunch of assholes. So why do I like these assholes, but not those assholes?

I don't want to turn this into my usual rag on Joss Whedon, but as the show prominently features two Whedon alums, in the form of Christina Hendricks (Saffron from Firefly) and Vincent Kartheiser (Connor from Angel) I think comparisons are inevitable. And I'm not going to say whether Mad Men is a better show than Firefly*, but rather, try to examine why I like one and not the other.

The name of my blog comes from a line from one of Roger Zelazny's stories, and he wrote his Master's thesis on The Revenger's Tragedy, and made a career writing characters with "a hate so big it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty." So I'm not averse to works with borderline villainous protagonists.

I like another author named Glen Cook. He's probably most well known for his "Black Company" series, which chronicles the stories of a mercenary company of the same name. I discovered him at about the same time I did Zelazny, and I like him for a lot of the same reasons. He had a line in one of his later books that went something like "Most bad people aren't bad all the time, and when they are, it's mostly in small ways."

I think that's one of the best observations on human nature I've ever read. Most bad people are bad in mostly small ways, though those bad acts have a disproportionate impact on those over whom they have power.

The people in Mad Men are bad people. At times, Don Draper is straight up evil.

The people in Firefly are bad people too. But as I observed in my Avengers review,  the most thuggish criminal, if he's funny, nice to his friends, and allowed to present events from his point of view, will look like a nice guy.

I think the difference, at least for me, is that sympathetic point of view. We only see the crew of the Serenity at their best and that serves to color the audience's perspective. When someone in Mad Men does something bad, we see the people that it hurts. To put it another way, the characters in Mad Men don't get away with being bad, and they never seem happy except in small or temporary ways.

However,  that difference is by design. I'm actually even going to defend Firefly a little bit. My friend Eric says that Firefly is very archetypal in that the characters tend to be the sum of their profession, and that's a very western thing. Jayne is "The Mercenary".  Simon is "The Doctor". They have some distinguishing characteristics, but not a lot of nuance and at the end of the day, they're pretty much the same person they were when they began it. And I think that's a feature, not a bug.

I think it's the subtle truths of characterization and setting that sold me on the show. I particularly like January Jones, which is kind of funny, because I thought she was pretty awful when I first saw her in X-Men: First Class.  There's a certain je ne sais quoi to her performance. She talks with a kind of a flat affect, and given the way I speak, God knows I have no room to criticize anyone for that, but I like it in her. And I think her character is what I like about the show the most. I like taking things apart and seeing what makes them tick. She really makes me believe that there's so much more going on in Betty's head than what she says out loud.

Don is great for that too, when he cocks his head and squints, it reminds me of a line from (who else?) Roger Zelazny: "He photographed me with his magpie eyes in the following second, and I knew that the machine that lay behind them was already spinning its wheels like a demon on an exercise-bike."

Vincent Kartheiser is enjoyably deplorable as Pete Campbell, but I think the character I like the most is Joan Holloway played by Christina Hendricks. When I first started watching the show, I asked a friend if she had ever seen it. She said she didn't have any interest, because she had heard all about the casual bigotry of the era and she didn't think she could enjoy the show because there's still so much of that fifty years later.

I always think of that observation when Joan is on the screen. She's the office manager and head of the secretarial pool, and she's pretty, of course, but extremely professional, and whip smart. In an episode in the second season, she takes on additional duties proofreading scripts because the broadcast department is overloaded. She enjoys it, but she's so good at it, that her work  convinces the senior partners of the necessity of a full time position, and she's replaced with a guy who doesn't know what he's doing. The thing that gets me is that you only see the most fleeting disappointment cross her face, though she must be devastated.

But she's still a professional, so she congratulates the new guy, who knows nothing about the job he'll be doing, and agrees to assist him when he asks, and goes back to her old position.

Jen thinks that her supervisor felt threatened, but I think that it was done without malice, that it just never occurred to him that a woman could do the job for real. And I think that this is what my friend was getting at, that even smart, beautiful, professional women were relegated to menial roles back then.

I did enjoy her casual smackdown of one of the copywriters when he went to far with her. The previous night, Joan had met his African-American girlfriend at a party, and in the early sixties, interracial dating was very rare.
Kinsey: What did you say to Sheila?
Joan: Who?
Kinsey: Sheila. (Pause) My girlfriend. 

Joan: Describe her to me.
Kinsey: Very funny.
Joan: I know what's first on the list.

Kinsey: You're just jealous.
Joan: Because you're the one who got away? You, out there, in your poor little rich boy apartment in Newark or wherever. Walking around with your pipe and your beard. Falling in love with that girl just to show just how interesting you are. (Pause) Go ahead. (Pause) What part is wrong?

Bonus! Click through here for the Mad Men Alignment Chart!

*It totally is, though.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Superman vs. The Elite

Lily and I watched the movie on Monday. I put it in the viewer and started the movie and when Lily realized it was a Superman movie, she asked, "Daddy, why do you like Superman so much?"

So I paused it and went upstairs and picked up a comic book and showed her two of my very favorite pages featuring Superman and had her read the panels.

I wasn't expecting great things going in. I was acutely disappointed in the last DCU animated movie I saw. (Justice League: Doom.) I'm a pretty big Superman fan and even I didn't think this looked good. I thought the story on which it was based was well-intentioned, but lacking in nuance, and if there's anything I hate more than people reducing a position I hold to a strawman and attacking that, it's people who share my opinions attacking a strawman built from the other side, and and I think that's what was going on in Action Comics 775. I thought Kingdom Come got there first and did it better.

However, it is three-quarters of a really good movie. The voice acting is great. I always enjoy George Newbern as Superman, Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame is pleasantly raspy as Lois, and Robin Atkin Downes kicks all kind of ass as Manchester Black.

So, the movie.

It's not easy to write Superman. This movie has a lot of little details that really show an understanding of what Superman is all about. One of the bits I like best is when Lois and Clark are walking along a city street, and this man, glowing and near death from an attack by the Atomic Skull, says, "Help me," and that's what Clark does, instinctively opening his arms to catch the man.

Some time later, he encounters a group of superpeople, the Hat, Menagerie, Coldcast and of course, Manchester Black. I like everything about Black, his attitude, his design and of course, that name.

(I'll confess that I didn't particularly care for the look they gave Superman in this outing, but I think it looks a lot better in motion than in stills.)

More like Superman's chin versus the Elite.

Also, speaking of character designs. The Hat looks an awful lot like Jigen from Lupin III when he's lying in the field.

They work together to save some people in one of those fictional Middle Eastern countries that exist only in DC comics. Superman isn't sure what to make of these newcomers. That's another detail I like. Superman believes in the good in everyone, but he's not blindly trusting. He's going to give them an opportunity, but he's going to perform his due diligence too. Clark Kent, you may remember, won a Pulitzer for his reporting.

So he tracks Manchester down in England and they chat a little. This is another really well done scene, because you get the impression that Manchester's crew have good intentions, but a legitimate difference of opinion on how to make the world a better place. (I also like that they're starstruck when they meet him in person "You're really tall.")

A terrorist attack occurs while they're in England, and Superman asks for their help. Manchester protests, saying their powers are only good for "kicking the snot out of wankers". Superman says it will be a good test of their imagination, and takes off and they do help him with damage control and disaster relief.  I like that bit. Superman calls on them to be the best that they can and they rise to the challenge.

And they look like they're going to be heroes right up until the point when Menagerie and Coldcast show up with the terrorists they captured and Manchester starts torturing them for information right in front of Superman.

Vera, Manchester's sister tips off Lois and this was a small encounter that I liked "My brother is misguided and angry, Miss Lane. He saved my life. I'd like to save his."

The Atomic Skull escapes prison and goes on a rampage. It's a pretty good fight scene. It's just visceral when he leaps on top of Coldcast and starts pummeling him, and showing it from Coldcast's point of view was a nice touch.

Superman and the Elite take him down, but not before he kills a bunch of people and Superman is unable to prevent Black from executing the Skull.

We get some man on the streets reaction and one I particularly liked was a woman saying "I've lived all my life in Metropolis. Superman's always been there for us, but so have the criminals he keeps putting away."

And this is when the movie starts to go completely off the rails.

Though there is one part I like, Black looking at Kandor when they come to the Fortress of Solitude to confront Superman.

Then it all sucks.

They challenge Superman to a throwdown at dawn and they fight on the moon. They go back and forth for a bit and the Elite get the upper hand, but then Superman flips the fuck out and starts murdering them, ranting how he sees that their way is the right way. He concludes the fight by burning out a portion of Black's brain with his heat vision.

But wait! It was just a trick! He was just pretending! He used all of his Superman robots to fake the deaths of the Elite. (Hey, Superman, maybe a better use for those robots would be protecting people from the Atomic Skull instead of just using them to punk Metropolis.) And he didn't really flip out, he was just making a point in the most idiotic way possible! And everybody's cool with this. Blarg! I'd spoiler tag this, but I watched it with a five-year old and she saw it coming. It was so good up until then.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A picture of me in my Amber hoodie

My wife snapped this when we were hiking on our camping trip and I thought it might be interesting for the Zelazny fans around here. It's a picture of me in the "God is Diceless" sweatshirt Phage Press used to sell along with the Amber Diceless RPG.

Children Learn what they Live

I love my daughter very much.

Lily on our camping trip

I tend to be oversensitive about a great many things, but never about Lily. When she gets mad, she'll say the most hurtful thing she can imagine. Lately, it's "I'm going to find my real daddy!" This really bothers Jen, who tends to be phlegmatic about most other things, but I'll just laugh and say, "Pass me my car keys. I'll help you find him."

I know that she loves me. I'm poisoned with uncertainty, but this is one thing I know for sure. I love that she thinks about things and pipes up with odd comments like "Ultron's not really indestructible, because the Hulk can break him," or "Did it hurt when Daredevil got chemicals in his eyes?"

I think she's going to face increasing pressure to conform and in a few years, she's going to drift towards her friends and away from mommy and daddy, and I think she'll lose interest in the games and the things we do together.

We were camping with another family last weekend, and the other mom had her Nook with her. (I had mine too, but hers had a lot more kid's games on it. Mine was mostly full of PDFs.) One of the games she had was FlipPix Art. It's a nonogram puzzle game, where you have to determine which squares on the grid have to be painted or broken based on the numbers above a specific column or row. If there is a 5 above a column, you know that five consecutive blocks must be painted, if there is a 1 2, it means that one block is painted, followed by a break, then two consecutive blocks must be painted in the same row. On the kiddie puzzles, the grid is 5 x 5, and at least one row has a clue that allows you to figure out the puzzle pretty easily.

I downloaded this game once we got home (It's free, huzzah!) and I have two little stories about it.

It's interesting to watch Lily play it. She has a superb memory. When we play memory games on the computer, I'll move the mouse and she'll tell me which cards to flip. She's rarely wrong. With the FlipPix puzzles, she's eschewing the clues almost entirely and trying to solve them through brute force, trial and error. If she makes a mistake, she'll make a note of it, reset the game and start that puzzle over. She's astoundingly tenacious, and this approach works for her, but I'm amazed she can do it without getting frustrated.

The other thing is, I thought it would be neat to show the game to Jen. Lily explained it to her, and Jen tried it out, but accidentally pressed the wrong button after she had highlighted a number of squares, and smashed them instead of painting them. She grumbled a little bit, but Lily just reached over and restarted the game, saying, "It's okay. We all make mistakes sometimes. I used to do that too." She was kind when she said it, and so gentle. It was the voice I try to use when talking to her.

I was thinking of the little Children Learn what the Live poem. My family had it when I was growing up and we have a copy on our fridge.

I think it's very true, and I'm glad that she's kind. And when she faces the peer pressure later in life, I hope we've helped her become a strong and gentle person who can weather the vicissitudes of childhood and come out on the other side.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Promoted from the Comments: A Night in the Lonesome October Tribute Issue

I thought I'd bump Chris's post up from the comments in case anyone missed it:

An upcoming Zelazny tribute, via Lovecraft.

Mad Lib Results

From the previous post:


Moe worked as a dolly grip, but didn't like it. One day, he skipped into his boss's office and sighed "By Jove! I quit!".

He croaked slyly, "I've had it up to my appendix with this squirrelly job. I want to be a zookeeper instead. It makes me feel merry."

(Jen realized that she forgot a second job, so she just provided it when I was filling this out.)


Chauncy Merriweather III worked as a professional amateur, but didn't like it. One day, he pranced into his boss's office and shrieked "Jumpin' Jugs o' Jazz Juice In a Jelly Jar! I quit!".

He hissed queasily, "I've had it up to my pinky knuckle with this fabulous job. I want to be a Good Humor Man instead. It makes me feel runcible."


Forepaw McDurkowitz worked as a butt inspector, but didn't like it. One day, he pogo-sticked into his boss's office and hissed "Miserable melon-muck! I quit!".

He regurgitated shamelessly, "I've had it up to my back hair with this under-cooked job. I want to be the assistant to the Chief of Spaghetti instead. It makes me feel misshapen."

(I like regurgitated. I think it's going to become part of my standard repertoire of talkisms)

Greg 1:

Yukon Cornelius worked as a taste tester , but didn't like it. One day, he gamboled into his boss's office and cackled "Jerk yourself a soda! I quit!".

He gurgled feverishly, "I've had it up to my uvula with this lugubrious job. I want to be a crash test dummy instead. It makes me feel bouncy."

Greg 2:

Iddawg the Churn of Prydain worked as a hot buttered elf butterer, but didn't like it. One day, he lurched into his boss's office and chanted "Wousers! I quit!".

He simpered sickeningly, "I've had it up to my frenulum with this adjectival job. I want to be a bunion rubber instead. It makes me feel buxom."