Monday, December 26, 2016

Still Doesn’t Fit

I made different choices that the rest of my family did. This is never more apparent than when I’m home for Christmas, because every goddamn impulse and instinct I have gets second-guessed. But it’s some family member who does this second-guessing; it’s me, projecting questions about why and how that I anticipate they’ll ask—or at least think about and then not mention, because they considering it for a second made them think better of asking.

Going home means not only the awkwardness of leaving your own house to stay in someone else’s, where the rules are different and the snack situation is just this baffling tragedy; it’s also the awkwardness of the fact that the old me still lives in my parents’ house. He kind of sucks. He spent years scurrying around trying to make other people happy in an effort to hide the fact that he wasn’t. Looking back on the old me, I can’t imagine where I found the energy.

The old me is tidily symbolized by a vintage ’90s Drew artifact I found in a storage bin, along with my high school graduation gown, some photo albums and the course catalogue I received before my freshman year of college.

It’s my letterman jacket.


Looking at it now, I can’t believe this is a thing I own. It’s not me. It wasn’t me then, and I knew that, but I ultimately said yes when I was told I would be receiving one as a present—in reward for athletic greatness that never really happened, I guess, and in a misguided to achieve some kind of status I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I remember being told it was an honor. It didn’t feel like one. A Neo-Geo would have been an honor, but I got this fucking jacket instead. I think I wore it once, felt like I was playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes and returned it to my locker before lunch. It didn’t work. I don’t think I thought it would work but the fact that I accepted it and tried it anyway just makes me realize how impossible it was for me to speak up for myself.

Now I don’t know what to do with it. My parents are moving out of the house I grew up in, and in a sense that’s good for me, because whatever bedroom I’ll be taking in the future won’t be haunted by the ghost of Old Drew. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out where to put this letterman jacket. In another storage bin? In my closet in Los Angeles as a stern reminder not to pretend I’m someone I’m not? In the garbage?

In one of those instances where the symbolism, should it be written this way in a novel, would be too on-the-nose, I would like to point out that sixteen years later, this fucking stupid jacket still doesn’t fit me. The sleeves are too long and too big—designed for a far more ripped human being, I guess—and I can’t even imagine how ridiculous this would have looked on my 150-pound frame back when I was a senior in high school.



It probably says a lot that I look at those sleeve cuffs enveloping my hands and have the reaction, “Hey, I’m wearing it like Party of Five-era Jennifer Love Hewitt.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Than a Smithers

In 1996, I didn’t know I was gay. But I knew something was up.

That year, The Simpsons aired the episode “Homer the Smithers,” in which Homer must fill in as Mr. Burns’ assistant while Mr. Smithers is on vacation. Whenever Smithers calls in to check on the situation, you see a quick peek at where he’s spending his away time, and in one scene in particular, Smithers mentions that “picture-taking isn’t allowed at this particular resort.” He’s in a dance club, and he hangs up the phone because there’s a line forming behind him.

It’s a conga line. And it’s all dudes.



Being twelve years old and generally clueless about the world, I didn’t know what to make of this scene. I can remember asking my mom what kind of vacation place wouldn’t allow photography, and she had no idea. I didn’t mention the conga line of men, because despite not having an inkling about myself, I felt like that wasn’t something I should be expressing curiosity about.

I also didn’t mention a later scene in which Smithers is towing a pyramid of male waterskiers, all of whom are wearing pink speedos.


I suppose I’m writing this for two reasons. First, when I did realize a few years later, I still didn’t know much about the world. This episode informed my idea of what gay men were like, at least to an extent, and I guess I figured one day I would be going to some weird beach resort where photography wasn’t allowed. I haven’t done that, at least not yet, and I don’t know when I learned that these types of vacations weren’t a requirement of being gay. (Going to Fire Island apparently is a requirement, but social media tells me that this trips are throughly documented with photos. In any case, Palm Springs is closer to Los Angeles.) When you don’t have access to information about what gay people actually do and when you sure as hell don’t talk to anyone about it, it’s strange how this little scraps of representation end up becoming all you have.

Watching this episode twenty years later—it just aired on Sunday as part of the FXX Thanksgiving marathon—I also realize that I never thought I would have gotten to the point I’m at now. I’m gay. Anyone who matters knows. And all that happened well before it happened for Smithers. Before high school, he was the only gay character I knew well, and at some point I guess I figured I’d end up like him: quietly and inconspicuously gay, never being outright with it, and somehow living a smaller life as a result. That didn’t happen. I didn’t ever think about it terms of me outpacing Smithers until now, but I’m glad it happened.

The other point is a harder one to put into words, but it has something to do with being a kid who’d grow up to be gay, not being consciously aware of those feelings and yet somehow going through life seeing things and occasionally saying “Oh, that.” I’m not sure what I thought my brain was doing, but it’s weird to be paying attention to something without understanding what the draw is, if that makes sense. It wasn’t always so obvious, either—although it certainly does explain childhood obsessions with princesses but also with barbarians—and sometimes I think I’d perceive something as being gay-coded without actually understanding what all that meant. Before the “Homer the Smithers” episode aired, I can remember being in a bookstore and seeing a magazine that had Waylon Smithers on the cover. It happened to be Genre, which I’d later learn was an LGBT publication. I didn’t know that at the time, but the cover read something like “Is Waylon Smithers one of us?” on a bright pink background. This happened at a point in my life where I’d buy anything with a Simpsons character on it, but something told me that no, I shouldn’t ask to buy this particular magazine.

I’ve no idea what chain of decisions led me to skip it—not even pick it off the shelf, if I remember correctly—but now I wish I had a copy. I’d frame it.

EDIT: Here, I found the cover in question. Looks like the auction is over, however.


Monday, November 07, 2016

Mushrooms

If you poked around my house, you might eventually find the back wall of the laundry room, spot this framed art and ask me, “Drew, why do you have a framed dish towel hanging in your house?” It’s a good question, I guess.


This dish towel belonged to a grandmother. I always liked it, even if mushrooms and toadstools seem like a weird graphic to be associated with something used for cleaning. Toward the end, when she moved out of the house she’d lived in for decades, I pocketed the towel, and I eventually framed it, just as a memento of her. And now that she’s gone, it means more. It’s been hanging in my home for years, and it’s currently in an out-of-the-way spot that I don't have much reason to notice often. But I noticed it today, just now, and I remembered that my grandmother was the only other person in the family who supported liberal politics. She also loved Hillary Clinton—which was weird, because she tended not to hold women in high esteem, generally—and it reminded me that when I vote for the only obvious choice for president this election, I’m doing it for myself and also for my grandmother, who would have been the first in line to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Conversation With Thurman

What you may not know about my dog, Thurman, is that he is briefly capable of speech, and he uses these periods to better understand the world of humans. Here is a re-creation of my most recent conversation with Thurman.


I was walking through the dining room, where Thurman was lying so as to monitor all comings and goings in the house. As I moved by, I leaned down, pet him once on the head and said “boop.” Thurman’s reaction was immediate.

“Human, what is boop?” he asked me. I realized I wasn’t sure.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just something humans do to animals.” At the time I was trying to collect the garbage to take out, and I didn’t exactly want an interrogation.

That feeble explanation was clearly not enough for Thurman. “Would you boop another human?” he asked me.

“I might do it to a baby,” I said, thinking aloud before immediately clarifying: “A baby, by the way, is a human puppy. You’ve seen them on walks.”

“Ah, yes,” Thurman said. “Human, would you boop The Roommate?”

“No, Thurman. The Roommate would probably not like that.”

“Human, is boop an act of dominion or of benevolent condescension?”

“It’s neither, really,” I said after having thought about it for a few seconds. “It’s more of an act of affection.”

Thurman blinked once or twice and considered this. “May I boop you, human?”

“No, you may not.”

“Human, why can I not boop?”

“Well, for one thing, Thurman, I know you were digging in mud today, and your paws aren’t clean. For another I’m not sure you’d be able to reach the top of my head without me lying on the floor.”

“Human, must the boop land on the top of the skull?”

“No, Thurman. If you’ll remember I booped you on the nose a while back.”

Thurman looked down. “I do remember, human. I didn’t care for it. My nose is very sensitive, you know.”

I apologized for the slight, but Thurman had clearly already moved on. “Human, what is the origin of the boop? As a word, I mean, not as a demonstration of dominance?”

“Thurman, I just told you that I don’t think it’s necessarily about dominance. And I don’t know. I suppose it’s onomatopoeia.”

“But the act of booping produces no perceptible noise,” he persisted. “Surely the term has origins elsewhere.”

I had to admit he had a point. “You’re probably right, actually. So then no, I don’t know why we say ‘boop’ when we boop.”

“Human, perhaps it is better not to engage in ceremonies when you do not understand their histories,” Thurman continued. “Perhaps it is unwise, as you do not understand what implications and connotations to which your are tacitly endorsing.”

I sighed, then agreed that I would not boop him any longer.

“A underside rub would be preferable,” Thurman point out.

“Fine, yes, but please remember that we call it a belly rub. Underside rub sounds weird.”

“Human, my belly is ever so soft and warm.”

“I know, Thurman.”

“Human, when may I eat a cat?”

I turned around to begin once again my explanation of why he would not be allowed to eat a cat, but by the time I did, he had turned his full attention to licking mud out from between his toes. The moment of speech had passed. I wondered if there were any pattern to these moments. I wondered what he would ask about during his next.

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Be Friends With Your Ex

Four years down the line, I’ve found myself in many situations where I had to explain that a certain person—whom, for the sake of this blog post, I will call Bernard—is actually my ex-boyfriend. (His name is Spencer, but I’m just going to pretend his name is Bernard, because I’ve always thought he’d be a good Bernard.) I will be at a party or some other gathering, and someone will ask how Bernard and I know each other. The easy answer is “from college,” but that’s also an explanation that falls short of accurate. In the end, one of us will have to relate that yes, we used to date but no, we don’t anymore, and no, it isn’t particularly weird.

At least it’s not weird for me. Probably not Bernard either. But it does seem weird for some people who are learning it for the first time. More often than not, it’s a straight person who, per my understanding of their dating strategy, seems to begin a relationship and then stop it and then exorcise the ex from their lives entirely, because the thought of casual social contact with a once-but-former interlocking part seems impossible. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve had people—again, mostly straight—tell me that they can’t imagine remaining friends with someone they dated briefly, to say nothing of becoming friends with someone they dated for nearly eight years. (I think we ended at seven and a half years, but I round up, because we lived together for a chunk of it and that makes it seem so much longer.) And it’s for this reason that I thought it would be a valuable service to explain to all you ex-ditchers how it worked, at least for this for Drew and Bernard.

Step one: Give yourself distance.

Without going into details, the end of the relationship wasn’t ideal, and we didn’t talk for six or seven months after we broke up. At the time, it was more in the sense of “I don’t like you at the moment,” but looking back on it now, I see it as a test-run for how our lives might function if we stopped talking altogether. For me, this meant living in a new city where the people I saw regularly had only known me for months, without the benefit of someone who’d known me for years and could therefore offer up advice such as “Oh, the reason you’re doing this is probably because X and Y” or “The thing you’re doing is actually very similar to that thing you did in 2009, which was a pretty stupid thing” and “No, you already watched that movie. You hated it.”

Step two: When you’re ready, meet in a neutral place.

Eventually, we met for dinner at a taco place. I’m not actually sure we had ever been there together before, but tacos are good neutral ground for assessing how the relationship will work because I at least find tacos to be unromantic. Despite the lead up to these tacos, it was as if we hadn’t missed a beat. It wasn’t a hard decision that we made more sense in each other’s lives than not.

Step three: Alert your associates.

It’s a simple as, “Okay, after all that, we’re cool. Go ahead and invite him to future events. Stop giving him death stares and stop keying his car and stop making fun of the way he walks, even though he does totally walk weird.”

Step four: Be sure that sex is off the table.

I mean this figuratively. Literally speaking, sex should be neither on the table nor off from this point forward. Now this is an important step, because admitting that the relationship has changed means you have to accept that all the aspects of it that went beyond mere friendship—date nights, sustained touching, tongues—have come to an end. To prove our case, Bernard and I attended a wedding together in Joshua Tree. We shared a hotel room, came home drunk and mutually, silently decided that sleep was the best way to end the night. I’m not even sure I took my shirt off, but that also might have been all the alcohol beating me to the punch.

Step five: Talk directly when one of you begins a new relationship.

The odds are slim that you will both enter into new relationships at the exact same moment. It’s far more likely that one of you will take up with a person before the other does, and in my case, Bernard did before I did. I suggest you did what we did and have an up-front talk with your ex about how the new relationship may affect the old one—what’s still okay and what may now be overstepping.

Step six: Have your ex and his new boyfriend over for dinner.

Do this not only to show how generous you can be in welcoming them both, as a couple, into your home, but also for the reason that follows.

Step seven: Keep the new boyfriend’s wine glass after dinner.

This is the most most important part.

Step eight: Poison a bunch of famous people.

Make gift baskets with poisoned baked goods and send them out to B-level celebrities—the kinds that probably don’t employ a full-time poison-taster. Once that makes news and your city is gripped by terror, send some threatening letters out to TV stations and newspapers about how you’ll never be stopped.

Step nine: Break into the new boyfriend’s house.

After paying off a forensics expert to show you how to transfer fingerprints to the poison canister—prints that, yes, you’ll be taking from that wine glass—hide the evidence in the new boyfriend’s living space in a spot he won’t be likely to find. I wouldn’t worry too much about where you hide it, as you’ll be making an anonymous tip to the police shortly after.

Step ten: Testify.

At the trial, be willing to say on the witness stand that whenever your ex left the room, the new boyfriend talked a lot about poison and even looked up basic poisoning techniques on your computer, hence the suspicious search history. (Remember, you’ve already showed the police this, so you seem concerned and honest.) When testifying, characterize his demeanor as being “madman-like.” Say you didn’t tell you ex because his boyfriend threatened your dog. Hold up a picture of your dog so the jury can see how cute he is and, by extension, how awful anyone would have to be to hurt him.

Step eleven: Be there for your ex after the conviction.

It’s important to say the right thing. In my case, at the end of the famous “strychnine scone” case, I leaned over and whispered, “Hey, isn’t it weird how none of this would have ever happened if we hadn’t broken up?” I think that was the right thing to say.

Step twelve: Repeat as necessary.

Just to ensure that you’ll remain relevant in your ex’s life until you’re both in your cold, cold graves.



It’s as easy as that! I hope this helps!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Be Kind

I guess we can blame Stranger Things for this—well, what I’m talking about below plus a hundred thousand memes about Barb.

Back in July, I wrote here about how much I liked Stranger Things because it re-created a lot of the entertainment I liked so much when I was a kid, save for one key thing. The show’s reconstituted Spielbergian wonder looked too good. It was missing the TV static and VHS distortion that came with all that culture, at least for me way back when. See, I grew up beyond city limits, beyond where the cable TV cable could reach, and as a result, most of what I watched came to me hissing and fuzzy, but not in the cat way. As an experiment, I tried to add these elements back in, and for reasons I can’t explain, I kept doing it—for most of the summer, in fact. You might have noticed clips popping up here and there on my social media.

The result is what you see below, a project I’m just calling “Rewind.” It’s kind of a music mix, kind of a montage, kind of a string of music video-like things but punctuated with vintage commercials. I think I was trying to create a little pocket universe of culture from the ’80s and thereabouts. It never all quite existed this way, but it’s fun to pretend it did.

Or at least I thought so. Maybe you will think so too.



Yeah, I realize it’s two hours long. That was kind of the point, to make something that you could just lose yourself in—maybe keep on in the background and listen to and periodically check into and see something colorful and weirdly familiar, even if you’d ever actually seen it before. Or you could just pick a random point on the timeline and click and not know what nostalgic thing you’d end up seeing.

Again, I don't know why I felt compelled to make it, but I hope at the very least that you walk away with a song you like or some weird bit of pop culture that had somehow bypassed you before—maybe even see how some of the pairings of video chunks and old songs weren’t entirely random.

If nothing else, I hope the image of Grace Jones, eyes glowing with a demonic energy as she tries to sell you wine coolers, is forever burned into your memory. You’re welcome in advance!


Hit the jump to see a list of video and audio sources, plus most of the music video-like clips posted solo.

Friday, September 02, 2016

I Stole a Rock

As I get older, I occasionally find myself doing something unexpected and then thinking, “Oh, I have apparently grown up to be the kind of person who does this.” It’s never revelatory, but it’s at least a tidbit—another bullet point on my resume, if my resume were to include things like joining a gym or sanding a wooden deck or paying slightly more for organic bananas or coming home to my dog and hugging him and saying out loud, “You are the softest teddy bear” when my windows open and I’m pretty sure my neighbors heard me.

These are things I do, apparently.

Another thing I do is steal rocks.

Here is a rock that I stole.


Since I moved into my house, I’ve been working on getting the garden looking good, but this is a hopeless task because nature seems intent on keeping my outdoor space ridden with weeds, cobwebs and general disorder. On top of that, I’m trying to keep a garden that doesn’t use that much water, and I guess I’m technically succeeding in the sense that a dusty, yellowed garden slowly dying of thirst is, in fact, a garden that doesn’t use much water. Perhaps the most drought-considerate thing you can do for your garden, however, is to put a decorative rock in it, as rocks need very little water and also no care of any kind whatsoever, save for removing bird shit from them. (Hint: White rocks hide bird shit well.) This is a happy thing for me because the soil on which my house sits is mostly rocks—smoothish river rocks from back when the L.A. River used to flood, because my house is in a flood plain, I can never forget—and I can just dig a hole whenever and produce a bountiful harvest of rocks.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Revenge of the Ragman

Today I’d like to share with you something that’s terrified me for twenty-five years. You’re welcome in advance.


Many times when I was a kid, I’d end up watching a strange movie on Channel 36, the local indie station that aired pretty much nothing but strange movies in addition to reruns of Mama’s Family and Matlock. This is the same station that allowed me to watch a slasher movie re-telling of The Phantom of the Opera in which Molly Shannon played Meg Giry and also The Horror at 37,000 Feet, a TV movie that had William Shatner battling a poltergeist on a luxury jet. Neither of these scary movies is the one that lingered the most, however; that honor goes to The Nutcracker Fantasy, a Sanrio-produced, stop motion-animated version of The Nutcracker from 1979.

I’ve written about it before on this blog, and I explained how stop motion is always unsettling to me, but this movie in particular got to me as a result of the Ragman, a demonic boogeyman who appears at the beginning of the film for the single purpose of terrifying any children plunked in front of this film by well-meaning adults who thought a Nutcracker adaptation would be family-friendly. The Ragman is a crooked old ghost straight of Luigi’s Mansion who stands several stories tall as he shambles down the moonlit city streets, peering in windows to check for young children who have stayed up past their bedtime. Should he spot any, he teleports into their home and transforms them into mice.

There’s a lot more that’s weird about The Nutcracker Fantasy, but this one scene always stood out to me as something that seemed needlessly horrifying in what is ostensibly a film for children. And based on the Google hits I still get on the old post, I’m not the only one who thinks so—nor am I the only one who has been looking for a high-quality version of this scene. But just last year, Sanrio produced a new transfer of the film, along with a new Japanese dub. So I stumbled through Amazon.com’s Japanese site to ordered one, ripped it and uploaded the scene, just so you all could see how beautifully scary it is.

Enjoy!



I’ve paired it with the audio track from the American version, from a YouTube clip that had previously been the best available version of the scene online. No longer! The American voice cast featured Melissa Gilbert, Christopher Lee, Jo Anne Worley, and Eva Gabor, BTW, but you can’t hear any of them in this clip.

I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to do with the rest of the ripped film, but don’t be surprised if you see it surface on this blog sooner or later.

Nostalgic nightmare fuel, previously:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Donner

Yesterday, Madonna turned 58 years old. She was born in 1958, and it’s been 58 years since that day. People posted about it on Facebook and Twitter, and it reminded me that I have no attachment to Madonna, especially not in the way a lot of gay dudes do. So I wrote the below little nothing on Facebook about that particular thing. I’ve decided I liked it enough to post here, just in case there’s another gay guy out there who feels weird that he doesn’t feel whatever magic most guys seem to, and who maybe needs to verbalize a reason for why not having memorized her entire catalogue doesn’t necessarily make you a hater.

— What do you think about [specific Madonna reference]?
— It’s, uh, good.
— Well then what do you think about [more obscure Madonna reference]?
— I… don’t know. I’m actually not the biggest Madonna fan in the world.
— [gay gasp]
— It’s not like I actively dislike her or anything. She just hasn’t played the big role in my life that she’s played in a lot of other guys’ lives, you know?
— [gay inhale]
— Ask me about Cyndi Lauper, and we’re good to go.
— [gay sputtering]
— But it’s not like I don’t think she’s important. I mean, Madonna played a huge role in changing music and pop culture in general, and even if you’re not into her music, you can’t deny that she’s made a bigger impact than most other people ever have, and that includes helping bring about music that I do like.
— [gay grimace]
— Also, I know she did a lot for gay visibility back in the day, so that’s a huge deal too.
— [gay finger-waving]
— And given that she did that, I thinks it’s weird how some people who have her whole catalogue memorized are also the first to drag her through the mud about her appearance and her age and all that, especially given that she looks pretty good for a 58-year-old. That always seemed like a paradox to me, or at least a weird situation where her appearance takes precedence over everything else she’s done.
— [gay gagging]
— Also I don’t like awards shows.
— [gay fainting]
— [sprouts eagle wings and flies into the sunset]

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why I Grew a Mustache

Last weekend I went to a barber for the first time in six years, not to attend to anything on the top of my head (as I’ve been seeing to that myself) but to allow a professional to tidy up my mustache. For a relatively small sum of money, my mustache got twenty minutes’ worth of snipping and shaping, and I got some tips on how I can keep it looking good until the next time I make an appointment. I highly recommend it.


While sitting the the chair, the barber asked me why I chose to grow this thing in the first place, and I actually didn’t know how to answer. Here, then, is every possible reason I can think of.
  • Because the fact that I’ve had a buzzed head for the last six years has limited what I can do to change my appearance, and growing a mustache seemed like a shorter-term investment than a face tattoo
  • Because manliness?
  • But similarly and separately to connect with my heritage as a gay homosexual
  • To repulse women
  • More specifically to make a woman in front of me in line at the grocery store glance back, glance back again and then none-too-discreetly slip into another line, presumably because she thought I looked like a creep
  • To look like a creep, maybe
  • To provoke female acquaintances who have never otherwise commented on my physical appearance to tell me that they hate my mustache and that I should remove it
  • Apparently to make twentysomethings on various apps begin conversations with “Hey, daddy” or something thereabouts
  • So that when I take an Instagram selfie and have it show up on my Tumblr my photo then gets reblogged on various fetish sites of varying levels of NSFW-ness
  • To give myself a single distinguishing physical characteristic (finally)
  • To draw attention away from my unpleasant personality
  • Because I’d grown accustomed to the various asymmetricalities of my body and needed a new one to obsess over
  • If I’m being really honest, I may have grown it to punk my friend, who’d invited me to be a groomsmen in his wedding but whose bride did not include facial hair stylings on her PDFed guide to appropriate groomsmen looks
  • And to continue that honestly, I’ve kept it maybe because I think his bride suspects that this was the case and I’m scared she will beat me up if she knew that I’d made an effort to become “that random guy with a mustache” in her wedding photos
  • Because the groom himself cannot grow one
  • Because neither my brother nor my father can grow one, now that I think about it
  • Because I knew I’d be getting a dog who had his own killer facial hair game and we needed to match
  • Because I felt I’d mastered the art of eating and sneezing and needed to complicate both those actions in order to challenge myself
  • Because years of playing Nintendo games have led to me realize that I’m more of a Luigi than a Mario
  • Sex stuff
  • And finally because Stupid Sexy Flanders is too good of a Halloween costume to pass up



Friday, August 12, 2016

“Why Don't You Tell Us How Your Really Feel?”

There’s a sort of person who, upon hearing someone else speak passionately about a given subject, will respond with a certain stock phrase: “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” And when they do, they hit the “really” Chandler Bing-style to emphasize their point. They might smile. They might feel very satisfied for having said this.

Here is some information about that person.

That person is the worst. That person thinks it’s okay to use a cliched, straight-from-a-bad-sitcom phrase to tell you (or maybe sometimes me) not to speak your mind—or at least not to speak it in such a decisive manner. That person wants you to hedge your statements in softeners like “maybe” and “it’s possible” and may even want you to apologize before you offer your opinion, as if you didn’t get the proper permission before you talk.

It may be that you have overstepped in talking. Sometimes you get heated and your words take a tone that is inappropriate for a given situation. You may need a reminder to check yourself. That’s entirely fair. But with respect to that, here is the worst quality of the person who speaks the phrase “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” or some variant: They don’t actually want you to realize you’re violating some conversational rule. They want to make you feel bad, to be embarrassed for having participated. They’re trying to make you stop talking. And they’re not attempting to go about this directly or even by inventing their own turn of phrase. Instead, they pick this garbage saying—a chunk of words that verges on “Smooth move, Ex-Lax” in terms of datedness and triteness, a phrase that approaches sarcasm but somehow even falls short of even that. It’s this cowardly form of indirect communication in which this person conveys a message but hides behind words that superficially would seem to mean the opposite. It’s a reprimand form of “Gosh, it’s really hot in here” when you actually mean “Would you mind opening the windows?” but you’re not willing to actually make that request.

This is a person you should make an effort to avoid talking to them in the future.

In closing, here is a picture of a baby duck sitting in a ladle.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Falling Eggplants and Gay Pixels

For all but the deepest subset of the Venn diagram overlap of nerds and homosexuals, this may well be your introduction to the bizarre gayness that is Cho Aniki. I’m honored to extend the opportunity.


I’m still on my kick about being from the generation of pixels and VHS static, and I’m still mucking around with weird video clips and lesser-known pop songs from the era as part of a larger project. I’m not quite sure yet what, exactly, that project will turn out to be, but at the very least it will be interesting to look at.

Yesterday, I finished one chunk of it that may just merit a post on its own. Here, please enjoy inasmuch as it can be enjoyed.



If your response to all this is “Wait, what the fuck?” then you are correct! This is footage from Cho Aniki, a Japanese video game series whose name translates as “Super Big Brother” and whose chief contribution to the world is a lot of nonsensical homoerotic imagery. The games have largely not been released outside Japan, and consequently a lot of people in the U.S. don’t know that it even exists, despite it being one of the stranger assemblages of pixels ever. This particular clip comes from a playthrough of the second game in the series, 1995’s Ai Cho Aniki. (The original video has been edited, truncated and manipulated. The song I synced to it is “Happy Station” by Fun Fun. Also also, what is the deal with Japan and eggplants?)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why So Many Gay Guys Like Barb From Stranger Things

Heads up: This will spoil the first season of Stranger Things. If you haven’t finished it and don’t want it spoiled, don’t read this yet. Also, what are you waiting for? It’s only eight episodes. Call in sick today and finish it.

I’d been stoked for Stranger Things, and I felt gratified once it went live on Netflix that other people seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. However, all the social media posts about the show seemed to be echoing back to me one observation in particular that I didn’t expect: that Barb was awesome. I liked her a lot, despite her scant screen time, but I’m a weirdo who always roots for the underdog girl. In this instance, I was not alone in pulling for Barb. It also happens that most of the people posting about Stranger Things in my various feeds happened to be gay nerds of one stripe or another. So what is it about this mom-jeaned wonder that made gay dudes dig her? (You know, aside from her on-point-for-the-era fashion sense.)


After all, Barb (Shannon Purser) vanishes before the opening credits of episode three, when the shambling horror that is the show’s big bad pulls her into the swimming pool of doom, never to be seen again… save for a particularly nasty shot of her in the penultimate episode, when the viewer learns that yes, she’s completely dunzo—a corpse in the Upside-Down with a hell leech squiggling around in her mouth. It’s brutal to learn, especially if you, like me, had been hoping that she’d be rescued.

We gay nerds like our genre heroines, but Stranger Things actually offers four other female characters who get to do a lot more than Barb does. There’s Joyce (Winona Ryder), a small-time Sarah Connor who’s just the latest in a long line of fearless, strong moms in sci-fi works. There’s Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the telekinetic marvel who actually takes down the bad guys. There’s Nancy (Natalie Dyer), the Lisa Simpson-level goody two-shoes who finds an inner courage to become a hero in her own right. And there’s even Nancy’s mom (Cara Buono, a.k.a. Dr. Faye from Mad Men) who gets more to do than Barb does just by virtue of the fact that she survives through all eight episodes.

So why the hell would we like Barb so much? My theory is that for gay guys—and maybe also non-gay guys who had similarly difficult high school experiences—Barb reminds us of the selves we left behind back in the day, the not-yet-fully-realized versions that we want to go back and help or save or maybe just hug.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Even Stranger Yet

I promise that I won’t just be posting artificially destroyed footage on a constant basis, but after yesterday’s post went up, I realized that I could (and should) make good on my desire to realize Stranger Things in the style of a long-forgotten VHS tape.


This series, which I stayed up late to finish last night, is just such kickback to the stuff I watched when I was a kid that I like the fantasy of it actually being from that era, rather than a period piece—that it got made thirty years ago and had been sitting in a closet all this time. I’m not going to warp all of Stranger Things, but just as a flavor taste test for what it might look like, I offer you these: the Stranger Things trailer, glitches out and distorted in the style of 1985.



Meanwhile, can we please talk about Barb?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Generation of Pixels and VHS Static

I had one of those weekends where plans just fizzle away, because your friends have conspired to cancel appointments jointly and consecutively, all in an effort to make you appreciate the joys of staying home. And with my newfound free time, I accomplished two things: I watched the bulk of Stranger Things on Netflix and I learned how to use After Effects. These two things are actually related.


Nearly every review of Stranger Things has noted that it plays out like some Steven Spielberg fairytale we might have watched in the ’80s, only with a dark twist that in my mind is exemplified by the John Carpenter jolt of how the title arrives at the end of the series trailer. (I can’t explain why the appearance of the series title gives me goosebumps, but it does—every time I’ve watched the trailer. Maybe that font is haunted?)

As for After Effects, I used it take crisp, clean footage and fuck it up in the style of footage from a damaged VHS tape. That may seem like a pointless skill to acquire, VHS having long gone the way of the typewriter, but I assure you it’s not, because VHS has gone the way of the typewriter. I was doing it for a larger project, but in damaging my first chunk of footage, I was surprised by my emotional reaction to seeing something rendered in the flickers and saturation bleeds of an old medium. I miss them, it turns out. Those errors became hallmarks of movie-watching back in the day—and, along with pixels, hallmarks of childhood escapism as well—to the point that on some level I will always associate them with how a movie should look.

This is not my theory. In A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno lays it out very clearly: “Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: So much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart.” This has implications way beyond the pop culture I grew up with, but I think it does help explain why I continue to noodle around with pixel art from the 8- and 16-bit generations, as well as why it felt so satisfying to introduce all that distortion to a perfectly good chunk of video. It felt right.

It helps that the footage in question came from Inferno, the sequel to Suspiria. My introduction to Dario Argento came from my hometown video store—no, not Blockbuster, but still long-shuttered all the same—and while I never actually saw Inferno until the age of DVD-quality video, it seems like I should have.

Here is the scene in question in its original, clean form. (Fair warning—there is a corpse that appears in this clip, just after the 3:30 mark, but I feel like it’s a PG-13 corpse at worst. It also features Irene Miracle, whom I feel is a strong PG in and of herself.) I believe it comes from a DVD rip.



And here is the same scene again—improved by virtue of being made worse.



Friday, July 01, 2016

Where Is the Video? (A Short Play About Journalism)

Journalist: Hi. I sent you the piece on the finance committee meeting. Let me know what you think.

Editor: I saw that. I saw that. I’ve got one question for you, though: Where is the video?

Journalist: The video?

Editor: See, you’ve sent me a lot of text, but I don’t see a video attachment.

Journalist: I… don’t have a video for it.

Editor: Well, then we have a problem. No one reads news articles for text nowadays. They want a motherfucking video. So where is the video?

Journalist: I’m not sure the piece needs a video. If you read it, I think everything is there—like, in the text.

Editor: [takes off his glasses] People don’t want to click onto your story and just see goddamned words. They want an auto-loading video to show up and immediately push the words down. They want preroll. They want an ad jingle. They want a video that covers a huge chunk of the text and they want to wait for it to play through—just sitting there staring at it. Then they want to scroll down a few inches and see another video. They want videos in the sidebar. They want the related videos to have related videos. And do you know what they want when they get to the bottom of your fucking Stephen King novel of a news article?

Journalist: A video?

Editor: THEY WANT A FUCKING VIDEO.

Journalist: Well, I didn’t take a video of the meeting, so there is no video for this story.

Editor: See, that’s where you’re wrong. We have a policy of including videos on all stories we run, regardless of whether they actually have anything to do with the matter at hand. In fact, our policy is to embed a short video about Kate Bosworth in all stories that don’t come with a special-made video asset.

Journalist: Kate… You mean the one from Superman Returns?

Editor: KATE FUCKING BOSWORTH. Yes. Have you seen this video? It’s amazing. She throws a milkshake at a seagull. It’s ace content. It’s our all-time most-viewed video.

Journalist: I don’t think—

Editor: One word for you: PULITZER.

[Angry seagull noises come from the editor’s computer.]

Editor: And I’ve got even better news for you. Your piece is running with our Charmin ad package.

Journalist: The toilet paper?

Editor: Thirty seconds after the user loads your story, those fucking Charmn bears are going to come dancing onto the screen. You know them—the ones with toilet paper stuck to their dirty fucking asses? And they keep dancing their asses toward the screen, and the user has to click all the toilet paper bits off their butts or they won’t go away.

Journalist: [stands with mouth agape]

Editor: I don’t want to hear any fucking complaints about it, neither. Those dancing bears and their dirty fucking shit asses are sending Bitsy and LaDonna and the rest of the new media team to SXSW this year.

Journalist: Did you read my piece?

Editor: Sure, seemed great.

Journalist: Did it have everything in it that it needed?

Editor: [snorts] You wrote it. You tell me.

Journalist: Have you seen Enid? I usually get copyedits back from her, but she’s not picking up her phone.

Editor: Canned her.

Journalist: What? You fired the copyeditor?

Editor: No, I fired the assistant to the video editor. We moved her over to the video team. Thought she might be productive there. Did you see the videos she made? Garbage. Fucking garbage.

Journalist: Well, she’s a copyeditor so—

Editor: They only got 50,000 views. Absolute fucking garbage. We fired her on the spot—and then broke her fingers to make sure she got the message.

Journalist: I think I’m going to go home.

Editor: Periscope it. We’ll put it on the main page.


{fin}

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Deep Legend of Purple Zelda

Discussed herein: the original Legend of Zelda, the band Deep Purple, the man responsible for what are arguably the two most famous compositions in video game music history, and open-ended questions about music law.

legend of zelda deep purple

Last week, a Los Angeles jury concluded that no, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” did not plagiarize another song—or, at least, appropriate enough of that other song to constitute plagiarism and subsequent monetary compensation. Led Zeppelin got to continue living atop a towering pile of money that did not become a slightly-less-towering pile of money, and the 1960s band Spirit got a neat little footnote in its history when the estate of the band’s singer, Randy California, unsuccessfully tried to argue that a brief snippet from the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” sounded too much like Spirit’s 1968 song “Taurus.”

Neither being a member of that jury nor someone who claims to understand music on a constructional level, I can’t say whether that verdict was just. I can say, however, that to my ears, the two songs sound similar enough that it seems that the one could have helped bring about the other, regardless of whether anyone deserved money for that inspiration.

Listen for yourself. The “Stairway”-esque part of “Taurus” begins around the 44-second mark.



And here is “Stairway to Heaven,” just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last forty years.



The plaintiff’s lawyers had claimed that because Spirit had played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin back in the day, it was plausible that members of the latter had heard “Taurus” and therefore used bits of it in writing “Stairway,” which was released in 1971. In my head, that seems like a fair enough argument, and I feel like people following the story in the news probably did too, especially in light of how the family of Marvin Gaye successfully sued Robin Thicke, to say nothing of similar squabbles making the news recently. (Tom Petty vs. Sam Smith comes to mind, even if it ended amicably, and now Ed Sheeran is being sued for alleged plagiarism as well.)

These kinds of stories stand out to me because I’m the kind of guy who frequently hears similarities between two songs that other people dismiss with “No, that’s just a common chord progression” or “No, that’s just a feature of this genre of music” or “No, you’re crazy.” For example, I think the old song “Smoke Rings” sounds remarkably like a downtempo version of the overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. 2.





I’m okay with accepting that the connection I’m making only exists in my head, but there’s this one similarity in particular that always jumps into mind when I read stories like these, because I think it’s a stronger connection to most: the Deep Purple track “April” and the dungeon theme from Legend of Zelda. And yes, there’s something slightly more thrilling to me about the prospect of a song working its way across the pop cultural continuum and ending up in a video game, at least in some form, years later.

“April” is the final track to Deep Purple’s third album, released in 1969. It’s a doozy. You probably know Deep Purple as the bad that performs “Smoke on the Water” or the hard rock version of that song from I Know What You Did Last Summer, but “April” is worth a listen too. It’s grand and orchestral, especially in its intro, and wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to some medieval fantasy sequence, I say.



Or maybe that association comes from the apparent Legend of Zelda connection. At around the 2:00-mark in “April,” there’s a brief section that should sound familiar to anyone who played through the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. It’s the bit that concludes the game’s dungeon theme before the track loops back to the beginning. (That dungeon theme isn’t very long, and if you played through the game, you’d hear this section of music hundreds of times over.)

I made a video that lines the sections up side-by-side, in case that’s helpful.



Given my history of the playing “thing is like other thing” game, I’d be willing to write this similarity off as a random, meaningless one, but there’s slightly more to the story. Koji Kondo is the music whiz responsible for a lot of Nintendo’s most memorable compositions, including all the music for the original Legend of Zelda. What’s interesting about the Deep Purple connection is that Kondo himself has admitted to being a fan of the band. In a 2005 Nintendo Power interview, Kondo even said he once played in a band that frequently covered Deep Purple, so the odds that he would be familiar with “April” would be fairly high—at least as probable as Led Zeppelin having heard “Taurus.” Of course, in the end, the jury found that Zeppelin hadn’t stolen those guitar riffs—or at least that if they had, they weren’t substantial enough to warrant Zeppelin having to pay off anyone as a result.

I suppose, then, that I have to conclude this post on a note of confusion. I don’t understand how we can make a legal differentiation between homage, sample, legitimate borrowing, and lawsuit-worthy theft. (And yes, I have thought about how it’s notable that the multimillion-dollar exception to the rule would be a song titled “Blurred Lines.”) So I pose the question to anyone reading this who understands music or music law better than I do: Am I confused because these distinctions are better made by people who understand music on a fundamental level that I don’t? Or is it just that no one knows—and that every post-“Blurred Lines” lawsuit is gambling in favor of the odds of some judge or jury saying, “Yeah I hear it. Here, have a wheelbarrow full of money”? Is it weird that laypeople, musically speaking, would ever be given the opportunity to issue a verdict about something that seems like it should take inside knowledge of the music industry to understand?

Meanwhile, I keep “April” on my playlists in case I ever encounter a situation that needs to feel more epic. And every time I get two minutes in, I get to think about Legend of Zelda, whether or not it’s just a coincidence.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Skunk, Interrupted

Fair warning: This post is not for the squeamish, though I’ll do my best to avod being needlessly graphic.


Tonight is the one-year anniversary of the incident I refer to as “when the tree went through my face.” If you don’t remember or I haven’t related this to you in person, know that it amounted to a freak accident involving my nasal cavity, some sharp tree branches and an overstuffed green waste container. I had actually planned to write something funny about what I’d learned in the year since the accident, but that post probably would have sucked. If I’m being honest, all I learned was not to cram sharp objects into anything with wheels and that freak accidents happen suddenly and in ways you don’t expect.

Here’s the funny thing, though: Tonight, almost to the minute that the tree branch cut through my nose one year ago, something else happened.

I was heading into the garage to write, and Thurman came bounding out the back door after me. This is not unusual, as he normally takes a late-night piddle walk in the yard, but in a split second he’d disappeared into a dark corner. Almost immediately, I heard the noise he makes when he’s shaking one of his toys in his mouth. And almost just as quickly he came trotting back out into the light, whereupon he started diving into the dirt face-first—a cherished activity I call “land swimming.” Then I noticed the sulphuric, spoiled garlic smell of skunk.

I checked to make sure the little stinker had gotten away—more because I didn’t want him to spray again than because I was worried for its safety—and then I saw that no, it could not have gotten away, for he was now bisected. If you can imagine where a skunk’s pant line would be (were a skunk to wear pants) this one was now nude from that line down. His leg fur—and his tail—were lying a foot away from the rest of him; everything else, including what would normally be inside the “pants,” was still connected to the top part.

Much in the same way that the branch thing left me feeling like I should probably do something but unable to decide what I should do, I looked at the skunk halves and then back at my dog, who seemed upset but also was keeping himself busy. Here, then, is what I did.
  1. Asked my roommate what to do.
  2. Checked Thurman for injuries. I found none.
  3. Took Thurman into the shower and scrubbed his fur as best I could.
  4. Called the late-night vet and explained the situation. They told me that so long as Thurman’s vaccinations were up to date, I didn’t have much to worry about.
  5. Drove to the liquor store, got there as it was closing, and begged them to open back up for me so I could buy trash bags. “My dog killed a skunk and I need to get rid of the carcass,” I explained. “Yeah, I could tell it was something with a skunk,” said the cashier. The fact that I had to dispose of a body—animal or otherwise—didn’t seem to phase him.
  6. Got my roommate out of bed to hold the flashlight while I shoveled the skunk pieces into a grocery bag—and yes, this did make me think about the new season of Orange Is the New Black.
  7. Fought back the urge to vomit, because years of slasher movies still haven’t prepared me for real-life gore.
  8. Tied the grocery bag inside a trash bag and then tossed it into a dumpster down the street.
  9. Showered, then washed everything that had been in contact with skunk juice, whether first-degree or second-degree.
  10. Finally, I continue to smell skunk everywhere, even as I type this. I have no way of knowing how much of it is just ambient skunk particles outside, how much of it is inside my house, how much is on Thurman even post-shower and how much is actually me. The hilarious capper to all this is that my roommate can’t smell—I explain it as “He’s like Daredevil, only with his nose”—so I will have no way of objectively knowing if I’m carrying the skunk curse until I interact with someone else outside my home. Maybe it will be you!
As far as late-night emergencies that have happened to me on June 23, this one isn’t so bad. I’m not sitting in an E.R. waiting to get stitched up, and I’ll be in bed long before sunrise, but it is an enticing coincidence to have these two nights, one year apart, where I was getting ready to settle in and instead had my plans tossed apart by unforeseen badness that assaulted my nose in one way or another.

I guess I could write about how dogs are dogs, even if you love them. (Just earlier today, we unsuccessfully tried to coax Thurman into enjoying a wading pool, and it’s weird to think about the dopey dog who was scared of a water-filled plastic tub tearing into another animal and decisively ending that other creature in just a few seconds.) But the thing that sticks out to me right now is how quickly and suddenly something awful—or at least very, aggressively noteworthy. I’m a person who worries a lot, and I spend way too much mental energy calculating all the Final Destination-esque ways a given situation could lead to my undoing. But in the same way I didn’t think twice about that overstuffed green waste container, I also didn’t think twice about letting Thurman into the yard tonight. That happens every night, and every pervious one has resulted in successful piddles and nothing more. This one didn’t turn out to be a crisis—and not a medical crisis, best of all—but it’s worth pointing out that this wasn’t something I worried about, wasn’t something I foresaw as turning bad for me. Maybe that’s the lesson I should have taken away from one year ago: All that worrying can’t prepare you for the freak occurrence that actually does happen.

I still love Thurman, even if I know he can end a life in a split second, ninja-style. I chose to remember his greatest hit of the day as looking adorably rumpled as we finally conceded that he would not be a wading pool dog.


That might be the greatest takeaway of all, from this or from anything: Don’t focus on what went bad or what might go bad in the future, because maybe something else didn’t suck or won’t suck.

Right?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Orange Is the New Twilight Zone

A non-spoiler non-warning: This post briefly discusses an episode from the new season of Orange Is the New Black but not in any way that would ruin anything for you. However, this post will spoil a 52-year-old episode of The Twilight Zone, in case that is also a concern.


Midway through the fourth season of Orange Is the New Black, one character uses an episode of The Twilight Zone as a metaphor for mental illness. In the context, it’s actually pretty effective: This Twilight Zone in particular involves a couple who wake up in a strange town that’s inexplicably deserted and full of fake items—fake food in the fridge, fake grass, a fake squirrel on a fake tree. They’re just lost, hopelessly, in this strange, empty town. If you’re not familiar with The Twilight Zone, you might think this episode would be good. After all, it was apparently memorable enough to warrant a mention on a show airing half a century later. I would like to take the opportunity to relieve you of this belief, however. It’s terrible.

Whenever I catch a bit of the New Year’s Day Twilight Zone marathon, it’s almost always this episode that I end up seeing, just as a result of dumb bad luck—though I’m sure Rod Sterling would have me believe it’s part of some conspiracy to teach me a lesson about flouting societal conventions. I’m sure there are worse episodes. They made 156 of them in the original series alone, and there’s bound to be a few clunkers. But just as a result of the fact that I’ve seen this one again and again, I am adamant about it being one with a decent enough premise but a terrible payoff made all the crappier by a plot hole big enough to drive a Borgward Isabella through.

Here, then, is why the episode in question, “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” is terrible—so you can know without sitting through all thirty minutes of it yourself.


Like Orange Is the New Black says, it centers on a couple—Bob Frazier (Barry Nelson, the first person ever to play James Bond onscreen) and his wife, Millie (Nancy Malone, who bears a passing resemblance to Amy Poehler). They wake up in a strange house. They’d been at a party the night before, and Millie drove home because Bob was too drunk to get behind the wheel. Neither can remember how they might have ended up in this house, however, and only Millie has some vague recollection of a strange shadow pursuing them. Figuring some kindly strangers took them in, they head downstairs. The house is empty. The fridge opens, but there’s only a prop loaf of bread and a prop turkey inside. The phone doesn’t work.

They head outside, and while everything looks like a normal suburban town, none of the houses seem to be occupied. They assume everyone left for Sunday morning services, but the church is also deserted. They begin to lose it, and Bob starts implying that Millie may have gotten them lost. Millie thinks that they might have been in an accident, died and gone to hell. Bob lights a cigarette and the grass catches fire—because it’s papier-mâché. Finally, they hear a train whistle and get on the train, which is also empty but which they’re happy to find because it could potentially take them anywhere that’s not this Creepsburg, USA. Soon enough, however, the train pulls back into the exact same train station they just left.

At a loss, they get out, but then the shadow returns, moving over the landscape. Bob and Millie run in terror, but it catches up to them. The shadow was from a hand, it turns out—a giant hand that belongs to a giant little girl. Bob and Millie art ant-sized in this girl’s hand, and she just giggles at them menacingly.


Then we see a mother (also giant) stride into frame: “Be careful with your pets, dear. Daddy brought them all the way from Earth,” she says. The Fraziers are placed back down in their prison, and Sterling delivers the closing narration: “The moral of what you’ve just seen is clear. If you drink, don’t drive. And if your wife has had a couple, she shouldn’t drive either. You might both just wake up with a whale of a headache in a deserted village… in the Twilight Zone.”

Here are all the problems I have with this episode:
  • The level of detail in the giant child’s playset is astonishing. For example, they woke up in a made bed. Did this horrible little girl’s giant, stubby fingers have the dexterity to arrange sheets and a comforter? That was enclosed within a bedroom?
  • The Fraziers didn’t notice if the house had electricity or not.
  • When they go outside, it just looks like a sunny, quiet street, when there shouldn’t have been a source of sunlight—or, you know, sky, since they would have looked up and seen it was a child’s bedroom, albeit a supersized one.
  • The aliens who kidnapped the Fraziers look and act exactly like humans, just bigger.
  • They speak English.
  • They call Earth “Earth.”
  • The giant girl has no apparent means to feed the Fraziers, nor to dispose of their waste once they are fed.
  • The giant girl’s father purportedly went to Earth just to get two tiny humans and nothing more—which seems especially weird considering that the giant family put no system in place to ensure the Fraziers’ survival.
  • If our planet were to be visited by a person who was proportional in size to humans as humans are to ants, then, like, the entire continent of North America would probably see it. It would be a history-shattering emergency. Also, if Space Dad landed on Earth, I assume he’d destroy it or at least knock it hopelessly off its orbit. So I guess Earth is done for in this story.
  • Finally, the moral sucks. It’s laudable for the writers to be cautioning against drunk driving, especially during a time during which I imagine all Americans to be constantly drunk, constantly smoking and constantly throwing garbage from their car windows as they drive their cars, which they also do constantly. But the way Sterling’s narration states it, it smacks of sexism today. “Don’t drive drunk, men. Also, even if your idiot wife is under the legal limit (as Millie would have been if she only had two drinks, like she says), she can’t drive either because she might stupidly drive your car onto a giant man’s spaceship without realizing it.” It’s just very of-the-era but nonetheless awkward the way the message is framed at men first, and then extended to women as well, as if anyone needed reminding that alcohol affects women more or less the same way as it does men.
Again, there are other Twilight Zone episodes that have giant plot holes and tacked-on morality, but this particular example keeps popping up in my life, and I just wanted to warn you against letting Orange Is the New Black making you think this was something you should seek out. That, I suppose, is my PSA.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s the episode in all its clunky glory.


EDIT: I realize I have actually have mentioned this episode before as an example of terrible Twilight Zone plots in my Lousy Twilight Zone Plot Generator. Give it a spin! See where that gets you!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Me & Maria

If we’re social media friends, then you may know that I scored a sit-down interview with Maria Bamford two years ago. And the reason you may know this is that I’ve been shamelessly dropping the following photo of Maria and me into conversations about Lady Dynamite on Facebook.


I’m not doing it to be a prick. It’s more that I’m so very stoked that an increasing number of people are hip to the fact that Maria Bamford is funny-awesome. Also? I really like the interview she gave me because it sums up a lot of the reasons I think she’s great. She’s funny. She’s exceedingly nice. We talk Adventure Time, flavors of Kettle Chips and the gentrification of east-of-Hollywood Los Angeles, among other things. This is why I got into journalism.

Keeping in mind my pride about this interview, you can imagine how excited I got when I was chopping zucchini while watching the fifth episode of Lady Dynamite and saw it flash to Maria’s character’s OK Cupid profile.


See, this jumped out at me because that profile photo came from my piece.


Someone else’s piece? No. Not at all. My fucking piece. My motherfucking fucking piece.

Robyn von Swank, who has photographed many an L.A. comedian, took that photo of Maria Bamford at Camilo’s in Eagle Rock, specifically for the article. The piece, by the way, was meant to be the kickoff to a whole series of sit-downs with comedians about late-night eats, but it was nixed by my station’s higher-ups for reasons that I was never too clear about. (Whatever.) Even if the column didn’t grow into a series, I’m happy it has apparently lived on as a teeny-tiny bit of one of the more wonderfully weird TV thingums I’ve seen in recent memory. Seriously—with Jessica Jones and Kimmy Schmidt and this, Netflix is offering me the offbeat heroines that no traditional network has been lately.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Dog at the End of the Street

I had taken Thurman (Thurman!) on a long walk that began before sunset and ended up lasting until that in-between, electric blue period when the sun is down but it’s still light out. And on this particular block of my neighborhood, I spotted a single, unattended dog sitting in the middle of the sidewalk a few houses down. It was staring at us, and soon enough Thurman was back staring at it.


Now this is not an unusual occurrence in Atwater Village. I think it’s been five times now that I’ve come across someone’s dog walking leashless and carefree, and it’s been five times that I’ve had to contact and ask, “Hi, do you know where your dog is?” And since this particular dog was large and unusual-looking—at least as far as what I could see at a distance, without my glasses on and with the evening getting darker—I figured somebody, somewhere would probably want it back. So I took a few steps toward it (and Thurman did too, because that’s how leashed life goes), and this stranger dog took an equal number of steps away, then sat back down and resumed staring at me. This happened again and again, and I wondered if it thought I was playing a game. I whistled, and the dog only reacted by perking up its ears. I called and it just looked at me.

So I started walking slowly toward it, and it kept moving slowly away, keeping the distance between us more or less even until it reached the point where the dog tired of this game and trotted away speedily, making a righthand turn at the corner. I wondered if I could catch up to it before it got away for good, and so I hurried behind it, ending up at the corner just in time for a mom-looking lady in jogging clothes to meet me. She looked horrified. “Oh my god, did you see that coyote? It walked right past me like I wasn’t even there!”

So yeah, it wasn’t a stray dog missed by its owner. It was a coyote. It was walking itself. And while I wasn’t terrified of the coyote the way this woman was—coyotes, after all, usually don’t bother humans, and Thurman is bigger than the biggest coyote I have ever seen—I feel like it was worth noting how little distance there is, practically speaking, between a poor, little lost doggie who needs to be taken home and a coyote who already is home and is wondering what you’re doing and why your dog is on a leash.


There is probably a moral or at least a metaphor in this somewhere.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How Howard Phillips Gave Princess Peach to Little Gay Nerds

The TLDR version: My friend’s stepdad is responsible for Princess Peach being my gay nerd icon, because his actions resulted in her being a playable character in Super Mario Bros. 2.


I’d wager it’s strange for anyone to live in Los Angeles, but it’s especially weird when you were that certain type of lonely kid who used pop culture to relate to the world around you, just because this dumb city happens to be where a lot of that stuff originated. Stay here long enough, and you may end up bumping into one of the people responsible for some movie or TV show that hit you on a personal level. So far, I’ve had a few interactions with people where I had to temporarily dump journalistic pretense and say, “By the way, thank you — that thing you did helped me feel less broken.”

Back at the 2012 Indiecade in Culver City, I met Howard Phillips, a guy who shaped the childhoods of many young video game nerds by being the Nintendo’s first American employee and its unofficial ambassador to the U.S. I originally knew him from Howard & Nester, the Nintendo Power comic that had a cartoon version of him alongside Nester, the magazine’s mascot and a character Phillips himself created.

via the howard & nester comics archive

At Indiecade, the non-cartoon Howard Phillips was meeting and greeting a lot of people who, like me, grew up playing Nintendo games and realized that he helped shape their experiences. And I got to talk to him a little more than the average fan because I’m friends with his stepdaughter Katherine. She and I worked together at the time, and she had once bragged that her stepdad was the Game Master. I initially assumed she meant Captain N: The Game Master and that she was crazy, but she explained that “the Game Master” was one of Phillips’ monikers during his Nintendo heyday and that she therefore grew up having a level of access to Nintendo products that would have made my head explode. When I got a few extra minutes to speak with Phillips as Indiecade, the conversation veered into Super Mario Bros. 2, which was my favorite game — a fact that should already be known to you if you read my blog.

Phillips happens to be the person who informed Nintendo of Japan execs that the “true” sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. was too difficult for American players. And while there was a lot of doing on the part of Nintendo’s Japanese developers to transform a game called Doki Doki Panic into something that starred Mario and Luigi, the impetus, as I’ve understood the story, was this single decision my friend’s stepdad. When I spoke to him, I’m not sure I truly grasped that had it not been for him, this weird game with vegetable-plucking, magic carpets and a curious preponderance of masks probably wouldn’t have become part of my life. But more than just that, Super Mario Bros. 2 is important because it was the first game in the series that let you play as Princess Peach.

Back then, Peach was still known as Princess Toadstool, but she was otherwise the same character we have today: blond and wearing a tiara but nonetheless able to fight the bad guys as effectively as Mario and Luigi could. She was a captive in the first Super Mario Bros. and again in Super Mario Bros. 3 — and in fact when news of that later game came trickling out in the pages of Nintendo Power, I remember thinking, “It’s weird how they’re only showing screens with Mario and Luigi,” because why the hell would Nintendo ditch one of the best parts of the previous game with this new fancy sequel? But that’s exactly what Nintendo did. It would take until the Super Nintendo to see Peach playable again — but only in spinoffs like Super Mario Kart and Super Mario RPG. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 2007’s Super Paper Mario that she would be allowed into the side-scrolling, hop-and-bop action of the original titles, and it wouldn’t be until 2013’s Super Mario 3D World, which is in many ways a spiritual successor to Super Mario Bros. 2, that you could play as her in a “real,” non-spinoff Mario game.

(EDIT: It’s been pointed out that I forgot to mention 2005’s Super Princess Peach, the game that had the princess using her rapidly changing emotions as weapons — angry fire, pouring water for sad tears, etc. It’s possible I just wanted to forget it.)


In Super Mario Bros. 2, you could select which character you wanted to venture through each level, and on many occasions I’d play the whole thing through as Peach, just because I could and especially because I didn’t have to play as a male character if I didn’t want to. As time went on, I’d default to the female character in any game that gave the option. In Street Fighter II, I was Chun-Li. In Mortal Kombat, I was Sonya. In Donkey Kong County 2, I would routinely pick Dixie Kong and her whirling helicopter ponytail over Diddy Kong, the male counterpart who had no magic ponytail.

Growing up in a more rural, more conservative town, this was well and good for home console gaming but slightly awkward in public at arcades. I can remember going to a pizza parlor birthday party and bouncing from Darkstalkers (where I played as Felicia, the oversexualized cat-girl) to Tekken (where I played as Anna, a brassy female fatale who fights in an evening gown). This prompted one of the other kids to ask, “Why do you always play as the girl?” That was a scary question. I felt like I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t have, and I think I weaseled out of answering by lying about these characters being the best ones per all those video game magazines I read. But I honestly didn’t know what the motivation was at the time. I liked playing as female characters but couldn’t explain why.