Thursday, April 30, 2009

Undulating Undies With the Marabou Frills

The best of April 2009, says me.
And, of course, the visual index:

Moony Face

Check out my interview with Mike Doughty, in which he talks about work on his two next albums — one acoustic titled Sad Man, Happy Man, and one a side-project involving dance music that may or may not be titled Dubious Luxury — as well as about his new West Coast tour, The Question Jar Show.

Something Like or Pertaining to a Bandicoot

The previous post, which deals with naming issues plaguing the swine flu, motivated me to locate as many possible animal-related -ine words that refer to animals. It may not surprise you that the list was bigger than I anticipated:
  • canine (of, like or pertaining to dogs)
  • feline (of, like or pertaining to cats)
  • bovine (of, like or pertaining to cattle)
  • taurine (of, like or pertaining to bulls)
  • equine (of, like or pertaining to horses)
  • elephantine (of, like or pertaining to elephants)
  • serpentine (of, like or pertaining to snakes)
  • lemurine (of, like or pertaining to lemurs)
  • porcine (of, like or pertaining to pigs)
  • piscine (of, like or pertaining to fish)
  • ursine (of, like or pertaining to bears)
  • vulpine (of, like or pertaining to foxes)
  • lupine (of, like or pertaining to wolves)
  • aquiline (of, like or pertaining to eagles)
  • butine (of, like or pertaining to hawks)
  • columbine (of, like or pertaining to doves)
  • asinine (of, like or pertaining to donkeys)
  • ovine (of, like or pertaining to sheep)
  • caprine (of, like or pertaining to goats or ibexes)
  • hircine (of, like or pertaining to goats)
  • leonine (of, like or pertaining to lions)
  • tigrine (of, like or pertaining to tigers)
  • vespertilionine (of, like or pertaining to bats)
  • ranine (of, like or pertaining to frogs)
  • acrine (of, like or pertaining to frogs)
  • lacertine (of, like or pertaining to lizards)
  • terrapine (of, like or pertaining to turtles)
  • geochine (of, like or pertaining to tortoises)
  • cervine (of, like or pertaining to deer)
  • rusine (of, like or pertaining to deer, but the Indian sambur deer in particular)
  • elaphine (of, like or pertaining to stags or red deer
  • elapine (of, like or pertaining to cobras)
  • strigine (of, like or pertaining to owls)
  • cancrine (of, like or pertaining to crabs)
  • turdine (of, like or pertaining to thrush)
  • icterine (of, like or pertaining to bobolinks)
  • delphine (of, like or pertaining to dolphins)
  • orcine (of, like or pertaining to killer whales)
  • corvine (of, like or pertaining to crows or ravens)
  • leporine (of, like or pertaining to rabbits or hares)
  • murine (of, like or pertaining to mice or rats)
  • anatine (of, like or pertaining to ducks)
  • anserine (of, like or pertaining to geese)
  • picine (of, like or pertaining to woodpeckers)
  • pavonine (of, like or pertaining to peacocks)
  • sciurine (of, like or pertaining to squirrels)
  • alopine (of, like or pertaining to arctic foxes)
  • musteline (of, like or pertaining to weasels)
  • latrine (of, like or pertaining to otters)
  • martine (of, like or pertaining to sables)
  • phocine (of, like or pertaining to seals)
  • myrmecophagine (of, like or pertaining to anteaters)
  • lyncine (of, like or pertaining to wildcats)
  • dasypine (of, like or pertaining to armadillos)
  • soricine (of, like or pertaining to shrews)
  • bubaline (of, like or pertaining to water buffalos)
  • bosine (of, like or pertaining to yaks)
  • helodine (of, like or pertaining to gila monsters)
  • castorine (of, like or pertaining to beavers)
  • larine (of, like or pertaining to seagulls)
  • cavine (of, like or pertaining to guinea pigs)
  • procyonine (of, like or pertaining to raccoons)
  • meline (of, like or pertaining to badgers)
  • musteline (of, like or pertaining to badgers)
  • hystricine (of, like or pertaining to porcupines)
  • macropodine (of, like or pertaining to kangaroos)
  • aegypine (of, like or pertaining to vultures)
  • pongine (of, like or pertaining to orangutans)
  • alaudine (of, like or pertaining to skylarks)
  • actinine (of, like or pertaining to sandpipers)
  • varanine (of, like or pertaining to monitor lizards)
  • gruine (of, like or pertaining to cranes)
  • crotaline (of, like or pertaining to rattlesnakes)
  • sarcophine (of, like or pertaining to Tasmanian devils)
  • viverrine (of, like or pertaining to civets)
  • passerine (of, like or pertaining to songbirds)
  • oscine (of, like or pertaining to songbirds)
  • aedine (of, like or pertaining to mosquitoes)
  • psittacine (of, like or pertaining to parakeets)
  • herpestine (of, like or pertaining to meerkats)
  • cricetine (of, like or pertaining to hamsters)
  • rhombomine (of, like or pertaining to gerbils)
  • glirine (of, like or pertaining to dormice)
  • acarine (of, like or pertaining to mites)
  • herpestine (of, like or pertaining to mongooses)
  • kobine (of, like or pertaining to waterbucks)
  • acipenserine (of, like or pertaining to sturgeons)
  • zebrine ((of, like or pertaining to zebras)
  • isodine (of, like or pertaining to bandicoots)
I’m honestly not sure how many of these get used with any regularity and just exist after having been formed by extension from the animal name’s Latin root. It doesn’t matter to me either way. My take: Once we beat swine flu, think how many other flus we can get.

Sources: this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one, the last of which actually offered far more animal words than I could bear to transcribe.

Speaking of animals:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cough Cough Oink Oink

I enjoy that amid the worldwide concern over swine flu, people are willing to find something idiotic to bicker about.

Though I’m sure other people disagree, I could care less that some people do not like the name swine flu. According to an April 28 an Agence France-Presse article, U.S. ag secretary Tom Vilsack objected to swine flu on grounds that it could mislead people into thinking that pork is unsafe to eat. My response is this: Mr. Vilsack, you have little room to comment on bad names, for yours is Vilsack. If rhymes, puns, songs and bawdy limericks didn’t plague you in your gradeschool days, then they certain did the moment you chose to run for an elected office.

Furthermore, maybe you should allow the people who are attempting to contain this disease to proceed as they see fit instead of hampering them, even for a moment, with the thought that they should make the effort to call it something other than what they’ve been calling it for the past few days. For example, I would say it would be a bad thing if an important document detailing how this problem could be solved were to be delayed from dissemination because the person who typed it has to do a CTRL+H to replace the offending instances of swine flu with H1N1. If those precious seconds mean the differences of lives — or, say, my life — then I say maybe skip that step.

I am alive and well at the moment, however, and I’m going to use these valuable seconds to wonder about the word swine and how it has come to earn its spot in the name swine flu. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it comes from the Old English swin, “pig” or “hog,” which in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic swinan. That is to say that it doesn’t descend from Latin. In my experience, when diseases are associated with animals, they take the Latin-descended form of that animal’s name — Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, for example, commonly known as Mad Cow Disease. The Latin-descended term for pig is porcine, which I’ve mostly heard as describing people who exhibit piggy tendencies rather than referring to the oinkers themselves. Indeed, as much as I can recall, swine gets used in similar context as the other -ine words of the farmyard — equine, bovine, canine, feline, etc. — despite that porcine more closely resembles an English word associated with pigs than any of those others do any words associated with their respective animals.

I’m not anti-swine, of course — nor am I anti-swine, Mr. Vilsack — but I am nonetheless curious why porcine lost out. Could it have simply been that the Old English-descended swine happened to fit the pattern that its Latin-descended chums did by virtue of its three concluding letters? Swine certainly looks like it belongs there. It’s easier to spell, I guess. And one syllable is easier to say than two. Did porcine lose favor as a result of association with porcelain — which, as I’ve written about before, is related to the Latin word for pig but which has more pleasant, more delicate connotations than a wallowing pig? Google is not particularly helpful in answering this question.

Personally, I feel the name swine flu works well. It’s a great name for a disease, as a co-worker pointed out today. I agree. You hear flu by itself and you envision some fever-riddled sap on a couch, thermometer protruding from his mouth and one of those old-fashioned icepacks on his head. You hear swine flu, however, and you envision something filthier, something that revels in the collected waste of Old MacDonald’s entire menagerie. Even if you believe the theory that pigs’ association with unsanitary conditions is unfair, you still have to admit they’re creepy, what with their readily sunburning skin, their eerily understanding eyes and their overall appearance of some kind of malformed human. Really, what better animal to torment us two-leggers with their germs?


Note: If I die from swine flu, you’ll reread this one day and it will seem poignant.

A Spy in the House of Me

I nearly forgot: That J.J. Abrams issue of Wired about which I posted last week had one other gem to offer: Slydial. Call 267 SLY DIAL — or (267) 759-3425 — and you can send a voicemail directly to someone’s phone without having to talk to them. It’s ideal if you want to communicate something to a person without having to speak directly to them. Best of all: They’ll think they missed your call, putting the burden of the next exchange on them.

Also, it’s free.

Of course, I suppose I can’t use it on you all, now that you know about it, but I’d also like to think you’ll never know for sure if I’m ducking you or not.

Samurai in Chief

In late 2007, I wrote on this blog about Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown and all those other Neo-Geo quarter-crunchers of my youth that bombarded me with worldwide pop culture as reinterpreted by Japanese people. They were an education, those games, and I find again and again that I’m still learning from them today.

In this post in particular, I wrote about Samurai Shodown VI — released in 2005, long after I had reason to look for whatever arcades might exist anymore, anymore, maybe — and I focused on a certain character representing the American segment of that population of late-18th-century sword-swingers who crisscrossed the globe to either vanquish evil or promote it. (Such people truly did exist, if I’m to take seriously what video games tell me about world history. And I do.) The character’s name is Andrew, and nearly everything about him suggests that his creators based his design on that of Andrew Jackson, the United States’ seventh president.

andrew, patriotic american samurai-fighter (image found here)

and old hickory himself, andrew jackson (image found here)

This is all information I explained in the old post linked above. However, in that post I also discussed with unabashed geekcitement that SNK, the company behind the Samurai Shodown series, had vowed to port all the arcade titles onto a single disc, Samurai Shodown Anthology, for release on the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and the Wii. A year and a half later, the company made good on this promise. Since Samurai Shodown Anthology arrived in the mail last week, I’ve had a few occasions to play the game, to relive glorious days of prepubescent joystick-waggling and to explore entries in the series that I never before had a chance to play.

I’ve also had the opportunity to play as our former president, and his portrayal merits a little discussion.

First off, the series title is no misnomer: It does feature a lot of samurais. But not all the characters are samurais. Even the first game, in fact, features two American fighters: Galford, a blue-eyed, blond-haired ninja who hails from San Francisco and Earthquake, an obese giant from Texas whose attacks include noxious flatulence. The game takes place in 1788, before either San Francisco or Texas existed in the way the game depicts, but hey — at least they got the Texas body type right and behavior right. All that being said, it’s not especially remarkable that the series would eventually add another American into the mix. However, I didn’t expect that they’d use him for politically commentary.

For starters, they pretty openly associate Andrew with Andrew Jackson, and, by extension, the presidency and the United States as a whole. The stage on which Andrew fights, for example, is the White House, albeit a version of it with less urban surroundings than I’m used to seeing.

andrew dukes it out with mizuki (image found here)

no idea what’s happening here. eagle is dropping something on dog, for some reason. (image found here)

And the background music for the stage is none other than “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Andrew’s move set is pretty damn American too, which befits a guy whose dressed in a manner that suggests the Revolutionary War. (Of course, he’s wearing a red soldier’s uniform…) While most everyone else in the game fights with a sword or a knife, Andrew carries a rifle. He can slash at opponents with the bayonet, but, if the player so chooses, he can also just plug them with bullets. His projectiles sometimes take the form of screaming fire eagles. And, perhaps best of all, his super-de-dooper special move is called the Statue of Liberty. (Yet to perform it, will report on results when I do.)

One habit shared by all Samurai Shodown fighters can claim is that they never shut up. They yell and grunt in battle — often in Japanese, even when they hail from somewhere else — and then before and after each match, they spout quips — often in English, even when they hail from Japan. The quips can sometimes be tailored to specific opponents. For example, when Andrew fights Galford — who, again, is American — Galford politely addresses Andrew as “Mr. President.” Fact check: Jackson didn’t take office until 1829, of course, but then again he never kicked the shit out of a ninja, either, so it’s clear that the game’s creators aren’t letting a thing like historical accuracy get in the way of what they’re trying to do. And they’ve very clearly put a representative of the American presidency in the game.

With that in mind, consider another exchange between Galford and “Mr. President.” When Galford asks him why he fights, Andrew offers this: “I say I fight for freedom, but it’s really for world domination.” No beating around the bush there, so to speak. This dig at current American international policy actually took me by surprise, though I suppose it probably shouldn’t have. So far, I’ve found one other line like the preceding one: “You’re the biggest threat to world freedom!” It’s spoken by Andrew to one of the series villains. I suppose it can be read any number of ways, but the reoccurrence of the word freedom does not seem coincidental.

If Andrew reaches the final stage of the tournament, he fights the Japanese swordsman Yoshitora Tokugawa, himself being a riff on Ienari Tokugawa, real-life shogun who ruled from 1787 to 1837 and is therefore another embodiment of a certain nation’s politics. Unlike games in which all fighters must take on the same ultimate big bad, characters in this game each tangle with a final boss suited to their storyline, meaning that the a figurative United States-versus-Japan fight was more than likely intentional. If Andrew wins, he asks Yoshitaka to join his coalition of elite nations. Yoshitaka refuses, but representatives from France, Germany, and an un-named South American nation join, uniting the globe under a single American-style rule.

I know, not subtle at all.

I have no way of knowing how much of this criticism of the U.S. appears in the original Japanese version. For all I know, whoever translated the game into English took some liberties — or inserted them, anyway — to put in political commentary where none existed before.

Even if that were the case, it still would be hard to characterize Andrew’s ending as anything other than a grim triumph in which the U.S. conquers the world. Regardless of who did it and why and whether any of it should be read as tongue-in-cheek, I think it’s appropriate that the first game I can recall allowing me to play as an American president would also be the first inject a contemporary war into a samurai swordfight, however unsubtly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009



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Everything To Do With You

One final Coachella-related post before I shut up about the hot, loud weekend for another fifty-one weeks. At least two versions of the Coachella pocket guide were released this year: one featuring a day shot of the main stage — featuring some so-and-so with long hair and a sea of people listening to him play his guitar — and a second one featuring the Love and Rockets evening show from last year’s concert.

It has been pointed out to me that the second version, pictured above, features my friend York, whose snapped the Coachella photos from both this year’s concert and last year’s — which, in turn, accompanied Aly’s articles for this year’s concert and last year’s.

Sure enough, there he is, wearing a blue bandana and being eyed suspiciously by another shutterbuggery enthusiast immediately north of him in the photo. Makes me wonder if I showed up in any promotional images following my stint in the photo pit a few years back.

Here, by the way, is York’s highlight real.

And way to go on being unconsciously viewed by legions of sweaty-palmed hipsters.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Toothpaste Smells Like Teacher

Even if our stay in Coachella ended more than a week ago, I still have little these-and-those to post. I’d like to start your morning with this: our evidence of the single coolest thing at the house we stayed at.


In case you make out the writing on the package, it’s a tube of Neiman Marcus scotch-flavored toothpaste. This may be something everyone else in the world already knew of, but it was new to me. The joke, as it was explained to me, is that those who might have some less innocent reason for their breath to smell of scotch in the middle of the day can explain the odor away with the fact that this particular type of toothpaste exists, whether or not they actually have the product at home. In short, Neiman Marcus thinks your alcoholism is cute.

I actually tried it. It tasted about like you’d expect, so much so that I had to start over with my regular, baking soda-flavored variety afterward. The house also had a tube of Neiman Marcus’s bourbon toothpaste. I opted not to try it.

I looked online to see if this particular product can still be purchased. Based on the official Neiman Marcus website, it does not appear to be. I can’t say for sure, however, because I was quickly diverted by more entertaining prospects: the same department store’s after-dinner toothpaste kit, which includes crème de menthe, amaretto, and anisette flavors and a “Cordially Yours” kit that includes peppermint Schnapps, Irish creme, and crème de café. Not to be outdone, the Japanese have taken the notion of flavored toothpaste to whole new levels of goofy. This article claims that the Breath Palette company at some point has marketed toothpaste that smacks of pineapple, green tea, something called “monkey banana,” honey, kiwifruit, café au lait, plum, vanilla, something called “Indo curry,” strawberry, California orange, white peach, Darjeeling tea, lemon tea, bitter chocolate, blueberry, caramel, grapefruit, some awful thing known as “pumpkin pudding,” cola, fresh yogurt, lavender, something called “sweet salt,” Fuji apple, Kyoto-style tea, Japanese plum and grape.

Bit Too Late

Upon realizing that Nom Chompsky would be the best name ever for a pet, I became quite satisfied with myself. Then I Googled it. Big mistake — nothing’s more crushing than discovering someone else thought up your idea first.

Alas, I shall have to name my guinea pig something else.

Somewhere in Laredo

Points of interest deserving of shouts-out in the form of links:

A description of what it’s like to sit and float in a pool or mercury — though it lacks a matching description of what it’s like to die of mercury poisoning.

Via Cookie Jill, one of the better-done April Fool’s Day pranks I’ve heard of: BBC’s Great Spaghetti Harvest of 1957.

“Yo no quiero ser a fuckin’ abuela at thirty-nine.” (Via Spencer)

Matthew McConaughey apparently lacks the willpower to stand up on his own.

Pajiba’s review of the Beyonce Knowles-Ali Larter movie Obsessed. The piece is well-written and all but is particularly notable in that it notes the working title of the film was Oh Know She Didn’t.

The story of Jasmine the Motherly Greyhound, whose list of adopted “children” includes a fox, a rabbit, a fawn and an owl. In all: so touching I don’t even care if it’s the product of lies and Photoshoppery and some furtive scheme to steal my personal identification information, which it might be. Also, it’s responsible for giving us the image to the right. It just might be the greatest image ever.

Some amazing photos of the rare meteorological phenomenon known as “snow rollers,” which is exactly what it sounds like. (via Towleroad)

Standard-issue condoms are apparently too big for most Indian men. (via Co-Worker Ben)

Fritinancy sends up Maureen Dowd’s critical interview with the creators of Twitter with Maureen Dowd’s interview with the creators of the telephone.

Maria Bamford tells The Onion A.V. Club about her Facebook account being hacked by a Nigerian scam artist.

Arbogast on Film takes a look at the tendency for ghosts to plague the WASPishly named — and then offers a list of more racially diverse poltergeist victims he’d rather see.

Hi From Work says “Don’t go on vacation if you work here because bad things will happen to your desk.”

Look at This Fucking Hipster.

A Playboy journalist attempts to withstand fifteen seconds of waterboarding.

Club Silencio reminds us of the expressive capabilities of Laura Dern’s face. (And yes — the Look of Abject Horror from Blue Velvet is included.)

“They strapped him down, and then he was confronted by a mysterious floating ball.”

Press The Buttons offers a look as some official yet grotesquely off-model Super Mario Bros. art, and then some spot-on, nostalgia-inducing art that appeared further down the line.

Five facts you didn’t know about Bea Arthur. And then what five other grandmotherly actresses — including Betty White and Rue McClanahan — looked like during their heyday.

A band name that needs to happen: Sheela-na-Gig and the Hunky Punks.

Much-lauded high school quarterback appears to be sending the world subconscious messages in his list of colleges he’s considering. (via Co-Worker Chris)

Like an oxygen bar — only with gin.

And, finally, a little video titled “Disturbing Strokes,” which puts the footage to the opening credits of Diff’rent Strokes altered with creepy music.

The music apparently track comes from the The Dorm That Dripped Blood.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Holding Out for a Tilde

Below is a snapshot that didn’t make it into my post with the Joshua Tree photos. This store stands just outside the entrance to Joshua Tree, either in Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms. The store itself isn’t much different than any other such store that might dot the main street of any small Western U.S. town or the side street of a largish town.

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It’s the store’s name that earned it a photo and a subsequent shout-out on this blog. I know what it means to say: the possessive of the surname Peña, like the actress Elizabeth Peña. However, that’s not how it looks, that little cajigger above the “N” notwithstanding. I laugh. And I can only imagine what kind of prank calls this place must get.

A lesson: Twenty-nine palms ain’t enough to be pretty. Shoot for thirty, at least.

Who Is the What?

This week I get to make good on something I learned twelve years ago. During my freshman year of high school, I took my first-ever Latin course. Each chapter of our textbook ended with well-intentioned but ultimately useless facts about Latin. (“Did you know that the months of July and August take their names from names of Julius Caesar and his son, Augustus? Did you?”) However, one always stuck out to me, and I’ve never made much use of it until now.
quidnunc (KWID-nunk) — noun: a busybody.
The etymology as simple: quid, the Latin word for “what,” plus nunc, the Latin word for “now.” Literally interpreted, quidnunc means “what now” — as in “What now, Ethel the Gossip?”

russian for “ssh!”

The word also appears in Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words, where it is noted also having been used for a time to mean “politician,” the implications of which should not escape the notice of anyone who’s had reason to speak with an elected official worried about his chances of being re-elected.

Quidnunc beat out a whole host of strange “Q” words, including the utterly inexplicable qhythsontyd, which is allegedly an out-of-use representation for the word Whitsunday in some language where people spell however they want.

Previous words of the week:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

“A” Is for Aubsasca

Two perspectives on the best game of Scrabble I have ever played, the first being a more artistic view offered from a real camera and the second offering an iPhone’s view of the words themselves.



In case it’s not evident, we burned the rules down to the ground and built them up in a fashion that suited our mental state after the drive from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs: Make up any word, so long as it’s pronounceable, and then say what you think it should mean. If I remember correctly, we started with breoj and it degenerated from there. I can’t say for sure what any of these words actually meant, save for weaqif, which I’d rather not discuss here.

And while I usually do post something about strange and wonderful words on Saturdays, the real word will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Juliet Catapult

TKIntro goes here.TK
  1. Not much, unless the Stephanie in question happens to be Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Stephanie Meyer, Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks or Stephanie Tanner.
  2. Fairly certain this is a typo, but I really want it to have been Googled as the result of a conversation overheard by the one Isla Vista resident who didn’t hear about the real thing. “What is this Flobobubba?” he asks himself.
  3. My best guess is the song that has most of those lyrics in its title.
  4. This one I actually don’t get at all. I’m the number two hit for it, for no apparent reason. Can anyone explain this? Did Al Gore make such a slip-up? This blog says he did, but only in the comments. Does it explain the “ManBearPig” episode of South Park?
  5. A valid question. If bras were in fact not invented in the age of Nefertiti, is it nobler to accurately represent this failing in a Bible epic? Or is fancy-free jumbloswinging so offensive to God that such actresses should wear bras, anachronisms be damned? Also: Ha ha. A bra question about an actress who played a character named “Nefertiti.”
  6. Well, you’ve got a pretty great one there with intercourse, but there’s something to be said as well for relations.
  7. See number six.
  8. An egocentric way to state the situation, to be sure. Also, I’m surprised that after being on my blog for only a short while, my post on “R” and “L” problems is already the number two Google hit for this term.
  9. I’m slightly less surprised that my blog is the number one hit for this one. Incidentally, have any of you who have reason to remember Irma from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon ever noticed how much she looks like Jeanette, the brainy Chip-ette from Alvin and the Chipmunks?
  10. The answer: The town that Susie Derkins — as well as Calvin and his associate, Hobbes — lives in was never stated. But more importantly, her showing up in the same batch of search results as Irma and Jeanette makes for a highly unexpected triumvirate of nerdy women from my childhood.
  11. According to my understanding of the situation, a proper response would be something like “I requested no creamed corn.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spoiler: Lost Is All Patrick Duffy’s Dream

The current issue of Wired happens to double as the latest mystery-crammed project by J.J. Abrams, who’s best known to me as the man who has managed to tie up my Wednesdays with the hour it take to watch Lost and the subsequent several hours it takes me to think myself through a given episode. Don’t bother with the issue if you hate interesting things, such as the ultra-creepy Georgia Guidestones or Kryptos, the as-yet-undecoded art installation at CIA headquarters that continues to torment the office’s resident codebreakers.

Abrams himself wrote an essay on the magic of mystery and the how much we cheat ourselves when skip ahead. The piece even begins with this: “This essay ends with cheating. Specifically, my friend Greg and I, after playing a particular video game for eleven hours straight, are stuck. We call a fellow gamer to learn what moves we need to make to get to the next level. With the new information in hand, we complete the level.” And that is indeed how the piece ends. Reading it through, however, gives you a bit more. The Greg in question is the actor Greg Grunberg. The fellow gamer is a seven-year-old. The story takes place in 1989. And the video game is Super Mario Bros. 2. To me, these bits make the ending all the more meaningful. Do you hear that, J.J. Abrams? You’re right. I should have known to trust you. I can only hope the conclusion to Lost next year makes me arrive at the same conclusion.

On the subject of getting advice to help him conquer Super Mario Bros. 2, Abrams offers this: “[The] tip finally worked, and Greg and I finished the game that day. But I’d traded any true satisfaction for a cheat. I can’t even remember seeing the end screen.” Considering Abrams’s proclivity for jerking his audiences around, it’s odd that he would not remember the big surprise at the end of Super Mario Bros. 2. Twenty-one-year-old spoiler alert: As I noted in this post, it’s all a dream. Yes, I’m aware that’s the most overdone twist since the The Butler Did it. But to the six-year-old me playing the game — being wholly unaware of Dallas’s season-erasing It Was All a Dream plot twist — this ending was the craziest shit ever. And given how often delusion and memory and the subconscious-intruding-upon-reality figure into Lost, I would have imagined that the non-gameplay elements of Super Mario Bros. 2 would have stood out for Abrams.

Guess not.

At least one of two possible things can be learned.

One: Cheating his way through Super Mario Bros. 2 so spoiled the experience of playing the game that it completely eclipsed an ending that seems like it would have resonated with Abrams.

Two: Abrams isn’t bullshitting when he claims that the importance of the journey so greatly outweighs the arrival at the destination, in which case he may not care as much about how Lost ends as do the legion of Losers who so religiously track the show.

Capital “T” Things

As I mentioned, Tweeted, and previously blogged, I spent Friday at Joshua Tree, which, if you haven’t been, is basically a hot, windy playground for grown-ups, especially if grown-ups enjoy taking peyote and then scaling sheer rock faces. I can’t actually take credit for the comparison to a playground because it originally came from Hannah’s brain, through her fingers and onto a computer on which she wrote about her experiences there. Time constraints kept me off rocks, for the most part and especially those which should not be mounted without protective equipment. Kept me off the Joshua Trees themselves, too. And in my book, the trees looked just as fun to climb. Don’t know why they’re not more popular for climbing.

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Brilliant cactus flowers. Does it spoil the beauty if I mention that we spotted these particular flowers in the parking lot and not on the nature trails? The parking lot had the best flowers, by far. It’s kind of like getting off a plane, grabbing food at the airport and then never eating anything better in the city you’re visiting.

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This Joshua Tree dances like it’s having a heart attack.

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This rock is very contemplative. He’s thinking “How the hell am I going to get out of here?” Like me, he has a pronounced forehead. Unlike me, he’s able to grow well-defined sideburns.

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A Joshua Tree branch broke off, and the hollow stump that resulted has clearly grown a mouth. It said some pretty messed-up things and I didn’t like that. Things I fed the mouth, to no discernible effect: a dime, a Riccola, sand, and a kangaroo rat.

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I was struck by the beauty of this bare-branched tree, and I won’t cheapen it by making a stupid joke.

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This close-up of the tree looks a desert landscape, though a different kind of desert than the one in which Joshua Tree is situated.

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Quite a few yucca plants were readying to bloom when we passed through. This did not escape the notice of the bees. I saw one yucca in full bloom. This especially did not escape the notice of the bees, and I consequently don’t have any pictures of it. The bees were firmly in charge. They knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to interfere.

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While the flowering yucca stood a few inches taller than I do, the vast majority of flowering plants in the park seemed to adopt the strategy of sticking as close to the ground as possible, sort of how you’re instructed to do when you’re escaping a burning house. The similarity is not coincidental, I’m sure.

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Really, if you just stop and look at you’re feet, you see all makes and models of tiny flowers, growing like moss and each boasting its own miniscule ecosystem. For much of the trail, you walk on them.

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This rock formation looks like a snail wearing a gnome hat.

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This is what the snail-in-gnome hat would look like if it were viewed from slightly behind a yucca flower. (Not photoshopped.)

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And from this angle, you can see that the snail wasn’t a snail at all: It was a penguin. And to the penguin’s left, it has a little baby, which is a Yoshi head for some reason. I love geology.

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I wish elementary school nurses would make children look at a photo of this tree during scoliosis examinations.

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And, finally, here is Spencer. We hiked up to Keys View, which provides a view of the Salton Sea and, on an especially clear day, sometimes Mexico maybe. We saw the sea, but weren’t sure if Mexico was visible or not. I’d like to think that this explanatory plaque would have pointed it out had it been functional the day we visited. Now I don’t know what’s what. I could be looking an Mexico right now, for all I know, but I can’t say for certain, because of this unhelpful plaque.

All in all, however, a good day. A major negative that I’m still a little miffed about: We didn’t see U2 there. I think maybe they were hiding on top of the tall rocks.

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