Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Cooking Pot

“The cooking pot, after his web show, made sure to pack a raincoat when he went out; after all, he didn’t know where that tomato had been.”
Sage looked up from her paper, grinning. Wally could feel a headache coming on. “Okay,” he said, “the assignment was…”
“… to write a short story that features a cooking pot, a raincoat, and a tomato,” said Sage.
“And you, of course…”
 “… looked those up on UrbanDictionary.com to find alternate meanings for each.”
Wally nodded. “Of course. A raincoat, obviously, is a condom.”
“A tomato… is that some sort of 1920’s slang for a loose woman?”
Sage shook her head. “No. It’s a guy who’s gay who doesn’t think or say he’s gay.”
Wally frowned. “I don’t get it.”
“A tomato looks like a vegetable, but it’s actually a fruit?”
“I wish that didn’t make sense. Now. A ‘cooking pot’…”
“’Pot’ just means marijuana,” said Sage. “But ‘cooking’ is a dance on a webcam done from the waist-up. Stretch your imagination. The sentence is about a dancing anthropomorphic clay pot.”
Wally nodded. “Fine. Repeat.”
Sage read: “The COOKING POT, after his web show, made sure to pack a RAINCOAT when he went out; after all, he didn’t know where that TOMATO had been.”
She looked up from her paper, the same grin across her face as before. “Get it?”
Wally stared at her for a few moments, and then said, “You are the worst person I know.”

Sage nodded. “I know.”

Once, Now

Once I was young. Now I am grown.
Once I took life frivolously, looked at things lightly, turned everything into a joke, always found the punchline. Now… uh… ditto.
Once I played too many video games, obsessed with the form, the colors, the action, the lights, the sounds, the visceral thrill. Now, video games are even so much better than they were then, seriously.
Once I rooted hard for sports teams, invested piles of passion in the follies of millionaires, cheered tell I cried, bled ‘til blue. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to get to Game 1 at Dodgers Stadium while in L.A. for a friend’s wedding.
Once I read comic books and thrilled in the adventures of superheroes. Now I try to find a producer for my play about the thrilling adventures of a superhero.
Once I hated green vegetables. Now… fuck kale.
Once, my life revolved around St. Joseph’s College, where I would stay all day, working, studying, socializing. Now, they pay me for some of that.
Once I collected action figures of my favorite characters and toys from my favorite franchises. Now, my daughter does, wink wink.
Once, I spent hours preparing to perform plays in the realms of academia. Now, I’d like you all to come see A RAISIN IN THE SUN this November, presented by the St. Joseph’s College Chapel Players.
Once I wrote essays of silly nonsense and empty morsels that went on for far too long and caused my teachers and professors to shake their heads with plaintive sighs. Now, I stick to the word count.
Once I had no interest in the news, or politics, or the economy. Now I miss Jon Stewart.

Once, I was really good at being young. Now, I have no idea how to be grown.

Lights in the Morgue

My dad was a Navy corpsman during the Korean War. He walked into a Naval recruitment station fresh out of high school; not that he had any great desire enlist, but his mother told him, “Your brother’s the one who gets to go to college, so you can either get a job or go to war.” He picked war.
He didn’t see much action. To hear him tell it, he spent much of his Korean military career playing baseball against local teams. He was a hell of a shortstop, he assures us.
There was, though, that one time…
The frigate he was stationed on was moored off coast from a building the military had converted into a morgue. One night my dad was on overnight watch, and he noticed that every light in the morgue was ablaze. He reported it to the lieutenant on duty, and he and my father got into a dinghy and were motored to shore.
Not to be cliché, but not a soul was in sight. My father pushed open the front door to the morgue (it was unlocked) and he and his lieutenant stepped through to find the main foyer as quiet as a… you know. The sergeant on duty was gone, his post abandoned and desk barren. Nerves on edge, my father and his lieutenant searched the first floor, found nobody, and then with some reluctance began down the steps to where the bodies were kept.
It was cold, and it was bright; all the lights on the lower level were on as well. Past the abandoned front desk and back through where the slabs were kept, a voice carried, agitated and angry. My father and his lieutenant shared a bewildered glance and (to their credit with only a moment’s hesitation) they headed on through.
There, amidst the drawers that hid the deceased, they found the desk sergeant. He had set up a table with four chairs; he was seated in one with playing cards in his hands. At the other seats, each with a hand of cards laid out in front of them, the sergeant had propped up three cadavers with whom he was playing poker.
My father and the lieutenant came up behind the man. “Sergeant,” the lieutenant asked, “what in the world are you doing?”
The sergeant barely glanced at him. “What is it look like I’m doing? I’m getting my ass handed to me in poker!”
My father and the lieutenant looked again at each other in disbelief. “You know,” the lieutenant said, gesturing to the other three players, “you’re playing against corpses.”
The sergeant slammed his cards down on his table in disgust. “That ain’t even the half of it.” He jumped to his feet and leveled an accusatory finger at the dead body across the table from him. “This sonuvabitch has been cheating all night!”
Needless to say, the following evening there was a different sergeant minding the front desk of the morgue. War is hell.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Splatoon is the Hunger Games

Splatoon is The Hunger Games. And bad news: we aren't the good guys.

Splatoon is the new technicolor online arena shooter for Nintendo's Wii U video game console. It's stupidly fun and bright and family-friendly (instead of shooting each other, the goal of the game is to paint as much of the arena in your team's color ink as possible... although you can also shoot the members of the other team).

There is, however, a single player mode to the game, secondary to the main online shooter. And it's in the course of this single player mode that you can uncover the oddly disturbing history between the game's main characters, the squid-inspired Inklings, and the antagonists of single-player, the Octolings. Historical scrolls hidden away in each level reveal how the world of Splatoon came to be, and as bits and pieces of the story come together visions of Quarter Quells can easily pop into one's head.

Spoilers ahoy: here are links that detail the history of The Hunger Games and the history of Splatoon, respectively. But to sum up: The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in a country called Panem that was in turn divided into 13 Districts. In an era known as the Dark Days, the citizens of the Capitol (District 1) squashed a rebellion that rose up against them from Districts 2 through 13, leaving the Capitol prosperous and the other Districts in ruin. To remember the Dark Days, the Capitol establishes the eponymous Hunger Games, an arena death match inspired by the battles of the rebellion.

Splatoon takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. In an era known as the Great Turf War, the citizens of Inkopolis (the Inklings) squashed a rebellion that rose up against them from Octo Valley, leaving Inkopolis prosperous and Octo Valley in ruins. To remember the Great Turf War, the Inklings establish their own version of Turf War, an arena match (death optional) inspired by the battles of the rebellion.

Enough from me, though. They say pictures are worth 1,000 words, so here are a couple thousand words:

The center of Splatoon's world is Inkopolis...

... while the center of Panem is the Capitol.

The citizens of Inkopolis, the Inklings, are obsessed with wildly colorful fashions...

... as are the citizens of the Capitol.

The Turf Wars are a multi-participant arena match that serves as a reminder of the Great Turf War...

... much as the Hunger Games are a multi-participant arena match that serve as a reminder of the Dark Days.

The participants of Turf War take starting positions on platforms...

... which probably looks familiar to Hunger Games fans.

There are a number of different weapons available to the participants of Turf War...

... as there are for participants of the Hunger Games.

In addition, there's ability-enhancing gear for Turf Warriors to utilize...

... and while the Hunger Games also feature ability-enhancing gear, it's much harder to come by.

The Turf War emcees are colorful hosts Callie and Marie...

... not to be confused with the colorful Hunger Games emcees, Effie Trinket and Caeser Flickerman.

Turf War is overseen by Judd the Cat...

... while the Hunger Games are overseen by the Gamesmaker.

But while the party is going on in Inkopolis, the rest of the world isn't in great shape. Take a look at the wreckage of Octo Valley...

... which doesn't look all that different from the wreckage in the Districts outside of the Capitol.

The Inklings had best watch out, though. Rebellion is afoot...

... I wonder which Octoling Jennifer Lawrence will play?

I'm going to go lie down now. You're so weird, Nintendo.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call?

You know, I have to admit: I am of the mind that there are parts of American culture that have become far too PC. Without getting into specifics (because that's not what this post is about), over the past three years or so I've seen raging socially progressive arguments online and offline that refuse to hear counter-arguments (an indicator of a radicalized opinion if ever there's been one) and/or which seem like a colossal waste of time and energy, in lieu of addressing real, actual world issues.

On the other hand, there's the regressive (which I assume is the opposite of the 'progressive' label) vocal minority and their reaction to this:

This is a trigger point for some, apparently: "How DARE they!" they yell, "How DARE they feminize my precious Ghostbusters!"

To which I, a big-time Ghostbusters fan growing up, reply: if you're any sort of a movie fan and you can't get excited for a reboot of THE premier sci-fi action comedy franchise starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, then you either A.) hate fun, or B.) are an asshole.

Maybe both.

If you look at the above pic and you don't recognize the comedic chops of the four women who have been chosen to strap on the Proton Packs, and instead all you see are four people who don't have testicles 'besmirching' a franchise that you perhaps don't even care much about, then you're part of the reason humanity can't have nice things.

This is a silly movie about people fighting ghosts, starring four insanely funny comedic performers. Get over yourselves, jackasses. Hashtag I can't wait.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Crossover Myth

Let me paint a scenario for you: you are a 40 year-old adult, and you have two kids, ages fifteen and eight, respectively. You take those two kids and you and see... let's say The Avengers, which is the flavor of the moment. Now: you love it, the eight year old loves it, and the fifteen year old loves it. No surprise, right? That's why big studios make movies like The Avengers, so an entire family will want to see it and each of them will buy a ticket. More people, more money, everyone wins. 

The scenario I described above is what most of the world would call a family going to see a movie designed for the whole family. No big deal. To the publishing industry, though, a family enjoying the same piece of entertainment across multiple generational lines is a mystical phenomenon with its own name: crossover appeal.
"That'll never work." - The Publishing Industry
It's absurd, of course, but in modern publishing, where books are divided by age before genre, all-ages appeal is inconceivable to plan for. Here's how the industry parses it down: you have your general fiction, which is for adults. You have your young adult fiction, which is for teenagers. And you have your middle grade fiction, which is for about ages 7 to 12. Before everything else, before genre even, every book must be categorized along those lines.


Now: the industry recently noticed there's a gray area dividing young adult and adult fiction, and twenty-somethings were gravitating towards books designated for both age groups. For you and I, this would have been a sign that dividing all stories up by age was probably too strict an idea, and crossover appeal, perhaps, was more the norm than the industry believed. 

In the world of publishing, it was taken to mean that a NEW age-based genre was needed, which they created and called NEW adult fiction. Books for twenty-somethings. Because twenty-somethings are NEW adults.

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I've been running up against it for years. To the publishing world, Race & Cookie is an enigma. Here's how the publishing industry looks at Race & Cookie

"Okay. This is a book with a decidedly middle-grade tone, but neither of the protagonists are of middle grade age."

(Oh, books aimed at an age group can only star characters of that same age group. Have I mentioned that yet? Does it make you want to give up on humanity? We had a nice run.)

Continuing: "So it can't be middle grade fiction. One of the protagonists is 15, but she's the only teenager in the book so it can't be young adult fiction; besides; there's no love triangle and not enough sexual titillation."

I remind you, these are actual things that have actually been said to me. Going on:

"Race is an adult and the other characters are adults, but without swearing, sex, and/or explicit violence, you can't call this a straight-on piece of adult fiction. It's too much of a children's book, but that brings us back to problem one: there are no children for main characters."

Still all real things.

"So unless Race and Cookie are de-aged so that they are both grade school students, this book is completely unmarketable."

Stand and make with the slow claps, people. Stupidity like this deserves to be recognized. 

Now. Here's how the rest of the world looks at Race & Cookie:

"It's an all-ages book."


Okay, then.

Hollywood puts out all-ages blockbuster ten times a year. Publishing finds one of its precious "crossover appeal" Easter eggs once every five years, BUT ONLY BECAUSE THEY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE ALL-AGES MARKET ACTUALLY EXISTS.

Congratulations. The next time someone tells you "print is dying," you'll understand why.