Freakshow

They milled about, restless, anticipation making them jostle each other with elbows and words.  Three large tents bearing vertical stripes penned them into a large triangular yard.  The tents were resolutely shut, teasing the penultimate reveals with silence.  And the crowd in the open space grew.  People of all ages drawn there for a single unifying reason.  They bounced from foot to foot, they murmur-talked and occasionally called for the show to start, they rubbed their hands for warmth in the increasingly chill night air.  Their numbers swelled until they seethed, barely constrained, in the subconsciously marked space.  They shared a like eagerness.  They wanted the same thing.  They waited for the tents to open.  

Floodlights overhead snapped on suddenly, without warning or fanfare, and drenched the crowd in buttery light.  An audible buzz rained down from the bulbs.  The time was drawing near.  The crowd sparked with excitement.

A man emerged from the shadowed place behind one of the tents.  He placed a large pedestal on the ground then stood to one side.  A second man emerged and stepped up onto the pedestal.  He addressed the crowd in a booming bass voice.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said.  The crowd cheered.  “You are about to witness a singular event.  Never before has such a cabinet of forbidden curiosities been assembled in one place.”  The crowd cheered again, lustily.  “Your eyes will pop with wonder.  Your hearts will cringe in fear.  Beware!  Beware!  For what will be revealed cannot be unseen.  You will all bear witness.”  The crowd hollered approval and applause thundered up past the floodlights.  There was a heavy pause in which the man stepped down and vanished along with his assistant and pedestal.  Everyone strained to see which tent would open first.  

Blue vertical stripes fell away from one of the tents in a sudden melting motion.  The crowd surged, like a rolling wave crashing the shore, then recoiled with a collected gasp.  Red vertical stripes fell away from the second tent and the crowd, half-stunned, veered and surged forth again.  Screams rang out.  Green vertical stripes fell away from the final tent and the crowd rushed forward only to turn sharply with covered eyes.  They reeled between three points of horror, unsure where to fix their sight, unable to gaze at length and unwilling to look away.  For a long time hushed gasps, strangled exclamations, and an undercurrent of desperate murmuring filled the space.  Then, by the light of the waning moon and the sputtering floodlights, the crowd silently bled away into the fringed darkness.  

Soon the triangle of tents were alone in the great space.  

In the blue striped tent sat a glass cage and within that cage a simple wooden chair held a young girl.  Blonde, blue-eyed, dressed in a simple apron dress, the girl sat reading a book, her legs swinging back and forth as she turned pages in absorption.  In the red striped tent a similar glass cage held a similar chair in which sat a dark man with black eyes wearing a smart pin-striped suit with a red tie.  He read a book with a furrow of concentration on his brow.  In the green striped tent a third glass cage held a chair bearing a woman with flowing red hair dressed in a gown of emerald.  She too sat reading a book, utterly engaged in the words before her.  The girl’s book bore the title “To Kill A Mockingbird”.  The man’s book bore the title “Brave New World”.  The woman’s book bore the title “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”.  Above each cage hung a sign, suspended on delicate golden chains, that spelled out the titles in the hieroglyph iconispeak of the people who formed the crowd.  The ground beneath the feet of each silent reader was a carpet of ash.  

On some unspoken cue flames roared down from the top of the glass cages and swallowed the readers and their horrifying books whole.  The tents folded themselves tidily up once the flames had finished their meal.  They were collected by the two men, stored inside the pedestal, and whisked away to another town under cover of night and secrecy.

 

- Corinne Simpson

 

Pick of the Week - November 24-30, 2014

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the United States, so you would think that this would be the time for me to pull out my favorite Thanksgiving-themed television episode or movie for my pick of the week.  And, truth be told, I probably would if I had one.  To be honest, other than the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, which is so ubiquitous as to be pointless as a pick, I can’t say that there’s really a Thanksgiving-themed movie or show that I’m fond enough to choose.  Well, there’s the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Thanksgiving episode, “Pangs,” from Season 4, but, as I used a Buffy episode for Halloween, that seems kind of like cheating (Expect me to use it next Thanksgiving instead.).

So instead of something about Thanksgiving, we’ll go with something tangentially-related: Hudson Hawk!

(You see, we eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Turkeys are birds. A hawk is a bird. Hudson Hawk is a movie with the name of a bird in the title.  Taadaa!  Tangentially-related!)

Hudson Hawk  was not a big hit when it was released in 1991.  Critics panned it (The film is currently running at 24% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), and audiences didn’t seem to appreciate what has been called a massive ego trip on the part of the film’s star, Bruce Willis, who also has story credit.  It made $17 million in the US, which is a tad shy of its $65 million budget.  And remember this is a time before international box office could offset terrible US performance (Yes, I’m looking at you, Battleship.). 

I don’t care about the reviews or the box office, though.  I like Hudson Hawk, and I have since it came out.  I paid to see it in the theater, and I REGRET NOTHING!  The story, which follows a recently-released cat burglar who becomes involved in a world domination plot, is deeply silly.  The film’s villains, played by Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard, are so over the top that they can’t even look down at it from the height they're at.  And Andie MacDowell, as a secret agent/nun (Yes, that makes sense in the movie…sort of.) is awful.  But don’t fight it.  Let it wash over you.  Give in to the ridiculousness.  You may just find yourself singing along.  Oh…did I mention there were musical numbers?

You’re deeply intrigued now.   Go on.  Rent Hudson Hawk.  You know you want to.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Idle Thoughts

The last couple of months of the year always end up being incredibly hectic for me.  Starting at about Halloween, there’s something going on every weekend, and I get pulled in a hundred different directions.  That same scattering effect is happening in my brain right now as well, so, rather than my usual extended discussion of a single topic, this week I bring you a snapshot of some of the things running through my mind.

Lucky you.

Fall Television Carnage – Two of the new shows I decided to check out this season, Selfie and  A to Z, have already been canceled.  Gracepoint, which was always billed as a limited-run series, also certainly isn’t coming back for a second season (Unlike its British progenitor, Broadchurch), and Constantine’s ratings haven’t been great either.  Of the six new shows I decided to watch this Fall, it’s very likely that only Gotham and The Flash will survive to air a second season.  That's brutal.  On the upside, I'm getting more time back in my schedule.

 

Twitter – I’m on Twitter (@CmdrAJD), but I can’t say that I tweet very often.  As my posts may indicate, I’m a wordy bastard, so saying anything of relevance in 140 characters is very hard for me.  Aside from my friends, the main people I’m following are celebrities I admire.  But what I’m finding is that most of them know and talk to each other.  I’ll see conversations between Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage.  Or maybe Felicia Day will have a brief exchange with Neil Gaiman.  In some ways, it’s cool to be privy to these tweets between people whose work I enjoy, but in others it feels like sitting at the table next to the cool kids' table in high school.  You can hear everything that’s going on and about all the cool things they’re doing together, but, as much as you might want to, you can’t be a part of  it.  They’re not your friends, nor will they ever be.

 

The Power of The Doctor – I went to a trivia night at a local restaurant this week, and my friends and I decided to call our team, “Bowties Are Cool.”  After the game, a man and woman, both of whom were probably in their late teens or early twenties, came over to our table to let us know that they were Doctor Who fans and appreciated the reference in our team name.  Since I knew they’d appreciate it, I showed them the picture I had taken with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan at the Calgary Entertainment Expo back in April.  I underestimated the reaction I’d get a wee bit.  The woman was almost in tears.  I’m not kidding.  She immediately started stammering, “What?  How?  Where?” and showed me that her phone wallpaper was a picture of Matt Smith.

This is not the first time that I’ve been able to draw that kind of reaction with that picture.  Back in August, I got a similar response from a couple of twenty-somethings in Portland.  Based on that and the number of my son’s friends who seem to be Who fans, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was born 15-20 years too early.  The Doctor is In!  Geek Culture is In!  I wonder how my dating life in school would be if I was growing up now...

…Who am I kidding?  It would probably still suck.

 

Capaldi Season Review – But back to the Doctor, Peter Capaldi recently finished his first season in the role, and with the exception of two episodes, I enjoyed his take on the character and the direction of the series.  We’ll start with the negatives: “Kill the Moon” was just a terrible, TERRIBLE episode that made zero sense and hinged on an event that was preposterous even for the universe of Doctor Who.  “In the Forest of the Night,” while not terrible, felt pointless.  Our characters really had little effect on the episode’s story.  Many of the episodes also had plot points that felt rushed and not well-developed, which really has been true of the show for the last couple of seasons. 

In the plus column, though, Capaldi has put his own stamp on the Doctor, one that is very different than his recent predecessors.  This season’s Big Bad, Michelle Gomez, was wonderful when she was finally able to let loose.  Despite the promise of “darkness,” the show kept much of its sense of humor intact.  And, most satisfying to me, this season has completed the development of Clara from plot device to actual character.  Jenna Coleman has been given so many different aspects of her character to play over the course of these episodes, and she’s done a fantastic job.  I know the rumors are that she will be leaving after this year’s Christmas special, but at this point, I’d be quite pleased if she stuck around.  If she does another full season, she will be the longest serving modern companion.

 

Random Morbid Thought – Everyone dies.  From the moment a person’s life begins, they are on an inexorable march to their inevitable demise.  By having you, your mom and dad doomed you to die.  That means, from a certain point of view, all parents are murderers.

 

A Movie Moment – I went to see The Book of Life with my daughter a couple of weeks ago.  The movie itself, which is a computer animated film about the Day of the Dead in Mexico, drew a decided “meh” from the two of us, but it has within it one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve come across in a long time.  At one point our main character, who is a singing bullfighter (He’s also a figurine made out of wood, but that’s not really relevant right now.), is lamenting that he may lose the love of his life to another man.  To express his sorrow, he breaks into a somewhat-Mariachi inspired version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”  I love that song.  It’s one of my absolute favorites.  But hearing it this way in that film…well…I started laughing in the middle of the theater.  Yes, I’m a terrible person.

 

Thanksgiving – This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, and this year will be the first time since they were born that my kids won’t be with me.  Before you start feeling sorry for me, I will be with my parents and other family, so I won’t be alone staring forlornly into a microwave dinner.  This has, however, gotten me thinking about Thanksgivings I spent away from my family.  There was one that my ex-wife and I had with friends in Fort Polk, Louisiana.  Another we spent having a fantastic time in Los Angeles with another dear friend.  While we may have called these “Orphan Thanksgivings,” they really weren’t.  We were with families of our own creation, and I firmly believe that the families we build through our friendships are just as important as our biological ones. 

However you’re spending your Thanksgiving (with friends, family, a combination thereof...or even if it’s just a regular Thursday for you), I wish you a happy one.  Enjoy the peace and tranquility before the Christmas season descends upon us in earnest.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

The Death of Common Sense

I’m here to talk to you about the opposite of the Parents Television Council.  I’m here to talk to you about a little thing called common sense.  Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions”.  It’s basically sense that is commonplace, the ability to weigh options and choose the one best suited to your particular needs or what is best for your well-being.  Common sense in action would resemble something like not sticking your hand into a campfire to see if it’s warm.  This is because fire is hot, that’s a fact, and fire will burn your hand.  Thus common sense tends to dictate that you not stick your hand into the middle of a fire because of reasons involving burning and pain.   

The Parents Television Council essentially wants to make common sense obsolete.  They want governments and broadcasters to make all viewing choices for you so that you, the parent, never have to employ your common sense and/or actually parent your children.  They are upset about things like Charlie Brown specials being followed by adult dramas that open with sex scenes and shows called Sons of Anarchy that air on F/X (which is not a children’s programming network) featuring gratuitous sex and shows made by Seth MacFarlane containing questionable content.  Their argument is “What about the children?” because children are exactly the target demographic of Sons of Anarchy and all Seth MacFarlane shows.  I mean Family Guy is ANIMATED, you guys.  It’s obviously a kid’s show.  You know what else is animated?  Hentai.  But I digress.  The PTC is upset that things like gratuitous sex air on television on networks that are not HBO and Showtime.  They aren’t as upset about HBO and Showtime because those are premium channels that you have to pay specially for so you sex-addled violent heathens who are watching crap like Game of Thrones and The Knick and Boardwalk Empire deserve the brain-burning hellevator ride you’re getting by buying and watching such searingly family unfriendly content.  They are very upset that regular cable channels dare to show things like sex and, to a lesser extent, violence on prime time television because WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?  Don’t you see?  The children may not understand HBO but my god they can access NBC and F/X with ease so we need to protect their innocence by allowing the PTC to stop Sons of Anarchy from showing sex at all.

~ OR ~

We could parent the children.  Using common sense.

The thing is, I’m a childless-by-choice independent grown woman who likes watching complex adult dramas sometimes containing gratuitous sex and who more or less hates family programming and by god, that’s my choice.  If I want to mainline CSI, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, and American Horror Story, I can employ my common sense and click the necessary buttons on the remote to access those shows at the times they air and then I can watch them all and revel in their total lack of PG sensibilities.  Why should I not be able to make active choices to watch these shows and their violence and sex?  Just as I likewise make active choices to avoid whatever Nickelodeon is shilling on any given day?  If the pearl-clutching hand-wringing PTC members are so concerned that adult content isn’t appropriate for their precious snowflake offspring - and man, I’m not a monster, none of the shows I mentioned are at all appropriate for any child except Damien from The Omen – then they should use their god-given common sense to grab the remote and change the channel or shut the damn TV set off.  Children are not obligated to watch offensive programming because parents have the power of parental locks and bedtimes and rules about appropriate shows and remote controls and discussions about content and also the ability to parent.  You have all the power, parents, so use it.  Use it to stop your children from watching endless hours of TV without interruption.  Use it to have a conversation with them about why Family Guy is not appropriate even though it’s animated.  Use it to shut the damn TV off and play a board game.  

Nothing burns my cookies faster than the “What about the children?” argument when such arguments defy common sense and remove all responsibility from the parents in order to place it errantly with governmental institutions and broadcasters trying to make their share of a greedy buck.  I will dare to suggest that some parents agree with this stance, too.  Some parents do not want the PTC speaking for them because some parents are happy to guide and and parent their children responsibly and thus are happy to let adults watch their grown up shows without needing vapors over the mere thought that sex scenes may air on available channels at hours in which humans are still conscious.  

I don’t find everything on television tasteful and enlightening by a long shot.  I’m not soapbox defending however many iterations of Real Housewives shows are available or the mere existence of Fox News but I also don’t have any petitions for you to sign about them either.  I just choose not to watch them. So let’s just agree to disagree about sex on TV, okay?  I’ll watch it so your kids don’t have to.  Then everybody’s happy.

Common sense: it’s what’s for dinner.

 

- Corinne Simpson

 

Nathan's Laserium: There and Back Again - NZ Tenth Anniversary Edition

Ten years ago, which happens to be exactly one quarter of my life ago, Corinne and I gave up the keys to the Woodsy Crypt and went to New Zealand by way of Malaysia and Singapore. The original plan had been to go to Nepal first and work our way wherever, but when we went to purchase tickets to Kathmandu we were told the airport was closed due to rioting caused by (if I recall now) the assassination of Nepali nationals in Iraq. The travel agent (remember those?) was very sorry but she said it would be a while before air travel was expected to resume.

"Should we just go to New Zealand, then?" I asked Corinne.

"Two tickets to New Zealand, please!" she said. In fact the travel agent refused to sell us the tickets since she seemed to think there was no way such carefree spontaneity could actually be real, and she urged us to go home and think about our itinerary. Sleep on it, she probably said.

So we went to the next travel agency down the road and booked two tickets to New Zealand.

Quick shout out to Malaysian Airlines who are having a nightmare time lately. We booked our tickets with them. They were very lovely to us and encouraged us to take an extended layover in Malaysia so we did. Why not? Three weeks seemed about right.

And it was. We had many adventures including learning to scuba dive on this perfect little tropical island. Hopped over to Singapore for some Boom Boom Room and such.

Then we flew to New Zealand, home of hobbits and dwelling of dwarves. Wait, Corinne was much more interested in Elves. What's a good E word for that? Environment of Elves. We traipsed all over both the North and the South Islands in our little rented camper van we named Wedge whom Corinne immortalized here. We had so many adventures you wouldn't even believe it. Did you ever read a National Geographic article on NZ? We did all that. All of it. Yes even the Fjordlands. Well, we didn't visit a sheep farm. Wait, yes we did, the one they built the Hobbiton set on. Yup, we did it all.

Anyways I want to commemorate the trip on this anniversary. I only stayed a little while, until December. My years-long layoff at the coalmine ended, and Michelle was waiting for me to come home. Corinne stayed on for 7 more years. Met some Elves, just like she said she would. If there's one thing I learned about Corinne, both from living at the Woodsy Crypt and from the trip, is if she says she's going to do something, it's gonna happen. Even if there's no precedent in the laws of nature, she somehow finds a way. So this post is a toast to her, and to us, and to that trip ten years ago which I still think about all the time. Cheers!

We got motifically matching tattoos in Wellington- not the identical art but the same concept as interpreted by two different artists. Corinne wrote me a poem on this day exactly ten years ago (I shit you not) in my travel journal about mine which I share with you now:

 

... And Nath with his Ringwraith

and I in my cap

had just settled in Wedge

for a summer eve nap

when out on the lake

there came such a clatter

that we opened the curtains

to see what was the matter

A fell beast had flown

down from Pelennor Fields

and was dashing down riders

Gondorians, it was revealed

Nathan became a right

Homie Bear

and I with my fangs

followed him there

The beast- how it howled!

the fury- how fierce

but Nath would hear none

and spoke to it first

"Now listen you fell beast

you dasher of men

you'd better leave off

before i count to ten"

The beast would heed nothing

and continued his rage

So Nath allowed bear-strength

to guide him as sage

The two how they tussled!

The battle- how wild

but in the end Homie

won out by a mile

The beast no more plagues

the Gondorian men

for he's trapped on Nath's leg

as though put there by pen.

 

- Nathan Waddell