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Friday, April 29, 2005

Don't Hurt The Midget

Today, after I rolled out of bed at around two in the afternoon, I got to experience a rare treat. I got to see the Jerry Springer Show.

I'll be honest, I was surprised to find out that it was still on. After it was briefly en vogue for a while a few years back (the heyday of ultimately disappointing Too Hot For TV specials and a pretty terrible movie), the Springer show sort of dropped off the radar for a while, and if you have, you know, a job, you might miss it entirely. And yet, there it was, just as I remembered it. Same faux-brick and rusted-pipe setting, same cheating lovers being confronted, same Steve breaking up the fights. And in the center of it, one of my heroes, Jerry Springer himself.

Bear with me on this one. You probably just know Jerry from the show, and that's fine. Nobody expects you to know anything differently. But on the off chance that you're from Southwest Ohio, you might remember him as the youngest mayor of Cincinnatti, whose career was brought to an end by a scandal involving Jerry writing a check to a prostitute. That's closer to the truth, but still off.

The check/hooker scandal actually happened before he was mayor.

Here's the short version: Jerry came to America when he was five, fleeing the Holocaust with his parents. He volunteered for Bobby Kennedy's campaign, and then turned to politics himself, running for and eventually winning a seat on the Cincinnatti City Council. He was re-elected for a second term, and THAT'S when he wrote the infamous check. He immediately resigned amidst a scandal.

But rather than end his political career, the scandal--and the way Jerry was so open and honest about it, even going so far as to crack jokes at his own expense on rock station WEBN--served to refocus him. He'd lost the support of the Democratic party, and so ran for city council without it, winning his third term, and going on to (with party support) run successfully for mayor.

That was followed by a ten-year job as a news anchor, which led in turn to his own talk show, a serious affair that tanked in the ratings, then rose from the ashes of legitimate journalism to include commercials like: "Are you a prostitute who wants to tell her story? Call us now!" It's a beautiful thing.

It's Jerry's rise as the reaction to his spectacular fall that I admire as a truly American success story. He's a guy who came back from a career ending scandal to not only help people the way he wanted to, but to be wildly popular while he did it, before ending up in a career where he basically goes: "Hey, check out these yahoos."

You can see the appeal for me.

Such was the case with today's episode, which kept me rivited, wide-eyed, to the screen. So there's this girl, right? And she thinks her brother's made the wrong choice in his love life by having a child with a married woman whom he completely supports through his house-painting business.

And yes, the brother in question is indeed a midget. Oh man, it was awesome.

It had it all. The two girls fought each other, the midget ripped his shirt off to display his wares, and it was followed up by a toothless man who had cheated on his wife twice being made--at the audience's request--to both kiss her feet and roll over like a dog. I don't feel it's necessary to say this, but he was shirtless as well, having divested himself of it while threatening to make an audience member "his bitch, like in prison." I was on the verge of tears with the happiness it brought me.

So there I am, staring at the guests, six people with four sets of teeth between them, and I ask the same question that you do when you see it: "Where the hell does he find these people?"

Later, I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken, where a girl whose nametag identified her as "Precious" screwed up my order. Oh, right, I thought. THAT'S where.

Unfortunately, I missed the Final Thought, but I did get to see the segment of the show where the guests are seated onstage like a panel, and the audience asks questions. It was during this segment that one guy got up, took the mic from Jerry, and delivered one of the best sentences I've ever heard on television:

"I don't know how to ask this, but... can I ride the midget?"

Yes, my friend. Yes, you can. And afterwards, he'll ride you in a hilarious piggy-back around the stage. All while Jerry looks upon approvingly, with me silently thinking: "He was the mayor. He was the mayor. He was the mayor."

I love this country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Here's Your First Lesson: How To Take a Fall!

There's an old story about Harlan Ellison where he's giving a talk to a bunch of college kids, and--in true Harlan Ellison fashion--he gets bored with their line of questioning and wants to take it in a different direction. So he asks them what they think the best movie of all time is. Now being that this is a bunch of students, he's expecting Casablanca or Citizen Kane, which means he's absolutely shocked when this one cat gets up and goes:

"Blade Runner!"

So there Harlan stands, with the other kids nodding and agreeing, momentarily stunned.

"Wait a second," he reportedly says, "I ask you for the best movie of all time and you guys think it's Blade-fucking-Runner?"

I can really sympathize with Harlan in that situation. I mean, everyone knows that the single greatest film of all time, and I'm dead serious, is 1984's Karate Kid.

In case you haven't seen it (and I can't even imagine the kind of life you've led if you haven't), Karate Kid is the story of Daniel Larusso, a young man who hates his bike (hates his stupid bike!) and needs to take karate (not at the Y, mom! At a real school!).

The cause of this burning desire is a nemesis in the form of Johnny, who responds to Daniel's arrival in California from his native New Jersey by immediately beating him up in front of Marty McFly's girlfriend from Back to the Future II. See, Johnny knows an evil form of karate taught by John Kreese: The Cobra Kai Style. In true 80s fashion, the Cobra Kai is deadly and merciless, and the students use their knowledge of martial arts to push people down hills and keep them from scoring with Elizabeth Shue.

Kreese is played by Martin Kove, America's greatest living actor. Seriously, he is awesome, and Kreese ranks alongside Darth Vader and Angel Eyes as one of the best villains in film history, and that's a fact.

Anyway, not that you really need me to tell you this, but Daniel finds his own personal Yoda in the form of Mr. Miyagi, who uses him for slave labor while subconsciously teaching him to unlock the Secrets of the Warrior Power. He then enters the All-Valley Karate Tournament and proceeds to beat the shit out of everyone who crosses his path, and even survives a deadly attempt to sweep the leg, which causes Mr. Miyagi to use his magical fucking powers.

FACT: That sentence just blew your mind.

You can have your Star Wars and your Lord of the Rings, but I think we all realize now what the true Holy Trilogy is. And there's even an extra flick starring Academy Award-winner Hillary Swank thrown in... for the ladies.

But beyond all of its memorable pop-culture appeal, Karate Kid is actually a really good movie. "Wax on, wax off" may be the punchline to a million jokes, but you might've forgotten the part where Mr. Miyagi gets drunk and shows Daniel how his wife died in an internment camp while he was fighting in World War II. It's a truly incredible piece of character development that even outshines that time he chops the beer bottles in half with his bare hands.

The movie is, to say the least, incredibly prevalent at the shop. Not a week goes by that we don't get into a lentghy conversation about it, and it's rare that we make it a day without dropping a quote. And don't think we go for the obvious, either--there's no waxing off at our shop, Jack. We go for the good stuff:

"I'll be safer takin' the bus!"

"Man who catch fly withi chopstick accomplish anything."

"Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?! Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?! Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?!"

"If a man attacks you on the street he is your enemy! An enemy deserves no mercy--WHAT IS THE PROBLEM MISTER LAWRENCE?!"

"No call no one nothing."

"You're a pushy little bastard. I like that."

And my personal favorite, shrieked in a falsetto, yet undeniably male voice: "JOHNNY YOU'RE A CREAMPUFF!"

See? Amazing. And believe me, I could go on. I could get into Karate Kid III, where Kreese gets his old buddy from the 'Nam, Terry Silver, also known as the Bad Boy of Karate, to split the Larusso/Miyagi partnership and... make his knuckles bleed.

But I won't. Because everyone knows in their heart that this is the best movie of all time because of one simple fact. And that is this:

Not only you, but everyone you know--every single person you've ever spoken to--has at one time in their life attempted the Crane Kick.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 5

Despite the fact that we went to Ohio for the death, and ultimately the burial, of my grandmother, the whole thing played out like a weird, surreal road trip, albeit a pretty depressing one.

Including travel time, I was up there for eight days so when I wasn't staring into the depths of madness in the form of a suit, or delving into the mysteries of the occult, I had a lot of time to kill.

Most of it I spent reading through the stack of books I'd brought along with me. But eventually, once I realized that I had a shirt and tie to wear to the funeral, but no pants to go along with it, I had to go shopping.

So it was off to Tri-County Mall. While I was there, I saw a couple stores that caught my eye. The first was a little gem called Torrid Plus Sizes Now, being that I'm familiar with the terminology used in erotic fan-fiction, that's a phrase that terrifies me. But Mom wanted to see if they had any "cute tops," so in we went.

They were playing En Vogue's classic empowerment anthem "Free Your Mind," but I only heard a few seconds of it before my brain decided to shut down all of my senses to keep me from going mad in the style of a Lovecraft story.

My own personal cyclopaean ruin was this: At the back of the store they had a rack with a sign identifying it as "Plus Size Thongs." Now while that on its own isn't a bed of roses, you don't get to my level of Buddha-like shape without developing a healthy tolerance for that sort of thing. What set me off was the giant-size mannequin ass on top of the display, complete with a butterfly-adorned pink string disappearing between its corpse-white plastic cheeks.

The other store that caught my eye did so not because it sold pimp suits (and this was the day before the funeral, in a weird bit of foreshadowing), or because the clerk behind the counter in the middle of the store was furiously lyp-synching and gyrating to a Kanye West song, but because it had the single greatest name I've ever seen on a retail establishment:

Harold Pener
Man of Fashion

Somewhere there's a guy attatched to that name who's like the Indiana Jones of the fashion world. You'll see him sneaking into an ancient crypt to get the finest silk for his suit. He's my new hero.

I did a lot of eating while I was up there--it's how us midwesterners deal with grief--and I noticed something: People up there love little food. Seriously I don't know what the deal is, but it's true. The North is the home of White Castle, where they actually have a listing on the menu for 30 Hamburgers. Even the pizza I got from Donato's was cut into 24 small slices. But the best example of this is Gold Star, the home of the Cincinnatti Coney. A coney, for those of you who don't know, is a three inch long chili-dog. I can't get enough of 'em. I've had trips up there where I've literally eaten there three times a day, shoving tiny hot dogs into my mouth with both hands.

They also have salads (complete with chili and cheese), a new feature they've decided to advertise by putting disgraced baseball player and all-around loveable shlub Pete Rose in front of a camera and having him go: "Them salads are good!" Once you see that, you'll know what true joy is.

But the best part of any road trip is the places you go to on the way to your destination. Like this gas station we stopped at in North Carolina that featured a vending machine that sold nothing but live bait. A dozen nightcrawlers for $2.50! I don't know if that's a good price, or what, but you can't beat that kind of convenience.

About 20 miles south of Knoxville, there's another favorite landmark of mine: A truly massive porn shop. It's called Adult World and it covers about the same area as your average strip mall. That's how much porn there is. It's a Porn Utopia. It's literally more porn than anyone could possibly need, and I say that as a guy who was once a 15 year-old with access to the internet.

Adult World, Exit 34.Anyway, that's funny in and of itself, but what really sets Adult World aside is that roughly fifty yards away from Adult World's front door is a massive, 40-foot tall cross made of what appears to be aluminum siding. You can see it for miles. Apparently, some concerned citizen bought the adjacent plot of land, and thought maybe he could get the people coming out of Adult World with their new copies of All-Teen Anal Gangbang 4 rethink their lives a little bit.

But speaking in terms of cultural significansce, Adult World pales in comparison to a stop I made about a hundred miles North, in Corbin, Kentucky: The Sanders Cafe and Museum. That's right, the first-ever Kentucky Fried Chicken. I saw the sign on the way up and wanted to stop there, but for some reason my mother was hell-bent on getting to Hamilton. We compromised and stopped by on the trip back.

Getting there required getting off the highway and going through a series of numbered traffic lights, before finally pulling up next door to a combination tattoo parlor and auto customizer. As we got out, I was visibly excited, and these two FedEx guys making a delivery to the Cafe got a huge kick out of it. That's one of the weirdest things about this place: For them, it's just the neighborhood KFC. But for me, it's a fast-food Mecca.

The place is actually pretty neat: There's a modern KFC connected to the original building, so you can go in and get your Crispy Strips or whatever and then go eat them where Colonel Sanders mixed the legendary herbs and spices in 1940.

It's the museum part, though, that you really need to see. It's simultaneously the most disappointing and most awesome place I've ever eaten. It's the worst museum I've ever been to, but it's so crappy as to be charming. All they really have is a room set aside to look like the Colonel's kitchen and a model of what the place looked like back in the day. There's a couple of life-size statues of the Colonel himself, but one of them is wooden and a few fingers have broken off, making him look like he's just getting back from a particularly disastrous 4th of July.

What really sticks out in my mind, though, is a glass case built into the wall of the KFC side. There's a sign on it that says: "The Colonel's Trademark White Suit and String Tie."

The case, of course, is empty.

See? It's terrible, but also downright adorable. And if you're like me, standing there staring at the empty case wondering just where the suit is if it's not in the frigg'n Colonel Sanders Museum, it adds a nice touch of mystery.

Outside, there's the best part of the whole place: An actual, Honest-to-God, State of Kentucky Historical Marker. Maybe it's just me, but seeing the same kind of marker outside the birthplace of a fast-food empire that they put at battle sites, confederate cemetaries, and the scene of the Lincoln assassination gave me a sense of comfort.

It's a crazy world.

The Funeral Diaries, Interlude

Here's a phone call I got on the day of my grandmother's funeral.


"Hello, is Gene there?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Are you Gene?"

"Um... No. I'm his grandson, his wife just died and I'm here for the funeral."

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that, but I'm calling to offer you a great deal on satellite television. Do you know if he has cable?"

Insert here the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.

"Because we're offering a package with local channels, sports channels, and movie channels--"

"Um, could you--"

"Do you know what he's paying for cable right now?"

"I... I have no idea--"

"Because we can save you an average of 20 to 40 dollars per month, and--"

"Look, I hate to cut you off, but I've got a funeral to get to."

"Oh. [Pause] Have a nice day."

Okay, look. I realize you're a telemarketer, which means your life isn't quite turning out the way you wanted it to, but seriously: What the hell, lady? When the words "death" and "funeral are brought up, that's pretty much your cue to knock it off.

Unless you're selling coffins or burial plots, in which case it's a great icebreaker.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 4

One of the weirdest parts about someone dying is that someone else has to go through all of their stuff. As materialistic as it sounds, the things we own say a lot about who we are. And the things we get when we divvy up a deceased relative's belongings might say more.

When my dad died, I ended up with a TV, his ID badge from work that shows him with a ridiculously huge grin, and a couple Kirbyesque pencil-drawing he did of the Silver Surfer, Odin, and the Fates. And on the trip for Ruby's funeral, I got my sister to give me a deck of tarot cards designed by Aliester Crowley that he happened to have laying around.

What does that all say about dad? What does it say about me that those are the things I chose to remember him by? Like I said, it's weird.

Going through Ruby's things was even weirder.

For one thing, she had tiny amounts of cash hidden everywhere. Under the carpet, in the kitchen cabinets, everywhere. We kept finding it during the part of the trip that I took to calling "The Legend of Ruby's Gold" in my best Jack Palance impression. And if that wasn't strange enough, it was all divided into the envelopes you get at the bank when you make a withdrawl, which made me pretty sure that Ruby would occasionally go to the bank, take out some money, label it "March, 1998," and just throw it behind the coffee cups. Utterly bizarre.

And then there was the gun.

Go back and read that sentence again, making sure to remember that she was a 75 year-old atshmatic who wore prescription glasses, and then tell me that's not a terrifying thought. It was an old .22 pistol--surprisingly heavy for being so small--that looked like something that would pop out of Jim West's sleeve at a crucial moment. Again, weird enough on its own, but the presence of the .45 ACP round we also found (with no gun to match) made me feel like we were going through a Dasheill Hammett story. Had my grandmother once been a dame who was nothin' but trouble from the moment I saw her?

God, I hope not.

So while mom was busy with all that, I found a few items of my own personal interest. In the hall closet, I found a couple of paperbacks from the sixties, the kind you pick up at Friends of the Library used book sales or find in, well, your grandmother's hall closet.

Now before I go on, I think it's important to note that my grandmother was a devout Baptist. To borrow a phrase from Sarah Vowell, her favorite book was simply called "Matthew." So try to keep that in mind when I explain these things.

The first one was bright red (a color that's showing up in this story with David Lynchian amounts of symbolism) and was a steal in 1966 at a mere 75 cents. Its cover read;

Unbelievable People!
Actual Authenticated Cases of Man and the Supernatural!

Then there's four illustrations, divided into panels. One's of a mideval figure with what looks like Aquaman's telepathy emanating from his head with the caption: "Paracelsus and the mysterious force that heals--and kills." The others are along similar lines: "Dr Ash: Modern healer who drove out an ancient devil" and "Fantastic case of the pretty pianist's vanishing eyes."

Flipping over to the back, you get two more illustrations. I'm guessing they were put on the back cover due to their content, because here's the captions: "Miss Penrose: She finds fortunes through her secret vibrations" and--I shit you not--"The Professor worked a miracle with his 'magic rod'."

How could this book get any better? Well how about the back cover copy:


Throughout the centuries, certain men and women have wielded mysterious and uncanny powers. Here is a book which traces those powers to the 'X' Force--a certain kind of supernatural energy. This book may astound and amaze you. But you will be undable to deny its incredible truth..."

Oh yes. They dropped the X-Bomb. I don't know about not being able to deny it, but I'm definitely astounded and amazed. It was the single most awesome book I'd ever seen until I moved it aside to see the one under it.

Book #2 has a black cover with the following copy:

The seeds of civilization were sown by
The Evidence for Alien Visitors to Earth Before the Dawn of History

I saw that and knew I had to have it. The first twelve pages are missing and the cover's detatched, but don't worry, there's gems to be had. Such as:

"When we read the Bible in that way, we must first note that the Hebrew word Elohim usually translated as 'God,' is a plural. If we read 'Those who came from the sky,' or 'the Celestials,' each time the plural Elohim occurs, we find ourselves reading a narrative that needs no exegesis, no helpful prodding, no religious conviction in order to be thoroughly coherent."

Wow. The author goes on to reference Voltaire, but I'm stuck on this bold new concept. Next time you read YOUR favorite religious text, try substituting random phrases like "The Celestials," "Hollywood Producer Michael Bay," or "The Incredible Hulk" for the name of the principal figure. You might find the results intriguing.

The only other thing I took was a small green box. To understand the significance, I have to explain that my grandmother put labels on everything and kept the receipt for everything she bought. Open up the refrigerator, and everything you see has a piece of masking tape or a post-it on it with its name and date of origin in her terrible handwriting. I half expected to see little notes on the paperbacks that read: "Paperback novels on the occult. Bought them for a laugh. 11/84" wedged into the pages along with a sales slip that would let me know where the hell she could've bought those things, but no such luck.

So now I've got this box. It's about seven inches long, two wide, and two deep. Emerald green with gold trim. Inside is another box, green velvet, the kind you'd get at a jewelry store. Inside that box is a small square of yellow paper covered in cramped black handwriting.

"Bracelet box. I have no idea what was in this. Christmas, 12/98."

Next: Roadside Attractions

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 3

We buried my grandmother on Tuesday morning, right before the weather turned cold again. There was another ceremony with the same rev, and it left me feeling as empty as the first one. There was, however, no pimp suit at the cemetary.

Mom cried, and I spent my time avoiding relatives. This time my dodges were aimed at The Girls, a pair of kindhearted but genuinely creepy sisters from my dad's side of the family. And I'm not proud to say this, but I essentially threw my sister into their field of vision while I beat my own hasty retreat to hide behind the nearest tree.

After the burial, I struck up a conversation with the funeral director, bugging him with questions about the business. Now this might have been the most insensitive thing I did on the entire trip--and that includes playing my sister's Nintendo DS in the ICU waiting room--but really. It's a fascinating subject and you almost never hear about it.

We'd taken a limousine that the funeral home provided to the cemetary, so on the way back I got into the passenger seat to continue the conversation. The funeral director, Barry, was surprisingly funny and downright charming, and I got the feeling that it was a relief for him to not have to keep up his facade of professional sympathy.

He was also incredibly informative. I didn't even know that you had to have a specialized degree to work in a funeral home. I just assumed it was a job you sort of fell into, but it actually requires three and a half years of study with courses like "Social Aspects of Death and Dying," "Cremation Fundamentals," "Death in Literature," and my personal favorite, "Gross Anatomy for the Embalmer."

When I asked Barry how he got into the business, he told me that he'd been raised on a farm and when he was a kid, his dad wanted him to get some extra work. The funeral home was tearing down an old building, and he helped with dumping the rubble. That led to a summer job mowing the lawn, and eventually to an apprenticeship, a degree in Mortuary Science, and a thirty-year career in the death industry with a side-job telling elementary school students about Egyptian mummification techniques.

Apprenticeship, Barry told me, is the part of the job that makes most people give up, although I imagine once you've made up your mind to spend the rest of your career surrounded by corpses, there's not a lot that's going to dissuede you. Being the apprentice in the funeral industry is just like being an apprentice in any other business, but the grunt work you have to do is, I imagine, far more disgusting.

For instance: Barry mentioned that in his talks to fifth-graders, one of the first questions he ever got was from a little girl wondering what they do with amputated limbs. He chuckled about the question, but I'd never even thought about it before.

"So what DO they do with them?"

"Well, these days, if it's like a patient at a hospital with, say, diabetes, and they need to amputate, they'll just incinerate the limb at the hospital. But before, and sometimes today, they'll just hold onto it and the apprentice will have to go get it and bring it back to the funeral home for storage."

"Wow. I just got this weird mental image of a drawer full of severed legs."

"You're not too far off."

See? Fascinating.

Next: Hidden Treasure

The Funeral Diaries, Part 2

Before I get going on this one, a word on the citizens of Hamilton: They are not very attractive. Now I live in the SMT, and it was a running gag during my high school days that there are some ugly people in this town, but everyone in that burg looks like they should be living in the sewers with Callisto. Seriously, it's disturbing. I see more hot girls in a typical day at work than I did in a week up there, and I work in a frigg'n comic book store.

This'll be relevant later. Promise. Now back to the point.

We held the funeral service for my grandmother on Monday. It was an open-coffin service, and the makeup job they did was incredible. It's a cliche, but she really looked like she was just sleeping, as opposed to when my dad died and the makeup was a weird shade of orange. I guess they were trying to give him a tan to go with the Hawaiian shirt and jeans we buried him in, but it just came out all wrong.

It was one of those eulogies where the rev talked way more about Jesus than the person who actually died, but it was lovely and Ruby would've loved it. Even the slide show. Still, it made me wonder whether the entire concept of an afterlife is based around making ourselves feel better when someone dies. It's not a new idea, but it's one that I found myself mulling over quite a bit when I wasn't staring at the assembled mourners in slack-jawed shock.

I can tell you: There's nothing more sobering than having a church full of cousins come down from the hills and realizing that your family is far more redneck than you'd previously hoped.

But see, here's the thing. While the church was filling up with a parade of well-meaning but aesthetically-challenged Hamiltonians, including this one guy with a severe coif that looked like a silver-white head-fin, I found myself in one of the weirdest situations in my life. For one, I was mistaken for my mother's husband four times over the course of the evening. Now my mom gave birth to me when she was thirty-one, thus making her an entire Scott older than me. We were able to convince some folks, but I guess that's what you get when you live six hundred miles away from the family.

(Similar thing happened at dad's funeral: Sarah, who lived with Dad at the time, got all the sympathy, I got shifty looks and the occasional question as to just who I was.)

Oddly enough, the rednecks--while they were rough--weren't the worst of it. When crazy third cousin Bobby-Sue comes down from Appalachia with a home perm, a jaw wired shut from a barfight, and a pocketful of photographs to show my mom while she's recieving condolences next to the coffin, she at least has the excuse of a poor upbringing. But some people...

What I'm getting at here is that there was a girl at the funeral (my aunt's best friend's daughter) dressed like Paris Hilton. Now to her credit, she was dressed like Paris Hilton would be if she was attending a funeral: black mini-skirt, white t-shirt, and a black sweater tied at her midriff. And here's the best part: She wasn't the worst-dressed mourner.

No, that honor goes to my 15 year-old cousin Craig. It's important to note at this point that after I wrote a column about a family Christmas for my old writing gig a few years ago, my mother expressly forbade me from mentioning certain incidents involing his side of the family in writing. Due to her grief, however, she forgot to put such a disclaimer on the funeral.

Which was great for me, because if I couldn't tell you guys that he went to his grandmother's funeral in a cherry-red pimp suit I might just frigg'n explode. Man, oh, man. It was a thing of mind-wrenching beauty. Bright red and checked, complete with a red silk tie, candy-striped shirt, red socks, and, so help me God, red alligator shoes. Any other time I would've reversed my opinion on the guy right there and then, because out of context, it was a sweet set of threads (the godawful shirt aside). But at a funeral? Even I have some kind of internal social ruleset that goes: "Hey, bro. Not the time."

It was so out of place and... and... red that I couldn't stop looking at it through the whole ceremony, even while I was trying to comfort my mother. It went way beyond the train-wreck quality and into something not unlike an Escher painting, an endless well of red that I felt like I was being sucked into for the entire four hours.


Now the sad thing about it is, Craig was very close to Ruby, and I know it was breaking him up inside, but when he cried during the eulogy, all I could think was "Holy crap, he's making his face match the suit!"

Next: The Burial

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 1

So in case you were wondering where I've been for the past eight days, and why I haven't written anything in this allegedly-daily-updated textual trainwreck, here's the answer.

I was in Ohio for the death of my Grandmother.

I was planning on writing a little more about it than that, but if you've been through it you know, and if you haven't I'm not a good enough writer to really talk about it. But I do have a few things I want to get off my chest about it.

1) My grandmother was talking on Tuesday about buying a treadmill. This was literally three days before she died of respiratory failure.

2) Mom and I visited her in the hospital. She was unconscious and immobilized with synthetic curare. That's how bad it was, that they were filling her with a poison to keep her alive. She looked like people in comics do when they've had their life-force sucked out of them by the Black Racer or Morbius. It's weird seeing that kind of image off the page. So weird that you don't even realize what a bastard you are for thinking the comparison to the Living Vampire until hours later.

3) The ICU she was in had that smell that you get in hospitals: Antiseptic trying hard to cover up the smell of death. But strangely, there was also a faint smell like strawberry candy. When I went to visit my grandfather in the nursing home he had to stay in because the woman who had been taking care of him for my entire lifetime wasn't able to breath without a plastic tube inserted into her lungs, I noticed that that place had an odor like a bowling alley. I don't know what that means, but both smells were so jarring in their contexts that I wrote them down on the notebook I took on the trip with me.

Now, that said, there are two things you can do in a situation like that. You can cry, or you can laugh. I opt for the latter. Gallows humor is how I deal with things like this, and before you (and I'm talking to Shaka here) start to hate me for writing jokes about the funeral of someone so close to me, I remind you that my own sainted mother told a joke on the steps leading up to my father's funeral. It's not my fault I'm this way.

When Ruby died, with my mother holding her hand through her last breath, I was sitting in the waiting room with my sister. I've mentioned her before on the ISB, and I'm sure I will again, but all you need to know right now is that we don't get along. It literally takes a family tragedy for us to stop bickering at each other. So I find it strange that after I did my best to comfort my mother--who had just watched hers die with her own eyes, something I won't even let myself think about doing--Sarah and I went out to get something to eat together.

We ended up going to Gold Star, and I thought it would be appropriate if we told stories about how we rememberd our grandmother. Unfortunately, all we had were the ones we laugh about, like the time we were at the beach and I went to get off an elevator, and she grabbed my collar and yanked me backwards, hissing "Ladies first! like a demonic Miss Manners.

Or the time--also at the beach--when Sarah and I were swimming in a light drizzle, and Ruby came walking out, goose-stepping like a Nazi officer with her hands in her pockets and a shower-cap on her head.

We laughed for a while about it, and then as I took a bite of my cheese coney, Sarah said, "Wow. You can really tell our grandmother just died."

It was a pretty sobering thought, and we sat in silence for a second. A silence that lasted right up until MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" came on the radio in the restaurant. As if that wasn't surreal enough, it is impossible to grieve while listening to that song.

"Stop! Hammer time!" is enough on its own to send any sane person into paroxysms of laughter, and when combined with the image of a grown man wearing those pants (you know... those pants) it makes the entire evening seem like a fever dream that was just all over the place.

Which is pretty much how the whole trip went.

Next: The funeral, and the aftermath.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sinistar: The Movie

Click to Sini-Size it! Posted by Hello

Here's the story behind this one. You may or may not be familiar with Sinistar, the smash hit arcade game of 1983. When I was a kid, I loved this game, and the best part about it was that it would talk. Sinistar (a demonic floating metal head in space) would taunt the player with phrases like "RUN, COWARD!" and "I STILL HUNGER!" As a kid, I thought that was, to borrow a phrase, legitimately terrifying.

I mentioned this to Melanie a year or so ago, and she told me that she'd never even heard of Sinistar. So I explained, in detail, how cool and awe-inspiring those voice clips were, and even went so far as to do my own gravelly impressions of them. To prove how awesome it was, I eventually found some sound files.

Here, take a listen.

See? That's awesome! Anyway, when Melanie heard it, she burst into fits of laughter and called me a pussy. It was, at this point, on.

The Sinistar debate became a bone of contention in our relationship, and at one point I even claimed that not only was Sinistar majestic and frightening, but he was so cool that they should make a movie about him. Now, intellectually, I realize that a feature-length movie about a tiny ship that shoots dots at a floating metal spacehead would be a phenomenally bad idea, but--like some of the cats I work with--I wasn't going to let being blatantly wrong about something stop me from arguing.

Ergo, the Sinistar Movie Poster, the result of over forty seconds of intensive Photoshop work.

For more on Sinistar, check out the definitive fan-site, or your local library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Picture Week Continues

Click to Devil-Size it!Posted by Hello

This comic has influenced everything I've written since I saw it. Forget about Marv; that is the toughest man in comics.

Monday, April 11, 2005

I wish I was this guy

Click to Sweater-Size it! Posted by Hello

Seriously. I got nothin'.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

He Put My Stapler Inside a Jelly Again!

I spent a good portion of my day today reciting lines from Scarface in a Yoda voice with Shaka. You know:

"Kill a communist I will for free. For a green card... Carve him up real nice I will!"

Take a moment to imagine that, because it's probably the funniest thing anyone's ever thought of. Then, you can go back to thinking I'm the biggest geek ever. You're right.

I picked up The Office on DVD tonight after a string of reccomendations, including Phil re-enacting a scene complete with his awesome British accent. I've only watched the first episode, but so far it's been pretty frigg'n hilarious. It's not quite as funny as Spaced, which might be the best half-hour comedy ever, but it holds its own.

Still, as funny as it is, it's not nearly as funny as what Jarrett at Manifest said when I was trying to decide whether to buy it or hold out. And for the record, that's Manifest the music store, not Manifest the German fetish club.

"Chris," he told me, "As long as there are crackheads, that stuff'll always come in used."

The Truth About Luke, Part 2

I just finished playing a game of Star Wars Miniatures with my mom. That's right, I said Star Wars Miniatures with my mom

Is this how far I've fallen?

This comes after a day where I pretty much did nothing but sit around playing Knights of the Old Republic until I went over to Wal Mart and looked at Star Wars Legos (press down on their heads and the lightsabers light up!). I've even been listening to the NPR Star Wars radio drama ever since MG3 decided he didn't want it burdening his move to the Hermitage.

Suffice to say, I'm back on the Star Wars train with a vengeance. It should really come as no surprise that I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan. I do, after all, work at a frigg'n comic book store, and unlike Shaka, I've seen the damn things. Heck, I even know about Grand Admiral Thrawn, Joruus C'baoth, and the Wild Karrde.

But like Simon Pegg in Spaced, my relationship with Sweet Lady Star Wars has cooled off in recent years, what with its creator doing everything he possibly could to destroy it and all. I mean, seriously, bro:

What the hell?

Still, I am a guy who owns George Lucas in Love on VHS, so it was inevitable that I'd come back. And it's taking everything I have to not make a "the circle is now complete" joke right there. But what brought this on?

Well, Clone Wars was pretty awesome, but I've always been a big fan of Genndy Tartakovsky. So it pretty much comes down to me catching the Episode III trailer a few weeks back, which means the blame can be squarely laid on the shoulders of Ewan McGregor.

Seriously, that guy is awesome. Stupid haircut in Phantom Menace aside, he's unquestionably the best thing about the prequels, and when he goes: "YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!" I get frigg'n chills.

And yes, Mike. He's been added to the list.

So yeah. Ewan McGregor, it's your fault if I'm disappointed in Episode III. But even if it does, there's one thing you can't take away from me. And that's Kit Fisto. That guy's AWESOME!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Giant-Size Movie Review: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter!

Normally I'd leave this sort of thing to my man J. Kern, but because YOU demanded it (and I'm talking here to Mike Autry specifically, I'm sure the rest of you couldn't give a damn), here it is! The review of the movie so absoludicrous that I had to take two days off just to process it. Without further ado, I bring you...

Watch the trailer!

Right from the start, you can tell this movie is very, very Canadian, which goes a long way to explaining why it looks like the final project of a first-year film class. That doesn't, however, explain why the whole thing's apparently been dubbed, because I'm pretty sure they speak English up there.

Another thing you can tell right off the bat is that this thing's going to be awesome. How? THIS GUY.

That's right, it's comic book superstar Alan Moore! Or at least a reasonable simulacrum thereof. He busts out of some bushes to give you a pretty intense pre-movie warning and does some scripture quoting.

Cue the credits, and then an odd scene where lead vampire gal Maxine Schreck bites a nurse in a way that can only be described as "allegedly sexy." Then she steals her car, which appears to be a 1984 four-door Volvo, which probably gets 86 litres per hectare or whatever crazy system they use up there.

Maxine, like most of the female characters in this movie, almost hot in a Canadian sort of way. Also, like every female character in this movie, she's a lesbian. This is actually a plot point later.

Cut to a meeting between the Brother Voodoo-coifed Father Eustace and the punk-rock preacher Father Alban. They discuss Ottawa's rising problem with the Undead, and decide to get some serious help. Alban hops a moped with another priest, and they roll off to the lake to get help from the one man who can save 'em: Jesus Christ.

JESUS: Lemonade?
PRIEST: Will there be enough?
JESUS: Oh, there'll be plenty.
FATHER ALBAN: I thirst for nothing but justice for the fallen sheep of our flock.

No sooner have they told him the problem than Maxine and two other vampire gals show up to wreck the fun. The two priests bless the entire lake, and Jesus chucks the vampires in there with a perfectly-executed airplane spin. The two priests are done in, however, and Jesus decides he needs the kind of edge that only a new haircut and a musical number can provide.

Yes, I said musical number.

Why don't you listen for yourself?

Once the dancing stops, we get a little more explanation as to why the vampires can walk around in the sunlight. My personal theory is that the filmmakers didn't have money for lighting, but it could be the evil plot they talk about. Who knows? We ALSO get the greatest scene transition ever with a cross superimposed over a spinning spiral background. It took me until the third one of these to figure out they were parodying the transitions from the Batman TV show. Wow.

Jesus goes to get some wood to carve stakes, but as he's walking home, he gets ambushed by a pair of surly Canadians who deliver one of the best lines of the movie. They're athiests, and they've brought roughly forty of their friends in a single SUV to take our hero down.

It's at this point that you first notice that Jesus is wearing kicks with his robe. That's awesome.

Watch the big fight!

If there's a single moment that defines this movie, here it is: Jesus performing the Atomic Legdrop on one of three dozen athiests who comes at him from a single jeep. It's beautiful and terrible. I love it and despair.

JESUS: Real enough for you?

Jesus struts back to his apartment, only to be surprised by the presence of the moderately attractive Mary Magnum. As she says: "I'm on your side, Rabbi!" They take in a quick sauna, then decide to hit a vintage clothing store to get Jesus some new threads. Mary changes into what appears to be a dark red PVC Haz-Mat suit and they talk with the jive-talking shopkeep who has a connection to the vampires. He says things like: "Right this way, my blue-eyed soul-brother" and "A lousy nickel? That shirt's worth a sawski if it's worth a subway token" and "Now you in the hood, but you way down the block."

We also find out Mary Magnum collects salt and pepper shakers, and I swear I'm not making a single word of this up.

JC and Mary track the vampires to a local hospital, and Jesus goes in to investigate. He delivers another immortal line ("If I'm not back in five minutes... call the Pope.") and goes in to stumble upon Dr. Praetorius (who looks a lot like my brother-in-law) explaining his evil plan. It has something to do with taking the skin from lesbians and grafting it onto vampires. I think. It's at this point in the movie that your brain starts to shut itself off to avoid complete obliteration.

Maxine and new Vampire bad guy Johnny Golgotha (who sports a Death of Superman t-shirt) stage a massacre at the local Lesbian Drop-In centre, which ends in a rooftop battle with our heroes, featuring Jesus's awesome slow-motion chair dodge.

And you thought I was kidding about her outfit.

BOOM! Alan Moore shows up again for a kickass scene transition. Deafeated and alone, Jesus is left for dead, and is eventually rescued by a transvestite. At this point, I'm done making jokes. From here on in, I call it as I see it.

Trying to figure out his next move, Jesus gets a visit from his Father in the form of a bowl of ice cream with cherries.

JESUS: Is that you, Bowl of Cherries?
GOD: Do bowls of cherries talk, Jesus?
JESUS: I don't know. I've seen a lot of strange things over the years.

God tells Jesus to seek out the "saint of the wrestling ring." That's right kids. Just when you thought this movie couldn't get any better, who shows up but Mexican superstar EL SANTOS!

(NOTE: This is a picture of the actual El Santo. The one in the movie is slightly more... reubenesque.)

Yes, the hero of millions and star of such fantastic films as "Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy" shows up to lend our Savior a hand. The two get crackin' and go to shakedown the vintage clothing store owner, who drops a few more gems:

"You're gettin' all in the kool-aid, and you don't even know the flavor."
"Yeah, tell that to a one legged man so he can bump it off down the road, Jack."

Jesus and El Santo head on down to a jazz club to hear a guy scat about Star Wars for a few minutes, then Jesus realizes that everyone else in the place--mostly lesbians--is a vampire. And you know what that means.

Jesus and El Santo take the whole place on Old Testament style, with everything they can lay their hands on: drumsticks, crutches, bar stools, toothpicks, a toilet plunger. But El Santo can't bring himself to stake his new true love (one of the lesbians) and he gets captured. Jesus prepares himself for the final battle and recieves a visit from his Mom in the form of a plastic figurine. Mary stays just long enough to drop a Kids in the Hall quote on him before Maxine, Johnny, and the newly risen vampire Mary Magnum show up to capture him.


Alan Moore shows up ONE MORE TIME to set up the final battle. Remember Father Eustace from an hour or so ago? No? It's okay, nobody expects you to. Anyway, he's behind the whole thing, and it's up to Jesus and El Santo to take him and the vampires down in a battle to the finish in a car junkyard. Do not miss the excitement of the best kick ever and Mary Magnum getting clotheslined right off her dirtbike.

But what about Dr. Praetorius? He's watching the whole thing go down live on TV when Jesus busts into his laboratory.

DR. PRAETORIUS: But you're at the wrecking yard! On TV! Live!
JESUS: I'm everywhere.

It's here that the awesomeness of this movie reaches critical mass. I can't even begin to describe how it goes down. Suffice to say that Jesus and El Santo beat up the vampires, Jesus cures Mary Magnum (who turns out to be a lesbian), Maxine, and the girl El Santo fell in love with (who turns out to be bi), so it all works out okay. Oh, and Alan Moore busts out of the bushes one more just in case you didn't think this was the best movie ever made.

But as the movie ends, they crank up the awesome factor to a level that man has never seen before with the song that plays over the end credits. You MUST hear it yourself for the full effect.

He came from Heaven
Two stakes in his hand!
To smote the vampires
And free the land!
Come now and join him
All ye strong and bold!
We'll fight together,
Like the days of old!
It's all good! It's all right!
Everybody get laid

Holy crap. This movie is awesome and that's a fact. Almost as much violence as the Passion and a better score than Jesus Christ Superstar, I'm pretty sure that the Sims household is going to be watching this one every Thanksgiving.

[NOTE: I couldn't get the DVD to work on my PC, so I ended up stealing the screenshots and media you see on this page. Most of the screenshots, all of the sound files, and the video come from the review over at BadMovies.org, and were shamelessly jacked by me. Sorry, folks. And check out the official JCVH site here!]

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Recent Purchase

Check out what I bought today. And you thought I was kidding.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter: The Power of Christ Impales You (click to Savior-Size it!)Posted by Hello

Notice my thumb thrown in for awesomeitude comparison. Seriously, this one claims to have it all:
  • Jesus
  • Kung Fu
  • A Luchador named El Santos
  • Vampires
  • and it's a musical
You can't confront that! I'll let you know how it is.

UPDATE: Oh man. I just watched the trailer. It goes: "In the new millennium, the undead no longer fear the sun. Now they're going to learn... It's time to fear the SON OF GOD." This is already the best movie ever.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Boy, I Love That Franko

This morning while I was asleep, I had a dream about fighting vampries or something, and believe me: I was kicking undead ass. But the weirdest thing about the dream was that someone kept knocking on a door somewhere while I was trying to protect my neck.

Turns out it was Brandon, who foolishly assumed I'd be out of bed by 1:30 PM. I ended up going over to his house later and hanging out with him and Corey while I ate chicken, collard greens, and cornbread and tried to keep a straight face about it. We talked about Sin City and the Punisher's former difficulties with water, and it was a lot of fun. Still, the second time that this guy crept into the conversation, I knew it was time to go.

That's when I came home and started watching the Dirty Dozen. This frigg'n movie kicks ass. I swear, between that and Once Upon a Time in the West, I'm convinced that Charles Bronson might be the baddest motherfucker who ever lived.

After McGoohan, I mean.

Anyway, Dirty Dozen is awesome. Every scene is incredible, from when Lee Marvin tells John Cassavetes that he'll beat his brains out right up to where Jim Brown gleefully rains gasoline and grenades down on the trapped Germans... It's incredible.

No wonder Suicide Squad was so good.

Oh, Shut Up

Here's a shocker: Fundamentalist Christians didn't like Sin City.

Yeah, this j-bag gave it a rating of "Abhorrent," citing its "pervasive pagan moral worldview," and he couldn't even bother to get it right, pointing out a scene where "dog eats dead person." Wrong-o, bucky. Kevin's alive when the dog eats him.

You dick.

They also list the various other acts of violence in the film, lumping "men impaled" and "decapitation" with "people punched." But what gets me about these folks isn't that they object to the violence and sex--I've long since given up on those cats. It's more that they have to break a 661-word review down into a 193-word summary for people who don't want to read it all. Oh, and they have a headline that reads "Neo-Nazis Kill Terri Schiavo."

That, and the fact that they find recurring theme of one man against a corrupt society to be worse than the violence. Take a quote out of context? Don't mind if I do!

"Perhaps more disturbing than the violence is the line of thought that undergirds this movie, that each man is utterly alone and therefore pitted against the rest of society. That is the lie of Romantic individualism. The Bible tells us that we are all part of the body of Christ and, by extension that we should exist in communities. As adopted sons of God, we are not individuals in the Romantic sense, but actual members of a family network. The dangerous individualism of SIN CITY teaches us that we cannot trust any man, which results in the amorality and paranoid violence exhibited in the movie."

Keep yer head down, Ellie-May, that individualism's dangerous! Remember, kids: You are not an individual. Give in to society. Authority is beyond reproach.

And while we're on the subject of amorality, paranoia, and the individual against society, why don't we ask my main man Patrick McG what he thinks of MovieGuide?

"What a bunch of douchebags."

Right on, Number Six.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Pity the Fool

So in case you missed it, I'm on the rebound here at the ISB. And what better way to rebound than by venting my anger on those hapless, unloved souls who cross my path? But first, a few words about April Fool's Day.

I'm pretty well known in my circle of friends for being a fan of a certain holiday that's 268 days from now, but I can't deny that as a semiprofessional liar, a day that encourages lying to your friends and neighbors appeals to me. This year featured some well-done website pranks, and I was considering changing the ISB over to "cHrIs's KeWl LiVeJoUrNaL" for the day, complete with exclamation-point-laden posts about how awesome Mike Turner is, but I decided to leave it to the professionals. So, in case you missed them, here's the notable ones: the Hostile Takeover of Wikipedia by Encyclopedia Britannica, which was pretty believable until the appearance of General Grievous and the two coolest guys ever; HomestarRunner announcing they were going to switch to a pay site; Google's new energy drink; and the annual pack of fun over on the D&D page. But then again, I might be the only one who thinks a Gelatinous Cube roaming the WotC offices and devouring their Scott Equivalents to be funny. Ergo, moving on.

So Tuesday was a rough one for more reasons than just the obvious. The April Fools showed up three days early in a string of lousy customers that I think I secured sainthood just by enduring.

Now, despite what you may have heard, I'm not perfect. Still, I pride myself on the ability to know whether someone's an idiot or not within three sentences of a conversation. And if one of those sentences just happens to be "X-Man had the power of the Phoenix, and so does Cable, and that makes him the most powerful man ever," congratulations. You win the prize.

Yeah, this guy comes in maybe once every six months, and never fails to ask me a) what's going on in the X-Men books for the past, oh, ten years, and b) whatever happened to X-Man? Here's a tip, sir, the last issue of X-Man came out five years ago, and that was literally the last time anyone cared about him. So stop asking.

The rest of my conversation with this chump has to be quoted verbatim for its full effect, but I warn you: Just reading it will probably make you dumber.

Chump: What's going on in Wolverine?
Me: [Explanation of the recent--and awesome--Mark Millar "Enemy of the State" storyline]. So it was basically Wolverine against the rest of the Marvel universe.
Chump: Who'd he fight?!
Me: The Fantastic Four.
Chump: Who won?!
Me: [Realizing that this is taking a turn for the worse] Uh... the FF.
Chump: Wolverine didn't kill 'em?!
Me: [Feeling liquified bits of brain start to ooze out of my ears] No.. They're still around.
Chump: Not even one of 'em?
Me: Well, he beat up Johnny a little bit.
Chump: Who else did he fight?
Me: Daredevil.
Chump: [Smiling and nodding knowingly] He beat him, right?
Me: No, Daredevil kicked his ass and then stabbed him with a sword.
Chump: [Shocked!] But how is that possible?! Daredevil has heightened senses due to being blinded! Wolverine is an animal by instinct!

He actually said that. Word for word. And I was left momentarily speechless. An animal by instinct? What the fuck does that even mean? Clearly, he's been getting his information from a set of 1991 Marvel Universe trading cards.

Now I think that if we're all honest with ourselves, we all like Wolverine. And don't give me that bullshit about how you don't, just shut the fuck up and go read Essential X-Men v.2. He's everyone's favorite X-Man and we should all just admit to it. That said, I hate people that love Wolverine.

But the hits kept coming:

Chump: Batman comes out June 17th!
Me: Yeah.
Chump: But what I want to know is, how did he go from being Robin to being Batman?
Me: ... What?
Chump: Chris O'Donnel, man! He was Robin! He's playing Batman in this one!
Me: No, that's Christian Bale.
Chump: Oh. Well it's weird, man... It looks like they're doing the BEGINNING of Batman.

Yes, this briantrust just figured out that a movie called Batman Begins is about the beginning of Batman. It gets better.

Chump: I think they should've let Azrael be the second Batman, and let Bruce Wayne retire! What's going on with him these days?
Me: Azrael? He's dead.
Chump: What?! How?! Who killed him?!
Me: The fans.

Chump: How's Hulk?
Me: Pretty good. Peter David's back on it.
Chump: Who's in control, the Hulk or David Banner?
Me: ... Uh, it's the Savage Hulk, I guess.
Chump: Well he's talking, it must be Banner in charge. Has he been fighting any Marvel characters?
Me: [Ignoring the fact that anyone he fights is, by definition, a Marvel character] He fought Fin Fang Foom.
Chump: Who won?
Me: ... The Hulk [You moron].

And this is where he turned to me, absolutely beaming.

Chump: Fin Fang Foom's a dragon!

It's amazing I bothered to get out of bed on Wednesday.