Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jar of Hearts

Pretty much just because I find this song to be hauntingly beautiful...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Question of the Week: Being Mean

For $2000 would you be willing to stand up in a crowded restaurant and, for at least a minute, loudly berate a waitress for some trivial imperfection in the service? If not, consider how grateful the waitress would be if you did so and later split the money with her.

I don't think I could do it. I may do and say things at times that cause me to come across as a jerk, but I couldn't just tear someone down in public like that for something as stupid as getting a lemon with my water when I clearly asked for no lemon. $2000 isn't that much money, and splitting it with the girl I'm planning to scream at means I'll be getting even less. So let's just go ahead and add selfish and greedy to the list of qualities that are making me a jerk.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

At First Sight

Title: At First Sight
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Published: 2005

I hate you, Nicholas Sparks. What is your obsession with making your readers fall in love with the characters you've created and then snatching them away like that? Do you get off on making readers miserable? Do you like it when they cry and get all snotty and have to use more tissues than they should when not suffering from the flu?

I'd like to say I had a hard time reading this book. I'd really like to say that, but I just can't. In fact, I reached a point a few chapters in where I just couldn't put it down. And that terrifies me.

I'm trying to read more this year. It's one of those New Year's resolutions that I so resolutely resolved to keep. In order to try harder at meeting my goal of 50 books read in a year, I'm trying to go with reading two at a time. I'll read a couple chapters in one book, then pick up the other to read a couple chapters, and so on and so forth. I'm also reading Stephen King's The Dead Zone at the moment. Except that I'm not.

See, I picked up At First Sight on Monday and started reading it. At work that day, I was doing pretty good with my two chapter rule. And then, at some point yesterday, I said, "Screw The Dead Zone." I didn't really mean that. So far, the King book is really good. But that's not what I'm here to discuss.

At first I wasn't getting into At First Sight. Those first few chapters were kind of boring. We're introduced to this couple, Jeremy and Lexie. Jeremy's a regular columnist for Scientific American who took a trip to a small town in North Carolina to do a story about some mysterious lights that appear in the cemetery there. During his time there, he met Lexie. They shared a whirlwind romance and fell instantly in love. And she got pregnant. And they quickly got engaged. It wasn't because it was "the right thing to do," it was because they genuinely felt that they were in love with each other, despite not really knowing each other all that well.

New relationships are difficult. Throw in the stresses of moving away from friends and family in New York, and Jeremy's having a pretty rough go at it. He's got people questioning his motives and causing him to have doubts himself. Making it more difficult is the anonymous e-mailer that keeps sending him messages questioning if he knows Lexie as well as he thinks he does. This causes him to grow suspicious and jealous.

The first half of this novel brought so many of my own trust issues to the surface that I grew very uncomfortable reading the words on these pages. At one point I even felt physically ill over it. It wasn't just what was happening in the book either. I was reading it from this guy's perspective and seeing things the way he saw them. When he grew paranoid about Lexie, I grew paranoid. What made me so sick was knowing what a hard time I have trusting people. I couldn't help but question, is this how I'll be in a relationship someday? Will I second guess little things that she says to me? Will I find myself checking up on her, spying on her, trying to catch her in some kind of lie of omission? I don't want to be that guy, but it scares me to think that I have that potential.

But enough about me. As I said earlier, I couldn't put the book down. By this point, I was hooked.

And this was just the first half of the book. I stayed up late Tuesday night attempting to finish it. As one conflict was resolved, another arose to take its place. And that's the thing with Nicholas Sparks. Don't read his stuff if you're expecting everyone to walk away living happily ever after. He doesn't write for the Disney princess crowd. If you need a good cry, Sparks is your man.

I didn't finish the book that night. I tried to stay awake long enough, but with only four chapters remaining, I had to give in and sleep. But I woke up the next day, thankful it was my day off. I finished the book through tearful sobs. And just when I thought I was through crying, I would start all over again. I was calling Sparks names behind his back and telling myself it was ridiculous to cry over this stupid book. I almost through the thing across the room.

And I know this is how Nicholas Sparks' books are going to be. I know this. And yet, I keep picking them up and torturing myself with them. I haven't read everything he's written. And every time I finish one of his books, I tell myself that I'm not going to read any more of them. And then time passes and I get another one. The problem isn't Nicholas Sparks. The problem is me. I'm the stupid one.

So you can read this book at your own risk. The first half may make you feel kind of sick. The second half may rip your heart out and drop kick it into the trash can. But I can promise you that you'll come away from the book with difficulty seeing and breathing because your eyes will be blurry and your sinuses will have suffered some kind of meltdown.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Last Command

Title: Star Wars: The Last Command
Author: Timothy Zahn
Published: 1993

The good guys won. The bad guys lost. All is right in the galaxy.

Okay, that's an oversimplification of the events found in this novel. But that's kind of the gist of things. In this trilogy of books, Timothy Zahn does a great job of paving the way for more authors to come along and expand on the universe created by George Lucas. There are probably some out there who look at these novels and scoff, believing that if it isn't part of the Star Wars film series then it doesn't count. But I say this, have you seen that Clone Wars animated movie? If you can make room for that, you can make room for a few novels that expand the Star Wars mythos.

As I said, Zahn did a great job setting the stage for what has become a pretty lucrative market in sci-fi storytelling. You have the galaxy after the evil Emperor has been killed. Luke, Leia and Han are now trying to set up a new government to replace the empire and have found that it isn't as easy as it was to fight in a rebellion against that empire. Meanwhile, this Grand Admiral Thrawn has taken it upon himself to reassemble the final remnants of imperial power, attempting to destroy the fledgling New Republic. Part of Thrawn's arsenal? A dark jedi and a new batch of clone troopers. Seriously, it's like something out of a Star Wars movie.

And then there's this girl, Mara Jade, who is pretty sensitive to the ways of the Force. But she used to be one of the bad guys. Behind the scenes of the original movie trilogy, she was known as the Emperor's Hand, flitting about the galaxy doing Palpatine's bidding. Her final task was to kill Luke Skywalker. Obviously, she failed in that task, and it haunted her for years after the emperor's death. Things get complicated for her when she ends up needing Luke's help here and there, and vise versa. In the end, they have a pretty steady alliance, bordering on friendship, and Luke helps her to understand the ways of the Force a little better.

I know that the books that have been published since have expanded on their relationship. Just don't tell me how things get to the point that they eventually reach, I'd like to find out for myself. Eventually I plan to pick up more of these Star Wars novels. I find them intriguing and easy enough to read through. It's kind of fun playing them like a movie in my mind and casting different actors to play the roles of the newly introduced characters.

Anyway, that's enough of that. There's more to come. I still have a bunch of books to read if I'm gonna meet my goal of 50 in a year. I'm not moving as quickly as I thought I would. I might not make it. I don't know though... I still have 8 months to go!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Life Story - Chapter Fifty Six

You know, I really don't remember much about my senior English class. I guess that really doesn't make it much different from the rest of my high school classes that I have little to no memory of. And look at that, ending a sentence in a preposition. Guess I should have paid more attention to Mr. Ciaffone.

Ciaffone was our senior English teacher. And I honestly don't remember learning anything. Not that I'm saying he was a bad teacher. It's just that, well, what is there to learn after taking English and Language Arts for the previous eleven years?

That doesn't mean I don't remember some things from that class. I remember a lot of visits to the computer lab. I remember writing an essay that could be about any subject. I chose to dissect the classic song "American Pie." I also remember having to do a senior speech at the end of the year. Being a comic book geek, I gave my speech on comic book collecting. At that point, I figured, it's the end of my last year, who am I trying to impress by hiding all these comic books?

Other than the school work, I remember hanging out with two girls who I came to consider very good friends during the course of that school year. Renee, Elizabeth and I would not pay attention in class. Instead, we would spend the bulk of our time playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Actually, I think Elizabeth and I would play Six Degrees more than Renee would. Renee, if you're reading this, correct me if I'm wrong there.

Renee did come to my 18th birthday get together though. I can't really call it a party. I just went bowling with a bunch of friends. She was the only one that brought a gift. Despite saying over and over that she really didn't need to do that, I accepted it. It was a Superman statue based on the cover of Superman #1. She knew I liked Superman. And this was before I gave that senior speech. I was touched.

After graduation I lost touch with Elizabeth. Renee and I wrote back and forth while I was in college. She joined the Navy and saw the world. I still have a picture she sent me of her standing in front of the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Oh, and I got an A on my senior speech. In case you were wondering. I got an A on that "American Pie" paper too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not That Guy

I didn't go to church on Easter Sunday. I haven't been to church since before Christmas. Doesn't that mean that yesterday would have been the perfect day to find myself in a pew? Aren't Christmas and Easter the two days of the year when people who don't go to church go to church?

I really didn't want to be that guy. I didn't want to be one of the ones that only went to church because it was Easter. For me, that reasoning would be hollow and meaningless.

Some of you may be confused as to where I'm coming from or where I'm going with this. After all, in the past I've written about my faith and beliefs. I've mentioned a number of times how important church was to me and my family when I was growing up.

As a kid, I remember being at church pretty much any time the doors were open. Sunday mornings for Sunday school and the worship service. Sunday nights for the much less popular evening service. Wednesdays meant dinner in the fellowhip hall, followed by youth group activities and youth choir practice. Thursday nights, we were there hanging out with the other kids while our parents were in the adult choir rehearsal. And then there were the special events: lock-ins, pot lucks, musical programs, etc.

So what happened?

It would be easy for people to look at someone like me and assume I've lost faith in God. You know, if I weren't in my shoes with the knowledge of what I truly believe, I'd probably assume that too. There isn't much evidence to look at, but let's look at it. I dropped out of seminary after three semesters. I've flip-flopped on the idea of being called to full-time ministry more than once in my life. And as mentioned above, I haven't been to church since December. And for several months before that, I wasn't even attending anywhere regularly. I mean, that doesn't look good, right?

Well, let me assure you and my mother, who I'm sure worries but doesn't say anything, that I have absolutely not lost faith in God. The faith I've lost is the faith that I once had in people.

Over the years, I've had a few negative experiences within the church setting. One recent event occurred when a fellow church member was going through a difficult time. Instead of embracing the opportunity to reach out and show the love of Christ to someone who desperately needed it, the leaders in the church forced that person away, choosing to perpetuate lies and gossip to tear them down. I didn't like what I was seeing, but when I tried to stand up beside this person, I was told by those leaders that I should mind my own business and that I didn't know anything about what was going on. In reality, I knew more about the situation than they.

That's only one example. I could give others, but I don't want this to turn into an attempt to receive pity. Actually, my own experiences probably pale in comparison to others' negative church experiences. While some are able to handle the bad times with grace and then move on in a healthy fashion, I am not.

I heard a wise pastor once say that if you find the perfect church, get out of it as soon as you can. If you stay, you're just going to mess it up. It's kind of a double-edged sword. The church is made up of people for people. But people are imperfect and will inevitably mess up that system. No matter where I go, no matter what church I check out, I'm going to find hypocrisy. There will be a lot of places where I'll hear a pastor preach one thing but practice something different.

This all boils down to my personal issues. The way I see it, church should be the kind of place where one can go and feel comfortable. I'm not saying that people won't go some days and hear the Word of God preached and not feel convicted, which can lead to a certain amount of temporary discomfort. No, I'm talking about feeling comfortable being around other believers. If you're in a church, you should be able to open yourself up to others, because these are the people who are supposed to help you grow. These are the people who should be able to call you out when you've messed up, and then take you by the hand and continue to love you anyway. If you can't make yourself vulnerable, how can you open yourself up to love or be loved?

And I think I just pinpointed the reason why I've remained single all these years. I just can't seem to convince myself that the risk is worth the reward. Until I do, I may not be able to find comfort in relationships with other people.

Church is not a bad thing. Please don't interpret what I've said to mean that. I understand just how important the church is to the life of a Christ follower. I understand the importance of finding a group of people who share similar beliefs and ideals. I even get the whole "iron sharpens iron" thing. But again, there has to be a certain amount of vulnerability for growth to occur.

So yes, I still have my faith in God. The question is, do I have enough faith in Him to believe that He can restore a little bit of my faith in humanity?

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I love how Baldwin describes the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry as not a rivalry...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Question of the Week: Sexy

If you wanted to look very sexy, how would you dress?

I'm not sure I like this question. It implies that I don't look very sexy on a regular basis. Don't hate. And try to keep the jealousy to a minimum. Thanks.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Rant Against Netflix

I am not anti-Netflix. I love Netflix. In fact, if you look back at a lot of my past blog posts, I glowingly recommend the subscription service that sends you rented DVDs in the mail and provides a plethora of instant viewing options over the internet. But I do have a recent complaint.

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to watch all of the AFI's top 100 films of all time, based on their 10th anniversary list that came out in 2007. This is something that won't be finished this year. Four months into 2011, I've only reached number 84 counting down.

The first problem comes with AFI's 100th movie, Ben-Hur. When I added all of these movies to my Netflix queue, I was informed that Ben-Hur required a "very long wait." I wasn't thrilled with that news, but it wasn't the end of the world. After a few weeks passed and I started getting other movies from the list, I decided I'd just skip #100 and come back to it later, once they got around to sending it to me. About a week ago I went to look at my queue and saw that Ben-Hur had been removed. Well, no, it wasn't removed. It had automatically been moved to the bottom of the list with the label "unavailable." Suddenly it's not on DVD anymore? Did they only have one copy of it? Did the last person to rent it destroy it?

Next comes the movie that should be #83: Titanic. I've seen this movie a couple times. I'm sure I remember enough of it to review it without watching it all over again. But it's been a decade or more since I last watched it all the way through. And I didn't care much for it back then. My tastes may have changed. What if I have a new appreciation for the film? I'm not holding my breath on that one, but it could happen. I've received and watched numbers 82 and 82 (Sunrise and Spartacus, respectively) and have number 81 waiting for me in my mailbox. So the question now is, do I skip Titanic the way I did Ben-Hur, hoping that it will eventually be available? What if Netflix suddently decides to remove Titanic from my list altogether, as they did with Ben-Hur?

Again, I'm not anti-Netflix. I still love Netflix. Being without cable, Netflix is just about my sole home entertainment venue. But it bothers me that two movies that have been deemed by the American Film Institute to be a couple of the greatest films of all time are completely unavailable. Meanwhile, you can watch Zapped! starring Scott Baio any time you want. Makes perfect sense to me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cutest Sith Lord in the Galaxy

If you've seen any of the Star Wars films, you know that a Dark Lord of the Sith is something of an imposing figure. You have your Darth Maul...
There's the Emperor, Darth Sidious, with a face even a mother couldn't love...
And, of course, Darth Vader...
Pretty intimidating, right? I mean, one of these guys walks into the room and you just know someone's getting electrocuted or lightsabered in half. Maybe some poor soul will get lucky and just get Force choked in midair.

But who would expect a cute little girl to go through some extensive Jedi training, and then turn to the Dark Side? Watch the clip...

This was taken at Disneyland in California where they have a Jedi Academy live show. From what I understand, the way it's supposed to happen is they take some volunteer kids from the audience, show them some moves with a lightsaber, and then Darth Vader comes out to tempt them to join the Dark Side. At that point, the kid is supposed to fall back on their vast training that they've just received and have a duel with Vader right there on stage. This little girl chose to turn to the Dark Side. She even knelt before Vader. That's some hardcore allegiance.

I guess she couldn't be called a Dark Lord of the Sith. Would Dark Lady of the Sith work? But imagine her showing up to do the Emperor's bidding. You don't expect a cute little girl like that to run you through with a lightsaber, right? You'd never see it coming. But I'm not sure that Darth Adorable has a very threatening ring to it. I'm sure the name is a work in progress.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life Story - Chapter Fifty Five

Did you ever do something just so you could be near that girl you had a thing for? Not necessarily something ridiculous, just something you wouldn't have thought of doing if it hadn't been for her. Or, ladies, is there a guy that you did something like that for?

For me, it was taking a second year of photography in high school. I really enjoyed taking that year-long photography class during my junior year. But to be honest, I had no idea that Advanced Photography even existed. And maybe it's because it's been so long that I don't remember actually learning anything new, but I'm kind of thinking that it was just an excuse to give students two more semesters of darkroom time.

Like I said, I didn't even realize Advanced Photography was an option until a few days into my senior year. And then I saw that girl go into the class. In a brief moment of bravery, I stopped her and asked why she was taking photography all over again. We had been in the same class together the previous year. She explained that this was the advanced class. In shock, I sort of shouted, "There's an Advanced Photography?!"

I'm pretty sure I frightened her. But I was undeterred. I found some time to go speak to my guidance counselor and got my schedule rearranged. I would be taking Advanced Photography, no matter the cost. Turns out, it wasn't that hard to get into. It's not as if it was a full class, and the only prerequisite was the first year of Photography. I was in.

Nothing ever developed between me and that girl. Get it? Developed? 'Cause it was Photography?

Anyway, I did have a great time in the class, despite lacking the courage to approach the girl I had a crush on all through high school. I'm pretty sure that's when I learned about pinhole photography, where we took old Quaker Oats containers and took some fairly bizarre pictures with them. I'm pretty sure we also got to experiment with Photoshop, a program I wish I had on my own computer today. Alas, it's an expensive program for a hobby that I don't really keep up with that much anymore.

I wish I did.

I may have gotten into Advaned Photography because of a girl that I hardly ever spoke to, but I ended up falling in love with photography instead. Funny how doing something for what can be seen as the wrong reason can still yield positive results sometimes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

AFI 84 - Easy Rider

Easy Rider
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Netflix sleeve: With cash from a cocaine sale, freewheelers Billy and Wyatt hop on their motorcycles and ride across America toward New Orleans. Along the way, they add boozy lawyer George to their trouble-finding, society-questioning entourage. Dennis Hopper writes, directs and stars in this landmark 1960s counterculture film; Peter Fonda co-writes and co-stars. Jack Nicholson earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as George.

In high school, when I was part of a group that worked on the 60s for the decades project, I read about how controversial this film was. I read about the effect that it had on people. But I never watched it. And now I have. Like with other movies that I haven't really cared for, maybe it's just a generational thing. I can't throw this one into my personal top 100.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Change of Plans

If you came back here last night or today expecting to see my post-viewing thoughts on Scream 4, you're gonna go away disappointed. 'Cause I haven't seen it yet. I have my reasons.

It's mostly because this happened yesterday. You can click here to see photos of the damage.

I was pretty much safe throughout the entire storm. It had been kind of overcast during the morning and early afternoon. Then I started seeing severe storm warnings on Facebook. So I turned on the television to see more of what was going on. The local CBS affiliate had taken over and were giving the storm's play by play. At the time I started watching, I was still not seeing anything more than wind and cloudy skies outside my window. But the reporters were talking about a Lowe's being demolished in Sanford, just southwest of Raleigh.

The meteorologists had no eyewitness reports of an actual tornado on the ground at that time, but they did show on their radar all the evidence that pointed to a funnel cloud having touched down. They tracked the tornado, saying that it's likely path would take it through downtown Raleigh, then northeast, up Capital Blvd.

That's when I really started paying attention. Capital Blvd. is the main stretch of road that takes you from Raleigh to Wake Forest (where I live). As far as the guys on TV could tell, the tornado was headed right in my direction. I left the TV on, but made my way to the bathroom. My building is older than dirt and pretty solid, so I didn't figure I'd have to worry about it collapsing around me. But the bathroom is an interior room with no windows. Why take chances?

Turns out I didn't really need to worry for my own safety. The tornado that cut its path through central North Carolina moved to the south of Wake Forest. Not very far away, but it still missed this town. I never even lost power. The storm moved on after a matter of minutes and the sun broke through to shine down on the destruction left in the tornado's wake. A lot of people lost homes and businesses. Some reports say that dozens even lost their lives. My prayers go out to the families that were actually touched by this devastating storm.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In Defense of My Desire to See Scream 4

Over the last few days, I've mentioned to some people that I wanted to see the new Scream movie. For the most part, these friends and co-workers scoffed. They had a tendency to stare at me in disbelief, unsure of why I would be willing to pay money to see such a thing. It's as if they had passed judgment on the film without even giving it a chance to live up (or down) to their expectations.

First of all, I'm a movie guy. I'll see pretty much anything at least once. I'm going to tell you this, but I hope you'll keep your mocking laughter to a minimum. I saw Dude, Where's My Car? in the theater. That's right, I paid money to see that one. And you know what? I laughed. Not a lot, but it happened. Secondly, I'm not so sure that Scream 4 is going to be bad. There's not a great chance that it'll be good, granted. No matter the franchise, sequels can be a risky venture. I mean, who would have known that Spider-Man 3 was gonna suck so bad, especially after the awesomeness that was Spider-Man 2. On the flip side, look at Toy Story 3. I've heard a lot of people say it's the best of the series, and I would agree.

But sequels that come around a decade or more after the previous installment are even riskier. Toy Story pulled it off very well. Superman Returns did not. Indiana Jones did not. But I went to see those movies. I wanted, very badly, to see those movies when they were released. Why? For the same reason I'll be seeing Scream 4. Nostalgia.

Superman Returns wasn't a great movie. I don't think it was as bad as a lot of people say it is. But sitting in that theater while the opening credits flew by, I felt like a little kid again. Same with the latest Indiana Jones film. Not a great picture, but when you see Indy's silhouette and he knocks the dust off his hat while that classic music starts playing, you're easily transported back to a simpler, more innocent time.

Not that the Scream franchise represents innocence. And I don't have a lot of hope that Scream 4 will be very good. As the original trilogy progressed, they tended to get worse. That should say a lot. But still, there's a certain amount of nostalgia to it. I saw the first Scream in the Grandin Theater in Roanoke. It was a creepy old theater that had a skeletal gargoyle looking thing sitting up in the balcony next to the screen. The thing was always staring down at the audience. It just made seeing a scary movie that much scarier.

I won't have that same effect when seeing Scream 4 in high definition surround sound at my local theater. But watching Ghostface slice and dice will pull out so many different memories. Maybe, for a little while, I'll remember what it was like to be a 16-year-old kid watching a scary movie with his friends, trying to anticipate the jump scenes that will inevitably come.

Scream, as far as I can recall, was my first experience with watching a movie where the creators seemed to love movies as much as I did. All of the references to other films were great. Even rewatching it recently, it's amazing to see just how much respect the creators had for what came before. Knowing that those same creators have gotten together for the latest sequel makes me want to see it all the more.

And finally, there's one more reason to see this movie. Alison Brie. You might remember her from such TV shows as NBC's Community and AMC's Mad Men, or from previous blog posts like this Question of the Week. I'm not stupid. I realize that she'll probably show up for two scenes and then get carved up like a pumpkin in time for Halloween. But is that really the point? It's Alison Brie. On the big screen. Usually I have to settle for reruns of Community through Hulu on my laptop screen. Does not do the woman justice. Okay, I'm done with my obsessive crush ramblings.

So yeah, I'll be seeing Scream 4 this afternoon. I'll come back tonight to let you know what I think of it after the fact. Stay tuned...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Question of the Week: No Pressure

You become involved romantically but after six months realize you need to end the relationship. If you were certain the person would commit suicide if you were to leave and were also certain you could not be happy with the person, what would you do?

So this probably sounds heartless, but I'd leave. I don't care who you are, my actions, positive or negative, can never be strong enough to make you kill yourself. That's a choice that you're making. And if you're stupid enough to go through with that, that's on you. I won't feel guilty for someone making the choice to end her life. And there's no way I'd want to be with someone who would use "suicide" as a not-so-subtle manipulation to keep me in the relationship. That's not fair. Again, not to sound heartless or conceited, but I'm pretty sure I deserve to be with someone who's at least halfway mentally stable. A woman who believes that suicide is a viable option is not, in my opinion, stable.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

AFI 85 - A Night at the Opera

A Night at the Opera
Directed by Sam Wood
Netflix sleeve: The Marx Brothers - Groucho, Harpo and Chico - wreak havoc in the opera house in one of their biggest hits. Penned by Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman, the film contains perhaps the greatest Marx comedy bit ever: the crowded stateroom scene. Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones are charming as the singing romantic leads whom the Marxes help transform into big-time opera stars. This was the first MGM film for the Marxes.

Well, that was my first movie starring the Marx Brothers. I don't see the appeal. Maybe humor was different in the 30s than it is today. You know, I'm sure humor is different today than it was 80 years ago. This movie did have its moments for me, but overall, I didn't think it was all that hilarious. It was revelatory, however, in that I didn't realize that Groucho's mustache was fake. At least, it looked fake to me. It looked like he smeared a line of black shoe polish under his nose. Am I wrong? Was there hair there? Help me out blogosphere.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dark Force Rising

Title: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising
Author: Timothy Zahn
Published: 1992

Being the second part of a trilogy, this book did its job very well. It ramped up the action a bit and moved things along nicely, leaving a decent cliffhanger at the end.

Like the previous installment, Heir to the Empire, I remember seeing this book in the library as a kid. It really intrigued me, but I just couldn't find any motivation to read a Star Wars book when I had the movies at home. I could pop the original trilogy into the VCR and give my brain a rest. If I read these books, I'd have to let my imagination do all the work. That's just no fun for a 12-year-old. Well, it wasn't for me.

But now, I kind of wish I had actually picked up these books and read them cover to cover. There are a lot of stories set in this fictional universe that have been written since these books were published. If I'm at all interested in catching up with the Star Wars novels (and I kind of am), I've got a lot of reading to do. If I'd started back in the day, I'd probably know all the ins and outs of what happened after the fall of the Galactic Empire.

Then again, I probably wouldn't have appreciated these stories then as I do now. Being the person I am now, I love to read. I love to let my imagination get carried away. I love picturing these worlds and battles as if they're being played on the movie screen of my mind. Not sure my 12-year-old self would have been able to comprehend everything that was happening. And I certainly wouldn't have noticed the holes in the continuity.

But, to be fair, these books were written long before George Lucas decided to film his prequels. Some of the back story given by Zahn obviously needs to be adjusted thanks to the movies that came along a few years later. All in all a good read. I look forward to the final chapter in the trilogy, The Last Command.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Life Story: Chapter Fifty Four

Hey, remember in my last Life Story post how I said I took Drawing II and Painting as extra electives senior year? You probably don't, but that's okay. I posted that story over a month ago. I was wrong. I took those two classes during my junior year. I told you that high school was just a blur, get off my back about it!

So I'm gonna have to flash back to those junior year electives. Not that Drawing II and Painting were so interesting that they deserve and entire blog post about them. Maybe they were, I just can't remember much about them. But I'm gonna give this a shot.

I had taken Drawing I during my freshman year. It was one of those early morning classes that you get to school for while it's still dark outside. Maybe that just means they made us come to school way too early. It would explain why my memory of that particular class is so fuzzy. Doesn't explain why the rest of high school is fuzzy.

Sidebar: It occurs to me that all my mentions of high school being a blur may make readers believe that I was into alcohol or drugs during those years. Let me assure you, I wasn't. I never have been. I really did just try to block a lot of high school out of my mind.

Anyway, I did enjoy the art classes I took. And I'm pretty sure Drawing II in that first semester was just a means to an end. It was a prerequisite for the Painting class in the next semester. Not that I wanted to be this profound painter or anything. I just wanted to give it a shot. After all, I had done drawing, sculpting, and photography, why not try to paint something as well?

Painting was an interesting class. So much to learn about the way colors mix together. And I'm not just talking about the primary and secondary colors. Turns out there are tertiary colors too. Did I just blow your mind? Dude, go check out a color wheel. It'll change your world.

Mrs. Wood had a student teacher that semester. I wish I could remember her name, but again, blur. The only thing I remember for sure about her was that she was gorgeous. In all my years of being a student in Roanoke City Public Schools, she was the only teacher I had a crush on. And I know she was just a student teacher, but she was a teacher nonetheless.

I didn't just like her because she was hot. I mean, I was 16, so the fact that she was hot was a big part of it. But she pretended to be interested in the stuff I was doing in class. Once, she complimented my haircut. I don't think that's a requirement for teacher licensure. If it is, she did a good job with the flirting.

Okay, really, I could have just been assuming she was flirting because I wanted her to flirt with me. She probably had six years on me, so asking her to the prom would have been out of the question. But I will say that Painting was a lot more interesting when she was giving the lesson.

Monday, April 11, 2011

AFI 86 - Platoon

Directed by Oliver Stone
Netflix sleeve: Helmed by Oliver Stone, this searing autobiographical drama chronicles the Vietnam experiences of naive volunteer soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), whose view of the conflict starts to change after witnessing murder and rape at the hands of his compatriots. Platoon won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, with Tom Berenger and Willem Defoe earning supporting actor nods as rival topkicks who offer Sheen contrasting role models.

Hey, remember when Charlie Sheen was an actor and not just a go to headline for Entertainment Tonight? Yeah, it was a simpler time. I'd never seen this movie before. For some reason, movies about Vietnam don't really do much for me. Unless the main character is one Forrest Gump. This film wasn't much different for me. I'm not sure why I can appreciate a World War II flick more than I can a Vietnam flick. Honestly, I had the same sort of reaction to Full Metal Jacket. It's not that I think these movies are bad, I just walk away from them thinking, "That was messed up."

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Today's writing prompt comes from Sunday Scribblings.

I'd had way too much to drink. That was the only thing I knew for sure. My mind was far too jacked up to make sense of anything else.

It had been a long week. No, it had been a long month. It seemed like it was just one thing after another with me. And I don't usually give in like this. I don't turn to alcohol to make myself feel better when I'm down. Because, let's be honest, it really doesn't make me feel any better.

The drinks didn't make the girlfriend that dumped me come back. They didn't cause that promotion I missed to suddenly fall in my lap. What the alcohol did do for me was cause me to make poor decisions. It also gave me an incredible lack of impulse control.

I wasn't drinking alone. I wasn't that pathetic. But after my buddy encouraged me to down my fifth shot of tequila, it's all blank.

I woke up the next morning in a jail cell, my head pounding away. It hurt so bad, I wished I could just close my eyes and black out all over again. Sadly, I knew that wasn't an option.

The guy sharing the cell with me wasn't my friend. I had no idea who this person was or why he was slumped, unconscious, against the toilet. Well, I could assume why he was slumped against the toilet. Reasons I'd rather not think about.

I tried to piece the night together in my befuddled mind, but the pieces were out of reach.

"Jesse Monroe?" called a voice from the other side of the bars. I winced at the sound of my own name, the noise felt like a shockwave.

I stood, slowly, carefully, and walked toward the corridor. "You made bail." The voice came from a cop that I couldn't have recognized if I'd tried. Behind him stood my ex-girlfriend, Tess. Yeah, she's the one that just dumped me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked her as the door to my cell slid open.

"I was your one phone call," she said. She was having a lot of difficulty making eye contact with me. "I guess you don't remember?"

"Last night is a blur. Look, you didn't have to come. I'll pay you back for this, I promise."

"Jesse, don't worry about it. Just go home and sleep it off," she said, finally looking at me.

I looked right back into her eyes, wishing I had something profound to say. I wished I could somehow convince her to take me back. Walking out of the drunk tank wasn't exactly the best place to win her affections, I knew. "Thanks, Tess," was all I could say.

"If you want to thank me, just do me one favor."

"Anything," I said, becoming over-excited for a moment.

"Lose my number." And with that, she walked away from me.

I was left standing alone in a dimly lit hallway inside the police station, feeling worse than I had the night before when I decided that hitting a bar with my friends was such a great idea.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Slobstopper

Please, somebody, tell me that this is not a real product.

Can I take a minute to make an observation or two? First of all, the dude drinking coffee in the car... How long have you been drinking beverages? Have you always had that much trouble? I could understand spilling that much coffee if you were distracted by that girl walking by and you rear ended someone while driving and simultaneously taking a sip. But you appeared to be parked. Also, your coffee? Looked more like you were drinking chocolate milk. You just put it in one of those trendy coffee cups to make it look like you weren't three years old. Oh, and that girl walking by shook her head when you spilled your chocolate milk all over yourself. Are you telling me that in the next scene, when she sees you wearing an over-sized bib, she's thinking, "Wow, that guy's a real catch!" Either way dude in the car, you're screwed. You have a serious drinking problem. You can either spill it on yourself or you can walk around in a bib. This is a lose-lose situation.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Question of the Week: One or Many

If you had the choice of one intimate soulmate and no other close friends, or of no such soulmate and many friends and acquaintances, which would you choose?

Not that I believe in "soulmates," but I'd rather have the one than the many. That's not to say that I don't cherish the friendships that I do have. But I also wouldn't say that I have a lot of close friends either. I could never narrow them down to just one while writing the others off. But the people I consider to be friends I don't consider to be a large number.

I would consider myself a fairly guarded person, so opening myself up to having more friends and acquaintances isn't the easiest thing for me to do. In my mind, having a few close friendships just makes those relationships all the more valuable.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Boston Addendum

I made a mistake in this morning's post. Technically, what I listed as my second visit to Boston was really my third. I wasn't really thinking about that second trip because, well, we didn't stay the night in Boston.

It was part of that baseball trip I took with Dad 10 years ago, as told here.

So I've been to Boston thrice. Sorry for the mislead. Have a great day kids.


I have been to Boston, Massachusetts twice in my life. Have I ever talked about my time in Boston?

The first time I went was as a part of a mission trip. During Spring Break of my freshman year in college, the BSU took a group of students up to New England. The mission part of the trip mainly took place in the state of Maine. We canvassed a couple towns in a small area, trying to get a feel for what people were looking for in a church. If I remember correctly, the Southern Baptists wanted to start a new church in the area. This is the trip where we stopped in the self-proclaimed "Lobster Capital of the World" and couldn't order a lobster off the menu.

At one point during the trip, we stopped off in Boston. We took a pit stop in this snazzy looking place. I really have no idea what it was or why we stopped there. But I do remember that it was only a few blocks from Cheers. Okay, really, Cheers isn't the name of the bar that's right there in Boston. As far as I can remember, Cheers wasn't even filmed in Boston. But each episode did have a split second or two of footage outside the bar. That part was in Boston. And it was only a few blocks from where we were sitting all cozy and warm on a frigid March night.

So a handful of us decided to brave the cold and the sleet and the ice of Boston's streets. We made the walk to the faux-location of Cheers. I couldn't actually go into the bar since, at the time, I was still only 19 years old. But upstairs there was a gift shop with Cheers memorabilia. It wasn't anything incredibly exciting, but I did get a decent Cheers sweatshirt. I would have gotten a t-shirt, but it was cold. And there was sleet. And there was ice.

My second trip to Boston was more of a personal thing. For a while I was a pretty avid follower of American Idol. Back during season four, I kind of fell in love with Carrie Underwood. History tells us that she went on to win that year. I was less than surprised by that outcome. So I figured that the best shot I had at getting Ms. Underwood's attention was to win American Idol myself.

During season five of Idol, the closest tryout cities to my hometown were Memphis and Boston. I opted for Boston. I later found out that Memphis was canceled and moved to Greensboro, which was a world closer, but I had already made reservations at a hotel in Boston. So I took a road trip.

I sat in the rain, which came from the remnants of Katrina. Eventually my number came up and I sang in front of two producers along with three other hopefuls. None of us got through. That meant that none of us got to meet Simon, Paula, or Randy. And my hotel room was paid through the week. I went with the week long stay 'cause I thought, well, just in case I get to the next round. And then I didn't get to the next round.

I'm convinced that I didn't get a pass to round 2 because I wouldn't have made good television. If I had shown up in a suit of armor and tried to sing terribly, I would have been given a free ride. They probably would have even done a sob story about my life. As it was, I got an all expenses paid vacation to Boston. Of course, I paid all the expenses.

Needless to say, I didn't win American Idol season five. That honor eventually went to Taylor Hicks. I know, you're thinking Taylor who? The world was a simpler place in 2006. Also, I got over Carrie Underwood. It never would have worked out. Apparently she was into some hockey player, who she later married.

Boston seems a decent place. But I don't think I could live there. Being raised a fan of the Yankees, I'm not sure I would survive for more than a few weeks before being beaten senseless by a group of rabid Red Sox fans.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Single Guy Uses the Oven

To think that the Single Guy doesn't use his oven isn't entirely accurate. He uses his oven all the time. But it's usually just to heat up frozen pizza or chicken nuggets, things of that nature. He rarely breaks out real recipes and ingredients. More often than not, it just doesn't make sense.

See, recipes are generally for meals to feed small families. Usually, the number of people needed to eat all that food hovers around four. The Single Guy is but one person. And while, like most Americans, he does have the tendency to sometimes eat more than the Department of Health thinks one should eat in one sitting, eating enough to feed a small family isn't something he can do. Maybe, back in college, with a faster metabolism, he could have performed such a feat. Not today.

But there are occasions when the Single Guy feels a recipe looks too good to just let sit there and not be tried out. Not too long ago, he discovered a blog called The Girl Who Ate Everything through a link posted by a Facebook friend. He isn't one to often check out blogs about cooking for the reasons stated above. However, this blog intrigued him. The first recipe that caught his attention was Overnight French Toast Casserole. He hasn't tried to make it, but it looked amazing.

Yesterday the Single Guy saw a recipe for Chicken Pillows. It looked good. It sounded good. It seemed simple enough. He figured he could handle making this meal. So on the way home from work, he stopped by the store and picked up all the necessary ingredients. You don't think about needing things like salt, pepper, and chives unless you actually need them for something. A bowl of cereal generally doesn't call for these things.

One of the actions necessary for the recipe was to cut up an onion. Really, it needed to be minced, whatever that meant. Never having cut up an onion before, the Single Guy was a little hesitant, not wanting his eyes to become too irritated. His mother suggested keeping a piece of bread in his mouth while he cut the onion. He tried this to no avail.

But he soldiered on. Once everything was mixed and baked, he had eight chicken pillows. Far too many for the Single Guy to eat on his own. His finished product didn't look as nice as the picture posted by the Girl Who Ate Everything, but it tasted great. And he has plenty of leftovers. Like, enough for the next couple days worth of meals.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Legends of the Bank Teller - Episode XCVII

One day as I was building up to one of my regular rages against the customers, I got to thinking about something kind of geeky. My mind wandered to the Star Wars universe and turning to the Dark Side. As angry as I get at work, I think my turn to the Dark Side would be an eventual inevitability. But my turn is not what I was thinking about.

My thoughts were more along the lines of, "What if Darth Vader was a bank teller?"

I can tell you one thing, he wouldn't take crap off any customers. Someone starts throwing a fit because they were stupid enough to overdraw their account? Force choke. Someone dares to come to the drive through without having all their things ready to go the second they pull up? Force choke. Someone complains about having to pay a fee to cash a check when they don't have an account with us? Force choke.

Here's a little scenario:
Idiot Customer - "I need to get a cashier's check."
Darth Vader - "You will incur an eight dollar fee for this check."
Idiot Customer - "I've never been charged a fee before!"
Darth Vader - "I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further."

See? No crap from anyone.

In fact, I'm thinking that Lord Vader would institute weekly lightsaber beheadings just to keep people in line. It's probably a good thing I don't have a lightsaber of my very own. Also, it's probably a good thing that I have yet to turn to the Dark Side. Or discover my own Jedi abilities.

Monday, April 04, 2011

AFI 87 - 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Netflix sleeve: Knowing full well that a guilty verdict means death, a jury of 12 men (including Jack Warden and Jack Klugman) must decide the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his father. But only one juror (Henry Fonda) wants to take the time to coolly deliberate the case. Sidney Lumet (Network) made his directorial debut with this Oscar-nominated drama that illustrates all the petty impediments on the path to justice.

This one is a great movie. In my humble opinion, it deserves to be a little higher than number 87 on this list. But this is the AFI list, not mine. I first saw this movie my senior year of high school. We watched it in sociology class. I guess the point of it was to see how these guys interact with each other under such a tense situation. Whatever the reasoning behind Ms. Russell making us watch it, I loved this movie. On the surface it's such a simple story. I mean, it's 12 men in one room for pretty much the entire picture. But you get a chance to get inside the minds of these 12 men and quickly understand just how complex the story really is. If you've never seen it, see it. This weekend. That's not a request! I expect your full report by Sunday.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Today's writing prompt brought to you by Sunday Scribblings.

Allen ran as fast as his feet would carry him through the tall grass of the open plain. His lungs burned as he tried to breathe in and out, but he knew he couldn't stop. The message he was carrying was far too important, and his enemies were far too close for comfort.

It was late afternoon, but the dark clouds building in the sky stopped the sun from shedding its usual amount of light. Allen couldn't remember how many hours he had been on foot, he just remembered that earlier in the day his horse had been mortally wounded. He had to leave her behind and go on alone. He didn't have time to mourn the loss of an animal that had carried him through countless adventures. His horse had been like family. Now she was gone.

He had been acting as a messenger for the Resistance since he was 14. At first, he was expected to carry small notes from town to town, hiding in plain sight under the noses of the alien race that had dominated the globe so many years ago. Now that he was older, Allen's experience gave him the opportunity to deliver documents and packages from one end of the continent to the other. His name was spoken with the deepest respect among the leadership in the Resistance.

Allen knew who to trust among the alien race, who called themselves Ythnians. Humans called them Howlers. Anyone who heard the Ythnians native language would understand why. Allen had made friends among the Howlers. Not that any of them would admit to finding him to be a valuable member of the human race; the people of Earth were far beneath them. But he had proven to be useful to several influential members of the new ruling class. This gave him access to things that no one else in the Resistance could dream of seeing.

Now he had seen something that he almost wished he hadn't seen. Purely by accident, while running an errand for an Ythnian council member, he witnessed an argument that could spell the downfall of the alien rulers. The only problem that faced him was who to share this information with. There were small pockets of freedom fighters all over the world, but the real leaders of the Resistance, well, they were a little better hidden.

Allen knew where to find them. He just hoped he could reach them before the Howlers found out exactly what he had seen and overheard. When he didn't return to the councilman's quarters in D.C., they would quickly become suspicious. But he had to risk it. The sooner he got his start, the better. He mounted his horse and took off, riding hard away from the city.

When the Ythnians arrived, they claimed to come in peace. They claimed that they would share their own technological advances with the people of Earth. The humans let down their guard. A population of 7 billion was cut in half in less than a week. In less than a month, the Ythnians had installed their own brand of global government. By the time Allen was born, there had been a lot of changes to the way that people were expected to live. The biggest change for humans to get used to was the ban on all technological advances. Oh, the Howlers were still able to pilot their ships and use their advanced weapons to keep people in line, but the humans were no longer allowed to use machinery or electronics of any kind.

Allen was aware that his horse could never outrun a Howler scout ship if one were sent searching for him. But he had to try. He had never ridden this fast before. He knew his life was at stake. He knew the fate of mankind was at stake. His mind was racing so fast with all the possibilities that this future could hold that he didn't even hear the sound of the alien blaster before the shot took down his horse.

He tumbled to the ground. He hit hard, but picked himself up. For a split second he looked back at the horse, but he knew it was no good. The horse would be dead already. Allen took off again, this time on foot. He had to keep running. The scouts, as predictable as they were, would stop to check on the horse first, before attempting pursuit. The aliens, he knew, never left anything done halfway. That was their first mistake.

If they stopped, it gave him a few extra minutes. He wouldn't be too difficult to track, as hard as his feet were hitting the ground. But he had to keep moving. He couldn't worry about covering his trail just yet. Not when he had so much ground yet to cross.

In the distance, under the stormy skies, he saw the sign that he needed. In the light of a flash of lightning, he noticed the hills that marked the entrance to the Resistance's largest camp. Now was the time for Allen to use caution.

He couldn't very well just walk up to the front door, give the secret knock, and then just waltz inside. He was still being followed by a group of very gifted trackers. He began covering his tracks as best he could. When he was pleased with the job he had done, he moved off to the side and sat low in the tall grass. He prayed that the storm clouds would open up, that the rain would help to wash away whatever trail he was unable to get rid of. But the rain didn't come.

He breathed shallow, watching carefully as the Howlers moved silently through the grass. They were no more than 20 yards from his position, but he could tell they were getting confused. He knew that they had lost his trail. He was beginning to feel some sense of hope. Allen wasn't ready to relax, but he knew that if he waited this out, he would still have a good shot of making it out of this alive.

And then the electrified net fell over him. In a crackle of electricity that mixed with the noises of the overhead storm, Allen lost consciousness and fell to the ground.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Green Lantern Corps

It's another YouTube Saturday and I couldn't really come up with anything good to post that most people haven't already seen. I was really leaning toward those twins speaking gibberish to each other, even though that's been all over the Facebook all week. Thankfully, the Wondercon comic convention premiered some footage from the upcoming Green Lantern film that got me geeking out. Enjoy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Question of the Week: Self-Destruct

You notice a self-destructive behavior pattern in a friend who is clearly unaware of it. Would you point it out?

Yes. And I would hope that any friends that noticed a self-destructive behavior in me would tell me about it. It's never easy to point out when someone has messed out. But if you love them and are really their friend, then it's something they need to hear. And it's better coming from someone they can trust than from a stranger. It'll be hard for them to hear it too. And chances are they won't be receptive at first, but a true friendship will survive that kind of test. But I guess that's why Charlie Sheen hasn't been returning my phone calls lately.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.