Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Kyle Rudedawg is a Smartass

I've mentioned before that growing up, I had some cousins who were more like the brothers I always wanted. Jimmy and Charlie Easterbreak were like my older brothers, and Chris and Kyle Rudedawg were/are like my younger brothers. Both of them are good kids (although less "kids" every day), and I've got a ton of great memories about them both. However, of the two of them, Kyle has inherited the legendary Lebowski wit and penchant for causing trouble a bit more than his older brother, who inherited the stubbornness and love for family a bit more. Kyle has been a rare case for a few years now. Most pre-teens/early teens, if they are considered "funny" by their peers, are downright obnoxious seeming to everyone else. Kyle has stayed genuinely adult-level funny since he was about 10, although not without the occasional bout of adolescent obnoxiousness.

Kyle likes to be provocative, making (and holding to) wild claims such as "Meghan Thirty maliciously pushed me down the stairs when I was two years old" (we don't THINK that one is true, anyway) and "The Beatles sucked." These are not one-off statements, these are repeated claims that he regularly reasserts. I think he enjoys watching the reactions as people (either my sister in the first case or my uncles in the second) work themselves into a frenzy arguing with him. He understands, as has been passed down from our grandfather, the man, the myth, Jaja, that "the shit don't stink unless you stir it." Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if that was stamped on a Lebowski coat of arms somewhere.

Kyle also has the gift of creative interpretations of "truth." I distinctly recall an incident one summer where Derek Dynamo, our cousin with Down's Syndrome, came up to where the adults were sitting on the porch of my parents house to complain that the other kids were throwing rocks at him. Chris and Kyle were sometimes troublemakers, but that sounded a little too evil to be the truth, and Derek sometimes has trouble communicating clearly, so we sent him back down to the basketball hoop to instruct his cousin Kyle to head up to the porch. Kyle arrived and stood ready for his interrogation. "Derek said you were throwing rocks at him." His eyes widened then narrowed again, a thoughtful look crossing over his face. "Derek's lying." "So you weren't throwing rocks at him?" Pause. "No." "Were you throwing rocks at all?" "No." "So what did happen?" "I don't know," and he paused again, then, "but I didn't throw any rocks at Derek."

Hmm, there was something fishy about this. We sent Kyle away to serve Chris, his older brother with the summons. Chris came up to the porch and was very forthcoming with his information. "Were you and your brother throwing rocks at Derek?" "What? No, Kyle threw the basketball at his head." "...Get your brother back up here." Kyle, upon his return, protested that he had told the complete truth, not a single rock was thrown. If we'd only ASKED about the basketball, he would've told us. Smartass.

This was pretty in line with his approach to mischief. He's clever enough to cause trouble in ways that generally evade detection, at least for a little while. When he was in like 1st grade or so, they used to all get out little carpet squares and sit in a circle for story time. Usually it was a mad dash for the kids to get to sit next to their best friends, but Kyle would approach the teacher every time instead and ask sweetly if he could sit next to her. Touched, his teacher would always agree. It took weeks of her scolding the children sitting directly across from her for disruptive laughing before she realized the true culprit was the child sitting directly beside her, in her blind spot, pulling faces and other such japes with impunity. Eventually the jig was up, but man did he have a good run.

Kyle is an artistic kid too, he enjoys drawing. Once he made an entire comic book of single page strips himself, hand-drawn. Now, it was typical child artwork, crooked lines, not the neatest text, etc, but it was pretty good for a kid. The strips focused on a trio of characters, one of whom was a complete screw-up, hated and mocked by the other characters and seemingly fate itself. Typical child "it's funny when bad things happen to someone" humor. One strip was about a set of three music concerts the characters held, one per character. The first two held a rock and rap concert respectively, and were met with wild applause. The third was something crappy, and was booed and had things thrown at him. Ha ha. The true humor lay in an unintentional printing mishap. You see, the signs on the stage for each concert were the genres plus the character's names. So first was Rock Joe (or whatever his name was). The last was like Country Tim or something like that. The middle character was named Ed. Ed gave a rap concert. Oh, and this is where I'll mention that all the letters were capitalized (e.g. ROCK JOE) and Kyle had issues with spacing. His sign read "RAP ED" or, with the spacing issue, "RAPED". It was completely unintentional on his part, but there it was. The 9-year-old's comic with the word "RAPED" emblazoned in the middle.

Kyle has one incident in particular that he recently described as the greatest moment of his life. Of course I had to respond with "you must have a pretty crappy life, then", but he is genuinely proud of this one. He was probably 6 or so at the time. Our cousin Devon Dynamo was converting her mother's attic into a bedroom for herself and I was watching Kyle that day during the summer, and we went over to help her with the painting. Now, it should be mentioned that Devon is a fairly emotionally reactive individual, and is a bit of a talker herself, periodically something of a wiseass too. So there we were, painting in the disgustingly hot attic, and Kyle is saying all sorts of funny nonsense, but Devon is getting annoyed with him. Now she must've been about 14 or so at the time, and was every bit of her a 14-year-old girl, with all that comes along with that. She had had enough of Kyle's yammering, and told him so.

"Kyle, my god, every year your mouth just gets bigger and bigger," she smirked, half-annoyed, half-proud of her line. Without missing a beat, Kyle, 6-year-old Kyle, turned his head and smirked back even bigger, then casually tossed out the following line, complete with his then-inability to say the letter R, "Yeah, well, youah THIGHS just get bigguh and bigguh evewy yeauh." He was DELIGHTED with himself. And Devon? Well, I've yet to see her so angry again. There was murder in her eyes. I'm fully convinced that if I weren't present, Kyle would've been thrown down the stairs face first after a brutal beating. I literally had to hold her off of him. And he just laughed and laughed.

Kyle Rudedawg is a smartass.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Diane Thirty: Unscripted

I've been blessed with two terrific parents. It's a corny thing to say, yes, but true nonetheless. There is much I've learned from each of them, and much I could say about each of them as well. Today though, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of the traits that runs on the Lebowski side of the family: a quick wit. All of the children of the Lebowski-Jerboa union share this trait to a greater or lesser degree, and most of the grandchildren as well (I flatter myself amongst the grandchildren of wit). While she may not be as much of a natural spotlight-magnet as her younger siblings Hulka and Patty, my mother possesses the gift of a quick wit in spades. She is less of a storyteller, her gift is in her ability to play along with a situation or mutter a quick retort. Here are a collection of some of my favorite Diane Thirty off-the-cuff witticisms.

At a birthday dinner for Holly Lebowski (Hulka's beloved wife), we were all seated around a table in a restaurant. My mother is very particular about certain foods, and insists on only ever using REAL butter for her bread/rolls, not margarine. So when the basket of rolls arrived to the table with a mix of butter and margarine packets, she was nervous. The basket was going the wrong way around the table from her, and she was carefully watching as the stock of real butters gradually depleted. Eventually, the basket reached the diner directly to her right, her brother David "Blaze" Lebowski, with only 1 real butter left. Now, David is a scheming sort of guy, always up to do something to get a rise out of someone (another trait that runs in the family), so I can't say I blame my mother 100% for the preemptive strike she was about to launch, but it seemed harsh nonetheless.

As soon as the basket of rolls reached David's hands, it was slapped out of them, onto the table as my mother warned him, without a hint of warmth in her voice, "Don't even think about it, fuckhead." [alternative heard as "don't even think about it, dickhead."] She quickly snatched the last butter out of the basket and turned back to her conversation with my father, leaving David with his jaw on the table and only margarine for his roll. Now, I realize that wasn't a particularly "witty" comment to lead the tales of wit, but it was hilarious, fuckhead.

One Christmas in our old house, probably when I was about 13, 14 or so my mother had ordered a large leather recliner for my father for Christmas. It was a warm Christmas Eve that year, with very little, if any, snow on the ground. I recall being sent out onto the deck at some point in the morning with a bag of stale Rice Krispies to throw out to the birds. The house was built into a hillside, and the deck wrapped around from the side of the house where it was just a few steps up from the driveway to the back of the house where it stood above the slider doors to the finished part of the basement. I was feeling particularly lazy, and didn't feel like throwing handful after handful of cereal out onto the lawn proper, so I stood at the deck railing in the rear of the house and just upended the bag, dumping a pile of cereal down 1 story to the ground below where it remained.

Later that day, Dad's new chair arrived. My mother guided the deliverymen down from the driveway to the backyard and around to the basement doors to bring the chair in. She then noticed that to do so, they'd have to walk through a pile of Rice Krispies. Thinking quickly of a way to save face, she let the delivery man know that she'd asked her son to feed the birds that morning. But her son, she claimed, had Down's Syndrome, and didn't understand the task. How do I know she said this? After they left, she came upstairs and told me so. Angrily. As if it were my fault she lied and said I had Down's Syndrome.

Now, my cousin, Derek Dynamo, does in fact have Down's Syndrome, and he is one of the kindest-hearted young men you'd ever hope to meet, a real sensitive guy who loves his family and loves to make people laugh. One day my mother was sitting with her sisters, Susan (Derek's mother), and Patty chatting with their mother, Nonnie, and HER sister, Aunt Claire Philbert. Aunt Claire sometimes has a funky thought process, and doesn't quite follow exactly what's going on (but she is a very sweet and good person). At this particular time, Susan was talking about the accommodations Derek gets at school, including a dedicated para-educator. However, Aunt Claire didn't hear para-educator. Instead, she looked confused and asked my mother to clarify for her sister, just exactly, "what does the parrot do?". Now, my mother could've explained that Derek did not, in fact, have a parrot educator, but instead opted to tell her that the parrot uses its claws and beak to sharpen Derek's pencils. Aunt Claire looked not at all less confused by this, but blinked, nodded her acceptance, and sat back in her chair. To my knowledge, she has not, to this day, been corrected.

The final moment of unscripted, muttered wit I'll share today happened during a family game of Monopoly Junior. Monopoly Junior is like regular monopoly, but with fewer properties, set in an amusement park, and with the dollar values greatly reduced, usually by a factor of $100 or so. Also, the man currently officially known as Mr. Monopoly featured more prominently in the various cards and properties. However, Mr. Monopoly went by a different name back then. Back then, he was Rich Uncle Pennybags.

It was a typical family board game, the type pictured in print ads for the very same board games. All four members of the Thirty family were sitting on the living room rug, Steven and Diane Thirty patiently playing this childrens' game with Meghan and I. Mom was not winning though, and was becoming mildly annoyed with her poor luck. She rolled, and landed on one of the card drawing spaces, taking a card. She grumbled about how she had to pay back a $3 loan to her rich uncle. However, her description of this was "Oh, damn it, fine, pay $3 to Uncle Peniswhistle." Meghan and I laughed so hard we couldn't finish the game.

Uncle Peniswhistle.

Hahahahaha, it's still funny.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - In Loving Memory of Uncle Jim

Considering I've been on a one-update-per-month-ish schedule, some may find it shocking that I'm posting a new entry literally less than 24 hours after the last one. This morning I received some very sad news: my granduncle James Lebowski passed away late last night after a long full life and a rough battle with leukemia at the end of it. Uncle Jim, as he is known, was the older brother of my grandfather, Dave "Jaja" Lebowski, and his best friend throughout his life. Known to all of us in the family as a kind and gentle man with hardly a rough word to say about anyone, Uncle Jim was loved by all and renowned for his lightning fast eating abilities. It was said that if you looked closely enough you could see the sparks flying from his knife and fork.

I think that paragraph sets the tone I want to have for this entry. I want to take a few minutes to remember some of my favorite Uncle Jim memories and share them with you all. It may be odd that I'm writing this so quickly after his passing and that the tone I'll use is so lighthearted, but it's done out of love and so I can start processing the loss and, sincerely, I think he'd like it. So with that, let's take a moment and remember some fine memories of a terrific man.

A recurring theme with Uncle Jim was his love of food. It could be said that this runs in the family, but in a field of gifted amateurs, Jim was a professional. As I said before, he could eat with unbelievable speed, usually finishing his meals before others were even half done. Although he wasn't one to brag, I believe he took pride in this. I distinctly remember being at breakfast one morning back when I was probably 15 or so with Uncle Jim, my father, Hulka, Jaja, and other various men of my family and being particularly hungry that day. I ate my meal far more quickly than usual and when I looked up, Uncle Jim still had a few bites left to go. Genuinely surprised, I exclaimed, "Whoa! Uncle Jim, you're not done yet?" I immediately regretted it. He looked completely crestfallen, and spent the rest of the meal far more quiet than usual. The next week, the natural order was restored though, and Uncle Jim reclaimed his speed-eating crown.

As with any individual, Uncle Jim had particular favorites in the world of food. Once asked what his favorite food was, he contemplated deeply for a few seconds, brow furrowed, and then finally replied, "... you know, I think I'd have to say gravy." Uncle Jim LOVED gravy. His favorite food wasn't even a food, but a condiment. He would often eat Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak meals and would frequently lament that the amount of gravy provided was insufficient. Hulka, knowing this, decided to have some fun with Uncle Jim one day. He launched into a description of an ad he'd seen for new, larger Hungry-Man dinners with the tray extended to include an entire sidecar of gravy. Uncle Jim's eyes lit up like a the 4th of July. He demanded any and all information Hulka could provide on this new development in the world of frozen foods. Hulka was vague, but descriptive. He couldn't remember where he'd seen the ad, but he said the picture of the meal showed the special gravy sidecar clearly. He wasn't certain, but he thought they were rolling it out to test markets in certain cities. Jim could hardly contain his excitement. He implored his daughter, Holly, to keep her eyes peeled at the Stop & Shop she worked at for any sign of the coveted sidecar.

Of course, this was complete BS. There is no sidecar of gravy. You know this, and so do I. Hulka knew it when he said it. But the story filled Jim with such zest for life that none of us have ever been able to break the news to him that it was false. Hulka would periodically check in on the topic, claiming friends from cities far and wide told him how it just came to their town and how great it was. I hear they adored it in St. Louis. And so, Uncle Jim lived in a state of perpetual excitement for the day that Hungry-Man would finally release the gravy sidecar, a veritable Holy Grail of frozen dinner, in his local grocer's freezer.

His love of food was not limited to just love of gravy, though. He just loved eating. I recall being at a wake a few years ago that Uncle Jim also attended. Many members of my family were sitting in the back of the room, quietly talking amongst ourselves when somebody approached who happened to be holding a bag of some sorts. Uncle Jim, apparently hungrier than anyone realized, couldn't contain himself and asked, hopefully, eagerly, sincerely, eyes big like a child's on Christmas, "What's in the bag? Sandwiches?" No context clues pointed him towards this desired conclusion. The bag merely represented possibility: anything could be inside. And what Uncle Jim hoped more than anything else, hoped beyond the capacity for reasonable consideration of the possibility, was that the bag was full of sandwiches. For the wake.

One other memory of Uncle Jim I'll relate today is a time I was out on a boat with Hulka, Jaja, and Uncle Jim. I was probably 18, 19 or so. We were cruising around, enjoying a bright, sunny day. Everyone was having a great time, including the people in the other boats we'd pass by. One boat I noticed had a family that included a daughter who appeared reasonably close to my age. And she was cute. We traveled near this other boat for a while, and I became increasingly distracted, repeatedly glancing over at the other boat. She was sitting on the side of the boat, facing away from me, wearing a bikini. Nothing skimpy, just a normal, black two-piece bathing suit. And, pardon my crassness and objectification, she had a very nice ass. What? She did! I wasn't leering or anything, but there was no way I wasn't noticing. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't the only one who noticed. Or the only one who noticed that I noticed. Uncle Jim, seeing what was going on, couldn't resist speaking up.

"Oh ho, look at Remus, watching that dupa over there!" Dupa, for those who don't know, is Polish for "rear end". If only those of us on our boat had heard, I would've shrugged it off, laughed. But Uncle Jim said it loudly. Loud enough that the passengers on the other boat heard him, turned, and looked at me. I turned bright red, she moved down from the edge of the boat to a seat inside, and her father gave me a disgusted look. Thanks a lot, Uncle Jim. I don't think he even realized, he was already back engaged in conversation with Jaja by the time I could turn to look at him.

So those are some of my favorite Uncle Jim memories. I'll always remember him fondly, with love, as a good sport, a kind man, and an honest person. I don't think I ever once observed him acting with malice or duplicity. I make no secret of the fact that I have no idea what happens after we leave this world, and I prefer not to guess, but whatever happens, I hope that somehow, someway, Uncle Jim's in a place where he finally has his sidecar of gravy and he's at peace knowing he left loved by his family and friends. Goodbye, Uncle Jim. I'll miss you.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Back in the Bulk - Blunt Farce Drama

Not everyone who participated in the shenanigans of Bulkie 2 South were residents of the floor. A frequent visitor was our upstairs neighbor (well, 4 floors upstairs on the 6th floor anyway), Rich Cornhole. Rich is, to this day, one of my dearest friends. He, along with Ben Stantz (who you've seen a few times on here already) and I comprised 3/4 of the same pledge class for our fraternity and have had a tight bond between the three of us since (the 4th was Mitch Roll, who was a few years older than us and whom I was fond of but have lost most contact with). Rich is a great guy, very friendly, very helpful to everyone he meets, and generally fun to be around. He's also stubborn and has an unfortunate tendency to wind up with all nature of harm done to his body, inside and out. Sometimes this isn't his fault. For example, he wound up with some manner of stomach disease that has plagued him for years. Sometimes, usually more on the injury than illness side of harm, it is his fault. It really, really is.

One day, a number of people were hanging out on Bulkie 2S. Mostly floor residents, and a number of visitors. The hallway walls were cinderblock or some other similarly tough material with the occasional exit sign high up and the occasional raised metal wall outlet low down, and the halls were just wide enough that we would often sit with our backs against one wall and our feet propped on the other. It was in just such a position that I found myself at the outset of this Bulkie adventure. I was sitting near Ben Stantz and Greg Hammel's door, back against one hallway wall, feet propped on the other, chatting with Rich, who was standing up.

Rich suddenly had a look come across his face that I knew could mean nothing but trouble. A mix of determination, realization, mischief, and pride. "Remus, don't move," he instructed me, beginning to back up. I wasn't sure what was going to happen next, but I was leery enough to say, "Rich, I don't know what you're thinking, but I can guarantee you it's a bad idea." "Don't worry, don't worry, just stay still," he again instructed. As he backed up to the T-intersection of the hallways, Ben Stantz happened to be coming from the other way, and saw Rich backing up with that look on his face. Ben interceded, "Rich. What are you doing?" What choice did he have to reveal his plan?

"OK, OK, so, so, so I'm gonna run and dive over Remus, and go into a somersault, and wind up standing again." Both Ben and I announced our displeasure with this idea. Ben actually went so far as to stand in Rich's path with his arms out. But, as fate would have it, something happened or somebody said something down the other hallway that caught Ben's attention. Rich saw his chance.

With one arm, he reached around Ben and pushed him to the side as he began his acceleration. He was successful in getting past Ben, but it did affect his stride and balance. Nevertheless, he continued forward, reaching his peak speed for the run and dove. And what a dive it was! I knew that the time for interference had passed. At this point, I needed to stay still as Rich wanted or risk injury to us both. So I made myself as small as possible as he passed overhead. And as he dove, he tucked his head and shoulders and... holy crap, he made the roll! But, as I watched these fractions of a second unfold, I noticed he was rolling a little to the left... more than a little. I cringed as Rich, instead of entering a second full roll, smashed his head full force into the wall.

Rich was layed out on the floor. I quickly rushed over, as did Ben and all the various folks who were around in the other hallways. Rich was cradling his head in his hands, allowing some sounds of pain to escape. We all inquired if he was alright, and he insisted he was. "I'm fine! I'm fine! Leave me alone!" (Rich, despite having worked on an ambulance and knowing a lot about proper medical care, first aid, and the like, hates acknowledging ever needing such care himself). As he took his hands away from his head, though, we noticed blood. A quick look at the wall confirmed he hadn't just hit the wall, he'd hit the corner of the raised metal power outlet. The 10 or so of us gathered there rushed Rich into the floor bathroom (a men's room! And some of those present were women! Scandal!), where we allowed our de facto floor medic, Clive McEnroe to examine him and apply those rough, thin dorm paper towels to Rich's head as makeshift bandages.

Clive looked Rich over and announced the wound wasn't that large. "See!? I told you, I'm fine!" protested Rich. Clive continued, "Yeah, it's not big, but it's deep. I think if it were wider, I could poke your skull. You need to go to the campus health center." Rich would have none of it. He insisted there was nothing they'd be able to do for him, and that they were incompetent and a waste of time and besides, he had a test tomorrow and didn't have time for this. We forced him, grudgingly, to the bus stop where Ben and I waited with him for the campus bus as he grumbled protests. And we rode the bus with him. And went inside with him. And god damn it if that ass wasn't right. There was nothing they could do for him. They suggested he find a ride to the relatively nearby Windia Hospital. So we phoned one of the older fraternity brothers we knew owned a car (we were pledges at this point), Andy Greensleeves to come and pick Rich up, and that's what happened. Andy picked Rich up and took him and Ben and I went back to Bulkie.

We were hanging out in Ben's room for a while when Rich appeared at the door. We welcomed him back and all crowded up to see the staples in his head. He put down the papers he was carrying on top of a dresser and joined us in the room, taking a spot up on the top bunk, Ben's bed. Everyone was having a good time talking and laughing, but Rich was kinda quiet. Not alarmingly so, just less so than usual. Before long though, as he moved to get down from the bunk, he asked us what was on the papers he brought back with him. Surprised, we asked if he'd read them. He said he tried but it looked fuzzy. Hmm. We looked at the papers, which listed symptoms of a concussion. Vision problems was one. Tiredness. Problems with balance (poetically read just as Rich failed to climb down properly and almost knocked a dresser over). It was pretty apparent. Rich had a concussion.

Again, we insisted Rich needed medical treatment. Again, he protested, citing the test he had to take tomorrow. We asked him if he really thought he'd study alright with a concussion. That shut him up somewhat. We got one of the other brothers, Bryan Augery (who lived on the 4th floor of our lovely Bulkie South tower) who also had a car to be the driver this time and off went Rich to Windia Hospital again, this time with Augie (as he was called) and Ben.

It was late at night when they got there, and there was a bit of a wait to be seen, and even once they took Rich in, he was gone a long time. Ben and Augie were sitting in a room waiting when Dave arrived. Dave had epilepsy. Dave was also drunk off his ass. Dave's wife showed up at the hospital with drunk, epileptic Dave and said, "Here. YOU deal with him tonight." and drove off. So there were Ben and Augie, neither of them a day over 20, sitting in a room with drunk, epileptic Dave for what seemed like forever. And Dave, being drunk and epileptic, started to seize. The hospital staff came in and explained that it would be better for Dave if they kept the lights off. So they did. And Ben and Augie sat for an hour in the dark with drunk, epileptic Dave, who would periodically seize.

Eventually, they took Rich home, and he was fine. The ordeal was over. And no, Rich did not end up having to take his test. But this was only the first of Rich's many injuries, and the next would take place miles and miles from home, in beautiful, sunny Orlando.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Back in the Bulk - Blind Ninja Attack

After far too long a delay since the last update, here's a fresh tale for you to enjoy from my freshman year of college, living in Bulkie Hall. You may remember a few of the people involved from our previous tale, Elevator Darts. Ben Stantz and John "P.J." Reaver are once again important characters, as is Clive McEnroe, who was so kind as to share the stories of Right Angles Pizza with us long ago. Clive is a man of small and agile build, both brilliant and insane. His instincts are those of a small forest animal, always alert for the need to leap to safety from larger threats. Also of central importance is Jon "B.J." Hummer (The B.J. is for British Jon -- while not actually British, Jon did talk constantly about the time he spent abroad in England). B.J. was alright at first but got kind of annoying, he had kind of a skulky creepy thing going on. He was generally a pain in the ass by this point, and most of us didn't like him always trying to hang around us. Brendan Tourney, L.J. Seabiscuit, and Greg Hammel were all involved to a lesser extent as well.

One day, Clive McEnroe came back to the floor with a sleep mask. You know, like the type people wear over their eyes to block out light and sleep. This was evidently a mask marketed towards women, because it was powder blue and said like, "Princess" or something on it. Clive did not buy this mask, he found it. He found it in a parking lot. And thought he should bring it home so we could wear it. On our faces.

It was going to take more than his suggestion that we all try it on to get us to try it on. It was going to take a wiffle bat. Don't misunderstand me, we were not threatened with a toy bat. This wouldn't have been Clive's style, and it wouldn't have worked. Nearly any of us would've suffered one or two hits before taking it away and beating his ass back with it (because that's what friends are for). No, this wiffle bat was more of a "carrot" than a "stick". You see, ninjas are awesome. Like, really awesome. They are totally sweet.

A game was quickly designed for play with a crowd of idiots, a discarded sleep mask, and a wiffle bat. This game was Blind Ninja Attack. The rules are simple. First, someone volunteers to be the Blind Ninja. This person is blindfolded, spun in a circle, and given a bat. Then everyone else runs and hides around the floor and tries not to be killed by the Zatoichi-esque assailant. There's really nowhere to hide on a dorm floor hallway, so mostly we just tried to remain quiet as we moved around.

Ben, acting as he often did as a voice of moderate reason, decided that the risks of Trevor Cloak, our sometimes-friendly, sometimes-tyrannical RA disliking our game and ruining our fun were high, so we came up with a system. If anyone spotted Trevor, they were to say, quite loudly "Hey [BLIND NINJA'S NAME HERE], hows it going?". This would be the signal to stop playing and hide our equipment.

For the first round, Clive volunteered to be our ninja assassin. Being a nimble little guy with sharp hearing, he wasted no time in orienting and striking down great big P.J. I mean, John was huge and slow-moving, so it was an easy win for Clive. P.J. became the next Blind Ninja. He spun and we spread out away from him. John moved slowly in cycles, first listening, then orienting, then moving, then possibly swinging the bat. In order. Like a video game boss. He was fairly easy to avoid. But I miscalculated. I allowed myself to be backed into a dead end of the hallway (there were four dead ends, the floor was laid out roughly squarely with a dead end hallway at each corner). I tried my best to be silent, but John knew he was slowly, slowly closing in on someone. I prepared to kick the radiator to distract him then try to bolt past him, but fate intervened.

John's missed swings made noise. B.J. was always listening for sounds that we might be having fun so he could glom on and de-fun things a bit. And this time was no exception. Our showdown was occurring right outside his door. The door opened. B.J.'s face poked out. "Hey guys, what are you doing?" John heard a human voice. His ears perked up. He turned his head. He readied his swing. If B.J. had any clue whatsoever what was about to happen, he would've had plenty of time to dodge or close the door. But who suspects a Blind Ninja Attack?

John, swinging the wiffle bat with one massive arm in an downward arc, smashed B.J. right in the face. As he was knocked back and the door swung closed, we heard, "Oh god, my face!" and then did not see or hear B.J. for the rest of the day. P.J. took his mask off, thinking he'd won, not realizing he struck a bystander. Awesomely.

In any event, his turn was over, and Clive wanted another go. This time everyone got away from him more quickly, knowing that he was fast and extremely reactive to his surroundings. His tiny woodland animal instincts took over and he stopped distinguishing sounds, striking viciously at any noise. There was one noise he did not hear, however. And that was a toilet in the bathroom flushing. Trevor had been in the crapper this whole time, blissfully unaware of what was going on. Ben, passing by the bathroom door, heard the flush and saw Trevor exit the stall and start washing his hands. It was time to end the game.

Ben approached Clive and called the code-phrase. "Hey, Clive, how's it going?" Loud. Awkward. No chance it could be mistaken for conversation. But Clive was not hearing words, only noise. As Trevor exited the bathroom, he saw a perfect shot of Clive striking three times to Ben's arms and torso. "Ow. OW. OW! Quit it!!" But it was too late to quit. Trevor had seen our contraband toys and confiscated our wiffle bat. He would later return it, along with all sorts of toys he took away one magical day months later (we think he was told he wasn't actually allowed to confiscate and keep our things if they weren't actually disallowed in the dorms), but for now, it was gone.

Clive was allowed to keep the sleep mask.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Almost Made Me Wish I Was Dead!

This'll be a super short one, just something kinda funny I thought of.

When I was little, maybe 6 or so, I had a toy set called Playskool Pipeworks that I LOVED. I think I had the the Pipeworks 2000: Big Builders Set. Basically it was a set of white tubes and connector pieces that you'd use to make appropriate child-size furniture, forts, wheelbarrows, etc. It was fantastic. The instruction manual was the same for the 1000, 2000, and 3000 sets, and I was always wishing I had the parts to build the items that were in the 3000 set only. Pipeworks 3000 reached this mythic status in my young brain, a Holy Grail of toys.

Now, I was raised more-or-less Catholic by my parents, Steven and Diane Thirty, in that I attended CCD weekly, but usually didn't actually go to mass. I did eventually go to a Catholic high school. My parents, they're both Catholic, but in a pretty loose sense of the word, not like Nonnie (the late and very missed Mary Lebowski), who I think would've fought the Python at Delphi to get to church if she had to (and she, like Indiana Jones, hated snakes). In any event, at a young age I fully believed in such concepts as Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, etc... although I tended to imagine them in whatever way seemed fun or interesting to me, Catholic dogma be damned. (It was only a hop, skip, and jump to full blown apostasy and agnosticism! What up, present day?)

I remember more or less vividly a conversation I once had with my beloved uncle Hulka at that young age. I was curious about Heaven, just what it was like. I figured Hulka knew a lot of things, maybe he knew what was so great about this Heaven place. He told me that anything I ever wanted and anyone I ever loved was there. That sounded pretty good, but I needed to know more.

"Hulka, do they have Pipeworks in Heaven?"

"If you like Pipeworks, they have Pipeworks."


"Hulka! Hulka! Do they have Pipeworks 3000!?"

I was totally unprepared for what would come next.

"Remus, they have Pipeworks 1,000,000."

I think my brain exploded. Could. Not. Process. The. Awesome. I couldn't do this math in my head then, but Hulka, in a sentence, in an INSTANT, took the greatest thing I could imagine and improved it by 33,233.33%. That is a return on investment you don't often see, my friends.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Advice for Renting Your Apt. on craigslist

I'm on the hunt for a new place to live, with one definite and one maybe roommate (super cool people). In reviewing craigslist ads over the past several days, it's become clear that this can be a slightly frustrating process. However, just bitching about things doesn't really help anyone, so I thought I'd offer some constructive criticism to the people posting ads (which also probably won't help anyone, because nobody who needs to read this will probably read this).

1) Include photos. Seriously, we live in an era of ubiquitous cell phone ownership and I don't think cell phones even exist anymore without some form of camera, even if it's a shitty camera. And beyond that, many people own digital cameras or at least know somebody who does. Not providing photos tells me that either a) you're lazy, too lazy to take photographs of the place you want people to pay you for or b) there's a reason you don't want me to see what this place looks like.

2) Do not post your listing title in all caps. It is obnoxious when you do this. It makes me not want to read your ad. 2BD GREAT PLACE ONLY $850!! CALL DOUG AT 123-456-7890. This ad title is garbage (and fake, but similar to many I've seen). Do people still not realize that caps lock is the printed equivalent of shouting? Your ad doesn't stand out more because of this, especially not when you post LIKE 15 ADS IN A ROW all in caps lock (and yes, I meant to internet shout those words).

3) Another reason the fake ad from DOUG up above is shitty is because it tells me next to nothing. The title of the ad should give me as much abbreviated information as possible. Here is how DOUG's ad title should read: $850 - 2BD, 1.5 Bath, W/D in building, hardwood floors, 2nd floor unit. This tells me so much more in just one line, enough to help me decide if this is one I want to take a further peek at or not. If I'm browsing these ads, I already want an apartment you idiots, you don't need to convince me of that. Imagine walking into a pizzeria and someone coming up to you and shouting "WE HAVE PIZZA HERE CHECK OUT THIS PIZZERIA!"... Wouldn't being handed a menu be much more helpful?

4) Beyond the ad title, the ad itself should have as much information as possible. Yes, including photos (as mentioned already). I want to be able to picture this apartment after reading your ad, start imagining if it's a place I'd want to live. Honestly, I don't want to have to physically visit every apartment listed just to get a first impression. Help me understand the unit you're renting and if it fits my need, I will actually want to contact you and you won't need to convince me. Like I said, I'm already here looking for a place. Stop trying to convince me to check you out and help me check you out.

So yeah. If any of you dear readers know of a great place opening up at a good price, preferably with a W/D in unit and would allow a rabbit, 2+ BD... let your ol' pal Remus Thirty know!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Maybe 1 Person Will Find This Interesting (And That's Rounding Up)

When I was in 3rd grade, I got a very special birthday gift from a very special uncle. That uncle was Hulka, whom you may remember from, uh, like every other post on this blog. That gift was a Nintendo Game Boy. I remember it now: the olive green screen, the gray brick-like shape and weight, the mountains of batteries it killed... I loved that Game Boy. I loved it for years and years.

My cousin Sarah Thirty had gotten one about a year before me, and had a few games. So, naturally, we'd trade and try each others' games out. One game in particular that she had stood out to me. The label on the cartridge had a picture of a sword on it. And the gameplay... holy crap, it was like Zelda! It was like Zelda, but with more weapons besides swords, and with partners who followed you around! This game blew my mind. It was called Final Fantasy Adventure. Sarah didn't particularly care for it, she had too much trouble finding Bogard at the falls (the first objective). When I found ol' Bogard, she was impressed and offered to let me borrow the game for a while, since I seemed to be more into it than her. I played that game like an obsessed madman until I finally had to give it back. I needed more. I begged my parents for the next gift-giving holiday to include a copy of Final Fantasy for Game Boy. I got my wish on Christmas. I got double my wish.

Unbeknownst to me, there was more than one Final Fantasy for Game Boy. On that Christmas morning, I shredded wrapping paper to find not just Final Fantasy Adventure (the green box one), but Final Fantasy Legend II (the blue box one). Also Jeopardy! which I found difficult to type answers for using a D-Pad and two buttons, and played maybe 5 times. (Still, 2 out of 3 were and are all-time classic favorite games, so thanks Mom & Dad!) So Final Fantasy Adventure was a known quantity, and I focused my attentions on it first. And I played the hell out of it. I took a few minutes to try starting up Legend II, but it didn't play at all like Adventure. I couldn't use any weapons, and instead of enemies showing up on the screen, I'd walk around and the screen would flash and go to a "battle screen" where I'd have to choose my actions from menus. What the hell? Back to Adventure, the Zelda-style action-RPG. Eventually though, I found my way back to trying "the blue one" for real.

Reader, I married him. ... Yes, I just quoted the book I hate more than just about any book I was ever forced to read. I love(d) this game THAT MUCH.

This is the game that cut my teeth on RPG turn based battles, and what a long strange trip it's been since that point. But this game was SO NEAT in SO MANY WAYS. To start, you pick your character from a list of 8 character types: a male and female Human, a male and female Mutant, a Robot (a freaking robot!), and three different Monsters. Each type of character plays differently, and within moments you get to choose 3 characters from the same list to round out to a team of 4. You can double/triple/quadruple up, too. Lots of combinations to try!

So to run the types down, Humans are a basic character type. They use items and weapons and get stronger by participating in battles (I learned the hard way that this means running from as many battles as possible means you have weak-ass humans by not far into the game). Mutants also get stronger by battling, but more slowly than humans. This is offset by the fact that they randomly learn up to 4 special abilities, which are either innate (like preventing enemies from sneak attacking) or rechargeable (like fire magic). The rechargeable thing is important because weapons have finite uses before "breaking". So the male human's starting sword, for example, gets 50 uses before it's gone. That mutants have abilities that can recharge by staying at an Inn is a real economizer.

Robots (and can I just tell you how effing delighted I was at that age to have a robot on my team!?) grew in a really neat way. Equipping weapons and armor to robots increased their raw stats. They didn't need to battle to get strong, they just needed to hold your best stuff. And when they equipped weapons, the number of uses remaining got halved (ouch!) but they could recharge at an Inn, just like mutants' abilities. So instead of 50 shots from the basic gun of the game, I got infinite shots, but no more than 25 before needing to recharge. Again, this was a real economizer and made rare one-or-two-in-the-whole-game items stick around much longer.

Monsters grew in an even more interesting way. The monsters you could have on your team were the same as the enemy monsters of the game. Same stats, same abilities, everything. Basically whenever you fought a monster, there was a chance it would leave behind its meat (somehow, even skeletons, ghosts, flowers, and viruses [amongst others] left meat). Eating that meat transformed your monster into a new monster (through a complex table that is unexplained in the game and confused me to no end as a kid). It wasn't foolproof, but generally eating a stronger monster's meat made your monster transform into a better one. Learning certain patterns in this meant you could wind up with a monster on your team several worlds ahead of the ones you were fighting. This kicked an ass or twelve.

Uhhh, is it clear I was really into this game? The story was pretty awesome for a Game Boy game. Basically there was a network of worlds all connected to one larger "Celestial World" by giant pillar-like vines. You'd go from world to world solving crises and looking for shards of a statue of an ancient goddess, trying to track down your lost father. Various non-player characters would join your team temporarily (including that selfsame father!) as the story required. Usually they were awesome help in battles.

Here comes my favorite part about it all. I was a mythology nut as a kid, and I still love those stories. This game weaved several world mythologies into itself. You're not the only one looking for the pieces of the ancient goddess statue. New Gods, seeking to bolster their own growing power are on the hunt as well. I hadn't heard of Ashura before, but Venus? Yeah, I'd heard of her. Odin? Yeah. Apollo? Check. (I guess technically his pre-translation name was Apollyon, the Greek spelling of Abaddon, the demon of christian mythology, but as far as I knew, it was Apollo, Greek/Roman light god). This game required me to KILL GODS. Not just made-up, in-game gods. These were gods I'd heard of. Even the final-stage monsters were gods or epic legendary monsters. And the ones I hadn't heard of, I was so curious about! It gave me tons of leads to learn more about different mythologies.

Good lord did I love this game. At one point I was even working on the novelization of the game. OK, it was fan-fiction, but really, this was pre-internet and I didn't realize this would eventually be commonplace and ridiculed. So yeah, after my initial obsession with it, I'd still go back and replay it every few years. The advent of the internet shed light on all the hidden mechanics of the game for me to go back and retry. ("Ohhh, so this is how to know ahead of time what monster I'll transform to!") I've long lost the cartridge, and even if I hadn't, by now I don't have that old Game Boy, or any player compatible with it. But by George there are emulators now! And I'll be damned if FFLII wasn't one of the first ROMs I downloaded when I learned about emulators (and no, it's not even gray area illegal, since I owned the game legally before downloading. Well, THIS game anyway...).

Now, nostalgia put away, it wasn't a perfect game. There's a lot of game mechanics that really should be better explained in-game, but aren't. Some things are glitchy. I mean, it happens. Such is the nature of older games and their limited programming space. But there are other issues, such as gameplay balancing. There are too many abilities, particularly monster attacks, that are clones of other abilities, just with different names, leading to very little actual meaningful variety between early-game monsters. And a lot of the monsters are just plain useless compared to others. Rotate between the fairy, eye, medusa, ghost, and maybe slime classes and you're all set. It's nice to know how to power through the game, but it lacks variety. Human and mutant stat growth is random and slow. So yeah, flaws.

About a year or two ago, Square-Enix announced a Nintendo DS fully enhanced rebuild of this game. I was PSYCHED. I sifted through the internet for information, images, music from the new release. Seeing my old pixelated monochrome buddies in color and 3D filled me with oddly powerful nostalgia. The Japanese release came and went. Surely they'd announce the US release soon. Surely. ...surely?

... please?

Still no word on if that'll ever happen (I still hope it does). But two very interesting things have happened for me and this game recently. 1) I got an Evo 4G. It runs Android. Android has an app store. The app store has emulators. Miss Susie went to Heaven, the Steamboat went to... um, anyway. After years of having to play this game boy classic chained to a desk (WHAT IS THIS COMUNISTS RUSHIA AM I RITE?), I can take this game handheld, like it was meant to be played. 2) There are a few folks on the internet who apparently loved this game as much as me. Actually more. And they have programming skills. I just downloaded a hacked, patched version of the game that seems to fix most of the flaws, adds variety and difficulty, and even does cosmetic touches like allowing longer names (originally 4 characters max).

I am back on that Christmas morning, with my brand new Game Boy Final Fantasy. The other, blue one. A whole new, harder version of the game I've loved for years awaits me. It is new and old, mingled together. Nostalgia and novelty. ... Why yes, I am 27, chubby, and single, why do you ask?

I know I rambled on this one, guys. To those of you who read this blog for funny stories (80% of my readers, or 1.6 people, if you do the math out), I apologize. Actually, you probably stopped reading several walls of text ago and I can say awful terrible things about you, your mother, and other loved ones. But I wont. To the remaining 0.399 of you who stuck through this, thanks for bearing with me! And to the 0.001 of you who can relate, or maybe even loved this game yourself... let's hang out and be best buds forever.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back in the Bulk - Elevator Darts

It's nearing the time of year when all over the country, fresh-faced young high school graduates are off to their first year at college. I am aware of this not because I am a creep, but because I work in higher ed. This will also be the first year at college for my little cousin Chris Rudedawg (the Rudedawg boys, you may remember, are the closest people I have in my life to younger brothers). So, this of course puts me in mind of my own first year at college and the various entertaining and sometimes bizarre things that occurred.

Freshman year I lived on an honors floor in Bulkie Hall (name changed, duh), a building with a dining hall on the ground floor and two 6-floor towers of dorm rooms. I was in Bulkie 2 south. Our floor, well, it kinda ruled. There was a large cast of characters, both resident and visiting, who collectively made up the Bulkie Boys (and Girls), as became the simplest way to refer to the Bulkie 2S folks. As I go through the stories from the days back in the Bulk (oh, hence the title. See what I did there?), I'll introduce the various players as they become relevant. It would just be too confusing to introduce everyone at once.

This story has as central characters Ben Stantz, John "P.J." Reaver, Trevor Cloak (our R.A.), and me. Of tangential importance are Brendan Tourney and Jon "L.J." Seabiscuit. They don't actually participate in the story, they merely enabled it to occur. You see, Brendan and L.J. were roommates. Like most college students, these two (and most of us) didn't always follow every little rule and restriction about dorm life. They possessed contraband. I'm not referring to the study lounge couch they stole and hid under a sheet (successfully! for months!), I'm referring to the equipment for that lovely old pastime, darts. They had a dartboard and darts, strictly forbidden in dormitory life. Trevor more or less turned a blind eye, since really there was no harm in playing darts in the dorm room, and we were careful to not be obnoxious and obvious about it. Well, for a while anyway.

I mean, you can only throw darts at the board the same way over and over so many times before you want to get more creative. It was really inevitable that we'd develop the Ninja Throw eventually. This is what we named taking three darts, gripping them by their points at the base of the fingers, one dart between each pair of fingers (so they look like Wolverine's claws but idiotic), and then swiftly launching all three simultaneously in the direction of the board with a backhanded motion. It is super fun. It also is not particularly accurate. Brendan and L.J.'s door caught the brunt of the ninja assaults a bit more than the actual board. We needed to find a more suitable location to practice.

Most dorm floors have a bulletin board where useful information, entertaining pictures or statements, or um, other types of paper (I don't know, what else would go up?) can be posted for the floor. Bulkie 2S was no exception. Now, a bulletin board, really, is just a massive rectangular dartboard if you think about it (it's best not to think about it). So we tried to practice our dart skills on the bulletin board. But it was too narrow a hall to be any use or fun, we were throwing from like a foot away. We needed a place to back up more. We needed the elevator.

Really, we can only blame for what is about to occur whoever thought it was a good idea to put a giant rectangular dartboard (still best not to think about it) directly across from an elevator door. P.J. and I had to take things to the next level (oh man, elevator humor. That is awful.) and we tried to convince Ben to join us in doing so. Ben is more sensible than either P.J. or myself, and refused to ride the elevator to the basement, ride it back up to the 2nd floor, wait for the doors to open, then ninja throw a bunch of darts at the board as quickly as safely possible. We were able to negotiate him into being our Director of Security. His entire job was to stay near the elevator and make sure that come hell or high water, nobody stood in front of the door.

So, the first round of elevator darts began. P.J. and I rode to the basement, rode back up, the doors open, and TH-TH-THWACK! three darts flew from my hand and stuck in the board. And *plup* *plup* *plup* John gently, carefully, throws each of his darts in the standard dart-throwing method. I looked at him disdainfully as he protested he didn't know we were ninja-throwing. Clearly we needed a do-over. Ben agreed to remain our Director of Security. Round two began.

At this point, I'm never sure whose part of the story to tell. I guess I'll stick with John and I, then come back and fill in Ben's part after. This elevator trip took longer. We rode to the basement. Someone got on. They took the elevator ONE FLOOR UP to the first floor (pet peeve) and finally we were back on our way, having taken twice as long as we should've to get back to the 2nd floor. The doors opened. Six darts fly out and stick perfectly in the bulletin board TH-TH-TH-TH-TH-THWACK! like something out of a ninja movie. It ruled. For about half a second. Then came the resounding "WHAT THE HELL!?!?"

While John and I were taking our sweet-ass time on this elevator ride, Ben had problems of his own. The second the elevator doors closed for this ride, out of his room comes Trevor. Trevor is/was a very tall, athletic, popular black man. At first, we thought he only had one rule for our floor, which was don't break the exit signs, because they cost "damn near a hundred dollars" to replace (We broke them. By accident. More than once. We fixed them most of the time). This event, elevator darts, may have been the turning point in Trevor deciding to become more strict with us. Trevor approached Ben, who, not knowing exactly how to handle the situation just said "Uh, Trevor, you're not going to want to stand in front of this door."

Trevor, of course, was curious what was going on, and repeatedly called for an explanation, which Ben repeatedly ducked, only repeating his enigmatic warning. Luckily, Trevor did in fact listen to Ben and stayed just out of the line of sight of the elevator door as he questioned him. As they went back and forth for what seemed like an eternity to Ben, FINALLY the elevator arrived on the floor. Trevor, unable to see into the elevator from his angle, only saw 6 darts fly past him at his neck and chest level and embed themselves in his bulletin board. Cue "WHAT THE HELL!?!?"

That exclamation was the rumbling thunder for the 6'4" African-American lightning bolt that was about to strike. We had nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. He descended on us and began (possibly rightfully) yelling at us, asking rhetorical questions like "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?" and the like. P.J. is a big dude. I'm not small, but he dwarfed me in both height and weight. I did my best to stay behind him, much to his annoyance, during Trevor's tirade. It helped (me) that Trevor and John had a tumultuous relationship marked by humorous antagonism. John caught the brunt of the anger. He got written up, I think. Somehow I didn't. Nor did Ben. Nor did Brendan and L.J. (who were merely asked to get rid of the darts and dartboard). The storm blew over and all was right-ish on the floor.

Until Blind Ninja Attack.

Uh. Kids. Don't try this stuff at home. Err, school. Whatever.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

You damnable, twisted, partisan hacks.

Let's not mince words. My personal reaction to nearly every action the Republican Party has taken in the past decade or so has fallen somewhere between "confused" and "aghast". My own views are fairly staunchly to the left, and I know that on certain issues, neither I nor those I disagree with will budge because the differences come down to sincere but deeply personal beliefs about the proper way to govern the nation. Fair enough. However, sometimes politicians (on both sides and everywhere between, but you can guess who I tend to be angrier at) take actions that, for lack of nuance I'd like to refer to as "evil", "stupid", or some ratio of the two for no reason other than politics itself. This is an atrocious betrayal of the trust of the citizenry.

Americans from every walk of political ideology all came together to some extent following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Say what you will about the way the tragedy was subsequently exploited by politics and media to gain viewers or voters or push agendas, but for a brief time during and immediately following the attacks, we were all Americans, united in the face of a shared horror.

While we all felt the fear, the anger, the uncertainty of that day, for some individuals the tragedy was profoundly personal. For them, it happened in their very city - in their home. And to the great credit of the citizens of New York City and surrounding areas, they turned out in droves to do the backbreaking, emotionally-toxic work of digging through the rubble, providing aid, comfort and safety where ever they could. I challenge anyone to say that the rescue workers who turned out on that day and in the days to follow are anything other than heroes. (On an aside, I want to give some notable credit to Steve Buscemi, who worked tirelessly and anonymously that day as a volunteer firefighter, because he knew that they needed all the help they could get out there. I love you, Steve Buscemi.)

Of course, being a first responder to this tragedy was dangerous, and many of those who helped that day now struggle with lasting health issues as a direct result of their heroism that day. The US House of Representatives has spent the past nine years or so working on, re-working, and fighting over a bill to provide those first responders with the health care necessary to treat the health problems they incurred working in the ashes and rubble. There really could be no more appropriate, reasonable, and merited cost than to provide this care for the people who were literally our American heroes.

The. Bill. Failed.

How did it fail? How could it fail? Well, you can blame some of it on anti-tax rhetoric. Some opponents simply didn't think we should foot the bill. They'd favor the bill if the health care was magically paid for by nobody ever. Because, you know, that's realistic. Now, some tiny selfish part of even you, my kind and intelligent readers, might be saying deep in your brain "well yeah, I'd support it too if I didn't have to pay for it, money is tight lately and I don't really want to pay more taxes, even if it'd just be a tiny increase," and of course the rest of your compassionate and values-governed brain is chiding that tiny selfish part, but the fact is, you can relate just a tiny bit to not wanting to place the tax burden on the average citizen.

The funding for the bill was to come from closing the loophole that allows people to use overseas tax havens to avoid paying the taxes they rightfully owe. It wasn't going to burden anyone unduly, and would only in fact make those who are currently evading paying their fair share through a legal loophole of dubious ethical premise actually start to pitch in. So, the anti-tax crowd is either factually ignorant on this one, aware but trying to score political points, or is just so vehemently anti-tax that they believe nobody should ever pay taxes for anything, no matter what it is. In fact, the third option is really the only way to oppose this bill on principles related to taxation and not be a shill or an asshole. Just an unrealistic prick.

Further troubles for the bill came when the GOP wanted to introduce an unrelated amendment dealing with illegal immigration. Now, I know that's a hot button issue with a lot of people. As I understand it, specifically the Republicans wanted to make sure that nobody in the country illegally could claim benefit from the bill. Now, I don't know about you, but in my book, if somebody bravely responded to the tragedy on 9/11, I don't care where they're from. They're heroes. They deserve our gratitude, our respect, and yes, their directly-related ailments treated. So I would oppose this amendment, both because I disagree with it, and because I think it's either evil or stupid to propose it in the first place. You have to be obsessed with illegal immigration (or just think your voters are) to have your brain go there when this is the bill before you. Seriously! We want to reward people for their rescue work, and all you can think is "YEAH BUT DID THEY COME FROM MEX-EE-CO? AHYUCK!" You're an ass-faced animal if this is some variant on your response.

So the Democrats, not wanting to actually deal with this amendment because it could be costly to their political image when they could've just killed the amendment, eaten the flack for it, and helped our American heroes, tried to pass the bill in a way that requires a 2/3 majority instead of a simple majority. The rest is (recent) history. The bill had over 50% of the House in support, but not 2/3.

And so, a chance to do some very tangible, very reasonable good for eminently deserving individuals in the nation who acted selflessly on behalf of their neighbors is killed. Because of a lunatic fringe, a party that courts that fringe, and another party that won't face the first party head-on out of fear. If you voted no on this bill, you are morally bankrupt, or a ludicrous ideologue. At the very least, you've learned to shove whatever conscience you had into some deep corner of yourself and act without regard to it, maybe only taking it out on weekends and holidays. Your petty political one-upsmanship has cost those who not only deserve our aid but have flat-out EARNED it very real assistance. I hope you're happy, you damnable, twisted, partisan hacks.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Mornings at Hulka & Holly's

Growing up, I always wanted a brother. I had a sister, which has turned out to be nice in the long run, but growing up we fought miserably. Meghan and I really couldn't stand each other as kids, because we really weren't at all the partner-in-crime the other wanted. I wanted a sibling who would be interested in things like Ninja Turtles and robots and video games. She wanted a sibling who would be interested in things like American Girl dolls and sports. It was a bit of a mismatch, and neither of us were mature enough to be adults about it (WE WERE CHILDREN, LITERALLY).

Now, eventually, I did join a fraternity. I have lots of brothers now, which is awesome. But long before that, the closest thing I had to brothers was cousins. I have four cousins which were/are like brothers to me growing up. Chris and Kyle Rudedawg are like my younger brothers. Jimmy and Charlie Easterbreak were like my older brothers. Jimmy and Charlie weren't always my cousins. They are my Aunt Holly's sons from her first marriage. Hulka is now their stepfather, but when I first met them, Holly was still his girlfriend. The night I met them, at a Pizza Hut, I somehow erroneously believed at first that Jimmy was named Charlie and Charlie was named Jimmy. I absolutely refused to believe them when they corrected me, and I think I wound up in tears over it. This small hiccup did nothing to stand in the way of future awesome times for us three.

Jimmy was the oldest of us, then Charlie, then me. Jimmy was also the best behaved when we were together, and Charlie and I resented the fact that he would get in trouble the least, so we would periodically plot against him in minor ways. It was nothing personal, we loved Jimmy, we just resented his higher status. It was pretty standard.

We got to do all the dumb, fun stuff that brothers do (well, they were actually brothers, but I got to be part of it). We had burping contests, played war games outside, did stupid voices to make each other laugh, stuff like that. Actually, making Jimmy laugh was something Charlie and I liked to do a little too much sometimes. Jimmy has asthma, and we were too young to really fully understand how bad it was for him to have an attack. We would just consider laughing himself into an asthma attack as proof that we were being REALLY funny. Like a compliment. If we really knew what we were doing, we would've been the biggest assholes.

A major league bonus of hanging out with Jimmy and Charlie was the fact that they and Hulka had tons of video games. I LOVED video games as a kid. I still like them a lot, but obviously with appropriate moderation. Not back then, I was like an addict. And they had so damn many, we could play for hours. We would team up on hard games and try to beat them, we would replay our favorites, we would sing funny songs to the tune of the game songs, really it was a fun social thing, it just happened to be video games.

I was such a wired kid though. I would get excited and just be a total spaz. So nights when I got to sleep over, I would regularly wake up pre-dawn and want to start playing video games with Jimmy and Charlie again. I would just be too excited to keep sleeping. This wouldn't have been so bad, since they tended to be fairly excited to get up and keep playing too (although not always, sometimes they told me to go back to sleep). The problem was, when I got excited like that, I tended to have trouble regulating my volume. This caused problems for Hulka and Holly.

They liked to sleep in on weekend mornings, as do most people. The shrill sound of a child's laughter at 4 AM isn't the most welcome sound in the world. Nor is it at 5 AM. Nor 6. You get the idea. Holly was very kind in her reminders to try to be quiet in the morning. Hulka had slightly less patience, and would try to establish iron-clad rules. For example, I was not allowed to get out of bed before I could actually see the sun out of the window. Once I could see the sun, I could go into the kitchen to check what time it was, and if it was before a certain time (7, maybe?) I had to go back to bed again. No noise before 8 or 9, I can't remember which. That was the hardest for me. I would wake up and fully intend to be silent and keep Hulka happy this time, but nope, inevitably I'd get excited and make noise and incur Hulka's wrath.

Hulka's wrath pretty much consisted of him shouting my name, telling me to get my ass into his and Holly's room, then telling me very sternly to keep the noise down for a while longer, then sending me back out. This would frequently be repeated a few times per morning. It would work temporarily each time, you don't argue with a big angry man in his underwear. It's just that I would forget to be quiet again shortly thereafter. Oops.

Something Jimmy, Charlie and I liked to do was make funny tapes. They had an old boombox with a record function and we had a couple of cassette tapes we would pop in, then record ourselves being jackasses. Some classic moments included a skit involving a mystical "Geeenieee Bear!", Charlie singing INXS in the bathroom, and Charlie and I ruining Jimmy's well planned out sketches with fart sounds. That last one was pretty common. Being the oldest, Jimmy would actually come up with lines of dialogue for us to learn and make a funny tape. We'd usually go along with this for a minute or two, mess up a line somehow, and when he'd get upset at us, we'd just make fart noises on tape. One time in particular he decided to get his revenge on me for being a brat in his skit by narrating gross things to happen to me. I got poop on my face, he claimed. Somewhere there exists a recording of me angrily shouting that "If I get poop on my face one more time, you're gonna have poop in your stomach!" A comeback for the ages.

The greatest recording we ever made, though, happened early (although not ungodly early) one morning. It was probably 7:30 AM or so. The three of us were awake and ready to make another classic tape. This time, Jimmy thought we could use musical backup, so he was going to play the old, out-of-tune piano along as we recorded. I wish I had the audio recording to post here, but it's lost to the sands of time. I will try to transcribe it from memory.

The skit begins. Jimmy narrates while Charlie and I call comments from the peanut gallery. Jimmy begins playing the piano to enhance the mood of the story. Suddenly, although it's coming from an entirely different room, you can hear Hulka's voice on tape, clear as a bell. "REMUS! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!" For a few moments, you can only hear Jimmy and Charlie whispering to each other. Then, in the most shit-eating, smug, childish, sing-songy voice you can imagine: "Jiiiiimm-myyyyyyyy, he's mad at YOOOO-OOOUUUUUU!" and then immediately, "REMUS! GET YOUR ASS BACK IN HERE!!"

For once, for fucking once, it actually was Jimmy who pissed off Hulka. It wasn't me spazzing out and making noise early in the morning. It WAS Jimmy! This never fucking happened, it was a one-time shot! I felt so goddamn vindicated when I went in there the first time for a tongue-lashing and could legitimately insist that I was innocent, and it was Jimmy who was to blame. Jimmy, who never got in trouble while Charlie (sometimes) and I (nearly always) took the fall (usually deservedly). I just couldn't contain my satisfaction at this stunning upset, and ruined it all by being a smug little shit. There's a moral in here somewhere. I flew far too close to the sun on wings of wax, my friends. Pride goeth before a fall.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Formative Years Fiction - The Crazy War

I don't remember what year it was. It was definitely 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade. I wish I could recall more clearly the year, but alas, no luck. I also am a little hazy on exactly the nature of the assignment. It may have been to choose a book and write our own version of it, or maybe it had to specifically be a Dr. Seuss book, or maybe it had to specifically be The Butter Battle Book. I'm not sure. All I have record of is the result.

Also, as I've warned in the past, I'm probably going to wind up cursing at some point in here. The disclaimer is getting redundant, but you never know who might be reading.

Unlike the other childhood works I've shared here and will share here in the future, this one was a collaboration. My friend Mike Palazzo and I worked together on this one, and I have to give him half of the credit (blame?) for the story you're about to read. Let me preface, though, by talking a little bit about The Butter Battle Book. This Dr. Seuss classic is a send-up of the Cold War. Two nations, the Yooks and the Zooks, who differ only in their preference of which side to butter their bread on, are locked in perpetual conflict. They have an arms race of wacky Dr. Seuss weaponry that culminates in the simultaneous development of two tiny, horrifically destructive red bombs. The book ends on a cliffhanger, with both sides ready to detonate their bombs, waiting to see what the other will do. Mutually assured destruction.

Mike and I, well, didn't quite get the allusion. This is not Dr. Seuss's fault, he basically beat us over the head with the message with the subtlety of a sledgehammer (but the charm and style of a renowned children's author). No, this was just a case of the minds of children caring more about what would be AWESOME than what makes for a poignant story with a moral. Without further ado, let's take a look at The Crazy War. As always, click the pictures to see them embiggened, much like a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.

I guess we actually did use some symbolism, although unintentionally. I'm pretty sure the grandson is representative of our non-existent attention spans. You'll see. Also, FYI? We never once see another member of this "army" besides a guy in a window and a dog. Read on if you don't believe me.

The grandson is just as bored with exposition as Mike and I are. Poor Gen. Grandpa. He looks spry for a grandparent though, doesn't he?

"What should we draw?" "What does this page say?" "Well, it says something about eating toast with the butter-side up." "OK, draw that. Draw him eating toast."

Man, that wall does not look good. Also, the general grew a beard for this page. Also, the text on this page is really as close as we're going to get to the actual message of the original Butter Battle Book. The general would prefer not to fight, because the war is silly. So he claims.

OK, so last page, the general didn't want to fight a silly war. Now as soon as he sees Van Itch in the distance, it's switchin' time. Whatever that means. WAY TO STICK TO YOUR PRINCIPLES, ASSHAT!

How convenient, the wall collapsed. Also, poor grandkid, he is totally the punching bag of the story. Have fun in a pile of rocks, junior. How did they ALL fall on him, no matter how far along the wall they were?

"What about this page, what should I draw here?" "Again, what does the page say?" "Umm, we put in some stupid rhyme about singing a terrible song to make the rhyme we needed." "Draw it." At least it's accurate, that song sounds terrible even on paper.

Child humor logic precept #28: Things that are oversized are funnier. Check the enormous slingshot rock (the laws of physics would prevent it from even firing!) and the enormous lump on the kid's head. Also, nice reaction time, shorty. You started getting conked on the dome-piece like three pages ago and you just say "OUCH!" now?

Ah, inside the military base. With bizarrely close doors, weird stairs, a table and... wait. What the? On the table, all the way to the right, the purple thing. Is that... what the fuck is a bong doing in this story? Seriously, I'm pretty sure neither Mike nor I knew what a bong was at that age. Oh purple mystery bong, you are a metaphor for this entire ridiculous story.


Well doesn't that figure. Why the general decided to bring the dog along for a ride in the Bomberoo is beyond me. Except maybe Child Humor Logic Precept #8 got invoked: Misfortune is funnier if animals are responsible.

Wait, what's that? Is that any point whatsoever this story might have had exploding in your face? We really went the opposite direction from Dr. Seuss's intentional non-ending here, instead opting for absolute sudden closure. Yooks win, because they had a bomb. Kids are fascists. Also, don't go hating on the erroneous spelling of Alpha Centauri. And yes, it's a star, not a planet. Whatever, asshole, it's not like we had Wikipedia in 1993.

Now, something this book was lacking was a cover. I mean, it had a cover in that our teacher had us bind our books in like, oak tag and wallpaper or something, but it didn't have cover art. So, here for your viewing pleasure is a present-day mock-up of a cover for the epic team-up of Remus Thirty and Mike Palazzo. That was a lot of hyphens in that last sentence.

That's all folks! See ya next time!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Their House (In The Middle of Their Street)

From the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, the Lebowski family lived in a great big house (3 stories, 6 bed, 8 bath) that I've never seen the inside of. Seven people (two parents, five children) is a big family, and a large house would be reasonable for a large family, but this house also doubled as a care facility for several adult patients that my grandmother, Mary Lebowski was responsible for (she was an RN who basically ran a mini-rest home in her own home for a few wards of the state). It is a constant sadness to me that I never got the chance to visit this house (it is now occupied by a privately owned business, although my aunt Pappy does visit sometimes for her work, which is nice for her). It sounds like a fun place where lots of interesting things occurred. I'd like to walk you through some of the highlights.

The living arrangements were as follows. The basement was a basement, and had laundry machines. The first floor was the main living area with kitchen, dining room, etc. The 2nd floor had bedrooms for Nonnie, Jaja, their two sons David and Stephen (Hulka), and the patients. The third floor, accessed via a flight of stairs with each step painted a different bright color, housed my mother, Diane, and her two sisters, Susan and Patty (Pappy). The bulk of the third floor was Patty and Susan's room, which was enormous. My mother's room (she desperately wanted her own room, being the oldest) was tiny, like a broom closet. Because it was her VERY OWN ROOM, she got to paint it any color she liked. She chose lavender. Apparently this tiny room was extremely lavender. It was once described by David as "so damn purple, Prince and Barney would spew."

Having the patients live in the house provided Nonnie and Jaja with convenient watchful eyes when they wanted or needed to get out of the house. If you think about this, though, the patients living there were wards of the state. Hulka likes to point out that they were, "frequently left in the care of individuals the state deemed unfit to care for themselves." One patient's entire babysitting strategy was slap a box of cigarettes in his hand and demand that the children "get off my floor!" should they venture to play on the 2nd floor.

The first floor of the house, as stated earlier, was where the daily living took place. With 5 kids and 4 or so patients, Nonnie and Jaja thought it economical to invest in a milk machine, the type you might see in a college dining hall. They'd buy enormous bags of milk, load them in, and then the milk would freely dispense from it's tube when the lever was pressed. Susan perfected a trick she would demonstrate for Hulka where she would milk the milk machine. She would grip the pouring tube as if it were a cow's udder and use the "milking" motion to nudge the lever with her elbow. Classic misdirection. Hulka's use of the milk machine was more direct: he liked to wrap his lips around the tube and hit the lever.

The outside of the house was apparently full of memories too. It featured a built-in pool, for one thing. However, Nonnie lived in perpetual fear that young Hulka would have dangerous mishaps given any chances (this was a somewhat justified fear, given little Hulka's fearlessness, which is probably better described as obliviousness to danger rather than "bravery" per se. He once, at age 3 or so, held a Vietnam protest parade which consisted of walking the median line of the busy street the house was on holding a flower. Tractor trailers honked their support, he assures me.). As a result, the pool was not allowed to be filled beyond a couple of inches of water. Poor innocent Hulka might've drowned otherwise.

In addition to a pool, the yard also had a fountain. This fountain, like the pool, had much less water in it than it should, by design, have held. It held zero water. I do not know if this was another deliberate Hulka-proofing on my grandmother's part or not, but I do know that according to my mother, aunts, and uncles, an empty fountain has some great hide-and-seek possibilities.

Another outdoor highlight was a very tall evergreen tree. This tree was not a highlight on it's own, it was rather the site of an escapade involving my mother's cousin Jimmy Sownd. Young Jimmy was apparently an expert climber and a bit of a little shit. On this particular occasion, he managed to climb all the way to the very top of the tree, clinging not to a branch but to the central tree trunk, at that height so thin and flexible that he was reportedly swinging from side to side, rocking the top of the tree, shouting not with fear, but with glee. His father, George "Gorilla" Sownd demanded he climb down, a demand which was summarily dismissed. Uncle George was nicknamed Gorilla for a reason: he was built like one. The man called Gorilla was FULLY displeased at having to climb two full stories up a tree to haul his monkey-swinging son down. I'm pretty sure Jimmy's ass got beaten to hell and back for that one (it was a different time).

As if these weren't enough outdoor items of note, the backyard also featured a life-sized statue of the Madonna (the religious figure, not the singer), and an enormous D.O.T.-orange trash barrel. This barrel was notable for moonlighting as a swimming pool for the kids (since the real pool could not be filled, as mentioned above) and as a vehicle of sorts. A favorite game of the Lebowski children was to load a child or two into the barrel, turned on it's side, and send it rolling down the hill, most frequently to come to a sudden and clanging stop at the propane tank. This may sound dangerous, but the kids were sure to run a series of tests before attempting this. The tests consisted of getting their neighbor and friend, Sally Bigalow to do exactly this dangerous thing first. This was a valid strategy for a number of potentially hazardous outdoor activities, I hear.

My favorite detail about the Lebowski house of those days, saved for last, is the fact that it had a laundry chute. I always thought laundry chutes were really cool when I was younger, because it was a legitimate excuse to drop things from a fair height, usually a no-no. But this laundry chute was special. It ran from the 2nd floor to the basement ceiling, with an opening on the first floor as well. In about 1970 or so, the Lebowski children needed to find out just how valid a shortcut from the 2nd floor to the basement the laundry chute would be. Sally Bigalow must not have been available, because the test pilot for this mission was none other than Hulka, 6 or 7 years old at the time.

The four assistants made sure there was plenty of laundry at the bottom of the chute to cushion the landing. A few bedsheets and a pair of underwear was probably enough, right? The intrepid young sailor of gravity gave his thumbs up and he was hoisted into the chute to make his rapid headfirst descent. What the kids didn't realize was that about halfway down the chute, it narrowed. Hulka did not. Firmly lodged upside down in the chute, Hulka awaited rescue by his siblings. They tried valiantly to free him, eventually resorting to using a broom to try to push him through the narrow segment to freedom. Hulka reports that he wishes they'd used the other end of the broom, and that the handle didn't even buy him dinner or call him after the time they had together.

Eventually, Hulka was freed, relatively none the worse for wear. But it's a pretty unique family of five kids that sends the youngest brother down a laundry chute just to see what would happen. Or maybe not so unique. You should ask my dad's brother Sean Thirty about that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Superhero Films I Would've Made Instead


So, let's get right out in front of it. I love geeky things. Always have, always will. I don't love geeky things exclusively, I love lots of things, but that "lots of things" always has and always will include lots of geeky things. One of the geeky things I've loved since childhood is the world of comic books and superheroes. I watched the cartoons, I collected the comic books, I had action figures, a few trading cards, posters, a subscription to Wizard magazine. I would draw my heroes in all sorts of notebooks, existing ones and ones of my own creation. I think of superheroes as the mythology of our culture, just like the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Vikings all had their own tales of heroes and villains with powers far beyond those of normal mortals. Hell, comic books even co-opted some of those very characters and they fit right in (off the top of my head, Thor, Loki, Hercules, and Count Dracula [I know, he's not ancient mythology, but based off of Slavic folklore] have all played at least somewhat major roles in the Marvel universe).

You can imagine my delight at the explosion of the superhero movie genre starting with about the turn of the 21st century. It helped immensely that my favorite superheroes, the X-Men, were the ones that really kicked off this trend. X-Men was a solid comic book movie. X2: X-Men United was even better. Spider-Man was a good comic book movie. Spider-Man 2 was even better. Sure there were some shitty movies mixed in (what up, Ang Lee's Hulk? Oh sorry, is that you, Fantastic Four?) but on the whole, superhero movies were on the rise. Some were incredible. Sin City, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Iron Man... and yes, I'm jumping all over the place chronologically, deal with it.

Not all the superhero movies have been wholly satisfying for me though. Some, while not being outright piles of crap, are not what they should've been either. Let's chat for a minute about two films I wish I could turn back time on and make a different movie instead, and two films that don't yet exist, but that I have ideas for.

X-Men: The Last Stand was garbage. It did have moments, aspects I enjoyed, absolutely. But compare Brett Ratner's foray into the world of the merry mutants (who am I talking like here, Stan frickin' Lee?) with Bryan Singer's two entries. Night and day. This is, of course, barring the fact that Halle Berry, while a gifted actress, is a terrible Storm in all of them. But I'm not here to run down my list of complaints with this movie, I'm here to say what I would do differently.

For one thing, I would've slowed the events down. OK, Jean "dies" at the end of 2. Perfect. We're building up to the Phoenix stuff. So in 3, let's bring her back already so quickly we barely missed her, fly right through Phoenix and go straight to Dark Phoenix. If we're lucky, we'll hardly feel anything at all. Contracts be damned, I would've had Jean Grey stay dead for the entirety of the third movie. How will we miss her if she's never gone? I would've brought her back in a fourth film as Phoenix (and I'm not being a canon fanboy, let's find a way to do this that works in a live action film and doesn't seem comic book-y and schlocky) and let her spend that entire film as Phoenix. Maybe hint at the fact that she has a little bit of issues controlling the power, but keep that to foreshadowing for a fifth film, wherein Dark Phoenix is THE plotline. Not a subthread of Magneto taking over Alcatraz.

I would've also focused less on Wolverine. I know he's the cash cow of the X-Men franchise and I wouldn't write him out, but let's work with an ensemble a little here, folks. We had 3 Wolverine movies, and then a Wolverine movie, because we might not have gotten enough Wolverine (don't get me wrong, great character and Hugh Jackman is great in the role). Could we give Storm an actual character please (and maybe a different actress while we're at it)? Could we not kill Cyclops off screen, a death to which nobody particularly reacts? The strength of the X-Men media has been the fact that they're a team and the personalities play off each other and it's not just one person in the spotlight. I love Wolverine but let's build up the others a bit and give them more to do in my imagined movie.

So what WOULD I have done for a plotline? Sentinels. Not necessarily the hulking purple tin soldiers of the comics and the cartoon, probably smaller and sleeker. More human sized. Hell, have them be modified humans like the Sentinels in the Operation: Zero Tolerance plotline. If we need to give Magneto something villainous to do because he's getting too likable after teaming up with the X-Men in the second film, have him hijack the Sentinels partway through for his own purposes. We can even keep the mutant cure plotline maybe, because nothing is going to make you want to cure your mutancy like robots designed to capture or kill you unless you're a normal human. Adds a whole new level of urgency to the decision, no? The thing I like about the Sentinels is it would build on the themes of prejudice vs. acceptance from the first two films. Humans create the Sentinels because they fear the mutants. The mutants are forced to fight for their lives, which reinforces the idea that they're dangerous, etc. etc. And I would've waited for Byran Singer to finish his other commitment then direct the movie LIKE HE WANTED TO DO rather than get impatient and bring that hack Ratner on board.

Spider-Man 3 was a mediocre film. What would I do differently? Not that much actually, except ask Sam Raimi to make two awesome Spider-Man movies instead of one rushed, jumbled Spider-Man movie. Did we really need the New Goblin, the Sandman, and Venom all in the same film? My complaints about the way it went down are summed up best in the movie scene when Sandman and Venom's teaming up is established with a 15-second scene in an alley where they meet by chance and basically go "Hey, you hate Spider-Man too, right?" Come on, guys. So yes, introduce the black symbiote suit and let that be the major plot here. Give me Sandman. Sure, maybe even New Goblin. And yes, give me Eddie Brock. But DO NOT MAKE HIM VENOM YET. Let this movie establish his rivalry and jealousy towards Peter. Let this movie establish the black symbiote costume. Let the final scene of the film be the embittered, angry Eddie Brock encountering the symbiote for the first time and set up for Spider-Man 4, the Venom one.

They're working on a Captain America movie. I don't know a whole lot about it other than I saw some pretty decent concept art for Cap's costume. I don't think they're going the way I envision for this movie (although maybe they are and they'll surprise me), but what I wanted, to really stand out amongst a crowded field of superhero movies, was a period piece. Captain America works best in World War II. His nationalist get-up screams pro-American forces propaganda (I'm using propaganda here without negative connotations, I'm very much on the side of the Allies in WWII). So let's make a superhero period piece. And go for broke, go for historical accuracy in costuming, set design, vernacular. Make it a legit WWII movie and let's have Cap struggle with having to be the perfect super soldier not just to win in combat but to serve as a symbol for the US to rally around.

OK, last one. There will be a third Batman in the Nolan reboot franchise, of course. Here's my thing: you're not going to get bigger than the mayhem the Joker wreaks in Dark Knight without losing some of the gritty realism of the new franchise. Buildings were collapsing and burning, Batman had sonar-vision, the city was a wreck. Going bigger means getting ridiculous. So how do you raise the stakes without going bigger? Make the threat more intimate. I present to you a revamp of the Mad Hatter. No longer is the Alice in Wonderland stuff just a cute gimmick, this Mad Hatter is a child (pre-teen?) abductor, rapist, and murderer. He is looking for his Alice. He finds candidates, takes them, and ultimately casts them aside, unsatisfied. It's sickening, it's upsetting, and it's how you raise the stakes without going bigger. But Batman's not a 12-year-old girl, you say. How is the threat more intimate? Commissioner Gordon is established as having a son and a daughter. Guess who gets kidnapped to raise the stakes for Batman, already frustrated by failing to catch the Mad Hatter yet. There we go.

So there we go, four film franchises and where I would've taken them or would like to see them go. Please post comments! Tell me what you think! Tell me your own ideas!